Leslie, John (1571–1671), ‘the fighting bishop’, was born 14 October 1571 in Crichie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, eldest son of George Leslie and his wife Marjory. Educated in Aberdeen, he travelled on the Continent (c.1589–c.1609), becoming fluent in French, Italian, and Spanish. Returning to Scotland, he graduated MA from the University of Aberdeen (1614). Having taken holy orders at some point, Leslie was favoured by James I, and was appointed a domestic chaplain c.1621. He also became acquainted with William Laud (afterwards archbishop of Canterbury 1633–45), who had a major influence on him. In 1624 Leslie was awarded the degree of DD (lit. reg.) from Trinity College, Cambridge. He may have held the degree of DL, but the provenance of this is uncertain. Present at the siege of La Rochelle, he accompanied George Villiers (qv), duke of Buckingham, on his expedition to the Île de Ré. Highly regarded both at home and abroad, Leslie occupied numerous minor ecclesiastical appointments in England before being consecrated as bishop of Orkney (the Isles) on 24 August 1628. On 8 April 1633 Leslie was nominated to the see of Raphoe in Ireland, with letters patent issued on 20 June 1633.
In 1634 Leslie signed a petition to convocation, which demanded that clerical poverty be addressed. He successfully recovered usurped diocesan lands in the 1630s, increasing his income by a third and constructing a fortified episcopal palace in Raphoe. Intolerant of nonconfornmists, in 1639 Leslie denounced the covenant, and his treatment of a nonconforming minister and his wife saw him accused of praemunire by Sir Brian O'Neill in July 1641. A member of the Irish privy council, Leslie was intimately involved in the Dublin government's response to the 1641 rebellion, and in March–April 1642 received two barrels of gunpowder for his own use in the north. On 19 December 1642 he was granted £100 by the English parliament ‘out of the contribution monies for Ireland’ (CSPI 1633–47, 375). While declining official military command, Leslie did take up arms at this time, relieving Sir Ralph Gore (qv) at Magherabeg from the Laggan army, and conveying supplies from Dublin to royalist garrisons in Ulster. He may have spent much of the 1640s in Scotland, but was in Ireland after the regicide. After the battle of Rathmines (October 1649) Leslie and Sir Audley Mervyn (qv) were sent by James Butler (qv), marquess of Ormond, to negotiate with Owen Roe O'Neill (qv). According to Daniel O'Neill (qv), Leslie and Sir Nicholas Plunkett (qv) sought the lifting of the censure placed on O'Neill by the papal nuncio, Rinuccini (qv), to facilitate an alliance with Ormond.
Leslie subsequently raised and paid for a foot company, and defended his palace in Raphoe against Cromwellian forces for a considerable period. A staunch royalist, he subsequently rejected both presbyterian and catholic justifications for the rebellion. He was one of three bishops to remain in Ireland throughout the interregnum, using the Book of Common Prayer, and possibly continuing to ordain. In September 1653 he was granted a pension of £100 by the Cromwellian government. In July 1654 he was granted £10 by the Cromwellian government for services as a preacher, and in 1655 his pension was increased to £120, and again subsequently to £160, as recompense for repairing Raphoe castle; Leslie enjoyed good relations with the lord lieutenant, Henry Cromwell (qv). However, he was also suspected of organising the harassment of presbyterian clergy in Ulster.
In 1660, on hearing of the restoration, Leslie allegedly rode non-stop from Chester to London to pay homage to Charles II; a twenty-four-hour journey by a man approaching 90, and an apocryphal testament to his royalism. He was granted a pension of £200 a year in May 1660, though his episcopal authority was not immediately restored. In July 1660 he successfully persuaded John Bramhall (qv) to recommend him for a grant of the deanery of Raphoe in commendam. In December 1660 he petitioned the king for compensation, having spent over £3,000 on Raphoe castle and the troops he had raised, among other expenses; he was subsequently granted 4,000 acres of forfeited land in Donegal, or its equivalent. On Charles II's recommendation he was granted £2,000 for his expenses by parliament, and he was reappointed to the Irish council, but the precise dates remain unclear.
On 27 January 1661 Leslie officiated at the consecration of eleven new bishops. On 29 April he was appointed to the see of Clogher. Letters patent were issued on 17 June 1661, and he resigned the deanery of Raphoe on his translation. He retained his hostility towards nonconformists. In April 1665 he was granted a patent for lands in Monaghan with manorial rights, and subsequently built the family home of Castle Leslie (later Glaslough). Leslie died there on 8 September 1671, and was interred in the parish church of Glaslough. Virtually a centenarian, at the time of his death Leslie was regarded as the oldest bishop in the world. Noted for his learning, Leslie had composed a number of unpublished treatises in his lifetime, but these were subsequently destroyed in 1690 during the Williamite war. His only surviving publication is a set of guidelines (1667) for diocesan visitations; a copy is retained in TCD.
Leslie married (6 June 1638) Katherine, daughter of Alexander Coyngham, dean of Raphoe. Of their numerous children, John later became dean of Raphoe, while Charles (qv) was the prominent non-juring cleric.