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Letter to the Queen Dowager,
Regent of Scotland
(Augmented Version)

John Knox

Extracted from: Selected Writings of John Knox: Public Epistles, Treatises, and Expositions to the Year 1559

Editor's Note

When Knox visited Scotland in 1555-56, his preaching was eagerly received throughout the country. He preached in homes, and administered the sacraments to scattered Protestants in his homeland.

The papal authorities were alarmed by his success, and summoned him to appear before a convocation. To the surprise of the prelates, Knox appeared in Edinburgh, accompanied by a contingent of Protestants, with the intention of disputing the claims of his Romish adversaries. The Papists quickly backed off, setting aside their summons. Therefore, on the day of the summons, May 15, 1556, Knox seized the opportunity to preach "in Edinburgh, in a greater audience than ever before he had done in that town" (see Knox's History, in Works, vol. 1, p. 251).

That same month, at the request of Scottish nobles, Knox sent a letter to the queen regent, seeking her protection for Protestant preachers, and asking for a fair hearing of their doctrine. The regent dismissed the letter, passing it on to the prelates and jesting that the letter was a satire.

After Knox departed for Geneva, the Papists renewed their proceedings, tried Knox in absentia, condemned him, and burned him in effigy.

In 1558, from Geneva, Knox published an enlarged version of his letter to the queen regent. He reproduced the text of his original epistle, interspersed with additional comments to bring the main arguments home with greater force. Knox made it clear that he did not consider the issues a joking matter. The augmented version of the letter is that which follows here.

This epistle is particularly interesting as it addresses the duty of magistrates to promote true religion. It reveals the prophetic spirit which was typical of much of the reformer's ministry.

Letter to the Queen Dowager,
Regent of Scotland
(Augmented Version)


The cause moving me, right honourable, to present this my supplication unto your grace, enlarged and in some places explained (which being in the realm of Scotland, in the month of May 1556, I caused to be presented to your grace), is the incredible rage of such as bear the title of bishops, who against all justice and equity have pronounced against me a most cruel sentence, condemning my body to fire, my soul to damnation, and all doctrine taught by me to be false, deceitful, and heretical. If this injury did tend to me alone, having the testimony of a good conscience, with silence I could pass the matter, being assured that such as they curse and expel [from] their synagogues (for such causes) shall God bless, and Christ Jesus receive in his eternal society. But considering that this their blasphemy is vomited forth against the eternal truth of Christ's evangel (whereof it has pleased the great mercy of God to make me a minister), I cannot cease to notify as well to your grace, as unto them, that so little I am afraid of their tyrannical and surmised sentence, that in place of the picture (if God impede not my purpose) they shall have the body to justify that doctrine which they (members of Satan) blasphemously do condemn: advertising your grace in the meantime, that from them, their sentence, and tyranny, and from all those that list maintain them in the same, I do appeal to a lawful and general council, beseeching your grace to take in good part that I call you for witness, that I have required the liberty of tongue, and my cause to be heard before your grace and the body of that realm, before that any such process was laid against me, as this my letter directed to your grace does testify.

The eternal providence of the same God, who has appointed his chosen children to fight in this transitory and wretched life a strong and difficult battle, has also appointed their final victory, by a marvellous fashion; and the manner of their preservation, in their battle, [is] more marvellous (Gen. 3:15-24; Matt. 10:16-39; Acts 14:1-20). Their victory stands not in resisting, but in suffering; as our sovereign Master pronounces to his disciples, that in their patience should they possess their souls (Matt. 5:10-12; John 14, 16). And the same foresaw the prophet Isaiah, when he painted forth all other battles to be with violence, tumult, and blood shedding, but the victory of God's people to be in quietness, silence, and hope: meaning that all others that obtain victory do enforce themselves to resist their adversaries, to shed blood, and to murder (Isa. 9). But so do not the elect of God, but they sustain all things at the commandment of him who has appointed them to suffer, being most assuredly persuaded, that then only they triumph, when all men judge them oppressed. [1]For in the cross of Christ always is included a secret and hidden victory, never well known till the sufferer appears altogether to be (as it were) exterminated. For only then did the blood of Abel cry to God, when proud Cain judged all memory of his brother to have been extinguished (Gen. 4:9-10).

And so, I say, their victory is marvellous. And how that they can be preserved, and not brought to utter confusion, the eye of man perceives not. But he, whose power is infinite (Isa. 40, 41, 51), by secret and hidden motions, touches the hearts of such as, to man's judgment, have power to destroy them, of very pity and compassion to save his people; as that he did the hearts of the Egyptian midwives, to preserve the men children of the Israelites, when precept was given by Pharaoh of their destruction (Ex. 1:15-22); the heart of Pharaoh's daughter likewise to pity Moses in his young infancy, exposed to the danger of the waters (Ex. 2:5-6); the heart of Nebuchadnezzar to preserve the captives alive, and liberally to nourish the children that were found apt to letters (2 Kings 25; Jer. 52); and finally the heart of Cyrus, to set at liberty the people of God, after long bondage and thralldom (Ezra 1). [2]And thus does the invisible power and love of God manifest itself towards his elect from time to time, for two causes specially: first, to comfort his weak warriors in their manifold temptations, letting them understand that he is able to compel such as sometimes were enemies to his people, to fight in their cause, and to promote their deliverance; and secondarily, to give a testimony of his favour to them that by all appearance did live before (as St. Paul speaks) wanting [without] God in the world, as strangers from the commonwealth of Israel, and without the liege of his merciful promise and free grace made to his church (Eph. 2:12).

For who could have affirmed that any of these persons aforenamed had been of that nature and clemency, before occasions were offered unto them? But the works of mercy shown to the afflicted have left us assurance that God used them as vessels of honour. For pity and mercy shown to Christ's afflicted flock, as they never lacked temporal reward, so if they are continued (and are not changed into cruelty), [they] are assured signs and seals of everlasting mercy to be received from God, who by his Holy Spirit moves their hearts to show mercy to the people of God oppressed and afflicted.

This preface I used, to give your grace occasion more deeply to consider what has been the condition of Christ's members from the beginning, that in so doing, you might see that it is no new thing that the saints of God are oppressed in the world; that you, moved by earnest contemplation of the same, might also study rather to save them from murder (although by the wicked counsels of many you were provoked to the contrary), than to be a slave of Satan, obeying his servants your clergy, whose fury is bent against God and his verity [truth]. But this will after follow in our letter, which thus proceeds.

