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Cromarty Courthouse
Cromarty Courthouse

Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty lived from 1611 to about 1660. He was a writer and translator, best known for his translation of the works of François Rabelais. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

 Sir Thomas Urquhart at Cromarty Courthouse
Sir Thomas Urquhart
at Cromarty Courthouse

Thomas Urquhart was born into a long-established family of landowners in Cromarty. At the age of 11 he became a student at King's College, Aberdeen, and subsequently toured the Continent, returning to Scotland in 1636. These were troubled times, and on 20 May 1639, Urquhart was among the Royalists led by the Marquis of Huntly who put to flight Covenanter forces which had been occupying Turriff since February. This engagement became known as the Trot Of Turriff, and for his part in it, Urquhart was knighted by Charles I.

In 1642 Sir Thomas Urquhart inherited his father's large estates, and even larger debts. He spent some time on the Continent trying to avoid his creditors, and on his return in 1645 published Trissotetras a mathematical work. In 1648, Urquhart took part in a Royalist uprising against Cromwell's forces in Inverness and was declared a traitor by parliament. In 1650 he supported of Charles II, and marched with him to eventual defeat at the Battle of Worcester. Urquhart was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London, losing his manuscripts and having his estates confiscated.

While still a prisoner, Urquhart published two further books, one a work about genealogy. In 1652 he was paroled by Cromwell and returned to Cromarty. The following year he published Logopandecteision, in which he described his plan for the perfect universal language, and attacked his creditors for preventing him from completing the construction of such a language. At about the same time he also published his most celebrated work, his translation of François Rabelais, the French Renaissance writer of fantasy and satire. Sir Thomas Urquhart subsequently returned to the Continent, where little is known about his movements. He is thought to have died in 1660, according to one story as a result of a fit of laughing brought on by hearing the news of the restoration of Charles II.

Sir Thomas Urquhart is remembered today in an exhibition (with a life size model) at the Cromarty Courthouse, an excellent community run museum in his home town.

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