Archbishop Sharp



The most famous man ever born in Banff was James Sharp (1618-1679). Archbishop Sharp had a mixed reputation in his own day and afterwards, but Banff loved him. He was born in Banff Castle, not the present building, but if you go into the courtyard at the back you will see arches inside the old wall which were part of older rooms. His father was the Sherriff Clerk of Banffshire. The Sharps went on as an important family in the town, and the Sharp monument is one of the grandest in the old churchyard. When the archbishop died he left 1000 merks (about £5000 nowadays) to the poor of Banff.

This was the 17C, when religious feelings ran high. When King Charles II came back from exile James Sharp was sent to negotiate for the Church of Scotland with the new regime. The myth is that he went south as a Presbyterian and came back an Archbishop. The fact is he did his best and failed. Charles insisted on having bishops. A year later James, now a Professor of Divinity at St Andrews, had come round to the idea, and was consecrated an Anglican bishop in Westminster Abbey in December 1661. He was now Archbishop of St Andrews, and has had a bad press since. His ambition as archbishop was always to find middle ways, to negotiate. But he was up against the Covenanters, who were single-minded self-sacrificing zealots – with guns. In 1668 Sharp survived an assassination attempt in Edinburgh. It is by no means to his credit that seven or eight years later, when they caught the man, Sharp had no qualms about getting his revenge. On 3 May 1679 not far outside St Andrews, on Magus Muir, a party of Covenanters stopped Sharp’s coach and murdered him in cold blood in front of his daughter.  That was an age when opinions were polarised, and from sharp words men took to guns and knives. You don’t have to believe that James Sharp was a saint to know that they should not have murdered him.