The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women

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The title page of a 1766 edition of The first blast, with modernised spelling of the title

The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women[1] is a polemical work by the Scottish reformer John Knox, published in 1558. It attacks female monarchs, arguing that rule by women is contrary to the Bible.

Historical context[edit]

John Knox was a Scottish Protestant leader born in 1514. After preaching, Knox had a congregation of followers. Knox believed that he was an authority on doctrine and frequently described himself as “watchman” drawing similarities between his life and that of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jehu, and Daniel. His duty was to "blow his master's trumpet."[2][3] His views were not popular with the monarchy, though, so in 1554, Knox fled to mainland Europe.

At the time, both Scotland and England were governed by female leaders. While in Europe, Knox discussed this issue of gynarchy with John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger. While Knox believed that gynarchy was contrary to the natural order of things, Calvin and Bullinger believed it was acceptable for women to be rulers when the situation demanded.

While in Europe, Knox was summoned to a hearing to be tried for heresy. Mary, Queen of Scots cancelled the hearing but in 1557, he was invited to back to Scotland to resume his preaching. Upon arrival to Dieppe, though, he learned that the invitation had been rescinded. While waiting in Dieppe, the frustrated Knox anonymously wrote The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women (The First Blast). Unlike other publications, Knox published the final version of The First Blast without consulting his exiled congregation and in 1558 he published it with the help of Jean Crespin.[4][5][6]

Title[edit]

The title employs certain words in spellings and senses that are now archaic. "Monstruous" (from Latin mōnstruōsus) means "unnatural"; "regiment" (Late Latin regimentum or regimen) means "rule" or "government".

The title is frequently found with the spelling slightly modernised, e.g. "monstrous regiment" or "monstrous regimen". It is clear however that the use of "regimen[t]" meant "rule" and should not be confused with "regiment" as in a section of an armed force.

Content[edit]

The bulk of The First Blast contained Knox's counterarguments to Calvin's viewpoints on gynarchy that they had discussed previously. While discussing gynarchy in general, Knox's target was mainly Queen Mary I.

Knox, a staunch Protestant Reformer, opposed the Catholic queens on religious grounds, and used them as examples to argue against female rule over men generally. Building on his premise that, according to Knox's understanding of the Bible, "God, by the order of his creation, has [deprived] woman of authority and dominion" and from history that "man has seen, proved, and pronounced just causes why it should be", he argued the following with regard to the specific role of women bearing authority:

For who can denie but it repugneth to nature, that the blind shal be appointed to leade and conduct such as do see? That the weake, the sicke, and impotent persones shall norishe and kepe the hole and strong, and finallie, that the foolishe, madde and phrenetike shal gouerne the discrete, and giue counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be al women, compared vnto man in bearing of authoritie. For their sight in ciuile regiment, is but blindnes: their strength, weaknes: their counsel, foolishenes: and judgement, phrenesie, if it be rightlie considered.

Knox had three primary sections in The First Blast. First, that gynarchy was "'repugnant to Nature'; second, 'a contumlie to God'; and finally, 'the subversion of good order.'"[7]

Knox believed that when a female ruled in society, it went against the natural order of things. He further went on to say that it was a virtue from God for women to serve men.[8][7] Knox thought that civil obedience was a prerequisite for heaven and Mary was not in line with the civil obedience.[9] Although there were exceptions to this order, Knox believed that God was the only one who could make those exceptions.[7]

Knox appealed to the common belief that women were supposed to come after men because Eve came after (and from) Adam.[10] Furthermore, God’s anger against Eve for taking the forbidden fruit had continued and all women were therefore punished by being subjected to men.[8][7]

In his analysis of the Creation, Knox furthered his argument by stating that women were created in the image of God "only with respect to creatures, not with respect to man". Knox believed that men were a superior reflection of God and women were an inferior reflection.[7]

