The account of the life and times of David, Lord Elcho, the
eldest son of James the Fifth Earl of Wemyss, from his birth in 1721 until his death in
1787 is known from his Journal and Narrative. Both of these accounts were used as
the basis for the publication by Sir Evan Charteris in 1907 of a book titled, "A
Short Account of the Affairs of Scotland." David, Lord Elcho was Colonel of
Prince Charles Lifeguards and is well known to all Jacobite historians. Sir Evan Charteris
collected these documents and in the case of Lord Elcho's "Journal," it required
a translation into English as well. He used this and other material, in combination,
for his book. This book by Sir Evan Charteris has been used extensively by us as one
of the main sources of material in the preparation of our own book. We have
extensively edited Lord Elcho's material so that we could be assured that it would be
easier to read by our American audience.
Lord Elcho's account was probably written with a view to ultimate publication, though it
had to wait 250 years for this. His Journal and Narrative both gave a fairly
impartial account of his various adventures and travels, though colored here and there by
personal and racial prejudice. Lord Elcho disliked all Irishmen, most Englishmen,
and a good many Scots. It also, not unnaturally, showed the bitterness of the man
permanently exiled from his family and country for a cause in which he had ceased to
believe and a leader whom he had come most heartily to dislike. Lord Elcho's
Narrative, which is in English and covers the events in 1745-46,was originally in the
possession of Sir James Steuart Denham, the nephew of Lord Elcho, and has been used
extensively in this book. In the early part of the nineteenth century it was
transferred by Sir James to Admiral Wemyss, of Wemyss Castle,who, presented it to the
family of the then Earl of Wemyss, in whose possession it has since remained.
Another manuscript, his Journal, which is the history of his own life was written in
French. Sir Walter Scott was allowed to make extensive use of it in his,"Tails
of a Grandfather." This Journal was used as well by Sir Evan Charteris in his
book. The Journal is located at Wemyss Castle and is owned by Captain David Wemyss
of Wemyss. Lord Elcho's Journal and Narrative which we have edited together to make
a more coherent and readable story about his life and times. We combined portions
of Lord Elcho's Narrative, which deals with the events from the battle of Prestonpans
until Culloden with his Journal which recounts his life before Prestonpans and after
Culloden until his death in 1787.
We try to give our readers a picture of the relationship between Price Charles Edward and
Lord Elcho as well as many otherwise unknown and picturesque details which reveal the
personalities of Lord Elcho as well as Prince Charles Edward and other protagonists of the
Jacobite cause. There were two other younger brothers of David, Lord Elcho. Francis
who inherited, by the will of his grandfather, all the Charteris money and estates and
took the surname Charteris, which is still borne by the family of the present Earl of
Wemyss and March. James the third and youngest brother, once a naval officer, after
the Bill of Attainder against Lord Elcho in 1746, inherited Wemyss Castle in Fifeshire and
the various estates in Fifeshire and of course the family papers. This branch of the
family is presently represented by Captain David Wemyss of Wemyss. From Francis
descends the present 12th Earl of Wemyss and March who owns Gosford House in East Lothian
in Scotland. From both of these younger brothers there are today many descendants
but Lord Elcho left no legitimate issue.
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Here are Pages one and two from the book and its
conclusion for you to read:
Upon a page of a bible which for generations has been in the possession of the Wemyss
family at Wemyss Castle there is written," my son David was born at 3 a.m. August
21st 1721." This David was Lord Elcho, writer of this Narrative which follows.
Born a year later than Prince Charles, with whom his destiny was to be so closely
linked, he was the eldest son of James, Fifth Earl of Wemyss (1699-1756), his mother being
Janet Charteris, daughter of Colonel Charteris of Amisfield. Of the Charteris
family, Elcho says in the pages of his Journal that," it had been renowned among the
nobility of Scotland since the year 1320." Whatever degree of truth this
statement may contain, certain it is that the notoriety of the family name was immensely
heightened by the indecorous excesses of the colonel. The marriage of Elcho's
parents, effected with romantic secrecy, and in them face of much opposition, brought
considerable wealth into the family, but it was destined to turn badly, ending in
separation and unseemly squabbles over monetary disposition of the owner of Amisfield.
But the early years were unclouded, and these were spent by
young Elcho with his parents at Wemyss Castle. The family from which he was
descended had given, through the storm and stress of the seventeenth century, what was on
the whole a decided, although an intermittent, adherence to the House of Stewart.
When the occasion demanded, they had shown that belief in devine right and kingly
authority was compatible with political judgement and independent action. At one
time they were to be found on the side of he crown, at another resisting encroachments
which they considered an abuse of the royal prerogative. Thus John Wemyss was one of
those who carried the "crimson pall" at the coronation of Charles the First at
Holyrood in 1633; in the same year he was created earl, and in 1641 he was appointed by
Charles to act as Commissioner to the General Assembly. These favours, however, did
not deter him from active opposition to the Episcopal policy of the king in Scotland, and
in the successful resistance of the imposition of the service-book. There were few more
uncompromising Presbyterians than the first earl of Wemyss and his son. The second
earl, David, sided openly with the Covenanters, and though " not reputed an
extraordinary soldier," he rose to prominence among the military party. At
Tippermuir he was in command opposed to Montrose and suffered a disastrous defeat, but the
Covenanting Committee did not abate their confidence in his capacity, and he continued to
hold his place in the counsels of the Kirk.
