Dalrymple, Sir John, first Earl of Stair 1648-1707, eldest son of Sir James Dalrymple, first viscount Stair [qv.], lord president of the court of session, by his wife Margaret Ross, coheiress of the estate of Balniel, Wigtownshire, was born in 1648. While travelling in England in 1667, in company with his friend Sir Andrew Ramsay of Abbotshall, he is said to have arrived at Chatham when the Dutch fleet sailed up the Medway, and to have assisted in preventing an English man-of-war from being blown up (Impartial Account; and in Somers Tracts, xi. 552). Either for this service, or merely as a mark of respect to his father, he received in the same year the honour of knighthood from Charles II, to whom he was introduced in London by the Earl of Lauderdale. In 1669 he was married to Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir James Dundas of Newliston, West Lothian. Having studied for the Scotch bar, he was admitted advocate on 18 Feb. 1672, and at an early period of his career gave indications of that fluent eloquence which afterwards rendered him without a rival in the Scottish parliament. In 1681 he greatly distinguished himself in the defence, as junior to Sir George Lockhart, of the Earl of Argyll, at his trial for treason on account of the explanation he made in taking the test oath (see speech in Howell, State Trials, viii. 931, reprinted in Stair Annals, i. 371-7); but his appearance as the earl's counsel did not prove a prudent step in view of his father's, the lord president's, relation to the Test Act. For some years after the retirement of his father to Holland in 1682 he was subject to considerable persecution. At the close of the year he came into conflict with Graham of Claverhouse, then a captain of dragoons and armed with a sheriff's commission, regarding the jurisdiction of Glenluce, of which he was baillie. On the complaint of Claverhouse that he had acted in violent obstruction and contempt of his authority, and had exacted merely nominal fines from his own and his father's tenants, who had been convicted of having attended conventicles, he was committed by the privy council to the castle of Edinburgh, and only obtained his liberty in February 1683, after being deprived of his jurisdiction in Glenluce, paying a fine of 500l., and making a humble apology. In September of the following year he was arrested during the night at his house at Newliston, and his papers seized and examined. No evidence was discovered against him; but, as he declined to give any information regarding the late chancellor, Lord Aberdeen, then under suspicion, he was conveyed under a guard of common soldiers to the Tolbooth prison, where he was kept in durance for three months. On giving security to the amount of 5,000l. he was liberated on 11 Dec., within the bounds of Edinburgh (Fountainhall, Historical Notices, p. 579). At the time of the death of Charles II in February 1685 he was still a state prisoner, and, although his liberty was extended on 7 March to ten miles round Edinburgh (ib. p. 623), did not obtain his full liberty till 29 Jan. 1686 (ib. p. 700). Some months afterwards a prosecution was instituted against his father, Sir James Dalrymple, for complicity in Argyll's invasion of Scotland, and in all probability his estates would have been confiscated had not the son come to the rescue of the government when Sir George Mackenzie, lord advocate, refused to countenance the dispensing power claimed by the king. By a sudden change of front Dalrymple agreed to carry out the behests against which Sir George Mackenzie had revolted. In December 1685 he paid a visit to London, and in February returned to Edinburgh king's advocate, bringing with him at the same time a comprehensive remission of all charges against his father's family, and an order from the king for 1,200l., of which 500l. was the discharge of his fine in 1682, and the remainder for the expenses of his journey and the loss of practice. These preferments, according to the author of Memoirs of Great Britain, were bestowed upon him by the advice of Sunderland, who suggested that by this means an union between the presbyterian and popish parties might be effectuated (Dalrymple, Memoirs, ii. 72). But if Dalrymple's readiness to carry into effect the dispensing power commended him to the favour of James, his toleration of field conventicles, which were strictly prohibited by law, rendered it advisable to deprive him of the office of public prosecutor, and, accordingly, on the death of Sir James Foulis, he succeeded him as lord justice-clerk, 19 Jan. 1688, the office of king's advocate being restored to Sir George Mackenzie. In the same year he purchased the estate of Castle Kennedy, the beautiful residence of which is now the seat of the family of Stair
