Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lindsay, John (1552-1598)
LINDSAY, JOHN, Lord Menmuir (1552–1598), secretary of state in Scotland, born in 1552, was second son of David, ninth earl of Crawford, by his wife Catherine Campbell, daughter of Sir John Campbell of Lorn. Along with his brother David Lindsay, lord Edzell [q. v.], he was sent under the care of James Lawson [q. v.], afterwards colleague of Knox, to complete his education on the continent. Scarcely, however, had they removed to Paris, when the conflicts between catholics and Huguenots compelled them to flee to Dieppe, everything being left behind but the clothes on their backs (for particulars see Lord Lindsay, Lives of the Lindsays). From Dieppe they shortly afterwards crossed over to England and passed to the university of Cambridge. From a paper in the Haigh muniment room it would appear John Lindsay subsequently returned to prosecute his studies in Paris, While yet a child, the livings of Menmuir, Lethnot, and Lochlee, which were in the gift of the Edzell family, were settled upon him. and though he never took orders he was usually designated 'Parson of Menmuir.' Under a writ of the privy seal, 11 July 1576, various teinds or tithes were also settled upon him, as well as a pension of 200l. out of the bishopric of St. Andrews, and he moreover received the small estate of Drumcairn, Forfarshire. Having adopted the profession of Law, he was on 5 July 1581 appointed a lord of session under the title Lord Menmuir. In 1586 he purchased the lands of Balcarres, Balniell, Pitcorthie, and others in the county of Fife, which on 10 June 1592 were united into a free barony in his favour. In 1595 he erected the mansion of Balcarres, which he made his principal residence.
Menmuir in 1587 was employed in framing several important acts relating to the constitution of parliament, including acts regarding the form and order of parliament and the voting of the barons. In April 1588, and again in April 1589, he was appointed one of a commission to inquire into disorders in the university of St, Andrews (Reg. P. C Scotl. iv. 266, 371). In November of the latter year he began to sit as a member of the privy council (ib. p. 436). From this time he rapidly acquired, chiefly on account of his financial ability, a position of great political influence. On 14 Oct. 1591 he was appointed one of the queen's four master stabularies, or managers of her revenues, and in the following June the king, on account of his great skill in the discovery of precious metals, made him master of minerals for life (Acta Parl. Scot. iii, 558). The special purpose of the appointment was to aid him in the exploration of the gold mines on ford Muir, but the result of the exploration was diasppointing. In July 1693 he was named one of a special council for the management of the queen's revenues (ib. iv. 36), and in January 1695 he was chosen one of the eight commissioners of the exchequer, known as octavians. He was reputed the ablest financier of the eight; and to enable him better to discharge his duties, he was in March appointed lord keeper of the privy seal, and on 28 May secretary of state for life.
Besides conducting important negotiations with foreign powers, Menmuir was one of the chief advisers of the king in his policy for establishing episcopacy. In 1596 he drew up 'a platt' or scheme for the planting of kirks throughout Scotland with perpetual local stipends. The scheme (printed in James Melville's Diary, pp, 223-9, and in Calderwood's History, v. 420-33) also provided for the representation of each presbytery in parliament by a commissioner. According to Calderwood, the 'platt' was thought the ' best and most exact that ever was designed or set down,' and would have been gladly received by the kirk but for an attempt to modify it by an act of the estates passed in August. An account of this interference, he adds, Menmuir 'gave it over as a thing not like to be done in his day' (ib. p. 433). Shortly afterwards his lenient attitude towards the catholic nobles brought him into collision with the kirk. He was with the king when besieged in the Tolbooth on 17 Dec. 1696, and in a pasquil delivered at Holyrood House on 10 Jan., he was attacked as a 'plain mocker of religion.' The intolerant altitude of the kirk only confirmed the king in his purpose to set up episcopacy, and it was to Menmuir that he made chiefly recourse in the contrivance of methods to effect his purpose. Menmuir drew up the fifty-five 'questions' to be submitted to the general assembly which met at Perth on 28 Feb. 1596-7 (printed in Calderwood, v. .584-97), the ultimate result, according to Calderwood, being to bring in unawares 'the Trojan horse of the episcopacy covered with caveats that the danger might not be seen.' On 4 March 1596-7 Menmuir was appointed ambassador to France for obtaining discharge of certain customs and imports (Reg. P.C.Scotl. v. 369). It was his intention during the visit to Paris to undergo an operation for the stone, but the increase of the malady prevented him from making the journey, and on account of rapidly failing health he, in February 1597-8, resigned the office of secretary of state. He died at Balcarres, Fifeshire, 3 Sept. 1598, and in accordance with his will he was buried in the parish kirk of Kilconquhar under 'his awen seat.'
By his first wife, Marion, daughter of Alexander Guthrie, town clerk of Edinburgh, and widow of David Borthwick [q. v.] of Lokhill, lord advocate, he had two sons—John, lord Menmuir, who died unmarried in January 1601, and David, first lord Balcarres—and three daughters: Catherine, married first to Sir John Lindsay of Woodhead, and secondly to John Brown of Fordel; Margaret, to Sir John Strachan of Thornton; and Janet, to Sir David Auchmutie of Auchmutie. By his second wife, Jane, relict of Sir James Forrester of Corstorphine, and John Campbell of Calder, he had no issue.
Menmuir, no less by his character than his abilities, won the esteem both of political allies and opponents. Few, if any, of his contemporaries possessed such multifarious accomplishments. Besides Latin, he had a good knowledge of French, Italian, and Spanish. His style is marked by incisiveness and vigour; and according to Scot of Scotstarret and Sir William Alexander, earl of Stirling, he was a master of the art of epigrams. He preminently excelled as a financier, hut his legal acquirements were more than mediocre, while his abilities as a legislator were strikingly exhibited in connection especially with the enactments relating to the kirk. A reference by the Master of Gray (Gray Papers, Bannatyne Club, p. 84) to a manuscript by him, 'De Jure Anglicano,' indicates also that he was a learned as well as a practical lawyer. His scientific acquirements were evidenced both by his knowledge of mineralogy and the ingenuity of his mechanical appliances in connection with mining. The library which he collected is a further proof of the width of his culture; while his historical and antiquarian tastes also led him to make an extensive collection of state papers and other documents. These relate chiefly to the reign of Mary of Lorraine. The collection was in 1712 presented to the Advocates' Library by Colin, third earl of Balcarres [q. v.] (see Hist. MSS. Comm. 1st Rep. p. 126). Several of the more important of these have been printed among other documents in various historical collections. A number of Menmuir's own letters are included in Maidment's 'Letters and State Papers during the Reign of King James VI' (Abbotsford Club).[Reg. P. C. Scotl. vols. iv-v.; Histories of Calderwood and Spotiswood; James Melville's Diary; Sibbald's Hist. of Fife; Haig and Brunton's Senators of the College of Justice, pp. 176-9; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), i. 173; Lord Lindsay's Lives of the Lindsays; Pedigree of the Lindsays, by W. A. Lindsay, in the College of Arms.]