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  William Barclay (1546–1608), by Karel van Mallery, pubd 1600 William Barclay (1546–1608), by Karel van Mallery, pubd 1600
Barclay, William [Guillaume] (1546–1608), civil lawyer, was born in Scotland. According to Sir Robert Sibbald he was descended from the Barclays of Collairnie in Fife; but according to a note attached to James Gordon's History of Scots Affairs (1841) he was a grandson of Patrick Barclay, baron of Gartly, Aberdeenshire. A birth date of 1546 appears on the inscription above his portrait kept in the museum at Nancy. He was educated at King's College, Aberdeen.

A devoted Catholic, close to Queen Mary, Barclay made the decisive choice of leaving his own country and the university in 1569 when the general assembly made it compulsory for all members of Aberdeen College to sign the confession of faith. He emigrated to France with the intention of studying law, which he did in Paris and in Bourges. There he exchanged the name William for Guillaume. The exact date of his arrival at Bourges is not known, but there is proof that he was already there in 1572, for he states in his De regno that he had François Hotman and Hugues Doneau as his professors before they left the university in August 1572. Barclay remained in Bourges until 1576. At first he was a student and then was appointed as lecturer in charge of reading the Institutiones in March 1575. According to Berriat Saint-Prix, he was taught in August 1575 by Cujas, who may also have been president of his doctorate. It is stated in the town accounts that for the year 1575 Barclay's income was £70. After he complained of the meagreness of his wages, he received an annual salary of £100 until the last day of March 1576. There is no evidence of his lectures, but Collot states that he adopted the ‘historical method’ following the lessons of Alciat, Baron, and Le Duaren.

On the invitation of his uncle, the Jesuit , rector of the recently founded University of Pont-à-Mousson, William Barclay left Bourges for Pont-à-Mousson. The duke of Lorraine appointed him professor of civil law and he started teaching during the academic year 1576/7; he was appointed doctor-regent at the end of the year. The duke made Barclay councillor of state and master of requests. In 1581 Barclay married Anne de Malleviller, a young lady of the Lorraine nobility. James VI sent Barclay letters patent for the wedding attesting his (Barclay's) good birth and nobility of the professor. A son was born, , the author of Argenis. Barclay was joined by Pierre Grégoire from Toulouse in 1582, and at the latter's death on 3 April 1598 he became dean of the faculty of law. None the less the insecurity of the Scot's position was evident two years before, for dissensions arose between him and the Jesuits who dominated the university. Barclay and Pierre Grégoire sided together in a quarrel regarding the status of the rector, but failed to maintain the independence of the faculty of law. A second cause of discord was the attitude of the Jesuits who soon endeavoured to attract John to their order, but the father stood firm. His strong personality, his integrity, and sense of responsibility forbade him to yield to influences offensive to him, and, having lost the favour of the duke of Lorraine, Barclay resigned his chair on 26 July 1603. He immediately left the duchy, after twenty-seven years of hard work.

In 1600 the editor Guillaume Chaudière had published in Paris Barclay's first important work, De regno et regali potestate, adversus Buchananum, Brutum, Boucherium, et reliquos monarchomachos. De regno is divided into six books and is furnished with a dedication to Henri IV. The first two books deal with a refutation of Buchanan's work De jure regni apud Scotos and are presented in the form of a dialogue. The third and fourth books are directed against Hubert Languet—in Barclay's opinion a heretic comparable with Machiavelli—who wrote Vindiciae contra tyrannos under the name Stephanus Junius Brutus. In the fifth book Barclay turns to Jean Boucher and his De justa Henrici tertii abdicatione e Francorum regno. The sixth and last book is a repetition of arguments, combined with references to Scottish and French history. De regno is neither a philosophical nor a theoretical treatise; its value is historical. Barclay's views are discussed in the Civil Government of Locke, who defines him as ‘the great assertor of the power and sacredness of kings’.

