Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Home, George (d.1611)

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HOME or HUME, Sir GEORGE, Earl of Dunbar (d. 1611), lord high treasurer of Scotland, was the third son of Alexander Home of Manderston, who commanded a body of horse against Queen Mary at Langside in 1568. His mother was Janet, daughter of George Home of Spott. He was brought to court by his relative Alexander, sixth lord Home [q. v.], and by his tact and abilities rapidly acquired favour and influence. At first his name appears in historical documents as George Home of Primroknows, but from the time he received the patrimony of his uncle, George Home of Spott, in 1593, he was known as `of Spott.' On 18 March 1584-5 he was declared innocent of the uccusation brought against him by Home of Wedderburn, of bolding communication with the Rutliven raiders (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iii. 729); and the king's confidence in him was shortly afterwards more conclusively manifested by his being appointed a gentleman of the bed-chamber. He accompanied the king to Denmark in 1589, when he went there to convoy his bride to Scotland (Sir James Melville, Memoirs, p. 372). On 4 Nov, of the following year (Moysie, Memoirs, p.85) he received the honour of knighthood, and he was about the same time made master of the wardrobe, having, according to Sir James Melville, 'shot out quietly William Keith,' earl marischal, from that office (Memoirs, p. 372). As Francis Stewart Hepburn, fifth earl of Bothwell [q. v.], had in 1584 slain his brother David, Home was one of the most steadfast opposers of Bothwell's recall. He was, moreover, a constant friend and ally of the chancellor Maitland. In the articles of agreement drawn up between the king and Bothwell in 1593, Home's name appears among those of the anti-Bothwellians who should be required to absent themselves from court till the meeting of the parliament in November (Calderwood, v. 258). He adhered to the `cubicular courtier' party, and was prominent among those who, on 17 Dec. 1596, through jealousy of the Octavians, stirred up a riot in the streets of Edinburgh. He was one of the special privy councillors chosen on 10 Dec. 1598 to sit in Holyrood Palace on Tuesdays and Thursdays to assist the king in discharge of business. On 31 July 1601 he was appointed one of the componitors to the lord high treasurer (Reg. P. C. Scotl. vi. 276), and on the resignation of the treasurer in the following September he was appointed his successor.

On the accession of James VI to the English throne in 1603, Home attended him in his progress southwards to London. On 1 June of this year he received a grant of the office of keeper of the great wardrobe for life (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603-10. p. 13), and on 27 Sept a grant of the manor and castle of Norham, and also of the fishings of the river Tweed (ib. p. 41), On 7 July of the following year he was sworn a privy councillor of England, and created an English peer by the title of Baron Home of Berwick; and on 3 July 1605 he was made Earl of Dunbar in the Scottish peerage. From this time Dunbar shared with Lord-chancellor Dunfermline [see Seton, Alexander, Earl of Dunfermline] the chief management of Scottish affairs, being generally retained by the king in England as his chief Scottish adviser, and despatched to Scotland as the king's special representative, when matters of importance were under consideration. If not primarily responsible for initiating the king's ecclesiastical policy in Scotland, he carried out that policy with strenuous zeal and devotion, contriving nevertheless with great dexterity to partly mask his exact aims. He professed to act towards the presbyterians as their mediator with the king in modifying and softening the rigour of his proposals, and succeeded to some extent in persuading them that his mediation was not ineffectual.

Along with the Earl of Dunfermline, Dunbar was sent to Scotland in January 1605-6 to act as assessor in the famous trial at Linlithgow of six of the ministers—for some time warded in Blackness—who had been concerned in holding a general assembly at Aberdeen, contrary to the king's interdict. Dunbar professed to James Melville that to himself personally the mission was a painful one, and that he would give 1,000l. to see the king satisfied without injury to the kirk or the honest men warded in Blackness (Calderwood, vi. 374). These professions were, however, merely intended to facilitate a reconciliation practically on the king's own terms. When his overtures to the ministers were spurned, he did not scruple to strain the law unduly in order to secure a verdict for the king. It was only by a careful selection of the jury, and after much tampering with them, that nine of the fifteen were induced to bring in a verdict of guilty. After the verdict Dunbar used every effort to persuade the ministers to `confess a fault,' assuring them, in such a case, of the king's ready pardon; but, as before, his mediation was rejected. The verdict virtually pronounced it high treason to resist the jurisdiction of the king and council in religious matters. It was the initial step in the establishment of episcopacy in Scotland. The next steps were taken at the Red Parliament, held at Perth in the following July. Dunbar had direction of its arrangements, and succeeded in passing the two important ecclesiastical acts `anent the king's majesty's prerogative' and 'anent the restitution of the estate of bishops.' At the same parliament an act was passed ratifying, in favour of Dunbar, his possession of the earldom of Dunbar and other lands. It was partly through the permission of Dunbar, with whom James Melville had a consultation, that the eight presbyterian ministers summoned to the ecclesiastical conference at Hampton Court agreed to attend it. Dunbar treated them in London with great kindness, sending them five hundred marks apiece for their expenses, and using every other means to induce them to alter their attitude towards episcopacy. He, however, declined to grant them a private conference with himself (ib. vi. 589). Dunbar was present at the ecclesiastical convention held at Linlithgow in December 1606, and in his majesty's name thanked the convention for their attendance and for their deliberations. To `facilitate the business intended' Dunbar is stated to have distributed forty thousand marks 'amonst the most needy and clamorous of the ministry' (Balfour, Annals, ii. 18). Remaining in Edinburgh over Christmas, he somewhat scandalised `the godly' by the `great solemnity' with which he kept the day (Calderwood, vi. 630).

