Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Barclay, William (1547-1608)

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BARCLAY, WILLIAM (1546 or 1547–1608), a Scottish writer on jurisprudence and government, is stated by Sir Robert Sibbald (appendix to the History of Fife) to have been descended from the Barclays of Collairnie in Fife; but according to a note attached to James Gordon's ‘History of Scots Affairs,’ i. xvii, published by the Spalding Club in 1841, he was a grandson of Patrick Barclay, baron of Gartly, Aberdeenshire. As the inscription on the portrait prefixed to his ‘De Regno,’ but now wanting in most copies, states that in 1599 he was in his fifty-third year, he must have been born about 1546 or 1547, not 1541, the date sometimes given. He was educated at Aberdeen University. In early life he frequented the court of Queen Mary, where he is said to have dissipated his fortune. About 1571 he emigrated to France, where he devoted himself to the study of law, first at Paris and then at Bourges, under Cujacius, Donellus, and Contius. Soon after taking the degree of LL.D. he began to teach law in the university. His uncle, Edmund Hay the jesuit, rector of the recently founded university of Pont-à-Mousson, recommended him to the Duke of Lorraine, who, besides appointing him chief professor of civil law in the university, made him also councillor of state and master of requests. In 1581 Barclay married Anne de Malleviller—not De Malleville, as M. Dubois shows—a lady of Lorraine, by whom he had one son, John [q. v.], the author of ‘Argenis.’ The son the jesuits endeavoured to attract to their order, and the father's resistance to their efforts having, it is said, provoked their enmity, he lost the favour of the Duke of Lorraine, and deemed it advisable in 1603 to resign his chair. In 1600 he had published at Paris his most important work, ‘De Regno et Regali Potestate, adversus Buchananum, Brutum, Boucherium, et reliquos Monarchomachos.’ The work was dedicated to Henry IV of France, and consisted of six books, the first two being devoted to a refutation of the arguments of George Buchanan in his dialogue, ‘De Jure Regni apud Scotos;’ the third and fourth being directed against the ‘Vindiciæ contra Tyrannos’ of Hubert Languet, who wrote under the name of Stephanus Junius Brutus; and the last two to an examination of the treatise, ‘De Justa Henrici III Abdicatione e Francorum Regno,’ written by Jean Boucher, the seditious doctor of the Sorbonne. The doctrine of Buchanan that all power is derived from the people he endeavours to refute by a reference to the patriarchal system, and the appointment of a king over the Jewish people by God. He, however, admits the possibility in certain cases of the king so acting as to un-king himself, and therefore to render it lawful to resist his will. The views of Barclay are discussed at some length in the ‘Civil Government’ of Locke, who names him ‘the great assertor of the power and sacredness of kings.’ A year before the publication of the work of Barclay James VI of Scotland had published his ‘Basilicon Doron,’ and possibly Barclay was led to resign his chair and remove to England by the hope that James, who had just succeeded to the English crown, might be inclined to manifest special favour to such a distinguished champion of his own views regarding the divine right of kings. James, it is said, offered him high preferment, but only on condition that he should renounce the catholic faith, whereupon Barclay decided in the beginning of 1604 to return to Paris. The chair of civil law at Angers had been vacant since 1599, and such was the fame of Barclay in France that as soon as his return to Paris was known a deputation was sent, requesting his acceptance of the chair. In addition to this, notwithstanding the strenuous opposition of two professors, he was appointed dean of the faculty of law, the appointment being confirmed by a special decree of the university 1 Feb. 1605. Possibly in order to impress his opponents with the dignity of his position he was accustomed, when he went to lecture, to be habited in a superb robe lined with ermine, with a massy chain of gold about his neck, and to be attended by his son and two valets. Shortly after his appointment he published at Paris ‘In Titulos Pandectarum de Rebus Creditis et de Jurejurando.’ In the dedication of the work to King James he mentioned his intention of writing a book to record his majesty's character and actions. This purpose he never carried out. He died at Angers 3 July 1608 (‘Actes de l'État Civil d'Angers, paroisse Saint-Manville,’ quoted by M. Dubois in his ‘Discours’ on Barclay), and was interred at the Cordeliers. A treatise which he had written, ‘De Potestate Papæ: an, et quatenus, in Reges et Principes seculares jus et imperium habeat,’ was published in 1609, probably at London, without an indication of the place of publication, and the same year at Mussiponti (Pont-à-Mousson), with a preface by his son [see Barclay, John, 1582–1621]. It was directed against the claims of the pope to exercise authority in temporal matters over sovereigns, and produced so great an impression in Europe that Cardinal Bellarmine deemed it necessary to publish an elaborate treatise against it, asserting that the pope, by virtue of his spiritual supremacy, possesses a power in regard to temporal matters which all are bound to acknowledge as supreme. An English translation of the work of Barclay appeared in 1611. It is also included in the ‘Monarchia’ of Goldast, published in 1621. The treatise on the Pandects was inserted by the jurist Otto in his ‘Thesaurus Juris Romani,’ 1725–29. The ‘De Regno’ and the ‘De Potestate Papæ’ have both been frequently reprinted.

[The principal source for the facts of Barclay's life is Menage's Remarques sur la Vie de Pierre Ayrault (1675), 228–30. There are less correct notices in Ghilini's Teatro d'Huomini Letterati (1647), ii. 162; and Crasso's Elogii degli Huomini Letterati (1666), ii. 195. The later authorities are Mackenzie, Writers of the Scots Nation (1722), iii. 468–78; Biographia Britannica, ed. Kippis, i. 587–8; Irving, Lives of Scottish Writers (1829), i. 211–30; and especially M. Dubois, in Mémoires de l'Académie de Stanislas, série iv. tom. 4 (Nancy, 1872), pp. lviii–clxxvi.]

T. F. H.