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A Spiritual Community on the Margins: James Melville and William Murray singing of Holy Dying in the East Neuk of Fife

A Spiritual Community on the Margins: James Melville and William Murray singing of Holy Dying in the East Neuk of Fife

​Jamie Reid Baxter


In the 1590s and 1600s, the East Neuk of Fife, a long way both geographically and ideologically from the seat of royal power in Edinburgh, was home to a strikingly creative spiritual community of clerical and lay Presbyterians. At its centre was the Francophile poet-pastor James Melville (1556-1614), minister of Kilrenny. Melville would be torn from his beloved parish by the Crown for reasons of state in 1606, like several other clerics associated with the East Neuk community. One who survived was Melville’s colleague and neighbour William Murray (fl.1596-1633), minister of Crail. But in 1624, he was deprived of his charge on moral grounds, and fell into near-fatal melancholy. This essay looks at how these two pastors made use of poetry and song in their respective (and related) writings on how to die a Christian death.


​[1]​ This article draws attention to two short early modern devotional works that make considerable use of verse, and were produced by pastors working in neighbouring coastal parishes in the East Neuk of Fife. Ane Fruitful and Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death was published in 1597 by James Melville (1556-1614), and in 1631, William Murray (fl.1596-1633), brought out his Short Treatise of Death in Sixe Chapters.​[1]​ Melville was at Kilrenny from 1585 to 1606, and Murray at Crail from 1596 to 1624. At the start of the seventeenth century, both men were active members of a Fife-based, resolutely Presbyterian spiritual community in which poetry was actively cultivated: an initial exploration of this community was published in 2017 (Reid Baxter: 2017b). Melville and Murray’s little books on good dying were born of highly specific personal circumstances, as will be shown, but each exemplifies the way these ministers employed verse and song as integral elements in instructional texts.

​[2]​ The East Neuk was a long way from the seat of royal government in Edinburgh, but St Andrews University was a thriving, international Calvinist metropolis of the intellect and the spirit (Reid 2011; Mason and Reid 2014). Between 1580 and 1606, when James Melville’s uncle, the poet and Presbyterian ideologue Andrew Melville, was principal of St Mary’s College, St Andrews was far from being marginal to Scottish royal thinking and policy (Mason and Reid 2014: Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 5). During that quarter-century, the crown twice sought to establish royal supremacy over a Kirk possessed of energetic and articulate defenders of an autonomous Presbyterian ecclesiastical polity – a polity in which James VI was ‘nocht a king, nor a lord, nor a heid, but a member’, as Andrew Melville famously told him in Falkland Palace in September 1590, while tugging the royal sleeve (Pitcairn 1842: 370).

​[3]​ Intellectual and spiritual life in Fife (and elsewhere) in this period was not limited to academics in university colleges, thanks to the regular ‘exercise’ held week by week in a different parish kirk by each presbytery. Two ministers, ‘according to the order of the roll, delivered each a discourse at the weekly meeting of presbytery. The one explained a passage of Scripture, and the other stated and briefly explained the doctrines which it contained; after which the presbytery gave their opinion of the performances’ (McCrie 1819: I, 339). The listeners at the exercise included interested laity; instruction was thus ‘given to laymen and clergy, and a check was maintained on the abilities and theological direction of presbytery members’ (Smith 1985: xii).

​[4]​ It was in the spirit of the ‘exercise’ that James Melville circulated the manuscript of his catechetical work, A Spirituall Propine of a Pastour to his People (Edinburgh, 1598), amongst his clerical colleagues before putting it to the press. Melville tells us as much in the first lines of his own sonnet ‘to the Reader anent the Commendatorie sonnets’ in the printed volume:

​I pat my papers in sum Pastors hand
To be perus’de and censur’d sikkerlie.
When they returnd, I luike on them and fande
Them weill be-deckt with Sonnets, as you sie.

The seven commendatory poems in question, and Melville’s response to them, are key to the case recently made for the existence of a literary-minded spiritual community of committed Presbyterians in Fife, centred not on the scholarly Andrew Melville at St Mary’s College, but on his exemplarily pastoral nephew James of Kilrenny (Reid Baxter 2017b). Further evidence, not noted in 2017, is to be found in the epistle dedicatory of Melville’s Fruitful and Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death, published in 1597, a year before the Propine.​[2]​ The dedicatee was the terminally ill James Lumsden, laird of the large estate of Airdrie near Crail. On his death in 1598, Airdrie passed to his merchant brother Robert and his wife Isobell Cor.​[3]​ After July 1605, Isobell Cor found herself in real and deepening spiritual and material distress.​[4]​ Her sufferings are central to another major argument made in 2017 for the existence of this spiritual community: the fact that in order to provide Cor with suitable comfort and support, the distinguished spiritual poet Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross, put together a large manuscript collection of her own verse, which she dedicated to Cor (Reid Baxter 2017a: 66-77).

​[5]​ Elizabeth Melville’s gesture in assembling a long sequence of spiritual poems and dedicating it to a suffering coreligionist by prefacing it with two specially composed lyrics, which embody Cor’s name, is touching evidence of human solidarity. So too is James Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, dedicated to a dying coreligionist, and embodying both the creativity and the warmly personal, humane religious practice of the Presbyterian spiritual community around the minister of Kilrenny. Melville’s own concise Scots-language contribution to the Europe-wide ars moriendi (‘craft of dying’) genre is formulated in easy, almost conversational prose, and is full of accessible, attractive and singable verse. This use of verse to highlight and meditate on specific points within a prose discourse is also found, thirty-odd years later, in William Murray’s Short Treatise. Melville and Murray’s kirks of Kilrenny and Crail respectively are barely four miles distant from each other, and the two men worked together: their names sometimes appear in direct conjunction in the St Andrews Presbytery Minutes and elsewhere.​[5]​

​[6]​ That one tiny rural area should produce not one but two tracts on the subject of good dying is remarkable, for Scotland has a very small indigenously-printed repertory of such writings.​[6]​ It includes two works by English authors. A Fruitfull treatise, full of heauenly consolation, against the feare of death, written by the Tudor Marian martyr John Bradford (?1510-1555) as he awaited burning at the stake for his beliefs, was printed by Andro Hart in 1616 and James Bryson in 1641.​[7]​ There were also three Scottish printings, by Vautrollier (1584), Waldegrave (1600) and Andro Hart (1613), of the English best-seller The Sicke Mannes Salve (1560), by the militantly Protestant cleric and prolific polemicist Thomas Becon (c.1511-1567). This last, written (but not published) in the reign of Edward VI, had by 1631 achieved twenty extant editions in England.[8] In 1970, Nancy Lee Beaty devoted the whole third chapter of her compendious work The Craft of Dying to Becon’s huge volume, and in 2007, Mary Hampson Patterson subjected the Sick Mannes Salve to further lengthy scrutiny (Patterson 2007: 101). In 1980, David Atkinson noted that ‘[w]orks focusing on preparation for death are among the most numerous instructional books produced in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries’, and in 1992, he illustrated this by publishing a volume of extracts from fourteen selected English publications (Atkinson 1980: 3; Atkinson 1992).[9] Fifty years earlier, Sister Mary Catharine O’Connor’s seminal and eminently comprehensive book, The Art of Dying Well: the Development of the Ars Moriendi (1942) did not name either Melville or Murray.[10] The two little books on good dying produced a few miles apart in the East Neuk have not fared much better since.[11]

​[7]​ John McCallum (2010) discussed the pastoral practice of both Melville and Murray in illuminating detail, but  virtually ignored the Exhortatioun anent Death and the Short Treatise of Death. McCallum warmly acknowledged Melville as ‘an unusually creative and prolific minister’, describing his Spirituall Propine as ‘one of the most fascinating “catechisms” of the period’ and the author as ‘the minister who applied the most creativity to the task of educating the laity’ (2010: 96, 101). McCallum devoted several pages to setting out the first-ever detailed survey and assessment of the contents of the Propine‘s second part, A Poeme for the practise of pietie, in deuotion, faith and Repentance, intituled A Morning Vision, wherein the Lords prayer, Beleefe and Commands, and sa the whole Catechisme, and right vse thereof, is largely exponed. [12] Nearly all the verse in A Morning Vision is explicitly designed for singing, and McCallum has interesting things to say about the rôle of non-liturgical sung texts in the lives of the faithful. [13] Yet Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, which also makes considerable use of verse and indeed music, receives only two sentences (2010: 97). In the first of the two footnotes in which Murray’s Short Treatise of Death makes its only appearances, McCallum adds that the ‘teachings of Fife ministers on death’ are ‘traditional and unsurprising’ (2010: 103, n.34; 110, n.71).

​[8]​ McCallum’s discussion of William Murray is focussed on his other publication of 1631, the compendiously-titled Nyne Songs collected out of Holy Scripture of Old and New Testament: drawne foorth of the pure fountaines of Hebreuu and Greeke. Translated, Paraphrased in prose, Summed, Analysed, notted vpon, grounds for vse and doctrine observed in every one of them, and finally paraphrased in English meeter. McCallum notes that a psalm tune is specified for each of the metrical paraphrases, indicating that Murray, like James Melville, ‘thought there was a chance that people might wish to sing these texts in informal situations’.[14] Murray’s intention in Nyne Songs, McCallum writes, was ‘to introduce some familiar and not-so-familiar biblical texts in a very detailed and logical way, providing paraphrases, summaries and even textual annotations. The paraphrases performed a valuable interpretative function’ (2010: 98; 96-97). McCallum sets out Murray’s systematic approach to explicating Biblical texts by applying logical subdivision, and comments that ‘though no diagram of this is given in Murray’s book, the division and subdivision of material in this way calls to mind Ramism’, adding that ‘reading becomes an almost mathematical exercise’ (2010: 107). Murray’s penchant for logic, numbering and subdivision is evinced in the very title of A Short Treatise of Death in Sixe Chapters, and within those chapters, he punctiliously numbers his points. James Melville’s writing, on the other hand, is never reminiscent of mathematical exercises; his Exhortatioun anent Death features only one enumeration.[15]

​[9]​ The remainder of this essay falls into two halves. The first concerns Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, rather than its comparatively well-known author, whose highly readable 800 page autobiography has been in print for nearly two hundred years.[16] For that reason, biographical detail is eschewed as far as possible, as is reiteration of political and literary material already set out in the present writer’s ‘New Light from Fife’ (2017) and ‘Montgomerie’s Solsequium and The Mindes Melodie‘ (2013). The latter part of this article focuses on William Murray’s closely-related but rather different Short Treatise of Death in Sixe Chapters (1631). Since Murray, like his Treatise, has been all but ignored by posterity, the presentation of the Treatise necessarily involves a certain amount of fully referenced biographical material.

1. James Melville: Ane Fruitfull and Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death

​[10]​ In its short span, Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death features no fewer than sixteen pieces of poetry, five in Latin and eleven in the vernacular. All of the latter, bar one, are by Melville himself, and several are explicitly designed to be sung. Poetry and music associated with it seem to have come easily to Melville — his Autobiography is full of poems, which arise quite naturally out of the flow of the prose, distilling and intensifying the focus, exactly as they do the Exhortatioun anent Death. For example, speaking of King David ‘in the difficulties of this prison’ of earthly life, and his longing to be with God, Melville writes on page 30:

​But againe, Psal. 17. he sweitlie comforts him selfe in the ende of ane vther Psalme, with an assurance of the jnjoying of the blessed light, as our Poet [George Buchanan] hes expressed the sam in these verses.

Puritas vitae mihi te tueri […]

The quhilks, for their pleasand comfort, are maire largelie paraphrased in this Dixiane [sic] following.

Cleanes of life sal mak me to behold,
Thy schyning face, when lousd ar bodies bands […]

Melville’s book, which runs to 112 pages of large print totalling some 21,000 words, begins and ends with verse. On the title-page we read:

Gif thou wald lead a godly life,
Think daylie thou man die:
Gif thou wald die a blessed dead,
Liue weill I counsell thee.

This will be echoed by the conclusion of the book’s final postliminary poem, ‘Let this precept be thy preacher plaine, / Liue heir to die, and die to liue againe’. The title-page quatrain is a paraphrase of this couplet:

Pour mourir bien-heureux, à viure faut apprendre
Pour viure bien-heureux, à mourir faut entendre.[18]

Melville had found this printed on the title-page of Excellent discours de la vie et de la mort, a best-seller first published in 1576 by the Huguenot nobleman and lay theologian Philippe de Mornay, seigneur du Plessis-Marly (1549-1623), a close friend of Henri de Navarre, later Henri-Quatre (1553-1610). Mornay’s markedly neo-Stoical Discours was not only frequently reprinted in France, but thrice translated into English, in 1576, 1592 and 1593. The 1592 translation, made by Mary (Sidney) Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (1561-1621), was repeatedly reissued. Melville, however, read the Discours in French: the English translations all lack the title-page couplet.

​[11]​ It was Melville’s standard practice to incorporate blocks of borrowed text: his troped verse paraphrase of the Song of Songs incorporates his prose translation of great swathes of Immanuel Tremellius’ Latin edition (Reid Baxter 2015: 216-17). Likewise (though never yet noted in print), considerable stretches of his late manuscript narrative poem The Wandering sheepe, or, Davids tragique fall are direct translations from a Latin sylva (1548; revised text 1569) on the origins of Psalm 51 by Théodore de Bèze, and from the poem that Rémy Belleau based on it, Les Amours de David et Bersabée (1572).[19] Melville read widely in French, though he never lived in (or even visited) France or Geneva, unlike his uncle Andrew and so many other Scottish intellectuals.[20] If no wholesale block-appropriation of material from Mornay’s Discours can be detected in the Exhortatioun anent Death, there are plenty of hints at a diffuse influence. Two examples will suffice. Mornay’s very opening, ‘C’est un cas estrange, & dont ie ne me puis assez esmerueiller’ and what follows, is echoed by Melville on page eight, but far from exactly, in the passage beginning ‘Anent death, there is twa things even amongst Christians to be marueyled at’. Secondly, Mornay’s four pages on the successive ages of man, beginning ‘A peine est-il sorty des mains des nourrices, que le voila entre les mains de quelque maistre d’escole’, find a parallel in Melville’s passage on pages 24-26, beginning ‘[h]owe soone the Infant comes into the world…’.[21]

​[12]​ The Exhortatioun anent Death, its entire tenor explicated by its title-page quatrain, falls into four parts. First, a brief but important and informative epistle dedicatory; second, the ‘exhortatioun’ itself, incorporating several poems; third, a prose account of the death of the Queen of Navarre in 1572; and fourth, a short collection of appropriately ‘comfortable’ postliminary verse, both strengthening and consoling. The epistle dedicatory, a total of 664 words, is dated ‘at Anstruther, 17 December 1596’, and directed ‘TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE AND HIS DEARE Brother in the death of the Lord Iesus, IAMES LVMMISDEN of Airdrie’. By 1596, Lumsden was incurably ill; the title A Fruitful and Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death was surely intended as a reminder of John Bradford’s Fruitfull treatise, full of heauenly consolation, against the feare of death, written on the eve of his martyrdom. Melville’s initial spur to reflect on mortality was not Lumsden’s illness, however, but the apparently imminent death of his own beloved wife. Melville wished both to strengthen himself against his impending loss, and to provide the sick woman with consolatory teaching.[22] He had found inspiration in some ‘minutes’ of an earlier sermon, preached ‘in the hearing of ane honourable and frequent Auditorie’ which included both Lumsden and another local Presbyterian landowner, Sir George Douglas (1544-1625) of Helenhill, a property a few miles to the south-east of St Andrews.[23] Lumsden and Douglas had subsequently assured Melville that the preaching of this sermon ‘was the first motion of our coniunction and affection in Christ’.

​[13]​ Melville’s wife recovered, but Melville decided to write up the material he had gathered and shared with her. He tells his dedicatee that:

​because of the estate of your disease, I daylie langed and purposed quhiles ye wer heir at home, to come and spend some peece of time with you, and to bestowe as it suld please the Lord to giue, some spirituall gift by conference, for your strengthning sic in the truth, and that ready resolution to dye in Christ, quhilk I haue often reioyced in sa gude a measure to be graunted vnto you. (sig.2v, 3)​

But since the sick man has now removed to Edinburgh, Melville has created the Exhortatioun anent Death, to make good ‘some part of the inlack of my Christian dewty, in visiting of you’ (ibid). The ‘saide Sermon’ is being presented to Lumsden ‘for a plaine and comfortable example and practise thairof, and all for furthering of that gude wark, where about I wot ye are maist occupied; that is, after a reformed and sanctified life, to make a gude and godlie end’.[24] Melville immediately adds ‘[h]ow farre thir litle things may serue for so great a wark, I remit that to the cheife Master of the warke, the haly Ghaist …It is aneuch for mee, that I haue testified in some sort my affectionat remembrance of you in the tender bowels of his loue, quha hes dyed once for vs, to make vs liue with him for ever’ (sig.3 and 3v).[25]

​[14]​ Melville’s commendation of the dedicatee’s ‘ready resolution to dye in Christ’ indicates that Lumsden was consciously preparing for his death with considerable self-possession, though he would survive for another eighteen months. He died on 23 August 1598, at home in the East Neuk, where he signed some legal documents as late as 15 August (Reid Baxter 2017a: 63). His wall-tomb in Crail kirkyard was decorated with a large amount of inscribed verse in both Scots and Latin, including a pair of Scots sonnets, each with its own panel (Reid Baxter 2017a: 64; Erskine 1893: 134). The striking place occupied by poetry in the design of Lumsden’s tomb and in Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death is typical of the practice of the spiritual community around James Melville.

​[15]​ Verse also features in the second and principal part of Melville’s book, ‘the saide Sermon’ itself, which runs to c.13000 words. The first thirty-six of its seventy-two pages include four passages of Latin poetry, accompanied by Melville’s own Scots paraphrases. Eight lines from George Buchanan’s version of Psalm 144 appear on page nine, a couplet by a so far absolutely unidentifiable ‘learned man’ on page twenty-four, and eight lines taken from the end of Buchanan’s Psalm 17 on page thirty.[26] This last is immediately followed on page thirty-one by the first half of the final stanza of John Hopkins’ metrical paraphrase of Psalm 39, as printed in the Kirk’s psalm-book. The metrical psalter of 1564 was central to the lives of devout Scots, such as James Lumsden, and Melville would have expected his readers to read the half-stanza with its noble tune sounding ‘in their mind’s ear’ at the very least.[27] Finally, between pages thirty-three and thirty-six, the reader reaches no fewer than twenty-six lines from Buchanan’s Psalm 36, paraphrased as fourteen quatrains ‘translated… to the tune of the CX Psalme’, a stirring French melody, as the reader can hear in this stanza describing the music-filled heavenly afterlife:

All want and dolour there ar far exyld,
No man sal mis mair then his hart can wis,
In everie place ar pleasures vndefyld,
Sweet melodie in heavenly ioye and blis.

The ‘sermon’ also contains numerous and occasionally rather substantial prose quotations, mostly taken from Scripture. Melville’s message is that earthly life is a toilsome pilgrimage through a vale of tears, temptations and suffering, towards man’s true, heavenly destination, as he had stated on page twenty-four:

This life to me is death, but death to mee is life but blame: [without]
This life to me is bannishment, but death returns me hame.

As John McCallum wrote, the message is ‘traditional and unsurprising’ – but the epistle dedicatory states that it is based on a sermon, and the book therefore lets us hear how Melville spoke from the pulpit.[28] Blessed indeed were his hearers – this is no mathematically constructed pulpit homily, full of numbered heads and subdivisions.[29] Though a sermon text is ‘given out’ at the outset (Revelation 14:13, ‘Blessed ar [sic] they that die in the Lord, yea sayis the Spirit, for they rest from their labours’), it will be reiterated in full only once, on page twenty-three. Melville had already used the phrase ‘die in the Lord’ in the epistle dedicatory, while the ‘sermon’ proper is permeated by Rev.14:13. Parts of its wording can be found early and late: ‘die in the Lord’ is used twice on page twenty-nine, and on page fifty-six, we encounter the phrase ‘our text, They that dyes in the Lord, are pronounced blessed’. Yet Melville closes his sermon not with his ‘text’, but ‘Come Lord Jesus’, i.e. the final words of Revelation 20:22, immediately followed by an emphatic repetition, ‘Even cum Lord Jesus, hasten Lord and tarrie not’, followed by Numbers 23:10, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my latter end be like his’.[30] Below the word FINIS, the words ‘Come Lord Iesus’ reappear, as the title of six rime couée stanzas beginning

Come Christ our king, come we thee pray,
Withoutin any mair delay
We lang to see thee on that daie
appeir in maiesty.[31]

​[16]​ The whole poem is shot through with allusions to Revelation, and celebrates the bliss that will be enjoyed by the faithful on that day ‘when all deid, sall thee sie’: the preceding sermon had mentioned the resurrection of the dead no fewer than twenty times, while specific reference had also been made to the Second Coming, the Last Trumpet and the Last Judgement.[32] All these links to the ‘sermon’ notwithstanding, the postliminary ‘Come Lord Jesus’ breaks new ground. The first three stanzas strike a public, polemical note absent from what has gone before, where we had nowhere read of ‘allarums’ to alert Scotland to the threat posed by ‘thy haters hearts’ and the fact that ‘That man of sinne is manifest / That nowe thy Kirk hath long opprest’.[33] The ‘man of sinne’ is the Pope, and this paratextual lyric can in fact be read as rather topical:

in the monethe of August [1596] the King was movit … to decerne the recaveing [sic] haim the excommunicated and forfalted traitoures, apostat Earles, then to make choise of eight persones … quhairof the chieffe were much suspected of Papistrie, called OCTAVIANS, quho schould have the chieffe matters and effaires of the Kingdome haillie concredited to thaim ; and thairwithall the Countesse of Huntly, ane professed obstinat Papist, to be resident at the Court, and haiff the government of the Queine’s persoune … These things effectuat in the moneth of October (Pitcairn 1842: 508).

