Erskine, John (1558-1634) (DNB00)

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ERSKINE, JOHN, second or seventh Earl of Mar in the Erskine line (1558–1634), lord high treasurer of Scotland, only son of John, first or sixth earl of Mar [q. v.], regent of Scotland, and Annabella, daughter of Sir William Murray of Tullibardine, was born in 1558. He was educated at Stirling Castle in company with King James, who was seven years his junior, under George Buchanan. King James called him familiarly ‘Jocky O'Sclaittis’ (slates). On 3 March 1572–3 he was served heir of his father ‘in toto et integro comitatu de Mar,’ his uncle, Sir Alexander Erskine of Gogar, being appointed guardian of his estate and keeper of Stirling Castle during his minority. Soon after he came of age he was persuaded by the Earl of Morton, then in forced retirement at Lochleven, to assert his claim to the government of Stirling Castle and the guardianship of the king. Morton agreed to support his claim on condition that he should permit Morton to resume his ascendency over the king. He returned to Stirling Castle, and early on the morning of 26 April 1578 called for the keys of the castle, on the pretence that he intended to hunt. His uncle, bringing the keys, was immediately seized by the young earl's confederates and pushed unceremoniously outside the gates. Those of the lords opposed to Morton who were at Edinburgh rode in great haste to Stirling to prevent if possible any further development of the supposed plot, but Mar politely declined to permit more than one of them to enter the castle at one time. They were therefore constrained to agree that Mar should be left in charge of the king till the meeting of parliament, he undertaking to find four earls as cautioners for his fidelity (Calderwood, Hist. iii. 408). Soon afterwards Morton obtained admission to the castle, and made arrangements for the perpetuation of his own influence. At a convention of the nobility favourable to Morton, held at Stirling, it was agreed to change the place of meeting of the ensuing parliament from Edinburgh to Stirling. The lords of the ‘secret council’ also issued from Stirling on 6 July a proclamation concerning certain sinister rumours in regard to their purposes in the approaching parliament, and especially a denial of the rumour that the king was detained at Stirling against his will (Reg. Privy Council of Scotland, iii. 3–4). At the opening of the parliament on 15 July Mar bore the sword, and was nominally confirmed in his guardianship of the castle and the king, but it was agreed that four of the new council should always be in attendance on the king (Calderwood, iii. 417). The lords of the opposite faction then assembled a force to make good their demands that Morton should retire to his ‘own dwelling-place,’ and that the king should be delivered to Alexander Erskine to be kept in the castle of Edinburgh (ib. 419), but through the interposition of Bowes, the English ambassador, an agreement was arrived at, signed by the young King James on 15 Aug., to the effect that Mar should remain in charge of the king at Stirling, a section of the rival faction being, however, added to the council (ib. 425). On 5 March 1578–9 it was re-enacted by the council that none should repair armed within the castle of Stirling while the king was there, Mar being authorised to apprehend all such persons (Reg. Privy Council Scot. iii. 105). On the 16th an act was passed exonerating him and his family for their care of the king in the past, and making arrangements for attendance on the king during excursions (ib. 112–14). In April Mar gave a banquet to the king and nobility in token of general reconciliation (Historie of James Sext, 174), but the effect of it was sadly frustrated by the sudden death of Atholl after his return from the banquet, the general suspicion arising that he had died from poison. In view of the approaching departure of the king from Stirling Castle, Mar, on 8 Aug. 1579, received an attestation that he and his family had in all points performed their duty in his tutelage and in the keeping of the castle (ib. 200). With other nobles he accompanied the king in his journey from Stirling to Holyrood on 29 and 30 Sept. (Calderwood, iii. 457). In April 1580, word having been brought to the king