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John Spottiswoode

Birthdate: (74)
Birthplace: Mid Calder, West Lothian, UK
Death: November 26, 1639 (74)
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom (Fever)
Place of Burial: London, England
Immediate Family:

Son of John Spottiswoode and Beatrix Spottiswoode
Husband of Rachel Spottiswoode
Father of John Spottiswoode, Jr.; Sir Robert Spottiswoode; Anne Sinclair and Margaret Cockburn
Brother of Dr. James Spottiswoode, Bishop of Glogher

Occupation: Archbishop, Archbishop of St. Andrews, Primate of All Scotland; Scottish historian.
Managed by: James Hutchison
Last Updated:

About John Spottiswoode

SPOTTISWOOD, JOHN, a distinguished prelate, archbishop of St. Andrews, eldest son of the preceding, was born in 1565. The house of Greenbank near the village of Mid Calder, Edinburghshire, is mentioned as his birthplace. He was educated at the university of Glasgow, studying languages and philosophy under James Melville, and divinity under his uncle, Andrew Melville, then principal. He took his degree in his sixteenth year, and at eighteen succeeded his father as minister at Calder. In 1601, he attended Ludowick, duke of Lennox, as chaplain in an embassy to France, when he is said to have been present with him during the celebration of mass. Upon the accession of James VI. to the throne of England, in 1603, he was among those who were appointed to attend his majesty to his new dominions; and the same year, on the death at Paris of James Bethune, the last Roman Catholic archbishop of Glasgow, he was advanced to the archbishopric of Glasgow, and sworn a member of the privy council in Scotland. The king also appointed him to attend the queen on her journey to England as her almoner. He zealously promoted the designs of the court for the establishment of episcopacy in Scotland, and in 1606 was one of the four Scots prelates summoned by the king to assist at the famous Hampton Court conference for settling the peace of the church, held in his own presence, 20th September that year. He is supposed to have made no less than fifty journeys to London, chiefly on that account, and for the purpose of increasing the revenues of his see. In 1615 he was translated to St. Andrews, and in consequence became primate of Scotland. The ensuing year, he had very nearly come into collision with the primate of England, the archbishop of Canterbury, on the following account. The marquis of Huntly, who had been excommunicated by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for his adhesion to popery, had gone to London, and at the desire of the king, in the presence and with the consent of the bishop of Caithness, was absolved by the archbishop of Canterbury, and admitted to the communion, in the chapel at Lambeth, on the 8th July. Mr. Stephen, in his History of the (Episcopal) Church of Scotland, (vol. i. p. 474,) thus narrates what followed: “The news of this created a considerable sensation in Scotland, and was considered as a practical revival of the old claim of supremacy which the archbishops of York had formerly set up, but which had been always nobly resisted. On the 12th of July, Archbishop Spottiswood noticed it in his sermon, in St. Giles’, and that that the king had provided that the like should not fall out hereafter. Archbishop Spottiswood wrote a long letter of remonstrance to the king, who condescended to apologise and explain, among other things, that ‘all that was done was with a due acknowledgment and reservation of the power and independent authority of the Church of Scotland.’ Still farther to allay the justly aroused indignation o the Scottish church, the archbishop of Canterbury wrote to the archbishop of St. Andrews by the king’s desire, and, as he said, ‘that the archbishop’s letter, written to that effect, should be put upon record, and kept as a perpetual monument for ages to come.’”

Archbishop Spottiswood continued in high favour with James VI. during his whole reign. His ‘History of the Church and State of Scotland’ was written at his command. He was the means of carrying the obnoxious five articles of Perth, in the assembly held in that city, August 25, 1618. He was also held in much esteem by his son, Charles I., who, in 1629, wrote to his privy council in Scotland, and appointed the archbishop of St. Andrews to take precedence of the lord-chancellor in the council and in public. This gave deep offence to the earl of Kinnoul, who was then chancellor, and also increased the irritation of the nobility against the Episcopal order. At the coronation of Charles in the Abbey church of Holyrood-house in 1633, Archbishop Spottiswood had the honour of placing the crown upon his head. Having, by means of one Peter Hay of Naughton, in Fife, obtained possession of the copy of a statement of grievances, a duplicate of which was in the hands of Lord Balmerino, and had been intended for presentation to the parliament, Archbishop Spottiswood hastened with it to the king, who had returned to London. Balmerino was forthwith brought to trial under the statute of leasing-making, and chiefly through the influence of the archbishop and his son Sir Robert, president of the court of session, condemned to death. The whole proceedings, however, were so unpopular that it was found expedient to pardon Balmerino.

