engraved by W. Greatbach, ca. 1845
There are a number of versions of this painting, one is in the National Trust Collection at Petworth House, there is another in the National Galleries of Scotland, Scottish National Gallery, there is another in the Tate Britain collection (not on display) all three versions and this one are oil on panel and each varey in size the largest being 1226 x 1651 mm.
John Knox (c. 1513 – 24 November 1572) was a Scottish clergyman, theologian, and writer who was a leader of the Protestant Reformation and is considered the founder of the Presbyterian denomination in Scotland. He is believed to have been educated at the University of St Andrews and worked as a notary-priest. Influenced by early church reformers such as George Wishart, he joined the movement to reform the Scottish church. He was caught up in the ecclesiastical and political events that involved the murder of Cardinal Beaton in 1546 and the intervention of the regent of Scotland Mary of Guise. He was taken prisoner by French forces the following year and exiled to England on his release in 1549.
While in exile, Knox was licensed to work in the Church of England, where he rose in the ranks to serve King Edward VI of England as a royal chaplain. He exerted a reforming influence on the text of the Book of Common Prayer. In England he met and married his first wife, Margery Bowes. When Mary Tudor ascended the throne and re-established Roman Catholicism, Knox was forced to resign his position and leave the country. Knox moved to Geneva and then to Frankfurt. In Geneva he met John Calvin, from whom he gained experience and knowledge of Reformed theology and Presbyterian polity. He created a new order of service, which was eventually adopted by the reformed church in Scotland. He left Geneva to head the English refugee church in Frankfurt but he was forced to leave over differences concerning the liturgy, thus ending his association with the Church of England.
On his return to Scotland he led the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, in partnership with the Scottish Protestant nobility. The movement may be seen as a revolution, since it led to the ousting of Mary of Guise, who governed the country in the name of her young daughter Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox helped write the new confession of faith and the ecclesiastical order for the newly created reformed church, the Kirk. He continued to serve as the religious leader of the Protestants throughout Mary's reign. In several interviews with the Queen, Knox admonished her for supporting Catholic practices. When she was imprisoned for her alleged role in the murder of her husband Lord Darnley, and King James VI enthroned in her stead, he openly called for her execution. He continued to preach until his final days.
John Knox was born sometime between 1505 and 1515 in or near Haddington, the county town of East Lothian. His father, William Knox, was a merchant. All that is known of his mother is that her maiden name was Sinclair and that she died when John Knox was a child. Their eldest son, William, carried on his father's business, which helped in Knox's international communications. Knox was probably educated at the grammar school in Haddington. In this time, the priesthood was the only path for those whose inclinations were academic rather than mercantile or agricultural. He proceeded to further studies at the University of St Andrews or possibly at the University of Glasgow. He studied under John Major, one of the greatest scholars of the time. Knox first appears in public records as a priest and a notary in 1540. He was still serving in these capacities as late as 1543 when he described himself as a "minister of the sacred altar in the diocese of St. Andrews, notary by apostolic authority" in a notarial deed dated 27 March.Rather than taking up parochial duties in a parish, he became tutor to two sons of Hugh Douglas of Longniddry. He also taught the son of John Cockburn of Ormiston. Both of these lairds had embraced the new religious ideas of the Reformation.
Knox did not record when or how he was converted to the Protestant faith, but perhaps the key formative influences on Knox were Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart. Wishart was a reformer who had fled Scotland in 1538 to escape punishment for heresy. He first moved to England, where in Bristol he preached against the veneration of the Virgin Mary. He was forced to make a public recantation and was burned in effigy at the Church of St Nicholas as a sign of his abjuration. He then took refuge in Germany and Switzerland. While on the Continent, he translated the First Helvetic Confession into English. He returned to Scotland in 1544, but the timing of his return was unfortunate. In December 1543, James Hamilton, Duke of Châtellerault, the appointed regent for the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, had decided with the Queen Mother, Mary of Guise, and Cardinal David Beaton to persecute the Protestant sect that had taken root in Scotland. Wishart travelled throughout Scotland preaching in favour of the reformation and when he arrived in East Lothian, Knox became one of his closest associates. Knox acted as his bodyguard, bearing a two-handed sword in order to defend him. In December 1545, Wishart was seized on Cardinal Beaton's orders by the Earl of Bothwell and taken to the Castle of St Andrews. Knox was present on the night of Wishart's arrest and was prepared to follow him into captivity, but Wishart persuaded him against this course saying, "Nay, return to your bairns [children] and God bless you. One is sufficient for a sacrifice." Wishart was subsequently prosecuted by Beaton's Public Accuser of Heretics, Archdeacon John Lauder. On 1 March 1546, he was burnt at the stake in the presence of Cardinal Beaton.
Knox had avoided being arrested by Lord Bothwell through Wishart's advice to return to tutoring. He took shelter with Douglas in Longniddry. Several months later he was still in charge of the pupils, the sons of Douglas and Cockburn, who wearied of moving from place to place while being pursued. He toyed with the idea of fleeing to Germany and taking his pupils with him. While Knox remained a fugitive, Cardinal Beaton was murdered on 29 May 1546, within his residence, the Castle of St Andrews, by a gang of five persons in revenge for Wishart's execution. The assassins seized the castle and eventually their families and friends took refuge with them, about a hundred and fifty men in all. Among their friends was Henry Balnaves, a former secretary of state in the government, who negotiated with England for the financial support of the rebels. Douglas and Cockburn suggested to Knox to take their sons to the relative safety of the castle to continue their instruction in reformed doctrine. Knox arrived at the castle on 10 April 1547.
Knox's powers as a preacher came to the attention of the chaplain of the garrison, John Rough. While Rough was preaching in the parish church on the Protestant principle of the popular election of a pastor, he proposed Knox to the congregation for that office. Knox did not relish the idea. According to his own account, he burst into tears and fled to his room. Within a week, however, he was giving his first sermon to a congregation that included his old teacher, John Major. He expounded on the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel, comparing the Pope with the Antichrist. His sermon was marked by his consideration of the Bible as his sole authority and the doctrine of justification by faith alone, two elements that would remain in his thoughts throughout the rest of his life. A few days later, a debate was staged that allowed him to lay down additional theses including the rejection of the Mass, Purgatory, and prayers for the dead.
John Knox's chaplaincy of the castle garrison was not to last long. While Hamilton was willing to negotiate with England to stop their support of the rebels and bring the castle back under his control, Mary of Guise decided that it could only be taken by force and requested the king of France, Henry II to intervene. On 29 June 1547, 21 French galleys approached St Andrews under the command of Leone Strozzi, prior of Capua. The French besieged the castle and forced the surrender of the garrison on 31 July. The Protestant nobles and others, including Knox, were taken prisoner and forced to row in the French galleys. The galley slaves were chained to benches and rowed throughout the day without a change of posture while an officer watched over them with a whip in hand. They sailed to France and navigated up the Seine to Rouen. The nobles, some of whom would have an impact later in Knox's life such as William Kirkcaldy and Henry Balnaves, were sent to various castle-prisons in France. Knox and the other galley slaves continued to Nantes and stayed on the Loire throughout the winter. They were threatened with torture if they did not give proper signs of reverence when mass was performed on the ship. Knox recounted an incident in which one Scot—possibly himself, as he tended to narrate personal anecdotes in the third person—was required to show devotion to a picture of the Virgin Mary. The prisoner was told to give it a kiss of veneration. He refused and when the picture was pushed up to his face, the prisoner seized the picture and threw it into the sea, saying, "Let our Lady now save herself: she is light enough: let her learn to swim." After that, according to Knox, the Scottish prisoners were no longer forced to perform such devotions.
In summer 1548, the galleys returned to Scotland to scout for English ships. Knox's health was now at its lowest point due to the severity of his confinement. He was ill with a fever and others on the ship were afraid for his life. Even in this state, Knox recalled, his mind remained sharp and he comforted his fellow prisoners with hopes of release. While the ships were lying offshore between St Andrews and Dundee, the spires of the parish church where he preached appeared in view. James Balfour, a fellow prisoner, asked Knox whether he recognised the landmark. He replied that he knew it well, recognising the steeple of the place where he first preached and he declared that he would not die until he had preached there again. In February 1549, after spending a total of 19 months in the galley-prison, Knox was released. It is uncertain how he obtained his liberty.Later in the year, Henry II arranged with Edward VI of England the release of all remaining Castilian prisoners.
