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John Smith and Scotland

From King James' failed Courtier to Leader of Jamestown.

Captain John Smith is rightly remembered as the English soldier/adventurer who became the figurehead and leader of the Jamestown colony. What few are aware of are his links with Scotland – many of which would also become links with Ulster.

The Scottish Connection
Smith wrote ten books about his life’s adventures, one of which - The True Travels, Adventures and Observations of Captain John Smith - shows that he had connections in Scotland:

"...About the age of fifteene yeeres hee was bound an Apprentice to Master Thomas Sendall of Linne, the greatest Merchant of all those parts; but because hee would not presently send him to Sea, he never saw his master in eight yeeres after. At last, he found meanes to attend Master Perigrine Barty into France, second sonne to the Right Honourable Perigrine, that generous Lord Willoughby and famous Souldier; where comming to his brother Robert, then at Orleans, now Earle of Linsey, and Lord great Chamberlaine of England; being then but little youths under Tutorage: his service being needlesse, within a moneth or six weeks they sent him backe againe to his  friends. Who when he came from London, they liberally gave him (but out of his owne estate) ten shillings to be rid of him; such oft is the share of fatherlesse children: but those two Honourable Brethren gave him sufficient to returne for England.

But it was the least thought of his determination, for now being freely at libertie in Paris, growing acquainted with one Master David Hume, who making some use of his purse, gave him Letters to his friends in Scotland to preferre him to King James.  Arriving at Roane, he better bethinkes himselfe, seeing his money neere  spent, downe the River he went to Hayer de grace, where he first began to learne the life of a souldier.

Peace being concluded in, he went with Captaine Joseph Duxbury into the Low-countries, under whose Colours having served three or foure yeeres, he tooke his journey for Scotland, to deliver his Letters. At Ancusan he imbarked himselfe for Lethe, but as much danger as shipwracke and sicknesse could endure, hee had at the Holy Ile in Northumberland neere Barwicke: (being recovered) into Scotland he went to deliver his Letters.

After much kinde usage amongst those honest Scots at Ripweth and Broxmoth, but neither money nor meanes to make him a Courtier; he returned to Willoughby in Lincolne-shire; where within a short time being glutted with too much company, wherein he took small delight, he retired himselfe into a little wooddie pasture, a good way from any towne, invironed with many hundred Acres of other woods..."
The People and the Places
The individuals and locations listed above show Smith’s connections with Scotland and Ulster:

• Lord Peregrine Bertie (also known as 12th Lord Willoughby) was the landlord of Smith's family in Lincolnshire, and was also a friend of the family. Willoughby fought in the wars in Holland against the Spanish, and was the Governor of the town of Bergen op Zoom from 1586 - 1597. Hugh Montgomery was imprisoned here in 1587. Willoughby was in regular contact with King James VI of Scotland and in 1597 Willoughby was appointed Governor of Berwick-upon-Tweed and the Scottish East March - also known as Border Reiver territory. A famous 12 verse ballad was written about his military career during the Dutch wars, entitled "Brave Lord Willoughby":

"The fifteenth day of July
With glistening spear and shield
A famous fight in Flanders
Was foughten in the field
The most courageous officers
Were English captains three
But the bravest man in battle
Was brave Lord Willoughby..."

• Lord Robert Bertie (also known as 13th Lord Willoughby and 1st Earl Lindsey) was a close boyhood friend of John Smith. Robert's godparents were Queen Elizabeth I and Walter Devereux, the Earl of Essex. Devereux was one of the "wasters and destroyers" of East Ulster during the English/Irish wars of the late 1500s. Robert fought in Holland alongside Walter Devereux’s son (also called Robert), the 2nd Earl of Essex. Robert Bertie accompanied John Smith on a tour of Europe.

• David Hume of Godscroft was a poet, historian and radical Presbyterian. Hume's father was the Laird of Wedderburn and his brother George was the Comptroller of Scotland during the reign of King James VI of Scotland. He was initially educated at Dunbar (close to Broxmouth mentioned in Smith's writings above) and was later a graduate of St Andrews University. Hume studied in France and Geneva from 1578 - 1579 (this must have been when he met John Smith in Paris). He returned to Scotland around 1581, and he and his brother were involved in the Calvinist coup d'état of 22nd August 1582 (known as the Ruthven Raid) when the 16 year old King James VI was abducted from Ruthven Castle (today known as Huntingtower Castle in Perthshire) and was held for almost a year. The Raid was led by William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie, and the head of Scotland’s militant Presbyterians, who established a temporary government. However King James VI escaped and Gowrie was charged with treason and executed in 1584. Hume was Secretary to the Earl of Angus and became Angus’ agent at the English court of Queen Elizabeth I. In 1605 he published "De Unione Insulae Britanniae"  and was appointed to King James I's Privy Council.

• Broxmouth was ranked 6th of all Scottish baronies in 1606. It is close to Hume’s home of Dunbar. The lands had been granted by King Robert the Bruce to Sir Andrew Gray for his support at Bannockburn. In the early 1600s the Laird of Broxmouth was Patrick Gray, also know as "Master of Gray", and described as "one of the most unscrupulous men of his day, the arch conspirator and power behind the throne of the young King James VI of Scotland". Patrick Gray was educated at Glasgow University around the same time as Sir Hugh Montgomery, and in 1584 was appointed as King James VI's ambassador to Queen Elizabeth I at around the same time as James Hamilton. In 1585 Gray raised a Scottish regiment of 1500 men to fight in Holland – the muster rolls of this army include a "Montgomery eldir" and "Montgomery younger". These may well have been Sir Hugh Montgomery and his uncle (the poet) Alexander Montgomery, both of whom fought in Holland in the 1580s.

• Holy Isle, where Smith was shipwrecked en route to Scotland, is also known as Lindisfarne. It was part of the East Marches, home of David Hume and later to be governed by Lord Willoughby. It is only 40 miles away from Broxmouth.


Captain John Smith's writings show that he was clearly well connected to some very influential people. Willoughby, Hume and Gray of Broxmouth were powerful men with access to King James' royal court, in a period where James was preparing to become King of England upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Smith was clearly in the right place at the right time, either by accident or clever design. However as Smith concludes, he had "neither the money nor the means" to become a Courtier with King James VI and he returned to England.

Little did Smith realise that this snub from Scotland was only the beginning of his historic involvement with King James VI, and that his greatest achievement was only a few years away - that he would become the leader of King James I's Virginian colony at Jamestown!