However, for the East Neuk, there was an additional, more local source of disquiet, namely the king’s desire to punish the St Andrews minister, David Black, for reportedly voicing treasonable sentiments in a sermon. Black and his fellow Presbyterians, not least James and Andrew Melville, denied that the secular arm had any right to censure preachers of the Word, and saw the king’s attitude as essentially caesaro-papal.[34] Melville’s opening stanza pointedly calls Christ ‘our king’, asking Him to ‘appeir in maiestie’, and his third stanza asks ‘Sall aye the proude blaspheme thy name, / And put thy Gospell unto shame’. The doctrine of the ‘twa kingdomes’ adhered to by Andrew Melville and his nephew James distinguished between the earthly civic realm of James VI, and the kingdome of Christ, i.e. the Kirk, whose governors were the clergy, ‘the quhilk na Christian King nor Prince sould controll and discharge, but fortifie and assist’ (Pitcairn 1842: 370).[35]

​[17]​ Melville’s stanzas are ominously prophetic of persecution to come.[36] A few years later, references to persecuted saints and raging tyrants would feature in Lady Culross’s mini-epic of 1603, Ane Godlie Dreame, ‘compylit in Scottis metre at the requeist of her freindes’ – who may well have mostly lived in the East Neuk.[37] Melville dated his epistle dedicatory to James Lumsden ‘the 17. of December. 1596’, and by the time the Exhortatioun anent Death appeared in 1597, the book’s readers would have been keenly aware that the 17 December Edinburgh ‘riot’ against the Octavians had resulted in the flight of four of the capital’s ministers, whom the king blamed for the uproar.[38] Two of them in fact found refuge with James Melville in the East Neuk (Calderwood, v, 521; Pitcairn 1842: 374). From that date onward, the Presbyterian party was on the back foot, and the king and his royal supremacy were in the ascendant.

​[18]​ The remaining stanzas of Melville’s apocalyptic poem also break new ground, insofar as much of the imagery is furnished by the hitherto uninstanced parable of the Five Wise Virgins, always vigilant and ready to greet the divine Bridegroom at the unknown hour of His arrival.[39] Nonetheless, Melville’s artistic instinct is such that the poem, for all its fresh material, is not entirely unlinked to the ‘sermon’. There are, first, its two references to the heavenly bridegroom of the Song of Songs, who had been cited on page fifty-nine. Secondly, Christ’s ‘shining face’ and ‘countenance that shines sa bright’, echo the statement on page forty-nine that the godly dead will enjoy ‘the fruition of the face and light of the countenance of the God of immortalitie’. The final lines describe heaven filled with music, as in Revelation:[40]

Where thy Redeemd makes melodie,
Thy Martyrs ane sweit harmonie,
Where angels sings continuallie

Thus, the poem’s conclusion chimes with the earlier references to angelic and heavenly music on pages twenty-three and forty-one.

​[19]​ The third part of the Exhortatioun anent Death is entirely in sober prose. It had been announced in the epistle dedicatory; Melville told Lumsden that besides ‘a copy of the saide sermon’ on good dying, he is sending ‘a little historie of the departure of Iean d’Albret, vmquhile mother of this present king of France, for a plaine and comfortable example and practise thairof’ (sig.3). ‘Translated out of French in Scottes’, the 7000 words of the ‘little historie’ of the death of the Queen of Navarre in 1572 occupy pages seventy-three to 109. Melville’s exact source-text is now untraceable, but it was evidently largely identical with the narrative found in the pages of the well-known Genevan pastor, historian and poet Simon Goulart.[41] The fourth and final section of Melville’s book is a little collection of five short postliminary poems, running to seven hundred lines in total. The first, ‘Christianus ego’, one of Andrew Melville’s few purely devotional lyrics, is followed by a translation to which James has appended his initials, as he does to the other three poems. The third and fourth poems are paraphrases of Psalms 23 and 121, designed to send the reader, singing joyfully, out across the book’s threshold back into the world. We saw earlier that Melville had specified the tune of Psalm 110 for the Psalm paraphrase on pages thirty-four to thirty-six. Here, he stipulates that his psalm paraphrases are written ‘to the tune of Solsequium’ — a long, complex, irresistibly joyful and dancing melody.[42]

The Lord most high, I know will be, ane hird to me
I can not long haue stresse, nor stand in neede:
He makes my leare in fields sa feare, that I but ceare
Repose and at my pleasure safely feede.
He sweetely me convoyes, to pleasant springs,
Where na thing me annoyes, but pleasure brings:
He giues my minde, peace in sik kinde
That feare of foes, nor force, cannot me reaue,
By him I am lead, in perfite tread,
And for his name, he will me never leaue.

Melville’s psalm paraphrases are an intertextualist’s paradise.[43] They draw on the Geneva Bible, on the texts in the Scottish and English metrical psalters, and on one of Melville’s favourite resources, Immanuel Tremellius’ lavishly glossed Biblia Sacra, first published between 1575 and 1579. Used by King James when making his version of Psalm 104 and by John Donne when creating his Lamentations of Jeremiah, Tremellius was the ‘New International Version’ of the Protestant Churches of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

​[20]​ Melville’s choice of Psalm 23 is self-explanatory; the psalm remains a regular feature of funeral services to this day. Anent Psalm 121, however, more needs to be said. Melville’s entire first stanza is not Scriptural paraphrase, but a free invention which takes what at first glance seems an extraordinary slant on the Geneva Bible’s words ‘I will lift my eyes unto the mountaines’ or, in the metrical paraphrase, William Whittinghame’s ‘I lift mine eyes to Sion hill’ — whence, according to the Geneva Bible and the Authorised Version, ‘mine helpe shall come’:

When I behold, These montaines cold,
Can I be bold To take my journey through this wildnernes,
Wherein dois stand, On eyther hand, A bloudie band,
To cut me off with cruell craftines:
Here, subtill Sathans slight, Dois me assaill:
There, his proud warldly might, Thinks to prevaill.
In every place, with pleasant face,
The snares of sinne besets me round about;
With poysone sweete, to slay the spreit,
Conspyrit all to take my life but doubt.

Melville has gone back to the Hebrew, and to what he found in Tremellius:

Attollerem oculos meos ad istos montes?
unde veniret auxilium meum?

‘Should I lift my eyes to these mountains? Whence might my help come?’ Not from the mountains: Tremellius had already stated in his prefatory rubric that in the psalm, King David sets out conflictum animi sui in periculis [the conflict of his spirit amid dangers] and that ad Deum conversa oratione se committit ei et confirmat in fide promissionum ejus [by his prayer directed to God, he commits himself to Him and strengthens himself in his trust in His promises]. Melville, like Tremellius, sees the mountains as dangers — whence no help will come. In the first edition text of 1580, Tremellius’s ‘Annotatio’ glosses the first verse as follows: frustra huc illuc circumspectarem ad consequendam opem: nam rationem habet Cenahanaeae, quae montosa est, [in vain do I look hither and thither all around me, to find succour; for he knows his Canaan, which is mountainous]. Melville has taken over huc illuc with his ‘Here subtill Sathans slight … There his proud wardly might’. Furthermore, in the 1590 and later editions revised by Tremellius’s collaborator Franciscus Junius, we find an inserted comment explaining the interrogatory nature of the two sentences that make up the first verse: quodcunque me convertero, nulla ex parte nisi a Deo salutem consequuturus sum [whithersoever I turn, from nowhere but God shall I obtain safety].[44] The scale of Melville’s poetic extrapolation of the ‘dangers’ represented by the mountains is entirely in keeping with his purpose here: to remind the dying that their faith cannot be shaken by the spiritual enemies, visible and invisible, that are ‘conspyrit all to take my life’, in a reinforcement of his statement in Psalm 23 that ‘feare of foes, nor force, cannot me reave’.

​[21]​ Melville’s book concludes with one of his forty surviving sonnets, this one ‘sounding a warning to die well’.[45] The words of the title recall references to warning sounds mentioned early on in the ‘sermon’ proper, viz. ‘the sound of the Archangels trumpet’ on page twelve and St Jerome’s constantly imagining ‘the hearing of the sound of that Trumpet’ on page fifteen, but in sonic terms, the mind’s ear of the reader will be filled with the sound of the dancing ‘Solsequium’ melody, something which affects the mood in which we read the sonnet. Its lines are shot through with echoes of the closing pages of Mornay’s Excellent discours de la vie et de la mort, where we read of earthly life that ‘Nous ne la deuons point aimer pour ses plaisirs: car c’est sotise & vanité. Mais nous nous en deuons seruir, pour en seruir Dieu‘ (69-70).

Set not thy heart on warldlie vanitie
Whose pleasures are with paine sa dearly bought,
Yet presse to play thy part with honestie
And use this warld as gif thou usde it nought.

The sonnet’s last words, ‘Liue heir to die, and die to liue againe’, clearly allude to the final words of Mornay’s Discours – ‘Mourir pour vivre, & vivre pour mourir‘. In other words, both the Scot and the Frenchman end by echoing the epigram found on their title-pages.

2. William Murray: A Short Treatise of Death in Sixe Chapters. Together with the aenigmatic description of old age and death, writen Ecclesiastes 12 chap. exponed and paraphrased in English meeter

​[22]​ The motto ‘I live to die, that I may die to live’, reminiscent of Mornay and Melville, appears on the title-page of a publication which looms in vast bulk between Melville’s concise and poetic Exhortatioun anent Death and William Murray’s Short Treatise of Death.[46] The book in question, which we shall see William Murray implicitly criticising, is Scotland’s most tremendous and least concise Reformed ars moriendi, the 1270 pages of The Last Battell of the Soul in Death (1628, repr. 1629) by the Glasgow minister Zachary Boyd (1585–1653). It is the only Scottish ars moriendi work to have merited any sort of monograph.[47] The Last Battell has only a tenuous connection with easternmost Fife: Boyd’s ‘To the Reader’ pays grateful tribute to two East Neuk landowners whom he met in Edinburgh, Dr George Sibbald of Giblistoun and Sir William Scot of Elie, both linked to the Melville circle.[48] Nonetheless, The Last Battell, born of Boyd’s experience of protracted, near-fatal illness in 1626, needs to be mentioned here, for whether or not Boyd ever read Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, the sheer scale of his own Last Battell is not unconnected with the brevity of William Murray’s Short Treatise. Boyd states in his preface that after moving from Edinburgh to Glasgow in 1626, he fell ill and ‘was like Epaphroditus, sicke unto deathe’. The result of his recovery, The Last Battell, is modelled on Thomas Becon’s oft-reprinted Sicke Mannes Salve, in which Epaphroditus, ‘sicke nigh unto death’, is visited by his friends for a series of six ‘conferences’ on successive days. In 1970 Nancy Lee Beaty described Becon’s book as ‘a curious blend of Job, the classical dialogue, and perhaps genuine drama as well’: the dying man’s friends ‘quote the Bible, the Fathers, and the Stoics with awesome ease and in overwhelming abundance; and when they do not quote, they paraphrase’.[49]

​[23]​ In the Last Battell, Boyd out-Becons his model, and does so in not six but eight days’ conferences. Interestingly, while Becon’s rabidly anti-Catholic Salve merited little commendation from Sister Mary Catharine O’Connor in 1942, the staunchly Calvinist Last Battell received two pages of wellnigh undiluted praise, inter alia for Boyd’s ‘combination of learning and eloquence and vivid figure’, and the fact that, unlike Becon, ‘never is he the bigot or zealot or pious dreamer or anything other than the good pastor standing by his flock in their last battle with death’.[50] Both impressive and moving, Boyd’s thousand pages deserve better than David Mullan’s 1990 comment that ‘one suspects that if sickness had not finished him [i.e. the dying man], discourse like this must surely have done so’.[51]

​[24]​ William Murray, however, would have loudly applauded Mullan’s condemnation of The Last Battell. Boyd’s and Becon’s vast books were in Murray’s sights, when he tells his dedicateee that his own ‘naturall gift … of vtterance’ was ‘more Laconick than Atticke’, adding that he has striven for ‘shortnesse not only of sentences, but of purpose’, labouring ‘to bee plaine’:

for I think that if either information, or consolation concerning death
might be well contryved in as few short aphorismes, as there be
letters in an A, B, C: it were the better both for the mynd and
memory of the patient in that agonie.[52]

​[25]​ Murray’s entire Short Treatise occupies only forty-seven pages of large print, and amounts to fewer than 8500 words. Murray’s dedicatee was Dame Agnes Murray, ‘Mistresse of Stormonth’. Firstly, he says, because he is her kinsman, secondly because ‘for honour, vertue; viz.Pietie, charitie, sobrietie, I esteem more of your L. than any one of my kinsfolk and surname’, and thirdly because

your L. is not ashamed to professe, I was the man who first taught
you the rudiments of religion, to make you thinke of the way how to
liue well. Now I pray GOD that the reading, and meditation of this
treatise may be a meane to helpe your L. to die well. … I thinke it
needlesse to put a longer Epistle before so little a Booke, least the
head should bee bigger than the bodie, and so the birth monstrous.
So I rest, Your H. Cousine to serue you in the LORD.

Neither Murray nor his Treatise has hitherto garnered interest or comment; in 1925, the twice-published Treatise was so obscure it was not even noted in William Murray’s entry in Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, unlike his Nyne Songs.[53] He was almost entirely overlooked by Scottish historians until 2000.[54] In the great 19th century Wodrow Society editions of no fewer than four major contemporary histories of the period, Murray is actually indexed as his namesake and polar opposite, the royalist-conformist minister of Dysart (whose son William would be created Earl of Dysart by Charles I in 1643).[55]

​[26]​ The minister of Crail came of landowning stock, and by January 1604 was ‘portioner of Ardet’ (modern Airdit), near Balmullo in west Fife.[56] His father, David, originally a ‘pensioner of Brechin’, had bought Ardet in 1584 from his nephew Sir Andrew Murray (d.1590) of Balvaird, head of an important landed family in lowland Perthshire.[57] Murray of Balvaird also owned land at Crail, inter alia.[58] Dame Agnes Murray, Mistresse of Stormonth, was Sir Andrew’s daughter, and William’s words about instructing her in the rudiments of religion suggest that he had some rôle in the Balvaird household after graduation. He began his clerical career in Crail on 12 August 1596, where he assisted the new minister Andrew Duncan, married the widow of the previous incumbent, and was confirmed in the ‘second charge’ in 1600 (Smith 1985: 205).

​[27]​ In 1607, his cousin Sir Andrew Murray (d.1624) of Balvaird, Dame Agnes’s brother, presented him to the first charge, Andrew Duncan having been deported into exile in mainland Europe.[59] Duncan was a perfervid Presbyterian and disciple of Andrew Melville, and from July 1605 until November 1606, he and five other clerics had been imprisoned in Blackness Castle on a charge of high treason, for defending the legitimacy of the abortive General Assembly at Aberdeen on 2 July 1605. Spared the gallows, all six were banished abroad. In 1604, William Murray himself, like James Melville, had been a member of the St Andrews Presbytery delegation sent to Aberdeen to attend a General Assembly scheduled for 31 July, which did not take place (Pitcairn 1842: 561-64).

​[28]​ Murray was likewise amongst the forty-odd ministers who attended the show-trial of Andrew Duncan of Crail and his five fellow-prisoners at Linlithgow in January 1606 (Calderwood vi, 457, 476). Murray’s presence on the eve of the trial was specifically recorded by one of the imprisoned ministers: ‘Mr James Melville came to Blaknes, with Mr John Dikes [his brother-in-law and assistant] and Mr William Murray’ (Forbes 1846: 455). There is a hint that Murray remained a Presbyterian at heart: in February 1620, he was one of several Fife ministers cited before the Court of High Commission ‘to heir and sie themsels deprived for not observing holie dayes, and not ministering the Communion according to the order prescrived at Perth’ (i.e. in keeping with the Five Articles of Perth, and therefore, giving it to kneeling communicants); the ministers refused to conform, but Murray may have done so in due course, since he does not appear to have been deprived.[60]

​[29]​ In 1607, when he took on Duncan’s mantle at Crail, Murray initially had difficulties in obtaining his stipend from those responsible for paying it.[61] But he became an appreciated and diligent pastor of Crail, at least according to liminary verses by an unidentifiable ‘Rob.Crafordus, alias Lunnaeus’ prefixed to Murray’s two publications of 1631. The first of the liminary poems begins:

Bis denos cum laude gregem, & sex insuper annos
Pavisti, illustris praeco, liquore sacro.

[With distinction for twice ten years and another six you nourished
your flock, illustrious preacher, with holy liquor].[62]

​[30]​ The poet addresses Murray as ‘preacher of the Word God amongst the people of Crail’ (verbi divini apud Caralienses praeconem).[63] ‘Minister of Gods Word in Crail’ is how Murray describes himself as on the title page of his second publication of 1631, Nyne Songs, collected out of the Holy Scripture.[64] However, the fact is that on 7 April 1624, after those twenty-six years of illustrious service, the Synod of Fife suspended Murray from his ministry,

pairtlie be his scandalous conversing with Helen Wood, in his awin
wyffis lyftym, [sic] and pairtlie be his precipitating his intendit mariage
with her soon efter the death of his said wyff, quhairby that suspition
hes bien michtelie increased (Kinloch 1824: 100).

The Archbishop and the ‘brethren assemblit’ at the Synod declared that if Murray ‘sal happen at any tym hierefter, to mary sic the said Helen Wood, he sal no wayes be permitted to continow minister at Craill, but salbe depryved theirof’ (ibid 101). Murray appealed against his suspension, and in October 1624, the Synod lifted it, restoring him to the ministry ‘quhairever it sal pleis God to open vnto him a door, excepting only in the kirk and paroche of Craill’ (ibid 204). Other than his publications of 1631, the sole traces of him after this date are found in documents concerning his daughter Margaret, and a mention of him as ‘parson and vicar’ at Eassie and Nevay (in Angus) on 10 December 1633.[65] Since he had been recorded as ‘rector et vicarius’ of Eassie as early as 20 March 1606, it is not clear what, if any, his pastoral connection with the Angus parish actually was.[66]

​[31]​ The epistle dedicatory of Murray’s Short Treatise may end laconically, but it begins in deadly seriousness, and reveals just how personal were the origins of the Treatise:

After that I had receaved some woundes in the house of my friends, I
contracted much melancholy, which brought vpon me so great
sicknesse and weaknesse, that I receaved in my selfe the sentence of
: In the which estate your L. may easily consider, that such a
man as I, both should and would haue deepe meditation of death, and
so indeede I had, being resolved to die at that tyme: yet it was the goodwill
of GOD to continue my life, which hath continued since that tyme, some
sixe yeares or more: therefore I thought it was good for me to make
better preparation against the next assault of that enemie.[67]

Murray explains in a marginal note that ‘some woundes in the house of my friends’ is a quotation from Zechariah 13:6. The wounding and ‘melancholy’ (depression) had happened ‘some sixe yeares or more’ earlier, that is, in 1624, the year of his marital misfortunes and loss of his parish. The richness of what Murray is saying by means of the Biblical quotation cannot be better illuminated than by quoting what Calvin wrote about this verse:[68]

Zechariah … says generally, that false teachers … were worthy of death; and that if they were treated more gently they should yet suffer such a punishment, that they would through life be mutilated and ever bear scars as proofs of their shame. We may at the same time gather from the answer what proves true repentance … ‘What mean these wounds in thine hand? Then he will say, I have been stricken by my friends.’ The Prophet shows that those who had previously deceived the people would become new men, so as patiently to bear correction; though it might seem hard when the hands are wounded and pierced, yet he says that the punishment, which was in itself severe, would bee counted mild, for they would be endued with such meekness as willingly to bear to be corrected.[69]

The import of the Zechariah quotation is that Murray now confesses he had been a false teacher, who had betrayed his calling and ‘deceived the people’ by his affair with the woman who became his second wife. The quotation from Corinthians II, 1:9 underlines the suicidal nature of Murray’s depression. Calvin expounded ‘I receaved in my selfe the sentence of death’ thus:

This is as much as to saye, as ‘I determined, and decreed wyth my selfe to dye.’ But he borroweth a similitude of those which being condemned to dye, looke for nothing but for the houre of death. Notwythstanding he sayth, that he receyued the sentence in himselfe, that is, he pronounced the sentence of death against hymselfe, and in his owne conceyt iudged hymselfe to die: lest he myghte seem to have had the same by Revelation from God.[70]

In the light of this, we can hardly be unmoved by what Murray writes at the end of his fifth chapter, entitled ‘Remedies and comforts against the feare of death, which proceedeth from ignorance, infidelitie, or despaire’:

If Sathan or thy owne conscience trouble thee with these doubts and objections following, answere thus.