On his release, Knox took refuge in England. The Reformation in England was a less radical movement than its Continental counterparts, but there was a definite breach with Rome. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and the regent of King Edward VI, the Duke of Somerset, were decidedly Protestant-minded. However, much work remained to bring reformed ideas to the clergy and to the people. On 7 April 1549, Knox was licensed to work in the Church of England. His first commission was in Berwick-upon-Tweed. He was obliged to use the recently released Book of Common Prayer, which maintained the structure of the Sarum Rite while adapting the content to the doctrine of the reformed Church of England. Knox, however, modified its use to accord with the doctrinal emphases of the Continental reformers. In the pulpit he preached Protestant doctrines with great effect as his congregation grew.
In England, Knox met his wife, Margery Bowes (died c.1560). Her father, Richard Bowes (d.1558), was a descendant of an old Durham family and her mother, Elizabeth Aske, was an heiress of a Yorkshire family, the Askes of Richmondshire.Elizabeth Bowes presumably met Knox when he was employed in Berwick. Several letters reveal a close friendship between them. It is not recorded when Knox married Margery Bowes.Knox attempted to obtain the consent of the Bowes family, but her father and her brother Robert Bowes were opposed to the marriage.
Towards the end of 1550, Knox was appointed a preacher of St Nicholas' Church in Newcastle upon Tyne. The following year he was appointed one of the six royal chaplains serving the King. On 16 October 1551, John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, overthrew the Duke of Somerset to become the new regent of the young King. Knox condemned the coup d'état in a sermon on All Saints Day. When Dudley visited Newcastle and listened to his preaching in June 1552, he had mixed feelings about the fire-brand preacher, but he saw Knox as a potential asset. Knox was asked to come to London to preach before the Court. In his first sermon, he advocated a change for the second edition of the Book of Common Prayer. The liturgy required worshippers to kneel during communion. Knox and the other chaplains considered this to be idolatry. It triggered a debate where Archbishop Cranmer was called upon to defend the practice. The end result was a compromise in which the famous Black Rubric, which declared that no adoration is intended while kneeling, was included in the second edition.
Soon afterwards, Dudley, who saw Knox as a useful political tool, offered him the bishopric of Rochester. Knox refused, and he returned to Newcastle.On 2 February 1553 Cranmer was ordered to appoint Knox as vicar of Allhallows Church in London placing him under the authority of the Bishop of London, Nicholas Ridley. Knox returned to London in order to deliver a sermon before the King and the Court during Lent and he again refused to take the assigned post. Knox was then told to preach in Buckinghamshire and he remained there until Edward's death on 6 July. Edward's successor, Mary Tudor, re-established Roman Catholicism in England and restored the Mass in all the churches. With the country no longer safe for Protestant preachers, Knox left for the Continent in January 1554 on the advice of friends. On the eve of his flight, he wrote: Sometime I have thought that impossible it had been, so to have removed my affection from the realm of Scotland, that any realm or nation could have been equal dear to me. But God I take to record in my conscience, that the troubles present (and appearing to be) in the realm of England are double more dolorous unto my heart than ever were the troubles of Scotland.
Knox disembarked in Dieppe, France, and continued to Geneva, where John Calvin had established his authority. When Knox arrived Calvin was in a difficult position. He had recently prosecuted the execution of the scholar Michael Servetus for heresy. Knox asked Calvin four difficult political questions: whether a minor could rule by divine right, whether a female could rule and transfer sovereignty to her husband, whether people should obey ungodly or idolatrous rulers, and what party godly persons should follow if they resisted an idolatrous ruler. Calvin gave cautious replies and referred him to the Swiss reformer Heinrich Bullinger in Zürich. Bullinger's responses were equally cautious; but Knox had already made up his mind. On 20 July 1554, he published a pamphlet attacking Mary Tudor and the bishops who had brought her to the throne. He also attacked the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, calling him "no less enemy to Christ than was Nero".
In a letter dated 24 September 1554, Knox received an invitation from a congregation of English exiles in Frankfurt to become one of their ministers. He accepted the call with Calvin's blessing. But no sooner had he arrived than he found himself in a conflict. The first set of refugees to arrive in Frankfurt had subscribed to a reformed liturgy and used a modified version of the Book of Common Prayer. More recently arrived refugees, however, including Edmund Grindal, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, favoured a stricter application of the book. When Knox and a supporting colleague, William Whittingham, wrote to Calvin for advice, they were told to avoid contention. Knox therefore agreed on a temporary order of service based on a compromise between the two sides. This delicate balance was disturbed when a new batch of refugees arrived that included Richard Cox, one of the principal authors of the Book of Common Prayer. Cox brought Knox's pamphlet attacking the emperor to the attention of the Frankfurt authorities, who advised that Knox leave. His departure from Frankfurt on 26 March 1555 marked his final breach with the Church of England.
After his return to Geneva, Knox was chosen to be the minister at a new place of worship petitioned from Calvin. In the meantime, Elizabeth Bowes wrote to Knox, asking him to return to Margery in Scotland, which he did at the end of August. Despite initial doubts about the state of the Reformation in Scotland, Knox found the country significantly changed since he was carried off in the galley in 1547. When he toured various parts of Scotland preaching the reformed doctrines and liturgy, he was welcomed by many of the nobility including two future regents of Scotland, the Earl of Moray and the Earl of Mar.
Though the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise, made no move to act against Knox, his activities caused concern among the church authorities. The bishops of Scotland viewed him as a threat to their authority and summoned him to appear in Edinburgh on 15 May 1556. He was accompanied to the trial by so many influential persons that the bishops decided to call the hearing off. Knox was now free to preach openly in Edinburgh. William Keith, the Earl Marischal, was impressed and urged Knox to write to the Queen Regent. Knox's unusually respectful letter urged her to support the Reformation and overthrow the church hierarchy. Queen Mary took the letter as a joke and ignored it.
Shortly after Knox sent the letter to the Queen Regent, he suddenly announced that he felt his duty was to return to Geneva. In the previous year on 1 November 1555, the congregation in Geneva had elected Knox as their minister and he decided to take up the post. He wrote a final letter of advice to his supporters and left Scotland with his wife and mother-in-law. He arrived in Geneva on 13 September 1556. For the next two years, he lived a happy life in Geneva. He recommended Geneva to his friends in England as the best place of asylum for Protestants. In one letter he wrote:
I neither fear nor eschame to say, is the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the apostles. In other places I confess Christ to be truly preached; but manners and religion so sincerely reformed, I have not yet seen in any other place ...
Knox led a busy life in Geneva. He preached three sermons a week, each lasting well over two hours. The services used a liturgy that was derived by Knox and other ministers from Calvin's Formes des Prières Ecclésiastiques . The church in which he preached, the Église de Notre Dame la Neuve—now known as the Auditoire de Calvin—had been granted by the municipal authorities, at Calvin's request, for the use of the English and Italian congregations. Knox's two sons, Nathaniel and Eleazar, were born in Geneva, with Whittingham and Myles Coverdale their respective godfathers.
In the summer of 1558, Knox published his best known pamphlet, The first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women. In calling the "regiment" or rule of women "monstruous", he meant that it was "unnatural". The pamphlet has been called a classic of misogyny. Knox states that his purpose was to demonstrate "how abominable before God is the Empire or Rule of a wicked woman, yea, of a traiteresse and bastard".The women rulers that Knox had in mind were Queen Mary I of England and Mary of Guise, the Dowager Queen of Scotland and regent on behalf of her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox's prejudices against women were not unusual in his day; however, even he was aware that the pamphlet was dangerously seditious. He therefore published it anonymously and did not tell Calvin, who denied knowledge of it until a year after its publication, that he had written it. In England, the pamphlet was officially condemned by royal proclamation. The impact of the document was complicated later that year, when Elizabeth Tudor became Queen of England. Although Knox had not targeted Elizabeth, he had deeply offended her, and she never forgave him.
