John Lesley, a Scottish prelate, born Sept. 29, 1527, died in Brussels, May 31, 1596. He was the illegitimate child of a priest. He graduated at King's college, Aberdeen, became a canon of the cathedral churches of Aberdeen and Elgin in his 20th year, and, after a long period of study in various continental universities, was in 1554 appointed professor of canon law in the university of Aberdeen. He opposed the introduction of Protestantism into Scotland, and upon the accession of Mary, whom he accompanied from France, he was appointed bishop of Ross. His fidelity to the queen involved him in perilous intrigues and misfortunes. After the imprisonment of Mary in Bolton castle he took part in the negotiations between her and Elizabeth. He was subsequently examined on suspicion of being implicated in the scheme for marrying Mary to the duke of Norfolk, and in the rising of the earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland, and suffered a long confinement in the tower of London. In 1573 he was permitted to go to France, and for several years was employed in various missions in the interest of Mary and the Catholic cause, and in preparing for the press his general history of Scotland. In 1579 he was appointed suffragan and vicar general of the diocese of Rou-en, and in 1593 bishop of Coutances in Normandy. The state of public affairs in France soon after induced him to seek an asylum in Brussels, where he died.
He wrote several works, in English and in Latin, in defence of Mary, queen of Scots; also De Origine, Mori-bus et Rebus Gestis Scotorum, in 10 books (4to, Rome, 1578; reprinted in Holland in 1675). The greater part of this work is an abridgment of Boethius; the last three books only, from the death of James I. in 1437 to the return of Queen Mary to Scotland in 1561, being original. This latter part, in the Scottish tongue, was printed by the Bannatyne club (4to, Edinburgh, 1830).