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The Great Historic Families of Scotland
The Erskines of Buchan and Cardross


THE Earldom of Buchan is one of the most ancient dignities in Scotland. It was held in the time of William the Lion by a chief named FERGUS, of whom nothing is known except that he made a grant of a mark of silver annually to the abbey of Aberbrothwick, which was founded by King William. His only daughter, Marjory, Countess of Buchan in her own right, married, A.D. 1210, WILLIAM COMYN, Sheriff of Forfar, and Justiciary of Scotland, who became Earl of Buchan in right of his wife. Their son, ALEXANDER COMYN, who inherited their title and estates, took a prominent part in public affairs during the reigns of Alexander II. and Alexander III. The Comyns were at this time among the most powerful families in the kingdom, and were the leaders of the national party, in opposition to the English faction, who, even at that early period, sought to make the welfare of Scotland subservient to the interests of England. Earl Alexander was one of the guardians of Scotland after the death of Alexander III., and, like his father, held the office of Great Justiciary. He died in 1289, and was succeeded by his son, JOHN COMYN, who was Chief Constable of the kingdom. When the War of Independence broke out, the Earl of Buchan joined the English party. He seems to have cherished an intense hatred of Robert Bruce, on personal as well as family grounds, and received from King Edward a grant of Bruce’s lordship of Annandale. In 1308 he collected a large army for the purpose of resisting Bruce’s invasion of Buchan, where the Comyns ruled with almost regal authority; but he was defeated with great slaughter at Old Meldrum, and his estates were laid waste with fire and sword. The power of the great house of Comyn was completely broken down by this overthrow, and the ‘harrying’ of Buchan which followed: their estates were confiscated, and their very name almost disappeared from the roll of the Scottish nobility. The wife of Earl John, a daughter of the Earl of Fife, was the high-spirited lady who placed the crown on the head of Robert Bruce, in virtue of a privilege, which, since the time of Malcolm Canmore, had belonged to her family.

In 1371 a grant of the dormant earldom of Buchan was made by Robert III. to SIR ALEXANDER STEWART, his fourth son by his first wife, Elizabeth Mure, who, on account of his savage character and conduct, was designated ‘the Wolf of Badenoch,’ the district of which he was lord. He also obtained the earldom of Ross for life, in right of his wife. In the year 1390 he invaded the district of Moray, in revenge of a quarrel with the bishop of that see, and besides ravaging the country, he plundered and profaned the cathedral of Elgin, which he afterwards set on fire, reducing that noble edifice, with the adjoining religious houses, and the town itself, to a mass of blackened ruins. He was subsequently obliged to do public penance for this crime in the Blackfriars church of Perth, and to make full satisfaction to the bishop.

At the death of this savage noble, in 1394 the earldom devolved upon his brother, ROBERT, Duke of Albany; but in 1408, as Regent, he conferred the title upon SIR JOHN STEWART, his second son. In 1419, with consent of the Estates, the Earl was sent with an army of seven thousand men to the assistance of the French king in his contest with England for his crown. These auxiliaries won great renown under the leadership of Buchan, and rendered important services to the French in their struggle for independence. On the 22nd of March, 1421, they defeated, at Beaugé, a large English force, under the Duke of Clarence, brother of Henry V. Fourteen hundred men, along with the Earl of Kent and Lords Gray and Ross, fell in this encounter. Clarence himself was unhorsed and wounded by Sir William Swinton, and, as he strove to regain his steed, he was felled to the earth and killed by the mace of the Earl of Buchan. As a reward for this signal victory the Dauphin conferred upon Buchan the high office of Constable of France. Three years later, however, the Scottish auxiliaries were almost annihilated at the fatal battle of Verneuil, and their commander, the Earl of Buchan, was among the slain. He married Lady Elizabeth Douglas, daughter of Archibald, fourth Earl of Douglas and Duke of Touraine, by whom he had an only daughter, who became the wife of George, second Lord Seton. The earldom of Buchan devolved upon his brother, MURDOCH, Duke of Albany, at whose execution, in 1425, it was forfeited to the Crown.

The title remained dormant for forty-one years, but in 1466 it was bestowed on JAMES STEWART, surnamed ‘Hearty James,’ the second son of Sir James Stewart, the Black Knight of Lorn, by Lady Jane Beaufort, widow of James I. The new Earl was consequently uterine brother to James II. He was appointed High Chamberlain of Scotland in 1471, and two years later he was sent on an embassy to France. His son and grandson were successively Earls of Buchan. John, Master of Buchan, eldest son of the latter, fell at the battle of Pinkie, in 1547, leaving an only child, Christian, who became Countess of Buchan in her own right. She married Robert Douglas, second son of Sir Robert Douglas of Lochleven, uterine brother of the Regent Moray. He obtained the title of Earl of Buchan in right of his wife. Their only son, JAMES, became fifth Earl of Buchan of this family, and died in 1601, at the early age of twenty-one. He left an only child, MARY DOUGLAS, who succeeded to the title and estates; and by her marriage with James Erskine, son of John, seventh Earl of Mar, carried the earldom into the Erskine family. Her household book, which contains numerous items, such as ‘ to a poor minister who bemoanet his poverty to my lady,’ shows that she was extremely generous to the poor. Not even ‘ane masterfull beggar, who did knock at the gate, my lady being at table,’ nor ‘ane drunken beggar, who fainit he was madd,’ was sent empty away.

