ARESKINE (ERSKINE), Sir Alexander, 2nd Bt. (c.1663-1727), of Cambo, Fife.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1710 - 1715

Family and Education

b. c.1663, 1st s. of Sir Charles Erskine, 1st Bt., of Cambo by Penelope, da. of Arthur Barclay of Cothill, London, gent. privy chamber to Charles II.  m. 1680, his cos. Lady Mary (d. aft. 1700), da. of Alexander Erskine, 3rd Earl of Kellie [S], 8s. (2 d.v.p.) 3da.  suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. Feb. 1677.1

Offices Held

Jt. Lyon king of arms (with fa.) 1672–Feb. 1677, sole Feb. 1677 (crowned 1681)–Jan. 1703, jt. (with 2nd s. d.v.p.) Jan. 1703–by 1727, sole ?1727–?d.2

Burgess, Edinburgh 1708, Pittenweem by 1710; steward of Menteith, Perth (during incapacity of Charles Stuart, 21st Earl of Moray [S]) 1713–bef. 1719.3


It was a mixed inheritance that in 1677 descended to the young Areskine (as he himself preferred to spell his surname): a baronetcy, a place as the principal Scottish herald, and aristocratic connexions whose political allegiance suited the temper of the times; but on the debit side only a small and encumbered estate from which to support the crowd of siblings left unprovided for by his father. The fortune the first baronet had hoped to catch for him having eluded the family’s clutches, he married a first cousin, the daughter of his uncle the Earl of Kellie, a match that was socially advantageous but in material respects relatively modest. His father’s debts were such that Areskine’s annual income – £300 salary as Lord Lyon, supplementing a rental of only £200 – proved insufficient to discharge them. Although the ‘large, fine house’ at Cambo was much admired, especially for its grounds, where the owner’s horticultural expertise was much in evidence, Areskine was always a prey to ‘necessities’.4

As early as 1681, when Areskine took the test imposed by the Scottish parliament, it was manifest that he harboured political sympathies proper to the offspring of an old cavalier, and to one whose sister was the daughter-in-law of the murdered Archbishop Sharp of St. Andrews. But financial straitening obliged him to restrain the expression of his prejudices and indeed to cut his principles according to circumstances. If continuance on local commissions in 1689–90 is any guide, Areskine accepted the Revolution, and in 1692 his appointment as Lord Lyon was ratified and regranted, tradition has it, through the influence of William Carstares, who had contracted an odd friendship with the family during Charles II’s reign, when Sir Charles Erskine, as lieutenant-governor of Edinburgh castle, was for a time his gaoler. In 1703 the name of Areskine’s son was added to the Lord Lyon’s patent. But three years later an appeal came from Areskine to his distant kinsman Lord Mar, a long-standing patron of the family, for help in securing an increase in the fees exacted by the Lyon’s office, pleading the further hardship wrought by the profusion of children from his own marriage. Thus although the Jacobite agent Scot relayed in 1706 a general report of Areskine’s loyalty to the Pretender, another observer of the Scottish political scene claimed at this time that he was committed to the Protestant succession. The passage of the Union saw confirmation of his title as Lord Lyon, and the appointment of three younger sons as pursuivants in the office. He was pessimistic about the economic consequences of unification. ‘I came from Edinburgh last week’, he reported in October 1707,

a very desolate place already . . . a great many were gone and going to London, and taking a great deal of money with them, which in all likelihood will not come back to us again. We will be certain of this loss every year, and I am afraid we shall never get an equivalent for it.5

The political revolution of 1710 at last opened the prospect of a ministry attuned to Areskine’s sentiments. For the first time he appeared as a parliamentary candidate, egged on by Mar to contest Fife, in hopes of getting as a Member ‘more ready payment of his bygone salaries and pensions’. Even with Mar to back him, he would not have been able to withstand the combined strength of Lords Rothes and Leven, hitherto the prevailing powers in the shire, had the contest been simply one of proprietorial interest. But in a flourish of party spirit the smaller lairds rallied to the cause of episcopalianism and returned its local champion. Areskine was also indefatigable in supporting men of like mind who were standing in the neighbouring burgh districts: ‘I can hardly say I have been 24 hours at home since I saw you, and what with riding and drinking with the towns and country I think there shall be an end made of me.’ Later he was to brag that he had been ‘instrumental in bringing into the House of Commons as many honest gentlemen as any one subject of North Britain’, and even when the election was over his enthusiasm remained undiminished, as he took upon himself the organization of the election petitions of his fellow Tories Sir John Malcolm* and George Hamilton*.6

Classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ and as an episcopal Tory in the analysis of Scottish election returns compiled by the Duchess of Buccleuch’s chaplain, Richard Dongworth, Areskine was not long in showing his party colours, and was listed among the ‘worthy patriots’ who in the first session of this Parliament exposed the mismanagements of the previous ministry. Early impressions of the House were unfavourable. He observed that business was done ‘after a very strange manner . . . very few thinking on it, or considering much how it goes, a very few having the management of all’. Shortly after the beginning of the session, he joined with four other Members, John Carnegie, Sir Alexander Cumming, 1st Bt., George Lockhart and Hon. James Murray, to create what one historian has described as an informal ‘steering committee’ to direct the pursuit of Scottish Tory ambitions. Its first priority was a toleration for Scottish episcopalians, and in the wake of the Greenshields case Lockhart and Areskine advocated a motion for a toleration bill. Anxious ministers lobbied against this, however, and persuaded them to stay their hands until a more favourable opportunity presented itself, to which they reluctantly agreed on condition that the Queen promise to sponsor the cause in due course.7

In April 1711 Henry St. John II* reminded Robert Harley* that Areskine, as a client of Lord Mar, was ‘not to be forgotten’ in any future round of preferments. The redemption of ministerial promises in September 1711, however, took a peculiar form. Areskine had been tipped to share in the new commission of the Scottish signet, but in fact he was not included with the two appointees; instead, by an informal arrangement, he was intended to receive a third of all the profits of the office. The agreement proved a nullity, for Areskine never received a penny from either of the two commissioners.8

As the 1711–12 session opened Areskine distinguished himself as a vocal defender of Scottish interests. In January 1712 he was a signatory to the representation to the attorney-general over the renewal of the Scottish staple at Campvere. He also followed Lockhart in an unsuccessful attempt to associate the Scots in the Lower House with the protests of their compatriots in the Lords over the Hamilton peerage case, and supported the tack of the land grants resumption bill, against the express wishes of Harley (now Lord Oxford). Moreover, he and his compatriots had been provoked by the Court’s failure to promote toleration for Scottish episcopalian ministers. Lockhart’s memory was that early in 1712 the ‘steering committee’ had renewed their ‘concert’ and decided to press not only for a toleration bill but a bill to resume rights of patronage over Scottish livings which had been taken over by local presbyteries from lay proprietors. Lockhart and Areskine apparently received notification of the Queen’s consent to proceed, despite Oxford’s continuing opposition. On 21 Jan. 1712 Areskine seconded the motion for leave to bring in the bill, and was appointed to the drafting committee. In the division of 7 Feb. Areskine naturally voted in favour, and remained closely associated with the bill’s fortunes. When the Lords introduced an abjuration clause acceptable to the Kirk, Lockhart and Areskine were outraged. They ‘cursed and blasphemed’ but contented themselves with securing a further amendment to make the clause as objectionable to Presbyterians as it was to episcopalians. In October 1712 Areskine wrote to Oxford to recommend a ‘moderate’ Presbyterian to the chair of divinity at St. Andrews, against the candidate favoured by ‘the violent party’, and went on to endorse the request of ‘the honest people’ of the burgh of Burntisland for a royal presentation of a sympathetic minister to the kirk there, in order to forestall the wishes of the presbytery.9