With a Protestant on the throne, the English refugees in Geneva prepared to return home. Knox himself decided to return to Scotland. Before his departure, various honours were conferred on him, including the freedom of the city of Geneva. Knox left in January 1559, but he did not arrive in Scotland until 2 May 1559, owing to Elizabeth's refusal to issue him a passport through England
John Knox has been called many things but in the context of the religious reformation then taking place, the comment by Mary, Queen of Scots, sums him up. She considered him “ the most dangerous man in all the realm” - meaning his ideas. Knox was first a priest but having heard George Wishart preach he took up the reformed, Protestant, doctrines in 1543. After some time as a minister in England he went to Frankfort in Germany and to Geneva where he preached to English and Scottish exiles. In Geneva he was influenced by the teachings of John Calvin which he adopted and subsequently brought with him to Scotland. Knox is sometimes unfairly cast as a zealot and a fanatic when he was simply very earnest in his beliefs. As with the later Covenanters, he lived and breathed his beliefs with a fervour that we cannot really appreciate in the laid back and largely pagan society of the twenty first century. But these were strengths, to which should be added a commanding intellect that could overawe his audience, and a penetrating mind. He was also possessed of very wide experience from his travels and associations with some of the most learned men in Europe. In short he possessed the qualities needed to be a leader, and capable of standing up to the staunchly Catholic Queen Regent, Mary of Guise, mother of Mary Queen of Scots.
In Scotland the death of James V on 14 December 1542 brought the one week old Mary to the throne and with her accession a battle for the Regency. The Earl of Arran was Regent for some years during which there were several incursions into Scotland by the English. Scotland, meanwhile, was under great pressure from the French who supported the Queen Mother, Mary of Guise in her bid to be Queenmaryguise.jpg (17523 bytes) Regent. On the pretext of keeping order the Regent Mary was supplied with French troops but this was a tactic to put pressure on England with whom war was looming. With French forces on its borders, the English responded to the threat. The Duke of Somerset defeated the Scots army at Pinkie on ‘Black Saturday,’ 9 September 1547. This was followed by the building of a chain of forts along the border and several years of relative peace. However, French influence remained in Scotland and more French troops arrived to occupy Edinburgh causing the English to finally withdraw. The young Mary, Queen of Scots, was sent to France where she spent the next thirteen years and married the Dauphin, Francis, later King Francis II. While the young Scottish queen was in France, there followed a concurrent period of upheaval in Scotland as Mary of Guise sought to impose her authority and that of the Catholic church. Her position and French influence was improved when she became Queen Regent in 1554 but she made enemies through her appointment of Frenchmen to positions of power.
Into this cauldron of intrigue came John Knox in 1555 who had been invited by a growing evangelical movement to preach and plan for the establishment of a reformed faith. Knox preached at Duns House, between Montrose and Berwick—the home of John Erskine; at Calder House, West Lothian, the home of Sir James Sandilands; Finlayston House, Kilmalcolm, the home of Alexander Cunningham, Fifth Earl of Glencairn; at Castle Campbell, home of Archibald Campbell (later Fifth Earl of Argyll); and at other homes in Ayr, Barr, Gadgirth, Kinzeancleuch, and Ochiltree in Ayrshire. Other supporters in the nobility who were strengthened in their faith by Knox’s endeavours included Lord Erskine (later Sixth Earl of Mar) and Lord James Stewart (later Earl of Moray and Regent.) These were men of great influence and power who were able to summon substantial military forces to their aid and had to be regarded with respect. But even so, with French soldiers in support of Mary of Guise, they had to tread carefully. Even the fearless Knox returned to Geneva for a while in July 1556.
The Queen Regent then sought to raise a standing army to bring pressure on England who was close to war with France. However, she encountered the strong resistance of the property owners who would be forced to pay for it. A protest meeting of over three hundred lairds in the Abbey Church of Holyrood in 1556 caused her to yield from the proposal. In England Mary Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VIII and now Queen of England, declared war on France in 1557. This spurred the Queen Regent in Scotland to assemble an army near Kelso to attack England. But the assembled Lords of Arran, Huntly, Argyll, and others, declared themselves as assembled only for the defence of Scotland and not for aggression against England.
Meanwhile, in March 1557 the Lords had written to Knox and asked him to return to Scotland. In reply Knox encouraged them to be bold and public, reckoning that their power and influence could help turn the tide against Romanism. This they agreed to do. On 3 December 1557 the first “Band” or Covenant was signed by the Lairds of the Mearns to establish the word of God and to labour for the institution and support of “faithful ministers purely and truly to minister Christ’s Evangel and Sacraments to His people.” Their objectives were very simple and explicit: that the public prayers and administration of the sacraments by ministers should be celebrated in their mother tongue so that all people might understand them, and that the election of ministers according to the custom of the primitive Church, should be made by the people. The signatories to the Band or Covenant were Archibald Campbell, Earl of Argyll; the Earl of Glencairn; the Earl of Morton; Archibald Campbell, Lord of Lorne; and John Erskine of Dun.
Thus came into being “The Congregation of Jesus Christ” or “The Lords of the Covenant” which grew to become a formal opposition to Catholicism. The Congregation then demanded religious freedom to which the Regent responded with the execution for heresy of the eighty-two-year-old Walter Mill on 28 April 1558. He was a former priest who had stopped giving the Mass and joined the evangelical movement. The Congregation immediately demanded that the clergy’s power to try for heresy be suspended but the Regent declined to present the matter to the Estates. This prompted the Congregation to make their own direct Protestation to Parliament and to declare that they intended to follow their own consciences.
The death of England’s Mary Tudor later that year and the accession of the Protestant Elizabeth I gave hope for the Protestant cause in Scotland. An immediate consequence of Mary’s death was the return of many committed Protestants who had been exiled earlier to the Continent. Among them were those from Geneva who had come under the direct influence of Calvin. These people were keen to remove any remaining signs of Popery and became an important element in the subsequent attempts to reform the Church of England.
In Scotland, events came to a head when the Regent Queen Mary of Guise summoned four preachers—Paul Methven, John Christison, William Harlow, and John Willock—to Stirling to answer charges of usurping the ministerial office and preaching sedition. The trial was appointed to take place on 10 May 1559 with the expectation that the ministers would be sentenced to banishment. The Congregation took up the preachers’ cause and assembled at Perth to accompany the accused to see the Regent. Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, great consternation arose amongst the Papists when John Knox returned from the continent and preached there before making his way to preach at Crail, St. Andrews, Dundee, and Perth.
In St. John’s Church, Perth, there occurred the incident that changed the face of Scotland when a priest was preparing to say Mass. A boy [more likely a young man] made some disparaging remarks, and was cuffed round the ear. In response, the boy allegedly threw a stone at images on the high altar and broke one.Onlookers then threw more stones at the priest and destroyed the ornaments of the church. From this flowed attacks on the monasteries of the Black Friars, Grey Friars, and Carthusians which were all ransacked and gutted. The scenes were repeated in St. Andrews and Scone where the ornaments were removed, but the fabric of the buildings themselves was not torn down.
It is particularly relevant that John Knox did indeed preach at St John`s Church but he had left the church - the `incident` took place some time later. The Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, H Scott (1915) , vol 4 p 226 says :
" In St Johns Church that morning, a sermon on image worship and other prevalent religious practices was preached by John Knox. His hearers were moved indeed, but the service came quietly to an end, and the preacher went his way. Later in the clay, during a service before one of the altars of the church, some brawling took place. Quickly a riot arose, and the church furnishings were badly damaged. Forthwith the outbreak spread throughout the town, and was turned with great violence against the friars. Thus, as from a chance spark, there was kindled in Perth a flame that soon set the whole land ablaze."
This “rabelling” was seized upon by Mary of Guise as valid reason to repress the Protestants by fire and sword. This prompted the friends of the Congregation from Angus, Mearns, Fife, and Ayrshire to gather at Perth to defend against the Regent’s French army who were in Auchterarder, north of Perth. By June the Congregation was assembled in Edinburgh but French troops caused them to withdraw to Stirling. Negotiations continued with the Regent and she eventually gained agreement for the armed supporters of the Congregation to stand down. At this juncture the Earl of Agyll and Lord James Stewart transferred their allegiance to the Congregation because they were disgusted with the Regent’s broken promises to withdraw the French soldiers. Another Band, the Second Covenant, was sworn for mutual defence and the abolition of Popery by the Lords and Barons at Edinburgh on 13 July 1559. On August 1 another Band (the Third Covenant) was sworn in Stirling to work and negotiate together, and to keep one another informed.
In August 1559, French troops landed at Leith and began fortifying it. Here they butchered Scottish women, children, and old men, dangled their bodies over the walls. The Queen Regent the commented it was “a pleasing tapestry.” In October the Congregation declared the Regent Mary deposed in the name of her daughter who, it was alleged, had sold the country to France. Scottish pleas for help from Elizabeth I of England were finally heard and a large army assembled at Berwick where, on 27 February 1560, an agreement securing Scotland’s liberties was signed with the Lords of the Congregation.