Object. 1.

My sinne is so great, that it can not bee pardoned.


No sinne in it selfe is so great but it is pardonable, to everie one that can repent: No cryme so great, but GODS mercie is greater: yea, the sinne against the holy Ghost can not bee forgiven, only because these that fall therein, can not repent. Hebr. 6.

​[32]​ Modern readers of the Treatise, comparing it with Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death, will be struck by just how frequently the former quotes non-Christian Graeco-Roman sources. But it is Melville, rather than Murray, who is unusual for the time: Early Modern Scottish schooling left its products so steeped in Classical (pagan) literature, that it came to the lips of the clergy as naturally as did the Scriptures.[71] Murray begins the first of his opening chapter’s four tiny sections with the words ‘The oft meditation of death is both necessare, and profitable to make vs liue well, and die well’, whereupon he successively quotes and translates three Romans: Seneca (Thyestes, lines 619-20), Horace, and Martial. Next comes a reference to the famous story (also cited early on in Melville’s Exhortatioun anent Death) about Philip of Macedon’s page-boy with his constant reminder ‘Thou art mortall’. Only then do we reach the Treatise‘s first Christian reference, to ‘that holy man Hieronimus’ keeping a skull and hourglass in his study. Murray’s title-page features the skull and hour-glass, yet typically, the words ‘Vive memor lethi, fugit hora’ printed below them come not from St Jerome, but the Roman poet Persius.[72]

​[33]​ The quotations in the second of the chapter’s four sections are all Judaeo-Christian, while those in the third are a mixture, and include, immediately after Ecclesiastes 11:9, the opening lines of an immensely popular anonymous song, devoid of overt religious content, but dismissing all earthly achievement and joy because of their inherent transience.

What if a day, or a month, or a yeare,
Crowne thy delights with a thousand wisht contentings?
Can not the chaunce of a night, or an houre
Crosse thy delights with as many sad tormentings?[73]

Given Murray’s active interest in music, he presumably expected his readers to ‘sing’ these words to their memorable tune (compare James Melville’s quoting of John Hopkins’ Psalm 39). In the final, fourth section of this chapter, Murray cites both the Song of Simeon and the words, ‘into Thy hands I commend my spirit’ (Psalm 31:5), quoted by Christ on the Cross. Good preacher that he was, Murray will reiterate this sentence in his fourth, fifth and sixth chapters.

​[34]​ The second chapter’s opening statement of the three senses in which Death is taken ‘in holy Scripture’ is followed by their systematic exposition. This chapter contains no verse, and the only non-Scriptural quotation is from one of Seneca’s epistles, a favourite resource for the entire Reformed ars moriendi tradition. In the third chapter, ‘Of the feare of death’, Murray not only quotes the Old and New Testaments, but also recites and then paraphrases the Emperor Hadrian’s well-known little poem to his soul, ‘Animula, vagula…’.[74] The chapter had begun by stating that ‘there is a twofold feare of death, wherevnto wee are subject’, and having dealt with the lawful ‘naturall’ feare, he says there is

another kynd of feare of death, which is vnlawfull and sinfull, and therefore to be corrected, striven against, and resisted: this feare of death proceedeth of ignorance, infidelitie, or of despaire. […]

He then, characteristically, proceeds to expound this threefold division.

​[35]​ The start of the fourth chapter on fear of ‘naturall death’ is bracingly direct:

there is no sort of feare of death without paine and trouble to the
patient, as witnesseth the Apostle Iohn, (I.Joh.4.18) saying indefinitly or generally of feare, feare hath torment: Therefore consolations and remedies are to bee sought against all sorts of feare of death.

Murray numbers six remedies, illustrated with the help of quotations overwhemingly Scriptural in origin. But he does also cite Menander (‘hee dyeth young whom God loueth’), Cicero, Seneca and Horace’s famous ‘Pallida mors…’, elegantly translated thus:

With equall foote, death knocks at doors
Of poore mens shoppes, and Princes towres.[75]

​[36]​ The fifth chapter, on fear of ‘unnatural death’, is twice as long as any other; after all, Murray was not unacquainted with the reality of that fear. He begins by referring back to Hadrian’s uncertainty as to his soul’s fate. In defence of the immortality of the soul, two couplets from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and a barrage of Scriptural sources are quoted, before Murray returns to the ‘verie Ethnicks’ – Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch and Plato (on the death of Socrates) — and points out that ‘Christians should be ashamed to feare death through ignorance … seing death is inevitable: the feare of it argues want of fortitude’. He then sets out ‘remedies and comforts’ against the fear of death caused by ‘infidelitie or despaire’, stressing that the sufferer must ‘aboue all things studie to know CHRIST, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings’; Christ, Murray writes, calls death ‘a sleepe, to teach vs that the nature of death is changed to those that beleeue in him’, and ‘in the true knowledge of CHRIST is our comfort, both in life and death’. Another barrage of recommended Scripture reading precedes the closing passage, already quoted, listing six ‘doubts and objections’ and giving lapidary answers to them. In his sixth and final chapter, on ‘the desire of death’, Murray deals directly and succinctly with suicidal desires:

GOD hath put vs in a warrefare, and hath appointed everie one of vs a station, which wee should keepe as obedient Souldiers … those Ethnicks who commonly are accounted magnanimus, that for miscontentment slew themselues … are truely to bee accounted verie cowards, that left their station, not keeping their place, vntill hee that had placed them there had called them from it.

A final prose quotation from Seneca, and then one in verse from that schoolroom standard staple, Disticha Catonis, lead into the final paragraphs, packed with Scripture. The very last of Murray’s quotations, on the subject of how the dying should cope with ‘great paine’, reiterates advice from chapter two: ‘say with the Prophet DAVID, I will hold my tongue O LORD, because thou hast done it: This was Mr. Calvins practise, when hee was dying’.[76] Murray concludes with a simple prayer:

GOD grant we may so liue
that in the houre of death
we may rejoice through

The final consideration of how to deal with ‘great paine’ encapsulates Murray’s ultimately victorious struggle to outface the life-threatening pain of his expulsion — however justified – from the living parish community that had been in his care for two and a half decades. His concentrated, unsentimental and eminently practical Treatise was printed at least twice, which indicates that it found readers at the time.[77]

​[37]​ But, as the latter part of his book’s full title tells us, Murray ends his Treatise with a paratext, namely a brief exposition of ‘the aenigmatick description of old age and death written Ecclesiastes 12’ – a chapter he had thrice quoted in the Treatise proper.[78] The ‘aenigmatick description’ is the famous series of metaphors for old age and death that occupies Ecclesiastes 12: 2 to 7 – a strangely gloomy choice of postliminary material, since while ‘the spirit shall return to God, who gave it’ (verse 7), there is no celebratory promise of the joys of heaven, as there is in Psalm 23, for example. As with the Nyne Songs, Murray provides first a Scriptural text from the Authorised Version (albeit already lightly paraphrased), and then sets out a verse-by-verse prose interpretation of the metaphors, and then forces them into a metrical paraphrase, using the complex ‘solsequium’ song-stanza we encountered earlier in Melville’s psalm-paraphrases of 1597. The choice of this melody in 1631 cannot be a coincidence.

​[38]​ As we have seen, Murray, like James Melville and Lady Culross, appreciated the power of the sung word, even if some of the verses in his psalm-tune equipped Nyne Songs are marred by horrendously contorted syntax (and none of them are outstanding). The tiny verses in the body of the Treatise, however, are competent and sometimes rather appealing. Most of them translate lines from Roman poets, e.g. Horace:

Inter spem, curamque, timores inter & iras,
Omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum.

That is to say.

Amidst thy hope, thy care, thy feare, thy wrath,
Thinke everie day thy last, looke for thy death.[79]

​[39]​ But whether read or sung, Murray’s metrical paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 12’s beautiful poetic metaphors is much less agreeable, and indeed rather grotesque. Murray was an intelligent, educated and music-loving man, and paragraphs 44 and 45 below will offer a suggestion as to why he chose to end his Treatise with this distinctly unpoetic song-text. For example, verse 3’s words ‘The grinders cease, because they are few’ become

Our teeth which were, as Milstones faire, gin then to spaire
As broken, loose, and in part lost their store.[80]

The same verse’s words ‘They that looke out at the window are darkned. | The doores are shut in the streets’ become

Also our Opticke vaines,
—–That looked throw
Our eyes broken with paines,
—–Leaue their window.
Then faile[s] our speach, whereby wee teach,
Our hearers for to vnderstand our minde,
That doore is close where throw came voice,
And wee of dumbe men made another kynd.

The last four lines quoted above cannot but remind us that the full Scriptural title of Ecclesiastes is actually ‘Ecclesiastes or the Preacher’. Preaching was central to a minister’s calling. The ageing and now silenced preacher of Crail may well have been implicitly lamenting the loss of his pulpit, not as part of the inexorable decay inherent in this sublunary mortal existence, but as the result of his own folly and the intransigence of his archbishop. And at the same time, by publishing his Treatise and his Nyne Songs, he was showing that he had not abandoned his vocation to ‘teach our hearers’.


​[40]​ The East Neuk’s two artes moriendi were composed on opposite sides of a great watershed in Scottish history. Whether or not Melville’s paratextual poem ‘Come Christ our king’ in the Exhortatioun anent Death voices his awareness of the coming persecution, his abundant late poetry, written in English exile between September 1606 and his death, has much to say about the persecution of the church by tyrants. As does his Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ libellus supplex of 1610.[81] These late writings are very different in tone from the Exhortatioun and the Spirituall Propine; and yet, the pastoral motivation behind them remained unchanged. Melville, now prevented from preaching in Kilrenny, was still writing for ‘the Church of Scotland in generall, the people of the paroch of Kilrennie in speciall, and everie faithfull member of the bodie of Jesus Chryst there, or else where in particular’.[82]

​[41]​ Even as the shades of persecution fell in the second half of 1605, the ‘Solsequium’ psalms, which Melville had applied to such comfortingly pastoral and joyous effect in 1596, reappeared in print, now incorporated into a spectacular sequence of fifteen psalms, plus the Song of Simeon and the Doxology, printed anonymously as The Mindes Melodie. Contayning certayne Psalmes of the Kinglie Prophet David, applied to a new pleasant tune, verie comfortable to everie one that is rightlie acquainted therewith. The booklet was a ‘comfortable’ (i.e. strengthening and uplifting) gesture of support for Andrew Duncan of Crail and the five other Presbyterian ministers imprisoned in Blackness Castle under threat of execution, and it was reprinted in 1606.[83] In November 1606, the Blackness prisoners sailed into exile, after Melville and seven leading Presbyterian clerics had already been summoned to London and placed under house-arrest. James Melville never saw Scotland again.

​[42]​ William Murray was a friend and colleague of the sufferers of 1605-1608. In 1631, the year of Murray’s Short Treatise, Charles I tried to impose the new metrical ‘Psalms of King James’ on the Kirk – a foretaste of other liturgical changes and a new Book of Canons to come from London later in the 1630s.[84] Murray’s choice of the ‘Solsequium’ tune and stanza surely alludes to the passing of all the youthful hopes of the 1590s and the combative energy of the 1600s, which he and others had known in the distant days of the flourishing spiritual community of the East Neuk. Murray will not only have known Melville’s Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death, but been personally acquainted with its dedicatee James Lumsden, who died two years after Murray is first recorded as working in Crail. Furthermore, as an active supporter of the six ministers imprisoned in Blackness Castle, Murray must have been familiar with the ‘comfortable’ Scriptural paraphrases of The Mindes Melodie, using the Solsequium stanza and melody. Some at least of Murray’s readers will also have known The Mindes Melodie and its associations with the doomed struggle against King James’s onslaught on the Kirk’s autonomy. The original metaphors that comprise Ecclesiastes 12 are of great beauty, unlike Murray’s prose exposition. His verse paraphrase is positively ugly, so that the poem’s beautiful melody and all its various existing associations are rendered incongruous. (Mutatis mutandis, the jarring effect that Murray has created is not unlike that of the incongruous and often distorted popular melodies and waltz rhythms found in the music of Mahler and Shostakovich.) At the very least, we can suggest that the strange, limping, grotesque song that ends Murray’s Treatise was actually intended as the laconic minister’s idiosyncratic elegy for, and oblique homage to James Melville and the East Neuk’s spiritual community.[85]

​[43]​ Murray’s final stanza may even contain a coded warning to followers of the royal establishment which had persecuted Melville and Murray’s other colleagues:

And that round Wheele, which once did reele, as we now feel
—-Is broken downe, even right aboue the Well:
I meane the head, when wee are dead, stands in no stead,
—-To draw vp foode from livers stell.
——-Earth doth then to earth returne,
———Even man to dust;
——-His Spirit to GOD is borne,
———Who is most iust.

Murray begins by paraphrasing verse seven’s ‘wheel broken at the cistern’, and then the whole of verse 8 is covered in just three lines; whereupon Murray himself adds that, at death, the God to whom the spirit is borne ‘is most just’, the adjective making a deft allusion to the Last Judgement. The poem ends by paraphrasing Ecclesiastes 12:1:

Remember man, thy Maker then,
When thou art young and strong, before these dayes:
For thou wilt wearie, and cannot tarry,
To serue thy God, and sorrow for thy sinnes alwayes.

That last line, however, is Murray’s own contribution: ‘Serve thy God’ — rather than thy king, perhaps?

​[44]​ In 1631, Murray could not know whither the policies of King Charles and Archbishop Laud would lead.[86] Nor could he even dream that as early as 1634, his long-dead friend Melville’s voice would be heard again, with the publication (in Holland) of an abbreviated text of the devastating poetic attack on royal tyranny, The Black Bastell, written by the banished pastor of Kilrenny in 1611.[87] Yet even in 1631, William Murray seems still to have retained something of his own early radicalism, writing in Nyne Songs that ‘Kings, Princes and potentates have neede to be exhorted to make the judgements of God upon their Peeres, for pride so blinds their mindes, that they mis-ken both God & man’.[88] Nyne Songs was not reissued, but the Short Treatise was. The original ‘Solsequium’, its subject the perennial impermanence of both night and day, was ‘perhaps the most ubiquitous Montgomerie song’ and ‘also the most ubiquitous of his poems’.[89] Murray’s Ecclesiastes paraphrase, therefore, must have reminded at least some of its readers of the fact that since all things under the sun pass, so too would the episcopal and political order imposed by James VI and reinforced by his son. For, as the Preacher wrote in Ecclesiastes 8:9-12:

There is a time when one man ruleth over another to his own hurt. And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had done so […] Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God.


School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow

Acknowledgements: I would like to voice my thanks to Laura Doak and Rebecca Mason for their extreme patience, to the anonymous readers for their comments, and to the editors of the JNR.


​[1]: English Short Title Catalogue (hereafter ESTC) (2nd ed)/18167 and 18168. I have followed modern practice in using the form ‘Murray’, but his printers spelled his name ‘Morray’, ‘Morrey’ and ‘Moray’, and only under ‘Morray’ can he be found in EEBO (Early English Books Online). In the copy of STC 18167 used for EEBO, a contemporary hand (the author’s own?) has made a dozen small manuscript emendations. These concern marginal references, four tiny textual corrections, and a single rhyme-word in the closing poem (see note 80 below). However, with the exception of ‘in’ for ‘into’ in the second line of the epistle dedicatory, no corrections were made in 1633 for STC 18168, even though the text had been re-set, as both the last page and the orthographical variants show. ​[back to text]​

​[2]: ESTC (2nd ed.)/17815.5.​[back to text]​

[3]: The process of putting Robert in possession of the estate began well before 1598; see Erskine Beveridge. 1893. The Churchyard Memorials of Crail (privately printed: Edinburgh), 132-55, at 149.​[back to text]​

[4]: J Reid Baxter. 2017. ‘New Light from Fife’, The Innes Review, 68:1:38-77, at 65-66 and 73-74. An important, hitherto unnoticed contributory factor to the spiritual malaise afflicting Isobell Cor has subsequently come to light. In The Historical Works of Sir James Balfour of Denmylne, 4 vols. (Edinburgh, 1824), i, 398, we read that in 1596, Isobell’s husband Robert Lumsden, in partnership with his wealthy merchant father-in-law Clement Cor, charged exorbitant prices for a great stock of ‘wictuall of all sortes’ that they had bought up cheap, whereupon ‘the ministers throughe all the shyre pronuncid the cursse of God aganist them, as the grinders of the faces of the poore; wich cursse [sic] too manifestly lighted on them befor ther deathes’ — in the shape of their being utterly bankrupted by their heavy investment in the failed Second Plantation of Lewis, 1605-07.​[back to text]​

[5]: Smith, ‘Presbytery of St Andrews’, passim. See also no’d paragraphs 29 and 30 for their joint-activities in 1604 and 1606.​[back to text]​

[6]: Gordon Raeburn, ‘Rewriting Death and Burial in Early-Modern Scotland’, Reformation & Renaissance Review, 18:3, 254-272, provides a useful list, to which can be added

(a) the earliest Scottish post-Reformation publication concerning good dying, a Scots verse paraphrase of Clément Marot included by Robert Norvell at Edinburgh in 1561 in his book The Meroure of ane Chrstiane [sic], STC 18688: ‘How death doeth answer maike and send: to them that do him vilipend, Translated forth of frainshe’, i.e. a Scots translation of the twenty-one rhyme-royal stanzas headed ‘Comment la mort sur le propos de republicque parle à tous humains’, which constitute the penultimate of the four sections of Marot’s long poem, ‘La déploration de Florimond Robertet’;

(b) William Cowper’s treatise A Defiance to Death. Wherein, besides sundry heauenly instructions for a godly life, we haue strong and notable comforts to vphold vs in death (London, 1610, republished in 1616), STC (2nd ed.) 5917, c.32 500 words written for and dedicated ‘to Sir Thomas Stewart of Gairntilie [i.e. Grandtully] and his vertuous Ladie, Grizzell Mercer’, in the wake of Stewart’s near-fatal illness. Cowper’s treatise expounds 2 Corinthians 5:1-9 (which is quoted complete on page 32 of Melville’s Exhortatioun);

(c) William Struthers’ treatise (so called at the head of its list of contents),  A RESOLVTION FOR DEATH, written vnder the sentence of Death, in the time of a painfull Disease. And now published for their comfort who studie to approue themselues to God: And to assure all that liue the life of the Righteous, that they shall die the death of the Righteous. This is the second, separately paginated part of Struthers’ Christian observations and resolutions, or, The daylie practise of the renewed man, turning all occurrents to spirituall uses, and these uses to his vnion with God I. centurie. First published at Edinburgh in 1628, it was reissued  in 1629 both at Edinburgh and London. Struthers (c.1579-1633), minister of Edinburgh,  had fallen ill in December 1627. His treatise runs to some 14 400 words, and although laid out as sixty-six generally very short numbered sections, is in fact a single impassioned prayer, packed with purely Scriptural allusions and quotations. Its literary quality can be judged from these two paragraphs, in which Struthers is addressing his soul:

[27] Will thou know what is this noyse about thee, it is the hand of thy Lord softlie loosing the pinnes, and slakening the coards of thy Tabernacle, it is the noyse of his Chariots that hee hath sent from Heauen to bring thee to him: Olde Iakob reuiued when he saw Iosephs Chariots to bring him to Egypt, though his posteritie were thereafter in thrall, shall thou not bee glad to goe vp in these Coaches to Heauen, where thou shalt euer bee with Ioseph, and vnder a good King, who knoweth Ioseph, and will neuer die.

[28] This noyse is nothing but the sound of Christs key opening thy prison and fetters: Lift vp thine head and rejoyce, for thy Redemption is at hand, hee that is to come, will come and not delay: Behold hee commeth, and his reward is with him. Thou shall heare in due time the voyce of thy beloued crying, Arise my spouse, my beloued, arise, and come away, for the winter of thy calamitous life is gone, the raines of thine affliction are passed. Cant 2.

