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The Scottish Nation

WEMYSS, a surname derived from the Gaelic word Uamh, a cave, and the name of a parish in Fifeshire, on the shore of the Forth, from the number of caves in the rocks there.


WEMYSS, Earl of, a title in the peerage of Scotland, conferred in 1633, on Sir John Wemyss, Lord Wemyss of Elcho, descended from a family of the origin of which there are more accounts than one. All agree, however, as to their being derived from the family of Macduff, maormor of Fife, in the reign of Malcolm Canmore. The family of Wemyss, therefore, is, it is believed, the only ancient family in the lowlands having a really Celtic origin, and one of the few great families in Scotland which, through the male line, can claim kindred with Celtic blood. The lands now forming the parish of Wemyss are said to have been part of the estate of Macduff, Shakspere’s well-known thane of Fife. According to Sibbald, Gillimichael, the third in descent from Macduff, had a second son named Hugo, who obtained the lands from his father, with lands in Lochoreshire, and in the parish of Kennoway, and the patronage of the church of Markinch. He is mentioned in the chartulary of Dunfermline, as Hugo, the son of Gillimichael, during the reign of Malcolm IV. According to a manuscript account of the family in the possession of the earl of Wemyss, the first of his house is said to have been Michael Wemyss, second son of Duncan, fifth earl of Fife, who died in 1165, but Sibbald’s account seems sanctioned by ancient charters.

Hugo, the son of Hugo, the son of Gillimichael, confirmed to the canons of St. Andrews, the church of Markinch, with a toft and the teinds. John, his son, designed in charters John of Methkil, miles, assumed the name of, or was styled, Ian mhor nan Uamh, or great John of the cave, in the reign of Alexander II. His son, Michael de Wemyss, was the father of Sir John de Wemyss, mentioned by Fordun as having had a dream of the victory obtained by the Scots over the Norwegians at Largs in 1263. IN 1290, Sir Michael de Wemyss, the son of Sir John, with his brother Sir David, according to Wynton and Fordun, were sent with the great Sir Michael Scott of Balwearie, to Norway, to bring to Scotland the young Queen Margaret, the grand-daughter of Alexander III. Among other reliques of the olden time preserved in the castle of Wemyss, the residence of the family, is a silver bowl, said to have been presented to Sir Michael Wemyss by Eric, king of Norway, on this occasion. Sir Michael de Wemyss was present when Baliol did homage to Edward I. in 1292, and in 1296 he swore fealty to Edward I. In 1315 he witnessed the act of settlement of the Scottish crown by Robert the Bruce at Ayr. His son, Sir David de Wemyss, was one of the patriotic nobles who subscribed the famous letter to the Pope in 1320, asserting the independence of Scotland; and his son, Sir Michael, confirmed all the grants of his predecessors to the churches of St. Andrews and Soltray. The latter had three sons, Sir David, his heir; Sir John, who obtained from his father the lands of Rires, and part of Lochoreshire, and from Sir Alexander Abernethy a grant of the barony of Kincaldrum; and Sir Michael. Sir John, the second son, died in 1358, leaving a son, Sir David Wemyss, of Rires and Kincaldrum, who died before 1373. The son of the latter, Sir John Wemyss of Rires and Kincaldrum, in virtue of a settlement by his uncle, Sir David de Wemyss, sheriff of Fife, succeeded to the family estate in 1375.

This Sir David Wemyss, the elder son of Sri Michael, had a son, Sir David Wemyss, who was one of the guarantees for the release of David II., and this baron’s son, also named Sir David, was one of the hostages for that monarch’s ransom. The latter left a daughter, Margaret, married to Sir Patrick de Inchmartine, and by him had a daughter, Isabel de Inchmartine, heiress of that barony. This last married Sir Alan Erskine, and had two daughters, his co-heiresses, Margaret, wife of Sir John Glen, and Isabel, married to Sir John Wemyss of Rires and Kincaldrum, the heir male of the family. Besides the lands he held from his father, and those disponed to him by his father-in-law, he had extensive grants of lands in Fife and elsewhere, from Robert II. and Robert III. He had three sons, the second of whom, Duncan, was one of the hostages on the liberation of James I., and the third, Alexander, was ancestor of the family of Wemyss of Lathocar.

