Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leslie, George (d.1637)

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LESLIE or LESLEY, GEORGE (d. 1637), Capuchin friar, known as Father Archangel, was son of James Leslie of Peterstone, Aberdeenshire, and his wife, Jane Wood, who afterwards married John Leslie, laird of Belcairn. He was brought up in the reformed faith, but he was converted to catholicism, was enrolled in 1608 as a scholar in the Scots College at Rome, and afterwards became a Capuchin friar. Dempster, writing before 1625, describes him briefly as an eminent preacher, mentions that he had just gone to Scotland, and names a book, ‘De potestate papæ in principes sæculares, et in rebus fidei definiendis,’ which Leslie had written and was preparing to publish. Leslie was in the neighbourhood of Aberdeen towards the end of 1624, when catholic manifestos or pasquils were stuck on the church door in Aberdeen, some of them probably being by Father Archangel, who certainly wrote some controversial works. One of these was noticed by Andrew Logie, parson of Rayne, in his work entitled ‘Cum bono deo. Raine from the clouds upon a Choicke [sic] Angel, or a returned answer to the common quæritur of our adversaries, “Where was your Church before Luther?”’ Aberdeen, 1624. In March 1626 Leslie complained to Propaganda that catholics attended protestant sermons, and failed to provide for the missionaries; he suggested that the congregation should give to certain priests an allowance of two hundred florins (Bellesheim, Hist. of the Catholic Church in Scotland, iii. 77). Afterwards he fled from Scotland in consequence of the persecution, and sought refuge in France. In a letter dated Paris, 20 Jan. 1629–30, and addressed to Colonel Sempill at Valladolid, he mentions that he intended to go to Italy to exculpate himself from some calumnies which had been imputed to him before the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith. His case came before the Propaganda on 22 April 1631, when on the petition of Father Leonard of Paris, ‘prefect of the mission of the East and of England,’ and on the testimony of Scottish catholics, he was acquitted, and allowed to return to the Scottish mission. He remained in Scotland till his death in 1637. Father William Christie, a jesuit, who became superior of the Scots College at Douay, says ‘he died in his mother's poor house, just over the river Dee, against the mill of Aboyne, and, I believe, was buried in ane old ruinous church in the way betwixt that and Kanakyle or Hunthall.’

Although no further authentic facts have been ascertained respecting Lesley's career, many marvellous incidents appear in the biographies of him which have been circulated in many languages throughout Christendom. Leslie is stated to have told John Baptist Rinuccini, archbishop of Fermo, who made his acquaintance in 1631, and employed him in preaching and other ministerial work in his diocese, a romantic story of his conversion and adventures. Rinuccini printed the story for the edification of the faithful, under the title of ‘Il Cappucino Scozzese di Monsignor Gio. Battista Rinuccini, Arcivescovo e Principe di Fermo,’ Macerata, 1644. The dedication, with a short preface to ‘Illustrissimo Sig. Cavalier Tomasso Rinuccini,’ is signed by Pompeo Tomassini. According to this work Leslie's mother was a lady of great wealth and the owner of Monymusk House, Aberdeenshire, in and around which place the principal scenes of the narrative are laid. The work passed through many Italian editions, and was republished in French, Spanish, Latin, Dutch, German, and Portuguese translations. The alleged facts are almost entirely fictitious. Monymusk was never in the possession of any of the Leslie family. In the fourth French edition (Rouen, 1660), dedicated to the Earl of Bristol, with a preface by Francis Clifton, an exiled English royalist, there are a number of additions and changes for which no authority is given. No English version was printed in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. The jesuit Father Christie declared that ‘all those in our country, Catholics and heretics, who did know him, were scandalised at that first Book.’ The biography has been reproduced within the last thirty years almost as often and in as many different quarters as during the first thirty years of its existence. It was reissued at Modena in 1862. Rocco da Cesinale, in his ‘History of the Capuchin Missions,’ 1872, reprints the life; Dr. Raess, bishop of Strasburg, in his work on ‘Famous Converts to the Roman Church since the Reformation,’ 1873, gives thirty closely printed pages to Leslie, and the Père Richard has devoted to the same subject a handsome volume printed at Lille about 1883. The biography, in its fullest form, made its appearance for the first time in England in ‘The Annals of the Franciscans,’ 1879–81, and it was published in the United States under the title of ‘Count Leslie; or the Triumph of Filial Piety,’ Philadelphia, 1864. More recently Canon Bellesheim, in his ‘Geschichte der katholischen Kirche in Schottland,’ and Father Hunter Blair, his translator, have celebrated ‘a life distinguished, even in those troublous times, by trials of no ordinary kind.’ This ‘Legend’ was completely demolished in an article contributed to the ‘Scottish Review’ in July 1891 by Mr. Thomas Graves Law, who soon afterwards communicated to the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society a description of the numerous editions of ‘Il Cappucino Scozzese.’ A drama composed on the basis of the biography by a Capuchin father was published at Rome in 1763, under the title of ‘Il Cappucino Scozzese in Scena.’ The scene is laid at Monymusk, and, after the style of the old miracle plays, Beelzebub and other devils figure in the representation.

An interesting engraved portrait of Leslie is prefixed to most of the editions of his biography.

[Information from Thomas Graves Law, esq., librarian of the Signet Library, Edinburgh; Scottish Review, xviii. 77; Leslie's Historical Records of the Family of Leslie, 1869, iii. 415; Scots Mag. lxiv. 189; Chambers's Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen, 1835; Stothert's Catholic Mission in Scotland, p. 573.]

T. C.