Elphinstone, John, second Baron Balmerino d. 1649, was the son of James, first baron Balmerino [qv.], by his first wife, Sarah, daughter of Sir John Menteith of Carse. His father being under attainder when he died in 1612, the title did not devolve on him, but he was restored to blood and peerage by a letter under the great seal, 4 Aug. 1613. He was a strenuous opponent of the ecclesiastical policy of Charles in Scotland, and distinguished himself more particularly in the parliament of 1633 by his hostility to the act establishing the royal prerogative of imposing apparel upon churchmen. Although, however, a majority of the members voted against the measure, the clerk affirmed that the question was carried in the affirmative. When his decision was objected to, Charles, who was present, insisted that it must be held good unless the clerk were accused from the bar of falsifying the records. This being a capital offence, the accuser was liable to the punishment of death if he failed in the proof, and no one caring to incur the risk, the decision was not further challenged. William Haig of Bemersyde, solicitor to James I, and one of those opposed to the measure, thereupon drew up a petition to be signed by his party, setting forth their grievances and praying for redress. It was couched in rather plain language, and asserted that the recent ecclesiastical legislation had imposed a servitude upon this church unpractised before. The king peremptorily declined to look at it, and ordered a stop to be put to all such proceedings. The matter was therefore delayed, but Balmerino retained a copy, which, having interlined it in some places with his own hand, he showed to his confidential agent, Dunmore. Through a breach of confidence it was forwarded by a friend of Dunmore's to Spotiswood, archbishop of St. Andrews, who, supposing it was being sent about for signatures, laid the matter before the king. Haig made his escape to the continent, but Balmerino, by a warrant of the privy council, was brought before Spotiswood, who sent him a prisoner to the castle of Edinburgh. His imprisonment occurred as early as June 1634, and the final trial was not till the following March. Hill Burton suggests that the delay was owing to hesitation whether to prosecute or not (Hist. Scot. vi. 97), but the succinct yet circumstantial narrative of Sir James Balfour (Annals, ii. 216-19) clearly proves that the aim was to leave no means untried to secure a conviction. In June he was indicted before the justice-general, William, earl of Errol, lord high constable of Scotland, on the accusation of the king's advocate, Sir Thomas Hope, the court sitting into July. So unmistakably hostile was public opinion to the proceedings, that Balmerino was conveyed each day to and from the castle under a strong escort. Before a decision was arrived at, a warrant came postponing the matter till 12 Nov., when, after it had been under consideration for twelve days, another warrant came to add four assistants to the justice-general, who, says Balfour, were men sworn to the bishops and favourers of the corruptions of the time. At last, after long debate, the charge was found relevant in three points: the keeping or concealing of a libel against the king's authority, the failing to apprehend the original author of the libel, and the being art and part in the fabrication of the libel, from the fact that certain parts were admitted to have been underlined by him. The matter was then ordered to be tried by a jury, who were carefully selected by the government. The trial came on in March 1635, and the charge being finally narrowed down to the one count that he, knowing the author of what was held to be a dangerous and seditious libel, failed to discover him, he was found guilty by eight to seven, and sentenced to death. Before the trial came on, William Drummond of Hawthornden [qv.] had written an Apologetical Letter to the Earl of Ancrum (published in Drummond, Works) in the expectation that it would be shown to Charles, in which he described such a prosecution as in the highest degree impolitic, and said it was sometimes great wisdom in a prince not to reject or disdain those who freely told him his duty. The trial was a mere burlesque of the forms of justice. The excitement of the people became almost uncontrollable, and while protests against the sentence being carried out were made at crowded meetings, many vowed that if a pardon were not granted they would either set him at liberty or revenge his death on the judge and the jurors who voted against him. Traquair thereupon hastened to Charles and represented to him that the execution was unadvisable, and Laud concurring, Balmerino was reluctantly pardoned, but was ordered to be confined for life within six miles of his house at Balmerino. Afterwards he obtained full liberty, to the king's great grief, says Spalding, for this his goodness (Memorials, i. 61). Burnet states that his father told him that the ruin of the king's affairs in Scotland was