Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stewart, John (d.1659)

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STEWART, Sir JOHN, first Earl of Traquair (d. 1659), lord high treasurer of Scotland, was the son of John Stewart the younger of Traquair, by Margaret, daughter of Andrew, master of Ochiltree; he was thus fifth in descent from James Stewart, a natural son of James Stewart, earl of Buchan, who was the second son of Sir James Stewart, the Black Knight of Lorne [see under Stewart, Sir John, of Balveny, first Earl of Atholl], by Jane or Johanna Beaufort, queen dowager of James I. On 20 Feb. 1489 this James Stewart obtained from his father an act of legitimation under the great seal, and also a charter of the lands of Traquair, Peeblesshire. His son, William Stewart of Traquair, had four sons, of whom the elder, Robert, died in 1548; the second, Sir John, was knighted by Queen Mary on 20 July 1565, was chosen a captain of her guards, and also fought for her after her escape from Lochleven in 1568; and the third, Sir William, was gentleman of the bedchamber to James VI, and governor of Dumbarton Castle. These three sons were successively lairds of Traquair, and, all dying without issue, the estate fell in 1605 to the youngest, James, who died in the following year, and, being predeceased by his eldest son, was succeeded by his grandson, afterwards first Earl of Traquair.

John Stewart received his early education under Thomas Sydserf [q. v.], bishop of Galloway, and afterwards spent some time abroad. In 1621 he was elected commissioner for Tweeddale in the Scottish parliament; he was also sworn a member of the privy council, and was knighted. On 19 April 1628 he was raised to the peerage by the title of Lord Stewart of Traquair, to him and his heirs male. In 1630 he was appointed treasurer depute, and on 18 Nov. of the same year an extraordinary lord of session. During the visit of Charles I to Scotland, in 1633, he was on 23 June created Earl of Traquair, Lord Linton and Caberston, to him and his heirs male whatever, bearing the title and arms of Stewart.

In 1634 Traquair was chancellor of the jury at the trial of Lord Balmerino [see Elphinstone, John, second Lord Balmerino], and, it is said, lest he should offend the bishops and the court (Balfour, Annals, ii. 219), gave the casting vote against him; but finding that the sentence was extremely unpopular, he went up to London, and, after fully explaining the case to the king, obtained his pardon. The attitude of Traquair on the Balmerino case is a sample of his attitude throughout the covenanting struggle; he always succumbed to the policy of the king when necessity compelled him to do so, but at the same time did his utmost both to temper that policy and to reconcile the nation to obedience to it when there was no other option than open resistance. Having gone to London in 1636, he returned in June as lord high treasurer, in succession to the Earl of Morton (Spalding, Memorialls, i. 71). Probably, before receiving office, he gave the king to understand that he would do his best to aid him in introducing the liturgy into Scotland. Indeed, according to Bishop Guthry, Traquair, being a secret enemy of the bishops, encouraged the king to proceed with the imposition of the liturgy in order to accomplish their ruin (Memoirs, pp. 17, 20). Spalding, who also describes him as ‘a great enemy of the bishops,’ states that in July 1637, before the liturgy was introduced, he and other nobles, with ‘various miscontented puritans, held a meeting, at which they began to regret their dangerous estate with the pride and avarice of the prelates’ (Memorialls, i. 78–9). Spalding does not hesitate even to suggest that Traquair, although taking an active part in the arrangements for the introduction of the liturgy into Scotland, secretly encouraged the tumult of the serving-women against the service in St. Giles (ib.); but of this there is, of course, no proof. The probability is that Traquair personally cared little either for presbyterianism or episcopacy, and would have been satisfied with any kind of peaceful settlement of the question. He therefore did his utmost to assuage the anger of the king against the offenders, representing that ‘the flame kindled was of little danger for its consequence’ (Gordon, Scots Affairs, i. 14); and he further endeavoured to impress him with the necessity of acting with caution by signing, with others, the letter of 25 Aug., representing that the opposition to the liturgy was so vehement and general that they could not take further steps for enforcing its introduction until they received fresh instructions (Balfour, Annals, ii. 229–31). In October following he had an unpleasant reminder of the excitable temper of the people; for in a tumult against the bishop of Galloway he was himself thrown down, and had his hat, cloak, and white wand of office pulled from him (Gordon, Scots Affairs, i. 23–4). Traquair represented to the king that it would be vain to demand observance of the liturgy unless he was prepared to enforce compliance with forty thousand men. But he by no means desired the latter alternative. In a private conference with John Leslie, sixth earl of Rothes [q. v.], he stated that he was himself opposed to the liturgy, but advised that some kind of acknowledgment should be made by the city of Edinburgh of the lawlessness of the citizens' procedure, in order that the ‘king might be righted in the eyes of the world for the contempt which appeared to proceed from this people to his authority’ (Relation, p. 52). In answer to a letter of the council to the king, Traquair was asked to proceed to court. While there he was, according to Guthry, accused of treachery to the bishops; but the king, says Guthry, ‘would not be induced to take any hard course against him, to the grief of all that were loyal, and the encouragement of rogues and traitors’ (Memoirs, p. 55). In what way Traquair represented matters to the king is of course unknown; but if he advised him, meanwhile, to let the matter drop, he was unsuccessful, for in February 1638 he was sent down—according to his own account ‘with great unwillingness’ (Traquair to Hamilton, 15 March, in Hardwicke State Papers, ii. 101)—with a proclamation commanding obedience to the service, and forbidding all meetings convened in opposition to it under pain of treason. The proclamation was, however, met at all the principal towns with a protestation against it (Gordon, i. 33–6), and a movement at once commenced for a renewal of the national covenant.