Your grace perchance does wonder to what purpose these things are recited, and I in very deed cannot wonder enough that occasion is offered to me (a worm most wretched) to recite the same at this present [time]. For I have looked rather for the sentence of death, than to have written to your grace in these last and most wicked days, in which Satan so blinds the hearts of many, that innocents are damned, [and] their cause never tried.

[3]Hereof you cannot be ignorant. For besides these whom you hear from time to time to be murdered most cruelly in France, Italy, Spain, Flanders, and now of late years besides you in England (for no cause, but that they profess Christ Jesus to be the only Saviour of the world, the only Mediator betwixt God and man, the only acceptable sacrifice for the sins of all faithful, and finally, the only Head to his church [1 John 2:1-2; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 6:26-27; 10:12; Eph. 5:23]) ­ besides these, I say (of whom you heard the bruit [report]), you have been witness that some within the realm of Scotland, for the same cause, have been murdered most cruelly, whose cause was never heard with indifferency [impartiality]. But murderers occupying the seat of justice have shed the blood of Christ's true witnesses: which albeit did then appear to be consumed away with fire, yet is it recent in the presence of him for whose cause they did suffer, and ceases not to call for vengeance, with the blood of Abel, to fall not only upon such as were authors of that murder, but also upon all that maintain those tyrants in their tyranny, or that do consent to their beastly cruelty.

Take this not as the affirmation of any man, but hear and consider the voice of the Son of God: "Fulfill," says he, "the measure of your fathers, that all the blood which has been shed, since the blood of Abel the just, till the blood of Zechariah," etc. "may come upon this generation" (Matt. 23:32, 35). [4]Hereby it is evident that the murderers of our time, as well as in the time of Christ, are guilty of the blood that has been shed from the beginning. Fearful, I grant, is the sentence, yet is it most equal and just. For whosoever sheds the blood of any one of Christ Jesus' members, for professing of his truth, consents to all the murder which has been made since the beginning of the world for that cause. So that, as there is one communion of all God's elect, of whom every member is participant of the whole justice of Christ; [5]so there is a communion among the reprobate, by which every one of the serpent's seed is criminal and guilty of all iniquity which the whole body commits; for because they are all together conjured against Christ Jesus, and against his eternal verity (every one serving Satan, the prince of this world, in their rank, age, degree, and estate), the murderers of their brethren, which this day live, are guilty with Cain of the blood of Abel (Gen. 4:10).

The kings and princes, which by power oppress the people of God, and will not suffer that the people truly worship God as he has commanded, but will retain them in Egypt, are brethren and companions to Pharaoh. The prelates and priests, whose horrible iniquity and insolent life have infected all realms where they reign, have with their fathers, the old Pharisees, taken away the key of knowledge, and have shut up the kingdom of heaven before men, so that neither they themselves will enter, neither yet will they suffer others to enter in the same (Luke 11:52; Matt. 23:13). And the multitude blinded, some by ignorance, some by fear, and by insatiable appetite of their part of the spoil (for Christ being crucified, the soldiers parted amongst them his garments), are conjured to defend those murderers, proud pestilent prelates against Christ Jesus (and against his poor flock). And therefore because of one crime they are all guilty (which is of treason and rebellion against Christ), of one torment they shall all taste, which is of the fire that never shall be quenched. And herein ought you, madam, be circumspect and careful, if you have any hope of the life to come. For if the consent which proceeds of ignorance and blindness brings destruction and death (as Christ our Master does witness, saying, "If the blind lead the blind, they both shall fall in the ditch" [Matt. 15:14]), what shall become of the proud and malicious contemner of God's verity offered?

[6]But our doctrine, perchance, shall be denied to be the verity. Whereunto I answer, that so was the doctrine of Noah, of Moses, of the prophets, of Christ Jesus and of his apostles. And yet the original world perished by water, Sodom and Gomorrah by fire descending from heaven (Gen. 19:24-25), Pharaoh and his adherents in the Red Sea (Ex. 14:23-28), the city of Jerusalem [and] the whole nation of the Jews by punishments and plagues:[7] notwithstanding that the whole multitude cried, "This is a new doctrine, this is heresy, and tends to sedition." [8]Our petition is, that our doctrine may be tried by the plain word of God, that liberty be granted to us to utter and declare our minds at large in every article and point which now are in controversy; which if you deny, giving ear to Christ's enemies (who condemn his doctrine for heresy), you shall drink the cup of God's vengeance with them. But now to the former letter.

I doubt not but the rumours which have come into your grace's ears of me have been such that, if all reports were true, I were unworthy to live in the earth. And wonder it is that the voices of the multitude should not have inflamed your grace's heart with just hatred of such a one as I am accused to be, that all access to pity should have been shut up. I am traduced as a heretic, accused as a false teacher and seducer of the people, besides other opprobriums, which, affirmed by men of worldly honour and estimation, may easily kindle the wrath of magistrates where innocence is not known. But blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the dew of his heavenly grace, has so quenched the fire of displeasure as yet in your grace's heart, which of late days I have understood, that Satan is frustrated of his enterprise and purpose; which is to my heart no small comfort; not so much, God is witness, for any benefit that I can receive in this miserable life by protection of any earthly creature (for the cup which it behooves me to drink is appointed by the wisdom of him whose counsels are not changeable), as that I am for that benefit, which I am assured your grace shall receive, if you continue in like moderation and clemency towards others, that most unjustly are and shall be accused, as that your grace has begun towards me and my most desperate cause. That is, if by godly wisdom you shall study to bridle the fury and rage of them, who, for the maintenance of their worldly pomp, regard [as] nothing the cruelly murdering of simple innocents; then shall he, who does pronounce mercy to appertain to the merciful, and promises that a cup of cold water given for his name's sake shall not lack a reward (Matt. 5:7; 10:42), first cause your happy government to be praised in this present age, and in posterity to come; and last recompense your godly pains and study with that joy and glory which the eye has not seen, nor yet can enter into the heart of mortal creature (1 Cor. 2:9).

