Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Critical Introduction by James Miller Dodds
John Spottiswoode (15651639)
[Spottiswoode was born of a good Scottish stock in 1565, seven years before Knoxs death. He was educated at Glasgow University, and succeeded his father as minister of Calder in West Lothian. In 16012, as chaplain to the Duke of Lennox, he visited the French and English Courts. On the accession of James VI. to the throne of England he accompanied the king to his new capital, and was sent back to Scotland as Archbishop of Glasgow. He became Archbishop of St. Andrews in 1615, and Lord High Chancellor of Scotland in 1635. He was a favourite with both James VI. and Charles I., and wrote his History of the Church of Scotland (first published in 1665) at the instigation of the former monarch. He died in 1639, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.]
IN Scotland, says Lord Clarendon, speaking of the time of James VI. and I., though there were bishops in name, the whole jurisdiction and they themselves were subject to an Assembly which was purely presbyterian: no form of religion in practice, no liturgy, nor the least appearance of any beauty of holiness. Spottiswoode was one of the prelates who found themselves in this unfortunate position, against which his life and his works were one constant protest. He seems to have been rather a counter than a player in the game between priest and presbyter which in Scotland preluded the Great Rebellion, and it was his fate, like Clarendons, to record the contest from the standpoint of the losing side. But his History of the Church of Scotland is all the more valuable on that account. A successful party never wants defenders, and posterity is too ready to condemn a failure. Spottiswoodes History enables us to appreciate the royal policy as it presented itself to a man, not indeed of high genius, but gifted with sufficient insight to make his record both interesting and instructive.
Spottiswoode was bred in the atmosphere of authority. A sentence from his will sums up the tenor of his writings:Touching the government of the Church, I am verily persuaded that the government Episcopal is the only right and apostolic form. Parity among ministers is the breeder of confusion, as experience might have taught us; and for these ruling elders, as they are a mere human device, so will they prove, if they find way, the ruin both of Church and State. No bishop, no king, was for him the final expression of the truth upon questions of government; and it is evident that the state of mind which, accepting the axiom, could carry it without flinching to one of its logical conclusions, a Republic, was to him quite incomprehensible. James Melville, he says, lost the kings favour and so made himself unprofitable to the Church. That subjects may lawfully rise and take the sword out of the kings hand is a most execrable doctrine. King James was the Solomon of this age. Among his ancestors during 1400 years on the Scottish throneIf a careless or dissolute king (which in so long a succession of princes is not to be wondered) happened to reign, the same was abundantly repaired by one or other of the kings that followed.
Enough has been said to illustrate the temper in which Spottiswoode wrote. But if he was a courtier, he had all the graces, and far more than the virtues, of the Court. It is natural to compare his work with that of Knox. Readers will declare for or against the sentiments of either according to their prepossessions. In energy, in narrative power, and in the general impression of genius produced, the earlier writer must be pronounced by far the superior. Spottiswoodes merits are of a different order. His style is smooth, but seldom strikes any high note. There is no display of enthusiasm; the reader is rarely warmed into strong approval or censure; the tone is that of gentlemanly compromise or bland remonstrance. The really notable point about the book is the breadth of its charity. In this Christian virtue it must be acknowledged that the earlier Scottish Reformers were sadly deficient. Knox was most intolerant of opposition. Spottiswoode, in the whole of his History, has not a bitter word for foe or friend, unless it be one about Andrew Melville, who had indeed been a sore thorn in His Graces flesh.