On 4 March 1606 the council of Scotland wrote letters to the king and the council of England recommending that Dunbar should be appointed single commissioner of the borders for both kingdoms (Reg. P. C. Scotl. vii. 486). The recommendation was acted on, and at two justiciary courts held in September he `condemned and caused hang above 140 of the nimblest and most powerful thieves in all the borders'(Balfour, Annals, ii. 17). On 19 Dec. the council of Scotland were required to direct the principal border towns in Scotland to aid him in his duties as commissioner (Reg. P. C. Scotl, vii. 505). On 20 May 1608 he was installed a knight of the Garter at Windsor (Balfour, Annals, ii. 25). In the end of June of this year he came to Scotland as commissioner to the assembly of the kirk, to be held at the end of the following July at Linlithgow. He was accompanied by certain English divines, who were to assist him in his endeavours to remove objections against episcopacy, and, according to current rumour, was entrusted with a large sum of money to be distributed as bribes. The policy which he meanwhile adopted was to avoid disputes regarding the merits of the rival policies. This he cleverly accomplished by directing the chief attraction of the assembly towards methods for checking the spread of popery.

Dunbar played a part of doubtful honesty in two important political trials. In August 1608 he specially exerted himself to obtain from George Sprott a confession of his connection with the Gowrie conspiracy. On this confession George Sprott was executed, and Dunbar's conspicuous presence at the execution caused much adverse comment, `it being surmised,' according to Carderwood, `that it was only to give a sign when his speech should be interrupted, and when he should be cast over the ladder' (Hist. vi. 780). Dunbar occupied an equally equivocal position in relation to the proceedings against Lord Balmerino [see Elphinstone, James, first Lord Balmerino]. As Balmerino's confession before the English privy council could not be produced as evidence against him in Scottish court, Dunbar undertook to induce him to plead guilty. This he accomplished by promising that Balmerino should not suffer in life or estate. Probably he was authorised by the king to make the promise, and did so in good faith. But Balmerino, who was led to expect that confession would fully condone his offence, was, after being sentenced to death as a traitor, ordered to confine himself to his own house, and full liberty was denied him till his death.

On 24 April 1609 Dunbar caused some scandal among the presbyterians by making at Berwick a solemn feast with great pomp and ceremony on the 'Lord's day' in honour of St. George, the patron saint of England (Calderwood, vii, 18). On the occasion he was also ' served as one of the knights of the Garter by lords, knights, barons, and gentlemen of good ranks'(ib.) On the 4th of the following May, as one of the king's commissioners, he attended an ecclesiastical conference at Falkland, held to consider the external government and discipline of the kirk. About the end of July he held a justice court at Dumfries for the trial of border thieves, several of whom were executed.

His appointment as sole commissioner for the borders had been thoroughly successful, the joint authority in Scotland and England being the first effectual means of quelling the old feuds and rooting out the old habits of plunder. Dunbar was also, on 6 Feb. 1609, appointed one of the commissioners of the isles (Reg. P. C. Scotl. viii. 748), and was chosen a new member of the new Scottish privy council of thirty-five members, reconstituted on 13 Feb. of the following year (ib. p. 815). In the same February he was named a member of the newly established ecclesiastical court of high commission for the province of Glasgow (ib. viii. 417). On 19 Aug. he was constituted `sole and full intromitter of his Majestie's revenues and casualties, &c., and regulator of the entire revenues of Scotland, in order to avoid the abuses occasioned by a multiplicity of offices’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser. 1603-10, p. 629). He was nominated a commissioner of the general assembly summoned by the king `out of grace and in the interests of peace and concord,' and appointed to meet at Glasgow on 8 June 1610. Through his dexterous management, aided by the expenditure of a considerable sum of money in bribes, the alteration of the forms and method of church government practically amounted to the entire superseding of presbyterianism by episcopacy. At the conclusion of these deliberations he returned in September to London. He died at Whitehall on 30 Jan. 1611, according to Calderwood, ‘not withour suspicion of poison.' He was just ‘about to solemnize magnificently his daughter's marriage with the Lord Walden.’ He purposed to celebrate St. George’s day following in Berwick, where he had almost finished a sumptuous and glorious palace (History, vi. 153). His funeral was solemnly performed at Westminster in April following, but his body was embalmed, and, after being place in a coffin of lead, was sent to Scotland to be buried in the collegiate church of Dunbar. Here an ornate and elaborate monument has been erected to his memory, with his figure as a knight in armour in the attitude of prayer.

Archbishop Spotiswood, who was naturally inclined to take a favourable view of Dunbar’s policy in Scotland, describes him as `a man of deep wit, few works, and in his majesty’s service no less faithful than fortunate.'

By his wife Catherine, daughter of Sir Alexander Gordon of Geicht, and granddaughter of Cardinal Beaton, Dunbar had two daughters: Anne, married to Sir James Home of Coldingknows, Berwickshire, by whom she had a son Sir James, third earl of Home [q. v.]; and Elizabeth, married to Theophilus Howard, lord Walden, afterwards second Earl of Suffolk [q. v.]

[Reg. P. C. Scotl. vols. iii-viii.; Cal. State Papers, Scott. Ser.; Cal. State Papers, Dom. Ser.; Sir James Melville's Memoirs (Bannatyne Club); Moysie’s Memoirs (Bannatyne Club); Balfour's Annals; Histories of Calderwood and Spotiswood; Gardiner's Hist. of England; Crawford's Officers of State, pp. 397-8; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), i. 453-4.]

T. F. H.