Within a month Leith was surrounded and the English fleet lay offshore. There followed another Band (the Fourth Covenant) on the 27 April 1560 to join with the English to remove the French troops. This was the first Covenant to combine religious and political demands. On June 11, the Regent Mary died in Edinburgh Castle probably from dropsy. Her death ended the immediate influence of the Guise family and that of France in Scotland.
The Treaty of Edinburgh, 6 July 1560, settled Scotland’s Protestant independence. In August 1560, the Estates assembled to formally sanction the reformed religion, which it did, despite protestations that the assembly was illegal because it had not been called by the Queen of Scotland.
The first General Assembly of the Reformed Church in Scotland was held in Edinburgh on 20 December 1560 with forty-two members present, only six of them being ministers. Calderwood’s History records that they appointed the following ministers and superintendents. The ministers were John Knox (Edinburgh), Christopher Goodman (was at Ayr but translated to St. Andrews), Adam Heriot (Aberdeen), John Row (St. Johnston – Perth), Paul Methven (Jedburgh), William Christeson (Dundee), David Ferguson (Dumfermline), and David Lindsay (Leith). The superintendents were John Spottiswood (Lothians); John Wynram (Fife); John Willock (Glasgow and the West); John Erskine, Laird of Dun (Angus and the Mearns); and John Carswell (Argyll and the Isles).
The Assembly met in the old Chapel of St. Magdalene in Cowgate, Edinburgh, and did so under its own authority founded on the Word of God. Importantly the first session wisely took the precaution to authorise the Moderator ( possibly Knox at the time) to call future meetings. This precedent was carried on for some twenty years without the presence of a commissioner on behalf of the sovereign—despite the intervention of Maitland of Lethington who questioned the absence of the Queen’s authority. John Knox responded with the prophetic words
“Tack from us the fredome of Assemblies, and tack from us the Evangell for without Assemblies, how shall good ordour and unitie in doctrine be keapt ?”: which is precisely what King James VI did in later years.
Two days after Knox arrived in Edinburgh, he proceeded to Dundee where a large number of Protestant sympathisers had gathered. Knox was declared an outlaw, and the Queen Regent summoned the Protestants to Stirling. Fearing the possibility of a summary trial and execution, the Protestants proceeded instead to Perth, a walled town that could be defended in case of a siege. At the church of St John the Baptist, Knox preached a fiery sermon and a small incident precipitated into a riot. A mob poured into the church and it was soon gutted. The mob then attacked two friaries in the town, looting their gold and silver and smashing images. Mary of Guise gathered those nobles loyal to her and a small French army. She dispatched the Earl of Argyll and Lord Moray to offer terms and avert a war. She promised not to send any French troops into Perth if the Protestants evacuated the town. The Protestants agreed, but when the Queen Regent entered Perth, she garrisoned it with Scottish soldiers on the French pay roll. This was seen as treacherous by Lord Argyll and Lord Moray, who both switched sides and joined Knox, who now based himself in St Andrews. Knox's return to St Andrews fulfilled the prophecy he made in the galleys that he would one day preach again in its church. When he did give a sermon, the effect was the same as in Perth. The people engaged in vandalism and looting.
With Protestant reinforcements arriving from neighbouring counties, the Queen Regent retreated to Dunbar. By now, the mob fury had spilled over central Scotland. Her own troops were on the verge of mutiny. On 30 June, the Protestant Lords of the Congregation occupied Edinburgh, though they were only able to hold it for a month. But even before their arrival, the mob had already sacked the churches and the friaries. On 1 July, Knox preached from the pulpit of St Giles', the most influential in the capital. The Lords of the Congregation negotiated their withdrawal from Edinburgh by the Articles of Leith signed 25 July 1559, and Mary of Guise promised freedom of conscience.
Knox knew that the Queen Regent would ask for help from France. So he negotiated by letter under the assumed name John Sinclair with William Cecil, Elizabeth's chief adviser, for English support. Knox sailed secretly to Lindisfarne, off the northeast coast of England at the end of July, to meet James Croft and Sir Henry Percy at Berwick upon Tweed. Knox was indiscreet and news of his mission soon reached Mary of Guise. He returned to Edinburgh telling Croft he had to return to his flock, and suggested that Henry Balnaves should go to Cecil.
When additional French troops arrived in Leith, Edinburgh's seaport, the Protestants responded by retaking Edinburgh. This time, on 24 October 1559, the Scottish nobility formally deposed Mary of Guise from the regency. Her secretary, William Maitland of Lethington, defected to the Protestant side, bringing his administrative skills. From then on, Maitland took over the political tasks, freeing Knox for the role of religious leader. For the final stage of the revolution, Maitland appealed to Scottish patriotism to fight French domination. Following the Treaty of Berwick, support from England finally arrived and by the end of March, a significant English army joined the Scottish Protestant forces. The sudden death of Mary of Guise in Edinburgh Castle on 10 June 1560 paved the way for an end to hostilities, the signing of the Treaty of Edinburgh, and the withdrawal of French and English troops from Scotland. On 19 July, Knox held a National Thanksgiving Service at St Giles'.
On 1 August, the Scottish Parliament met to settle religious issues. Knox and five other ministers were called upon to draw up a new confession of faith. Within four days, the Scots Confession was presented to Parliament, voted upon, and approved. A week later, the Parliament passed three acts in one day: the first abolished the jurisdiction of the Pope in Scotland, the second condemned all doctrine and practice contrary to the reformed faith, and the third forbade the celebration of Mass in Scotland. Before the dissolution of Parliament, Knox and the other ministers were given the task of organising the newly reformed church or the Kirk. They would work for several months on the Book of Discipline, the document describing the organisation of the new church. During this period, in December 1560, Knox's wife, Margery, died, leaving Knox to care for their two sons, aged three and a half and two years old. John Calvin, who had lost his own wife in 1549, wrote a letter of condolence.
Parliament reconvened on 15 January 1561 to consider the Book of Discipline. The Kirk was to be run on democratic lines. Each congregation was free to choose or reject its own pastor, but once he was chosen he could not be fired. Each parish was to be self-supporting, as far as possible. The bishops were replaced by ten to twelve "superintendents". The plan included a system of national education based on universality as a fundamental principle. Certain areas of law were placed under ecclesiastical authority. The Parliament did not approve the plan, however, mainly for reasons of finance. The Kirk was to be financed out of the patrimony of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. Much of this was now in the hands of the nobles, who were reluctant to give up their possessions. A final decision on the plan was delayed because of the impending return of Mary, Queen of Scots.
On 19 August 1561, cannons were fired in Leith to announce Queen Mary's arrival in Scotland. When she attended Mass being celebrated in the royal chapel at Holyrood Palace five days later, this prompted a protest in which one of her servants was jostled. The next day she issued a proclamation that there would be no alteration in the current state of religion and that her servants should not be molested or troubled. Many nobles accepted this, but not Knox. The following Sunday, he protested from the pulpit of St Giles'. As a result, just two weeks after her return, Mary summoned Knox. She accused him of inciting a rebellion against her mother and of writing a book against her own authority. Knox answered that as long as her subjects found her rule convenient, he was willing to accept her governance, noting that Paul the Apostle had been willing to live under Nero's rule. Mary noted, however, that he had written against the principle of female rule itself. He responded that she should not to be troubled by what had never harmed her. When Mary asked him whether subjects had a right to resist their ruler, he replied that if monarchs exceeded their lawful limits, they might be resisted, even by force.
On 13 December 1562, Mary sent for Knox again after he gave a sermon denouncing certain celebrations which Knox had interpreted as rejoicing at the expense of the Reformation. She charged that Knox spoke irreverently of the Queen in order to make her appear contemptible to her subjects. After Knox gave an explanation of the sermon, Mary stated that she did not blame Knox for the differences of opinion and asked that in the future he come to her directly if he heard anything about her that he disliked. Despite her friendly gesture, Knox replied that he would continue to voice his convictions in his sermons and would not wait upon her.
