Mastodon The Writing Desk: Blog Tour Guest Post ~ The Last Blast of the Trumpet (Book 3 of the Knox Trilogy) By Marie Macpherson

26 October 2020

Blog Tour Guest Post ~ The Last Blast of the Trumpet (Book 3 of the Knox Trilogy) By Marie Macpherson

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Scotland 1559: Fiery reformer John Knox returns to a Scotland on the brink of civil war. Victorious, he feels confident of his place leading the reform until the charismatic young widow, Mary Queen of Scots returns to claim her throne. She challenges his position and initiates a ferocious battle of wills as they strive to win the hearts and minds of the Scots. But the treachery and jealousy that surrounds them both as they make critical choices in their public and private lives has dangerous consequences that neither of them can imagine.

The Influence of John Knox
The louring figure of John Knox has cast a long, deep shadow over Scottish history and, love him or loathe him, you cannot deny his influence not only on our culture and psyche but also on the development of English Puritanism and the establishment of Presbyterianism around the world. To the great Victorian historian Thomas Carlyle, Knox was ‘the one Scotsman to whom the whole world owes a debt’ and who takes his rightful place alongside the leading reformers, Calvin, Beza and Farel on the Reformation Wall in Geneva.

For many, however, Knox is a prophet without honour in his own land. Carlyle’s fulsome praise was certainly not echoed by the Scottish bard, Robert Burns, a frequent victim of the cutty stool, a punishment for fornication. In Holy Willie’s Prayer he mocks the ‘unco guid’ the pious, self-righteous and dour Elect created by the doctrine of predestination. Knox is blamed for the stringent, puritanical restrictions that grasped Scotland in a tight iron grip for centuries and the caricature of the long-bearded, black-robed, Old Testament prophet spouting fire and brimstone endures. It is difficult nowadays to imagine but the preachers was a charismatic performer whose sermons drew huge congregations. Catholic congregations who’d been used to standing behind a rood screen at mass, cut off from priests chanting in Latin, were enthralled to hear scripture being expounded in their own language. 

Nevertheless, Knox’s extremism has become an embarrassment to his own Church of Scotland and his achievements have been overshadowed by his polemical pamphlet, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, which has marked him out as a rampant misogynist and violent revolutionary. Contrary to popular opinion, Knox did not hate women. Far from it. He was quite the ladies’ man as his two young wives and flock of female admirers and correspondents would testify. Nonetheless, he believed that because women were ‘the weaker vessel’ they were unsuited for any form of public office, let alone that of supreme monarch. He was appalled and bewildered by the prevailing situation when so many women were ruling the roost: Mary Tudor in England, Mary of Guise in Scotland, as regent for her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, and Catherine de Medici, regent in France. This was not only monstrous, against the laws of nature, but against divine law. Taking his inspiration from Paul in Timothy 2:12, he famously wrote:

To promote a woman to bear rule, superioritie, dominion or empire above any realme, nation, or citie, is repugnant to nature.

Knox was not a lone wolf crying out in the wilderness, however. Most of his male contemporaries, and indeed the law, deemed women to be second-class citizens. Meanwhile in various Protestant countries subjects were beginning to question the validity of despotic rulers. In 1550, the authors of the Apology of Magdeburg urged its citizens to take up arms against a tyrannical magistrate. In 1556 an exiled English bishop, John Ponet, argued that tyrants could be deposed by common authority, a sentiment shared by Knox’s colleague, Christopher Goodman, as a popular rhyme of the time recorded:   
No Queen in her kingdom can or ought to sit fast
If Knox or Goodman’s books blow any true blast.
But no one was as vehement and violent as Knox who clamoured for the Catholic female rulers not only to be brought down but executed. This alarmed many including John Aylmer who accused Knox of overstepping the mark and ‘cracking the dutie of obedience’ to a monarch. For this rebuttal Queen Elizabeth rewarded Aylmer with the bishopric of London and banned Knox from ever setting foot on English soil. 

Knox in England

It’s often forgotten that Knox once had a promising career in the English church. Released after a 19-month stint in the galleys, the heretic was outlawed in his own country but welcomed in England where he served as pastor in Berwick-upon-Tweed and Newcastle. When the young King Edward VI invited the charismatic preacher to London as one of his chaplains, Knox’s career in England seemed assured. However, his uncompromising Calvinist beliefs startled the moderate Anglican bishops who sought to dilute them by offering him plum jobs–vicar of All Hallows in London and the bishopric of Rochester–if he followed their liturgy. Knox who abhorred idolatry in all its forms, refused to bend the knee at communion and wear episcopal vestments. No compromise was the motto of God’s chosen messenger.

Knox in Geneva

Edward’s premature death in 1563, followed by the succession of Mary Tudor, was a great blow for Knox. Chased out of England he sought refuge in Geneva, confident that Calvin would back his call to depose the ‘wicked Jezebel’ who was persecuting Protestants. When Calvin advised obedience and passive resistance, Knox approached other leading reformers in Switzerland and Germany but failed to drum up support. Sensing the fiery Scot was more Calvinist than he was, Calvin sent him as trouble-shooter to Frankfurt where Canon Cox, leader of the English exiles, was sneaking dregs of popery into the English rite. Knox failed to convert Cox who hounded the zealot and his radical followers out of Frankfurt. Though Knox didn’t realise it at the time, the Church of England’s door had been slammed firmly behind him. 

