First name

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John Durie, 1596-1680's was born in Edinburgh in 1596. Durie came from a renowned family of outspoken Scottish Presbyterian theologians. Durie's grandfather, also called John Durie, had been a convert from Catholicism to the reformed faith and a staunch devotee of John Knox. Following in their father's footsteps, John Durie the elder's children Joshua, Robert (father of the irenicist) and Simon all entered into the Presbyterian ministry. Robert eventually had to seek exile in the Netherlands after being banished from Scotland for taking part in a General Assembly of the Kirk in 1605 since it had been had been prohibited by James VI. Durie's uncle James Melville, another Presbyterian minister, also fell foul of the authorities due to his "extreme views as to the authority of the kirk and the divine origin of presbyterianism" which ultimately led to his exile from Scotland. It is little wonder that John Durie (the irenicist) held a deep-rooted interest in theology, particularly Scottish Presbyterianism in his early youth. 

During the Thirty Years' War an intellectual circle of theologians and academics determined to unify the Protestant states of Europe. Scotland produced a number of such men. Dr John Forbes, sometime Professor of Divinity at Kings College Aberdeen, had studied divinity at Heidelberg and Sedan partially under David Pareus author of the famous Irenicum in 1615. Forbes had been deeply influenced by his mentor and his earliest published work, also entitled Irenicum, reached print in Aberdeen in 1629. It was dedicated to both Pareus and the lovers of truth and peace in the Scottish Kirk. At that time another Scottish Presbyterian, John Durie, preached to the British congregation in the German diaspora. Durie studied in Sedan under his great uncle Andrew Melville. No doubt while studying at this college, Durie met Dr John Forbes, or at least became familiar with his work. Whether the two men met or remained in contact has not yet been established. The release of Forbes' Irenicum in 1629 occurred at a time when John Durie had become well placed to further the ideal of ecclesiastical pacification through his influential Scottish patronage network. Further, one printed pamphlet from 1657 noted the University of Aberdeen as one of the places with which Durie maintained contact during the early phase of his irenicist career, 1628-1641, linking Forbes and Durie together.

In 1627, the Scottish diplomat, Sir James Spens [SSNE 1642], undertook another diplomatic mission for Charles I to the Swedish Court when he delivered the Order of the Garter to King Gustav II Adolf in Dirschau. He thereafter spent some time in the city of Elbing, then under Swedish control. During his time there, Spens employed John Durie as his secretary. Sir James Spens had a quite distinguished son-in-law in Swedish service, Sir James Ramsey (the Black)[SSNE 3315]. Ramsay and Durie were first cousins thus linking Durie to James Spens through marriage. It is also certain that it was the contact with Spens that facilitated the initial contact with the Swedish king. It was only a matter of months after the departure of Spens from Elbing that Durie submitted his 'Humble Petition' to Gustav II Adolf. In it Durie requested aid from the Swedish King in his bid to re-establish ecclesiastical peace among the Protestant churches of Europe. As a result of this petition Turnbull notes that Gustav II Adolf encouraged discussions between Dr Jacob Godemann and John Durie in 1628. He served as one of the king's councillors employed in Prussia in taking steps to reconcile Lutherans and Calvinists. Godemann died in 1629 but Durie maintained a correspondence with his son who held several positions as a Swedish diplomat, including one to the Stuart Court in 1630-31. 

Upon leaving the city of Elbing in 1630, Durie travelled to England where he already had some influential support at the Court of Charles I. Sir James Spens had left Sweden in March 1629 to act as the Swedish ambassador in London until mid 1630, ostensibly to recruit soldiers. The presence of this family member at Court can only have helped Durie, and in this year he certainly wrote again to Spens. Indeed he found himself in quite a secure environment since another of his Scottish uncles, Sir David Ramsay, was a member of the Bedchamber of Charles I. In addition to any influence Ramsay may have exerted at Court, he provided Durie with lodgings in his own home during his nephew's many visits to England. Theological support for Durie's ideas came from Archbishop Abbot and the Bishops Bedell and Hall. He also linked up in London with Casper Godemann who had arrived in the city on official Swedish business. Godemann left London bearing two letters from John Durie; one addressed to Gustav II Adolf and the other to Axel Oxenstierna. Godemann wrote to Durie in March to say that the letters had been delivered and that the king had responded positively to them. Heartened by this, Durie resolved to visit the Swedish king to move matters forward. 

