ERSKINE, Sir James, 6th Bt. (1762-1837), of Alva, Clackmannan.
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Family and Education
b. 6 Feb. 1762, 1st s. of Sir Henry Erskine, 5th Bt. educ. Edinburgh h.s.; Eton 1772-7. m. 4 Nov. 1789, Henrietta Elizabeth (d. 1810) 1st da. of Hon. Edward Bouverie, 2 surv. s. 1da. suc. fa. 9 Aug. 1765; suc. cos. James Paterson St. Clair in the Rosslyn and Dysart estates, 14 May 1789, and assumed name of St. Clair before Erskine, 9 June 1789; suc. uncle Alexander Wedderburn as 2nd Earl of Rosslyn, 2 Jan. 1805.
Lt. 21 Lt. Drag. 1778; capt. 19 Lt. Drag. 1780; capt. 14 Lt. Drag. 1781; maj. 8 Lt. Drag. 1783; lt.-col. 12 Lt. Drag. 1792; col. 1795; maj.-gen. 1798; col. 9 Drag. 1801- d.; lt.-gen. 1805; gen. 1814.
Erskine’s early career was directed by his uncle Alexander Wedderburn who lost no opportunity of advancing the interests of his sister and her children. When in 1779 Wedderburn was raising demands against Government, he extracted from North a promise of a reversion for his nephew.1 A few months later, Loughborough’s friend Lord Carlisle, as lord lieutenant of Ireland, appointed Erskine one of his aides-de-camp extraordinary. Shortly after the fall of North, Erskine, although under age, was returned for Castle Rising, through Loughborough’s interest with the Suffolk family. During the summer of 1782 he remained in Ireland attending to his military office as assistant adjutant-general and, according to William Eden, ‘doing extremely well’.2 On his return he joined the Opposition and voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783; supported the Coalition; and opposed Pitt. In 1784 Loughborough accepted Lord Carlisle’s offer to return Erskine for Morpeth, on the understanding that he should be free to contest Fife at the first vacancy.3
In the new Parliament Erskine made his mark as a forceful Opposition speaker. He intervened in the Westminster election debate, 8 June 1784; spoke on the military and financial provisions of the East India bill; and warmly defended Fox against Pitt.4 He strongly supported Sheridan’s amendment to Pitt’s Irish propositions commending Ireland’s large contribution to defence.5 A member of the group of young Whigs surrounding Burke, he took an effective part in the East India debates of March 1786, and was allotted a role by Burke in the proceedings against Warren Hastings.6 On 15 Mar. 1787 Erskine opened the charge against Hastings relating to contracts.7 Burke congratulated his pupil:8 ‘He had never heard a more business like speech nor a more masterly detail of facts: it was a wonderful display of ability from so young a man.’ On 3 Apr. Erskine was among the seven managers appointed to prepare the articles of impeachment against Hastings. He was thus actively engaged when Fife fell vacant by the death of Robert Skene on 19 May, and although he seems to have made a last minute effort to oppose the Government candidate,9 he shortly afterwards renounced his Scottish ambitions. Loughborough wrote to Lord Carlisle, 13 Oct. 1787:10
Sir James Erskine is at present in Holland but I saw him at Newcastle, and I think nothing can have happened to alter the disposition he then had to disengage himself entirely from his contest in Scotland. It will always be my wish that he should think of Morpeth only, while you are so good as to think of him for that place ... For supposing his success in Scotland could be ensured, I am satisfied it would be better for his fortune and his constitution and his political situation even to fight Morpeth under your auspices ... than to take the charge and burthen of a large county with all its claims upon him. My former adoption of that project was entirely from complaisance to his cousin who wished to support a family interest without being at the trouble of it.
In the new session he was almost wholly engrossed in East India affairs, was a teller in the division, 11 Dec., on Fox’s motion to add Francis to the managers of Hastings’s impeachment, and was nominated a manager in the impeachment of Sir Elijah Impey. With an eye to his Fife interest he intervened occasionally on Scottish affairs; spoke on the distillery bill, 12 Feb. 1788, and opposed on 17 June Sheridan’s motion for a bill to reform Scottish burghs, ‘strongly protesting against the existence of the evils complained of’. During the Regency debates he spoke at least twice.11
He died 18 Jan. 1837.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest
- 1. Fortescue, v. 9.
- 2. Auckland Corresp. i. 14.
- 3. HMC Carlisle, 651.
- 4. Debrett, xv. 80, 124, 315, 319, 400.
- 5. Stockdale, vi. 328-9.
- 6. Lady Minto, Life Letters of Sir G. Elliot, i. 119; Debrett, xxi. 269-70.
- 7. Ibid. 430-8.
- 8. Stockdale, x. 478.
- 9. H. Furber, Hen. Dundas, 221.
- 10. HMC Carlisle, 652.
- 11. Stockdale, xiii. 181-2; xv. 193; xvi. 316, 415.