Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Leighton, Alexander (1568-1649)

LEIGHTON, ALEXANDER (1568–1649), physician and divine, was descended from an ancient family which possessed the estate of Ulyshaven, near Montrose. He graduated M.A. at St. Andrews. Settling in London he practised medicine in defiance of the College of Physicians. He is apparently the ‘Alexander Lichton Anglus Londinensis’ who was admitted a student of Leyden University on 9 Sept. 1617, and subsequently graduated M.D. there (Peacock, Reg. Leyden Students, p. 61). In 1624 he published ‘Speculum Belli Sacri, or the Looking Glass of the Holy War,’ a book against Romanism which involved him in much trouble. Some years later he prepared a petition to parliament against episcopacy, to which he obtained many influential signatures. He took this to the continent and expanded it into a book—‘An Appeal to the Parliament, or Sion's Plea against the Prelacie,’ which was published in Holland in 1628. The frontispiece represented the bishops in an odious light, and the work itself is lavish in abusive epithets. The book was not only a virulent attack on prelacy, but ‘an appeal to political presbyterianism to take the sword in hand.’ During his residence abroad Leighton was ordained (March 1629) and inducted to the charge of an English church in Utrecht, but he refused to keep the Christian festivals as observed there, and after six months resigned and returned to London. Besides his strictures on episcopacy, his violent abuse of the queen made Leighton a marked man. Copies of ‘Sion's Plea’ having fallen into the hands of the authorities, he was seized, 17 Feb. 1630, while leaving Blackfriars Church, on a warrant from the high commission court, and dragged to Newgate, where he was ‘clapt in irons’ and cast into ‘a loathsome and ruinous doghole full of rats and mice.’ In June he was tried by the Star-chamber court, in his absence from illness, and was sentenced to pay 10,000l., to be degraded from holy orders, to be then brought to the pillory at Westminster and whipped, to have one of his ears cut off, one side of his nose slit, and his face branded with S.S., for sower of sedition, to be then carried back to prison, and after a few days to be pilloried in Cheapside and whipped, to have his other ear cut off and other nostril slit, and then to be imprisoned for life. In the ‘Epitome’ of his sufferings (1646) Leighton states that when Laud heard the sentence he ‘off with his cap, and holding up his hands gave thanks to God, who had given him the victory over his enemies.’ On 4 Nov. 1630 he was brought before the high commission court, when he declined its jurisdiction and refused to take off his hat. He was then degraded from orders and sent back to prison to await the rest of his sentence, but on the night before it was to have been executed he made his escape by the help of two of his countrymen, Livingstone and Anderson. A hue and cry was sent out, in which he was described as a man of low stature, fair complexion, yellowish beard, high forehead, and between forty and fifty years of age. He was captured in Bedfordshire, and on 26 Nov. the first part of his sentence was inflicted with shocking barbarity. The second part appears to have been remitted, as it is not mentioned in the ‘Epitome’ (cf. Gardiner, Hist. vii. 151 n). Consigned to the ‘ffleet, where he was most cruelly used a long time, being loged day and night amongst the most desperately wiked villaines of ye whole prison,’ he remained a prisoner till 1640, when he was released by the Long parliament, his fine cancelled, and 6,000l. voted him in compensation for his losses and inhuman treatment. In 1642 he was appointed keeper of Lambeth House, then turned into a state prison, and though his health was shattered he lived till 1649. He was a puritan of the narrowest type, and in controversy a man of ‘violent and ungoverned heat,’ but he was amiable to his family and friends, and, it is said, ‘was never heard to speak of his persecutors but in terms of compassion and forgiveness.’

Leighton was twice married, his second wife being a daughter of Sir William Musgrave of Cumberland, who had been twice a widow. He had four sons, James, Robert [q. v.], Elisha, afterwards Sir Elisha [q. v.], and Caleb, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Sapphira. A portrait of Leighton is preserved in the print room at the British Museum, ‘wearing a skull cap and a collar in an oval.’

[Irving's Scottish Writers; Neal's Hist. of the Puritans; Masson's Life of Milton; Stevens's Hist. of Scottish Church, Rotterdam; Gardiner's Hist. of England; Granger's Biog. Hist. ii. 181–182.]

G. W. S.