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Significant Scots
John Spotswood


SPOTSWOOD, JOHN, archbishop of St Andrews, and author of "The History of the Church and State of Scotland," was one of the two sons of the subject of the preceding article. He was born in the year 1565, while his father, besides serving as parish minister at Calder, acted as superintendent of Lothian, Merse, and Teviotdale. Being a child of "pregnant wit, great spirit, and good memory," he was early taught his letters, and sent to the university of Glasgow, of which Andrew Melville was at that time principal. He studied languages and philosophy under James Melville, and divinity under his more celebrated uncle; but the opinions of these men respecting church government seens to have made no impression on their pupil. At the early age of sixteen he took his degrees, and when only about twenty, he was appointed to succeed his father in the church of Calder. In the various agitating disputes between king James and the majority of the Scottish clergy respecting the settlement of the church, the gentle and courtly character of Spotswood induced him to lean to the views espoused by the king, which were in favour of a moderate episcopacy, supposed to be more suitable than presbytery to the genius of a monarchical government.

In 1601, the parson of Calder was selected by the court to accompany the duke of Lennox as chaplain, on his embassy to Henry IV.; and it is said by the presbyterian historians, that he marked the looseness of his principles on this occasion, by attending mass in France, along with his principal. In returning through England, Spotswood had an interview with queen Elizabeth. When James proceeded to London in 1603, Spotswood was one of five untitled clergymen whom he selected to accompany him. On reaching Burleigh house, the king received intelligence of the decease of James Beaton, archbishop of Glasgow, who had lived in France since the Reformation; and he immediately nominated Spotswood to the vacant see. The new archbishop was at the same time directed to return to Scotland, in order to accompany the queen on her journey to London, and to act as her eleemosynar or almoner; an office, his biographer remarks, "which could not confidently be credited but to clean hands and an uncorrupt heart, such as his really was."

Holding as he did the second episcopal dignity in the kingdom, Spotswood naturally lent himself with great willingness to aid the policy of the king for the gradual reconstruction of that system in the kingdom. The measures adopted were cautious and prudent, but nevertheless highly unpopular; and for several years the archbishop of Glasgow was obliged to appear obedient to the ordinary church courts. At length, in 1610, the power of the bishops ex jure postliminii was restored; and the subject of this memoir, with the bishops of Brechin and Galloway, repaired to London, to receive the solemnities of consecration, which were conferred upon them by the bishops of London, Bath, and Ely. About the same time, Spotswood became the head of one of the two courts of High Commission erected by James in Scotland for the trial of offences against the church. He had previously, in 1609, been appointed an extraordinary lord of session, in accordance with the policy adopted by the king for giving influence and dignity to his ecclesiastical office, though it after wards was manifest that the holding of lay offices by the bishops injured the interests of their church.