In 1635, on the death of the earl of Kinnoul, he was appointed lord-chancellor of Scotland. He as present in the Cathedral church of St. Giles’, Edinburgh, on the 23d July 1637, when the memorable riot took place on the reading of the liturgy, and when Jenny Geddes threw her stool at the officiating bishop’s head, Archbishop Spottiswood, from his seat in the gallery, commanded the provost and magistrates to suppress the riot. The following year, when the national resistance to the introduction of the liturgy had shown itself unequivocally, he assembled the privy council at Stirling, and on the same day, at ten o’clock, read the king’s proclamation at the market cross, expressive of his majesty’s intentions in the matter of the liturgy and gook of canons, promising a full pardon of all past offences, enjoining peaceable behaviour, and commanding all strangers to quit Stirling on six hours’ notice, under pain of rebellion. Soon after, on being informed of the proceedings of the Covenanters, he said, “Now all that we have been doing these thirty years past is thrown down at once;” and fearing violence to his person from the fury of the rabble, he retired to Newcastle. On the abolition of episcopacy at the celebrated Glasgow Assembly of 1638, when the censure and excommunication of the bishops came in hand, Archbishop Spottiswood did not escape. He was charged with “profaning the Sabbath, carding and diceing, riding through the country the whole day, tippling and drinking in taverns till midnight, falsifying the acts of Aberdeen Assembly, lying and slandering the old Assembly and Covenant in his wicked book, of adultery, incest, sacrilege, and frequent simony. He was deposed, and decreed to be excommunicated.” Of all these charges, particularly the gravest of them, it is not very probable that he was guilty, but in the excitement of the period there was little delicacy used in accusing an opponent. From Newcastle, where he remained some time, the archbishop wrote to the king, earnestly soliciting permission to resign his office of lord-chancellor, which had been conferred on him for life by patent. Charles accepted his resignation, and wrote with his own hand an affectionate letter of thanks for his past services. Age, fatigue of body, and grief of mind, threw him into a fever, and on his recovery he went to London, where he had a relapse. During his illness, which was to prove his last, he received the holy communion from the archbishop of Canterbury, and was visited by many persons of distinction, and particularly by the marquis of Hamilton, the king’s commissioner to the Glasgow Assembly. He died November 26th 1639, and was buried in Westminster abbey. His body was followed to the grave by a large body of the Scottish and English nobility then in London, with all the king’s servants; the funeral procession, attended by 800 torches, being met at the west door by the dean and prebendaries in their robes. Archbishop Spottiswood published the following works:

Refutatio Libelli de Regimine Ecclesiae Scoticanae. Lond. 1620, 12mo. 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. Lond. 1655, fol. The same. 1677, fol. A work composed with great impartiality.

John Spottiswoode, of that ilk, born anno 1565, who afterward became one of the greatest men of the kingdom, for knowledge, learning, virtue and merit. He had few equals, and was excelled by none. He was archbishop of St. Andrews, lord high chancellor of Scotland, etc., etc., and in every station of life acquitted himself with dexterity, fidelity and honor, and as the life and transactions of this truly great man are fully recorded in his History of the Church of Scotland, and briefly, by Mr. Crawford, in his Lives of the Officers of the State, to these we refer the reader. We shall only here observe that upon the death of his cousin, John of SpottisAvoode, IX of this genealogy, without issue, as before mentioned, he succeeded to the estate of Spottiswoode, as heir male, and was ever after designated by that title. However, in the year 1620, he sold the barony of Spottiswoode to three brothers of the name of Bell, with whom and their heirs, it remained till it was purchased by the heir of the family, anno 1700, as will be mentioned hereafter. But before this time the bishop had purchased several other lands, particularly, the barony of Dairzie, in Fife, etc., etc.

He married Rachel, daughter of Doctor David Lindsay, bishop of Koss, a son of the family of Edzill, by whom he had two sons and one daughter: 1, John, afterwards Sir John, his heir: 2, Sir Robert, who carried on the line of this family : of whom, afterwards. 3. His daughter, Anne, was married to Sir William Sinclair, of Rosliii, and had issue. He died at London, 2d of December, 1639, in the 74th year of his age, and by the king's order was most pompously interred, in King Henry Vllth's chapel, in Westminster Abbey, and was succeeded by his eldest son.

