SHARP, JAMES (1618-1679), Scottish divine, the son of William Sharp, sheriff-clerk of Banffshire, and Isabel Leslie or Lesley, daughter of Leslie of Kininvie, of the family of Halyburtons of Pitcur in Angus, was born in Banff Castle on the 4th of May 1618. In 1633 he went to King's College, Aberdeen, and graduated in 1637. He there studied divinity for one or two years, Aberdeen being at that time the home of Episcopal sentiment. On the outbreak of the Covenanting war he went to England (1639) and visited Oxford and perhaps Cambridge, becoming acquainted with the principal English divines. Upon his return he was chosen in 1643, through the influence of Lord Rothes, to be one of the " regents " of philosophy in St Leonard's College, St Andrews. In December 1647 he went through his ordinary trials for the ministerial office before the presbytery of St Andrews, and was appointed minister of Crail in Fifeshire, on the presentation of the earl of Crawford, in January 1648. In the great schism of Resolutioners and Protestors, he, with the large majority of educated men, took active part with the former. As early as March 1651 he was recognized as one of the leading men of the party, and was taken prisoner by Cromwell's forces. For eight months he was kept in the Tower of London, and liberated on parole. His first public employment was in 1656, when he went to London to endeavour to counteract with the Protector the influence of Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston, who was acting for the Protestors. He displayed all his undoubted talents for small diplomacy, and considerable subtlety in argument, while on this service, and his mission was decidedly successful. He returned to Scotland in 1659, but upon Monk's march to London was again, in February 1660, sent by the Resolutioners to watch over their interests in London, where he arrived on the 13th of February. He was most favourably received by Monk, to whom it was of great importance to remain on good terms with the dominant party in Scotland. His letters to Douglas and others during this period, if they may be trusted, are useful towards following the intrigues of the time day by day. In the beginning of May he was despatched by Monk to the king at Breda. His letters on this occasion to Douglas show that he regarded himself equally as the emissary of the Scottish kirk. It is to be noticed that he was also the bearer of a secret letter from Lauderdale to the king. There can be little doubt that while on this mission he was finally corrupted by Charles and Clarendon, not indeed so far as to make up his mind to betray the kirk, but at any rate to decide in no way to imperil his own chances by too firm an integrity. The first thing that aroused the jealousy of his brethren was his writing from Holland in commendation of Clarendon. This jealousy was increased on his return to London (May 26) by his plausible endeavours to stop all coming of Presbyterian commissioners from Scotland and Ireland, though he professed to desire the presence of Douglas and Dickson, by his urgent advice that the Scots should not interfere in the restoration of Episcopacy in England, and by his endeavours to frustrate the proposed union of Resolutioners and Protestors. He informed them that Presbyterianism was a lost cause in England, but as late as August n he intimated that, though there had been great danger for the Scottish kirk as well, this danger had been constantly and successfully warded off by his efforts. He returned to Scotland in this month and busied himself in endeavouring to remove all suspicions of his loyalty to the kirk; but at the same time he successfully stopped all petitions from Scottish ministers to king, parliament or council. His letters to Drummond, a Presbyterian minister in London, and to Lauderdale, without absolutely committing him, show clearly that he was certain that Episcopacy was about to be set up. How far he was actively a traitor in the matter had always been disputed until the question was set at rest by the discovery of his letter, dated May 21, from London, whither he went in April 1661, to Middleton, the high commissioner, whose chaplain he now was, showing that he was in confidential communication with Clarendon and the English bishops, that he was earnestly co-operating in the restoration of Episcopacy in Scotland, that he had before leaving Scotland held frequent conferences with Middleton on the subject (a fact which he had vehemently denied) and was aware that Middleton had all along intended it, and that he drew up the quibbling proclamation of June 10, the sole purpose of which was " the disposing of minds to acquiesce in the king's pleasure." The original of this letter (which is printed in the Lauderdale Papers and in the Scottish Review) is preserved in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries, Edinburgh. It should be noticed that as late as the end of April, on the eve of starting on his mission to court with Rothes and Glencairne, he declared to Baillie that no change in the kirk was intended. The mask was at length dropped in August, when Episcopacy was restored, and Sharp was appointed archbishop of St Andrews. He and Leighton, Fairfoul and Hamilton " were dubbed, first preaching deacons, then presbyters, and then consecrated bishops in one day, by Dr Sheldon and a few others." On April 8th the new prelates entered Scotland, and on the 20th of April 1662 Sharp preached his first sermon at St Andrews.