In March 1713 Areskine signed the joint letter from Scottish Members and peers to Lord Dun, to urge that episcopalian ministers in Scotland be prevailed upon to take the oaths and pray for the Queen, in order that they might qualify themselves for the benefits of the Toleration Act and, more importantly, give the lie to insinuations of disloyalty coming from their Presbyterian enemies. Soon afterwards he repeated the message in a private communication to his friend Harry Maule. Disappointed with the result of previous efforts, ‘for as I understood there were not many of our clergy had scruple of conscience to do all we were expecting of them’, he implored, ‘for God’s sake, advise them to go into what is expected of them, otherwise I don’t doubt we shall not be able to get done what we wish’. As the events of the session unfolded, his attention was concentrated instead on the crisis over the malt tax and the motion for the repeal of the Union. He reported to Maule on 2 May that he had attended the Lords’ debate on the malt tax, having been at first held up by ‘a matter of moment for our country’ in the Lower House. It was obvious to him then that the Whig Junto ‘desire to make a handle of us’, but in the conference of Scottish peers and Members afterwards he seconded Lockhart’s proposal to seek the dissolution of the Union, speaking ‘with his wonted warmth and zeal’. He abstained on the vote for the second reading of the French commerce bill on 4 June, but returned to supporting the Court at the engrossment on 18 June, apparently in accordance with instructions from the Pretender. That Areskine was ‘highly Tory and Jacobite’, or even ‘ready to embrace a popish pretender’, is attested by anecdotal evidence, but the extent of his commitment to the cause remains debatable. He was safely re-elected in 1713, and was also active in various burgh districts having taken care to urge his episcopalian contacts to ‘bestir themselves now for the elections, as they see those that are not their friends diligent’. In Lord Polwarth’s analysis of the Scottish returns Areskine was listed as ‘Jacobite’, in other words a Tory.10

The 1714 session saw Areskine draw more closely than ever towards Lockhart. At the outset he stood by his friend in the councils of the reconvened ‘steering committee’, when Lockhart’s proposal for a renewed attack on the Union was reproved by their colleagues. The argument put forward by Carnegie, Cumming and Murray was that everything could safely be left in the hands of Secretary Bolingbroke (St. John), who had their best interests at heart. This was sharply rejected by Lockhart and Areskine who, with John Houstoun, 2nd Bt., Sir James Hamilton and several others splintered off from the main body of Scottish Tories. For seven to eight weeks there was no co-operation between the rival factions. Finally the five erstwhile comrades arranged a meeting at which, in order to re-establish the former working relationship, the ministerialist majority proposed a motion for a bill to resume the bishops’ rents for the relief of those episcopalian clergy prepared to conform to the Toleration Act. To persuade Lockhart and Areskine, their friends made use of the names of Mar and Bolingbroke, and even of the Queen herself, and the two seceders allowed themselves to be talked round. It was not long before the Court grew alarmed, however, and pressed for the bill’s abandonment. Areskine supported Lockhart in resisting this pressure, speaking his mind to Mar and condemning the ‘intolerable usage’ to which he and his colleagues had been subjected. The revival of the scheme at the hands of Carnegie, Cumming and Murray, created confusion and bitterness. At one stage it was thought Areskine might be nominated to the commission appointed to inquire into the bishops’ revenues, but he was ultimately excluded. He continued, however, to vote with the Tories for the remainder of the session, opposing on 12 May Robert Walpole II’s motion to extend the scope of the schism bill to cover Catholic education. He was named as a Tory on the Worsley list.11

Areskine was just as busy as ever in the 1715 election. He told Lord Cromartie’s son that

never was any time when there was more need for honest men to stick together and endeavour to make a good election for the next Parliament . . . If we are not able to assist the Tories here, we shall not have so good a title to their help and protection, and if we fall in the Whigs’ mercy, what will [be]come of us?

