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A Group of Scottish Women
Chapter 6 - Lady Grisell Baillie (1665 - 1746) (Continued)

Grisell Hume was the eldest of the eighteen children of Sir Patrick Hume, laird of Polwarth, and was born at Redbraes Castle, Berwickshire, on Christmas Day 1665. At the early age of twelve she was employed by her father in a particularly difficult and dangerous mission, which she carried out with a combination of daring and intelligence rare in one of her tender years. At that time Robert Baillie of Jerviswood, the famous Scottish patriot, was languishing in prison in Edinburgh. Sir Patrick Hume was anxious to establish communication with the prisoner, and to little Grisell was given the task of carry messages to and fro between her father and “the Scottish Algernon Sydney,” as Baillie has been called. It was while engaged upon this perilous errand that the girl made the acquaintance of George Baillie, Robert’s son, and acquaintance which gradually ripened into friendship, and from which eventually sprang that deep and lifelong affection which was destined to be crowned sixteen years later by the union of the happy pair.

The influence of the Baillies was a very important factor in the lives of the Humes. The fortunes of the two families were for a long time closely interwoven. In 1673, Sir Patrick Hume, who represented the county of Berwick in the Scottish Parliament, made a series of violent speeches attacking the Duke of Lauderdale and the Government of the day for their severe treatment of the Covenanters. In the following year he accompanied Lord Tweeddale and the Duke of Hamilton to London, in order to lay their grievances before the king. Here Sir Patrick aroused the enmity and suspicion of the authorities by presenting a vehemently-worded petition protesting against the official project of garrisoning the houses of the gentry as a means of checking the powers of the Covenanters. This led to his being sent in custody to Stirling, and there confined in the castle. He seems to have spent the greater part of the next four years in various Scottish prisons, from the Edinburgh Tolbooth to Dumbarton, but was eventually liberated in 1679.

Meanwhile his friend, Robert Baillie of Jerviswood, who had gone to London to negotiate the settlement of a colony of Scottish Presbyterians in Carolina, was accused of conspiring with the enemies of the crown, and finally imprisoned at Edinburgh. Here he languished for a long time in a rigorous confinement which seriously affected his health. Baillie was supposed to have had a hand in the infamous Rye House Plot, which in 1684 threatened the lives of Charles II. and the Duke of York. A formal accusation of having taken part in it was eventually brought against him, and he had to stand his trial on the capital charge of treason. On being told that he might hope for a pardon, if he were willing to turn informer, he replied with characteristic scorn. “They that can make such a proposal to me,” he said, “neither know me nor my country.” After being brought in a dying condition to the Bar of the High Court of Justiciary, Baillie was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. During his confinement he had been denied the companionship of his wife, a sister of Archibald Johnstone of Warriston, who nobly offered to go into irons as a safeguard against any attempt to escape, if only she might be allowed to share her husband’s imprisonment. But his last hours were cheered by the presence of his devoted sister, Mrs. Kerr of Graden. She, indeed, insisted on accompanying him to the scaffold, and was present when, in accordance with the hideous custom of the day, his lifeless body was quartered and mutilated by the public executioner. We may assume that the visits of the pretty daughter of his old friend Patrick Hume helped to brighten the gloom of the Scottish patriot’s long imprisonment, and were not the least pleasant of the memories which he bore in his heart to the tomb.

In the following year Sir Patrick Hume was himself prosecuted for complicity in the Rye House Plot, though it is more than probable that he was innocent. On his failing to put in an appearance to stand his trial, he was denounced as a rebel, and his estates forfeited. The execution of Robert Baillie had caused much consternation and alarm in the Hume family, who feared that a fresh victim might be sought and found among their own members, and it was consequently deemed advisable that Sir Patrick should forthwith go into hiding. He concealed himself accordingly in a vault in the parish kirk of Polwarth, a mile or so distant from Redbraes Castle, on the banks of the Merse, and the heroism of his daughter was once more severely put to the test.

