Navigating Troubled Waters, Part 2: Frankfurt, 1554-1559

As followers of the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), Christians must inevitably be people of conviction. And strong convictions often lead to conflict, because, while the Truth we follow is infallible, our following of it is not. In a previous article, I introduced the ‘Troubles’ at Frankfurt, a dispute among the Marian-exiles in Frankfurt, Germany (1553-1559). As we saw, both sides saw themselves as ‘Reformed’ Christians contending for Scriptural truth – one side for a further reformation of English worship in line with developments on the continent, the other side loyal to the second Edwardian Prayer Book (1552) and its framers who were then facing martyrdom in England. This series of events promises lessons for present day ecclesiastical, theological, and especially liturgical conflicts. Before engaging in that reflection, I will trace the progress and aftermath of the conflict below, then investigate its legacy in England, Scotland, and the European Continent in a future installment.

The primary-sources that provide us with a narrative of the conflict are few. There is A Brieff Discours off the troubles begonne at Frankckford,[1] most likely drawn up by key founding member, William Whittingham,[2] and a shorter account by John Knox.[3] The extant letters of those involved in the conflict, however, are illuminating. Newly discovered examples from Christopher Goodman’s records have been copied by Jane Dawson and made available online.[4] A new chronology, based on this discovery, has been prepared by Timothy Duguid.[5]


Briefly, the conflict in Frankfurt progressed from an initial settlement of the English-speaking congregation there and the resolutions among the original group led by Whittingham and the Scotsman John Knox, to an explosive confrontation upon the arrival of a further group via Strasbourg and Zurich led by Richard Cox, to the eventual banishment of Knox and the departure of Whittingham and others who would join him in Geneva.

The conflict was hedged in from the beginning by the terms of the city magistrate’s offer for the shared use of a building occupied by the French-speaking congregation under the leadership of Valérand Poullain. Those terms meant accommodating to the customs of the French congregation to avoid offenses. Such a stipulation suited the reforming party of English exiles well, since Poullain’s Liturgia Sacra and Calvin’s Strasbourg liturgy were very similar to the one they eventually drew up for themselves.[6] This mitigating circumstance did not curtail all internal disagreements, however, since there were those in Frankfurt from the beginning who wished to retain distinctive features of the 1552 Prayer Book. Meanwhile, the conflict grew externally as leaders in the refugee congregations of Zurich and Strasbourg made adoption of the second Book of Common Prayer a prerequisite of sending others to join in the work at Frankfurt.[7]

Edmund Grindal in Strasbourg wrote to Richard Cox, then in Duisburg, on November 6, 1554, speaking of plans to settle John Scory as the “chieffe Pastour” at Frankfurt. Scory had mistaken an invitation for others to join the exiles in planting a congregation at Frankfurt as a request for ministerial supply, and he had offered his services. However, the congregation in Frankfurt called John Knox and Thomas Lever.[8] Alluding to a desire in Frankfurt for equality among ministers, Grindal reveals a willingness to intrude into the management of the distant congregation when he writes, “when wise men talk of the matter, that conceit will be overthrown.” This intention to disrupt the efforts of the reforming party at Frankfurt is echoed in another ominous-sounding phrase: “if things grow to be established there as we hope.”[9]

Knox begins his narrative with an agreement reached on February 6, 1555,[10] among the original group in Frankfurt, to be continued until April. The difficulty of reaching this agreement is evident by the inclusion of an option for referral after April to Calvin, Musculus, Vermigili, Bullinger, and Viret. Nevertheless, the agreement to retain select phrases from the Prayer Book, but remove most of its distinctive features, secured a temporary peace. That concord was quickly disrupted, however, by the arrival of Richard Cox and others from Strasbourg on March 13.[11] Immediately, responsive prayers and other discarded features of Cranmer’s liturgy were resumed.[12] John Jewel, who brought with him extra scandal by his earlier capitulation to catholic demands while still in England, read the Litany.

