Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lindsay, Robert
LINDSAY, ROBERT (1500?–1565?), of Pitscottie, Scottish historian, was born at Pitscottie, in the parish of Ceres, Fifeshire. He was a cadet of the principal family of Lindsays Earls of Crawford, and probably a descendant of Patrick, fourth lord Lindsay of the Byres (d. 1526), whose third son was William Lindsay of Piotstown, a place in the neighbourhood of Pitscottie, about the origin of whose name Lindsay tells a curious story (History, Freebairn's ed., p. 99). According to the ‘Privy Seal Register,’ Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie in 1552 received a grant of escheat, and a service in the Douglas charter-chest proves that he was alive in 1562. If the Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie whose son Christopher was served as his heir in 1592 be the historian, and not the historian's son, he lived till about 1592. But he is not responsible for any part of his ‘History’ after 1565, and that fact makes it more likely that he died about 1565. The dedicatory verses to Robert Stuart, bishop of Caithness and commendator of St. Andrews, who died in 1586, prefixed to the ‘History,’ supply a narrative of its contents, which ends with the Reformation. The ‘History’ discloses in its author a man of much humour and decided character. The preface states his intention of continuing what ‘had been left unwritten by the last translators, Hector Boece [q. v.] and John Bellenden [q. v.], from the succession of James II unto this day and date hereafter following, and specially the Manner of the Reformation of Religion and what was done therein since the fifty and eighth year until the three score and fifteen.’ The last date seems to be an error for threescore and five, as there are no entries relative to the Reformation after 1568, when the addition by another hand certainly begins, and takes the record as far as 1604. Lindsay expresses in his preface his obligations to the following persons, by whom he says he was ‘lately inspired:’ Patrick, sixth lord Lindsay of the Byres [q. v.]; Sir William Scot of Balwearie; Sir Andrew Wood of Largo; John Major [q. v.], doctor of theology, whose ‘History,’ reaching to the death of James III, was published in 1518; Sir David Lindsay [q. v.] of the Mount, Lyon king of arms; Andrew Fermie of that ilk; and Sir William Bruce of Earlshall, ‘who has written very justly all the deeds since Floudoun Field,’ a work unfortunately lost.
Pitscottie's ‘History’ was first published by Robert Freebairn the printer in 1728, folio, again in 1749 and 1778 in 12mo, and in 1814 in 2 vols. 8vo. by Graham Dalyell. Lord Crawford, in his ‘Lives of the Lindsays,’ states that none of these editions give the text of the best manuscript, which, he says, belongs to Captain Wemyss of Wemyss Castle. Lord Crawford proposed to print this manuscript as a new edition for the Bannatyne Club, but his intention was not carried out; and a comparison made by the present writer of the Wemyss MS. with the text of Freebairn's edition satisfied him that there was no material variation such as would make it worth while to publish that manuscript. The ‘History’ itself is a very singular and tantalising work. It covers a period of Scottish history, about the earlier part of which, from the death of James I to that of James III, very little is known. The quaint language and vivid narrative of certain passages led to its being largely used by Sir Walter Scott (as in ‘Marmion,’ for the description of the vision which appeared to James IV in Linlithgow Church before he marched to Flodden), and more recently by Mrs. Oliphant in ‘Royal Edinburgh, 1891,’ as well as by all modern Scottish historians; but other parts of it are merely brief entries, more like a diary than a history. The inaccuracy and confusion of dates are exasperating, and exceed that of the worst mediæval chronicle. The language is neither Scottish nor English, though it contains many pithy Scottish words. The spirit in which it is written is strongly protestant, and the author, like Buchanan, uses the misfortunes of the Scottish kings as texts for moral sermons or reflections. It can scarcely be deemed a trustworthy history as to particular facts not vouched for by other sources; but its representation of Scottish character, with the many stories by which it is enlivened, renders it an indispensable book to the student of Scottish history.
[Lord Lindsay's Lives of the Lindsays, i. 208–209; the poetical and prose prefaces to Pitscottie's History, and the prefaces by Freebairn and Dalyell to their editions.]