MELVILLE or MELVILL, JAMES (1656-1614), Scottish reformer, nephew of Andrew Melville and son of Richard Melville of Baldovie, minister of Mayton, near Montrose, by Jabel Scrimgeour, sister of the laird of Glasswell, was, according to his own account, born 26 July 1566, although Mr. Andrew, he states, held that he was born in anno 1557 (James Melville, Diary, Wodrow Society ed., p. 13). After receiving his early education under the care of Mr. Gray, minister of Logie, and at Montrose,he entered as student of St. Leonard's College, St. Andrews, not as he himself states in November 1571, but, according to tho roll of entrants, in 1569. He was admitted B. A. in November 1571, but there is no record as to when or where he proceeded M.A. He was a diligent and eager student, and being unable at first to understand the Latin lessons of the regent, William Collace, burst into tears, whereupon the regent undertook to give him lessons in private. Besides attending the usual classes at the university he obtained lessons in music from Alexander Smith, servant to the principal, and lovit singing and playing on instruments passing well (ib. p. 29). At St. Andrews he also heard Knox preach his weekly sermons in 1571-2 (ib. p..33).

Melville was originally intended by his father for the law, but in accordance with his own preference for the church he was placed under his uncle Andrew's charge in 1574, and received special instruction from him in Greek and Hebrew. On the appointment of his uncle in October 1574 to be principal of the university of Glasgow he accompanied him thither, and in 1575 was elected one of the regents, the course of instruction in the first year being Greek and logic, and in the second logic and mathematics. He was the first regent in Scotland who read the Greek authors to his class in the original tongue. In 1580, for correcting he was assaulted in the kirkyard by Boyd's cousin, Alexander Cunningham, who, when brought before the privy council, was ordered on 29 July to crave pardon publicly in the churchyard on 7 Aug. (Diary, p. 70; Reg. P. C. Scotl. iii. 296-7).

On the translation in December 1580 of Andrew Melville to be principal of the New College (now St. Mary s), St. Andrews, his nephew accompanied him as professor of Hebrew and oriental languages. He zealously seconded his uncle in his extreme views as to the authority of the kirk and the divine origin of presbyterianism. On the flight of his uncle to England in February 1584, he undertook the charge of his classes in addition to his own, and also the general superintendence of the affairs of the college; but in May of the same year, having learned that Bishop Adamson held a warrant for his apprehension, he escaped to Dundee, whence, disguised as a shipwrecked seaman, he set sail in an open boat for Berwick. After remaining there about a month he resolved to join his uncle and other exiled ministers in London; but at the earnest request of the Earls of Angus and Mar he stayed his journey at Newcastle-on-Tyne, remaining there to preach to the exiled presbyterians. While at Newcastle he drew up an Order of Exercise in Doctrine, Prayer, and Discipline (Calderwood, iv. 150, printed in Diary, pp. 173-84); and also a paper on the Abuses and Corruptions of the Kirk (Calderwood, iv. 150-7; Diary, pp. 186-93). In November he returned to Berwick, and while there he was, at the instance of the Earl of Arran, prohibited from preaching by the governor, Lord Hunsdon. From Berwick he sent a letter to the brethrein of the ministrie of Scotland, who have latelie subscrived to the popish supremacie of the king and ambitious tyrannie of the bishops over their brethern (Calderwood, iv. 219-36; Diary, pp. 200-18). He is also supposed to have been the author of the dialogue Zelator, Temporizar, Palemon, affixed to his uncle's Answer to the Declaration of Certain Intentions set out in the King's Name. On being prohibited from preaching at Berwick he joined the exiled ministers in London. After the capture of the castle of Stirling by the exiled lords, he, in November 1580, returned to Scotland. During the absence of himself and his uncle in England, the New College had been converted by Bishop Adamson from a school of theology into one of arts and philosophy; but by the act of parliament passed at Linlithgow in December all ejected professors were to be restored to their chairs, and on 25 May 1580 the privy council made a special arrangement for settling the disputes between the Melvilles and Bishop Adumson (Reg. P. C. Scotl., iv. 74-5).

In April 1586 James Melville, in the opening sermon at the meeting of the synod of Fife, vehemently attacked Bishop Adamson, who was sitting at his elbow (Calderwood, iv. 495), affirming that he threatened the wracke and destruction of the kirk if he were not tymouslie and with courage cut off (ib.) The bishop was thereupon excommunicated, but retaliated by sending a boy with one or two of his jackmen to read an excommunication of the Melvilles in the kirk of Edinburgh (ib. p. 503). He also gave in an appellation of the sentence of excommunication, which was answered by James Melville (ib. pp. 504-47). In consequence of their disputes with Adamson, the Melvilles were on 20 May called before the king and council, who ordained that while Andrew should meanwhile be sent to the north to instruct the Jesuits, James should attend in his own place for the instruction of the youth committed to his care, and the bishop should teach weekly two lessons of theology within St. Salvator's College (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iv. 74-5).

