Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Spottiswood, John (1565-1639)
SPOTTISWOOD, SPOTTISWOODE, SPOTISWOOD, or SPOTSWOOD, JOHN (1565–1639), archbishop of St. Andrews and Scots historian, the eldest son of John Spottiswood (1510–1585) [q. v.], by his wife Beatrix, daughter of Patrick Crighton of Lugton, was born in 1565. He studied at the university of Glasgow under James and Andrew Melville, taking his M.A. degree in 1581; and in 1583, at the age of eighteen, he succeeded his father in the charge at Calder. Although he states that his father before he died had come to see the evils of ‘parity’ in the church, he appears himself for many years afterwards to have sided with the stricter presbyterian party. Thus when, in 1586, the king endeavoured to get the sentence against Patrick Adamson annulled, Spottiswood was one of those who refused to agree to the proposal (Calderwood, History, iv. 383). Calderwood also states that in a fight in the High Street of Edinburgh between the followers of the master of Graham and those of Sir James Sandilands, Spottiswood ‘played the part manfully that day in defence of Sir James’ (ib. v. 361). It was by supporting the policy of the stricter presbyterians that he gradually came into prominence as an ecclesiastical leader. In 1596 he was named one of a commission for the visitation of the south-western districts of Scotland (ib. p. 420); in 1597 he revised the apology of Robert Bruce and other recalcitrant ministers, and, according to Calderwood, appeared ‘to be so fracke [i.e. diligent] in their cause that he would needs give it a sharper edge’ (ib. p. 560); and in 1598 he was appointed by the commissioners to treat with Bruce as to his admission to his charge (ib. p. 721). But as the relations between kirk and king became more strained, he veered more decidedly towards the king. In 1600 he acted as clerk of those chosen for ‘the king's side,’ in the conference regarding the representation of the kirk in parliament by bishops (ib. vi. 3). Although also nominated by the assembly in 1601 to wait upon the Earl of Angus—accused of papal leanings—‘to confirm him in the truth,’ so little was he a bigoted partisan that when in July of the same year he accompanied the Duke of Lennox to France, he did not ‘scruple to go in to see a mass celebrated, and to go so near that it behoved him to discover his head and kneel’ (ib. p. 136). He remained abroad with Lennox for two years, and on his way home through England was presented at the court of Elizabeth.
On the succession of James to the English crown in 1603, Spottiswood accompanied him on the journey to London; but, the death of Archbishop Beaton having occurred soon after, he was nominated by the king to the vacant see, and sent back to Scotland to attend the queen on her journey south (Spottiswood, History, iii. 140). From the time that he became king of England, James was delivered from the bondage which from his infancy the kirk had strenuously endeavoured to impose on him, and he now resolved to make the most of his liberty. His chief aim now was to assimilate the church of Scotland to that of England, and especially to annihilate the pretensions of the ministers to dictate to the nation in regard to civil matters. In carrying out this policy the king, when dealing with the kirk, mainly made use of Spottiswood, and Spottiswood performed his difficult duties with great discretion. On 30 May 1605 he was admitted a member of the Scottish privy council (Reg. P. C. Scotl. vii. 52). In connection with the affairs of the kirk he paid frequent visits to London, and he made good use of his opportunities to place the revenues of his see on a satisfactory footing. During his journeys he had frequent interviews with his old professor, James Melville, then confined at Newcastle, but failed to effect any change in his attitude; and referring to his death in 1608, he characteristically describes him as ‘a man of good learning, sober, and modest, but so addicted to the courses of Andrew Melvill his uncle as by following him he lost the king favour, which once he enjoyed in a good measure, and so made himself and his labours unprofitable to the church’ (Spottiswood, History, iii. 190). The latter part of the sentence contains the sum and substance of Spottiswood's own ecclesiastical creed; he was an Erastian of the strictest type, and in ecclesiastical matters acted simply as the king's servant. In 1610 he was moderator of the assembly at which presbytery was abolished, and on 21 Oct. of the same year he and two other Scottish bishops were at the special desire of the king consecrated to the episcopal office by the bishops of London, Ely, and Bath (ib. pp. 208–9). On 15 Nov. he was also named one of the commissioners of the exchequer known as the new Octavians (Reg. P. C. Scotl. x. 85). On the death of Archbishop Gledstanes in 1615, he was on 31 May translated to the see of St. Andrews. Shortly after his consecration the two courts of high commission for the trial of ecclesiastical offences were united. In June of the following year George Gordon, sixth earl and first marquis of Huntly [q. v.], was summoned before this commission for adhesion to popery, and, on refusing to subscribe the confession of faith, he was for a time warded in the castle of Edinburgh. By warrant of King James he was, however, freed from prison and sent to London, where he was absolved by the archbishop of Canterbury, and received the communion at Lambeth (Calderwood, vii. 218). On 12 July Spottiswood, in a sermon in St. Giles's Church, endeavoured to quiet the excitement of the Scottish kirk at this seeming usurpation of its disciplinary prerogatives by asserting that the king had promised that ‘the like should not fall out hereafter’ (ib. p. 219); but naturally he also resented the slight put upon himself, and wrote a remonstrance to the king, which drew from the king the explanation that all had been done ‘with due acknowledgment of the independent authority of the church of Scotland,’ in testimony of which the archbishop of Canterbury had agreed that his remonstrances should be put on record. The archbishop moreover wrote a private letter to Spottiswood giving a full explanation of his procedure, and stating that, as Huntley had expressed his willingness to communicate when and where the king pleased, it was deemed advisable to give him an opportunity of making good his promise (Ecclesiastical Letters in the Bannatyne Club, pp. 477–8).
