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The Scottish Nation

WINRAM, JOHN, one of the early Reformers, was descended from the Fifeshire family of the Winrams or Winrahams of Kirkness, or Ratho. He is supposed to have commenced his studies at St. Leonard’s college, St. Andrews, in 1513, where, two years afterwards, he took the degree of B.A. He subsequently entered into the order of the monks of St. Augustine, and after having been a canon-regular for some years, was elected, about 1534, third prior, and in 1536 sub-prior, of their abbey or monastery at St. Andrews. The prior, Lord James Stewart, afterwards the regent Moray, was then in his minority, and, consequently, much of the common business of the abbey devolved on the sub-prior. Although he held such a prominent situation in the popish church, Winram secretly favoured the doctrines of the Reformation; and while he carefully avoided uttering in public anything that might subject him to persecution, he did not fail to enlighten the minds of many, particularly among the monks and novitiates of the abbey, in the knowledge of the truth.

At the trial of George Wishart, the martyr, at St. Andrews, February 28, 1546, Winram was desired by Cardinal Bethune to open the proceedings with a suitable sermon. This was evidently done to test his principles; but the wary sub-prior was on his guard, and, although in preaching on the parable of the wheat and tares, he entered upon a definition of heresy, he took care not to commit himself, and concluded by declaring that heretics ought to be put down, “even in this present world.” After the condemnation of Wishart, the sub-prior ventured to speak to the bishops on his behalf, whereupon the cardinal upbraided him, saying, “Well, Sir, and you, we know what a man you are, seven years ago.”

A short time after the death of the cardinal, Winram, who, during the vacancy, was vicar-general of the diocese, was called to account by Hamilton, the archbishop-elect, for allowing Knox to preach his ‘Heretical and schismatical doctrines,” unreproved. He, therefore, held a convention of the friars of the abbey and learned men of the university, before which he summoned Knox and Rough, another Protestant preacher. At this meeting, Knox, aware of the report concerning the private sentiments of Winram, demanded from him a public acknowledgment of his opinion, whether the doctrines taught by him and his colleague were scriptural or unscriptural; for, if he believed them to be true, it was his duty to give them the sanction of his authority. Winram cautiously replied that he did not come there as a judge, and would neither affirm nor condemn the points in question; but, if Knox pleased, he would reason with him a little. After maintaining the argument for a short time, the sub-prior devolved it on an old Greyfriar, named Arbuckle, who seemed to be in his dotage. The latter was soon forced to yield in disgrace, Winram himself being the first to condemn his extravagant assertions. Although he disapproved of many of the proceedings of the Popish clergy, Winram, whose conduct was sometimes extremely ambiguous, continued till a late period to act with them, and, in April 1558, he was present at the trial and condemnation of Walter Mill, the martyr, at St. Andrews. Being a member of the provincial council of the Popish clergy which met in 1549, he was employed by his brethren to draw up the canon intended to settle the ridiculous dispute, then warming agitated amongst the clergy, whether the Pater Noster should be said to the saints, or to God alone. In the council which sat in 1559, he was nominated one of the six persons to whose examination and admonition the archbishops of Glasgow and St. Andrews submitted their private conduct.

He appears soon after to have openly joined the Reformers, and, in April 1560, was one of the ministers to whom was committed the important trust of compiling the Old Confession of Faith, and the First Book of Discipline, one of his coadjutors being John Knox, with whom he had formerly disputed at St. Andrews. In April 1561 he was elected one of the five ecclesiastical superintendents of provinces, his district being Fife, Forthrick, and Strathern. After this he was a constant attendant on the meetings of the General Assembly, and was employed in their committees on the most important affairs; but, like the other superintendents, he was frequently accused of negligence in visiting the district committed to his charge. In 1571 he was one of the commissioners appointed by the General Assembly, convened at Leith, to proceed to the castle, then held by Kirkcaldy of Grange, for the queen, to endeavour to bring about an agreement between the two contending parties, when he began the conference, which was principally conducted, on Kirkcaldy’s part, by the laird of Lethington. In January 1572 he attended the convention at Leith called by the regent Morton, at which the Tulchan bishops were authorized, and the former ecclesiastical titles ordered to be retained; and, on the 10th of the following month, he was employed as superintendent of the bounds to inaugurate Mr. John Douglas as archbishop of St. Andrews. On this occasion, Winram was appointed archdeacon of that diocese, but, having resigned the county of Fife to the new archbishop, he was usually designated superintendent of Strathern during the next two years. On Mr. Douglas’ death, in 1574, Winram resumed the whole of his former province, when he was sometimes called superintendent of Fife, and sometimes superintendent of Strathern. In 1757 he was also designated prior of Portmoak, &c. He died in September 1582. He is supposed to have been the author of the Catechism, commonly called Archbishop Hamilton’s, regarding which there are some curious notices in the notes to Dr. M’Crie’s Life of Knox.

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