Sharp, James

, archbishop of St. Andrew’s, and the third prelate of that see who suffered from popular or private revenge, was born of a good family in Banffshire in 1618. In his youth he displayed such a capacity as determined his father to dedicate him to the church, and to send him to the university of Aberdeen, whence, on account of the Scottish covenant, made in 1638, he retired into England, and was in a fair way of obtaining promotion from his acquaintance with doctors Sanderson, Hammond, Taylor, and other of our most eminent divines, when he was obliged to return to his native country on account of the rebellion, and a bad state of health. Happening by the way to fall into company with lord Oxenford, that nobleman was pleased with his conversation, and carried him to his own house in the country. Here he became known to several of the nobility, particularly to John Lesley, earl of Rothes, who patronized him on account of his merit, and procured him a professorship in St. Andrew’s. After some stay here with growing reputation, through the friendship of the earl of Cranford, he was appointed minister of Crail. In this town he acquitted himself of his ministry in an | exemplary and acceptable manner; only some of the more rigid sort would sometimes intimate their fears that he was not sound; and it is very certain that he was not sincere.

About this time the covenanting presbyterians in Scotland split into two parties. The spirit raged with great violence; and the privy-council established in that country could not restrain it, and therefore referred them to Cromwell himself, then protector. These parties were called public resolutioners, and protestators or remonstrators. They sent deputies up to London the former, Mr. Sharp, knowing his activity, address, and penetration the latter, Mr. Guthrie, a noted adherent to the covenant. A day being appointed for hearing the two agents, Guthrie spoke first, and spoke so long that, when he ended, the protector told Sharp, he would hear him another time; for his hour ior other business was approaching. But Sharp begged to be heard, promising to be short; and, being permitted to speak, in a few words urged his cause so well as to incline Oliver to his party. Having succeeded in this important affair, he returned to the exercise of his function; and always kept a good understanding with the chief of the opposite party that were most eminent for worth and learning. When general Monk advanced to London, the chief of the kirk sent Sharp to attend him, to acquaint him with the state of things, and to put him in mind of what was necessary; instructing him to use his utmost endeavours to secure the freedom and privileges of their established judicatures; and to represent the sinfulness and offensiveness of the late established toleration, by which a door was opened to many gross errors and loose practices in their church.

The earl of Lauderdale and he had a meeting with ten of the chief presbyterian ministers in London, who all agreed upon the necessity of bringing in the king upon covenant terms. At the earnest desire of Monk and the leading presbyterians of Scotland, Sharp was sent over to king Charles to Breda, to solicit him to own the cause of presbytery. He returned to London, and acquainted his friends, “that he found the king very affectionate to Scotland, and resolved not to wrong the settled government of their church:” at last he came to Scotland, and delivered to some of the ministers of Edinburgh a letter from the king, in which his majesty promised to protect and preserve the government of the church of Scotland, “as it is settled by law.” The clergy, understanding this declaration in its obvious | meaning, felt all the satisfaction which such a communication could not fail to impart; but Sharp, who had composed the letter, took this very step to hasten the subversion of the presbyterian church government, and nothing could appear more flagitious than the manner in which he had contrived it should operate. When the earl of Middleton, who was appointed to open the parliament in Scotland as his majesty’s commissioner, first read this extraordinary letter, he was amazed, and reproached Sharp for having abandoned the cause of episcopacy, to which he had previously agreed. But Sharp pleaded that, while this letter would serve to keep the presbyterians quiet, it laid his majesty under no obligation, because, as he bound himself to support the ecclesiastical government “settled by law,” parliament had only thus to settle episcopacy, to transfer to it the pledge of the monarch. Even Middleton, a man of loose morals, was shocked with such disingenuity, and honestly answered, that the thing might be done, but that for his share, he did not love the way, which made his majesty’s first appearance in Scotland to be in a cheat. The presbyterian government being overturned by the parliament, and the bishops restored, Sharp was appointed archbishop of St. Andrew’s; and still, in consistence with his treacherous character, endeavoured to persuade his old friends, that he had accepted this high office, to prevent its being filled with one who might act with violence against the presbyterians.

All this conduct rendered him very odious in Scotland, and he was accused of treachery and perfidy, and reproached by his old friends as a traitor and a renegado. The absurd and wanton cruelties which were afterwards committed, and which were imputed in a great measure to the archbishop, rendered him still more detested. Nor were these accusations without foundation, for when after the defeat of the presbyterians at Pentland-hills, he received an order from the king to stop the executions, he kept it for some time before he produced it in council.

Sharp had a servant, one Carmichael, who by his cruelties had rendered himself particularly odious to the presbyterians. Nine men formed the resolution, in 1679, of waylaying him in Magus-moor, about three miles from St. Andrew’s. While they were waiting for this man, the primate himself appeared in a coach with his daughter, and the assassins immediately considered this as a fit | opportunity to rid the world of such a monster of perfidy and cruelty, and accordingly dispatched him with their swords, with every aggravation of barbarity, regardless of the tears and intreaties of his daughter. Such is the account given by all historians of the murder of Sharp; and that he fell by the hands of fanatics whom he persecuted, is certain. A tradition, however, has been preserved in different families descended from him, which may here be mentioned. The primate had, in the plenitude of his archiepiscopal authority, taken notice of a criminal amour carried on between a nobleman high in office and a lady of some fashion who lived within his diocese. This interference was in that licentious age deemed very impertinent; and the archbishop’s descendants believe that the proud peer instigated the deluded rabble to murder their ancestor. Such a tradition, however, is contrary to all historical testimony, and all historians have been particularly desirous to prove that the meeting with the assassins was purely accidental. 1


Encycl. Britan. Cook’s Hist, of the Church of Scotland. Wodrow’s Hpt. Lauig’s Hist, of Scotland.