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Significant Scots
Thomas Craig

CRAIG, THOMAS, author of the Treatise on the Feudal Law, and of other learned works, was probably born in the year 1538. It is uncertain whether he was the son of Robert Craig, a merchant in Edinburgh, or of William Craig of Craigfintry, afterwards Craigston, in the county of Aberdeen. In 1552, he was entered a student of St Leonard’s college, in the university of St Andrews, but does not appear to have completed the usual course of four years, as he left the college in 1555, after receiving his degree as bachelor of arts. He then repaired to France, and studied the civil and canon law in some of the flourishing universities of that country. On his return, about the year 1561, he continued his studies under the superintendence of his relation, John Craig, the subject of a preceding memoir. After distinguishing himself in a very eminent degree as a classical scholar, he was called to the bar in February 1563, and in the succeeding year was placed at the head of the criminal judicature of the country, as justice depute, under the hereditary officer, the justice general, an honour vested in the noble family of Argyle. Among his earliest duties in this capacity, was that of trying and condemning Thomas Scott, sheriff-depute of Perth, and Henry Yair, a priest, for having kept the gates of Holyrood house, to facilitate the assassination of Rizzio. In 1566, when James VI. was born, Craig relaxed from his severer studies at the bar, hailed the birth of the royal infant, and predicted the happiness which such an event promised to his unsettled country, in a Latin poem entitled, "Genethliacon Jacobi Principis Scotorum." This, says Mr Tytler, in his elegant work, the life of Sir Thomas Craig, is a poem of considerable length, written in hexameters, and possessing many passages not only highly descriptive of the state of Scotland at this time, but in themselves eminently poetical: it is to be found in the Deitiae Poetarum Scotorum. "Craig," says Mr Tytler, "appears to have been a man of a modest and retiring disposition, averse to any interference in the political intrigues of the times, devoted to his profession, and fond of that relaxation from the severer labours of the bar, which is to be found in a taste for classical literature. While his contemporaries are to be found perpetually implicated in the conspiracies against their mistress the queen, and their names have come down to us contaminated by crime, the character of this good and upright man shines doubly pure amid the guilt with which it is surrounded. Although a convert to the reformed opinions, and from this circumstance naturally connected with the party which opposed the queen, his sense of religion did not confound or extinguish his principles of loyalty. His name appears only in the journal books of the court in the discharge of the labours of his profession, or it is found in the justiciary records under his official designation of justice-depute, or it is honourably associated with the literature of his country; but it is never connected with the political commotions which the money and intrigues of England had kindled in the heart of our nation." Craig pursued an extensive practice at the bar for a period of upwards of forty years, and during all that time, his name is scarcely ever found mingling with the political movements of the times. During the later part of his career, he devoted much of his time to the composition of his learned treatise on the Feudal Law, upon which his reputation principally rests. To describe the law of our country, as he found it established by the practice of the courts in his own age; to compare it with the written books on the feudal law; and to impart to it somewhat of the form and arrangement of a science, demonstrating, at the same time, its congruity in its fundamental principles with the feudal law of England, such were the objects of Sir Thomas Craig in this work, which he completed in 1603, a period when it might have been of signal service, if published, in removing some of the prejudices which stood in the way of a union between the two countries. The treatise, which was written in a vigorous Latin style, was not, however, put forth to the world till forty-seven years after the death of the learned author. The enlarged and liberal mind of Sir Thomas Craig rendered him a zealous promoter of every object which tended to preserve the mutual peace, or facilitate the union of England. In January, 1603, he finished a Treatise on the Succession, to further the views of his sovereign, upon the throne about to be vacated by Elizabeth. This work was more immediately occasioned by the celebrated "Conference on the Succession," written by the Jesuit Parsons, under the assumed name of Doleman, in which the right of James VI. was contested in a manner equally able and virulent. The treatise of Craig, probably on account of the quiet succession of James a few months after, was never sent to the press; but an English translation of it was published in 1703 by Dr Gatherer. How much of his time Craig was in the habit of dedicating to the Muses does not appear; but the Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum contains another poem written by him on the departure of his native monarch from Edinburgh, to take possession of his new kingdom of England. It is entitled, "Ad Serenissimum et Potentissimum Principem Jacobum VI. e sua Scotia discedentem, Paraeneticon" "This poem," says Mr Tytler, "is highly characteristic of the simple and upright character of its author. While other and more venal bards exhausted their imagination in the composition of those encomniastic addresses, the incense commonly offered up to kings, the Paraeneticon of Craig is grave, dignified, and even admonitory. He is loyal, indeed, but his loyalty has the stamp of truth and sincerity; his praises are neither abject nor excessive; and in the advices which he has not scrupled to give to his sovereign, it is difficult which most to admire, the excellent sense of the precepts, or the energetic latinity in which they are conveyed." Craig also addressed a similar poem to prince Henry, who accompanied his father to England.