In the month of October, 1614, Spotswood apprehended John Ogilvie, a jesuit, at Glasgow, where he had several times said mass, and converted several young people of the better class. He was brought to trial about the end of February, and denying the king and his council to be competent judges on some points of his religious belief, he was condemned and executed. On the death of archbishop Gladstanes in 1615, Spotswood was removed from Glasgow to be primate and metropolitan of all Scotland, and the same year the two courts of high commission for Scotland, were, under him, united into one. In the year 1616, he presided in an assembly at Aberdeen, in virtue of his primacy, without any election. There was much seeming zeal in this assembly against popery, and the archbishop of Glasgow, and Mr William Struthers, minister at Edinburgh, were appointed to form a book of ecclesiastical canons for the purpose of establishing uniformity of discipline throughout all the kirks of the kingdom. A commission was also appointed to draw up a new liturgy, a new catechism, and a new Confession of Faith. His majesty visited his native kingdom in the succeeding year. On this occasion, twelve apostles, and four evangelists, curiouslywrought in wood, were prepared to be set up in his royal chapel, but were not made use of. The English service, however, was introduced, with its appurtenances of organs, choristars, and surplices. The sacrament was also administered upon Whitsunday, after the English fashion. The consequence was only more violent opposition to these innovations. Nothing, however, could deter James from pressing his own peculiar views of ecclesiastical polity. At another Assembly held at St Andrews in the month of October, 1617, his five favourite articles were again brought forward, but could not be carried, even with all the zeal of the bishops to back his written requests. Disappointed by this result, the king ordered Spotswood to convocate the bishops, and the ministers that were inEdinburgh for the time, and to procure their approval of them, and, if they refused, to suspend them from their ministry. This also failed, and the articles were enjoined by a royal proclamation, to which but little deference was paid. Another Assembly was again suddenly and unexpectedly indicted, by royal proclamation, to be held at Perth, August 25, 1618, where, by the aid of a long letter from his majesty, and the assistance of Dr Peter Young, who was now dean of Winchester, Spotswood at length carried the five articles; kneeling at the sacrament; private communion; private baptism; confirmation of children; and observation of festivals. All the archbishop’s authority, however, could not command obedience to them, though he continued to enforce them before the high commission court for a number of years. Among those of the clergy whom he deprived of their livings for non-compliance, were Mr Richard Dickson, Mr Andrew Duncan, Mr John Scrimger, Mr Alexander Simpson, Mr John Murray, Mr George Dunbar, Mr David Dickson, and Mr George Johnston. For all this severity he had certainly king James’s warrant, and had he been even more severe, would probably have raised himself still higher in his majesty’s favour. At the coronation of Charles I., which took place in Edinburgh on the 18th of June, 1633, Spotswood placed the crown upon his head, assisted by the bishops of Ross, Murray, Dunkeld, Dumblane, and Brechin, arrayed in robes of blue silk, richly embroidered, reaching down to their feet, over which they had white rockets with lawn sleeves, and loops of gold. The archbishop of Glasgow and other bishops, having refused to appear in this costume, were not allowed to take any active part in the ceremony. Laud, who accompanied the monarch, and was master of the ceremonies on the occasion, had introduced an altar into the church, on which stood two blind books, two wax candles lighted, and an empty bason. "Behind the altar there was ane rich tapestry wherein the crucifix was curiously wrought, and, as thir bishops who were onservice past by this crucifix, they were seen to bow their knee and beck, which with their habit was noted, and bred great fear of inbringing ofpopery." Charles by these means rendered his visit disagreeable to the people, he left them in a more dissatisfied state than even that in which he found them. A copy of a protestation, or statement of grievances, which had been drawn up to be presented to the parliament held by the king in 1633, but which circumstances had prevented its framers from presenting, having been shown in confidence by lord Balimerino, was surreptitiously carried to Spotswood, who hastened with it to court, where it was represented as a crime of no common kind. Balmerino was immediately brought to trial under the statute of leasing making, and, chiefly through the influence of the primate, who was himself an extraordinary lord of session, of which his second son, Robert, was president, condemned to die. This measure gave so much offence that it was found necessary to pardon Balmerino, a concession which did not at all satisfy the people, or remove their aversion to the prelates, upon whom the whole odium of these despotic proceedings was laid. That aversion was still heightened by the zeal displayed by the primate in enlarging the revenues of his see, which had, both in Glasgow and St Andrews, been a principal object with him, and in prosecuting which, his biographer affirms he made not fewer than fifty journeys between Scotland and the court of London. He had also about this time, on the death of lord Kinnoul, obtained the first office of the state, that of chancellor. He was labouring to revive the order of mitred abbots to be substituted in parliament in place of the lords of erection, whose impropriated livings and tithes he intended should go to their endowments. A book of canons, and a liturgy imposed upon the church by the sole authority of the king and the bishops in 1637, filled up the measure of court imprudence. Spotswood, whose gentle character probably revolted at the strong measures adopted by the king, exclaimed, on hearing of the intention to meet these innovations with a renewal of the covenant, that the labours of an age had been undone in a day. Scotland, in consequence of their own intolerant conduct, was now no agreeable place for bishops and the upholders of a semi-popish episcopacy; and Spotswood retired, with a depressed mind and a diseased frame to Newcastle, where he was confined for some time by sickness. On recovering a little, he proceeded to London, where he died, November 26, 1639, in the seventy-fourth year of his age, just in time to escape witnessing the total overthrow of his favourite church polity in Scotland. By his wife, Rachel Lindsay, daughter of the bishop of Ross, he had a numerous family, though only three of them survived him, two sons and a daughter. Spotswood was unquestionably a man of excellent abilities, but, though a clergyman, he was also a man of the world, and probably somewhat more ambitious than became his sacred profession He was, however, neither sanguinary nor cruel, but, on the contrary, seems to have been desirous of accomplishing all his purposes by the gentlest means. As a historian he is entitled to very high praise. He certainly leans to the side of his own party, but his statements, like his general character, are, for the most part, marked by moderation. In richness and variety of materials, his history, perhaps, is not equal to several contemporary, or perhaps earlier productions of the same class, but in point of style and arrangement it is inferior to none.


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