Monday, June 24, 2019

Riutherford's correspondents (12) Lady Culross

Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross (c.1578–c.1640) was a Scottish poet.In 1603 she became the earliest known Scottish woman writer to see her work in print, when the Edinburgh publisher Robert Charteris issued the first edition of Ane Godlie Dreame, a Calvinist dream-vision poem. A large body of manuscript verse was discovered in 2002, and her extant poetry runs to some 4,500 lines, written in many different verse-forms. Melville was an active member of the presbyterian resistance to the ecclesiastical policies of both James VI and Charles I. She was a personal friend of leading figures in the presbyterian opposition, whose frustration eventually erupted in 1637 in the Edinburgh Prayerbook Riots, leading to the National Covenant of February 1638, the Glasgow General Assembly which abolished the episcopate, and the outbreak of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.
An inscribed flagstone commemorating her as one of Scotland's great writers was unveiled by Germaine Greer on 21 June 2014 in Makars' Court, Edinburgh. The inscription is a quotation from the Dreame – "Though tyrants threat, though Lyons rage and rore/ Defy them all, and feare not to win out" (edition of 1606).
Melville's father was the courtier and diplomat Sir James Melville of Halhill (1535–1617), one of the many children of the Fife landowner Sir John Melville of Raith, an early convert to protestantism who was executed for treasonable communication with the English invaders in 1548. Despite inheriting his father's protestant convictions, Sir James began his career as a page to Mary, Queen of Scots in France in 1549. Like his brothers Sir Robert (of Murdocairnie) and Sir Andrew (of Garvock), James later served Mary in Scotland, and remained loyal to her after her fall and forced abdication. The Melville brothers would nonetheless eventually go on to become loyal and valued servants of Mary's son, King James VIof Scotland. Sir Robert became treasurer-depute in 1582, Sir Andrew became master of the household to King James (having served the imprisoned Mary in that capacity during her English captivity), and Sir James would resume his wide-ranging diplomatic activities. His Memoirs of His Own Life, written in old age for the political education of his heir, are a well-known historical source. Sir James's long association with a French court notable for highly educated women, who both wrote and published their works, may well have inspired his decision to have his daughters well educated, presumably at the family home, the long-vanished Halhill Tower near Colessie. Sir James had inherited Halhill from his adoptive father, the lawyer Henrie Balnaves, a close friend of the Reformer John Knox. Like Knox, Balnaves had been banished to serve a penal sentence in France. The theme of the persecuted Christian elect is prominent in Eizabeth Melville's poetry; between her father's absolute commitment to the Reformed faith, her paternal grandfather's ‘martyr’ status, and the suffering for the faith of her adoptive grandfather Balnaves, her protestant antecedents were impeccable.
In the summer of 1569, Sir James Melville married Christian Boswell (d.1609), one of the many daughters of David Boswell, laird of Balmuto in Fife Sir James Melville and Christian Boswell had five children (dates of birth unknown): James, Robert, Margaret, Elizabeth and Christian. James, who inherited Halhill, shared a father-in-law with Elizabeth, namely Alexander Colville (d.1597), Commendator of the Abbey at Culross, judge and privy councillor.Robert Melville trained for the ministry and for many years assisted the minister of Culross, Mr. Robert Colville, another son of Commendator Alexander.M

