John Knox Nearly Left Scotland For Ireland

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John Knox, whose name became a byword for strict and joyless Scots Protestantism, almost left Scotland after labelling the nation as "unthankful and miserable".

Five letters written by Knox which give details of the final years of Scotland's most famous Protestant reveal he came close to leaving Scotland to help spread Protestantism in Ireland, and was passing intelligence to the English government about Irish political intrigue.

The letters focus on an invitation to Knox in 1566, six years before his death, to take a leading proselytising role in Ireland, at a time when he was increasingly pessimistic about the future of the Protestant cause in his native land. But he stayed, to become the popular personification of Scottish religious life down the centuries after the Reformation.

The letters, the first time anything written by Knox has come to light since 1875, were discovered by two historians:

Dr Jane Dawson of Edinburgh University and Dr Lionel Glassey of Glasgow University.

They are to be published in the next issue of the Scottish Historical Review (SHR).

The first was found in Chester, but then a bigger cache was uncovered in North Wales.

Knox sent the letters to Christopher Goodman, his best friend. They were in Goodman's papers which went with a relative who married into local gentry in north-west England. The papers stayed with that family and were only relatively recently given to the records office in north Wales.

Dr Dauvit Broun, of Glasgow University, the pre-1600 editor of the SHR, is in no doubt about their significance. "This is one of the most exciting things to be published by the SHR in a number of decades. It fills in worrying gaps about Knox and his later life. We simply did not know about the Irish connections, " he said.

Dr Glassey accidentally found the new autographed letter of Knox in Chester City archives, while researching seventeenth-century justices of the peace.

Dr Dawson, meanwhile, found copies of four previously unknown letters nearby at Denbighshire Record Office in North Wales, while working on Knox for the New Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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