Thomas Urquhart (1611-1660)

Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty (1611-1660) is not as well known as many other writers of universal languages are. He was probably born in the family’s town house in Banff or in the old castle of Cromarty but there is no official record of his birth. His father was the sheriff of Cromarty. By age 11, he was admitted to King’s College in Aberdeen though there is no record of his graduation.

Urquhart disappears off of Scottish records for about 10 years following his time at King’s College. It is assumed that he was spending time abroad. He had a vast knowledge of European landscapes, was fluent in French, Spanish and Italian and claimed to have visited sixteen countries. His father’s debt caused him to return in the mid 1630’s.

After dealing with his father’s money troubles, Urquhart turned his attention to the royal court. In 1639 he participated in the Royalist uprising known as Trot of Turriff. His participation led to his being knighted by Charles I at Whitehall on April 7, 1641 as a thank you for his support.  That same year he published his first works known as Epigrams, Divine and Moral. They were regarded as some of his best work. Each of the ten included epigrams was dedicated to a different courtier. Between 1644 and 1646 Urquhart was said to have moved to London. It is in London that he had his first attempt at designing a language. The result was Trissotetras, published in 1645. It was supposed to help people learn how to memorize better, though the language never was applied.

Urquhart continued in his Royalist activities. In 1648, he participated in the uprising at Inverness where he was declared a traitor by Parliament. He never received any further punishment for his participation.  After the death of Charles I in 1649, Urquhart continued to participate in Royalist activities and even marched with Charles II at the Battle of Worcester. He made the mistake of bringing his manuscripts with him for safe-keeping. The Royalist forces were defeated and Urquhart was taken prisoner, losing his manuscripts in the process. He was held at the Tower of London and at Windsor but was given a large amount of freedom while prisoner. While a prisoner he published a genealogy of his family called Pantochronachanon and The Jewel which some claim to be regarded as the first extant Scottish prose romance. In 1652, Cromwell paroled him and he returned to Cromarty.

After his return, he published Logopandecteision in 1653, which was his second attempt at a language, only this time it was a plan for a universal language. His ideas were again, never adapted. His most celebrated work, the translation of  books I and II of The Work of Rabelais, was published that same year.

Not much is known of his time after his publishing of his translation. Many think he went abroad where it is said he died of laughter upon receiving the news of the restoration of  Charles II.


Emma Pitts


Works Cited

Jack, R. D. S.. “Urquhart, Sir Thomas, of Cromarty (1611–1660).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: OUP. 6 Nov. 2014 <>.