If Christ's words were esteemed true, that of every idle word an account shall be given, and that nothing is so secretly done, which shall not come to knowledge and light, I suppose that the tongues of men should be better bridled, than imprudently to speak their pleasure in matters unknown (Matt. 10:26-27; 12:36). For albeit the true fear of God should not move them to speak truth, yet I would think, if any spark of humanity remained, that worldly shame should impede them to lie. When reasoning was before your grace, what man it was that preached in air ­ and diverse men were of diverse opinions, some affirming that it was an Englishman, and some supposing the contrary ­ a prelate, not of the least pride, said, "Nay, no Englishman, but it is Knox that knave." It was my lord's pleasure to baptize a poor man: the reason whereof, if it should be required, his rochet [vestment] and miter must stand for authority. What further liberty he used in defining things alike uncertain to him: to wit, of my learning and doctrine, at this present [time] I omit; lamenting more that such pestilent tongues have liberty to speak in the presence of princes, than that I am sorry for any hurt that their venom can do to me in body or fame. For what have my life and conversation been, since it has pleased God to call me from the puddle of Papistry, let my very enemies speak; and what learning I have, they may prove when they please. The report of your grace's moderation, as well at that time as after, when suit was made for my apprehension, moved me to write this my other letter. In which, albeit I have not played the orator, dilating and decking the matter for the pleasure of itching and delicate ears, yet does my conscience bear me record, that with simplicity I have advertised you of a mortal danger, as this subsequent portion shall prove.

Superfluous and foolish it shall appear to many, that I, a man of base estate and condition, dare enterprise to admonish a princess so honourable, endued with wisdom and singular graces. But when I consider the honour which God commanded to be given to magistrates (Ex. 20:12; Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17), which no doubt, if it is true honour, contains in itself, in lawful things obedience, and in all things love and reverence; when I further consider the troublesome estate of Christ's true religion, this day oppressed by blindness of men; and last, the great multitude of flatterers and the rare number of them that boldly and plainly dare speak the naked verity in presence of their princes, and principally in the cause of Christ Jesus; these things, I say, considered, whatsoever any man shall judge of my enterprise, I am compelled to say that:

[9][1.] Unless in your regiment, and in using of power, your grace is found different from the multitude of princes and head rulers, that this preeminence wherein you are placed shall be your dejection to torment and pain everlasting. This proposition is sore, but, alas! it is so true, that if I should conceal and hide it from your grace, I committed no less treason against your grace, than if I did see you by imprudency take a cup which I knew to be poisoned or envenomed, and yet would not admonish you to abstain from drinking of the same.

[10][2.] The religion which this day men defend by fire and sword is a cup envenomed, of which whosoever drinks (except by true repentance he after drinks the water of life), drinks therewith damnation and death (John 4:13-14; Rev. 14:8-11; 17:1-2; 22:17).

How, and by whom, it has been envenomed, if it were no more tedious to your grace to read or hear, than it is painful to me to write or rehearse, I would not spare the labour. But for this present [time], I have thought it some discharge of one part of my duty if I, of very love, admonish your grace of the danger. Which I do, as God one day shall declare, preferring your grace's salvation, and the salvation of the people now committed to your charge, to any corporeal benefit that can redound to myself.

As Satan by craft has corrupted the most holy ordinances of God's precepts (I mean of the first table, in the place of the spiritual honouring of God), introducing men's dreams, inventions, and fantasies; so has he, abusing the weakness of man, corrupted this precept of the second table, touching the honour which is due to parents, under whom are comprehended princes and teachers. For now the devil has so blinded the senses of many, that they cannot, or at the least will not, learn what appertains to God and what to Ceasar. But because the Spirit of God has said, "Honour the king," therefore whatsoever they command, be it right or wrong, [they think it] must be obeyed. But heavy shall be the judgment which shall apprehend such blasphemers of God's majesty, who dare be so bold as to affirm that God has commanded any creature to be obeyed against himself. [11]Against God it is that, for the commandment of any prince (be he never so potent), men shall commit idolatry, embrace a religion which God has not approved by his word, or confirm by their silence wicked and blasphemous laws made against the honour of his Majesty. Men, I say, that so do, give no true obedience; but as they are apostates from God, so are they traitors to their princes, whom by flattery they confirm in rebelling against God.

Only they which to the death resist such wicked laws and decrees are acceptable to God, and faithful to their princes; as were the three children in the presence of Nebuchadnezzar, and Daniel in the days of Darius (the Persian emperor): whose constant and free confession, as it glorified God, so did it notify as well to those tyrants, as to all ages following, the great blasphemy which in their rage and fury they committed against God (Dan. 3, 6); from the which, by all appearance, neither of both so suddenly should have been called, if the three children had bowed among the rest, and Daniel had not declared the confession of his faith, which was, with windows open, to pray towards Jerusalem, manifestly thereby declaring that he did not consent to the blasphemous law and decree which was established by the king and his council. Experience has taught us what surmises and blasphemies the adversaries of Christ Jesus ([and] of his eternal verity) do invent and devise against such as begin to detect their impiety. They are accused to be authors of sedition, raisers of tumults, violators of common orders, etc. [12]I answer with the prophet Isaiah, "That all is not reputed before God sedition and conjuration, which the foolish multitude so esteems;" neither yet is every tumult and breach of public order contrary to God's commandment. For Jesus Christ himself, coming to rive [rend] the spoil from the strong armed, who before did keep his house in quietness, is not come to send peace, but a sword, and to make a man dissent from his father,etc. (Matt. 10:34-39). His prophets before him, and apostles after him, feared not to break public orders established against God, and in so doing, to move, as it were, the one-half of peoples, nations, and cities against the others. And yet, I trust that none, except the hired servant of Satan, will accuse Christ of sedition, nor his apostles of the troubling of commonwealths.

True it is, that the most wholesome medicine most troubles for a time the body replenished with wicked and corrupted humours; but the cause hereof is known to be not in the medicine, but in the body subject to malady. Even so, the true word of God, when it enters to fight where Satan has borne dominion (as he still does in the whole Papistry), cannot but appear to be occasion of great trouble. But, madam, more profitable it is that the pestilent humours are expelled with pain, than that they be nourished to the destruction of the body. [13]The papistical religion is a moral pestilence, which shall assuredly bring to eternal death bodies and souls from the which it is not purged in this life.

