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The Scottish Nation

CHARTERIS, the surname of an Anglo-Norman family which, says Douglas in his Baronage, “is of great antiquity in Scotland, and it is the opinion of some antiquaries that they are of French extraction; that William a son of the earl of Chartres in France, came to England with William the Conqueror; that a son or grandson of his came to Scotland with King David the First, and was progenitor of all of the surname of Charteris in this kingdom, and certain it is they began to make a figure in the south of Scotland soon after that era.”

      The immediate ancestor of the family of Charteris of Amisfield, *(anciently Emsfield, and sometimes Hempisfield,) in Dumfries-shire, was Robert de Charteris, who flourished in the reigns of King Malcolm the Fourth and King William the Lion. In a charter of confirmation by the latter to the monastery of Kelso, Robert de Charteris is one of the witnesses. It has no date, but as Ingelram bishop of Glasgow, another of the witnesses, died in 1174, it must have been granted in or before that year. His son, Walter de Charteris, is mentioned in a donation to the monastery of Kelso, and also the son of the latter, Thomas de Charteris, who lived in the reign of King Alexander the Second. His son, Sir Robert de Charteris, made a donation to the same monastery of the patronages of two churches in Dumfries-shire, by a charter, in which he is designed Robert de Cornoto, miles. It is to be observed that in ancient charters the family name is often thus Latinized, but when Englished it is invariable called Charteris.

      The son of this Sir Robert, Sir Thomas de Charteris, was in 1280 appointed lord high chancellor of Scotland by King Alexander the Third, and seems to have been the first layman who held that office. He was also, with Sir Patrick de Graham, Sir William St. Clair, and Sir John Soulis, nominated on an embassy extraordinary to the court of France, to negociate the king’s marriage, which important negociation they quickly accomplished, but King Alexander’s untimely death soon after prevented the good effects of it. Sir Thomas died in 1290. His son, Andrew de Charteris, was among the barons of Scotland who were compelled, in 1296, to make submission to Edward the first of England; but he soon retracted what he had done, for which he was forfeited the same year, and his lands of Amisfield bestowed on an Englishman. Several others of the name who had possessions in different counties, were also at the same time forced to swear allegiance to the English king, as William de Charteris, Robert de Charteris, and Osborn de Charteris.

      Andrew’s son, William de Charteris, did homage to King Edward in 1304, for his lands in Dumfries-shire, but he took the first opportunity of joining the party of Bruce, and was one of those patriotic barons who attended the latter at Dumfries when Comyn was slain in 1306. With Walter de Perchys he resigned the half of their barony of Wilton, in Roxburghshire, in favour of Henry de Wardlaw. He died about 1330. His son, Sir Thomas Charteris of Amisfield, was a most faithful subject of David the Second. In 1335, when that monarch was in France, he was, by the estates of the kingdom, appointed one of the ambassadors extraordinary to the court of England; and, 20th March 1341, he was again sent on another embassy to treat with the English. After King David’s return to Scotland, he appointed him, in 1342, lord high chancellor. He was killed in 1346 at the battle of Durham, where his royal master was taken prisoner.

      His descendant in the sixth generation, John Charteris of Amisfield, married Janet, a daughter of Sir James Douglas of Drumlanrig, ancestor of the dukes of Queensberry. Between the families of Amisfield and Kilpatrick of Kirkmichael there were constant feuds. In Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials, vol, i., under date March 19 and 20, 1526, John Charteris of Amisfield, Robert and John his sons, Robert Charteris his brother and thirty-nine others, found caution to underlie the law on May 29, in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, for the slaughter of Roger Kilpatrick son and heir of Sir Alexander Kilpatrick of Kirkmichael, knight, and for the mutilation of the latter; and on the 24th of the same month, Sir Alexander Kilpatrick and his sons, Robert, John, and William, found caution to appear the same day to answer for all crimes to be imputed against them by John Charteris of Amisfield. He also became security for the entry of William Kilpatrick his brother, the two sons of the latter, and twenty-three others the same day.

