ERSKINE, John (1660-1733), of the Sand Haven, Culross, Fife.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. Sept. 1660, 2nd s. of Sir Charles Erskine, MP [S], of Alva, Stirling, being 1st s. by his 2nd w. Helen, da. of Sir James Skene of Curriehill, Midlothian, SCJ, ld. pres. [S] 1626–33, and wid. of Robert Bruce of Broomhall, Dunfermline, Fife, SCJ, ld. of session 1649–52; uncle of Sir John Erskine, 3rd Bt.* m. (1) contract 17 Apr. 1682, Jean, da. of John Murray of Polmaise, Stirling, 1s. 2da.; (2) 29 Apr. 1697, Lady Mary (d. aft.1708), da. of George Maule, 2nd Earl of Panmure [S] and wid. of Charles Erskine, 5th Earl of Mar [S], s.p.; (3) 1714, Euphemia, da. of William Cochrane of Ochiltree, Ayr, 3da. (1 d.v.p.).1
Ensign of ft. Earl of Mar’s regt. (21 Ft.) Mar.–Sept. 1680, coy. ft. Stirling Castle garrison Sept. 1680, capt. 1689, lt.-col. (brevet) 1692; commr. justiciary for Highlands [S] ?1697, 1701, 1702; dep. gov. Stirling Castle 1701–?d.; PC [S] 1707–8; commr. exchequer [S] 1707–8.2
Burgess, Stirling 1681, provost 1707–9, 1711–13; burgess, Edinburgh 1708, Culross.3
MP [S] Stirling 1702–7.
As Defoe observed, the neighbourhood of Stirling contained ‘several gentlemen of quality’ bearing the surname Erskine, and the problems of identification associated with this Member, who has been confused more often than not with his first cousin once removed, John Erskine (1662–1743) of Carnock, Fife, a younger son of the 2nd Lord Cardross, are considerable. Such confusion is understandable given the unusual extent to which the lives of these two men ran parallel: both reached the military rank of lieutenant-colonel; both were employed, simultaneously, in the garrison of Stirling Castle, Carnock as lieutenant-governor, the Member as deputy; and both held the provostship of Stirling during Queen Anne’s reign. What is more, they lived ‘cheek by jowl’ in adjacent mansions by the shore at Culross. To differentiate between the two, contemporaries resorted to the contrast in their physical colouring: Carnock was ‘the black colonel’; his deputy ‘the white colonel’, or ‘the fair’.4
The reputation of being ‘a thorough-paced courtier’, which ‘the white colonel’ had established by the time of the Union, had been a long time in the making. For all that his father had been staunch to the Covenant, serving as a colonel of horse and being chosen a commissioner to the English Parliament in 1644–5, Erskine himself took a post in 1680 at Stirling Castle, under another first cousin once removed, Lord Mar. The following year he was presented with his burgess ticket at the Duke of York’s visit to the burgh, among a batch of loyalist lairds and several officials of York’s household. Then in 1683 he was nominated to a local commission to try ‘delinquents’ on charges of treason. However, he still remained sufficiently uncompromised to be able to embrace the Revolution. In the convention of estates his brother Sir Charles, 1st Bt., signed the Act declaring the legality of the assembly’s proceedings and the letter of congratulation to William III. Outside, Erskine himself was ‘very early’ in showing his support for the Williamite cause, and as a result not only retained his post in Stirling Castle but also gained rapid promotion in three years from ensign to lieutenant-colonel. In 1694 Lord Annandale recommended him (unsuccessfully) for some further, unspecified, military distinction with the recommendation that he had ‘always carried himself well towards the government’.5
Returned to the Scottish parliament in 1702, Erskine never gave any sign that he was other than a dyed-in-the-wool courtier; and this despite his earlier investment (of some £300) in the Company of Scotland. He even supported the Squadrone managers in 1704, voting against the Duke of Hamilton’s motion on the succession. In the Union parliament he voted the complete Court line, with only two absences. Afterwards he was named to the Scottish privy council and to the exchequer commission, both institutions destined to survive only briefly after the Union. He was also included on the Court slate as a Member of the first Parliament of Great Britain.6
What little is known of Erskine’s conduct and opinions at Westminster comes from his letters to his stepson (and first cousin twice removed), the 6th Earl of Mar, and to other members of the family. Although one historian, confusing him with Erskine of Carnock, had categorized him as a client of the Duke of Queensberry, this correspondence places him firmly in Mar’s circle. In November 1707 he reported to the Earl’s brother Lord Grange (Hon. James Erskine†) the promising reception the Commons had given to the Scottish merchants’ petition against the continued seizure of their goods by English customs officers contrary to the provisions of the Union. Later, after the Christmas adjournment, his response to the proposed abolition of the Scottish privy council, of which he was himself a member, betrayed rather more anxiety:
I doubt not but our new prospects for government for Scotland are both surprising and alarming to most of our people there, and it’s no wonder, for we are confounded with the thoughts of it here, for all our folks have letters telling them of the confusion it will certainly occasion in North Britain.
