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James Sharp

James Sharp (4 May 1618 – 3 May 1679) was a Scottish minister, and later Archbishop of St Andrews (1661–1679).

Sharp was from Banffshire, a graduate of the University of Aberdeen and a regent of St. Andrews University.

In the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, following the execution of the King, Sharp, a skilled negotiator, became prominent as a leader of the moderate wing of the Scottish church called the Resolutioners. Many Scottish churchmen had become Covenanters, a group of Presbyterians who bound themselves by oath to protect and defend their reformed church from the introduction of bishops and other Episcopalian features. This group had split into two factions, the Resolutioners and Protesters, differing over how much power should be given to the King in the ordering of church affairs.

Sharp was captured (1651) by Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentarian forces and imprisoned until 1652. The author of A true representation of the rise, progresse and state of the present divisions of the Church of Scotland, (1657) was sent to London to represent the interests of the Resolutioners. In London, Sharp became involved with George Monck and his scheme for the restoration of the monarchy, which Sharp conditionally supported. About the same time he privately shifted his loyalties also to the restoration of episcopacy in Scotland, thus betraying his former Presbyterian associates.

A few months after the restoration of Charles II Sharp was allowed to return to St Andrews and the following year (1661), he was appointed Archbishop of St Andrews and primate of Scotland. In the face of Presbyterian resistance, he embarked on a strategy of repressing the principles of the Covenanters he had formerly represented, enforcing policies such as the Act of Supremacy (1669) which gave the King complete authority over the Church.

Sharp was murdered by militant Covenanters whilst en route from Edinburgh to St. Andrews.
Archbishop Sharp Memorial, Holy Trinity Church, St. Andrews

In Covenanter literature he is portrayed as the arch-enemy. After the Battle of Rullion Green in November 1666 he is reported as having condemned to death eleven prisoners who had surrendered on a promise of mercy, telling them "You were pardoned as soldiers, but you are not acquitted as subjects".[1] He was clearly unpopular. When the celebrated covenanter John Blackadder preached to a large crowd at Kinkell, near St. Andrews, Archbishop Sharp asked the provost to call out the militia to disperse the crowd. The provost said he could not do so, since the militia had joined the worshipers.[2]

In 1668 James Mitchell, a veteran of Rullion Green, failed in his attempt to assassinate the archbishop as his coach passed through Blackfriars' Wynd in Edinburgh. When he was finally caught five years later, he confessed and, after imprisonment on the Bass Rock, was eventually executed in 1678. Mitchell became a Presbyterian folk hero and Sharp became even less popular. In 1679 he was assassinated by a band of Covenanters on Magus Muir, outside St Andrews, who had in fact been waiting to kill the Sheriff of Cupar when news came to them that Sharp's coach was on the road. After intercepting the coach and shooting the postillion, the nine assassins inflicted multiple fatal sword wounds on Sharp in full view of his daughter.

One of the group, James Russell, gave an account of the encounter in which he related that he had said to Sharp that he "...declared before the Lord that that it is was no particular interest, nor yet for any wrong that he had done to him, but because he had betrayed the church as Judas, and had wrung his hands, these 18 or 19 years in the blood of the saints, but especially at Pentland..."

In popular Scottish history Sharp is pictured as a turncoat in league with the Devil.

Sharp was given an elaborate funeral and buried beneath an imposing black and white marble monument in the Holy Trinity Church at St Andrews. However, when the tomb was opened in 1849 it was found to be empty. It has been alleged that the body was removed when the tomb was raided in 1725. It has never been found.

Five Covenanters captured at Bothwell Bridge (Thomas Brown of Edinburgh, James Wood of Newmilns, Andrew Sword of Galloway, John Weddell of New Monklands and John Clyde of Kilbride) were hanged on 25 December 1679 for refusing to divulge information to help identify the perpetrators. Although not directly involved in the murder, they were taken to Magus Muir where they were executed and their bodies hung in chains until the flight of James VII in 1688. A gravestone was erected over their burial place in 1728 and enclosed by a surrounding wall in 1877; the same year that a memorial to Sharp was built. Both are situated about half a mile south of the spot where the murder occurred.

See also


Archbishop Sharp Memorial on Magus Muir

the mistake in date :Act of Supremacy is in 1534 and in 1558

External links

Church of Scotland titles
Preceded by
John Spottiswoode
Archbishop of St Andrews
Succeeded by
Alexander Burnet
Academic offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Loudoun
Chancellor of the University of St Andrews
Succeeded by
Alexander Burnet
Archbishop of St Andrews

1 Annotation

Bill  •  Link

This prelate was, soon after the Restoration, sent by the Scottish Presbyterians to improve their interest with the king, who easily prevailed with him to abandon that party. He was presently after preferred to the archbishopric of St. Andrew's, and entrusted with the management of ecclesiastical affairs in Scotland. His dignity, which was of itself sufficiently odious, became much more so when conferred on a man who was commonly esteemed the betrayer of the religion of his country; who was the friend and coadjutor of Lauderdale, and consequently a persecutor of those that differed from the established church. He was cruelly murdered by nine assassins, within a mile of St. Andrew's, the 3d of May, 1679, after he had sat in that see about seventeen years.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1779.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.


  • May