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Significant Scots
William Barclay


BARCLAY, WILLIAM, an eminent civilian, and father of the still more celebrated author of the Argenis, was descended from one of the best families in Scotland under the rank of nobility, and was born in Aberdeenshire, in 1541. He spent his early years in the court of Queen Mary, with whom he was in high favour. After her captivity in England, disgusted with the turbulent state of his native country, which promised no advantage to a man of learning, he removed to France (1573), and began to study the law at Bourges. Having in time qualified himself to teach the civil law, he was appointed by the Duke of Larrain, through the recommendation of his relation Edmund Hay, the Jesuit, to be a professor of that science in the university of Pontamousson, being at the same time counselor of state and master of requests to his princely patron. 

In 1581, he married Anne de Maleville, a young lady of Lorrain, by whom he had his son John, the subject of the following article. This youth showed tokens of genius at an early period, and was sought from his father by the Jesuits, that he might enter their society. The father, thinking proper to refuse the request, became an object of such wrath to that learned and unscrupulous fraternity, that he was compelled to abandon all his preferments, and seek refuge in England. This was in 1603, just at the time when his native sovereign had acceded to the throne of England. James I. offered him a pension, and a place in his councils, on condition that he would embrace the protestant father; but though indignant at the intrigues of the Jesuits, he would not desert their religion. 

In 1604, he returned to France, and became professor of civil law at Angers, where he taught for a considerable time with high reputation. It is said that he entertained a very high sense of the dignity of his situation. He used to "go to school every day, attended by a servant who went before him, himself having a rich robe lined with ermine, the train of which was supported by two servants, and his son upon his right hand; and there hung about his neck a great chain of gold, with a medal of gold, with is own picture." Such was, in those days, the pomp and circumstance of the profession of civil law. He did not long enjoy this situation, dying towards the close of 1605. He is allowed to have been very learned, not only in the civil and canon law, but in the classical languages, and in ecclesiastical history. But his prejudices were of so violent a nature as to obscure both his genius and erudition. He zealously maintained the absolute power of monarchs, and had an illiberal antipathy to the protestant religion. His works are, 1, a controversial treatise on the royal power, against Buchanan and other king-killers, Paris, 1600; 2, a treatise on the power of the Pope, showing that he has no right of rule over secular princes, 1609; 3, a commentary on the title of the pandects de rebis creditis, &c.; 4, a commentary on Tacitus’s Life of Agricola. All these works, as well as their titles, are in Latin.


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