And therefore take heed betimes; God calls upon you; beware that you shut not up your ears. Judge not the matter after the vility [lowliness] of my body, whom God has appointed ambassador and messenger unto you; but with reverence and fear consider him whose message I bear. I come to you in the name of the eternal God, and of Christ Jesus his Son, to whom the Father has committed all power, whom he has established Sovereign Judge over all flesh, before whose throne you must make account with what reverence you hear such as he sends. [14]It shall not excuse you to say or think, that you doubt whether I am sent of God or not. I cry unto you that the religion which the princes and blinded Papists maintain with fire and sword, is not the religion of Christ; that your proud prelates are none of Christ's bishops. I admonish you that Christ's flock is oppressed by them; and therefore I require, and that yet again, in the name of the Lord Jesus, that with indifference [impartiality] I may be heard to preach, to reason, and to dispute in that cause; which if you deny, you declare yourself to bear no reverence to Christ, nor love to his true religion.

[15]But you think, peradventure, that the care of religion is not committed to magistrates, but to the bishops and [the] estate ecclesiastical, as they term it. But deceive not yourself; for the negligence of bishops shall no less be required of the hands of the magistrates, than shall the oppression of false judges; for they unjustly promote, foster, and maintain the one and the other: the false and corrupt judge to spoil the goods and to oppress the bodies of the simple, but the proud prelates do kings maintain to murder the souls, for the which the blood of Christ Jesus was shed ­ and that they do, either by withholding from them the true word of life, or else by causing [to] teach unto them a pestilent doctrine, such as now is taught in the papistical churches.

I know that you wonder how the religion which is universally received can be so damnable and corrupted. But if your grace shall consider that ever from the beginning, the multitude has declined from God (yea, even in the people to whom he spoke by his law and prophets) [Gen. 6:5; Ps. 14:1-3; Ps. 2; Acts 4:24-30); if you shall consider that the complaint of the Holy Ghost ­ complaining that nations, people, princes, and kings of the earth, have raged, made conspiracies, and held councils against the Lord, and against his anointed Christ Jesus; further, if you shall consider the question which Jesus himself does move in these words, "When the Son of Man shall come, shall he find faith in the earth?" (Luke 18:8) and last, if your grace shall consider the manifest contempt of God and of all his holy precepts, which this day reign without punishment upon the face of the whole earth (for as Hosea complains (4:1-2), "There is no verity, there is no mercy, there is no truth this day among men, but lies, perjury, and oppression overfloweth all, and blood toucheth blood:" that is, every iniquity is joined to another); if deeply, I say, your grace shall contemplate the universal corruption that this day reigns in all estates, then shall your grace cease to wonder "that many are called, and few chosen" (Matt. 20:16; 7:13-14; 2 Thess. 2:1-12). And you shall begin to tremble and fear to follow the multitude to perdition.

The universal defection, whereof St. Paul did prophesy, is easy to be espied, as well in religion as in manners. The corruption of life is evident; and religion is not judged nor measured by the plain word of God, but by custom, consuetude, will, consent, and determination of men. But shall he who has pronounced all cogitations of man's heart to be vain at all times, accept the counsels and consents of men for a religion pleasing and acceptable before him? Let not your grace be deceived. God cannot lie; God cannot deny himself. He has witnessed from the beginning, that no religion pleases him except that which he by his own word has commanded and established (Deut. 4, 12).

The verity itself pronounces this sentence, "In vain do they worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the precepts of men." And also, "All plantation which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted out" (Matt. 15:9, 13). Before the coming of his well-beloved Son in the flesh, severely he punished all such as durst enterprise to alter or change his ceremonies and statutes, as in Saul, Uzziah, Nadab [and] Abihu, is to be read (1 Sam. 13:5-14; 15:1-33; 2 Chron. 26:16-21; Lev. 10:1-3). And will he now, after that he has opened his counsel to the world by his only Son (whom he commanded to be heard), and after that by his Holy Spirit, speaking in his apostles, he has established the religion in which he wills his true worshippers abide to the end (Matt. 17:5; Acts 1-3; 1 Cor. 11:26; Col. 2:18-23); will he now, I say, admit men's inventions in the matter of religion which he reputed for damnable idolatry? If men and angels would affirm that he will, or may do it, his own verity shall convict them of a lie. For this sentence he pronounces: "Not that which seems good in thy eyes shalt thou do to the Lord thy God, but that which the Lord thy God hath commanded thee, that do thou. Add nothing unto it, diminish nothing from it" (Deut. 4, 12). Which, sealing up his New Testament, he repeats in these words, "That which ye have, hold till I come," etc. (Rev. 2:25). And therefore yet again, it repents me not to say, that in this point, which is chief and principal, your grace must dissent from the multitude of rulers, or else you can possess no portion with Christ Jesus in his kingdom and glory.

Knowing by what craft Satan labours continually to keep the world in blindness, I added these two former points: to wit, that you should not think yourself free from the reformation of religion, because you have bishops within your realm; neither yet that you should judge that religion most perfect which the multitude by wrong custom has embraced. [16]In these two points does Satan busily travail: first, that no civil magistrate presume to take cognition in the cause of religion, for that must be deferred to the determinations of the church; [17]secondarily, that impossible it is, that that religion should be false, which so long time, so many councils, and so great a multitude of men of diverse nations and realms have allowed, authorized, and confirmed.