Every night would Grisell steal away from home to the churchyard, whose atmosphere suggested natural terrors to her youthful mind – for she was still but a girl – bearing the daily supply of food to her father in his gloomy refuge. Midnight found her at the door of the vault, and from that hour until daybreak she would stay talking to Sir Patrick, whose cheerfulness, fortitude and patience she seems in a large measure to have inherited. Her father found much comfort in these nightly visits. The girl would cheer him by recounting such trivial incidents of domestic life as were calculated to interest or amuse, and the chilly vault often re-echoed with the fugitive’s laughter. [The lantern Grisell carried on these nocturnal pilgrimages, and the bed on which Sir Patrick lay in the vault, reading Buchanan’s Psalms to while away the tedious hours, are still preserved at Mellerstain.]

The difficulties Grisell had to overcome in order to secrete from her own supper a sufficient quantity of food to carry to her father without arousing the suspicions of the servants, or even of her own brothers and sisters, were at times almost insurmountable. Once, when she had managed to conceal the greater part of her own dinner in her lap, her secret was nearly disclosed to some troopers who had come to Redbraes to search for the laird by the indignant remarks of a small brother. Master Hume insisted upon drawing his mother’s attention to his sister’s apparent greed. “Will you look at Grisell?” he cried. “While we have been supping our broth, she has eaten up the whole sheep’s head!”

Sir Patrick could not spend the rest of his life in a vault, and Grisell was already busy contriving a secret hiding-place for her father in a room on the ground floor at Redbraes Castle. With her own hands she scooped out the earth from a corner of the floor, whence it was carried out into the garden in a sheet by a faithful servant. A wooden box, fitted with air-holes and lined with blankets, was manufactured secretly and deposited in the newly-dug hole, and to this fresh hiding-place Sir Patrick was as length smuggled home. Alas! He had scarcely occupied his new shelter for a week before the cavity which formed his nightly refuge was suddenly found to be full of water, and the box floated up above the level of the flooring. The laird of Polwarth, always a deeply religious man, regarded this incident as a divine message of warning, and straightway made every preparation to flee the country. He did not escape a moment too soon, for the party of troopers which was sent to visit his house and arrest him only missed the object of their search by a few hours.

Sir Patrick fortunately managed to elude immediate pursuit, and made his way to London by means of circuitous by-paths in the disguise of a surgeon-doctor. Thence he crossed over to France, and journeyed on foot to Holland. “So soon as I got upon the continent,” says he, in his Narrative of Argyll’s Expedition, [A Selection from the Papers of the Earls of Marchmont in the possession of the Rt. Hon. Sir. G.H. Rose, vol. iii. p.2. (1831)] “I stay’d but a short [time] in France, but spent some weeks in Dunkirk, Ostend, Bruges, and other towns in Flanders and Brabant, where I traversed before I came to Brussels; whither, [as] soon as I heard that he resided there, I went to converse with the Duke of Monmouth, but he was gone thence to the Hague; which led me, after waiting some time for him, in expectation of his return, on to Antwerp, and so to Holland.” On his arrival at Utrecht, Sir Patrick was at once granted an audience by the Prince of Orange, who, “looking on him as a Confessor for the Protestant religion, and the liberties of his country, treated him with a very particular respect.” [Lives and Character of the Officers of the Crown and of the State in Scotland, by George Crawfurd.]

On the death of Charles II., and the subsequent accession of the Catholic Duke of York, those British refugees who had taken shelter in Holland planned two military expeditions, which were to land in England and Scotland under the respective commands of the Dukes of Monmouth and Argyll. Round these two leaders it was hoped that all the malcontents in Great Britain would speedily gather. Sir Patrick Hume was appointed second-in-command of the Scottish expeditionary force, and has left a relic of this adventure in the shape of his sword, upon which is engraved the motto, “Gott bewarr die aufrechte Schotten.” Both expeditions failed ignominiously in their purpose. Argyll was taken prisoner, and his force dispersed. Sir Patrick had to seek a precarious asylum in the house of friends, first with the laird of Langshaw in Ayrshire, and subsequently in an empty house belonging to one Eleanore Dunbar. He finally returned in 1686 to Holland, whither his family shortly afterwards followed him.