There is nothing worthy of special notice in the life of JAMES ERSKINE, sixth Earl, or of his son and grandson, the seventh and eighth Earls. The latter, who at the Revolution adhered to the cause of King James, was committed a prisoner to the castle of Stirling, where he died unmarried in 1695.

The death of Earl William opened the succession to the title and estates of Buchan to DAVID, fourth LORD CARDROSS, a descendant of the third son of the Lord Treasurer, Earl of Mar.

We have seen how the barony of Cardross was bestowed upon the Earl by James VI., in fulfilment of a promise made by him to Lady Mary Stewart, the Earl’s second wife. It was formed out of the abbacies of Dryburgh and Cambuskenneth, and the priory of Inchmahome, which, as the charter sets forth, ‘have bene in all tyme heretofore commounlie disponit be his mateis predecessors to sum that were cum of the hous of Erskeyne.’ The allusion is to Adam Erskine, Commendator of Cambuskenneth, natural son of Thomas, Master of Erskine, and to David, first Abbot, and afterwards Cornmendator of Dryburgh, natural son of Robert, Master of Erskine, killed at Pinkie (elder brother of Thomas). Lord Erskine’s third son John was ‘Commendator of Inschemachame.’ [Henry Erskine, his Kinsfolk and Times. By Lieut.-Col. Ferguson.]

The charter enumerates in detail the services of the Earl of Mar, and the fidelity ‘quhairof he, and his umquhile father, gaif evident and manifest pruif and experience in their worthie, memorable, and acceptable panes and travelles tane be them in the educatoun of his majestie’s most royal persone fra his birth to his pfyte Age; and in the lyk notable service done be ye said Erle himself, in the educatoun of his mateis darest sone ye Prince.’ The charter also invests the Earl with the unique right of conferring the title on any of his male descendants he might think fit. His eldest son was of course heir to the earldom of Mar, and the second, by his marriage, had already become Earl of Buchan. The Lord Treasurer therefore bestowed this dignity in his lifetime on his third son, Henry.

DAVID, second Lord Cardross, his son, was one of the Scottish peers who protested against the delivering up of Charles I. to the English army at Newcastle in 1646. His younger son, the Hon. Colonel John Erskine of Cardross, was father of John Erskine, the author of the well-known ‘Institutes of the Law of Scotland,’ and his grandson was the celebrated Dr. John Erskine, Minister of Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh, of whom Sir Walter Scott has given a graphic portrait in ‘Guy Mannering.’ HENRY, third Lord Cardross, his eldest son by his first wife, Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Hope, King’s Advocate, was an eminent patriot, and one of the most prominent opponents of the Duke of Lauderdale’s arbitrary and oppressive administration. He succeeded to the family title and estates in 1671, and married Katherine, second daughter and ultimately heiress of Sir James Stewart of Strathbrock (or Uphall) and Kirkhill, in Linlithgowshire. In consequence of his support of the cause of civil and religious liberty, his lordship underwent long and severe persecution. In the statement laid before the King of the sufferings he endured it is mentioned that in August, 1675, he was fined by the Scottish Privy Council the sum of £1,000, for the offence of his lady’s having divine worship performed in his own house, by his own chaplain, when Lord Cardross was not present. He was further fined by the Council in £112 10s. for his tenants having attended two conventicles. He was imprisoned in the castle of Edinburgh for four years, and while a prisoner there was fined, in August, 1677, in the sum of £3,000, the half of his valued rent, for his lady having, without his knowledge, had a child baptised by a Nonconforming minister. A garrison was fixed in his house in 1675; and in June, 1679, the royal forces, on their march to the west, went two miles out of their road, in order that they might be quartered on Lord Cardross’s estates of Kirkhill and Uphall.

In July of that year his lordship was released from prison on giving a bond for the amount of his fine, and early in 1680 he went up to London to lay his case before the King. He pleaded the hardships he had endured, the loyalty of his family, the protest of his father against the surrender of King Charles; the assistance which he gave in promoting the ‘Engagement,’ in 1648, for the relief of that monarch; the consequent infliction upon him of a fine of £1,000 by Cromwell, and of a fine of a similar amount imposed on the family represented by his wife, and the injury done to his houses and estates. But he obtained no redress, and feeling that it was hopeless to expect justice from the King and his worthless councillors, he resolved to leave the country, and accordingly proceeded to North America, where he founded a plantation at Charleston Neck, South Carolina. In a few years, however, he and the other colonists were driven from the settlement by the Spaniards, many of them being killed, and their property destroyed.

On his return to Europe, Lord Cardross took up his residence at the Hague, where Lords Stair and Melville, Sir Patrick Hume of Polswarth, Sir James Stewart of Coltness, Fletcher of Saltoun, and other Scottish exiles, were at that time settled, anxiously waiting for better times. He accompanied William of Orange to England in 1688, and in the following year raised a regiment of dragoons for the support of his cause. An Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament restoring Lord Cardross to his estates. He was also sworn a Privy Councillor, and was appointed Governor of the Mint. He died at Edinburgh in May, 1693, in the forty-fourth year of his age.

