Robert Blair (moderator)

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Robert Blair
Couston Castle (geograph 5287316).jpg
Couston Castle where Robert Blair died.[1]
Personal details
Died(1666-08-27)27 August 1666
Couston Castle
SignatureRobert Blair's signature
Emigrants memorial, Larne comemorating the first ship to leave Larne for America in 1717. The Eagle Wing left Groomsport in 1636 and was over half way there when they turned back. (The Mayflower sailed in 1620).[2]
Westminster Abbey, west facade

Robert Blair (1593 – 27 August 1666) was a Scottish presbyterian minister who was excommunicated in 1634 but became a Westminster Divine and was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1646 after an unsuccessful attempt to emigrate to Boston in 1636.

Robert Blair was born in Irvine, 1593, the sixth son of John Blair of Windyedge, a merchant-adventurer and cadet of Blair, and Beatrix Mure of the Rowallan family. He was educated at the University of Glasgow, graduating with an M.A. in 1612. He was appointed regent there in 1615 and licenced in 1616. In consequence of the appointment of John Cameron, to the Principalship, who favoured Episcopacy, Blair resigned his regency, went to Ireland on the invitation of Lord Claneboy, and was sometime minister of a Presbyterian congregation at Bangor. He was ordained thereto by Robert Echlin, Bishop of Down, and some of the neighbouring pastors.[3] Blair narrates that he was "very careful to inform him [Echlin] both of what accusations had been laid against me of disaffection to the civil powers, and that I could not submit to the use of the English liturgy nor Episcopal government. But he having been informed of my altercations with Dr Cameron, said, 'I know all that business,' and added that he was confident of procuring a free entry for me, which he quickly effectuated. . . . Having been invited to preach by the patron, and by Mr Gibson, the sick incumbent, I yielded to their invitation and preached there three Sabbath days. After that, several of the aged and most respectful persons in the congregation came to me by order of the whole, and informed me that they were edified by the doctrine delivered by me, and intreated me not to leave them. Likewise the dying man did several ways encourage me. He professed great sorrow for his having been a dean. He condemned Episcopacy more strongly than ever I durst do: he charged me in the name of Christ, and as I expected his blessing on my ministry, not to leave that good way wherein I had begun to walk, and then drawing my head towards his bosom with both his arms, he laid his hands on my head, and blessed me. Within a few days after he died, and my admission was accomplished as quickly as might be, in the following way. The Viscount Claneboy did, on my request, inform the Bishop how opposite I was to Episcopacy and their liturgy, and had the influence to procure my admission on easy and honourable terms. Yet, lest his lordship had not been plain enough, I declared my opinion fully to the Bishop at our first meeting, and found him yielding beyond my expectation. The Bishop said to me, 'I hear good of you, and will impose no conditions on you: I am old and can teach you ceremonies, and you can teach me substance, only I must ordain you, else neither I nor you can answer the law nor brook the land.' I answered him that his sole ordination did utterly contradict my principles; but he replied both wittily and submissively, 'Whatever you account of Episcopacy, yet I know you account a presbytery to have divine warrant; will you not receive ordination from Mr [Robert] Cunningham [minister at Holywood] and the adjacent brethren, and let me come in among them in no other relation than a presbyter!' [4] This I could not refuse, and so the matter was performed," 10 July 1623. Echlin, however, turned to be his bitter enemy, and in September 1631, Blair was suspended from the exercise of his ministerial functions, the ostensible reason being that he had taken part (with John Livingston) in a celebration of the Lord's Supper at the Kirk of Shotts; and on 4 May 1632 he was deposed. Through the intervention of Charles I. sentence was removed in May 1634, but he was again deposed by Echlin in November that same year. He was now bent on emigrating to New England, but the ship in which he and other ministers, including John Livingstone, sailed was driven back by stress of weather, a sign, as Blair thought, that his services were still required at home.[5]

The next months were spent partly in Scotland and England, and an order for his apprehension being issued, he escaped to Scotland, and was admitted to the Second Charge of Ayr in July 1638. He was invited to go to France as chaplain to Colonel Hepburn's Regiment, but after embarking at Leith was threatened by a soldier whom he had reproved for swearing, and thereupon went ashore again. He petitioned the Privy Council for liberty to preach the Gospel and was admitted to St Andrews 8 October 1639. In 1640 he accompanied the Scottish army to England and assisted at the negotiations for the Peace of Ripon; pres. by Charles I. 8 November 1641.[5]

