Whether it was by counsel of others, or of Queen Mary’s own desire, we know not, but the Queen spake with John Knox at Holyrood and had long reasoning with him, none being present except the Lord James Stewart, while two gentlewomen stood in the other end of the house.
The Queen accused John Knox that he had raised a part of her subjects against her mother and against herself; that he had written a book against her just authority, she meant the treatise against the Regiment of Women which she should cause the most learned in Europe to write against; that he was the cause of great sedition and great slaughter in England; and that it was said to her, that all which he did was by necromancy, etc.
To the which the said John answered: “Madam, may it please Your Majesty patiently to hear my simple answers? First, if to teach the Truth of God in sincerity, if to rebuke idolatry and to will a people to worship God according to His Word, be to raise subjects against their Princes, then can I not be excused; for it hath pleased God of His Mercy to make me one among many to disclose unto this Realm the vanity of the Papistical Religion, and the deceit, pride, and tyranny of that Roman Antichrist. But, Madam, if the true knowledge of God and His right worshipping be the chief causes, that must move men from their heart to obey their just Princes, as it is most certain they are, wherein can I be reprehended? I am surely persuaded that Your Grace has had, and presently has, as unfeigned obedience of such as profess Jesus Christ within this Realm, as ever your father or other progenitors had of those that were called Bishops. And touching that book which seemeth so highly to offend your Majesty, it is most certain that I wrote it, and I am content that all the learned of the world judge of it. I hear that an Englishman hath written against it, but I have not read him. If he hath sufficiently improved (disproved) my reasons, and established his contrary propositions with as evident testimonies as I have done mine, I shall not be obstinate, but shall confess my error and ignorance. But to this hour I have thought, and yet think, myself alone to be more able to sustain the things affirmed in my work, than any ten in Europe shall be able to confute it.
Queen Mary: “Ye think then that I have no just authority?”
John Knox: “Please Your Majesty, learned men in all ages have had their judgments free. They have most commonly disagreed from the common judgment of the world. Such also have they published, both with pen and tongue, and yet, notwithstanding, they themselves have lived in common society with others, and have borne patiently with the errors and imperfections which they could not amend. Plato, the philosopher, wrote his Books of the Commonwealth, in the which he damneth many things that then were maintained in the world, and requireth many things to be reformed. Yet, he lived under such policies as then were universally received, without further troubling of any estate. Even so, Madam, am I content to do in uprightness of heart, and with testimony of a good conscience. I have communicated my judgment to the world. If the realm finds no inconvenience from the government of a woman, that which they approve shall I not further disallow than within my own breast, but shall be as well content to live under Your Grace as Paul was to live under Nero. My hope is, that so long as ye defile not your hands with the blood of the Saints of God, neither I nor that book shall either hurt you or your authority. In very deed, Madam, that book was written most especially against that wicked Jezebel of England” (Queen Mary Tudor).
Queen Mary: “But ye speak of women in general?”
John Knox: “Most true, Madam. Yet it appeareth to me that wisdom should persuade Your Grace, never to raise trouble for that, which to this day hath not troubled Your Majesty, neither in person nor yet in authority. Of late years many things which before were holden stable have been called in doubt; yea, they have been plainly impugned. Yet, Madam, I am assured that neither Protestant nor Papist shall be able to prove, that any such question was at any time moved in public or in secret. Now, Madam, if I had intended to have troubled your estate, because ye are a woman, I might have chosen a time more convenient for that purpose, than I can do now, when your own presence is within the realm.
“But now, Madam, shortly to answer to the other two accusations. I heartily praise my God through Jesus Christ, if Satan, the enemy of mankind, and the wicked of the world, have no other crimes to lay to my charge, than such as the very world itself knoweth to be most false and vain. In England I was resident the space of five years. The places were Berwick, where I abode two years; so long in Newcastle; and a year in London. Now, Madam, if in any of these places, during the time that I was there, any man shall be able to prove that there was either battle, sedition, or mutiny, I shall confess that I myself was the malefactor and the shedder of the blood. I shame not, Madam, to affirm, that God so blessed my weak labors, that in Berwick where commonly before there used to be slaughter by reason of quarrels among soldiers there was as great quietness, all the time that I remained there, as there is this day in Edinburgh. And where they slander me of magic, necromancy, or of any other art forbidden of God, I have witnesses, besides my own conscience all congregations that ever heard me to what I spake both against such arts and against those that use such impiety.
