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Significant Scots
George MacKenzie


MACKENZIE, GEORGE, first earl of Cromarty, a distinguished political and literary character, was born in the year 1630, being the eldest son of Sir John Mackenzie of Tarbat, by Margaret, daughter of Sir George Erskine of Innerteil, one of the senators of the college of justice. He succeeded his father in 1654, and acted a conspicuous part in the irregular warfare carried on at that period by general Middleton, received an earldom, and was appointed to the direction of Scottish affairs, Sir George Mackenzie became his principal confidant, and had a prominent share in the transactions connected with the celebrated billeting act, which ended in the common disgrace of the earl and Sir George. The latter, consequently, remained unemployed throughout the whole administration of the duke of Lauderdale. He afterwards obtained that promotion to which his extraordinary talents entitled him. In 1678, he was appointed justice general for Scotland, and, in 1681, a lord of session, and lord register. In 1685, James II. created him viscount of Tarbat, by which name he is best known. Though an active and unscrupulous agent of the two last Stuarts, he had no objection to continue in employment under the system of things established at the Revolution. But king William, to whom he lost no time in paying his respects, did not think proper to employ him till 1692, when his lordship was restored to his office of lord register.

Here the evil habits he had contracted under the late government appear to have still clung to him. The spirit which induced Charles II. to say, that, though Lauderdale was complained of by the people, he did not seem to have done any thing contrary to the interests of the sovereign, was what animated this veteran instrument of arbitrary authority. Having been accused of falsifying the minutes of parliament for private objects, he does not appear to have paid the least regard to the truth or falsity of the charge: in his defence, addressed to Mr Carstairs, he dwells only on the malice which animated his accusers, and on the constancy of his own attachment to the king. He found it necessary, however, to retire upon a pension of 400 a-year. In a subsequent letter, he is found petitioning for a remission, and in such terms as gives a curious idea of the state of moral feeling among politicians in that age:—"I wish," says he, "to have a very general remission sent me, because I see faults fish’t for in others upon as great grounds. If it comes, let it contain treason, perduellion, and a general of all crimes; though, on all that’s sacred, I know not myself guilty, nor do I fear any thing on this side Irish witnesses or evidence." At the accession of queen Anne, this able statesman was made secretary of state for Scotland; an office which he resigned in 1704, for that of justice general. In 1703, he was elevated to the dignity of earl of Cromarty. Having resigned the justice generalship in 1710, he retired some years after, to his seat of New Tarbat, in Ross-shire, intending, without any apparent regard to his advanced age, to live there in an economical manner for six years, in order that he might be subsequently enabled to reside in London. The design was almost at the very outset interrupted by death; his lordship expiring, August 17, 1714. He has an elegant obelisk erected to his memory in the neighbourhood of Dingwall.

The earl of Cromarty, notwithstanding the faults already alluded to, is acknowledged to have been a good-natured man, "possessed of a great measure of polite learning, and good parts, and master of an extraordinary gift of pleasing and diverting conversation, which rendered him one of the most entertaining companions in the world. He was one of the original fellows of the Royal Society, and reckoned among the ablest members of that learned body; in the Philosophical Transactions, many papers of his lordship may be seen. His other publications, arranged in chronological order are, 1. A Vindication of king Robert III. from the imputation of Bastardy, Edin. 1695, 4to.—2. The mistaken Advantage of Raising of Money, Edin. 1695, 4to.—3. Letter to the Earl of Wemyss, concerning the Union with England, 1706, 4to.—4. Friendly Response to a Letter concerning Sir George Mackenzie’s and Sir John Nisbet’s Observations and Response on the matter of the Union, 1706, 4to.—5. Synopsis Apocalyptica, or, a Short and Plain Explication of Daniel’s Prophecy, and of St John’s Revelation in concert with it, 1707, 4to. —6. Historical Account of the Conspiracy of the Earl of Gowrie and of Robert Logan of Restalrig, against king James VI, 1713, 8vo.—7. A Vindication of the same from the Mistakes of Mr John Anderson, Preacher of Dumbarton, in his Defence of Presbytery, 1714, 8vo.


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