Knox’s co-minister, Thomas Lever, added insult to injury by rebuking opponents of the Prayer Book at the close of the service. Knox fired back the next Sunday with a sermon decrying the blemishes of the Prayer Book and the Edwardian church. A congregational meeting was held in response to these disturbances. Knox demonstrated a comparative lack of tactical prowess against those newly arrived from Strasbourg by calling for their admission to membership before this dispute was settled. He was apparently confident that he could win them over by persuasion. Richard Cox repaid Knox’s gesture by calling for his dismissal from preaching.[13]

Further discussions took place under the mediation of the civil magistrate, but neither side would budge. Knox, reflecting on these meetings, reports that the newcomers and their backers wanted an “English face” to the church. Knox’s stated desire was for the church to agree with “Christian churches reformed.”[14] As Euan Cameron summarizes, “they were balancing different priorities with an eye to those remaining in England, as well as to the wider international reformed communion.”[15] Those whose sympathies were more decidedly English than global would naturally serve as architects for an emerging “Anglicanism” in Elizabethan England. John Jewel and Richard Cox would serve as bishops, and Thomas Sampson and Thomas Lever became influential scholars.[16]

Anxiety over “those remaining in England” would grow to alarm with the publication of Knox’s inflammatory rhetoric against Queen Mary in A Faythfull Admonition to the Professors of God’s Truth in England (1554).[17] Nine charges of treason and sedition against Queen Mary, Philip of Spain, and the Emperor – who happened to be near Frankfurt at the time – were brought to the city magistrate, resulting in Knox’s banishment on March 26, 1555.[18] Those who brought these charges later explained themselves to Calvin, who complained at Knox’s treatment, that they feared for the safety of those remaining in England.[19] While a more cynical take might chalk this up to opportunism, we should remember that affection for the suffering mother church was an animating motive of this party. The fear of repercussions in England was apparently genuine, while clashing personalities and personal vendettas may also have been involved. John Jewel, writing to Peter Martyr Vermigli, stated that their mutual friend Christopher Goodman, who had arrived with Richard Cox from Strasbourg, but became a close friend and ally of Knox,[20] had an “irritable temper” and was “too pertinacious, in anything he has once undertaken.”[21] Knox himself had earlier sided with John Hooper against Cranmer in opposing kneeling at Communion, which led to the insertion of the so-called “Black Rubric” in the 1552 Prayer Book.[22] In the vestments controversy of the 1550s, he had also sided with Hooper against Bishop Nicholas Ridley, one of the contributors to the Edwardian Prayer Book, and one of those, with Cranmer, then facing martyrdom.[23]


Those on Knox’s side in Frankfurt were deeply wounded by his dismissal and banishment, and would eventually join him in Geneva to form an English speaking congregation there from 1555-1559. They called Knox and Goodman as their ministers, and used the rejected liturgy they had prepared in Frankfurt.[24] Knox’s preface to The Forme of Prayers claimed that it embodied but did not exceed the commands of Scripture – thus meeting his notion of a Biblical ideal. He also reflected on the English failure to fully reform worship, which he believed had resulted in Mary’s reign as divine judgment.[25] But the reformation that had floundered in England, and again at Frankfurt, would triumph at Geneva. Knox’s friend Christopher Goodman would join in that triumph only after he was first denied the fellowship of the Lord’s Table in Frankfurt for refusing to subscribe the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion due to their blanket endorsement of the English ceremonies and acknowledgment of Royal Supremacy.[26]

The brief correspondence between Christopher Goodman and Richard Cox in 1557 reveals the deep hostility sparked by the ‘Troubles.’ In a less than heart-winning invitation, Goodman writes, “Accordingly, if you desire to know with precision what it is to follow Christ, come to us, where you will find very many examples – and exquisite ones – of people of that sort who, denying themselves, follow Christ bravely.”[27] Cox replied from Worms, “If Christ were to be found only in that place, I would hasten there, as they say, with sail and horse. I very greatly reverence the gifts of God which spring up there so abundantly. But I do not disdain equal gifts that have by the grace of God been sown in other places.”[28] These lines of fissure were detectable even in Grindal’s initial response to Whittingham, when he warns the original group at Frankfurt against suggesting that the other exiles could do no better than to join them.[29] While one side claimed to be uniquely furthering reformation, the other side stood in defense of the adequacy of a reformation accomplished.

