Notable Borthwicks


Sir John Borthwick, the Reformer, has been suggested to be a grandson of William, third Lord Borthwick, but certainly became son-in-law of the fourth Lord when he married the latter's youngest daughter, Margaret, as his first wife. They had at least one son, William. Unless he was the student of the same name at St Andrews University between 1509 and 1511, which would mean that he was still campaigning in his mid-seventies, John Borthwick is first reliably recorded as a member Garde Écossaise (Life Guards) to the king of France 1529-38. In 1531 he became an ensign, and was granted Civray, near Poitiers. In 1535 he obtained lands near Wigtown, and also came to the notice of Thomas Cromwell as a supporter of Henry VIII's religious policies. In this he may have been influenced by his kinsman Nicholas Borthwick, who was a student at Wittenberg in 1528. Late in 1538 he received £20 from the English crown as 'a captain of Scotland called Bortyke now passing over to France'.

By 1539 Borthwick had returned to the court of James V, where in February 1540 he and David Lindsay welcomed the English ambassador Ralph Sadler. However, on 28 May 1540 in St Andrews, now styled knight, he was tried in absentia for heresy before Cardinal David Beaton, principally for promotion of 'English heresies', such as the denial of papal authority and the encouragement of the Scottish king to follow the example of England in despoiling the prelates, who 'do not have the true catholic faith'. Further, he was charged for owning an English New Testament, works by Oecolampadius, Melanchthon, and Erasmus, and the reformist anthology called Unio dissidentium. Borthwick was condemned and forfeited, and his likeness burned, but he had fled abroad before he could be tried.

In 1543 Borthwick was commended to King Henry VIII as 'singularly dedicate' to the king's service, which by 1545 had taken him to Newcastle, London, and Antwerp, sending information on matters ranging from Edinburgh Castle to the Danish king's religious position; for this he was awarded an English pension of 300 crowns in 1544. Borthwick returned to Dundee after the murder of Beaton in 1546, and was set in free ward in Borthwick Castle that autumn; by April 1547 he had joined the 'Castilians' in St Andrews, and accompanied Henry Balnaves on a secret journey to meet the duke of Somerset in Berwick. Borthwick then entered the service of King Edward VI, for whom he went on diplomatic missions to Scandinavia and Germany in order to foster union among protestant rulers, notably in Denmark in 1552.

After Edward's death Borthwick joined the English exiles in Geneva on 21 September 1554, and in 1555 he attempted unsuccessfully to induce the company of pastors to take up his mission of uniting protestant territories. Margaret Borthwick having died, her husband made a second marriage in Geneva, to Jeanne Bonespoir. He was in the company of the young third earl of Arran at the French court by 1558, and returned to England in 1559, when Queen Elizabeth I sent him to command 1000 light horsemen in the borders. Borthwick was back in France in 1567-8, evidently in the service of Queen Mary, but when civil war broke out he joined the forces of Regent Moray against the queen, and was slain by members of the Forster family near Bewcastle, Cumberland, on 25 or 26 December 1569.

Well before his death Borthwick had successfully petitioned to be relieved from his sentence for heresy. In 1561 he obtained from the St Andrews kirk session of the reformed church a sentence declaring his opinions reasonable and not heretical, and he was formally rehabilitated by Queen Mary in February 1563. Both Calvin and King Christian III of Denmark had commended his religious zeal, while others described him as 'all given of talking of the Scriptures', and as 'godly, honest, and of great experience'. Well-founded protestant convictions and a sense of mission in his diplomatic efforts remained constant throughout Borthwick's services, performed at court and on the field of battle on behalf of three kingdoms.

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