John Knox Trumpets Protestantism

John Knox died on November 25 in 1572.

The exact date of his birth, even the year, is unknown. Biographers range from 1505 to 1514, but nobody knows for sure. His birth is generally accepted to be at Giffordgate, 16 miles east of Edinburgh, in 1513 to 1514.

John entered the University of Glasgow in 1522, where he studied under John Major, one of the greatest scholars of the time. In 1540 he was already ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Church and that he was a priest before he was 25 years of age.

John’s conversion to the Protestant faith likely came through the influence of George Wishart, the leader among the Scottish reformers, who met him in late 1545 and was burned at the stake shortly afterward. Wishart met Knox in December 1545.

John then spent some months as bodyguard (“drawn sword in hand”) to George Wishart. But on 29 February, 1546, Wishart was martyred.

John Knox was first called to the Protestant ministry at St. Andrews, which was throughout his life intimately associated with the Reformer’s career. The castle of St Andrews was attacked in July 1547 and Knox was arrested by the Roman Catholic authorities. Thus it was for 18 months that Knox found himself as a galley-slave on a French ship, the “Notre Dame”. The experience permanently injured his health.

In 1549 we find him preaching up a storm both in the British Isles and on the Continent. He then spent some years in Geneva, where Calvin was exercising a remarkable influence.

Knox returned to his native land “a Calvinist of the Calvinists”, and found himself in head-on collision with the Roman Catholic queen. When Mary, Queen of Scots, had mass celebrated in her palace chapel, the “thundering Scot” made known his feelings on this ‘sin of idolatry’ from the pulpit of St Giles.

His denunciations of the mass and Roman Catholicism in general did much to bring about a law, passed by the Scottish Parliament on 1 August, 1560, establishing Protestantism as the religion of that country. It is probably true to say that Knox was a stern man, but he lived in an age that needed someone of his character to stem the inroads of Romanism.

Among his writings are: “History of the Reformation in Scotland”, “Against the Monstrous Rule of Women” and a long and elaborate treatise on predestination published in 1560.

Shortly before his death he asked his wife to read him John 17 – “for that is where I first cast my anchor”.

At his graveside the Earl of Mortoun, regent of Scotland, in the presence of an immense funeral procession, declared: “Here lyeth a man who in his life never feared the face of man, who hath been often threatened with dagger, but yet hath ended his dayes in peace and honour.”

Speaking of John Knox, Thomas Carlyle said: “And to be sure there is a power in unswerving conviction that inevitably arrests the attention of both men and nations. There is an almost indescribable appeal that attaches itself to uncompromising vision and principled passion. This fact was undoubtedly illustrated quite vividly all throughout the life and work of John Knox.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.