Beneficent Glasgow Clergymen. Archbishop James Law (c.1560-1632)

In the 16th century many of Glasgow’s benefactors were clergymen. I’ve already written about Zachary Boyd and John Howieson who were both decided Presbyterians and against an Episcopalian Church of Scotland.

Figure 1 Archbishop James Law. Wikipedia Public Domain.

On this occasion my subject is James Law who became the seventh post reformation Archbishop of Glasgow in 1615.[1] James VI of Scotland who succeeded to the throne in 1567 was in favour of an episcopalian church and had restored bishoprics after becoming king, the first Glasgow post reformation archbishop being John Porterfield, appointed in 1571. When the crowns of England and Scotland united on the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 James specifically aimed to have the same church structure and doctrine in Scotland as existed in England.

This objective was shared by his son Charles I who succeeded in 1625, leading to the National Covenant of 1638 which opposed the king’s intentions. Bishops were finally abolished in the Church of Scotland when William of Orange and Mary Stuart ascended the throne in 1689.

James Law was born circa 1560 to James* Law of Spittal in Fife and Agnes Strang of Balcaskie, also in Fife.[2] He matriculated at St Andrews University in 1578 [3] and graduated M.A. in 1581. His first ministerial appointment (given by the king) was in 1585 to Kirkliston in the presbytery of Linlithgow. He was not a stern Calvinist and on one occasion was rebuked by the Lothian synod for playing football on a Sunday with his friend John Spottiswoode, who was to precede him as Archbishop of Glasgow. As time went on his leanings were not to the Presbyterianism of John Calvin or Knox but to the Episcopalian system espoused by the king. Probably the most fervent supporter of the king’s objectives re the Scottish church was Law’s friend Spottiswoode.

In general terms the majority of the leaders of the church at this time were king’s men and consequently Law’s career developed and grew accordingly. In 1589 he became a commissioner for the maintenance of religion in Linlithgow and became a royal chaplain in 1601. He remained in Linlithgow for a number of years and in 1608 was Moderator of the Assembly held there.

In 1605 he was appointed titular bishop of Orkney following the establishment of the episcopal Church of Scotland eventually being consecrated in 1611 by his friend John Spottiswoode, then the Archbishop of Glasgow. Other appointments in Orkney included being a commissioner of the peace and also for the justiciary. He also became chamberlain and sheriff principal during his relatively short tenure there.

His time in Orkney seems to have been very successful in that he established Scots law replacing Norse, and established the bishopric financially, legally and in accordance with King James’ objectives.[4],[5],[6]

He was also instrumental in bringing to an end the despotic and oppressive rule of Orkney and Shetland by Patrick Stewart, the second Earl of Orkney. His father Robert was the bastard son of James V, and initially he and his half cousin James (VI) had been close. However that was not to last as his behaviour, claims and his mistreatment of ordinary islanders, and in some cases those who owned land and property, brought him to the attention the authorities in Edinburgh. He faced a piracy charge in 1594 and between 1600 and 1608 was engaged in seizing property from the rightful owners, using islanders as slave labour and generally behaving in a manner that was construed as challenging the king’s authority.[7]

In 1609 Bishop Law laid charges against him and he was summoned to Edinburgh to face trial. In the event he was released on swearing he would not escape. That was not to last as he was reimprisoned in 1610 in Dumbarton Castle. Whilst there in 1614 his son Robert, at his father’s instruction, landed in Orkney, took possession of the Earl’s Palace, this action being seen as an uprising against the king. In the event it did not last more than a few months with Robert being captured and hanged in Edinburgh in January 1615. A number of prominent buildings were badly damaged or destroyed by artillery during the fighting, with St Magnus Cathedral being spared the same fate by the direct intervention of Bishop Law. Despite blaming his son for the ‘uprising’, a month later on the 6th February Patrick Stewart was beheaded, his execution being delayed to allow him to learn the Lord’s Prayer.[8]

In July 1615 James Law was promoted to Archbishop of Glasgow, following his friend John Spottiswoode who became Archbishop of St Andrews. He also became a member of the king’s Privy Council shortly afterwards. He remained as Archbishop for the rest of his life undertaking a variety of commissions which supported the doctrinal and structural church King James wanted. In 1616, he was chosen to compile a book on canon law.[9]

Since the Reformation Glasgow Cathedral had suffered structural damage and vandalism and there were views expressed that it should be demolished as it was in poor condition. There were also strong feelings that it was representative of the kind of doctrine and practises which existed in the pre-reformation church.