​[back to text]​

[7]: STC 3482 and Wing B4104. See under those years in the online National Library of Scotland site Scottish Books 1505-1700 (Aldis Updated). <https://www.nls.uk/catalogues/scottish-books-1505-1640>.​[back to text]​

[8]: The publication of so furiously anti-Roman a tract in these specific years may reflect Scottish historical circumstances and the Presbyterian belief in the threat of a return to Rome underpinning the establishment of any form of church hierarchy. In 1584, the Huguenot Vautrollier could have been motivated by the Black Acts and the episcopalising Crown’s persecution of Presbyterians, cf. his 1584 publication of Henrie Balnaves’ Confession of Faith. In 1600, the puritan Waldegrave may have been responding to rapidly growing suspicion of James VI’s hierarchising reorganisation of the Kirk. Finally, the Kirk’s problems with Catholics in 1613 may have motivated the Presbyterian stalwart Andro Hart – see Alan R. MacDonald. 1998. The Jacobean Kirk 1567-1625 (London: Routledge), 153.​[back to text]​

[9]: I would like to thank Prof. Atkinson for his kindness in supplying me with the texts of various inaccessible articles.​[back to text]​

[10]: In fact, O’Connor, discussing ‘the England of Elizabeth and the Stuarts’ on page 191, ignores both Melville and the kingdom of James VI, describing the unattributed Exhortatioun as a book of ‘the Elizabethan age’.​[back to text]​

[11]: Margo Todd’s The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland (Yale: Yale University Press, 2002) is not a literary study, and makes no reference to Melville’s or Murray’s treatises.​[back to text]​

[12]: Work on James Melville has been hampered for decades by the fact that A Morning Vision was not photographed for the microfilms underpinning EEBO.​[back to text]​

[13]: McCallum. 2010. Reforming the Scottish Parish, 108-13. For the tunes, see Timothy Duguid. 2014. Metrical Psalmody in Print and Practice: English ‘Singing Psalms’ and Scottish ‘Psalm Buiks’, c.1547-1640 (Farnham: Ashgate), 213-14.​[back to text]​

[14]: McCallum, Reforming the Scottish Parish, 119. With Murray’s book, compare e.g. Dudley Fenner, The Song of Songs, that is, the most excellent song which was Solomons, translated out of the Hebrue into English meeter with as little libertie in departing from the wordes, as any plaine translation in prose can vse: and interpreted by a short commentarie (Middelburg, 1587, reprinted 1594), where each metrical chapter is assigned a psalm-tune. As early as 1543, Clément Marot had published a singing version of the Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29–32) that was immediately incorporated into the French Protestant psalter, while the long-lived English metrical paraphrases of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis were first printed as early as 1556 (see Beth Quitslund. 2008. The Reformation in Rhyme: Sternhold, Hopkins and the English Metrical Psalter, 1547-1603 (Aldershot: Ashgate), 279). Theodore Beza assigned psalm tunes to the singing versions of no fewer than seventeen Scriptural cantiques he published in 1595, seven of them paraphrasing texts later found in Murray’s Nyne Songs. By 1631, Scottish metrical psalters included a certain number of canticles and hymns taken from the English Whole Booke of Psalmes, including the 1556 Magnificat and Nunc dimittis texts. Whether these ‘canticles’ were ever sung in kirk is as yet unascertained. From 1615, some Scottish psalters also featured James Melville’s ‘Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32’, to the tune of Psalm 3. Nonetheless, Murray made his own metrical versions of all three of these texts.​[back to text]​

[15]: See pages 17-19, where successive paragraphs begin ‘next’,’thirdly’, ‘fourthlie’, and ‘And last’.​[back to text]​

[16]: See also John McCallum. 2014. ‘”Sone and Servant”: Andrew Melville and his Nephew, James (1556-1614)’, in R. A. Mason and S. J. Reid, eds. Andrew Melville (1545-1622), Writings, Reception and Reputation (Farnham: Ashgate), 201-14. A full bibliography of the exiguous writing on James Melville’s poetry (up to 2016) is given in note 1 to J. Reid Baxter, ‘James Melville and the Releife of the Longing Soule: a Scottish presbyterian Song of Songs?’ in Medievalia et Humanistica no.41 (December, 2015), 209-28.​[back to text]​

[17]: These lines are also found at the end of an eye-witness account of Melville’s death on 19 January 1614, which survives in a copy made in 1649; see National Library of Scotland Adv.MS.34.7.10, pp. 195-207. A transcript was printed in Pitcairn 1842: lvi-lxiv.​[back to text]​

[18]: A translation of the epigram Ut tibi mors felix contingat, vivere disce, / ut felix possis vivere, disce mori by the Ferrarese humanist Celio Calcagnini (1479-1541). Paschal de l’Estocart’s polyphonic settings of the Latin and the French texts, published in Sacrae Cantiones (1582), are tracks 10 and 24 of the CD Deux coeurs aimants RAM0703 (2007).​[back to text]​

[19]: NLS, Adv. MS. 19.2.7, ff.42-58v. The present writer first addressed this discovery in his unpublished paper ‘King David, Charles IX and James VI as tyrants: Beza, Belleau, Melville and the Miserere’ at the University of Kent conference ‘New Perspectives on the Auld Alliance’, 21-22 June 2016, and revisited it in four unpublished presentations on James Melville given at the universities of Glasgow (2016), Aberdeen (2018), Edinburgh (April 2019) and Durham (May 2019).​[back to text]​

[20]: See Sally Mapstone. 2013. ‘James Melville’s Revisions to A Spirituall Propine and A Morning Vision’ in David J. Parkinson, ed. 2013. James VI and I, Literature and Scotland: Tides of Change (Leuven: Peeters), 173-92, at 183-88; see also Melville’s dixain recommending to James VI that he translate Dubartas’ La Sepmaine, in J. Reid Baxter, ‘The Nyne Muses, an unknown Renaissance Sonnet-Sequence John Dykes and the Gowrie Conspiracy’, in K. Dekker and A. A. MacDonald (eds.) 2005. Royalty, Rhetoric and Reality (Leuven: Peeters), 197-218, at 202 and n.17.​[back to text]​

[21]: 1576 edition, 20-24; Mornay reprises the ages of man more concisely on 53-54.​[back to text]​

[22]: Exhortatioun, sig.2v (unnumbered). The page-numbering, however, begins with the title-page itself, since the main text’s second page is numbered 8.​[back to text]​

[23]: Exhortatioun, sig.2v. For Douglas’s active commitment to the ‘Melvillian’ cause in the town in 1593, see Pitcairn 1842: 314.​[back to text]​

[24]: It is worth noting the parallels with William Cowper’s A Defiance to Death. Cowper tells Sir William Stewart that he has offered ‘the Treatis following … partly to testifie my vnfeined affection toward you in the Lord ; for that unfeined and incorrupt loue … ye haue alway carried toward the truth of the Gospell … and partly that ye may be remembered of these instructions concerning life and death : which ye receiued from vs by hearing … and vnto the practise whereo shortly ye must be called, for albeit it is not long, since it pleased the Lord beyond all expectation of man to deliuer you out of the handes of the Sergeants & officers of death [i.e. sickness and disease], which had violently seased vpon you, and threatned to slay you both, your selfe by sickenesse, your Ladie by the sorrow of desolation, more heauie then death vnto her: yet are yea to knowe (and I doubt not, are preparing you for it) that the same battell will shortly be renued against you, wherin both of you must bee diuorced from other, and diuided from your owne bodies’ (sig.A5 rv). As minister of the second charge at Perth since 1595, and until 1608 a militant presbyterian, Cowper may well have known Melville’s Exhortatioun; his senior colleague John Malcolm, minister of the first charge, was a lifelong presbyterian and friend of Andrew Melville. See the liminary verses to Malcolm by Melville and John Johnston in his Commentarius in Apostolorum Acta (Middelburg, 1615).​[back to text]​

[25]: Again, there are parallels at the end of Cowper’s epistle: ‘if these little fruites of my Ministery may serue any way to confirme you in the end, as some way they haue comforted in the iourney: and if for your sake they may bee profitable to others, who constantly keeps with you the same course toward the face of Iesus Christ, it shall be no small comfort vnto me, knowing thereby that I haue not runne, nor laboured in vaine’.​[back to text]​

[26]: Buchanan is never named, but simply described as ‘the prince of Christian poets’ on 9 and ‘our poet’ on 30.​[back to text]​

[27]: That is, the Anglo-Genevan ‘proper tune’ for Psalm 29, appointed for Psalm 39 in 1564, rather than the proper tune for Psalm 15, as suggested in Charteris’ CL Psalmes of 1596. See Timothy Duguid. 2014. Metrical Psalmody, 145. For private as well as public psalm-singing, see ibid., 205-206​[back to text]​

[28]: Exhortatioun, sig.2 and 2v:  ‘I fell upon the minutes of a certaine Sermon… I recognosced the heads of the samin, and fostered a peece of meditatioun upon the pointes thairof’.​[back to text]​

[29]: Melville’s warmly intimate, conversationally flowing pastoral discourse can usefully be contrasted with Ninian Campbell’s stilted, rigidly structured Treatise upon Death first publickly delivered in a funerall sermon, anno Dom. 1630 And since enlarged By N.C. Preacher of Gods word in Scotland at Kilmacolme in the baronie of Renfrew of 1635 (ESTC 2nd ed.) / 4533), on Hebrews 9:27, with a hyperabundance of quotations in Greek and Latin, both Christian and pagan; and indeed with the unstilted and virtually pagan-free, but eminently well signposted, systematic, phrase-by-phrase exposition of 2 Corinthians 5:1-9 that constitutes William Cowper’s A Defiance to Death.​[back to text]​

[30]: William Cowper’s A Defiance to Death of 1610 concludes with the same verse, slightly recast: ‘If our life be the life of the righteous, out of doubte wee shall dye the death of the righteous’ (381); the coincidence, if such it be, is rather striking.​[back to text]​

[31]: Melville’s poem appears to indicate his familiarity with an earlier poem (first printed c.1582) which uses this verse-form to discuss the Last Days at colossally greater length: see J. Reid Baxter ‘James Anderson and His Poem The Winter Night‘ in Luuk Houwen (ed.). 2012. Literature and Religion in Late Medieval and Early Modern Scotland: Essays in Honour of Alasdair A. MacDonald (Leuven: Peeters), 145-165.​[back to text]​

[32]: See Exhortatioun, 12,15, 16, 60 and 61.​[back to text]​

[33]: Melville had earlier used the phrase ‘man of sinne’ in the quite different Pauline sense (Ephesians 4 :22): ‘we sall finde na losse at all, vnlesse thou wald esteeme the losse of thine enemie to be losse: for indeed, that olde man of sinne by death is destroyed, and alluterlie mortified and vndone.’ (48).​[back to text]​

[34]: For Melville’s account and interpretation of ‘the 17 December’, as it became known, see Pitcairn 1842: 516-22.​[back to text]​

[35]: Robert Rollock, friend and former St Andrews colleague of both Andrew and James Melville, had voiced this doctrine in ‘Patria alloquitur Regem suum’, his third liminary epigram to George Buchanan’s Rerum Scotorum Historia (1582). Rollock writes of two sceptres: that of King James rules Scotland, but Christ’s sceptre rules both Scotland and King James.​[back to text]​

[36]: See Thomas Thomson, ed. 1842-49. History of the Kirk of Scotland by David Calderwood, 8 vols (Edinburgh), v, 174, and Reid Baxter, ‘New Light from Fife’, 63-64.​[back to text]​

[37]: Poems of Elizabeth Melville, ed. J. Reid Baxter (Edinburgh, 2010), 72-91, lines 28-48, 386, 425-26. For Lady Culross’s East Neuk friends, see ‘New Light from Fife’, passim.​[back to text]​

[38]: See Julian Goodare. 2008. ‘The Attempted Scottish Coup of December 1596’, in J. Goodare and A. A. MacDonald (eds.) Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in Honour of Michael Lynch (Brill: Leiden), 311-36.​[back to text]​

[39]: Melville loved this parable. On his deathbed in 1614, ‘Quhen the fyve wyse virgines wer rememberit … he putt his hand to his heart, and chaped thryse on it’ (Pitcairn 1842: lxii).​[back to text]​

[40]: Revelation 4 :8-10, 5 :9-13, 7 :11-12, 14 :2-3, 19 :1-3, 6-7.​[back to text]​

[41]: See Simon Goulart, Mémoires de l’estat sous Charles IX, 3 vols,  Seconde édition […]. Meidelbourg [i.e. Geneva] H. Wolf [i.e. E. Vignon], i, 221-32.  Goulart’s text, identical in all editions of his Mémoires de l’estat,  draws heavily on the anonymous Brief discours sur  la mort de la Royne de Navarre advenue à Paris le IX jour de juin 1572, (np),  but the latter is not Melville’s source either. In the short sample below, the differences from the French are highlighted in bold in the Scots:

Goulart f.225v

Et adiousta ceste similitude, que tout ainsi qu’vn Roy voulant grandement honorer quelq’vn, luy monstroit sa Cour, ses princes, ses estats, ses maisons, & ses ioyaux plus precieux: ainsi, que Dieu vn iour desployeroit sa gloire, & sa Maiesté, voire tous ses thresors à ses fideles & esleus, lors qu’il les auroit attirez à soy, & qu’il les embelliroit, & enrichiroit de lumiere, incorruption & immortalité. Au moyen de quoy, puis qu’ell ne se deuoit beaucoup soucier de quitter ce monde, veu que pour vn Royaume terrien qu’elle delaissoit, elle heritoit le Royaume des cieux, & pour les biens qui ne faisoyent que passer, & s’escrouler, elle iouyroit à tousiours de ceux qui estoyent eternels.  Et ce d’autant qu’elle auoit ferme fiance en nostre Seigneur Iesus Christ, & qu’elle s’asseuroit de son salut par luy. Et sur ce mot, il s’addressa particulierment à elle, luy demandant si elle ne croyoit pas que Iesus Christ fust son sauueur, & que par son sang il eust fait la purgation de tous nos pechez. 

Melville, p.88

There he added therevnto this similitude, that even as a potent and magnifick rich King, willing to honor gretly some stranger, he shewes him his Court, his Princes, his Estates, his store-houses, and his most precious Iewels, he intertaines him delicately, he feedes his eies with pleasant spectacles, his eares with sweet musick, his taste and smelling with fragrant odours, &c. Even so, God wald some day display and laye open his Glory and Majestie; yea, even all his treasures vnto his Elect and Faithfull: even then, when he sall retyre them from this miserie vnto himself, in his heuenlie Kingdome of glory; where he sall highlie honour them, and decore them with Light, incorruption, and immortalitie. Wherefore, seeing that sik was the felicitie of the happie and glorified, shee suld not greatly care to quyte the warld, in sa far, as for ane earthly Realm, quhilk she left, she suld inherit the Kingdome of Heaven: and for goods and ritches corruptible, shee suld enjoye for ever sik, as culd not wither nor passe away: omission  & thereafter he addressed himselfe particularlie to her, demaunding of her, gif she beleeued that Iesus Christ was her Saviour, quha had by his bluid made a purgation for all her sinnes.

​[back to text]​

[42]: See J. Reid Baxter, ‘Montgomerie’s Solsequium and The Mindes Melodie‘ in J D McLure and J Hadley Williams (eds.). 2013. Fresche Fontanis: Proceedings of the 13th Triennial Conference on Mediaeval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing), 363-73. Melville’s example of how to send the readers of a very serious book away singing cheerfully may well have been Lady Culross’s inspiration to append an equally tuneful postliminary song to the apocalyptic conclusion of Ane Godlie Dreame. See Poems of Elizabeth Melville, 94-95. James Melville’s Psalm 23 is track 16 of the CD Thus spake Apollo myne, GAU 249 (2002).​[back to text]​

[43]: For Melville and intertextuality, see ‘The Releife of the longing soule’, 216-22.​[back to text]​

[44]: See the 1593 London print of the 2nd edition, f.48v of Pars tertia (STC (2nd ed.) / 2061.5; EEBO image 257).​[back to text]​

[45]: See Roderick Lyall. 2005. Alexander Montgomerie: Poetry, Politics and Cultural Change in Jacobean Scotland (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies: Tempe), 296-98. Most of Melville’s sonnets await scholarly consideration, but see Lyall, ibid., 303-306, and Sarah C. Ross, in ‘Elizabeth Melville and the Religious Sonnet Sequence in England and Scotland’, in Susan J. Wiseman (ed.). 2014. Early Modern Women and the Poem (Manchester: Manchester University Press), 42-59, at 52-55.​[back to text]​

[46]: William Cowper had likewise written near the start of A Defiance of Death: ‘It is therefore a special point of wisdom, so to liue, that by liuing wee may learne to die, that a godly life may prepare the way to a happy death’.​[back to text]​

[47]: David W. Atkinson. 1977. ‘Zachary Boyd and the Ars Moriendi tradition’, Scottish Literary Journal, 4, 5-16.​[back to text]​

[48]: See McCrie, Life of Andrew Melville, ii, 277-78 and 422-23 respectively.​[back to text]​

[49]: Beaty, Craft of Dying, 113, 114.​[back to text]​

[50]: O’Connor, The Art of Dying Well, 205.​[back to text]​

[51]: David George Mullan. 2000. Scottish Puritanism 1590-1638 (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 122. Melville’s Exhortatioun is briefly quoted on the same page and elsewhere, e.g. 41.​[back to text]​

[52]: Short Treatise, second and third pages (unnumbered).​[back to text]​

[53]: Volume V, 192.​[back to text]​

[54]: See the index entries for Murray in Mullan, Scottish Puritanism, and in McCallum, Reforming the Scottish Parish. The earlier lack of serious scholarly interest in Murray is amply demonstrated in the English Short Title Catalogue’s suggested date of ‘1634’ for the Nyne Songs, the only extant title-page having had its date trimmed off. In fact, the book’s dedication and liminary poem conclusively prove that the real date is 1631. The dedicatee of Nyne Songs is the ‘Right Honorable the Vicount [sic] of Stormont, Lord of Scone and of Balwhidder, Stewart of Fife, &c’, who, as Murray says, had been ‘Captaine of the guard’ and was now in ‘old age’. This is David Murray of Gospertie, who would die on 27 August 1631, when he was succeeded by Mungo Murray, hitherto Master of Stormont. Robert Crawford’s liminary poem tells us the author has ‘not long since’ (non ita pridem) published his ‘other’ little book (libellus) ‘de morte’, i.e. A Short Treatise – in which Agnes is addressed not as ‘Lady’ of Stormont, but as ‘Mistresse’ thereof, i.e. her husband was still only the Master (Scots Peerage, Sir James Balfour Paul, Scots Peerage, 9 vols. (Edinburgh, 1904-1914), viii, 191-97). 1631 had been suggested in the standard Scottish bibliographical tool, Harry G. Aldis’ List of Books printed in Scotland before 1700 (1904), twenty years before the creation of the Short Title Catalogue in 1926. But the latter’s attitude to Scottish facts is insouciantly high-handed: James VI, for example, can be found only as ‘James I, King of England, 1566-1625’, while Elizabeth Melville is called ‘Colville’ after her husband, in unscholarly, flat denial of Scottish reality.​[back to text]​

[55]: Calderwood’s History, edited by Thomas Thomson, JMAD, edited by Robert Pitcairn, and An Apologetical Narration … by William Scot, and Certaine Records … by John Forbes (Edinburgh, 1846), edited by David Laing. Laing did distinguish between the two men in his later Original Letters, relating to the ecclesiastical affairs of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1851). See ‘New Light from Fife’, 72, fn.121. For William Murray of Dysart, see Scots Peerage, iii, 398-99.​[back to text]​

[56]: Register of the Great Seal of Scotland [hereinafter RMS], 11 vols. (Edinburgh: General register house, 1882-1914), vi, item 1500.​[back to text]​

[57]: Scots Peerage, viii, 186-97.​[back to text]​

[58]: RMS, v, items nos.661 and 1776.​[back to text]​

[59]: Fasti, v, 192. Duncan was permitted to return to Crail after eight years’ exile (Calderwood, History, vii, 181), only to fall foul of the Court of High Commission in 1619 due to his defiance of the Five Articles of Perth (ibid. 377, 443, 470, 511).​[back to text]​

[60]: Calderwood, History, vii, 413. Contrast the fate of his associate, Andrew Duncan.​[back to text]​

[61]: See the actions raised by Murray and his wife Janet Moncreiff between February and May 1609, NRS, CS 7/242, fol. 29; CS 7/241/165r-167v, 186r-187v, 187v-189r. My thanks to Dr Aonghas MacCoinnich for supplying me with this information.​[back to text]​

[62]: Short Treatise, first page (unnumbered); Crawford’s liminary poem to Nyne Songs affirms that Olim voce gregem pascebas sedulus (Of old you would zealously feed your flock by the spoken word). Translations mine.​[back to text]​

[63]: The second poem, headed ‘to the same, and to the reader’ praises the practical usefulness of the book in the highest terms. The author was one David Maxwell, presumably the Crail notary (and ‘reader’ in the kirk) – see National Archives (London), SP 46/129/fo142, obligation by Andrew Wood, maltman, bgs of Crail, 4 February 1624: ‘David Maxwell notary and writer hereof’. John Durkan. 2013. Scottish Schools and Schoolmasters 1560-1633, (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society), 258, notes that a David Maxwell, notary and ‘reader’, is recorded as schoolmaster in Crail between January 1585 and May 1605.​[back to text]​

