John Knox Worksheets
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Our worksheet bundle includes a fact file and printable worksheets and student activities. Perfect for both the classroom and homeschooling!
- Early life of John Knox
- Knox in England
- Knox in Geneva
- Knox’s views on women
Key Facts And Information
Let’s find out more about John Knox!
John Knox was the foremost leader of the Protestant Reformation and a key character in the history of Presbyterianism. Mainly influenced by Protestant martyr George Wishart, Knox set the moral tenor of the Church of Scotland and shaped the democratic form of government it adopted.
- Not much is known of John Knox’s life; in fact, his year of birth is also contested as he may have been born as early as 1505. He grew up in the town of Haddington in East Lothian, Scotland. He had a merchant father and his mother died when he was young. He had an older brother named William who, together with their father, helped raise Knox and sent him to school where he excelled and went on to the University of St. Andrews.
- In 1536, around the time Knox was ordained as a priest in Edinburgh, Scotland was still a Catholic country aligned with France against England. When Catholicism in England was rejected in 1534 under King Henry VIII, Protestant missionaries began smuggling anti-Catholic pamphlets into Scotland. Moreover, Martin Luther’s and Huldrych Zwingli’s ideas of Reformation were already exerting influence.
- Sometime around 1543, Knox, who was a notary priest in East Lothian at the time, was converted by George Wishart to Protestantism. Knox then left his position to become Wishart’s bodyguard and regularly appeared with him during sermons. However, because of James Hamilton’s systematic purge of Protestant activists, Wishart was arrested in 1545 and was executed the next year.
Knox in England
- After Wishart’s arrest Knox returned to the safety of two lords, Hugh Douglas of Longniddry and John Cockburn of Ormiston, who were sympathetic to the Reformation but always had to move from one place to another to avoid arrest and execution.
- In April 1547, Knox became chaplain after the Protestants, who were Wishart’s supporters, took over St. Andrew’s Castle. In June, Mary of Guise had a French fleet attack the castle. Some Protestants were incarcerated in France while others, including Knox, were taken as galley slaves for French ships. He was a slave for 19 months until he was released in 1549. He was said to have met his wife, Margery Bowes, around this time but there is no record of when they were wed.
- In England, Knox became a well-known preacher. He was associated with Thomas Cranmer who revised the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Moreover, Knox also became a royal chaplain to King Edward VI of England. It was unclear how Knox was able to rise up the social ladder from being a galley slave to a popular preacher, but it is often regarded that he was in high demand delivering sermons to the king and his court.
- When King Edward died in 1553, Catholic Mary I of England came to power. She is best known as the ‘Bloody Mary’ who ordered a systematic persecution of Protestants. Her efforts to stamp out the Reformation in England forced Knox and his family to flee to safety in Protestant Geneva.
Knox in Geneva
- In Geneva, Knox became close to John Calvin and adopted much of his theological ideas, including:
- Covenantalism - an approach to interpreting the Scripture by emphasising the importance of the divine-human relationship
- Predestination - the doctrine that suggests God has already chosen those whom he intends to save and that one’s works in life could not change His decision
- Knox’s sermons were well-received and soon enough, he became friends and acquaintances with powerful lords. The popularity of his sermons gave him courage to write a letter to Mary of Guise in 1556, reprimanding her for her false faith and encouraging her to embrace the Reformation.
- Though he never received a reply from Mary herself, the clerical authorities in Scotland thought that it was serious enough to warrant an examination; thus, he was called before a tribunal in Edinburgh. Despite this, Knox arrived with a number of powerful supporters, leading to the clerics having to cancel the event. When he and his family left for Geneva afterwards, the clerics burned him in effigy.
Views on Women
While in Geneva, Knox wrote one of his most famous works ‘The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women’ that denounced Mary Tudor, Mary of Guise, and Mary Queen of Scots as unnatural leaders and an abomination to God since the Bible prohibited women to rule over men.
- Knox had previously spoken with Calvin regarding the topic of women in positions of authority and the latter said that God has His own reasons for allowing women like Mary Tudor to reign. Furthermore, Calvin told him that God could work His will through any vessel regardless of gender. Nonetheless, Knox felt differently.
- Many historians interpreted The First Blast as unoriginal for it carried views that were commonly held by many people. Be that as it may, Knox’s articulation of these claims made it more recognisable than others due to his position in society resulting in Mary Tudor to officially condemn and ban his work in England as seditious.
- When Protestant Queen Elizabeth I of England came into power after Mary Tudor’s death, all the Protestant refugees in Geneva could now return home safely. Knox prepared to return to Scotland however, it was delayed since Elizabeth, who rejected The First Blast, refused him passage.
- Before long, Knox’s anti-Catholic sermons sent Protestant mobs on a rampage in Scotland. Mary of Guise tried to mobilise an army to put down the revolt, however, Scottish lords started to desert her for Knox after her declaration of martial law to enforce Catholicism and use of French soldiers.
- Knox became a figure behind the Reformed efforts to oust Mary of Guise. When Mary died in June 1560, hostilities ended with the Treaty of Edinburgh and the French withdrawal in Scotland. Knox then used the opportunity to convene an assembly. He contributed to the Scots Confession which would later become the Book of Discipline that outlined the democratic order of the new church.
- Instead of the Anglican organisational hierarchy of archbishops, bishops, and priests, Knox organised his church as a presbytery composed of ministers and representative elders from congregations within a given district. The Presbyterian Church of Scotland had a democratic organisation with no central figure in authority and full voting rights for all elders.
When Mary Queen of Scots arrived in Scotland in 1561, she announced that she would not impose her religion on her subjects despite her being a Catholic monarch. She requested compliance from Protestant ministers to which most agreed to except for Knox who was now the High Kirk of Edinburgh. His refusal to comply with religious tolerance was because of his belief that there was only one true faith.
- Knox was summoned several times by Mary to appear before her but his answers were always the same and that was that he would continue to preach the truth and no monarch had the authority to dictate the interpretation of the Bible. When Mary was arrested and imprisoned, Knox called for her execution and supported her Protestant son, James VI, as her successor.
- Throughout Mary’s reign, Knox had shown no sign of wavering and remained a devoted Christian pastor. If he was able to recognise the value of religious tolerance, however, he could have prevented the violence and destruction associated with the Reformation in Scotland. Nonetheless, the violence ignited from his sermons is often overlooked by scholars who regard him as a major contributor in laying the foundation for the United Kingdom by establishing Scotland as a Protestant country. Knox died in 1572 of natural causes and was buried in the St. Giles cemetery.