The First Blast contained four main counterarguments to John Calvin's arguments. First, Knox argued that while God had given authority to biblical female leaders, Deborah and Huldah, God had not given that authority to any female in the 16th century. Elaborating, Knox stated that the only similarity Queen Mary had with Deborah and Huldah was their gender. This was not sufficient to Knox. Furthermore, Deborah and Huldah did not claim the right to pass on their authority, but the queens did.[8]

One of Calvin's arguments was that gynarchy was acceptable since Moses had sanctioned the daughters of Zelophehad to receive an inheritance. Knox refuted this second point in The First Blast by pointing out that receiving an inheritance was not equivalent to gaining a civil office. The daughters were also required to marry within their tribe while Mary I had married Philip II of Spain.[8]

Calvin had told Knox that Mary I's rule was sanctioned because parliament and the general public had agreed to it. Knox countered this in The First Blast by stating that it did not matter if man agreed to the rule if God did not agree to it as well.[8]

The 4th point that Knox disagreed with Calvin on was accepting of gynarchy because it was a national custom. Knox conversely believed that Biblical authority and God's will made Calvin's argument invalid.[8]

The First Blast concluded by using a biblical metaphor to call the nobility to action and remove the queen from the throne.[11] In the Bible, Jehoiada, representing Knox, had instructed the rulers of the people to depose of Athaliah, which represented Mary I. The Jews then executed the high priest of Baal, who represented Stephen Gardiner.[12] It was clear that Knox was calling for the removal of Queen Mary I. He may have even been demanding that she be executed.[13]

While many Christians in the 16th century believed it was their Christian duty to always follow their monarch, Knox believed it was worse for a Christian to follow a ruler that was evil.[12] He claimed that, if needed, a rebellion should take place to dethrone her. Many people in Scotland agreed with Knox that it was not natural for women to rule but they did not agree with his belief that the queens should be replaced.[14] Because of Knox's bold call to action, his contemporaries began to consider Knox as a revolutionary.[12]

Aftereffects[edit]

Soon after publishing The First Blast, Knox continued to write fervently. Prior to August 1558, Knox wrote 3 items which supplemented The First Blast. He wrote to Mary of Guise to compel her to support Protestantism and to convince her to let him regain his right to preach.[15] He wrote to the nobility to convince them of their duty to rise up against the queen. He wrote to the people of Scotland to convince them of the need for reform.[16]

Knox intended to write a Second Blast and a Third Blast after seeing how people responded, but neither ever came a reality.[17]

His polemic against female rulers had negative consequences for him when Elizabeth I succeeded her half-sister Mary I as Queen of England; Elizabeth was a supporter of the Protestant cause, but took offence at Knox's words about female sovereigns. Her opposition to him personally became an obstacle to Knox's direct involvement with the Protestant cause in England after 1559. Mary I died soon after The First Blast was published. When Elizabeth I came to power shortly after, she blamed Calvin and the city of Geneva for permitting The First Blast to be published.[18] Members of the Genevan congregation were searched for house to house, were persecuted and exiled. In 1558, the queen prohibited "importing of heretical and seditious books" into England.[17] After Knox revealed himself as the author of The First Blast, through a letter to Elizabeth I, he was refused entrance to England.[19][15] Despite Knox's efforts to keep the blame for The First Blast on himself, his followers and other Protestants were punished.[17]

In a letter to Anna Locke on 6 April 1569, John Knox said, "'To me it is written that my First Blast hath blown from me all my friends in England.'" Knox ended his letter, though, by saying that he stood by what he had said.[17] Through it all, Knox continued to see himself as a prophet and believe that he needed to still declare God's words.[15]

When Mary of Guise died in 1560, Knox publicized that Mary's unpleasant death and the deaths of her sons and husband a divine judgement that would have been prevented if she had listened to the words in The First Blast.[19]

Knox's contemporaries[edit]