After he left the duchy Barclay went to Paris and then to London, where James VI, who had just succeeded to the English crown, was attracting Catholics by his alleged sympathies with the Church of Rome. It is said that the king welcomed this defender of the divine right of kings, but his offer of preferment was on condition that he accept the Church of England, which he refused to do. Barclay returned to Paris at the end of 1603. The chair of civil law in the University of Angers had been vacant since 1599, and the town officials, well informed of the Scot's good reputation, sent a deputation to Barclay requesting him to accept the chair. In the town register of 5 February 1603 Barclay is described as ‘l'un des grands personnages de ce temps’. He accepted the position but stipulated that he should have the first place in the faculty. On 15 January 1604 he signed the contract by which he was to teach at the University of Angers for five years. On 1 February 1605, by a special decree of the university and despite the strong opposition of his colleagues, he was appointed dean of the faculty of law. To the end he remained the magnificent Scottish professor who used to go to his lectures, accompanied by his son and two valets, clad in a superb garment and wearing a heavy gold chain around his neck, as can be seen in his portrait.

Barclay was dark-haired, and with a pointed beard and a long thin waxed moustache cut a dignified and austere figure. He died at Angers on 3 July 1608 and was buried in the church of the Cordeliers, which no longer exists. His second work, Commentarii in titulos pandectarum de rebus creditis et de jurejurando, was also published in Paris during his lifetime in 1605. His De potestate papae was published in London in 1609 and at Pont-à-Mousson in the same year with a preface by his son; further editions appeared in 1610, 1612, and 1617, as well as two French and two English translations which attest to the interest of the work. Barclay spent more than ten years writing the essay, which is directed against the power of the pope over the temporal power of kings. The controversy was so great that Cardinal Bellarmine published a treatise against Barclay's, asserting that the pope possessed supreme power over temporal matters. The publication of his posthumous work cast a light on what appeared obscure in the De regno. Barclay had a cosmopolitan point of view and his position as an exile gives his theory of the divine right of kings special value.

Marie-Claude Tucker


M.-C. Bellot-Tucker, ‘Maîtres et étudiants écossais à la faculté de droit de l'Université de Bourges aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles’, PhD diss., University of Clermont-Ferrand, 1997 · C. Collot, L'école doctrinale de droit public de Pont-à-Mousson (Pierre Grégoire et Guillaume Barclay) fin du XVIe siècle (1965) · G. Mackenzie, The lives and characters of the most eminent writers of the Scots nation, 3 (1722), 468–78 · E. Dubois, Guillaume Barclay, jurisconsulte écossais, 1546–1608 (1872) · DNB · G. Ménage, Remarques sur la vie de Pierre Ayrault (1675), 228–30 · D. B. Smith, ‘William Barclay’, SHR, 11 (1913–14), 136–63 · P. Taisand, Les vies des plus célèbres jurisconsultes de toutes les nations (1721), 56–7 · D. Irving, Lives of Scotish writers, 1 (1839), 210 · Chambers, Scots. (1855) · J. Berriat Saint-Prix, Histoire du droit romain suivie de l'histoire de Cujas (1821), 574 · Archives Municipales de Bourges, CC 351, fol. 31; BB 8, fol. 128; CC 352, fol. 45 · Archives Départementales de Meurthe et Moselle, B. 1171, fol. 165; D. 1, fol. 153 · registre de délibérations du corps de ville, 5 Dec 1603, Archives d'Angers, BB 51, fol. 1372o · Archives d'Angers, A A 5, fol. 147; B B 52, fols. 9, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26 · extrait des actes de l'état civil d'Angers Paroisse Saint-Mauville, Archives d'Angers, registre, GG 112, fol. 80v · J. Gordon, History of Scots affairs from 1637–1641, ed. J. Robertson and G. Grub, 3 vols., Spalding Club, 1, 3, 5 (1841)


ink drawing, pubd 1666 (after engraving by L. Crasso), Scot. NPG · K. van Mallery, line engraving, BM, NPG; repro. in W. Barclay, De regno (1600) [see illus.] · pen-and-ink drawing (after engraving), NPG · portrait, Musée Historique Lorrain, Nancy, France