It would appear that Craig either was one of those who accompanied the king to England, or soon after followed him; as he was present at the entrance of his majesty into London, and at the subsequent coronation. He celebrated these events in a Latin hexameter poem, which is neither the chastest nor the most pleasing of his productions, although the richest in metaphorical ornament and florid description. Craig was, in 1604, one of the commissioners on the part of Scotland, who, by the king’s desire, met others on the part of England, for the purpose of considering the possibility of a union between the two countries. He wrote a work on this subject, in which he warmly seconded the patriotic views of the king. This treatise, written, like all his other works, in Latin, has never been published; although, in point of matter and style, in the importance of the subject to which it relates, the variety of historical illustrations, the sagacity of the political remarks, and the insight into the mutual interests of the two countries which it exhibits, it perhaps deserves to rank the highest of all his works. The work upon which he appears to have been last engaged, is one upon the old controversy respecting the homage claimed from Scotland by the English monarch. The "De Hominio" of Craig remained in manuscript till the year 1695, when a translation of it was published by Mr George Ridpath, under the title, "Scotland’s Sovereignty Asserted, or a Dispute concerning Homage."

Craig was, in the latter part of his life, advocate for the church, and under that character was employed at the famous trial of the six ministers in 1606, on a charge of treason for keeping a general assembly at Aberdeen. He was, perhaps, unfitted, by his studious and modest disposition, to come farther forward in public life. King James repeatedly offered him the honour of knighthood, which he as constantly refused: he is only styled "Sir Thomas Craig," in consequence of an order from the king, that every one should give him the title. He had been married, in early life, to Helen Heriot, daughter of the laird of Trabrown, in East Lothian, to which family belonged the mothers of two great men of that age, George Buchanan and the first earl of Haddington. By this lady he had four sons and three daughters. Sir Lewis Craig, the eldest son, who was born in 1569, was raised, at the age of thirty-four, to the bench, where he took the designation of Lord Wrightshouses. As this was in the life-time of his own father, the latter had sometimes occasion to plead before his son. A pleasing tradition regarding the filial respect shown by Sir Lewis, is preserved in the biographical sketch prefixed to the treatise De Feudis. The supreme judges in those days sat covered, and heard the counsel who pleaded before them uncovered. "Whenever," says his biographer, "his father appeared before him, Sir Lewis, as became a pious son, uncovered, and listened to his parent with the utmost reverence."

Another family anecdote of a very pleasing character is derived from the same source. The father of Sir Thomas Craig had been educated in the Roman Catholic religion. His son, whose studies, after his return from France, were, as we have seen, superintended by Mr John Craig, the eminent reformer, appears early and zealously to have embraced the new opinions. The old man continued in the faith of the church of Rome till a late period of his life; but, being at length converted by the unanswerable reasons which were incessantly, though reverentially, urged by his son, he became, to the great joy of the subject of this memoir, a convert to the true religion.

This great man died on the 26th of February, 1608, when, if we are right as to the date of his birth, he must have attained his seventieth year.

An Account of the Life and Writings of Sir Thomas Craig of Riccarton
Including biographical sketches of the most eminent legal characters, since the institution of the Court of Session by James V. till the period of the Union of the Crowns by Patrick Fraser Tytler (1897) (pdf)

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