Craig, Thomas (DNB00)

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CRAIG, Sir THOMAS (1538–1608), Scottish feudalist, was the eldest son of William Craig of Craigfintray in Aberdeenshire, according to Mr. Tytler, or of William Craig, a citizen of Edinburgh, descended from the Craigfintray family, according to his earlier biographer and relative, Burnet. He was sent by his father at the early age of fourteen to St. Leonard's College, St. Andrews, where he received his education in arts, which included Latin, logic, rhetoric, ethics, and physics. In 1555 he went to the university of Paris, then at the summit of its reputation, where he studied law—the canon under Peter Rebuffius and the civil under Francis Balduinus. Returning home in 1561 he completed his education under the advice of John Craig, afterwards the coadjutor of Knox, who had just come back from the court of Maximilian to Scotland, and been appointed minister of Holyrood. Having attained a proficiency in classical learning greater than was usual even in that age, Craig was admitted advocate in February 1563, and in the following year received the appointment of justice-depute, whose duty it was, as the representative of the justice-general, then an hereditary office in the family of Argyll, held by Archibald, fifth earl, to preside in the trial of criminal causes. In the exercise of this office Craig held the courts on 1 April 1566 in which Thomas Scott, sheriff-depute of Perth, and Henry Yaire, a priest, servant of Lord Ruthven, were condemned to death for a subordinate part in the murder of Rizzio and treasonable seizure of the queen's person, for which the principal actors were pardoned at the intercession of Darnley; and less than two years later (3 Jan. 1568) he presided over the trial of Stephen Dalgleish, Hay, and Powrie, who met the same fate for their share in the murder of Darnley. He was saved from the ignominy of presiding at the mock assize which acquitted Bothwell, by Argyll in person undertaking that duty. About this time Craig married Helen, younger daughter of Robert Heriot of Lumphoy or Lymphoy, an estate in the parish of Currie in Midlothian. His zeal for law and letters probably kept Craig, who continued through life a diligent student, free from the political intrigues of this corrupt age. On the birth of James VI he published his first work, the ‘Genethliacon,’ a copy of complimentary verses on that event. In 1573, when he was appointed sheriff-depute of Edinburgh, Craig appears to have resigned his office as criminal judge. Neither appointment was inconsistent with practice at the bar, of which Craig enjoyed a fair share. We find him acting as counsel for the king along with the king's advocate in 1592. Three years previously he was one of a committee appointed to regulate the curriculum of the high school of Edinburgh, whose labours resulted in a very learned report (MCCRIE, Life of Melville), and he also served in the assembly of 1589. A considerable portion of his time must have been devoted to preparations for his legal treatises of the ‘Jus Feudale,’ published in 1603; a ‘Treatise on the Right of James VI to the Succession to the English Crown,’ and a ‘Treatise on the Union,’ written between 1603 and 1605, and a tract, ‘De Hominio,’ in 1605. The only one of these published during his life was the ‘Jus Feudale,’ a very learned work, written with the avowed object of showing that the feudal law of Scotland and England had a common origin. It was republished by Mencken at Leipzig in 1716, and for the third time by James Baillie at Edinburgh in 1732, with a preface by Robert Burnet (afterwards Lord Crimond), a Scottish judge, and a brief life of Craig by James Baillie. No clearer statement of the feudal system in its legal relations exists, and it is still, although the law has been much altered, the standard authority in Scotland as to the original condition of its feudal land-law, probably as complete as that of any European country. The ‘Treatise on the Succession,’ like all Craig's works written in Latin, was published in an English translation after his death by James Gatherer in 1703. It was an answer to the jesuit Parsons, who, under the assumed name of Doleman, had written in 1594 ‘A Conference about the next Succession to the Crown of England,’ in which he supported the title of the infanta of Spain. This work was rigidly suppressed, and the possession of a copy declared high treason. The peaceful accession of James I was probably deemed by Craig to render the publication of his own work unnecessary. The ‘De Hominio,’ designed to prove that Scotland had never done homage to England, was also translated after his death by George Redpath and published by Thomas Rymer. The ‘Treatise on the Union’ is still in manuscript (Adv. Lib. A. 2, 12).

