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Extracts from Mr. David Laing’s Preface.
With some other hints, gratefully acknowledged.
Of the various writings of the Reformer, no one was the occasion of exciting greater odium than his First Blast against the monstrous Regiment or Government of Women. Unlike all his other publications, it appeared anonymously, although he had no intention of ultimately concealing his name. His purpose was, as he tells us, “Thrice to Blow the Trumpet in the same matter, if GOD so permit,” and, on the last occasion, to announce himself as the writer, to prevent any blame being imputed to others. This intention, it is well known, was never carried into effect. That Knox’s views were in harmony with those of his colleagues, Goodman, Whittingham, and Gilby, need hardly be stated: but the reception of the little work fully confirmed the Author’s opinion, that it would not escape “the reprehension of many.” This may in a great measure be attributed to the course of public events within a few months of its publication.
The subject of Female Government had engaged his attention at an earlier period. One of his Questions submitted to Bullinger in 1554 was “Whether a Female can preside over, and rule a kingdom by divine right?” And in answer to some doubts regarding the Apparel of Women, he himself says that “if women take upon them the office which GOD hath assigned to men, they shall not escape the Divine malediction.” In his Additions to the Apology for The Protestants in prison at Paris, he expresses his conviction that the government of Princes had come to that state of iniquity that “no godly person can enjoy office or authority under them.” This assertion indeed was not specially applicable to Female government, but his feelings in reference to the persecutions in England under Mary, and in Scotland under the Queen Regent, impelled him to treat of a subject which all others at the time seemed most sedulously to avoid.xvi
His First Blast was probably written at Dieppe towards the end of 1557; and it was printed early in the following year at Geneva, as is apparent upon comparison with other books from the press of John Crespin in that city.
A copy of the work having been sent to John Fox, then residing at Basle, he wrote “a loving and friendly letter” to the author, in which he expostulates with him on the impropriety of the publication. In Knox’s reply, dated the 18th of May 1558, he says, he will not excuse “his rude vehemencie and inconsidered affirmations, which may appear rather to proceed from choler than of zeal or reason.” “To me,” he adds, “it is enough to say, that black is not white, and man’s tyranny and foolishness is not GOD’s perfect ordinance.”
The similar work of Goodman on Obedience to Superior Powers which appeared at Geneva about the same time, was also suggested by the persecuting spirit which then prevailed. But both works were published somewhat unseasonably, as such questions on Government and Obedience, it is justly observed, might have been more fitly argued when a King happened to fill the throne. The terms used by Goodman in reference to Mary, Queen of England, are not less violent than unseemly. She died on the 17th of November 1558, and her successor regarded the authors of those works with the utmost dislike; although neither of them, in their writings, had any special reference or the least intention of giving offence to Queen Elizabeth. . . .
That these works, and every person supposed to entertain similar sentiments, should be regarded with marked aversion by Queen Elizabeth, need excite no surprise.
In the beginning of the year 1559, Calvin having revised and republished his Commentaries on Isaiah, originally dedicated to Edward VI. in 1551; he addressed the work in a printed Epistle to Her Majesty: but his messenger brought him back word that his homage was not kindly received by Her Majesty, because she had been offended with him by reason of some writings published with his approbation at Geneva.
Calvin felt so greatly annoyed at this imputation, that he addressed a letter11The letter is not dated, but it was subsequent to one written on the 29th of January 1559 [i.e. 1560], Zurich Letters. Second Series, p. 35. to Sir WILLIAM CECIL, in which he expresses himself with no small degree of asperity on the subject of Knox’S First Blast. He says—
Two years ago [i.e. in 1557] John Knox asked of me, in a private conversation, what I thought about the Government of Women. I candidly replied, that as it was a deviation from the original and proper order of nature, it was to be xviiranked, no less than slavery, among the punishments consequent upon the fall of man: but that there were occasionally women so endowed, that the singular good qualities which shone forth in them made it evident that they were raised up by Divine authority; either that GOD designed by such examples to condemn the inactivity of men, or for the better setting forth of His own glory. I brought forth Huldah and Deborah; and added, that GOD did not vainly promise by the mouth of Isaiah that “Queens should be nursing mothers of the Church”; by which prerogative it is very evident that they are distinguished from females in private life. I came at length to this conclusion, that since, both by custom, and public consent, and long practice, it hath been established, that realms and principalities may descend to females by hereditary right, it did not appear to me necessary to move the question, not only because the thing would be most invidious; but because in my opinion it would not be lawful to unsettle governments which are ordained by the peculiar providence of GOD.
I had no suspicion of the book, and for a whole year was ignorant of its publication. When I was informed of it by certain parties, I sufficiently shewed my displeasure that such paradoxes should be published; but as the remedy was too late, I thought that the evil, which could not now be corrected, should rather be buried in oblivion than made a matter of agitation.
Inquire also at your father in law [Sir Anthony Cooke] what my reply was, when he informed me of the circumstance through Beza. And Mary was still living, so that I could not be suspected of flattery.
What the books contain, I cannot tell; but Knox himself will allow that my conversation with him was no other than what I have now stated.
Calvin then proceeds to say, that great confusion might have arisen by any decided opposition, and there would have been cause to fear, that in such a case—xviii
By reason of the thoughtless arrogance of one individual, the wretched crowd of exiles would have been driven away, not only from this city [of Geneva] but even from almost the whole world.
Some years later, and subsequent to Calvin’s death, Beza, in a letter to Bullinger, adverts to Queen Elizabeth’s continued dislike to the Church of Geneva. In his letter, dated the 3rd of September 1566, he says—
For as to our Church, I would have you know that it is so hateful to the Queen [of England], that on this account she has never said a single word in acknowledgement of the gift of my Annotations [on the New Testament]. The reason of her dislike is twofold; one, because we are accounted too severe and precise, which is very displeasing to those who fear reproof; the other is, because formerly, though without our knowledge, during the lifetime of Queen Mary, two books were published here in the English language, one by Master Knox against the Government of Women, the other by Master Goodman on the Rights of the Magistrate.
As soon as we learned the contents of each, we were much displeased, and their sale was forbidden in consequence; but she, notwithstanding, cherishes the opinion she has taken into her head.22Zurich Letters. Second Series, p. 34.1
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