Erskine, Charles (DNB00)

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ERSKINE, CHARLES (1680–1763), lord justice clerk, was the third son of Sir Charles Erskine or Areskine of Alva, bart., by his wife, Christian, daughter of Sir James Dundas of Arniston, and great-grandson of John Erskine, earl of Mar, treasurer of Scotland. He was born in 1680, and is said to have been at first educated for the church. On 26 Nov. 1700 he was appointed one of the four regents of the university of Edinburgh, whose duties were to teach a quadriennial course of logic, ethics, metaphysics, and natural philosophy. He resigned this office on 17 Oct. 1707, and on 7 Nov. following, in spite of the protest of the town council, became the first professor of public law in the university. Erskine was admitted a member of the Faculty of Advocates on 14 July 1711, and in 1714 was appointed advocate-depute for the western circuit. He purchased the estate of Tinwald in Dumfriesshire, and at the general election in April 1722 was returned as the member for that county. On 29 May 1725 Erskine was appointed solicitor-general for Scotland, and was at the same time by sign-manual granted the privilege, which had hitherto belonged to the lord advocate alone, of pleading within the bar. The grant of this privilege was strongly objected to by Sir Hugh Dalrymple, then president of the court, as being contrary to act of parliament, but the same privilege has nearly always been enjoyed by the holder of the office of solicitor-general from that date (Cal. of State Papers, Home Office, 1760–5, pp. 55–6). Erskine was re-elected for the county of Dumfries at the general election in 1727, and again in 1734, when he was also returned for the Dumfries district of burghs. On 20 Jan. 1737 he was appointed lord advocate in the place of Duncan Forbes, who had been made lord president of the court of session. At the general election in May 1741, Erskine was elected for the Wick district of burghs; but in the following year his election was declared void, and he thereupon resigned office, being succeeded by Robert Craigie of Glendoick. Erskine returned to practice at the bar, and upon the death of Sir James Mackenzie of Royston was elevated to the bench as Lord Tinwald on 23 Nov. 1744. He was appointed lord justice clerk, in the place of Andrew Fletcher of Milton, on 15 June 1748, and died at Edinburgh on 5 April 1763, aged 83. Tytler says that as a lawyer Erskine ‘was esteemed an able civilian; he spoke with ease and gracefulness, and in a dialect which was purer than that of most of his contemporaries; as a judge his demeanour was grave and decorous, and accompanied with a gentleness and suavity of manners that were extremely ingratiating’ (i. 55). While in the House of Commons he seems to have spoken but rarely, and his name only occurs twice in the volumes of the ‘Parliamentary History’ (ix. 824, x. 294–5).

Erskine married, first, on 21 Dec. 1712, Grizel Grierson, heiress of Barjarg, Dumfriesshire; and secondly, on 26 Aug. 1753, Elizabeth, daughter of William Harestanes of Craigs, Kirkcudbrightshire, and widow of Dr. William Maxwell of Preston. His portrait, taken at the age of thirty-one by T. Hudson, was engraved by J. McArdell.

His younger son, by his first wife, James Erskine, was born on 20 June 1722, and was admitted an advocate on 6 Dec. 1743. In 1748 he became sheriff depute of Perthshire, and in 1754 one of the barons of the exchequer in Scotland. He was appointed knight-marshal of Scotland on the death of John, third earl of Kintore, in 1758, and three years afterwards succeeded Patrick Boyle of Shewalton as a judge of the court of session, taking his seat on the bench as Lord Barjarg 18 June 1761. He afterwards took the title of Alva in lieu of Barjarg, and died on 13 May 1796, in the seventy-third year of his age. He married twice, first, on 19 June 1749, Margaret, daughter and coheiress of Hugh Macguire of Drumdow, Ayrshire, who died in April 1766; and secondly, Jean, only daughter of John Stirling of Herbertshire, and widow of Sir James Stirling, bart.

[Brunton and Haig's Senators of the College of Justice (1832), pp. 513–14, 526; Omond's Lord Advocates of Scotland (1883), ii. 1–3; Tytler's Memoirs of Lord Kames (1814), i. 53–5; Scots Mag. 1763, xxv. 180, 1796, lviii. 362; Bromley's Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits (1793), p. 374; Foster's Peerage (1883), pp. 605–6; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 60, 70, 83, 84, 97.]

G. F. R. B.