Friday, 10 March 2017

Women of the Scottish Reformation (7) - Margaret Stewart

It is impossible to look at the Reformation and not come across the work of John Knox, and when we read about his life we can see the contribution made by his wives. Both are worthy of consideration, but we will focus on the second, because her daughter, as well as herself, made notable sacrifices for the Reformed Cause in Scotland as the seventeenth century dawned. 

John Knox married his second wife, Margaret Stewart, in March 1564. Margaret was from a very important family, with wealth and royal connections. Opponents of Knox attempt to make something of the fact that she was only nineteen when she married Knox and he was in his late forties. 

An account of how the marriage was arranged was given by Robert Millar, a minister in Paisley, in a letter written to Wodrow the historian in 1722 and is recorded in the book Ladies of the Covenant. I suppose we can say the process was unusual, but then we need to remember the customs of the time.

Knox often used to visit the Stewart family and held services in their home. Several members of the family were Christians. Knox was by now a widower and the lady of the castle on one occasion said to him that he needed a wife. He replied that he did not think anyone would want to marry a wanderer like him. She said she would find out.

The lady had three daughters and she started with them. She asked the oldest daughter who refused, stating that she hoped her mother wanted better for her than marriage to a poor wanderer. The second daughter responded in the same manner. The third daughter Elisabeth, aged nineteen, responded very differently. ‘Madam, I’ll be very willing to marry him, but I fear that he’ll not take me.’ The mother then said that she would find out his response during his next visit. She did, while Knox and the family were having a meal. Knox asked the Lady who the woman was and she replied, ‘My younger daughter sitting by you at the table.’ One wonders if the mother arranged the seating. 

Knox asked Elisabeth if she was willing to marry him. She replied that she was, but was afraid that he would not be willing to take her. He responded by informing her that marriage to him would not be easy: ‘you must take your venture of God’s providence, as I do. I go through the country sometimes on my foot, with a wallet (bag) on my arm, a shirt, a clean band, and a Bible in it; you may put some things in it for yourself, and if I bid you take the wallet, you must do it, and go where I go, and lodge where I lodge.’ She affirmed that she would do so, and they were married on Palm Sunday.

She and John were together for eight years and produced three daughters. She was with him during his years of ill health and troubles as he tried to solidify the Reformation after 1560. Her second marriage was to Andrew Ker, an aristocrat, but a staunch supporter of the Reformed faith. With him she had several more children. She died in 1612, after a lifetime of supporting the Reformed cause in Scotland.

Knox’s three daughters by her went to live with her in her new abode. The increase in the standard of living did not divert the daughters from the Reformed Faith. Each of them married ministers, but it is with the youngest, called Elisabeth, that we are concerned with because she became the wife of John Welsh, a leading minister who would suffer much for his Reformed convictions. We will think about her in the next blog.

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