surname of an old family, originally of Perthshire, the progenitor of
which in Scotland is stated to have been a Mortimer, of Anglo-Norman
lineage, who assumed the name of Moncreiff on obtaining the lands of
Moncreiff in that county. Ramerus de Moncreiff, who lived in the
beginning of the 12th century, was keeper of the wardrobe to Alexander
I. In the Ragman Roll, among those who swore fealty to Edward I. in
1296, is mentioned Johannes de Moncrief, chevalier. A charter of the
barony of Moncreiff was granted in 1495 to Sir John Moncreiff, whose
great-grandson, Sir John Moncreiff of Moncreiff, was created a baronet
of Nova Scotia, with remainder to his heirs-male whatsoever, 22d April
1626. This baronetcy is thus one of the oldest in Scotland, the order of
knight baronet projected by James VI. In 1621, being instituted by
Charles I. on 28th May 1625.
The first baronet died in
1630. The second baronet, the eldest son of this gentleman, being
embarrassed in his affairs, was compelled, in 1633, to sell the estate
of Moncreiff to a younger cadet of the family, Thomas Moncreiffe, Esq.,
one of the clerks of the Exchequer, who was created a baronet in 1685.
Sir John died, unmarried, in 1675, when the title devolved upon his
brother, Sir David, third baronet, on whose death, also unmarried, his
younger brother, Sir James Moncreiff, became fourth baronet. With him
the direct line of the first baronet expired, and the baronetcy reverted
to his heir-at-law, Sir John Moncreiff of Tippermalloch, fifth baronet,
an eminent physician, descended directly from Hugh Moncreiff, a brother
of the first baronet. Sir John married Nicholas, daughter of Moncreiff
of Easter Moncreiff, and died about 1710.
His only son, Sir Hugh,
sixth baronet, died, unmarried, in 1644, when he bequeathed the estate
of Tippermalloch to his nephew, Mr. George Moncreiff, the son of his
sister. The title devolved on his kinsman, the Rev. Sir William
Moncreiff, minister of Blackford, in Perthshire, seventh baronet,
descended from Archibald Moncreiff, uncle of the first baronet. Sir
William was eldest son of the Rev. Archibald Moncreiff, by Catherine,
eldest daughter of John Halliday, Esq. of Tulliebole, Kinross-shire. By
his wife, Catherine, eldest daughter of Robert Wellwood, Esq. of Garvock,
he had six sons and one daughter, and died 9th December 1767.
His eldest son, the Rev.
Sir Henry Wellwood Moncreiff, D.D., eighth baronet, a distinguished
divine of the Church of Scotland, was born at Blackford manse in
February 1750. He received his early education at the parish school of
his native place, and being destined for the ministry, he was sent to
the university of Glasgow, where, after the usual course of preliminary
study, he entered the divinity hall. On his father’s death, which took
place during his attendance at college, he was fixed upon as his
successor in the parish of Blackford, but as he was then too young to be
ordained, an assistant was appointed in the meantime, and the young
baronet removed to the university of Edinburgh, to complete his
theological studies. In 1771 he was licensed to preach the gospel, and
August 15th that year, was ordained minister of the church and parish of
Blackford. In October 1775 he was translated to St. Cuthbert’s parish,
Edinburgh, one of the most populous and important charges in the
metropolis. Here he soon became distinguished for his devoted zeal and
fidelity in the discharge of his ministerial duties, for the mildness
and benevolence of his disposition, and for his great personal worth, as
well as for his genius and eloquence as a preacher. Taking from the
first an active share in the business of the church courts, in
opposition to the moderate, then the dominant party, he soon became the
leader of the evangelical section of the church; and in 1785 he was
unanimously elected moderator of the General Assembly.
In 1784, he had been
appointed collector of the fund for the widows and children of the
clergy, and filled that important situation till his death, receiving
annually, for the long period of forty-three years, the thanks of the
Assembly, for the able, faithful, and affectionate manner in which he
discharged the duties of the office. He was also one of the original
members of the society of the sons of the clergy, and by his influence
and exertions contributed greatly to its success. He died, after a
lingering illness, August 9, 1827, in the 78th year of his age and 56th
of his ministry.
His funeral sermon was
preached by Dr. Andrew Thomson, minister of St. George’s, Edinburgh, and
afterwards published. In the following eloquent passages, Dr. Thomson
has faithfully described his public and private character: -- “It was in
early life that he began to take an active part in the government of our
national church. The principles of ecclesiastical polity which he
adopted, as soon as he entered on his public career, he adopted from
full and firm conviction, and he maintained and cherished, and avowed
them to the very last. They were the very same principles for which our
forefathers had contended so nobly, which they at length succeeded in
establishing, and which they bequeathed as a sacred and blood-bought
legacy to their descendants. But though that circumstance gave a deep
and solemn interest to them in his regard, he was attached to them on
more rational and enlightened grounds. He viewed them as founded on the
word of God, as essential to the rights and liberties of the Christian
people, as identified with the prosperity of genuine religion, and with
the real welfare and efficiency of the Establishment; and, therefore, he
embraced every opportunity of inculcating and upholding them; resisted
all the attempts that were made to discredit them in theory, or to
violate them in practice, rejoined when they obtained even a partial
triumph over the opposition they had to encounter, and clung to them,
and struggled for them, long after they were borne down by a system of
force and oppression, and when, instead of the numerous and determined
host that fought by his side in happier times, few and feeble,
comparatively, were those who seconded his manly efforts, and held fast
their own confidence; but he lived to see a better spirit returning.
