Knox grew up speaking Scots with a Scottish accent. In middle age he
was criticised for his "southern" way of expressing himself, but this
doesn't mean that he had started to speak like an Englishman. In fact
his letters show that even after living in England and Switzerland he
was still using Scots. However, he had many contacts with English
people, helped produce an English prayer book, and published his own
writings in English. This did not endear him to those people in
Scotland who wanted no blurring of the differences between Scots and
Ninian Winzet's dig at Knox is quite well-known and may be the main
source of the story that Knox had an English accent.
"Winzet was one of a group who "resented the intrusion of English
words into the Scottish vocabulary, and regarded it as a patriotic
duty to write in what they considered the purest Scots. In a well
known sentence, Winzet caustically upbraids Knox . . . . for his use
of English modes of expression. ?Gif you,? he writes, ?throw
curiositie of novations has forget our auld plane Scottis quhilk your
mother lerit you: in tymes cuming I sall write to you my mynd in
Latin; for I am not acquynted with your Southeroun.? "
Translated, this is roughly:
If you, through an interest in new things, have forgotten our old
plain Scots which your mother taught you, in times to come I shall
write my mind to you in Latin, for I am not acquainted with your
John Hamilton, who like Winzet opposed Knox' religious teachings, also
objected to any signs of southern English in Scots:
"In his controversial tracts, such as his ?Catalogue of ane hundret
and sixty-seven heresies, lies, and calumnies, teachet and practicit
by the ministers of Calvin?s sect,? after exhausting his polemical
rage, [Hamilton] girds himself anew for frantic attacks on the
innovations brought by Knox and others from the English idiom of the
day, and in scolding them for "knapping saddrone," as he chose to call
their use of a southern idiom, he used a form of expression which
seems to have become obsolete in his own country. A gentler opponent
of Knox, Nynian Winzet, twits him with the southern affectation of his
style, calling it "quaint inglis." "
Knox was born to Scottish parents not far from Edinburgh, and lived in
Scotland for at least the first thirty years of his life. (His year of
birth is uncertain.) He learnt Latin as a boy, and later on he also
used English and French. In his thirties and forties he spent time in
England, France, Germany and Switzerland.
While in Geneva he wrote letters home which are distinctively
Scottish, though perhaps they may have included "southern"
expressions. After returning to Scotland Knox was a leading member of
the group asked by the Edinburgh Parliament to draw up a "Confessioun
of Faith": the Scots Confession. Maybe it struck Knox' critics as
having some "southern" phrases, but we can see it is distinctively
Scots, with "gif" for "if", "be" for "by", "fra" for "from" etc.
Whether you call it a language or a dialect, Scots was very different
from English in the 16th century. It was used by everyone in Scotland
except for Gaelic-speakers in the Highlands. Comments on Knox's
"southern" idiom do not mean that he preached to Scottish
congregations sounding just like an Englishman.
Thank you for asking an interesting question.
You'll find some excerpts and links below which offer extra information.
Please let me know if you have a query about this answer; just ask for
Best wishes - Leli
"John Knox (whose spelling reveals his Scottish accent) described it
as "the maist perfyt schoole of Chryst that ever was in the erth since
the dayis of the Apostillis."
Some of Knox' letters from Geneva are on this page:
Beginning of the Scots Confession of 1560:
"As a specimen of the manner in which this letter [from Knox] was
written, I shall give the following quotation, in the original
language. ?I dout not, that the rumouris, whilk haif cumin to your
Grace?s earis of me, haif bene such,
that (yf all reportis wer trew) I wer unworthie to live in the earth."
Biography by Thomas McCrie
[In the early 17th century] "The influx of Scottish nobles into London
exacerbated differences as much as it overcame them - these too were
manifested linguistically: members of the English political elite
complained that they found [King] James's accent impenetrable, and the
earl of Suffolk suggested that someone should teach English to Sir
Robert Ker (his future son-in-law), 'as he is a Scottish lad' and
'hath much need of better language'."
"At first, gentry and commoners alike spoke a common tongue ? the
characteristic northern form of that Middle English dialect (?Inglis?)
which had penetrated as far north as the Highland Line but no further.
Several events, however, combined to undermine the survival of the
Scots vernacular. The introduction and rapid spread of printing in
Europe from the mid-fifteenth century exerted increasing pressure for
the standardisation of the English language and spelling in printed
texts, while the union of the crowns in 1603, by bringing the Scottish
royal court to London, rapidly seduced the nation?s aristocracy into
adopting southern manners and accents. . ."
"But the sixteenth century brought a sharp fissure. The chief
disruptive agent was the Reformation, [...]
It made the chief reading of Scotland the Bible?in English; it gave
her the metrical Psalms?in English; and its great protagonists, like
John Knox, had so many English affiliations that they were accused by
their enemies of being ?triple traitoris quha . . . knappis suddrone.?
John Knox Winzet OR Winyet
John Knox accent
John Knox Scots vernacular
John Knox maist
John Knox suddrone