Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Spottiswood, John (1686-1728)

SPOTTISWOOD, SPOTTISWOODE, or SPOTISWOOD, JOHN (1666–1728), Scottish advocate and legal author, born in 1666, was third and only surviving son of Alexander Spottiswoode of Crumstain, advocate, and Helen, daughter of John Trotter of Morton Hall. John Spottiswood or Spotiswood (1565–1637) [q. v.], archbishop of St. Andrews, was his great-grandfather, and Sir Robert Spottiswood [q. v.], his grandfather. Spottiswood studied at Edinburgh University, graduating in August 1686, and was trained for nearly six years in the ‘wryting chalmer’ of James Hay of Carribber, writer to the signet, the ‘ablest writer and conveyancer’ of his day. He was admitted advocate on 19 Dec. 1696. In 1695 he petitioned the Scots parliament for restitution of the lands and barony of New Abbey, or of the 3,000l. which Charles I promised, but failed, to pay Spottiswood's grandfather, Sir Robert Spottiswood, when the estate became crown property in 1634. On 17 July 1695 the Scots parliament passed an act strongly recommending the crown to reinstate the petitioner, but without effect. On 13 May 1700 he was more successful in recovering from the heirs of the Bells, interim owners, the lands and barony of Spottiswoode, forfeited on the execution of Sir Robert on 17 Jan. 1646. To supply the absence of any provision in Edinburgh University for the study of law, Spottiswood about 1703 established ‘Spotiswood's College of Law.’ He himself became ‘professor of law’ in its various branches. The chief text-book he employed was Sir George McKenzie's ‘Institutes,’ but Spottiswood specially composed ‘Form of Process’ and ‘Stile of Writs’ for the use of his students. He is commonly credited with the compilation of: ‘A Compend or Abbreviat of the most important ordinary Securities, of and concerning Rights, personal and real, redeemable and irredeemable, of common use in Scotland,’ which was long popular as a professional handbook (cf. Spottiswoode Miscellany, i. 229). This work was first published at Edinburgh, 8vo, 1700, and reappeared in 1702 and 1709; but, on the strength of manuscript notes written on various extant copies, the volume is often assigned to two other Scottish lawyers—to one Carruthers and to Sir Andrew Birnie of Saline, a lord of session from 1679 to 1688; and it is frequently quoted both as ‘Carruther's styles’ and as ‘Saline's styles.’ Spottiswood possibly formed his compendium on notes, some of which were supplied by Carruthers and others by Birnie of Saline. In May 1706 he submitted for revision to a committee of the writers to the signet a further ‘parcell of styles’ which he intended for publication. In the same year he edited ‘Practicks of the Laws of Scotland,’ by his grandfather, Sir Robert Spottiswood (Edinburgh, fol.).

Spottiswood was keenly interested in politics, especially as they bore on the great question of his day, the projected union between the two kingdoms, and in 1704 was one of the commissioners of supply for Berwickshire. He was also a very early and intimate friend of James Anderson (1662–1728) [q. v.], author of the ‘Diplomata Scotiæ,’ and many interesting traces of their friendship are preserved in the Anderson MSS. (Advocates' Library, Edinburgh). Spottiswood died while his edition of ‘Hope's Minor Practicks’ was going through the press, on 13 Feb. 1728, aged 62, and was buried in the Greyfriars churchyard. In 1710 he married Lady Helen Arbuthnott, daughter of Robert, third viscount of Arbuthnott, and widow of the Macfarlane of Macfarlane, and by her had a son John, who succeeded him, and two daughters—Helen, married to John Gartshore of Alderston; and Anna, married to Dr. James Dundas, an Edinburgh physician.

Spottiswood's works, besides the ‘Compend’ already assigned to him, are: 1. ‘A Collection of Decisions of the Lords of Council and Session,’ by Presidents Gilmour and Falconar, Edinburgh, 1701, 4to. 2. ‘A Speech of one of the Barons of the Shire of B[erwic]k,’ (anon.), 1702, 4to; republished in ‘Spottiswoode Miscellany’ (i. 231). 3. ‘A Discourse showing the necessary Qualifications of a Student of the Laws, and what is proposed in the Colleges of Law, History, and Philology established at Edinburgh,’ Edinburgh, 1704, 4to. 4. ‘The Trimmer’ (anon.), Edinburgh, 1706, 4to; republished in ‘Spottiswoode Miscellany’ (i. 233). 5. ‘Introduction to the Knowledge of the Stile of Writs,’ Edinburgh, 1707 4to, 1708 8vo. 1715, 1727, 1752. 6. ‘The Law concerning the Election of Members for Scotland to sit and vote in the Parliament of Great Britain,’ London, 1710, 8vo; Edinburgh, 1722, 12mo. 7. ‘Form of Process before Lords of Council and Session, to which is prefixed the present state of the College of Justice,’ Edinburgh, 1711, 8vo, 1718. 8. ‘Treatise concerning the Origin and Progress of Fees,’ Edinburgh, 8vo, 1731, 1734, 1761. Posthumous was his ‘Practical Observations upon divers titles of the Law of Scotland: commonly called Hope's Minor Practicks [see Hope, Sir Thomas], with notes and observations … to which is subjoined An Account of all the Religious Houses that were in Scotland at the time of the Reformation,’ Edinburgh, 1734, 8vo. The ‘Account of the Religious Houses in Scotland’ was republished in Keith's ‘Catalogue of Bishops,’ 1st edit. 1755 (without acknowledgment), and in the 2nd edit. 1824 (with acknowledgment).

He left in manuscript two volumes to which he frequently refers in his printed works, and which he designed for publication: (1) a ‘Scots Law-Lexicon,’ and (2) ‘Spotswood's Practical Titles.’

[List of Grad. Edinb. Univ.; Rec. Faculty of Advocates; Hist. of the Society of Writers to the Signet; Acts of Scots Parl. ix. 481–5, xi. 143; Register of Testaments; Burke's Landed Gentry; Spottiswood's Works; Greyfriars Records.]

W. G.