HE is one of the most famous of all Scots, a man who cast his influence over the entire country in the 16th century and whose legacy is still with us today. Yet when John Knox died in this week 450 years ago, his funeral was not surrounded by fanfare – he would have liked it that way – and hardly any of the nation’s leaders attended.

It seems that history is repeating itself, because I can see precious few commemorations of this important anniversary of Knox’s death and that’s a pity, because no matter your views on his religious undertakings, Scottish people should know more about him and I think this will be a missed opportunity for the Church of Scotland, for instance, to educate people about the Great Reformer.

I have written several times before on Knox and the Reformation, and have emphasised that the facts about his life and career are well established, mostly by the man himself – he was never slow to blow his own trumpet. Indeed, apart from monarchs and nobles, he is the most chronicled Scottish individual of the 16th century.

READ MORE: The story of the treacherous spy who wrecked the Jacobite cause

His journey from young Catholic priest to an inspired preacher of Calvinism via the French galleys and the English court is well known, as were his fiery sermons that started Scotland’s Reformation in 1560, followed by his disputations – make that browbeating – with Mary, Queen of Scots.

Less well known is his family life and it often seems to me that his supporters down the centuries have airbrushed this element of Knox’s life out of history. That is because despite it being perfectly legal, in his fifties – maddeningly we do not know Knox’s birthdate – he married the teenaged Margaret Stewart, the daughter of Lord Ochiltree. They would have three daughters, and all are named in the Testament of John Knox, his last will which survives in the National Records of Scotland (NRS) – and a remarkable document it is too.

What has always fascinated me is that the berater of Mary and author of The First Blast Of The Trumpet Against The Monstrous Regiment Of Women was no misogynist in his private life. His personal letters and his own records show a man of kindness and concern with no little understanding of women.

Knox’s first wife was an Englishwoman from a noble family, Marjorie –Bowes, who was 19 or 20 at the time of her marriage to the 38-year-old Knox, a perfectly acceptable age difference in that era.

She was the fifth daughter of Richard Bowes, the Captain of Norham Castle, and his wealthy wife Elizabeth, nee Aske. Behind the marriage was Elizabeth Bowes who was a strong convert to the Protestant faith and befriended Knox who nevertheless failed to convert the whole family.

When Mary Tudor became Queen of England in July, 1553, Knox and his wife and mother-in-law fled to Geneva fearing that the Catholic Mary would execute him as she did so many other Protestant martyrs. It was there he learned his Calvinism.

In Geneva, Marjorie gave birth to Knox’s two sons, Nathanial and Eleazar, who would both grow up to become clerics in the Church of England.

After a brief spell in Frankfurt which he left because of religious differences with the congregation, Knox returned to Scotland in 1559 accompanied by his wife and children and followed by his mother-in-law, and immediately set about his reforming work, starting with his sermon in St John the Baptist’s church in Perth and moving on to St Andrews where his preaching started an orgy of destruction.

With more and more nobles siding with him and congregations across much of Scotland openly in revolt, Knox and his fellow Reformers were able arrange a Parliament in 1560 which formally ended the role of Catholicism in Scotland.

At the end of 1560, Knox suffered a devastating tragedy when Marjorie died, leaving him with two sons under three. John Calvin himself wrote to a friend: “I am not a little grieved that our brother Knox has been deprived of the most delightful of wives.”

It was commonplace in those days for a widower to find a new wife, especially when young children needed to be care for, but it seems that his mother-in-law Elizabeth did child-caring duties – possibly more than that, though Knox always denied it – for the Reformer at his home in Edinburgh. In the same year that she died, Knox met and married his second wife.

The story is told that Knox made a friendship with Lord Ochiltree and was an occasional guest at his house. Ochiltree suggested that Knox should consider marrying again and though at first reluctant, the Reformer eventually accepted the suggestion that he should marry Margaret Stewart, the third daughter of the family – the two elder daughters having rejected the idea.

Margaret was already a staunch Protestant and their married life after 1564 seems to have been very happy. She must have been brave, too, for Mary, Queen of Scots herself opposed the marriage and technically she needed the Queen’s permission because of her Stewart ancestry. The English ambassador – make that chief spy – Thomas Randolph, reported that the Queen “stormeth wonderfully that she is of the blood and the name”.

READ MORE: How Scotland became the home of geology - and how James Hutton got us there

Margaret gave birth to three daughters, Martha, Margaret and Elizabeth and adopted Knox’s sons.

What is also not often reported about Knox is that he failed physically towards the end of his life and may have had a stroke or indeed more than one. His wife Margaret cared dutifully for him and acted as his secretary.

His family were at his bedside when Knox died on November 24, 1572. His wife was reading from the New Testament when he passed away. As I suggested before, his funeral two days later in the graveyard beside St Giles was perfunctory, with Regent Morton the chief mourner. He said at the graveside: “Here lies one who neither flattered nor feared any flesh”.

The site of Knox’s grave has long been lost but is thought to under parking space 23 next to St Giles.