Material relating to Sir John Scott (or Scot), of Scotstarvit (1585-1670)

Scope and Content

At E2008.51 is a neat scribal copy of Scott's reflection on the instability of success, including his own fall from office. The full title of the work is: The Staggering State of the Scottish Statesmen, viz. Chancelars, Secretaries, Thesaurers and their deputs, Kings advocats, Justice Clerks, Clerks of Register, Privy Seall, Comptrollers, Admiralls and Cheif justices; for 100 years bygain, to witt from the year 1550, to the year 1650. Collected by Sr John Scott of Scottstarvet. Thomas Carlyle described it as 'a strange little book, not a satire but a Homily on Life's nothingness enforced by examples'. It circulated widely in manuscript in the seventeeth century, but was not published until 1754, edited by the antiquary Walter Goodal. The copy held at Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library, is from the library of Dr. Bent Juel-Jensen.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir John Scott of Scotstarvit was born in 1585. He was the brother-in-law of William Drummond of Hawthornden, the poet. Scott was educated at St. Leonard's College, St. Andrews, entering it around 1600. He then studied abroad before returning to Scotland having been called to the Bar. In 1611 he acquired Tarvet and other land in Fife to which he gave the name Scotstarvet. In 1617 he was knighted by King James VI and was made a Privy Councillor.

Sir John married three times. His first wife was Anne Drummond, the sister of Drummond of Hawthornden, his second was Margaret Melville, and his third Margaret Monpenny.

Scott was an important supporter and patron of Scottish learning. He endowed the Chair of Humanity at St. Andrew's in 1620 and was responsible for advancing two major patriotic publication projects - the Delitiae poetarum Scotorum (1637) and the Scottish maps for Blaeu's Atlas Novus (1654). In honour of James VI he published a Latin poem Hodoeporicon in serenissimi et invictissimi Principis Jacobi Sexti ex Scotia sua discessum. His late seventeenth century work The Staggering State of the Scottish Statesmen was a reflection on the instability of success, including his own fall from office after years of service to king and country.

In 1637, when Charles I insisted, without consultation, on introducing an English-style prayerbook into Scotland, and brought bishops into government, it incited revolution in the form of the National Covenant which was signed at Greyfriar’s Kirk, Edinburgh, in 1638, by nobles, ministers and thousands of ordinary Scots. That same year, at the parish church in Ceres, Fife, Sir John Scott of Scotstarvet subscribed to the Covenant too. The Covenant demanded a free Scottish Parliament and a free General Assembly - free from the monarch's interference. In 1640, he served on the committee of the Estates for the defence of the country (the Estates was the then Scottish Parliament). During the ensuing war between England and Scotland he served on the war committee in 1648 and 1649.

Sir John Scott of Scotstarvit had been a Privy Councillor both to James VI and to King Charles I, and a Lord of Session, and Lord of Exchequer (Scotland). However, during Cromwell's Commonwealth he lost his positions of high office. These would not be given back to him after the Restoration either. He died at Scotstarvet in 1670.

In the 18th century the estate of Scotstarvet was bought by Wemyss of Wemyss Hall (Wemyss Hall, near Cupar, Fife).

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Acquisition Information

Accession no: E2008.51.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using seller's notes as well as the following material: (1) Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol.18. Robinson-Sheares. London: Smith, Elder and co., 1909.

Other Finding Aids

None prepared for this collection.

Archivist's Note

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