Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leslie, John (1571-1671)

LESLIE, JOHN (1571–1671), bishop of Clogher, and distinguished from mitred namesakes as the 'fighting bishop,' the oldest son of George Leslie and Marjory, his wife, was born at Crichie in Aberdeenshire, 14 Oct. 1571. He was educated at Aberdeen and afterwards in France, but his connection with Oxford is rather shadowy. He was admitted to read in the Bodleian, 10 Oct. 1618, when he was just forty-seven (Oxf. Univ. Reg., Oxf. Hist. Soc., vol. ii. pt. i. p. 280). His son Charles told Wood that he was an Oxford doctor both of divinity and laws, but the great antiquary was unable to verify this: he is called S.T.P. in 1628. Wood says he was abroad for twenty-two years in Italy, Germany, Spain, and France, but chiefly in the latter country. He spoke French. Spanish, and Italian fluently, and his Latinity was so much admired that the Spaniards said 'solus Lesleius Latine loquitur.' Not only was he famous for abstruse knowledge, but his practice as a courtier gave a peculiarly graceful character to his preaching. He was in favour with James I, who made him a privy councillor in Scotland, and with Charles I, who gave him the same rank in Ireland, and this he retained after the Restoration. He was with Buckingham at Rhé in 1627. His first preferment seems to have been in London to the church of St. Martins-in-the-Vintry (Newcourt, Repertorium, i. 422), and he was promoted to be bishop of the Scotch Isles in 1628. In June 1633 he was translated to Raphoe. Here he found many of the mensal lands in the hands of lay usurpers, but recovered enough by a costly lawsuit to increase the value of his see by one third. In 1635 he had a dispute with one John Hamilton, in which Bramhall, at Wentworth's request, undertook to arbitrate. The episcopalian clergy in Scotland regarded him as a patron several years after his removal to Ireland (Letter of David Mitchell, 19 March 1638, in Baillie). He spent 3,500l. in building a fortified palace at Raphoe, where there had been hitherto no episcopal mansion, and the outbreak of the rebellion in 1641 tested its strength within four years of its completion. The bishop, who raised a company of foot for the king, distinguished himself as a partisan leader, and conveyed ammunition through the most disturbed districts from Dublin to Londonderry, whose defenders were reduced to a few barrels of powder (Aphorismical Discovery, ed. Gilbert, i. 424). He relieved Sir Ralph Gore, who was hard beset at Magherabeg, near Donegal. It was on this march that he is said to have knelt down by the roadside and offered the famous prayer—'Almighty God... if we be sinners, they are not saints; though, then, thou vouchsafest not to be with us, be not against us, but stand neuter this day, and let the arm of flesh decide it.' Leslie is said to have gone to Scotland about midsummer 1642, all the other bishops having previously left Ireland, but he returned after the king's execution, defended Raphoe against the Cromwellians as he had done against the Irish, and was one of the last royalists to submit.

Leslie was the only Anglican bishop who remained at his post in Ireland during the interregnum, using the liturgy in his family, confirming children in Dublin, and even ordaining clergymen. Wood says that Archbishop Vesey of Tuam, who was alive when he wrote, was one of those so ordained, but he can hardly have attained the canonical age. Leslie's courteous manners endeared him to Henry Cromwell, who was disposed to cherish all protestants, and he was for a time at least in receipt of a pension of 160l, (document printed by Reid, ii. 560). Leslie's royalism was nevertheless of the most vivid hue, and he himself has recorded his belief that the great rebellion was the devil's special work, and that the murdered king was the most pious and clement of English sovereigns (Shirley, Monaghan, p. 144). In his anxiety to do homage to the Restoration, Leslie, then nearly ninety, is said to have ridden from Chester to London in twenty-four hours. He was allowed to hold the deanery of Raphoe along with his bishopric, but resigned it on being translated to Clogher in June 1661. Leslie was never greedy for money, though he well knew how to use it, and might have had richer preferment but that he refused to leave the people among whom he had worked so long. He has recorded that he found the restored church of Ireland torn by schism, the Scriptures ousted by merely human words: papists raging on one side and puritans on the other (ib. p. 144), The bishop was recommended by Charles II to the special consideration of the Irish House of Commons, and 2,000l. were voted to him. In returning thanks, he hoped 'that whatever the house hath given to a prophet may receive a prophet's reward.' It may have been this grant which enabled him to buy Glasslough in Monaghan, where his descendants are still seated. It was one of the many forfeited estates which had been granted to Sir Thomas Ridgeway, and several families seem to have acquired interests in the lands (ib. p. 137; Rawdon Papers, Nos. 14 and 29). Among these, perhaps, were the Cunninghams, for the Leslie family historian says that the bishop's wife was heiress of Glasslough. At all events it became his property, and the town was long known as Castle-Leslie. Many improvements were made by him, and at his death on 8 Sept. 1671, he transmitted his estate to his children. He was buried there in the church of St. Saviour, which he had founded. The slab which covered his remains has been preserved: it records that the bishop died a centenarian, that he was a doctor of divinity and laws, and that he was a privy councillor to three kings. Bishop Maxwell of Kilmore composed an epitaph which notes the chief points of his career (ib. pp. 145, 296).

In 1638, when he was near seventy, the bishop was married very happily, as he himself records (ib. p. 144), to Catherine, daughter of Alexander Cunningham, dean of Raphoe. The lady was only eighteen. They had ten children, of whom John, the eldest surviving son, was dean of Dromore. The sixth son was Charles [q. v.], the famous nonjuror. Bishop Leslie wrote an unpublished treatise on 'Memory,' but his library and collections perished in the Jacobite civil war. Some relics are still preserved at Glasslough, including a few books, which are theological with one exception—Rabelais.

[Wood's Athenae Oxon, and Festi Oxon. ed. Bliss; Historical Records of the Leslie Family; Shirley's History of Monaghan; Ware's Bishops ed. Harris; Cotton's Fasti Ecclesiae Hibernica; Ninian Wallis's Britannia Libera; Berwick's Rawdon Papers; Bramhall's Works, Oxford edit.: Charles Leslie's Works, Oxford edit.; Reid's History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, ed. Killen; Robert Baillie's Letters, ed. Laing; information from Sir John Leslie, the bishop's lineal descendant.]

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