Capture and Enslavement
After Wishart’s martyrdom, Knox came to St. Andrews with some of his young students and, in 1547, joined the group of Reformers living in the castle there after Cardinal Beaton’s murder. When he was appointed to preach, he refused, but he was virtually manhandled into accepting a call from the castle congregation to become their minister. Within a matter of months, however, the castle was under siege from French ships in St. Andrews Bay. Knox and others were captured, and he became a galley slave for the next year and a half.
Career in England
In 1549, Knox was released and made his way to England. He pastored a congregation at Berwick, but soon he moved to Newcastle. He then became a royal chaplain during the days of the young King Edward VI. Moving farther south, his influence grew, not least in his insistence on what came to be known as the “Puritan” principle for regulating public worship: only what is commanded in Scripture is mandated in the life of the church. Paradoxically, it was the Presbyterian Knox who was influential in having the so-called Black Rubric included in the Book of Common Prayer, stating that kneeling to receive Communion was not a sign of devotion but merely a convenient form of administration.
The death of Edward in 1553 was a body blow to the reforming party in England, leading as it did to the enthronement of Mary Tudor. (“That idolatrous Jezebel” were Knox’s carefully chosen words to describe her.) Knox sought refuge on the Continent.
Life on the Continent
Between 1553 and 1559, Knox lived a somewhat nomadic existence. He spent some time with Calvin in Geneva, calling it “the most perfect school of Christ . . . since the days of the apostles.” Thereafter, he accepted a call to pastor the English-speaking congregation at Frankfurt am Main. But there, trouble arose over his vision for a church that would conform absolutely to the New Testament pattern.
In 1555, after a further period in Geneva, Knox returned to Scotland to strengthen the work of reformation. He particularly sought to encourage members of the Scottish nobility who he feared were in danger of easy compromise with Rome.
Knox married Marjory Bowes and, in 1556, returned to Geneva, where he pastored a congregation of some two hundred refugees. The following year, he received an urgent invitation to return to Scotland—1558 was the scheduled time for the marriage of the young Mary, Queen of Scots, to the dauphin of France, an event that seemed to destine Scotland for permanent Roman Catholic rule.
Urged on by Calvin, Knox made a difficult and dangerous journey through war zones to Dieppe, France, only to receive word that some of the nobility no longer felt the urgency of the situation. (Some of them were actually in Paris at that time making preparations for the much-feared marriage of Mary.) Knox’s response was to urge upon these “Lords of the Congregation” the taking of a common band (bond or covenant), thus setting a precedent of covenant-making in Scottish piety.
A taste of Knox’s vigor can be savored in a letter he wrote that same year to the people of Scotland, urging them not to compromise the gospel. He reminded them that they must answer for their actions before the judgment seat of God:
[Some make excuses:] “We were but simple subjects, we would not redress the faults and crimes of our rulers, bishops, and clergy; we called for reformation, and wished for the same, but the Lords’ brethren were bishops, their sons were abbots, and the friends of great men had possession of the church, and so we were compelled to give obedience to all that they demanded.” These vain excuses, I say, will nothing avail you in the presence of God.
Return to Scotland
In 1558, England’s “Bloody” Mary died and was succeeded by Elizabeth I. Knox sought a safe passage home through England. By this time, however, he was known as the author of the infamous polemic against female monarchs: First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, which had been published anonymously at first in Geneva and had gone on sale without Calvin’s knowledge. The safe passage was refused, and so it was by boat to Leith, the harbor for Edinburgh, that Knox finally returned home to begin his most important phase of public ministry.