Pont, Robert (DNB00)
|←Ponsonby, William Brabazon||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 46
PONT, KYLPONT, or KYNPONT, ROBERT (1524–1606), Scottish reformer, born in 1524 at or near Culross, Perthshire (Buchanan, De Scriptoribus Scotis Illustribus), was the son of John Pont of Shyresmill and Catherine Murray, said to be a daughter of Murray of Tullibardine (Blackadder's manuscript memoirs in Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, quoted in App. A to Wodrow's (Collections upon the Lives of the Reformers), The statement of Dr. Andrew Crichton (note in Life of the Rev, John Blackadder) that the father was a Venetian, who, having been banished for his adherence to the protestant faith, arrived in Scotland in the train of Mary of Guise, is essentially improbable, as well as inconsistent with well-known facts; and the evidence for the statement has not been adduced. The son received his early education in the school of Culross, and in 1543 was incorporated in the college of St. Leonards in the university of St. Andrews. On completing the course of philosophy there he is supposed to have studied law at one of the universities on the continent. Nothing, however, is definitely known of his career until 1559, when he was settled in St. Andrews, and acted as an elder of the kirk session there. As a commissioner from St. Andrews he was present at a meeting of the first general assembly of the reformers at Edinburgh on 20 Dec. 1560 (Calderwood, Hist, of the Kirk of Scotland, ii. 44), and he was one of twenty within the bounds of St. Andrews declared by this assembly to be qualified for ministry and teaching (ib. p. 46). The estimation in which he was held was evidenced by his being chosen one of a committee to 'sight' or revise the 'Book of Discipline,' printed in 1561 (ib. p. 94). At a meeting of the general assembly in July 1562 Pont was appointed to minister the word and sacraments at Dunblane, and in December of the same year he was appointed minister of Dunkeld. He was also the same year nominated, along with Alexander Gordon (1516?-1575) [q. v.], bishop of Galloway; but the election was not proceeded with (Knox, ii. 375; Calderwood, ii. 207). On 26 June 1563 he was appointed commissioner of Moray, Inverness, and Banff. After visiting these districts he confessed his inability, on account of his ignorance of Gaelic, properly to discharge his duties, and desired another to be appointed; but, on the understanding that he was not to be burdened 'with kirks speaking the Irish tongue,' he accepted a renewal commission (ib. ii. 244-5). To the general assembly in 1564, and printed in 1565, Pont contributed metrical versions of six of the Psalms; and at a meeting of the general assembly in December 1566 his 'Translation and Explanation of the Helvetian Confession' was ordered to be printed (ib. ii. 332; Book of the Universal Kirk, i. 90). On 13 Jan. 1 567 he was presented to the parsonage and vicarage of Birnie, Banffshire. By the assembly which met in December 1567 he was commissioned to execute sentence of excommunication against Adam Bothwell, bishop of Orkney, for performing the marriage ceremony between the Earl of Bothwell and Queen Mary; by that which met in July 1568 he was appointed one of a committee to revise the 'Treatise of Excommunication' originally penned by Knox (Calderwood, ii. 424); and by that of 1569 he was named one of a committee to proceed against the Earl of Huntly for his adherence to popery. By the latter of these assemblies a petition was presented to the regent and council that Pont might be appointed where his labours might ‘be more fruitful than they can be at present in Moray’ (ib. ii. 485); and in July 1570 he also craved the assembly to be disburdened of his commission, but was requested to continue until the next assembly. At the assembly of July 1570 he acted as moderator. On 27 June 1571 he was appointed provost of Trinity College, near Edinburgh. He attended the convention which met at Leith in January 1571–2, and by this convention he was permitted to accept the office of lord of session bestowed on him by the regent Mar on account of his great knowledge of the laws. The license was, however, granted only on condition that he left ‘not the office of the ministry,’ and it was moreover declared that the license was not to be regarded as a precedent (ib. iii. 169; Book of the Universal Kirk, p. 54). When, therefore, in March 1572–3 the regent Morton proposed that several other ministers should be appointed lords of session, the assembly prohibited any minister from accepting such an office, Pont alone being excepted from the inhibition (ib. p. 56). Pont was, along with John Wynram, commissioned by Knox to communicate his last wishes to the general assembly which met at Perth in 1572 (Knox, Works, vi. 620).