Queen Mary: “But yet ye have taught the people to receive another religion than their Princes can allow. How can that doctrine be of God, seeing that God commandeth subjects to obey their Princes?”
John Knox: “Madam, as right religion took neither original strength nor authority from worldly princes, but from the Eternal God alone, so are not subjects bound to frame their religion according to the appetites of their princes. Princes are oft the most ignorant of all others in God’s true religion, as we may read in the Histories, as well before the death of Christ Jesus as after. If all the seed of Abraham should have been of the religion of Pharaoh, to whom they were long subjects, I pray you, Madam, what religion should there have been in the world? Or, if all men in the days of the Apostles should have been of the religion of the Roman Emperors, what religion should there have been upon the face of the earth? Daniel and his fellows were subjects to Nebuchadnezzar and unto Darius, and yet, Madam, they would not be of their religion; for the three children said: ‘We make it known unto thee, O King, that we will not worship thy Gods.’ Daniel did pray publicly unto his God against the expressed commandment of the King. And so, Madam, ye may perceive that subjects are not bound to the religion of their princes, although they are commanded to give them obedience.”
Queen Mary: “Yea, but none of these men raised the sword against their princes.”
John Knox: “Yet, Madam, ye can not deny that they resisted, for those who obey not the commandments that are given, in some sort resist.”
Queen Mary: “But yet, they resisted not by the sword?”
John Knox: “God, Madam, had not given them the power and the means.”
Queen Mary: “Think ye that subjects, having the power, may resist their princes?”
John Knox: “If their princes exceed their bounds, Madam, no doubt they may be resisted, even by power. For there is neither greater honor, nor greater obedience, to be given to kings or princes, than God hath commanded to be given unto father and mother. But the father may be stricken with a frenzy, in which he would slay his children. If the children arise, join themselves together, apprehend the father, take the sword from him, bind his hands, and keep him in prison till his frenzy be overpast: think ye, Madam, that the children do any wrong? It is even so, Madam, with princes that would murder the children of God that are subjects unto them. Their blind zeal is nothing but a very mad frenzy, and therefore, to take the sword from them, to bind their hands, and to cast them into prison, till they be brought to a more sober mind, is no disobedience against princes, but just obedience, because it agreeth with the will of God.”
At these words, the Queen stood as it were amazed, more than the quarter of an hour. Her countenance altered, so that Lord James began to entreat her and to demand, “What hath offended you, Madam?”
At length she said: “Well then, I perceive that my subjects shall obey you, and not me. They shall do what they list, and not what I command; and so must I be subject to them, and not they to me.”
John Knox: “God forbid that ever I take upon me to command any to obey me, or yet to set subjects at liberty to do what pleaseth them! My travail is that both princes and subjects obey God. Think not, Madam, that wrong is done you, when ye are willed to be subject to God. It is He that subjects peoples under princes, and causes obedience to be given unto them. Yea, God craves of Kings that they be foster-fathers to His Church, and commands Queens to be nurses to His people. This subjection, Madam, unto God, and unto His troubled Church, is the greatest dignity that flesh can get upon the face of the earth; for it shall carry them to everlasting glory.”
Queen Mary: “Yea, but ye are not the Kirk that I will nourish. I will defend the Kirk of Rome, for it is, I think, the true Kirk of God.”
John Knox: “Your will, Madam, is no reason; neither doth your thought make that Roman harlot to be the true and immaculate spouse of Jesus Christ. Wonder not, Madam, that I call Rome an harlot; for that Church is altogether polluted with all kind of spiritual fornication, as well in doctrine as in manners. Yea, Madam, I offer myself to prove, that the Church of the Jews which crucified Christ Jesus, was not so far degenerate from the ordinances which God gave by Moses and Aaron unto His people, when they manifestly denied the Son of God, as the Church of Rome is declined, and more than five hundred years hath declined, from the purity of that religion which the Apostles taught and planted.”