This revival cheered and consoled him. Fervently did he long and pray
for its continuance and its spread. Nor did he neglect to employ his
influence, in order to introduce pastors who would give themselves
conscientiously to their Master’s work, preaching to their flocks the
truth as it is in Jesus, watching for souls as those that must give an
account, and faithfully and fearlessly performing all the duties
incumbent on them, both as ministers and as rulers in the church.
“He stood forth from
among his contemporaries, confessedly pre-eminent in strength of
personal and social character. There was a magnanimity in his modes of
thinking and of acting, which was as evident to the eye of observation
as were the lineaments of his face and the dignity of his gait. His
great and primary distinction was a clear, profound, and powerful
understanding, which spurned from it all trifles, and advanced to the
decision it was to give with unhesitating promptitude and determined
firmness. Those who knew him best can best give witness how faithfully
and habitually he embodied his knowledge, and his principles, and his
hopes, as a Christian, into his life and deportment, his daily walk and
conversation; how tenderly he cared for the fatherless and the widow
that were so often committed to his charge; how active and assiduous he
was in helping forward deserving youth, in giving counsel and aid to the
many who had recourse to him in their difficulties, and in doing good to
all his brethren, with unaffected kindness, as he had opportunity; how
patient and resigned amidst the severest bereavements (and of these he
experienced not a few) with which Providence can visit the children of
mortality; how fervent in his devotions and prayers; how diligent in his
study of the sacred volume, from which he drew all his religious
opinions; how correct and dignified in the whole of his personal
demeanour; how engaging in the lighter play, as well as in the graver
exercise of his social affections; and how ready, amidst all the
attainments he had made, and all the honour he had received from men, to
acknowledge the inadequacy of his services, and the sinfulness and
imperfection that mingled in all his doings, and still to betake himself
to the blood of sprinkling and the finished work of the Messiah, as all
his refuge and as all his hope.” – Sir Henry was the author of –
Sermons. Edinburgh, 1806, 8vo.
A Sermon preached at the
funeral of the Rev. Andrew Hunter, D.D. Edinburgh, 1809, 8vo.
Discourses on the
Evidences of the Jewish and Christian Revelations, with notes and
illustrations. Edin. 1815.
Account of the Life and
writings of John Erskine, D.D., one of the ministers of Edinburgh. Edin.
He also wrote a small
work on the Constitution of the Church of Scotland.
His Sermons were
collectively published in 3 vols. 8vo, with a short Memoir of the Author
by his son, Lord Moncreiff, Edin. 1829-31.
Sir Henry married in 1773, his cousin, Susan, daughter of Mr. James
Robertson Barclay of Keavil, Fifeshire, writer to the signet, by whom he
had five sons and two daughters. The eldest son, William Wellwood
Moncreiff, LL.D., became king’s advocate in the admiralty court of
Malta, where the husband of his eldest sister, Sir John Stoddart,
presided as chief justice, and died, unmarried, September 5, 1813.
His second son, James
Wellwood Moncreiff, afterwards a lord of session, under the title of
Lord Moncreiff, succeeded as the ninth baronet. Born 13th September
1776, he completed his education at Oxford, and was admitted an advocate
at the Scottish bar, 26th January 1799. On 7th February 1807 he was
appointed sheriff of Clackmannan and Kinross. He rapidly attained to
great distinction in his profession, though some of the greatest jurists
that Scotland has produced, were then members of the bar, taking rank
with Clerk and Cranstoun, with Cockburn and Jeffrey. In 1826, he was
chosen dean of faculty, as successor to Cranstoun. In the following
year, when the murderer Burke and his associate Hare were tried for that
series of murders which has made the name of the former a synonym in our
language for sudden and violent death, he and the leading advocates of
the Scotch bar generously undertook their defence, from the fear lest
their poverty and the instinctive horror felt for the criminals might
leave them without the assistance of counsel.
He was elevated to the
bench, and took his seat as Lord Moncreiff, 24th June 1829. He was, at
the same time, appointed a lord of justiciary. As a judge he fully
sustained his reputation as an advocate. In the court of session his
judgments were distinguished for learning and sagacity, and in the
justiciary court he was most remarkable for his dispassionate weighing
of evidence, his sound appreciation of the rules of law, and the
impressive solemnity of his charges on great occasions.
In 1832 he was called to
give evidence before a select committee of the house of commons
appointed to inquire into the origin and exercise of church patronage in
Scotland. The questions he had to answer reached to the very foundations
of the ecclesiastical polity of the Presbyterian church, and his
evidence was remarkable for its fullness, clearness, and knowledge of
the subjects under inquiry. For extensive and sound legal knowledge, for
acuteness, combined with an ever healthy and reliable judgment, and for
indefatigable industry, few of his contemporaries at the bar or on the
bench, and there were many able men among them, were superior to him.
