John Skene, Lord Curriehill
Sir John Skene, Lord Curriehill (1549–1617) was a Scottish prosecutor, ambassador, and judge. He was involved in the negotiations for the marriage of James VI and Anne of Denmark.
In his own writings he mentions his travels, describing the appearance of a travelling salesman in Kraków in 1569. The writer Thomas Dempster mentions Skene's travels in the countries of Northern Europe and his fluency in their languages. James Melville of Halhill said he could give long speeches in Latin, and was "good, true, and stout".
As joint Lord Advocate from 1589 to 1594, he was zealous in the prosecution of witches. He was appointed Lord Clerk Register and Lord of Session, with the judicial title of Lord Curriehill in 1594, serving until 1611.
As a diplomat, Skene went to Denmark to seek an agreement over rights to Orkney, and presented a memorandum on that topic to Sophie of Mecklenburg-Güstrow and the four regents of Christian IV of Denmark at Helsingør on 20 August 1589. He was also given instructions to negotiate the terms of the royal marriage. His companions were; George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal, Andrew Keith, James Scrimgeour of Dudhope the Constable of Tay and standard bearer of Scotland, and George Young. He returned on to Scotland 23 July 1589 with his colleagues Andrew Keith, and George Young and went to James VI of Scotland at Boyne Castle. An English observer Thomas Fowler reported their news including the Danish opinion that James VI asked for too high a dowry, but they had seen extensive preparations for the marriage including a coach made of silver. According to their report, Anne of Denmark was keen for the marriage to go ahead, and Fowler wrote; "the young lady is so far in love with the king's majesty as it were death to her to have it broken off, and has made good proof (in) diverse ways of her affection, which his majesty is apt enough to requite".
On 22 October 1589, he accompanied James VI on his voyage from Leith to Norway and Denmark to meet his wife Anne of Denmark, and attended the meeting of the Privy Council of Scotland at Oslo on 25 November.
James VI had given Anne of Denmark a "morning gift" of lands and palaces. In the week before her coronation in Scotland the Danish ambassadors travelled to view these places and take formal possession. On 12 May 1589 the envoys were welcomed at Falkland Palace by the keeper, James Beaton of Creich. Skene produced a printed charter of the queen's lands in Fife and as a traditional symbol of the transfer of ownership (sasine), the Danish Admiral Peder Munk was given a handful of earth. After this ceremony, the party rode to the Newhouse of Lochleven Castle to stay the night, then repeated the ritual at Dunfermline Palace, and on 14 May at Linlithgow Palace.
In June 1590 James VI of Scotland sent Skene and Colonel William Stewart, Commendator of Pittenweem, as ambassadors to Denmark and Germany. The mission was to intended to cement a peaceful league in Europe. They met the mother of Anne of Denmark, Sophie of Mecklenburg-Güstrow at Braunschweig, then went on to meet William IV, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel at Rotenburg an der Fulda and Christian I, Elector of Saxony at Dresden. Skene was ill when he returned to Edinburgh.
He served as ambassador to Holland from 1591.
His compilation of old Scots law Regiam Majestatem is a source of the laws of Scotland previous to James I. He was granted a pension by Regent Morton for preparing a digest of laws. He also produced a Scots law dictionary, De Verborum Significatione. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, "In 1592 he was named one of a commission to examine the laws and acts of parliament, and to consider which of them should be printed, and he was finally entrusted with the preparation of the work. It was published by Robert Waldegrave on 15 May 1597, under the title ‘The Lawes and Actes of Parliament maid be King James the First and his successors kings of Scotland, visied, coffected, and extracted forth of the Register,’ and on 3 June the privy council remitted to the lords of session to enforce the purchase of it by all subjects of sufficient ‘substance and habilitie’."
Ane Account of ane Embassie, 1590
John Skene's wrote an account of his embassy to Denmark in 1590, known from a copy made by the antiquary Robert Mylne. This is in the form of a journal of events. Skene left Edinburgh with William Stewart on 9 June 1590 and rode to Berwick upon Tweed and on to London. Their secretary John Geddie spoke to William Cecil to arrange an audience with Elizabeth I of England at Greenwich Palace. On 17 June they came to court again and spoke to Christopher Hatton the Chancellor, the Treasurer (Cecil), the Admiral, Lord Cobham, and Lord Buckhurst. They also spoke to the French ambassador Jean de la Fin, Sieur de Beavoir la Nocle. They embarked on the George Noble at Leigh on Sea, and after some difficulty sailed to Heligoland and Stade, then crossed the Elbe into Holstein.