He preached in Ulster for three months during 1642, the Presbyterians there having petitioned the General Assembly for a supply of ministers after the Irish Rebellion of 1641. He attended Lord President Spottiswood and others to the scaffold in 1645.[5]

He was elected Moderator of General Assembly 3 June 1646. He was then appointed Chaplain-in-Ordinary to King Charles I. that year. He was also appointed by Commission of Assembly in 1648, one of a Committee to endeavour to get Cromwell to establish "a uniformity of religion in England." On the division of the Church in 1650, he inclined to the Resolutioners and endeavoured to effect a union between them and the Protesters. He was summoned to London by the Protector in 1654, but excused himself on the ground of ill-health. He was named by the Council of England that year on the Committee for authorising admissions to the ministry in Perth, Fife, and Angus. On the establishment of Episcopacy he was removed from his charge September 1661, confined to Musselburgh and subsequently to Kirkcaldy (where he was for three years and a half), and afterwards at Meikle Couston, parish of Aberdour, Fife, where he died 27 August 1666, and was buried in the churchyard of Aberdour.[5]


Robert Blair's Gravestone
Robert Blairs Grave, St Fillans, Aberdour. The scroll that surmounts it bears the inscription, Mors Janua Vitae — Death is the Gate of Life; and the simple epitaph when translated runs thus : "Here lie the mortal remains of the Reverend Robert Blair, a most faithful preacher of the Gospel at St. Andrews. He died on the 27th of August 1666, in the 73d year of his age."[6]

He was a native of Irvine, Ayrshire. His father was a merchant-adventurer, John Blair of Windyedge, a younger brother of the family of Blair of that ilk; his mother was Beatrix Muir (of the house of Rowallan), who lived for nearly a century.

From the parish school at Irvine Blair proceeded to the University of Glasgow, where he took his degree of M.A. He is stated to have acted as a schoolmaster in Glasgow. In his twenty-second year he was appointed a regent or professor in the university. One of his students was the future author of polemics for the Covenanters, Robert Baillie.[7] In 1616 he was licensed as a preacher of the gospel in connection with the established church (presbyterian) of Scotland. In 1622 he resigned his professorship.

Having gone over to Ireland, he was called to Bangor, County Down and ordained by Robert Echlin, the Bishop of Down, on 10 July 1623. But he was suspended in the autumn of 1631, and deposed in 1632 for nonconformity; Echlin had turned a blind eye in the 1620s to presbyterian clergy in his diocese, but Blair (on his own account) didn't react to hints by Theophilus Buckworth, Bishop of Dromore, and was then interviewed by James Ussher, who tried to persuade him with arguments current from John Sprint.[8] By the intervention of the king, Charles I, he was restored in May 1634; but the former sentence was renewed, with excommunication, by John Bramhall, bishop of Derry, the same year.

Excommunicated and ejected, Blair, along with others, fitted out a ship, intending to go to New England in 1635. But the weather proved so bad that they were beaten back, and, returning to Scotland, he lived partly in that country and partly in England. Orders were issued in England for his apprehension in 1637, but he escaped to Scotland, and preached for some time in Ayr. He was invited to go to France as chaplain to the regiment of Colonel Patrick Hepburn of Waughton, but after embarking at Leith he was threatened by a soldier whom he had reproved for swearing, and went ashore again. He also petitioned the privy council 'for liberty to preach the gospel,' and received an appointment at Burntisland in April 1638. He was nominated to St. Andrews in the same year, and was admitted there on 8 October 1639.

In the Second Bishops' War of 1640 he accompanied the Scottish army on its march into England. He assisted in the negotiations for the treaty of peace presented by Charles I on 8 November 1641. After the Irish Rebellion of 1641 he once more went to Ireland with several other clergymen of the Scottish kirk, the Irish general assembly (presbyterian) having petitioned for supplies for their vacant charges. He afterwards returned to St. Andrews.

