Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Napier, Mark

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NAPIER, MARK (1798–1879), Scottish historical biographer, born on 24 July 1798, was descended from the Napiers of Merchiston. His great-grandfather, Sir Francis Scott (fifth lord Napier), inherited the barony of Napier on the death of his grandmother, the Baroness Napier, in 1706, and through his marriage with a daughter of the Earl of Hopetoun had five sons, of whom the youngest, Mark, a major-general in the army, was the grandfather of the biographer. His father was Francis Napier, a writer to the signet in Edinburgh, and his mother was Mary Elizabeth Jane Douglas, eldest daughter of Colonel Archibald Hamilton of Innerwick, Haddingtonshire. He was educated at the high school and the university of Edinburgh, and passed advocate at the Scottish bar in 1820. In 1844 he was appointed sheriff-depute of Dumfriesshire, to which Galloway was subsequently added, and he held office till his death. Although a learned lawyer in all branches of Scots law, his reputation was literary rather than legal. His only strictly legal works are ‘The Law of Prescription in Scotland,’ 1839, 2nd edit. 1854, a standard work, and ‘Letters to the Commissioners of Supply of the County of Dumfries, in Reply to a Report of a Committee of their Number on the Subject of Sheriff Courts,’ 1852, 2nd edit. 1852. In 1835 he published a ‘History of the Partition of Lennox,’ with which earldom the Napiers had an historical connection. In 1834 he published his valuable ‘Memoirs of John Napier of Merchiston;’ and in 1839 he edited Napier's unpublished manuscripts with an introduction. His works on the Marquis of Montrose and Graham of Claverhouse are the fruit of much original research, but as historical guides their value is much impaired by their controversial tone and violent language. His jacobitism was of the old-fashioned fanatical type, and although in many cases his representations are substantially founded on fact, his exaggeration necessarily awakens distrust, even when he has a good case. On Montrose he published ‘Montrose and the Covenanters,’ 1838, ‘Life and Times of Montrose,’ 1840, ‘Memorials of Montrose and his Times,’ a collection of original documents edited for the Maitland Club (vol. i. 1848, and vol. ii. 1850); and ‘Memoirs of the Marquis of Montrose,’ two vols. 1856, which comprehends the substance of the previous works and the results of later researches. His ‘Memorials of Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee,’ 1859–62, also includes a large number of the letters of Claverhouse and other documents not previously published. Its publication led to a keen controversy in regard to the drowning of the two women, Margaret Maclachlan and Margaret Wilson, known as the ‘Wigtown Martyrs.’ Napier had endeavoured to raise doubts as to whether the execution took place; and he replied to his objectors in the ‘Case for the Crown in re the Wigtown Martyrs proved to be Myths versus Wodrow and Lord Macaulay, Patrick the Pedlar and Principal Tulloch,’ 1863; and in ‘History Rescued, in Reply to History Vindicated [by the Rev. Archibald Stewart],’ 1870. Napier also edited vols. ii. and iii. of Spotiswood's ‘History of the Church of Scotland’ for the Bannatyne Club in 1847. ‘The Lennox of Auld, an Epistolary Review of “The Lennox” by William Fraser,’ was published posthumously in 1880, edited by his son Francis. He occasionally wrote ‘very touching as well as very spirited’ verse (Athenæum, 29 Nov. 1879), and possessed a valuable collection of paintings and china.

Napier died at his residence at Ainslie Place, Edinburgh, on 23 Nov. 1879, being the oldest member of the Faculty of Advocates then discharging legal duties. He married his cousin Charlotte, daughter of Alexander Ogilvie, and widow of William Dick Macfarlane, and by her had a son and a daughter: Francis John Hamilton Scott, commander in the royal navy, and Frances Anne, married to Lieutenant-colonel Cecil Rice. ‘Though a keen controversialist and most unsparing in epithets of abuse, Mark Napier was in person and address a genial polished gentleman of the old school—a really beautiful old man, worn to a shadow, but with a never failing kindly smile, and a lively, pleasant, intellectual face, in which the pallid cheek of age was always relieved by a little trace of seemingly hectic or of youthful colour’ (Scotsman, 24 Nov. 1879).

[Obituary notices in Athenæum, Scotsman, Edinburgh Courant, and Dumfries Courier; Foster's Peerage.]

T. F. H.