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The Scottish Nation
Carstairs


CARSTAIRS, a surname derived from the parish of Carstairs, in the upper ward of Lanarkshire. In charters of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the name appears in the form of Castleterres or Castletarres, and in documents subsequent to that date in that of Carstares, Carstaires, and Carstairs. The prefix car or caer, which occurs in the old British language, signifies either a fort, walled place, or city, and most probably therefore any place built of stone and lime, originally derived from the Latin calx, cal, lime, used in countries where Roman colonies once existed, to denote a building of stone and lime, as caes, a quay or wharf, in its abstract form of caero or caeiro, lime-kiln, or place where lime is used, still met with in the Spanish and Portuguese languages. The frequent use of this word caer, in Saxon names of places, in England and Scotland, as Carhampton, &c., and the fact of its not occurring in British or Welsh topography until after the regions had been visited by the Saxons, if not conquered by them, makes it doubtful if it be originally of British origin. The word is thus synonymous with the other prefix castel. The affix stairs or stair, anciently staer or ster, is a corrupt form of the word terrae or terrace signifying lands pertaining to or holding of the castle. There was an old family of this name who possessed the lands of Kilconquhar in Fife, and from them that estate came to the ancestors of the present proprietor, Sir John Lindsay Bethune, Bart., descended from the Lords Lindsay of the Byres.

CARSTAIRS, WILLIAM, a divine of great political eminence, was born, February 11, 1649, at Cathcart, near Glasgow, of the high church of which city his father, who was descended from an ancient family in Fife, was minister. In ‘Balfour’s Annals,’ (vol. Iv. p. 168), under date 22d November 1650, the following entry, relative to his father in the proceedings of the Estates, occurs: ‘The Committee of estaits remitts to the Com. of quarterings the exchange of prissoners, anent Alex. Jeffray and Mr. Johne Carster, minister, with some Englishe prissoners in the castle of Dumbartan.’ His mother, Jane Muir, was of the family of Glanderston, in Renfrewshire. When very young he was sent to a school at Ormiston in East Lothian, then kept by a Mr. Sinclair, which under his care had attained to great celebrity. At this school many of the sons of the nobility and gentry who afterwards distinguished themselves in life, were his companions. With several of them he formed an intimacy which continued through life, and to this, he was wont to ascribe, in a great measure, his future fortunes. In due time he was entered a member of the university of Edinburgh, but afterwards, in consequence of the distracted state of the times in Scotland, he went to Utrecht, where his prudence and address recommended him to the notice of the prince of Orange, to whom he was introduced by the pensionary Fagel. In 1682 he returned to Scotland with the view of entering the church, but, discouraged by the persecution to which the presbyterians were subjected at that period, he, after receiving a license to preach, resolved to return to Holland. As he had to pass through London, he was instructed by Argyle and his friends to treat with Russell, Sydney, and the other leaders of that party in England who wished to exclude the duke of York from the succession to the throne, whereby he became privy to the Rye-House Plot, on the discovery of which he was apprehended in Kent, and frequently examined. While, however, he avowed the utmost abhorrence of any attempt on the life of the king or the duke of York, he refused to give farther information, and was sent down to Scotland to be tried. After a rigorous confinement in irons, he was twice put to the torture, on the 5th and 6th of Sept. 1684, which he endured with great firmness; but being afterwards promised a full pardon, and deluded with the assurance that his answers would never be used against any person, he consented to make a judicial declaration. The privy council immediately published a statement, which he declared to be a false and mutilated account of his confession; and, in violation of their engagement, produced his evidence in court against his friend, Mr. Baillie of Jerviswood. After the Revolution, the privy council of Scotland made Mr. Carstairs a present of the ‘thumbikins,’ which had formed the instrument of his torture. On his release he returned to Holland in the winter of 1684-5, when the prince of orange made him one of his own chaplains, and procured his election to the office of minister of the English congregation at Leyden. He attended the prince in his expedition to England, and was constantly consulted by him in affairs of difficulty and importance. On the elevation of William and Mary to the throne, Carstairs was appointed his majesty’s chaplain for Scotland, to which were annexed all the emoluments of the chapel royal, and was the chief agent between the church of that country and the court. The king required his constant presence about his person, assigning him apartments in the palace when at home, and when abroad with the army, allowing him five hundred pounds a-year for camp equipage.

      William was at first anxious that episcopacy should be the religion of Scotland as well as of England, but Carstairs convinced him of the impropriety of this project, which the king was forced to abandon, and the establishment of the presbyterian form of church government was the consequence. He was also, in 1694, of great service to the church in getting the oath of allegiance, with the assurance, declaring William to be king de jure, as well as de facto, dispensed with, the clergy naturally being averse to the taking a civil oath as a qualification for a sacred office.

      On the death of William he was no longer employed in public business, but Anne continued him in the office of chaplain-royal. On 12th May 1703, he was appointed principal of the university of Edinburgh, for which he drew up new rules. In the same year he was presented to the church of Greyfriars in that city, and three years after was translated to the High Church. He was four times chosen Moderator of the General Assembly. To the universities of his native country he was a great benefactor. In 1693 he obtained from the Crown, out of the bishops’ rents in Scotland, a gift of three hundred pounds sterling per annum to each of the Scottish universities; and at various times he procured donations for them for the encouragement of learning. When the union between the two kingdoms came to be agitated, he took an active part in its favour. He vigorously opposed the patronage act of Queen Anne, and at all times vigilantly watched over the liberties and privileges of the Church of Scotland. He warmly promoted the succession of the House of Hanover to the throne of these realms, and was continued by George the First in his post as chaplain to the king. Principal Carstairs died in December 1715, while holding the office for the fourth time of Moderator of the General Assembly. In 1774 his State Papers and Letters, with an account of his Life, were published, in one vol, 4to, by the Rev. Dr. Joseph M’Cormick, principal of the university of St. Andrews. There is a portrait of him in the university of Edinburgh. Another, by Aikman, is in possession of Alexander Dunlop, Esq. of Keppoch, which has been often engraved.

      The following is a woodcut from an engraving by H. Adlard:


[portrait of William Carstairs]

      Principal Carstairs was a man of great learning and eminence in the church. So complete was his mastery of the Latin language that Dr. Pitcairn, who regularly attended the, in those days, customary opening Latin oration of the principal, delivered before the professors and students in the common hall of the university, used to observe that when Mr. Carstairs began to address his audience he could not help fancying himself transported to the forum, in the days of ancient Rome. “He managed,” says Bower, “Scottish affairs with such discretion, during the reigns of William and Anne, that he made few public enemies; and such was his knowledge of human nature, his prudence, and conciliating temper, that he was held in the highest estimation by those who still adhered to the house of Stuart. So great was his influence in church and state that he was generally called Cardinal Carstairs.”


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