Peter Young (Scottish diplomat and tutor)

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Sir Peter Young (1544–1628) was a Scottish diplomat, tutor to James VI of Scotland.


Young was the second son of John Young, burgess of Edinburgh and Dundee, and of Margaret, daughter of Walter Scrymgeour of Glasswell, and was born at Dundee on 15 August 1544. His mother was related to the Scrymgeours of Dudhope (later ennobled with the title of Earl of Dundee), and his father settled in Dundee at the time of his marriage (1541). John Young's eldest son, John (1542–1584), was provost of the collegiate church of Dysart; the third son, Alexander, usher of the king's privy chamber to James VI, died on 29 December 1603. From Isabella, the elder daughter, descended the Young baronets of Bailieborough Castle, County Cavan, the family of John Young, Baron Lisgar.

Peter Young was educated at the Dundee Grammar School, and probably matriculated at St. Andrews University, though no record of his attendance there has been found. When he was admitted burgess of Dundee he was designated ‘Magister’, a title exclusively used by masters of arts. In 1562 he was sent to the continent to complete his studies under the care of his uncle, Henry Scrimgeour, by whom he was recommended to Theodore Beza, then professor of theology at Geneva. Scrymgeour was appointed to the newly founded chair of civil law at Geneva in 1563, and Young resided with him until in 1568 he returned to Scotland. His reputation as a scholar was so great that in the beginning of 1569–70 the regent Moray appointed him joint-instructor of the infant James VI along with George Buchanan.

As Buchanan was then advanced in years, it is probable that the chief share of teaching the infant king fell upon Young; and he is referred to in complimentary terms in Buchanan's ‘Epistolæ.’ From the account given by Sir James Melville of Halhill it appears that while Buchanan was ‘wise and sharp,’ Young was more of the courtier. This attitude won the affection of the king, and Young was his favourite counsellor up till the king's death. A relic of the education of the king is in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 34275) in 1893, in the form of a fragment of the king's books written in Young's handwriting, interspersed with exercises by the royal pupil. This manuscript was published in the ‘Miscellany’ of the Scottish History Society in 1893, with notes by George F. Warner.

On 25 October 1577 Young was made master almoner, and received numerous gifts and pensions, several of which are recorded in the acts of parliament. In August 1586 he was sent on his first embassy to Frederick II of Denmark on business concerning Orkney, and on his return he was admitted to the privy council (7 November 1586). From that date until July 1622 he attended the meetings of the council. In June 1587 he was sent with Sir Patrick Vans of Barnbarroch on a second embassy to Denmark, mostly with a view to the marriage of one of the king's daughters with James VI. Young recommended Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Frederick II, as the most suitable match; but in 1588 the overtures for the hand of this princess were declined as she had been promised to another. It was then suggested that the king should wed the second daughter, the Princess Anne, but the death of Frederick in 1588 delayed the negotiations. Early in 1589, Young was sent once more to Denmark to complete the marriage negotiations, and on his return he set out with James VI on 23 October 1589 to attend the nuptials at Oslo.

In 1593 Prince Henry, the first son of this marriage, was born, and among the letters of Christian IV preserved at Copenhagen there is one dated 12 May 1594, acknowledging the arrival of Young as ambassador sent to convey official information of this event. In 1595, when the king found it expedient to commit the charge of his affairs to eight councillors (hence called Octavians), Young was one of the number.

When James VI was invited to Denmark in May 1596 to attend Christian's coronation, he sent Lord Ogilvy and Young as his ambassadors, and they were accredited by Christian in a letter dated 6 August 1596. The question of the succession to the throne of England was then on the mind of James VI, and as he was anxious to gain the support of his brother-in-law Christian, he sent David Cunningham, bishop of Aberdeen, and Young on a special embassy for this purpose in 1598. While on their way there the ambassadors met, at Rostock, David Chytræus (1530–1600), who had published an attack on Mary, Queen of Scots, based principally on Buchanan's Detectio; and by the king's instructions Young remonstrated with Chytræus and obtained a recantation. Dr. Smith asserts that when Young returned to Scotland he wrote an abridged ‘Life of Queen Mary,’ which he sent to Chytræus.

When commissioners were appointed in 1598 to report on the state of the Scottish universities, Young was chosen as one of the number. He accompanied the king to London in 1603, and before they reached the capital James desired to mark his appreciation of Young's services by appointing him dean of Lichfield, but he soon found that the office was not in his free gift. Young retained his post in the royal household as chief almoner, but resigned his office of keeper of the privy purse to the queen. In November 1604 he was made tutor and ‘chief overseer’ in the establishment of Prince Charles. The post carried with it a pension of £200, which was increased to £300 when Young was knighted on 19 February 1605.

In November 1616 Young was appointed master of St Cross Hospital, Winchester, a special license being granted to permit him to hold the office though he was not in holy orders nor resident. Either in 1620 or 1623 Young desired to ‘retrait home into Scotland, there to dye where his barnes may see him buried in the land of his forefathers,’ and at this time the king exerted himself to procure the payment of the arrears of pension due to Young. He had purchased the estate of Easter Seaton, near Arbroath, Forfarshire in 1580, and three years later built a mansion there, of which only one stone, with the date and the initials of himself and his first wife, is in existence, built into the farmhouse that occupies its site. In this place he spent his declining years, and here he died on 7 January 1628, in his eighty-fourth year.

He was buried in the vault of St. Vigean's Church, near Arbroath, where a mural tablet bearing a Latin inscription is preserved.


It is stated that besides the ‘Life of Queen Mary,’ Young wrote a ‘Life of George Buchanan;’ but Thomas Smith, writing in 1707, could find no trace of it.[1]


Young was three times married. By his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of John Gibb, a gentleman of the king's bedchamber (m. 1577, d. 1595), he had twelve children, seven sons and three daughters. The fifth son was Patrick Young; another son, John (1585–1654), received his M.A. at University of St. Andrews in 1606, when he was elected fellow at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. He held various livings, a canonry in Wells Cathedral from 1611, and the deanery of Winchester from 1616 until 1645.[2] His gift of ground for the erection of a school in St. Andrews has erroneously been credited to his brother Patrick.

Sir Peter's second wife was Dame Joanna Murray, widow of Lord Torphichen, who survived her marriage for only six months, dying in November 1596. In 1600, Sir Peter married his third wife, Marjory, daughter of Nairne of Sandfurd, Fife, by whom he had four daughters. She survived him, and in 1642 made application to the House of Lords for payment of arrears of pension. Previous to this time (in 1631) Charles I had directed that a pension of two hundred marks conferred on Young should be paid to his son, Sir Peter Young.


  1. ^ Smith, Thomas, Vitæ quorundam Eruditissimorum et Illustrium Virorum, (1707) (Latin), Petrus Junius, life VI.
  2. ^ Kenneth Fincham, "John Young" in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online (2004)

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Young, Peter". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.