ST. CLAIR ERSKINE (formerly 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.†, of Alva by Janet, da. of Peter Wedderburn, SCJ (Lord Chesterfield). educ. Edinburgh h.s.; Eton 1772-7. m. 4 Nov. 1789, Henrietta Elizabeth, da. of Hon. Edward Bouverie I* of Delapré Abbey Northants., 2s. 1da. surv. suc. fa. as 6th Bt. 9 Aug. 1765; cos. James Paterson St. Clair in the Rosslyn and Dysart estates 1789 and took name of St. Clair before Erskine 9 June 1789; mat. uncle Alexander Wedderburn† as 2nd Earl of Rosslyn 2 Jan. 1805; GCB 20 May 1820.
Lt. 21 Drag. 1778; capt. 19 Drag. 1780, 14 Drag. 1781; maj. 8 Drag. 1783; lt.-col. 12 Drag. 1772; adj.-gen. Toulon 1793; col. and a.d.c. to the King 1795; maj.-gen. 1798; col. Suss. fencible cav. 1799, 9 Drag. 1801-d.; lt.-gen. 1805, gen. 1814.
Dir. ct. of Chancery [S] 1785-d.; councillor of state [S] to Prince of Wales 1800-18; ld. privy seal June 1829-Nov. 1830; PC 10 June 1829; ld. of Treasury Nov.-Dec. 1834; ld. pres. of council Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835.
Ld. lt. Fife 1828-d.
St. Clair Erskine became, by inheritance, a force to be reckoned with in Fife politics in 1789, though his interest was better calculated to carry Dysart Burghs than the county.1 In 1790, after giving up a notion of standing for Stirling Burghs, he retained his English borough seat on Lord Carlisle’s interest, which he owed to the influence of his uncle Lord Loughborough. A member of the Whig Club and of Brooks’s since 1784, Erskine resumed his opposition to Pitt’s ministry. On 14 Feb. 1791 he was named as one of the managers of Warren Hastings’s impeachment in the House. He was a leading opponent of the Bank unclaimed dividends bill, 22, 25 Mar. On 12 Apr. 1791 and on 15 subsequent occasions until May 1792 he acted as an opposition teller, speaking against Pitt’s Russian policy and on the subject of military arrears. He voted, predictably, for the exemption of Scotland from the Test Act, 10 May 1791, and was an advocate of the gradual abolition of the slave trade, 4 Apr. 1792. He was, however, an opponent of burgh reform, 16, 18 Apr. 1792, and on 30 Apr. expressed his alarm about parliamentary reform in general. His sympathies were still with opposition in the debates on the Westminster police bill, 18 May, and Indian affairs, 5 June 1792, but not so thereafter. In December 1792 he was listed, with a query, among the Portland Whigs and on 28 Feb. 1793 seceded from the Whig Club. On 4 Mar. he took leave of absence, for the public service in Ireland. His uncle’s junction with the ministry as lord chancellor clinched matters. Report made him chief secretary to his friend Lord Westmorland, viceroy of Ireland, but he was appointed adjutant-general at Toulon. This, according to his uncle, was instigated ‘entirely from the King’.2 His erstwhile political career was wound up when he presented the managers’ case against Warren Hastings to the Lords, 30 May 1794.
In 1796 Erskine procured his unopposed return for Dysart Burghs. He at once obtained leave of absence for military duties, proceeding to Portugal as adjutant-general, though he resigned this, 5 Sept. 1797. He remained abroad until the end of 1799. On 25 Feb. 1801 he took six weeks’ leave, but was in the House on 22 Apr., when he opposed Tierney’s motion on the conduct of war. He was a critic of the convoy duty bill, 28 Apr. 1801, and of the Irish controverted election bill, which, he claimed, departed from the Grenville Act, 10 June 1802. In a list drawn up after the election of 1802 he was reckoned ‘Opposition at heart’, with four other Scottish Members.3 He did not show it. His only gesture in the House was to procure provision for the families of Scottish militiamen in June 1803. He was listed ‘doubtful etc.’ by Pitt’s calculators in May 1804, and in September first ‘Fox and Grenville’, then among ‘the persons in opposition not quite certain’. In January 1805 he succeeded to his uncle’s earldom.
Rosslyn declined the military command at Madras offered him by Lord Minto in 1806, but accepted a mission to Portugal.4 Reluctantly, for it spelt the eclipse of his own influence, he returned Gen. Ferguson for Dysart Burghs that year; but their politics were for many years alike, Rosslyn being particularly attached to Earl Grey. He refused a seat in the cabinet offered by the Duke of Wellington in 1828, for fear of compromising his ‘long connection in politics’ with the Whigs; but a year later he accepted office and ‘gave up his sense, his usefulness, his character and his happiness to his captain’. Cockburn, lamenting his apostasy, commented:
Yet I never could cease loving and admiring him. His talent, spirit, and long consistency, his gallant, gentleman-like, old soldier-like air; his light erect-looking figure; his grizzly hair; and the very wrinkles around the outer wicks of his eyes, were all admirable. It was lamentable to see how plainly his self-dissatisfaction made him more bitter against the improvements he was ashamed to see his old friends promoting, and he not among them.5
He died 18 Jan. 1837.