Robert Barclay (1648 - 1690)

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Nicknames: "The Apologist"
Birthplace: Gordonston, Morayshire, Scotland
Death: Died in Urie, Fetterose, Kincardineshire, Scotland
Occupation: The Apologist: First Theologian of the Quakers,
Managed by: Geoffrey Trowbridge
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About Robert Barclay

Robert Barclay (December 23, 1648 – October 3, 1690), one of the most eminent writers belonging to the Religious Society of Friends and a member of the Clan Barclay. He was also governor of the East Jersey colony in North America through most of the 1680s.


Barclay was born at Gordonstoun in Moray, Scotland. His father Col. David Barclay of Urie had served under Gustavus Adolphus, and pursued a somewhat tortuous course through the troubles of the civil war. His mother was Katherine Gordon (1620–1663) the daughter of Sir Robert Gordon 1st Bart of Gordonstoun (1580-1654). He was the eldest of five children.


Robert was sent to finish his education at the Scots College, Paris, of which his uncle[1] was Rector, and made such progress in study as to gain the admiration of his teachers, specially of his uncle, who offered to make him his heir if he would remain in France, and join the Roman Catholic Church.

Quaker convincement and marriage

In 1667, however, he followed the example of his father, and joined the recently formed Society of Friends after returning to Scotland. Soon afterwards he began to write in defence of the movement, by publishing in 1670 Truth cleared of Calumnies, and a Catechism and Confession of Faith (1673). In 1670 he had married another Quaker, Christian Mollison (c.1651–1724), of Aberdeen. They had seven children: three sons and four daughters. [2][3]


He was an ardent theological student, a man of warm feelings and considerable mental powers, and he soon came prominently forward as the leading apologist of the new doctrine, winning his spurs in a controversy with one William Mitchell. The publication of fifteen Theses Theologiae (1676) led to a public discussion in Aberdeen, each side claiming a victory. The most prominent of the Theses was that bearing on immediate revelation, in which the superiority of the Inward Light of Christ to reason or scripture is sharply stated. He was noted as a strong supporter of George Fox in the controversies that tore into Quakers in the 1670s. His greatest work, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity, was published in Latin at Amsterdam in 1676, and was an elaborate statement of the grounds for holding certain fundamental positions laid down in the Theses. It was translated by its author into English in 1678, and is claimed to be "one of the most impressive theological writings of the century" [4]. It is a weighty and learned work, written in a dignified style, and was eagerly read.


It, however, failed to arrest the persecution to which the Quakers were exposed, and Barclay himself, on returning from Europe, where he travelled extensively (once with William Penn and George Fox), and had several interviews with Elisabeth, Princess Palatine, was several times thrown into prison, but soon regained his liberty, and was in the enjoyment of Court favour.


In later years he had much influence with James II, who as Duke of York had given New Jersey to Sir George Carteret and John Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton. After Carteret's death his half (East Jersey) was sold in 1682 to twelve people, eleven of whom were members of the Society of Friends. One of the eleven Quaker proprietors was William Penn, and after expanding to include a larger number of proprietors, the group elected Barclay to be the governor. He is said to have visited James with a view to making terms of accommodation with William of Orange, whose arrival was then imminent.

His latter years were spent at his estate of Ury, where he died.

The essential view which Barclay maintained was that all people can be illuminated by the Inward Light of Christ which is the author of the Scriptures and will lead them into all truth. His works have often been reprinted.


^ His uncle was Robert Barclay (1611/12–1682), see ODNB article by Brian M. Halloran, ‘Barclay, Robert (1611/12–1682)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [1], accessed 3 Dec 2007.

^ Christian Barclay: see ODNB article by Gordon DesBrisay, ‘Barclay, Robert, of Ury (1648–1690)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [2], accessed 3 Dec 2007. and - for children: P. G. M. Dickson, ‘Barclay, David (1682–1769)’, rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 10 Aug 2008

^ Through his son David, Robert Barclay was the 4x great grandfather of the artist Robert Polhill Bevan

^ "one of the most impressive theological writings of the century and often marked by the eloquence of lofty moral convictions’." said by Leslie Stephen, according to The age of Dryden by Richard Garnett, on Googlebooks p226.

See also

List of Governors of New Jersey


"Barclay, Robert". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.

Encyclopedia Britannica website

John William Cousin, “Barclay, Robert,” in A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1910.

Government offices

Preceded by

Philip Carteret Governor of East Jersey

1682 – 1688 Succeeded by

Edmund Andros

External links

An Apology For the True Christian Divinity by Robert Barclay

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Categories: 1648 births | 1690 deaths | Colonial Governors of New Jersey | People from Moray | University of Paris alumni | Scottish Quakers | Scottish writers | Quakers who died before 1700

This page was last modified on 20 January 2010 at 21:10.

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Disclaimers -------------------- Robert Barclay (23 December 1648 – 3 October 1690) was a Scottish Quaker, one of the most eminent writers belonging to the Religious Society of Friends and a member of the Clan Barclay. He was also governor of the East Jersey colony in North America through most of the 1680s, although he himself never resided in the colony.

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Robert Barclay's Timeline

December 23, 1648
Gordonston, Morayshire, Scotland
January 3, 1649
Drainie, Moray, Scotland
February, 1670
Age 21
Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, UK
March 25, 1672
Age 23
Fetterose, Kincardine, Scotland
September 17, 1682
Age 33
Urie, Fetterose, Kincardineshire
August 20, 1687
Age 38
October 3, 1690
Age 41
Urie, Fetterose, Kincardineshire, Scotland
Aberdeen, Scotland