Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sharp, James

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609179Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 51 — Sharp, James1897Thomas Finlayson Henderson

SHARP, JAMES (1613–1679), archbishop of St. Andrews, son of William Sharp, factor of the Earl of Findlater, by Isabel Lesley, daughter of Lesley of Kininvy, a relative of the Earl of Rothes, was born at Banff Castle, where his father then resided, on 4 May 1613. Sharp's grandfather, David Sharp, a native of Perthshire, has been sneered at as ‘a piper’ (Life of Mr. James Sharpe, printed in 1719), but if he played the bagpipes (which was by the strict covenanters accounted sinful), this was not his profession, for he became a successful merchant in Aberdeen, and took to wife a lady of good family, that of the Haliburtons of Pitcur. Being intended for the church, Sharp entered King's College, Aberdeen, where he graduated M.A. in 1637. He is said to have been expelled from the college in 1638 for refusing to take the covenant; at any rate he went south to Oxford, where, according to his biographer, Thomas Stephen, he would have taken episcopal orders but for a serious illness, which made it advisable for him to return to Scotland. Not long after his return he was—on the recommendation, it is said, of Alexander Henderson [q. v.] —appointed professor of philosophy in the university of St. Andrews; and in 1648 he was presented by the Earl of Crawford to the church of Crail, where he was admitted on 27 Jan. 1648–9. In 1650 he was elected one of the ministers of Edinburgh by the town council, but his translation was refused by the presbytery, and, although agreed to by the general assembly, of which he was that year a member, the invasion under Cromwell prevented his acceptance of the call.

The proposal to translate Sharp to Edinburgh is evidence that he was already regarded as one of the leaders of the kirk. On the division of the kirk into resolutioners and protesters, he adhered to the resolutioners—that is, the more liberal and loyal party, who supported the proposal or resolution that those who had made defection from the covenanting cause should, on professing repentance, be admitted to serve in defence of the country against Cromwell. Of this party—which, though avowedly presbyterian, numbered many sympathisers with episcopacy—Sharp came to be regarded as the head.

In 1651 Sharp was seized by Cromwell's forces while attending a committee of the estates at Alyth, Forfarshire, on 28 Aug., and carried to London (Balfour, Annals, iv. 315). He remained a prisoner in the Tower until 10 April 1652, when he was admitted to bail on security not to go out of the city, nor beyond the late lines of communication, and to be of ‘good behaviour’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1651–2, p. 213), and on 17 June he was permitted to return to Scotland on condition that he rendered himself to Major-general Deane (ib. p. 296). In the absence of Deane he, by another order of 1 July, delivered himself up to the governor of Edinburgh Castle (ib. p. 312). When he was set at full liberty is not stated, but in 1657 he was sent by the resolutioners to London to advocate their cause with Cromwell. Burnet affirms that the idea of sending him (or of choosing him) was suggested by the fact that ‘he had some acquaintance with the presbyterian ministers whom Cromwell was then courting much’ (Own Time, ed. 1838, p. 42). His mission was unsuccessful, but it is said he so impressed the Protector with his abilities that he remarked ‘that gentleman after the Scotch way ought to be called Sharp of that ilk’ (True and Impartial Account, p. 34).

When he began scheming for the Restoration in 1659, Monck bethought him of Sharp's political influence, and sent for him from Coldstream on his way south; Sharp immediately responded to the invitation, and on his arrival prepared the declaration in Monck's name which was read next day at the head of the army, and, being afterwards distributed throughout the country, caused more than half of Lambert's forces to desert to Monck. On parting with the English general, Sharp seems to have returned to Edinburgh to consult with the leaders of the kirk. To the rule of Cromwell neither party in the kirk had ever become reconciled. Charles II continued to be regarded throughout Scotland as the only rightful sovereign, and Cromwell was deemed but an English usurper. Monck was anxious to obtain the confidence of the kirk leaders, though he knew that they cherished aims which could never be realised. It was necessary to temporise; and that delicate and morally dubious work he committed to Sharp, who, it is plain, from the beginning was perfectly aware of the part he was expected to play. He was too able and acute to be gulled by Monck, too little of a bigot or visionary to cherish any real attachment to the covenant, and too ambitious to allow such an opportunity for advancement to pass unutilised. That Monck had made sure of his man is clear from a letter of Sir John Grenville to the lord chancellor, 4 May 1660, in which Grenville, on the recommendation of Monck, asks the lord chancellor to give Sharp credit ‘because he looks on him as a very honest man, and as one that may be very useful to his majesty several ways, both here and in Scotland, especially in moderating the affairs of the kirk and our church, being a person very moderate in his opinion, and who hath a very good reputation with the ministers of both kingdoms, who must have some countenance for reasons I shall acquaint you with at our meeting’ (Clarendon State Papers, iii. 741). Before the letter was written Sharp had been for some time in London, for in January 1660 he had been despatched thither with five ministers of Edinburgh to represent the views of the resolutioners. On 4 May he was sent by Monck to communicate directly with Charles at Breda, being further recommended through the Earl of Glencairn as a man entirely an episcopalian in principles and the fittest person whom he could trust to give him correct information regarding both church and state in Scotland.

