Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leslie, William (d.1654?)

LESLIE, WILLIAM (d. 1654?), principal of King's College, Aberdeen, belonged to the family of Leslie of Aikenway or Aiknavy in Banffshire. Bishop Keith erroneously calls him a brother of John Leslie, bishop successively of the Isles and Raphoe, the father of Charles Leslie (1650–1722) [q. v.] Educated at King's College, Aberdeen, he became humanist there in 1603, regent in 1617, sub-principal in 1623, and on the presentation of Bishop Patrick Forbes (1564–1635) [q. v.], whose patronage was a testimony to his piety and learning, principal in 1632. On the attempt of John Durie to unite the Lutherans and the reformed churches, Archbishop Spotiswood requested the theological faculty of Aberdeen to give their judgment in the matter, and Leslie was one of six doctors (the others being John Forbes (1593–1648) [q. v.], Robert Baron (1593?–1639) [q. v.], Alexander Scroggie, James Sibbald, and Alexander Ross) who, ‘drawing a distinction between absolute consent in every thing, and agreement in essential points, declared that both the Lutherans and the Reformed, rightly understood, agreed in those matters of faith as to which the ancient church had been of one opinion,’ whereupon Samuel Rutherford, then in banishment at Aberdeen, wrote that ‘a reconciliation with popery was intended.’

At the royal visitation of the university in April 1638, Leslie was ‘found to have been defective and negligent in his office,’ but as he ‘was known to be ane man of gude literature, lyff, and conversation,’ the commissioners were content to admonish him to attend better to his administrative duties and teach less, confining him to one lecture in theology and one in Hebrew in the week. By this time the national covenant had been promulgated, and was being enthusiastically signed throughout Scotland. But at Aberdeen the townsmen would have none of it; the theological faculty condemned it; and when ‘the tables’ sent commissioners (among whom were Montrose and Henderson, Cant and Dickson) to advocate the cause, the Aberdeen doctors met them with a series of questions regarding the lawfulness of the covenant and the authority by which it was imposed. They received the thanks of the king for their firmness, and on 25 March 1639, on the approach of the covenanting army to Aberdeen, Leslie, with Sibbald and Baron and some sixty cavaliers, sailed for England. Charles was unable to protect them, Leslie and Sibbald returned home in the autumn, and in July 1640 the general assembly which met in Aberdeen deposed him from the ministry, and deprived him of his principalship, on general charges of laziness, negligence, drunkenness, and his refusal to subscribe the covenant. Writers of the other party explain the laziness as bookishness, and a ‘retired monastic way of living;’ they indignantly deny the drunkenness, describing him as ‘sober and abstemious above his accusers.’ His meekness was certainly remarkable. He ‘was never heard to speak against his enemies or their procedure, but suffered all things with great patience, attending God's will’—firm, however, in his refusal of the covenant, ‘saying he would not hurt his conscience for worldly means.’ For a time he occupied a chamber in the college which he hitherto had ruled. Later, he was the guest of the Marquis of Huntly at Gordon Castle, but that refuge also failed him, and he went to live with his kinsman, Alexander Douglas of Spynie, Elginshire, son of a former bishop of Moray, at whose house he died of cancer about 1654.

Leslie's contemporaries are loud and unanimous in their praise of his great learning and instructive conversation, but nothing remains of his writings except two short Latin elegies on his patron Bishop Patrick Forbes, contained in the ‘Funerals’ of that prelate, and a fragment on the writings of Cassiodorus preserved by Dr. George Garden [q. v.] in his edition of the works of John Forbes.

[Fasti Aberdonenses (Spalding Club); Family of Leslie; Garden's Opera Joanni Forbesii; Spalding's History of the Troubles; Gordon's Scots Affairs; Bishop Forbes's Funerals (Spottiswoode Society), &c.]

J. C.