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Significant Scots
John Leslie

LESLIE, JOHN, bishop of Ross, and distinguished for his indefatigable exertions in behalf of queen Mary, was born in 1526, being the son of Gavin Leslie, an eminent lawyer, descended from the barons of Balquhain, one of the most respectable branches of the ancient family of Leslie. He received his education at the university of Aberdeen, and in 1547 was made canon of the cathedral church of that diocese. He subsequently pursued his studies in the universities of Toulouse, Poictiers, and Paris, at which last place he took the degree of doctor of laws. In 1554 he was ordered home by the queen regent, and made official and vicar-general of the diocese of Aberdeen. In the turmoil of the Reformation, which soon after commenced, Leslie became a noted champion of the Romish faith, and appeared on that side in the famous disputation at Edinburgh In 1580. When it was resolved to bring over the young queen from France to assume the government of her native country, Leslie was the chief deputy sent to her by the catholics to gain her exclusive favour for that party; but though ho had the dexterity to arrive before the protestant deputation, he was not successful. Leslie, however, returned to Scotland in the queen’s company, and was appointed by her a privy councillor and one of the senators of the college of justice. In 1564 the abbey of Lindores was conferred upon him, and he was soon after promoted to the bishopric of Ross; offices catholic in form, but which now referred to little more than certain temporalities to which they conferred title. Leslie was one of the sixteen commissioners appointed in this reign to revise the Scottish laws, and it was chiefly owing to his care that the volume of the acts of parliament, usually called the Black Acts, from its being printed in the old English character, was given to the world in the year 1566.

The name of the bishop of Ross derives its chief lustre from the steadfastness and zeal with which he adhered to the fortunes of his royal mistress, after they had experienced the remarkable reverse which is well known to have befallen them. When Mary had become an almost hopeless captive in England. this amiable prelate, at the hazard of all his temporal enjoyments, continued to ad. here to her, and to exert himself in her behalf, with a fidelity which would have adorned any cause. He was one of her commissioners at the conference of York in 1568; on which occasion he defended her with a strength of reasoning, which is allowed to have produced a great impression, though it did not decide the argument in her favour. He afterwards appeared as her ambassador at the court of Elizabeth, to complain of the injustice done to her; and if the English princess had not been a party interested in the detention of his mistress, his solicitations could have hardly failed of effect. When he found that entreaties and appeals to justice were of no avail, he contrived means’ for the escape of the queen, and planned the project for her marriage to the duke of Norfolk, which ended in the execution of that unfortunate nobleman. Leslie was examined in reference to this plot, and notwithstanding his privileges as an ambassador, which he vainly pleaded, was committed prisoner, first to the isle of Ely, and afterwards to the tower of London. It appears to have been during this confinement, that he ~~Tote the historical work by which his name is now chiefly known. In 1573 he was liberated from prison, but only to be banished from England. He then employed himself for two years in soliciting the interference of the continental princes in behalf of his mistress, but without obtaining for her any active assistance. Even with the pope, whom he requested to use his influence with these princes, he met with no better success. While at Rome, he published his history in Latin, under the title of "De Origine, Moribus, et Rebus Gestis Scotorum." This appeared in 1578: next year, having removed to France, he was made suffragan and vicar-general of the archbishopric of Rouen, in Normandy, and while visiting the diocese, was apprehended and thrown into prison, and obliged to pay three thousand pistoles, to prevent his being given up to Elizabeth. During the remainder of the reign of Henry III., he lived unmolested; but on the accession of the protestant Henry IV., who was the strict ally of Elizabeth, he fell again into trouble. In the course of his visitation of the diocese in 1590,’ he was once more thrown into prison, and forced to purchase his freedom at the same expense as before. In 1593 he was made bishop of Constance, but being now apparently tired of life, which for many years had presented only disappointments and vexations, he soon after retired into a monastery at Gurtenburg, about two miles from Brussels, where lie spent the remainder of his days in tranquillity. He died, May 31st, 1596, and lies buried in the monastery, under a monument erected to his memory by his nephew and heir, John Leslie.

Bishop Leslie is generally allowed the praise of great learning and of high diplomatic abilities, though it is almost as generally regretted, that he did not turn them to a better use. His fidelity to a declining cause is also allowed, even by its enemies, to have been a sentiment as free from the dross of worldly or selfish views as the motives of a line of public conduct ever are. The isolation of a catholic church dignitary in society seems favourable to the develop. merit of such sentiments; and there are not many cases in which the principle is observed to have been more powerful than in the history of this Scottish prelate. His tongue, his pen, the travel of his body, his temporal fortune, were all devoted with the most generous unreserve to the cause which he thought that of justice and true religion; and what more can any man do, to show the superiority of his nature to the meaner passions?