According to Burnet, whose attitude is very hostile and depreciatory, Sharp ‘stuck neither at solemn protestation, both by word of mouth and letters, nor at appeals to God of his sincerity in acting for the presbytery, both in prayers and on other occasions, joining with these many dreadful imprecations on himself if he did prevaricate’ (Own Time, ed. 1838, p. 60). In order the better to mask his designs, and also to effect the king's purpose, Sharp induced the king to write confirming the ‘public resolutions,’ and also ‘presbyterian government as by law established.’ While the letter tended to allay for the time the special anxieties of the kirk, it was calculated indirectly to pave the way for the introduction of episcopacy, since by the confirmation of the ‘resolutions’ it bade fair to revive in an acute form the old quarrel between the two parties, and to prevent the possibility of their common action. At the same time, the letter, as Sharp explained to the episcopalian nobles, bound the king to nothing, ‘for his confirming their government as it was established by law could bind him no longer than while that legal establishment was in force’ (ib. p. 75).

For a considerable time Sharp continued to act ostensibly as the representative of the resolutioners, while the main work given him to perform by the king was that of lulling presbyterian suspicion. Thus, when, by the act declaring illegal all leagues with any other nation made without the king's authority, the league and covenant made with England in 1643 was set aside as of no force for the future, Sharp explained to those whom he professed to represent that for the presbyterians to submit quietly to the act was the best way to gain their ends, as they would thus extinguish the jealousy which, on account of the covenant, the king might entertain towards them. By plausible and dexterous manœuvring he succeeded in preventing any representation being made to the king on behalf of the preservation of presbyterianism, and while assuring the king that it was only from the protesters that serious opposition to episcopacy was to be expected—the great body of the resolutioners being either lukewarm or really episcopalians—he afterwards excused himself for betraying his trust on the ground that no effort of his could have prevented the introduction of episcopacy. This, no doubt, was true; and it is also true that he occasionally in his letters dropped hints as to the king's preference, but these were mainly made with a view of showing the necessity of acting with prudence and forbearance. No doubt also Sharp, like many others who changed at this time to episcopacy, never was a zealous presbyterian. He had previously, it may be, merely submitted to it, and longed for an opportunity to cast it off. At any rate, believing that it was now doomed, he resolved to do the best for himself he could under the new régime; and, apparently acting on the maxim that all is fair in ecclesiastical politics, he seems to have had no scruples in playing what was beyond doubt a double part. The important service he had rendered to Monck and the king, and not less his diplomatic skill and strong personality, marked him out for high promotion. Meanwhile he was named his majesty's chaplain in Scotland, with a salary of 200l. per annum, and on 16 Jan. 1661 he was appointed professor of divinity in St. Mary's College, St. Andrews. After the rising of the parliament of 1661, by which episcopacy was established, he was nominated archbishop of St. Andrews, and on 15 Dec. he and three other Scottish bishops were solemnly consecrated at Westminster. In May 1662 ten other bishops were consecrated, the framework of the new ecclesiastical system being thus finally completed. Leighton, the mild and saintly bishop of Dunblane, told Burnet that he made to Sharp a proposal for uniting the presbyterians and episcopalians, according to the scheme of Archbishop Ussher, and was ‘amazed when he observed that Sharp had neither formed any scheme nor seemed so much as willing to talk of any’ (Own Time, p. 93). Indeed, instead of this, he began to prepare the way for the extinction of presbyterianism by issuing a proclamation forbidding clergymen to meet as a presbytery or other judicatory until the bishops should settle a method of proceeding in them (ib.) Having gone to London in 1664 to complain of the want of vigour and spirit in the administration, he returned, invested with ‘the title and style of primate of Scotland,’ the first place being also assigned him at the privy council. No doubt he was convinced, and rightly so, that the scheme proposed by the amiable Leighton could never be more than a dream. It was quite impossible that in Scotland episcopalians and presbyterians could now dwell together in unity; and episcopacy, he clearly realised, could never be regarded as secure while presbytery was even tolerated. Thus, partly from the determination to discharge to the best of his ability the duties of the office he had undertaken, partly from the knowledge that only thus could he establish himself in power and in the king's favour, partly probably from a sincere contempt for the peculiar fanaticism of the kirk, he hesitated at no severity in enforcing the annihilation of covenanting principles.