No speech of his is recorded, however. Erskine showed no enthusiasm for re-election in 1708, but agreed to stand at Mar’s insistence. He was listed as having voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. His patron was keen for him to stand again in 1710, but Erskine was even more determined not to, ‘for several reasons’, not least the difficulty he faced in the two burghs where he himself had some influence, Stirling and Culross. At the same time, he promised to do what he could to secure the return of ‘a firm friend’ to Mar’s interest. Erskine was persuaded out of electoral retirement in 1713, in an unsuccessful attempt to unseat the outgoing Member for the burghs district, Henry Cunningham. He neither contested the 1715 election, nor took any part in the Jacobite rising. Erskine died in 1733, aged 73, his life still intertwined with that of his namesake of Carnock, who was one of the debtors to his estate.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. Hist. Scot. Parl. 232; Scots Peerage ed. Paul, v. 627; viii. 349; D. Beveridge, Culross and Tulliallan, ii. 47; Stewart Soc. Mag. v. 123–4; Memorials Fam. Skene of Skene (New Spalding Club), 113–14; Brunton and Haig, Senators Coll. Justice, 253–4, 338.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1679–80, p. 418; 1680–1, p. 11; 1689–90, p. 200; 1697, p. 80; 1700–2, pp. 317, 338; 1702–3, pp. 353, 472; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiv. 249–50; Scot. Rec. Soc. lxii. 65.
- 3. Extracts Stirling Recs. 1667–1752, pp. 32, 392, 400–1; Scot. Rec. Soc. lxii. 66; Beveridge, 48.
- 4. Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 756–7; APS, xii. 513; Foster, MPs Scotland, 128; R. Walcott, Pol. Early 18th Cent. 234; Stewart Soc. Mag. 125–6.
- 5. Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 14; APS, v. 392, 395, 400; vi(1), 28, 51, 53, 101–2, 141, 159, 202–3, 381, 862; vi(2), 9, 33, 190, 291, 536; ix. 9, 20; Extracts Stirling Recs. 32; Reg. PC Scotland, 1683, pp. 289–90; Annandale Fam. Bk. ii. 79.
- 6. Info. from Dr P. W. J. Riley on members of Scot. parl.; Darien Pprs. (Bannatyne Club, xc), 388; Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. app. 43; v. 344; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 331.
- 7. SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/510/7–8, Erskine to Mar, 20 Nov., 23 Dec. 1707; GD124/15/829/4–5, same to Grange, 25 Apr., 24 May 1708; GD124/15/868/1, Mar to Ld. Stair, 20 June 1708; GD124/15/975/2, 7–8, same to Grange, 6 June, 20, 22 July 1710; GD124/15/985/1, Erskine to same, 28 July 1710; GD124/15/991/2, Ld. Dupplin (George Hay*) to same, 13 Aug. ; Sunter thesis, 20; Stewart Soc. Mag. 124.