The Last Blast of the Trumpet: Excerpt by Marie Macpherson

Conflict, Chaos and Corruption in Reformation Scotland.

He wants to reform Scotland, but his enemies will stop at nothing to prevent him.

Scotland 1559: Fiery reformer John Knox returns to a Scotland on the brink of civil war. Victorious, he feels confident of his place leading the reform until the charismatic young widow, Mary Queen of Scots returns to claim her throne. She challenges his position and initiates a ferocious battle of wills as they strive to win the hearts and minds of the Scots. But the treachery and jealousy that surrounds them both as they make critical choices in their public and private lives has dangerous consequences that neither of them can imagine.

In this final instalment of the trilogy of the fiery reformer John Knox, Macpherson tells the story of a man and a queen at one of the most critical phases of Scottish history.

Praise for The Last Blast of the Trumpet

‘Macpherson has done for Knox what Hilary Mantel did for Cromwell.’ Scottish Field

‘This richly realized portrait of a complex man in extraordinary times is historical fiction at its finest.’ Linda Porter, author of Crown of Thistles; Katherine the Queen, Royal Renegades; Mistresses: Sex and Scandal at the Court of Charles II

‘Marie Macpherson has once again given us a cavalcade of flesh and blood characters living the early days of the Scottish Reformation in a complex tale told with economy and wit.’ S.G. MacLean, author of The Seeker Series and Alexander Seaton mysteries


Part 1 Chapter One

The Wrath of the People

The Parish Church of the Holy Cross of St John the Baptist, Perth, 11 May 1559

‘John Knox has come.’

The words took flight, leaping from lip to lip, echoing round the kirk, ringing to the rafters, and striking terror into his soul. The seething mass of humanity surged forward only to be shoved back by metal-clad men-at-arms. Knox stood rooted to the threshold. The kirk was crammed full: he hadn’t expected such a crowd nor such a clamour. Panic gripped his throat and crushed his lungs.

An elbow nudged him and a voice muttered in his ear, ‘The folk have tramped from all the airts to show their support for their preachers and to await your guidance, master.’

Swallowing deeply, Knox steeled himself to follow in the wake of Sir Patrick Lyndsay’s lean, lofty figure cutting a swathe through the swarm that parted like the Red Sea before Moses. The biblical comparison inspired him. In the midst of the throng, folk stood on tiptoe, craning their necks to catch sight of him; those at the front stretched out their hands. Faces rough-hewn by the unforgiving Scottish climate glowed with expectation and excitement. His ain folk, he thought: humble hinds and herdsmen in fusty sheepskin blankets, ploughmen and draymen in worsted tunics jostled cheek by jowl with masons and skinners in worn leather jerkins and aprons, in stark contrast to the docile, dutiful gentry of his Geneva brethren.  More like the Berwick horde before he’d tamed them, Knox reminded himself. He should not fear this unruly flock but seek to win them over.

‘Is thon the mighty preacher everyone’s talking about?’ a voice piped up. ‘He’s gey wee.’

Lyndsay grabbed the offender by the throat. ‘Short in stature he may be, but his voice makes the heart dirl like thunder. Afore I rip out your blasphemous tongue, shift your fat arse and let him pass.’

Cowed, the man slunk away while the rest of the crowd fell silent. Patrick, Master of Lyndsay, a blunt and fierce soldier, was not a man to be crossed.

‘Never fash, Preacher Knox, my men-at-arms will guard the kirk doors lest the priors of Perth dare to thwart your sermon. And I’ll no shrink from turning them loose on the rabble if trouble breaks out.’

Rather than inspire confidence, the warrior’s words filled Knox with foreboding. ‘I want no violence used on the brethren. We need to show that we come in peace.’

Lyndsay’s hefty shoulders lifted in a non-committal shrug before he stomped off down the nave. Knox headed for the foot of the pulpit where he was greatly cheered to see a well-kent face amongst the group.

John Willock, the minister who had married him to his beloved Marjory, now clasped him to his broad chest. ‘We give thanks that the Lord has sent you here in our hour of need to stand fast with our brothers in Christ,’ he said and introduced his fellow preachers. John Christison was another former friar, while Paul Methven, a baker, and William Harlaw, a tailor, were self-educated guildsmen who had taken up the cause. ‘All good men and true.’