Sharp had carefully kept on good terms with Lauderdale, and when the Billeting Plot was concocted in September 1662 against the latter by Middleton, he managed to avoid acting against him; indeed it is probable that, after being appointed under an oath of secrecy to be one of the scrutineers of the billets, he, in violation of the oath, was the cause of Lauderdale receiving timely information of the decision against him; and yet he shortly went up to London to explain the whole affair in Middleton's interest. When Lauderdale's supremacy was established he readily co-operated in passing the National Synod Act in 1663, the first step in the intended subjection of the church to the crown. In 1664 he was again in London, returning in April, having secured the grant of a new church commission. So oppressive was his conduct and that of others of- the bishops that it called forth a written protest from Gilbert Burnet. Sharp at once summoned him before the bishops and endeavoured to obtain a sentence of deprivation and excommunication against him, but was overruled by his brethren. On the death of Glencairne, the chancellor's greatest efforts were made to secure the vacant office for Sharp, and he was not inactive in his own interest; the place was not, however, filled up until 1667, and then by the appointment of Rothes. He was in strict alliance with Rothes, Hamilton and Dalyell, and the other leaders of oppression, and now placed himself in opposition to the influence of Lauderdale, attacking his friends, and especially the earl of Kincardine. In 1665 he was again in London, where, through his own folly and mendacity, he suffered a complete humiliation at the hands of Lauderdale, well described by the historian Burnet. The result of their system of violence and extortion was the rising of the Covenanters, during which, being in temporary charge during Rothes's absence, he showed, according to Bellenden, the utmost fear, equalled only by his cruelty to the prisoners after the rout of Pentland. When the convention of estates met in January 1667 Hamilton was substituted for him as president. He now wrote letters of the most whining contrition to Lauderdale, who extended him a careless reconciliation. For a time he made himself actively useful, and helped to restrain his brethren from writing to London to complain of the conciliation policy which for a while Lauderdale carried out. On July 10, 1668 an attempt was made upon his life by James Mitchell, who fired a pistol at him while driving through the streets of Edinburgh. The shot, however, missed Sharp, though his companion, the bishop of Orkney, was wounded by it, and Mitchell for the time escaped. In August Sharp went up to London, returning in December, and with his assistance Tweeddale's tolerant proposals for filling the vacant parishes with some of the " outed " ministers were carried out. In the debates on the Supremacy Act, by which Lauderdale destroyed the autonomy of the church, Sharp at first showed reluctance to put in motion the desired policy, but gave way upon the first pressure. When, however, Leighton, as archbishop of Glasgow, endeavoured to carry out a comprehensive scheme, Sharp actively opposed him, and expressed his joy at the failure of the attempt. From this time he was completely subservient to Lauderdale, who had now finally determined upon a career of oppression, and in 1674 he was again in London to support this policy. In this year also Mitchell, who had shot at him six years before, was arrested, and, upon Sharp's promise to obtain a pardon, privately made a full confession. When Mitchell later claimed this promise, Sharp denied that any such promise had been given. His falsehood was proved by the entry of the act in the records of the court. Mitchell was finally condemned, but a reprieve would have been granted had not Sharp himself insisted on his death. This was speedily avenged. On the 3rd of May 1679, as he was driving with his daughter Isabel to St Andrews, he was set upon by nine men, and, in spite of the appeals of his daughter, was cruelly murdered. The place of the murder, on Magus Muir, now covered with fir trees, is marked by a monument erected by Dean Stanley, with a Latin inscription recording the deed.
Unless otherwise mentioned, the proofs of the statements in this article will be found in vols. i. and ii. of the Lauderdale Papers (Camden Society) and in two articles in the Scottish Review, July 1884 and January 1885.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)