This time Areskine’s efforts passed unrewarded. He lost his seat in Fifeshire to a revitalized Rothes interest, allegedly because of his over-dependence on nonjuring voters, who were excluded when his opponent, Sir John Anstruther, called for the oaths to be tendered. In material terms, he had not suffered too much at the Hanoverian succession: he himself was still Lord Lyon, and his son Charles was advanced from a pursuivant’s place to be Lyon clerk in June 1715. Only two of his sons had left the office, and one of these returned later. So when the Jacobite rising occurred Areskine pre-empted government action by racing to put himself in custody. He survived the wreck of Scottish Toryism and remained in place until his death on 4 Aug. 1727. Three of his sons spent time in France in 1716, where they made contact with Jacobite agents, but nothing of importance seems to have been transacted between them. Other sons besides the Lyon clerk were promoted within the office in the years after 1715. The youngest, however, went to Rome to study painting, married there and eventually fathered a cardinal.12

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Scots Peerage ed. Paul, v. 90–92; Scot. Rec. Soc. lxxvii. 16; N. Carlisle, Gent. Privy Chamber, 165.
  • 2. APS, viii. 123–4; xi. 465; CSP Dom. 1703–4, p. 403
  • 3. Scot. Rec. Soc. lxii. 65; State of Controverted Election . . . Pittenweem [c.1710]
  • 4. HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 262–3; Lauder of Fountainhall, Hist. Notices (Bannatyne Club, lxxxvii), 164; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxii. 467; R. Sibbald, Hist. Sheriffdoms of Fife and Kinross (1710), 134; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 53.
  • 5. Reg. PC Scotland 1676–8, p. 213; 1681–2, pp. 243, 723; 1683–4, p. 199; Scots Peerage, 90–92; APS, viii. 468; ix. 73, 143; CSP Dom. 1677–8, p. 397; 1691–2, p. 164; Carstares, State Pprs. 22; Scot. Hist. Soc. (ser. 1), xiv. 26; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 15; HMC Portland, viii. 206; Atholl mss at Blair Castle, box 45 bdle. 7, no.159, Areskine to [Atholl], 29 Oct. 1707.
  • 6. SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/975/10, Mar to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 17 July 1710; GD124/15/943/5, Grange to Mar, 5 Feb. 1709; GD124/15/10/4, Ld. Bowhill (John Murray*) to same, 23 Sept. 1710; GD124/15/1011/1–2, Areskine to same, 7 Sept., 5 Dec. 1710; D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 66; HMC Portland, iv. 558; SRO, Seafield mss GD248/560/45/58, Rothes to [Seafield], 20 Sept. 1710.
  • 7. SHR, lx. 64; Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1011/2, Areskine to Grange, 5 Dec. 1710; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 338; Lockhart Letters, pp. xxiv, xxvi; Lockhart Pprs. i. 338–9; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/808/18a–b, Mungo Graham* to Duke of Montrose, 13 Feb. 1711.
  • 8. HMC Portland, iv. 676; x. 462–3; SRO, Kennedy of Dalquharran mss GD27/5/2, Harry Maule to [Cornelius Kennedy], 24 Sept. 1711; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 169–70.
  • 9. Lockhart Letters, 57; Szechi, 101–2, 111; Lockhart Pprs. 366; SRO, Breadalbane mss GD112/39/251/14, ‘Letter from a Gent. in London’, Mar. 1711; HMC Portland, v. 238; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 6, f. 93.
  • 10. Spalding Club, Misc. iv. 85–87; Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Duff House (Montcoffer) mss 3175/2380, ‘Resolution of the Commons to Call a Meeting of the Lords’, [23] May 1713; SRO, Dalhousie mss GD45/14/348/2–3, Areskine to Maule, 2 Apr., 2 May 1713; Lockhart Pprs. 423; Parlty Hist. i. 69; Szechi, 137–8, 200; Szechi thesis, app.; Orig. Pprs. 416; Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 6, f. 19; HMC Portland, v. 140; Dalhousie mss GD45/14/348/5–7, Areskine to Harry Maule, 31 Aug., 2 Sept. [July] 1713.
  • 11. Lockhart Pprs. 444–52; Lockhart Letters, 72–73, 101–3.
  • 12. Cromartie Corresp. ii. 153–4; Kennedy of Dalquharran mss GD27/3/24/4, Graham to Cornelius Kennedy, 12 Feb. 1715; Scot. Rec. Soc. lxxvii. 1–7, 16–17; Scots Peerage, 92–93.