During Easter in 1563, some priests in Ayrshire celebrated Mass, thus defying the law. Some Protestants tried to enforce the law themselves by apprehending these priests. This prompted Mary to summon Knox for the third time. She asked Knox to use his influence to promote religious toleration. He defended their actions and noted she was bound to uphold the laws and if she did not, others would. Mary surprised Knox by agreeing that the priests would be brought to justice
The most dramatic interview between Mary and Knox took place on 24 June 1563. Mary summoned Knox to Holyrood after hearing that he had been preaching against her proposed marriage to Don Carlos, the son of Philip II of Spain. Mary began by scolding Knox, then she burst into tears. "What have ye to do with my marriage?" she asked, and "What are ye within this commonwealth?" "A subject born within the same, Madam," Knox replied. He noted that though he was not of noble birth, he had the same duty as any subject to warn of dangers to the realm. When Mary started to cry again, he said, "Madam, in God's presence I speak: I never delighted in the weeping of any of God's creatures; yea I can scarcely well abide the tears of my own boys whom my own hand corrects, much less can I rejoice in your Majesty's weeping." He added that he would rather endure her tears, however, than remain silent and "betray my Commonwealth". At this, Mary ordered him out of the room.
Knox's final encounter with Mary was prompted by an incident at Holyrood. While Mary was absent from Edinburgh on her summer progress in 1563, a crowd forced its way into her private chapel as Mass was being celebrated. During the altercation, the priest's life was threatened. As a result, two of the ringleaders, burgesses of Edinburgh, were scheduled for trial on 24 October 1563. In order to defend these men, Knox sent out letters calling the nobles to convene. Mary obtained one of these letters and asked her advisors if this was not a treasonable act. Stewart and Maitland, wanting to keep good relations with both the Kirk and the Queen, asked Knox to admit he was wrong and to settle the matter quietly. Knox refused and he defended himself in front of Mary and the Privy Council. He argued that he had called a legal, not an illegal, assembly as part of his duties as a minister of the Kirk. After he left, the councillors voted not to charge him with treason.
On 26 March 1564 Knox stirred controversy again, when he married Margaret Stewart, the daughter of an old friend, Andrew Stewart, 2nd Lord Ochiltree, a member of the Stuart family and a distant relative of the Queen, Mary Stuart. The marriage was unusual because he was a widower of fifty, while the bride was only seventeen. Very few details are known of their domestic life. They had three daughters, Martha, Margaret, and Elizabeth.
When the General Assembly convened in June 1564, an argument broke out between Knox and Maitland over the authority of the civil government. Maitland told Knox to refrain from stirring up emotions over Mary's insistence on having mass celebrated and he quoted from Martin Luther and John Calvin about obedience to earthly rulers. Knox retorted that the Bible notes that Israel was punished when it followed an unfaithful king and that the Continental reformers were refuting arguments made by the Anabaptists who rejected all forms of government. The debate revealed his waning influence on political events as the nobility continued to support Mary.
On 29 July 1565 when Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, some of the Protestant nobles, including James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, rose up in rebellion. Knox revealed his own objection while preaching in the presence of the new King Consort on 19 August 1565. He made passing allusions on ungodly rulers which caused Darnley to walk out. Knox was summoned and prohibited from preaching while the court was in Edinburgh.
Bas-relief of John Knox preaching at St Giles in Edinburgh before the court of Mary Stuart. From left to right: James Stewart (Moray), James Hamilton (Châtellerault), Lord Darnley, Matthew Stewart (Lennox), William Maitland (Lethington), William Kirkcaldy (Grange), James Douglas (Morton), Knox, and George Buchanan. Located on the Reformers' Wall, Geneva. On 9 March 1566, Mary's secretary, David Rizzio, was murdered by conspirators loyal to Darnley. Mary escaped from Edinburgh to Dunbar and by 18 March returned with a formidable force. Knox fled to Kyle in Ayrshire, where he completed the major part of his magnum opus, History of the Reformation in Scotland. When he returned to Edinburgh, he found the Protestant nobles divided over what to do with Mary. Lord Darnley had been murdered and the Queen almost immediately married the chief suspect, the Earl of Bothwell. The indictment of murder thus upon her, she had been forced to abdicate and was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. Lord Moray had become the regent of King James VI. Other old friends of Knox's, Lord Argyll and William Kirkcaldy, stood by Mary. On 29 July 1567, Knox preached James VI's coronation sermon at the church in Stirling. During this period Knox thundered against her in his sermons, even to the point of calling for her death. However, Mary's life was spared, and she escaped on 2 May 1568.
The fighting in Scotland continued as a civil war. Lord Moray was assassinated on 23 January 1570. The regent who succeeded him, the Earl of Lennox, was also a victim of violence. On 30 April 1571, the controller of Edinburgh Castle, Kirkcaldy of Grange, ordered all enemies of the Queen to leave the city. But for Knox, his former friend and fellow galley-slave, he made an exception. If Knox did not leave, he could stay in Edinburgh, but only if he remained captive in the castle. Knox chose to leave, and on 5 May he left for St Andrews. He continued to preach, spoke to students, and worked on his History. At the end of July 1572, after a truce was called, he returned to Edinburgh. Although by this time exceedingly feeble and his voice faint, he continued to preach at St Giles'.
After inducting his successor, Lawson of Aberdeen, as minister of St Giles' on 9 November, Knox returned to his home for the last time. With his friends and some of the greatest Scottish nobles around him, he asked for the Bible to be read aloud. On his last day, 24 November 1572, his young wife read from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. A testimony to Knox was pronounced at his grave in the churchyard of St Giles' by James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton and newly elected regent of Scotland: "Here lies one who never feared any flesh".
In his will, Knox claimed: "None have I corrupted, none have I defrauded; merchandise have I not made."The paltry sum of money Knox bequeathed to his family, which would have left them in dire poverty, showed that he had not profited from his work in the Kirk. The regent, Lord Morton, asked the General Assembly to continue paying his stipend to his widow for one year after his death, and the regent ensured that Knox's dependents were decently supported.
Knox was survived by his five children and his second wife. Nathaniel and Eleazar, his two sons by his first wife, attended St John's College, Cambridge. Nathaniel became a Fellow of St John's but died early in 1580. Eleazar was ordained into the Church of England and served in the parish of Clacton Magna. He also died young, and was buried in the chapel of St John's College in 1591. Knox's second wife, Margaret Stewart, got remarried to Andrew Ker, one of those involved in the murder of David Rizzio. Knox's three daughters also married: Martha to Alexander Fairlie; Margaret to Zachary Pont, son of Robert Pont and brother of Timothy Pont; and Elizabeth to John Welsh, a minister of the Kirk.
Knox's death was barely noticed at the time. Although his funeral was attended by the nobles of Scotland, no major politician or diplomat mentioned his death in their letters that survive. Mary, Queen of Scots made only two brief references to him in her letters.However, what the rulers feared were Knox's ideas more than Knox himself. He was a ruthless and successful revolutionary and it was this revolutionary philosophy that had a great impact on the English Puritans. Despite his strictness and dogmatism, he has also been described by partisans as contributing to the struggle for genuine human freedom, by teaching a duty to oppose unjust government in order to bring about moral and spiritual change.
Knox was notable not so much for the overthrow of Roman Catholicism in Scotland, but for assuring the replacement of the papal religion with Presbyterianism rather than Anglicanism. It was thanks to Knox that the Presbyterian polity was established, though it took 120 years following his death for this to be achieved in 1689. Meanwhile, he accepted the status quo and was happy to see his friends appointed bishops and archbishops, even preaching at the inauguration of the Protestant Archbishop of St Andrews John Douglas in 1571. In that regard, Knox is considered the notional founder of the Presbyterian denomination, whose members number millions worldwide.
Sir David Wilkie (1785–1841), painter of genre, historical subjects, and portraits, was born on 18 November 1785 in the manse at Cults, in the parish of Pitlessie, Fife, where he was baptized on 4 December 1785, the third of the five children of the Revd David Wilkie (1738–1812), and his third wife, Isabella (c.1762–1824), daughter of James Lister, farmer at Pitlessie Mill.