In 1573 Pont received a pension out of the thirds of the diocese of Moray. At the assembly which met in August of this year he was ‘delated for non-residence in Moray, for not visiting kirks for two years—except Inverness, Elgin, and Forres—and for not assigning manses and glebes according to act of parliament;’ and at the assembly held in March 1574 he demitted his office ‘in respect that George Douglas, bishop of Moray, was admitted to the bishopric’ (Calderwood, iii. 304). The same year he was translated to the second charge of St. Cuthbert's (or the West Church), Edinburgh; and in 1578 to the first charge of the same parish. He was chosen moderator of the general assembly which met in August 1575; and from this time he occupied a position of great prominence in the assembly's deliberations, his name appearing as a member of nearly all its principal committees and commissions.
Pont was one of those who, after the fall of Morton in 1578, accompanied the English ambassador to Stirling to arrange an agreement between the faction of Morton and the faction of Atholl and Argyll; and he was also one of those who, nominally at the request of the king, ‘convened’ in the castle of Stirling, on 22 Dec. 1578, for the preparation of articles of a ‘Book of Policy,’ afterwards known as the ‘Second Book of Discipline.’ He again acted as moderator at the assembly of 1581. After October of the same year he, on invitation, became minister at St. Andrews; but for want of an adequate stipend he was in 1583 relieved of this charge, and returned to that of St. Cuthbert's, Edinburgh. He took a prominent part in the proceedings in 1582 against Robert Montgomerie (d. 1609) [q. v.] in regard to his appointment to the bishopric of Glasgow, and at a meeting of the privy council on 12 April he protested in the name of the presbyteries of Edinburgh, Stirling, and Dalkeith that, ‘the cause being ecclesiastical,’ it ‘properly appertained to the judgement and jurisdiction of the kirk’ (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iii. 477; Calderwood, iii. 596–8). In 1583 he was appointed one of a commission for collecting the acts of the assembly (ib. p. 712); and the same year was directed, along with David Lindsay and John Davidson, to admonish the king to beware of innovations in religion (ib. p. 717). At the general assembly held at Edinburgh in October of the same year he again acted as moderator. When the acts of parliament regarding the jurisdiction of the kirk were proclaimed at the market cross of Edinburgh on 25 May 1584, Pont, along with Walter Balcanqual, appeared ‘at the appointment of their brethren,’ and ‘took public documents in the name of the kirk of Scotland that they protested against them’ (ib. iv. 65). For this he was on the 27th deprived of his seat on the bench, and immediately thereafter he took refuge in England. On 7 Nov. he was summoned by the privy council to appear before it on 7 Dec., and give reasons for not subscribing the ‘obligation of ecclesiastical conformity’ (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iii. 703). Shortly before this he had returned to Scotland, and had been put in ward, but not long afterwards he received his liberty. He penned the ‘Animadversions of Offences conceaved upon the Acts of Parliament made in the Yeare 1584 in the Moneth of May, presented by the Commissioners of the Kirk to the King's Majesty at the Parliament of Linlithgow in December 1585.’ In May 1586 he again acted as moderator of the general assembly. In 1587 he was appointed by the king to the bishopric of Caithness; but, on his referring the matter to the general assembly, it refused to ratify the appointment, on the ground that the office was ‘not agreeable to the word of God.’ The same year he was appointed by the assembly one of a committee for collecting the various acts of parliament against papists, with a view to their confirmation on the king's coming of age (Calderwood, iv. 627); and in 1588 he was appointed one of a committee to confer with six of the king's council regarding the best methods of suppressing papacy and extending the influence of the kirk (ib. p. 652); and also one of a commission to visit the northern parts, from Dee to the diocese of Caithness inclusive, with a view to the institution of proceedings against the papists, the planting of kirks with qualified ministers, and the deposition of all ministers who were unqualified, whether in life or doctrine (ib. pp. 671–2). On 15 Oct. 1589 he was appointed by the king one of a commission to try beneficed persons (ib. v. 64). He was one of those sent by the presbytery of Edinburgh to hold a conference with the king at the Tolbooth on 8 June 1591 regarding the king's objections to ‘particular reproofs in the pulpit;’ and replied to the king's claim of sovereign judgment in all things by affirming that there was a judgment above his—namely, ‘God's—put in the hand of the ministry’ (ib. pp. 130–131). On 8 Dec. he was deputed, along with other two ministers, to go to Holyrood Palace ‘to visit the king's house,’ when after various communications they urged the king ‘to have the Scriptures read at dinner and supper’ (ib. p. 139). At the meeting of the assembly at Edinburgh on 21 May 1592 he was appointed one of a committee for putting certain articles in reference to popery and the authority of the kirk ‘in good form’ (ib. p. 156). When the Act of Abolition granting pardon to the Earls of Huntly, Angus, Erroll, and other papists on certain conditions was on 26 Nov. 1593 intimated by the king to the ministers of Edinburgh, Pont proposed that it should be disannulled rather than revised (ib. 289). He again acted as moderator of the assembly which met in March 1596. On 16 May 1597 he was appointed one of a commission to converse with the king ‘in all matters concerning the weal of the kirk’ (ib. p. 645); and he was also a member of the renewed commission in the following year (ib. p. 692). At the general assembly which met in March 1597–8 he was one of the chief supporters of the proposal of the king that the ministry, as the third estate of the realm, should have a vote in parliament (ib. pp. 697–700). By the assembly which met at Burntisland on 12 May 1601 he was appointed to revise the translation of the Psalms in metre. On 15 Nov. of the following year he was ‘relieved of the burden of ordinary teaching.’ He died on 8 May 1606, in his eighty-second year, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Cuthbert's, Edinburgh. He had had a tombstone prepared for himself, but this was removed and another set up by his widow. Thereupon the session of St. Cuthbert's, on 14 May 1607, ordained that the stone she had set up ‘be presentlie taen down.’ Against this decision she appealed to the presbytery of Edinburgh, and from it to the privy council, which on 4 June ordained ‘the pursuers to permit the stone made by her to remain, instead of that made by her husband’ (Reg. P. C. Scotl. vii. 381).
