DALRYMPLE, Hon. Sir David, 1st Bt. (c.1665-1721), of Hailes, Haddington.
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Family and Education
b. c.1665, 5th s. of James, 1st Visct. of Stair [S], by Margaret, 1st da. and coh. of James Ross of Balneil, Wigtown, and wid. of Fergus Kennedy of Knockdaw. educ. Edinburgh 1677; Utrecht c.1685; adv. 1688. m. 4 Apr. 1691, Janet, da. of Sir James Rochead of Inverleith, Edinburgh, wid. of Alexander Murray of Melgund, Forfar, 3s. 4da. cr. Bt. 8 May 1701.
M.P. [S] Culross 1698-1707.
Solicitor-gen. [S] 1701-9; commr. for the union of Scotland and England 1706; ld. adv. 1709-11, 1714-20; dean, faculty of advocates, 1712-d., auditor gen. of the Exchequer [S] 1720-d.
An eminent lawyer, whose family had played a leading part in Scotland since the Revolution, Dalrymple was reinstated at George I’s accession in the post of lord advocate, from which he had been dismissed as a Whig by the late Tory ministry. Soon after regaining his office he published the memoirs of George Lockhart, M.P., with a view to exposing the Jacobite principles of the author. Re-elected for Haddington Burghs on his family’s interest, he spoke in support of Lord Strafford’s impeachment in 1715, and voted for the septennial bill in 1716, when he took exception to the attacks on Scotland made by John Snell. Though as the senior law officer of Scotland it was his duty not only to carry out but to defend in the Commons the legal measures taken by the Government against the persons and estates of those implicated in the Fifteen, he spoke several times against the bill appointing commissioners to inquire into the value of estates forfeited during the rebellion; presented to the secretaries of state a memorial which, if accepted, ‘would not have admitted of a single rebel in Scotland being punished or a single estate confiscated’; and avoided taking part in the prosecution of the rebel prisoners by going to Spain in the summer on the pretext of ill-health. As a result, he complained to his nephew, Lord Stair, ministers would not ‘speak one word to me of business, nor have they to this hour, though the character I serve in, one would think, made it decent to have done so.’ Meanwhile Stair was being pressed by high quarters to warn his uncle that unless he acted in concert with the Duke of Roxburghe, the secretary of state for Scotland, it would be impossible for the King to retain him in his service.1
During the split in the Whig party which developed at the end of 1716, Dalrymple adhered to the Government, writing:
As for the King’s measures a man of such sentiments as I professed and always had adhered to could but be strongly inclined not only to submit to but to go into them with joy and zeal. It is true ... at other times things which in my opinion were exceeding dangerous to the country for which I served, and which I apprehended neither were nor could be the King’s measures; and then being bound to say yes or no, I have opposed some great men. Such was the case of ... the forfeited estates inquiry bill, but in no case ... did I ever enter in combination to diminish the credit of the Administration.
He spoke for the Government on the army, 4 Dec. 1717, declaring, however, that discontent ran still as high in Scotland as before the late rebellion. Next year he spoke against a government bill for the sale of the confiscated estates, which he described in private as that ‘damned bill of sale’, doing his best to impede the work of the commissioners sent to Scotland to prosecute rebels. In a letter to the Duke of Roxburghe one of them, John Willes, wrote that
it will be impossible at present to get a jury in this country that will find against any of the rebels ... so long as a person [Dalrymple] now in England, and of great power as well as in a great post here has the faculty of coining objections; for I find that all which have been started by him are current for law, and it is absolutely impossible to persuade the people to be of a different opinion.
Still, no action was taken against Dalrymple, who otherwise supported the Government, speaking for them on the Address, 11 Nov. 1718. It was not till the reunion of the Whig party in 1720, and the consequent reconstruction of the Government, that he was superseded by his more co-operative colleague, Robert Dundas. In his own words,
having declared my sentiments against some measures thought necessary for his [H.M.’s] service, it was thought better for me not to be drawn to work in their extension, and better for the service that they should be carried on by people who approve those measures heartily, and are ready to assist one another.2
Compensated with a sinecure worth £1,200 a year for his life and that of his eldest son, he died 3 Dec. 1721.