Balfour, James (1600-1657) (DNB00)

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BALFOUR, Sir JAMES (1600–1657), of Denmiln and Kinnaird, historian and Lyon king-of-arms, the eldest son of Sir Michael Balfour of Denmiln in Fife, comptroller of the household of Charles I, and Joanna Denham, was born in 1600. The youngest of the family was Sir Andrew Balfour [q. v.], an eminent botanist, the friend of Sir Robert Sibbald, who has written his life, along with that of Sir James, in a small and now scarce tract, 'Memoria Balfouriana sive Historia reru, pro Literis promovendis gestarum a clarissimis fratribus Balfouriis DD. Jacobo barone de Kinnaird equite, Leone rege armorum, et DD. Andrea M.D. emiite aurato, a R.S., M.D. equite aurato, 1699.' The family of this branch of the Balfours was so remarkable for its numbers that Sir Andrew told Sibbald his father had lived to see 300 descendants, and Sir Andrew himself twice that number descended from his father. Yet the male line is now extinct, and, with the exception of the two subjects of Sibbald's memoir and their brother David, who became a judge, they do not seem to have been men of note. After a good education at home Balfour was sent to travel on the continent, and after his return, although he had shown some inclination for poetry in his youth, when he translated the 'Panthea' of Johannes Leochæus (John Leech) into Scottish verse, he devoted himself to the study of the history and antiquities of Scotland. It was his good fortune, remarks Sibbald, to be stimulated to this line of study by the number of his countrymen who cultivated it at that time: Archbishop Spottiswoode and Calderwood, the church historians; David Hume of Godscroft, the writer of the history of the Douglases; Wishart, afterwards Bishop of Edinburgh, the biographer of Montrose; Robert Johnston, who wrote the history of Britain from 1577; the poet Drummond of Hawthornden, the historian of the Jameses; the brothers Pont, the geographers; with the circle of friends, Sir Robert Gordon of Straloch, Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet and others, who contributed to the great atlas of Scotland published by Blaeu at Amsterdam; and Robert Maule, commissary of St. Andrews, a diligent antiquary and collector of the stamp of Balfour himself. Balfour was himself addicted to heraldry, and, to perfect himself in it, went to London in 1628, where he made the acquaintance of the English College of Heralds and Dodsworth and Dugdale, then the leading English historical antiquaries. To the 'Monasticon' of Dugdale he contributed a brief account of the religious houses of Scotland. On his return he was knighted by Charles I on 2 May 1630, made Lyon king-of-arms, and crowned by George Viscount Dupplin as king's commissioner by warrant dated 20 April 1630. He was created a baronet 22 Dec. 1633, and deprived of the office of Lyon by Cromwell about 1654. During the civil war he remained in retirement at Falkland or Kinnaird, collecting manuscripts and writing historical memoirs or tracts.

As none of his works, except his 'Annals of the History of Scotland from Malcolm III to Charles II,' and a selection of his tracts (edited by Mr. James Maidment, 1837), have been printed, it is worth while to give Sibbald's list of these in manuscript, most of which are now preserved in the Advocates' Library, although some were lost at the siege of Dundee, where they had been sent for safety.

The list is as follows:

  1. 'A Treatise on Surnames, but especially those of Scotland.'
  2. 'A Treatise of the Order of the Thistle.'
  3. 'An Account of the Ceremonies at the Coronation of Charles I at Holyrood;' and
  4. 'Of Charles at Scone.'
  5. 'An Account of the Coats of Arms of the Nobility and Gentry of Scotland.'
  6. 'A Genealogy of all the Earls of Scotland from their Creation to 1647.'
  7. 'An Account of the Funeral Ceremonies of some Noble Persons.'
  8. 'An Account of those who were knighted when he was Lyon.'
  9. 'An Account of the Impresses, devices, and Mottoes of several of our Kings and Queens.'
  10. 'The Crests, Devices, and Mottoes of the Scotch Nobility'
  11. 'Injunctions by Sir James Balfour, Lyon King, to be observed by all the Officers-at-Arms.'
  12. 'The True Present State of the Principality of Scotland.'
  13. 'Lists of the various Officers of State in Scotland and of the Archbishops of St. Andrews.'
  14. 'Memorials and Passages of State from 1641 to 1654.'
  15. 'A Full Description of the Shore of Fife.'
  16. 'A Treatise on Gems and the Composition of False Precious Stones.'

Besides these he wrote several miscellaneous works, chiefly on heraldic subjects.

More important than the original work of Sir James Balfour was his diligence as a collector, which presented, shortly after the dispersion of the treasures of the monastic libraries, many of the chronicles, cartularies, and registers of the Scottish bishoprics and religious houses, since published as the 'Chronicle of Melrose,' the Cartularies of Dunfermline, Dryburgh, Arbroath, and Aberdeen, the Registers of the Priory of St. Andrews and the Monastery of Cupar. A full list of these and his other manuscripts is given by Sibbald. His valuable library, along with that of his brother Sir David, was dispersed by auction after the death of the latter, and the catalogue printed at the close of Sibbald's memoir is a valuable record of the library of a Scottish gentleman in the seventeenth century. Balfour was four times married, and died in 1657, surviving his father only five years. He was interred in Abdie Church. The 'Annals' are not of much value, except in that part which is contemporary, and even in that they are jejune preserving, however, some interesting particulars, chiefly in relation to the ceremonies in which he took part as Lyon king.

[Sibbald's Memoria Balfouriana, 1699; Balfour's Historical Works, edited by James Haig from the Manuscript in Advocates' Library, 1824.]

Æ. M.