What is the duty of the magistrates, and what power the people have in such cases granted by God, my purpose is to write in a several [separate] letter to the nobility and estates of the realm.[18] And therefore, to avoid tediousness and repetition of one thing, I now supersede. And as touching the second, if you rightly consider the testimonies of scriptures which I have before adduced, I trust you shall find that objection sufficiently answered. [19]For if the opinion of the multitude ought always to be preferred, then did God injury to the original world. For they were all of one mind: to wit, conjured against God, except Noah and his family. And if antiquity of time shall be considered in such cases, then shall not only the idolatry of the Gentiles, but also the false religion of Mohammed, be preferred to the Papistry; for both the one and the other are more ancient than is the papistical religion. Yea, Mohammed had established his Koran before any pope in Rome was crowned with a triple crown. But as touching antiquity, I am content with Tertullian to say, "Let that be the most pure and perfect religion, which shall be proved most ancient."[20] For this is a chief point, wherein I will join issue with all the Papists in the earth: that their religion, such as it is this day, is not of such antiquity as is that which we contend to be the true and only religion acceptable before God; neither yet that their church is the catholic church, but that it is of late days in respect of Christ's institution, crept in and devised by man; and therefore [I] am bold to affirm it odious and abominable. [21]For this is our chief proposition, that in the religion of God, his own word ought only to be considered, that no authority of man nor angel ought in that case to be respected. And as for their councils, when the matter shall come to trial, it shall be easily seen for whom the most godly and most ancient councils shall most plainly speak. I will prove by a council,[22] that of more authority is the sentence of one man, founded upon the simple truth of God, than is the determination of the whole council without the assurance of God's word. But that all their determinations which we impugn are not only maintained without any assurance of scriptures, but also are established against the truth of the same, yea, and for the most part against the decrees of the former councils, I offer myself evidently to prove. But now shortly to the rest of the former letter.


[23]An orator, and God's messenger also, justly might require of you now, by God's hand promoted to high dignity, a motherly pity upon your subjects; an inflexible justice to be used against murderers and common oppressors; a heart void of avarice and partiality; a mind studious and careful for maintenance of that realm and commonwealth above whom God has placed you, and by it has made you honourable, with the rest of virtues, which not only God's scriptures, but also writers illuminated only with the light of nature, require in godly rulers. But vain it is to crave reformation of manners, where religion is corrupted. For like as a man cannot do the office of a man, till first he has a being and life; so to work works pleasant in the sight of God the Father can no man do, without the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who does not abide in the hearts of idolaters.[24]

And therefore the most godly princes, Josiah, Hezekiah, and Jehoshaphat, seeking God's favour to rest upon them and upon their people, before all things began to reform the religion (1 Kings 15:9-15; 2 Chron. 17:1-11; 2 Kings 22; 2 Chron. 34; 2 Kings 18:1-7; 2 Chron. 29-31). For it is as the stomach within the body, which, if it is corrupted, of necessity it infects the whole mass; and therefore (often I repeat that, which to be done is most necessary), if your grace pretends to reign with Christ Jesus, then it behooves you to take care of his true religion, [25]which this day within your realm is so deformed, that no part of Christ's ordinances remain in their first strength and original purity. Which, I praise God, to me is less difficult to prove than dangerous to speak. And yet neither the one nor the other I fear: partly because the love of life eternal quenches the terror of temporal death, and partly because I would, with St. Paul, wish myself accursed from Christ (as touching earthly pleasure) for the salvation of my brethren, and illumination of your grace: which thing, work, and very deed, and not bare word or writing, shall witness and declare, if I may purchase the liberty of tongue but forty days only.

The wise and facund [eloquent] Democritus had sometimes a familiar sentence: "That honest it was to commend such works as were worthy of praise, but to praise things that were wicked could not proceed but from a deceitful mind."[26] And Themistius, a philosopher of great fame, seeing the hall of Jovinian the Roman emperor replenished with flatterers, said, "Of their manners it may be espied that they worship more the scepter and the purple than God:"[27] signifying that they little regarded whether the emperor was godly or ungodly, so that they might retain themselves in favour with him. Albeit that those were ethnics [pagans], and neither had knowledge of God, as we pretend, neither had given so plain a confession to declare themselves enemies to all iniquity (as we have done by baptism, and by our holy profession of Christianity), yet do their words damn no small number of us, and chiefly of such as are conversant with princes.

For who in these miserable days judges himself to have offended, albeit he praises, allows, and maintains whatsoever the princes and upper powers devise? Yea, although it is to oppress and to spoil the poor, to pull from them their skins, and, as the prophet says, "to break their bones, and to cut them in pieces, as flesh for the cauldron or pot" (Micah 3:3); yet, I say, that the princes shall not lack judges to cry, "It is right, it is for the commonwealth, for defence of the realm and ease of the subjects." So that the estate of times is even now such, as when the prophet complained, saying, "The princes ask, and the judge is ready to give, not his own, but the life and blood of the poor" (Micah 7:3). How soon a great man has spoken the corruption of his mind, he has his flatterers ready to applaud and confirm whatsoever he speaks. And let the princes be of what religion they please, that is all one to the most part of men, so that with abnegation of God (of his honour and religion), they may retain friendship of the court. [28]But alas! how miserable are princes that so are abused, and how contagious a pestilence are such flatterers to commonwealths, empires, and realms, God has declared even from the beginning, to paint out the mischief which from them proceeds to such as give ear unto them. The ancient writers compare them to harlots, to ravens, and to more ravenous beasts, and not without cause. For as harlots can never abide that their lovers should return to repentance and soberness of mind, so cannot flatterers sustain that such as they deceive shall come to right judgment. And as ravens pick out the eyes of dead carrions, and as ravenous beasts devour the same, so do flatterers (being more cruel) pick out the eyes of living men, and, blinding the eyes of their understanding and judgment, do expose them to be devoured in body and soul to Satan.

This we have [not] by profane writers only; but the Holy Spirit taught us this infallible truth, that where iniquity reigns in a commonwealth, and none is found boldly and openly to reprehend the same, that there shall sudden vengeance and destruction follow. For thus it is written, and pronounced by the prophet Ezekiel (ch. 22): "Shalt thou not judge the city of blood, which hath made idols? whose rulers shed blood to the uttermost of their power; they have despised my holy things; they have devised iniquity, and have performed the same. The conjuration of the prophets has gathered up the riches, and whatsoever is precious within the same. [29]The priests violently have torn and rent my law. The people of the land hath wrought deceitfully. They have oppressed the poor, and have done violence to the stranger without judgment, and I have sought of them a man to repair the hedge, and to stand in the gap before me, but I have found none. Therefore I have poured forth my wrath upon them, and in the fire of my hot displeasure I have consumed them."