Owing to the fact that Lady Hume was a confirmed invalid, every arrangement for this journey had to be made by Grisell, who, not content with accompanying most of her family across the sea to Utrecht, returned to Scotland to fetch her little sister Julian, who was ill and had been left behind. When the two girls landed at Brielle, in the island of Voorne at the mouth of the Meuse, nobody was there to meet them. They were consequently forced to walk to Rotterdam, the invalid sister (who had lost her shoes in the harbour mud) being carried most of the way on Grisell’s back, while a kindly fellow-traveller looked after their modest baggage.

When at length the Hume family found itself safely settled at Utrecht, Grisell’s hands were even fuller than before. It was she who managed all the household affairs, went to market to purchase supplies, took the corn to the mill to be ground, in accordance with the Dutch custom, washed the linen, cleaned the house, prepared the dinner, mended the children’s clothes, and, in short, performed all the duties of a housewife and of a mother. The Humes were too poor to keep a servant, though they employed a little Dutch maid to wash the dishes. Every morning, therefore, at six o’clock, Grisell rose and lit her father’s fire, afterwards calling the old gentleman and giving him the dose of “warm small beer with a spoonful of bitters,” [Memoirs of the Lives and Characters of George Baillie and of Lady Grizel Baillie, by Lady Murray of Stanhope, p.49. (1822).] which he continued to take to the day of his death. In Holland Sir Patrick was known by the name of “Dr. Wallace,” and practised the art of medicine, which he had some elementary knowledge of, but did not find very lucrative. But in spite of their poverty the family was always able and ready to provide modest entertainment for other still more impoverished exiles from Scotland; their house was ever open to the local professors and other men of learning, who delighted in the society of so cultivated a man of the world as the mysterious “Dr. Wallace.”

Relying as they did upon monetary remittances from Scotland, the Humes occasionally found themselves in sore straits on the non-arrival of some long-expected ship from home, or when they experienced what has been called the “unremitting” kindness of absent friends. At times they were even obliged to pawn all their plate in order to provide for immediate needs. On one occasion, when, as was the custom in Utrecht, a house-to-house collection of alms for the poor was being made, they were horrified at finding that they could only muster up among them one coin of so small a value that no one was brave enough to go out and present it to the public almoner. “We can do no mare than give all that we have,” said Sir Patrick at last, as with a smile he went forth to add his widow’s mite to the general collection. But in spite of such difficulties as these, the Humes appear to have been a happy and contented household – or at any rate as happy and contented as Scots can ever be away from the land of their birth.

