Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Adamson, Patrick
ADAMSON, PATRICK (1537–1592), a distinguished Scotch prelate, was born at Perth on or about 15 March 1536–7. His enemies taunted him with being a baker's son—‘ane baxter's sone, ane beggar borne’ (Sempil's Legend of the Bishop of St. Andrew's Life, 1591); but in the biographical sketch by his son-in-law, Thomas Wilson, appended to the posthumous tract, ‘De Sacro Pastoris Munere,’ 1619, he is said to have been born ‘parentibus ingenuis et stirpe honesta.’ He was educated first at the grammar school, Perth, and afterwards at the university of St. Andrews, where he took his master's degree in 1558 under the name of Patricius Constyne. Two years afterwards, as Mr. Patrick Consteane, he was declared qualified by the general assembly for ministering and teaching, and in 1563 was appointed minister of Ceres in Fife. In the general assembly at Edinburgh, in June 1564, he begged to be allowed to travel into France and other countries in order to increase his knowledge, but was forbidden to leave his congregation without special license from the assembly. In the same year he wrote a copy of Latin hexameters (included in his ‘Poemata Sacra,’ 1619), in which he assailed the Romanists of Aberdeen. The title of the piece is ‘De Papistarum Superstitiosis Ineptiis.’ Early in 1566 he threw up his charge, and went to France as tutor to the eldest son of Sir James Macgill, of Rankeillor, clerk-general. In the following June, while he was residing with his pupil at Paris, Adamson (called variously, at this date, Conston, Constant, Constean, or Constantine) published a poem of thanksgiving on the occasion of the birth of the son of Mary Queen of Scots. The infant was described in the title as ‘serenissimus princeps’ of Scotland, England, France, and Ireland, an act of indiscretion which gave such offence that the author was imprisoned for six months. On his release, which he owed to the intercession of his royal mistress, he moved into the province of Poitou, and afterwards to Padua; thence he proceeded to Geneva, where he made the acquaintance of Theodore Beza and studied Calvinistic theology. On the homeward journey he revisited Paris with his pupil, but, finding it distracted by civil war (1567–8), thought it prudent to retire to Bourges, where he lay concealed for seven months at an inn. Here Adamson beguiled the time by translating the Book of Job into Latin hexameters, and composing a Latin tragedy on the subject of Herod. He also made a Latin translation of the Scottish Confession of Faith. The exact date of his return is unknown; but in March 1571 the assembly, ‘seeing there were so few labourers in the Lord's vineyarde,’ urged him strongly to return to the ministry, a request to which he agreed by letter at the meeting of the assembly in the following August. Some of his biographers state that he was in Paris at the time of the massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572, but MacCrie (Notes to the Life of Andrew Melville) showed that this is a mistake arising from a misunderstanding of Adamson's words in the dedication of his Catechism, ‘Scripsi quidem in Gallia in ipso furore’—words which merely contain a reference to the civil war of 1567–8. On rejoining the ministry Adamson was presented to the living of Paisley. In 1572 he published at St. Andrews his Catechism, under the title of ‘Catechismus Latino sermone redditus et in libros quattuor digestus,’ which he had composed for the use of the young king; and this was followed by his Latin translation of the Scottish Confession of Faith, ‘Confessio Fidei et Doctrinæ per Ecclesiam Reformatam Scotiæ recepta.’ On 8 Feb. in this year he preached a sermon on the occasion of the elevation of John Douglas, rector of St. Andrews University, to the archbishopric of that diocese. ‘In his sermon,’ says Calderwood, ‘he made three sorts of bishops, “My lord bishop,” “my lord's bishop,” and “the Lord's bishop.” “My lord bishop,” said he, “was in time of papistrie; my lord's bishop is now, when my lord getteth the benefice, and the bishop serveth for a portion out of the benefice to make my lord's title sure; the Lord's bishop is the true minister of the Gospell.”’ Three years afterwards (1575) he was one of the deputies named by the general assembly to discuss questions relating to the jurisdiction of the kirk with commissioners appointed by the regent Moreton; and with two others he was chosen in 1576 to report the proceedings to the regent. About this time he appears to have finally adopted the name Adamson in preference to Constant. His adversaries did not fail to twit him on his change of name:—
Twyse his surnaime hes mensuorne;
To be called Cōsteine he thot schame,
He tuke up Cōstantine to name.
