He was the second son of Andrew Arbuthnot of Pitcarles, who in turn was the fourth son of Sir Robert Arbuthnot of that Ilk. His mother was Elizabeth, daughter of James Strachan of Monboddo.
After having studied languages and philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, and civil law under the noted Jacques Cujas at the University of Bourges in France, Arbuthnot took ecclesiastical orders, and became in his own country a zealous supporter of the Reformation.
In 1569 he was elected principal of King's College, Aberdeen, which office he retained until his death. He played an active part in the stirring church politics of the period, and was twice Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and a member of the commission of inquiry into the condition the University of St Andrews (1583).
His attitude on public questions won for him the condemnation of Catholic writers. He is not included in Nicol Burne's list of periurit apostatis, but his policy and influence were disliked by James VI, who, when the Assembly had elected Arbuthnot to the charge of the kirk of St. Andrews, ordered him to return to his duties at King's College.
His extant works are three poems, The Praises of Wemen (4 lines), On Luve (10 lines), and The Miseries of a Pure (poor) Scholar (189 lines), and a Latin account of the Arbuthnot family, Originis et Incrementi Arbuthnoticae Familiae Descriptio Historica, of which an English continuation, by Dr John Arbuthnot, is preserved in the Advocates Library, Edinburgh.
The praise of women in the first poem is exceptional in the literature of his age; and its geniality helps us to understand the author's popularity with his contemporaries.
- The Scottish Studies Foundation, brief bio
- Arbuthnot, Mrs P S-M (1920). Memories of the Arbuthnots. George Allen & Unwin.
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
- Sir James Balfour Paul, ed (1908). The Scots Peerage. founded on Wood's Edition of Sir Robert Douglas's 'Peerage of Scotland'.
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