Knox in
the crucial years  1556 – 1560.

Knox had
visited Scotland in September 1555. During his stay he
preached wherever he could and made contact with the Lords
of the Congregation, but was soon in receipt of letters
from his congregation in Geneva who desired his speedy
return.  Stricken by conscience and mindful of his
duty Knox prepared to return; it was about this time that
he married Marjory Bowes.  His new wife, her mother
Elizabeth, a servant called James and a pupil, Patrick,
were sent ahead to Dieppe where Knox joined them for the
journey to Geneva. Their names are entered in the
Livres des Anglois
(the English Book) – the register
of the English Church in Geneva, dated 16 September 1656.

At the time
of his departure from Edinburgh the Popish clergy summoned
him to appear before them. Then, in his absence, they
degraded him from priesthood, condemned him as a heretic
and burned his effigy. It is likely that Knox expected
that this would happen some time although he retaliated by
writing his “Apellation” to the Scots nobles against the ”
cruel and unjust sentence”.  In Scotland the hopes of
the Congregation for some redress from the Queen Regent
were dashed  dramatically by the condemnation and
burning of the eighty two year old preacher, Walter Mill,
on 28 April 1558. An effigy of Knox was also burnt. The
execution of Mill did not, as hoped, terrorise the
populace, it merely caused a flurry of oaths and covenants
being sworn to defend the persecuted with force of arms.
The Congregation, realising that ” faggot, fire and sword”
was all they would get from the Queen Regent, presented a
remonstrance with a petition  seeking reform of the
church and state. In particular they sought  liberty
to enjoy the private and public ordinances of religion in
the Scots tongue. This was allowed provided it was at a
distance from Edinburgh. The Queen Regent then
charged four ministers

with usurping the ministerial office and preaching
In their absence, they were declared guilty and to be
forfeited as rebels. Infuriated, the Lords of the
Congregation ignored the Regent`s proclamation revoking
authority for their meeting and prepared for open

`Congregation` had been growing by leaps and bounds and,
importantly, amongst the common people, who were prepared
to stand up to the Queen Regent. But events elsewhere
seemed to turn against them. Critically the Treaty of
Cambrai on 12 March 1559 had ended the war between France
and England which enabled the diversion of some 4,000
French troops to go to the assistance of the Queen Regent.
Meanwhile in Geneva Knox was the author of his own delay
in returning to Scotland. He  completed work on his
“First Blast of the Trumpet against the monstrous Regiment
of Women”
which was a learned discourse why, according to
the Scriptures, women should not rule – quite a common
topic as it happened among the various Divines. It was
aimed at Mary Tudor ( “Bloody Mary” ) but she died just
after its publication in 1558, and Queen Elizabeth I had
taken umbrage at it. In consequence neither Knox nor his
colleague Christopher Goodman (author of a similar work
“On Obedience to Superior Powers”) were welcome in
England. Thus prevented from a short journey across the
Channel,  Knox was delayed until 22 April 1559 
before he set sail from Dieppe for Leith where he arrived on 2 May 1559.

proceeded to Dundee, Scone, and Perth where he preached 
fiery sermons. Rather like a dam
breaking, the pent up waters of the Reformation movement
crashed through the city. The mob, if not encouraged, were
certainly not prevented from taking its spite out on the
contents of sacred buildings, sweeping away offending
altars, crucifixes, pictures and other symbols of Popery.
The riches of the Dominican, Franciscan and Carthusian
monasteries were carried off and the buildings razed, but
the ordinary church buildings were not harmed.  The
Queen Regent then threatened retaliation using the French
troops who were outside Perth on 24 May. An agreement was
reached which included the withdrawal of the French
troops, but yet again Mary of Guise reneged on her word.
On 31 May Lord James Stewart (later Regent) and the Earl
of Argyll had had enough of the Regent`s broken promises
and  signed a Covenant in Perth that committed them
to the cause of the Congregation. Importantly their
accession brought with it some 3000 men at arms to attend
a meeting at St Andrews. There Knox preached in the parish
church daily from 11 to 14th June, which bore fruit for no
less than  twenty one `maisters` – priests, made
renunciation of the old faith and profession of the new.
Among the people generally there was now the beginnings of
a religious crusade. There followed a period of spoiling
and razing of religious establishments and the withdrawal
of the Queen Regent to Edinburgh, followed by assorted
attempts at negotiation. These the Regent protracted and
cunningly achieved her purpose of dissipating the
Congregations`s supporters for lack of funds to pay their

followed a defensive Covenant among the Lords and Barons
which was subscribed in Edinburgh on 13 July 1559,
followed by another at Stirling on 1st August against
consulting with the Queen Regent. In October the
Congregation made to proclaim the deposition of the
Regent. But the French troops, fresh from murders and
devastation in  Leith, still continued their

