John Knox as a Romance author

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For reasons not at all connected with this post, I was looking for scans of the 1558 (first) printing of John Knox's infamous screed THE FIRST BLAST OF THE TRUMPET against the monstruous regiment of Women. And one of the places that Google sent me to was a link on the website of the Somerset County (New Jersey) Library System , where the work is apparently classified as a Romance novel:

(Edward Arber was the editor of a 19th-century re-issue of Knox's work…)

I was amused (or maybe horrified?) by the idea of a Romance novel that starts out like this:

and goes on to tell us

For who can denie but it repugneth to nature, that the blind shal be appointed to leade and conduct such as do see? That the weake, the sicke, and impotent persones shall norishe and kepe the hole and strong, and finallie, that the foolishe, madde and phrenetike shal gouerne the discrete, and giue counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be al women, compared vnto man in bearing of authoritie. For their sight in ciuile regiment, is but blindnes: their strength, weaknes: their counsel, foolishenes: and judgement, phrenesie, if it be rightlie considered.

This seems a bit extreme even for the "Bad Boy Good Girl" category.

At first I thought that this was more Google Books metadata weirdness, perhaps left over from the chaotic early days of the project.

But then I noticed that the Somerset County Library system seems to offer only three categories, namely Kindle Books, Kids, and Romance:

And the Arber edition of Knox's pamphlet isn't a Kindle Book; and it's less of a Kids Book than a Romance. So whatever…

Update — as linguistic lagniappe, let's note that monstruous here means (in the OED's gloss) "Of a thing (material or immaterial): deviating from the natural or conventional order; unnatural, extraordinary"; and regiment (or in some editions regimen) means "Rule or government over a person, group, or country; governance; esp. royal authority". So the phrase means "unnatural governance by women".

The phrase has echoed in several novels and a theater company


  1. jin defang said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 12:20 pm

    Egad—nobody has asked the Somerset County Library System to censor the book? It's undeniably sexist.

    There's a John Knox Village retirement community near here that regularly advertises on NPR, making me wonder if any of the ladies who have chosen to live there are of Knox's extreme misogyny.

    [(myl) Note that the Wikipedia article's "Subsequent Reactions" section quotes several people's (IMHO rather strained) arguments that Knox was not really misogenystic, or at least not unusually so for his time. The motivation is perhaps that he was the main founder of the Presbyterian church.]

  2. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 3:10 pm

    "A Somerset County romance" (nudge nudge wink wink) sounds like an entirely plausible but now-archaic euphemism for something-or-other untoward.

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 3:27 pm

    As to the substance, most governments in Europe at the time were hereditary monarchies, many (maybe most) of which excluded females from inheriting the throne, others of which (like England and Scotland) permitted women to reign, although certainly not on an egalitarian basis (e.g. if but only if the prior king left daughters and no sons, the oldest surviving daughter would succeed in preference to a nephew or male cousin). In some countries the rules were arguably unsettled and thus gave rise to crises when the rival rules diverged as to who the new monarch should be (e.g. the so-called War of the Austrian Succession which at least pretextually was about whether or not Maria Theresa was eligible to rule given her femaleness).

    Presumably many/most people were content to leave it as different countries just having different rules and political traditions but the more theoretically-minded were more inclined to think there must be only One Right Way to do it and thus to construct arguments as to which it was and why. As the wikipedia article linked by myl notes, John Knox (although generally credited with making the established Kirk in Scotland "Calvinist" in theology) disagreed with John Calvin himself on this topic, since Calvin (himself no one's idea of a modern liberal egalitarian) was not per se opposed to female rulers.

  4. AntC said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 3:30 pm

    I can attest to the excellence of the theatre company.

    Until "1993, when financial support from the Arts Council of Great Britain was discontinued" and the cultural life a nation could be proud of went down the gurgler more generally. (I emigrated 1995.)

  5. DaveK said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 4:41 pm

    Another title inspired by the phrase is Thomas Berger’s 1973 novel, Regiment of Women.

  6. John Wilkins said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 6:13 pm

    Also, Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment.

  7. wanda said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 6:18 pm

    @jin defang: I haven't heard anyone seriously argue (in the States) that a book with harmful ideas shouldn't be available for an adult to read.
    Most debates over censorship in the States that I've seen are either about
    – content offered to children (who most people think should be shielded from various harmful ideas, although they disagree on which ideas are harmful)
    – situations where someone is profiting from selling or promoting harmful ideas
    – situations where it might look like some official institution is endorsing harmful ideas, for example when a university student group invites someone to speak.

    The lines get blurry. Perhaps you can argue that the library should not have spent the public's money on such a book or that the library is somehow endorsing it by having in available (although I don't think people think of libraries as endorsing the books they carry). If no one will buy a book or sell a book, it won't be available for people to read. But I don't generally hear people saying that the book should be rendered unavailable for anyone to read.

  8. John Swindle said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 6:49 pm

    Compare "Red Detachment of Women." Don't ask me why.