      His son, Sir John Charteris of Amisfield, held, in the reign of James the Fifth, the office of warden of the west marches, one of the most important under the crown, and appears, from various charters, to have possessed an immense estate, which is said to have been much reduced from the following circumstance, according to a traditionary story narrated in ‘Forsyth’s Beauties of Scotland,’ vol. ii, page 312. King James the Fifth being at Stirling, previous to setting out on a progress to the borders for the redress of grievances, received a complaint from an old woman, a widow, who lived on the water of Annan, that in a recent incursion of the English into the district, her only son and two cows, her whole support and comfort on earth, had been carried off, and that Sir John Charteris of Amisfield, warden of the west marches, on being informed of the outrage, and that the marauders were only a few miles distant, not only refused to pursue them, but also treated her with rudeness and contempt. The king told her he should shortly be in Annandale, and would attend to the matter. When he arrived at the head of Nithsdale he left his attendants, and went forward in disguise to the castle of Amisfield. He requested the porter to tell the warden that he came express to inform h im of an inroad of the English. The porter, unwilling to disturb his master, said he had gone to dinner; but the king, bribing him first with one silver groat, and then with two, prevailed upon him to convey two messages to Sir John, the latter being that the general safety depended on his immediately firing the beacons and alarming the country. On this second message, Sir John, in a rage, threatened to punish the intrude, when the king bribed another servant to inform Sir John that the goodman of Ballangeigh had waited a considerable time at his gate for admittance, but in vain; and throwing off his disguise, he sounded his bugle-horn for his attendants. Sir John, in great alarm, hastened to meet his sovereign, who reprimanded him for neglect of his duty, and commanded him to pay the widow her loss tenfold, adding that if her son was not ransomed within ten days, he (Sir John) should be hanged. And, as a further token of his displeasure, he billeted upon him his whole retinue, in number two thousand knights and barons, and obliged him to find them in provender during their stay in Annandale.