DAVID ERSKINE, his eldest son, fourth Lord Cardross, succeeded to the title of Earl of Buchan on the death, in 1695, of William Erskine, the eighth Earl. There appears to have been some question respecting the succession, but ultimately, in 1698, an Act was passed by the Estates allowing him to be called in Parliament, with the title of Earl of Buchan. He married Frances Fairfax, daughter and heiress of Henry Fairfax of Hurst, Berkshire, and grand-daughter of Lord Fairfax. She was also grand-daughter of the celebrated Sir Thomas Brown, author of the ‘Religio Medici,’ her mother, Anne Brown, being his eldest daughter. [In a supplementary chapter to Sir Thomas Brown’s biography there is this singular statement: ‘It is very remarkable that although Sir Thomas Brown had forty children and grandchildren, yet in the second generation, within thirty years of his decease, the male line became extinct; in the third generation none survived their infancy, excepting in the family of the eldest daughter, Anne, of whose eight children none left any descendants but the third daughter, Frances Fairfax, married to the Earl of Buchan.’] Lady Frances Erskine, their second daughter, married the celebrated Colonel Gardiner, ‘a gallant soldier and high-minded Christian gentleman.’ Of his wife the Colonel said ‘that the greatest imperfection he knew in her character was that she valued and loved him much more than he deserved.’ She was the friend of her neighbour, the Rev. Robert Blair, minister of Athelstaneford, and author of the well-known poem entitled ‘The Grave.’

HENRY DAVID, tenth Earl of Buchan, married Agnes Stewart, daughter of Sir James Stewart of Coltness, Solicitor-General for Scotland, and of his wife, the witty and beautiful Anne Dalrymple, daughter of Sir Hew Dalrymple, of North Berwick, President of the Court of Session. Lady Buchan was the grand-daughter of Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees, Lord Advocate to King William, and Queen Anne, popularly designated "Jamie Wylie," on account of his crafty character and shifty conduct. The Earl and his wife were strict Presbyterians. His grandson describes him as ‘a zealously religious man, strong in his anti-Roman convictions, though he inclined in a great way towards the Stewarts.’ He was a man of great good-nature and polite manners, but of moderate abilities. His wife, however, was a woman of great intellect, which she had diligently cultivated. She had studied mathematics under the famous Colin Maclaurin, the friend of Sir Isaac Newton—a rare accomplishment at that time. She also possessed an elegant taste with a brilliant imagination, and, above all, an eminent and earnest piety. Her ladyship had also the reputation of being a notable manager—an acquirement greatly needed in the narrow circumstances of the family. The ample patrimony which at one time belonged to the heads of the house of Erskine had been greatly diminished, partly by mismanagement, and neglect of economy, partly through the losses sustained by Lord Cardross during the time of the ‘Persecution.’ About the year 1745 Lord Buchan had been obliged to sell the estate of Cardross to his cousin of Carnock, so that the Linlithgowshire estates alone remained in his possession. But though his income was small for a person of his rank and position, it was sufficient, ‘with the careful economy practised by Lady Buchan, for comfort, in accordance with the primitive notions of those days.’ The Earl had quitted his seat in the country, and had taken up his residence in a flat at the head of Gray’s Close, in the High Street of Edinburgh. His house, however, was frequented not only by the most eminent divines of the city, but by judges and leading advocates, and by members of other noble though not wealthy families, who came to partake of ‘a cosy dish of tea,’ which was at that time the usual form of social entertainment. [Colonel Ferguson has shown that Lord Campbell, in his Life of Lord Erskine, has greatly exaggerated the poverty of the Earl of Buchan at this time.]

In the beginning of the year 1762, Lord Buchan and his family removed to St. Andrews, where house-rent was lower, living cheaper, and education no way inferior to that of Edinburgh. They did not remain long, however, in this quiet retreat, for towards the end of 1763 the family took up their residence at Bath, where they became intimate with the Countess of Huntingdon, Whitfield, and other distinguished members of the Methodist connexion. The Earl died there in 1768, and was succeeded by his eldest son—

DAVID STEWART ERSKINE, eleventh Earl of Buchan, born in 1742. He was educated at the University of Glasgow, was for a short time in the army, next tried the diplomatic profession, under the great Lord Chatham (then Mr. Pitt), and in 1766 was appointed Secretary to the British Embassy in Spain. He did not, however, proceed to Madrid, and it was reported at the time that he declined to do so because the ambassador, Sir James Gray, was a person of inferior social rank. According to Horace Walpole, the father of Sir James was first a box-keeper, and then a footman to James VII. Boswell mentions that in discussing the merits of this question with Sir Alexander Macdonald, Dr. Johnson observed that, perhaps, in point of interest the young lord did wrong, but in point of dignity he did well. Sir Alexander held that Lord Cardross was altogether wrong, and contended that Mr. Pitt meant it as an advantageous thing to him. ‘Why, sir,’ said Johnson, ‘Mr. Pitt might think it an advantageous thing for him to make him a vintner, and get him all the Portugal trade; but he would have demeaned himself strangely had he accepted of such a situation. Sir, had he gone as secretary while his inferior was ambassador, he would have been a traitor to his rank and his family.’ [Boswell’s Life of Johnson, iii. p. 111] Mr. Croker has justly remarked upon this discussion, ‘If this principle were to be admitted, the young nobility would be excluded from all professions, for the superiors in the professions would frequently be their inferiors in personal rank. Would Johnson have dissuaded Lord Cardross from entering on the military profession, because at his outset he must have been commanded by a person inferior in personal rank?’ Professor Rouet, however, wrote to his cousin, Baron Mure, ‘Cardross does not go to Spain because of the bad state of his father’s health.’ But it must be admitted that the other reason alleged for declining the office was quite in keeping with the character of the young patrician.