while on a hunting expedition that Morton intended to carry him to Dalkeith, he galloped back to Stirling Castle (Arrington to Burghley, 4 April 1580). Shortly after his return thither Mar was informed of a plot of Lennox, to which Sir Alexander Erskine was affirmed to be privy, to invade the royal apartments and carry off the king to Dumbarton. The 10th of April was said to be the night fixed on, but Mar stationed soldiers without and within the royal apartments, and in the morning refused admittance to the suspected nobles (Arrington to Burghley, 16 April 1580). Mar, having been supposed to be concerned in the former plot, presented on 20 April a supplication to the council, protesting that he had never persuaded or pressed the king in regard to residence or anything else beyond his own goodwill, but had always besought him to follow the advice of his council, and more particularly that his removing to Edinburgh and retiring from Edinburgh ‘was by advice of his counsale and na instigation of the earl or his.’ To the truth of this declaration James testified ‘in the faith and word of a king,’ and it was confirmed by an act of the council (Reg. iii. 282). Mar remained true to Morton in the midst of the intrigues by which his influence was now threatened, and, after Morton's sudden apprehension on the charge of being concerned in Darnley's murder, assisted the Earl of Angus in arranging with Randolph, the English ambassador, a plot against Lennox. The hesitating attitude of Elizabeth when the time for action arrived induced Mar to abandon it, and to come to an understanding with Lennox (see narrative of Randolph's negotiation in Scotland, printed in appendix to Tytler's Hist. of Scot.) On this account, as well as probably also from the respect entertained for him by the king, he escaped the sentence of forfeiture passed against the other nobles who had supported Morton, but nevertheless Lennox refused any alliance with him, and he was excluded from the counsels of the king. In August 1582 a rumour, whether true or false, arose that Lennox intended to commit to ward Mar and other protestant lords, and ‘also afterwards to hasten the death of the principals of them, on the charge of a conspiracy against the king and himself’ (Bowes to Walsingham, 15 Aug. 1582, in Bowes, Correspondence, 177). The rumour hastened if it did not occasion the execution of the conspiracy. By the ‘raid of Ruthven’ on 15 Aug. Mar, Gowrie, and others, either through force or persuasion, brought the king from Perth to Ruthven Castle, and removed him from the influence of Lennox and Arran. Learning that Arran, who was at Kinneil, intended to attempt the rescue of the king, Mar, with sixty horse, set out to intercept him at Kinross (Moysie, Memoirs, 37; Calderwood, iii. 637). Arran sent the bulk of his men under the command of his brother, Colonel William Stewart, and with the utmost haste, accompanied by only two attendants, proceeded by a near route to Ruthven, but his followers were attacked from an ambush by Mar and Sir William Douglas and completely routed, while Arran, as soon as he arrived at Ruthven to demand an audience of the king, was apprehended. On 30 Aug. the king was brought from Perth to Mar's castle at Stirling, having previously been induced to make a declaration that he was not being held in captivity (Calderwood, iii. 640). About the same time the protestant noblemen subscribed a bond to ‘remain with his majesty until the abuses and enormities of the commonwealth should be redressed’ (ib. 645). On 19 Oct., at a convention of estates held at Holyrood in presence of the king, the ‘raid of Ruthven’ was declared to be ‘gude, aufauld, trew, thankfull, and necessar service to his Hienes,’ and complete exoneration was given by name to the Earl of Mar, the Earl of Gowrie, and the Earl of Glencairn (Reg. Privy Council of Scotland, iii. 519). On 20 May the king, attended by the Earl of Mar and others, set out on a ‘progress,’ and while at Falkland he, with the aid of Colonel Stewart, withdrew suddenly to St. Andrews, and took refuge in the castle. The Duke of Lennox having died in the previous month, Arran now regulated alone the counsels of the king. On 22 Aug. Mar arrived at court, and through the mediation of Argyll was at first favourably received (Bowes, Correspondence, Surtees