John Wood (Scottish courtier)

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Master John Wood, (d.1570) Scottish courtier, administrator and secretary to Earl of Moray, assassinated on 15 April 1570.


John Wood was the son of Andrew Wood of Largo, and was educated at St Leonards College at the University of St Andrews, graduating in 1536 and so used the title "Master", referring to his degree. It has been suggested he became vicar of Largo.

John Wood's connection with Queen Mary's half brother, Lord James Stewart, afterwards Earl of Moray, began as early at least as 1548, when he accompanied him to France. About September 1560 he accompanied an embassy to England, recorded by Thomas Randolph, who in a letter of 23 September 1560 promised to send to William Cecil with Wood a copy of Knox's History of the Reformation, "as mykle as ys written thereof."[1]

John Wood was a supporter of the Scottish Reformation, and at the first General Assembly of the kirk in December 1560 he was selected as one of those at St. Andrews "best qualified for preaching of the word and ministering of the sacraments."[2] Wood accompanied Lord James in his embassy to Queen Mary in France in 1561;[3] and Nicholas Throckmorton, the English ambassador at Paris described Wood as one "in whom there is much virtue and sufficiency." He recommended that Wood's devotion to the English interest should be rewarded with a pension.[4]

Mary and the Earl of Moray[edit]

John Knox wrote that in December 1562 Wood distanced himself from the Assembly of the New Kirk to join with the "rulers" of the Scottish royal court of Mary, Queen of Scots. For three years, Wood became a magistrate, as an Extraordinary Lord of Session, as Lord Tullidavie, from 9 December 1562.[5]

Knox wrote that Mary, Queen of Scots hated John Wood, because he, with John Wishart of Pitarro, "flattered her not in her dancing and other doings." According to Knox, when Mary was told her half-brother, John Stewart Commendator of Coldingham's last words to her were that she should be a Protestant, Mary declared plainly that Coldingham's speech was invented by Wood and Wishart.[6] During the Chaseabout Raid rebellion against Mary in 1565, lead by the Earl of Moray, Wood was commanded to surrender himself to imprisonment in Dumbarton Castle within six days, and failing to do so, he was denounced a rebel.[7] He was then deprived of the office of extraordinary Lord of Session, to which, by the title of Tulliedavie, he had been appointed ; and he was not again restored to it except nominally. During the rebellion Wood was sent as emissary to Elizabeth with vain requests for her assistance.[8]

Wood remained in obscurity until Mary abdicated and Moray returned to power as regent, when he became his secretary, in preference to William Maitland of Lethington, and was employed in all his more confidential political missions. On Queen Mary's escape to England, after Langside, he was sent by the regent, in June 1568, "to resolve the queen of England of anything she" stood "doubtful unto." The Earl of Murray declared that John Wood, had copies and translations of letters into the Scots language which proved to his satisfaction that Mary, Queen of Scots had consented to the murder of her husband Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, and Wood had taken these copies to Elizabeth I of England. On 8 October 1568 John Wood arrived at York to join the conference discussing Mary, Queen of Scots and the Casket letters. James Melville of Halhill wrote that Wood was "a great ringleader at York." Wood kept up a correspondence of his own with William Cecil, the English Secretary of State.[9] At the subsequent Hampton Court conference he made a show of reluctance in presenting the accusation against the queen, but allowed it to be plucked out of his hands by the bishop of Orkney, who presented it to the English council.[10]

After the return of Moray to Scotland in 1569, and as a follow up to the conferences, Wood was again sent on an embassy to England in March 1569, and returned in June 1569.[11] His embassy was intended to assist in exposing the intrigues of the Duke of Norfolk and his secret negotiations with the Queen of Scots. To raise his status in order that he might have "ane honorable style, to set out the better his embassage," according to James Melville of Halhill he used indirect methods to obtain from the Regent the bishopric of Moray.[12] On his return to Scotland he gave a report to the Privy Council of his proceedings, and on the motion of the Regent, he was thanked and discharged.[13]

In a propaganda piece circulated by his party's enemies in January 1570, known as the Pretended Conference, a Machiavellian speech was attributed to John Wood urging Regent Moray to ruthless action against his adversaries and to use any means possible to increase his popular support.[14]


In January 1570, when Moray was about to pass through Linlithgow, Wood was sent by Agnes Keith, Countess of Moray to warn her husband of a plot for his assassination, but the warning was unheeded. Wood continued working as the special "serviteur" of Agnes Keith who was pregnant, and had helped arrange Moray's funeral, and made the contract for the Regent's tommb . Agnes Keith had been seeking permission for John and her other servants to find refuge in England.[15] He visited her infant daughter at Lochleven Castle in March. He wrote to Agnes on 4 April 1570 that he was going to Glasgow, and then returning to see her, and in case any accident came his way, his brother James Wood had her business documents.[16]

John Wood was killed on 15 April 1570, following the assassination of Regent Moray by James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh. The Hamilton family was also accused of Wood's murder in a piece of propaganda which said his killers were men fetched "out of Teviotdale to Fife." The laird of Reres in Kilconquhar in Fife, Arthur Forbes, and his son were later charged for their part in the murder.[17] George Buchanan, in his Admonitioun to the True Lords, asserted that Wood was assassinated "for nothing but for being a good servant to the crowne and to the regent his master." Buchanan also included the statement that Wood was slain by "fechtit men out of Teviotdale."


see DNB: Wood, John (d.1570) (DNB00)

  • Calendar State Papers, Foreign series Elizabeth
  • Calendar State Papers, Scotland
  • Clifford, Arthur, ed., Sadler State Papers, (1809)
  • Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, vols. i–ii.
  • Histories by Knox, Keith, and Calderwood
  • Sir James Melville's Memoirs of his Life.

  1. ^ Knox, Works, vi. 121: Calendar State Papers, Foreign 1560–61, no. 550
  2. ^ Calderwood, History, ii. 45
  3. ^ Calendar State Papers, Foreign 1560–61, no. 29
  4. ^ Calendar State Papers Foreign, 1560–61 nos. 125 & 151
  5. ^ Laing, David, ed., Works of John Knox, vol.2 (1848), 294–5 & footnote biography
  6. ^ Laing, David, ed., Works of John Knox, vol.2 (1848), 392–3
  7. ^ Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, vol.1, 353
  8. ^ Calendar State Papers, Foreign 1566–8, no. 174
  9. ^ Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol.2 (1900), 441, 524, 539
  10. ^ Melville, Memoirs, p. 211
  11. ^ Calendar State Papers, Foreign 1569–71, nos. 186, 289
  12. ^ Melville of Halhill, Memoirs, p. 216
  13. ^ Register Privy Council of Scotland, vol.2, p.6
  14. ^ Bannatyne, Richard, Memorials of the Transactions in Scotland, (1836), pp.5–13
  15. ^ Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol.3 (1903), 77, 91.
  16. ^ HMC: 6th Report & Appendix, (1877), p.646, 652
  17. ^ Pitcairn, Criminal Trials, i. 40