Lord Cardross was present at his father’s death, and figured prominently at his obsequies, which were performed with great solemnity, and elaborate ceremony. Lady Huntingdon’s party took a great interest in the well-being of the young Earl, and Fletcher, Henry Venn, and the eccentric Berridge were at once appointed his chaplains. The name of John Wesley was subsequently added to the list, much to his own satisfaction. In 1771, Lord Buchan took up his residence on his Linlithgowshire estate, and set himself to effect, by precept and example, much-needed improvements in husbandry. He also made vigorous efforts to induce his brother nobles to act an independent part in the election of their sixteen representatives in Parliament, and to discontinue the degrading practice of voting for the list sent down by the Government of the day, and he succeeded ultimately, almost single-handed, in putting it down. He was the founder of the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh, in 1780, and contributed a number of papers to the first volume of their Transactions. He was able, in 1786, to buy back the small estate of Dryburgh, which had of old belonged to his ancestors, with the ruined abbey and mansion-house, where he took up his residence for half a century, and performed many curious and eccentric feats. He had a restless propensity for getting up public fétes, one of which was an annual festival in commemoration of Thomson, the author of ‘The Seasons,’ at Ednam, the poet’s native place. He erected, in his grounds at Dryburgh, an Ionic temple, with a statue of Apollo in the interior, and a bust of the bard surmounting the dome. Burns wrote a poetical address for its inauguration. He also raised a colossal statue of Sir William Wallace, on the summit of a steep and thickly planted bank above the river Tweed. It was installed with great ceremony. A huge curtain was drawn before the statue, which dropped at the discharge of a cannon, and then the Knight of Ellerslie was discovered with a large German tobacco-pipe in his mouth, which some wicked wag had placed there—to the unspeakable consternation of the peer, and amusement of the company. Sir Walter Scott used to say that when a revolution should take place, his first act would be to procure a cannon, and batter down this monstrosity.

It has been often said that Lord Buchan took credit to himself for having completed, at much personal expense, the education of his brothers. This, however, is an entire mistake, which probably originated in the peculiar way in which the Earl took credit to himself for the education and brilliant success of his two famous kinsmen. He said to an English nobleman who visited him at Dryburgh, ‘My brothers Henry and Tom are certainly extraordinary men, but they owe everything to me.’ This observation occasioning an involuntary look of surprise in his guest, he continued, ‘Yes, it is true; they owe everything to me. On my father’s death they pressed me for a small annual allowance. I knew that this would have been their ruin, by relaxing their industry. So, making a sacrifice of my inclinations to gratify them, I refused to give them a farthing; and they have both thriven ever since—owing everything to me.’

Lord Buchan had unbounded confidence in the influence of his own opinion when expressed in favour of an individual or object, even where no reasons were assigned. He frequently gave recommendations like the following: ‘Lord Buchan begs to recommend Mr. Henning to the attention of his friends;’ and he has been known to congratulate a youthful artist, after one or two turns with him in Princes Street, with assurance of success that had no firmer foundation than the fact that he had been seen in public with the modern Maecenas leaning on his arm.

Lord Buchan was fond of acting the part of a Maecenas, and, not unfrequently attempted to patronise literary men in a way that drew down upon him public ridicule. The story is well known of his calling at Sir Walter Scott’s house, in Edinburgh, when he was lying dangerously ill, and having been forcibly prevented from intruding into Scott’s chamber, for the purpose of informing him that he had made all necessary arrangements for the funeral of the great novelist at Dryburgh. ‘I wished,’ he said to James Ballantyne, ‘to embrace Walter Scott before he died, and to inform him that I had long considered it as a satisfactory circumstance that he and I were destined to rest together in the same place of sepulture. The principal thing, however, was to relieve his mind as to the arrangements of his funeral—to show him a plan which I prepared for the procession, and, in a word, to assure him that I took upon myself the whole conduct of the ceremonial at Dryburgh.’ He then exhibited to Ballantyne a formal programme, in which, as may be supposed, the predominant figure was not Walter Scott, but David, Earl of Buchan. It had been settled, inter alia, that the said Earl was to pronounce an eulogium over the grave, after the fashion of the French Academicians in the Père la Chaise.

Sir Walter Scott, who was thirty years younger than the Earl, outlived him, and formed one of the company at his lordship’s funeral ten years after the incident mentioned by Lockhart. Under date April 20th, 1829, he mentions in his diary, ’Lord Buchan is dead, a person whose immense vanity, bordering on insanity, obscured, or rather eclipsed, very considerable talents. His imagination was so fertile that he seemed really to believe in the extraordinary fictions which he delighted in telling. His economy—most laudable in the early part of his life—when it enabled him from a small income to pay his father’s debts—became a miserable habit, and led him to do mean things. He had a desire to be a great man, and a Maecenas—à bon marché. The two celebrated lawyers, his brothers, were not more gifted by nature than I think he was; but the restraints of a profession kept the eccentricity of the family in order. Both Henry and Thomas were saving men, yet both died very poor. The latter at one time possessed £200,000; the other had a considerable fortune. The Earl alone has died wealthy. It is saving, not getting, that is the mother of riches. They all had wit. The Earl’s was crack-brained and sometimes caustic; Henry’s was of the very kindest, best-humoured, and gayest sort that ever cheered society; that of Lord Erskine was moody and muddish: but I never saw him in his best days.’ [Life of Sir Walter Scott, iv. p. 276, vii. p. 189.]