Advert, madam, for these are not the words of mortal man, but of the eternal God, and were not spoken against Jerusalem only, but against every realm and nation that so offends. The sins that here are named are idolatry in all; avarice and cruelty in princes and rulers; conjuration of the prophets to defend the wicked; deceit, fraud, and violence in the common people; and, finally, a universal silence of all men, none being found to reprehend these enormities. Would to God that I might with safety of conscience excuse you, your council, and the idolaters of that realm, from any of these crimes aforenamed. The idolatry which is committed is more evident than that it can be denied. The avarice and cruelty, as well of yourself, as of such as are in authority, may be known by the facts; for fame carries the voices of the poor, oppressed by intolerable taxes, not only to us here in a strange country, but, I am assured, to the ears of the God of hosts. The conspiracy and conjuration of your false prophets is known to the world, and yet none is found so faithful to God, nor merciful to your grace, that freely will and dare admonish you to repent, before God himself rises in judgment.

When I name repentance, I mean no outward show of holiness, which commonly is found in hypocrites; but I mean a true conversion to the Lord God from your whole heart, with a damning of all superstition and idolatry, in which you have been nourished, which with your presence you have decored, and to your power maintained and defended. Unless, I say, that this poison is purged from your heart (be your outward life never so glistering before the world), yet in the presence of God it is but abominable. [30]Yea, further, I say, that where this venom of the serpent (idolatry I mean) lurks in the heart, it is impossible but, at one time or other, it shall produce pestilent fruits, albeit peradventure not openly before men, yet before God no less odious than the facts of murderers, publicans, and harlots. And therefore, in my former letter, I said that it is superfluous to require reformation of manners where religion is corrupted; which yet again I repeat, to the end that your grace may weigh the matter more deeply. But now to the rest of the same, my former letter.

I am not ignorant how dangerous a thing it appears to the natural man to innovate anything in matters of religion. And partly I consider that your grace's power is not so free as a public reformation perchance would require. But if your grace shall consider the danger (the perpetual damnation) which inevitably hangs upon all maintainers of a false religion, then shall the greatest danger easily devour and swallow up the smaller. If your grace shall consider, that either you must serve God to life everlasting, or else serve the world to death and damnation, then, albeit that man and angel should dissuade you, you will choose life and refuse death. And if further, you shall consider that the very life consists in the knowledge of the only true God, and of his Son Christ Jesus (Matt. 6:24; Rom. 8:13; 1 Kings 18:21; John 17:3); and that true knowledge has annexed with it God's true worship and honour, which requires a testimony of his own will, expressed by his word, that such honour does please him: if your grace does earnestly meditate [upon] these aforesaid things, then albeit you may not do suddenly what you would, yet shall you not cease to do what you may. Your grace cannot hastily abolish superstition, and remove from offices unprofitable pastors, of whom speaks Ezekiel the prophet (ch. 34), which to a public reformation is requisite and necessary. But if the zeal of God's glory is fervent in your grace's heart, you will not by wicked laws maintain idolatry, neither will you suffer the fury of bishops to murder and devour the poor members of Christ's body, as in times bypast they have been accustomed; which thing, if either by blind ignorance you do, or yet for pleasure of others within this realm permit to be done, then, [31]except you speedily repent, you and your posterity shall suddenly feel the depressing hand of him who has exalted you (Dan. 2:44). You shall be compelled, will you or not, to know that he is eternal, against whom you address the battle; and that it is he that moderates the times and disposes kingdoms, ejecting from authority such as be disobedient, and placing others according to his good pleasure; that it is he that glorifies them that do glorify him, and pours forth contempt upon princes that rebel against his graces offered (1 Sam. 2:30; Job 12:21; Ps. 107; Dan. 2:44).

In writing of this parcel, as I remembered the impediments which might call you back from God and from his true obedience, so did I consider what occasion you had to tremble and to fear before his Majesty, and to enterprise the loss of all worldly glory for the promoting of the glory of God. [32]I do consider that your power is but borrowed, extraordinary, and unstable, for you have it but by permission of others; and seldom it is that women do long reign with felicity and joy. For as nature has denied to them a constant spirit of good government, so has God pronounced that they are never given to reign over men, but in his wrath and indignation (Isa. 3:12). Your most especial friends, moreover, blinded by the vanity of this world (yea, being drunken with the cup of that Roman harlot), are mortal enemies to Christ Jesus, and to his true religion. These things may easily abash the mind of a woman not confirmed by grace; but yet if you shall a little consider with me the causes why you ought to hazard all for the glory of God in this behalf, the former terrors shall suddenly vanish.

I do not esteem that thing greatest which peradventure some others do: to wit, that if you shall enterprise to innovate anything in matters of religion, that then you shall lose your authority, and also the favours of your carnal friends. I look further: to wit, to the judgments of God, who has begun already to declare himself angry with you, with your seed and posterity, yea, with the whole realm above which it should have ruled. [33]Impute not to fortune, that first your two sons were suddenly taken from you within the space of six hours; and after, your husband reft, as it were, by violence from life and honour ­ the memorial of his name, succession, and royal dignity perishing with himself. For albeit the usurped abuse (or rather tyranny of some realms) has permitted women to succeed to the honour of their fathers, yet must their glory be transferred to the house of a stranger. And so I say, that with himself was buried his name, succession, and royal dignity; [34]and in this, if you espy not the anger and hot displeasure of God (threatening you and the rest of your posterity with the same plague), you are more obstinate than I would wish you to be.

I would you should ponder, and consider deeply with yourself, that God uses not to punish realms and nations with such rare plagues without great cause; neither uses he to restore to honours and glory the house which he begins once to deject, till repentance of the former crimes is found. You may perchance doubt what crimes should have been in your husband, you, or the realm, for the which God should so grievously have punished you. I answer, the maintenance and defence of most horrible idolatry, with the shedding of the blood of the saints of God, who laboured to notify and rebuke the same. This, I say (other iniquities omitted), is such a crime before the eyes of his Majesty, that for the same he has poured forth his extreme vengeance upon kings, and upon their posterity ­ depriving them from honours and dignity for ever; as by the histories of the books of the Kings is most evident.

