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John Knox

John Knox

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The Protestant Reformation in Scotland

At the beginning of the 16th century Scotland was a Catholic country. Its conversion to Protestantism was mainly due to a man called John Knox. Knox was a Catholic priest who converted to the Protestant faith in 1540. When a fellow-reformer was burnt at the stake by order of the Cardinal, Knox was among those who seized the Cardinal's home, St. Andrew's Castle in Edinburgh. Scotland was ruled by a regent at this time, a French Catholic called Mary de Guise. She called on the French for help and, in 1547, French troops re-captured the castle. Knox and his fellow Protestants were taken to France as prisoners.

Two years later, in 1549, the English Government managed to negotiate for Knox's release. The English were keen to have Protestant agitators in Catholic Scotland. Knox could not go back to Scotland immediately so he went to Berwick, a small town very close to the Scottish border with England. Here he worked as a minister until 1533 when Queen Mary came to the throne. She declared England a Catholic country and Knox was forced to escape to Europe, eventually arriving in Geneva. It was in Geneva that he met John Calvin and became a member of the Reformed Protestant Church or Presbyterian Church.

Knox returned to England in 1559 and, with the help of the pro-Protestant English government, he went back to Scotland. The Scottish queen, Mary Stuart, was Catholic but there were many Protestants in the Scottish parliament. Under Knox's leadership Presbyterianism was made the state religion in 1560. John Knox remained its leader until his death in 1572.

A scandal forced Mary Queen of Scots to flee to England in 1567 and her 13-month old son, James, was crowned James VI of Scotland. James was brought up in the Protestant faith but also believed in the Divine Right of Kings. The Presbyterians, however, wanted to be free of state control and, in 1578, their new leader, Andrew Melville, published his book The Second Book of Discipline. In this book he declared that the "New Church" should be governed by church courts and not by bishops. He also wanted these courts to be left alone by the state and all of the wealth of the "Old Church" to be passed over to the new.

James VI was still young and inexperienced at this time and he gave in to some of Melville's demands. In 1592 James' Golden Act, which allowed the function of Presbyterian courts, was passed by parliament. Eight years later, and by now a litter wiser, James gained more control over Parliament by introducing bishops as members. In 1606, as James I of England, he banished Melville from both realms. The bishops remained in the Scottish parliament, although James compromised and allowed the Presbyterian courts to continue functioning in Scotland.

 

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