Spens, James (DNB00)

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SPENS, Sir JAMES (fl. 1571–1627), Scottish adventurer and diplomatist, was son of David Spens of Wormiston, by his wife Margaret Learmouth. His father formed one of the party which captured the regent Lennox at Stirling in 1571, and was shot while trying to guard him from injury. In consequence of his treason his estates were forfeited (Burton, Hist. of Scotland, 2nd ed. v. 40–1). In 1594 the son James was provost of Craill in Fifeshire, and during the rising of Bothwell he was called on to find security in 500l. for the borough (Masson, Register of the Scottish Privy Council, v. 133–4, 142).

In 1598 he and several other Scottish gentlemen, including his stepfather, Sir James Anstruther of that ilk, entered into a project to settle and civilise the Lewis. Having obtained a grant from James VI, they furnished themselves with arms and shipping, and landed in Stornoway harbour in October 1599. At first all went well. They took peaceful possession of the country, and the inhabitants, mostly McLeods, submitted to them. But when lulled into security they were suddenly assailed by Norman McLeod, and obliged to resign to him their rights to the island, and to promise to obtain an amnesty for the islanders. Spens and another were left as hostages for the fulfilment of the conditions of peace, and for the time the enterprise was abandoned (ib. v. 462, 467, vi. 420–3). The attack on the Lewis was renewed by others in 1605, but the undertaking again proved too great for private adventurers. On being released by McLeod, Spens entered the service of Charles IX of Sweden, but was recalled by James VI, who wished to promote peace between Sweden and Denmark, and was unwilling to allow the Swedish service to be recruited from Scotland. In the beginning of 1612 James sent Sir James Spens, now a knight, to Sweden, as ambassador on the accession of Gustavus Adolphus, to urge on him the expediency of peace with Denmark (ib. ix. 433). In this mission he was unsuccessful, and in 1615 he was again in Scotland, enjoying a pension of 200l. This he surrendered in 1619, perhaps on receiving a commission to compound with persons in trade who had not qualified as apprentices. As this office, however, was thought too important to be held by a subject of the crown, it was resumed also with a promise of compensation (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1619–23; Addenda, 1580–1625, p. 631).

In 1623 Spens was again in Sweden, and was sent by Gustavus to the Scottish privy council to request permission to levy troops in Scotland to repel a threatened Polish invasion. On 24 March 1624 the council authorised his son, James Spens, to levy a body of twelve hundred men to aid the king of Sweden (Masson, Register of the Privy Council, xiii. 364, 478, 500). In the same year Spens was commissioned to return to Sweden and to bring Gustavus into the great alliance against the emperor which was projected by England and France. He reached Stockholm in August and returned in January 1625 accompanied by Bellin, bearing Gustavus's demands. These were thought extravagant, and the more moderate proposals of Christian of Denmark having been accepted, Spens was despatched in March to persuade Gustavus to enter the confederacy as the ally of Denmark. Failing in this, he retired into private life until 1627, when he was despatched to invest Gustavus with the order of the Garter (Historical Manuscript Commission, 5th Rep. p. 304 b; Cal. State Papers, Dom. pp. 62, 119, 180, 213, 233, 275, 578).

In March 1629 Spens was commissioned by Gustavus to urge Charles to support him in the thirty years' war. For the next year he was charged with the superintendence of Gustavus's levies in England, and several letters by him are extant on this subject. They cease in the middle of 1630, but the date of his death is uncertain. He married Agnes Durie, by whom he had two sons, James and David, and a daughter.

[Gardiner's Hist. of England, v. 174, 247, 294, 297, 299, vii. 99; Nichols's Progresses of James I, iii. 132, 450, 540; Wood's East Neuk of Fife, p. 261.]

E. I. C.