ARBUTHNOT, ALEXANDER (1538–1583), Scottish ecclesiastic and poet, educated at St Andrews and Bourges, was in 1569 elected principal of King’s College, Aberdeen, which office he retained until his death. He played an active part in the stirring church politics of the period, and was twice moderator of the kirk, and a member of the commission of inquiry into the condition of the university of St Andrews (1583). The “correctness” of his attitude on all public questions won for him the commendation of Catholic writers; he is not included in Nicol Burne’s list of “periurit apostatis”; but his policy and influence were misliked by James VI., who, when the Assembly had elected Arbuthnot to the charge of the church of St Andrews, ordered him to return to his duties at King’s College. He had been for some time minister of Arbuthnott in Kincardineshire. His extant works are (a) three poems, “The Praises of Wemen” (224 lines), “On Luve” (10 lines), and “The Miseries of a Pure Scholar” (189 lines), and (b) a Latin account of the Arbuthnot family, Originis et Incrementi Arbuthnoticae Familiae Descriptio Historica (still in MS.), of which an English continuation, by the father of Dr John Arbuthnot, is preserved in the Advocates’ Library, Edinburgh. The praise of the fair sex in the first poem is exceptional in the literature of his age; and its geniality may help us to understand the author’s popularity with his contemporaries. Arbuthnot must not be confused with his contemporary and namesake, the Edinburgh printer, who produced the first edition of Buchanan’s History of Scotland in 1582. Some have discovered in the publication of this work a false clue to James’s resentment against the principal of King’s College.
The particulars of Arbuthnot’s life are found in Calderwood, Spottiswood, and other Church historians, and in Scott’s Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae. The poems are printed in Pinkerton’s Ancient Scottish Poems (1786), i. pp. 138-155.