Erskine, James (1679-1754) (DNB00)
|←Erskine, James (d.1640)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 17
Erskine, James (1679-1754)
|Erskine, James St. Clair→|
ERSKINE, JAMES, Lord Grange (1679–1754), judge, second son of Charles, tenth earl of Mar, by Lady Mary Maule, eldest daughter of George, second earl of Panmure, was born in 1679. He was educated for the law, and became a member of the Faculty of Advocates on 28 July 1705. His advancement was very rapid. On 18 Oct. 1706 he was appointed to the bench in succession to Sir Archibald Hope of Rankeillor, and took his seat 18 March 1707. On 6 June of the same year he succeeded Lord Crocerig as a lord of justiciary, and on 27 July 1710 became, with the title of Lord Grange, lord justice clerk, in place of Lord Ormistone. ‘This is a fruit,’ says Wodrow, ‘of Mar's voting for Dr. Sacheverell’ (see too Carstares State Papers, 787). Though professing rigid piety and strict presbyterian principles and loyalty to the Hanoverian succession, he kept up a connection, as close as it was obscure, with the opposite party, and especially with his brother the Earl of Mar, and was employed by him to draw up the address from the highland chiefs to George I, which was presented to the king on his landing, and was rejected by him. In the rebellion of 1715, however, Grange took no part. He was held in high favour by the stricter presbyterians, took an active share in the affairs of the general assembly, and is said to have found a peculiar pleasure in undertaking any act of rigour or inquisition in church government which required to be performed. He was in particular staunch in the assertion of the utmost freedom of ministers and presbyteries from the control either of lay patrons or the government. Thus in 1713 he urged the lord treasurer not to prosecute recusants who refused to observe the thanksgiving, and when the question of presentations arose in the East Calder case, he advised the ministers to evade the Patronage Act, by agreeing among themselves ‘to discourage and bear down all persons who accepted presentations,’ so as to cause the presentation to pass by lapse of time from the patron to the presbytery. In 1731 he pushed his opposition against heritors, as heritors, being electors of a minister, ‘and to lodge all in the hands of the christian people and communicants’ so far as to be accused of causing schism in the church. His piety manifested itself in various ways. He was intimate with and much esteemed by Wodrow, who reckons him ‘among the greatest men in this time, and would fain hope the calumnies cast on him are very groundless.’ At one time he propounds for discussion, and to pass the time, the question ‘wherein the spirits proper work upon the soul did lye;’ at another he laments Lord Townsend's withdrawal from public life, ‘for he was the only one at court that had any real concern about the interests of religion;’ and his causal talk with a barber's lad who was shaving him so moved the boy that it led to his conversion. And yet this pious judge did not escape the abuse of his contemporaries as a jesuit and a Jacobite, a profligate and a pretender to religion, and is thus characterised by the historian of his country.
His treatment of his wife throws some light on his character. She was Rachel Chiesly, a daughter of that Chiesly of Dalry who murdered the lord president of the court of session in the streets of Edinburgh in 1689 (see Archæologia Scotica, iv. 15). Grange had first debauched her and married her under compulsion. Proud, violent, and jealous like her family, she was also a drunkard, and at times an imbecile. Grange was constantly absent from her in England; she suspected him, probably not without cause, of infidelity, and set spies about him. Her conduct was an open scandal, and Grange was much pitied by his friends. The story on their side is that she accused him of treason, stole his letters to support the baseless charge, attempted his life, separated from him, and forced a maintenance from him under pressure of legal process. Her misconduct lasted at least from 1730 to 1732, and Grange had other family troubles. His sister-in-law, Lady Mar, was also, it appeared, at times insane, and he endeavoured in April 1731, under some form of law, to carry her off from England to Scotland ‘for the advantage of her family,’ but was thwarted by her sister, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, with a warrant from the king's bench. Lady Mar remained in Lady Mary's custody for some years. ‘His health,’ writes Wodrow in 1731, ‘is much broken this winter and spring.’ But in 1732 these scandals and his wife's existence came to an end, and he publicly celebrated her funeral. Nevertheless she was alive till 1745, and a prisoner beyond the ken of friends till her death. She lodged with a highland woman, a Maclean, in Edinburgh. One winter's night, when Lady Grange was on the point of going to London (22 Jan. 1732), this woman introduced some highlanders in Lovat's tartan into the chamber, who violently overpowered Lady Grange, carried her off in a chair beyond the walls, and thence on horseback to Linlithgow, to the house of one Macleod, an advocate. Thence she was taken to Falkirk, thence to Pomeise, where she was concealed thirteen weeks in a closet, and thence by Stirling into the highlands, till, travelling by night, and not sleeping in a bed for weeks together, she was brought in a sloop to the island of Hesker. This operation was actually conducted by Alexander Foster of Carsbonny, and a page of Grange's, Peter Fraser, but several highland chieftains, Lord Lovat, Sir Alexander Macdonald, and Macleod of Muiravondale, were privy to and participators in the affair. For ten months she was kept in Hesker without even bread, and thence was removed to St. Kilda. This was her prison for seven years. For long she had no attendant but one man, who spoke little English. Then a minister and his wife arrived, who did indeed commit her story to writing, 21 Jan. 1741, but were afraid otherwise to interfere in her behalf. At length the daughter of a catechist conveyed a message to her friends to the mainland, hid in a clew of wool. They despatched a brig to her assistance, and she was thereupon removed by her captors to Assynt, Sutherlandshire, and finally to Skye, where she died in May 1745, and was buried at Dunvegan, Inverness-shire.
The story of Lady Grange forcibly illustrates the close solidarity and secrecy of the highland Jacobites; and though Grange's account of the matter was that her insanity made confinement necessary, it is clear the Jacobite organisation would not have been employed in a private quarrel, or in so relentless a manner, unless Lady Grange had command of secrets which might have cost the lives of others besides her husband.
Grange certainly was connected with the Jacobites at various times. In 1726 the suspicion against him was strong, and in 1727 he was able to say from personal knowledge that the Jacobites were weary of the Pretender and were turning towards the king. But his main policy was to oppose Walpole. He was endeavouring to enter parliament with the view of joining the opposition, when Walpole inserted in his act regulating Scotch elections a clause excluding Scotch judges from the House of Commons. Grange at once resigned his judgeship, and was elected for Stirlingshire in 1734. With Dundas of Arniston he was one of the principal advisers of the peers of the opposition in 1734. In 1736 he vehemently opposed the abolition of the statutes against witchcraft. Walpole is said to have declared that from that moment he had nothing to fear from him. Though he became secretary to the Prince of Wales, his hopes of the secretaryship for Scotland were disappointed. For a time he returned to the Edinburgh bar, but without success, and having lived during his latter years in London died there 20 Jan. 1754. He was poor in his latter years, and there is evidence to show that he eventually married a woman named Lyndsay, a keeper of a coffee-house in the Haymarket, whom he had long lived with as his mistress. He had four sons, of whom the eldest, Charles (b. 27 Aug. 1709, d. 1774), was in the army, and John, the youngest (1720–1796), was dean of Cork, and four daughters, of whom Mary (b. 5 July 1714, d. 9 May 1772) married John, third earl of Kintore, 21 Aug. 1729.[Burton's Hist. of Scotland, 1689–1748; Wodrow's Analecta; Lord Grange's Letters in Spalding Club Miscellanies, vol. iii.; W. M. Thomas's Memoir of Lady M. Wortley Montagu; Wharncliffe's ed. of her Works, 1861; Omond's Arniston Memoirs; Chambers's Domestic Annals of Scotland, iii. 578; Chambers's Journal, March 1846 and July 1874; Proceedings of Soc. Scottish Antiquaries, vol. xi.; J. Maidment's Diary of a Senator of the College of Justice, 1843; Scott's Tales of a Grandfather; Boswell's Johnson (Croker); Gent. Mag. 1754; Scots Mag. 1817, p. 333; Brunton and Haig's College of Senators, p. 485; Douglas's Scotch Peerage, ii. 219.]