ERSKINE, Sir Henry, 5th Bt. (1710-65), of Alva, Clackmannan.
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Family and Education
bap. 23 Dec. 1710, 2nd s. of Sir John Erskine, 3rd Bt., M.P., by Catherine, da. of Henry St. Clair, 10th Lord Sinclair [S]. educ. ?Eton 1725; L. Inn 1728. m. 16 May 1761, Janet, da. of Peter Wedderburn, Lord Chesterhall, S.C.J., sis. of Alexander Wedderburn, M.P., afterwards Lord Loughborough and Earl of Rosslyn, 2s. 1da. suc. bro. Charles 2 July 1747.
Ensign 22 Ft. 1735, lt. 1736; capt. 1 Ft. 1743; Lt.-col. army 1746; dismissed Jan. 1756; re-instated and promoted maj.-gen. Nov. 1760, with effect from June 1759; Colt 67 Ft. 1760-1, 25 Ft. 1761-2, 1 Ft. 1762-d.; lt.-gen. 1765.
Surveyor of the King’s private roads 1757-60; sec. of the Order of the Thistle Apr. 1765-d.
Erskine’s father, related to the Earl of Mar, was a Jacobite leader in the Fifteen, but received a full pardon in return for surrendering to the Treasury his silver mine near Alva.1 Having subsequently dissipated his fortune in extravagant mining projects, he was employed as manager of the Scottish Mining Company, selling his estate to his brother, Charles Areskine.
Erskine was intended for the English bar, but in 1735 joined the 22nd Foot commanded by his uncle James St. Clair. In 1742, while stationed in Minorca, he fell foul of the lieutenant governor, General Philip Anstruther, who, having been attacked by the Opposition for neglect of duty, arrested Erskine on suspicion of conspiring against him. Acquitted by court martial, Erskine transferred to the 1st Foot, now commanded by St. Clair, serving at L’Orient and Lauffeld, where his brother was killed.
In 1747 Erskine was supported by James Oswald and St. Clair as candidate for Dysart Burghs, but St. Clair, having lost Sutherland, required the seat for himself.2 After accompanying St. Clair as aide-de-camp on his mission to Vienna and Turin in 1748, Erskine was returned for Ayr Burghs on the Argyll-Bute interest, in succession to his first cousin, Charles Erskine, in December 1749. Attaching himself to Leicester House, he soon acquired considerable reputation as an opposition speaker.
This man [writes Horace Walpole], with a face as sanguine as the disposition of the commander in chief, had a gentle plausibility in his manner, that was not entirely surprising in a Scotchman, and an inclination to poetry, which he had cultivated with little success either in his odes, or from the patrons to whom they were dedicated; one had been addressed to the Duke, and another to an old gentlewoman at Hanover, mother of my Lady Yarmouth. Of late he had turned his talent to rhetoric and studied public speaking ... at the Oratorical club in Essex street, from whence he brought so fluent, so theatrical, so specious, so declamatory a style and manner as might have transported an age and audience not accustomed to the real eloquence and graces of Mr. Pitt.
He joined on 20 Feb. 1751 in Egmont’s attack on the mutiny bill, ‘complaining of the exorbitant power of general officers on courts martial, instanced in his own case’ by Anstruther’s treatment of him in 1742. This led to a protracted dispute which further envenomed his relations with Anstruther.
After the death of the Prince of Wales, 20 Mar. 1751, Erskine supported the Administration, voted in December for the mutiny bill, spoke on 22 Jan. 1752 in favour of the Saxon treaty, and on 29 Jan. against the motion condemning subsidy treaties in time of peace. When Egmont, in the debate on the mutiny bill, 9 Feb. 1753, again raised the question of courts martial, ‘Sir Henry Erskine, the old companion of his chivalry, was now the first to oppose him’.3 In 1754 he ousted his enemy, Anstruther, from Anstruther Burghs, which he represented till his death, 9 Aug. 1765.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest
- 1. Sc. Hist. Soc. Misc. ii. 414-17; HMC Stuart, ii. 496-500 et passim; iii. 135, 369; v. 350; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1, pp. 84-85.
- 2. Argyll to Pelham, 30 July 1747, Newcastle (Clumber) mss; Lady Morton to Ld. Morton, 13 Aug. 1747, Morton mss; Letters of David Hume, ed. Greig, i. 102.
- 3. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 41, 220, 243, 254, 295.