Many amusing instances have been given both of Lord Buchan’s vanity and parsimony. He was boasting one day to the Duchess of Gordon of the extraordinary talents of his family, when her unscrupulous Grace asked him very coolly whether the wit had not come by the mother, and been all settled on the younger branches. Lord Buchan held liberal views on political affairs; but, in common with the general public, he took great offence at a famous article which appeared in the Edinburgh Review of October, 1808, criticising an account given by Don Pedro Cevellos of the French usurpations in Spain, and expressing the opinion that no hope could be entertained of the regeneration of that country. The Earl directed his servant to throw open the door of his house in George Street, and to lay down the number of the Review containing the offensive article on the innermost part of the floor of the lobby; and then, after all this preparation, his lordship personally kicked the book out of his house to the centre of the street, where he left it to be trodden into the mud. He had no doubt that this open proof of his disapprobation would be a death-blow to the Review.

It was one of the Earl’s conceits to style anybody who was named ‘David’ his son—that is, if they were likely to be creditable to him. On one occasion, mentioning an able paper on optics, that had just been written by one of his ‘sons,’ a certain David Brewster, and was making a stir, the Earl added with impressive solemnity, ‘You see I revised it.’

Lord Buchan was evidently impressed with the notion that his opinion upon public affairs would be prized even by the King himself, so that he had no hesitation in tendering his advice to his Majesty as to what he should do at certain junctures in state affairs, or in expressing his approval of the dutiful conduct of the daughters of George III., grounding his right to do so, as was his wont, on his consanguinity to the royal family. In April, 1807, when the Ministry of ’All the Talents’ was dismissed from office by the King, the Earl wrote to his Majesty requesting him ‘not to accept the Great Seal from his brother Thomas, but to impose his command upon him to retain it for the service of his Majesty’s subjects.’ ‘This is my humble suit and opinion,’ he adds, ‘and I am sure, considering my consanguinity to your Majesty, and my being an ancient peer of your Majesty’s realm, you will see it in the light my duty and fidelity to you inclines me to expect.’ It is a curious fact that the King and Queen and the Princesses always courteously and kindly acknowledged the letters of this eccentric old nobleman; and the Duke of Kent, as his correspondence shows, cherished sincere friendship for him. Though the Earl was noted for his intense vanity, he was by no means fond of gross flattery. His natural shrewdness enabled him readily to notice when the proper limit of praise was overstepped. There is a well-known letter addressed to him by Robert Burns, dated 3rd February, 1787, which contains the following complimentary couplet :—

‘Praise from thy lips ‘tis mine with joy to boast:
They best can give it who deserve it most.’

The Earl evidently thought this commendation too strong, for he has endorsed the letter with these words, ‘Swift says, "Praise is like ambergris; a little is odorous, much stinks."’

Lord Buchan was the author of numerous papers on historical, literary, and antiquarian subjects, a portion of which he collected and published in 1812, under the title of ‘The Anonymous and Fugitive Essays of the Earl of Buchan.’ He died in 1829, at the age of eighty-seven, and was succeeded by his nephew, the son of Henry Erskine.

HENRY ERSKINE was the second son of Henry David, tenth Earl of Buchan, and brother of the eleventh Earl. He was born in 1746, and received his education at three of the Scottish universities— namely, St. Andrews, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and was called to the Bar in 1768. He speedily attracted attention by his legal knowledge, the variety and extent of his accomplishments, his eloquence, his wit, and his animated and graceful manner. Like his brothers David and Thomas, Henry Erskine early embraced Liberal principles, and steadfastly adhered to them through ‘good report and bad report.’ He was appointed Lord Advocate under the Coalition Ministry of Mr. Fox and Lord North, and it is gratifying to state that Henry Dundas, who had previously held that office, wrote him to say that though he could not approve of the change, he wished him all health and happiness to enjoy the office, and offered him all the assistance in his power in the performance of his duties. On the morning of the appointment Erskine met Dundas in the Outer House, who, observing that the latter had already resumed the ordinary stuff gown usually worn by advocates, he said gaily that he must leave off talking to go and order his silk gown, the official robe of the Lord Advocate. ‘It is hardly worth while,’ said Dundas drily, ‘for the time you will want it; you had better borrow mine.’ ‘From your readiness in making the offer,’ replied Erskine, ‘I have no doubt that the gown is a gown made to fit any party; but however short my time in office may be, it shall never be said of Henry Erskine that he put on the abandoned habits of his predecessor.’ He did not, however, long enjoy his new silk gown. When the short-lived Coalition Ministry came to an end, Mr. Erskine was succeeded by Mr. Ilay Campbell, who became afterwards Lord President of the Court of Session. On resigning his gown, Erskine said to his successor, whose stature was not equal to his, ‘My Lord, you must take nothing off it, for I’ll soon need it again.’ Mr. Campbell replied, ‘It will be long enough, Harry, before you get it again.’ He did get it again, but not till after twenty years had passed.

Henry Erskine strenuously advocated reform both in the burghs and in the election of members of Parliament. In consequence the greater part of his life was spent in ‘the cold shade of opposition,’ and there can be no doubt that his professional prospects were seriously injured by his steady adherence to the Whig party. As he was undoubtedly the foremost man of his profession in Scotland, he was, for eight years successively, chosen by the advocates for their Dean or official head; but, in 1796, he was deprived of this office by a majority of a hundred and twenty-three against thirty-eight, in consequence of having presided at a public meeting in Edinburgh, to petition against the continuance of the war with France. ‘This dismissal,’ says Lord Cockburn, ‘was perfectly natural at a time when all intemperance was natural. But it was the Faculty of Advocates alone that suffered. Erskine had long honoured his brethren by his character and reputation, and certainly he lost nothing by being removed from the official chair. It is to the honour of the society, however, that out of a hundred and sixty-one who voted, there were thirty-eight who stood true to justice even in the midst of such a scene. In happier days it was regarded as a great honour to have belonged to that ‘virtuous number of thirty eight, the small but manly band of true patriots within-the bosom of the Faculty of Advocates, who stood firm in the support of the Honourable Henry Erskine, when he had opposed the unconstitutional and oppressive measures of the Minister of the day.’ The affront offered to Mr. Erskine excited a bitter feeling of resentment among the Liberal party throughout the country, and was made the subject of a sarcastic poem by Burns, in which he contrasted the qualifications of Erskine with those of his successful rival, Robert Dundas of Arniston, the Lord Advocate.