     According to the author of the Memoirs of Great Britain, Sir John Dalrymple came into the king's service resolved to take vengeance if ever it should offer: impenetrable in his designs, but open, prompt, and daring in execution, he acted in perfect confidence with Sunderland (ii. 72); and Lockhart asserts that he advised King James to emit a proclamation remitting the penal laws by virtue of his own absolute power and authority, and made him take several other steps with a design (as he since bragged) to procure the nation's hatred and prove his ruin (Lockhart Papers, i. 88). This statement can scarcely be harmonised with the fact that Dalrymple was himself the agent in carrying out the king's dispensing power; but there can at least be no doubt that from the first he was in the secret of the enterprise of the Prince of Orange. His father came over in the prince's own ship, and on the news of the prince's landing Viscount Tarbet and Dalrymple were the first to take measures to promote his cause (Balcarres, Memoirs). Dalrymple was specially active in securing the election of representatives to the convention of estates who would favour the claims of William. Being himself returned to the convention as member for Stranraer, he brought forward successfully a motion on 4 April that James Stuart had forfeited his claims to the crown of Scotland; and, as representing the estate of the burghs, he was one of the three commissioners sent by the convention to London to offer the crown to William and Mary. It is supposed that he was the commissioner who relieved William of his difficulty in regard to a clause in the coronation oath on the rooting out of all heretics and all enemies of the true worship, by promptly assuring the king, when he declined to lay himself under any obligation to be a persecutor, that no obligation of this kind was implied in the clause or in the laws of Scotland. The king, Burnet states, resolved to rely for advice in regard to Scotland chiefly on the elder Dalrymple (Own Time, ed. 1838, p. 539); and although Melville, a moderate presbyterian, was made secretary of state, the younger Dalrymple, who became lord advocate, had the chief management of Scottish affairs, being entrusted with the duty of representing the government in the Scottish parliament. Burnet states that since Dalrymple had been sent to offer William the throne as commissioner for the burghs, the king concluded from thence that the family was not so much hated as he had been informed (ib. p. 539), while the author of the Memoirs of Great Britain attributes the absolute trust placed in the Dalrymples by William to the certainty that they could never hope to be pardoned by James (ii. 300). No doubt the part played by the Dalrymples in winning Scotland for William was what originally commended them to his favour; but, apart from this, the king could not fail to be greatly impressed with the remarkable qualifications of the younger Dalrymple—not merely his skill as a political tactician, or his fascinating manners, or his eloquence, of which Lockhart admits he was so great a master that there was none in the parliament capable to take up the cudgels with him (Papers, i. 89), but his freedom both from religious bigotry and party spirit, and his capacity for regarding measures from a British as well as a Scottish standpoint. Some, however, of those very qualifications which commended him to William excited against him the special distrust and animosity of many in Scotland. It could not be overlooked that he had held a prominent office under James, and especially that he had taken office to carry into effect the dispensing power, for it was not generally discerned that he had merely accepted office at a critical extremity of his fortunes, chiefly to lull suspicion and to enable him more effectually to further the revolution. His indifference to religious disputes, of which the frequenters of conventicles had reaped the advantage while they were in adversity, was now keenly resented when they found themselves triumphant, and wished to enjoy in turn the sweet experience of indulging in religious persecution. The opposition to Dalrymple was led by Sir James Montgomery, an extreme covenanter, bitterly exasperated by his failure to obtain the secretaryship of state. Montgomery gathered around him the disappointed leaders of all the extreme parties, who formed themselves into a society called the Club, and, concerting measures under his guidance against the government, gained for a time complete ascendency in parliament. Thus it curiously happened that almost immediately after William had been called to the throne of Scotland by an overwhelming balance of public opinion in his favour, the crown and parliament, owing to the strong feeling against Dalrymple, artfully stimulated and guided by Sir James Montgomery, found themselves entirely at cross purposes. An act levelled specially against Dalrymple was carried, interdicting the king from ever employing in any public office any person who had ever borne any part in any proceeding inconsistent with the claim of right; and against his father, Sir James Dalrymple, it was proposed to claim a veto on the nomination of judges. It was further resolved to refuse supply till these and other votes received the royal assent. In the midst of the discussions Dalrymple was also accused of having violated his instructions as one of the commissioners sent to offer the crown, in proposing that the king should take the coronation oath before the grievances were read. The design was, he relates, that on this accusation he should be sent to the castle—wagers five to one upon it (Letter to Lord Melville, 12 July 1689, Leven and Melville Papers, p. 166); but this he completely baulked by the production of the instructions, bearing expressly to offer the instrument of government, the oath, and the grievances the last place. As the supplies voted by Scotland constituted only a very small proportion of his revenue, William could without any inconvenience refuse his assent, and on 5 Aug. prorogued the parliament. During the recess the Jacobites continued their meetings and attempted to foment agitation by petitions and addresses, but their procedure aroused only a languid interest, and failed to