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Significant Scots
John Craig


CRAIG, JOHN, an eminent preacher of the Reformation, was born about the year 1512, and had the misfortune to lose his father next year at the battle of Flodden. Notwithstanding the hardships to which this subjected him, he obtained a good education, and removing into England, became tutor to the children of lord Dacre. Wars arising soon after between England and Scotland, he returned to his native country, and became a monk of the Dominican order. Having given some grounds for a suspicion of heresy, he was cast into prison, but having cleared himself, he was restored to liberty, and returning to England, endeavoured by the influence of lord Dacre to procure a place at Cambridge, in which he was disappointed. He then travelled to France, and thence to Rome, where he was in such favour with cardinal Pole, that he obtained a place among the Dominicans of Bologna, and was appointed to instruct the novices of the cloister. Being advanced to the rectorate, in consequence of his merit, he had access to the library, where happening to read Calvin’s Institutes, he became a convert to the Protestant doctrines. A conscientious regard to the text in which Christ forbids his disciples to deny him before men, induced Craig to make no secret of this change in his sentiments, and he was consequently sent to Rome, thrown into a prison, tried and condemned to be burnt, from which fate he was only saved by an accident. Pope Paul IV. having died the day before his intended execution, the people rose tumultuously, dragged the statue of his late holiness through the streets, and, breaking open all the prisons, set the prisoners at liberty. Craig immediately left the city; and, as he was walking through the suburbs, he met a company of banditti. One of these men, taking him aside, asked if he had ever been in Bologna. On his answering in the affirmative, the man inquired if he recollected, as he was one day walking there in the fields with some young noblemen, having administered relief to a poor maimed soldier, who asked him for alms. Craig replied that he had no recollection of such an event; but in this case the obliged party had the better memory: the bandit told him that he could never forget the kindness he had received on that occasion, which he would now beg to repay by administering to the present necessities of his benefactor. In short, this man gave Craig a sufficient sum to carry him to Bologna.

The fugitive soon found reason to fear that some of his former acquaintances at this place might denounce him to the inquisition, and accordingly he slipped away as privately as possible to Milan, avoiding all the principal roads, for fear of meeting any enemy. One day, when his money and strength were alike exhausted by the journey, he came to a desert place, where, throwing himself down upon the ground, he almost resigned all hope of life. At this moment, a dog came fawning up to him with a bag of money in its mouth, which it laid down at his feet. The forlorn traveller instantly recognised this as "a special token of God’s favour," and picking up fresh energy, proceeded on his way till he came to a little village, where he obtained some refreshment. He now bent his steps to Vienna, where, professing himself of the Dominican order, he was brought to preach before the emperor Maximilian II, and soon became a favourite at the court of that sovereign. His fame reverting to Rome, Pope Pius III, sent a letter to the emperor, desiring him to be sent back as one that had been condemned for heresy. The emperor adopted the more humane course of giving him a safe conduct out of Germany. Reaching England about the year 1560, Craig heard of the Reformation which had taken place in his native country, and, returning thither, offered his services to the church. He found, however, that the long period of his absence from the country (twenty-four years,) had unfitted him to preach in the vernacular tongue, and he was therefore obliged for some time to hold forth to the learned in Latin. Next year, having partly recovered his native language, he was appointed to be the colleague of Knox in the parish church of Edinburgh, which office he held for nine years. During this period, he had an opportunity of manifesting his conscientious regard to the duties of his calling, by refusing to proclaim the banns for the marriage of the queen to Bothwell, which he thought contrary to the laws, to reason, and to the word of God. For this he was reproved at the time by the council; but his conduct was declared by the General Assembly two years after to have been consistent with his duty as a faithful minister. About the year 1572, he was sent by the General Assembly to preach at Montrose, "for the illuminating the north; and when he had remained two years there, he was sent to Aberdeen, to illuminate these dark places in Mar, Buchan, and Aberdeen, and to teach the youth in the college there." In 1579, Mr Craig being appointed minister to the king, (James VI.) returned to Edinburgh, where he took a leading hand in the general assemblies of the church, being the compiler of part of the second book of Discipline, and, what gives his name its chief historical lustre, the writer of the NATIONAL COVENANT, signed in 1580, by the king and his household, and which was destined in a future age to exercise so mighty an influence over the destinies of the country.

John Craig was a very different man from the royal chaplains of subsequent times. He boldly opposed the proceedings of the court, when he thought them inconsistent with the interests of religion, and did not scruple on some occasions to utter the most poignant and severe truths respecting the king, even in his majesty’s own presence. In 1595, being quite worn out with the infirmities of age, he resigned his place in the royal household, and retired from public life. He died on the 4th of December, 1600, aged eighty-eight, his life having extended through the reigns of four sovereigns.


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