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Pont Maps of Scotland, ca. 1583-1614 - Biographies

Robert Pont, Timothy Pont's father (1524-1606) by Christopher Fleet

Robert Pont's 'Newe Treatise'
We know a great deal more about Timothy Pont's father, Robert Pont, than we do about Timothy himself. The following are just some of the facts that we know about Robert Pont's long, diverse and active life.

Robert Pont was born at or near Culross, and studied philosophy at St Andrews University before perhaps going on to study law at one of the Continental universities. By the 1550s he appears as an elder of the kirk session in St Andrews, and as commissioner for St Andrews; he was present at the first meeting of the General Assembly of the reformers in 1560. As a close associate of John Knox, he was entrusted with revising the first Book of Discipline (1561), and was chosen by Knox to communicate his last wishes to the general assembly (1572). In the meantime, he had served as Minister of Dunblane and Dunkeld, provost of Trinity College, Edinburgh (1571), and as Commissioner of Moray, Inverness and Banff, establishing reformed kirks and ministers in these regions. In this latter role, he professed his inability 'in respect of the laike of the Irish tongue'(1) to carry out his duties properly, but his commissions were renewed until 1574. From this time, he became minister of St Cuthbert's or the West Kirk in Edinburgh, and a central figure in the General Assembly, holding the position of moderator six times through a turbulent political period.

Whilst Robert Pont's political and literary career was dominated by his ecclesiastical mission, his influence extended into civil and government activities. He was made a senator of the College of Justice in 1572, and when, in the next year, the General Assembly prohibited ministers from accepting such civil appointments he alone was exempted from this rule. In 1578 he accompanied the English ambassador to Stirling to arrange an agreement between the faction of the 4th Earl of Morton, and the faction of Atholl and Argyll. His outspoken opposition to the Black Acts (1584), which sought to assert Crown supremacy over all estates, as well as increasing episcopalian power, lost him his seat on the bench, and forced him briefly into exile. However, the following year he returned to the fray to oppose releasing Patrick Adamson, archbishop of St Andrews, from his sentence of excommunication. When James VI nominated him Bishop of Caithness in 1587, Pont tactfully referred the matter to the General Assembly, who blocked the appointment, the office being 'not agreeable to the word of God'.(2) In the following years, Pont was involved in several commissions for 'stamping out popery', instigating proceedings against papists and planting kirks 'from the Dee to the diocese of Caithness'(3).

By the 1590s Pont was a senior statesman, advising 'in all matters concerning the weal of the kirk'.(4) In 1599 he published A Newe Treatise on the Right Reckoning of Yeares and Ages of the World..., a profound Protestant vision of the past and future,. Amongst other things this reappraised the calculation of time and Jubilees through an integration of celestial cycles, number mysticism, prophecy and theology, including an account of the forthcoming apocalypse, 'for the days are evill'. However, as noted by Williamson,(5) this work was certainly in the spirit of the times, and the 'Reverend Robert Pont spoke with great learning, vast experience, and enormous authority'. He is also credited with correctly prophesising the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, requesting a special visit to King James to proclaim him as 'King of Great Britain, France and Ireland'. The King replied: 'I still told you, you would go distracted with your learning, and now I see you are so'. 'No, no', replied Pont, 'the thing is certain. She is dead, I assure you'. And so it was (6). He was also a vociferous advocate of the union with England, finally penning his De Unione Britanniae (1604) a year after the regal union.(7) Thrice married, Pont had five sons and three daughters: his eldest son Timothy, along with Zachary, Catherine, and Helen, were all by his first wife, Catherine.

(1) Calderwood, D., The history of the Kirk of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1843), Vol.II, 244. back
(2) Ibid., Vol.IV, 625. back
(3) Dictionary of National Biography. back
(4) Calderwood, Vol. IV, 645. back
(5) Williamson, AH. Scottish national consciousness in the age of James VI (Edinburgh, 1979) and Williamson, AH. Number and national consciousness: the Edinburgh mathematicians and Scottish political culture at the union of the crowns, in Scots and Britons, ed. by R. Mason (Cambridge, 1994) 187-212. back
(6) Wodrow, R., Analecta (Edinburgh, 1842), Vol. II, 341-2. back
(7) Galloway, B. R. & Levack, B. P., The Jacobean Union (Edinburgh, 1985). back