      In 1581 the son of this baron, Sir John Charteris (or Charterhouse, as it was sometimes spelled), as cautioner for George Douglas of Parkhead, was “unlawit in the pane of ane hundreth poundis,” for the non-appearance of the latter to take his trial for high treason, in not delivering up the castle tower and fortalice of Torthorwald to Robert Maxwell, messenger, sheriff in that part, &c. On December 22, 1593, a commission was granted to William Lord Herries and nine others, among whom appears the name of “John Charterhous of Amysfield,” for the preservation of the peace of the west borders, on account of the rebellion of sir James Johnston of Dunskellie and others of his name. By his wife Lady Margaret Fleming, daughter of John earl of Wigton, he had a son, Sir John Charteris, who succeeded him. At the parliament held at Edinburgh, 15th July 1641, Sir John Charteris of ‘Emisfield’ was present as commissioner for Dumfries-shire, and on 16th November of that year, he was appointed one of the commissioners of parliament for confirming the Ripon treaty. He was an active loyalist, and suffered many hardships on account of his attachment to Charles the first. In April 1646, he was cited before the parliament, and obliged to find security for his good behaviour, nevertheless sentence of banishment was immediately thereafter passed against him. Having been engaged with the marquis of Montrose, he was apprehended and imprisoned in the castle of Edinburgh. His brother, Captain Alexander Charteris, was one of five of Montrose’s most distinguished officers who, after that nobleman’s execution, were beheaded by the Maiden at Edinburgh, having been with him when he appeared in arms in Caithness in 1540. Captain Charteris was the last who suffered, and his death excited great regret. “He was,” says Browne, “a man of determined mind; but his health being much impaired by wounds which he had received, he had not firmness to resist the importunities of his friends, who, as a means of saving his life as they thought, prevailed upon him to agree to make a public declaration of his errors. This unhappy man, accordingly, when on the scaffold, read a long speech, which had been prepared for him by the ministers, penned in a peculiarly mournful strain, in which he lamented his apostasy from the covenant, and acknowledged other things which he had vented to them (namely, the ministers) in auricular confession! Yet, notwithstanding the expectations which he and his friends were led to entertain that his life might be spared, he had no sooner finished his speech than he was despatched.” [History of the Highlands, vol. ii. page 50.] Sir John Charteris married Lady Catherine Crichton, daughter of William, earl of Dumfries, by whom he had two sons, Thomas his heir, and John, father of the notorious colonel Francis Charteris. On the death of his uncle Thomas without male issue, Colonel Charteris became undoubted male representative of the ancient family of Amisfield, but the estate went to his cousin Elizabeth, only child and sole heiress of his uncle. She married John Hogg, Esq., and her son, Thomas Hogg, assumed the name of Charteris as heir to his mother, and was ancestor to the present family of Amisfield in Dumfries-shire. Colonel Charteris having purchased the lands of Newmills near Haddington, changed the name to Amisfield, from the ancient seat of his forefathers in Nithsdale. He married Helen, daughter of Alexander Swinton, a lord of session, under the title of Lord Mersington, and by her had an only daughter, Janet, his sole heiress, who married James, fourth earl of Wemyss, and her second son, the Hon. Francis Wemyss, afterwards fifth earl of Wemyss, inherited the estates of his maternal grandfather, and in consequence assumed the name and arms of Charteris. [See WEMYSS, Earl of.] Arbuthnott’s epitaph on Colonel Charteris, who acquired a vast fortune by usury and other vices, had been much admired as a complete and masterly composition of its kind. It is as follows: “Here continueth to rot, the body of Francis Charteris, who with an inflexible constancy and inimitable uniformity of life, persisted, in spite of age and infirmities, in the practice of every human vice, excepting prodigality and hypocrisy; his insatiable avarice exempted him from the first, his matchless impudence from the second. Nor was he more singular in the undeviating pravity of his manners than successful in accumulating wealth; for, without trade or profession, without trust of public money, and without bribe-worthy service, he acquired, or more properly created, a ministerial estate. He was the only person of his time who could cheat without the mask of honesty, retain his primeval meanness when possessed of ten thousand a-year; and having daily deserved the gibbet for what he did, was at last condemned to it for what he could not do. Oh indignant reader! Think not his life useless to mankind! Providence connived at his execrable designs, to give to after ages a conspicuous proof and example of how small estimation is exorbitant wealth in the sight of God, by his bestowing it on the most unworthy of all mortals.” In Pope’s Works, vol. ii, p. 142, the following paragraph appears: “Francis Charteres, a man infamous for all manner of vices. When he was an ensign in the army, he was drummed out of the regiment for a cheat; he was next banished to Brussels, and drummed out of Ghent on the same account. After a hundred tricks at the gaming tables, he took to lending of money at exorbitant interest and on great penalties, accumulating premium, interest, and capital into a new capital, and seizing to a minute when the payments became due; in a word, by a constant attention to the vices, wants, and follies of mankind, he acquired an immense fortune. He was twice condemned for rapes, and pardoned; but the last time not without imprisonment in Newgate, and large confiscations. He died in Scotland in 1731, [at Stoneyhill near Musselburgh, in February 1732, in the fifty-seventh year of his age.] The populace at his funeral raised a great riot, almost tore the body out of the coffin, and cast dead dogs, &c., into the grave along with it.” As Colonel Charteris’ character, it is remarked in another place, was singular in every other respect, so it is said to have been in this, that he was a coward who had his fighting days. He would suffer himself to be banged and basketed for refusing a challenge one day; and on the next he would accept another, and kill his man. [Biog. Brit. Kippis’ edit. vol. i. page 240.]


      The founder of the old family of Charteris of Kinfauns in Perthshire, – which disputed the chieftainship with the family of Amisfield in Dumfries-shire, – is said by tradition to have been Thomas de Chartres, commonly called Thomas de Longueville, a Frenchman of an ancient family, who having killed a nobleman at the court of Philip le Bel, in the end of the thirteenth century, turned pirate, under the name of the Red Reaver, and was encountered and made prisoner by Sir William Wallace on his supposed voyage to France, in 1301 or 1302, and, after being pardoned and knighted by his own sovereign, accompanied Wallace to Scotland, and fought against the English, first under his banner, and afterwards under that of Bruce, who, as a reward for his bravery, conferred upon him the lands of Kinfauns, in the neighbourhood of Perth; as an evidence of which a double-handed sword, called the sword of Charteris, is professed still to be shown in the modern castle of Kinfauns! In every account of the origin of the Perthshire house of Charteris we find the same story told, but we think it extremely improbable. It is more likely that that family was a branch of the family of Charteris in Dumfries-shire, as the name had become much extended in Scotland at that period, and that the Sir Patrick Charteris, who was present with the earl Marshal and Lord Crawford at the conflict of the clan Chattan and the clan Kay, on the North Inch of Perth, in 1396, was a direct descendant of the founder of the house of Amisfield.

