Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Drummond, John (1649-1714)

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DRUMMOND, JOHN, first Earl and titular Duke of Melfort (1649–1714), was the second son of James, third earl of Perth. In 1673 he was captain of the Scotch foot guards. In 1677 his elder brother, James, fourth earl of Perth [q. v.], in a letter to Lauderdale offering to assist in dragooning the covenanters, complains of the family's decay, but honours soon fell thick upon them. In 1679 Drummond became deputy-governor of Edinburgh Castle, in 1680 lieutenant-general and master of the ordnance, in 1681 treasurer-depute of Scotland under Queensberry, and in 1684 secretary of state for Scotland. In 1685 he was created Viscount Melfort, with a grant from the crown of Melfort, Argyllshire, and other estates. In 1686 he was raised to an earldom, and exchanged Melfort for Riccarton, Cessnock, &c., Cessnock, worth 1,000l. a year, having by a shameless act of spoliation been taken from Sir Hugh Campbell. The reversion of these peerages was to the issue of his second marriage with Euphemia, daughter of Sir Thomas Wallace of Craigie, his sons by his first wife (a Fifeshire heiress, Sophia Lundey or Lundin, daughter of Margaret Lundey and Robert Maitland, Lauderdale's brother) being passed over as staunch protestants. Melfort and his brother, in order to supplant Queensberry, had declared themselves converted to catholicism by the controversial papers found in Charles II's strong box, and paraded by James II as a proof that Charles had always been a catholic. According to Burnet this double conversion was suggested by Perth and reluctantly adopted by Melfort; but the latter so far surpassed his brother in ability and unscrupulousness that the scheme was more likely his. Whereas, moreover, Perth's conversion appears to have acquired sincerity, Melfort's character never inspired confidence either in his political or his religious professions. It is, however, but fair to state that their mother, Lady Anne Gordon, was a catholic. For three years the two brothers ruled Scotland. Melfort, one of the first recipients of the revived order of the Thistle, was in London when William of Orange landed. He hastily provided for the worst by resigning his estates to the crown and having them regranted to his wife, with remainder to his son John. He advocated a wholesale seizure of influential whigs and their relegation to Portsmouth; but Sunderland's plan of rescinding all arbitrary measures prevailed. He was one of the witnesses to the will executed by James (17 Nov. 1688), and on the desertion of Churchill was meant to succeed him in the bedchamber. Quitting England before his master he landed at Ambleteuse 16 Dec. (N.S.), and countersigned James's letter to the privy council, which reached London 8 (18) Jan. 1689. His wife, with her son, speedily joined him, thus virtually abandoning her claim to the estates, and his Edinburgh house was pillaged by the mob, the charters and other papers being destroyed or dispersed. One of the handsomest men of his time, an accomplished dancer, of an ‘active, undertaking temper,’ as the ‘Stuart Papers’ euphemistically style his arrogant and monopolising disposition, Melfort acquired unbounded influence over James, and his adversaries never felt themselves secure except by keeping him at a distance from the king. Perth's suggestion that it was his wife who incited him to abuse that influence by soliciting favours and prerogatives is a fraternal excuse which cannot be accepted. In March 1689 Melfort accompanied James to Ireland, but became so obnoxious both to the Irish Jacobites and to the French envoy, Avaux, that James was constrained in September to send him back to France on the plea of reporting on the situation and requesting reinforcements. Avaux asserts that Melfort had been afraid to show his face in Dublin by daylight, and would have to leave by night. He had countersigned and doubtless drawn up James's imprudent threatening letter to the Scotch convention; and Claverhouse, when he invited the king to cross over from Ireland, stipulated that Melfort should not be employed in Scotch business. Mary of Modena, like her husband, was under Melfort's spell, so that Louis XIV found it necessary to remove him from St. Germain by despatching him as Jacobite envoy to Rome. One Porter, who had already held that post, and was on his way back from Ireland, found himself forestalled, and had to remain in France. At Rome Melfort, according to the gossip of the time, pressed Innocent XII for a loan of money, but was told the expenses of his election had left him bare. What is more certain is that on the false report of William III's death he wrote a letter of congratulation to the dethroned queen. Meanwhile his estates had been sequestrated, and in February 1691 a large quantity of goods belonging to him, said to be worth 5,000l. or 6,000l., were seized in London. These may have included the Vandycks, Rubens, and other pictures, sold for the benefit of his creditors in 1693, when Evelyn tells us that Whitehall was thronged with great lords, and that the paintings went ‘dear enough.’ By the end of 1691 Melfort was back at St. Germain, and with the Prince of Wales and Lord Powis was made K.G. Middleton's arrival in April 1693 put an end to his ascendency. James, however, commissioned him to forward to the pope his proclamation of April 1693, drawn up in England and reluctantly signed by him, in which he promised good behaviour if reinstated, and Melfort assured his holiness that the pledges offered to the church of England were not to be taken too seriously. In 1695 Melfort as a Jacobite refugee was attainted, and his arms publicly torn at Edinburgh market cross. In 1696, however, it was reported that he had vainly asked James's permission to return to England. Certain it is that he was banished to Rouen, but in the following year was allowed to live in Paris and pay occasional visits to St. Germain, his bedchamber salary being restored. In 1697 it was believed in London that he was about to return under a pardon. In 1701 the postmaster-general, Sir Robert Cotton, found in the Paris mail-bag a letter addressed by Melfort at Paris to Perth at St. Germain. It spoke of the existence of a strong Jacobite party in Scotland, and of Louis XIV as still contemplating a Jacobite restoration. This letter, submitted by William to both houses as a proof of French perfidy, gave great offence to Louis, who, even had he then meditated a rupture of the treaty of Ryswick, would not have made Melfort his confidant. In London the seizure of the letter was really or ostensibly attributed to accident; but in France, where the mode of making up the mails was of course best known, Melfort was believed to have written the letter with a view to its reaching London and embroiling the two countries. He was consequently banished to Angers, and never saw James again; but the latter on his deathbed directed that Melfort should be recalled, and that the dukedom secretly conferred on him years before should be publicly assumed. St. Simon, however, no bad judge of character, shared to the last the suspicions of Melfort's infidelity. His character manifestly will not clear him from such suspicions, but he was apparently too deeply committed to James's cause for treachery to profit him, yet Marlborough is said to have been informed by one of Melfort's household of the intended plan of operations in Scotland in 1708. Melfort expired at Paris in 1714 after a long illness. His widow, a great beauty in her time, died at St. Germain in 1743, at the age of ninety. By his first wife he had three sons, James, Robert, and Charles, and three daughters, Ann, Elizabeth, and Mary; by his second, six sons, John (second duke), Thomas (in the Austrian service), William (a priest), Andrew (a French officer), Bernard (who died in childhood at Douay), and Philip (a French officer), besides several daughters, two of whom were married successively to the Spanish Marquis Castelblanco. The male line by Melfort's first marriage died out in 1800 with Baron Perth, to whom the Drummond estates had been restored, and who bequeathed them to his daughter, Lady Willoughby de Eresby. John, the second earl or duke (1682–1754), took part in the rising of 1715, and was succeeded by his son James, who, having lost his feet in the German wars, could not go to Scotland in 1745, but sent his brother Louis, comte de Melfort, who was wounded and captured at Culloden. The fourth duke, James Louis, and the fifth, his brother Charles Edward, a catholic prelate, unsuccessfully claimed the Drummond estates, the French revolution having deprived them of the county of Lusan, acquired by the second duke's marriage. Their nephew, George Drummond, obtained in 1853 the repeal of the attainder, and his recognition as Earl of Perth and Melfort, though without recovering any of the estates.

[Historical Facts regarding the succession, &c. by the Earl of Perth, Paris, 1866; Burnet's History of my own Time; Luttrell's Brief Relation; Douglas's Peerage of Scotland; Lauderdale Papers, Camd. Soc.]

J. G. A.