Sir James, Robert and Francis Sempill - Encyclopedia

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SEMPILL (OR SEMPLE), SIR JAMES, ROBERT AND Francis, three Scottish ballad-writers, known as the Sempills of Beltrees from their place in Renfrewshire.

SIR James Sempill (1566-1626) was the son of John Sempill of Beltrees, and Mary Livingstone, one of the "four Marys," companions of Mary, queen of Scots. He was brought up with James VI. under George Buchanan, and later assisted the king in the preparation of his Basilikon Doron. Ambassador to England 1590-1600, he was made a knight bachelor, and in 1601 was sent to France. He died at Paisley in 1626. His wife was Egidia or Geillis Elphinstone of Bl.ythswood. He wrote some theological works in prose, but is chiefly remembered for the poem "The Packman's Pater Noster," a vigorous attack upon the Church of Rome. An edition was published at Edinburgh in 1669 entitled "A Pick-tooth for the Pope, or the Packman's Pater Noster, translated out of Dutch by S. I. S., and newly augmented and enlarged by his son R. S." (reprinted by Paterson). Seven poems, chiefly of an amorous character, are printed in T. G. Stevenson's edition of The Sempill Ballates. Robert Sempill [the younger] (1595 ?-1665 ?), son of the above, was educated at the university of Glasgow, having matriculated in March 1613. During the Civil War he fought for the Stuarts, and seems to have suffered heavy pecuniary losses under the Commonwealth. He died between 1660 and 1669. He married Mary, daughter of Sir Thomas Lyon of Auldbar. His reputation is based on the ballad, "The Life and Death of Habbie Simpson, Piper of Kilbarchan," written c. 1640. It is an interesting picture of the times; and it gave fresh vogue to the popular sixlined stanza which was much used later by Ramsay, Fergusson and Burns (see particularly, Burns's "Poor Mailie's Elegy"). Two broadside copies were printed before 1700, and it appeared in James Watson's Collection of Poems (1706-1710). Sempill is supposed to be the author also of an epitaph on "Sawney Briggs, nephew to Habbie Simpson," written in the same stanza. He wrote a continuation of his father's "Packman's Pater Noster." Francis Sempill (1616?-1682) was a son of Robert Sempill the younger. No details of his education are known. His fidelity to the Stuarts involved him in money difficulties, to meet which he alienated portions of his estates to his son. Before 1677 he was appointed sheriff-depute of Renfrewshire. He died at Paisley in March 1682. Sempill wrote many occasional pieces, and his fame as a wit was widespread. Among his most important works is the "Banishment of Poverty," which contains some biographical details. "The Blythsome Wedding," long attributed to Francis Sempill, has been more recently asserted to be the work of Sir William Scott of Thirlestane. Sempill's claim to the authorship of the celebrated song "She raise and let me in," and of the ballad "Maggie Lauder," has been discussed at considerable length. It seems probable that. he had some share in both.

See the works mentioned below in the article on the elder Robert Sempill, and The Poems of the Sempills of Beltrees, ed. James Paterson (Edinburgh, 1849); A Literary History of Scotland, by J. H. Millar (1903); and Notes and Queries, 9th series (xi., 1903, pp. 436-437).

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