Letter from James Sharp to John Maitland, 1660

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Autograph letter signed, James Sharp, archbishop of St Andrews, to John Maitland, together with a typed transcription.

Thanks John Maitland for the king's letter concerning the Presbyterians which is to be printed. Mr [Thomas?] Douglass and Mr [George] Hutcheson have called the presbytery for a more solemn reading. Comments on the hostility of Mrs [Lilias Skene] Gillespie and Mr Guthrie and on the change in attitude of Mr [Robert] Blair. Notes the support of the presbytery of Edinburgh. Signed Ja Sharp, Edinburgh.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Sharp (1618-1679) was a Scottish prelate whose political realism saw him shift from moderate Presbyterianism to became a supporter and agent of episcopacy in Scotland. Born at Banff Castle, the son William Sharp, Sheriff Clerk of the county of Banffshire, Sharp studied divinity at King's College, Aberdeen. In 1638, after the signing of the national covenant, he travelled to England in search of preferment there but was back in Scotland by 1642 as a regent at St Andrews University. Appointed minister at Crail in 1648, he became leader of the moderate wing of the Church of Scotland known as the Resolutioners in 1650 and led the search for reconciliation in the divided church for the next decade. In 1651, he was taken prisoner by Oliver Cromwell's forces and held for a year. Following Cromwell's death, Sharp was sent to London to represent the interests of the moderate Resolutioners, but appeared to his former associates to have conspired with General George Monk (1608-70) to bring about the restoration of King Charles II, and to restore the Episcopalian system in Scotland. Although he claimed to believe in a Presbyterian future for Scotland when in 1661, he moved back to St Andrews as principal of St Mary’s College and professor of divinity, he was also king’s chaplain in Scotland and tainted by Royalist connections. When the Scottish parliament passed the Act Concerning Religion and Church Government on which imposed royal supremacy on decision-making in the governance of the church, re-establishment of episcopacy in Scotland became inevitable and Sharp chose to try to influence it from the inside rather than oppose it as a Presbyterian, leaving him vulnerable to accusations of treachery. He accepted the post of archbishop of St. Andrews and head of the Church in Scotland, though opposed by Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) and Robert Blair (1583 - 1666). Sharp began to repress the nonconformists and while his ability to act depended on the political ascendancy of his allies or enemies, he was a marked man. The Scottish parliament passed the Act of Supremacy in 1669 and again Sharp was seen to be to blame, although he had in fact opposed it. His vision for an independent church governed by a moderate episcopacy was in ruins. He became the focus of popular hatred and on the 3rd May, 1679 he was hauled from his coach on Magus Muir (west of St. Andrews) by a group of Covenanters and murdered.

John Maitland (1616-1682) was 2nd earl of Lauderdale and later first duke of Lauderdale, marquis of March and gentleman of the Bedchamber. He had started out as a covenanter, signing the solemn league and covenant in 1643, but switched allegiance to the royalists after the civil war and gained the favour of Charles II. After the Restoration, he was appointed secretary of state forScotland, served in the Cabal ministry and dominated the political scene in Scotland as lord high commissioner. He gained an English peerage as earl of Guildford in 1674. However his regime was ruthless and arbitrary, his harsh persecution of the covenanters almost led to rebellion, and he was widely reviled. After various intrigues he was deprived of his offices in 1682 and died shortly afterwards.


Single item

Conditions Governing Access

By appointment with the Keeper of Manuscripts. Access to records containing confidential information may be restricted.

Acquisition Information

Acquired in 1947


Call number used to be ms844

Other Finding Aids

Individual Manuscripts and Small Collections database available as part of Manuscripts Database.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Binding: marbled boards.Paper: 42.4x30.3cm folded.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Maia Sheridan, Archives Hub project archivist, based on material from the Manuscripts Database

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Keeper of Manuscripts. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.