Society, p. 560). Argyll was, however, unsuccessful in reconciling him with Arran, and on the 27th he was committed to the custody of Argyll till he should leave the country (Calderwood, iii. 724). Having been persuaded by Argyll to deliver up Stirling Castle, he retired with him into Argyllshire (Bowes, Correspondence, 568). The keeping of the castle was then given by the king to Arran, who was also appointed provost of Stirling (Calderwood, iii. 731). Mar hoped that the storm would blow over, but in the beginning of September he was warned to depart also from Argyll (Bowes, 577), and on 31 Jan. 1583–4 he was banished from England, Scotland, and Ireland on pain of treason (Reg. Privy Council Scot. iii. 626). Either before or immediately after this he had crossed over to Ireland (Calderwood, iv. 21), and Angus O'Neill was charged to make him and the Master of Glammis depart from Carrickfergus (ib. 24). O'Neill declined, and shortly afterwards Mar was in Scotland endeavouring with other protestant lords to put into execution a new conspiracy. Whispers of the plot having reached Arran, all persons, servants, dependents, or tenants of Mar were on 29 March commanded to leave Edinburgh within three hours (Reg. Privy Council Scot. iii. 644; Calderwood, iv. 20). It was not, however, at Edinburgh that Mar designed to strike. In these plots and counterplots a form of legality was always observed, and Mar therefore determined to begin by capturing the castle of Stirling, to which his legal claims were more than plausible. This he effected on 17 April (Calderwood, iv. 25). Stirling was to have been made the rendezvous of the protestant nobles, but on 13 April Gowrie was captured by Colonel Stewart at Dundee. Mar therefore, on the approach of the king against Stirling with a large force, left the castle in haste and again fled the country (Sir James Melville, Memoirs, 326; Calderwood, vi. 32). Thereupon a proclamation was made for the capture of him and his confederates dead or alive (Reg. Privy Council Scot. iii. 659), but they made their way across the border to Berwick (Cal. State Papers, Scot. Ser. i. 470). There they received a letter from Walsingham, informing them of Elizabeth's intention to provide for their safety and to use the best means she could for their restoration to the king's favour (ib.). James endeavoured to persuade her to deliver them up, but she soundly rated him for having such dangerous and wicked instruments as Arran about him (ib. 472). Having arrived at Newcastle, Angus, Mar, and Glammis drew up instructions to Colvile to lay their case before the queen (ib. 473), and Elizabeth sent William Davison to Edinburgh on a special embassy on their behalf (ib.), who, however, found James vehemently opposed to come to any agreement with them. At the meeting of parliament in August both Mar and his countess, Agnes Drummond, were forfaulted (Calderwood, iv. 198). Thereafter Elizabeth opened negotiations with Arran, whose professions of goodwill so far prevailed as to make her discourage a proposed enterprise of the exiled lords against his authority. Accordingly on 22 Dec. 1584 she informed them that she had consented to the king of Scotland's request for their removal from the frontiers of the kingdom (Cal. State Papers, Scot. Ser. i. 491). After disobeying her repeated expostulations, they at last, on 2 Feb., reluctantly intimated compliance, and removing from Newcastle proceeded southwards. At Norwich they learned that an accusation had been made against them of being concerned in a conspiracy against the king's person (ib. 494), whereupon they wrote on 10 March asking to be sent for to be tried immediately before the council. Elizabeth, anxious at this time for a stricter league with James, instructed her ambassador to advise the king that Angus, Mar, and Glammis might be tried for their alleged conspiracy against his person by a parliament freely chosen (ib. 494). On 4 May she, however, in reply to the ambassador, requesting delivery of them, expressed her conviction of their innocence (ib. 495), and on the 12th she sent Sir Philip Sydney to visit them at their lodgings at Westminster, ‘to assure them of her good affection’ (Calderwood, iv. 366). At last, finding that her attempts to ‘disgrace’ Arran with the king were vain, and that her negotiations for a league were making no real progress, she was induced to act on the advice of Edward Wotton to Walsingham (25 Aug. 1585, Cal. State Papers, Scot. Ser. i. 506), ‘to stay the league and let slip the lords, who will be able to take Arran and seize on the person of the king.’ Encouraged by Walsingham, Mar and the lords therefore made up their differences with the Hamiltons, and agreed on a joint invasion of Scotland. Towards the end of October, with Elizabeth's permission, they took their departure from Westminster, after ‘a verie earnest exercise of humiliation’ (Calderwood, iv. 381). On 1 Nov., having received, after entering Scotland, large accessions of nobles, barons, and gentlemen, with their dependents, they pitched their tents at St. Ninian's Chapel, within a mile of Stirling, their total forces numbering about ten thousand (ib. 389). On learning their approach, Arran immediately fled from the castle, and the king, after making preparations for resistance, on second thoughts came to terms with them, and on their entrance gave them a cordial welcome (ib. 392). The castle was then restored to Mar, who by act of parliament, 10 Dec. 1585, was declared a member of the privy council, his honours and estates being also restored. By the general assembly of 1588 he was appointed one of a commission to induce the king to devise methods for ‘purging the land of papists’ (ib. 650). He was one of the nobles who received the king on his arrival with Queen Anne from Denmark, the Countess of Mar holding the first place among the ladies appointed to receive the queen (ib. v. 61). For some time Mar, with Sir William Douglas of Lochleven, afterwards Earl of Morton, and the prior of Blantyre exercised the chief influence at court (ib. 149), Mar being made great master of the household. After the forfailture of Bothwell, in the beginning of March, he was also made governor of Edinburgh Castle (ib. 166). As a mark of his special favour, James arranged a marriage between Mar and Lady Mary Stewart, second daughter of the Duke of Lennox, and in 1592 he paid a visit to him and his young wife at Alloa (Historie of James Sext, p. 260). For a time also Mar belonged to the faction specially favoured by the queen; but when, in 1595, she wished the removal of the young Prince Henry, who was under the charge of the Dowager Countess of Mar (Birch, Life of Prince Henry, p. 7), from Stirling to Edinburgh Castle, to be under the charge of Buccleuch, Mar declined to accede to her request (Calderwood, v. 366). His refusal was approved of by the king, who on 24 July specially entrusted the prince to Mar's tuition by a warrant under his own hand. When the king, 9 Feb. 1596–7, was besieged by a protestant mob in the Upper Tolbooth, he sent for the assistance of Mar, who, partly by remonstrances and partly by promises, sufficiently quieted the agitation to enable the king to proceed to Holyrood. At a convention at Holyrood, 10 Dec. 1598, Mar was chosen one of the special privy councillors appointed to sit with the king twice a week and aid him with their advice (ib. 727). He was in the train of the king in Falkland Park on the day of the mysterious Gowrie conspiracy, 5 Aug. 1600, and, following at a distance, arrived in time to prevent its success (see ‘Discourse,’ printed by order of the king, reprinted in Calderwood, vi. 28–45). Essex, in connection with his rebellion, asked King James to send up Mar, ostensibly as ambassador to Elizabeth, but so as to assist him in his design. James consented, but Mar only arrived in London in the beginning of March, after Essex's execution. The instructions given him by James after the execution proceeded on the supposition that a rebellion against Elizabeth was a not impossible occurrence (see ‘Instructions’ printed in Cecil Correspondence, Camden Society, 1861, pp. 82–84); but Mar, having better information, undertook the responsibility of disregarding them. He conducted his negotiations with such skill as to be entirely successful in the object of his mission, Elizabeth at last ‘manifesting her mynd to him that the king sould be hir infallible successor’ (Historie of James Sext, 377), and he left the impression of being ‘a courtly and well-advised gentleman’ (see State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1601–3, p. 