In 1645 he attended the lord president Robert Spottiswoode and others to the scaffold. In the same year he was one of the Scottish ministers who went to Newcastle to speak very plainly to the king. In 1646 he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (3 June). Later, on the death of Alexander Henderson, he was appointed chaplain-in-ordinary to the king, supported by the revenues of the Chapel Royal. The Commission of the General Assembly, in 1648, named him one of those for 'endeavouring to get Cromwell to establish a uniformity of religion in England.'

At the division of the church, in 1650, into Resolutioners and Protesters, he leaned to the former, but lamented the strife. Summoned with others to London in 1654, that 'a method might be devised for settling affairs of the church,' he pleaded ill-health and declined to go. In the same year he was appointed by the council of England 'one of those for the admission to the ministry in Perth, Fife, and Angus.'

At the Restoration he came under the notice of Archbishop James Sharp, had to resign his charge in September 1661, and was confined to certain places, first of all to Musselburgh, afterwards to Kirkcaldy (where he remained three and a half years), and finally to Meikle Couston near Aberdour. As a Covenanter he preached outdoors. He died at Aberdour on 27 August 1666, and was buried in the parish churchyard.


  • Autobiography was published by the Wodrow Society (1848); fragments were published in 1754.
  • Preface to Durham's Treatise on Scandal.
  • Commentary on the Book of Proverbs, (ready but not published)
  • Answer to Bishop Hall's Remonstrance, ready for the Press, but these were never published.[5]


  • Edin. Guild. Reg. ;
  • Edin. Marr. Reg. ;
  • Reg. Sec. Sig. ;
  • G. R. Sas., iii. 164, ix. 106;
  • Lamont's Diary;
  • Tombst. ; [6]
  • Baillie's Letters ;
  • Hill's Life of Hugh Blair ;
  • Reid's Ireland, i., 101 et seq. ;
  • Dictionary Nat. Biog.[5]
  • Reed's Presbyterianism of Ireland, i.;
  • Row and Stevenson's Hist.;
  • Rutherford's and Baillie's Letters;
  • Kirkcaldy Presb. Reg.;
  • Connolly's Fifeshire;
  • Chambers's Biogr.;
  • Scott's Fasti, ii. 91;
  • Hill's Life of Hugh Blair[9]


He married first Beatrix, daughter of Robert Hamilton, merchant, in right of whom he became a burgess of Edinburgh on 16 July 1626; she died in July 1632, aged 27. Their issue were two sons and a daughter: James, one of the ministers of Dysart, Robert, and Jean, who married William Row, minister of Ceres. His second wife was Katherine, daughter of Hugh Montgomerie of Braidstane, afterwards Viscount Airds. Their issue were seven sons and a daughter. One of these sons, David, was father of Robert Blair, the poet of the Grave, and another, Hugh, grandfather of Dr. Hugh Blair.

He marr. (1) 16th July 1626, Beatrix (died July 1632, aged 27), daugh. of Robert Hamilton, merchant, burgess of Edinburgh, and had issue — James, min. of Dysart ; Robert ; Jean (marr. William Row, min. of Ceres) : (2) Katherine, daugh. of Hugh Montgomerie of Braidstane, Vis- count Airds, and had issue — William ; David, min. of Old Kirk Parish, Edinburgh [father of Robert B., min. of Athelstane- ford, author of The Grave] ; Samuel ; John, writer, Edinburgh, born 1640; Archi- bald ; Alexander in Edinburgh ; Andrew, born 1644; Montgomery, born 1646; Hugh, merchant, Edinburgh ; Catherine (marr. George Campbell, min. of Old Kirk, Edin- burgh, and Professor of Divinity).[5]


  1. ^ harv & Historic Environment Scotland.
  2. ^ Kirkpatrick 2015.
  3. ^ Scott 1925, p. 232.
  4. ^ Scott 1925, p. 232-233.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Scott 1925, p. 233.
  6. ^ a b Ross 1885, p. 256.
  7. ^ Campbell 2017, p. 27, 143.
  8. ^ Ford 2007, p. 166-168.
  9. ^ Grosard 1886, p. 164.
  • This article incorporates text from The Modern World Encyclopædia: Illustrated (1935); out of UK copyright as of 2005.