John Knox & The English Marian Exiles

Whittingham, William (d. 1579); Knox, John (ca. 1514-1572), et al.

A brieff discours off the troubles begonne at Franckford in Germany Anno Domini 1554. Abowte the booke off off [sic] common prayer and ceremonies, and continued by the Englishe men theyre/ to thende off Q. Maries raigne, in the which discours, the gentle reader shall see the very originall and beginninge off all the contention that hathe byn, and what was the cause off the same

[Heidelberg: Printed by M. Schirat], 1575


Quarto: 16.6 x 12.5 cm. [2], CV, CX-CCXV, [3] p. Collation: Signatures: A-N4, O2, P-Z4, Aa-Cc⁴, Dd6. (lacking blank Dd6)


Variant of the edition dated 1574 (see ESTC). Bound in 19th c. speckled calf, ruled in gold, spine richly gilt, floral gilt turn-ins. A very good copy of a scarce book. Minor soiling, occ. light damp-staining, first line in title and a few page numbers shaved, final leaf soiled and with slight fraying to fore-edge. Contemp. ownership inscription of Henry Nowell to title.

An important account, largely composed of contemporary documents, of the English Protestant exiles who fled to Europe during the reign of Mary Tudor. The work includes correspondence from 1554 to 1559 between the various groups of English exiles resident in Europe, especially those in Frankfurt and Strasbourg, whose number included John Knox, John Foxe, and John Bale; with other letters to and from continental reformers (most prominently, John Calvin at Geneva.) Some of the most important documents concern the attempt of the various English groups to develop a church order (a fractious process that proved crucial to the development of what was to become the Genevan Book of Order) and the violent disagreement over the 1552 English Prayer Book. The book also includes the full text of the 73-article “New Discipline” (church constitution) of 1557.

As a historical document, the “brieff discours” presents a great number of problems, not the least of which are the questions of authorship and the degree to which the author/editor altered or augmented the texts here presented. The attribution to William Whittingham, dean of Durham and one of the most prominent Marian exiles at Frankfurt, is doubtful. Another candidate is Thomas Wood, one of Whittingham’s fellow exiles, but the Puritan John Field has also been put forth, not only as the compiler, but possibly as one who “manufactured” or supplemented some of the documents.

What can be said is that the Frankfurt exiles were an extraordinary group, among whom were men whose efforts to establish communities of worship were remarkable and influential. Two of the most prominent in the community’s early years were Whittingham and Knox.

William Whittingham:

“Nothing is known about Whittingham's conversion to Protestantism, though in later years he gave thanks that he had been 'called from the blindness of idolatry and superstition' (Greenwell, 15). At some point during the reign of Edward VI he travelled on the continent to extend his education in the universities of France, Germany, and Geneva… He returned briefly to England soon before the accession of Mary, but his protestant convictions soon forced him to travel overseas again. On 27 June 1554 he arrived at Frankfurt am Main where he became involved in the bitter disputes among the English protestant exiles over the issue of the prayer book of 1552. Whittingham aligned himself with John Knox and the ‘democratic’, Calvinist party, but the arrival of Richard Cox in March 1555 tilted the balance in favour of the prayer book faction and Knox and Whittingham were compelled to secede to Geneva where their views were more readily acceptable.”(ODNB)

John Knox:

“Knox's four-year exile from Marian England crystallized his ideas and he developed much of the radicalism traditionally regarded as the chief characteristic of his thinking. With more leisure to write, he composed the bulk of his polemical writings during this period. In the atypical and hothouse atmosphere of the exile congregations he refined and put into practice his liturgical and ecclesiological ideas. Through his new contacts, the perspectives gained from his visits to other protestant communities in France, Germany, and Switzerland, and his discussions with their leading reformers, he experienced the diversity of international Protestantism. For the remainder of his life he remained in contact with his European friends and acquaintances and valued his membership of this broad religious brotherhood.

“At the start of 1554 Knox travelled via Dieppe to Switzerland to visit Heinrich Bullinger in Zürich and John Calvin in Geneva, seeking advice on the English situation. The questions he put to them provide an indication of the direction in which his ideas were already moving. They touched upon the political authority of a minor (Edward VI) and a woman (Queen Mary), as well as the thorny problem of obedience when idolatry was being enforced (the re-Catholicization of England). In view of the extreme sensitivity of these subjects, the reformers gave Knox equivocal answers. Having visited Dieppe in April, to collect news and to publish the tracts written while on the run in Marian England, he returned to Geneva the following August, hoping to settle in Calvin's reformed city.

“At this point the English exile community in Frankfurt asked Knox to become one of their ministers. The magistrates there had provided a church, and it was hoped that as many exiles as possible would join the congregation. After pressure from Calvin, Knox accepted the Frankfurt invitation in November 1554. Once there he became embroiled in the debates about the liturgy to be followed by the English exile church. The congregation reached a provisional settlement in February 1555, but the following month its arrangements were disrupted by the arrival of a large contingent from Strasbourg. The next Sunday, Knox, upset by the flouting of the agreement, preached an inflammatory sermon criticizing the  ‘Book of Common Prayer’. In his attack upon the failings of the Edwardian church he censured named individuals, some of whom were present. The congregation polarized. In what Knox was convinced was a conspiracy against him, the opposing faction laid information before the Frankfurt magistrates concerning his writings. The unflattering comparison of Charles V to Nero ensured that the city council, anxious to keep the emperor's good will, requested Knox to leave. After an emotional sermon and a tearful farewell to about fifty diehard supporters, Knox left on 26 March 1555 for Geneva.”(ODNB)

ESTC S119880; STC (2nd ed.), 25443