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Significant Scots
Edward Henryson


HENRYSON, EDWARD, LL.D., an eminent civilian and classical scholar, and a senator of the College of Justice. The period of the birth of this eminent man is unknown, but it must have taken place early in the sixteenth century. Previously to the year 1551, we find him connecting himself, as most Scotsmen of talent and education at that period did, with the learned men on the continent, and distinguishing himself in his knowledge of civil law, a science which, although it was the foundation of the greater part of the municipal law of Scotland, he could have no ready means of acquiring in his own country. This study he pursued at the university of Bruges, under the tuition of Equinar Baro, an eminent civilian, with whom he afterwards lived on terms of intimacy and strong attachment. It is probable that he owed to this individual his introduction to a munificent patron, who afterwards watched and assisted his progress in the world. Ulric Fugger, lord of Kirchberg and Weissenhome, a Tyrolese nobleman, who had previously distinguished himself as the patron of the eminent Scottish civilian, Scrimger, extended an apparently ample literary patronage to Henryson, admitting him to reside within his castle, amidst an ample assortment of valuable books and manuscripts, and bestowing on him a regular pension. Henryson afterwards dedicated his works to his patron, and the circumstance that Baro inscribed some of his commentaries on the Roman law to the same individual, prompts us to think it probable that Henryson owed the notice of Fugger to the recommendation of his kind preceptor. Dempster, who in his life of Henryson, as usual, refers to authors who never mention his name, and some of whom indeed wrote before he had acquired any celebrity, maintains that he translated into Latin (probably about this period, and while he resided in Fugger’s castle) the "Commentarium Stoicorum Contrariorum" of Plutarch; and that he did so must be credited, as the work is mentioned in Quesnel’s Bibliotheca Thuana; but the book appears to have dropped out of the circle of literature, and it is not now to be found in any public library we are aware of. In the year 1552, he returned to Scotland, where he appears to have practised as an advocate. The protection and hospitality he had formerly received from the Tyrolese nobleman, was continued to him by Henry Sinclair, then dean of Glasgow, afterwards bishop of Ross, and president of the Court of Session;—thus situated, he is said to have translated the Encheiridion of Epictetus, and the Commentaries of Arrian; but the fruit of his labours was never published, and the manuscript is not known to be in existence. Again Henryson returned to the continent, after having remained in his native country for a short period, and the hospitable mansion of Fugger was once more open for his reception. About this period Baro, whom we have mentioned as Henryson’s instructor in law, published a Tractatus on Jurisdiction, which met an attack from the civilian Govea, which, according to the opinion expressed by Henryson, as an opponent, did more honour to his talents than to his equanimity and candour. Henryson defended his master, in a controversial pamphlet of some length, entering with vehemence into the minute distinctions which, at that period, distracted the intellects of the most eminent jurisconsults. This work is dedicated to his patron Fugger. He was in 1554 chosen professor of the civil law at Bruges, a university in which one who wrote a century later states him to have left behind him a strong recollection of his talents and virtues. In 1555, he published another work on civil law, entitled "Commentatio in Tit. X. Libri Secundi Institutionum de Testamentis Ordinandis." It is a sort of running commentary on the title of which it professes to treat; was dedicated to Michael D’Hospital, chancellor of France, and had the good fortune along with his previous Tractatus, to be engrossed in the great Thesaurus Juris Civilis et Canonici of Gerard Meerman, an honour which has attached itself to the works of few Scottish civilians. Henryson appears, soon after the publication of the work, to have resigned his professorship at Bruges, and to have returned to Scotland, where lucrative prospects were opened to his ambition.

A very noble feature in the history of the Scottish courts of law, is the attention with which the legislature in early periods provided for the interests of the poor. Soon after the erection of the College of Justice, an advocate was named and paid, for conducting the cases of those whose pecuniary circumstances did not permit them to conduct a law-suit; and Henryson was in 1557 appointed to the situation of counsel for the poor, as to a great public office, receiving as a salary £20 Scots, no very considerable sum even at that period, but equal to one-half of the salary allowed to the lord advocate. When the judicial privilege which the Roman catholic clergy had gradually engrossed from the judicature of the country, were considered no longer the indispensable duties and privileges of churchmen, but more fit for the care of temporal judges, Henryson was appointed in 1563 to the office of commissary, with a salary of 300 merks. Secretary Maitland of Lethington having in January, 1566, been appointed an ordinary, in place of being an extraordinary, lord of session, Henryson was appointed in his stead, filling a situation seldom so well bestowed, and generally instead of being filled by a profound legal scholar, reserved for such scions of great families, as the government could not easily employ otherwise. Henryson was nominated one of the commission appointed in May, 1566, "for viseing correcting, and imprenting the Laws and Acts of parliament." Of the rather carelessly arranged volume of the Acts of the Scottish parliament, from 1424 to 1564, which the commission produced in six months after its appointment, he was the ostensible editor, and wrote the preface; and it was probably as holding such a situation, or in reward for his services, that in June, 1566, he received an exclusive privilege and license "to imprent or cause imprent and sell, the Lawis and Actis of Parliament; that is to say, the bukes of Law callit Regiam Majestatem, and the remanent auld Lawis and Actis of Parliament, consequentlie maid be progress of time unto the dait of thir presentis, viseit, sychtit, and correctit, be the lordis commissaris speciallie deput to the said viseing, sychting, and correcting thairof, and that for the space of ten yeires next to cum." [Reports from the Record Commission, i. 257. Denmiln MS. – Haig and Brunton’s History of the College of Justice, 133.] In November, 1567, he was removed from the bench, or, in the words of a contemporary, taken "off sessions, because he was one of the king’s council." This is the only intimation we have of his having held such an office; and it is a rather singular cause of removal, as the king’s advocate was then entitled to sit on the bench, and was frequently chosen from among the lords of session. Henryson was one of the procurators for the church in 1573. The period of his death is not known, but he must have been alive in 1579, as lord Forbes at that time petitioned parliament that he might be appointed one of the commissioners for deciding the differences betwixt the Forbeses and Gordons.

Henryson has received high praise as a jurisconsult, by some of his brethren of the continent, and Dempster considered him—"Solis Papinianis in juris cognitione inferior." A monument was erected to his memory in the Grey Friars’ churchyard of Edinburgh, by his son Thomas Henryson, lord Chesters, who is said by Dempster and others to have displayed many of the legal and other qualifications of his father.


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