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Significant Scots
George Lesley


LESLEY, GEORGE, of Monymusk, a capuchin friar, of the earlier part of the seventeenth century. The introduction of the individual, as an illustrious Scotsman, and the manner in which we intend to treat the events of his life, require some explanation. John Benedict Rinuccini, archbishop of Fermo, published in Italian the life and marvelous adventures of his friend George Lesley, a Scotsman of rank, who had been miraculously converted to the Roman catholic faith. [Not having been so fortunate as to meet with a copy of the Italian edition, we cannot give a copy of the title page, or even of the date.] A work on so pleasing a subject did not remain long in obscurity; it was translated into French, in which language it was published at Rouen in 1660, at Paris in 1682, and again at Rouen in 1700. In 1673 it was dramatized at Rome, and the decent inhabitants of Monymusk, a remote hamlet in Aberdeenshire, were clothed in names suited for an audience in the imperial city; such as Lurcanio a Calvinist clergyman, the parish minister of Monymusk; Forcina, his servant; Theophilus, an old cottager; besides an angel, Pluto, and Beelzebub, in the form of Calvin. The work, even in its primitive form, is a pure romance, manufactured for the laudable purpose of supporting the holy catholic church; while in the midst of the absurd topography, and still more absurd displays of character, it is evident from names and circumstances, that the whole is founded on fact, and that George Lesley must have been a man remarkable for enthusiasm, eccentricity, villany, or some other qualification on which it is difficult to determine. There have already been published two abridged translations of his life, one by lord Hailes in his Sketches of Scottish Biography, the other in the Scots Magazine for 1802. A search into such contemporary records as we thought might throw any light on the real adventures and merits of this wonderful man, has proved vain; and, unable to separate the truth from the falsehood, we are compelled to follow the steps of those who have already treated the subject, by giving an abridgment of the French translation, without omitting any of its marvels.

The author commences with an account of the city of Aberdeen, which, as we know it to be incorrect, and can ‘separate the truth from the falsehood’ in it, we omit. In its neighbourhood lived James, count Lesley, and Jean Wood his wife, the father and mother of George, who received from them all the treatment of a beloved son, with the exception, that along with his mother’s milk he sucked in the dawning doctrines of Calvinism. Count Leslie died soon after the birth of his son, leaving him vast wealth, and the lady afterwards married the baron de Torry. [Probably the laird of Torry, a village in the parish of Nigg, near Aberdeen.] In his eighth year the young count was sent to pursue his studies in France, with a train and equipage suited to his rank, a heretic preceptor, and a fund of advice steadfastly to maintain the faith he had been taught. He applied diligently to his studies, and became acquainted with two noble Parisian brothers, whose society, contrary to the usual expectation of the world regarding such associates, confirmed him in his studious disposition, and like St Basil and St Gregory Nazianzen, he knew no other street in Paris save that which communicated with their house and the school. The Parisian youths compassionating the state of their companion’s soul, proceeded to effect his conversion, in which they were assisted by their father, who, instead of the ordinary method of balancing the doctrines of the two religions with each other, appears to have merely contrasted Calvinism, the affection of his relations, and eternal damnation, with the catholic faith, eternal felicity, and the loss of his near relations The discussions were conducted at the old gentleman’s country house, beneath the shadow of an oak, and as a recreation from the pastimes of hunting and fishing. The effect of the whole was irresistible; young Lesley submitted to become a member of the holy catholic church, and was immediately conducted to a confessional, after which his companions beheld in his face a glimpse of that glory which formerly appeared in the face of Moses. Meanwhile the heretic preceptor was naturally displeased with what he saw; he argued, and threatened, and represented the grief of the young count’s mother, but in vain. He then sent an account of the matter to Monymusk, and the lady in great trepidation demanded the return of her son; but he, anxious for the safety of his new faith, declined, and the enraged parent disowned him. ‘Alas!’ groans the archbishop ‘to what an extent will bigotry drive us in matters of religion.’ The young count, who had now reached the mature age of sixteen, put himself under the protection of his new friends, and accompanied them on a pilgrimage to Loretto. Here he picked an acquaintance with the capuchin fathers of St Francis, and particularly with Ange Joyeuse, a noble Frenchman, who had exchanged rank and wealth for the cord of St Francis. On the departure of his friends, he intimated his intention of remaining at Rome to prepare for the conversion of his miserable family: he expressed a desire to enter the fraternity of St Francis, but was horrified to discover that certain bulls prohibited the reception of newly converted heretics. The ingenuity of his friend, Ange, attempted to relieve him from this dilemma. It was represented that there was a rational distinction betwixt heretics in a catholic country, and the children of Huguenots, who had no means of knowing the true faith. The distinction, however, was not satisfactory to the general of the order, and Lesley formed the bold design of bursting into the papal presence, amid enforcing his request. When the youth lifted up his adoring eyes, to look at the countenance of the vicegerent of God, the whole chamber beamed with a dazzling light, more luminous than the sun, the brighter rays of light being there accumulated to form a tiara for the majesty of the sacred head. A phenomenon which we are confidentially assured by the biographer, always attends the pontifical presence, although it is not often visible to the naked eye. By the intervention of the pope, he was received into the order, and became a capuchin, and assuming the ecclesiastical name of Archangel, he preached with edification. Twenty years had elapsed since his departure from Scotland, when his mother, hearing that he had disgraced his family by joining a fraternity of beggars, at first (according to the charitable presumption of the archbishop), wished to assassinate him, but preferred the more humane alternative of sending her second son, the baron of Torry, to convert him. It would be tedious to tell how the brothers met, and how the reverse of what was expected took place, by the baron joining the true faith, and both forming a project for the conversion of their mother, and the other inhabitants of Scotland.

