James Erskine, Lord Grange
The son of Charles Erskine, Earl of Mar, by his spouse Lady Mary, eldest daughter of George Maule, 2nd Earl of Panmure, he was also brother of John Erskine, 6th Earl of Mar. Educated as an advocate, he was raised to the bench on 18 October 1706. He was nominated a Lord of Justiciary in place of Lord Crocerig on 6 June the same year, and took the title Lord Grange. On 27 July 1710 he succeeded Adam Cockburn of Ormiston as Lord Justice Clerk.
He took no part in the Jacobite rising of 1715, although there is little doubt that at times he was in communication with the Jacobites; but was rather known for his piety and for his sympathy with the Presbyterians.
He is more famous, however, owing to the story of his wife's disappearance. This lady, Rachel Chiesley, was a woman of disordered intellect; probably with reason she suspected her husband of infidelity, and after some years of unhappiness Grange arranged a plan for her seizure.
In January 1732 she was conveyed with great secrecy from Edinburgh to the Monach Islands for two years, thence Hirta in St Kilda, where she remained for about ten years, thence she was taken to Assynt in Sutherland, and finally to Skye. To complete the idea that she was dead her funeral was publicly celebrated, but she survived until May 1745.
Meanwhile, in 1734 Grange resigned his offices in the Court of Session and Justiciary, and became a Member of Parliament where he was a bitter opponent of Sir Robert Walpole. His objective of being appointed Secretary of State for Scotland was a failure. For a short time after leaving parliament he returned to the Bar.
Erskine stood in opposition to the Witchcraft Act 1735, which made it a crime for a person to claim that any human being had magical powers or was guilty of practising witchcraft. The only figure to offer significant opposition to the Act was Erskine. Erskine not only fervently believed in the existence of witchcraft, but, it has been argued, also held beliefs that were deeply rooted in "Scottish political and religious considerations" and which caused him to reject the Act. His objection to the Act "marked him out as an eccentric verging on the insane" among Members of Parliament, and in turn his political opponents would use it against him; one of his staunchest critics, Robert Walpole, who was then the de facto Prime Minister of the country, allegedly stating that he no longer considered Erskine to be a serious political threat as a result of his embarrassing opposition to the Act.
He died in London on 20 January 1754, aged 75 years.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Mar, John Erskine, 6th or 11th Earl of". Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 666–667.
- Edinburgh Magazine, 1817.
- An Historical Account of the Senators of the College of Justice of Scotland, by Sir David Dalrymple of Hailes, Bt., with some further editing and additions, Edinburgh, 1849.
- Davies, Owen (1999). Witchcraft, Magic and Culture 1736-1951. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-5656-7.
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