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Significant Scots
Henry Wardlaw


WARDLAW, HENRY, bishop of St Andrews, and founder of the university there, was descended from the Wardlaws of Torry, in Fife, and was nephew to Walter Wardlaw, bishop of Glasgow, who was created a cardinal by pope Urban VI., in the year 1381. The subject of this memoir, having received the usual education of a churchman, was appointed, not improbably through the interest of his uncle, to the office of precentor in the cathedral church of Glasgow. He afterwards went to Avignon, probably on some mission from his dignified relative. While residing at the papal court there, Thomas Stewart, son to Robert II., king of Scotland, who had been elected bishop of St Andrews, died, and the subject of this memoir was preferred to the vacant see by pope Benedict XIII., in the year 1404. He returned to Scotland shortly after, bearing the additional title and office of pope’s legate for Scotland. Being a man of strict morals, his first care was to reform the lives of the clergy, which had become profligate to an extreme degree. In the mean time, king Robert III., having lost his eldest son David, by the treacherous cruelty of his brother the duke of Albany, to secure the life of his son James, sent him to the care of bishop Wardlaw, who, dreading the power and the cruelty of Albany, advised his father to send him to France to the care of Charles VI., on whose friendly dispositions he assured him he might confidently rely. On the seizure of James, in 1404, by Henry IV. of England, the bishop was left at liberty to pursue his plans of improvement at his leisure, but from the unsettled state of the country, and the deplorable ignorance which prevailed among all classes of the community, with very little success. With the view of surmounting these obstacles., he erected a college at St Andrews in 1411, for which he procured a confirmation from Pope Benedict in the year following. His agent on this occasion was Alexander Ogilvy. On the return of this missionary in the year 1412, with the bull of confirmation, bonfires were kindled, bells were rung, and the night spent with every demonstration of joy. The next day was devoted to a solemn religious procession, in which there were four hundred clergymen, besides novices of various orders and degrees. The model upon which the bishop formed this university was that of Paris, where, it is probable, he had received his own education; and he nominated Mr John Shevez, his first official, Mr William Stephen, afterwards bishop of Dumblane, and Sir John Leister, a canon of the abbey, readers of divinity, Mr Laurence Lindores, reader of the canon, and Mr Richard Cornwall of the civil law, and Messrs John Gow, William Foulis, and William Croisier, professors of philosophy, "persons," says Spotiswood, "worthy of being remembered for being the first instruments that were employed in that service, and for the attendance they gave upon it, having no allowance for their labour." Buchanan has not recorded the names of these worthy men, but he alludes to them when he says, "the university of St Andrews was founded through the efforts of learned men, who gratuitously offered their services as professors, rather than from any stipendiary patronage either of a public or private character." For sixty-four years after its foundation the lectures were read in a wooden building called the pedagogy, erected on the spot where St Mary’s now stands, the number of students amounting, if we may credit some authors, to several thousands. The professors had no fixed salaries, and the students paid no fees.’

Notwithstanding all the bishop’s industry, and the diligence of his professors, matters do not seem to have mended with the clergy. King James, after his return, attempted to check their licentiousness without effect, as they had now got beyond the reach of all authority except that of the court of Rome. The university seems as yet to have been wholly unappreciated by the only classes who could partake of its benefits; for we find the monarch, in order to rid himself of the profligate clergy, bestowing a large portion of his attention on the establishment of schools, and supporting them liberally, that they might be available to all ranks. Learned men he induced by rewards to attend him, and as often as he could disengage himself from public business he resorted to the scene of their disputations, and listened to their discourses. By these means he laboured to overcome the ignorant prejudices of his nobility, who, looking at the worthless and ignoble lives of the clergy, only conceived that learning, to which the latter urged an exclusive claim, was the nurse of idleness and sloth, and fit to be exercised only in the gloom of a monastic cell. In these generous and truly princely endeavours, however, James was grievously thwarted by the exhausted condition of the public revenues, which, what with foreign wars, and domestic seditions, had almost entirely disappeared. To remedy this evil he called a parliament at Edinburgh, mainly with a view to relieve the hostages that remained in England for the king’s ransom, of which one half, or two hundred thousand merks, stood unpaid. To raise this money a general tax of twelve pennies on the pound of all land, spiritual and temporal, and four pennies on every cow, ox, and horse for the space of two years was imposed. This tax, however, was so grievously resented by the people, and so many extortions were committed in its exaction, that the generous monarch, after the first collection, compassionately remitted what was unpaid, and, so far from being enabled to be more generous in rewarding men of learning and talents, the greater number of the hostages for his ransom were allowed to die in bondage, from his inability to redeem them. What good was in his power, however, he did not fail to perform. He invited from the universities on the continent no fewer than eighteen doctors of theology, and eight doctors of the canon law. He attended in person the debates in the infant university of St Andrews, and visited the other seminaries of learning. He advanced none to any dignity in the church but persons of learning and merit; and he passed a law, that no man should enjoy the place of a canon in any cathedral church till he had taken the degree of a bachelor in divinity, or of the canon law. He placed choristers and organs in every cathedral in the kingdom; and, that the nobility might be compelled to apply themselves to learning, he ordained, that no nobleman should be allowed to accede to his father’s estates till he was in some degree acquainted with the civil law, or the common law of his own country. James was also careful to encourage artists from abroad to settle among his rude people, who were miserably destitute of all the conveniences and comforts of civilized life.