[64]: STC (2nd ed.) 18166.​[back to text]​

[65]: Inquisitionum Ad Capellam Domini Regis Retornatarum … Abbrevatio, 4 vols (Edinburgh, 1811- 1816), I, no. 343; RMS, viii, item 1179; Fasti, v, 259.​[back to text]​

[66]: RMS, vi, item no.1726.​[back to text]​

[67]: Short Treatise, first page (unnumbered).​[back to text]​

[68]: We cannot know whether Murray knew this particular commentary, but A Short Treatise, on pages 12 and 41, reveals his familiarity with Calvin’s writings.​[back to text]​

[69]: Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, tr. John Owen, vol.5 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1849), 392-93.​[back to text]​

[70]: A commentarie vpon S. Paules epistles to the Corinthians. Written by M. Iohn Caluin: and translated out of Latine into Englishe by Thomas Timme minister (London, 1577), fol.207 rv.
​[back to text]​

[71]: See J. Reid Baxter. ‘Mr Andrew Boyd (1567-1636), Bishop of Argyll: a Neo-Stoic Bishop of Argyll and his Writings’ in Julian Goodare and Alasdair A. MacDonald, (eds.) Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in Honour of Michael Lynch, 395-426, passim, for the bishop’s love of quoting from Lucian of Samosata and Seneca, amongst others, even in his funeral sermons. Ninian Campbell also lavishly quotes pagan writers in his Treatise upon Death of 1635. However, William Cowper’s A Defiance of Death, packed with quotations from the Church Fathers including St Bernard, rarely mentions Graeco-Roman pagan writers, and this is even truer of Zachary Boyd’s Last Battell, for all its length. William Struthers’ Resolution for Death  eschews non-Scriptural quotations entirely.​[back to text]​

[72]: ‘Live mindful of death: time is flying’, Satire 5, 153.​[back to text]​

[73]: For an attempted Scottish contrafactum sacrum of this song, often wrongly attributed to Campion, see (and hear) paragraphs [12] and [13] here:
[https://]{.ul}[www.northernrenaissance.org/the-apocalyptic-](http://www.northernrenaissance.org/the-apocalyptic-)[muse-of-francis-hamilton-of-silvertonhill/]{.ul}​[back to text]​

[74]: William Cowper had quoted this poem in his Defiance to Death, 12, as an instance of how pagan philosophy has no answer to death.​[back to text]​

[75]: Odes, 1.4.13-14; on the fifth (unnumbered) page of the Treatise, lines 9-10 of David Maxwell’s liminary poem had quoted Horace’s original Latin. ‘Doors’ in Scots was pronounced with a long ‘u’ sound, and therefore rhymes perfectly with Scots ‘towres’ (pr. ‘toors’).​[back to text]​

[76]: Psalm 36:9: Treatise, 12, 41​[back to text]​

[77]: ESTC (2nd ed.) / 18168.​[back to text]​

[78]: Melville and Cowper had discussed this passage early on in their respective treatises: Exhortatioun, 15, A Defiance to Death, 38-42. Murray may very well have known Cowper’s Defiance, just as William Struthers may well have known both Murray’s and Cowper’s treatises, but reasons of space preclude any proper investigation of the many parallels and possible influence.​[back to text]​

[79]: Epistularum Liber Primus, IV, 12-13; the Scots rhyme ‘wraith / daith’ is one of several instances of Murray’s use of Scots pronunciation (cf. ‘doores’ and ‘towres’). His usage is inconsistent: the Ecclesiastes 12 paraphrase includes both ‘that doore is close where throw came voice‘ (i.e. ‘voce’), and ‘And then our voice, which made sweete noyse’.​[back to text]​

[80]: The printed rhyme word in both 1631 and 1633 is ‘skaire’, i.e. ‘share’, in the sense of ‘allotted part or rôle’ (see Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue). However, in the 1631 print copy used for EEBO, a contemporary hand has forcefully blacked out ‘skaire’ and added the correct rhyme-word for line 2’s ‘though strong before’, namely ‘store’, in the sense of ‘abundance’ (See Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue, acceptation 3). ​[back to text]​

[81]: Published at London in 1645; the far from identical manuscript text of 1610 is in Edinburgh University Library, Melvini Epistolae, MS. Dc6.4, where it is entitled Oratio apologetica vel libellus supplex ad Regem.​[back to text]​

[82]: National Library of Scotland, Adv.Ms.19.2.7, f. 16 For a discussion of the late poetry, see J. Reid Baxter, ‘James Melville and the Releife of the Longing Soule.’​[back to text]​

[83]: ESTC (2nd ed.) / 18051, 18051.3. See ‘Montgomerie’s Solsequium and The Mindes Melodie‘, 365-74.​[back to text]​

[84]: For the new psalter of 1631, see Millar Patrick, Four Centuries of Scottish Psalmody (OUP, 1949) 80-88.​[back to text]​

[85]: Murray’s Treatise and Nyne Songs are not the only posthumous tribute to James Melville’s inspiring example. Five years after the former minister of Kilrenny’s death in January 1614, his ghost had been the protagonist of a polemical ‘dialogue’ set in Edinburgh in January 1619: see J. Reid Baxter. 2017. ‘Posthumous Preaching: James Melville’s ghostly advice in Ane Dialogue (1619), with an edition from manuscript’ Studies in Scottish Literature, 43: 1, 41-71, https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/ssl/vol43/iss1/9/.​[back to text]​

[86]: The 1631 first edition actually ends with a visual image that could in fact indicate that Murray hoped things would change, namely, the wheel of fortune, inscribed ‘OMNIA SVBIACENT VICISSITUDINI’ and ‘SOLA VIRTUS CADERE NON POTEST’. Falconer Madan’s The Early Oxford Press (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1895), 289, notes this as a printer’s device known from Oxford prints of 1592-93, 1620 and 1629. The device, however, takes on quite particular significance when juxtaposed with the conclusion of Murray’s Ecclesiastes 12 paraphrase. The 1633 reprint of Murray’s book omits the device, though the page offered the same amount of blank space; perhaps it was felt that this juxtaposition of words and image would be inappropriate in the year of Charles I’s coronation visit, accompanied by Archbishop Laud. The latter’s major rôle in arousing the active opposition of the hitherto passive majority within the Kirk is charted in Leonie James’s ‘This Great Firebrand’: William Laud and Scotland, 1617-1645, reviewed in JNR in April 2019.[back to text]​

[87]: STC (2nd ed.) / 17815, available in EEBO; the anonymous editor has cut Melville’s original 93 stanza dream-vision down to 39 stanzas and anglicised the language. See See McCrie, Life of Andrew Melville, ii, 456-58.​[back to text]​

[88]: Nyne Songs from the Holy Scripture (Edinburgh, 1631), 57, cited by Mullan, Scottish Puritanism, 284.​[back to text]​

[89]: David Parkinson. 2005. ‘Alexander Montgomerie: Scottish Author’ in Sally Mapstone, ed. Older Scots Literature (Edinburgh: John Donald), 493-513, at 508.​[back to text]​



Primary Sources

Edinburgh University Library, Edinburgh
Melvini Epistolae, MS. Dc6.4, where it is entitled Oratio apologetica vel libellus supplex ad Regem

National Archives, London
SP 46/129/fo142

National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh
CS7/242, fol. 29; CS7/241/165r-167v, 186r-187v, 187v-189r

Printed Sources

A commentarie vpon S. Paules epistles to the Corinthians. Written by M. Iohn Caluin: and translated out of Latine into Englishe by Thomas Timme minister (London, 1577)

Dudley Fenner, The Song of Songs, that is, the most excellent song which was Solomons, translated out of the Hebrue into English meeter with as little libertie in departing from the wordes, as any plaine translation in prose can vse: and interpreted by a short commentarie (Middelburg, 1587, reprinted 1594)

Erskine Beveridge. 1893. The Churchyard Memorials of Crail (Edinburgh: privately printed)

Falconer Maden. 1895. The Early Oxford Press, 1468-1640 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press)

Inquisitionum Ad Capellam Domini Regis Retornatarum … Abbrevatio, 4 vols (Edinburgh, 1811- 1816)

Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, 11 vols. (Edinburgh: General register house, 1882-1914)

Robert Pitcairn (ed.). 1842. The Autobiography and Diary of Mr James Melville, Minister of Kilrenny, in Fife, and Professor of Theology in the University of St Andrews. With a Continuation of the Diary. Edited from Manuscripts in the Libraries of the Faculty of Advocates and University (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society)

Sir James Balfour Paul, The Scots Peerage, 9 vols. (Edinburgh, 1904-1914)

The Historical Works of Sir James Balfour of Denmylne, 1824. 4 vols. (Edinburgh)

William Cowper. 1610. A Defiance to Death. Wherein, besides sundry heauenly instructions for a godly life, we haue strong and notable comforts to vphold vs in death (London, 1610, republished in 1616)

William Murray. 1631. Nyne Songs from the Holy Scripture (Edinburgh)

Secondary Sources

Atkinson, David W. 1992. The English ars moriendi (Peter Lang: New York)

_____. 1980. ‘Erasmus on Preparing to Die’, Wascana Review (University of Regina), Fall: 3-21

_____. 1977. ‘Zachary Boyd and the Ars Moriendi tradition’, Scottish Literary Journal, 4: 5-16

Beaty, Nancy Lee. 1970. The Craft of Dying: A Study in the Literary Tradition of the Ars Moriendi in England (New Haven: Yale University Press)

Duguid, Timothy. 2014. Metrical Psalmody in Print and Practice: English ‘Singing Psalms’ and Scottish ‘Psalm Buiks’, c.1547-1640 (Farnham: Ashgate)

Durkan, John. 2013. Scottish Schools and Schoolmasters 1560-1633 (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society)

Goodare, Julian. 2008. ‘The Attempted Scottish Coup of December 1596’, in Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in Honour of Michael Lynch, ed. by J. Goodare and A. A. MacDonald (Leiden: Brill), pp. 311-36

James, Leonie. 2017.  ‘This Great Firebrand’: William Laud and Scotland, 1617-1645 (Woodbridge: Boydell)

MacDonald, Alan R. 1998. The Jacobean Kirk 1567-1625 (London: Routledge)

Mason, R. A. and Reid, S. J. (eds.). 2014. Andrew Melville, Humanist and Reformer (Farnham: Ashgate)

McCallum, John. 2010. Reforming the Scottish Parish: The Reformation in Fife, 1560-1640 (Farnham: Ashgate)

_____. 2014. ‘”Sone and Servant”: Andrew Melville and his Nephew, James (1556-1614)’, in Andrew Melville (1545-1622), Writings, Reception and Reputation, ed. by R. A. Mason and S. J. Reid (Farnham: Ashgate), pp. 201-14.

McCrie, Thomas, 1824. Life of Andrew Melville, 2 vols. 2nd edition (Edinburgh : Blackwood)

Mullan, David George. 2000. Scottish Puritanism 1590-1638 (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Parkinson, David. 2005. ‘Alexander Montgomerie: Scottish Author’ in Older Scots Literature, ed. by Sally Mapstone (Edinburgh: John Donald), pp. 493-513.

Patterson, Mary Hampson. 2007. Domesticating the Reformation: Protestant Best Sellers, Private Devotion and the Revolution of English Piety (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Presses)

Quitslund, Beth. 2008. The Reformation in Rhyme: Sternhold, Hopkins and the English Metrical Psalter, 1547-1603 (Aldershot: Ashgate)

Raeburn, Gordon. 2016. ‘Rewriting Death and Burial in Early-Modern Scotland’, Reformation & Renaissance Review, 18.3: 254-272

Reid, Steven J. 2011. Humanism and Calvinism: Andrew Melville and the Universities of Scotland 1560-1625 (Farnham: Ashgate)

Reid Baxter, Jamie. 2017a. ‘Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross: new light from Fife’, The Innes Review, 68.1: 38-77

_____. 2017b. ‘Posthumous Preaching: James Melville’s ghostly advice in Ane Dialogue (1619), with an edition from manuscript’, Studies in Scottish Literature, 43.1: 41-71

_____. 2015. ‘James Melville and the Releife of the Longing Soule: a Scottish presbyterian Song of Songs?’, Medievalia et Humanistica, 41: 209-28

_____. 2013. ‘Montgomerie’s Solsequium and The Mindes Melodie‘ in Fresche Fontanis: Proceedings of the 13th Triennial Conference on Mediaeval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, ed. by J D McLure and J Hadley Williams (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing), pp. 363-73

_____. 2008. ‘Mr Andrew Boyd (1567-1636), Bishop of Argyll: a Neo-Stoic Bishop of Argyll and his Writings’ in Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in Honour of Michael Lynch, ed. by Julian Goodare and Alasdair A. MacDonald (Brill: Leiden), pp. 395-426

_____. (ed). 2010. Poems of Elizabeth Melville (Edinburgh: Solsequium)

Smith, Mark. 1985. ‘The Presbytery of St Andrews 1586-1604: a Study and Annotated Edition of the Register of the Minutes of the Presbytery of St Andrews’, Vol.1 (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of St Andrews)

Todd, Margo. 2002. The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland (Yale: Yale University Press)

Online Resources

Dictionary of Older Scottish Tongue, <https://dsl.ac.uk/>

Scottish Books 1505-1700 (Aldis Updated), <https://www.nls.uk/catalogues/scottish-books-1505-1640>

The Apocalyptic Muse of Francis Hamilton of Silvertonhill

The Apocalyptic Muse of Francis Hamilton of Silvertonhill (c.1585-1645)

Jamie Reid-Baxter

Whether thy chance or choise makes thee to looke,
(Right reverend Reader) on this Poeme penn’d,
Accept my first essay, this litle booke,
Despise it not, nor spare it to amend.
So shall thou thanks receive, and gaine a friend,
And for thy paines have praise, the just reward
Of such as vertue favour, and befriend
The just and good intent. Nor misregard
One litle talent (being rightly vsed
To vertues praise), which shall not bring disgrace
To the possessour. Talents ten, abused,
Makes the abuser loose them and his place.
One litle Talent with right vse I crave,
Rather then Talents ten hid vp to have.

[1] Thus Francis Hamilton (c.1585-1645) spoke ‘To the Christian Reader’ at the outset of his 1626 Edinburgh publication, King James His Encomium, A Poeme, in memorie and commendation of the High and mightie Monarch IAMES, King of great Britaine, France, and Ireland &c. our late Soveraigne, who deceased at Theobalds, vpon Sunday the 27. of March.1625 (STC, 2nd edn. 12726). We have no idea how many readers, right reverend or otherwise, ever looked on Hamilton’s ‘litle booke’, but in the last three centuries, they have not been numerous: no history of Scottish literature mentions the existence of King James His Encomium. But these thirty-one pages of strikingly energetic spiritual verse, which include Renaissance Scotland’s only ‘corona’ of sonnets, are well worth the looking on; and they become downright fascinating when taken in conjunction with the life, personality and manuscript writings of their author, which include petitions about witchcraft made to the Scottish parliament in 1641. [1]  Francis Hamilton’s life and writings have much to offer students of seventeenth century Scottish spirituality, royalism, upperclass profligacy and persecution of witches.

[2] Only two copies of King James His Encomium seem to survive. That held by the National Library of Scotland is incomplete, but it usefully fills a lacuna in the copy owned by the Huntington Library, the result of some owner’s having snipped the publisher Wreittoun’s device out of the title page. In all other respects, the Huntington copy is more than complete, for it contains a further 600 lines of manuscript verse (and other material), dated August and September 1630, written on a total of sixteen front and back flyleaves.[2] That the italic hand is Hamilton’s can be seen by comparing it with his petitions of 1641. This essay begins by surveying the contents of King James His Encomium. There follows a detailed biography of its author, including his 1641 petitions to Parliament, in order to provide the background to his manuscript verse.

[3]  Accurate printed references to Francis Hamilton are few: pages 6 and 7 of Glasgow City Council’s Provan Hall Heritage Trail describe the history of the 15th century mansion of Provan Hall and its extensive lands, whereof the youthful Hamilton became feuar as early as 1599, and all of which he had lost by 1625. The Scottish Historical Review carried a short biographical note which mentions the existence of both Hamilton’s published poetry and his petitions of 1641 (Gray-Buchanan 1909). Further precious details of his parentage, wife and progeny are given by George Hamilton (1933: 812-13), but though Francis’s witchcraft petitions are noted, his poetry is completely ignored. The relationship of that poetry to the work of his Scottish contemporaries is adumbrated in the final part of this essay.

The Printed Poems
[4] Despite the formal variety of its contents and typefaces, King James His Encomium is designed as a single entity, an uplifting sermon on the text printed on the title page: ‘I heard a voice from heaven, saying, Blessed are they which die in the Lord’ (Rev. 14:13). These words are obviously appropriate to a commemoration of a monarch as devout as the late King James; furthermore, the English Book of Common Prayer appoints this verse to be read at burials. However, Hamilton’s ‘sermon’ is being preached for the benefit of the living, his readers, all of whom face the task of living lives that will enable them, too, to ‘die in the Lord’, and thus come to see the New Jerusalem promised and described in Revelation 21, which Hamilton will paraphrase in one of his poems.

[5] The Book of Revelation makes repeated appearances in Hamilton’s book, but though he wholeheartedly endorses the standard protestant view that the Roman Church is the Whore of Babylon, he sets no timetable for the End of the World, such as was put forward in John Napier’s European bestseller A Plaine Discoverie of the Whole Revelation, first printed in 1594, nor does he indulge in the millenarian speculations and identifications of specific historical figures that abound in the Englishman Thomas Brightman’s Apocalypsis Apocalypseon (Frankfurt, 1609).[3] Brightman had received but a faint welcome, if any, from Patrick Forbes of Corse in his Commentarie on the Revelation (London, 1613 and Middelburg, 1614), and Brightman’s book would be denounced in print by King James VI/I (1619: 41). Brightman was also denounced by William Cowper, Bishop of Galloway in his Pathmos: A Commentary on the Revelation (1619) (Williamson 1979: 21 and passim). Cowper’s spiritualised approach to the sacred text parallels Hamilton’s reading of it. King James himself, as Hamilton reminds us in the ‘Encomium’, had been one of those ‘who Mysteries vnfolded/ Which Iohn in Pathmos Ile in trance beholded’ (ll. 243-44). The king’s Fruitfull Meditatioun contening ane plane and facil expositioun… of the 20 Chapter of the Revelatioun (Edinburgh, 1588) had been reprinted in 1603, and again in the king’s Works of 1616, which also contained James’s Paraphrase upon the Revelation.

[6] Hamilton’s book is carefully constructed. The ‘Encomium’ itself is printed on numbered pages 1 to 16, and surrounded by pre- and post-liminary verses on unnumbered pages. The five metrically varied prefatory poems are:

1. sonnet ‘To the Christian Reader’ (ababbcbcdedeff)
2. ‘Seven Crownes’, a sequence of seven sonnets (ababcdcdefefgg)
3. ‘The Epistle Dedicatorie’ (couplets)
4. sonnet ‘To the right magnanimous and worthie Lord, IAMES, Marquesse of Hamiltoun, &c.’ (ababcdcdefefgg)
5. sonnet ‘To the right magnanimous and worthie Lord, Sir George Hay of Kilfawnes Knight, Lord Chancelour of Scotland’ (ababbcbcdedeff)

Seven Crownes
[7] The opening sonnet having told the Christian reader that ‘vertues praise’ is the subject of the book, Hamilton proceeds to place ‘vertue’ in its cosmic Christian context by beginning with something of a showpiece. ‘Seven Crownes’ is a corona of seven sonnets – a significant Biblical number, not least in the book of Revelation: the dedication of Bishop Cowper’s Pathmos, for example, speaks of ‘three severall rankes of Seuens, stretching themselves in most comely order through this Iewell, and wherein the Lord hath secretly inclosed treasures of manifold wisedome’. Revelation looms large in Hamilton’s sonnet sequence, concerned as it is with spiritual warfare and the Last Judgment; in sonnet 3 we find the ‘persecuting Dragon, who was cast | From out of Heaven (as Iohn by revelation | Made knowne to Christians many yeeres since past)’.

[8]  In a corona sequence, the last line of sonnet 1 is repeated as the first line of sonnet 2, and so on, until the first line of sonnet 1 reappears as the final line of the sequence. The sonnets are thus plaited together like the leaves of a laurel crown for the head of the beloved. Or indeed, like a crown of thorns — the only well-known British corona is John Donne’s celebrated La Corona, a meditation on the life of Christ.[4] Donne opted for the ‘petrarchan’ rhyme scheme abba abba cddc ee, which is also regularly found in the work of his Scottish contemporary and admirer William Drummond. Scottish sonnets — whatever their subject matter — overwhelmingly followed the interlacing ababbcbccdcdee rhyme-scheme, right into the 1640s, but this is used by Hamilton only in three of his twenty extant sonnets.[5] For ‘Seven Crownes’ he employed the ababcdcdefefgg ‘Shakespearean’ scheme, also much favoured by Drummond.