The baron was the first to return to Scotland, and accident soon revealed the change in his faith; in the mean time Lesley was chosen capuchin preacher at the court of Mary of Medicis, queen regent of France, and on the institution of the college de propaganda fide, by Gregory XV., he was appointed papal emissary to Scotland, to procure the restoration of that lost land to the true faith, at the same time accepting the additional situation of interpreter to the Spanish ambassador in England. Lesley, or as his biographer at this period commonly terms him, Archangel, wrote a letter to his mother, which with much discretion he delivered himself. He was received with considerable cold politeness, and entertained in the castle; where, however, he could not eat his dinner in peace from being compelled to sit beside a heretic clergyman, who pocketed 300 crowns annually for teaching the doctrines of damnation, to whom, says his author, whenever he turned his eyes, he thought the banquet assumed the aspect of a funeral meal. Archangel kept his secret about six days, when a remark which he made connected with a change in the establishment, proved him not to be a stranger, and he was compelled to make himself known. The rejoicings at this event can scarcely be described in words. The old lady received thousands of visits of congratulation, the fame of the event reached even to Aberdeen (about twenty-five miles), fires of rejoicing were lighted up on the castle of Monymusk, [The castle of Monymusk is a neat old Flemish building, which would make a rather diminutive modern mansion.] and the inhabitants of the town [The hamlet of Monymusk contains about 50 inhabitants.] discharged culverins and let off sky-rockets. He commenced a vigorous discharge of the duties of his mission; he led the people to an adjoining mountain, where he had not been preaching half a quarter of an hour, when the people shuddered, changed colour, and knelt at his feet,—he converted 4000 to the true faith in eight months. He now naturally turned his eyes towards the salvation of his mother, to which he was resolved to make his way through the heretical priest. The reverend gentleman at first declined any discussion, but he was at length compelled to come to issue. He was asked what was the denomination of his peculiar faith, and with much simplicitv answered, it was the church of Geneva. Archangel then asked if the church of Geneva was ever mentioned in Scripture? this was a home thrust to the minister, who had seen no more in Scripture about the church of Geneva, than about the stipend of Monymusk. Like a prudent man, however, he promised to produce what was wanted if he could get time; but after repeated delays, having failed, Archangel triumphantly pointed to the epistle to the Romans as a proof of the existence of his church; the heretic was dismissed for incapability and error, and his mistress’s faith ceded to the victor. The conversion of the mother was followed by that of the other members of the family, and the whole establishment of the castle. A splendid chapel was fitted up for the celebration of the rites of the Roman catholic church, and the object of the mission made rapid progress for two years, at the end of which period, one of king James’s edicts against Roman catholics compelled Archangel to retire to England, and there prosecute his mission in secrecy, having been compelled to leave his books and papers as a prey to the enemy. His mother’s goods were confiscated, and she was reduced to the utmost misery by protestant persecution. In these circumstances her son resolved to visit her, and dressing himself as an itinerant vender of herbs, passed through the streets of Monymusk, vociferating ‘Buy my greens’ he obtained an interview with his mother, who was reduced to the necessity of being compelled to purchase some of his commodity, and a scene ensued, which our limits will not permit us to describe. Being interrupted in his visit by the protestant ‘inquisitors,’ he was compelled to return to England, whence he was summoned to Italy to attend the head of his order, on the ground of some alleged malversation, the cause of which is not very lucidly explained. The plague raged in Italy during his journey, and he for some time occupied himself in attending the sick at Cremona. He was then appointed guardian of the convent of Mount George in the diocese of Fermo. Here he became acquainted with the archbishop who has so lucidly written his memoirs, and through a mutual miracle a second mission to Britain was concocted between them. Archangel set out accompanied by another Scottish capuchin called Epiphanes; their vessel was overtaken by a violent storm, and after a few amiable discussions about tossing overboard some useless hands, in order to lighten her, she was wrecked, the two capuchins being miraculously saved, along with some passengers, among whom were two English gentlemen whom Archangel converted by the following comfortable argument: ‘We hold that you cannot be saved, you admit that we may; judge, then, which is the safest religion. [A favourite argument with Roman catholics, to which Jeremy Taylor made a well known and unanswerable answer.] He after this met a young: Scotsman, who gave him the pleasing intelligence, that, notwithstanding the persecutions suffered by the true faith in Scotland, one influential family in the neighbourhood of the large town of Monymusk had been spared, the influence, of the king of France having procured the restoration of their estates, and permission to exercise their religion. This gentleman turned out to be his younger brother, Edward, from whom he learned also the sad intelligence, that their mother had fallen into a fever, and died, from the dread that her son had been drowned in his voyage. After this, many adventures happened to Archangel, among which, some too curious remarks made by him on the fortifications of Newport caused his apprehension as a spy. His zeal not decreasing, he wore out the patience of the monarch, and becoming again amenable to the laws against papists, was commanded to quit the kingdom. On his journey southward, he made many miraculous conversions, and particularly on the persons of noblemen in the neighbourhood of the city of Torfecan (Torphichen.) While near the borders of England, his exertions produced a fever, of which he died, and a Jesuit in the neighbourhood performed over him the last offices of charity. So terminate the adventures of Le Capuchin Ecossois, of which we are sorry we are compelled to omit many choice portions.


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