A degree of prosperity, for a long period unknown in Scotland, followed; and, in its train, if we may believe Buchanan, ease, luxury, and licentiousness, and, to such an extent, as not only to disturb the public tranquillity, but to destroy all sobriety of individual conduct. Hence, he says, arose sumptuous entertainments by day, and revellings by night, masquerades, a passion for clothes of the most costly foreign materials, houses built, not for use but for show, a perversion of manners under the name of elegance, native customs came to be contemned, and, from a fastidious fickleness, nothing was esteemed handsome or becoming that was not new. All this was charged by the common people, though they themselves were following it up as fast as possible, upon the courtiers who had come with the king from England, in the train of his queen, Jane, daughter to the duke of Somerset. Nor did the king himself escape blame, though, by his own example, he did all that he could to repress the evil; for not only were his dsess and his household expenses restrained within the most moderate bounds, but extravagance of every kind he reproved, wherever he beheld it. The matter, however, was considered of so great importance by some of the Scottish nobility, who were accustomed themselves to wear the plainest habiliments, to live on the plainest and simplest description of food, and to accustom themselves to all manner of privations, in order to fit them for the fatigues of war, that they pressed the bishop to move the king to call a parliament, for abolishing these English customs, as they were called. A parliament was accordingly assembled at Perth, in the year 1430, when it was enacted that pearls should be worn only by ladies, who were permitted to hang a small collar of them about their necks. All furs and ermines, and excessive use of gold and silver lace, all banqueting and riotous feasting, with other abuses of a similar kind, were prohibited; and this prohibition, says the writer of the bishop’s life, was so effectual, that no more complaints of the kind were heard of. The bishop, though remarkable for the great simplicity of his character, for his piety and well meaning, was yet a greater enemy to what he believed to be heresy than to immorality. In 1422, John Resby, an Englishman, was apprehended by Lawrence Lindores, professor of common law in the newly erected university of St Andrews, who accused him in the ecclesiastical court of having denied the pope’s vicarship, &c., &c. For this, Resby was condemned to be burnt alive, and suffered accordingly. In the year 1432, Paul Craw, a Bohemian, was also apprehended in the university of St Andrews, and accused before the bishops’ court of following Wickliffe and Huss; of denying that the substance of bread and wine, in the sacrament, was changed by virtue of any words; of denying that confession should be made to priests; or that prayer should be offered up to saints. He likewise was condemned and burnt alive, at the instigation of the bishop. Notwithstanding this, Wardlaw was celebrated for his charity; and though he laboured to suppress the riotous living which had become so general in the kingdom, he was yet a man of boundless hospitality. It is recorded of him, that the stewards of his household, on one occasion, complained to him of the numbers that resorted to his table, to share in the good things which it afforded; and requested that, out of compassion for his servants, who were often quite worn out with their labours, he would furnish them with a list of his intended guests, that they might know how many they should have to serve. To this he readily assented, and sent for his secretary, to prepare the required document. The latter having arranged his writing materials, inquired who was to be put down. "Put down, first," replied the bishop, "Fife and Angus," (two large counties). This was enough: his servants, appalled by anticipations of a list which began so formidably, instantly relinquished their design of limiting the hospitality of their generous master. For the benefit of his diocese, the bishop built a bridge over the Eden, near its mouth. Dempster charges him with having written a book, "De Reformatione Cleri et Oratio pro Reformatione conviviorum et luxus;" but this seems to have been simply a speech which he delivered in parliament on the sumptuary laws, and which, by some miracle, similar to that so often employed by Livy, has found its way into the Scottish histories.

Wardlaw departed this life in his castle of St .Andrews, on the 6th day of April, 1440, and was buried in the church of that city, with great pomp and splendour, having held his dignified situation for nearly forty years.


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