John Knox was born in Haddington, near Edinburgh, in about 1514 or 1515. He was orphaned at an early age, but his relatives sent him to St Andrews University and when he graduated he became a priest, working as a notary apostolic (ecclesiastical lawyer) and then as tutor to two young boys. Listening to the Reformer George Wishart preach, he converted to Protestantism.
In 1546 Wishart was arrested, tried by a Church court presided over by Cardinal Beaton and burned at the stake. Two months later, a group of Protestants broke into St Andrews Castle and murdered Beaton. They then held the Castle and were joined by supporters of Wishart, including Knox. A lengthy siege by the Scottish army ensued until a French fleet, summoned by the Dowager Queen Mary of Guise, captured the Castle and carried off Knox and his colleagues to serve as slaves in their galleys.
When he was finally released, it was too dangerous for Knox to return to Scotland. Instead, he travelled to England and was appointed pastor of Berwick-on-Tweed. There he gained such fame that he preached before King Edward VI of England, became an influential figure in the English Protestant Church and was invited to become Bishop of Rochester. He refused. Edward VI was dying and everyone knew that he would be succeeded by his Catholic sister, Mary Tudor. When that happened, and she began to persecute Protestants, Knox moved to the safety of Geneva, becoming the friend and disciple of John Calvin and serving as minister to a congregation of fellow exiles. There he wrote his First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, urging subjects to depose ‘ungodly’ female monarchs.
The Scottish Lords, determined to make Scotland a Protestant country, invited him back to lead them. Many of their motives were secular rather than religious, but Knox’s preaching inspired them. They finally triumphed after the death of Mary of Guise in 1560 and Scotland became an officially Protestant country. When Mary, Queen of Scots came back from France the following year, Knox was convinced that she intended to make the country Catholic once more, and preached vigorously against her. She summoned him to her Palace of Holyroodhouse to confront him, but there could be no meeting of minds between them. In 1568 Queen Mary fled to England after her defeat by her Scottish enemies at the Battle of Langside. Knox continued to serve as minister of St Giles’. His much loved first wife, the English Marjorie Bowes, had died leaving him with two small sons but he had remarried and now had three daughters. However, his health was failing and he died on 24 November 1572.