Wilkie's schooling, locally at Kettle and Cupar, drew nothing out of him. His conspicuous gift, precociously apparent, lay in the observation of human behaviour. His way forward was to turn this to advantage, and so, helped by influential neighbours, he applied for admission to the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh—so called for being administered by the Board of Trustees for Fisheries, Manufactures, and Improvements in Scotland. He was there from 1799 to 1804, under the mastership of John Graham, who had recently returned from London and established a curriculum which involved not only drawing but, unusually, painting. Among fellow pupils were John Burnet and William Allan. Graham instituted prizes for small history pictures, and in 1803, with John Clerk of Eldin as examiner, Wilkie took the first with Diana and Callisto(Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia). In Fife he kept himself by painting portraits cheaply, adopting the fashionable style of Henry Raeburn in a number of them; the grandest and most original is William Bethune-Morison and Family (1804; NG Scot.). His creative energy, on the other hand, went into furthering his ambition, already set, to tell stories of common life on the patterns offered by David Allan, and by the seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish genre painters; they were, chiefly, Adriaen van Ostade and David Teniers the younger, known to him then almost wholly through prints. The summit of his achievement in this direction, premonitory of much to come, was the panoramic Pitlessie Fair (1804–5; NG Scot.), an uneasy aggregate of rustic incident, yet full of observant and inventive passages. By the time it was finished, Wilkie realized that Scotland offered no future, and had decided on going to London.
Wilkie arrived in London on 20 May 1805, and by early July he had informally attached himself to the Royal Academy Schools, where he threw himself into study, and was formally enrolled on 28 November. He was now twenty-one.
Wilkie had come with little money, and lived in penury such that after a few months he feared he would have to desert his one talent and return home. Again to support himself he resorted to what he called his old trade in portraiture, an art for which he always felt himself unfitted. Nevertheless, he had brought with him Pitlessie Fair, which he appears to have lent to the royal piano maker William Stodart, the first to order portraits from him. Through him the picture was seen by others, leading to a commission in January 1806 from the third earl of Mansfield for Village Politicians (exh. RA, 1806; priv. coll.). In the exposition and control of its subject it marks a rapid advance. Its text was taken from ‘Scotland's skaith’, a versified plea for temperance by Hector McNeill, but it was not for any social topicality that the picture drew immediate attention among academicians. The hanging committee for that year's exhibition placed it in a prime position, and Henry Fuseli, lately the professor of painting, said, ‘Young man, that is a dangerous work’ (Cunningham, 1.116). He sensed, without doubt, that this fierce declaration of naturalism, shaped in the old manner of the Low Countries, questioned the Franco-Italian values of history painting, promulgated for a century; equally, it challenged the sweet ruralism of Francis Wheatley, W. R. Bigg, and George Morland. Some likened Wilkie's early pictures to the poems of George Crabbe. The present picture quickly attracted two substantial and later friendly patrons: Sir George Beaumont, who commissioned the Blind Fiddler (exh. RA, 1808; Tate collection); and Lord Mulgrave, who commissioned Rent Day (exh. RA, 1809; priv. coll.). In 1807 the president of the Royal Academy, Benjamin West, had considered Wilkie ‘already a great artist’, and Card Players(exh. RA, 1808; priv. coll.) was commissioned for William Frederick, second duke of Gloucester.
This group of pictures had its culmination in two works, larger and more complex, aimed at the top of the market. In 1809 Wilkie began the Village Festival (exh. RA, 1812; Tate collection) as a speculation, having become wary of the exigencies that commissions could impose; J. J. Angerstein added it to his collection of old masters in 1811. In that year Wilkie began Blind-Man's-Buff (exh. RA, 1813; Royal Collection), commissioned by the prince regent through West. This act of patronage, in keeping with the prince's taste for Dutch pictures, was to have an effect on Wilkie's later career. These works show progressive mastery, not only in Wilkie's management of the relationships, in mind and action, between the people in the scenes he created, but especially in the rendering of their individualities. This latter skill, widely appreciated at the time, owed much to the researches being made into the physiognomy of expression by Charles Bell.
In 1809 Wilkie—encouraged by Fuseli, Joseph Farington, and others—put his name down for election as an associate of the Royal Academy, and was admitted on 6 November, although a year short of the statutory age of twenty-five; he did not cease to draw in the Academy Schools. Despite a hostile faction, using Edward Bird as its stalking-horse, he was elected Royal Academician on 11 February 1811. Also in 1811 he moved to the first of four successive addresses in the suburb of Kensington (none surviving), for the sake of better air than that north of Oxford Street, where he had lodged before. In 1812 Wilkie took public stock of himself by holding a one-man exhibition, an unusual procedure. Of the twenty-nine pictures, seven had been exhibited before. The more important he borrowed; the earliest was Pitlessie Fair and the most recent the Village Festival. Among the others was a deeply felt and loving portrait of his parents (priv. coll.), painted on a visit home in 1807.
During the exhibition, subscriptions were taken for a forthcoming engraving by Abraham Raimbach after Village Politicians. In 1809 Wilkie had begun to have engravings made from a number of his pictures. This fairly common practice was valuable in keeping an artist's work in the public eye. For Wilkie there must also have been the hope that the need to paint portraits would be reduced by the sale of prints; bread and butter was certainly to come from this source for the rest of his life. His first and best interpreters were Burnet and Raimbach, who worked in the line manner he preferred; early on they joined him as publishers, but later this and the business of distribution went into commercial hands. In his lifetime, prints went to France, the Low Countries, Germany, Spain, America, and India. At home especially they became the source of many copies and pastiches.
Wilkie's first seven assertive years in London were followed by a decade or so as active, his work now conveying a sense of having been painted with the confidence of an established master. The texture of his paint became creamier, his colour more mellow—tone was to become an absorption—his line more beguiling, his penetration of character more searching. The period may be said to open with the Letter of Introduction (exh. RA, 1814; NG Scot.), a composition of two figures in which a gulf of acute awkwardness is opened between a complacent youth and the suspicious recipient of the letter, a tetchy old man of taste. Their arrangement echoes examples from the Low Countries, but not now the peasantry of Ostade and Teniers; rather, and significantly, Dutch painters of comfortable interiors—in this case, openly enough, Gerard ter Borch. Burnet wrote: ‘It was a common practice with Wilkie to adopt a part of a celebrated work as a point to work from … The spectator, by this means, was drawn into a predisposition of its excellence’ (J. Burnet, Rembrandt, 1849, 40). The allurement had warrant in the example of Sir Joshua Reynolds, of whom Wilkie was a constant admirer.
Among Wilkie's finest achievements, for its large groupings and emotional range, is Distraining for Rent (exh. RA, 1815; NG Scot.), a ‘sadly real’ subject, open to political interpretation, although not intentionally. Bought by the directors of the British Institution, who collected to encourage British artists and to provide examples for students, it was the first of Wilkie's pictures to enter a public collection; he was to have the then singular distinction of having pictures in the National Gallery during his lifetime, when Angerstein's and Beaumont's collections went there in 1824 and 1826.
Wilkie returned to Scotland only intermittently, and never without purpose. In 1817, in search of subject matter, he made his only visit to the highlands, where the way of life was strange to him, a lowlander. He had asked advice on what to see from Walter Scott, whom he visited at Abbotsford on the way back. The major outcome of this ethnographic tour was to be Highland Whisky-Still at Lochgilphead (exh. British Institution, 1820; priv. coll.), bespoken in 1819, on the strength of a sketch, by Major-General Sir Willoughby Gordon, a lasting patron.
The prince regent had already asked for a second picture, and in 1817 Wilkie's consummately vivacious Penny Wedding (exh. RA, 1819; Royal Collection) was begun. The subject, from the lowlands, looks back to the century before, fixing details of a disappearing way of life, as in novels by Scott and John Galt. Before work on this was finished, an order came from Maximilian I of Bavaria, likewise for a subject of Wilkie's own choosing, and in 1819 he began Reading a Will (exh. RA, 1820; Neue Pinakothek, Munich). In the catalogue of the exhibition at the Royal Academy he tagged it with a reference to an episode in Scott's story of Guy Mannering (1815), which it does not illustrate, but which he re-created in his own manner. Although the opening of a will had been proposed to Wilkie as a subject a decade earlier by the actors John Liston and John Bannister—he had a taste for plays—this does not account for a staginess in the picture. This almost certainly came from his use, for some years about this time, of a device in the formation of a composition, old but not much used in his day. Into a small box with an open side were placed clay models, as in a theatre; this allowed their arrangement and lighting to be considered before transfer to the canvas. It was noticed of this picture that the proportion of the figures to their setting was larger than before. The development became conspicuous in Parish Beadle (exh. RA, 1823; Tate collection), also noticeable in which are a loosening in the handling of the paint and a forcefulness of light and shadow; Fuseli detected a look of Guercino, others of Rembrandt. The change of style thus adumbrated was not, however, apparent in his small, genially domestic portrait of the Duke of York (exh. RA, 1823; NPG), also painted for Gordon.