At the opening of parliament during the king's visit to Scotland in 1617, Spottiswood, in his sermon, took occasion to praise ‘the king for his great zeal and care to settle the estate of the kirk, and exhorted the estates to hold hand to him’ (Calderwood, vii. 250); and although, along with the other prelates, he opposed the enactment that ‘whatever his majesty should determine in external government of the church with the advice of archbishops, bishops, and a competent number of the ministry, should have the force of law,’ he appears to have induced the king to forego the measure only by undertaking that the special ceremonial reforms which he wished to introduce would receive the imprimatur of the general assembly of the kirk. At that assembly, held at Perth in August 1618, Spottiswood placed himself in the moderator's chair, and, on the ground that the assembly was ‘convened within the bounds of his charge,’ took upon him the office of moderator without election (ib. p. 307). He had thus an opportunity in the opening sermon of expounding the proposals of the king, of explaining his own attitude towards them, and of using all his powers of persuasion—which were great—on their behalf. With real or affected candour—and in any case with admirable tact—he admitted that in yielding to the wishes of the king he was in a sense acting against his own better judgment; and that had it been in his ‘power to have dissuaded or declined them,’ he most certainly would. He, however, argued that ‘in things indifferent we must always esteem that to be the best and most seemly which appears so in the eye of public authority’ (Sermon quoted in ‘Life of the Author,’ prefixed to Spottiswoode Society's edition of his History, p. xci), and that the evil which might here result from ‘innovation’ was not so great as that which might result from ‘disobedience’ (ib. p. xc; see also Calderwood, vii. 311). The appeal was entirely successful. The five articles, thenceforth known as the Five Articles of Perth, ordained (1) that the communion must be taken kneeling; (2) that in case of sickness communion might be administered privately; (3) that baptism should, under similar circumstances, be administered in the same way; (4) that children should be brought to the bishop for a blessing; and (5) that festival days should be revived. On 25 Oct. the articles were sanctioned by an act of the privy council, and on the 26th the king's proclamation ratifying and confirming them was published at the cross of Edinburgh. And now that they were sanctioned, Spottiswood was determined that they should not remain a dead letter. Preaching in the great church (St. Giles) of Edinburgh, 14 May 1619, before the officers of state, he exhorted councillors and magistrates not only to set a good example to the people by complying with the articles, but to compel them to obey (ib. p. 355). At a diocesan synod held at Edinburgh on 26 Oct. he also threatened the utmost penalties against those ministers who refused to conform to the new articles (ib. p. 395). Nevertheless a conference of bishops and ministers held at his instance at St. Andrews on 23 Nov. to arrange for their enforcement practically failed of its purpose (ib. pp. 397–408); and when at a diocesan synod held at St. Andrews on 25 April 1620 a proposal was made to censure those who had not conformed, the majority left the meeting (ib. p. 442). Ultimately in June 1621 the articles were ratified by parliament. When the commissioner stood up to perform the act of ratification, a terrific thunderstorm broke out (ib. p. 503); this the one party interpreted as a special manifestation of God's wrath, the other as a witness of his special approbation, in the same manner as it was expressed when the law was given on Sinai.
