Sir JOHN SPENS of Condie, (1520?–1573), queen’s advocate, son of James Spens of Condie and Joanna Arnot (Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. 1546–80, No. 1389), was born about 1520, and educated at St. Salvator’s College, St. Andrews, where he became a determinant in 1543. In 1549 he was, with eight other advocates, chosen by the court of session to plead before them in all cases. On 21 Oct. 1555 he was appointed joint queen’s advocate with David Lauder, after whose death in 1560 he was made a judge, but continued to hold at the same time the office of queen’s advocate, Robert Crichton having been associated with him as joint queen’s advocate from 8 Feb. 1559–60. When Knox, on account of his letter in reference to the mass, was in 1563 accused of treason, Spens, whom Knox describes as ‘a man of gentle nature, and one that professed the doctrine of the Evangel’ (Works, ii. 401), came to him privately to inquire about the matter, and expressed the opinion that he had not been guilty of anything punishable by law (ib.)
Knox also states that when Spens was commanded to accuse him before the queen, he did so, but ‘very gently’ (ib. p. 403). He adhered to the queen’s party after her marriage to Darnley; and he was officially entrusted with the prosecution of the murderers of Riccio (Reg. P. C. Scotl. i. 468). He also attended officially at the indictment of Bothwell for the murder of Darnley. By some he is identified with the ‘Black John Spens’ who was denounced in the placard affixed to the Tolbooth as one of the murderers; but in all probability the epithet ‘Black’ was made use of to distinguish this John Spens from the advocate, who, had he been the person meant, would certainly have been referred to as queen’s advocate. In 1566 he was appointed one of a commission for the revision of the laws (Acta Parl. Scot. i. 29). He remained in office after the imprisonment of the queen until his death in 1573.
[Knox’s Works; Reg. P. C. Scotl. vols. i. and ii.; Acta Parl. Scot. vol. i.; Brunton and Haig’s Senators of the College of Justice; Omond’s Lord Advocates.]
Source: Dictionary of National Biography, volume 53, page 382.