The works of bishop Leslie are as follow: 1. Defence of the honour of Mary Queen of Scotland; with a declaration of her right, title, and interest to the crown of England; Liege, 1571, 8vo, which was immediately suppressed. 2. Afihicti Animi Consolatiónes et Tranquilli Animi Conservatio; Paris, 1574. 3. De Origine, Moribus, et Rebus Gostis Scotorum: Romas, 1578, 4to. 4. A Treatise showing that the Regiment of Women is conformable to the law of God and Nature. 5. Do Titulo et Jure Marias Sootorum Reginas, quo Anglias Successionem Jure sibi vindicat; Rheims, 1580, 4to. 6. The History of Scotland, from the death of James I. in 1436, to the year 1561 ; Edinburgh, 1830, 4to.

The volume last mentioned was printed from a manuscript in the possession of the earl of Leven and Melville. It is in the Scottish tongue, and forms the original of the three latter books of the Latin history, which differs from it in no respect except in being a little more ample. It appears to have been composed in the vernacular tongue, in order that it might be of use to his captive mistress, who, it is to be presumed, was not so good a Latinist as her cousin Elizabeth. The reason of his presenting her with only this detachment of the history of her country, was, that the preceding part was already to be had in Behienden’s version of Boece. That work stops at the death of James I., and it would naturally occur to bishop Leslie, that a continuation to his own time was a desideratum, both to the people and to her whom he maintained to be their sovereign. He finished his work in March, 1570, and presented the unfortunate queen with the manuscript in 1571; but it never saw the light till the date above mentioned, when one hundred copies were printed for the Bannatyne Club, with fifty additional for sale to the public. The style of the work, though it could not fail to sound rudely in the ears of a modern Englishman, is highly elegant and dignified, forming a wonderful improvement upon the rude simplicity of Bellenden. The worthy bishop informs us, that he stops at the beginning of queen Mary’s reign, because the transactions subsequent to that period contain much that he does not think would reflect honour upon his country there could be few whose words were more worth listening to, respecting that important and greatly controverted part of our history.

The volume alluded to contains a portrait of Leslie, representing him as a grave and venerable man, with an aquiline nose, a small beard, and a very lofty and capacious forehead. As a specimen of the Scottish which a learned prelate would then write, and a queen peruse, we may quote the bishop’s character of James V.

"Their was gryt dule and meaiie maid for him throw all the lartis of his realme, because he i’as a nobill prince, and travaillet niekill all his dayis for nianitenilig of his subjectis in peace, justice, and quietnes. lie was a titan of pearsonage and stature convenient, albeit michtie and strong theirwith; of coun— tenance amiable and lufely, specially in his communication; his eyes graye and scharp of sicht, that quhomsoever he did ones see and marke, he wald perfytly knawe in all tymes thairefter; of witt in all things quick and prompt, of a princely stomacke and heich courage in greit perillis, doubtful affairis and mat. ens of weichtie importance; he had in a maner a divine foresicht, for in sic thingis as be went about to doo, he did them advisedlye, and with grit deliberacion, to the intent that amangis all men his witt and prudence might be noted and regai-dit, and alsfarre excel! and paz all uthers in estait and dignitie. Be. sides this, he was sober, moderate, honest, effabill, curteous; and so farr abhor-nt pride and arrogance, that he was ever sharpe and quick to thame quhilk were spotted or nottit with that crime. He was alsua a good and suir justiciar, be the quhilke one thing he allurit to him the hartis of all the people, because they lived quietlie and in rest, out of all oppressioun and niolestacioun of the nobilitye and riche persones; and to this severyte of his wes joinit and annexit a certane merciful pitye, quhilk he did oftymes shaw to sic as had offendit. taking rather composicions of money nor menis lyvis. * * * * Tins gude and modest prince did not devoure and consume the riches of his countrey, for by his heich pollicye inarvellouslie riched his realme and himselfe, both with gold and silver, all kinds of nich~ substance, quhairof he left greyt stoir and quanti. tie in all his palices at his departing. And so this king, living all his tyme in the favour of fortune, in heidi honour, riches, and glorye, and for his nobill actis and prudent pollyces, worthye to be registrat in the buike of fame, gaif up and randerit his spreit into the hands of Allmichty God, quhair I doubt not bet he hes suir fruition of the joye that is preparit for these as sell sitL on the riclit band of our Salveour."

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