Sir John Dalrymple, 4th Baronet

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Sir John Dalrymple, 4th Baronet FRSE FSA(Scot) (1726 – 26 February 1810) was a Scottish advocate, judge, chemist and author. He is best known for his Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland from the dissolution of the last parliament of Charles II until the sea battle of La Hogue, first published in 1771. A new edition of 1790 carried on to the capture of the French and Spanish navies at Vigo.


In 1760 he married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Thomas Hamilton of Fala, who himself had inherited Oxenfoord Castle, property of the Viscounts of Oxfuird.

Educated at Edinburgh and Cambridge universities, Dalrymple was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1748. He served as Solicitor to the Board of Excise, and as a Baron of the Exchequer (1776–1807).

On Thomas Hamilton's death in 1779, Sir John inherited Oxenfoord, and began laying out the gardens. He published his Essays on Different Natural Situations of Gardens in 1774, which became an influential book at the time.[1]

Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland[edit]

David Hume, in the course of writing his History of England, requested that Dalrymple search the French state archives.[2] Dalrymple discovered that the Secret Treaty of Dover did indeed contain a provision that Charles II convert to Roman Catholicism, and that there was a secret agreement between Charles and Louis XIV made in March 1681. He also uncovered "King William's Chest" at Kensington Palace which contained the original Invitation to William from the Immortal Seven. When Dalrymple, "a devoted Whig", saw that he had discovered the original he was filled with emotion: "Immortal Seven! whose memories Britain can never sufficiently revere".[3] He published this in his first volume of the Memoirs in 1771. However when he returned to the French archives for the second volume (published in 1773) he found in the French ambassador's despatches evidence that the legendary Whig martyr Algernon Sidney had accepted money from Louis XIV in 1678 and that William Russell, Lord Russell had negotiated with him. Dalrymple wrote: "When I found Lord Russell intriguing with the Court of Versailles, and Algernon Sidney taking money from it, I felt very near the same shock as if I had seen a son turn his back in the day of battle".[4]

When the first volume of Dalrymple's Memoirs appeared in 1771, Hume criticised it: "There is not a new circumstance of the least importance from the beginning to the end of the work".[5] He said of the controversy surrounding the revelations on Russell and Sidney:

It is amusing to observe the general, and I may say national rage, excited by the late discovery of this secret negotiation [with the French Court]; chiefly on account of Algernon Sidney, whom the blind prejudices of party had exalted into a hero. His ingratitude and breach of faith in applying for the King's pardon, and immediately on his return entering into cabals for rebellion, form a conduct much more criminal than the taking of French gold. Yet the former circumstance was always known, and always disregarded. But everything connected with France is supposed in England to be polluted beyond all possibility of expiation. Even Lord Russell, whose conduct in this negotiation was only factious, and that in an ordinary degree, is imagined to be dishonoured by the same discovery.[6]

In a discussion with James Boswell, Samuel Johnson said of the discoveries on Russell and Sidney:

JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, every body who had just notions of government thought them rascals before. It is well that all mankind now see them to be rascals.’ BOSWELL. ‘But, Sir, may not those discoveries be true without their being rascals?’ JOHNSON. ‘Consider, Sir; would any of them have been willing to have had it known that they intrigued with France? Depend upon it, Sir, he who does what he is afraid should be known, has something rotten about him. This Dalrymple seems to be an honest fellow; for he tells equally what makes against both sides. But nothing can be poorer than his mode of writing: it is the mere bouncing of a school-boy. Great He! but greater She! and such stuff.’[7]

Maurice Ashley wrote that the publication of the Memoirs was "a striking change in the historiography of the revolution" as he had access to important papers.[8] J. P. Kenyon has said that Dalrymple's "careful and accurate transcripts he published...[of] key documents have been a boon to other historians right down to the present day".[9]


  1. ^ "Oxenfoord Castle: Site history". An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland. Historic Scotland. 
  2. ^ J. P. Kenyon, The History Men. The Historical Profession in England since the Renaissance. Second Edition (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993), p. 55.
  3. ^ Kenyon, p. 67.
  4. ^ Kenyon, p. 68.
  5. ^ Kenyon, p. 56.
  6. ^
  7. ^ James Boswell, Life of Johnson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 508.
  8. ^ Maurice Ashley, 'King James II and the Revolution of 1688: Some Reflections on the Historiography', in H. E. Bell & R. L. Ollard (eds.), Historical Essays. 1600–1750. Presented to David Ogg (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1963), p. 192.
  9. ^ Kenyon, p. 67.


Baronetage of Nova Scotia
Preceded by
William Dalrymple
(of Killock)
Succeeded by
John Hamilton Dalrymple