George Baillie, the son of Baillie of Jerviswood, was one of the many fugitives from Scotland who fixed upon Utrecht as a suitable haven of refuge. The reason for his choice was not difficult to understand, and may be stated in one word – Grisell. When, at his father’s death, he fled to Holland, the tenants of his estates at Mellerstain, not far from Redbraes, insisted on paying him all the rents that were due, and even advanced another half-year’s rent as well. His property had been forfeited, and there was no reason why they should do this except as a means of showing their regard for their former landlord and their respect for the memory of his martyred father. On his way to Holland by sea, George Baillie joined his fellow-passengers, penniless refugees like himself, in a game of dice, in order to pass the time. He happened to be in a lucky vein, and before the ship reached harbour had won every penny his friends possessed. Thereupon he insisted upon returning their money, and made a resolution never to gamble again. (A cynic might observe that it would be more appropriate for the losers to make such a resolution, and it is to be hoped that they followed Baillie’s good example.) At Utrecht George Baillie took up his quarters with the Humes, and, in company with Grisell’s favourite brother, Patrick, enlisted as a trooper in the Prince of Orange’s Guards, at that time quartered there. These two young soldiers, who rapidly became fast friends, contrived to arrange that they should always stand sentry together at the gate of the Prince’s palace. They managed to share their other military duties as well in a way that no doubt made the work of a private soldier less irksome and laborious to each of them. Whenever his Royal Highness dined in public, as he made a habit of doing, the two were often posted together outside his door. If any pretty girls should happen to demand admission, these light-hearted sentries would set their halberts across the entrance and refuse to let them pass until they had each received a kiss. This practice, as Lady Murray declares in the Memoir of her mother, made the pretty girls of Utrecht think and call Patrick and George “very pert soldiers” – which they were thoroughly justified in doing. [Lady Murray’s Memoirs, p.51.] But whatever piece of mischief young Baillie might be guilty of in his frivolous moments of military duty, it is certain that there was but one pretty girl whose kisses were of real value to him. Grisell had speedily won the susceptible soldier’s heart, to which all the crossed halberts in the world could not deny her entrance. It was to her hand, which long ago had borne important despatches to the captive father, and was now so ready to starch and mend the military stocks and ruffles of the refugee son, that the latter aspired; nor did he aspire in vain. And in the course of the three-and-a-half years during which the Humes lived at Utrecht, the love of these two young people was the experience above all others which led Grisell in later years to refer to the period of her stay in Holland as the “happiest time of her life.”

It was at about this time, too, that she began to write those simple songs, of which she has left a number of unfinished fragments – scraps which the burden of domestic cares and the stormy surroundings of her home never allowed her to complete – and one at least which is a perfect example of that rugged peasant poetry for which Scotland is so justly famous. Far from home, in a distant land, with the comfort of a large household to look after, she could yet find time and spirit to compose that homely pathetic ballad, “And were na my heart light I wad dee,” upon which rests her reputation as a songstress.

[“When bonnie young Johnnie came over the sea,

He vow’d he saw naething sae lovely as me;

He gae me gowd rings, and mony braw things-

An’ were na my heart light I wad dee.


His kindred sought ane of a higher degree-

Said, Wad he wed ane that was landless, like me?

Albeit I was bonnie, I was nae worth Johnnie-

An’ were na my heart light I wad dee.


O were we young now as we ance had been,

We should hae been galloping down on yon green,

And linking it o’er the lily-white lea-

An’ were na my heart light I wad dee.”

                                    -The Songs of Scotland, by Allan Cunningham, vol. iii. p91. (1825)]


In these verses Grisell tells the simple story of a disappointed lover and his lass, or rather, his two lasses. The oft-recurring last line of every stanza suggests something of the author’s attitude of patience and courage; it speaks eloquently of the dogged and defiant spirit with which she bore the bludgeonings of fate. Her heart was often sad, but never despairing: her head was “bloody but unbowed.”

Many years after her death a further set of verses was found in a parcel of old letters addressed to her brother Patrick, and published in Constable’s  Edinburgh Magazine. [May 1818] They are written in the same regretful strain as the rest, and would seem to show that, in spite of Grisell’s habitual cheerfulness, there was a vein of natural melancholy underlying the optimism with which she forced herself to face the world:-

“O the ewebughting’s bonnie, baith e’ening and morn,

When our blithe shepherds play on their bog-reed and horn;

While we’re milking they’re lilting baith pleasant and clear,

But my heart’s like to break when I think on my dear!


O the shepherds take pleasure to blow on the horn;

To raise up their flocks o’ sheep soon i’ the morn;

On the bonnie green banks they feed pleasant and free;

But alas! my Dear Heart! all my sighing’s for thee.”

