Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Macqueen, Robert
MACQUEEN, ROBERT, Lord Braxfield (1722–1799), Scottish judge, eldest son of John Macqueen of Braxfield, Lanarkshire, sometime sheriff substitute of the upper ward of that county, by his wife Helen, daughter of John Hamilton of Gilkerscleugh, Lanarkshire, was born on 4 May 1722. He was educated at the grammar school of Lanark and at the university of Edinburgh. Macqueen was apprenticed to a writer to the signet in Edinburgh, and on 14 Feb. 1744 was admitted advocate. He was employed as one of the counsel for the crown in the many intricate feudal questions which arose out of the forfeitures of 1745. Macqueen quickly rained the reputation of being the best feudal lawyer in Scotland, and for many years possessed the largest practice at the bar. He succeeded George Brown of Coalston as an ordinary lord of session, and, assuming the title or Lord Braxfield, took his seat on the bench on 13 Dec. 1776. He was also appointed a lord of justiciary on 1 March 1780, in the place of Alexander Boswell, lord Auchinleck [q. v.] In the same year was Sublished an anonymous 'Letter to Robert [acqueen, Lord Braxfield, on his Promotion to be one of the Judges of the High Court of Justiciary,' Edinburgh, 12mo. This pamphlet, which points out the common failings of Scottish criminal judges, is attributed by Lord Cockburn to James Boswell the elder [q. v.] (Circuit Journeys, 1889, p. 322). On 1 Jan. 1788 Braxfield was promoted to the post of lord-justice clerk, in succession to Thomas Miller of Barskimming, who had been appointed lord president of the court of session. In this capacity he presided at the trials of Muir, Skirving, Margarot, and others, who were proceeded against for sedition in 1793-4. 'In these,' says Lord Cockburn, 'he was the Jeffreys of Scotland. He, as the head of the court, and the only very powerful man it contained, was the real director of its proceedings' (Memorials of his Time, 1856, p. 116). These trials, which were conducted with the greatest harshness and severity against the prisoners, met with a considerable amount of criticism in parliament; but Lord Mansfield, who as lord-justice-general was the nominal head of the Scottish criminal court, warmly defended the conduct of the court of justiciary, and declared that though he had not the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with Braxfield, he has 'long heard the loud voice of fame that speaks of nim as a man of pure and spotless integrity, of great talents, and of a transcendent knowledge of the laws of his country' (Parl. Hist. xxxi. 283). When Dundas wrote to Braxfield, stating that representations had been made against the legality of the sentences on Muir and Palmer, and asking for the opinions of the judges on the subject, Braxfield, in replying that the court considered the sentences legal, added a private note of his own, in which he urged that the royal mercy should not be extended to the condemned men (Ormond, Lives of the Lord Advocates of Scotland, 1883, ii. 194). Braxfield died in St. George's Square, Edinburgh, on 30 May 1799, aged 77, and was buned at Lanark on 5 June following. He was a coarse and illiterate man, with a keen and vigorous understanding, a hard head both for drinking and thinking, and a tyrannical will. 'Strong built and dark, with rough eyebrows, powerful eyes, threatening lips, and a low, growling voice, he was like a formidable blacksmith. His accent and his dialect were exaggerated Scotch, his language, like his thoughts, short, strong, and conclusive' (Cockburn, Memorials of his Time, p. 113). He domineered over the prisoners, the counsel, and his colleagues alike. Devoid of even a pretence to judicial decorum, he delighted while on the bench in the broadest jests and the most insulting taunts, 'over which he would chuckle the more from observing that correctpeople were shocked' (ib. p. 115). When Gerrald ventured to say that Christianity was an innovation, and that all great men had been reformers, 'even our Saviour himself,' Braxfield chuckled in an undertone, 'Muckle he made o' that, he was hanget' (ib. p. 117). On another occasion he is said to have told an eloquent culprit at the bar, 'Ye're a verra clever chiel, man, but ye wad be nane the waur o' a hanging 1 (Loochabt, Life of Sir W. Scott, 1846, p. 425). When consulted on the advisability of a political prosecution, his usual reply is said to have teen, 'Bring me the prisoners, and I will find you the law' (Cockburn, Examination of the Trials for Sedition in Scotland, i. 87; see also Home, Henry, Lord Kambs).
He married, first, Mary, daughter of Major James Agnew of the 7th dragoon guards, and niece of Sir Andrew Agnew of Lochnaw, Wigtownshire, bart., by whom he had two sons — (1) Robert Dundas, who died on 5 Aug. 1816, and (2) John, captain in the 28th regiment of foot, who died on 2 Feb. 1837; and two daughters — (1) Mary, who married in 1777 Sir William Honyman, lord Armadale, and (2) Katherine, who married John Macdonald, chief of Clanranald, in 1786. Braxfield married, secondly, Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Ord [q. v.], lord chief baron of the exchequer in Scotland, by whom he had no issue.
Scott's thesis on the 'Title of the Pandects concerning the Disposal of the Dead Bodies of Criminals,' written on his call to the Scottish bar, was dedicated to Braxfield (Lockhart, p. 51). A portrait of Braxfield by Sir Henry Raeburn was exhibited at the Raeburn Exhibition at Edinburgh in 1876.
[Howell's State Trials, 1817,vol.xxiii.; Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk, 1819, ii. 109-14 (with portrait); Brunton and Haig's Senators of the Coll. of Justice, 1832, pp. 634-5; Anderson's Scottish Nation, iii. 68-9; Grant's Old and New Edinburgh, i. 173, ii. 162, 163, 339; Kay's Edinburgh Portraits, i. 120; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1886, ii. 1205; Edinburgh Mag. 1799, p. 80; Scots Mag. 1799, p. 496; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. x. 30, xi. 22.]