In July 1631, with James Spens back at the Swedish Court, he set out to find Gustav II Adolf on the continent. En-route he suffered several setbacks including foul seas and delays which left Durie in Stettin with little money and no lodgings. Fortunately for Durie, he heard that an old acquaintance and fellow Scot, Colonel Sir David Drummond [SSNE 2396], had command of some Swedish forces in the area. On hearing of Durie's plight, Drummond arranged lodgings for him. Here Durie met with another Scotsman, Eleazer Borthwick [SSNE 1064], an old friend and chaplain to Sir James Spens. Borthwick confirmed that Gustav II Adolf had already been primed by Spens regarding Durie's theological teachings. Durie later mentioned this point to Samuel Hartlib when he wrote that "knowing my Lord Spence was with the King and had giuen him information of myne intentions, which his Majesty testified to like very well I resolved to follow the king".Lady Ramsay, Durie's cousin's wife, also happened to be in Stettin during this period. She had known Durie for two years in Elbing and she interceded with Drummond to ensure he arranged a small guard which moved Durie and his travelling companions towards their destination, the king's camp at Wittenburg. Despite their protection, some Finnish soldiers robbed Durie as he settled into his lodgings in one of the military camps. Their choice of victim proved rather unfortunate since their commanding officer transpired to be none other than Durie's cousin, Colonel James Ramsay. Durie remained with Ramsay for about ten days and gleaned from the Colonel, and others in the camp, how best to approach the Swedish king. He must have been well briefed to get so close to the king for in his own words he; "Stood in the King his way when he went from his chamber to supper; who seeing me to be a stranger looked very earnestly upon me…he asked of me what I was; I told him a preacher who had lived at Elbing heretofore. Then he enquired if I was hee, that hadde sent some theses to him by my Lord Spence, concerning Ecclesiastical peace; to which I answered that I was the same". Two days later the cleric and the king met once more whereupon Gustav II Adolf submitted Durie to a stern examination. Apparently satisfied by the Scotsman's answers he agreed to support Durie's ecclesiastical ambitions. So encouraged was Durie that he chose to remain near the Swedish king, that "I stayed with my Coazen Coronell Ramsay at Wirtzberg, & while the King remained their I conversed with his two Chaplaines Dr Fabricus & Mr Mathey whome I found ready to second all my desires". However, the untimely death of Gustav II Adolf at Lützen in 1632 left Durie negotiating with the Swedish Chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, who initially proved quite supportive. 

The very fact that Durie got so close to the Swedish king and Chancellor can only be attributed to his intimacy with his relatives and friends in the Swedish army and diplomatic service, Colonels David Drummond, Sir James Ramsay and Sir James Spens in particular.Durie's kith and kin networks stretched across the military, diplomatic and intellectual disciplines. They not only brought his teachings into Swedish spheres of influence, but also into Danish-Norwegian and German ones as well. While working as James Spens' secretary in 1628, Durie must have written and read many letters between Spens and his step brother Robert Anstruther [SSNE 1472]. 

In April 1633, Charles I commissioned Anstruther to travel to a Diet of Protestant princes at Heilbronn. Undoubtedly due to his previous relationship with Sir James Spens, Anstruther allowed Durie to travel with him as part of his retinue. Indeed Anstruther actively encouraged Durie and like minded people to co-operate at the Diet. In Heilbronn, Durie again met with the Swedish Chancellor and was supported by a private audience between Anstruther and Oxenstierna on his behalf. Durie also made an important contact through the Swedish ambassador to Strassbourg, Josias Glaser. Anstruther and Durie then undertook a pilgrimage around Europe's leading academics and theologians after which Anstruther returned to Hamburg and Durie to Britain. 