Pont was three times married. By his first wife, Catherine, daughter of Masterton of Grange, he had two sons and two daughters: Timothy [q. v.]; Zachary, minister of Bower in Caithness, who married Elizabeth, daughter of John Knox; Catherine; and Helen, married to Adam Blackadder of Blairhall, grandfather of Rev. John Blackadder [q. v.] By his second wife, Sarah Denholme, he had a daughter Beatrix, married to Charles Lumsden, minister of Duddingston. By his third wife, Margaret Smith, he had three sons: James, Robert, and Jonathan.
Wodrow states that Pont ‘had a discovery of Queen Elizabeth's death that same day she died.’ He came to the king late at night, and after, with difficulty, obtaining access to him, saluted him ‘King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland.’ The king said ‘I still told you you would go distracted with your learning, and now I see you are so.’ ‘No, no,’ said Pont, ‘I am not distempered. The thing is certain; she is dead, I assure you’ (Analecta, ii. 341–2). The ‘discovery’ was attributed either to a revelation or to his knowledge of the science of the stars.
Besides several of the metrical Psalms, 1565, his translation of the Helvetic Confession, 1566, his contributions to the ‘Second Book of Discipline,’ his calendar and preface to Bassandyne's edition of the ‘English Bible,’ 1579, his recommendatory verses to ‘Archbishop Adamson's Catechism,’ 1581, and to the ‘Schediasmata’ of Sir Hadrian Damman, 1590, and his lines on Robert Rollock (Sibbaldi Elogia, p. 66, in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh), Pont was the author of: 1. ‘Parvulus Catechismus quo examinari possunt juniores qui ad sacram cœnam admittuntur,’ St. Andrews, 1573. 2. ‘Three Sermons against Sacrilege,’ 1599 (against the spoiling of the patrimony of the kirk and undertaken at the request of the assembly in 1591). 3. ‘A Newe Treatise on the Right Reckoning of Yeares and Ages of the World, and Mens Liues, and of the Estate of the last decaying age thereof, this 1600 year of Christ (erroneously called a Yeare of Iubilee), which is from the Creation the 5548 yeare; containing sundrie singularities worthie of observation, concerning courses of times and revolutions of the Heaven, and reformation of Kalendars and Prognostications, with a Discourse of Prophecies and Signs, preceding the last daye, which by manie arguments appeareth now to approach,’ Edinburgh, 1599. A more ample version in Latin under the title ‘De Sabbaticorum annorum Periodis Chronologia,’ London, 1619; 2nd ed. 1623. 4. ‘De Unione Britanniæ, seu de Regnorum Angliæ et Scotiæ omniumque adjacentum insularum in unam monarchiam consolidatione, deque multiplici ejus unionis utilitate, dialogus,’ Edinburgh, 1604. David Buchanan (De Script. Scot. Ill.) mentions also his ‘Aureum Seculum,’ his ‘Translation of Pindar's Olympic Odes,’ his ‘Dissertation on the Greek Lyric Metres,’ his ‘Lexicon of Three Languages,’ and his ‘Collection of Homilies;’ but none of these manuscripts are now known to be extant.[Histories by Keith, Calderwood, and Spotiswood; Knox's Works; Wodrow's Miscellany, vol. i.; Wodrow's Analecta; Robert Baillie's Letters and Journal (Bannatyne Club); Diary of James Melville (Wodrow Soc.); Brunton and Haig's Senators of the College of Justice; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scot. i. 118–19, ii. 388, 715, 786, iii. 150.]