  9. Brian Ogilvie said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 8:51 pm

    As a historian of the period, I'd like to point out for those not familiar with Knox or the pamphlet's context that he was one of the Marian exiles—Protestants who had fled England after the Catholic Queen Mary succeeded the Protestant Edward VI—active in Geneva and Frankfurt before returning to his native Scotland, and then returning to Geneva (and then, eventually, resettling in Scotland). He wrote the pamphlet against Mary, but shortly after it was published, she died and was succeeded by her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth. Although the pamphlet was anonymous, Knox's authorship was known, and Elizabeth never forgave him. It's certainly misogynistic, but at least some of the misogyny was tactical.

    I doubt the library spent any money on this e-book; it's a Project Gutenberg e-book that's in the public domain. And it's an important historical source.

  10. Terry Hunt said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 9:07 pm

    Back in the '70s, a couple of friends of mine who were members of the English Civil War re-enactment society The Sealed Knot told me that it had an all-female contingent (of soldiers, not "camp followers" and the other female roles that were also represented) called 'The Monstrous Regiment of Women.' I'm not sure if this was (then) an officially recognised body on the Society's muster rolls, or a more informal group.

  11. Andrew Usher said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 9:09 pm

    I imagine it should have been said that 'monstruous' is the original spelling (though I can't confirm it) and not a mistake. There's little doubt Knox's motive in writing this was not misogynist, and largely involved opposition to his church. Besides, the archaic nature (in every respect) of his argument makes it quite sure that it would convince no one today, and it is preserved for historical importance, so only a fool would call for its censorship.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  12. John Swindle said,

    April 20, 2022 @ 11:58 pm

    I've sent a note to the library's digital services manager. Figured they might be interested.

  13. Sunanda Das said,

    April 21, 2022 @ 4:01 am

    I think the library didn't spent any money on this book. It's an important historical source.

  14. Kate Bunting said,

    April 21, 2022 @ 7:19 am

    Terry Hunt – I suspect an informal group. As a long-term member of the Sealed Knot, I've never heard of such a regiment having any official existence.

  15. Haamu said,

    April 21, 2022 @ 11:24 am

    There's little doubt Knox's motive in writing this was not misogynist…

    I'd be interested in learning more about what's known about Knox's motives, but "And such be al women" has me jumping to the opposite conclusion. I suspect there's more than a little doubt — if not about his primary motive, then perhaps about a contributing one.

  16. Michael said,

    April 21, 2022 @ 2:19 pm

    As I am apparently the first librarian to look at this, allow me to offer a minor corrective: this is not a website generated by Somerset County Library, it is their e-book collection managed by Overdrive, who are responsible for the format if not the content. Having worked at two libraries that use Overdrive for e-books as well, I can attest that they offer more categories than "Kindle Books," "Kids," and "Romance." Also, it is entirely possible to have books that simply are not categorized at all, which don't show up for browsing when you choose a collection, but only when you go to the "main collection" as it shows on the "back" arrow on the top left of the screen.
    Someone in their Tech Services Department should go in and review what is happening here – my guess is that they just let Overdrive batch load everything into "Romance" as if it were the main collection.

  17. Terpomo said,

    April 21, 2022 @ 5:15 pm

    Aside from the argument about censorship vs. keeping it for historical reasons, I'll also just add that frankly it's neat how we, as educated native speakers of English, can read this book from about four and a half centuries ago without much difficulty but for the odd word here and there.

  18. Andreas Johansson said,

    April 22, 2022 @ 7:16 am

    I'm not a native speaker of English, but the text doesn't present any huge problems for me either.

    Actually, I tend to find sixteenth century English easier than sixteenth century Swedish; the former appears to have changed less, at least as far as the written form is concerned.

  19. Andrew Usher said,

    April 22, 2022 @ 7:17 pm

    To sum up, clearly the library needs to be alerted to this error and told that it makes them look ridiculous or careless, and (in which others have more expertise than I) it should be easily fixed, if only by removing categorisation.

    Of course I agree Knox meant it in his distaste for rule by women. Many or most men have believed so throughout history, but they didn't write tracts like that. And I should warn about reading too much into Renaissance writing style; it was very much overblown, and authors often considered it remiss not to say every point that could be said of the subject.

  20. Tom Dawkes said,

    April 23, 2022 @ 4:06 am

    @Andreas Johansson. I'm reminded of an evening class on poetry I attended years ago where the tutor presented a poem and asked us to suggest which century it had been written in. There were two young German students in the class and they said it seemed 20th century. It was actually a Shakespeare sonnet!

    On 'regiment': Knox used it in the sense of 'regime'.
    See OED 1a. Rule or government over a person, group, or country; governance; esp. royal authority. Now rare (archaic and poetic in later use).

  21. Terpomo said,

    April 23, 2022 @ 3:41 pm

    Andreas, I agree languages change at different speeds over time, but my impression had been that English is a relatively fast-changing one. I seem to understand more of thousand-year-old Spanish and Japanese than I do of thousand-year-old English despite not being a native speaker of either language, or anywhere close to native-level fluent. Perhaps Swedish has changed even faster, though.

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