If Wilkie had misgivings about his competence to be a portrait painter, he had a less understandable lack of confidence in his ability to paint landscape. He felt his inexperience while painting the trees and sky in the Village Festival, and set out to improve himself. For ten years or so he exercised himself in the art, and made a number of accomplished studies, stimulated by an amateur landscapist, his friend Perry Nursey. He chose to exhibit only one landscape, the large Sheepwashing (exh. British Institution, 1817; NG Scot.), having explained to Beaumont, another amateur: ‘My ambition is not more than that of enabling myself to paint an out-door scene with facility’ (Cunningham, 1.454). But only a handful of his subjects had landscape backgrounds, and after 1825 he gave up landscape painting altogether.
In 1820 Wilkie began the work by which he is most widely known, Chelsea Pensioners (exh. RA, 1822; Apsley House, London). The duke of Wellington, who was to become a friend, had come to him in 1816 for a picture, saying, ‘the subject should be a parcel of old soldiers assembled … at the door of a public-house, chewing tobacco and talking over their old stories’. Agreeing that this would make a picture, Wilkie added that ‘it only wanted some … principal incident to connect the figures together’ (Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1.246). The outcome was a subject pretending to represent the reception of the news from Waterloo by pensioners and others outside the public houses near Chelsea Hospital. It is, in effect, a history picture with an invisible hero, the popular joy being in the victory of the nation rather than of a commander. Of great intricacy, ‘composed rather than inspired’, a contemporary remarked (The Athenaeum, 1842, 585), it was admired for its ‘expressions touchantes’ by the French painter Théodore Géricault (C. Clément, Géricault, 1867, 202), and at the exhibition it had to be protected from the crowds by a rail; the entrance-money taken at the Royal Academy that year was the highest ever. The duke paid the exceptional sum of £1260 for the picture, in cash.
Later in 1822 George IV went on a state visit to Edinburgh, to be presented there as the king of Scotland at home in his Scottish capital. Wilkie went also, hoping to find in the pageantry of the occasion, largely orchestrated by his friend Scott, a subject for a second modern history picture. At about the same time he was giving thought to a subject from Presbyterian history. Both were to come. In 1823 Wilkie was informed by the home secretary, Sir Robert Peel, who was to become a patron, that the king had chosen him to succeed Raeburn as limner for Scotland. A state portrait of the king was thus expected from him, although he had never painted a formal portrait, indeed any at full length and of life size. An opportunity for trying his hand came in 1824, when an invitation came from Fife to paint the earl of Kellie for the county hall. He went to Scotland again that year and got the portrait well under way, also gathering materials for his two pictures of Scottish history, present and past.
Each of the years from 1824 to 1826 brought calamity. Since his father's death Wilkie's mother had become the centre of his London home. She died in 1824; the year in which his eldest brother, John, also died, in India. His other older brother, James, died in 1825. Both brothers left children to be taken care of, some of whom Wilkie had already been supporting. He had long been prone to nervous illness, brought on by anxiety; now he had fresh financial responsibilities. Professionally, he worried over his burden of work, not least that arising from his royal appointment. By the spring of 1825 he had become too tense to write, or to paint. Travel was advised as a relief. While he was abroad, his income from engravings was to be undermined by the failure of his print publisher in the crash of 1826.
Wilkie had travelled before, to Paris in 1814 and to the Low Countries in 1816, essentially to see pictures. Although he was alert to work done recently by the French, his chief interest on both journeys had been in Dutch and Flemish painters of the seventeenth century; the grandeur of Rubens was a particular revelation. Now, in July 1825, he set off on a grand tour, centred on Rome, with an excursion into Germany in 1826. The high Renaissance painters who impressed him greatly were Raphael, Michelangelo, and Fra Bartolommeo, and of the later sixteenth century, Titian and Correggio. Returning, he made a diversion into Spain, then scarcely known to painters. He went there not least in the hope of finding old masters for Peel, as he had been doing in Italy. He spent six months over the winter of 1827 in Madrid, making a trip to Seville; new and exciting to a British painter, was the encounter with major works by Velázquez and Murillo. It may be judged that of all these painters, Raphael, Titian, Correggio, and Murillo had the most evident effect on his practice, although by other means he had already arrived at an understanding of the discipline of Raphael and the colouring of Titian.
In Rome, Wilkie painted three modest scenes of pious observances seen during Holy Week, to which he added a fourth, painted at Geneva during a lengthy pause after leaving Italy, over the summer of 1827. At Madrid, where he enjoyed the company of Washington Irving, he finished a picture, and began three others, on the subject of Spanish resistance to the French occupation. These four clearly announce a new stylistic ambition. They are generous in scale, the figures large and forward in the picture space, the whole executed, as never before, with rapidity and freedom. Each of these characteristics was virtually imposed in consequence of his illness; his old ability to paint small and in detail had been taken from him. His achievement on the continent of a new style and a way forward was in accord with his previously apparent pursuit of old masterliness. Materially, he tried for richness and transparency by using bitumen. After two or three decades this treacherous tarry compound almost invariably degenerated, so disfiguring many of his larger late pictures, and making their original impact hard to judge nowadays.
After an absence of three years Wilkie was home again in July 1828. The king received him generously, buying two of the Italian pictures, as well as all four of the Spanish ones, the largest and most vigorous of which is the Defence of Saragossa (exh. RA, 1829; Royal Collection). The intermediary in this was Sir William Knighton, who himself became a patron and a confidant.
Of the work Wilkie had left unfinished in 1825, the Earl of Kellie (exh. RA, 1829; County Hall, Cupar, Fife) was soon completed. A portrait, George IV in Highland Dress (exh. RA, 1830; Royal Collection), the fulfilment of his duty as limner, was not judged a very good likeness, but Wilkie thought the tartan outfit in which he had seen the king at Edinburgh so rich ‘that one might fancy Velásquez, Rembrandt, and Titian ambitious of such a model’ (letter to Prince D. Dolgoruky, 1839, Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut). The history picture commemorating the king's visit to the city, begun a year after the event, was the Entrance of George IV at Holyrood House (exh. RA, 1830; Royal Collection), over 6 feet long. Although incorporating portraits, it has almost no documentary value, being a fancy kindred to Scott's when he invented the spectacle for the occasion; none the less the picture remains a serious construction, Rubensian in derivation.
The fourth unfinished work was the other history picture begun in 1823, the large Preaching of Knox before the Lords of the Congregation (exh. RA, 1832; Tate collection); it went to Peel. Wilkie was shortly to write: ‘The question of Catholic and Protestant I have considered a theme for art’ (Cunningham, 3.113); his interest in the theme had been deepened by his observations on the continent. The picture was critically received as an assured achievement in the historical branch of art.
The king appointed Wilkie his painter in ordinary in 1830, in succession to Sir Thomas Lawrence; he was confirmed in the office later that year by William IV, and in 1837 by Queen Victoria. He found state portraits difficult; they, and repetitions from them, took much time. With Queen Victoria he failed, and lost favour. His office under the crown, as well as the need of money despite his economical way of life, made it difficult for him to avoid requests for full-length formal portraits of persons of eminence, among them Viscount Melville (exh. RA, 1831; University of St Andrews); the Duke of Wellington as Constable of the Tower (exh. RA, 1834; Merchant Taylors' Company, London); and a lord mayor of London, M. P. Lucas (exh. RA, 1839; Guildhall Art Gallery, London). He continued to paint private portraits.
