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Significant Scots
David Chambers


CHAMBERS, DAVID, a distinguished historical and legal writer, of the sixteenth century, was a native of Ross-shire, and generally styled "of Ormond" in that county. He received his education in the laws and theology at Aberdeen college, and afterwards pursued his studies in the former branch of knowledge in France and Italy. The earliest date ascertained in his life is his studying at Bologna under Marianus Sozenus in 1556. Soon after, returning to his native country, he assumed the clerical offices of parson of Study and chancellor of the diocese of Ross. His time, however, seems to have been devoted to the legal profession, which was not then incompatible with the clerical, as has already been remarkably shown in the biography of his contemporary and friend Sir James Balfour.

In 1564, he was elevated to the bench by his patroness Queen Mary, to whose fortunes he was faithfully attached through life. He was one of the high legal functionaries, entrusted at this time with the duty of compiling and publishing the acts of the Scottish parliament. The result of the labours of these men was a volume, now known by the title of "the Black Acts," from the letter in which it is printed. While thus engaged in ascertaining the laws of his country, and diffusing a knowledge of them among his countrymen, he became concerned in one of the basest crimes which the whole range of Scottish history presents. Undeterred either by a regard to fundamental morality, or, what sometimes has a stronger influence over men, a regard to his high professional character, he engaged in the conspiracy for destroying the queen's husband, the unfortunate Darnley. After that deed was perpetrated, a placard was put up by night on the door of the tolbooth, or hall of justice, which publicly denounced lord Ormond as one of the guilty persons. "I have made inquisition," so ran this anonymous accusation, "for the slaughter of .the king, and do find the earl of Bothwell, Mr. James Balfour, parson of Flisk, Mr. David Chambers, and black Mr. John Spence, the principal devysers thereof."

It affords a curious picture of the times, that two of these men were judges, while the one last mentioned was one of the two crown advocates, or public prosecutors, and actually appeared in that character at the trial of his accomplice Bothwell. There is matter of further surprise in the partly clerical character of Balfour and Chambers. The latter person appears to have experienced marks of the queen's favour almost immediately after the murder of her husband. On the 19th of April, he had a ratification in parliament of the lands of Ochterslo and Castleton. On the ensuing 12th of May, he sat as one of the lords of Session, when the queen came forward to absolve Bothwell from all guilt he might have incurred, by the constraint under which he had recently placed her. He also appears in a sederunt of privy council held on the 22d of May. But after this period, the fortunes of his mistress experienced a strange overthrow, and Chambers, unable to protect himself from the wrath of the ascendant party, found it necessary to take refuge in Spain.

He here experienced a beneficent protection from king Philip, to whom he must have been strongly recommended by his faith, and probably also the transactions in which he had lately been engaged. Subsequently retiring to France, he published in 1572, "Histoire Abregee de tous les Roys de France, Angleterre, et Ecosse," which he dedicated to Henry III. His chief authority in this work was the fabulous narrative of Boece. In 1579, he published other two works in the French language, " La Recherche des singularites les plus remarkables concernant l'Estait d’Ecosse," and " Discours de la legitime succession des femmes aux possessions des leurs parens, et du gouvernement des princesses aux empires et royaume." The first is a panegyric upon the laws, religion, and valour of his native country - all of which, a modern may be inclined to think, he had already rendered the reverse of illustrious by his own conduct. The second work is a vindication of the right of succession of females, being in reality a compliment to his now imprisoned mistress, to whom it was dedicated. In France, Chambers was a popular and respected character; and he testified his own predilection for the people by selecting their language for his compositions against the fashion of the age, which would have dictated an adherence to the classic language of ancient Rome. Dempster gives his literary character in a few words - "vir multae et variae lectionis, nec inamoeni ingenii," a man of much and varied reading, and of not unkindly genius." He was, to use the quaint phrase of Mackenzie, who gives a laborious dissection of his writings, "well seen in the Greek, Latin, English, French, Italian, and Spanish languages."

On the return of quieter times, this strange mixture of learning and political and moral guilt returned to his native country, where, so far from being called to account by the easy James for his concern in the murder of his father, he was, in the year 1586, restored to the bench, in which situation he continued till his death in November, 1592.

Another literary character, of the same name and the same faith, lived in the immediately following age. He was the author of a work intitled "Davidis Camerarii Scoti, de Scotorum Fortitudine, Doctrina, et Pietate Libri Quatuor," which appeared at Paris, in small quarto, in 1631, and is addressed by the author in a flattering dedication to Charles I. The volume contains a complete calendar of the saints connected with Scotland, the multitude of whom is apt to astonish a modern protestant.


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