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Beginnings: Early times to 1560


John Mair

By Alexander Broadie

John Mair (c. 1467-1550), also known as John Major, was born in the village of Gleghornie, near Edinburgh, and attended school at Haddington where he learnt Latin grammar. He subsequently enrolled as a student at God's House in Cambridge and then, after one year, matriculated at the University of Paris where in due course he rose to become Professor of Theology and arguably the most distinguished logician in the university. From 1518 to 1523 he was Principal of the University of Glasgow and during this time published what is now his most famous work, A History of Greater Britain, in which he argues in support of an eventual political union of Scotland and England.

After 1523 he spent several more years in Paris, but then returned to Scotland to become Provost of St Salvator's College in St Andrews University, a post he occupied from 1534 until his death in 1550. Among his many pupils was John Knox who wrote of Mair that his word was then "held as a oracle on matters of religion". In Paris Mair gathered round him a brilliant circle of thinkers from Scotland who made a major impact on the life of the university. They included George Lokert, William Manderston and Robert Galbraith, who returned to Scotland to become major players in the church, academic life and the law respectively. Among those who heard Mair lecture at Paris were John Calvin, Ignatius Loyola, George Buchanan, Francisco Vitoria and François Rabelais. Mair was undoubtedly at the centre of cultural life in Europe during the first half of the 16th century.

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