Reformed Churchmen

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

29 November 1639 A.D. (Scots Archbishop) John Spottiswood Buried at Westminster Abbey

29 November 1639 A.D.  (Scots Archbishop) John Spottiswood Buried at Westminster Abbey

No author.  “John Spottiswood.”  Wesminster Abbey.  N.d.  Accessed 21 Jun 2014. Spottiswood


John Spottiswood, Archbishop of St Andrews, died in London of a fever and was buried with great pomp in the chapel of St Benedict at Westminster Abbey on 29 November 1639.

A brief description of the funeral has survived in the life of Spottiswood written by Brian Duppa: “The manner of his Burial by the command and care of his Religious King was solemnly ordered; for the Corps being attended by many Mourners, and at least 800 Torches, and being brought near the Abbey-Church of Westminster, the whole Nobility of England and Scotland (then present at Court) with all the Kings servants and many Gentlemen came out of their Coaches, and conveyed the body to the West-door, where it was met by the Dean and Prebendaries of that Church in their Clerical habits, and buried according to the solemn Rites of the English Church”. Unfortunately the large monument to the Earl of Middlesex and his second wife, erected in the middle of this chapel in 1645, has removed all trace of Spottiswood's grave. 

Two copies of an inscription, seemingly from Spottiswood's coffin plate, have been recorded.  The first, which appears in a manuscript owned by the late Lord Mostyn and now preserved in the Library of Westminster Abbey (MS 44) reads as follows:

Depositum Johannis Spottiswoode
D.D. Sanct. andrea Archiep:
Scotiae Primatis et Cancellarij
XX. annos Presbyter
XI. annos Glasaven Archiep:
XXV. annos Sanct.  Andreae Archiep:
IV annos Regni Cancellarius
Ex hac vita feliciter migravit Londini vii Cal. xbris
Anno xpi.  M.DC.XXXIX,
Annoq Regis Caroli XV.
Vixit annos LXXiiij: Mens: ii dyes xvij.

Presul Senator pa[e]ne Martyr hic jacet,
Quo nemo Sanctior, gravior constantior
Pro Ecclia, pro Rege, pro recta fide
Contra sacrilegos, perduelles perfidos
Stetit supremum ad usq spiritum,
Solitumq talium meritorum praemium
Dira rapinas, exiliumq pertulit,
Nunc hac in urna, in ore posterum in Deo
Victor potitur pace, fama, Gloria.

The first part of the inscription may be translated :

“Here lies John Spottiswood, Doctor of Divinity, Archbishop of St Andrews, Primate and Chancellor of Scotland, Twenty years a priest, eleven years Archbishop of Glasgow, twenty-five years Archbishop of St Andrews, four years Chancellor of the kingdom.  He departed happily this life at London on 25 November in the year of Christ 1639 in the 15th year of King Charles.  He lived 74 years, 2 months and 17 days”.

The elaborate Latin poem which follows praises Spottiswood's defence of the church. The inscription recorded in the Mostyn Hall manuscript differs in various ways from the version recorded in Brian Duppa’s life of Spottiswood:

Praesul, Senator, pene Martyr hic jacet,
Quo nemo Sanctior, Gravior, Constantior
Pro Ecclesia, pro Rege, pro Recta Fide,
Contra Sacrilegos, Perduelles, Perfidos,
Stetit ad extremum usque Vitae Spiritum,
Solitumque talium Meritorum Praemium
Diras Rapinas Exiliumque pertulit.
Sed hac in Urna, in Ore Posterum, in Deo
Victor potitur Pace, Fama, Gloria.

The most important discrepancy is in the date of Spottiswood's death, which is given as 26 November in Duppa's account ("sexto calendas Decembris") and as 25 November ("vii Cal. xbris") in the Mostyn manuscript.  Unfortunately, there is now no way of assessing which version is the most accurate record of the original inscription.

Life and career

John Spottiswood (or Spottswood) was born at Calder in Scotland in 1565.  His father (also John) had been ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in London but had returned to Scotland in 1543 and became associated with the cause of religious reform.  He officiated at the crowning of James VI at Stirling in July 1567. John Spottiswood the younger studied at the University of Glasgow and as a young man subscribed to strict presbyterian principles.  When relations between the kirk and the crown deteriorated towards the end of the 16th century, however, he came increasingly to support royal policy, and when James VI succeeded to the English throne in 1603 Spottiswood accompanied him to London.  He was appointed Archbishop of Glasgow in the same year (although he did not receive episcopal consecration until 1610) and thereafter was an important figure in the king's attempts to reduce the influence which the ministers of the Scottish church had come to exert on affairs of state.  He was translated to the archbishopric of St Andrews in 1615 and at the General Assembly of the Kirk in 1618, having made himself Moderator, he successfully argued for the imposition of the Five Articles of Perth which included the requirement that Communion should be received kneeling.

He married Rachel, daughter of David Lindsay, Bishop of Ross and had two sons Sir John and Sir Robert (l596-l646) and a daughter Anne who married Sir William Sinclair. Spottiswood continued in royal favour under Charles I and was made Chancellor of Scotland in 1635.  He loyally supported the attempt to impose the Book of Common Prayer though he thought the move mistaken.  Riots in Edinburgh in 1637 and the signing of the National Covenant in 1638 proved his misgivings to be justified and Spottiswood fled to Newcastle, fearing for his life.  He was deposed in his absence on a series of spurious charges including adultery and sacrilege. As an author Spottiswoode was best known for his History of the Church and State of Scotland published posthumously in 1655, with further editions in 1677 and 1847.  It includes the life of Spottiswoode by Brian Duppa, bishop of Winchester.

John’s younger brother James was buried in the same chapel in 1645. See his separate entry on the Abbey website.

A portrait engraving, with coat of arms, is in the Westminster Abbey Library portraits collection.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.
"A Genealogy of the Spotswood Family in Scotland and Virginia" by Charles Campbell, Albany, 1868. 

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