Material relating to James Melville (1556-1614)

Scope and Content

The material is composed of: Epistolae ... ad Jacobum Melvinum ... scriptae, cum ejusdem Jacobi nonullis ad eundem ... 1608-1611; Ecclesiae Scoticanae oratio apologetica sive libellus supplex ad serenissimum Jacobum primum Britanniarum regem, 1610; True narration of the declyning state of the Kirk of Scotland, from 1590-1610; and The Zodiac of lyff.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Melville was born near Montrose, Angus, on 26 July 1556. He was the nephew of the scholar and reformer Andrew Melville (1545-1622). He was educated locally at Logie and at Montrose before studying at St. Leonard's College, St. Andrews. While there he heard John Knox preach. Although it was originally intended that he follow law as a career, his studies were directed towards entering the church and he was instructed in Greek and Hebrew by Andrew Melville. When his uncle became Principal of Glasgow University in 1574, the young Melville accompanied him, becoming a Regent (or Professor) in 1575, teaching Greek, logic and mathematics. When his uncle then became Principal of St. Mary's College (or New College), St. Andrews, in 1580, he again accompanied him, this time as Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages. Melville supported his uncle in his views on the authority of the new Presbyterian church and so he too would always be on a collision course with the King, living under the threat of imprisonment. In 1586 he took charge of the Parish of Anstruther Wester in Fife, later reduced to Anstruther Easter and Kilrenny. In 1589 he was appointed Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In 1606 Melville accompanied his uncle to the Hampton Court Conference out of which came the proposal for the King James Version of the Bible. When Andrew Melville was later imprisoned in the Tower of London, the younger Melville was permitted to leave London but ordered not to go further north than Newcastle-upon-Tyne. James Melville died in Berwick-upon-Tweed on 13 January 1614.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.13. Masquerier-Myles. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1909.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various references to James Melville related material (check the Indexes for more details): fragment of a letter to Andrew Hart, bookseller, 1606, at La.II.663; notes of the Acts of the General Assemblies, 156-1605, at La.III.335; and, 19th century transcripts of Epistolae ... ad Jacobum Melvinum ... scriptae, cum ejusdem Jacobi nonullis ad eundem ... 1608-1611 at La.III.373, 374. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: diary and poems, 1583-1611, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. Adv MSS 19 2 7, 34 4 11, 34 2 15