Knox was not the only person to write against gynarchy. Two other main publications were also written, one by Christopher Goodman and the other by Anthony Gilby. Unlike Knox whose argument hinged on premise of gender, Gilby and Goodman's arguments were rooted in Mary I being a Catholic.[20] Others individuals including Jean Bodin, George Buchanan, Francois Hotman, and Montaigne also agreed with Knox, but their works were less known.[21]

Goodman relied on some of Knox's ideas in his publication "How Superior Powers Oght to be Obeyd."[22] He agreed that female rule was against God's will and natural law. After the publication of Goodman's and Knox works, their friendship increased.[22] But, while Goodman eventually rescinded his words about women rulers, Knox never did.[21]

On the other hand, many of Knox's contemporaries disagreed with his stance. In response to The First Blast, John Aylmer, an exiled English Protestant, wrote then published "An Harborowe for Faithful and Trewe Subjectes Agaynst the Late Blowne Blaste, Concerninge the Government of Wemen" on 26 April 1559.[23][24] While Knox believed that the Bible held absolute authority on everything, including politics, Alymer disagreed.[20] He believed that the narratives in the Bible were not always God's way of explaining right and wrong but were sometimes historical expositions only.[20] Aylmer also argued that what Knox called “monstrous” was actually just “uncommon.” This was portrayed by pointing out that although it was uncommon for a woman to give birth to twins, it was not monstrous.

Matthew Parker, John Foxe, Laurence Humphrey, Edmund Spenser, and John Lesley also opposed Knox's views in The First Blast and John Calvin and Theodore Beza banned it from being sold.[21]

Subsequent reactions[edit]

Despite the blatant bashing of gynarchy in The First Blast, most scholars agree that it was typical for people of that time period to believe what Knox believed. Most scholars agree that it was commonly believed that, in a spiritual sense, women and men were equal, but that in a social and political sense, men were dominant because that was how God wanted it.

As Richard Lee Greaves, a professor of History at Florida State University, said, "John Knox has gained a certain degree of notoriety in the popular mind as an antifeminist because of his attack on female sovereigns in The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558). Yet his attack was by no means original, for similar views were propounded in the sixteenth century by diverse writers."[25]

Susan M. Felch, director of Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship and a Professor of English, believed that Knox’s was not misogynistic but just passionate about maintaining the natural order of things. Felch further stated that while Knox was writing The First Blast he was writing letters to women which were “remarkably free of gendered rhetoric.” Knox addressed his female friends as partners in the fight against sin. Accompanied with expressions of non-romantic love, Knox gave spiritual advise to them but also believed that women could make their own spiritual decisions and encouraged them to do so. Felch believed that Knox did not think of Mary I as a lesser being, but believed that her decision to take the throne was sinful.[26]

Richard G. Kyle also agreed that Knox could not have been misogynistic because, besides The First Blast, Knox's writing did not deride or ridicule women.[27]

A. Daniel Frankforter, a history professor at PennState, pointed to times when Knox complimented women as evidence for Knox's non-misogynistic beliefs. He cited, for example, the time when Knox told his mother-in-law that she was a mirror to his soul.[28] Frankforter also believed that while Knox's rhetoric appears "virulent" and "misogynistic," it was likely no worse than everyone else in his time.[29]

Rosalind Marshall, a historian and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, believed that the tone in The First Blast was defensive not aggressive. She further claimed that The First Blast was not meant as an accusation against all women but just the female monarchs. Additionally, Marshall believed that Knox was in a "religious fervour" when he wrote The First Blast and would not have normally written such cruel things when he held women in such high esteem.[30]

Jane E. Dawson, a professor of Reformation History at the University of Edinburgh, pointed out that Knox did not always have antagonism toward Mary Queen of Scots since they previously worked well together.[31] She also agreed that the high majority of Knox's writings were uplifting instead of condemning. She contests that Knox lashed out at Mary I because he felt isolated and persecuted.[31]

Legacy[edit]