Through his associations with Anstruther, Durie came into contact with another Scottish cleric, Samson Johnson, Anstruther's chaplain. Johnson wrote to Durie to inform him that after Durie's departure he had travelled with Anstruther into Denmark. He noted that while Anstruther met with Christian IV at Glückstadt, he had managed to discuss Durie's ideas with Cluuerius "the chiefest man of note in that Kingdom [and] he professed that nothinge could be more acceptable to him then this long-wished-for vnion of the Church". Within a few months, Johnson wrote that he had left Anstruther at Schindeburg and;"Took a journey farther to that most famous monument of Danemarke, Oliger Rosencrantz, a man knowne through the world both for his great learning and piety in soe much that I thinke he hath few equals in the Christian world". In fact Rosencrantz was important for several reasons. As the father-in-law of the Danish Chancellor, he promised he would use his influence to endeavour to introduce Durie's irenicist teachings into the Danish universities of Soro and Copenhagen. Durie in the meantime had travelled to England where he believed he had gained the support of Archbishop Laud thanks to intercessions by Sir Thomas Roe [SSNE 4421]. John Durie also knew that in addition to this support, he could again rely on his family to use their influence with the Swedish government. Sampson Johnson informed Durie in April that his cousin, Sir James Ramsay, had already arrived in Frankfurt with Axel Oxenstierna and that Ramsay expected Durie to make contact with him in due course. 

Armed with refreshed self-confidence, he left for the continent bearing what he believed to be letters of support from Laud and Secretaries Coke and Windebank. Prior to his departure, Laud had given Durie letters to give to the Lutheran and Calvinist parties in Germany as well as a letter for Anstruther with whom he was to meet up at the Diet of Protestant Princes in 1634 in Frankfort. While fulfilling his obligations as a Stuart ambassador, Sir Robert Anstruther sponsored John Durie's attendance at the Frankfurt Diet. This was in direct contravention of orders given to Anstruther by Archbishop Laud whose letter expressly forbade Anstruther to have anything to do with sanctioning Durie's teachings. Roe and Hartlib believed that Anstruther had gone out of his way to hinder Durie's mission, but this was ultimately denied by Durie himself. Indeed he commented that it had been quite the reverse and that Anstruther had gone a long way to facilitating his mission. More importantly, through his associations with the highly influential Anstruther in Denmark and Germany, Durie secured the contacts he needed to pursue his theological teachings on what has been described as a "continual pilgrimage among the antechambers of princes and statesmen". Durie did not, as is sometimes contended, "step from the central European Reformed world into the pages of English intellectual history as if from a void". Rather it appears that scholars have thus far simply failed to quarry the knowledge we have relating to Durie's Scottish origins.

Durie's Scottish nationality was frequently recognised during his own lifetime by his contemporaries. Indeed, Durie himself was not unknown to refer to himself as "Ecclesiastae Scoto-Britanno", even while working for Oliver Cromwell. That is not to say that we should now overstate the nationality of the cleric, but simply recognise it. For, as Edward Lane once told Durie, "you love truth not as it is in Luther or Calvin, in Presbyterian or Independent, in Englishman or Scot, but as it is in Jesus".

Durie spent his life trying to break down all manner of theological and national division. Yet, had he not been exposed, indeed related, to Scottish members of the Swedish military élite it is doubtful if he would have had the ability to gain the ear of the Swedish king or the credibility to continue a dialogue with him in the manner in which he did. The good reputation and strong recommendations of several members of the Scottish community in Sweden. Merchants, diplomats and soldiers working in Scandinavia ensured that when John Durie met the Swedish king there had been several years of careful preparation by both parties to ensure the meeting occurred in a positive atmosphere. These connections he continued to foster, adding to his network with such illustrious names as James 3rd Marquis of Hamilton [SSNE 1348]; Lt. General James King [SSNE 2814] whom he met with in Hamburg, corresponded with and introduced to Samuel Hartlib; Sir John Cochrane [SSNE 1490], the Covenanter and later Royalist Ambassador to Scandinavia, Germany and Poland; and the Episcopalian Archbishop, Archibald Hamilton [SSNE 1345], whom Durie sponsored after his eviction from Ireland and who went on to become a Swedish nobleman. When Durie was in Stockholm in the 1636-38 period he stayed with James Maclean [SSNE 5433].

