Two Jesuits

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Two Jesuits - John and George Durie

Abbot George Durie had four sons: Peter, Henry, John and George, plus daughter Janet and possibly one other.

Father John Durie, a Jesuit, arrived from France in 1585 with Father Edmund Hay, disguised as servants to a priest, Robert Bruce. He wrote the controversial "Refutatio Responsionis Whitakeri ad X Rationes Compiani". He became Governor of Dumfries, and converted Lord Maxwell to Catholicism. In 1586, all Jesuits were expelled, so they left the capital and "retired". John died in 1588.

In 1586-87 another Jesuit, George Durie, arrived from France when Queen Mary died.

The question is - were they sons or nephews of Bishop Andrew or of Abbot George?

We know that of George's sons, John at least became a Jesuit.


So, Father John Durie (c.1544–1588) and Father George Durie were younger sons of Abbot George Durie and Katherine Sibbald. Thynne calls him ‘the son before he was abbat of the abbat of Dunfermling, brother to the lord of Duries’ (Robert Durie of that Ilk). They were legitimated by Mary Queen of Scots in 1549. With his mother, John had a tack (lease) of the lands of Easter and Wester Pitcorthy, Easter Baldrig, and others dated 7 Aug 1566, which he disponed to his brother Henry on 17 January 1576.

Educated at Paris and Louvain, John at least entered the Society of Jesus about 1576. There is a letter from John and George asking their mother to send them “mair sark” (more shirts). Clearly, students had laundry problems even then! Graduating MA (where is not known) John lived at Collège de Clermont, Paris, and by 1582 was teaching rhetoric there as ‘presbyter et theologus’.

That year also saw his only book, the controversial "Refutatio Responsionis Whitakeri ad X Rationes Compiani" (Confutation in answer to the Responses of William Whitaker, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and a leading Calvinist, whose work had followed the Ten Reasons of Edmund Campion, the Jesuit martyr executed in 1581). Durie's Confutation was reprinted at Ingoldstadt in 1585.

In July 1585, having left Angers in France, John Durie returned to Scotland with another Jesuit, Edmund Hay, and a Roman Catholic political agent, Robert Bruce (and possibly his brother, George). He became Governor of Dumfries, and converted John, 8th Lord Maxwell to Catholicism. The political background was complex – especially so near the English border, with Spain involved and King James VI’s conversion to Catholicism possible. Maxwell protected John Durie while he ministered, often received penitents at night.

Maxwell was banished, early in 1586 after a three-day Roman Catholic celebration of Christmas at nearby Lincluden Abbey. When James held court at Dumfries in April 1587, Durie too had left the area.

John Durie was praised highly as a simple and humble man though ‘exceptionally skilled in the classics’ (Chadwick, 67) and by the leading Italian Jesuit Antonio Possevino for his learning and eloquence.

The ‘saintly’ priest (Shearman, 27) died of consumption in the care of Lady Wood on 20 October 1588 at Balbegno Castle in Kincardineshire (although another report has him die in Germany, but this may be a confusion with John Durie d. 1680). According to his fellow Jesuit Robert Abercrombie, who gave him the last rites, John Durie converted ‘several sons of the lady of the house’ from his deathbed (Forbes-Leith, 205).


Alasdair Roberts, ‘Durie, John (c.1544–1588)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 12 Oct 2006]

M. Dilworth, ‘Dunfermline, Duries and the Reformation’, Records of the Scottish Church History Society, 31 (2001), 37–67

W. Forbes-Leith, ed., Narratives of Scottish Catholics under Mary Stuart and James VI (1885)

P. J. Shearman, ‘Father Alexander McQuhirrie’, Innes Review, 6 (1955), 22–45

H. Chadwick, ‘A memoir of Fr Edmund Hay S. I.’, Archivum Historicum Societas Iesu, 8 (1939), 66–85

Thynne, Catalog of the Writers of Scotland, p. 463

K. Brown, ‘The making of a politique: the Counter-Reformation and the regional politics of John, eighth Lord Maxwell’, Scottish Historical Review, 66 (1987), 152–75

T. G. Law, ‘Robert Bruce, conspirator and spy’, Collected essays and reviews of Thomas Graves Law, ed. P. H. Brown (1904), 313–19


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