Robert Leighton (prelate)

:"this article is about the 17th century scholar and preacher Robert Leighton. For other people with the same name, see Robert Leighton"Infobox Person
name = Robert Leighton

image_size = 200px
caption = A. W. Warren's 1825 depiction of the archbishop.
birth_date = 1611
birth_place = London
death_date = death date|1684|6|25|df=y
death_place = London
occupation = Prelate, Bishop, Archbishop
spouse = None
parents = Alexander Leighton
children = None

Robert Leighton (born 1611, died 25 June 1684) was a Scottish prelate and scholar, best known as a church minister, Bishop of Dunblane, Archbishop of Glasgow, and Principal of the University of Edinburgh from 1653 to 1662. He was "noted for his Christian piety, his humility and gentleness, and his devotion to his calling". cite web | author= Garland Branch | year=1980 | title= The Leighton Connection| format=html | url= | accessdate=2007-01-06]

Early life

Leighton was born in London to Scottish parents in 1611.cite web | author= "Newbattle Focus" | year=2007 | title= A brief biography of Robert Leighton | format=html | url= | accessdate=2007-01-05] . His father was Doctor Alexander Leighton, who was tortured by King Charles I for his puritan beliefs after authoring a pamphlet "Zion's Plea against Prelacy" in which he criticised the church, condemning Bishops as "antiChristian and satanic". Robert Leighton's mother was Alexander Leighton's first wife. According to Gilbert Burnet, Leighton was distinguished for his "saintly disposition" from his earliest childhood,cite web | author= NNDB | year=2007 | title= Robert Leighton | format=html | url=| accessdate=2007-01-05] even despite the persecution of his family. In 1627 (before his father published his pamphlet) at the age of sixteen, Robert Leighton went to study at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with an MA in 1631.

Following his graduation, his father sent him to travel abroad, and he is understood to have spent several years in France, where he acquired a complete mastery of the French language. While there he passed a good deal of time with relatives at Douai who had become Roman Catholics, and with whom he kept up a correspondence for many years afterwards. Either at this time or on some subsequent visit he had also a good deal of intercourse with members of the Jansenist party. This intercourse contributed to the charity towards those who differed from him in religious opinion, which ever afterwards formed a feature in his character.

Church career

Having returned to Scotland, Leighton was ordained as a Minister in the Church of Scotland on 16 December 1641. The ordination took place at Newbattle in Midlothian and thirty year-old Leighton was installed as Parish Minister of Newbattle on the same date. Following the furore over his father's actions, it took a while before Leighton was accepted as Minister. Parish records show that he had to deliver five trial sermons - two of which had to be delivered on the same day - before being accepted::"On the 16th of December, decreed as a whilk day for the appointment of Mr Robert Lichtoune, a sermon was delivered by John Knox, based on Hebrews 13 Verse 17. After his sermon, Mr John Knox put to Robert Lichtoune and the parishioners, sundry questions competent to ye occasion and after the imposition of hands and ye solemne prayer, was admitted minister of Newbattle" (Session Records)

Leighton signed the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643. Leighton served at Newbattle for eleven years, before resigning his charge in 1652. What led him to take this step is not immediately clear, though the account given is that he had little sympathy with the fiery zeal of his brother clergymen on certain political questions, and that this led to severe censures on their part.

University of Edinburgh

Early in 1653, Leighton was appointed principal of the University of Edinburgh, and primarius professor of divinity. The position was originally supposed to be filled by William Colvill, but Colvill was unable to take possession of it, since he was in Holland and so the position was declared vacant again, and Leighton appointed in Colvill's place. Leighton continued in this post until 1662, when he was succeeded by Colvill, who had since returned to Scotland.

A considerable number of his Latin prelections and other addresses (published after his death) are remarkable for the purity and elegance of their Latinity, and their subdued and meditative eloquence. They are valuable instructions in the art of living a holy life rather than a body of scientific divinity. Throughout, however, they bear the marks of a deeply learned and accomplished mind, saturated with both classical and patristic reading, and like all his works they breathe the spirit of one who lived very much above the world.

Bishop and Archbishop

Despite his strong presbyterian leanings, in 1661, Leighton allowed himself to be appointed Bishop of Dunblane by King Charles II. His mild mannered nature gave him problems in this role, and he attempted to resign in 1665, making a trip to London for that purpose. However he did not go through with this after King Charles II agreed to milder measures. He repeated his trip to London again in 1669, but little result followed.

In 1670, he agreed (with hesitation) to accept appointment as Archbishop of Glasgow. In this higher sphere he redoubled his efforts with the Presbyterians to bring about some degree of conciliation with Episcopacy, but the only result was to embroil himself with the hot-headed Episcopal party as well as with the Presbyterians.

He resigned the archbishopric in 1674.

Later life

After leaving his position as Archbishop in 1674, Leighton retired to the mansion of his widowed sister Sapphira (Mrs Edward Lightmaker), and her son, at Broadhurst in Sussex.

Leighton died suddenly on 25 June 1684 during a trip to London, in an inn in the shadow of a partly finished St Paul's Cathedral. His final parting wish was that "At eventide there might be light"..

Leighton was buried in Horsted Keynes, Sussex. In his will, he bequeathed his collection of 1,400 volumes and a hundred pounds for the erection of the Leighton Library. He also gave instruction that all his personal papers and manuscripts be destroyed, though this never took place.

Following his death, a commentary of his on 1 Peter, was published in two volumes in 1693 and 1694, and has rarely been out of print ever since.


Leighton never married, and so had no children.

Father: Alexander Leighton
Mother: Unknown (Alexander's first wife):Brother: Elisha Leighton (???-1684) (later Sir Ellis Leighton) who was secretary to John Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton when he was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland in 1670 and British Ambassador to France in 1675.:Sister: Sapphira (later Mrs Edward Lightmaker) (1623-1704):Other Siblings who did not survive to maturity: James, Caleb, Elizabeth. However it is possible that Elizabeth "did" survive to maturity, as Leighton mentioned his mother and sisters (as opposed to sister) in some correspondence to his brother-in-law, Mr Edward Lightmaker (year unknown): ::"My mother writes to me and presses my coming up. I know not yet if that can be. But I intend, God willing, so soon as I can conveniently ... Remember my love to my sisters. The Lord be with you, and lead you in his ways".

Leighton Library

Leighton's legacy remains today in the Leighton Library (or Bibliotheca Leightoniana), which is the oldest purpose built library in Scotland. It contains a collection of around 4000 volumes and 78 manuscripts from the 16th to the 19th century, and is founded on the personal collection of Leighton, who had left the books to Dunblane Cathedral. Some of the collection was originally owned by Newbattle and was stored at the Old Manse, but it is now held in its entirety at The Cross, Dunblane

Religious Views

Leighton saw good and bad in both the Episcopal and the English Puritan forms of worship. The Puritan Party gained such popularity that Leighton retired from the Ministry at Newbattle, citing the introduction of the Cromwellian ideas as to doctrine and ritual, as his main reason. Scotland's "Apostle of Peace", as he became known, took up the post at Edinburgh University as Principal for a period of 8 years, before being summoned to London, by Charles II, to be one of four Bishops appointed to look after the King's Northern realm in the Westminster Way. Hence his term at Dunblane as Bishop and subsequently at Glasgow as Archbishop.


External links

* [ Biography from "Newbattle Focus"]

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