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Significant Scots
Henry Erskine


ERSKINE, HENRY, third lord Cardross, one of the most distinguished patriots of the seventeenth century, was the eldest son of the second lord Cardross, who, in his turn, was grandson to John, seventh earl of Marr, the eminent and faithful counsellor of King James VI. By his mother, Anne Hope, the subject of our memoir was grandson to Sir Thomas Hope, king’s advocate, the chief legal counsellor of the covenanters in the early years of the civil war. It may also be mentioned, that colonel Erskine of Carnock, father to the author of "the Institutes," was a half-brother of lord Cardross.

The father of this eminent patriot, was one of the seven Scottish lords who protested against the reddition of Charles I. to the English army, and he educated his son in the same principles of honour and fidelity to the laws, and to personal engagements, which inspired himself. Lord Henry was born about 1650, and succeeded his father in 1671. Having also succeeded to all the liberal principles of the family, he at once joined himself, on entering life, to the opposers of the Lauderdale administration. This soon exposed him to persecution, and in 1674 he was fined in 5,000 pounds, because his lady had heard worship performed in his own house by a non-conforming chaplain. His lordship paid 1,000 pounds of this fine, and after attending the court for six months, in the vain endeavour to procure a remission for the rest, was imprisoned in Edinburgh castle, where he continued for four years. While he was thus suffering captivity, a party of soldiers visited his house, and, after treating his lady with the greatest incivility, and breaking up the closet in which he kept his papers, established a garrison, which continued there for eight years. Two years afterwards, while he was still in prison, his lady having been delivered of a child, whom she caused to be baptized (without his knowledge), by a non-conforming clergyman, another fine of 3,000 pounds was imposed upon him, being purposely thus severe, in order that he might be retained in prison, through inability to pay it. So meanly revengeful was the feeling of the government, that, when the royal forces were on their march to Bothwell bridge, in June 1679, they were taken two miles out of their proper line of march, in order that they might quarter upon his lordship’s estates of Kirkhill and Uphall, and do them all the mischief possible.

In July 1679, lord Cardross was released, on giving bond for the amount of his fine. He went to court, to give an account of his sufferings, and solicit some redress. But the infamous privy council of Scotland counteracted all his efforts. Finding no hope of further comfort in his own country, and that there was little probability of the British nation contriving to throw off the odious bondage in which it was kept, he resolved to seek refuge and freedom in a distant land. He perhaps acted upon the philosophical maxim, thus laid down by Plato, "If any one shall observe a great company run out into the rain every day, and delight to be wet in it, and if he judges, that it will be to little purpose for him to go and persuade them to come into their houses and avoid the rain, so that all that can be expected from his going to speak to them, will be, that he will be wet with them; would it not be much better for him to keep within doors, and preserve himself, since he cannot correct the folly of others?" Lord Cardross engaged with those who settled on Charlestown Neck, in South Carolina, where he established a plantation. From thence, a few years afterwards, he and his people were driven by the Spaniards, many of the colonists being killed, and almost all their effects destroyed. Dispirited, but not broken by his misfortunes, the Scottish patriot returned to Europe, and took up his abode at the Hague, where many others of his persecuted countrymen now found shelter. Entering into the service of Holland, he accompanied the prince of Orange on his expedition to England, his son David commanding a company in the same army. He was of great service in Scotland, under general Mackay, in promoting the revolution settlement, which at length put an end to the miseries endured for many years by himself, and by his country at large. He was now restored to his estates, sworn a privy counsellor, and honoured with much of the friendship and confidence of king William. His health, however, previously much impaired by his imprisonment, and the fatigue of his American plantation, sunk under his latter exertions, and he died at Edinburgh, May 21st, 1693, in the forty-fourth year of his age. The late venerable earl of Buchan, and his two brothers, Henry and Thomas Erskine, were the great-grandchildren of lord Cardross.


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