In the year 1688, William of Orange, in response to an invitation signed by the Earl of Devonshire and the rest of the famous “seven patriots,” crossed over to England from Helvoetsluys and landed at Torbay. Sir Patrick Hume and George Baillie bade farewell to their womenfolk and accompanied the Protestant Prince to the land from which they had long been exiled. Their voyage across the sea was fraught with much peril. The vessel in which they sailed was driven back several times by adverse gales and nearly wrecked. But they managed to reach land in safety at last, and to the end of his life George Baillie kept a rigorous fast, one day a week, in commemoration of his escape from this threatened calamity.

The troubles of the Hume family were now practically at an end, though on the very day that Grisell had news of the safe arrival in England of her father and lover, her joy was turned to grief by the sudden death of her sister Christina. She did not have much time for sorrowing, however, since upon her, as usual, fell the burden of escorting the family back to the old home, where Sir Patrick was now impatiently awaiting their arrival. [One of the first acts of Sir Patrick on his return was to repair the parish church of Polwarth, which had fallen into decay. Lady Hume presented a bell, and Grisell embroidered green velvet hangings for the pulpit, which are still preserved.]

On the return of the Humes to Scotland King William showed them every mark of his favour and consideration. In recognition of his services in promoting the establishment of the new king on the throne, Sir Patrick was created Lord Polwarth, appointed Chancellor of Scotland, and King’s High Commissioner to Parliament, and finally, in 1697, made Earl of Marchmont. [The following unpublished letter, which he wrote to William Bentinck, Earl of Portland, Groom of the Stole, First Gentleman-of-the-Bedchamber, and confidential adviser to King William, accepting the Chancellorship, throws some light upon the character of this modest and conscientious old gentleman:-

“EDINBOURGH, 16 May, 1696.

“MY LORD, - Ther’ can nothingbemore gatifying to me than to knou that your Lordship continues your favour towards me, which I well discern by your kind letter of 30th aprill last & for which I return your Lordship my heartiest thanks.

“His Majestie has been pleased to putt me in a high post, and your Lordship to recomend me to him for it, sure the King & your Lordship do think that I am fitt for the station, & do expect that I will approve my selfe suteably to the great trust I have; I am sensible that this thought is the greatest favour I can be capable of but the effect of it is such as makes my fear of not being able to answer expectation drown any satisfaction I can have in being promoted, and I am sure I shall have none, nor any thing but watching, pains and travell till by my services the K. doth find & your lordship that I do not disapoint the good oppinion of me.

“I resolve, god assisting, to heall any difference among the King’s servants here, & to anticipat neu ones & all heats & animosities by a prudent early precaution & by my plain & clear way of dealing if it be as possible as I hope it is.

“I earnestly beg & hope that your Lordship will kindly & freely give me your advice & oppinion in matters for I shall need now frequently to trouble your Lordship with my letters not judgeing it proper to trouble much the King who is under so great a weight of affairs, now I have written to his Maj. what here I have sent your Lordship the copie of; which you will honour me to give to his hand; or let Mr. Pringle do it as you please. I hope before Long Your Lordship may have satisfying account of my deportment from honorable persons who will tell you the truth, and if I erre, I will not shun but beg my rebuke; for I am well resolved to comett as few errours as I can, or if I doe, so amend them with all diligence.

“My son Major Hume would have been over with the recruits but is & has been so very ill of a great cold & violent dry cough that he could not travell by land or sea without evident hasard of his life; when his Majesty knows this I believe he will allow of his absence till he be recovered for which he is useing all means, & I hope your Lordship will both excuse him & make his excuse to the King, which will be a great addition to the many kindnesses you have heaped upon – My Lord, your Lordship’s most obliged & ever faithfull servant,


(This letter is preserved among the family papers at Welbeck Abbey.)

George Baillie had in the meanwhile been restored to his estates, and was at last able to lay his fortune at the feet of the woman he worshipped. Grisell had meanwhile received many offers of marriage from wealthier and more eligible suitors, and was now offered the post of Maid of Honour to Queen Mary. She declined this high position, however, as she had declined the proposals of her admirers, preferring to return to Scotland, where her lover awaited her. Here she and Baillie were married of the 17th September 1692, their union being the prelude to a life of wedded bliss which extended over a period of fifty-four years.

