Lawson, James (1538-1584) (DNB00)

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LAWSON, JAMES (1538–1584), successor to John Knox in the church of St. Giles, was born at Perth in 1538. He was educated at Perth grammar school and at the university of St. Andrews. As tutor to the sons of the Countess of Crawford he accompanied them to the continent. There he found opportunity for acquiring a knowledge of Hebrew, and returning to Scotland in 1507 or 1568 was prevailed upon by the professors of the university of St. Andrews to teach there that language, which was hitherto unknown in Scotland. In 1569 he was appointed by the regent Moray sub-principal of King's College in the university of Aberdeen, and the same year he was elected to the parochial charge of Old Machar. He became the recognised leader of the reformed clergy in the north of Scotland, and one of the most trusted confidants of Knox. In September 1572 Knox, feeling 'nature so decayed' that he looked 'not for a long continuance' of his 'battle.' sent for Lawson with the view of having a special conference with him (letter in Calderwood, iii. 224). On 9 Nov. Lawson was admitted as Knox's colleague and successor in the ministry of St. Giles. Knox with treat difficulty officiated on the occasion, and bade the assemblage his 'last good night.' Lawson is the author of the account of Knox's last illness, originally published as an appendix to Thomas Smeton's 'Ad Virvlentvm Archibaldi Hamiltonii Apostatæ Dialogvm Responsio,' 1579, its title being 'Eximii Viri Johannis Knoxii, Scoticanæ ecclesiæ lnstauratoris Fidelissimi, vera extremæ vitæ et obitus Historia, a Pio quodam, et Docto Viro descripta, qui ad extremum usque spiritum segrotanti assedit.' An English translation is published in Appendix to Knox's 'Works' (vi. 648–60). On Knox's death Lawson became one of the recognised leaders of the kirk, and encouraged a policy of intolerance without increasing its prosperity. On 12 July 1580 Lawson was appointed moderator of the assembly. He served on most of its committees, and! took a prominent part in the disputes of the kirk with the civil power. He attended the regent Morton when under sentence of death, and plied him with somewhat inquisitorial queries. Subsequently the Duke of Lennox, who had been the chief instrument of Morton's fall, lamentably disappointed the hopes of the presbyterians, and Lawson became one of his most persistent opponents. For a time the kirk triumphed, but after the accession of Arran to power it fared worse than before. On account of Lawson's denunciation in the pulpit of the acts of the parliament of 1584 — which were supposed to interfere with the jurisdiction of the kirk — Arran vowed that 'if Mr. James Lawson's head were as great as an haystack he would cause it leap from its hawse (neck) (Calderwood, iv. 65). Arrangements were made for his arrest on 28 May, but on the 27th he escaped to Berwick, proceeding thence to London. When his flight and that of Walter Balcanquall became known an act was passed by the privy council declaring that they had left their charges void ' against their duties and professions,' and appointing other ministers to preach in their stead (Reg. Privy Council Scotland, iii. 668). During their absence their wives addressed a long joint letter of rebuke to the Bishop of St. Andrews, in which they likened him to Chaucer's cook, who 'skadded' (i.e. scalded) his 'lips in other men's kaile ' (printed in Calderwood, iv. 126-41 ). Not long afterwards the magistrates were charged to dislodge the ladies from their dwellings (ib. p. 200). The turn of events had seriously affected the health of Lawson, and, according to Calderwood, 'waisted his vitall spirits by peece meale' (ib. p. 13). He died in London of dysentery on 12 Oct. 1584. His will and testament dated from 'Houie (Honie) Lain of Cheapside.' has been preserved by Calderwood (ib. pp. 201-8). After his death a forged testament was put forth in his name by Bishop Adamson, in which he is represented as repenting of his opposition to episcopacy (ib. p. 697-732). Although as an ecclesiastic Lawson was conscientious rather than enlightened, he had a sincere love of learning and literature. He is thus described by Arthur Johnston —

Corpora non magno, mens ingens: spiritus ardens.

By his wife Janet Guthrie he left three children.

[Knox's Works ; Calder wood's Hist. ; Richard Bannatyne's Memorials ; Register Privy Council Scotl. vol. iii. ; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scot. i. 4, Hi. 483; Life in Selections from Wodrow's Biog. Collections, pp. 193-235 (New Spalding Club, 1890).]

T. F. H.