Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Arbuthnot, Alexander (1538-1583)

ARBUTHNOT, ALEXANDER (1538–1583), a Scotch divine and poet, second son of Andrew Arbuthnot, of Pitcarles, was born in 1538. He was educated at St. Andrews University, and in 1560 was declared by the general assembly to be qualified for the ministry. Before engaging in ministerial work, he spent five years in studying civil law at Bourges. At his return he was licensed a minister, and on 15 July 1568 was appointed to the living of Logie Buchan, in the diocese of Aberdeen. About the same time he was directed by the general assembly to revise a book called the 'Fall of the Roman Kirk,' which had been suppressed (pending certain amendments) by the ecclesiastical authorities, as containing matters injurious to the interests of the kirk. On 3 July 1669 Arbuthnot was elected principal of King's College, Aberdeen, in place of Alexander Anderson, who had been ejected for popery, and shortly afterwards he received the living of Arbuthnot in Kincardineshire. By Anderson's action the finances of the college had been much reduced; but under Arbuthnot's vigorous management prosperity quickly returned. In 1572 he attended the general assembly which met at St, Andrews, and in the same year he published at Edinburgh his 'Orationes de Origine et Dignitate Juris,' 4to, of which not a single copy is now known to exist. He was moderator of the assembly which met at Edinburgh in August 1573, and in the following March he was one of four appointed to summon the chapter of Murray for giving, without due inquiry, letters testimonial in favour of George Douglas, bishop of the diocese. At the same time he was directed to give assistance in drawing up a plan of ecclesiastical government for the consideration of the assembly. In April 1577 he was again moderator of the general assembly, and in the following October he was chosen, with Andrew Melville and George Hay, to attend a council (never held) which was to meet at Magdeburg to establish the Augsburg confession. At Stirling, on 11 June 1578, he was among the ministers named by the assembly to discuss matters of ecclesiastical government with certain noblemen, gentlemen, and prelates. On 24 April 1583 Arbuthnot and two others were desired by the assembly to request the king to dismiss Manningville, the French ambassador, whose popish practices had excited much indignation; and when, on the same occasion, a commission was appointed to inquire into the financial condition and educational efficiency of St. Andrews University, Arbuthnot was named one of the commissioners. He was also employed with two others to lay certain complaints, on behalf of the assembly, before the king. But his activity in the presbyterian cause had been watched with little satisfaction by James; and in 1583, when he had been chosen minister of St. Andrews by the assembly, he received a royal mandate to return, on pain of horning, to his duties at the King's College, Aberdeen. (The statement that he gave offence by editing Buchanan's 'History of Scotland' is an error, cavised by the identity of Arbuthnot's name with that of the printer of the history.) The assembly remonstrated; but the king replied that he and his council had good reason for the action they had taken. This severity is said to have hastened Arbuthnot's death. He fell into a decline, died 10 Oct. 1583, and was buried in the chapel of the King's College. Andrew Melville wrote his epitaph, in which he is styled 'Patriæ lux oculusque' (Delitiæ Poetarum Scotorum, ii. 120). Arbuthnot regulated his life so well that while earning the devotion of his friends, he secured the respect of his adversaries. His 'Orationes de Origine et Dignitate Juris ' was praised in a copy of Latin verses (Delitiæ Poetarum Scotorum) by Thomas Maitland, the Roman catholic writer; and Nicol Burne, another champion of Romanism, in his 'Admonition to the Antichristian Ministers of the Deformit Kirk of Scotland,' 1581, exempts Arbuthnot from his general anathema. Spottiswood describes him as 'pleasant and jocund in conversation, and in all sciences expert; a good poet, mathematician, philosopher, theologue, lawyer, and in medicine skilful; so as in every subject he could promptly discourse and to good purpose.'

Three poetical pieces of Arbuthnot's, 'On Luve,' 'The Praises of Women,' and the 'Miseries of a Pure Scholar,' are printed in Pinkerton's 'Ancient Scottish Poems.' He left in manuscript an account of the Arbuthnot family, 'Originis et incrementi Arbuthnoticæ familiæ descriptio historica,' which was translated by George Morrison, minister of Benholme, and continued to the Restoration by Alexander Arbuthnot, the father of the famous Dr. Arbuthnot.

[Calderwood's True History of the Church of Scotland, Wodrow Speiety, vols, ii., iii.; Book of the Universal Kirk; Hew Scott's Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ; Anderson's Scottish Nation.]

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