John Knox's House, Royal Mile, Edinburgh
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: John Knox lived and (almost certainly) died here
HistoryThe story of John Knox's House is really the story of two people. The first is James Mossman, a successful goldsmith and jeweller. Mossman married well, to Mariotta Arries, and the large house at Netherbow formed part of her dowry. The couple's initials decorate a marriage lintel over the door, along with with the Mossman coat of arms. Below the coat of arms is a motto in old Scots dialect that translates as 'Love God above all and your neighbour as yourself'.
In addition to his business as a jeweller and goldsmith, Mossman held the important post of keeper of the Royal Mint. He was also a staunch Catholic, like Mary, Queen of Scots. When the queen was forced to abdicate, Mossman feared that he would lose his post and the wealth that came with it. That, as much as his religious sympathies, prompted him to join a revolt against the new Protestant government. Mossman and a band of Mary's supporters seized Edinburgh Castle in Mary's name. The rebels held out against a prolonged siege, withstanding repeated attempts to capture the castle, but after 3 years the Protestant opposition, with English support, forced them to surrender.
But it was not to remain empty for long before the other major character in the house's history appeared.
John KnoxJohn Knox was one of the major forces behind Mary's abdication and probably the most important figure in the Scottish Reformation. Born at Haddington, not far from Edinburgh, Knox trained as a Catholic priest before deciding the traditional Catholicism needed to be reformed. His ideas would eventually help form Scottish Presbyterianism.
Knox was known as a fiery orator and engaged in a series of very public debates with Mary, Queen of Scots, eventually deciding the she needed to be removed from the throne for the good of the nation. After Mary's ouster, Knox continued his preaching, often from St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. Knox was in poor health by this stage of his life, and needed a place to live within a short distance of the cathedral. The empty goldsmith's house at Netherbow was perfect.
In 1850 the Church of Scotland rescued the house from destruction so that it could be turned into a museum focussed on telling the story of Knox's life and times. Some of the house furnishings are original, though others were brought here from other historic houses on the Royal Mile as they were demolished.
VisitingThe thick walls and turnpike stair reveal the age of John Knox's House the moment you step through the doors. The bottom floor shares space with the Scottish Storytelling Centre and houses a gift shop and cafe. Visitors ascend the spiral stair to the first floor - taking care not to trip on the seventh step. That stair is spaced differently to the others, to trip up potential intruders creeping up the stairs at night. It works; I stumbled een though I was looking out for it!
On the first floor is an exhibition of the life of John Knox, with memorabilia including early editions of his writings. Several of the chambers have large fireplaces with beautiful tiles for backing. One area is set up as a typical goldsmith's workshop. The best chambers are on the second floor, with the largest chamber boasting superb wooden panelling, huge floorboards, and a painted ceiling. The beautiful decoration really helps bring home how wealthy and influential Mossman must have been.
I loved visiting the house; the interiors have been beautifully preserved and help bring the 16th century to life. John Knox's House is a 'must see' if you are visiting Edinburgh, and is within easy waking distance of the castle and Holyrood House.
About John Knox's House
Address: Scottish Storytelling Centre, 43-45 High Street, Edinburgh, Lothian, Scotland, EH1 1SR
Attraction Type: Historic Building
Location: On the Royal Mile. Easy walking distance from the castle. Excellent transport links. No on-site parking.
Website: John Knox's House
Phone: 0131 556 9579
Fax: 0131 557 5224
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
The People's Story Museum - 0.2 miles (Museum)
Canongate Kirk - 0.2 miles (Historic Church)
Museum of Edinburgh - 0.2 miles (Museum)
St Giles Cathedral - 0.2 miles (Cathedral)
National Museum of Scotland - 0.3 miles (Museum)
Gladstone's Land - 0.3 miles (Historic Building)
Writer's Museum - 0.3 miles (Museum)
Calton Hill Folly Group - 0.3 miles (Garden)
Nearest Accommodation to John Knox's House:
Nearest Self Catering Cottages
Nearest Bed and Breakfasts
Edinburgh Information Centre
above Waverley Shopping Centre
3 Princes Street
Tel: 08452 255 121