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Significant Scots
John Paterson


PATERSON, JOHN.—This last Protestant archbishop of Glasgow, was the son of John Paterson, bishop of Ross, and born, some time in the year 1632. He was trained in episcopalianism, with a view to the ministry; and his first charge was that of the parish of Ellon, Aberdeenshire, but from which he was transferred (in October, 1662) to the Tron church, Edinburgh.

Soon afterwards, he was appointed dean of Edinburgh. As the delegate of archbishop Sharp, in the year 1670 he attended a conference between the peace-loving archbishop of Glasgow (Robert Leighton) and the leaders of the presbyterian church, with a view, on the part of the latter amiable divine, to a reconciliation, but which the prelate of St. Andrews intended should miscarry. Unfortunately the presbyterians, mistrusting the intentions of the over-hopeful Leighton, thought the advances he made them were intended to ensnare their chief men; and, consequently, nothing came of the well-meant attempt, but increased mutual estrangement. Leighton, finding he could do nothing with the presbyterian clergy, appealed, as it were, to their flocks, and obtained the appointment of six episcopal divines, supposed to be the most moderate in their opinions, and least obnoxious to the presbyterians, to go round the Lowlands, preaching in vacant churches, and arguing the grounds of an accommodation with all comers. Among these were dean Paterson and the famous Gilbert Burnet. This attempt, too, proved a failure: "The people of the country, indeed," avers the latter, "came generally to hear us, though not in great crowds. We were amazed to see a poor commonalty so capable to argue upon points of government, and on the bounds to be set to the power of princes in matters of religion. Upon all these topics they had texts of Scripture at hand, and were ready with their answers to anything that was said to them. This measure of knowledge was spread even among the meanest of them, their cottagers and their servants."

Notwithstanding the defeat Paterson and his colleagues thus received in colloquies with these sturdy rustic theologians, his promotion, at least, was secure, through the potency of the duke of Lauderdale, to whom he paid assiduous court. It was through his favour, or by means of a solatium to his rapacious duchess, that Paterson was named bishop of Galloway, October 23, 1674. From this see he was translated (March 29, 1679) to that of Edinburgh.

To make this piece of preferment the more sweet, the duke of York, doubtless at Lauderdale’s instigation, ordered, in the king’s name, the town council of Edinburgh to take 18,000 merks (nearly 1000) out of a sum of money bequeathed, in trust, for founding an additional church in the city, and employ it to build a house for the new bishop. Subservient even to baseness as the city authorities then were, they yet scrupled to commit this sacrilege, and appealed to the conscience of Paterson in the matter, when he had the grace to waive the indecent claim made in his name. "This generous deportment of the bishop’s," says Maitland, "was so kindly taken, that the town council returned him a letter of thanks, with an offer of 600 merks yearly, in name of house-rent." Their offer, however, he could not decently accept, for by this time due provision was made for his accommodation by royal grant; but, not to lose all chance of profiting by the opportune occasion, Paterson, in a letter full of pretentious self-denial, and expressive of his hatred of "all brybers and bryberie," demanded and got 2000 merks of the town’s money, for having preached alone one year, on single salary, in a collegiate church, some sixteen years before!

A few days after the accession of James II. to the throne, he, by a royal mandate, appointed John Paterson and his successors, lord bishops of Edinburgh, to be the chancellors ex-officio of the university of that city for ever! This compliment, and Paterson’s next exaltation, were probably the reward of his courtly compliances; for he had, shortly before, in council with the duke (now king), expressed an opinion, that "the two religions—popish and protestant— were so equally stated (poised) in his mind, that a few grains of loyalty, in which the protestants had the better, turned the balance with him."

In conformity with this indifferentism, he and Ross (whom Burnet calls "the two governing bishops" of the time) "procured an address, to be signed by several of their bench, offering to concur with the king in all that he desired with regard to religion, providing the laws might still continue in force against the presbyterians." With this document he went to London, but was dissuaded from presenting it, as something really "too bad." In 1686, the parliament being moved to sanction the king’s arbitrary policy, secular and ecclesiastical, and a timid resistance made by Alexander Cairncross, archbishop of Glasgow; James expelled him, without ceremony, from his charge, and gave it to Paterson, who was but too happy to accept the equivocal distinction.

But the time of retribution was nigh. The expedition of the prince of Orange, in the autumn of 1688, so opportune in time, and so happy in its results, saved the nation from that slavery which none were so forward to plunge it into as the greater number of the Scottish prelates. To the besotted king, however, they evinced one virtue—that of a canine fidelity; for they adhered to his cause when almost all others had given or were about to, give it up. Thus, on the 3d of November, 1688 (two days before William’s arrival), Paterson and eleven more signed one of the most fulsome addresses that was ever penned, thanking Providence "for miraculously preserving his sacred majesty’s person from past perils; magnifying the Divine mercy in blessing so pious, so wise, and so gracious a king with a son - - not doubting but God would give him the hearts of his subjects, and the necks of his enemies."

Paterson’s possession of his new dignity and temporalities was short and uneasy; for the hatred of the Glasgow presbyterians towards the Episcopal clergy, long subdued by the compression of tyrannical force, was ever ready to burst forth in retaliation upon those whom they regarded as sinful oppressors of "the Lord’s chosen people in Scotland;" but no lives were put in real hazard in any tumult, or bones broken, till the 14th of February, 1689, when provost Gibson, a stanch episcopalian, having, probably at the archbishop’s instigation, imprudently forced access to the High church pulpit for a minister, while yet the question of the re-settlement of religion was pending, a riot ensued, at first mostly through the obstruction of zealous anti-prelatic females, about thirty of whom being wounded, a body of men, armed with sticks, stones, &c., came to their aid, and a desperate combat ensued, in which several were sorely hurt. The archbishop, meanwhile, prudently kept out of the way. When the new royalty succeeded, he counselled the malcontent nobles and gentry to take the prescribed oaths, but on design to break them, in the vain hope of bringing about a counter-revolution. From this time he sank into complete obscurity; dying in Edinburgh, December 9, 1708, in his 76th year.


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