Such extreme zeal in one who had not merely been a prominent leader in the kirk, but who, having been entrusted with the special mission of representing its views to the king, had been the main agent in betraying it, naturally aroused against him, among the extreme covenanters, an almost unspeakable hate. On 9 July 1668 he was shot at with a pistol in the High Street, Edinburgh, by James Mitchell, who, after escaping capture for several years, was ultimately executed in 1678 [see Mitchell or Mitchel, James]. Mitchell's execution intensified the antipathy to Sharp; and moreover the covenanters had gradually been roused into resistance and into acts of reprisal. On 3 May 1679 a number of Fife lairds and farmers had assembled on horseback on Magus Muir, between St. Andrews and Cupar, in the hope of capturing or killing Carmichael, sheriff-substitute of Fifeshire, the main agent in the persecution of the covenanters in the shire, when the carriage of the archbishop himself was unexpectedly seen approaching. In part influenced by the superstitious conviction that God meant to deliver him into their hands, and by the consideration that it would be more effectual to remove the principal than the subordinate, but chiefly inspired by an overpowering passion of hate, they at once resolved on the archbishop's death. David Hackston [q. v.], laird of Rathillet, was in command of the party; but having a private cause of quarrel against the archbishop, he resolved to hold aloof, and the duties of leader were undertaken by Balfour of Burleigh [see Balfour, John]. Two separate accounts of the murder, differing considerably in details, have been published, the one being probably supplied by the daughter of Sharp, who was with him in the carriage, the other by one of the covenanters; but both agree in regard to the substantial facts: viz. that he was shot at while sitting beside his daughter Isabella in the carriage; that, finding he was not slain, the assassins, in the belief that he was proof against bullets, compelled him to come out of the carriage; and that they then fell upon him in a most ferocious manner with their swords until he received his deathblow. The escape of the assassins to the west of Scotland and the consequent insurrection form the subject of Scott's ‘Old Mortality,’ in which the main historic facts are closely adhered to (see notes c and p; cf. Tales of a Grandfather, ch. li.; and art. Graham, John, of Claverhouse). Sharp was buried in the parish church of St. Andrews, where an elaborate marble monument, with a long inscription, was erected to his memory. His portrait, painted by Lely, belonged in 1866 to the Rev. F. G. Sandys Lumsdaine, and a copy is in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh; it has been engraved by T. Dudley, D. Loggan (1675), and Vertue (1710).

By his wife Helen, daughter of Moncrieff of Randerston, he had two sons and five daughters: Sir William, who succeeded him in the barony of Scotscraig; John; Isabella, married to John Cunningham of Barns; Catherine; Margaret, married to William, lord Saltoun; and another, married to Erskine of Cambo.

[Ravillac Redivivus, being a Narrative of the Late Tryal of Mr. J. Mitchell for an Attempt on the Person of the Archbishop of St. Andrews; Barbarous Murder of Archbishop Sharp, 3 May 1679 (in verse), 1679; Some Account of the Horrid Murder committed on the late Lord Archbishop of St. Andrews, 1679; Some Account of what is discovered concerning the Murder of Archbishop Sharp, and of what appeurs to have been the Occasion thereof, 1679; Fanatical Moderation, or Unparalleled Villainy displayed: being a Faithful Narrative of the Barbarous Murder, &c., 1679 and 1711; Life of Archbishop Sharp, first printed in 1678, to which is added an Account of his Death, by an Eye-Witness, 1719; True Account of the Life of James Sharp, 1723; Stephen's Life and Times of Archbishop Sharp, 1839; Wodrow's History of the Kirk of Scotland; Kirkton's History of the Kirk of Scotland; Burnet's Own Time; Nicoll's Diary and Robert Baillie's Letters and Journals in the Bannatyne Club; Keith's Scottish Bishops; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scot. A number of Sharp's letters are included in the Addit. MSS. in the British Museum; and thirty-four letters, witten to him by the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale, &c., were published in the Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, 1893.]

T. F. H.