Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blair, Robert (1593-1666)

BLAIR, ROBERT (1593–1666), divine, a native of Irvine, Ayrshire, was born in 1593. His father was a merchant-adventurer, John Blair of Windyedge, a younger brother of the ancient family of Blair of that ilk; his mother was Beatrix Muir (of the house of Rowallan), who lived for nearly a century.

From the parish school at Irvine Blair proceeded to the university of Glasgow, where he took his degree of M.A. He is stated to have acted as a schoolmaster in Glasgow. In his twenty-second year he was appointed a regent or professor in the university. In 1616 he was licensed as a preacher of the gospel in connection with the established church (presbyterian) of Scotland. In 1622 he resigned his professorship, 'in consequence,' it is alleged, 'of the appointment of Dr. Cameron, who favoured episcopacy, as principal of the university ' (Anderson, Scottish Nation). This reason seems improbable, for having gone over to Ireland he was called to Bangor there and ordained by the Bishop of Down on 10 July 1623. But he was suspended in the autumn of 1631, and deposed in 1632 for nonconformity. By the interposition of the king (Charles I) he was restored in May 1634. Yet the former sentence was renewed, with excommunication, by Bramhall, bishop of Derry, the same year. It would appear that even in Scotland [see William Birnie] and in Ireland presbyterians were received into the episcopal church without subscription.

Excommunicated and ejected, Blair, along with a company of others, 'fitted out a ship,' intending to go to New England in 1635. But the weather proved so boisterous that they were beaten back, and, returning to Scotland, he lived partly in that country and partly in England. Orders were issued in England for his apprehension in 1637, but he escaped to Scotland, and preached for some time in Ayr. He was invited to go to France as chaplain to Colonel Hepburn's regiment, but alter embarking at Leith he was threatened by a soldier whom he had reproved for swearing, and thereupon went ashore again. He also petitioned the privy council 'for liberty to preach the gospel,' and received an appointment at Burntisland in April 1638. He was nominated to St. Andrews in the same year, and was admitted there on 8 Oct. 1639. In 1640 he accompanied the Scottish army into England on its famous march. He assisted in the negotiations for the treaty of peace presented by Charles I, 8 Nov. 1641. After the Irish rebellion of 1641 he once more proceeded to Ireland with several other clergymen of the 'kirk,' the Irish general assembly (presbyterian) having petitioned for supplies for their vacant charges. He afterwards returned to St. Andrews. In 1645 he attended the lord president (Spottiswoode) and others to the scaffold. In the same year he was one of the Scottish ministers who went to Newcastle to speak very plainly to the king. In 1646 he was elected to the highest seat of honour in his church, that of moderator of the general assembly (3 June 1646). Later, on the death of Henderson, he was appointed chaplain-in-ordinary to the king, 'being paid by the revenues of the Chapel Royal.' The commission of the general assembly, in 1648, named him one of those for 'endeavouring to get Cromwell to establish a uniformity of religion in England.' The endeavour was a valorous one to impose presbyterianism on England. At the division of the church, in 1650, into resolutioners and protesters, he leaned to the former, but bitterly lamented the strife.' Summoned with others to London in 1654, that 'a method might be devised for settling affairs of the church,' he pleaded ill-health and declined to go. In the same year he was appointed by the council of England 'one of those for the admission to the ministry in Perth, Fife, and Angus.'

At the Restoration he came under the lash of Archbishop Sharp. He had to resign his charge in September 1661, and was confined to certain places, first of all to Musselburgh, afterwards to Kirkcaldy (where he remained three and a half years), and finally to Meikle Couston near Aberdour. As a covenanter he preached at the hazard of life in moor and glen. He died at Aberdour on 27 Aug. 1666, and was buried in the parish churchyard. He left behind him a manuscript commentary on the book of Proverbs, and manuscripts on political and theological subjects. None were printed, and they appear to have perished. Fortunately his 'Autobiography' was preserved, and has been published by the Wodrow Society (1848); fragments were published in 1754. He married first Beatrix, daughter of Robert Hamilton, merchant, in right of whom he became a burgess of Edinburgh on 16 July 1626; she died in July 1632, aged 27. Their issue were two sons and a daughter: James, one of the ministers of Dysart, Robert, and Jean, who married William Row, minister of Ceres. His second wife was Katherine, daughter of Hugh Montgomerie of Braidstane, afterwards Viscount Airds. Their issue were seven sons and a daughter. One of these sons, David, was father of Robert Blair [q. v.], the poet of the 'Grave,' and another, Hugh, grandfather of Dr. Hugh Blair [q. v.]

[Autobiography, 1593-1636; Reed's Presbyterianism of Ireland, i.; Row and Stevenson's Hist.; Rutherford's and Baillie's Letters; Kirkcaldy Presb. Reg.; Connolly's Fifeshire; Chambers's Biogr.; Scott's Fasti, ii. 91; Hill's Life of Hugh Blair.]

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