in a great measure owing to that prosecution (Own Times, ed. 1838, p. 14). Balmerino was one of those who attended the meeting of the lords called by Lord Lorne, afterwards Marquis of Argyll, at which they began to regrait their dangerous estait with the pryd and avarice of the prelatis (Spalding, Memorials, i. 79), and resolved to make a determined stand against the introduction of innovations in worship. Along with Loudoun and Rothes he revised the additions to the covenant in February 1638 (Rothes, Relation, p. 79). In the assembly of 1638 he resolved to be well near mute (Baillie, Letters and Journals, i. 125), but he served on several committees, and on 3 Oct. he signed the protest to the king's commissioner at Hamilton against his endeavours to induce the members of the assembly to sign the king's covenant (Balfour, Annals, ii. 296; Gordon, Scots Affairs, ii. 127). Guthrie ascribes to Balmerino, along with Hope and Henderson, the pamphlet called An Informatione for Defensive Arms (printed in Stevenson's History of the Church of Scotland, ii. 686-95), maintaining the reason and necessity of the covenanters to defend themselves against the king by force of arms. He was also one of the principal advisers of the covenanters in sending a letter to Louis XIII against the tyrannical proceedings of their monarch. Of this Charles took special notice in his Large Declaration concerning the late Troubles in Scotland, reproaching him for his ingratitude both to himself and to James VI, to whom he owed both his barony and his whole fortune. Balmerino was one of the ablest and most prominent supporters of Argyll in his policy against Charles. When the covenanters resolved to take up arms, he aided them with large sums of money, contributing at least forty thousand merks (Balfour, Annals, iii. 240). Along with the Earl of Rothes and others he proceeded on 22 March 1639 to Dalkeith to demand the delivery to them of the palace by the lord treasurer Traquair, and to bring the royal ensigns of the kingdom, the crown, sword, and sceptre, to the castle of Edinburgh (ib. ii. 322). At the opening of the famous Scottish parliament in August 1641, he was nominated president by the king and unanimously elected (ib. iii. 45). On 17 Sept. his name appeared among the list of privy councillors nominated by the king (ib. 67), and it was one of those approved of by the parliament (ib. 150). On 17 Nov. he was chosen an extraordinary lord of session. He accompanied General Leslie in his march into England in 1643 (Spalding, Memorials, ii. 298). In July 1644 he was nominated one of the commissioners to England (Balfour, Annals, iii. 206). When, after the disastrous campaigns of Argyll, the command of the covenanters was entrusted to Sir William Baillie, Balmerino was one of the committee of estates nominated to advise him (Spalding, ii. 462). He died on the last day of February 1649, of apoplexy in his own chamber in Edinburgh, having the previous evening supped with the Marquis of Argyll, and gone to bed apparently in good health (Balfour, Annals, iii. 388). He was buried in the vaulted cemetery of the Logan family, adjoining the church of Restalrig, but according to Scot of Scotstarvet, the soldiers of Cromwell disinterred the body in 1650 while searching for leaden coffins, and threw it into the street. By Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Ker of Fernyhirst, and sister of Andrew and James, lords Jedburgh, and of Robert Car [qv.], earl of Somerset, he had a son John, who succeeded him as third lord. Balmerino was the author of a speech on the army published in 1642
     John Elphinstone, third Baron Balmerino 1623-1704, lost most of his landed property by lawsuits, and was fined 6,000l. Scots by the parliament of 1662 for having conformed under the commonwealth. His successor (by his wife Margaret, daughter of John Campbell, earl of Loudoun), John Elphinstone, fourth Baron Balmerino, born 26 Dec. 1652, a distinguished lawyer, was a privy counciller 16 Aug. 1687; opposed the union; was elected a representative of the peers in 1710 and 1713; was expelled from his offices in 1714; and died at Leith 13 May 1736. His son Arthur is noticed above.

     Balfour's Annals of Scotland
     Baillie's Letters and Journals (Bannatyne Club)
     Burnet's Own Times
     Rushworth's Historical Collections, pt. ii. 281
     Gordon's Scots Affairs (Spalding Club)
     Spalding's Memorials (Spalding Club)
     Rothes's Relation concerning the Affairs of the Kirk of Scotland (Bannatyne Club)
     Hailes's Memorials, containing many letters to him from Johnstone of Warriston
     State Trials, iii. 587-711
     Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood)
     Haig and Brunton's Senators of the College of Justice, pp. 313-17
     Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors
     Laing's History of Scotland
     Hill Burton's History of Scotland
     Gardiner's History of England.

Contributor: T. F. H. [Thomas Finlayson Henderson]

Published: 1888