The ‘Troubles’ at Frankfurt drove a wedge between Geneva and England, providing a self-conscious identity to the Church of England in contrast to the continental models that would prove influential in Scotland. At the same time, this division was neither immediate nor entire. After Knox’s departure, the exiles at Frankfurt, under the leadership of Richard Cox, would actually move closer to a Genevan model, dropping some of their responsive prayers in deference to the city magistrate’s stipulations of agreement with the French congregation, establishing church discipline, and adopting Calvin’s shorter catechism.[30] Many of Knox’s opponents at Frankfurt would later use much of the same polemical tone characteristic of Knox against the Roman Catholic party in Elizabeth’s church, attacking their leadership and worship as demonic.[31] Clearly, both parties considered themselves “Reformed” as over against Rome. The ‘Prayer Book party’ at Frankfurt saw themselves as standing between Lutheranism and a more radical Protestantism represented by Whittingham and Knox, rather than between Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation.[32]

Nevertheless, the appearance of further revolutionary tracts by Goodman and Knox in 1558 contributed to a growing alienation between the ‘example of Geneva’ and the Church of England. Goodman combined Knox’s formula of requiring positive Scriptural warrants for everything done in worship with Calvin’s principle of negative and positive corollaries in the commands of Scripture to argue that if Christians should not obey magistrates in anything sinful, they also must positively seek to establish civic righteousness by active resistance.[33] Knox, for his part, insisted that the lack of Scriptural authority for female rule debarred women from exercising the magistracy.[34] Knox and Goodman wrote their tracts while “bloody Mary” was in power, but when a protestant queen replaced her, their writings would have long lasting negative repercussions for applying a Genevan model in England.[35] Though former exiles played a significant role in shaping Elizabeth’s church – “of twenty-three episcopal appointments made in the period 1559-62, fourteen were returned Marian exiles”[36] – still, house searches, arrests, and imprisonment, befell many returning from Geneva. Knox and Goodman’s travel to England was greatly hindered by Elizabeth throughout her reign. The protestant monarch was obviously deeply disturbed by Knox and Goodman’s revolutionary ideas, as were many of their own friends.[37]

The English congregation in Geneva has been called “the first Puritan church,” and the origins of nonconforming Puritanism in England is often traced to the outcome of the conflict at Frankfurt and the resentment between the two parties that followed.[38] Some members of the Frankfurt congregation wrote to the city magistrate after Knox’s banishment, pleading for protection from those who drove him out, and warned them against empowering the same group: “For if, armed with your authority, they accomplish what they want, it will in consequence happen that through your action this evil be firmly established and now and henceforth revived and there will never be an end of these disputes in our England.”[39] Perhaps we should consider their words to be prophetic.