Culross situated on the north coast of the Firth of Forth; the village from which Melville took her courtesy title, Lady Culross.Elizabeth's marriage contract has not survived, but it is clear from the signatures to a legal document of February 1597 that by that date, she was already married to John Colville.[On 16 February 1599, Alexander Hume would end the epistle dedicating his Hymnes and Sacred Songs (Edinburgh, 1599) with the injunction ‘ Love your husband: have a modest care of your family’, which suggests the existence of more than one child. John Colville was styled ‘of West Comrie’ (Cumrie Wester, Wester-Cumbrae), an estate a little to the north-east of Culross, and in keeping with the Scottish custom of calling landowners (including farmers) by the name of their property, his wife was initially known as ‘Lady Comrie’ (it is simply wrong to call her ‘Elizabeth Colville’: Scotswomen retained their maiden names). In addition to West Comrie, John Colville owned the lands of Lurg and Kincardine, just to the west of Culross. John Colville is frequently described as ‘John, Lord Colville of Culross’. The peerage in question was created in 1604 for his cousin, Sir James Colville (1550-1629) of East Wemyss. It was confirmed in 1609.[13] Sir James, 1st Lord Colville of Culross, was the distinguished older half-brother of John Colville’s father, Alexander commendator of Culross. Sir James was much-appreciated by King James as a soldier and diplomat. He had fought on behalf of Henri de Navarre during the French Wars of Religion, and retained close links with the French court until the end of his eventful life. His own line failed c.1678, in Ireland, and the title of Lord Colville then fell by right to the descendants of John Colville of West Comrie and Elizabeth Melville, but was not claimed by them until 1722.On the death of his father in 1597, John Colville became titular Commendator of Culross. As the title pages of the second and third editions (?1604, 1606) of Ane Godlie Dreame show, Elizabeth Melville soon became known as ‘Lady Culross younger’, rather than ‘Lady Comrie’ (the elder ‘Lady Culross’ was her mother-in-law). She continued to be known as Lady Culross for the rest of her life, despite the fact that John Colville resigned the title of Commendator of Culross in 1609.
Elizabeth's surviving letters, held in Edinburgh University Library, prove that she and John Colville had at least seven children: Alexander, James, Robert, John, Samuel, and at least two daughters: one unnamed, who died before 1625, and Christian.Alexander, Robert, John and the deceased daughter appear in a letter of 29 January 1629 to her son James.[16] The financial problems that Melville recounts in this letter indicate that her husband was a poor estate-manager, and from her comments in another letter it seems that John Colville also had shortcomings as a family man: Melville wrote that the death of her clerical brother-in-law Robert was 'a soir strok to this congregatioun, and chiefly to me, to quhom he wes not only a pastour and a brother, bot, under God, a husband and a father to my children. Nixt his awin familie, I have the greattest los'.

Information about Elizabeth's children is far from plentiful. With the exception of Elizabeth's eldest and youngest sons, Alexander and Samuel, what is known mostly stems from her extant letters, above all from the two she wrote to her son James, in 1625 and 1629. These were edited and published only in 2015.From the first letter, we learn of the unnamed daughter, who died piously after a hard struggle at an unknown date; she is also mentioned in the second letter, written to James at court in London. It tells us that James was under the patronage of Sir Robert Kerr of Ancram, and that his brothers John and Robert were in Sweden (presumably as soldiers) with Robert Leslie.John had kept up his learning, and sent Latin verse to his father. Nothing more is known of Robert and John, or their unnamed sister; the brothers are not mentioned in a bond of provision made by John of West Comrie on 5 May 1643 which names only Alexander, James and Samuel.(John and Robert have so far not turned up in any of the now much-scoured Scandinavian records of Scottish regiments, and would therefore appear to have died, possibly of disease, before they saw much or indeed any military service.) Elizabeth Melville’s letter of 1629 talks about the considerable financial difficulties in which the family finds itself. The lands of Kinnedar have had to be sold off outright, and those of Comrie sold under reversion, redeemable by her eldest son, Alexander, the purchaser in both cases being John Colville’s younger brother, Mr Robert, minister of Culross. Lady Culross indicates that Alexander Colville did not keep in frequent contact with her, and asks James to write to him about the redemption of the Comrie land.

St Mary's College, St Andrews, at which Melville's son, Alexander, taught.
After studying at Edinburgh, in 1619 Alexander had moved to teach at the protestant academy in Sedan in France, the home (since 1611) of the banished Scottish presbyterian spokesman Andrew Melville. There Alexander took his D.D. degree in 1628 and married the daughter of a French pastor in 1631. In 1641, the General Assembly asked him to return to teach at St. Andrews, which he did at a date as yet unclear. By 1649, he was professor of theology in St. Mary's College there, and would experience problems in the 1650s thanks to the antics of his disruptive youngest brother Samuel.During the Covenanting period, Dr. Alexander Colville seems to have been a generally respected moderate Covenanter,[ but at the Restoration, he conformed to episcopacy. He died in 1666. The descendants of his son John (d.1671), minister of Mid-Calder, would inherit the title of Lord Colville of Culross, on the extinction of the senior line in 1678. The present Viscount Colville of Culross is his direct descendant.