Sir James Moncreiff died
30th April 1851, aged 75. He had married in 1808, Ann, daughter of
Captain George Robertson, R.N., and by this lady, who died in 1843, he
had five sons and three daughters, Elizabeth, Louisa Ann, and Catherine
The eldest son, the Rev.
Sir Henry Wellwood Moncreiff, B.A., tenth baronet, born in 1809, was
ordained minister of the parish of East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, in 1836,
and at the disruption, in 1843, he joined the Free Church. He was
afterwards translated to St. Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh. He married in 1838,
Alexina-Mary, daughter of George Bell, Esq., of that city. He is one of
the two principal clerks of the General Assembly of the Free church of
Scotland, the Rev. Patrick Clason, D.D., Buccleuch church, being the
other; and on the death, in 1861, of Dr. James Robertson, professor of
divinity and church history in the university of Edinburgh, he was
appointed his successor as secretary to her majesty’s sole and only
master printers in Scotland.
It is a remarkable
circumstance in the history of this branch of the family of Moncreiff
that the preset baronet is the 7th in lineal succession who have been
ministers in the Church of Scotland.
The 2d son, James
Moncreiff, born in 1811, educated at High School and university of
Edinburgh, passed advocate in 1833; became solicitor-general of Scotland
in February 1850, and lord-advocate in April 1851; continued in the
latter office till March 1852; and from December 1832 till February
1858; elected M.P. for Leith in 1851, and several times rechosen;
elected dean of faculty of advocates in 1858; LL.D. (Edin.) 1858;
re-appointed lord advocate in June 1859; M.P. for Edinburgh in 1859; a
deputy lieutenant for Mid Lothian, and lieutenant-colonel of Edinburgh
Volunteers; married in 1834, Isabella, only daughter of Robert Bell,
Esq.; with issue.
The 3d son, William, born
in 1813, married in 1860, Susan Ballantyne, youngest daughter of J.
Dykes-Ballantyne dykes, Esq. of Dwenby Hall, Cumberland.
The 4th son, the Rev.
George Robertson Moncreiff, A.B., born in 1817, of Baliol college,
The 5th son, Thomas, was
born Oct. 5, 1821.
The family of Moncreiffe
of Moncreiffe, a younger branch of the original family of the name, also
possesses a baronetcy of Nova Scotia, created 30th November 1685, with
remainder to the heirs-male whatsoever of the first baronet, Sir Thomas
Moncreiffe, clerk of the exchequer and treasury. This gentleman, having
acquired great wealth, purchased, as already stated, the estate of
Moncreiffe, the ancient inheritance of his ancestors, from his cousin,
Sir John Moncreiff, the second baronet of the older branch. He married a
lady of the house of Hamilton, who bequeathed to the parish of Dunbarny,
Perthshire, in which the estate of Moncreiffe is situated, two silver
communion cups, bearing the inscription: “Dam. Betha, Hamilton, spouse
to Sir Thomas Moncreiffe of that ilk, left in legacy those two cups to
the church of Dunbarny. Anno Domini, 1703.” She also bequeathed to the
same parish a large silver baptismal plate or font. Sir David died
without issue, when the title and estate devolved upon his nephew, Sir
Thomas Moncreiffe, the second baronet, who, by his wife, Margaret,
daughter of David Smythe, Esq. of Methven, had two sons and three
daughters. David Stuart Moncreiffe of Moredun, the second son, having
passed advocate, was early promoted to the office of king’s remembrancer
in the Scottish exchequer court, and was afterwards appointed one of the
barons of the exchequer in Scotland.
Sir Thomas Moncreiffe,
the fifth baronet, the nephew of this gentleman, married Lady Elizabeth
Ramsay, daughter of the earl of Dalhousie, and by her had one son, the
sixth baronet. The match is said not to have been a happy one, and as it
was mainly brought about by Baron Moncreiffe, he deemed himself bound to
take the lady’s part, and at his death he left her the estate of Moredun
in the parish of Liberton, near Edinburgh. It afterwards became the
property of David Anderson, Esq. she died 3d June, 1848, from injuries
sustained by her dress accidentally catching fire.
Sir Thomas, 7th baronet
of this branch, born Jan. 9, 1822, succeeded on the death of his father,
Nov. 20, 1830. He married, May 2, 1843, Lady Louisa Hay, eldest daughter
of the earl of Kinnoul; issue, 3 sons and 8 daughters. Robert Drummond
Moncreiffe, his eldest surviving son, born Nov. 3, 1855.
The Moncreiffe family
possesses the patronage of two bursaries in the university of St.
Andrews. The view from the beautiful hill of Moncreiff, within two miles
of Perth, whence they derive their name, was called by Pennant “the
glory of Scotland.” In Scott’s ‘Fair Maid of Perth’ there is a most
graphic description of it.