Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bellenden, William (d.1633?)

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BELLENDEN, WILLIAM (d. 1633?), Scotch professor, was born between the years 1550 and 1560, and was probably the son of John Bellenden of Lasswade, near Edinburgh (Irving's Scottish Writers). Riddell's ‘Peerage Law,’ quoted by Irving, gives an account of an action brought by ‘William Ballenden,’ advocate in the parliament of Paris in 1586, on behalf of his sister, ‘Issabel Ballenden, dochter lauchful to umquhile John Ballenden of Leswaid.’ This advocate is doubtless identical with the professor (cf. Dempster). Bellenden appears, according to Dempster, to have been employed in diplomatic services by both James VI and his mother, Mary, queen of Scots. From James, Bellenden received (probably between 1608 and 1612) the title, if not the emoluments, of the office of ‘magister libellorum supplicum.’ A letter is extant in which Bellenden complains to the king of his unfortunate position in having to live abroad, whilst holding such a post, owing to his want of the money requisite for his return and proper maintenance at home. This letter is written in French. Dempster indeed tells us that he was for some time professor in the university of Paris, and we may perhaps infer with Irving that he was a Roman catholic. In 1608 Bellenden published the first work of which we have any knowledge, i.e. ‘Ciceronis Princeps: Rationes et Consilia bene gerendi firmandique Imperii.’ This little volume purports to be only a selection from a larger work (still unpublished) by the same author, which bore the title of ‘Do Statu Rerum Romanarum.’ A translation of the ‘Ciceronis Princeps by T. R. Esq.’ was published at London in 1618, with a dedication to the young Duke of Monmouth. In 1612 appeared Bellenden's second work, ‘Ciceronis Consul, Senator, Senatusque Romanus.’ This book is dedicated to Prince Henry, Prince Charles, and Princess Elizabeth. Like its predecessor it is a selection from the works of Cicero, made up of extracts bearing upon the constitution of the Roman republic. Three years later (1615) Bellenden issued his third book, entitled ‘De Statu Prisci Orbis in religione, re politica, et litteris,’ and dedicated it to Prince Charles. Bellenden's next appearance as an author seems to have been on the marriage of Henrietta Maria and Charles I, for which occasion he wrote an epithalamium in elegiac verse, which, like the preceding works, was published at Paris (1625). In 1634 Bellenden's last work, ‘De Tribus Luminibus Romanorum,’ issued from the press. This is inscribed to Charles I, but, as is evident from its dedication, was only published after the death of its author. Bellenden probably died between September 1631, when the king's license was granted, and 27 Aug. 1633, when, according to Irving, the French edition of this compilation was completed. This volume is a history of Rome from the earliest periods, and consists, like its author's previous works, of quotations from Cicero so woven together as to make a continuous whole. It appears to be a mere torso of a larger work, in which the same method was to have been employed for illustrating ‘the moral and physical science of the Romans’ from the writings of Seneca and Pliny. Warton has suggested that it was from Bellenden's ‘De Tribus Luminibus’ that Middleton conceived the idea of writing Cicero's history in his own words. Bellenden's ‘Epithalamium,’ ‘Princeps,’ the ‘De Statu,’ and the ‘Ciceronis Consul’ were republished in 1787 by Dr. Samuel Parr with a dedication to Burke, Lord North, and Chas. James Fox. The preface to this edition was used by Dr. Parr as an occasion for writing a panegyric upon the ‘Tria Lumina Anglorum’ and other of his contemporaries.

[Irving's Lives of Scottish Writers, i. 247-257; Dempster's Historia Ecclesiastica, and the volumes cited above.]

T. A. A.