      In the fifteenth century and beginning of the sixteenth, the family of Kinfauns was one of great influence in Perthshire. In 1465, Andrew Charteris of Kinfauns was provost of Perth and continued to be so till 1471, inclusive. He again filled the office in 1473 and 1475. In the latter year one Gilbert Charteris, who was afterwards dean of guild, was one of the bailies.l In 1484 Andrew Charteris was again provost, and at various times thereafter till 1503, which appears to have been the last time he held the office. In 1507 John Charteris was provost, and also in 1509. Others of the name frequently held situations in the magistracy of that city. In 1529 William Lord Ruthven was elected provost, the first of his family that ever filled the office; there could thus, up to that time, be nothing hereditary in his occupancy of the provostship, as in commonly believed. Between the Kinfauns family and the Ruthvens a rivalry and feud seem to have existed, which, on several remarkable occasions, led to fatal results. On 25th February that year, Patrick Charteris of Cuthilgurdy, a near kinsman of the laird of Kinfauns, and who had been provost of Perth, from 1521 to 1523, both inclusive, and in 1525, and again in 1527 provost and sheriff, found Robert Maule of Panmure as his cautioner that he would underlie the law for art and part of the fire-raising and burning of the village of Cowsland, and for the plunder of certain cattle and other goods, from the tenants thereof, and from William Lord Ruthven; and on 28th of the same month, John Charteris, his brother, and eleven others, found security to answer for the same crime. On September 20, 1530, Patrick Charteris of Cuthilgurdy received a letter of license to pass in pilgrimage beyond the seas. On 30th September 1538, John Charteris of Kinfauns was elected provost of Perth, but he seems to have died soon thereafter, as on June 13, 1539, we find Thomas Charteris of Kinfauns, convicted of art and part using a forged acquittance or discharge of a certain large sum of money assigned by the king to James Ross, his servant, due to his majesty by the death of Alexander bishop of Moray, as hie heir, or granted to the king by the privilege of the pope. He was sentenced to be warded in Edinburgh castle during the king’s pleasure, and all his moveables to be escheated, but by petitioning the lords of privy council, he was admitted to ‘free ward,’ on finding security that he would not attempt to escape. [Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials.]         

      On August 1st 1543, the regent Arran issued an order to the provost, bailies, and community of Perth, charging them to obey John Charteris of Cuthilgurdy and Thomas Charteris of Kinfauns in all votes, in preference to letters already issued in favour of Lord Ruthven, and on 1st October following, John Charteris was elected provost. On 26th January succeeding he was, however, by the regent and lords of secret council discharged of the office, and on 15th April a proclamation by the queen appeared against the said Thomas and John Charteris, and their accomplices, to the number of eighty, denouncing them rebels, and commanding them to be apprehended. On 7th October the same year (1544) Patrick, Lord Ruthven, was elected provost of Perth, and in the following January, on Cardinal Bethune’s persecuting visit to that city with the regent Arran, he instigated the latter to turn Lord Ruthven out of the provostship, and restore John Charteris of Kinfauns to that office. He therefore applied to Lord Gray, to whom he was allied, and persuaded him, and Norman Leslie, and others of his friends, to assist him with their armed forces, in attacking the town. The master of Ruthven, aided by the laird of Moncrieff and the citizens, resolved to defend it at all hazards. Lord Gray was to enter the town from the bridge, while Norman Leslie was to bring up ammunition and ordnance by water to storm it on its open side, but the tide was against him, and he did not arrive in time. The former finding the bridge undefended, marched up into the town as far as the Fishgate, when he was encountered by the master of Ruthven, who routed and repulsed his party, about sixty of whom were slain. The Ruthvens ever after had possession of the provostship till May 1584, when William, earl of Gowrie, then provost, was executed at Stirling. In 1552, John Charteris of Kinclaven, in Perthshire, was killed by the master of Ruthven, on the High Street of Edinburgh, “upon occasion,” says Bishop Leslie, “of old feud, and for staying of a decret of ane proces, which the said John pursued against him before the Lords of Session.” [Bishop Leslie’s History, p. 247.] this led to the passing of an act by the following parliament, that whosoever should slay a man for pursuing an action against him, should forfeit the right of judgment in his action, in addition to his liability to the laws for the crime.