win any general sympathy from the nation. Montgomery hoped, with the aid of the Jacobites, to exercise a paramount influence in the parliament which assembled in 1690, but his attempted alliance with them gave deep offence to a large number of presbyterians, especially after the discovery of the Jacobite plot, and, as many waverers were also won over by money and other gratifications, as well as by assurances of the king's good-will to the presbyterians (see Instructions from the King to Lord Melville in Leven and Melville Papers, pp. 417-18), and by the manifestation of a willingness to compromise some of the matters in dispute, the deadlock was soon at an end. Without any further mention of the acts aimed against the Dalrymples, an extraordinary supply to meet the expenses caused by the Jacobite insurrection was voted, amounting to 162,000l. On the proposal of Dalrymple a statute was passed establishing presbyterian church government mainly on the basis of the settlement of 1592, with the adoption of the Westminster Confession instead of that of Knox, in opposition to a motion of Sir James Montgomery for the express recognition of the covenant and all the standards of 1649. To further conciliate the presbyterians, an act was also passed for transferring the patronage of churches to the heritors and kirk sessions. In January 1691 Dalrymple, who, on the elevation of his father to the peerage in April 1690, had become Master of Stair, was appointed joint secretary of state along with Lord Melville, who, however, soon afterwards exchanged that office for the keepership of the privy seal, and was succeeded by Johnstone of Warriston.
     Immediately after his appointment, Stair attended William on his visit to Holland. While there the king, under his direction, began to take more decisive measures for the settlement of the highlands, in regard to which negotiations had been for some time in progress with the Earl of Breadalbane [see Campbell, John, first Earl of Breadalbane]. In a letter of 17 Aug. to the privy council from the camp at St. Gerard, subscribed by Stair in the name of the king, the council were commissioned to issue a proclamation offering indemnity to all the clans who had been in arms, but requiring them to take the oath of allegiance in the presence of a civil judge before 1 Jan. 1692 (Letter and proclamation in Papers illustrative of the Highlands, pp. 33-7). From the letters of Stair it is evident that he would have much preferred that a considerable number of the clans should have stood out, in order that by a signal act of vengeance the highlanders might have been taught more effectually the danger of rebellion in the future. All that he had hoped or desired to result from the offer of indemnity and a gift of money for bribes to the Earl of Breadalbane, was that a certain proportion of the clans should have accepted the terms offered, thus rendering less difficult the execution of summary punishment upon the remainder. It was felt by the government that a submission, not in any degree inculcated by vengeance, could only be of a feigned and temporary character. Preparations had therefore been made for a winter campaign in the highlands, and before information had been received in London as to the result of the offer of indemnity, Sir Thomas Livingstone was ordered to ‘act against those highland rebels who have not taken the benefit of our indemnity, by fire and sword, and all manner of hostility.’ It so happened that MacIan, chief of the Macdonalds of Glencoe, was the only chief who had failed to comply with the letter of the proclamation, and even he had failed merely because he found no one at Fort William to tender him the oath when he presented himself there on 31 Dec. He induced the sheriff of Inverary to administer it on 6 Jan. after the period of grace had expired, but this availed him nothing. Stair, on learning from Argyll how matters stood with MacIan, expressed to Sir Thomas Livingstone his gratification, adding: ‘It is a great work of charity to be exact in rooting out that damnable sept, the worst in all the highlands.’ The additional instructions subscribed by the king on 16 Jan. contained also a proviso that ‘if MacIan and that tribe can be well separated from the rest it will be a proper vindication of the public justice to extirpate that sept of thieves.’ For all the details of the method by which the massacre of 13 Feb. was accomplished Stair cannot be held as immediately responsible, but there is undoubted evidence that the arrangements afterwards met with his full approval, his only regret being that they had not been more successful. It was some time before the particulars of the massacre came to be generally known, the earliest intimation of its occurrence being through letters in the ‘Paris Gazette’ in March and April of 1692, from information supplied by the Jacobites, probably with the view of awakening animosity against the government in the highlands.
     Meantime the affairs of the church now for a year occupied the principal share of Stair's attention. An attempt was made to effect a union between the presbyterian and episcopal clergy, and finally, after the king had agreed to dispense with putting the oath of allegiance to every clerical member of the assembly about to meet, the assembly in 1693 appointed a commission to receive episcopal ministers qualifying themselves in terms of the recent act of parliament, that is by subscribing the confession of faith and acknowledging presbyterian church government.
