Graham, William (1591-1661) (DNB00)

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GRAHAM, WILLIAM, seventh Earl of Menteith and first Earl of Airth (1591–1661), born in 1591, was the son of John Graham, sixth earl of Menteith, and his countess, Mary, daughter of Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy. His father died in December 1598. His curators, on 14 July 1610, obtained letters of dispensation of his not being of the full age of twenty-one years, and served him heir to his father in the earldom. Two years later he married Lady Agnes, daughter of Patrick, lord Gray. The family was of the same stock as the earls of Montrose, though it had not been hitherto conspicuous. The seventh earl was a man of great vigour. He cleared many of his estates from encumbrances, and became an early favourite of Charles I. In December 1626 he was appointed a member of the privy council of Scotland and a commissioner of exchequer. On the death of his kinsman, John, earl of Montrose and president of the council, the office was immediately conferred by the king on Menteith (January 1628), and on 16 May 1631 confirmed to him for life. In July 1628 he was created justice-general of Scotland, and the king, consulting Menteith on everything relating to Scottish affairs, obliged him frequently to travel up to his court at London, and made him a member of the privy council of England. He gave him an annual pension for life of 500l., and promised him a further gift of 5,000l. sterling as soon as the condition of the royal treasury permitted its payment. But this was never paid.

Something like a genealogical craze took possession of the Scottish nobility at this period. Menteith shared in the rivalry, and having ascertained his descent from Eufamia, countess palatine of Strathearn, and granddaughter of Robert II, by the advice of Sir Thomas Hope, king's advocate, he resolved to pursue his claim to that earldom. Menteith proposed to renounce formally his claim to some of the lands of the earldom which were annexed to the crown, but sought to recover others in possession of subjects. The king not only consented to what was proposed, but gave Menteith 3,000l. sterling for the renunciation. He also granted him a patent, on 31 July 1631, creating him and his heirs earls of Strathearn, and ratified in his favour the old charters which had been granted to his ancestor, David, earl of Strathearn.

Menteith, however, had enemies, especially Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet, author of ‘The Staggering State of Scots Statesmen.’ He had been the means, he said, of Menteith's rapid advance to power, but had been ungratefully cast off at the bidding of Sir Thomas Hope (Sir John Scot's ‘True Narration,’ printed by Sir Harris Nicolas in his History of the Earldoms of Strathern and Monteith, App. p. xxiv). Scot and others hostile to Menteith made a complaint to the king. Scot's brother-in-law, William Drummond of Hawthornden [q. v.], drew up a tractate in December 1632 against the earl's claims. Charles took legal advice, which, as it was taken from the parties hostile to Menteith, was utterly condemnatory of his action. Charles seems to have considered Menteith to have been only imprudent, and, while stripping him of his new title of Earl of Strathearn, gave him that of Earl of Airth, with the precedency due to the earldom of Menteith, created in 1427, promising also to continue his favour (Fraser, Red Book of Menteith, ii. 49). The legal right of Menteith to prosecute his claim to Strathearn was never really impugned by his enemies, who sought, though it proved impracticable, to destroy every document which could aid in proving his connection with Robert II.

Menteith's enemies now spread reports that he had boasted of his blood, and thought his right to the crown as good as the king's. The queen was induced to speak to Charles, who was intending to go to Scotland for his coronation. Charles promised to settle the matter when there. Meanwhile he wrote to the Scottish council to investigate the truth of the report. Only hearsay evidence was produced, but Charles was impressed, and after reaching Holyrood fixed a day for the trial. It is doubtful if any trial took place. The earl absolutely denied that he could have used any such phrase, unless in jest, but submitted to the king's clemency. The king then ordered him to retire to his house at Airth, and he was ultimately condemned to deprivation of all his offices and pensions, and also of the gifts of money made to him by the king, none of which had hitherto been honoured. The Earl of Airth demitted all these in November 1633, and retired to his own house. Here his creditors set upon him, and threatened his estates. He wrote to the king that he was almost ruined, and Charles arranged with Traquair, the Scottish treasurer, and other members of council that relief should be afforded. But Traquair was a secret enemy, and delayed the promised relief. Airth had to sell or mortgage most of his estates, and part with his plate. At his death it was computed that the crown owed him 50,000l.

When the covenanting struggle began in 1637, the council was ordered by the king to relieve the earl from confinement to his own estates. As he declined to take part with the covenanters, he again grew in favour with Charles, who reappointed him a member of the privy council, and made both him and his eldest son, John, lord Kilpont, lieutenants of Stirlingshire for the raising of troops against the covenanters. In 1644 Kilpont was posted at the hill of Buchanty in Glenalmond, Perthshire, by the covenanters (to whom he appears temporarily to have submitted), for the purpose of resisting the Marquis of Montrose in his advance towards Perth. Instead of resisting, he joined Montrose, and took part in defeating the covenanters at Tippermuir. A few days later, however, he was assassinated in the camp by James Stewart of Ardvoirlich, one of his own followers. Airth lived through the period of the Commonwealth, and died in January 1661.

The earldom of Airth was inherited by his grandson, William, eighth earl of Menteith, son of John, lord Kilpont, by Lady Mary Keith, daughter of William, earl Marischal. The estates being heavily mortgaged, this earl went to London to seek payment of the debt due to his grandfather, without results. He was so impoverished that in 1681, anxious to attend the meeting of parliament, he begged his kinsman, James Graham, third marquis of Montrose, to borrow a robe for him. He ultimately made over his lands to Montrose, as he had no issue. The honours of the family were claimed by the descendants of the eldest sister of this earl, who married Sir William Graham of Gartmore. Their representative in the middle of the eighteenth century assumed the title of Earl of Menteith, though forbidden by the House of Lords to do so, and was afterwards known as the ‘Beggar Earl,’ having in his latter years been reduced to mendicancy. He was found dead in a field in 1783, and soon afterwards that branch of the family became extinct. The second daughter of John, lord Kilpont, married Sir John Allardice of Allardice, Kincardineshire, and their descendant and representative, Robert Barclay Allardice [q. v.], of Ury and Allardice, in 1834 and 1840, and his daughter, Mrs. Barclay Allardice, in 1870 claimed the peerage of Airth and Menteith, but without success.

[Fraser's Red Book of Menteith; Sir Harris Nicolas's Hist. of the Earldoms of Strathearn and Menteith; Airth's Peerage Minutes.]

H. P.