THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
‘ First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.’ This title blows like a winter wind in these days when our magazines and papers are filled with controversies on the woman question, and with hot polemics on the feminist mind; and when suffragettes in England are smashing windows on the Strand, burning the King’s mail, blowing up the house of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and crushing the orchids in the gardens at Kew. It is the title of a book by worthy John Knox, written in Dieppe in 1557, and published in the goodly city of Geneva in 1558.
Brave John Knox was moved to blow this blast on the trumpet because a group of five women seemed to have in their control the realms of England, Scotland, and France, and the destiny of the Protestant Faith. These militant suffragettes were Catherine de Medici, Queen of France; Marie de Lorraine, Queen Regent of Scotland, and her daughter and sole heir, Mary, afterwards Queen of Scots; Mary Tudor, Queen of England, and her heir apparent, the Princess Elizabeth.
The horror of the persecutions in England under “Bloody Mary” was the immediate cause for this first blast of the trumpet. All this woe, Knox believed, was due to the ‘monstriferous empire of women,’ especially as they were personified in Mary, ‘the cursed Iesabel of England.’ So, as was his custom, brave John Knox spoke out, when most men considered it ‘discrete’ to be silent and to walk softly. ‘And therefore, I say, that of necessitie it is that this monstriferous empire of women (which amongest all enormities that this day do abound upon the face of the hole earth, is most detestable and damnable) — be openlie reviled and plainlie declared, to the end that some may repent and be saved.’
The reader will see that he blows his trumpet with no uncertain tone. He is not afraid of those who sit in the seats of the mighty. Let them hear! ‘Even so may the sound of our weake trumpet, by the support of some wynd (blowe it from the southe, or blowe it from the northe, it is no matter) come to the ears of our chief offenders.’
Like a true Scotchman, John Knox is logical. He places his arguments in battle array. The Empire of Woman is
1. Repugnant to nature.
2. Contumelie to God.
3. The subversion of good order, of all equity and justice.
The first argument is obvious. ‘Man, I say, in many other cases blind, doth in this behalf, see verie clearlie.’ It is repugnant to nature that the blind should lead the blind, and ‘that the foolish, madde, and phrenetike should govern the discrete.’ And it is plain to see, he adds, that ‘women compared to men are weak, sick, impotent, foolish, madde, phrenetike.’
The second argument is no less obvious to John Knox. The Empire of Woman is ‘contumelie to God, a thing most contrarious to his reveled will and approved ordinance,’ because so saith the scripture, especially Genesis and St. Paul. If females are not worthy to speak in meeting, how can the monstrous regiment be rulers of the realm?
And like a good scholar he has his weighty authorities. What a scholastic artillery he commands! Listen! ‘Politicarum Aristotelis; Lib. 50 de regulis juris; lib. digestorum; ad Senatus consul. Velleianum; Tertull. de virginibus velandis; August, lib. 22. contra Faustum; Ambros. in Hexaemero; Chrysost. homil. in genes.’
John Knox does n’t translate his Latin like Chauntecleer. He does n’t say: —
Mulier est hominis confusio;
Madame, the sentence of this Latin is —
Womman is mannes Joye and al his blis.
Quite the contrary. ‘Madames, the sentence of this Latin is that the regiment of women is monstriferous, madde, foolish, and phrenetike.’ This is his translation of Tertullian: ‘Let women hear what Tertullian, an olde Doctor saith. “Thou art the porte and gate of the devil. Thou art the first transgressor of Goddes lawes. Thou diddest persuade and easily deceive him whome the devil durst not assault.” ’
Nor does John Knox sympathize with the familiar argument that women’s votes will remove divorce, prohibit the saloon, and cleanse the body politic of all diseases. ‘And Aristotle, as before is touched, doth plainly affirme that wher soever women beare dominion, ther must nedes the people be disordered, living, and abounding in all intemperance, given to pride, excess, and vanitie. And finallie, in the end, that they must needes come to confusion and ruine.’
And what comfort and consolation must come to the hearts of Mr. Asquith, and Mr. Lloyd George, when they hear this valiant question addressed to the monstriferous regiment of women: ‘Whose house, I pray you, ought the Parliament house to be, Goddes or the deuilles?’
‘And nowe,’ says John Knox in his Admonition, ‘to put an end to the first blast, — by the order of nature, by the malediction and curse pronounced against woman, by the mouth of St. Paul the interpreter of Goddes sentence, by the example of that commonwealth, in which God by his word planted ordre and policie, and finally by the judgement of most godly men, God hath dejected women from rule, dominion, empire, and authority above men.’
Within three years after John Knox had blown this first blast on the trumpet —and he intended to blow it thrice — Mary Tudor and Mary de Lorraine were dead, Knox was leading the Reformation in Scotland, and Elizabeth was Queen of England. Naturally, Elizabeth for several reasons did not look with enthusiasm on this book. So the editions of 1559 and 1561 contain ‘John Knox’s Declaration’ and ‘Second Defence to Queen Elizabeth.’ Notwithstanding such illustrious women as Deborah of Israel, and Elizabeth of England, he stands bravely by his guns. These women are only exceptions which prove the rule. On the whole the empire of women is monstriferous. And so concludes John Knox to Elizabeth Tudor: ‘ Yf these premises (as God forbid) neglected, ye shall begyn to brag of your birth, and to build your aucthoritee upon your owne law, flatter yow who so list, youre felicitie shal be schort.’
O John Knox, if this was your first blast upon the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women, what would have been the second and third if you were living to-day! You could face Elizabeth of England; but could you face the militant suffragette? If even in your time the empire of woman was monstriferous, what amplitude of speech could express your wrath as you beheld ‘phrenetike’ females smashing windows on the Strand, burning the King’s mail, and crushing orchids in the gardens at Kew?