George Baillie proved a most tender and devoted husband. In later life he suffered from deafness, and, as is the way with deaf people, would at times give way to momentary outbursts of irritability, but these were of brief duration, and no one regretted them more than he. He was a wonderfully generous man, delighted in giving presents to his family and friends, and never returned home from any visit to London without bringing back a trunkful of gifts for his children. But he particularly disliked being made the recipient of presents himself, and once, when a man who sought some favour at his hands gave him a parrot, he returned it with much indignation. (This one can readily understand. To be given a parrot at any time is annoying, but when such a gift partakes of the nature of a bribe it becomes doubly offensive.) Speaking of her husband and of the great happiness he had brought her, Lady Grisell declared that she would have been quite content to live with such a man as he “on bread and water on the top of a mountain.” “Their long-tried faith in honour plighted,” sings Joanna Baillie –

“They were a pair by Heaven united…


Her heart first guess’d his doubtful choice,

Her ear first caught his distant voice,

And from afar, her wistful eye

Would first his graceful form descry.


Ev’n when he hied him forth to meet

The open air in lawn or street,

She to her casement went,

And after him with smiles so sweet,

Her look of blessing sent.”

It was, in fact, a perfect ménage, as indeed might be expected. But Lady Grisell did not spend her whole time smiling from her casement upon her husband’s graceful form as it met the open air. She would often set forth in the evening in her sedan chair to grace the assemblies which were then held in Bell’s Close, and soon became a well-known figure at these entertainments.

Lady Grisell Baillie had three children, a son, who died in childhood, and two daughters. Rachel, the eldest, married Lord Binning (from whom are descended the Earls of Haddington), while her sister Grisell, who marries Sir Alexander Murray of Stanhope, and wrote a most charming Memoir of her mother – “the best and tenderest of mothers,” as she called her – is the “sweet-tongued Murray” whose name occurs in the poem dedicated to Pope by John Gay, entitled, “Mr. Pope’s Welcome to Greece.”

[“What lady’s that to whom he gently bends?

Who knows not her? Ay those are Wortley’s eyes.

How art thou honoured, number’d with her friends;

For she distinguishes the good and wise.

The sweet-tongued Murray near her side attends…”]

Lady Grisell always treated her children as friends rather than children, spoke openly and without reserve to them on all matters of interest, confided in them freely, and thus won their confidence in return. George Baillie, too, was the kindest and most considerate of fathers, and wrote long letters full of good advice to his family whenever he and they were parted. In middle life the Baillies took their children to Utrecht to show them the scenes of their early struggles and dawning love. Here, however, they experienced intense disappointment through being curtly refused admittance to their old home. It was now in the hands of a cantankerous of Dutchwoman, who resolutely declined to accede to the Baillies’ harmless request for permission to revisit the rooms which youthful memories had made so dear to them.

In 1703 Grisell’s mother, Lady Marchmont, who had long been an invalid, died at Edinburgh. Her last words were addressed to the daughter who, ever since she was a girl, had taken so much of the burden of domestic cares off her shoulders. “My dear Grisell,” said the dying woman, “blessed be you above all, for a helpful child have you been to me.” This was surely a sufficient reward for all those years of self-sacrifice and devotion which Grisell had lavished so bounteously upon her family.