Angry and frustrated, Knox picked up his pen to write The First Blast of the Trumpet against the cursed Jezebel of England. Conscious of the criticism it would provoke he published his vehement attack anonymously. A furious Calvin banned its publication in Geneva and wrote to William Cecil, that the ‘thoughtless arrogance of one individual’ had endangered the lives of the English exiles.

For all his legendary gift of prophecy, Knox didn’t foresee Mary Tudor’s demise in November 1558, nor her succession by another woman. At least Elizabeth was a Protestant, Knox conceded, and promised his support if she acknowledged that God had allowed her to reign as a special case to restore the true Protestant faith. This arrogance combined with his misogynistic comments greatly offended the young queen who refused his request to return to England. I fear that my First Blast hath blown from me all my friends in England, Knox complained.

It must have stuck in his craw to hear that his bitter rival, Canon Cox had officiated at Elizabeth’s coronation. It needed no gift of prophecy to see that ‘bells and smells’ were turning the queen’s head.
His austere Calvinist Presbyterianism may not have been to Elizabeth’s taste, but Knox still exerted influence amongst rebels in the Anglican church who, sensing ‘creeping papistry’, were unwilling to submit to her seemingly trivial demands. Those who refused to use Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer or wear vestments were mockingly called ‘Puritans’ or ‘precisians’ and went on to form a dissident arm of the Church of England.

Knox in Scotland 

Outlawed in England, Knox returned to his homeland to lead the Lords of the Congregation in deposing the Catholic regent Mary of Guise and establishing Protestantism as the official religion of Scotland. With the regent’s sudden death, victory seemed assured and, in 1560, Knox set about producing The First Book of Discipline, his manifesto for a Christian commonwealth with education for all children, more universities, and a system of poor relief. However, because the nobility refused to hand over the rich benefices they’d purloined from the Roman Catholic Church, his visionary, democratic ideas were never put into practice during his lifetime. 

Statue of Knox the teacher, outside Knox Academy by John Denham, Wikipedia

The Protestant honeymoon period was cut short with the arrival of the charismatic young widow, Mary Queen of Scots, to claim her throne. And so began a bitter battle of wills between the minister and the monarch for the hearts and minds of the Scots. Many of the lords, embarrassed by his constant attacks on Mary, dropped their support for Knox and baulked at the idea of deposing their anointed queen. Nor did they dare execute Knox for his treacherous sermons for fear of making a martyr of him.

Knox reproving Mary Queen of Scots by David Wilkie

In the end it was not the revolutionary democrat Knox but her sister queen, Elizabeth Tudor, who signed Mary’s death warrant, on the advice of her powerful minister. By removing this threat to his mistress’s throne, William Cecil had one of his wishes granted and then in 1603 another one. The accession of James VI of Scots as James I of England signalled the Union of Crowns under a Protestant monarch, laying the foundation for the Union of Parliaments and the establishment of the United Kingdom in 1707. This dramatic change in the troubled relationship between the auld enemies, England and Scotland, it could be argued, was in no small measure a result of John Knox.

Meanwhile, after a tumultuous life, Knox died peacefully in his bed and was buried in the churchyard outside St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh where lot No. 23 in the car park marks the spot. Ironically, Knox the great iconoclast who ordered the destruction of graven images, is forever set in stone. How long in this iconoclastic age will the statue in New College depicting the preacher in full flow remain standing?

John Knox in New College, from Wikipedia

Praise for The Last Blast of the Trumpet

‘Macpherson has done for Knox what Hilary Mantel did for Cromwell.’

Scottish Field

‘This richly realized portrait of a complex man in extraordinary times is historical fiction at its finest.’

Linda Porter, author of Crown of Thistles; Katherine the Queen, Royal Renegades; Mistresses: Sex and Scandal at the Court of Charles II

‘Marie Macpherson has once again given us a cavalcade of flesh and blood characters living the early days of the Scottish Reformation in a complex tale told with economy and wit.’

S.G. MacLean, author of The Seeker Series and Alexander Seaton mysteries
Marie Macpherson

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About the Author

Scottish writer Marie Macpherson grew up in Musselburgh on the site of the Battle of Pinkie and within sight of Fa’side Castle where tales and legends haunted her imagination. She left the Honest Toun to study Russian at Strathclyde University and spent a year in the former Soviet Union to research her PhD thesis on the 19th century Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov, said to be descended from the Scottish poet and seer, Thomas the Rhymer. Though travelled widely, teaching languages and literature from Madrid to Moscow, she has never lost her enthusiasm for the rich history and culture of her native Scotland. Writing historical fiction combines her academic’s love of research with a passion for storytelling. Exploring the personal relationships and often hidden motivations of historical characters drives her curiosity. Find out more at Marie's website  and find her on Facebook and Twitter @Scotscriever


  1. Such an interesting post.

    Thank you for hosting today's tour stop for The Last Blast of the Trumpet.

  2. Many thanks for hosting, Tony. Hope the article answered some of your questions.

  3. For a man who travelled widely beyond his Scottish borders at a time when travel was difficult,dangerous and probably expensive, Knox has historically come across as 'narrow' minded. Perhaps, Marie's trilogy will finally disavow us of this notion!!

  4. That remains to be seen. I hope I've shown that he was a more complex character than the two-dimensional Calvinist caricature he's portrayed in most books films etc. fulminating from the pulpit.


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