In 1586 Melville undertook the charge of the parish of Anstruther Wester, Fifeshire, to which he was ordained on 12 Nov.; and on 8 May 1587 he was also presented by James VI to the vicarage of Abercrombie. In 1589 the charge, which had included the two Anstruthers, Pittenweem, Abercrombie, and Kilrenny, was reduced to Anstruther Easter and Kilrenny; and on 6 Oct. 1590 he removed to Kilrehny, where, besides building a manse, he purchased the right to the vicarage and the tithe-fish for the support of himself and his successors. While at Anstruther he in 1588 obtained shelter and relief for a number of distressed sailors from the wrecked Spanish Armada.

Having been appointed moderator of the general assembly on 17 June 1589, Melville, in his sermon preached at the opening of the succeeding assembly in August 1590 on the subject of discipline, took occasion to inveigh against all attempts to establish conformity with the church government in. England; and more especially denounced Bishop Adamson, who was then, he said, making a book against our discipline. Yet, when in the spring of 1591 he was sent to conduct the trial of the bishop, and the bishop professed repentance for all his past errors, Melville agreed to recommend his absolution from excommunication (Calderwood, v. 119).

Melville was one of the commissioners appointed by the Edinburgh convention of 17 Dec. 1593 to wait upon the king to have order taken with the excommunicated lords (ib. v. 270), and at a meeting held at Edinburgh on 29 Oct. was appointed to be speechman to those named to present a petition to the king at Linlithgow (ib. p. 277). But the court party suspected him of having furnished money to the turbulent Earl of Bothwell, and it was proposed in May 1594 to omit his name from the list of commissioners from the assembly to the king. He requested to be included as a special favour, that he might have an opportunity of clearing himself. When, however, after the commissioners had concluded their business, he brought the matter before the king, not only did the king decline to lay anything to his charge, but in a private interview expressed himself in very flattering terms in regard both to Melville and his uncle. So of the strange working of God, records the gratified Melville,I that came to Stirling the traitor returned to Edinburgh a great courtier, yea a cabinet minister (Diary, p. 317). As further evidence of his trust in the Melvilles, King James invited them to accompany him in October 1594 in his expedition to the north against Bothwell and the catholic earls. While the king was still in the north he sent James Melville to Edinburgh and other powerful towns to collect subscriptions from the presbyterians in payment of the forces raised for the expedition. Afterwards he was, in 1596, a member of various commissions appointed to expostulate with the king for allowing Huntly and Enrol to return to Scotland. In November he was also appointed one of a commission to wait on the king to represent that the kirk had developed a most dangerous suspicion of the king's intentions, and to crave for its removal; but the commissioners of the assembly were ordered on the 24th to leave Edinburgh and to depart home to their flocks and congregations within twenty-four hours (Reg. P. C. Scotl. v. 883). After the ministers convened by the king at Perth in February 1596/7 had at the king's request declared themselves a lawful assembly, Melville withdrew from the meeting. He also in the synod of Fife opposed, in February 1598, the proposal of the king that ministers should have a vote in parliament, pointing out that the proposal was merely part of a scheme for the furthering of episcopacy, for unless they were bishops or prelates they were not be allowed to vote. Although less choleric than his uncle, and a more skilful tactician, he loyally supported his uncle in all his difficulties, and was equally persistent in his endeavours to thwart the schemes of the king in behalf of episcopacy. On being assured in 1604 that the king hated him worse than any man in Scotland, because he crossed all his turns and was a ringleader to others, he replied to his informer, 'My resolve is this:

Nec sperans aliquid, nec extimescens
   Exarmaveris impotentis iram.' A quote from Boethius: "If you neither hope for nor fear anything, you will disarm their powerless rage."