[9] Sonnet coronas are rare at the best of times, but Hamilton’s may be unique: the seven sonnets are linked by their closing couplets and not merely their last lines, as here between sonnets one and two:

… One God wee must adore, in persons three
Distinguish’d, who divided cannot bee.

One God wee must adore, in persons three
Distinguish’d, who can never bee divid’d…

or here between sonnets three and four:

… And in the end for ever did confute him
And by his death triumphantly refute him.

Christ in the end for ever did confute him
By his owne death; and did in triumph rise…

The fact that Donne’s La Corona is redolent of the Catholic rosary would not necessarily have repelled the vehemently protestant Hamilton. Scottish protestants happily read the poetry of the English Jesuit martyr St Robert Southwell: St Peters Complainte was published (omitting the author’s name) by Waldegrave at Edinburgh c.1599 (STC, 2nd ed. 22960), edited by the stark Aberdonian presbyterian John Johnstone, friend and colleague of Andrew Melville at St Andrews.  Johnstone even inserted a fine introspective sonnet of his own into the volume, in response to St Robert’s great poem (Reid Baxter 2008: 81). However, there is nothing remotely introspective about Hamilton’s homiletic tone in the severely Bible-based ‘Seven Crownes’ and the Encomium’s other poems.

Dedication and sonnets to the Marquess and the Chancellor
[10] It is only after his book has been placed sub specie aeternitatis with ‘Seven Crownes’ that Hamilton addresses himself

to all true Christians, to my Countrey of Great Britaine, my native Soyle of Scotland, and to that famous, and worthie Towne of EDINBVRGH, and especially to the two magnanimous, and worthie Lords, IAMES Marquesse of Hamiltown &c and GEORGE Lord Chancelour of SCOTLAND.

The ensuing lively verse dedication makes it plain that Hamilton’s main concern in his book is going to be the praise of ‘true vertue’, so perfectly embodied in the late king and in the new monarch, Charles. The poet takes obvious pleasure in playing with language — ‘generous genius’, ‘True tacticke practicke teacheth vs’; ‘[James] left of his owne royall race | A royall, loyall Prince to fill his place’. Linguistic playfulness opens the epistle:

Magnanimous Lords, with duetifull respects
This Pilgrims Poeme,
FRANCK to you directs,
Wishing your Lordships daigne to patronize it;
What FRANCK affoords, let favour infranchize it.            

The poem is concerned with the dead king’s virtues, but before signing off as ‘Your L. loving Friend to bee commanded in all Christian dueties’, Hamilton slips in a plea (or admonition) directed at his ‘magnanimous Lords’:

The vertues of the living, men should praise,
That more and more we may true vertue raise
True vertues praise I heartlie doe intend,
Till that my breath and mortall life shall end,
And so much more to praise it shall be bent,
As I doe finde it true and eminent.                            
(37-38, 41-44)

The implication for these two living noblemen is that Hamilton will be happy ‘to be commanded’ to celebrate them, but only if they live lives of ‘true vertue’ and their commands are compatible with his ‘Christian dueties’. The grandees then receive a sonnet each, again signed ‘your loving friend’. The young Marquis was of course Hamilton’s ‘clan chief’, but Sir George Hay of Kinnoull may have been a personal friend; in the Huntington copy, after the sonnet, Hamilton has inserted Amoris vincula fortissima = si mutua in Christo in a calligraphic italic hand. Both sonnets are concerned with the need for monarchs (and all men) to be spiritually alert, for reasons underlined by the powerful close of the sonnet to George Hay:

Magnanimous Lord, even you, and I, and all
Must strive for Heaven, and whilst wee breath, must fight
Gainst Sinne and Satan, leat wee catch a fall
From Heaven to Hell, and so may lose our right.
Christs colours now are flying in the field,
And woe to such as shall to Satan yeeld.                          (9-14)

The ‘Encomium’
[11] Hamilton’s lengthy tribute to the late James VI & I comprises 244 eminently readable pentameter couplets, occupying the volume’s only numbered pages, 1-16. For 354 lines, James is sonorously celebrated and memorialised as:

Parent of Peace, of potent Poets Prince,
Religous, Royall, and Renown’d defence
Of faithfull Christians ‘gainst the Romish Whoore.      (39-41)

The verse is fluent and attractive for the most part, although perhaps less than poetic in the numerological excursus on the fact that the dying king received the sacrament on ‘The twentie sixt of March, being Saturday, | Yet the Iewes Sabbath, who did Christ betray’ before actually passing away on the Christian Sabbath, the day of the Lord’s resurrection:

The three time nine, or nine times third of March,
The twenty seventh, King Iames his soule did marche
Amongst those Angels, and those Saints of God,
Which haue with our Redeemer their abode.
The thousand yeare, six hundred twenty fiue
Since our sole Saviour tooke on mortall life.          (203-10)

This is followed by an impressive anaphora (‘We waile not IAMES…’), in which Hamilton lists the various royal writings, as others did before him.[6] In the fine pages devoted to the king’s ascent to heaven, Hamilton, like many another, praises James’s poetry, but in his final 76 couplets, Hamilton turns to the new king, and utters a long prayer mostly concerned with Charles’ spiritual qualities and wellbeing, on which the success of the new reign will depend. Intriguingly, there may be just a hint that Hamilton held a less than wholeheartedly episcopalian position, when he prays for Charles that ‘he cause amend what is amisse | In all his Kingdomes, so that thou doe blesse | Both him, and them’ (447-48), since he has nowhere mentioned the present (episcopal) polity of the Kirk, which the late King James regarded as one of his greatest achievements. And Hamilton is prepared to be undiplomatic. A mere time-server concerned to flatter Charles I, recently wed to his Roman Catholic queen Henrietta Maria, would never have ended this ‘Encomium’ with a blazing tirade against the Roman Church, the Jesuits and the Pope, ‘Deluding men with worse than rotten bread, | Instead of such as Soules and bodies feed’ (481-82).

The postliminary poems

[12] After the ‘Encomium’, the unnumbered pages 17-24 contain four poems:

1. ‘A Poetical Ecphrase and Paraphrase on the 13 verse Of the 14 chapter of S. Iohns Revelation’ (twelve couplets);
2. ‘The triumph of every true Christian defunct’ (8 lines alternating trimeters and pentameters)
3. ‘Song to the Comfort of every true Christian’ (twelve complex song-stanzas)
4. ‘Exhortation to all true Christians For the praising of our Saviour’ (72 tetrameter couplets)

Items 1 and 2 are much the worst verse in the volume. Revelation 14:13 is versified thus:

Saying to me from Heaven a voice heard I,
Write, Blest are they, which in the Lord doe die
From hence foorth; yea, the Sprit sayes, for they rest
Them from their labours, and their workes (whilst blest)
Do followe them.

What do follow them here are standard Calvinist reflections on man’s utter reprobacy, the utter uselessness of ‘works’, and the absolute need for good works nonetheless. ‘The triumph of every true Christian defunct’ is an unimpressive short devotional piece, beginning with a quotation of I Corinthians 15.55-56 (‘O death where is thy sting…’) and glossed with some uninspired commonplaces. The ‘Song of Comfort’, however, is an ambitious and admonitory contrafactum sacrum. Not until the sixth stanza does Hamilton makes direct reference to his model, the enormously popular anonymous song ‘What if a day, or a month, or a year?’, often attributed to Thomas Campion.[7] A two-stanza version had seen print in Scotland as early as 1603 (as a page-filler at the end of Charteris’ edition of the comedy Philotus). The song’s text was notoriously unstable, but versions are found in no fewer than ten Scottish musical manuscripts; ‘a simple chordal setting in the style of Campion’ appears in the Thomas Wode Partbooks (Elliott 1963). This song also appears in a further three Scottish manuscripts in purely instrumental form.

[13] In an important article of 1962, David Greer observed that ‘Unlike many ballad tunes, “What if a day” is no mere Gebrauchsmusik: it is not simply a convenient and well-known channel for the transmission of the words, but a melody closely corresponding to the form and inflections of its text’ (312). Hamilton’s twelve stanzas constitute far the longest text written to the tune, though his words frequently require considerable flexibility on the part of the singer to fit the melody to them. The printed layout in Hamilton’s book, using long lines, gives no idea of the musical shape of the verse (cf. the printed layout of the two psalm paraphrases ‘to the tone of Solsequium’ at the close of James Melville’s Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death (1597: 110-112). You can hear the following stanza (which well illustrates Hamilton’s adroit weaving-in of Scripture) sung here (performed by Michael Swithinbank):

If thou to day heare his voice who doth say,                                   [cf. Ps. 95:1]
Better now thou weepe for sinne, nor to laugh for pleasure;      [cf. Luke 6:21]
Banish therefore away all shifts of delay,
Turne, repent thee with teares, to be kept in his treasure:
Mindst thou to haue,
knock, seeke, and craue,
for the time is sliding.
Knock, he wil open, seek, thou shalt finde,               [cf. Matt. 7:7, Luke 11:9]
Aske whiles thy Lord’s biding;
He will grant,
Thou nought want,
Who so deare hath bought thee;
He’ll redresse
Thy distresse,
Who so much hath sought thee.

In his sixth stanza, Hamilton skilfully recycles phrases from the original song, as his contemporary Elizabeth Melville, for example, had done in her contrafactum ‘Away vaine warld’ (Reid Baxter 2010: 92-93; discussed in Reid Baxter 2005). But unlike her, Hamilton is not uniformly successful in fitting his text to the melody, and he seems more or less to abandon the attempt in the last four stanzas, where he is trying to paraphrase several key verses from Revelation 21. In this poem, Hamilton yet again puts the death-bound brevity of earthly life into its eternal context; the Archangel sounds the Last Trump in the first stanza, and the song’s final stanza concerns the New Jerusalem, and ends with ‘him that overcommeth’ eating of ‘the tree of life … in the midst of the paradice of God’, as in Revelation 2:7. In the intervening stanzas, Hamilton reiterates his message: ‘Wouldst thou ring with thy King in heav’n at his appearance, | Heere thou must fight, as a Christian knight, by faith & perseverance’ (58-59).

[14] Having by this stage established very clearly what he means by ‘a true Christian’, Hamilton ends his book with a rumbustious and energetic ‘Exhortation to all true Christians for the praising of our Saviour’ in dancing octosyllabic couplets, punctuated by repeated injunctions to ‘come’ and praise God, and concluding with the Book of Revelation yet again: the latter part looks forward to the Last Judgement and the destruction of the Roman Whore of Babylon. (Hamilton’s title sounds very much like a deliberate echo of the way King James had begun his closing admonition to his Lepanto, 1019-20 : ‘Exhorting all you Christians true/ Your courage up to bend’.)  The careful structuring of Hamilton’s book can be seen in the fact that the sequence of those being enjoined to ‘come’ almost exactly follows the order found in the title of Hamilton’s Epistle Dedicatorie: ‘all true Christians… Great Britaine … Scotland, and … EDINBVRGH’. However, the ‘Exhortation’ begins with a royal peal of chiming bells:

King CHARLES our King, come now and sing
Exult for ioy before thy King,
The King of Kings, thy God and Lord.                           (1-3)

Charles is strongly reminded of his dependence on God:

When God King David had advaunced,
Before Gods Arke good David daunced
With all his might, for he reiosed                                           [cf. 2 Sam. 6:14]
In God, in whom he still reposed.                         (15-18)

And then the poet cries  ‘Great Britaine, with the Ocean sea | Inviron’d, come now’ (19-20), before addressing society as a whole:

Come learned and come Laickes all,
Come Nobles, Gentles, great and small,
Come rich, come poore, come every creature,
Conformed in true Christian feature,
Now let vs sing in songs the praise
Of God, who Charles our King doth raise            (23-28).

Next, Scotland is told to ‘come… and exult for joy’ (35), and Hamilton himself makes an appearance, ‘Come Edinburgh, renown’d for worth | The towne wherein I had my birth’ (39-40).

[15]  At line 45, Hamilton urges ‘all Christians true’ to ‘come’, and for forty eloquent lines they are encouraged to embrace suffering for the sake of Christ, if need be, even unto martyrdom. Since Christian martyrs are the subject of Revelation 6:9-11, Hamilton’s poem not unnaturally culminates with what will be his book’s final apocalyptic passage, beginning at line 87 with ‘the Arch-Angell shall with sound | Of Trumpet, raise the dead from ground’ and continuing through to the poem’s end. The imperative ‘Come’ is heard again in lines 103 and 107, creating a great, joyous rush of energy, and it is repeated for the last time in Hamilton’s final attack on the Roman Church:

…. O Christians true
Come shout for ioy, and stil renue
A battery to proud Babels wall,
Till that presumptuous Harlot fall.
Would God mine eyes might see her dash’d
And dung to dust, who long hath fash’d
The Bride of Christ.                                                  (123-29)

Hamilton wisely refrains from crowning all these imperatives with the most famous injunction to ‘come’ in Christian civilisation, namely ‘Even so, come Lord Jesus’, found in Revelation 22:20, the penultimate verse of the entire Bible: he can hardly place the Creator on the same level as the created beings on whom he has been calling to ‘come’. However, after a powerful climax quoting the martyr-saints of Revelation 6:10, ‘How long, how long dost thou delay | For to avenge vs of our wrongs?’ (138-39), Hamilton ends his homily and closes his book with a sudden hush that amounts to a splendid modesty topos (and a rejection of attempts to forecast the date of the Last Judgment):

But thou, Lord, know’st what best belongs
Vnto thy glorie; which fulfill,
According to thy holy will.                                       (140-42)

The life of Francis Hamilton of Silvertonhill
[16] Revelation and the Second Coming reappear in the verse from 1630 that fills the sixteen handwritten pages of the Huntington Library copy of King James his Encomium. Very different indeed from the celebratory printed poems, this material, like the 1641 petitions to Parliament, can only really be understood in the context of Hamilton’s biography.

[17] Francis was the eldest son of Sir Robert of Goslington and Silvertonhill, a descendant of Alexander of Silvertonhill (ante 1455), brother of the first Lord Hamilton, and at the end of his liminary sonnet to the Marquess of Hamilton, Francis signs himself ‘your L. loving friend and kinsman’.[8] Francis’s grandfather, Sir Andrew of Goslington (b.1532) fought for Queen Mary at Langside in 1567, but his subsequently forfeited estates were restored to him as early as 1572. On his death in 1592, Sir Andrew was succeeded by his eldest son Robert Hamilton ‘of Newtoun’, who would greatly increase the family’s patrimony when Elizabeth Baillie, his wife since 1580, became sole heir to her father in 1593: William Baillie of Provand had been Lord President of the Court of Session from 1566 to his death, and was a rich Glasgow landowner.[9] His grandson Francis was born c.1585 in Edinburgh, a town for which he clearly had a great deal of affection, making it one of the dedicatees of King James His Encomium and saluting it in the book’s closing poem. Nonetheless, it was at Glasgow University that the poet matriculated in 1601, when one of his classmates was the future minister and notoriously bad versifier Zachary Boyd (Innes 1854: iii, 64). Like many young lairds and noblemen who attended university, Francis does not appear to have taken his M.A., but his writings show that he had a lively and informed interest in religious matters.

[18] Francis was a wealthy student: on 31 October 1599, his mother Elizabeth Baillie granted the extensive lands of Provand to him in fee, reserving the life-rent to her husband, and also reserving the right to raise 8000 merks for the dowries of their five daughters, Margaret, Mary, Elizabeth, Agnes and Jean (RMS 6, 1593-1608, no. 973). The charter further reserved the proprietorship of the lands of Balgray to Edward, the eldest of Francis’s five younger brothers.[10] In 1607, there was a contract of marriage drawn up between Francis and the widowed Dame Isabel Boyd, Lady Blair (c.1577-after 1641), a daughter of the sixth Lord Boyd of Kilmarnock.[11] This marriage never took place, for reasons as yet unknown, and in October 1609, Francis was contracted to marry Agnes Hamilton, a daughter of Sir Alexander Hamilton of Innerwick and his third wife Christian Hamilton (NAS, RD1/159, ff.420v-423v). Agnes Hamilton was no mean bride; her maternal uncle was the future dedicatee of Bishop Cowper’s Pathmos, namely the stellarly successful lawyer and statesman Thomas Hamilton of Priestfield (1563-1637), who rose from the position of Lord Advocate (1596) to that of Secretary of State (1612), and went on to be created Lord Binning (1613), Earl of Melrose (1619) and finally Earl of Haddington (1627).[12]

[19] Francis’s mother Elizabeth Baillie died on 4 November 1609, a month after the marriage contract with Agnes had been signed. Agnes was dead before 1622 (Hamilton 1933: 497), having borne Francis three daughters, named for their mother and their two grandmothers. Elizabeth died young, but Agnes and Christian survived until at least 1652 (RMS 10, 1652-59, no.606). Unfortunately, there is at present no further information about Francis during the decade after 1609. In July 1621, and again in March 1624, he secured licences to spend several years abroad.[13] He does not seem to have used these licences, since in January 1622 we find him raising an unsuccessful court action against his father, and in June 1624, raising another against his sisters in order to escape the fulfilment of the provisions secured to them on the lands of Provand (Morison 1801-08 xii, 9451 and v, 4098).[14] Unsurprisingly, by this time Francis was out of favour with his father, who had on 16 June 1624 contracted ‘to seize and infeft’ Francis’s brother Edward ‘in the £5 lands of Goslington and the lands of Silvertonhill &c’ (NAS, XV General Register of Sasines, 171). Francis’s finances were in a bad way: on 3 July 1624 some of the Provand lands were ‘apprized’ for moneys owed to John Crawfurd of neighbouring Mylnetoun (RMS 8, 1620-1633, no.670). In June 1625, more of the Provan lands would be lost to James Baillie of Carfin and Thomas Baillie in Dunsysetoune. Ten years later, Edward Hamilton would succeed in recovering the various lands of Provan, and Francis would be pointedly excluded from the arrangements laid down for the future ownership thereof (RMS 9, 1633-1651, no.350).[15]

[20] Although Hamilton places the date ‘Feb.7.1626.’ at the end of ‘King James His Encomium’ on page 16, the volume betrays almost nothing of his difficult circumstances. Presumably, however, when in lines 3-6, the dedicatees are offered the book with ‘My loyall love (though I bee much destressed)’, Hamilton is making a veiled plea for assistance from the Marquess of Hamilton and the Chancellor; if we were unaware of the biographical background, ‘much destressed’ might not strike us. The same applies to ‘Blyth may he be, though his friends have opprest him, | Finds by true faith true spirituall ioyes’, the first lines of ‘A Song to the comfort of every true Christian’. Much more striking, indeed distinctly odd, is this passage of the ‘Encomium’, in which Hamilton seems both to merge himself with the late king and evince real persecution mania:

I passe* not what some perverse people say,        [*misprint for ‘panse’?]
Nor mumbling Momus* shall my pen affray,        [*The god of mockery]
Nor who so lust to jeast, to mock or scorne me,
Or seeke by fraud or falshood to forlorne me
By poyson, or by powder-plotted treason,
Or fairded fair pretences bent ‘gainst reason.
I tell them all that Christ my Lord and Master
Can well avenge his litle ones disastre,
And that it better were for them to bee
Bound to a Mill-stone, and cast in the sea,
Then to injure or doe malicious wrong
Vnto the least which doe to Christ belong. (67-78)     [cf. Matt. 18:6]

Just how the pious Francis managed to squander his very considerable wealth by mid-1625 is as yet un-elucidated, but his finances evidently remained parlous for the rest of his life: in 1637 Edward Hamilton issued a charter in favour of Francis’s daughters Christian and Agnes, presumably because their father was unable to provide for them (RMS 10, 1652-59, no.606). Their grandfather, Sir Robert, died in 1642, and left a bequest for an ‘oy’ called Christiana, who may be Francis’s daughter. Sir Robert’s testament makes no mention of Francis (NAS, CC9/7/28, 691-96, dated 20 December 1641). The poet died in Edinburgh in 1645, and his testament, registered 7 February 1646, makes distressing reading. He ‘deceissit wpone the x day x 1645 yeares’, in poverty and entirely alone. No member of his family is mentioned in the testament (NAS, CC8/8/61, 549-51). His executor dative was a baker burgess of Edinburgh, John Baillie, ‘creditor to him’ for an unpaid loan of December 1644, who inherited all of Francis’s pathetic worldly goods. The ‘summa of the inventar’ includes ‘ane old dornick boordcloath’, ‘twa old cushions’, ‘ane pair of old sheits’, ‘three old trunks and ane cabinet’, ‘ane stand of old black cloaths’, ‘twa pairs of old silk stockins with garters and rosis’. There is some other clothing, some pewter, ‘ane old rapper sword’, a bow and quiver, ‘ane shutting [shooting] peice with snap work’. Amongst these sad remnants of an upper-class life, two items stand out: ‘VI score books est[imate] all to £60’ and ‘ane cabinet with the defunctis writts estimat to £10’. That the ‘writts’ would have included poetry is indicated by Francis’s marginal comment on the MS sonnets in the Huntington Library copy of King James his Encomium, namely that he will ‘revise them & get them in order with other such like’ (my italics). As for the hundred and twenty books, there can be little doubt that they dealt with religious subjects.