The eldest son, Sir David Wemyss, designed Davy of the Wemyss, died in 1461, leaving a son, Sir John de Wemyss, who was one of the conservators of the treaty with the English in 1484. He died in 1502, leaving a son, Sir John Wemyss of Wemyss, whose fourth son, Thomas Wemyss, was ancestor of the family of Wemyss of Winthank or Wemyss Hall. Sir David Wemyss, the eldest son of Sir John, was killed at Flodden in 1513, and Sir David’s eldest son, also Sir David Wemyss, died in 1544. Sir John Wemyss, the eldest surviving son, repulsed the English who landed in Fife in 1547, and in 1556, when the queen regent proposed that the landed property of the country should be taxed for the pay of a standing force, about 300 of the barons assembled in Edinburgh, and sent the lairds of Wemyss and Calder to remonstrate against her design, which she was forced to abandon. In 1559 he was constituted lieutenant of Fife, Kinross, and Clackmannan. He entered into the association in support of Queen Mary at Hamilton, 8th May 1568, and died in January 1572. His eldest son, Sir David Wemyss, was ancestor of the families of Bogie, baronets, and of some families of the name in Ireland. Sir John Wemyss, the eldest son, was concerned in the Raid of Ruthven, but received a pardon. He had a charter of his lands of Wemyss, Elcho, &c., uniting them into the barony of Wemyss, 10th May 1589, and obtained from the duke of Lennox a grant of the admiralty betwixt the water of Leven and Dysart in 1610. He died in 1616.

Sir John Wemyss of Wemyss, his eldest surviving son, the eighteenth in direct descent from Hugo, the son of Gillimichael, was created a baronet of Nova Scotia, 29th May 1625, and had a charter of the barony of New Wemyss in that province. On 1st April 1628 he was raised to the peerage by the title of Lord Wemyss of Elcho, and 25th June 1633, when Charles I. was in Scotland, he was advanced to the title of earl of Wemyss, Lord Elcho and Methil, by patent to him and his heirs male for ever. His lordship was high-commissioner to the General Assembly that met at Edinburgh, 23d July 1641, and the same year was constituted a privy councillor by parliament, and one of the committee of estates, also in 1644. He died 22d November 1649. He had one son and five daughters.

The son, David, second earl of Wemyss, had a son, David, Lord Elcho, and four daughters, but his children having all died except the youngest daughter, Lady Margaret, he made a resignation of his titles, and obtained a new patent of them, 3d August 1672, in her favour and the heirs male of her body; which failing, to the heirs of entail contained in her contract of marriage, with the former precedency. Besides building a commodious harbour at Methlie, he greatly improved his fine seat of Wemyss, and died in June 1679.

His only surviving daughter, Margaret, countess of Wemyss, married, first, Sir James Wemyss of Caskieberry, who was created Lord Burntisland for his life only, 15th April 1672, to whom she had, with two daughters, Anne, countess of Leven and Melville, and Margaret, countess of Northesk, one son, David, third earl of Wemyss. She married, secondly, George, first earl of Cromarty, without issue. She died in 1705, and Lord Cromarty erected a bronze statue to her memory.

David, third earl of Wemyss, took the oaths and his seat in parliament, 28th June 1705. The same year he was sworn a privy councillor, and nominated one of the commissioners for the treaty of Union. The following year he was appointed high-admiral of Scotland, an office which was abolished by the Union, which he steadily supported in parliament. He was chosen one of the first sixteen representative Scots peers, 13th February 1707, and was constituted vice-admiral of Scotland, by commission from Prince George of Denmark, high-admiral of Great Britain. He was also nominated one of his royal highness’ council. At the general election of 1708, the earl of Wemyss was rechosen one of the sixteen representative peers. He died 15th March 1720. He married, first, in 1697, Lady Anne Douglas, eldest daughter of William first duke of Queensberry, by whom he had two sons, David, Lord Elcho, who died of a malignant fever, 16th December 1715, before he had completed his 17th year, and James, fourth earl of Wemyss. The countess’ fate was a very melancholy one. On 13th February 1700, she was engaged in secret prayer, when her clothes accidentally caught fire, and she was so severely scorched that she expired on the 23d of the same month. His lordship married, secondly, Mary, the elder of the two daughters and coheirs of Sir John Robison of Farningwood, county of Northampton, baronet, without issue; and, thirdly, in July 1716, Elizabeth, fourth daughter of the seventh Lord Sinclair, and by her he had two daughters, Elizabeth, countess of Sutherland, and Margaret, countess of Moray.

