Elphinstone, James (DNB00)

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ELPHINSTONE, JAMES, first Lord Balmerino (1553?–1612), the third son of Robert, third lord Elphinstone, by Margaret, daughter of Sir John Drummond of Innerpeffray, was born about 1553. He was appointed a lord of session 4 March 1586, and in 1595 was one of the powerful commissioners of the treasury known as the Octavians. In 1598 he became secretary of state, and for the next five years was a member of all the more important commissions of the privy council. He was a great favourite with James, whom in 1603 he accompanied to London. On 20 Feb. 1604 he was created a peer, with the title of Lord Balmerino, the estates of the Cistercian abbey of Balmerino in Fifeshire being converted into a temporal lordship in favour of him and his heirs male. In the same year he was nominated one of the Scotch commissioners to treat about the union with England, and when the negotiations were at an end he was chosen by the privy council of Scotland to convey their thanks to James, a sum of 2,000l. being allowed him for the expenses of the journey. In March 1605 he was made president of the court of session, and while holding that office successfully opposed Dunbar. It was believed that James intended to appoint him secretary of state in England, but an end was put to his further promotion by his speedy disgrace. In 1599 a letter signed by James had been sent to Pope Clement VIII, requesting him to give a cardinal's hat to Drummond, bishop of Vaizon (a kinsman of Balmerino), and expressing high regard for the pope and the catholic faith. The Master of Gray sent a copy of this letter to Elizabeth, who asked James for an explanation. He asserted that the letter must be a forgery, and Balmerino, as secretary of state, also repudiated its authorship. When in 1607 James published his 'Triplici nodo triplex cuneus', Cardinal Bellarmine quoted at length the letter written in 1599 as a proof of James's former favour to catholicism. James sent for Balmerino, who then, it was alleged, confessed that he had written the letter, and had surreptitiously passed it in among papers awaiting the king's signature. He was accordingly put on his trial, when he refused to plead, but he acquitted the king of any knowledge of the letter written to the pope, which he said had been sent by himself as a matter of policy. The king confirming the verdict of guilty which the jury found, Balmerino was in March 1609 sentenced to be beheaded, quartered, and demeaned as a traitor. The sentence, however, was not carried out, for reasons which are made clear by an account of the affair privately drawn up by Balmerino. According to this document, James was by no means averse to correspondence with Clement, but had scruples about addressing him by his apostolical titles, which were therefore afterwards prefixed by Balmerino to the letter which James, who was aware of its contents, had signed without hesitation. When the matter was brought up again in 1606, severe pressure was put by Dunbar and Cecil on Balmerino to induce him to take the whole blame on himself, and on the promise that his life and estates should be secured to him he consented to exculpate the king. He remained imprisoned at Falkland till October 1609, when. on finding security in 40,000l, he was allowed free ward in the town and a mile around. Afterwards he was permitted to retire to his own estate at Balmerino, where he died in July 1612. He married, first, Sarah, daughter of Sir John Menteith, by whom he had one son, John, second lord Balmerino; secondly, Marjory, daughter of Hugh Maxwell of Tealing, by whom he had a son James, created in 1607 Lord Coupar, and two daughters, Anne and Mary.

[Douglas and Wood's Peerage of Scotland, i. 183, 538; Anderson's Scottish Nation, i. 228; Burton's Hist. of Scotland to 1688, vi. 138; Laing's Hist. of Scotland, iii. 69-81; Calderwood's Hist. of the Church of Scotland, pp. 312, 354, 427; Chronicle of Kings of Scotland (Maitland Club Publications). p. 178; Register of Privy Council of Scotland, vi. 276. vii. 340, and passim; Cal. State Papers (Dom. Ser. 1603-14), pp. 466, 407, (1611-18) 137.]

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