From the Book of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee 1513 to 1885.

Magister Robert Howie, Pastor of Dundee - 25th July 1603



The name of ROBERT HOWIE is closely associated with both the ecclesiastical and municipal history of the Burgh of Dundee during his occupancy of the post of Pastor. He was born near the city of Aberdeen, circa 1565, and was educated at King's College, Old Aberdeen. Having completed his studies there, he travelled abroad, in company with some of his College companions, and passed several years at the Universities of Herborn and Basle, as a student of Theology. Whilst studying under the famous JOHN JAMES GRYNAEUS at Basle, he published his first theological work, entitled De Reconciliatione Hominis cum Deo, seu de Humani Generis Redemptione, being two disputations which he had read in public before the Professor, and for which he had been commended. It was whilst HOWIE was a student at Herborn, in 1586, that he published the posthumous work of GEORGE BUCHANAN, called _De Sphaera, from which fact the extent of his classical knowledge may be deduced. On his return to Scotland, in 1591, he was appointed to the Third Charge in Aberdeen; and his literary reputation was so great that when GEORGE, EARL MARISCHAL, founded the College which bears his name, in 1594 (vide page 66), ROBERT HOWIE was, selected as the first Principal.

He remained in this post till 1598, and was then transferred by the General Assembly to Dundee, as successor to the venerable WILLIAM CHRYSTESONE, whose infirmities had necessitated his removal. In this charge he continued till he was deposed by an order of the Privy Council, in July, 1605, for his interference in a disputed municipal election, and declared "nawise to be capable of ony public office, function, or charge within the said town." This incident is too involved to be detailed in this place, nor is it neces¬sary, since a very complete account of it is given in MAXIVELL'S Old, Dundee, pp. 319 353. it is sufficient to state that the minister had led the Burgesses to oppose the election of SIR JAMES SCRYMGEOUR of Dudhope to the Provostship, in defiance of the KING'S letter directing them to place that nobleman in the office, and the real cause of HOWIE's disgrace was his declaration that freedom of election could not be maintained if the Royal interference was permitted. For this offence he was banished from the Burgh by a special edict, and ordered to be warded in the city of St Andrews. All the documents relating to this interesting case may be found in the Register of the Privy Council, Vols. VI. and VII.

Though HOWIE had incurred the displeasure of the KING by his action in this matter, he soon regained the Royal favour, by showing a disposition to adopt the doctrines of the Prelatists as opposed to the Presbyterians. He was one of those summoned to appear at the conferences at Hampton Court along with GLADSTANES, LAMB, and others, in support of the Bishops; and when ANDREW MELVILLE was deposed from his office as Principal of the New College, St Andrews, and imprisoned in the Tower for his sturdy Presbyterianism, ROBERT HOWIE was appointed to succeed him in that important post. Hitherto the Principalship had been a life appointment, but the KING'S letter placed him in the position merely during His MAJESTY'S pleasure, and he would not accept of it under that condition. An order was issued by the Privy Council directing that he should enter on his duties within fifteen days under pain of rebellion, and he then assumed the post of Provost or Principal of the New College. "HOWIE'S literary and theological acquirements were respectable," writes Dr M'CRIE (Life of Andrew Melville, ed. 1856, p. 28,0), "but he did not possess the genius, the elegant taste, or the skill in sacred languages, by which his predecessor was distinguished."On the other hand, ARCHBISHOP GLADSTANES, a native of Dundee and a friendly critic, describes HOWIE'S first appearance in the Chair of MELVILLE in a letter to the KING, 28th October, 1607, in these terms:

"Mr ROBERT HOWIE has been entered to teach in the New College, and that with so much rare learning as not only breeds great contentment to all the clergy here, but also ravishes them with admiration. So that the absence of his antecessor is not missed, while they find, instead of superficial feckless inventions, profitable and substantious theology."

The zeal for Episcopacy with which HOWIE began his career at St Andrews ultimately toned down into moderation, and he retained his post as head of the New College for some time after the abolition of Prelacy and the establishment of Presbyterianism. He died before 1647. His successor in the pastoral charge of Dundee was that DAVID LYNDESAY to whom reference is made under date 17th February, 1602 (vide page 94).


Iain D. McIntosh, Friends of Dundee City Archives