Sir Thomas Urquhart

One of the most colourful and romantic Scottish characters, Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty (c 1610 – c 1660), was the patron of Kirkmichael, Cullicudden and Cromarty. Mathematician, author, translator and soldier, he left his home to fight for the royal cause and was captured at the Battle of Worcester. While in the Tower of London, he tried to persuade Cromwell to free him by promising to deliver various achievements such as a universal language, and impressing him with his genealogy, whereby he tracked his parentage back through genuine forbears and real and mythological kings to Adam and Eve. He was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty and Christian, daughter of Alexander Lord Elphinston. The curacies of Cullicudden and Kirkmichael were in the gift of the Urquharts of Cromarty. Thomas Urquhart Urquhart was harassed by creditors and by the local ministers, who attacked him for his Episcopalian views. One of Urquhart’s greatest claims to fame should be the following piece of text, again drawn from The Jewel (1652). It is part of what must surely be the most sustained piece of invective in the English language. And it is directed in general at Presbyterianism, and specifically at one minister of Cromarty and, to draw out eventually the reason for its inclusion here, at the ministers of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden.

Is there any more common saying over all Scotland in the mouthes of the laicks then that the minister is the greediest man in the parish, most unwilling to bestow any thing in deeds of charity, and the richer they become (without prejudice be it spoken of some honest men amongst them) the more wretched they are; grounding that assertion on this, that by their daily practice both severally and conjunctly, it is found that for their splendour and inrichment most of them do immire their spirits into earthly projects, not caring by what sordid means they may attain their aims; and if they make any kinde of sermonicination tending in outward appearance to godliness, which seldom they do, being enjoyned by their ecclesiastical authority to preach to the times, that is, to rail against malignants and sectaries or those whom they suppose to be their enemies, they do it but as those augurs of old of whom Aulus Gellius speaking, saith, “Aures verbis ditant alienas, suas ut auro locupletent crumenas” [“They enrich the ears of others with words, so that they may fill their own purses with gold.”]I know I touch here a string of a harsh sound to the Kirk, of a note dissonant from their proposed harmony and quite out of the systeme of the intended oecumenick government by them concerted. But seeing there are few will be taken with the melody of such a democratical hierarchie, that have not preallably been stung with the tarantula of a preposterous ambition, I will insist no longer on this purpose; and that so much the rather, that he, whose writings I in this tractate intermix with my own, tempers his Heliconian water with more hony than vinegar and prefers the epigrammatical to the satyrick straine; for although I think there be hardly any in Scotland that proportionably hath suffered more prejudice by the Kirk then himself; his own ministers, to wit, those that preach in the churches whereof himself is patron: Master Gilbert Anderson, Master Robert Williamson and Master Charles Pape by name, serving the cures of Cromarty, Kirkmichel and Cullicudden, having done what lay in them for the furtherance of their owne covetous ends, to his utter undoing; for the first of those three, for no other cause but that the said Sir Thomas would not authorize the standing of a certain pew (in that country a desk) in the church of Cromarty, put in without his consent by a professed enemy to his House, who had plotted the ruine thereof and one that had no land in the parish, did so rail against him and his family at several times, both before his face and in his absence, and with such opprobrious termes, more like a scolding tripe-seller’s wife then good minister, squirting the poyson of detraction and abominable falshood, unfit for the chaire of verity, in the eares of the tenandry, who were the onely auditors, did most ingrately and despightfully so calumniate and revile their master, his own patron and benefactor, that the scandalous and reproachful words striving which of them should first discharge against him its steel-pointed dart, did oftentimes like clusters of hemlock or wormewood dipt in vinegar stick in his throat; he being almost ready to choak with the aconital bitterness and venom thereof, till the razor of extream passion by cutting them into articulate sounds and very rage it self in the highest degree by procuring a vomit, had made him spue them out of his mouth into rude, indigested lumps like so many toads and vipers that had burst their gall. As for the other two, notwithstanding that they had been borne, and their fathers before them, vassals to his House, and the predecessor of one of them had shelter in that land by reason of slaughter committed by him, when there was no refuge for him anywhere else in Scotland; and that the other had never been admitted to any church had it not been for the favour of his foresaid patron who, contrary to the will of his owne friends and great reluctancy of the ministry it self, was both the nominater and chuser of him to that function, and that before his admission, he did faithfully protest he should all the days of his life remain contented with that competency of portion the late incumbent in that charge did enjoy before him; they nevertheless behaved themselves so peevishly and unthankfully towards their forenamed patron and master that, by vertue of an unjust decree both procured and purchased from a promiscuous knot of men like themselves, they used all their utmost endeavours, in absence of their above-recited patron, to whom and unto whose House they had been so much beholding, to outlaw him and declare him rebel by open proclamation at the market-cross of the head town of his owne shire in case he did not condescend to the grant of that augmentation of stipend which they demanded, conforme to the tenour of the above-mentioned decree; the injustice whereof will appeare when examined by any rational judge.Now the best is, when by some moderate gentleman it was expostulated why against their master, patron and benefactor they should have dealt with such severity and rigour, contrary to all reason and equity, their answer was they were inforced and necessitated so to do by the synodal and presbyterial conventions of the Kirk under paine of deprivation and expulsion from their benefices. I will not say “[Greek quotation, meaning the egg of a bad crow is bad,”] but may safely think that a well sanctified mother will not have a so ill-instructed brat and that injuria humana [human injury] cannot be the lawfull daughter of a jure divino [by divine law] parent

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *