Erskine, John

, baron of Dun, the ancestor of the preceding, and one of the protestant reformers in Scotland, was born at the family-seat near Montrose, in 1508, or 1509. His father was John Erskiue, of Dun, a descendant of the earls of Marr, and his mother was a daughter of William, first lord Ruthven. He was educated most probably at the university of Aberdeen; and according to the ancient custom of the nobility of Scotland, pursued his studies for some time in one or other of the foreign universities. Buchanan styles him “a man of great learning:” and to this character he is amply entitled, as we are informed he was the first of his countrymen who patronized the study of the Greek language, which was first taught by his means at Montrose. In 1534, on returning from his travels, he brought with him a Frenchman skilled in the Greek tongue, whom he settled at Montrose, and upon his departure he liberally encouraged others to come from France and succeed to his place; and from this private seminary many Greek scholars proceeded, and the knowledge of the language was gradually diffused through the kingdom. After his father’s death, he was employed as the other barons or lairds then, were, in administering justice in the county of Angus, to which he belonged, and occasionally assisting in the meetings of parliament. He was besides almost constantly chosen provost, or chief magistrate of the neighbouring town of Montrose. At an early period of his life, he became a convert from popery, but the precise manner in which his conversion was accomplished, is not known. He | was, however, a liberal encourager of those who became converts, and especially those who suffered for their rehgiou. The castte of Dun was always a sanctuary to protestant preachers a-.id professors, and here he appears to have associated with a number of persons, some of high rank, who strengthened each other in their principles, and by their power and influence contributed much to the reformation in that part of the kingdom.

But while Mr. Erskine was attending to the affairs of religion, he did not neglect the duties which he owed to the public as a magistrate and a military knight. In the war with England, which began in September 1547, the English ships infested the east coast of Scotland, and some of them having landed about eighty men for the purposes of pillage, he collected a force trom the inhabitants, and repelled them with such bravery, that not a third of the eighty were able to regain their ships. In 1555 he had an interview with the celebrated John Knox, who had just arrived from Geneva, and was invited by him to the family-seat at Dun, where he preached and was resorted to by the principal men in that part of the country; and though this atVorded a public avowal of Mr. Erskine’s principles, the popish bishops thought him a man too powerful to be molested; and he still proceeded in his endeavours to promote the reformation. In December 1557, he, along v?ith the earl of Argyle, the earl of Glencairn, and other noble and distinguished characters, subscribed a covenant in which they bound themselves to advance the protestant religion, and to maintain in safety its ministers and professors, (who were now for the first time called the congregation) t by all means in their power, even to the hazard of their lives.

The parliament, which met Dec. 14, 1537, appointed him by the title of “John Erskine of Dun, knight and provost of Montrose,” to go to the court of France, as one of the commissioners from Scotland, to witness the young queen’s (Mary) marriage with the dauphin, and to settle the terms of the marriage contract; and on his return he was surprised to find that the reformation was likely to be forwarded by the very means taken to suppress it. An aged priest named Mill, had suffered martyrdom at St. Andrew’s, and in the opinion of archbishop Spottiswood, “the death of this martyr was the death of popery in this realm.” The protestants were now increasing in numbers, | and were not a little encouraged by the death of queen Mary of England, and the accession of Elizabeth, whom they knew to be favourable to their cause. The queen regent of Scotland was therefore addressed more boldly than before by the protestant lords, in behalf of the free exercise of their religion, and by Erskine among the rest; but, although his demands and language are said to have been more moderate than the rest, this produced no effect, and a proclamation was issued, requiring the protestant ministers to appear at Stirling, May 10, 1559, and there to be tried for reputed heresy. The protestant lords and other laity determined upon this to accompany and defend their ministers, and much confusion would have immediately ensued, if Mr. Erskine had not obtained a promise from the queen regent, that the ministers should not be tried; and the people were ordered to disperse. No sooner had this been done, than the queen broke her promise, and a civil war followed, for the particulars of which we must refer to the page of history. It may suffice to notice here, that Mr. Erskine occasionally assisted as a temporal baron, but before the war was concluded, he relinquished his armour, and became a preacher, for which by his learning and study of the controversies between the church of Rome and the reformers, he was well qualified. The civil war ended in favour of the prntestant party, by the death of the queen regent in 1560 and a parliament, or convention of the estates was immediately held, who began their proceedings by appointing a committee of lords, barons, and burgesses, to distribute the few protestant ministers whom they then had, to the places where their services were most required. The committee nominated some of them to the chief cities, and as “The first book of Discipline” was now produced, they, agreeably to the plan proposed in that book, nominated five ministers who should act in the capacity of ecclesiastical Supkrintend­Ants. Mr. Erskine was one of these five, and had the superintendency of all ecclesiastical matters in the counties of Angus and Mearus, and from this period Ins usual designation was, “John Erskine of Dun, knight, superintendant of Angus and Mearus.” This was in fact a kind of episcopal authority, conferred for life; but for their conduct the superintendants were accountable to the general assembly of the clergy. Their office was sufficiently laborious, as well as invidious; and we find Mr. | Erskine several times applying to be dismissed. In 1569, by virtue of his office, he had to suspend from their offices for their adherence to popery, the principal, sub-principal, and three professors of King’s-college, Aberdeen. In 1577, he had a hand in compiling the “Second Book of Discipline,” or model for the government of a presbyterian church, which still exists; and in other respects he was an active promoter of the reformation as then established, until his death, March 21, 1591, in the eightysecond year of his age. Buchanan, Knox, and Spottiswood, agree in a high character of him; and even queen Mary preferred him as a preacher, because, she said, he “was a mild and sweet natured man, and of true honesty and uprightness.1

1

Scot’s Lives of the Reformers. M‘Crie’i Life of Kndx.-^Cok’s Hist, of the Reformation in Scotland.