In a letter of 1631 to John Livingstone, Elizabeth had commented that ‘Samuell is going to the colledge in Sant Andrews, to a worthy maister thair, bot I feare him deadly’, which indicates that her youngest child's behaviour had long been unpredictable. Three of Samuel's doggerel pasquils (from 1643, 1669 and 1673) survive in manuscript, attacking Clerk Register Sir Alexander Gibson, Bishop Gilbert Burnet and the Earl of Dundonald respectively.[26] In 1681 Samuel published the first-known of numerous editions of his Mock Poem, or The Whiggs Supplication, which is sometimes described as the Scottish Hudibras.[27] In 1673 he had published a large tome, The Grand Impostor Discovered: or, An Historical Dispute of the Papacy and Popish Religion, supposedly the first of two. No further parts ever appeared. It is not known when he died. It is highly probable that Samuel Colville, rather than James or Alexander, was the son referred to by Melville’s correspondent Samuel Rutherford when he wrote to her on 9 July 1637: ‘As for your son, who is your grief, your Lord waited on you and me, till we were ripe, and brought us in. It is your part to pray and wait upon him. When he is ripe, he will be spoken for. Who can command our Lord’s wind to blow? I know that it shall be your good in the latter end.’

Pastor Samuel Rutherford (c.1600 - 1661).
The same letter of 9 July 1637 to Elizabeth Melville from the great presbyterian pastor Samuel Rutherfordsays ‘your son-in-law W.G. is truly honoured for his Lord and Master's cause … his wife is his encourager, which should make you rejoice’.This refers to William Glendinning (or Glendoning) provost of Kirkcudbright, who in early spring 1637 had refused to imprison his father, Mr. Robert, the local minister. Mr. Robert had been suspended for nonconformity by Bishop Thomas Sydserf of Galloway, who subsequently ordered that Provost Glendinning and other local officials be imprisoned in Wigtown. William Glendinning was married to Christian Colville, named for her maternal grandmother Christian Boswell.The couple seem to have only one child, Elizabeth, presumably named for her maternal grandmother; her first husband was one George Glendinning, her second was John Maxwell, brother of the third Earl of Nithsdale, who died in the first half of 1658.[31] Rutherford's extant letters to William Glendinning all conclude with special greetings to Glendinning's wife.At present, nothing further is known about Christian Colville, but Glendinning enjoyed some prominence in Covenanting Scotland, attending the Glasgow General Assembly that abolished the episcopate, and being one of the four Scottish commissioners sent to London to try to prevent the execution of Charles I.
Ane godlie dreame, compylit in Scottish meter be M. M. gentelvvoman in Culros, at the requeist of her freindes, by Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross. Title page. Published 1603 in Edinburgh by Robert Charteris. (Courtesy of National Library of Scotland.)
In 1599, the poet-pastor Alexander Hume dedicated his Hymnes, or Sacred Songs to ‘Lady Cumrie’, and in his prefatory address to her, he described her as ‘a Ladie, a tender youth, sad, solitare and sanctified’, adding ‘I knaw ye delyte in poesie yourselfe; and as I unconfeinedly confes, excelles any of your sex in that art, that ever I hard within this nation. I have seene your compositiones so copious, so pregnant, so spirituall, that I doubt not bot it is the gift of God in you’. In his essay ‘To the Scottish Youthe’ in the same volume, Hume set out his austere view that religious verse was the only poetry that Christians should read or write. Melville's poetry in many ways exemplifies Hume's prescriptions, though another minister, David Black, provides a perfect summary of the essence of Melville's work. In An Exposition vpon the thirtie two Psalme, describing the true maner of humbling and raysing vp of Gods children (1600), Black says that the psalm is a record of King David's ‘inwarde experience and obseruations of GOD his dealing with himselfe, which in the end of his labours and agonies, hee recompteth and committeth to writing’. Melville's writings are filled with echoes of the psalms, both of the Geneva Bible prose versions and those found in the Scottish metrical psalter of 1564 (by no means identical with the English Whole Booke of Psalmes of 1562). Much of her poetry was clearly born of her own personal spiritual struggles and her inward experience of God's dealings with her. In Ane Godlie Dreame, she made a narrative drama out of those struggles, and chose to share it with the world ‘at the requeist of her freindes’. The poem is cast in 60 eight-line ‘ballat royal’ stanzas (rhyming ababbcbc), and features dialogue between the narrator and Christ, effective descriptive passages, theological writing and homiletic exhortation; the last third of the poem reviews what has gone before, in an ‘application’ of its message, such as would have been found in a sermon of the time.