. . . . .
Now Doctor Adamsone at last.
On the death of Douglas, in October 1576, Adamson, who had been serving as chaplain to the regent, was raised to the archbishopric of St. Andrews. Before his installation he had declared that he would resist any attempt on the part of the assembly to deprive him of his privileges; and his life now became one constant struggle with the presbyterian party. In April 1577 he was ordered by the assembly to appear before certain commissioners to answer the charge of having entered upon the archbishopric without being duly consecrated. On this occasion he appears to have made submission to the assembly; but in July 1579 other charges were brought against him—that he had voted in parliament without the assembly's permission, that he had opposed from his place in parliament the interests of the church, and that he had collated to benefices; for which offences he was again ordered to appear before commissioners. To escape from his opponents he retired to the castle of St. Andrews, where he was prostrated by a great illness (‘a great fedity’ he calls it), from which his medical attendants could give him no relief. In his extremity he sought the assistance of a wisewoman, Alison Pearson, who treated him so successfully that he completely recovered. His enemies ascribed his cure to witchcraft, seized the unfortunate woman, and confined her in the castle of St. Andrews, whence, with the connivance of the archbishop, she contrived to escape. A few years afterwards (1588) she was again apprehended, and after a trial before the court of justiciary was committed to the flames; one of the charges brought against her being that she had concocted for the archbishop a beverage of ewe's milk, claret, herbs, &c., making ‘ane quart att anis, quhilk he drank att twa drachtis, twa sindrie dyetis’ (Pitcairne's Criminal Trials, i. 165). In June 1583 Adamson delivered some powerful sermons before the king, ‘inspired,’ says Calderwood, ‘with another spirit than faithful pastors are.’ At the end of this year he went as James's ambassador to the court of Queen Elizabeth, pretending, as his enemies alleged, that he was going to Spa for the sake of his health. Of his proceedings in London the satirist Sempil has given a coarse account, which is followed with much satisfaction by Calderwood. If one may believe these authorities, the archbishop constantly defrauded his creditors, and was a very gross liver. From the bishop of London (it was asserted) he borrowed a gown to preach in, and never returned it; from the French ambassador he tried to borrow a hundred pounds, but had to be content with ten. He had only one audience with the queen, and on that occasion his conduct in the precincts of the palace—under the very walls—was so unseemly that he narrowly escaped a cudgelling at the hands of the gatekeeper. His enemies accused him of using all possible misrepresentations during his stay in England to bring reproach upon the presbyterian party; but none could deny that his eloquence attracted many hearers, and that he was held in high respect by English churchmen for learning and ability. In the following May he returned to Scotland, and sat in the parliament which met on the 22nd of that month. Strong measures were passed in this parliament against the presbyterians, Adamson and Montgomery being the leading counsellors. But while he stood high in the king's favour and constantly preached before him, Adamson became daily an object of greater dislike to the people, so much so that on one occasion, when he was preaching at the High Church, Edinburgh, the majority of the congregation rose from their seats and abruptly left the building. In 1585 he published a ‘Declaration of the King's Majesty's Intention in the late Acts of Parliament,’ a tract which gave great offence to the presbyterian party, especially when it was inserted two years afterwards in Thynne's continuation of Holinshed, ‘with an odious preface of alledged treasons prefixed unto it.’ Long afterwards, in 1646, at the time of the civil wars, this ‘Declaration’ was reprinted—and by the puritans!