      On the 29th of May 1559, when the queen regent entered Perth with her French troops, Lord Ruthven, then provost, was dismissed, with the rest of the magistracy, and John Charteris of Kinfauns, who was not only no friend to the Reformers, but entertained a hostile feeling to the citizens ever since 1544, was appointed provost in his place. He was the queen’s tool in fining, imprisoning, and banishing the inhabitants, but his reign was short, lasting only till the 26th of June, when Perth capitulated to the Reformers.

      The family of Kinfauns appear also to have been at feud with the Blairs of Balthayock. On May 2, 1562, John Charteris of Kinfauns, with David, his brother, and thirty-nine others, found surety to take their trial on the 15th of that month, for attacking Thomas Blair of Balthayock and his followers, and giving them injurious words. He protested that the finding of the security should be no prejudice to him because he was a parish-clerk; that is, that as a churchman he was liable only to the jurisdiction of the church courts. Thomas Blair, on his part, and sundry of his friends, also found security to underlie the law, for the slaughter of Alexander Rae, in the feud with the laird of Kinfauns. Owing to the loss of a scroll-book the result of these cases is unknown. [Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials.]

      In 1537 one Andrew Charteris, a brother of the provost of Dundee, a friar, fled out of Scotland to England, where he stayed a year, and thereafter retired to Germany, where he cast off his cowl. After residing at Wittenberg for twelve months he went to Antwerp, and was robbed by the way, but was relieved by some of his countrymen when he arrived at the latter town. Thence he went to Zealand, and in a letter still extant to his brother, the provost, he inveighed vehemently against the whole Roman Catholic hierarchy, bishops, priests, abbots and monks,

                        “Black friars and grey,
                        With all their trumpery.”

He was a man of a ready genius and goodly appearance; so much so that King Henry said to him, after he had talked with him an hour, “It is a pity that ever you were a friar.” [Calderwood’s History, vol. i. p. 113.]

      An eminent printer and bookseller, in the Scottish capital in the sixteenth century, was Henry Charteris, who published Sir David Lindsay’s works in 1568. He mentioned that he was present at the performance of Sir David’s ‘Pleasant Satyre of the Three Estatis,’ when it was “playit besyde Edinburgh in 1544, in presence of the Quene Regent,” and that he sat patiently for nine hours on the bank at Greenside to witness it. In 1589, he was one of thirteen commissioners appointed by a convention of noblemen, ministers, burgesses, &c., held at Edinburgh, to meet weekly to consult as to the defence of the reformed religion, and in 1596 the Confession of Faith was printed by him in folio. In 1604 his name appears among those members of the Edinburgh presbytery who subscribed it of new.

      His son, Mr. Henry Charteris, was educated for the church, and about 1590 he became one of the regents in the university of Edinburgh. On the death of Principal Rollock, 8th January 1599, he was senior regent, and on 14th February following he was appointed principal in his place, and professor of divinity in the university. He held these offices for twenty-one years. Although an eminent scholar, he was a man of singular modesty, for in 1617, says Bower, when he arrived at the honour of being principal and professor of divinity, he declined presiding at the disputation which was held in the presence of the king at Stirling. He was the author of the only Greek epitaph, among twenty-eight, on Principal Rollock, and of two others in Latin. His father was probably king’s printer and printer to the university, and was for a very considerable time in the magistracy, but does not seem to have lived to see his son so honourably distinguished as he became. In 1520 he accepted the parochial charge of North Leith, on which he resigned the principalship and the divinity chair, but in 1626 he was restored to the latter. He died two years afterwards in the sixty-third year of his age.

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