  1. . David Laing, ed., Works of John Knox (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), 4:9-40.
  2. . Timothy Duguid, “The ‘Troubles’ at Frankfurt: A New Chronology,” Reformation & Renaissance Review: Journal of the Society for Reformation Studies 14, 3 (December 2012), 245. Works of John Knox, 4:5.
  3. . Works of John Knox, 4:41-49.
  4. . Jane E. A. Dawson, “Letters from Exile: New Documents on the Marian Exile, 1553-9,” University of Edinburgh, 2002, accessed October 18, 2016,
  5. . Duguid, “The ‘Troubles’ at Frankfurt.”
  6. . For comparison of various liturgies, see Bryan D. Spinks, From the Lord and “The Best Reformed Churches”: A Study of the Eucharistic Liturgy in the English Puritan and Separatist Traditions, 1550-1633, Bibliotheca “Ephemerides liturgicae.” Subsidia 33 (Roma: C.L.V.-Edizioni liturgiche, 1984); Horton Davies, The Worship of the English Puritans (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997); and William D. Maxwell, The Liturgical Portions of the Genevan Service Book: Used by John Knox While a Minister of the English Congregation of Marian Exiles at Geneva, 1556-1559 (Westminster: The Faith Press, 1931).
  7. . Edmund Grindal to Richard Cox, November 6, 1554, in Dawson, “Letters from Exile: New Documents on the Marian Exile, 1553-9,” DD/PP/839, 38. See also Cameron, “Frankfurt and Geneva: The European Context of John Knox’s Reformation,” 60.
  8. . Duguid, “The ‘Troubles’ at Frankfurt,” 248.
  9. . Dawson, “Letters from Exile: New Documents on the Marian Exile, 1553-9,” DD/PP/839, 38.
  10. . Duguid, “The ‘Troubles’ at Frankfurt,” 250.
  11. . Duguid, “The ‘Troubles’ at Frankfurt.” 251.
  12. . Works of John Knox, 4:41.
  13. . Dawson, John Knox, 100-102.
  14. . Works of John Knox, 4:42.
  15. . Cameron, “Frankfurt and Geneva: The European Context of John Knox’s Reformation,” 61.
  16. . Torrance Kirby, “Peter Martyr Vermigli’s Political Theology and the Elizabethan Church,” in John Knox and the British Reformations, ed. Roger A. Mason, St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), 86.
  17. . Works of John Knox, 3:264-330.
  18. . Works of John Knox. 4:47-48. Cameron, “Frankfurt and Geneva: The European Context of John Knox’s Reformation,” 60-61.
  19. . Works of John Knox, 4:62-63.
  20. . Duguid, “The ‘Troubles’ at Frankfurt,” 254-255.
  21. . Dawson, John Knox, 138.
  22. . Reid, Trumpeter of God, 89-90.
  23. . Reid, Trumpeter of God. 84-86.
  24. . Duguid, “The ‘Troubles’ at Frankfurt,” 259.
  25. . Works of John Knox, 4:162.
  26. . Goodman to Vermigili, March 28, 1555, Dawson, “Letters from Exile: New Documents on the Marian Exile, 1553-9,” DD/PP/839, 57.
  27. . Goodman to Cox, March 14, 1557, Dawson, “Letters from Exile: New Documents on the Marian Exile, 1553-9,” DD/PP/839, 61.
  28. . Cox to Goodman, April 15, 1557, Dawson, “Letters from Exile: New Documents on the Marian Exile, 1553-9,” DD/PP/839, 61.
  29. . Grindal to Whittingham, August 11, 1554, in Dawson, “Letters from Exile: New Documents on the Marian Exile, 1553-9,” DD/PP/839, 29-31.
  30. . Cameron, “Frankfurt and Geneva: The European Context of John Knox’s Reformation,” 67-68.
  31. . Cameron, “Frankfurt and Geneva: The European Context of John Knox’s Reformation,” 68-71.
  32. . Benedict, Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed, 232.
  33. . Dawson, John Knox, 139-140.
  34. . Dawson, John Knox, 144.
  35. . Dawson, John Knox, 169-170.
  36. . Kirby, “Peter Martyr Vermigli’s Political Theology and the Elizabethan Church,” 86.
  37. . Jane E. A. Dawson, “John Knox, Christopher Goodman and the ‘Example of Geneva,’” in John Knox and the British Reformations, ed. Roger A. Mason, St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), 107–136.
  38. . Reid, Trumpeter of God, 128, 134.
  39. . Frankfurt members to John Glauberge, March 21, 1555, in Dawson, “Letters from Exile: New Documents on the Marian Exile, 1553-9,” DD/PP/839, 49.

Steven McCarthy

The Rev. Steven McCarthy is the Rector of Christ Church Anglican South Bend. He is a native of Lansing, MI, and was a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church before joining the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word.

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