Although Wilkie had returned from the continent with a new style, it would appear that for the next ten years or so he had an imperfect sense of direction. This is, in a manner, indicated by the increase in the variety and originality of his subject matter: Columbus in the Convent of La Rabida (exh. RA, 1835; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh) is one of six pictures on Spanish themes, one commissioned from New York; the First Earring (exh. RA, 1835; Tate collection), painted for John, sixth duke of Bedford, was the first of five pictures treating upper-class female domestic life. Reversions to scenes of cottage domesticity are represented by the Cotter's Saturday Night (exh. RA, 1837; Glasgow Art Gallery), a pious and moralizing subject found in the poem by Robert Burns and painted for the print publisher F. G. Moon. Napoleon and the Pope (exh. RA, 1836; NG Ire.)—an encounter of 1813—was painted for John Marshall, the Leeds linen manufacturer. Restricted to the two figures, ‘my largest picture’ attracted remarks on matters of detail and on the nature of history painting, but none arising from the politics of the event shown. As surely as the picture of Knox preaching, this was a statement on the conflict between temporal and spiritual power. Thematically akin, and of a more immediate political pertinence, was the Peep-o'-Day Boy's Cabin (exh. RA, 1836; Tate collection), painted for Robert Vernon. Wilkie's Spanish subjects had been novel in British painting, and a success. In 1835, looking for more new material, he went to Ireland, until then visited only by a few English topographers. There, as in the highlands in 1817, his attraction was to the primitive in rural life. The picture described this; further, by centring the narrative on one of the old protestant bands, still at odds with the indigenous Catholic population, it opened the sensitive issue of political responsibilities in London.
Since Wilkie's return in 1828 a large number of his critics—and of his public too, no doubt—had felt disappointed when they found that he had abandoned his old subject matter and manner of presentation, above all the strong characterization that outshone his seventeenth-century models. Many had seen in Wilkie an heir to Hogarth; few can have been aware of the nervosity that had lowered his manual capacity. The feeling was, and persists even now, that a source of enlightening entertainment went when Wilkie Europeanized his style. Yet in this he was to venture further.
Wilkie had not been unwilling to enter into portraiture when he could blend it with history, so to invest it with anecdote; ‘portraits in action’ was his phrase. One such picture had been that of George IV at Holyrood; another was to be the First Council of Queen Victoria (exh. RA, 1838; Royal Collection). Also of the sort, although the portrait in it was posthumous, isSir David Baird Discovering the Body of Tippoo Saib (exh. RA, 1839; NG Scot.). Over 11 feet high, and the result of four years' work, this heroic image was begun in 1835 at the request of Baird's widow. Wilkie regarded it as a commission ‘of first rate consequence’ (Wilkie, MS letter to Knighton, 20 Sept 1834, Mitchell Library, Glasgow). If his phrase was portentive it might be explained by his interest in what he had seen of the revival of fresco painting in Rome and in Germany, and which, since the burning of the houses of parliament in 1834, had become a prospect in England.
In 1839 Wilkie began a still more forward-looking picture, John Knox Dispensing the Sacrament at Calder House (NG Scot.), a commercial undertaking to give Moon a subject for engraving as a companion to the existing print after the picture of Knox preaching. In formal contrast to the latter, this carefully deliberated composition is overtly formed on high Renaissance precedent. For Wilkie the scene concerned ‘the restoration of a holy ordinance to its primitive simplicity’ (Cunningham, 3.232). The painting was not to be finished.
As Wilkie was beginning the picture of Knox, he also began one of Samuel Ministering before Eli. Always careful to lend truth to his historical works by working from evidences of their period, this subject provoked questions about what the world of the Old Testament had looked like. On the continent he had already wondered at anachronisms in biblical paintings. Now he wrote to Gordon, who had commissioned the subject: ‘The researches of travellers must assist greatly in the representation of Scripture subjects’ (Wilkie, MS letter to Gordon, 21 Oct 1839, priv. coll.). David Roberts had shown him drawings he had recently made in Palestine, but Wilkie's allusion was rather to the rising number of illustrated accounts of the Levant published in the 1830s—themselves part of a wider popular attraction to the region, raised by political, military, and missionary interests there.
On 15 August 1840 Wilkie left London for the Holy Land. Like most travellers then, he used the Bible as his guidebook. Intending only to gather authentic materials for further engagements in scriptural subjects, he limited his painting equipment to that necessary for making studies. He was to express his larger purpose in writing to Peel of ‘the great work to be essayed of representing Scripture history’ (Cunningham, 3.415); behind this was a democratic wish that, with government help, painting should be enjoyed at large in public places.
The war in Syria delayed Wilkie at Constantinople from October to January, so that he did not reach Jerusalem until February 1841. There his attention was largely drawn to remains associated with the life of Christ and to the manners of the existing Jewish community. At Jerusalem he made small compositions in oil, two of which survive in private collections. In them he presents scenes from the life of Christ in which the physical types, costumes, and settings are those about him in the city. At the age of fifty-six Wilkie seemed on the verge of a significant new departure.
Wilkie left Jerusalem for home in April. Waiting for a steamer at Alexandria he used the time to paint a small portrait, The Pacha of Egypt (Tate collection), as he had painted The Sultan of Turkey (Royal Collection) at Constantinople. Wilkie died of a sudden illness on 1 June 1841, aboard the SS Oriental; he was buried at sea, off Malta. At the Royal Academy, in the following year, his loss was marked by two imaginary representations of burial at sea: the Funeral of Sir David Wilkie (priv. coll.) by his friend George Jones, and Peace: Burial at Sea (Tate collection) by his old sparring partner J. M. W. Turner.
Wilkie was held in high esteem as a man and as an artist. Among artists, some particular friends were William Allan, Francis Chantrey, William Collins, John Constable, Andrew Geddes, B. R. Haydon, John Jackson, C. R. Leslie, and Thomas Phillips. When Lawrence died, Wilkie was near to succeeding him as president of the Royal Academy, but knew he was not constituted for so contentious an office. He was an honorary member of foreign academies; was made doctor of civil law at Oxford on 13 June 1834; was knighted on 15 June 1836; and in 1841 was nominated a chevalier of the Légion d'honneur. On his death a public subscription was raised for a memorial, and in the end a marble statue by Samuel Joseph was presented to the National Gallery in 1844 (Tate collection). An extensive retrospective exhibition was mounted at the British Institution in 1842.
Wilkie revealed almost nothing of his private life, which was essentially domestic. In congenial surroundings he could be amusing; in his earlier years at least he played the fiddle. He did not marry, although he had at least one hope. By inference, he lost his Presbyterianism to the Church of England; his patriotism was as a Briton pleased to be Scottish. In the 1830 he went, if not very attentively, to meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science; he does not appear to have been much given to reading, and he mastered no foreign language.
Of a number of surviving portraits of Wilkie, the most valuable are by William Beechey (exh. RA, 1809; Scot. NPG), Andrew Geddes (exh. RA, 1816; Scot. NPG), and Thomas Phillips (exh. RA, 1829; Scot. NPG); each was engraved. There is also a life mask of uncertain date (Scot. NPG). Of the few self-portraits, notable are those from 1805–6 (Scot. NPG), 1813 (NPG), and 1840 (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Pau).
Wilkie painted a total of some 500 works in oil, including some 170 portraits; many of these works were small studies and sketches, and about half the total can no longer be accounted for. Of the total, he exhibited in London eighty-seven subject pictures and thirty-seven portraits. He was a prolific and distinguished draughtsman, for figures perhaps the finest of his age; he exhibited six drawings at the Royal Academy. His will, made on 21 July 1825 and proved on 10 August 1841, provided that the contents of his studio, copyrights in prints, and personal effects—his house was evidently leased—should be sold, the proceeds to be held in trust for his sister Helen and brother Thomas, then portioned among nephews and nieces. The arrangement, complicated in its care for equity, resulted in sales by his trustees at Christies on 25–30 April and 3–4 May 1842, and on 20–21 June 1860; the catalogues of these are greatly informative.
Latterly, Wilkie employed assistants, among them John Ballantyne, J. Z. Bell, Alexander Fraser, John Simpson, and W. S. Watson. He took an interest in the training of young painters, and gave them advice and letters of recommendation. Some painters, of genre in particular, developed from him. C. W. Cope, Daniel Maclise, and John Phillip are examples; others, such as Thomas Webster and Thomas Faed, simply followed in his footsteps. Wilkie's considerable influence on Victorian painting, which remains to be charted accurately—so too his influence abroad—was depressed variously by the aesthetic values of John Ruskin, J. A. M. Whistler, and Roger Fry. A reassessment was begun with the Wilkie exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland and the Royal Academy in 1958.
Much of Wilkie's writing—letters (many survive), journals (lost), and his ‘Remarks on painting’—was published in 1843 by his first biographer, Allan Cunningham, whose account, although he made excisions and alterations on occasion, remains indispensable. The major collections of Wilkie's paintings are in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, and the Tate collection. There are substantial holdings of his drawings in Aberdeen Art Gallery, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, the British Museum, the Courtauld Institute, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Hamish Miles DNB