James, fourth earl, born in 1699, is described as having been “a man of merit, universal benevolence and hospitality, the delight both of small and great.” He married Janet, only daughter and heiress of the well-known Colonel Charteris of Amisfield, and died 21st March 1756. He had three sons and four daughters.
David, Lord Elcho, the eldest son, when a young man of 24 years of age, engaged in the rebellion of 1745. He was colonel of the first troop of horse-guards of Prince Charles, and after the battle of Culloden, made his escape to the continent. He was attainted by act of parliament, and of course could not succeed to the titles of his family on his father’s death. These consequently became dormant till he himself died in 1787, when they became vested in his next brother, Francis, fifth earl of Wemyss. This nobleman succeeded to the great property and extensive estates of his maternal grandfather, Colonel Charteris of Amisfield, who, by settlement dated 5th June 1729, granted and disponed his whole estate, real and personal, both in England and Scotland, in his favour and the heirs of his body, with remainder to the Hon. James Wemyss, his immediate younger brother, and the heirs of his body, those succeeding assuming the name and arms of Charteris. In 1771 the Hon. Francis Wemyss obtained an act of parliament authorizing him to do so, notwithstanding the descent to him or his heirs of the honour and title of earl of Wemyss, or any other.

The Hon. James Wemyss, the younger brother and third son of the fourth earl of Wemyss, entered the royal navy at an early age, and in 1745 was appointed a lieutenant. On the death of his father in 1756, he, by a family arrangement, succeeded to the estate of Wemyss, which previously had descended to the eldest son. He was elected M.P. for the county of Fife in 1762, and for the county of Sutherland in 1768, in 1774, and 1780. He died in 1786, and was succeeded by his eldest surviving son, William Wemyss of Wemyss. This gentleman obtained an ensign’s commission in the Coldstream guards in June 1777, and in 1779, being a nephew of the last earl of Sutherland, he raised the Sutherland fencible regiment of 1,000 rank and file in twelve days, and had the temporary rank of colonel in the army conferred upon him. When that regiment was reduced in 1783, he obtained the rank of captain in the army. At the general election in 1784, he was chosen M.P. for the county of Sutherland, and in 1786 appointed deputy-adjutant-general in Scotland, with the rank of major in the army. IN 1787 he resigned his seat for Sutherland, and was elected for the county of Fife, also in 1790 and 1807. By commission dated in May 1798, he had the appointment of deputy-admiral from Petticur and Kinghorn, including both sides of the Tay as far as the water of Alla, the island of May, and the whole islands within these bounds. In 1791 he received the brevet rank of lieutenant-colonel. On the commencement of the war with France in 1793, he again raised the Sutherland fencible regiment, of which he was constituted colonel, and in 1795 he had the rank of colonel in the army. IN 1798 the regiment volunteered their services to assist in quelling the Irish rebellion, and in June of that year Colonel Wemyss was promoted to the rank of major-general commanding at Drogheda. In the following month he defeated the rebels near Ardee, and in August he was placed on the Irish staff. In 1800 he raised the 93d foot, and of that regiment he was made colonel in 1800. In May 1803 he was appointed major-general on the North British staff, and in Nov. 1805, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general. He married the daughter of Sir William Erskine of Torrie, and was succeeded by his eldest son, James Erskine Wemyss of Wemyss, born in 1789, the 25th proprietor of the estate of Wemyss, in direct descent from Hugo the son of Gillimichael, 4th earl of Fife. He entered the navy, and rose to the rank of rear-admiral, and was M.P. for Fifeshire from 1820 go 1830, and from 1832 to 1847. He married in 1829, Lady Emma Hay, daughter of the 16th earl of Errol. On his death, in 1854, he was succeeded by his son, James Hay Wemyss, Esq., born in 1829, married in 1855, Millicent, 2d daughter of Hon. John Kennedy Erskine and Lady Augusta Fitzclarence. He entered the navy in 1841, and retired in 1848. Elected M.P. for Fifeshire in 1859.

