At the time this tract was written the destinies, immediate and prospective, of the Protestant faith seemed to lay wholly in the laps of five women, viz: --
Catherine de Medici, Queen of France.
Marie de Lorraine, Queen Regent of Scotland, whose sole heir was her daughter Mary, afterwards Queen of Scots.
Mary Tudor, Queen of England, having for her heir apparent the Princess Elizabeth.
Of these, the last -- also of least account at this moment, being in confinement -- was the only hope of the Reformers. The other four, largely directing the affairs of three kingdoms, were steadfastly hostile to the new faith. Truly, the odds were heavy against it. Who could have anticipated that within three years of the writing of this book both Mary Tudor and Mary de Lorraine would have passed away; that Knox himself would have been in Scotland carrying on the Reformation; and that Elizabeth would have commenced her marvellous reign. So vast a change in the political world was quite beyond all reasonable foresight.
Meanwhile there was only present to the vision and heart of the Reformer as he gazed seaward, from Dieppe, but the unceasing blaze of, the martyr fires spreading from Smithfield all over England. Month after month this horrid work was deliberately carried on and was increasing in intensity.
We se our countrie set furthe for a pray to foreine nations, we heare the blood of our brethren, the membres of Christ Iesus most cruellie to be shed, and the monstruous empire of a cruell women (the secrete counsel of God excepted) we knowe to be the onlie occasion of all the miseries: and yet with silence we passe the time as thogh the mater did nothinge appertein to vs. p.3.
The vigour of the persecution had struck all heart out of the Protestants. Was this to go on for ever?
Heart-wrung at the ruthless slaughter -- as we, in our day, have been by the horrors of the Indian mutiny or of the Bulgarian atrocities -- -the Reformer sought to know the occasion of all these calamities. At that moment, he found it in the Empire of Woman. Afterwards he referred much of this book to the time in which it was written [pp.58 and 61]. Shall we say that his heart compelled his head to this argument, that his indignation entangled his understanding on this subject? Just as Milton was led to the discussion of the conditions of divorce, through his desertion by his wife Mary Powell; so the fiery martyrdoms of England led Knox to denounce the female sex in the person of her whom we still call |Bloody Mary| that was the occasion of them all.
If in the happiest moment of his happiest dream, John Knox could have foreseen our good and revered Queen Victoria reigning in the hearts of the millions of her subjects, and ruling an Empire wider by far than those of Spain and Portugal in his day; if he could have seen England and Scotland one country, bearing the name which, as almost of prophecy, he has foreshadowed for them in this tract, |the Ile of greate Britanny;| if he could have beheld that one country as it now abides in its strength and its wealth, the most powerful of European states; if he could have realized free Italy with Rome, the Popes without temporal power, and modern civilisation more than a match for Papal intrigues; if he could have known that the gospel for which he lived had regenerated the social life of Great Britain, that it was tha confessed basis of our political action and the perennial spring of our Christian activities, so that not merely in physical strength, but in moral, force and mental enlightenment we are in the van of the nations of the world: if the great Scotch Reformer had but had a glimpse of this present reality, this tract would never have been written, and he would willingly have sung the pæan of aged Simeon and passed out of this life.
But this work was the offspring of the hour of darkness, if not of despair. Something must be done. A warrior of the pen, he would forge a general argument against all female rule that would inclusively destroy the legal right of Mary to continue these atrocities.
The first note of this trumpet blast, |The Kingdom apperteineth to our GOD,| shows us the vast difference between the way in which men regarded the Almighty Being then and now. Shall we say that the awe of the Deity has departed! Now so much stress is laid on the Fatherhood of GOD: in Knox's time it was His might to defend His own or to take vengeance on all their murderers. Both views are true. Nevertheless this age does seem wanting in a general and thorough reverence for His great name and character.
Knox seems like some great Hebrew seer when he thus pronounces the doom of Mary and her adherents.