Dame Isabel Boyd and the witchcraft petitions
[21] Sir Robert Douglas’s Baronage (1798: 425) described Francis as ‘a very enthusiastic, wrong-headed man: he fancied himself bewitched by Dame Isabel Boyd, Lady Blair, which apears by several extravagant petitions to Parliament from him in 1641’.[16] By ‘enthusiastic’, Douglas meant ‘fanatical’ or perhaps even unbalanced. Francis was indeed religious to the point of mania, but he was by no means the only religiously inclined member of the Silvertonhill family. His father Sir Robert wrote in his testament that he resigned ‘his saull to god almightie assuring and perswading himself to inherit eternall lyff in & throw the richtuous merits & suffering of his onlie Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ’. The family forged several West of Scotland clerical connections by marriage: Sir Robert’s brother Andrew married Isabel Greig, the daughter of one minister and widow of another.[17] Two of Francis’s five sisters married clergymen: Agnes, the third of the girls, became the second wife of an important figure, the staunchly Presbyterian Mr Robert Scott (d.1629), minister of Glasgow, on 28 August 1619. Much admired by his young disciple John Livingston (the future Covenanter),[18] Scott was brother-in-law to another Presbyterian, the poet Michael Wallace, minister of Kilmarnock, and was the addressee of neo-Latin verse by both Wallace and the more famous Robert Boyd of Trochrigg, a cousin of Dame Isabel Boyd. By contrast, Francis Hamilton’s fourth sister, Jean, would on 21 April 1621 marry Mr Thomas Law (d.1649), a son of the courtly prelate Archbishop James Law (d.1632) of Glasgow. From 1626, Thomas Law was minister of Inchinnan, until he was deposed ‘for malignancy and other scandals’ in 1648; his will names Francis’s brother Robert Hamilton of Silvertonhill as one of the overseers (Scott 1915-: iii 456, 144).

[22]  There was, then, no shortage of trained theologians available to Francis in his immediate family circle with whom he could consult if he wished, including about witchcraft. In 1641 ‘Francis Hamilton of Silverton-hill petitioned Parliament against the incantations and witchcraft practised against him by Dame Isabel Boyd in the years 1607 and 1608, then relict of the late John Blair of that Ilk, and now relict of the late Sir Donald Campbell of Auchinbreck’ (Paul 1904-14: v, 167). The relevant manuscript material is in the National Archives of Scotland.[19] The man whom Francis misnamed ‘Sir Donald’ was Sir Dugal Campbell of Auchinbreck. For all the number of words Francis expends, his extremely high-flown, ceremonious and bombastic petitions nowhere specify what charms and enchantments Isabel Boyd is supposed to have practised, or why she did so. Francis simply says that he wants to be heard publicly, face to face with Dame Isabel, and then he will reveal ‘such hainous Crimes, & abominable Transgressiones, as import not only wilfull premeditate & publique perjurie, But also Charming, Incantation, Divination, Witchcraft or consultation with Familiar Spirits, witch, wizard or necromancer’. It is unlikely that we shall ever know exactly why Francis was convinced that Isabel Boyd had cast spells on him or had perjured herself. As we have seen, the source of his conviction must be connected with the failed 1607 marriage contract. Dame Isabel’s first husband, John Blair of that Ilk, whom she had married in 1589 ‘in pura ejus virginitate’, had died in 1604. Isabel Boyd and John Blair, younger, had four daughters but no son; the Blair line thus passed to the late John’s brother, Brice. By 1613 she was married to Dugal Campbell, though she continued to enjoy her jointure from the Blair lands (Paterson 1863-66: iii, 162-65). Dugal was knighted in 1617, and the couple had at least one daughter (Paul 1904-14: vi, 295). Isabel was rather more of a grandee than Francis (or his wife Agnes), being a daughter of Thomas, sixth Lord Boyd (c.1547-1611), and hence a half-sister of Thomas’s natural son, the saintly Calvinist Andrew Boyd (d.1636), minister of Eaglesham and then, from 1613, Bishop of Argyll. Francis’ university classmate Zachary Boyd was a ‘cousin’ of Dame Isabel (Reid Baxter 2008b: 397-98).

[23]  That Francis laid the retrospective blame for all his subsequent misfortunes on his link with Dame Isabel in 1607 and 1608 is made quite clear by the 1641 petitions. Written in August, September and November, and addressed to the General Assembly and to the King and Parliament, these are the latest samples of Hamilton’s work that we now possess, and they indicate that they are hardly the first such papers he has written on the subject: ‘I haveing meaned & compleaned these 34 yeares and 16 yeares thereof Last or thairby publiquely in judgment, of such treacherous Crimes, hainous & abominable Transgressiones … Done & practized by Dame Isabell Boyd in the yeare 1607 to 1608’. The ‘34 yeares’ are clearly the whole period between 1607 and 1641. As we shall see, the manuscript material in the Huntington copy of King James his Encomium shows that Francis had appealed to the 1630 Convention of Estates, which sat from 27 July to 7 August. Given that a Convention of Estates had also met from 27 October to 2 November 1625, Hamilton’s ‘16 yeares’ of public complaint must refer to petitions made to that body.

[24]  Hamilton blamed Dame Isabel’s ‘hainous Crimes & abominable transgressions’ for his own ‘hard Estate ensueing theirupon, by Pleas pro & contra, Dangers, Debts; & Debts cumming upon Debts, troubles, Calamities, & Necessities, whereby I haue been constrained, and yet whither I will or nill, necessitated, & in a manner compelled to doe, which otherwise I ought not, and wold not. Beside the loss & hazard of both Libertie & mortall life, And what I had, or haue in this world of temporall things’. Hamilton’s manuscript writings contain various statements about the danger that witchcraft posed to Scotland, and though he and his existence were unknown to Dr Louise Yeoman, Francis perfectly matches her ‘personality profile’ of a certain type of witch-hunter:

quarrelsome, indebted men of some status who did not wish to take responsibility for their own misfortunes. They perhaps felt the need to prove themselves to higher authority in order to compensate for and to cancel out their own personality flaws. These men felt that their enemies must also be public enemies. When they came into conflicts [sic] with their female peers, such men might be quicker than others to label them witches. […] A long-running conflict with a woman, on whom her foe was in no position to take revenge, might rankle for for years before finally, under the right circumstances, generating witchcraft accusations […] Witch-hunting, too, could set up a drama with the zealous witch-hunter at the centre of of the universe saving his community from the forces of ultimate evil. (2002: 120)

By October 1625, when Francis started publicly accusing Dame Isabel, his wife was dead and his financial mismanagement had reduced him to something akin to ruin. Yeoman notes that witchcraft accusations against high-status women generally failed, and that it is ‘a measure of the powerful forces driving the witch-hunters that they made their accusations in the teeth of the odds against success’. Perhaps, she suggests, they ‘genuinely did believe, for culturally-determined reasons, that their female foes were assuredly witches’ (Yeoman 2002: 121). Hamilton believed it for decades. But the establishment, faced with an upper-class accuser and an even more upper-class accused, endlessly postponed taking any action.

[25]  In 1630, Hamilton had copied a string of Old Testament condemnations of witches, consulters therewith, and perjurers onto the final front flyleaf of the Huntington Library copy of King James his Encomium. In 1641, the ‘Supplementa Miscellanea’ to his petition of 17 & 21 August comprised a very different selection of Scripture verses, celebrating, in sequence, the omnipotence of God, the Last Judgment and the destruction of the Beast, the Elect Nation, the King, the faithful who trust in God and who turn all things to good, and God’s love for Sion. When quoting Psalm 94, Hamilton was clearly thinking of himself and his prolonged sufferings as he waited for justice to be done:

Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? Or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity? Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence.

The penultimate quotation (from 1 Peter) concerns brotherly love, the transience of human glory and the eternal word of God. The final quotation is the famous ‘Unto us a child is born’ of Isaiah 9, and concerns the absolute righteousness of the kingdom of God, who will ‘establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever’.

[26]  Francis Hamilton never did see the justice he believed was his by right. On the last-written of the petitions (17 November 1641), a pencil note refers the reader to the Acts of the Parliament of Scotland, volume v, page 602, which merely records: ‘The Laird of Silvertonhill his Petition remitted to the judge ordinar’. Francis’s last attempt to bring about a public confrontation between himself and the lady he blamed for all his misfortunes had got no further than his earlier attempts, ‘referred from judges to judges’.

The MS material on the flyleaves of Huntington Library copy
[27]  Francis’s authorship of this material, dated August and September 1630, is not in doubt. He has crammed the front flyleaves with poetry in rhyming couplets and marginal notes, comments and corrections; the back flyleaves contain poetry in a variety of verse forms. The tone is markedly more personal than the celebratory printed poetry of 1626, which had contained only the merest hint at his private difficulties, and not a single word about witchcraft. The manuscript poetry and comments, however, are the words of a beleaguered soul absolutely convinced both that he himself is deeply wronged and much persecuted, and that the Scottish kingdom is in deadly danger from satanic attack.

[28]  The badly torn first leaf is headed ‘A Christian Lamentation’, the only title to be found among the estimated 120 rhyming couplets that fill(ed) most of the opening flyleaves. There are spaces left between blocs of couplets, and Hamilton seems to have intended a string of linked but separate pieces: he uses the plural when he comments at the end of the couplets: ‘These are but as Prologues & prayers put as in Parenthese … 20 sheet of paper wold skarsely containe what I haue to say’. Two pages earlier, he had noted ‘It wold take a whole Booke if I should proceed to declare my mind concerning these things which I wold write or speake’, and most unfortunately, the opening ‘Christian Lamentation’ has lost at least 82 of its lines, in part or in whole. It is clear that the poem concerned an unsuccessful appeal to the authorities:

[…] Paull must to Appele Proceed,
[…] I haue in time of need
[?Addressed me] to our Royall soveraigne king
[?And I have made appe]le, in all this thing
[?Unto my c]ountreys states of Parliament
[?To read my] bill of ?meanance and Complaint.
[?It’s not] beene read in Publick as it ought
[?Nor I he]ard in my Cause, though I besought
[?And la]tely did intreet in this my Cause
[?That it b]e heard, According to Gods lawes.
[…] of this Generall Convention                                     (45-55)

On the undamaged second leaf, the words ‘1630 7 August’ are placed alongside the apparent end (an indented couplet) of the ‘Lamentation’. The next block of couplets, dated ‘9 August’, indicates that the appeal to king and Convention concerned witchcraft:

If that I present means or moyen had
Then might I doe, as Jabesh Gilead,                                      [cf. 1 Sam. 11:1-4]
In haste send woord vnto our soveraigne king,
And shew him all the manner of this thing.
And how I in this Generall Convention,
Haue not beene heard, euen with the like Attention,
As Jabesh Gilead, when besieged sore,                                 [cf. 1 Sam. 11:8-11]
Since thrise seuen yeares I am besieged more:
With wrong on wrong, plot upon plot assalted,
Till I constrained, haue in the Battall halted:

‘Thrice seven years’ prior to 1630 takes us right back to the aftermath of the ill-fated 1607 marriage contract with Dame Isabel Boyd. Hamilton asks the authorities to

Search, try, and judge, According to the woord.
Of Jehouah, our omnipotent Lord.
Concerning such prophane Abhomination
That God may haue his glory* in this nation          *thrugh our obe
By due obedience giuen to his command                 dience to his will
That not a witch be suffered in this land                  & written word

In the next block of couplets, Hamilton turns directly to Christ:

And till our king and Parliament shall judge[20]
To whom I haue thrugh my Appelle Refuge
Nixt under Godman, Jesus Christ, My Lord,
Redeemer, Saviour, which doth help afford […]
And mee his seruant make in end prevaile
Gainst all his foes, and Mine, which mee Assaile,
That haueing in and thrugh him overcoome,               [cf. Rev. 3:21; Rev. 17:14]
I in his joy for aye may Reigne with Him.                            [cf. 2 Titus 2:12]

A flood of visionary praise immediately ensues, beginning:

*John 24.16
John 15.26
& 16.7&c
O Heighth, O Deepth, of Loue: o breadth O lenth:
Of Grace, of Glory, Joy, Comfort and strenth.
Invincible, and superexcellent,
Goodnesse, and Grandour, Perfect, Permanent
What shall I render vnto thee, My louer,[21]
My soules delight, my judge and just Approuer,
Thrugh love of God, thy grace, and faith me giuen
Wrought thrugh thine holy sprit* sent mee from Heauen
According to thy Promise which thow madest
Whilst yet on earth thow Lord mongst men abadest.
 [cf. Eph. 3:17-19]

Many more couplets follow, in which complaint of persecution mingles with ecstatic, mystical praise. On the final front flyleaf, Hamilton writes ‘I think it not convenient now to enter vpon the maine point. For this book could not fully contain it. But briefly to touch it’ – whereupon he produces a whole series of Biblical quotations, beginning with the notorious Exodus 22:18 ‘Thow shalt not suffer a witch to liue’, followed by grim injunctions about swearing and blasphemy from Leviticus, and about false witnesses and witches from Deuteronomy.

[29]  At the end of the book, the first of the flyleaves contains the comment:

This Country hath beene oppresed with witches, wizards, charmers, enchanters, & sorcerers, idolaters, and prophane periured Atheists (they pretending trew religion) more then twenty yeares. The lord oure God and keeper of Israell redresse & help us. For these haue riden as in Charets of yrone like midianits.

Hamilton also observes that ‘the Deuils their Covenants are loadin full of euils’. On the last page are found the date 14 August 1630, and a marginal note dated 8 September. The various manuscript verses on these latter flyleaves have the general running title ‘Miscellanea’. First come 45 very inelegant couplets, most of which paraphrase the Biblical wording of Judges 4 and 5, i.e. the story of Sisera, Deborah and Jael, with a final section meditating on other Old Testament examples of the Israelites being willing ‘to fight the Battels of their Loueing Lord’ and slaughter vast numbers of enemies. In lines 75-80 Hamilton bursts out:

*burneing lampes of wise
religious faithfull and
fervent zeale and
upright liues and doctrine
Haue Christians trew, not now the writen woord,
Of Jehouah, the sharpe transcendent swoord,
Two edged: And haue wee not burneing* lampes,
To chase the Midianits, from out their campes:
Witches and wizards; and all such prophane
Idolaters; as yet mongst us remaine.

And then he brings in Samson, massacring ‘heape on heape’ of Philistines, Joshua stopping the sun ‘Vntil Gods Foes, and Israels were subdued’, and Samuel hewing Agar ‘all in pieces’. Whereupon he ends abruptly with the young David, who put a stone into the forehead of Goliath and ‘Then with his owne swoord, cut his head off to’.

[30]  Next comes ‘A Christian Confession And prayer in time of Danger, and of Distresse to the toone of the 54 psalme,’ laid out in eight-line octosyllabic stanzas. These 144 well-wrought lines are strongly reminiscent of the opening section of Elizabeth Melville’s Ane Godlie Dreame and even more reminiscent of her unpublished longer meditative poems, which bear titles like ‘Ane Exhortatioun for patience with ane prayer for comfort’. Hamilton’s poem opens:

I am compassed round about,
On every side my foes persew;
Sathan thrugh sinn, within, without,
His strong Assalts doth still renew;
My sinnes they are before mine eyes,                                    [cf. Ps. 51:3]
As mountaines huge; wold presse mee doune.
But Christ thrugh Faith doth mee release,
And in his joy, my soule will Crowne.                          (5-8)

The beleaguered, depressed mood does not greatly change for much of the poem:

Support mee Lord in time of neede
Let not my sinnes nor foes prevaile,
help Lord mee gainst such crafty Feede                                [feud]
wherby my foes wold make mee quaile.                        (33-36)

When Hamilton’s muse does eventually become more energised, Revelation (inevitably) comes in, with the Whore of Babylon and the Antichrist:

Ding downe the Proud presumptuous Beast
Which doth molest and vex thy saints:
The Bloody Whoore, the Antichrist,
And still defend thy militants.
Since thow art quickly, Lord, to come,
Recall the jewes, our Elder Brether,
And gather in the totall summe
Of thine, to sing thy Praise together.                    (89-96)

The words of Psalm 54 certainly relate to the general contents of Hamilton’s poem, but by 1630, the only tune indicated for this psalm in printed Scottish psalm-books was that of Psalm 27, first put forward in this role by Hart in his psalter of 1614.[22] Since Psalm 27’s contents could also be related to Hamilton’s poem, he might just as easily have specified ‘the toone of the 27 psalme’. However, throughout his childhood and early manhood, the melody to which he would have sung Psalm 54 was the 1556 Anglo-Genevan tune for William Whittingham’s version of the Ten Commandments, ‘Attend my people and give ear’.[23] To hear the following stanza (again illustrating the poet’s adroit citing of Scripture) sung to this splendid French tune by Michael Swithinbank, click here.

The Helmet of Saluation                                                          [cf. Eph. 6:17]
Confirme Good God vpon our heads,
That wee from Hells damnation sic
may saued be, thrugh thy good deeds.
The Briestplate of trew Righteousnesse                               [cf. Eph. 6:14]
make firme on us to haue abode,
gird up our loines with truthfulnesse,
with shoes of peace make us be shod  (109-116)                 [cf. Eph. 6:15]

The manuscript pages conclude with an untitled sequence of ten numbered sonnets, dated 19 August 1630. The subject is the need for absolute reliance on Christ, and emulation of His suffering as the only way to share in His triumph and enter eternal life. As the first sonnet shows, the underlying driving-force is the now impoverished Hamilton’s own condition, following the failure of his appeal to the Convention of Estates:

Gold must not be our God, nor Arme of Man,               [cf. Matt. 6:24, Luke 16:13]
For Aegipts Hoste is as a broken reede.                                                   [cf. Isa. 36:6]
God-man Euen Jesus Christ, which will and Can
Support his Saints, euen our Bridgrome & head.[24]   [cf. 1 Cor.11:3; Eph.1:22,
Hee, Allwise Hee, must be our God, indeed:                             5:23; Col. 1:18, 2:10]
His written will and woord, our Rule and square,
In which, through his free Grace, wee must proceed,
Thrugh power of his Sprit (Aye mare & mare
woorking in us trew Faith; with zealous care)
To walke uprightly: And our sinnes repent;[25]
That where Christ is, wee also may be there,
Haueing thrugh Grace, thrugh Faith, and Loue prevent
Those Fearfull terrours, which shall them befall,                           [cf. 1 Cor. 15:28]
Who haue not Christ, to be their All, in All.

We might expect a sequence to use the same rhyme scheme throughout, but this one does not. If we allow coast/boast to rhyme with lust/Antichrist, and fruit/refute with sweet/great, then sonnets 2 and 3 share sonnet 1’s Scottish interlacing form. The other seven display a variety of patterns, including rhyming the same repeated word. Yet the sonnets are tightly linked, for like the ‘Seven Crownes’, they are not self-contained units; for example, sonnet 4’s closing ‘wee […] are made conforme, | To Christ our head, overcoomeing everie storme’ flows straight into sonnet 5’s opening ‘That haueing with our head, some sympathy…’. For all its real roughness of finish, this eminently theological sequence is of considerable emotive power. Like all the manuscript poems of 1630, its heartfelt urgency is unquestionable. Sadly, as in his 1626 attempt to make the end of Revelation fit the tune of ‘What if a day’, Hamilton overreaches himself at the climax, trying to fit into fourteen lines the seven blessings (duly numbered) that God promises to the enduring faithful in ‘the seven churches which are in Asia’[26]:

Revel. 2.3 Chapters saying to Him that overcometh.

To him that overcometh, I will giue,
1. To eat of Lifes tree, midst the Paradize
2. of God; and that of second death, Hee haue                     [cf. Rev. 2 7]
3. none hurt; And of hid mann’ to eat likewise,                   [cf. Rev. 2:11]
I will him giue, a white stone with new name,                     [cf. Rev. 2:17]
4. And Power ouer nationes, I will giue him;                       [cf. Rev. 2:26]
5. And cloth Him with white Robbe (From sinn, & shame)
nor blot his name out of lifes booke (nor prive Him)
But Him confesse before my Father God.
And euen before his Angels. 6. And but doubt,                     [cf. Rev. 3:5]
6. A Pillar in the Temple of my God
Make him (saith Christ) that Hee no more goe out.
Gods name, his Cities name, and his new name,
7. Iy’l write on Him, and inthronize the same.                      [cf. Rev. 3:12]

Hamilton’s conviction that Dame Isabel Boyd was a limb of Satan betokens delusory tendencies, but he did not delude himself as to the shortcomings of his 1630 MS poems; on the last flyleaf, alongside the final sonnets, he wrote ‘Time permitteth not to write it in such forme & order as I would till a better occasion that I revise them’.

