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John Lauder - Scotland's Public Accuser of Heretics

Some interesting notes on

(c1488 - c1552), by Gregory Lauder-Frost, F.S.A.,(Scot).

In The Great Seal of Scotland, (number 1136 dated at Edinburgh on 15th February 1532) - "the King grants Letters of Legitimacy for John Lauder, bastard son of [Sir] Robert Lauder of Bass" [knight, who died before May 1545]. These Letters were subsequently confirmed by Pope Clement VII.

John Lauder was a licentiate 'in Pedagogio' (the Science of Learning) at St.Andrew's University in 1508, and in a Decree Arbitral, dated at St.Andrews on 16th October 1518, he thus designates himself: "Ego sacris Apostolica et Imperiali auctoritatibus notarius, ac in officio Scriptori archivii Romane Curie matriculatus ac descriptus."

He was subsequently ordained and became at different stages of his career Archdeacon of Tweeddale, and of Teviotdale. Later he famously became Scotland's Public Accuser of Heretics; he was at the same time Secretary to Cardinal David Beaton, and after him, Archbishop Hamilton. 

In the Treasurer's Accounts we find that he was frequently employed in ecclesiastical negotiations and in 1533 was sent to Rome "in the Kingis erandis".  King James V had sent John Lauder to Rome again the following year, with a letter, dated 5th November 1534, to congratulate Pope Paul III on his election, and "to testify to James's zeal and regard for the papacy." (Refer: Essays on the Scottish Reformation 1513 - 1625, Edited by David McRoberts, Glasgow, 1962, p.68,  - chapter dealing with Legislation against heretics and the heresy trials).

John Lauder is quoted in a transcript in volume two of The Historie and Cronicles of Scotland by Robert Lindesay of Pitscottie, (edited by A.E.J.G.Mackay, Sheriff of Fife and Kinross, Edinburgh, 1899)  of Forrest's trial (see below). In addition he successfully prosecuted as heretics Norman Gourlay and David Strattoun who were both burnt at the stake in August 1534. Partial transcripts of their trials can also be found in this publication.

Patrick Fraser Tytler, writing in his famous The History of Scotland [Edinburgh 1866] chronicled the trial of Thomas Forrest, the martyr, in 1539: Dean Thomas Forrest had been Vicar of Dollar and a Canon Regular of the monastery of St.Colm's, Inch. He was tried along with two black friars - Keillor and John Beveridge - plus a notary in Stirling by the name of Forrester, before a council held by Cardinal Beaton and William Chisholm, Bishop of Dunblane. Bishop Crichton of Dunkeld was also present.  John Lauder was prosecuting. During Forrest's own defence "his bible was plucked from his hand by Lauder, who denounced as heretical the conclusions he had drawn from it, and Forrest and his companions were condemned to the stake". The sentence was executed on the Castle Hill of Edinburgh on the 31st February, 1539.

In a Feu Charter granted by David Cardinal Beaton dated 6th October 1539 (RH6/1210), one of the witnesses was "John Lauder, Archdeacon of Tweedale, the Cardinal's Secretary".  

In Scottish Armorial Seals by W.R.MacDonald (Edinburgh 1904) we find the following entry (no.1565,p197): "John Lauder, Archdeacon of Teviotdale; a shield bearing arms:- 1st & 4th:Three piles (charged with as many annulets?). 2nd & 3rd: A griffin segreant contourne." Dated 1539.

In 1541 John Lauder, Archdeacon of Teviotdale, paid the third rental for the Parsonage and Vicarage of Morebattle, amounting to 73/15/7. It is mentioned that this formed the prebend of the Archdeacon of Teviotdale, which post was held by John Lauder 1534 - 1551. His successor was John Hepburn, who held the post from 1544 to 1564. [John Hepburn was later Bishop of Brechin, and brother to the wife of the Archdeacon's half-brother, Robert Lauder of Bass].   Refer: The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices - Scottish Ecclesiastical Rentals at the Reformation edited by James Kirk, Oxford, 1995, pps: 214/5.

On the 5th January 1542 we find him as "the Cardinal's Secretary" representing Cardinal David Beaton at the reconsecration of the restored and ancient St.Baldred's chapel on The Bass, his father's stronghold.

In the Calendar of Writs preserved at Yester House (Number 606) we find an Instrument upon the receipt by Robert Lawder of Bass of 80 Scots in redemption of the lands of Kylpallet, constabulary of Haddington and shire of Edinburgh, wadset to him by John Lord Hay of Yester; Done at the instance of the said Lord's procurator, Mr.Thomas Hay, provost of Bothanis [Abbey St.Bathans], place of Beill, 2 p.m., 21st March 1542. Witnesses: John Lawder, natural son of the said laird of Bass, John Lawder in Stentoune and Thomas Wait. John Manderstoun is the Notary Public. (Seal of Robert Lauder appended in fair condition.)

John Knox also wrote a lot about this John Lauder, (see The Works of John Knox, Wodrow Society, Edinburgh, 1846) and referred to him as "a monstere, full of the Popis thunder, so spytfull that the ignorant people dreded least the earth then wold have swallowed them up."

Knox on Lauder is also quoted in volume two of The Historie and Cronicles of Scotland by Robert Lindesay of Pitscottie, (edited by A.E.J.G.Mackay, Sheriff of Fife and Kinross, Edinburgh, 1899). This volume contains an almost complete transcript of the trial [1st March,1546] of the martyr George Wishart, whom John Lauder " laidin full off curssingis written in paper.....cruellie accussit him and condemnit him to death."

Cardinal Beaton presided over the execution of Wishart, with his faithful secretary and prosecutor, John Lauder, at his side, in front of the Cardinal's Castle of St.Andrews on 1st March, 1546.

Master John Lauder was one of the auditors of the Chamberlain's Accounts for the Archbishopric of St.Andrews from 1540 to 1549, wherein he is styled Archdeacon of Teviotdale. 

Calderwood's History of the Kirk of Scotland (Wodrow Society) volume 1, p.263 mentions too the "Trial of Adam Wallace, the farther end of the chancellarie wall (in the church of the Blacke Friars in Edinburgh), in the pulpit, was placed Mr.Johne Lawder, Parson of Marbottle [Morebattle - see note above. This fell within his remit as Archdeacon of Teviotdale], accuser, cled in a surplice, and a reid hood." Foxe also gave an account of this trial.

Cardinal Beaton, had himself finally been murdered by the reformists following Wishart's execution, and subsequently John Lauder is noted in February 1551 as a Notary Public of St.Andrews, and "Secretarius" to Archbishop Hamilton, Beaton's successor, who was also later hanged by the mob, in 1571.

Nothing appears to be know of him after 1551 and it is assumed he died.

See other accounts of Lauders here!


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