Elphinston, William

, an eminent Scotch prelate, descended from a noble family in Germany, the counts of Helphinstein, was the son of John, or as some say, William Elphinston and Margaret Douglas, daughter of Douglas of Drumlanrig, and was horn at Glasgow in 1431, or, according to another account, in 1437. He was educated in the newly-erected university of Glasgow, and in the twentieth year of his age became M. A. He then applied himself to the study of divinity, and was made rector of Kirkmichael. After continuing four years in this situation, he went to Paris, where he acquired such reputation in the study of the civil and canon law, as to attract the attention of the university; and he was advanced to the professorship of civil and canon law, first at Park, and afterwards at Orleans, where his lectures were attended by a great concourse of students. The improvement of his own mind, however, being the particular object of his solicitude, he canvassed the most abstruse and difficult parts of his profession with the most eminent and learned doctors of the age. After nine years’ intense study in France, he returned home at the earnest solicitations of his friends, particularly bishop Muirhead, who made him parson of Glasgow, and official of his diocese; and as a mark of respect he was chosen rector of that university in which he had been educated. After the death of his friend and patron, Ivluirbead, he was made official of Lolhian, by archbishop Schevez, of St. Andrew’s; and at the same time was called to parliament, and to a seat in the privycouncil. As his talents were of the most acute and discerning kind, he embraced subjects remote from his religious studies, and became conspicuous as an able politician and skilful negociator. In this capacity he was employed by James III. on an embassy to France, in conjunction with Livingstone, bishop of Dunkeld, and the earl of fiuchan. It is said that he managed so dextrously, that the old league and amity were renewed, and all cause of discord between the two kingdoms removed. The French monarch was so charmed with his conduct and conversation, that he loaded him with valuable presents. When he returned home, he was made archdeacon of Argyle, in 1479, and soon after bishop of Ross; and in 1484, he was translated to the see of Aberdeen. His address in negociation induced the king to send him as one of the commissioners from Scotland to treat of a truce with England, | and a marriage between his son and the lady Anne, the niece of Richard III.

When the earl of Richmond came to the crown of England as Henry VII. bishop Elphinston was sent to his court, with other ambassadors, to arrange the terms of a truce, which was accordingly settled for three years on July 3, 1486. The discontent of the nobles threatening to involve the country in a civil war, Elphinston mediated between them and the king; but, finding it impossible to reconcile their jarring interests, he went to England about the latter end of 1487, to solicit the friendly interposition of Henry, as the ally of the Scotish king; and although he did not succeed as he wished and expected, king James was so sensible of the value of his services, that he advanced him in February 1488, to the office of lord high chancellor of Scotland, which he enjoyed until the king’s death, when he retired to his diocese. During the time he remained at Aberdeen, he was occupied in correcting the abuses that had prevailed in the diocese, and in composing a book of canon law. But he was not long permitted to enjoy the calm of retirement, and was again called to the parliament that assembled at Edinburgh, Oct. 6, 1488, to assist at the coronation of James IV. The earl of Bothwell, who then ruled as prime minister, suspecting that bishop Elphinston would not concur in an act of indemnity in favour of those who were concerned in the rebellion of the last reign, contrived to send him on an embassy to the court of Maximilian of Germany, with a proposal for a marriage between the king, and Margaret, the emperor’s daughter; but the mission was ineffectual, as that lady had been previously promised to the prince of Spain, and was married accordingly, before Elphinston arrived at Vienna. Yet although the bishop did not succeed in this embassy, he performed a lasting service to the country in his way home, by settling a treaty of peace and amity between the states of Holland and the Scotch. In 1492, when the bishop returned, he was made lord privy-seal, and the same year appointed one of the commissioners on the part of Scotland, for the prolongation of the truce with England. But the truce was not strictly observed by the Scotch, and a new commission was found to be necessary for the more effectual settlement of all differences. Bishop Elphinston was included in this commission, and the Scotch deputies meeting with the English at Edinburgh, June 2l, | they agreed to prolong the truce till fhe last day of April, 1501.

The distractions of the state being appeased, and tranquillity restored both at home and abroad, the bishop found leisure to attend to an object that he had long meditated, and which engrossed much of his thoughts. Religion and learning had been the chief pursuits of his life, and he wished to diffuse the happy influence of both over the north of Scotland. For this purpose he applied to the king to solicit the papal authority for the foundation of the university of Aberdeen, which was granted by a, bull from ope Alexander VI. dated Feb. 10, 1494. From this time the bishop bent all his attention to the completion of his design; and having requested the king to permit the college to be founded in his royal name, letters patent under the great seal were passed accordingly; and the college called King’s-college, in Old Aberdeen, was erected in 1506, in a very magnificent manner. It was endowed with great privileges, similar to those granted to the universities of Paris and Bononia. A doctor in theology was constituted principal of the college; doctors of the canon law, civil jurisprudence, and of medicine, were appointed for the cultivation of those sciences; a professor of humanity, orlitei‘t? humam’ores, to instruct the students in grammar and languages, and a sub-principal to institute them in philosophy. The plan of endowment made provision also, for the maintenance of twenty-seven students, a chanter, organist, &c. As this college k the only one that has ever been erected in this university, it possesses within itself the whole rights and privileges of an university, and the whole corporation is denominated the “University and King’s College of Aberdeen.

Besides the erection and endowment of the college, bishop Klphinston left ample funds to build and to support a bridge over the river Dee, and the sum he bequeathed for these two objects was 10,000l. It is mentioned to his credit, that he never held any benefice in commendam, as was the case with most of the prelates of that time, but, from the revenne of the see alone, made such savings as enabled him to execute these great works-, which are so honourable to his memory. When not employed in the duties of his office, he devoted his leisure hours to writing the lives of the Scotish saints, which were occasionally read to the clergy of the diocese for their instruction in | religion and practical improvement in life. It is not, however, perhaps much to be regretted that these compositions no longer exist. He also wrote the history of Scotland, from the rise of the nation to his own time, which is now preserved among Fairfax’s Mss in the Bodleian library.

James IV. having precipitated the country into a war with England, in opposition to Elphinston’s advice, who was cautious from experience, lost his life at Flodden-field, where the better part of the Scotch nobility shared a similar fate. This circumstance so afflicted the venerable prelate’s mind, that his wonted cheerfulness entirely forsook him, and his debilitated frame fast verged to the grave. The affairs of Scotland, however, being again in a distracted state, Elphinstou, ever anxious to do good, made an exertion to attend parliament, that he might offer his advice; but the fatigue of the journey exhausted his wearied body, and he died Oct. 25, 1514. His corpse was brought from Edinburgh, and interred in the collegiate church at Aberdeen near the high altar. This eminent prelate has justly obtained the encomium of historians, and the reverence of his countrymen. He appears to have been eminent as a prelate and statesman, a man of learning, aud an able promoter of it by his munificent endowment of the college. 1


Thorn’s Hist of Aberdeen. Mackenzie’s Scotch writers, vol. II. Life by Hector Boece in Bibl. Topogr, BriUa. No. III. Crawford’s Lives.