The close of 1585 witnessed the return to Scotland of Andrew Melville, with many of the noblemen who had fled to England after the raid of Ruthven; and now the prospects of the presbyterian party began to brighten. When the synod of Fife met at St. Andrews in the following April, a violent attack was made on Adamson by James Melville, professor of theology, the nephew of Andrew. The scene was animated. At Melville's side throughout the delivery of the address sat the archbishop. After making some observations of a general character on the discipline of the kirk, Melville turned fiercely on Adamson, sketched shortly the history of his life, upbraiding him with his opposition to the kirk, and assured him that the ‘Dragon had so stinged him with the poysoun and venome of avarice and ambition, that swelling exorbitantlie out of measure, he threatned the wracke and destructioun of the whole bodie in case he were not tymouslie and with courage cut off’ (Calderwood). Seeing there was no chance of gaining a fair hearing, Adamson made no attempt at an elaborate defence. At a later meeting of the synod he was charged to offer submission (1) for his transgression of the ordinances of the general assembly; (2) for the injuries he had inflicted on the kirk; (3) for his contemptuous bearing before the synod; (4) for ‘opin avowing of antichristian poprie and blasphemous heresy.’ In answer to these charges the archbishop, appearing in person, denied that the synod had any jurisdiction over him, and appealed to the king and parliament. Then, taking the charges severally, he contended (1) that his suspension by the assembly was illegal; (2) that all he had done was done openly from his seat in parliament; (3) that the complaint was too general, but that he was prepared to answer any particular charge set down in writing; (4) that he had shown himself from his earliest years a public opponent of popery. But these answers did not satisfy his opponents, and the synod passed sentence of excommunication on the archbishop, who replied by excommunicating Andrew and James Melville with some others. In the following month the general assembly remitted the sentence of excommunication passed by the synod, as the illegality of the synod's proceedings was obvious; and the Melvilles, for the active part they had taken, did not escape the king's displeasure, Andrew being ordered to reside in his native place until further notice, and James being dismissed to his professorial duties. As archbishop of St. Andrews, Adamson was ex officio chancellor of the university, and he was now required by the king to give public lessons, which the whole university was to attend (James Melville's Diary). At the next meeting of the assembly (June 1587) more trouble awaited him. He was charged with detaining the stipends of certain ministers within his diocese, and with allowing himself to be put to the horn for not settling the claims of his creditors. It was further alleged that he had failed to supply two gallons of wine for the celebration of communion. At the time when these charges were occupying the assembly's attention, the poet Du Bartas was in Scotland; and the king, for the amusement and edification of his distinguished guest, determined that a disputation should take place between the rival champions, Andrew Melville and Adamson. Word was sent to Melville that the king and Du Bartas would attend his lecture in the class-room. Melville replied that the lecture had been just delivered; but this excuse would not serve, and within an hour's space he had to lecture again. Adamson listened to the address, which dealt with the recent legislation against the kirk, and the next morning delivered a discourse in defence of the episcopal system. Melville followed with a second address, in which he directed his argument not against Adamson, but against certain popish writers, whose opinions on church-government bore a marked resemblance to the views propounded by the archbishop. At the close of the lecture Adamson was too dismayed to make any reply, but the king came to his aid with a rambling pedantic dissertation. It should be added that this curious narrative rests solely on the authority of Adamson's opponent, James Melville.
In August 1588 Adamson was once more assailed by the assembly, the charges being that he had solemnised the marriage of the Earl of Huntley with the daughter of the Duke of Lennox, and that he had abstracted some entries and mutilated others in the assembly's registers. As he did not appear in person to answer these charges, the matter was referred to the presbytery at Edinburgh, who excommunicated him—a sentence which was confirmed by the general assembly. His situation was now one of some difficulty. The king, whose help had been so useful in the past, now deserted him, and granted the revenue of the see to the Duke of Lennox. It was in vain that Adamson tried to gain favour by dedicating to James Latin translations of the Lamentations of Jeremiah and the Book of Revelation, both published in 1590. Weighed down by sickness and poverty, he appealed in his distress to his old opponent, Andrew Melville, who, moved by pity, induced the presbytery of St. Andrews to remit the sentence of excommunication on condition that Adamson should make a free confession of his errors. On 8 April the archbishop's signature was obtained for the Recantation, and on 12 May for an Answer to and Refutation of the book falsely called the ‘King's Declaration;’ a ratification of both being exacted from him on 10 June. The episcopal writers affirm that the Recantation and Answer are purely fictitious, and that the archbishop was induced to sign documents of which the contents were misrepresented. The earliest printed edition of the papers is dated 1598. They were afterwards turned into Latin, and printed at the end of Melvin's ‘Poemata,’ 1620. If, as is probably the case, the Recantation is spurious, Adamson was merely served as he had served his opponent Lawson, who, dying in the full conviction of the truth of presbyterian principles, was represented by the archbishop—who actually forged a testament to that effect—to have abjured presbyterianism and to have exhorted his brethren on his deathbed to embrace the episcopal system (Calderwood). Adamson died on 19 Feb. 1592, a few months before the passing of the ‘Ratification of the Liberty of the True Kirk,’ a measure which secured the triumph of his adversaries.