Around the 20th century, the work's title became a popular ironic cliché in feminist literature and art. Examples include the novels Regiment of Women (1917), A Monstrous Regiment of Women (1995), and Monstrous Regiment (2003), as well as the feminist British theatre troupe, the Monstrous Regiment Theatre Company.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The title actually appears in all capitals, except for the last three words; in accordance with 16th-century orthographical norms, capitalized "trumpet" and "monstruous" are written TRVMPET and MONSTRVOVS.
  2. ^ Macdonald, Stuart (2017). "John Knox, the Scottish Church, and Witchcraft Accusations". Sixteenth Century Journal. XLVIII: 637–652. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5fad/f5d6bcd373d48c06f96025be35de8c566449.pdf
  3. ^ Kyle, Richard (1984). "John Knox and Apocalyptic Thought". Sixteenth Century Journal. 15 (4): 449–469. doi:10.2307/2540361. JSTOR 2540361.
  4. ^ Dawson, Jane (2016). John Knox. New Haven: Yale University Press. doi:10.12987/yale/9780300114737.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-300-11473-7.
  5. ^ Healey, Robert M. (1994). "Waiting for Deborah: John Knox and Four Ruling Queens". Sixteenth Century Journal. 25 (2): 371–386. doi:10.2307/2542887. ISSN 0361-0160. JSTOR 2542887.
  6. ^ Reid, W. Stanford (1974). Trumpeter of God: A biography of John Knox. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. OCLC 8258143.
  7. ^ a b c d e Jordan, Constance (1987). "Woman's Rule in Sixteenth-Century British Political Thought*". Renaissance Quarterly. 40 (3): 421–451. doi:10.2307/2862518. ISSN 0034-4338. JSTOR 2862518.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Healey, Robert M. (1994). "Waiting for Deborah: John Knox and Four Ruling Queens". Sixteenth Century Journal. 25 (2): 371–386. doi:10.2307/2542887. ISSN 0361-0160. JSTOR 2542887.
  9. ^ Knox, John; Mason, Roger A. (1994). John Knox: On Rebellion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511809774. ISBN 978-0-511-80977-4.
  10. ^ Rose, Mary Beth (1991). "Where are the Mothers in Shakespeare? Options for Gender Representation in the English Renaissance". Shakespeare Quarterly. 42 (3): 291–314. doi:10.2307/2870845. JSTOR 2870845.
  11. ^ Dawson, Jane (2016). John Knox. New Haven: Yale University Press. doi:10.12987/yale/9780300114737.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-300-11473-7.
  12. ^ a b c Kyle, Richard B. (1984). The Mind of John Knox. Lawrence, Kansas: Coronado Press.
  13. ^ Greaves, Richard Lee (1980). Theology & Revolution in the Scottish Reformation: Studies in the Thought of John Knox. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian University Press. ISBN 0-8028-1847-1. OCLC 1056601694.
  14. ^ Dawson, Jane E. A. (2007). Scotland re-formed, 1488-1587. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 243. ISBN 978-0-7486-1454-7. OCLC 930778633.
  15. ^ a b c Healey, Robert M. (1994). "Waiting for Deborah: John Knox and Four Ruling Queens". Sixteenth Century Journal. 25 (2): 371–386. doi:10.2307/2542887. ISSN 0361-0160. JSTOR 2542887.
  16. ^ Reid, W. Stanford (1974). Trumpeter of God: A biography of John Knox. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. OCLC 8258143.
  17. ^ a b c d Marshall, Rosalind K. (2000). John Knox. Edinburgh: Birlinn. ISBN 978-0-85790-528-4. OCLC 1044714333.
  18. ^ Dawson, Jane (2016). John Knox. New Haven: Yale University Press. doi:10.12987/yale/9780300114737.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-300-11473-7.