Queen Mary “My conscience is not so.”
John Knox: “Conscience, Madam, requireth knowledge; and I fear that right knowledge ye have none.”
Queen Mary: “But I have both heard and read.”
John Knox: “So, Madam, did the Jews who crucified Christ Jesus read both the Law and the Prophets, and heard the same interpreted after their manner. Have ye heard any teach, but such as the Pope and his Cardinals have allowed? Ye may be assured that such will speak nothing to offend their own estate.”
Queen Mary: “Ye interpret the Scriptures in one manner, and they in another. Whom shall I believe? Who shall be judge?”
John Knox: “Ye shall believe God, that plainly speaketh in His Word; and further than the Word teacheth you, ye shall believe neither the one nor the other. The Word of God is plain in itself. If there appear any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, which is never contrarious to Himself, explaineth the same more clearly in other places; so that there can remain no doubt, but unto such as obstinately will remain ignorant.
“Take one of the chief points, Madam, which this day is in controversy betwixt the Papists and us. The Papists have boldly affirmed that the Mass is the ordinance of God, and the institution of Jesus Christ, and a sacrifice for the sins of the quick and the dead. We deny both the one and the other. We affirm that the Mass, as it is now used, is nothing but the invention of man, and, therefore, is an abomination before God, and no sacrifice that ever God commanded. Now, Madam, who shall judge betwixt us two thus contending? It is no reason that either of the parties be further believed, than they are able to prove by insuspect witnessing. Let them prove their affirmatives by the plain words of the Book of God, and we shall give them the plea granted. What our Master Jesus Christ did, we know by His Evangelists; what the priest doeth at his Mass, the world seeth. Now, doth not the Word of God plainly assure us, that Christ Jesus neither said Mass, nor yet commanded Mass to be said, at His Last Supper, seeing that no such thing as their Mass is made mention of within the whole Scriptures?’
Queen Mary. “Ye are ower sair (too hard) for me, but if they were here whom I have heard, they would answer you.”
John Knox: “Madam, would to God that the learnedest Papist in Europe, and he that ye would best believe, were present with Your Grace to sustain the argument; and that ye would patiently abide to hear the matter reasoned to the end! Then, I doubt not, Madam, but ye should hear the vanity of the Papistical Religion, and how small ground it hath within the Word of God.”
Queen Mary: “Well, ye may perchance get that sooner than ye believe.”
John Knox: “Assuredly, if ever I get that in my life, I get it sooner than I believe. The ignorant Papists can not patiently reason, and the learned and crafty Papist will never come in your audience, Madam, to have the ground of their religion searched out. They know that they are never able to sustain an argument, except fire and sword and their own laws be judges.”
Queen Mary: “So say you; but I can not believe that.”
John Knox: “It hath been so to this day. How oft have the Papists in this and other realms been required to come to conference, and yet could it never be obtained, unless themselves were admitted for judges. Therefore, Madam, I must say again that they dare never dispute, but when they themselves are both judge and party. Whensoever ye shall let me see the contrary, I shall grant myself to have been deceived in that point.”
With this, the Queen was called upon to dinner, for it was afternoon. At departing, John Knox said unto her: “I pray God, Madam, that ye may be as blessed within the Commonwealth of Scotland, if it be the pleasure of God, as ever Deborah was in the Commonwealth of Israel.”
Of this long conference, whereof we only touch a part, were diverse opinions. The Papists grudged, and feared that which they needed not. The godly, thinking at least that the Queen would have heard the preaching, rejoiced; but they were all utterly deceived, for she continued in her Massing, and despised and quietly mocked all exhortation.
John Knox, his own judgment being by some of his familiars demanded, What he thought of the Queen? “If there be not in her,” said he, “a proud mind, a crafty wit, and an indurate heart against God and His truth, my judgment faileth me.”
Knox, John. History of the Reformation in Scotland. (Edited by William Croft Dickinson, D.Lit.). Philosophical Library, New York, 1950. (In 2 volumes).