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Abercromby, Robert


Scottish Jesuit, 19 years on the Scottish mission; b. Scotland, 1532; d. Braunsberg College, East Prussia, April 27, 1613. Robert, of a good Catholic family, was educated at St. Mary's College, Scotland. He was one of five young men who in 1562 went to the Continent to study for the priesthood in the company of the Papal Nuncio Nicholas de Gouda, SJ, who was then returning from an unsuccessful visit to the court of Queen Mary in order to bring Scottish bishops to the Council of Trent. All five became Jesuits and played a distinguished role in the Counter Reformation in Scotland: James Tyrie, William Crichton, John Hay, William Murdoch, and Abercromby. Father Tyrie, who died in Rome in 1597, was especially influential in gaining Abercromby for the mission to Scotland. Meanwhile Abercromby spent 23 years abroad assisting Catholics from England and Scotland and training Jesuit novices. He was a pupil of the celebrated Jesuit Diego laÍnez in the latter's last years and a friend of Cardinal Stanislaus hosius, who built a seminary for priests at Braunsberg, where many Scotsmen came to study and receive their training for the missions from the Jesuits.

In 1586 Elizabeth of England had concluded an alliance with James VI of Scotland that had as a condition the expulsion of the Jesuits from Scotland. But the execution of his mother, Mary Stuart, shortly after, disposed the king to show indulgence to his Catholic subjects. The Jesuit missionaries were not slow to take advantage; Abercromby and William Ogilvie arrived from Poland and went into hiding while administering to the Catholics. Abercromby converted a number of high-born Scots, among them James Lindsay, brother of the Earl of Crawford. His most notable convert was James VI's wife, Anne of Denmark, at Holyroodhouse in 1600. Abercromby's own account, in a letter from Braunsberg, September 1608, gives evidence of James's knowledge of this and tacit consent. "She [Anne] admitted [to the King] she had dealings with a Catholic priest and named me, an old cripple." James made no effort to reclaim Anne, but rather made it possible for her to have secret access to her Jesuit confessor by appointing Abercromby "Keeper of his Majesty's Hawks." In a report on the state of Scotland (1602), Abercromby, then superior of the Scottish mission, remarked that the Queen had received Holy Communion nine or ten times.

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 caused James, now king of England, to order a special search for Abercromby, offering a reward of 10,000 crowns for his capture, no mean proof of his worth to his enemies and his courage and skill in evading his pursuers. Forced finally to flee, Abercromby was one of the last priests to leave Scotland. He spent the remainder of his life at the Jesuit College at Braunsberg.

Bibliography: a. bellesheim, History of the Catholic Church of Scotland, tr. d. o. hunter-blair, 4 v. (Edinburgh 188790). w. forbes-leith, ed., Narratives of Scottish Catholics under Mary Stuart and James VI (Edinburgh 1885). Recusant History 5 (195960) 205206, for list of documents and bibliog. h. foley, ed., Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, 7 v. in 15 (London 187782) v.7, pt. 2. g. oliver, Collections towards Illustrating the Biography of the Scotch, English and Irish Members of the Society of Jesus (London 1845). d. mcroberts, ed., Essays on the Scottish Reformation, 15131625 (Glasgow 1962). t. collins, Martyr in Scotland (New York 1956).

[j. d. hanlon]

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