However it survived, James Law playing a part in that by donating 1,000 merks for the restoration of the library house and to complete the cathedral’s lead roof.[10] That sum equalled £56 sterling which in today’s terms is somewhere between £12,000 and £3.2m, with the latter number being the more likely one.[11]

He married three times, his first wife in 1587 being Marion Dundas with whom he had a daughter Margaret. She married Patrick Turner, minister of Dalkeith in 1612. He then married Grizel Bosworth and had a further six children, four boys and two girls, son Thomas being a minister at Inchinnan, and son George becoming a burgess of Glasgow in 1631. Grizel died in 1618 and two years later James married widow Marion Ross (nee Boyle).[12]

James died in 1632 and in his will bequeathed 500 merks to St Nicholas’s hospital and 250 merks each to the Merchants and Trades Houses hospitals.[13]

On his death his wife had erected in the chancel of the cathedral a magnificent monument, described as the finest in the ‘High Kirk’ commemorating his life and his gifts to Glasgow..[14]

*Some sources give his father’s name as John


[1] British History Online. Appendix: Bishops and Archbishops of Glasgow, 1175-1649.  https://www.british-history.ac.uk/glasgow-charters/1175-1649/no1/dcxxvii-dcxxx

[2] Pearce, A.S. Wayne. ‘Law, James. d. 1632.’ In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article

[3] Anderson, James Maitland. (1926). Early Records of the University of St Andrews. Matriculation 1473-1579. Edinburgh: St Andrew University Press. p.293. https://digital.nls.uk/

[4] Electric Scotland. The History of Glasgow. Vol 2. Chapter XVIII -Archbishop Law and his Time. https://electricscotland.com/history/glasgow/glasgow2_18.htm

[5] Scott, Hew. (1928). Fast Ecclesiae Scoticanae. The Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland since the Reformation. Vol. VII. New Edition. Synods of Ross, Sutherland and Caithness, Glenelg, Orkney and Shetland, The Church in England, Ireland and Overseas. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. p.322. https://archive.org/details/fastiecclesiaes07scot/page/322

[6] Pearce, A.S. Wayne. ‘Law, James. d. 1632.’ In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article

[7] Undiscovered Scotland. Patrick Stewart, 2nd Earl of Orkney. https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/s/patrickstewartorkney.html

[8] Ibid.

[9] Pearce, A.S. Wayne. ‘Law, James. d. 1632.’ In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article

[10] Electric Scotland. The History of Glasgow. Vol 2. Chapter XVIII -Archbishop Law and his Time. https://electricscotland.com/history/glasgow/glasgow2_18.htm

[11] Measuring Worth (2016). https://www.measuringworth.com/m/calculators/ukcompare/

[12] Scott, Hew. (1928). Fast Ecclesiae Scoticanae. The Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland since the Reformation. Vol. VII. New Edition. Synods of Ross, Sutherland and Caithness, Glenelg, Orkney and Shetland, The Church in England, Ireland and Overseas. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. p.322. https://archive.org/details/fastiecclesiaes07scot/page/322

[13] Testamentary Records. Scotland. 6 September 1633. LAW, James. Testament. Glasgow Commissary Court. CC9/7/26. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

[14] Electric Scotland. The History of Glasgow. Vol 2. Chapter XVIII -Archbishop Law and his Time. https://electricscotland.com/history/glasgow/glasgow2_18.htm

Author: harmonyrowbc

Ex aero engineer with a life long passion for Glasgow History

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