Ozment, Steven E. The Age of Reform: 1250-1550 : An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe. New Haven, Conn. ; London: Yale University Press, 1980. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Chapter 14, “Protestant Resistance to Tyranny: The Career of John Knox” pp. 419-433.
In the early sixteenth century the Protestants did not engage in acts of revolution against even tyrannical rulers. Passive resistance was an option. Some of the less radical reformational groups would try to influence lower-level political operatives who might have a hearing with those higher up (Ozment 1980, 419). By mid century pamphleteers especially among the Huguenots, argued that the subjects of a king should be able to influence him. Using Romans 13 they would emphasize the interaction among people, king, and God (Ozment 1980, 420). Two major Protestant thinkers stand out as exceptions to the general rule of nonresistance by private individuals: the revolutionary spiritualist Thomas Muntzer and that chief among the Marian exiles, John Knox. Both believed that government had a primary responsibility to maintain true religion and Christian subjects a primary duty to overthrow rulers who did not. Each sanctioned a specifical Christian use of the sword - by lower magistrates where possible, by private individuals where necessary, but ideally by both in concert. And each called for the violent overthrow of legitimate governments - in Muntzer’s case, the Lutheran princes of Saxony; in Knox’s, the Catholic regimes of Mary Tudor and Mary of Lorraine” (Ozment 1980, 422).
Ozment builds a backdrop for the politically charged growth of Protestantism in Scotland. Because of various political moves, the Reformation became very predominant by the mid-16th century. Knox, trained as a priest, found himself without a job, then gained a minor position in government. He became involved in the Protestant movement in time to be captured and spend much of 1547-8 as a galley slave. Because of broken health, he was released to settle in England in 1549 (Ozment 1980, 424). In England, the formative time of the Reformation also witnessed Henry VIII dying in 1547, a period of regency, and the development of various articles of religion and Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer (Ozment 1980, 425). Protestantism took hold in the church in England, with Knox present to rise to a strong position. Knox was unwilling to play political games, however, Meanwhile, Edward VI, always in ill health, had his stepsister Mary, a Catholic, as the heir to the throne. Knox was vocal in his opposition to Mary. In 1553 Edward was succeeded by Jane Gray for nine days then Mary, who launched a widespread suppression of the Protestants. Many fled the country, including Knox (Ozment 180, 426).
By 1553, Knox had decided that obedience to idolaters was itself idolatry and that such a situation must be overthrown. In 1554 he asked Calvin if one could obey a woman or an idolater and whether it was appropriate to use armed forces to make correction (Ozment 1980, 427). Calvin rejected the suggestion, though “Zwingli’s successor, Bullinger . . . agreed that such rulers did not deserve obedience” (Ozment 1980, 427). Knox returned to Scotland in 1555 and joined Protestant worship in homes. Not only did he launch written attacks on female heads of state, he advocated overthrow by armed force (Ozment 1980, 429). Though Calvin opposed having female heads of state he did not advocate revolution. In the subsequent reign of Elizabeth, who was favorable to Protestants, Knox was never forgiven (Ozment 1980, 431). The Scottish reformation was accepted as a means of unification and to protect from France and Spain. Despite the Protestant tone of Scotland, Mary, queen of Scots, was permitted as a Catholic despite the fact that a celebration of Mass was a capital crime (Ozment 1980, 431). Knox and Mary had interactions in which Knox was uncompromising in his objections. After Mary’s execution for treason in 1587 England became less tolerant of Catholics, who, in turn, fled and revolted, much as the Protestants had a generation earlier (Ozment 1980, 432).