To Jeroboam it is said, "Because I have exalted thee from the midst of the people, and have made thee prince over my people Israel, I have rent the kingdom from the house of David for idolatry also, and have given it unto thee; but thou hast not been as David my servant," etc. (1 Kings 14:7-10). "But thou hast done wickedly above all that have gone before thee. For thou hast made to thee other gods and molten images to provoke me, and hast cast me behind thy back. Therefore I shall bring affliction upon the house of Jeroboam, and I shall destroy to Jeroboam all that pisseth against the wall (signifying thereby the male children), and shall cast forth the posterity of Jeroboam, as dung is cast forth till it be consumed." This sentence was not only executed against this idolater, but also against the rest of idolaters in that realm, as they succeeded one another. For to Baasha, whom God used as instrument to root out the seed of Jeroboam, it is said, "Because thou hast walked in the way of Jeroboam, and hast caused my people Israel [to] sin, that thou shouldest provoke me in their sins: therefore shall I cut down the posterity of his house, and shall make thy house as the house of Jeroboam. He that shall die to Baasha in the city, him shall dogs eat; and he that shall die in the field, him shall the fowls devour" (1 Kings 16:2-4). Of the same cup, and for the same cause, drank Elah and Ahab, yea, and the posterity of Jehu, following the footsteps of their forefathers (1 Kings 16:8-14; 2 Kings 10, 17).

By these examples you may evidently espy that idolatry is the cause why God destroys the posterity of princes: not only of those that first invent abominations, but also of such as follow and defend the same. Consider, madam, that God has begun very sharply with you, taking from you, as it were together, two children and a husband. He has begun, I say, to declare himself angry; beware that you provoke not the eyes of his Majesty. It will not be the haughty looks of the proud, the strength of your friends, nor multitude of men, that can justify your cause in his presence. If you presume to rebel against him (and against him you rebel, if you deny my most humble request, which I make in his name, and it is this: with the hazard of my own life, [35]I offer to prove that religion which you now maintain, to be false, deceitful, and abomination before God; and that I shall do by the most evident testimonies of his blessed, holy, and infallible word) ­ if this, I say, you deny (rebelling against God), the favour of your friends shall little avail you, when he shall declare himself enemy to you and to your posterity; [36]which, assure yourself, he shall shortly do, if you begin to display the banner of your malice against him.

[37]Let not the prosperity of others, be they princes, queens, kings, or emperors, embolden you to contemn God and his loving admonition. They shall drink the cup of his wrath, every one in their rank, as he has appointed them. [38]No realm in these quarters, except it that lies next to you, has he so manifestly stricken with this terrible rod, as he has done you, and your realm. And therefore it becomes you first to stoop, except that you will have the threatenings pronounced by Isaiah the prophet ratified upon you: to wit: "That your sudden destruction be as the rotten wall, and your breaking as the breaking of a potsherd, which is broken without pity; so that no portion of it can be found able either to carry fire or water" (Isa. 30:13-14). Whereby the prophet does signify, that the proud contemners of God, and of his admonitions, shall so perish from all honours, that they shall have nothing worthy of memorial behind them in the earth (Isa. 14:22). Yea, if they do leave anything, as it shall be unprofitable, so shall it be in execration and hatred to the elect of God (Isa. 66:24). And therefore thus proceeds my former letter.

How dangerous that ever it shall appear to the flesh, to obey God, and to make war against the devil, (the prince of darkness, pride and superstition); yet if your grace looks to have yourself and seed to continue in honour (worldly and everlasting), subject yourself betimes under the hand of him that is omnipotent.[39] Embrace his will, despise not his testament, refuse not his graces offered. When he calls upon you, withdraw not your care. Be not led away with the vain opinion, that your church cannot err. Be you most assuredly persuaded, that so far as in life you see them degenerate from Christ's true apostles, so in religion are they further corrupted. Lay the book of God before your eyes, and let it be judge to that which I say (Josh. 1:8); which if you with fear and reverence obey, as did Josiah the admonitions of the prophetess (2 Chron. 34:20-33), then shall he (by whom kings do reign) crown your battle with double benediction, and reward you with wisdom, riches, glory, honour, and long life in this your temporal regiment (2 Chron. 1:7-12), and with everlasting life, when the King of all kings (whose members now do cry for your help), the Lord Jesus, shall appear to judgment, accompanied with his angels, before whom you shall make account of your present regiment, when the proud and disobedient shall cry, "Mountains, fall upon us, and hide us from the face of the Lord" (Rev. 6:16). But then it shall be too late, because they contemned his voice when he lovingly called.

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of his Holy Spirit, move your heart so to consider and accept the things that are said, that they are not a testimony of your just condemnation, in that great day of the Lord Jesus, to whose omnipotent Spirit I unfeignedly commit your grace.

When Jeremiah the prophet, at the commandment of God, had written the sermons, threatenings, and plagues which he had spoken against Israel and Judah; and had commanded them to be read by Baruch the scribe, because himself was excommunicated and forbidden to enter into the temple; by the providence of God, it came to pass, that Michaiah the son of Gemariah, hearing the said sermons, passed to the king's house, and did communicate the matter with the rest of the princes, who also after they had read the same volume of Jeremiah's preachings, did not conceal the truth from King Jehoiakim, who then did reign in Jerusalem. But the proud and desperate prince, commanding the book to be read in his presence, before he had heard three or four leaves of the same, did cut it and cast it into the fire, notwithstanding that some of the princes (I think not all) made request in the contrary. But the prophet was charged by God to write again, and to say to Jehoiakim the king, "Thus saith the Lord, 'Thou hast burnt this book, saying, "Why hast thou written it according to this sentence: 'Assuredly the king of Babylon shall come, and shall destroy this land, and shall make it void of men and beasts.'"' Therefore, thus saith the Lord of Jehoiakim the king, 'There shall not be one left alive to sit in the seat of David. Their carcasses shall be cast to the heat of the day, and to the frost of the night (whereby the prophet did signify the most vile contempt and most cruel torment), and I shall visit the iniquity of himself, of his seed and servants, and I shall bring upon them, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and upon all Judah, all the calamities which I have spoken against them.' Albeit they would not hear."

