1902 Encyclopedia > William Elphinstone

William Elphinstone
Scottish prelate and statesman
(1431-1514)




WILLIAM ELPHINSTONE, (1431-1514), a Scottish prelate and statesman of considerable eminence, was born at Glasgow in 1431. He received his education at the grammar school and the university of that city, and took his degree as M.A. about his twentieth year. Having received ordination, he was appointed priest of the church of St Michael's, Glasgow, an office which he held for four years. He afterwards studied civil and canon law in the university of Paris, where in due time he became professor, and for six years discharged the duties of his office with great reputation. On his return to Scotland on the invita-tion of Bishop Muirhead, after an absence of nine years, he was successively appointed official of Glasgow, St Andrews, and Lothian. In the year of his return he was made rector of the university of Glasgow. In 1478 he was admitted a member of the Privy Council; and on the occasion of a misunderstanding between James III. of Scotland and Louis XI. of France, his powerful mediation at the latter court, in conjunction with the bishop of Dunkeld and the earl of Buchan, effected an amicable reconciliation. For the diplomatic ability which Elphinstone on this occasion displayed the king rewarded him with the see of Ross, from which he was translated to that of Aberdeen about 1484. He subsequently held the office of chancellor of the kingdom; and besides carrying on negotiations with the English king, he acted as mediator between James and the discontended nobility. During his residence at Aberdeen, Elphinstone appears to have declined all inter-ference with public affairs of a political nature, and to have confined himself to the discharge of his episcopal duties. But when James IV. ascended the throne, he was chosen in 1488 ambassador to the emperor Maximilian, in order to negotiate a marriage between his royal master and the emperor's daughter. The bishop's mission failed in the object for which it was set on foot, but was the means of terminating an enmity which had long existed between the Dutch and Scots. The masterly manner in which he con-ducted this affair raised him in the estimation of James, who generally consulted him and followed his advice in every affair of importance. From 1492 till the close of his life he held the office of lord privy seal. Elphinstone was also a zealous patron of learning. It is generally believed that the establishment of a university at Aberdeen was entirely owing to his influence with the pope, from whom he obtained a bull for that purpose; and it was almost entirely by his exertions that King's College was undertaken and completed. At his death, which took place on the 25th October 1514, at the advanced age of eighty-three, he bequeathed a sum of 10,000 pounds Scots for its erection and endowment, as well as for the maintenance of a bridge over the Dee. Besides a history of Scotland, now preserved among the Fairfax MSS. in the Bodleian Library, Elphinstone wrote a book of canons and some lives of Scottish saints.







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