The same God, who did execute this greuous punishment, euen by the handes of those, whom he suffred twise to be ouercomen in batel, doth this day retein his power and iustice. Cursed Iesabel of England, with the pestilent and detestable generation of papistes, make no litle bragge and boast, that they haue triumphed not only against Wyet, but also against all such as haue entreprised any thing against them or their procedinges. But let her and them consider, that yet they haue not preuailed against god, his throne is more high, then that the length of their hornes be able to reache. And let them further consider, that in the beginning of their bloodie reigne, the haruest of their iniquitie was not comen to full maturitie and ripenes. No, it was so grene, so secret I meane, so couered, and so hid with hypocrisie, that some men (euen the seruantes of God) thoght it not impossible, but that wolues might be changed in to lambes, and also that the vipere might remoue her natural venom. But God, who doth reuele in his time apointed the secretes of hartes, and that will haue his iudgementes iustified euen by the verie wicked, hath now geuen open testimonie of her and their beastlie crueltie. For man and woman, learned and vnlearned, nobles and men of baser sorte, aged fathers and tendre damiselles, and finailie the bones of the dead, as well women as men haue tasted of their tyrannie, so that now not onlie the blood of father Latimer, of the milde man of God the bishop of Cantorburie, of learned and discrete Ridley, of innocent ladie Iane dudley, and many godly and worthie preachers, that can not be forgotten, such as fier hath consumed, and the sworde of tyrannie moste vniustlie hath shed, doth call for vengeance in the eares of the Lord God of hostes: but also the sobbes and teares of the poore oppressed, the groninges of the angeles, the watch men of the Lord, yea and euerie earthlie creature abused by their tyrannie do continuallie crie and call for the hastie execution of the same. I feare not to say, that the day of vengeance, whiche shall apprehend that horrible monstre Iesabal of England, and suche as maintein her monstruous crueltie, is alredie apointed in the counsel of the Eternall; and I verelie, beleue that it is so nigh, that she shall not reigne so long in tyrannie, as hitherto she hath done, when God shall declare him selfe to be her ennemie, when he shall poure furth contempt vpon her, according to her crueltie, and shal kindle the hartes of such, as sometimes did fauor her with deadly hatred against her, that they may execute his iudgementes. And therfore let such as assist her, take hede what they do.
Within a year of the writing of this Mary Tudor was dead, and the system of which she was the centre was dead too.
There are some notable incidental matters in this tract.
First in matters of State. As
The spaniardes are Iewes and they bragge that Marie of England is the roote of Iesse. p.46.
That most important testimony that the Reformation under Edward VI was mainly the work of the King and his court; as it had been in the days of his father Henry VIII.
For albeit thou diddest not cease to heape benefit vpon benefit, during the reigne of an innocent and tendre king, yet no man did acknowledge thy potent hand and meruelouse working. The stoute courage of capitaines, the witte and policie of counselers, what robbed God of his honor in England in the time of the Gospell. the learning of bishoppes, did robbe the of thy glorie and honor. For what then was heard, as concerning religion, but the kinges procedinges, the kinges procedinges must be obeyed? It is enacted by parliament: therefore it is treason to speake in the contrarie. p.30.
The political shrewdness of the Writer on the entanglement of England in the Spanish War against France, whereby we lost Calais on the 6th January 1558.
They see their owne destruction, and yet they haue no grace to auoide it. The nobilities and the hole realme of England, caste themselves willingly in to the pit. Yea they are becomen so blinde, that knowing the pit, they headlong cast them selues into the same, as the nobilitie of England, do this day, fighting in the defense of their mortall ennemie the Spaniard. Finallie they are so destitute of vnderstanding and iudgement, that althogh they knowe that there is a libertie and fredome, the whiche their predecessors haue inioyed; yet are they compelled to bowe their neckes vnder the yoke of Satan, and of his proude ministres, pestilent papistes and proude spaniardes. And yet can they not consider that where a woman reigneth and papistes beare authoritie, that there must nedes Satan be president of the counsel, p.31.
The absence of any specific allusion to Calais shows that this book was wholly written before its capture.
Next, in the imagery with which he expresses his insight into the nature of things. As
It is a thing verie difficile to a man, (be he neuer so constant) promoted to honors, not to be tickled some what with pride (for the winde of vaine glorie doth easelie carie vp the, drie dust of the earth). p.19.
The wise, politic, and quiet spirites of this world, p.8.
The propertie of Goddes truth. The veritie of God is of that nature, that at one time or at other, it will pourchace to it selfe audience. It is an odour and smell, that can not be suppressed, yea it is a trumpet that will sound in despite of the adversarie. p.7.
Lastly, the marvellous lashing of women, throughout: climaxing in
Woman . . . the porte and gate of the deuil. p.19.
This work is therefore to us rather |the groaning of this angel,| this |watchman of the LORD| at the national subjection, the fiery martyrdoms, |the sobs and tears of the poor oppressed;| than the expression of any fundamental principle on which GOD has constituted human society. Intellectually, there is partiality, forgetfulness and disproportion in the argument. It applies as much to a Man as to a Woman, and more to a wicked than a good Woman. He started on the assumption that almost all women in authority were wicked. Time however alters many things; and he lived to love and reverence Queen Elizabeth.
So these trumpet notes are the outpouring of a very great nature, if not of a great thinker; of one whose absolute and dauntless devotion to GOD, to truth, to right, whose burning indignation against wrong-doing and faith in the Divine vengeance to overtake it, fitted him to do a giant's work in the Reformation, and will enshrine his memory in the affection of all good men till time shall end.