Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sinclair, John (d.1566)

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SINCLAIR, JOHN (d. 1566), bishop of Brechin, was the fourth son of Sir Oliver Sinclair of Roslin, and a younger brother of Oliver Sinclair [q. v.], who commanded at Solway, and of Henry Sinclair [q. v.], bishop of Ross. While rector of Shaw he was, on 27 April 1540, admitted an ordinary lord of session. He was afterwards dean of Restalrig, and under this title sat in the provincial council of Edinburgh. By Knox he is referred to in 1565 as one of Queen Mary's ‘flattering counsellors’ and a maintainer of her ‘abominations’ (i.e. the mass, &c.), and he is described ‘as blind of one eye in the body, but of both in his soul’ (Works, i. 235). Knox further explains that in 1558 Sinclair began to preach in ‘his kirk of Restalrig,’ and at the beginning ‘held himself so indifferent’ that many ‘had opinion of him that he was not far from the Kingdom of God’ (ib. 266); but that when the friars and others began to whisper against him, he ‘gainsaid the doctrine of Justification and of prayer which before he had taught,’ and ‘set up and maintained the Papistrie to the uttermost prick’ (ib.) His zeal for the old doctrines is supposed to have been further shown by the fact that when Adam Wallace, the protestant martyr, lay in irons waiting his execution, he visited him in prison and ‘reasoned with him after his wit’ (Foxe, Book of Martyrs); but it is not impossible that in doing so he was mainly influenced by a laudable desire to save Wallace's life. Knox includes him among those who instigated the French court to send an army against the protestants in 1560 (Works, ii. 131). He probably accompanied his brother, Henry Sinclair, bishop of Ross, to France in 1564, and returned again to Scotland. On 18 Sept. Queen Mary applied to Elizabeth for a pass for his return to France (Labanoff, Lettres, i. 227), and he is stated to have brought back with him to Scotland the materials which his brother had prepared for the continuation of Boece's ‘History of Scotland.’ The dean married Mary and Darnley in the chapel of Holyrood, 29 July 1565 (Diurnal of Occurrents, p. 80). Shortly afterwards he was promoted to the see of Brechin, but he died of fever in 1566. It is a matter of doubt as to whether he or his brother Henry is the author of Sinclair's ‘Practicks,’ a legal work in manuscript, preserved in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh. Dempster credits him with ‘Additiones ad Apparatum Historiæ Scoticæ Henrici fratris.’

[Keith's Scottish Bishops; Knox's Works; Dempster's Historia Eccles.; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Diurnal of Occurrents, in the Bannatyne Club; Brunton and Haig's Senators of the College of Justice.]

T. F. H.