‘Squire Hal besides had in this case
Pretensions rather brassy;
For talents to deserve
a place
Are qualifications saucy;
So their worships of the Faculty,
Quite sick of merit’s rudeness,
Chose one who should owe it all, d’ye see,
To their gratis grace, and goodness.’

In 1806 Henry Erskine was a second time appointed Lord Advocate, under the short-lived Ministry of ’All the Talents,’ and was elected member of Parliament for the Haddington district of Burghs, but held office only for one year. A striking indication of the feelings with which he was regarded, even by those most opposed to his political views, occurred in 1803, when the office of Lord Justice-Clerk became vacant by the death of the eccentric and ridiculous Lord Eskgrove. It was offered to Charles Hope, who had succeeded Dundas as Lord Advocate, and was ultimately Lord President. He was one of those who had been specially put forward to move Henry Erskine’s dismissal from the Deanship, but ‘the motion never cooled Erskine’s affection for Hope, and neither did it Hope’s for Erskine,’ as was shown by his generous conduct on this occasion. He waited upon Erskine, and informed him that if he would only signify his willingness to accept the office it would immediately be given him. But to the great regret of Erskine’s friends, and, indeed, of the public, he declined this handsome proposal, from an apprehension that by accepting it he might appear to separate himself from the political party with which he had so long acted.

It was admitted on all hands that Henry Erskine was the very foremost in his profession, and as a pleader he has never been excelled, probably not equalled, by any member of the Scottish bar. Blair, afterwards the head of the Court, surpassed him in deep and exact legal knowledge, but Erskine excelled all his rivals in the variety and extent of his accomplishments and of his general practice. ‘Others,’ says Lord Cockburn, ‘were skilled in one department, or in one court, but wherever there was a litigant, civil, criminal, fiscal, or ecclesiastic, there was a desire for Harry Erskine—despair if he was lost, confidence if he was secured.’ His sagacity, intuitive quickness of perception, and great argumentative powers, were recommended by the playfulness of his fancy, the copiousness and impressiveness of his language, and by the charms of his tall, elegant figure, his handsome intellectual countenance, his clear, sweet voice, and his polished and graceful manners. Add to all this his genial wit, delightful temper, and benevolent disposition, his private worth, and his unsullied public honour, and it need be no matter of surprise that this eminent advocate and highly gifted man was universally beloved and esteemed. ‘Nothing was so sour,’ says Lord Cockburn, ‘as not to be sweetened by the glance, the voice, the gaiety, the beauty of Henry Erskine.’ His friend, Lord Jeffrey, re-echoed the sentiment, and remarked that, ‘He was so utterly incapable of rancour, that even the rancorous felt that he ought not to be made its victim.’

Henry Erskine was pre-eminently the advocate of the common people, and his name was a terror to the oppressor, and a tower of strength to the oppressed, throughout the whole of Scotland. The feeling with which he was regarded by this class was well expressed by a poor man in a remote district of the country, who, on being threatened by his landlord with a ruinous lawsuit, for the purpose of compelling him to submit to some unjust demand, instantly replied, with flashing eyes, ‘Ye dinna ken what ye’re saying, maister. There’s no a puir man in a’ Scotland need to want a friend, or fear an enemy, as long as Harry Erskine is to the fore’ (survives). Many of Mr. Erskine’s bon-mols (‘seria commixta jocis’) have been preserved, and show that his wit was as kindly as it was pointed. ‘Harry Erskine was the best-natured man I ever knew,’ says Sir Walter Scott, ‘thoroughly a gentleman, and with but one fault—he could not say No. His wit was of the very kindest, best-humoured, and gayest sort that ever cheered society.’

Mr. Erskine died 8th of October, 1817, in his seventy-first year. His eldest son succeeded, in 1829, to the earldom of Buchan.

THOMAS, Lord Erskine, Lord High Chancellor of England, the youngest son of Henry David, the tenth Earl of Buchan, was born at Edinburgh, 10th of January, o.s. 1749, in a house which is still standing, at the head of Gray’s Close. It has been stated by Lord Campbell and others that for some years he attended the High School of his native city; but this is a mistake. Colonel Ferguson has shown that Thomas Erskine, along with his brothers, received his early education under a private tutor at Uphall, and completed it at St. Andrews, to which Lord Buchan removed about the year 1760. He early showed a strong predilection for some learned profession, but his father’s resources were exhausted by the expense incurred in educating his elder brothers, and Thomas had to enter the navy as a midshipman, in 1764—an effort to procure him a commission in the army, which he greatly preferred, having been unsuccessful. His dissatisfaction with the sea-service was strengthened by experience, and in September, 1768, when he had reached his eighteenth year, he obtained a commission in the Royals, or First Regiment of Foot. In 1770 he married Frances, the daughter of Daniel Moore, M.P. for Marlow. ‘However inauspiciously this marriage may be thought to have begun,’ says Colonel Ferguson, ‘it is certain that a better choice of a wife could hardly have been made. While they were in poverty, Mrs. Erskine bore it well and uncomplainingly; and when her husband rose to opulence she was perfectly fit to take her share of the honour.’ Erskine spent two years with his regiment in the island of Minorca, where he acquired a thorough knowledge of English literature, especially of Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, and Pope. The chaplain of the regiment was at home on furlough, and Erskine acted as his substitute. At first he contented himself with reading the service from the Liturgy, but finding that this was by no means relished by the men, who were chiefly Presbyterians, he favoured them with an extempore prayer, and composed sermons, which he delivered to them with great solemnity and unction from the drumhead. He used always to talk of this incident in his life with peculiar satisfaction, and to boast that he had been a sailor and a soldier, a parson and a lawyer.