To be prepared against eventualities, the king resolved to place the castle of Edinburgh in a state of defence; but the covenanters forbade the landing of a cargo of arms and ammunition sent by sea for this purpose. Thereupon Traquair secretly provided a boat at night, and conveyed the arms and ammunition to Dalkeith Palace (Gordon, i. 66). He found it, however, impossible to transfer them to Edinburgh Castle. After the capture of the castle by the covenanters, on 19 March 1639, a force of one thousand musketeers was sent by them under the command of the Earl of Rothes and other noblemen to Dalkeith. They compelled Traquair to deliver up the palace, and brought the arms and ammunition, as well as the royal ensigns, to Edinburgh Castle (ib. ii. 208; Balfour, ii. 322). After this surrender Traquair joined the king at York, but was regarded for some time with suspicion and ordered to keep his chamber. After the treaty of Berwick, in June he was appointed, in place of Hamilton, the king's commissioner to the assembly which met at Edinburgh on 12 Aug., when an act was passed abolishing episcopacy. Not only did Traquair give his verbal assent to this act: he promised both to give a written declaration of his approval of it and to ratify it in the ensuing parliament, to which he was also the king's commissioner (Gordon, iii. 48; Balfour, ii. 353). He did sign the declaration of assent (Gordon, ib.), and he also, as a subject, consented to subscribe the covenant, with an explanation of his reasons for doing so (ib. iii. 54); but, instead of arranging for the ratification of the act by parliament, he adjourned the opening of parliament from 14 Nov. 1639 to 2 July 1640. On his return to London he is said, in order to excuse his own conduct, to have given in a report strongly representing the obstinacy of the covenanters; and if he did not, as Gordon suggests, seek to ‘play with both parties,’ the result probably was, as Gordon affirms, that he ‘was trusted of neither’ (ib. iii. 83). In any case, his inconsistency was so strongly resented by the covenanters that the Scots commissioners for the treaty of Ripon had private instructions to object to him should he be one of those appointed to treat with them (Balfour, ii. 410). In 1641 also an act was passed by the Scottish parliament against him as one of the chief incendiaries, and a warrant was directed to the Scots commissioners in London to have him sent home for trial (ib. iii. 3). He failed to appear, but in his absence he was sentenced to execution; and although at the instance of the king the sentence was revoked, he was deprived of the office of treasurer, and the king also undertook that he should not be employed in any office of court or state without the consent of parliament (Acta Parl. Scot. v. 495). In 1644, for having repaired to the court, and for having indicated his opposition to the covenant, he was declared an enemy to religion, and his goods were ordered to be confiscated. To avert further evil consequences, he therefore offered to the parliament a sum of forty thousand merks, whereupon he was formally fined in that sum, and ordained to confine himself within the sheriffdoms of Roxburgh, Tweeddale, and Peebles—all the former acts made against him in the parliament of 1641 to stand ‘in force and vigour’ (Balfour, iii. 286). In 1645 he sent his son, Lord Linton, with a troop of horse to join Montrose, and, according to Bishop Guthry, undertook to inform Montrose of General Leslie's movements (Memoirs, p. 201); but as Lord Linton secretly withdrew with his troop on the night before the battle of Philiphaugh, it has been supposed that Traquair was in communication with Leslie, and gave him private information as to Montrose's position (ib. p. 202; Wishart, Memoirs of Montrose, ed. Murdoch and Simpson, 1893, p. 143). In November 1646 Charles addressed a letter to William Hamilton, earl of Lanark (afterwards second Duke of Hamilton) [q. v.], Scottish secretary of state, particularly recommending that Traquair should be admitted to his place in parliament; and this was accordingly done. In 1648 he raised a troop of horse for the engagement, and with his son, Lord Linton, was taken prisoner at Preston. He was confined in Warwick Castle, but at different periods was allowed to go to Berwick and Scotland for several months on parole (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1651–4, passim). While a prisoner in England he was, in May 1650, discharged to enter the kingdom (Nicoll, Diary, p. 14; Balfour, Annals, iv. 42). He was set at liberty by Cromwell in 1654, and returned to Scotland. In August 1655 he was panelled and accused before the criminal court for perjury at the instance of his son-in-law (Nicoll, p. 156), but the result is not stated. If, however, the story of the kidnapping at his instance of Lord Durie by Willie Armstrong (1602?–1658?) [q. v.] be true, it would at least appear that he had no very scrupulous regard for legal tribunals. He died on 27 March 1659, ‘sitting in his chair in his own house, without any sickness preceding’ (ib. p. 228). By his wife, Lady Catherine, third daughter of Sir David Carnegie, first earl of Southesk [q. v.], he had, with four daughters (of whom Margaret married James Douglas, second earl of Queensberry [q. v.]), a son John, lord Linton (1622–1666), who succeeded as second earl of Traquair.

[Gordon's Scots Affairs and Spalding's Memorialls (Spalding Club); Rothes's Short Relation, Baillie's Letters and Journals, and Nicoll's Diary (Bannatyne Club); Wishart's Memoirs of Montrose; Bishop Guthry's Memoirs; Balfour's Annals; Hardwicke State Papers; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Charles I.]

T. F. H.