‘Not in the eyes of Marie de Guise who’s charged us with sedition and heresy,’ Methven growled. ‘Her daughter’s marriage to the French dauphin has emboldened the French sow and she’s cracking the whip.’ The blunt-spoken baker clenched fists swollen from constant kneading. ‘The regent has broken her promise to permit us to practise our faith. Just before Easter she commanded everyone to attend mass, make confession in a priest’s lug and take the sacrament on the tongue.’

‘It’s true. With an eye on the Vatican’s support, the regent has taken to heart the papal dogma of extra ecclesiam nulla salus,’ John Christison added.

Knox gave a nod of understanding. ‘Outside the Roman Church there is no salvation. Paul IV is a severe and unbending prelate. Thon Antichrist vowed that even if his own father were a heretic, he’d gather the wood to burn him.’

Willock clasped Knox’s hand. ‘Now’s the time to break from the fetters of Rome, brother. Scotland is on the brink of civil strife and we’re in dire need of a skipper to take the helm.’

‘What about thon Lords of the Congregation?’ Knox asked. The signatories to the bond had led him a merry dance over the past few years. He’d lost count of the number of times they had called him back to Scotland, assuring him the time was ripe to return. After several false starts and delays in Dieppe, he’d finally arrived home and, with barely time to regain his land legs, he’d been whisked into the midst of the maelstrom.

‘Many of the lords are biding their time, waiting to see which way the die falls,’ Willock replied. ‘The regent still has the support of her stepson, Lord James Stewart, the Earl of Argyll as well as the Hamiltons. Her commander-in-chief, Châtelherault, is one of those who benefits from a lavish French pension.’

Knox gave a contemptuous snort. ‘So, the glister of the profit has blinded their eyes. It was ever thus.’

‘Nevertheless, the Ayrshire lords, including Glencairn and Ochiltree, have aye stood firm.’

‘Never mind thon band of noble ne’er-do-weils,’ Methven broke in. ‘Craftsmen and guildsmen like us champion the poor and needy who’re clamouring for reform. It’s not only the roasting of our martyr, Pastor Milne, that has provoked our brethren but your warning call, Mr Knox. The folk have taken to heart your words.’

Baffled, Knox asked, ‘What do you mean?’

‘Do you no mind? The Beggars’ Summons posted on the gate of every friary and monastery throughout the land on the first of January?’ Methven handed him a tattered scrap of paper.

Knox quickly scanned the summons. Written on behalf of the blind, the crooked, the bedridden, widows and orphans and all other poor folk, it ordered the flocks of friars to hand over their ill-gotten gains and quit their religious houses by Whitsun. Or else be forced out on Flitting Friday, the 12th day of May.

 Knox looked up. ‘But that’s tomorrow. Who’s going to evict them?’ The eyes of all gazing upon him gave the answer.

Lyndsay stepped forward. ‘The faithful await a signal from you, master.’

Knox felt trapped, the knot in his stomach tightened. Everyone believed he’d written this anonymous warning and looked to him for the next step. He should speak the truth but his thrapple felt so dry he doubted he could utter a sound. The same fear that had seized him before his first sermon at St Andrews now threatened to strangle him into silence. His back throbbed from injuries sustained in the galleys, firing tentacles of pain up the back of his neck and into the base of the skull. The words from Ezekiel came unbidden into his mind: I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth so that you will be dumb and unable to rebuke them, for they are a rebellious people.

Knox had come home expecting to head a religious reformation not lead troops into battle.

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Meet Marie Macpherson

Scottish writer Marie Macpherson grew up in Musselburgh on the site of the Battle of Pinkie and within sight of Fa’side Castle where tales and legends haunted her imagination. She left the Honest Toun to study Russian at Strathclyde University and spent a year in the former Soviet Union to research her PhD thesis on the 19th century Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov, said to be descended from the Scottish poet and seer, Thomas the Rhymer. Though travelled widely, teaching languages and literature from Madrid to Moscow, she has never lost her enthusiasm for the rich history and culture of her native Scotland.

Writing historical fiction combines her academic’s love of research with a passion for storytelling. Exploring the personal relationships and often hidden motivations of historical characters drives her curiosity.

The Knox Trilogy is a fictional biography of the fiery reformer, John Knox, set during the 16th century Scottish Reformation. Prizes and awards include the Martha Hamilton Prize for Creative Writing from Edinburgh University and Writer of the Year 2011 awarded by Tyne & Esk Writers. She is a member of the Historical Writers’ Association (HWA), the Historical Novel Society (HNS) and the Society of Authors (SoA).

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