Edinburgh University Library’s Laing Collection holds a bound volume of eleven holograph letters by Elizabeth Melville, and a transcript of a twelfth. One letter dates from August 1625, the other eleven were written between January 1629 and June 1632. They represent no more than a tiny fragment of what must have been a vast correspondence, but they constitute an invaluable source of biographical information about the poet. The most informative are the two that Melville addressed to her son James in 1625 and 1629, already discussed. These two are also the only letters to have been edited, but only one of the nine holograph letters (to the Countess of Wigton, Margaret Livingston) remains unpublished. Despite its addressee, it forms an integral part of the existing group of nine letters Melville wrote to the young minister John Livingstone between June 1629 and June 1632. Livingstone’s own autobiographical writings are, with the letters, the major source of information about Melville’s biography.
The extant letters are, like Melville’s poetry, are full of Biblical quotations and allusions, but contain no verse. The two to her son James are ‘more solicitous than imperious’, while those to Livingstone are ‘often imperious (as well as querulous and self-deprecatingly humorous)’; Melville writes like ‘a “mother in God”, lecturing Livingstone, counselling him, scolding him and even suggesting subject matter for sermons’.[44] Having trained for the ministry in order to follow in his father’s footsteps, Livingstone found his path to a Scottish parish blocked by the episcopal hierarchy on account of his adherence to presbyterianism, and for several years he preached wherever he was welcome as a guest, including in Fife. In his writings, Livingstone speaks with gratitude of the protection and support he was afforded by a number of ladies of the landowning classes, but he ‘has more to say of Elizabeth Melville than of any of the much grander grandes dames to whom he was beholden’.[45] Melville’s letters to him make references to persons and places that demonstrate the extent to which she was part of the nationwide Scottish network of presbyterians practising passive resistance to Crown policy with regard to worship and Kirk governance. Apart from her correspondence, other sources give clues to her network and contacts, in December 1609 Alexander Hume, minister of Logie, linked "elder Lady Elizabeth Melville, Lady Comrie" with Marie Stewart, Countess of Mar in his will, wishing them both "love, Christian affection, and blessing".[46] Robert Wodrow was told that she had visited Anne Livingstone at Eglinton Castle in 1622, meeting the minister David Dickson.[
There is no monument of any kind to Lady Culross in the historic village of Culross, where she worshipped throughout her adult life in the Abbey kirk, under the ministry of her brother-in-law and her brother. Popular books expressive of nineteenth-century presbyterian piety, which venerated the spirit of the National Covenant of 1638, noted Melville's existence as a friend of John Welsh, John Livingstone and Samuel Rutherford, though there was no popular reprint of Ane Godlie Dreame to parallel the multiple editions of Rutherford's Letters.[John Livingstone’s notes on the "Memorable Characteristics" of his contemporaries contain several references to Elizabeth Melville, which testify to the extent of her influence on her correligionists. These individuals included the versifying presbyterian minister of Irvine on the Ayrshire coast, David Dickson, whom she singled out to lead the prayers of a despondent company of dissident ministers and other presbyterians on 4 August 1621 after the Scottish Parliament had ratified the episcopalian Five Articles of Perth.Dickson’s much-reprinted long poem, True Christian Love, to be sung with the common tunes of the psalms, first published in 1634, is reminiscent of Melville’s work. Dickson also wrote an acrostic poem (on his own name, in three ababacc stanzas), reminiscent of Melville’s acrostic spiritual sonnets. She is known to have been in correspondence with Dickson.It has been suggested that Melville’s poetry also influenced another apparently presbyterian poet from Ayrshire, Francis Hamilton of Silvertonhill. It is probable that Ane Godlie Dreame was known to the militantly presbyterian Sir William Mure of Rowallan, also from Ayrshire. In particular, his sonnet-sequence The Joy of Teares (published in 1635) contains many lines and images strongly reminiscent of Melville’s poetry deploring the persecution of the faithful. But Melville’s legacy is much more extensive, insofar as the very long shelf-life of Ane Godlie Dreame must have influenced the spirituality of several generations of pious Scottish presbyterians.With the unveiling of the commemorative flagstone in Makars' Court, and the considerable publicity which surrounded that event, she has become a flagship for the revaluation of the writings of Scottish women of earlier centuries: the other six women commemorated there all published after 1900.

Flagstone commemorating Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross (c1578-c1640), in Makars' CourtLawnmarket, Edinburgh, Scotland. Unveiled by Germaine Greer on 21 June 2014. The inscription is taken from the 1606 edition of Melville's poem, Ane Godlie Dreame, which was first published in Edinburgh in 1603:
"Though tyrants threat, though Lyons rage and rore
Defy them all, and feare not to win out"

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