     From references in Johnstone of Warriston's letters to Carstares (Carstares State Papers, p. 159 et seq.), it would appear that already in 1693 the enemies of Stair were meditating an attack on him for his share in the massacre of Glencoe. Probably the chief cause of the delay in bringing forward the accusation was the difficulty in disassociating his conduct from that of the king. At length, in order to anticipate the intended action of the parliament, it was announced at its meeting in May 1695 that a royal commission had been issued in April to examine into the slaughter of the men of Glencoe. Their report was subscribed on 20 June, and was immediately forwarded to the king. After considering the report the parliament also voted an address to the king to the effect that Stair in giving directions for the massacre had exceeded his instructions and requesting that such orders should be given about him for the vindication of the government as might seem fit. In the midst of the discussions a defence of Stair, entitled ‘Information for the Master of Stair,’ &c. (printed in Papers illustrative of the Highlands, pp. 120-131), was published by his brother, Sir Hugh Dalrymple, which the estates declared to be false and calumnious, but to which it was deemed advisable to publish a reply by Sir James Stewart, lord advocate, under the title ‘Answers to the Information of the Master of Stair’ (ib. pp. 131-42). That enmity against Stair, rather than horror at the outrage committed against an obscure band of mountain robbers, was the motive which chiefly prompted the action of the estates, may be taken for granted. Indeed, the extreme mildness of the terms of their request as regards Stair indicates that all that they really desired was his removal from office; while a special show of indignation against the subordinate agents of the massacre was manifested, seemingly in order the better to demonstrate the absence of animus against the chief offender. The conclusions of the commission that Stair exceeded the intentions of William is adopted by Macaulay, who supposes that if the king really read the ‘instructions’ to ‘extirpate that set of thieves’ before signing them, he interpreted them in a sense ‘perfectly innocent.’ It may be admitted that Stair did not inform the king of the exact character of his arrangements for ‘extirpating’ the clan, but his letters sufficiently prove that it never entered into his mind that there was anything heinous in what he was contemplating, and the supposition that he wilfully concealed his purpose from the king cannot therefore be entertained. In any case, William, after all the facts of the case were fully explained, never expressed a syllable of disapproval of the conduct of his minister. He ‘contented himself,’ not with ‘dismissing the master from office,’ as Macaulay following Burnet states, but with doing nothing, for Stair voluntarily resigned. On the death of his father in November of the same year he became Viscount Stair, and although, with the king's assent, he refrained meanwhile from taking his seat as a peer of parliament, he received at the close of the year a remission freeing him from all the consequences of his participation in the slaughter of Glencoe, on the ground that he had ‘no knowledge of nor accession to the method of that execution,’ which was condemned merely as ‘contrary to the laws of humanity and hospitality, being done by those soldiers who for some days before had been quartered amongst them and entertained by them.’ ‘Any excess of zeal as going beyond his instructions,’ it was added, is ‘remitted;’ but the question as to whether any excess of zeal was really chargeable against him was avoided, the impression conveyed by the words being, however, that it was not chargeable, and that if it were it was of no consequence (ib. p. 143). Indeed, the extirpation of the whole clan by wholesale massacre is by implication justified, all that is condemned being the attempt to accomplish this through accepting the clan's hospitality.