His character has been variously estimated. ‘A man he was of great learning,’ says Spottiswood (vi. 385), ‘and a most persuasive preacher, but an ill administrator of the church patrimony.’ Wilson, his son-in-law, styles him ‘divinus theologus, linguæ sacræ sui temporis coryphæus, politioris omnis disciplinæ et scientiæ thesaurus,’ and so on. His ability was allowed even by his enemies. James Melville's words are: ‘This man had many great gifts, but especially excelled in the tongue and pen; and yet for abusing of the same against Christ, all use of both the one and the other was taken from him, when he was in greatest misery and had most need of them.’
By his wife Elizabeth, daughter of William Arthur, of Kernis, he had two sons, James and Patrick, and a daughter, who became the wife of Thomas Wilson, advocate. In 1619 his collected works were published by his son-in-law, under the title of ‘Reverendissimi in Christo Patris Patricii Adamsoni, Sancti-Andreæ in Scotia Archiepiscopi dignissimi ac doctissimi, Poemata Sacra, cum aliis opusculis; studio ac industria Tho. Voluseni, J. C., expolita et recognita,’ Londini, 4to. With the exception of ‘Jobus,’ a Latin version of the Book of Job, most of the pieces in this collection had been printed during the author's lifetime. ‘Jobus,’ with the Latin versions of the Decalogue (from book ii. of the Catechism) and the Lamentations of Jeremiah, is included in vol. ii. of Lauder's ‘Poetarum Scotorum Musæ Sacræ,’ Edinb. 1739. Separately from the collection, Wilson also published two treatises of Adamson's, one entitled ‘De Sacro Pastoris Munere tractatus,’ Lond. 1619; the other, ‘Refutatio Libelli de Regimine Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ,’ 1620. In the dedication of the version of Revelations (1590) Adamson mentions that he had written a book against his opponents under the title of ‘Psillus,’ and in the dedication of the ‘Catechism’ (1572) he mentions that he was engaged on a treatise, ‘De Politia Mosaica.’ Wilson, in the biographical sketch appended to the ‘De Sacro Pastoris Munere,’ gives the titles of several works of Adamson's, ‘quæ fere omnia, temporis injuria et malevolorum hominum odiis atque invidia huc illuc disjecta, in varias sunt manus discerpta,’ p. 21. They include Latin versions of Ecclesiastes, Daniel, and the Minor Prophets; Commentaries on St. Paul's Epistles; and Annals of England and Scotland. The editor of Melvin's ‘Poemata’ roundly charges Wilson with drawing up a fictitious list of the archbishop's writings.[Calderwood's True History of the Church of Scotland, Wodrow Society, i–v; Book of the Universal Kirk of Scotland; Spottiswood's History of the Church of Scotland; Life by Wilson, appended to De Sacro Pastoris Munere, 1619; James Melvil's Diary, Bannatyne Club; Dalyell's Scottish Poems of the Sixteenth Century, 1801; Melvin's Poemata, 1620; Cat. of Scotch State Papers, pp. 190, 239, 240, 312, &c.; MacCrie's Life of Andrew Melville; S. D. U. K. Biographical Dictionary (art. by Craik); Anderson's Scottish Nation; Scott's Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ.]