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Significant Scots
Sir Thomas Hope


HOPE, (SIR) THOMAS, an eminent lawyer and statesman of the fifteenth century, and the founder of a family distinguished for its public service, was the son of Henry Hope, a considerable Scottish merchant, whose grandfather, John de Hope, was one of the gentlemen attending Magdalene de Valois, first consort of James V., at her coming into this country in 1537.

Henry Hope, a younger brother of the subject of this memoir, following the profession of his father, was the progenitor of the great and opulent branch of the Hopes of Amsterdam; a house, for extent of commerce and solidity of credit, long considered superior, without exception, to any private mercantile company in the world.

Thomas Hope, after having distinguished himself at school in no small degree, entered upon the study of the law, and made so rapid a progress in juridical knowledge, that he was at a very early age called to the bar. However, like the generality of young lawyers, he enjoyed at first a very limited practice; in 1606, he burst at once upon the world on the following occasion.

Six ministers of the church of Scotland having thought proper to deny that the king and his council possessed any authority in ecclesiastical affairs, were on that account imprisoned for some months in Blackness castle, indicted for high treason, and on the 10th of January, 1606, put upon trial at Linlithgow, before a jury consisting chiefly of landed gentlemen of the three Lothians. As it was carefully promulgated that the king and court had openly expressed the highest displeasure against the ministers, and had declared that they would show no favour to any person that should appear in their behalf, none of the great lawyers chose to undertake their cause; even Sir Thomas Craig, although he was procurator for the church, refused to be concerned in this affair, and Sir William Oliphant, who had at first promised to plead for them, sent word, the day before, that he must decline appearing. The ministers, thus abandoned, applied to Mr Hope, who, pitying their case, with the greatest cheerfulness and resolution undertook their defence; and, notwithstanding the reiterated endeavours of the court to perplex and browbeat him, contradicted it in so skilful and masterly a manner, that he made a deep impression on the jury. However, by an unlawful tampering with the jurors (some of the lords of council having procured admittance to them after they were locked up,) and assurance that no harm was intended against the persons or goods of the accused, nine of the fifteen jurymen were induced to bring in a verdict of guilty, and the ministers were sentenced to banishment forth of the kingdom, which was accordingly executed.

By the commendable intrepidity, knowledge of the law, and singular abilities, manifested by Mr Hope at this important trial, he became so greatly the favourite of the presbyterians, that they never afterwards undertook any important business without consulting him; and he was retained in almost every cause brought by that party into the courts of justice, so that he instantly came into the first practice of any lawyer at that period. By this, in a few years he acquired one of the most considerable fortunes ever made at the Scottish bar; which enabled him to purchase, between 1613 and 1642, the lands of Grantoun, Edmonstoun, and Cauldcolts in Mid Lothian, Prestongrange in East Lothian, Kerse in Stirlingshire, Mertoun in the Merse, Kinninmonth, Arnydie, Craighall, Ceres, Hiltarvet, and others in Fife.

It was the policy of king Charles I. to bestow honours and emoluments upon those who had most power to obstruct his designs, and hence, in 1626, the great presbyterian barrister was made king’s advocate, with permission, revived in his favour, to sit in the bar, and be privy to the hearing and determining of all causes, except those in which he was retained by any of the parties. He was also in 1628 created a baronet of Nova Scotia. If the king expected by these means to gain him over from the presbyterians, he was grievously disappointed, for although Sir Thomas discharged the duties of his high office with attention and propriety, his gratitude, principles, and inclination, were all too powerfully engaged to his first friends and benefactors to admit of his deserting them: it was, on the contrary, with pleasure that he beheld that party increasing every day in numbers and consequence. It would draw out this account to too great a length, to enumerate all the various steps taken by them in pursuance of his advice; it is enough to say that he acted as their confidant throughout the whole affair of the resistance of the Liturgy in 1637, and that he was intimately concerned in framing the bond of resistance, entitled the National Covenant, which was subscribed by nearly the whole population of Scotland in the succeeding year. The king, with fatal weakness, nevertheless retained him in an office, which, of all others in the state, implied and required a hearty service of the royal cause. In 1643, when a parliament was required to meet in order to settle the Solemn League and Covenant with the English parliament, Sir Thomas, to get over the dilemma of illegality which must have characterized such a meeting, as it could not legally take place till the next year, recommended a convention of estates upon the precedent of some such transaction in the reign of James V.; and thus was achieved a measure which, more than any other, perhaps, was fatal to the royal cause: the army voted in this irregular meeting being of great avail in the decisive battle of Longmarston moor, which was fought soon after.

Charles, nevertheless, still persisting in his unfortunate policy, appointed Sir Thomas Hope to be his commissioner to the General Assembly, which met in August, 1643; an honour never before or since bestowed upon a commoner. The royalists were so much incensed at the appointment of an enemy instead of a friend, that they very generally absented themselves from the assembly, and the field was therefore left in a great measure clear to the covenanters, who carried all before them. As the sanction of this body was necessary to the transaction above alluded to, the credit of the whole, direct or indirect, lies with Sir Thomas Hope.

In 1645, Sir Thomas Hope was appointed one of the commissioners for managing the exchequer, but did not long enjoy that office, dying the next year, 1646. He had the singular happiness of seeing, before his death, two of his sons seated on the bench while he was lord advocate; and it being judged by the Court of Session unbecoming that a father should plead uncovered before his children, the privilege of wearing his hat, while pleading, was granted to him. This privilege his successors in the office of king’s advocate have ever since enjoyed, though it is now in danger of being lost through desuetude.

The professional excellencies of Sir Thomas Hope are thus discriminated by Sir George Mackenzie, in his Characteres Advocatorum.

The following are the written or published works of Sir Thomas Hope. -- l, Carmen Seculare in serenissinum Carolum I. Britanniarum Monarcham, Edin. 1626.—2, Psalmi Davidis et Canticum Solomonis Latino carmine redditum, MS.—3, Major Practicks—4, Minor Practicks, (a very well known work),—5, Paratitillo in universo Juris Corpore.—and 6, A Genealogie of the Earls of Mar, MS.

In Wood’s Ancient and Modern account of the Parish of Cramond, from which, the above facts are chiefly taken, is given a very perfect account of the numerous descendants of Sir Thomas Hope, including the noble race of Hopetoun, and many other races distinguished in the two past centuries, by official eminence and public service.


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