This is not written, madam, for that time only, but to assure us that the like punishment abides the like contemners, of what estate, condition, or degree that ever they be. I did write unto you before, having testimony of a good conscience, that I did it in the fear of my God, and by the motion of his Holy Spirit (for the request of faithful brethren in things lawful and appertaining to God's glory, I cannot but judge to be the voice of the Holy Ghost); but how you did accept the same, my former writing, I do not otherwise than by conjectures understand. Whether you did read it to the end or not, I am uncertain. One thing I know: that you did deliver it to one of your prelates, saying, "My lord, will you read a pasquil [satire]?" As charity persuades me to interpret things (doubtfully spoken) in the best sense, so my duty to God (who has commanded me to flatter no prince in the earth) compels me to say, that if you no more esteem the admonition of God, nor [than] the cardinals do the scoffing of pasquils, that then he shall shortly send you messengers with whom you shall not be able on that matter to jest. If my person be considered, I grant that my threatenings are no more to be feared than the merry sports which fearful men do father upon Pasquillus in Rome.[40] But madam, if you shall deeply consider, that God uses men (yea, and most commonly those that are of lowest degree, and most abject before the world) to be his messengers and ambassadors (not only to notify his will to the simple people, but also to rebuke the most proud tyrants and potent princes), then will you not judge the liquor by the outward appearance and nature of the vessel (Amos 3). For you are not ignorant, that the most noble wine is enclosed within the tunne [cask] made of frail wood, and that the most precious ointment is often kept within the pot made of clay.

If further you shall consider, that God will do nothing touching the punishment of realms and nations, which he will not reveal to his servants the prophets (Zech. 1), whose tongues he will compel to speak (sometimes contrary to the appetite and desires of their own hearts), and whose words he will perform, be they never so unapparent to the judgment of men; if these you do deeply weigh, then will you fear the thing which presently is not seen. Elijah was but a man, as St. James (5:17-18) does witness, like to his brethren; and yet at his prayer was Ahab the idolater, and all Israel with him, punished three years and six months, God shutting up the heaven, that neither rain nor dew fell upon the earth the space afore written (1 Kings 17-19). And in the end, God so wrought by him, that Baal's priests were first confounded, and after justly punished. And albeit that Jezebel sought his blood, and by oath had determined his death; yet as she was frustrated of her intent, so could she not keep her own bones from the dogs; which punishment the prophet (God so ruling his tongue) had before appointed to that wicked woman (2 Kings 9:30-37; 1 Kings 21:20).

Albeit, madam, that the messengers of God are not sent this day with visible miracles ­ because they teach none other doctrine than that which is confirmed with miracles from the beginning of the world ­ yet will not he, who has promised to take charge over his poor and little flock to the end, suffer the contempt of their embassy [to] escape punishment and vengeance. For the Truth himself has said, "He that heareth you heareth me, and he that contemneth you contemneth me" (Matt. 10:14, 40). I did not speak unto you, madam, by my former letter, neither yet do I now, as Pasquillus does to the pope and his carnal cardinals, in the behalf of such as dare not utter their names; but I come in the name of Christ Jesus, affirming that the religion which you maintain is damnable idolatry; the which I offer myself to prove by the most evident testimony of God's scriptures. And in this quarrel I present myself against all the Papists within the realm, desiring none other armour but God's holy word, and the liberty of my tongue.

God move your heart to understand my petition, to know the truth, and unfeignedly to follow the same.


I am the beginning and the end. I will give to him that is athirst of the well of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Revelation 21:6-8).


1. Marginal note: In the cross of Christ is victory hid

2. Marginal note: Note

3. Marginal note: The cause why the saints of God are this day persecuted

4. Marginal note: Whoever sheds the blood of one of Christ's members for his name's sake, consents to the blood of all that have suffered since the beginning

5. Marginal note: Note

7. Marginal note: Answer to an objection

7. Marginal note: Josephus

8. Marginal note: The petition of such as be persecuted

9. Marginal note: The first proposition

10. Marginal note: The second proposition

11. Marginal note: Take heed of unlawful obedience

12. Marginal note: Answer to an objection

13. Marginal note: The papistical religion a moral pestilence

14. Marginal note: The admonition

15. Marginal note: Answer to an objection

16. Marginal note: The craft of Satan

17. Marginal note: The ground of papistical religion

18. See Knox's Appellation from the Sentence Pronounced by the Bishops and Clergy: Addressed to the Nobility and Estates of Scotland (1558), pages 473-532; and Letter Addressed to the Commonalty of Scotland (1558), pages 535-551.

19. Marginal note: Note

20. Marginal note: Tertullian in Apologet.

21. Marginal note: The chief proposition

22. Marginal note: Nicene 1

23. Marginal note: The duty of magistrates

24. Marginal note: The Spirit of God abides not with idolaters

25. Marginal note: The second proposition

26. Marginal note: Stob. Ser. 12

27. Marginal note: Nicephocalistus Histor. Eccles., lib. 10, cap. 42.

28. Marginal note: Flatterers are a contagious pestilence

29. Marginal note: Note

30. Marginal note: Idolatry is the mother of all vice

31. Marginal note: Except

32. Marginal note: Note

33. Marginal note: Note

34. Marginal note: Note

35. Marginal note: The offer of John Knox

36. Marginal note: Advert

37. Marginal note: Prosperity for a time proves not religion good

38. Marginal note: No realm, England excepted, so grievously plagued as Scotland

39. Marginal note: Exhortation

40. " Pasquillus," referring to a statue at Rome named Pasquino. Pope Adrian VI, says Burton, translating a passage from Paulus Jovius, "was so highly offended and grievously vexed with Pasquillers at Rome, that he gave command that statue should be demolished and burned, the ashes flung in the river Tiber; and had done it forthwith, had not Ludovicus Suessanus, a facete companion, dissuaded him to the contrary, by telling him that Pasquil's ashes would turn into frogs in the bottom of the river, and croak worse and louder than before." (Anatomy of Melancholy, 1649 ed., p. 149).

The mutilated statue of Pasquino still exists, at the corner of the Palazzo Bruschi, and possesses an historical interest. For several centuries, sarcastic and witty effusions, directed against the highest dignitaries in church and state, continued to be affixed to this statue of Pasquino, or Pasquillus. A similar statue, named Marforio, in the court of the Museum of the Capitol, was employed as his respondent. [D.L.]

Copyright © 1995 by Kevin Reed
Presbyterian Heritage Publications
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This edition has been edited to reflect contemporary spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Bracketed words are supplied where needed to complete the sense of a sentence. Bracketed words in italics are inserted following some antiquated terms or phrases as a convenience to the modern reader. Therefore, the words in brackets are not a part of the original text.

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