Scott, John (1585-1670) (DNB00)

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SCOTT or SCOT, Sir JOHN (1585–1670), of Scotstarvet, or more properly Scotstarver, Scottish lawyer and statesman, was the only son of Robert Scot the younger of Knights-Spottie in Perthshire, representative in the male line of the Scots of Buccleuch. Robert Scot succeeded to the office of director of chancery on the resignation of his father, Robert Scot the elder of Knights-Spottie, but, falling into bad health, resigned the office in 1582 in favour of his father, its former holder. Robert Scot the elder in 1592 again resigned the office to a kinsman, William Scot of Ardross, on condition that his grandson, John Scot, the subject of this article, should succeed to it on attaining majority, which he did in 1606. The directorship of chancery, which had been long in the Scot family, was an office of importance and emolument; for though the Scottish chancery did not become, as in England, a separate court, it framed and issued crown charters, brieves, and other crown writs. The possession, loss, and efforts to regain this office played a large part in the career of Sir John. He was educated at St. Leonard's College, St. Andrews, which he appears to have entered in 1600, for he describes himself in the register of 1603 as in his third year. After leaving St. Andrews he went abroad to study, and on his return was called to the bar in 1606. In 1611 he acquired Tarvet and other lands in Fife, to which he gave the name of Scotstarvet, and six years later he was knighted and made a privy councillor by James VI, in whose honour he published a Latin poem, ‘Hodœporicon in serenissimi et invictissimi Principis Jacobi Sexti ex Scotiâ suâ discessum.’

In 1619 he had a license to go for a year to Flanders and other parts (P. C. Reg. xii. 787). In 1620 he endowed the professorship of humanity or Latin in the university of St. Andrews, in spite of the opposition of the regents of St. Salvator, the first of many acts of liberality to learning. He did not practise much, if at all, at the bar, but recommended himself to Charles I by a suggestion for increasing the revenue by altering the law of feudal tenure. He became in 1629 an extraordinary, and in 1632 an ordinary, lord of session under the title of Scotstarvet. He was one of many Scottish lawyers and lairds who accepted the covenant, which he subscribed at his parish kirk of Ceres on 30 April 1638, and in the following November he declined to sign the king's confession. In 1640 he served on the committee of the estates for the defence of the country. In 1641 he was, with consent of the estates, reappointed judge by a new commission. During the war between England and Scotland he served on the war committee in 1648 and 1649. During the Commonwealth he lost the office both of judge and director of chancery. He made many appeals to be restored to the latter as an administrative, and not a judicial, office; but, although he obtained an opinion in his favour by the commissioners of the great seal, Cromwell gave it in 1652 to Jeffrey the quaker, who held it till the Restoration. Scot, through Monck, again appealed to Cromwell for the reversion of the office if Jeffrey died. Cromwell fined him 1,500l. in 1654 for his part in the war. But his later correspondence with Cromwell did not improve his character with the royalists, and on the Restoration he was fined 500l., and was not restored to the office of judge or that of director of chancery, which was conferred on Sir William Ker, who, he indignantly said, ‘danced him out of it, being a dextrous dancer.’ Sir James Balfour well describes Scot's public character in a few words: ‘He was a busy man in troubled times.’ But in spite of his misfortunes, Scot did not cease to be busy when peace came. He returned to Scotstarvet, where he engaged in literary work and correspondence. There he died in 1670.

Scot was thrice married: first, to Anne, sister of William Drummond [q. v.] of Hawthornden, the poet, by whom he had two sons and seven daughters; secondly, to Margaret, daughter of Sir James Melville of Hallhill; and thirdly, to Margaret Monpenny of Pitmilly, widow of Rigg of Aitherny, by each of whom he had one son. The son by his second wife, George Scott (d 1685), is separately noticed. Sir John's male descendants became extinct in the person of Major-general John Scot, M.P. for Fife, his great-great-grandson, who, at his death on 24 Jan. 1776, was reputed the richest commoner in Scotland. The general's fortune passed chiefly to his eldest daughter, who married the Duke of Portland, but the estate of Scotstarvet was sold to Wemyss of Wemyss Hall. Its tower, which Sir John built, still stands, and the inscription, with his initials and those of his first wife, Anne Drummond, as the builders, and its date (1627) are carved on a stone over the door.

Scot consoled himself for his disappointment in losing office by composing ‘The Staggering State of Scottish Statesman between 1550 and 1650.’ In it he endeavoured to show the mean arts and hapless fate of all those who secured offices, but it was not published until a hundred years after his death (Edinburgh, 1754, 8vo), so can only have been a private solace to himself and a few friends for whom manuscript copies were made. A more honourable resource was the public spirit which led him to devote the most of his time and a large part of his fortune to the advancement of learning and the credit of his country in the republic of letters. The tower of Scotstarvet became a kind of college, where he attracted round him the learned Scotsmen of the time, and corresponded with the scholars of Holland, Caspar Barlæus, Isaac Gruterus, and others. In it his brother-in-law Drummond composed his ‘History of the Jameses’ and the macaronic comic poem ‘Polemo-Middinia,’ which had its occasion in a dispute of long standing as to a right of way between the tenants of Scotstarvet and of Barns, the estate of Sir Alexander Cunningham, whose sister was Drummond's betrothed. His intimacy with John Bleau of Amsterdam led to the inclusion of a Scottish volume in the series of ‘Delitiæ Poetarum’ then being issued by that enterprising publisher. The Scottish volume, edited by Arthur Johnston [q. v.], and printed at the sole cost of Sir John Scot in two closely printed duodecimo volumes, has preserved the last fruits of Scottish latinity. A more important work was the publication of detailed maps of Scotland in the great atlas of Blaeu. Scot interested himself in the survey of Scotland begun in 1608 by Timothy Pont [q. v.] Pont's drawings, after his death about 1614, were purchased by the crown. Scot caused them to be revised by Sir Robert Gordon of Straloch and his son, James Gordon, parson of Rothiemay, and then went in 1645 to Amsterdam to superintend their publication, dictating from memory, to the astonishment of the publisher, the description of several districts. The work was not issued till 1654, when it appeared as ‘Geographiæ Blaeuaniæ volumen quintum,’ with dedicatory epistles to Scot both by Blaeu and Gordon of Straloch. Other examples of Scot's liberal and judicious public spirit were the establishment of the St. Andrews professorship of Latin and his endowment of a charity for apprenticing poor boys from Glasgow at the estate of Peskie, a farm of 104 acres, near St. Andrews.

[The Staggering State of Scots Statesman; Sir John Scot's Manuscript Letters in Advocates' Library; Register of Privy Council of Scotland, vol. xii. pp. cx, 716–18; Preface to Delitiæ Poetarum Scotorum, and Bleau's Atlas of Scotland; Balfour's Annals; Baillie's Letters; Brunton and Haig's Senators of College of Justice; Memoir of Sir John Scot by Rev. C. Rogers; Preface to reprint of The Staggering State, Edinburgh, 1872.]

Æ. M.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.243
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
40 ii 16-15 f.e. Scott, Sir John: for Bleau. Scot .... the survey read Blaeu. Scot interested himself in the survey
14-12 f.e.  for purchased his drawings .... getting them revised read Pont's drawings, after his death about 1614, were purchased by the crown. Scot, having caused them to be revised
4f.e.  for Bleauaniæ volumen sextum,’ read Blaeuaniæ volumen quintum,’
3f.e.  omit as its real author
2f.e.  for Bleau read Blaeu