In May 1606 Melville was summoned along with his uncle and other ministers to a conference in September with the king in London in regard to the ecclesiastical state of Scotland. After its unsatisfactory termination, and the imprisonment of Andrew Melville in the Tower, 80 April 1607, he was on 6 May permitted to depart from London, but ordered not to proceed further north than Neweastle-on-Tyne, and to confine himself within ten miles of the town during the king's pleasure. At Newcastle various attempts were made to win him over, by offers of high preferment, to the policy of the king, but bribes and threats equally failed to move him. On the death of hia wife in 16O7 he obtained leave to go to Scotland for a month to take order about his private affairs, but was required to return immediately afterwards and remain at Newcastle. In 1610 a proposal was made to transfer him to Carlisle, but at his earnest request it was not persisted in. The Earl of Dunbar on his way to Scotland, in April of this year, as the king's commissioner, called on him at Newcastle and advised him to apply himself to pleasure the king. Dunbar took Melville with him as far as Berwick-on-Tweed, but, finding him immovable in his resolution not to conform to episcopacy, he left him there with an expression of regret that he was unable in the circumstances to do him any service. Ultimately a proposal was made about the end of 16l3 for his return to Scotland, but cares and disappointments had already shattered his health, and he had not proceeded far on his journey to Edinburgh to confer on the subject when a severe attack of illness compelled him to return to Berwick. He died there on 13 Jan. 1613/14.

By his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of John Dury, minister of Edinburgh, Melville had four sons and three daughters: Ephraim, minister of Pittenweem; Andrew,died young; Andrew, schoolmaster of Hoddesdon; John, minister of Newton; Margaret, Isabel, and Anne. By his second wife, Deborah, daughter of Richard Clerke, vicar of Berwick, whom he married about 1611, he left no issue. The sum total of his personal estate, as stated in his will, was 187l. 6s. l0d.

Melville was author of:

  1. A poem entitled Description of the Spainyarts Naturall, out of Julius Scaliger, with sum Exhortationes for Warning of Kirk and Oountrey, printed, according to his own account, in 1592, but no copy is now known to exist.
  2. A Spiritval Propine of a Pastour to his People, Heb. v. 12, Edinburgh, 1598, printed as a catechism for the use of his people at an expense to himself of four hundred merks (very rare; copy wanting title-page in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, and complete copy in the British Museum).
  3. A poem called The Black Bastill, or a Lamentation of the Kirk of Scotland, compiled by Mr. James Melville, sometime minister at Anstruther, and now confyned in England, 1611, of which the manuscript was at one time in the possession of Robert Graham, esq., of Redgorton, Perthshire, and an abridgment was published in 1634, and republished in Various Pieces of Fugitive Scottish Poetry, principally of the Seventeenth Century, ed. David Laing, Edinburgh, 1826.
  4. A poem of sixty-nine stanzas in the same manuscript entitled Thrie may keip Counsell, give Twa be away, or Eusebius, Democritus, Heraclitus.
  5. Also in the same manuscript a translation into English verse of part of the Zodiacus Vitro of Marcellus Palingenius.
  6. Ad Serenissimum Jacobum primum Britanniarum Monarcham Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ, Auctore Jacobo Melvino verbi Dei Ministro, Domini Andreæ Melvini London, 1646, with epitaph on James Melville by Andrew Melville.
  7. In the library of the university of Edinburgh is a manuscript volume of the correspondence between Andrew and James Melville while in England; and in the Laing collection of the library are transcripts of the correspondence copied under the direction of Dr. M'Crie.
  8. A manuscript volume of poems, letters, &c., by James Melville, presented to the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, in 1822, by Rev. William Blackie, minister of Yetholm, contains
    1. Sonnet and other short poems, written in 1610 and 1611;
    2. A Preservative from Apostasie, or the Song of Moses, with short notes for the Deduction and Doctrine thereof, translated out of Hebrew and put in metre, first shortly, and then more at length paraphrastically;
    3. David's Tragique Fall, in verse, concluding with a paraphrase of the 51st psalm;
    4. The Beliefe of the Singing Soul, or the Song of Songs which is Solomon's, exponed by a large Paraphrase in Metre for Memorie and Meditation; and
    5. A Meditation of the Love of Christ.
  9. The Diary of James Melville, of which the original manuscript is in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, was printed by the Bannatyne Club in 1829 and also by the Wodrow Society in 1842, the latter volume also containing a continuation of the Diary of James Melville (from another manuscript in the Advocates' Library) under the title of a True Narrative of the Declyning Aige of the Kirk of Scotland, 1596-1610. The Diary is invaluable as a record of the ecclesiastical events of the period from the presbyterian point of view, and is the chief authority for the narrative of Calderwood, who has incorporated the bulk of it in his History verbatim.

[James Melville's Diary; Histories of Calderwood, Row, and Spotiswood; Reg. P. C. Scotl.; M'Crie's Life of Andrew Melville; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scot.]

T. F. H. [Thomas Finlayson Henderson (1844-1923).]

Source: Dictionary of National Biography, 1909 ed. Vol. 13, pp. 241-244.