SPOTTISWOOD, or SPOTSWOOD, JOHN, superintendent of Lothian, descended from an ancient family of that name in the Merse, as above shown, was born in 1510. He was scarcely four years of age when his father was slain at Flodden. In June 1534 he was entered a student at the university of Glasgow, where he applied himself chiefly to the study of divinity, and took the degree of M.A. Having imbibed the doctrines of the Reformation, and perceiving the danger of professing them openly, he went to England in 1538, and at London was introduced to Archbishop Cranmer, by whom he was admitted into holy orders. In January 1543, on the return of the Scots nobles who had been taken prisoners at Solway Moss, he came back to Scotland, in company of the earl of Glencairn, with whom he resided for several years. In 1544 he was employed by the young earl of Lennox in a private mission to the English court, relative to his marriage with the Lady Margaret Douglas, niece of Henry VIII., in which he was successful. In 1547 he was presented to the parsonage of Calder, by Sir James Sandilands, afterwards the first Lord Torphichen, a zealous promoter of the Reformation. IN 1558 he accompanied Lord James Stewart, afterwards the Regent Murray, and the other parliamentary commissioners, to Paris, to witness the marriage of the young Queen Mary to the dauphin of France. On the establishment of the Presbyterian religion in Scotland, he was one of the six ministers appointed by the lords of the congregation to prepare the First Book of Discipline, and he also assisted in framing the old Confession of Faith. When ecclesiastical superintendents were, in July 1560, placed over the different districts, Mr. Spottiswood was appointed to superintend the counties of Lothian, Berwick, and Teviotdale; and to this office he was formally admitted in the following March. On this occasion John Knox presided and preached the sermon. In all the public proceedings of the church he now bore an active part, and on the birth of James VI. in June 1566, he was sent by the General Assembly to congratulate Queen Mary on the auspicious event, and to desire that the prince “might be baptized according to the form used in the Reformed church.” He was graciously received by her majesty, who commanded that the child should be brought and placed in his arms, on which, kneeling down, he offered up a prayer for the young prince’s happiness and prosperity. Although the queen was much touched by this affecting incident, she did not comply with the request of the Assembly. At the coronation of the young king, at Stirling, 29th July 1567, the crown was placed upon his head by the superintendents of Lothian and Angus, and the bishop of Orkney. On the escape of Queen Mary from Lochleven, in May 1568, he published an admonition, addressed to all within his bounds, declaring that that “wicked woman, whose iniquity, knowen and lawfully convict, deserveth more than ten deaths,” had been most justly deposed, and denouncing and warning all Protestants against assisting her cause. In Calderwood’s ‘Historie of the Kirk of Scotland,’ (vol. ii. p. 476,) it is stated, that in the General Assembly which met 25th February 1568, “Mr. Johne Spotswod, superintendent of Lothiane, was delated for slacknesse in visitatiouns, &c. He alledged non-payment of his stipend for three years bypast; and that diverse times he had exhibited to the justice-clerk the names of haynous offenders, but could fine no execution.” In 1574 he and the superintendents of Angus and Strathearn demitted their offices, but the Assembly did not accept of the same, but continued them. At the next Assembly he again gave in his demission, “partly because he was unable to travel, partly because he received no stipend.” He was again requested to continue in the office, and at the Assembly which met at Edinburgh 24th April 1576, he was complained upon for having inaugurated the bishop of Ross in the abbey of Holyrood-house, after being admonished by his brethren not to do it. He admitted his fault. In a subsequent Assembly, that of the 10th October 1583, the synod of Lothian craved that the Assembly take order with Mr. John Spottiswoode for setting the tack of his benefice, without consent of the Assembly. His health had for some time been impaired, which rendered him unable to overtake the active superintendence of the churches in his extensive district, and as he had for several years received no stipend or remuneration for his labours, on 16th December 1580, a pension was granted to him and his second son for three years of £45 9s. 6d., besides an allowance for grain, and this grant was renewed, November 26, 1583, for five years. He died December 5, 1585, in his 76th year.


History of The People of Scotland By William Anderson, 1863

Archbishop and church historian. Born in Mid Calder, the son of another John Spottiswoode (1510-85) who was Rector of the Kirk of Calder and invited John Knox (c.1513 - 72) to celebrate the first Protestant communion in the village. Spottiswoode was educated at the University of Glasgow and married at South Leith in 1589. When King James VI succeeded to the English throne in 1603, Spottiswoode was one of the entourage who accompanied his King to London. He was appointed a member of the Privy Council of Scotland (1605), Archbishop of Glasgow (1610) and then Primate of Scotland and Archbishop of St. Andrews (1615). He lived close to St Andrews at Dairsie Castle, building a church there in 1621. He crowned King Charles I in 1633 at the Palace of Holyrood House, Edinburgh, and was appointed Chancellor of Scotland in 1635.

He was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church at Perth (1618) which had been rigged to ensure acceptance of James VI's unpopular reforms, known as the Articles of Perth, which were intended to unify church practices between Scotland and England under an Episcopal system of church government . He was appointed Chancellor of Scotland by King Charles I (1635), but Spottiswoode found himself caught between a monarch intent on introducing an unpopular prayer book, which resulted in riots in St. Giles Kirk in Edinburgh, and the people. Thus in 1638, while the people signed the National Covenant, the King dismissed Spottiswoode from the Chancellorship for having failed to enforce the Episcopacy, yet the General Assembly in Glasgow reintroduced Presbyterianism, deposing him as Archbishop and excommunicated him.

He wrote a "History of the Church of Scotland" which examined the Church from 203AD until the close of the reign of James VI (1625). Spottiswoode dedicated this work to King Charles I, but it was not published until 1655.

He died in London and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Source: 2011 Gazetteer for Scotland

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John Spottiswoode's Timeline

Mid Calder, West Lothian, UK
Age 25
Age 31
Hunterston, North Ayrshire, Scotland, United Kingdom
Age 36
November 26, 1639
Age 74
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
November 29, 1639
Age 74
London, England