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Significant Scots
John Spotswood

SPOTSWOOD, JOHN, superintendent of Lothian, was descended of the ancient Merse family of Spotswood of that ilk, and was born in the year 1510. His father, William Spotswood, was killed at the battle of Flodden, leaving him an orphan at little more than three years of age. The place at which he was educated, and the person who taught him in his early years, are equally unknown to us. We have, indeed, discovered no further notice of him, till 1534, (June 27,) when, at the very late age of four and twenty, he was entered a student in the university of Glasgow. There was perhaps, however, some peculiarity in his case, for he became bachelor in the very next year (February 8, 1535); a circumstance which we can only account for, on the supposition that he had either made very remarkable proficiency in his studies, or attended some of the other universities previously. Spotswood, it is believed, intended to prosecute the study of divinity; but he became disgusted with the cruelty of the catholic clergy, manifested most probably in the condemnation of Russell and Kennedy, who were burned for heresy at Glasgow, about 1538. In that year, he left his native country, apparently horrified at the spectacle he had witnessed, and at other instances of barbarity which he must have heard of, and retired into England. At London, he became acquainted with archbishop Cranmer, to whose kindness and encouragement many or our countrymen were indebted; and from whose eagerness in the dissemination of truth, the benefit derived by Scotland cannot be easily estimated. Mr Spotswood remained in the south for nearly five years, that is, from 1538 till 1543, when Henry VIII. restored the prisoners taken at the disgraceful rout of Solway Moss. He then returned to Scotland, in company with the earl of Glencairn, a nobleman well known for his attachment to protestant principles, and resided with him for several years. Through that nobleman, he became acquainted with the earl of Lennox, and was by him employed in a private negotiation with the English court, in 1544. After residing there for some months, he returned to Scotland; but little is known respecting him for some years following. In 1548, he was presented to the parsonage of Calder, by Sir James Sandelands; and, as a constant residence at his cure was not required, he lived for about ten years with that gentleman, and with lord James Stewart, then prior of St Andrews, and afterwards better known as The Regent Murray. When commissioners were appointed by parliament, in 1558, to be present at the marriage of the young queen of Scotland to the dauphin of France, lord James was included in the number, and Spotswood accompanied him. Luckily, both returned in safety from this expedition, so fatal to many of their companions.

On the establishment of the Reformation, the first care of the protestant party, was to distribute the very few ministers who held their sentiments, into different parts of the country. The scarcity of qualified persons, gave rise to some temporary arrangements, which were, however, afterwards abandoned, when the circumstances which produced them ceased to exist. One of these was, the establishment of superintendents over different districts,—an office which has been brought forward, with but little justice, we think, by some writers, to prove that the constitution of the Scottish church was originally episcopalian. Mr Spotswood had the honour of being first elected, having been appointed to the oversight of the district of Lothian, in March, 1560-1. The proceedings on this occasion were conducted by John Knox; and the pledges required by that zealous reformer must have impressed both the superintendent and the people, with a deep sense of the importance of his office, while it could not fail to be favourably contrasted with the system which had recently been abolished.

The proceedings of the church courts, after the stimulus created by the events immediately connected with the Reformation had somewhat subsided, could not be supposed to excite much interest in the mind of a general reader, unless we should enter into much more minute particulars than our limits permit. If we cannot, therefore, excite very deeply our reader’s sympathies, we shall not tax his patience more than is necessary, to give a very brief outline of the more important transactions with which Mr Spotswood’s name is connected.

Mr Spotswood appears to have retained the charge of his flock at Calder after he became superintendent of Lothian; but it cannot be supposed that the variety and extent of his duties permitted anything more than a very loose and occasional attention to their interests. Of this the parishioners complained more than once to the General Assembly, but without success; the means of supporting a superintendent being quite inadequate without the benefice of a parish. The mere visitation of a district seems to have been but a part of the labours of a superintendent: there were many occasions on which these officials were called upon to expend their time in behalf of the general interests of the church. Spotswood appears to have been frequently deputed by the General Assembly to confer with Queen Mary, with whom he was a favourite, upon the important subject of an improvement in the provision for their maintenance. On the interesting occasion of the birth of her son, in June, 1566, the General Assembly sent him "to testify their gladness for the prince’s birth, and to desire he might be baptized according to the form used in the Reformed church." He did not succeed in obtaining a favourable, or indeed any, reply to the part of his commission, but the manner in which he conducted himself obtained for him a most gracious reception. Deeply sensible how intimately the nation’s welfare was connected with the education of the child, he took him in his arms, and falling on his knees, implored for him the Divine blessing and protection. This exhibition of unaffected piety was well calculated to touch the finest feelings of the soul. It was listened to with reverential attention by the queen, and procured for him the respect and reverence of the prince in his maturer years.

But Mr Spotswood’s feelings towards the queen were soon to undergo a most painful change. He was too conscientious to sacrifice his principles for the favour of a queen, and too sensible of the tendencies of her conduct, and that of her party, to neglect to warn the people over whom he had the spiritual oversight. No sooner had Mary escaped from Lochleven castle, and prepared for hostilities, than, under the liveliest convictions of the responsibility of the watchman "that seeth the sword coming and doth not blow the trumpet," he addressed a solemn admonition to the people within his diocese, warned the unsettled,—and exhorted those who had "communicated with her odiouse impietys" to consider their fearful defection from God, and by public confession of their guilt and folly, to testify their unfeigned repentance.

After this period there is hardly a single fact recorded respecting Mr Spotswood of general interest. His disposition, as well as his feeble state of health, disposed him to retirement, and he seems to have preferred attending to his duties as a clergyman, and thus giving an example of the peaceful doctrines which the Christian religion inculcates, to taking part with either of the factions in the struggle which succeeded. Yet, in the performance of these duties he did not come up to the expectations of some of the more zealous ministers within his district. We find him accused of "slacknes in visitation of Kirks" at the General Assemblies on several occasions. On some of these, the accusation, if it is merely intended to assert that he had not visited the whole churches, does not seem to have been made without ground; nor will his apparent negligence be considered wonderful when we mention that the district of Lothian comprehended the metropolis, Stirling, Berwick, Linlithgow, and other considerable towns; and that, of course, it contained a greater number of churches than any other. Spotswood’s health had also become impaired, and we must add to this list of extenuating circumstances, that for at least nine years previous to 1580, he had received no emolument in consideration of his labours. In that year, however, he obtained (December 16th,) a pension for himself and his second son for three years of 45, 9s. 6d., besides an allowance of grain for "the thankfull seruice done to his hienes and his predecessouris," and this grant was renewed, November 26, 1583, for five years; but he did not live to enjoy its full benefit. He died, December 5, 1585, in the seventy-sixth year of his age, leaving by his wife, Beatrix Crichton, two sons, John and James, both of whom attained a high rank in the Episcopal church, and one daughter. "He was a man," says his son, "well esteemed for his piety and wisdom, loving and beloved of all persons, charitable to the poor, and careful above all things to give no man offence."

The same writer has represented him as having in his last years changed his sentiments respecting church government, and as having become an Episcopalian; but this assertion carries along with it the suspicion that the archbishop was more anxious to obtain for his own conduct a parial sanction in his father’s opinions than to represent them as they really stood.

We are not aware that Mr Spotswood is the author of any distinct or individual work. Such papers as he may have written, arising out of the business of the church courts, certainly do not deserve that name. [Abridged from a memoir of Mr John Spotswood, in Wodrow’s Biographical Collection, printed by the Maitland Club.]

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