Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leslie, John (1600-1641)

LESLIE, JOHN, sixth Earl of Rothes (1600–1641), one of the leaders of the Covenanting party, born in 1600, was the only son of James, master of Rothes, who died in March 1607, by Catherine Drummond, his second wife. In 1621 he was served heir to his grandfather, Andrew, fifth earl [q. v.], who died in 1611. Rothes was one of the commissioners at the parliament of 1621 who voted against the five articles of Perth (Calderwood, vii. 488, 498). In 1626 he was sent to London, along with other commissioners, to petition against the Act of Revocation of 12 Oct. 1625, by which church property in the hands of laymen reverted to the crown. At first the king 'stormed against the petition as too high a strain from petitioners and subjects' (Balfour, Annals, ii. 153}, but ultimately commissioners were appointed by which a compromise was arrived at. At the opening of parliament on the visit of Charles to Scotland in 1633, Rothes bore the sceptre (Spalding, Memorialls, i. 37), But the opposition of the Scots to the king's ecclesiastical policy was greatly strengthened by the ability, eloquence, and resolution of Rothes. He denounced as unwarrantable the act which conjoined an acknowledgment of the royal prerogative with an acknowledgment of the king's authority to determine the apparel of the judges, magistrates, and the clergy. The clause referring to the 'apparel of kirkmen' he regarded as an encroachment on the ecclesiastical prerogatives of the kirk. The king, however, refused to have the bill divided. A majority of the votes declared in its favour, and Rothes's attempt to challenge the correctness of the numbers was overruled by Charles. At the closing of parliament on 20 June 1633, the Earl of Glencairn took the place of Rothes in bearing the scepter (ib. i. 40). Clarendon states that Charles, who entertained a hearty dislike for Rothes and his friends, treated them with the utmost coldness (Hist. of the Rebellion, ed. 1819, i. 138).

Rothes headed the opposition to the proposed introduction of the prayer-book into the services of the kirk in 1638, and was the chief organizer of the movement against episcopacy, of which Argyll became the leader [see Campbell, Archibald, Marquis of Argyll, 1598-1661]. According to Spalding, Rothes and others drew up, before 1638, a secret bond 'to overthrow the bishops' (Memorialls, i. 76). Early in that year he addressed a circular letter to the noblemen and gentlemen who had hitherto held aloof, urging them to take a firm stand on behalf of the liberties of the kirk. Along with Loudoun and Balmerino he also undertook the revision of the new version of the covenant drawn up by Johnstone of Warriston and Alexander Henderson (Rothes, Relation, p. 69). He was one of the deputation appointed to meet the Marquis of Hamilton, the king's commissioner to the assembly, on his arrival to the assembly, and gave him warning of the attitude of the covenanters towards the king's proposals (Gordon, Scots Affairs, i. 68; Spalding, Memorialls, i. 89). At the assembly he is said to have 'spoken more than all the ministers, except the moderator' (Gordon,ii. 38), and when the assembly was dissolved by the commissioner he presented a protest against its dissociation. In case of the rejection of the king's demands, Hamilton had threatened that Charles would march north to Scotland with forty thousand men (Short Relation, p. 135), and Rothes straightway joined his kinsman, Alexander Leslie, afterwards Earl of Leven, in preparing for armed resistance. Leslie drilled Rothes's dependents and followers in Fife. Rothes advised the purchase of arms and accoutrements in Holland, and the recall of experienced Scottish officers serving in foreign countries (Spalding, i. 130). On 22 March Rothes and other nobles, with one thousand musketeers, went to the palace of Lord-treasurer Traquair at Dalkieth, seized much ammunition and arms, and brought the royal ensigns of the kingdom—the crown, sword and sceptre—to the castle of Edinburgh (Balfour, Annals, ii. 322; cf. 323). On 7 April the king issued a proclamation excepting nineteen leaders of the covenanters, including Rothes, from pardon. Rothes accompanied the army of General Leslie in June to Dunse Lew, and was one of the commissioners appointed to treat with the king. When the king's declaration was read by the herald on 24 June at Edinburgh, Rothes and other covenanting noblemen gave notice that they adhered to the assembly of Glasgow, but the herald refused to accept their protestation (ib. ii. 333). The covenanters were slow to disband their forces, and their leaders were again summoned to confer with Charles at Berwick. Rothes was the principal spokesman of the opposition, and his high tone led the king to denounce him angrily as an equivocator and liar. (Hamilton Papers, Camden Soc., p. 98). At the parliament held in Edinburgh in the following September Rothes was chosen a lord of the articles (Balfour, Annals, II. 360). Rothes and the coventanting noblemen sent a letter to the king of France, asking his aid against England, but it was intercepted in April, and was sent to the king (letter printed in Spalding's Memorialls, i. 266). Thereupon Charles summoned the Short parliament, in order to raise supplies for an invasion of Scotland. The House of Commons proving refractory was soon dissolved, and the Scots anticipated Charles by invading England. On 27 Aug. 1640 Rothes, in command of a regiment, and as one of the committee of the estates, accompanied Leslie's army across the Tweed (Balfour, Annals, ii. 382). According to Burnet, the Scots were induced to take this bold step by a band of the principal English nobility sent by Savile, and confided to three persons, Rothes, Argyll, and Johnstone of Warrington (Own Time, ed. 1839, p. 15). After the occupation of Newcastle, Rothes was one of the commissioners sent to London in November to conclude the negotiations for a treaty which had been begun at Ripon, and after the pacification was arranged he remained in England at the court of Charles.

