WEMYSS, Hon. James (1726-86), of Wemyss, Fife.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 23 Feb. 1726, 3rd s. of James, 5th Earl of Wemyss [S], by Janet, da. and h. of Col. Francis Charteris of Amisfield. educ. ?Edinburgh h.s. m. 29 Aug. 1757, his cos. Elizabeth, da. of William, 17th Earl of Sutherland [S], by Elizabeth, da. of David, 4th Earl of Wemyss [S], 6s. 2da. suc. fa. in Wemyss estates 1756.
Midshipman R.N. 1741; lt. 1745; ret. 1757.
Wemyss’s eldest brother, Lord Elcho, served in the Jacobite army during the ’45 and was attainted. In 1750 a new entail was drawn up under which Francis, the second son, was to inherit the Charteris estates, and the Wemyss estates were to go to James. James’s progress in the navy was slow, and soon after succeeding to the estates, his brother wrote to him, 6 Aug. 1756:
I must renew my request to you, which is to quit the sea service entirely and establish yourself at the old castle, and marry immediately ... As for your being all your life a true friend to the court, I have no doubt of; but pray endeavour to get them to do something for you in another way than in the sea way. There are employments; you may get a red ribbon or be made an Irish peer by your own name, all which things would be a great credit to us all.
When, on 12 Jan. 1757, Lord Temple refused his request for promotion, Wemyss resigned his commission, and in the following August married his cousin Elizabeth, with a dowry of £4,000. His naval friends deplored his decision. Richard Kempenfelt wrote, 14 Aug. 1759:
The navy should not have neglected you, nor you it. Possessed of every quality to shine conspicuous, why should you shade yourself in peace when your country, when all Europe, is as in a blaze of arms?1
Wemyss’s chief political connexions were with Lord Sutherland, the Duke of Queensberry, and Lord March. In 1759 he was mentioned as a candidate for Sutherland, but withdrew. In 1763 he stood for Fife, and was returned unopposed. His income at this time was about £2,000 per annum, but it was burdened with the payment of his father’s debts and his mother’s jointure of one-third of the produce of the Wemyss estates. His mother made over her jointure to Elcho, but then tried to rescind her gift and threatened legal proceedings. Wemyss, fearing the loss of one third of his income, himself took action, and when the jointure had been declared forfeit, obtained it as a Crown gift to himself in March 1765. These family affairs and his own ill-health affected Wemyss’s attendance in Parliament, and he was absent for a considerable part of the sessions of 1763-5. On 14 Jan. 1766 George Grenville wrote to Wemyss’s brother-in-law, John Hamilton of Bargany:
I should be very glad if you could prevail upon your friend and relation Mr. Wemyss to accompany you. I have no presence to trouble that gentleman, but cannot help expressing my wishes to you for his presence.
In fact Wemyss was grateful to Grenville for obtaining for him the gift of his mother’s jointure, and ill-health probably accounts for his absence from the minority against the repeal of the Stamp Act. In a letter to Elcho of 20 Apr. 1766 Wemyss described his situation:
My wife, to the surprise of everybody, has been but one winter in Edinburgh since her marriage, and I have never yet been master of enough to build [new] stables ... My situation obliges me to go south yearly, but there is not a single gentleman there at less expense ... My health has been extremely bad last winter, for which I was ordered to our [local] spa.
In June 1766 further responsibilities fell upon him. The Earl and Countess of Sutherland died, leaving to his care, as principal guardian, their infant daughter, the heir to the earldom. Still believing in Bute’s influence, Wemyss wrote to him on 17 June 1766, asking that Sutherland’s pension might be transferred to Wemyss’ wife or to his eldest son. Bute replied:
You seem totally to mistake my situation. I have not been at court these nine months, nor seen his Majesty for this year past. I daily learn some hostility or other against those I wish well to. Judge then, my dear Sir, if in this state of ignorance, Scotland without a minister, and yet in hands most adverse to me, judge if I can be of use to any man living, no not even with advice.
In the summer of 1766 the Wemyss-Sutherland interests were attacked on all sides. The title of the infant Countess of Sutherland was challenged by Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, uncle of John Scott of Balcomie, hitherto a close friend of Wemyss, who not only supported the claim but announced his own candidature for Fife in opposition to Wemyss. Wemyss turned for support to Grenville, to whom George Chalmers wrote from Fife, 16 Oct. 1766: ‘I had a visit from Mr. Wemyss again here the other day. He professes a regard for you, gratitude for some former favour, and in particular great approbation of your public conduct and measures.’ Grenville secured for Wemyss the support of Sir Lawrence Dundas, and on 27 Feb. 1767 Wemyss voted on the land tax question with Grenville’s friends against the Government. But he was forced to yield Fife to Scott, and was returned unopposed for Sutherland.2
Wemyss supported the Grafton and North Administrations, though he voted against North on the naval captains’ petition, 9 Feb. 1773, and on Grenville’s Election Act, 25 Feb. 1774. In December 1775 he declined an offer to contest Fife on the death of John Scott. His loyalty to North was not rewarded with a place or pension, despite the efforts of Queensberry and March in his favour. Wemyss followed North into opposition, voting against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries. On 28 Dec. 1783 Pitt wrote to him, as one who had not ‘hitherto attended in the course of this session’, inviting his presence on 12 Jan. 1784 to support his India bill; but in Stockdale’s list of 19 Mar. Wemyss appears as an opponent of Pitt. He stood down at the general election in favour of his son. Throughout his long parliamentary career Wemyss is not known to have spoken in the House.3
He died 10 May 1786.