Lady Marchmont’s death was followed six years later by that of her eldest son Patrick. Under these successive shocks old Lord Marchmont aged rapidly, [He married again, however, his second wife being Lady Jane Home, generally known as “Bonnie Jean o’ the Hirsel,” a woman many years younger than himself.] but even during his last illness he showed signs of that buoyancy of disposition which had brought him successfully through so many trial. On one occasion, when a dance was being given at Berwick, whither he had moved from Redbraes in 1717, he insisted on being carried down to the ballroom, declaring that though he could no longer dance, he could still beat time to the music with his foot. He bore his sufferings bravely to the end, and met death with a smile. When he lay dying in 1724, weak and emaciated after a long illness, he suddenly burst out laughing, and on being questioned by Lord Binning, his grandson-in-law, as to the cause of this merriment, “I am diverted,” he replied, “to think what a disappointment the worms will meet with when they come to me, expecting a good meal, and find nothing but bones!” He was always most anxious that his nephews and nieces and grandchildren should be educated as cheerfully as possible. “Special care should be taken,” he wrote in a letter to his wife, “to keep them hearty and mirry, laughing, dancing and singing. If I were among them I would help their mirth by a tune on the flute, which I am learning of, and pretty good at: and I dare say that I laugh more beyond measure and to excesse every day, than might doe their mother and them much good, was it parted among them.” [Lady Murray’s Memoirs, pp.128-129.] There is something very delightful in the idea of this genial old grandfather playing the flute, like Pinero’s “Cabinet Minister,” to keep up the spirits of his grandchildren. One failing only Lord Marchmont possessed, and that was a love of hearing himself talk. Indeed he has been described as a garrulous old man who could hardly give advice to a friend without delivering an oration on the subject. [Memoirs of the Secret Service of John Mackay,  p.217. (1733)] Be that as it may, the fact remains that his children were devoted to him, and Grisell in particular was a continual solace to him in his old age. She made a point of going to Scotland every second year to visit him and look after his affairs. This she did very thoroughly, and once laboured over his accounts for two months on end, from five in the morning till midnight, exhausting all the other members of the household, whose energy was not as untiring as hers, even if their interest in domestic matters had been as keen.

In her views of filial duty she did not resemble the majority of married women, who, as Joanna Baillie says, on assuming the cares of a wife and mother, allow these to absorb every other, and seldom visit the house of their parents, or, when they do, consider themselves the honoured guests who have nothing to do there but to be served and waited upon. The care of elderly parents is usually relegated to the unmarried daughters, but Lady Grisell was evidently not of opinion that filial duty ends with matrimony.

She did not, however, confine her attention solely to her own family. Her generosity was boundless, and during the troublous times which preceded the rebellion of ’45, she was wont to give freely to distressed persons of both parties. This excellent practice she continued as long as she had any money, and, when the supply was exhausted, is said to have borrowed from others in order to relieve the needy – a form of vicarious charity which is not perhaps invariably to be recommended. She found herself in financial difficulties at this time, owing to her generosity and the impossibility of getting funds from Scotland, and sent for the tradesmen with whom she was in the habit of dealing to inform them frankly of her insolvent condition. The shopkeepers of that day seem to have been of a more confiding, trustful disposition than their descendants. They unanimously declared that they would continue to serve their old customer, knowing well that she would pay them if she possibly could, but that, if not, she was more than welcome to their goods. It is to be feared that a modern tradesman who placed such confidence in the integrity of his patrons, though he might for a time be overwhelmed with custom, would soon realise (as he mournfully proceeded to put up his shutters) the futility of carrying on business upon purely philanthropic principles.

George Baillie died in 1738 at Oxford whither he and his wife had gone to look after the education of their grandsons. His life had been a stirring and eventful one, and towards the end of it he had taken a prominent place in the world of politics. “Union” Lockhart describes him as being “morose, proud, and severs, but of a profound solid judgment,” and declares that he was by far the most significant man of his party, “to whom he was a kind of dictator.” [The Lockhart Papers, containing Memoirs and Commentaries upon the Affairs of Scotland from 1702 to 1715, by George Lockhart, Esq. of Carnwath, vol. i. p.95. (1817)] As a member of Parliament Baillie attended to his duties with the utmost regularity. He always expressed the greatest contempt for those persons, who, as he said, after moving heaven and earth to get into the House of Commons, never troubled to be present at debates. In 1715 he spoke eloquently in favour of showing mercy to the rebels, saying with some emotion that he himself had been bred in the school of affliction and had learnt the virtue of clemency. He even entertained the families of the unfortunate prisoners, and assisted them to the best of his ability. He had always been a very religious man and constant in his devotions. Towards the end of his life his doctor considered that he was spending too much of his time in prayers and too little in the open air, and begged him not to shut himself up in his room so much, but to say his prayers in the garden or as he drove about the streets. “You are a better physician than divine,” replied Baillie, “since you would only serve God with your own conveniency.”