In August, 1774, Thomas Erskine formed the resolution to study for the Bar. He was admitted a student of Lincoln’s Inn in April, 1775. During his probationary period he was frequently reduced to great pecuniary straits; but he bore his privations contentedly and cheerfully, and laboured with extraordinary industry and perseverance to qualify himself for his new profession. He was called to the Bar on the 3rd of July, 1778, and on 24th of November he made a display of his great legal abilities, eloquence, and courage, which placed him at a bound in the front rank of his profession. His first brief was owing to an accidental meeting at dinner with Captain Baillie, Lieutenant-Governor of Greenwich Hospital, who, in consequence of his attempts to remedy some gross abuses in that establishment, was suspended from his office, and then prosecuted for libel, at the instigation of the notorious Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Erskine was the junior of five counsel retained by Captain Baillie. A rule to show cause why a criminal information should not be filed against him had been obtained, and it was for his counsel to get that rule discharged. Erskine’s seniors were, of course, first heard. It was almost dark before their speeches were concluded, and, fortunately for the young barrister, the case was adjourned until the next morning. He had thus, as he said, the whole night to arrange what he had to say next morning, and took the Court with their faculties awake and freshened. The Solicitor-General, who was retained for the prosecution, supposing that all the defendant’s counsel had been heard, was about to reply, in the full expectation of success, when a young gentleman, whose name, as well as his face, was unknown to almost all present, rose from the back row and modestly claimed his right to be heard. In a strain of matchless eloquence he denounced the prosecution as a disgrace to its authors, poured out the most cutting invectives on Lord Sandwich and the men whom he had employed as tools in this affair, lauded the conduct of Captain Baillie, who, he contended, had only discharged an important public duty at the risk of his office, ‘from which the effrontery of power had already suspended him.’ The interference of Lord Mansfield, who said Lord Sandwich was not before the Court, only served to increase the fierceness of Erskine’s indignation against that profligate peer, and the vigour with which he denounced the prosecution and its abettors. His appeal was irresistible and his success complete. ‘I must own,’ wrote Lord Campbell, ‘that, all the circumstances considered, it is the most wonderful forensic effort of which we have any account in our annals. It was the début of a barrister just called, and wholly unpractised in public speaking, before a court crowded with the men of the greatest distinction, belonging to all parties in the State. He came after four eminent counsel, who might be supposed to have exhausted the subject. He was called to order by a venerable .judge, whose word had been law in that hall above a quarter of a century. His exclamation, "I will bring him before the Court," and the crushing denunciation of Lord Sandwich, in which he was enabled to persevere from the sympathy of the by-standers, and even of the judges, who, in strictness, ought again to have checked his irregularity, are as soul-stirring as anything in this species of eloquence presented to us either by ancient or modern times.’

Being asked how he had the courage to stand up so boldly against Lord Mansfield, he answered that he thought his little children were plucking his robe, and that he heard them saying, ‘Now, father, is the time to get us bread.’

This first forensic effort raised Erskine at one bound from penury to prosperity, thirty retainers having been put into his hands before he left the Court.

In the beginning of the following year, Erskine was engaged as counsel in the court-martial held on Admiral Keppel, to try the charges brought against him by Sir Hugh Palliser, of incapacity and misconduct, in the battle off Ushant with a French fleet. For his most triumphant acquittal, after a trial which lasted thirteen days, Keppel was greatly indebted to his advocate, who managed the case with consummate skill. The grateful Admiral sent him the munificent present of a thousand pounds. Mr. Erskine’s famous defence of Lord George Gordon, in 1781, when that weak and enthusiastic, but well-meaning young nobleman, was tried for high treason in the Court of King’s Bench, placed him, as regards eloquence, high above all the men at the Bar. His speech not only secured the acquittal of his client, but rendered an important service to the country by completely overthrowing the doctrine of constructive treason.

After practising only five years at the Bar, Mr. Erskine obtained, in 1783, a patent of precedence, on the suggestion of Lord Mansfield, was appointed Attorney-General to the Prince of Wales, and was returned to Parliament for Portsmouth in the interest of Mr. Fox. He was not, however, so successful in the House of Commons as at the Bar. His reputation, as a painstaking, skilful, and eloquent advocate, continued to increase. His firm and courageous conduct in the trial of the Dean of St. Asaph for a seditious libel, in publishing a tract by the learned Sir William Jones, entitled him to the unceasing gratitude of his professional brethren, for his noble vindication of the independence of the Bar. Justice Buller, who presided at the trial, informed the jury that they had no right to decide whether the tract was a libel or not, and that the only question submitted to them was whether the Dean caused it to be published. The jury returned a verdict of ‘Guilty of publishing only.’ Buller strove to induce them to omit the word ‘only,’ which they repeatedly refused to do, and Erskine insisted that the verdict should be recorded as it had been given. The judge sought to intimidate the young barrister in the discharge of his office. ‘Sit down, sir,’ he exclaimed. ‘Remember your duty, or I shall be obliged to proceed in another manner.’ This threat extorted the memorable and effective reply, ‘Your lordship may proceed in what manner you may think fit: I know my duty as well as your lordship knows yours. I shall not alter my conduct.’ The judges, much to their discredit, attempted to uphold the doctrine that the jury are judges only of the fact of publication, but not of the question of libel. But the public mind was so alarmed by the consequences of this decision that Parliament, without hesitation, passed, as a declaratory Act, the Libel Bill, introduced in 1791 by Mr. Fox, which established the rights of jurors in cases of libel.