Conclusion: Hamilton’s poetic context
[31]  Hamilton’s voice is quite unlike those of Ayton, Sir William Alexander or Drummond of Hawthornden, or even of the exclusively religious versifiers James Cockburn and William Wishartt. But like the sonnets in his sequences, Francis Hamilton does not stand alone. The second sonnet of ‘Seven Crownes’ will serve to show that he belongs to a distinct school of Scottish Calvinist devotional verse:

One God wee must adore, in persons three
Distinguish’d, who can never bee divid’d;
And only he through Christ ador’d must bee,
Who Heaven and Earth, and all therein, doth guide.
Litle availes his gifts, where wants his grace;
His saving grace in Christ our Soules delyte,
And thats our ioy, that wee shall see his face;
When hee shall all his foes with Scepter smyte,
They shall all prove as potters shards,[27] when hee                [cf. Ps. 2:9]
Shall with his Word, the sword of iustice, kill;
And with his powers rodde shall crushed bee                            [cf. Rev. 19:15]
And fry’d in fierie flames for ever still:
Who would enjoy Christs face must fight the field
‘Gainst sinne and Satan, and must never yeeld.

While lines one and two may well echo Alexander Montgomerie’s celebrated sonnet-opening ‘Supreme Essence, beginner, unbegun, | Ay Trinal One, and undivided three’, they are notably closer to the opening of a related but less familiar published sonnet by James Melville, found at the close of ‘A Morning Vision’, the second part of Melville’s A Spirituall Propine of a Pastour to his People (Edinburgh, 1598). Melville’s version of this sonnet — like Montgomery’s a reworking of a French sonnet of Marin Le Saulx — opens: ‘Supreame essence, beginner, unbegon, | Distinguished ane, and undevided three’.[28] The actual phrase ‘Supreme essence’ will appear in Hamilton’s King James his Encomium, 417-18, when God is asked to protect King Charles: ‘Make the good motions of thy Spirite him guide, | Supreme Essence, who cannot bee divide’.

[32]  That the foes of Christ are ‘fry’d in fierie flames’ of line twelve is irresistibly reminiscent of Elizabeth Melville’s Ane Godlie Dreame, 307-9: ‘Puir damnit saullis […] | In flaming fyre, war frying wonder fast’, while the closing couplet’s ‘fight the feild’ can be paralleled no fewer than three times in Ane Godlie Dreame, 439-48, as well as appearing in various guises throughout Elizabeth Melville’s manuscript poetry.[29] The phrase ‘Our Soules delyte’ in Hamilton’s fifth line will appear twice in the manuscript poems of 1630: ‘my soules delight, my judge and just Approuer’ and ‘my soules delight and great desire’. Given that ‘The saules delight’ is the title of a magisterial postliminary sonnet to James Melville’s Spirituall Propine, by his friend ‘MWS’, this may well be further confirmation of Hamilton’s familiarity with that book (Reid Baxter 2008: 85).

[33]  James Melville’s friend David Black, in his Exposition vpon the thirtie two Psalme, describing the true maner of humbling and raysing vp of Gods children (Edinburgh, 1600), voiced views that chime perfectly with what Hamilton evidently thought was the purpose of poetry. Black comments that the author of Psalm 32, King David, teaches us

if we haue any vein of versificating, or any other good vse of our veine, how to vse it, that by this example, our writings may sauour of godlinesse to stirre vp the mindes of others, aswell as our selues therunto, not to leaue vnchest ditties behind vs (as it were bawdes in the world) as many haue done. (2)

There is much more of the same. Black himself left no poetry, but similar sentiments had been voiced by another Presbyterian pastor who did publish poetry, Alexander Hume (c.1557-1609). His Hymnes, or Sacred Songs (Edinburgh, 1599), dedicated to Elizabeth Melville, are prefaced by an exhortation ‘To the Scottish Youth’, where Hume writes:

Such as ather haue the art or vaine poetike, of force they must shew themselues cunning followers of the dissolute ethnike poets, both in phrase and substance, or else they shall be had in no reputation. Als for pittie! Is this the right vse of a Christians talent to […] foster the filthie vice and corruption that naturallie is seased in the harts of all men? (sig.A 3v)

Hume’s dedicatee, Elizabeth Melville, in a sonnet about her own writing, ends with the prayer ‘grant thy gifts may still growe more and more | That I a triple talent may restore’, and Hamilton’s sonnet ‘To the Christian Reader’ states that ‘Talents ten, abused, | Makes the abuser loose them and his place. | One litle Talent with right vse I crave’ (Reid Baxter 2010: 25).

[34]  Another well-wrought ‘plain style’ devotional poem which Hamilton may have known is the Perthshire minister George Muschet’s The Complaint of a Christian Soule (Edinburgh, 1610). Muschet is reminiscent of Hamilton when he writes of earthly life, for example:

But who can sing in such a monstrous graue,
Or praise thy name in this infernall place?
Who can be glade who doth not grace receaue
To see the sweetnes of thy heauenlie face?   (sig.Cv)

But Muschet’s ‘complaint’ is the lament of the Calvinist conscience, humiliated and almost paralysed by its agonising awareness of reprobacy and alienation from God. This has frequent parallels in Elizabeth Melville, but it contrasts interestingly with Hamilton’s focus on spiritual warfare, and with the markedly subjective complaints of persecution expressed in the latter’s manuscript poems.

[35]  Hamilton himself may have influenced some of his contemporaries. There is always the possibility that Hamilton’s 1626 publication may have inspired the plethoric and unpoetic vernacular Muse of Zachary Boyd, who had returned from long years at Saumur in France in 1621; Zachary’s abundant versifications of Scripture are at least as bad as Hamilton’s efforts in that field.[30] We cannot be certain just when David Dickson (1583-1662), minister of Irvine in Ayrshire and friend of Elizabeth Melville, composed his lengthy True Christian Love, to be sung with the common tunes of the Psalms. Dickson’s fluent concatenation of versified quotations from Holy Writ often results in a texture redolent of Hamilton’s work; the first surviving edition is from as late as 1634.

[36]  But the religious verse of David Dickson’s near neighbour, the Ayrshire aristocrat Sir William Mure of Rowallan (1594-1657), may be something of a direct response to King James His Encomium (cf. Tough 1898).[31] Mure was related to the Hamiltons of Silvertonhill by marriage – the link is James Mure of Caldwell, married to the poet’s sister Margaret Mure of Rowallan (d.1644), for Caldwell’s daughter Marion became the second wife of Francis’s brother Edward some time before 1622; she was still alive in 1655 (Hamilton 1933: 816).[32] Sir William’s early poetry, which he did not publish,[33] is full of pagan allusions and its subject matter is largely erotic, including an impressive Dido and Aeneas of 2454 lines in three books. But in 1628, he published A Spirituall Hymne … also … a Poeme entituled Doomes-Day, a not insubstantial book of 1338 lines of religious verse. It was swiftly followed in 1629 by The True Crucifixe for True Catholickes, a much larger volume of 3376 lines, relentlessly denouncing the Church of Rome, that bête noire of Francis Hamilton in King James his Encomium.

[37]  At the end of A Spirituall Hymne, Mure printed three sonnets headed ‘Fancies Farewell’, denouncing his earlier secular poetry, lamenting his ‘Houres mis-employed’ and saying to his soul:

Thy younger yeares, youthes sweet Aprile mispent,
Strive to redeeme with works of greater worth.          (Tough 1898: I, 196)

Mure’s numerous sonnets include a powerful sequence, The Joy of Teares (1637), but unlike Hamilton, he makes almost exclusive use of the Scottish interlacing form, while his 104 psalm paraphrases are considerably better than Hamilton’s surviving attempts at versifying Scripture.[34] Nonetheless, it can at least be speculated that in 1626, Mure may have been struck by the denunciation of pagan verse that opens Hamilton’s ‘Seven Crownes’:

The Heathen Poets who did faine moe Gods
(Blinded with bastard zeale) than I can telle:
Sung praise in Poems, in their Layes and Ods,
To such as they alledg’d made them prevaile.

The dictates of corona form mean that this opening denunciation also closes ‘Seven Crownes’, as the culmination of the final sonnet, which looks forward to the consummation of all things on the Great Day of God’s Judgment, the subject of Mure’s Doomesday:

Let elect Saints in trembling, love, and feare
In faith and true repentance watch and pray,
Praise God in zeale, in wisedome persevere
Vntill the end — attending on that Day:
That Day wherein God shall make even our ods,
And Heathen Poets damne, with fained Gods.

The modern Western secular mind-set tends to find such homiletic, Bible-based devotional poetry uninteresting. If one does not believe in God, let alone the divine inspiration of the Bible, it is difficult to relate to or respond to, particularly when it is devoid of features of ‘literary’ interest (such as sacred Petrarchism or formal experimentation) and is the work of individuals who led outwardly uneventful, blameless lives that cannot be used to identify suggestive tensions and contradictions in their writing. Hamilton’s ‘Seven Crownes’ sequence is an astonishing undertaking in its Scottish context.[35] And Hamilton’s life was hardly blameless or uneventful, and contradictions abound — not least his appallingly unchristian attitude to women, as evinced by his attempt to defraud his sisters by overturning his mother’s careful provision for their dowries, his failure to provide for his own daughters, and his obsessive efforts to bring Dame Isabel Boyd to court – and the gallows — for witchcraft. This strange, forgotten Lanarkshire aristocrat merits the attention of literary scholars as well as historians and social anthropologists.

I express my thanks to Dr Sarah Ross for valuable comments in the course of preparing this essay.

University of Glasgow


[1]  These are now at the National Archives of Scotland (henceforth NAS): NAS PA7/2/131 and NAS PA7/2/131a.[back to text]

[2]  A microfilm of it, perforce including the two innermost flyleaves, was used for Early English Books Online (EEBO), alerting me to the existence of the manuscript material, whereof the National Library of Scotland possesses a complete photostat.[back to text]

[3]  James Melville’s enthusiasm for Brightman was unbounded (1842: 785). The first English translation appeared in 1611. On other (negative) early Scottish reactions to Brightman, see D.A. Drinnon, ‘The Apocalyptic Tradition in Scotland, 1588-1688’, St. Andrews PhD thesis, 2013: http://hdl.handle.net/10023/3386, Chapter 1, especially pp.47-60. Drinnon does not mention Melville’s enthusiasm. My thanks to Michael Riordan for alerting me to this thesis. [back to text]

[4]  In the 1560s, the polyvalent George Gascoigne had introduced the corona-form to English literature in a set of seven sententious sonnets based on proverbial material; there are later secular attempts at English coronas by Samuel Daniel and Lady Mary Wroth.[back to text]

[5]  This rhyme-scheme is still sometimes called ‘Spenserian’, though the consensus is now that it originated in Scotland; see McClune 2009.[back to text]

[6]  Hamilton will have known the similar list found in Michael Wallace of Kilmarnock’s Carmen Panegyricum of 1617, printed in Adamson 1618: 267-69. An online edition and translation of this text will shortly appear in The Philological Museum.[back to text]

[7]  David Greer (1962: 316) notes that two stanzas (in fact those found in the 1603 Philotus) are found copied into a Scottish Metrical Psalter, British Library MS Add. 33,933, f. 81v-82. Fifty years on, in February 2011, Professor Greer confirmed (personal communication) that he really did not believe there is any evidence that Campion wrote the song.[back to text]

[8]  The baronetcy of Hamilton of Silvertonhill still exists, though the actual estate of Silvertonhill in Lanarkshire vanished long ago. The name survives locally in the town of Hamilton, where it describes a residential area around Silvertonhill Avenue.[back to text]

[9]  William Baillie’s wife was Elizabeth Durham, of the family of the Durhams of Duntarvie, royal servants; James Durham of Duntarvie is one of the two principal witnesses to Elizabeth Baillie’s charter of 31 October 1599. See Registrum magni sigilli Regum Scotorum: The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland (1984: vi, no.973), henceforth RMS. Her brothers, mentioned in this charter, had predeceased their father. Francis’s marriage contract of 1609 (see below) shows a continuing Durham of Duntarvie interest.[back to text]

[10]  The others being Robert, William, James, and John (Hamilton 1933: 813-14). For Robert and James, see RMS vol.9, no.350; James was admitted burgess of Glasgow in 1628, and died in October 1649. For Mr William, see RMS vol.8, no.1532, of 20 February 1630, where we find ‘Wil.Hammiltoun filium legit. D.Roberti H. de Goislingtoun militis prebendarium de Nathirfield’ in September 1625. Like John, he appears to have died before 1635.[back to text]

[11]  Recorded in Archibald Heygate, Protocol Book 1604-1609 (Glasgow City Archives, Mitchell Library, ref. B10/1/10).[back to text]

[12]  RD1/21/288 is an obligation by Francis’s grandfather, Sir Andrew Hamilton of Goslington, and others, including Thomas Hamilton of Priestfield, to Henrie Nesbit, burgess of Edinburgh, 19 March 1583 (N.S.).[back to text]

[13]  Records of the Privy Council of Scotland, xii, 529 and xiii, 485.[back to text]

[14]  My thanks to Mr Gordon Coutts and Dr Winifred Coutts for their help in understanding these legal documents.[back to text]

[15]  There is an entail to Edward’s direct heirs, whom failing to his brother Robert and his, whom failing to his brother James and his.[back to text]

[16]  Having turned Francis’s grandfather Sir Andrew into two separate men, this work depicts Francis as an only child who ‘never was married’ and in whom ‘this branch of the family expired’. This creative fantasy was drawn on by Burke’s General and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage 1832 (vol.1, 567). As a result, it has been used by many genealogists and has created a web of misprision, despite the correct account given by George Hamilton in 1933 and the fact that as early as 1909, Gray-Buchanan had observed bluntly that Douglas ‘makes [Francis] the last of an imaginary elder line of the Silvertonhill family’ (1909:438-39). W.H.C. Hamilton demonstrated that the ‘younger line’ via Alexander Hamilton, Tutor of Silvertonhill (d.1547) was entirely spurious, and commented that ‘the Baronage of Scotland is shown by the Records to be erroneous in many particulars’ (1905: 189-90).[back to text]

[17]  Respectively, James Greig (d. before April 1586) of Colmonell, pre-Reformation Archdean of Glasgow, and William Wallace (1577-1617) of Eastwood. See Scott 1915-: iii, 133.[back to text]

[18]  See Livingstone’s Life (Tweedie 1845-47: i, 138), in William King Tweedie, Select Biographies, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1845-47),i, and Memorable Characteristics (Tweedie 1845-47: i, 315).[back to text]

[19]  The extant material (‘Supplementary Parliamentary Papers’) is in NAS, PA7/2/131, inadequately catalogued as ‘131. 1641: Petition by the laird of Silvertonhill; 131a. 1641: Paper relating to trial of Dame Isabell Boyd for witchcraft’. The texts will appear in my Francis Hamilton, Complete Writings (in preparation).[back to text]

[20]  There is a bracket against lines 130-31, and a system of lines down the left margin all the way to the quatrain written at the very end, under a double horizontal line; it appears to be a replacement for these four lines.[back to text]

[21]  Hamilton probably means this word as an equivalent of ‘bridegroom’ or the ‘beloved’ of the Song of Songs; Wisd. 11:26 does describe God as ‘thou lover of souls’.[back to text]

[22]  I am grateful to Dr Timothy Duguid for discussion of this point.[back to text]

[23]  A four part setting of this text and tune can be heard on the CD which forms part of Reid Baxter et al. 2011.[back to text]

[24]  Christ is the bridegroom of the Song of Songs, and of the parable in Matt. 25; he also refers to himself as the bridegroom in Matt. 9:15, Mark 2:19-20, Luke 5:34-35; he is the bridegroom of the Church in Rev. 21:2.[back to text]

[25]  William Kethe, metrical Ps.101:2: ‘and walke uprightly in mine house, as one of thine Elect’; Ps. 84:11.[back to text]

[26]  Listed by name in ‘King James His Encomium’, 192-93. Hamilton ignores the Brightman/Forbes reading of them as representing seven stages in the history of the Church (Firth 1979: 166, 176).[back to text]

[27]  Combining the Geneva Bible’s ‘sceptre of iron’ and Sternhold’s ‘as the potters shards’.[back to text]

[28]  See the discussion in Lyall 2005:302-06. Inexplicably, Melville’s ‘Morning Vision’ was not microfilmed and is therefore missing from the EEBO copy of Ane Spirituall Propine.[back to text]

[29]  For example, in the last line of the dizain (Reid Baxter 2010: 12). See also the sextain of Hamilton’s sonnet to George Hay, cited earlier.[back to text]

[30]  See, for example, the varied specimens prefaced to The Last Battle of the Soul in Death (Boyd 1831).[back to text]

[31]  Mure, a convinced Presbyterian, was probably also himself directly influenced by the writings of James Melville and Lady Culross.[back to text]

[32]  She may actually have been James’s sister. The sources do not agree.[back to text]

[33]  Except ‘The Kings Maiestie came to Hamilton on Monday the xxxviii July’ of 1617, which appeared in The Muses Welcome (1618).[back to text]

[34]  STC (2nd ed.) 1819; Mure did not publish his psalms (Tough 1898:ii, 57-232).[back to text]

[35]  As a corona, the only Scottish parallel is Elizabeth Melville’s ‘Call to come to Christ’ in fifteen quatrains, where a key word or phrase from the last line of each quatrain is repeated in the succeeding first line of the next. This dazzling contrafactum of Marlowe’s Passionate Shepherd to his Love circulated in manuscript (Reid Baxter 2010:7-9, 100-03, 119).[back to text]



NAS, CC8/8/61

NAS, CC9/7/28

NAS, XV General Register of Sasines

NAS PA7/2/131

NAS PA7/2/131a

NAS, RD1/159

NAS, RD1/21/288

Glasgow City Archives, Mitchell Library, ref. B10/1/10

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Adamson, John (ed.). 1618. The Muses Welcome (Edinburgh)

Bawcutt, Priscilla. 2012. ‘John Donne: The Scottish Connection’, in David J. Parkinson (ed.), James VI and I, Literature and Scotland. Tides of Change, 1567-1625 (Leuven: Peeters), 323-38

Black, David. 1600. Exposition vpon the thirtie two Psalme, describing the true maner of humbling and raysing vp of Gods children (Edinburgh)

Boyd, Zachary. 1831. The Last Battle of the Soul in Death, ed. Gabriel Neil (Glasgow)

Douglas, Robert. 1798. The Baronage of Scotland (Edinburgh: Bell and Bradfute et al.)

Elliott, Kenneth. 1963. ‘What if a Day’, Music and Letters 44 (2): 206

Firth, Katharine R. 1979. The Apocalyptic Tradition in Reformation Britain, 1530-1645 (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

[Glasgow City Council], no date. Provan Hall Heritage Trail. <http://www.glasgow.gov.uk>, accessed 17 January 2012

Gray-Buchanan, A.W. 1909. ‘Queries and Replies’, Scottish Historical Review 6 (24): 438-39

Greer, David. 1962. ‘“What if a day” – an examination of the words and music’, Music and Letters, 43 (4):304-19

Hamilton, George. 1933. History of the House of Hamilton (Edinburgh: n.p.)

Hamilton, W.H.C. 1905. ‘Baron of Argentine’, SHR 2 (6): 189-90

Hume, Alexander. 1599. Hymnes, or Sacred Songs (Edinburgh)

Innes, Cosmo Nelson (ed.). 1854. Munimenta alme universitatis Glasguensis. Records of the University of Glasgow from its foundation till 1727 (Glasgow: Glasgow University)

James VI/I. 1619. A Meditation upon the Lords prayer. (London)

Lyall, Roderick J. 2005. Alexander Montgomerie: poetry, politics, and cultural change in Jacobean Scotland (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies)

McClune, Katherine. 2009. ‘The “Spenserian Sonnet” in Sixteenth-Century Scotland’, Notes and Queries, 56 (4): 533-536

Melville, James. 1597. Comfortable Exhortatioun anent Death (Edinburgh)

_____. 1598. A Spirituall Propine of a Pastour to his People (Edinburgh)_____. 1842. The Autobiography and Diary, ed. Robert Pitcairn (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society)

Morison, William Maxwell. 1801-08. The Decisions of the court of Sessions (Edinburgh: Bell and Bradfute)

Muschet, George. 1610. The Complaint of a Christian Soule (Edinburgh)

Paterson, James. 1863-66. History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton,3 vols (Edinburgh: J. Stillie)

Paul, James Balfour. 1904-14. The Scots Peerage, 9 vols (Edinburgh: David Douglas)

Reid Baxter, J. 2005. ‘The Songs of Lady Culross’, in G.J. Munro, et al (eds.), Notis Musycall (Glasgow: Musica Scotica), 143-63

_____. 2008. ‘Liminary Verse: the Paratextual Poetry of Renaissance Scotland’, The Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society,3: 70-94

_____. 2008b. ‘Mr Andro Boyd (1565-1636): a Neo-Stoic Bishop of Argyll and his writings’, in Julian Goodare and A.A. MacDonald (eds.), Sixteenth Century Scotland: Essays in honour of Michael Lynch (Brill: Leiden), 395-425

______. 2010. Poems of Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross (Edinburgh: Solsequium)

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