On his return, in London, they stayed at an inn on Gracechurch Street. Skene got an appointment with William Cecil, who received him lying on his bed at Cecil House, because he was old and weary. Skene told him details of his negotiations in Denmark, Germany, and the Low Countries. The next day he went with Cecil to Somerset House and waited in the Chamber of Presence until the queen came out at 11 o'clock on her way to Richmond Palace. Skene then went to York House in Westminster and met the French ambassadors Beauvais and Henri de la Tour, Viscount of Turenne.
He was married to Helen Somerville of Cambusnethan. Their children included;
- Catherine Skene, who married Alexander Hay, Lord Fosterseat.
- Jane Skene, who married Sir William Scott of Ardross, their daughter Euphemia Scott married William Cochrane and was Countess of Dundonald.
- Euphemia Skene, married Sir Robert Richardson of Pencaitland.
- Margaret Skene, married Robert Learmonth, brother of the Laird of Balcomie, Fife.
- James Skene, Lord Curriehill (d. 15 October 1633), who married Janet Johnston.
- John Skene of Halyards,
- Alexander Skene, who married Joneta Syms. Their son John Skene was Keeper of the Register of Hornings.
- William Skene.
- Concise Dictionary of National Biography
- HES/RCAHMS Canmore: Wester Corse.
- William Forbes Skene, Memorials of the family of Skene of Skene (Aberdeen, 1887), pp. 107-8.
- David Scott Gehring, Diplomatic Intelligence on the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark during the Reigns of Elizabeth I and James VI, Camden Fifth Series, 49 (2016), p. 156 fn. 32.
- William Forbes Skene, Memorials of the family of Skene of Skene (Aberdeen, 1887), p. 106.
- Calendar of the manuscripts of the Most Honourable the Marquess of Salisbury preserved at Hatfield House, vol. 3 (London, 1892), pp. 420-3.
- William Forbes Skene, Memorials of the family of Skene of Skene (Aberdeen, 1887), p. 109: Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, vol. 4 (Edinburgh, 1881), pp. 822-4.
- Calendar of State Papers Scotland, vol. 10 (Edinburgh, 1936), pp. 124-7, quotation (modernised) p. 124, source British Library Egerton MS 2,598/16.
- Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, vol. 4 (Edinburgh, 1881), pp. 430, 438.
- David Stevenson, Scotland's Last Royal Wedding (John Donald: Edinburgh, 1997), pp. 102-3.
- David Scott Gehring, ‘ANE ACCOUNT OF ANE EMBASSIE’, 1590' in Diplomatic Intelligence on the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark during the Reigns of Elizabeth I and James VI, Camden Fifth Series, 49 (2016), pp. 151-217.
- Thomas Rymer, Foedera, vol. 16 (London, 1715), pp. 68-71: Annie I. Cameron, Warrender Papers, vol. 2 (Edinburgh, 1932), pp. 133-41.
- Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 12 (Edinburgh, 1952), pp. 370, 384, 388, 492.
- Dictionary of National Biography, v. 52, p. 337.
- HES/RCAHMS Canmore: Curriehill Castle.
- David Scott Gehring, Diplomatic Intelligence on the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark during the Reigns of Elizabeth I and James VI, Camden Fifth Series, 49 (2016), pp. 18-20, 39-42, 44-45, 46-48.
- David Scott Gehring, Diplomatic Intelligence on the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark during the Reigns of Elizabeth I and James VI, Camden Fifth Series, 49 (2016), pp. 151-154.
- David Scott Gehring, Diplomatic Intelligence on the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark during the Reigns of Elizabeth I and James VI, Camden Fifth Series, 49 (2016), pp. 211-215.
- The Staggering State of the Scots Statesman, Sir John Scot.
- William Forbes Skene, Memorials of the family of Skene of Skene (Aberdeen, 1887), p. 112.
- Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. .
- 'SKENE, SIR JOHN (SSNE 1585)', St Andrew University, The Scotland, Scandinavia and Northern European Biographical Database.
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