Grisell Baillie only survived her husband’s death for eight years. Lady Murray has left a description of her mother’s character and an account of her life from which it is not difficult to gain a fair idea of Lady Grisell’s many sterling qualities. She was, says her biographer, of a modest and retiring disposition, speaking little save in the company of intimates, yet gifted with a quick and ready wit, which flashed out through her conversation and caused her society to be much cultivated by her friends. The hospitality which she dispensed was lavish but at the same time unostentatious, for she was economical without being mean and generous without being extravagant. It was, she declared, her chief delight to give happiness to those around her, and in this she was eminently successful. In later life she spent much of her time and money upon her numerous grandchildren, of whom she was passionately fond. Her long experience as virtual head of her father’s household had given her a knowledge of business and the management of affairs of which she was justly proud, which no doubt conduced to the comfort and welfare of her own home. Scottish women have always made the best housekeepers in the world, and Lady Grisell was no exception to the rule.

Lady Murray, describing her mother’s personal appearance, declares that she was very handsome, with a good figure and “a life and sweetness in her eyes very uncommon, and great delicacy in all her features.” Her hair was of a rich chestnut colour, and her clear complexion, rosy cheeks, and red lips, “as fresh as those of a girl of fifteen,” remained unaltered to the end of her days.

When she lay dying in 1746, in her eighty-first year, she asked that her husband’s letters should be buried in her grave. At her daughter’s urgent request, however, she consented to renounce the idea. On her death-bed she desired that the last chapter of Proverbs should be read to her. It would surely be too much to say that she herself belonged to that type of virtuous womanhood, “whose price is far above rubies,” described so beautifully in that memorable passage. “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her… She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands… She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens… She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy … Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in the time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.”

With Grisell Baillie there passed from the human stage one who may justly be called a perfect wife and daughter, tender, devoted, true. Joanna Baillie declares that she would have made “a meet and magnanimous Queen.” As a queen she certainly reigned in the hearts of her family and of all who knew her, and to the present generation she must appear as one of the most charming characters in the domestic history of Scotland.

Lady Grisell Baillie was buried by the side of her husband at Mellerstain, on Christmas day 1746, and the following epitaph, composed by Sir Thomas Burnet [Son of Bishop Burnet.] and engraved upon her tomb, gives as concise an account and appreciation of her life and character as the pompous language of the period permits:-











































The Household Book of Lady Grisell Baillie 1692 to 1733 (pdf)

This volume forms one of a series of publications issued by the Scottish History Society dealing with household expenditure during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and goes far to fill the hiatus in years between the Foulis Book and the Ochtertyre Book. For this reason alone it would serve a useful purpose, but considerably more than this is claimed for it. In the first place, it deals with a much wider range of subject-matter than is usually included in what are termed 'House Books,' taking these words in their ordinary acceptation. To a certain extent, therefore, its title is inadequate. In the second place, owing to the various changes of residence of the family with which it deals, it affords an opportunity of contrasting the expenses of living in the country with those of living in a close in the High Street of Edinburgh, and again of comparing these with the expenses of living in London, in Bath, and on the Continent. In the third place, it gives us memoranda as to the duties of servants, as to the arrangement of the dinner-table, as to travelling, and as to many other matters of interest. And lastly, it brings us indirectly into touch with a remarkably interesting group of people, whether viewed socially, politically, or intellectually, who were well known in their day and generation, and whose history it is a pleasure to study.

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