Rothes had never been a fanatical puritan; he was a politician and a patriot rather than a kirkman. Burnet states that 'there was much levity in his temper, and too much liberty in his course of life' (ib. p. 15); and Clarendon describes him as 'pleasant in conversation, very free and amorous, and unrestrained in his discourse by any strain of religion, which he only put on when the part he was to act required it, and then no man could appear more conscientiously transported' (History, i, 378). The gaiety of the English court was congenial to him. His 'affairs were low,' and he hoped through the king's mediation to obtain office in the royal household, and the hand of the Countess of Devonshire, with an income of 4,000l. a year (Burnet, Own Time, p. 15). He was in August 1641 to have accompanied Charles into Scotland, the king, according to Clarendon, 'expecting by his help and interest to have gained such a party in scotland as would have been more tender of his honour than they after expressed themselves' (History, i. 394); but he was seized with a rapid consumption, and died at Richmond, Surrey, on the 23rd of the same month. He was buried at Leslie, Fifeshire, on 31 Nov. (Diary of Sir Thomas Hope, p. 155).

Rothes was the author of a 'Short Relation of Proceedings concerning the affairs of Scotland from August 1637 to July 1638,' printed by the Bannatyne Club in 1830. Prefixed to the volume is an engraving by Lizare of a portrait of the earl by G. Jamesone. By his wife Lady Anne Erskine, second daughter of John, earl of Mar, he had one son (John, seventh earl and first duke of Rothes [q. v.]) and two daughters (Margaret, married, first, to Alexander Leslie, lord Balgony, secondly to Francis, second earl of Buccleuch, and thirdly to David, second earl of Wemyss; and Mary, wife of Hugh Montgomerie, third earl of Eglinton).

[Sir James Balfour's Annals; Robert Baillie's Letters and Journals (Bannatyne Club); Spalding's Memorialls (Spalding Club); Gordon's Scots Affairs (Spalding Club); Clarendon's Hist. of the Rebellion; Burnet's Lives of the Hamiltons; Burnet's Own Time; Balcanquhall's Large Declaration; Hamilton Papers (Camden Soc.); Rothes's Relation (Bannatyne Club); Sir Thomas Hope's Diary (Bannatyne Club); Cal. Hamilton MSS. in Hist. MSS. Comm. 11th Rep. App. pt. vi.; Hardwicke State Papers; Burton's Hist. of Scotland, Gardiner's Hist. of England; Colonel Leslie's Records of the Leslie Family, ii. 92-105; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), ii. 431.]

T. F. H.