Francis, 5th earl of Wemyss, born Oct. 21, 1723, after being educated at Eton college, traveled on the continent, and returned to Scotland in 1744. He purchased several estates in East Lothian, where he built Amisfield House, and the magnificent seat of Gosford. He died at Gosford, Aug. 24, 1808, in his 85th year. By his countess, Lady Catherine Gordon, 6th daughter of the 2d duke of Gordon, he had one son and five daughters. Francis, Lord Elcho, the son, born at Edinburgh Jan. 31, 1749, was chosen M.P. for the Haddington burghs at the general election in 1780, and rechosen in 1784. In his later years he devoted his attention principally to agricultural pursuits. He predeceased his father, at Amisfield House, Jan. 20, 1808, in his 59th year. He married, July 18, 1771, Miss Susan Tracy Keck, then one of the maids of honour to Queen Charlotte, and second daughter of Anthony Tracy Keck, of Great Tew, in the county of Oxford, and by her he had one son and four daughters.

Francis, sixth earl of Wemyss, Lord Elcho’s only son, born April 15, 1772, was an officer in the army and aide-de-camp to his grand-uncle, Lord Adam Gordon, commander-in-chief of the forces in Scotland, from 1793 to 1797. In 1808 he succeeded his grandfather as earl of Wemyss, and on the death of the fourth duke of Queensberry in December 1810, he also became earl of March, viscount of Peebles, and Lord Douglas of Niedpath, Lyne, and Munard, inheriting the barony of Niedpath, and the extensive property belonging to his grace in the county of Peebles. He was lord-lieutenant of Peebles-shire and a deputy-lieutenant of Haddingtonshire, and in 1821 he was created Baron Wemyss of Wemyss in the peerage of the United Kingdom. He died 28th June, 1853. He married 31st May 1794, Margaret, fourth daughter of Walter Campbell, Esq. of Shawfield, and had 2 sons and 8 daughters.

The elder son, Francis Wemyss Charteris Douglas, 7th earl of Wemyss and 2d earl of Wemyss and March, born in 1796, was in August 1853 appointed lord-lieutenant of Peebles-shire. He married in 1817 Lady Louisa Bingham, 4th daughter of Richard, 2d earl of Lucan, by whom he has had 5 sons and 2 daughters. The eldest son, the Hon. Francis Wemyss Charteris, M.P., Lord Elcho, was born Aug. 4, 1819, and married, Aug. 29, 1843, Lady Anne Frederica Anson, 2d daughter of the 1st earl of Lichfield, by whom he has issue.


A baronetcy of Nova Scotia was, in 1703, conferred by Queen Anne on Sir James Wemyss of Bogie, Fifeshire, descended from the 2d son of Sir David de Wemyss, progenitor of the earls of Wemyss, by patent, to him and his heirs male whomsoever. On the death of Sir James, 3d baronet, without issue, the representation in the male line devolved on the descendant of the 1st baronet’s next brother, Henry, Sir James Wemyss, writer to the signet, Edinburgh, son of the Rev. James Wemyss, minister of Burntisland, who died in 1821. ON the death of this gentleman, 4th baronet, unmarried, Dec. 31, 1849, the title devolved on his kinsman, Sir John Wemyss, born Aug. 1, 1830, a merchant of Berhampore, Bengal, eldest son of John Wemyss, Esq., writer in Kirkcaldy, cousin-german of Sir James Wemyss, 4th baronet. Sir John, 5th baronet, was served heir to the baronetcy in the court of the sheriff of chancery at Edinburgh, Oct. 1, 1858.

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