  19. ^ a b Greaves, Richard Lee (1980). Theology & Revolution in the Scottish Reformation: Studies in the Thought of John Knox. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian University Press. ISBN 0-8028-1847-1. OCLC 1056601694.
  20. ^ a b c Jordan, Constance (1987). "Woman's Rule in Sixteenth-Century British Political Thought*". Renaissance Quarterly. 40 (3): 421–451. doi:10.2307/2862518. ISSN 0034-4338. JSTOR 2862518.
  21. ^ a b c Greaves, Richard Lee (1980). Theology & Revolution in the Scottish Reformation: Studies in the Thought of John Knox. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian University Press. ISBN 0-8028-1847-1. OCLC 1056601694.
  22. ^ a b Dawson, Jane (2016). John Knox. New Haven: Yale University Press. doi:10.12987/yale/9780300114737.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-300-11473-7.
  23. ^ Felch, Susan M. (1995). "The Rhetoric of Biblical Authority: John Knox and the Question of Women". Sixteenth Century Journal. 26 (4): 805–822. doi:10.2307/2543787. ISSN 0361-0160. JSTOR 2543787.
  24. ^ Stenton, Doris Mary (1977). The English Woman in History. New York: Schocken. OCLC 1019948406.
  25. ^ Greaves, Richard Lee (1980). Theology & Revolution in the Scottish Reformation: Studies in the Thought of John Knox. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian University Press. ISBN 0-8028-1847-1. OCLC 1056601694.
  26. ^ Felch, Susan M. (1995). "The Rhetoric of Biblical Authority: John Knox and the Question of Women". Sixteenth Century Journal. 26 (4): 805–822. doi:10.2307/2543787. ISSN 0361-0160. JSTOR 2543787.
  27. ^ Kyle, Richard B. (1984). The Mind of John Knox. Lawrence, Kansas: Coronado Press.
  28. ^ Frankforter, A. Daniel (September 1987). "Elizabeth Bowes and John Knox: A Women and Reformation Theology". Church History. 56 (3): 333–347. doi:10.2307/3166062. JSTOR 3166062.
  29. ^ Frankforter, A. Daniel (January 1985). "Correspondence with Women: The Case of John Knox". Journal of the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association. 6: 159–172.
  30. ^ Marshall, Rosalind K. (2000). John Knox. Edinburgh: Birlinn. ISBN 978-0-85790-528-4. OCLC 1044714333.
  31. ^ a b Dawson, Jane (2016). John Knox. New Haven: Yale University Press. doi:10.12987/yale/9780300114737.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-300-11473-7.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lee, Patricia-Ann (1990). "A Bodye Politique to Governe: Aylnter, Knox and the Debate on Queenship". The Historian. 52 (2): 242–261. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6563.1990.tb00780.x.
  • Healey, Robert M.; et al. (1994). "Waiting for Deborah: John Knox and Four Ruling Queens". The Sixteenth Century Journal. 25 (2): 371–386. doi:10.2307/2542887. JSTOR 2542887.
  • Fitzsimmons, Tracy (2000). "A Monstrous Regiment of Women? State, Regime, and Women's Political Organizing in Latin America". Latin American Research Review. 35 (2): 216–229. JSTOR 2692141.
  • Brammall, Kathryn M. (1996). "Monstrous Metamorphosis: Nature, Morality, and the Rhetoric of Monstrosity in Tudor England". The Sixteenth Century Journal. 27 (1): 3–21. doi:10.2307/2544266. JSTOR 2544266.
  • Richards, Judith M. (1997). "'To Promote a Woman to Beare Rule': Talking of Queens in Mid-Tudor England". The Sixteenth Century Journal. 28 (1): 101–121. doi:10.2307/2543225. JSTOR 2543225.
  • Felch, Susan M. (1995). "The Rhetoric of Biblical Authority: John Knox and the Question of Women". The Sixteenth Century Journal. 26 (4): 805–822. doi:10.2307/2543787. JSTOR 2543787.
  • Kyle, Richard G. (1988). "The Church-State Patterns in the Thought of John Knox". Journal of Church and State. 30 (1): 71–87. doi:10.1093/jcs/30.1.71.

External links[edit]