Durie became a member of the Assembly of Devines between 1643-1649 which meant that he worked for the Solemn League and Covenant. He preached before the English Parliament in 1645. During the Cromwellian Commonwealth and Protectorate period, John Durie continued to seek Ecclesiastical reconciliation. He accompanied the Ambassador Daniel Lisle [SSNE 2268] on his visit to Sweden in 1652 and also undertook a mission to Switzerland. In August 1655 Peter Coyet sent a copy of Durie's letter to King Karl X. Between the years of 1657 and 1668 references to Durie appear almost annually in the records of the south-Holland synods held during that time. Durie's proposals were discussed and usually rejected. After the Restoration, Durie moved his base to Cassel in Switzerland. From there in 1671 he wrote to the Arbishop of Canterbury pointing out that when he attacked the office of Bishop in a tract of 1666 published in Basel, he did not mean it as an attack on Episcopacy, but rather on Roman bishops. However, he had re-read the work and would eliminate the offening passage in future to avoid any confusion. In some sources, such as Hans Schick's 'Das Ältere Rosenkreutzertum' (Berlin, 1942), Durie is linked with the Freemasons and Rosecrucianism although neither of these connections has been established.



National Library of Scotland, Wod. Fol XXVIII (1). f.56. John Durie to Archbishop of Canterbury, 7/17 Aygust 1671; Swedish Riksarkiv, Axel Oxenstiernas Brefvexling, E589; The Samuel Hartlib Papers, Electronic Edition on CD Rom, passim; G.H. Turnbull, Hartlib, Dury and Comenius. Gleanings from Hartlib's Papers (Liverpool, 1947); Swedish Riksarkiv, Axel Oxenstiernas brefvexling, E589; British Library, J. Durie to James Spens 1630in Sloane. 654 ff. 128-132 b; Swedish Riksarkiv, Svenske Sändebuds till Utländske Hof och Deras Sändebud till Sverige, (1841), p.84; DNB; G. M. Bell, A Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives 1509-1688 (London, 1990); S. Murdoch, 'Kith and Kin: John Durie and the Scottish community in Scandinavia and the Baltic, 1624-1634' in P. Salmon and T. Barrow (eds.) Britain and the Baltic (Sunderland, 2003), pp.21-46; Swedish diplomats at Cromwell's court, ed. M. Roberts, (London, 1988), p.144; A.C.F. Jackson, 'Rosecrucianism and its effect on Craft Masonry' in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vol. 97, 1995, p.132; W.P.C. Knuttel, Acta der particuliere synoden van zuid-holland 1621-1700, ('S Gravenhage, 1912), IV, pp.42, 54, 55, 57, 105, 117, 118, 120, 169, 211, 277, 305, 307, 336, 338, 339, 340, 367, 369, 428, 468; Steve Murdoch, Network North: Scottish Kin, Commercial and Covert Associations in Northern Europe, 1603-1746 (Brill, Leiden, 2006), pp.8, 29, 280-312.

Bishops Wars; English Civil War; British Civil Wars


Somke of his correspondence can be read here: Riksarkivets ämnessamlingar. Personhistoriahttps://sok.riksarkivet.se/bildvisning/A0069584_00025#?c=&m=&s=&cv=24&xywh=1335%2C364%2C4777%2C2755

Service record

Departed 1629-12-31
Departed 1629-12-31
Departed 1631-06-30
Departed 1633-03-31
Departed 1633-03-31
Departed 1633-12-31
Departed 1634-03-31
Departed 1634-09-30
Departed 1638-12-31
Departed 1640-06-01
Departed 1652-07-20
Capacity ENVOY, purpose DIPLOMACY
Departed 1654-12-31