Alexander Leighton (born
1587 Scotland, died either
1644 or 1649) was a Scottish medical doctor and puritan preacher and
pamphleteer best known for his 1630
pamphlet that attacked the Anglican church
and which led to his torture by King Charles I.
Leighton was born in 1587. The Dictionary of National
Biography states that he was descended from an ancient family
possessed of the estate of Ulysham (Ulishaven) near Montrose in Scotland.
Whilst his father was a Roman
, Leighton himself became a Presbyterian
and a strong opponent of
studied at the University of St Andrews (MA) and
Leiden University (MD), where he studied under Professor van
He worked as a medical doctor, but records show that
he was prohibited from practice in 1619 and again in 1626. It is
unknown whether these judgements were influenced by his religious
views, though they predated the publication in 1628 of the pamphlet
for which he was tortured.
On 17 September 1619, Leighton was summoned to a censorial hearing
, which took place on the
24 September 1619. The charge was that he had caused the death of a
patient, along with other crimes which were taken into account. He
was found guilty and barred from further practice. The entry
He was found guilty and prohibited from practice for a second time
on 7 July 1626, when he "confessed to having practiced for 11
years". On the 5 January 1627, he was arrested for debt. He wished
to be licensed and was asked what he would pay as a fine for
previous practice. He reluctantly agreed to pay twenty shillings
. After this, he moved to Holland for a period
between one and three years, during which he published his
published his controversial pamphlet Zion's plea against
Prelacy: An Appeal to Parliament in 1628 in Holland.
publication, he criticised the church, and in particular the
Bishops who then ruled the Church of Scotland, condemning them as "antiChristian and
He was sentenced by Archbishop William
's High Commission Court
public whipping, to having the letters 'SS' branded on him (for
'Sower of Sedition'), and having his ears cut off. Medical records
say that, "since he had been censured by the Star Chamber
on religious grounds (& had
had his ears cropped)", that he should now be 'infamis
' in his profession, and he was permanently
banned from further practice.
The Star Chamber was used by Charles I as a substitute for
Parliament during the eleven years of Personal Rule
. He made extensive use of this
court to prosecute dissenters, including the Puritans (such as
Leighton) using especially brutal punishments. It is the opinion of
some that Leighton's persecution and punishment "form one of the
most disgraceful incidents of the reign of King Charles I".
warrant for his arrest was issued by the High Commission Court,
Leighton was taken to William Laud's house and then to Newgate prison without any trial.
He was put in irons in
solitary confinement in an unheated and uncovered cell for fifteen
weeks, in which the rain and snow could beat in upon him. None of
his friends nor even his wife were permitted to see him during this
time. According to four doctors, Leighton was so sick that he was
unable to attend his supposed sentencing. Durant noted that
Leighton also "was tied to a stake and received thirty-six stripes
with a heavy cord upon his naked back; he was placed in the pillory
for two hours in November's frost and snow; he was branded in the
face, had his nose split and his ears cut off, and was condemned to
life imprisonment" (Age of Reason Begins, pp. 189-190).
only released from jail when his son Robert was ordained as a
Minister at Newbattle.
In the end, the Star Chamber's sentence was not carried out in
full. The Long Parliament
him from prison in 1640, when they cancelled his fine, and paid him
6000 pounds for his suffering. In 1642, Leighton was appointed Keeper of
House, which had been converted into a
Date of death
His date of death is disputed. Some sources believe him to have
died in 1649, though some sources name the date as 1644 .
Leighton was twice married. His first wife and mother of his six
children was Scottish. His second wife was the daughter of Sir
William Musgrave of Cumberland.
Leighton had four sons — Robert, Elisha, James, and Caleb — and two
daughters — Sapphira and Elizabeth. James, Caleb and Elizabeth did
not survive to maturity. His son Robert Leighton became Bishop of Dunblane, Archbishop of Glasgow and Principal of the
His son Elisha (later Sir Ellis Leighton
) (???-1684) was secretary to
Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton
when he was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland
1670 and British Ambassador
in 1675. Elisha died on 9 January 1684 and his will
mentions a daughter Mary. Leighton's daughter Sapphira (sometimes
known as Susan) (1623-1704) married Edward Lightmaker of Broadhurst Manor