45). The success of this mission was gratefully acknowledged by James both in words and in continued confidence and favours. Mar was one of the nobles who accompanied the king from Edinburgh, 5 April 1603, to take possession of the throne of England (Nichols, Progresses of James I, i. 61), but returned after he arrived at York, on the news reaching him that the queen had gone to Stirling to bring the young prince to England. His instructions were to bring the queen with him, but she refused to travel without the prince, and, after further communications with the king, the Duke of Lennox was sent with a commission on 19 May to transport both the queen and the prince, Mar not being included among the noblemen who were to attend on her (Calderwood, vi. 231). Mar and the queen were, however, reconciled after her arrival at Windsor (Birch, Life of Prince Henry, p. 30). Mar was added to the English privy council, and in June 1603 received the order of the Garter. On 27 March 1604 he was created Lord Cardross, obtaining at the same time the barony of that name, with the power of assigning the barony and title to any of his heirs male, the purpose of this being, as stated in the grant, that he ‘might be in a better condition to provide for his younger sons by Lady Mary Stewart.’ In 1606 he returned to Scotland to assist at the trial of John Welsh and five other ministers on a charge of treason. He was appointed a member of the court of high commission, erected in 1610 for the trial of ecclesiastical offences (Calderwood, vii. 58). On the fall of the Earl of Somerset, Mar was in December 1616 appointed lord high treasurer of Scotland, an office which he held till 1630. He died in his own house at Stirling 14 Dec. 1634, and was buried at Alloa 7 April 1635. Mar devoted himself as far as possible to recover the heritage of his family, under the warrant to his father, 5 May 1565. A narrative of the various lawsuits connected therewith, especially the great process for the recovery of Kildrummie from the Elphinstones, 1624–6, is given in Crawford's ‘Earldom of Mar.’ He was twice married: first to Anna, second daughter of David, second lord Drummond, by whom he had a son John, who succeeded him in the earldom; and secondly to Lady Mary Stewart, second daughter of Esme, duke of Lennox, by whom he had five sons and four daughters. The eldest of these sons, Sir James Erskine, married Mary Douglas, countess of Buchan in her own right, and was created Earl of Buchan [see Erskine, James, sixth Earl of Buchan]. The second, Henry, received from his father the barony of Cardross, and was known as the first Lord Cardross. The third, Colonel the Hon. Sir Alexander Erskine, the hero of the old Scotch ballad ‘Baloo, my boy,’ was blown up at Dunglas House, East Lothian, in 1640. The fourth, Hon. Sir Charles Erskine, was the ancestor of the Erskines of Alva, now represented by the Earls of Rosslyn. The youngest, William Erskine (d. 1685) [q. v.], became cupbearer to Charles II and master of the Charterhouse, London. All the four daughters were married to earls, viz. Mary, to William, earl Marischal, and again to Patrick, earl of Panmure; Anne, to John, earl of Rothes; Martha, to John, earl of Kinghorn; and Catherine, to Thomas, earl of Haddington, who was blown up at Dunglas House along with her brother Alexander. This Earl of Mar built the castle of Braemar in 1628 (Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. 618).

[Register of the Privy Council of Scotland; State Papers, Reign of Elizabeth and James I; Calderwood's History of the Kirk of Scotland; Moysie's Memoirs (Bannatyne Club); Historie of James Sext (ib.); Gray Papers (ib.); Sir James Melville's Memoirs (ib.); Letters and State Papers during Reign of James VI (Abbotsford Club); Miscellaneous Papers relating to Mary Queen of Scots and James VI (Maitland Club); Bowes's Correspondence (Surtees Society); Cecil Correspondence (Camd. Society); Nichols's Progresses of James I; Birch's Life of Prince Henry; Secret History of James I; Spotiswood's History of the Kirk of Scotland; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), ii. 213–14; Craufurd's Officers of State, pp. 402–4; the Earl of Crawford's Earldom of Mar in Sunshine and Shade (1882); the histories of Tytler, Hill Burton, and Froude.]

T. F. H.