With French
troops on its borders there was considerable unease in
England where it was common knowledge that the destruction
of Scottish Protestantism was a prelude  to
dethroning Elizabeth in favour of Mary Stuart, Queen of
Scotland and France.  Knox wrote a very strong
warning to Sir James Croft, Captain of Berwick Castle and
Warden of the East Marches. In his letter Knox sought to
broker a means for English support. With the Cambrai
Treaty so newly signed, England cautiously and very
secretly first sent gold to help the Scots. In December
1559 the Duke of Norfolk was appointed Lord Lieutenant in
the Northern Counties with instructions to prepare an army
to go to the aid of the Scots and expel the French. 
On 27 February 1560 the Treaty of Berwick  guaranteed
Protestantism in the British Isles whereby Elizabeth 
undertook to preserve the freedom of Scotland, which in
return  was to aid England if France attacked. By
April the French troops were besieged at Leith and another
Covenant was sworn on 27th April 1560 declaring

“… we
altogidder in generall , and euery ane of us in special,
be himselff, with oure bodeis ,guidis, freyndis, and all
that we may do , sall sett fordwart the Reformatioun 
of Religion , according to Goddes word; and procure, be
all means possibill, that the treuth of Goddes word may
haif  free passage  within this Realm, …..”

The Regent
at long last recognised that defeat stared her in the
face. The forty nine signatories to the Covenant were the
most powerful landholders in Scotland and the document
itself promulgated two new and substantial doctrines:

1. That the
people are the custodians of the Word of God, and

2. That the
people of Scotland  are the rightful conservators 
of their own ancient freedoms and liberties, among which
is government by native sovereigns and magistrates,
according to use, wont, and the will of the governed.

clearly delineates that the Protestant – Presbyterian
faith was of the peoples choice and that it existed in its
own right long before the Church of Scotland was
established by law in 1690.

doctrines also demonstrated that  the trend of
affairs was to democracy with the people  against a
Crown that was guarded by a foreigner. Whether it was too
much for Mary of Guise cannot be determined, but she died
quite suddenly on 10 June 1560. The Treaty of Edinburgh
concluded on 6 July saw the French troops depart on
English ships and the Scottish Reformers in a land
relieved of Papacy. With a discredited Church, a defeated
foe, a dead Regent and an absent sovereign it was not
difficult for the Congregation  to have the Reformed
Faith  legally recognised by the Estates of

a short space of just four days Knox and colleagues,
collectively referred to as the six Johns—Knox,
Spottiswoode, Willock, Row, Douglas and Winram—produced
the First Book of Faith. This gave a creed to the new
Church and, amongst other things, justified the action
taken by the Congregation.

The First Book of
Faith, or Confession of Faith and Doctrine, contained a
preface, twenty-five articles and a conclusion. It was the
doctrinal standard of the Church in Scotland for
eighty-six years until the Westminster Confession of Faith
was adopted in 1647. The First Book of Discipline
contained nine articles, which dealt with the structure of
the new church, sacraments, stipends, appointments of
elders and deacons, etc., and was presented to the Estates
in January 1561. Andrew Melville presented his revision,
the Second Book of Discipline, to the General Assembly in
1578 which it adopted. 
The Book of Discipline ordered the appointment of
ten superintendents in the place of bishops. They were not
necessarily ordained, could not ordain others and had no
independent jurisdiction; but had a watching and
inspection brief more on the lines of a works foreman or
school inspector. 
They were quite specifically temporary appointments
through expediency in the early years of the Church.
However, the title and role would be an issue in years to
follow and was a chink in the armour for the
reintroduction of episcopacy by James VI.

The Estates

passed three acts on 24 August

  • The first
    abolished Papal authority and that of the Catholic

  • The second
    annulled previous legislation that was contrary to the
    new creed. 

  • The third
    abolished the Mass and ordered punishments for saying,
    hearing or being present at a Mass.

latter act provided that for the first offence it would
result in confiscation of property and physical
punishment. The second offence would result in banishment.
And death for the third offence. It sounds most vindictive
but the penalties were drawn up by lay men, not the
Church, and death was the same penalty for shooting wild
geese and game.

The Acts were implemented instantaneously and pastors,
teachers, and officials loyal to the old regime were
ejected from their positions. Absolutely nothing, save the
physical buildings stripped to the bare stone, was taken
over by the new Church. So deeply was the religion
cleansed that for nineteen years bibles had to be imported
from England, with the first Scottish version printed by
Arbuthnot and Bassandyne in 1576-1579 largely unavailable.