     Notwithstanding the remission, a proposal of Stair to take his seat in parliament in 1698 awoke such ‘a humour among the members,’ that he desisted from carrying out his intention till February 1700. On the accession of Queen Anne in 1702 he was sworn a privy councillor, and on 8 April 1703 was created Earl of Stair. Although he held no office under Queen Anne, he enjoyed the special confidence of Godolphin, and continued to be the chief adviser of the government on Scottish affairs. Holding aloof from the political factions by which Scotland was distracted, he was able to take an unprejudiced and comprehensive view of the political situation as affecting the general welfare of both countries. The statement of Lockhart that he ‘taught and encouraged England arbitrarily and avowedly to rule over Scots affairs, invade her freedom, and ruin her trade’ (Papers, i. 88), is as nearly as possible the opposite of truth, for Scotland had been much less interfered with under William and Anne than under the Stuarts, and in regard to the Darien expedition the action of England was not only justifiable but wise. That Stair was, however, as Lockhart states, ‘at the bottom of the union,’ and that ‘to him in a great measure it owes its success,’ is not probably wide of the mark, although the inference of Lockhart, ‘and so he may be stiled the Judas of his country,’ is not one to be taken for granted. The truth is, that patriotic statesmen both in England and Scotland who were friends of the government had come to discern that the union was almost a necessity. At the same time many despaired of its accomplishment, and even the most sanguine ‘thought it must have run out into a long negotiation for several years’ (Burnet, Own Time, ed. 1838, p. 798). That ‘beyond all men's expectation it was begun and finished in the compass of one year’ (ib.) may be attributed chiefly to the tact and skill of Stair in the private negotiations and arrangements, and his unfailing watchfulness and powers of persuasion in the stormy debates during the discussion of the question in the Scottish parliament. So great were the demands it made upon his attention that it ‘allowed him no time to take care of his health, though he perceived it ruined by his continual attendance and application’ (Letter of John, second earl of Stair, in Marchmont Papers, iii. 447). He spoke on 1 Jan. 1707, when the twenty-second article of the treaty, the only remaining one of importance, was carried, but his spirits were ‘quite exhausted by the length and vehemence of the debate’ (Burnet, Own Time, p. 801), and having retired to rest he died next morning, 8 Jan., of apoplexy (Hume of Crossrigg's Diary, p. 194). The opponents of the union spread the report that he had committed suicide, but there is no shadow of evidence to lend credibility to the rumour.
     Though the name of the first earl of Stair is unhappily chiefly associated with the barbarous massacre of Glencoe, severity or cruelty was by no means one of his characteristics. Even his enemy, Lockhart, admits that he was, ‘setting aside his politics (to which all did yield), good-natured’ (Papers, p. 88), and Macky, who, like Lockhart, refers to his ‘facetious conversation,’ states that he ‘made always a better companion than a statesman, being naturally very indolent’ (Memoirs of Secret Services, p. 212). Neither of his great gifts nor services as a statesman can there, however, be any question, and if his inability to recognise the turpitude of the outrage of Glencoe must be regarded as deepening the stain with which that deed has tarnished his memory, it cannot be denied that even here his motives were unselfish and patriotic. Before the revolution his policy was chargeable with crookedness, but in working for the revolution there is every reason to suppose that he had the welfare of Scotland at heart, and at any rate his consistent and unwavering devotion to the interests of the new government, and his superiority to the party prejudices of the time, though it may be explained on the theory of enlightened self-interest, enabled him to confer on his country services which almost atone for the crime of his connection with Glencoe. He had five sons and two daughters, and was succeeded by his second son John [q.v.].

     Leven and Melville Papers (Bannatyne Club); Fountainhall's Historical Notices (Bannatyne Club); ib. Historical Observes; Papers Illustrative of the Highlands (Maitland Club); Burnet's Own Time; Sir John Dalrymple's Memoirs; Lockhart Papers; Carstares' State Papers; Marchmont Papers; Macky's Memoirs of Secret Services; Luttrell's Diary; Gallienus Redivivus, or Murder will out, 1692; The Massacre of Glenco, being a true narrative of the barbarous murder of Glenco-men in the Highlands of Scotland, by way of military execution, on 13 Feb. 1692; containing the Commission under the Great Seal of Scotland for making an Enquiry into the Horrid Murder, the Proceedings of the Parliament of Scotland upon it, the Report of the Commissioners upon the Enquiry laid before the King and Parliament, and the address of the Parliament to King William for Justice on the Murderers; faithfully extracted from the Records of Parliament, and published for undeceiving those who have been imposed upon by false accounts, 1703, reprinted in Somers Tracts, xi. 529-47; An Impartial Account of some of the Transactions in Scotland concerning the Earl of Breadalbin, Viscount and Master of Stair, Glenco-men, Bishop of Galloway, and Mr. Duncan Robertson. In a letter to a friend, 1695, reprinted ib. pp. 547-61; Complete History of Europe for 1707, p. 579; Crawfurd's Peerage of Scotland, p. 459; Douglas's Peerage of Scotland (Wood), ii. 527-8; Omond's Lord Advocates, i. 225-71; Graham's Stair Annals, 1875, pp. 115-220; Mark Napier's Memoirs of Viscount Dundee; Macaulay's History of England; Hill Burton's History of Scotland; Edinburgh Review, vol. cv.
Contributor: T. F. H. [Thomas Finlayson Henderson]

Published:     1888