In 1789 Erskine delivered a speech on behalf of Stockdale, the publisher, who was tried in the Court of King’s Bench, on an information filed by the Attorney-General, for publishing a pamphlet written by John Logan, the poet, animadverting on the managers of the impeachment against Warren Hastings. Lord Campbell says Erskine’s speech in this case is the finest speech ever delivered at the English Bar, and he won a verdict which for ever established the freedom of the press in England. But, perhaps, the most important service which Mr. Erskine rendered to the cause of constitutional liberty was his successful defence, in conjunction with Mr. (afterwards Sir Vicary) Gibbs, of Hardy, Home Tooke, and Thelwall, for high treason, in 1794. The Government attempted, by their proceedings in these cases, to revive the doctrine of constructive treason, against twelve persons who had belonged to various societies having for their professed object the reform of the House of Commons. Declining to be tried jointly, the Attorney-General, Sir John Scott, afterwards Lord Eldon, selected Thomas Hardy, a shoemaker, as the one against whom he could make the strongest case. He spoke nine hours in opening the case for the prosecution, but his efforts to procure a conviction were signally defeated, to his grievous mortification, by Erskine, who proved that the object of these societies had been advocated by the Earl of Chatham, Mr. Burke, Mr. Pitt himself, and the Duke of Richmond, at that time a member of the Government. The speech which he delivered in defence of Hardy was a masterpiece, and well merited the eulogium which Home Tooke wrote at the end of it, in a copy of Hardy’s trial, ‘This speech will live for ever.’ The Ministry, instead of abandoning the prosecution of the others, against whom an indictment had been brought, were so infatuated as to bring John Home Tooke, the celebrated philologist, and John Thelwall, successively to trial, but met with a still more signal defeat; and all the other prisoners were acquitted without any evidence being offered against them.

On the conclusion of these memorable trials, the public gratitude for the services which Erskine had rendered to the country was manifested in a very striking manner. ‘On the last night of the trials,’ says Lord Campbell, ‘his horses were taken from his chariot, amidst bonfires and blazing flambeaux, he was drawn home by the huzzaing populace to his house in Serjeant’s Inn; and they obeyed his injunctions when, addressing them from a window, with Gibbs by his side, he said, "Injured innocence still obtains protection from a British jury; and I am sure, in the honest effusions of your hearts, you will retire in peace, and bless God." The freedom of many corporations was voted to him, and his portraits and busts were sold in thousands all over Great Britain. What was more gratifying, his speeches for the prisoners were read, and applauded, by all men of taste. He now occupied a position as an advocate which no man before had reached, and which no man hereafter is ever likely to reach at the English Bar.’

On the formation of the Grenville Ministry, in 1806, Erskine was appointed Lord High Chancellor, and was raised to the peerage, with the title of Baron Erskine of Restormel Castle, in Cornwall. On the dissolution of the Ministry, in 1807, he retired in a great degree from public life. He took a lead, however, in opposing the ‘Orders in Council’ respecting neutral navigation, which he truly foretold would lead to a war with America. He delivered a speech, remarkable both for argument and eloquence, against the Bill for prohibiting the exportation of Jesuit’s bark to the Continent of Europe. He introduced into the House of Lords a Bill for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which was thrown out by the Commons, but was resumed and carried by other persons in the following year. In the memorable proceedings against the Queen, in 1820, he took a prominent part against the Bill of Pains and Penalties, and was largely instrumental in causing it to be abandoned by the Government.

In the latter years of his life, owing to an unfortunate purchase of land, and some other ill-advised speculations, Lord Erskine suffered considerable pecuniary embarrassment. His wife died in 1805, leaving four sons and four daughters; and, an ill-assorted second marriage added considerably to the troubles of his old age. He died at Almondell, in Midlothian, the seat of his nephew, 17th November, 1823, in the seventy-second year of his age, and was interred in the family burying-place at Uphall.

Lord Erskine was conspicuous for his kindness of heart, urbanity, and entire freedom from envy, or jealousy of others. His vanity and egotism, of which many amusing stories are told, were, no doubt, excessive; but they were accompanied with much bonhomie, and were entirely devoid of arrogance or presumption. Posterity has ratified the verdict of one of his biographers, ‘As an advocate in the forum, I consider him to be without an equal in ancient, or in modern times.’

Lord Erskine was succeeded by his eldest son, DAVID MONTAGUE, who served his country as Minister to the United States, and at the Court of Wirtemberg. Thomas, his third son, ‘one of the most amiable and upright of men,’ was a judge of the Court of Common Pleas. Esme Stewart, the youngest, a lieutenant-colonel, was Deputy Adjutant-General at the battle of Waterloo, and died from the consequences of a severe wound, which he received from a cannon-shot near the end of the day, by the side of the Duke of Wellington.


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