Besides his graver labours Craig found time for occasional efforts in Latin verse, and his poems, the ‘Paræneticon of James VI leaving Scotland,’ the ‘Propempticon to Prince Henry’ on the same occasion, and the ‘ΣΤΕΦΑΝΟΦΟΡΙΑ on the Coronation,’ originally printed in 1603 in Edinburgh, are included in the ‘Delitiæ Poetarum Scotorum,’ Amsterdam, 1637. While elegant and spirited, the verses of Craig do not raise him to the first rank of the Latin poets of his time, which was very prolific in this now forgotten department of letters. His fame as an author rests on the ‘Jus Feudale.’ Few events of note have been recorded in the later part of Craig's life. He went with James VI to England in 1603, and was present at his coronation. He is said through modesty to have declined the honour of knighthood, but the king directed that he should receive the title without the usual ceremony. In 1604 he was one of the commissioners appointed by the parliament of Scotland to treat of the union, and attended the conference at Westminster for that purpose in the autumn of that year. This was the occasion of his ‘Treatise on the Union,’ of which, as was natural in an official of James, he was a strenuous advocate. But his Scottish patriotism was moved by the disparagement to Scottish rights which he found prevalent amongst English lawyers, and a passage in the then recently published ‘Chronicle of Holinshed,’ asserting that homage had been rendered to England from the earliest times, induced him to write his ‘Treatise on the Homage Question.’ In this controversy, again renewed at the time of the union under Queen Anne by Attwood, who was censured by Anderson, and which has now passed out of the hands of lawyers into those of historians (Mr. Freeman and Mr. E. W. Robertson being the champions of their respective countries), the verdict of impartial writers has been given in favour of the contention of Craig, that nothing of the substance of homage was paid by the smaller kingdom, except for the short periods that it was treated as a conquered country by William the Conqueror, Rufus, and Edward I.

On his return to Scotland Craig was nominated one of the Inner House advocates, a distinction attempted, but soon afterwards abandoned, in order to secure the attendance of the leaders of the bar on the full court. His name is second in the list, which probably indicates his eminence in the profession. Next year he was one of six advocates named by the court as qualified to fill a vacancy on the bench. Shortly before his death he was made advocate for the church, and as such defended in 1606 the six ministers who were tried for treason for holding a general assembly at Aberdeen. In 1607 he was appointed by parliament member of a commission for settling a Latin grammar for use in schools. That of Alexander Hume was selected, but failed to secure universal acceptance. This seems to have been Craig's last public duty. He died on 26 Feb. 1608 in his seventieth year, leaving three sons and two daughters. His eldest son, Lewis, became a judge, and founded the family of Riccarton. The second, James Craig of Castle Craig and Craigston, was killed in the Irish war in 1641. He died unmarried, and the third son, Thomas, physician to James VI and Charles I, succeeded to the Aberdeenshire estates. His eldest daughter, Margaret, married Sir Alexander Gibson of Durie, a distinguished Scottish judge; and the second, Elizabeth, became the wife of James Johnston, whose son, Sir Archibald of Warriston, judge of the court of session, was the celebrated leader of the presbyterians. Sir Thomas Craig's granddaughter, Rachel Johnston of Warriston, married Robert Burnet, afterwards Lord Crimond, the father of Bishop Burnet, the historian. This number of notable descendants, especially of men of mark in his own profession, was a frequent occurrence in the Scottish noblesse de robe, of which the families of Hope, the lord advocate of Charles I, and of Lord Stair are other examples. It was in part due to hereditary talent, but persons of good family connection got a favourable start in their profession then, as those of good business connection now. The character of Craig is a pleasing one and contrasts with that of many of his contemporaries at the bar, of whom Mr. Tytler has given sketches in his ‘Life of Craig.’ A protestant by conviction, he was free from the intolerance which disgraced many of his presbyterian contemporaries. His father had remained a catholic till old age, when his late conversion is said to have given much satisfaction to his son. He was a zealous student of the law, fond of it for its own sake, and not over-anxious about the emoluments or honours it conferred upon its practitioners. To this was probably due the fact that he never reached the bench of the supreme court, to which he had a fair claim. It is related of his son, Sir Lewis, who is separately noticed, that he always uncovered when his father was pleading before him, although the judges then usually wore their hats on the bench. His hospitality and charity are specially noted by those who have sketched his life. ‘He kept an open table,’ says one of them, ‘not only for the poorer sort of gentlemen and all good men, especially for all men of learning, but even many of the best rank of the kingdom were entertained at it, he thereby lessening his own estate, or at least making but a small addition to it, for he was not desirous of riches.’ Yet he seems to have been able to leave competent fortunes to his sons [see Craig, Sir Lewis; Craig, John, (d. 1620)]. He had inherited, besides landed property, some houses in the High Street, opposite St. Giles's Church, which he rebuilt of square stones, with a large pavement of the same stones towards the street, which continued for long after to go by the name of Craig's plain stones, an anecdote trifling in itself, but marking that the Edinburgh of his day was recovering from the effects of Hertford's raid.

His writings had all a public and patriotic end—to promote the union and to allay the jealousies of both nations. In that respect he may be compared to Bacon, who laboured earnestly for the same object from the English side. For this service his name deserves to be remembered when his legal treatise has passed into the early oblivion which awaits almost all works on positive law.

[Craig's Works, of which the editions are noted in the text; Baillie's Life prefixed to the Jus Feudale; Tytler's Life of Craig, with sketches of his contemporaries.]

Æ. M.