After the death of King James, Spottiswood continued in equal favour with Charles I. By a letter to the privy council, on 12 July 1626, Charles commanded that he should have the place of precedency before the lord chancellor of Scotland; but, according to Sir James Balfour, the lord chancellor (Sir George Hay, first earl of Kinnoull [q. v.]), ‘a gallant, stout man,’ would never ‘suffer him to have place of him, do what he would’ (Annals, ii. 41). But on the death of Kinnoull the archbishop, in January 1635, was himself made chancellor.
Nevertheless Spottiswood appears to have done what he could to prevent or delay the introduction of the liturgy. But when he saw that this was inevitable, he resolved to act with his customary zeal in enforcing the royal wishes, and himself in 1637 procured a warrant from the king peremptorily commanding the performance of the liturgy in all the churches. After the riot at St. Giles on 23 July, of which he was a witness, he recognised that all his worst forebodings were realised; and with other privy councillors he signed a letter to the king in which they affirmed that on account of ‘the general grudge and murmur of all sorts of people,’ they could not proceed further in the introduction of the service-book until the king had heard all particulars (printed in Sir James Balfour's Annals, ii. 229–31). He did everything he could to modify the policy of the king; but events marched too quickly for him, and when on 1 March 1638 it was announced to him that the covenant was being signed with enthusiasm by larger numbers of the people, he is said to have exclaimed, ‘Now all that we have been doing these thirty years past is thrown down at once’ (Life prefixed to the Spottiswoode Society edition of his History, vol. i. p. cx). His life being in danger, he took up his residence in Newcastle, and in his absence from Scotland he was, on 4 Dec., deposed by the unanimous vote of the assembly on the miscellaneous charge of ‘profaning the Sabbath, carding and diceing, riding through the country the whole day, tippling and drinking in taverns till midnight, falsifying the acts of the Aberdeen assembly, lying and slandering the old assembly and covenant in his wicked book, of adultery, incest, sacrilege, and frequent simony.’ The deliverance can scarce, however, be interpreted as anything else than the mere expression of bitter partisan spite. Spottiswood remained at Newcastle until the close of 1639, when he went to London. When in Newcastle he had been attacked by fever, and, having had a relapse on his arrival in London, he died on 26 Nov. He was buried with great pomp in Westminster Abbey. In his will, dated at Newcastle, 14 Jan. 1639, he made a full declaration of his faith, in which, as regards ‘matters of rite and government,’ he expressed himself thus: ‘My judgment is, and has been, that the most simple, decent, and humble rites should be choosed, such as is the bowing of the knee in resaving the Holy Sacrament and others of that kinde, prophannesse being as dangerouse to religion as superstition; and touching the government of the church, I am verily persuaded that the government episcopall is the only right and Apostolique form. Paritie among ministers is the breeder of confusion, as experience might have taught us; and for these ruling elders, as they are a mere human devise, so will they prove, if they find way, the ruin both of church and estate’ (ib. p. cxxxi). By his wife Rachel, daughter of David Lindsay (1531?–1613) [q. v.], bishop of Ross, he had two sons and a daughter: Sir John of Dairsie, Fifeshire (which the archbishop had purchased in 1616), Sir Robert [q. v.], and Anne, married to Sir William Sinclair of Roslin. Spottiswood was the author of ‘Refutatio Libelli de Regimine Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ,’ 1620, but is best known by his ‘History of the Church and State of Scotland from the year of our Lord 203 to the end of the reign of King James VI, 1625,’ published posthumously at London in 1655 (with a life of the author supposed to be by Bishop Duppa); again in 1677; and in 3 vols. in 1847, after collation with several manuscripts, by the Spottiswoode Society—a society, named after the archbishop, which published between 1844 and 1851 twelve volumes illustrating the ecclesiastical history of Scotland. Undertaken at the request of King James, by whose command Spottiswood had access to the necessary state documents, his work has the customary defects of an official history. But, especially as regards the events of his own time, it is of value as a counterpoise to the ‘History’ of Calderwood, and although, of course, the work of a partisan, is on the whole written with candour and impartiality.[Histories by Calderwood and Spottiswood himself; Spalding's Memorials in the Spalding Club; Letters on Ecclesiastical Affairs, and Robert Baillie's Letters and Journals in the Bannatyne Club; Bishop Guthrie's Memoirs; Sir James Balfour's Memoirs; Reg. P. C. Scotl.; Bishop Burnet's Lives of the Hamiltons; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scoticanæ, ii. 377, 831; Life prefixed to the first edition of Spottiswood's History, 1655; and Life prefixed to that published by the Spottiswoode Society.]