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The Scottish Nation

WYNZET, or WINGATE, NINIAN, a controversial writer of the sixteenth century, on the side of the Church of Rome, was born in Renfrew in 1518. He is said to have been educated at the university of Glasgow, but his name does not appear in any of the contemporary registers of that university. In 1551, he was appointed school-master of the town of Linlithgow, and for ten years quietly and unobtrusively discharged the duties of that situation “to the great satisfaction of the inhabitants.”

The religious discussions that arose at the period of the Reformation in Scotland, led him into the controversial field, and, with the exception of Quentin Kennedy, abbot of Crossraguel, Winzet is the only polemical writer on the Popish side, prior to that event, whose writings have descended to our time. After the abolition of popery, it was thought expedient by the Reformers that all persons who then held the office of schoolmaster should be examined as to their religious tenets, and required to sign the confession of faith, under pain of dismissal. Winzet was accordingly cited, probably in May or June, 1561, to appear before John Spotswood, superintendent of Lothian, and Patrick Kinloquhy, minister of Linlithgow. “Divers conferences,” we are told, “were kept with him, to make him acknowledge his errors, but he continued obstinate, and was therefore sentenced by the church;” that is, he was deprived of his situation, and as he complains most pathetically, was even “expellit and schott out of that his kindly town, and from his tender friendis thair.” He had previously received priest’s orders, and, while still at Linlithgow, he addressed several papers to Spotswood and Kinloquhy, in regard to what he termed “novations,” meaning innovations, in religion.

Winzet subsequently went to reside in Edinburgh, and, on the arrival of Queen Mary from France, in August 1561, he was emboldened to address himself to Knox on the subject of the new doctrines. It is alleged that he held a public disputation with the great reformer at Linlithgow, previous to his leaving that town, but there is no authentic authority for this statement. His ‘Certane Tractatis’ were published at Edinburgh in 1562. He was also the author of ‘The Buke of Four Scoir three Questions, tueching Doctrine, Order, and Maneris,’ on the principal topics of dispute between the Catholics and Protestants, drawn up in the name of the inferior Catholic clergy and laity in Scotland. Questions 33, 34, and 35 of this work, touching his vocation to the ministry, were sent to Knox for answer, but although the reformer fully intended to give a reply to them, as he announced once or twice from the pulpit, he never could find time to do so.

Meantime, Wynzet wrote a work called ‘The Last Blast of the Trumpet,’ but the sound it gave was the means of his being “expellit and schott out” of his native country, for the magistrates of Edinburgh, hearing of its being put in type, and already in the press, broke into the printing-office, seized the copies of the work, and dragged the unfortunate printer, John Scott, to prison. Wynzet meeting them at the door of the printing-office, escaped in disguise, and took advantage of a ship ready for the voyage to set sail for Flanders. This happened in August 1562. He stayed for some time at the university of Louvain. His ‘Buke of Four Scoir Three Questions’ was now printed, containing an address to ‘Christian Reader,’ dated Louvain, 7th October 1653, and a postscript reminding John Knox of his promise to answer him as to his vocation to the ministry. Its publication was speedily followed by his translation of the well-known work of Vincentius Lirinensis ‘On the Antiquity and Truth of the Catholic Faith,’ which he dedicated to Mary, Queen of Scots. Both works were published at Antwerp in 1563. They were written in the Scots vernacular of the time, Wynzet professing not to know English. For the benefit of his countrymen, he translated some other tractates of the ancient fathers, also, a discourse by ‘Renatus Benedictus, concerning Composing Discords in Religion,’ printed at Paris in 1565, 8vo. The author, Rene Benoist, accompanied Queen Mary from France in August 1561, and remained in Scotland for two years in the capacity of preacher and father confessor to her majesty.

IN 1565 Wynzet went to France, and took the degree of master of arts in the university of Paris; and he taught philosophy there with great applause in 1569. It is also stated that he was three times chosen procurator in that university. He also appears to have been in Italy. Having approved himself a zealous and faithful champion of the church, he was in 1576 appointed by the pope abbot of the Scots monastery of St. James’, Ratisbon. He proved himself a benefactor to the establishment over which he presided, for, besides introducing a stricter observance of monastic discipline, he renovated the buildings of the monastery and secured for it various privileges. About this time he acquired the degree of doctor in divinity. In 1582, he published, at Ingoldstadt, the ‘Scourge of Sectarians,’ on the subject of obedience to the civil magistrate, and another work of the same kind, in answer to Buchanan’s discourse ‘De Jure Regni apud Scotos.’ He died 21st September 1592, at the age of 74, and a monument was erected to his memory. His ‘Tractatis’ were printed by J.B. Bracie, Esq., for the Maitland Club in 1835, 4to. The introduction contains all the particulars about him that can now be ascertained, and all of his writings that are extant are printed in this quarto volume.

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