In 1650, when the Kirk party had determined to support Charles the second on his taking
the Covenant, the second earl was appointed by Parliament one of the Commissioners to
welcome Charles in Scotland, and though he had taken no part either in the Battle of
Dunbar or in the march into England, he actively promoted the restoration of the King.
Together with his wife, the Countess of Buccleuch, he was present on the occasion of
Charles entry into London, and, in a journal which he kept, this fact is noted in the
following terms; "Charles Secund King of Scotland, Ingland, France and Eirland did
rturne to his crownes." On 29th May 1660 he entered London and with his
Majestie his two brothers James Duke of York and Hendrie Duke of Gloster. " I
was ther." The The Third Earl or Countess of Wemyss was Margaret, youngest
daughter of David, the second Earl. The fourth Earl, David. " a fine personage
and very beautiful," succeeded in 1705, was in 1707 chosen as a representative peer
for Scotland. Migration to London at this period was an event of the first
importance in the annals of a Scots family. Lord Wemyss bore the change uneasily,
and fritted for the north; but with the thrifty mind of his race he discovered solace in
his house in Soho square which h describes in a letter to a friend, " as one of
the greatest pennyworths ever I see." In the same letter he continues: as for
the rattle and pleasures of London, nobody is or can be less affected with these than I
am, and my wife has as little taste of them as one could wish. Players and operas
are places either of us are seldom seen in and baiting vissits which we have noe fondness
for, but must just keep up mannerly with the world, we live retired as if we were in the
Highlands of Scotland.
The dull visit is a bye-product of our social system common to all periods and countries,
but at that time the lot of a purely Scots family can hardly have been enviable, and the
earl's frugal satisfaction in his,"great pennyworth," must have ill concealed
the asperities to which his family were subjected. On the accession of the House of
Hanover, Lord Wemyss retired to his home. He was suspected of Jacobite leanings, but
the rising of 1715 found him disinclined to take an active part, and though the tide of
rebellion rose high in his native country, he maintained an outward neutrality and gave no
support to the Earl of Mar and his followers,
His son, the fifth earl, and father of David, Lord Elcho,
succeeded to the title and estates in 1720. He lived for several years in retirement
at Wemyss, taking no share in public affairs, but proving himself so far a Jacobite in
sentiment as steadfastly to decline taking the oath of allegiance. Subsequently,
from letters among the Stewart papers , he appears to have corresponded with James at
Rome, and to have acted at least on one occasion as emmissary to Paris on behalf of the
Scottish Jacobites. We find his name included in 1745 by Lord George Murray in his
list of those who were or might be of council of Prince Charles at Holyrood, and at the
time of the siege of the Castle of Edinburgh. Reprisals were threatened against
Wemyss Castle by General George Preston, the commander of the besieged garrison.
The purpose of this book is to show through the words of Lord Elcho the history of his
life and the times which surrounded him. This includes a personal history of his
participation in the Jacobite uprising of 1745. Lord Elcho had a variety of strong
opinions on a number of subjects. He had particularly strong feelings against the
House of Stewart and Prince Charles Edward (Bonnie Prince Charlie) after the battle
of Culloden and for the rest of his life . In this book Lord Elcho spends some time
recounting in detail the Prince made during the uprising. Lord Elcho
states that Prince Charles was an arrogant, stubborn, fool who was more interested in
becoming king rather than trying to figure a way of winning the final battle of Culloden
where the Scots were defeated. In spite of the mismanagement of the Prince the
Scottish army almost managed to unseat King George the second in London. Prince Charles
suffered under the allusion that all the Scots and the English would desert the English
forces and join him if only they had the opportunity. This proved to be not true and
as the Scottish army invaded England they found that they could find no one to join them.
It is interesting to see the differences between the Scots and the Irish. Lord Elcho makes
a number of comparisons between the two in which the Irish come out second best.
In addition to the period during the uprising in 1745-46, Lord Elcho has given us a clear
picture of his life before and after the uprising. Most of both of these period he
lived in France and Italy and finally resided in Switzerland where he died in 1778.
He tells a number of interesting stories about incidents which happened to him during his
various travels in these countries. He also tells about the rest of the Wemyss
family during both of these periods.
In my personal opinion I believe that Lord Elcho was too willing to jeopardise his family
estates and titles in a futile hope that Prince Charles could pull the uprising off.
As a result of the attainder which he received from the English, his family lost
their titles for 75 years. In short he hurt his family more than he hurt himself. I
believe the information contained in this book will be of great value for those people who
are interested in Scottish and English history. This is especially true in light of
the fact that the words herein are directly from Lord Elcho's pen.
sincerely, Sir John Wemyss-Kessler, Bt.
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