Anybody coming here for an insight into the life of John Knox may well come away disappointed. Having said that, I think it’s still worth a visit as long as you’re not expecting to see a building closely associated with one of Scotland’s great historical figures.
The John Knox House is also part of the Scottish Storytelling Centre which is quite apt really because it’s not entirely certain that the famous reformer actually ever did live here. If he did it was only for a very short time. I think it would be more appropriate to call it the James Mosman House.
James Mosman was the owner of the house in the mid-1500s when he was jeweller, goldsmith and keeper of the Royal Mint for the Stuart kings and queens. He was a staunch Catholic and supporter of Mary Queen of Scots at the time she was forced to abdicate in favour of her baby son James VI.
He joined a revolt that took Edinburgh Castle, but in 1573 was arrested and hanged at the Mercat Cross next to St. Giles Cathedral for treason.
John Knox, who was the instigator of the Reformation in Scotland, did much of his preaching from St. Giles and was one of the main figures behind the abdication of Queen Mary, and it would be ironical would it not, if he was to live in the house of one of his adversaries.
According to the leaflet that is handed out at the museum it states that he lived here during the siege of the castle and probably died here in 1572. Other sources say that he lived up the High St in Warriston Close but the plaque that supports this says that he lived there from 1560 to 1566, so it’s not impossible that he spent some time at James Mosman’s house.
Whatever the truth about all this is, the building is without doubt one of the oldest in Edinburgh and is worth taking a look inside for that reason alone. There are three floors, with the most interesting from an architectural point of view, being the top floor where the Oak Room is situated.
Over the centuries this building fell into a really bad state of repair and there were plans to demolish it, but thankfully it never happened thanks to the Church of Scotland’s intervention in 1850.
I came in here thinking I was going to learn about the life of John Knox, but in the end found out more about the Reformation from the Catholic perspective rather than I did about the Presbyterian doctrines of one of Scotland’s most influential theologians.