Four Scots Lords: One line in a Poem

Inspired by a reference in an early eighteenth-century poem, in the latest blog for the Georgian Lords, Dr Stuart Handley considers the interlinked careers of four Scots peers, who all sat in the House of Lords.

The early eighteenth-century poem, Advice to a Painter, by Alexander Robertson of Struan contains a line grouping four Scots peers: Rothes, Ross, Buchan and Belhaven, who were all part of a ‘pack of tools’ [HMC Mar and Kellie, 577].

So, who exactly were these ‘tools’?

John Leslie (formerly Hamilton) (1679-1722) succeeded his mother in 1700 as 9th earl of Rothes. William Ross (1655/6-1738) succeeded his father in 1682 as 12th Lord Ross. David Erskine (1672-1745) succeeded his father as 4th Lord Cardross in 1703 and his 2nd cousin once removed in 1695 (recognized 1698) as 9th earl of Buchan. John Hamilton (aft. 1674-1721) succeeded his father in 1708 as 3rd Lord Belhaven and Stenton.

The four men certainly had things in common; they all sat in the 1715-22 Parliament as Scottish representative peers, and supported the ministry of the day, having all been elected on the Court list in 1715.

(c) Trustees of the British Museum

They all supported the post-1688 church settlement and, indeed, three of them served as lord commissioner to the general assembly of the Kirk, held annually in Edinburgh: Ross in 1704; Rothes from 1715-21; Buchan in 1729.

However, none of them were members of the front rank of the Scottish nobility. Ross and Buchan were the only members of their family to serve as representative peers 1707-1832; Belhaven was only joined by Robert Hamilton, 8th Baron Belhaven in 1819. Rothes was a more senior figure. Unlike, Ross and Buchan, he had secured election as a representative peer before 1715, serving from 1708 to 1710. As a leading member of the Scottish Whig political grouping known as the Squadrone, he was followed into the House a couple of years after his death by his son, the 10th earl of Rothes, who served from 1723 to 1767, although with a significant gap between 1734 and 1747. The 13th earl of Rothes also served in the early nineteenth-century.

Curiously, both Ross and Buchan had strong links to the English county of Berkshire. In 1695 Ross married as his second wife (he eventually had four), the twice-widowed Margaret Wharton, daughter of Philip Wharton, 4th Baron Wharton, and sister of Thomas Wharton, 5th Baron and eventually marquess of Wharton. By virtue of a jointure from her first husband, Major Dunch, Margaret had control of the estate of Pusey, which enabled her husband to play a small role in Berkshire politics. In the general election of 1695, he backed the return of Sir William Trumbull, William III’s secretary of state, although Trumbull chose to sit for Oxford University instead. For part of the next 10 years Ross was resident at Pusey, but he lost his base in England when his wife died in 1706. Subsequently, he married the daughter of the 2nd marquess of Tweeddale, and then in 1731 the sister of Sir William Scott, 2nd bt. of Thirlestone.

Almost at the same time as Ross, Buchan was in the market for an English heiress. In 1696 a licence was issued for his marriage to a daughter of John Robartes, earl of Radnor, and, when that fell through, the following year he married Frances Fairfax, (died 1719), daughter of Henry Fairfax of Hurst, Berkshire, the ultimate heiress of William Barker MP for Berkshire. Unlike Ross, Buchan retained the estates inherited through his wife in England. He later sold them to remove the encumbrances on his Scottish estates, which he devised to his son, George, the Master of Ross (subsequently 13th Lord Buchan). While the Master of Ross embarked on a career in Scottish government (serving on the excise and the customs board), Buchan remained resident in London, marrying again in 1743, to the sister of the Sir William Blackett, 2nd bt., Member for Newcastle, who had died in 1728. Buchan died in London in 1745 and was buried in Hampstead.

More conventionally, Rothes only had one wife, but like Ross’s third wife, she was also the daughter of the 2nd marquess of Tweeddale, a Squadrone ally. Belhaven, too, had one wife, but following her death in 1707, he was implicated in an affair with the wife of John Fleming, 6th earl of Wigtown, which led to Wigtown’s divorce in 1708. Thereafter Belhaven served as a servant of the Prince of Wales, before securing the governorship of Barbados. Tragically, the ship taking him to the West Indies ran aground off the Lizard in November 1721, with the loss of all but three of the crew. His colonial posting was an attempt to repair the family fortunes following losses in the South Sea Bubble.

All four men were useful supports to the ministry and diligent in their attendance of the House of Lords. A hostile witness such as Robertson, might describe such men as a ‘pack of tools’, but ‘tools’ were useful in managing an early eighteenth-century Parliament.


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