John Dalrymple

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John Dalrymple

  • Name  : Dalrymple
  • Born  : 1648
  • Died  : 1707
  • Category  : Other
  • Finest Moment : Helped to negotiate the Union of the Crowns, 1706-7

Born in 1648, the son of James Dalrymple, Viscount Stair. The Dalrymples had held land in the west since the 14th century, but were relatively new to politics. The father was a skilful jurist and politician, but his conscience during the period of Charles I, the Commonwealth and the Restoration had made him enemies on all sides. In particular, John Graham of Claverhouse, 'Bloody Dundee' was a prime example, and with the support of the Privy Council and the Duke of York, Dundee drove Dalrymple into exile. Six years later he returned with William of Orange, and was restored as Privy Councillor and created Viscount Stair.

The son John was almost as good at law and politics, but was decidedly ambitious and unscrupulous. He was knighted when he was 19 and married Elizabeth Dundas the next year, and they had nine children. Dalrymple was of course hated by the Jacobites, and it was often touted in Edinburgh coffee-houses that were he to be seen abroad he would be shot immediately.

Men of his own class also detested him. 'He was the origin and principal instrument of all the misfortunes that befell either the King or the Kingdom of Scotland. He was false and cruel, covetous and imperious, altogether destitute of the sacred ties of honour, loyalty, justice and gratitude, and lastly a man of very great parts else he could never have perpetrated so much wickedness.' Whew! So wrote George Lockhart of Carnwath. It may have been an exaggeration, but, no doubt there was grim truth there.

Dalrymple was appointed by William to the posts of Lord Advocate (1689), and in 1691 joint Secretary of State with Melville. He was responsible for the taming of the Highland Jacobites, yet had insufficient soldiers capable of doing this by force. So he tried negotiations. After six months of this he lost patience and decided to make an example. In December Melville was relieved of his office and Dalrymple, the Master of Stair as his honorary title was, became the sole Secretary of State for Scotland. He recalled that these Highland chiefs had been friends of Dundee, the implacable enemy of the Dalrymples.

'..That's the only popish clan in the kingdom, and it will be popular to take a severe course with them' wrote Dalrymple that December, referring to the MacDonalds of Glencoe'. The fate of the Glencoe MacDonalds was sealed from then on, and on 6 February 1692 the massacre of Glencoe took place. (see separate article)

Dalrymple was held largely responsible for this decidedly terrible event, and was forced to resign as Secretary of State in 1695. He succeeded that year as Viscount of Stair. In 1702 he was made a Privy Councillor, being created Earl of Stair in 1703. As to the King's part in this affair, the Commissioners continued to toady, claiming that his orders had not authorised the slaughter. Even his additional instruction, written on 16 January 1692, 'that if the Glencoe men could be well separated from the rest it would be a proper vindication of the public justice to extirpate them', meant that, according to the Commission, 'they were only meant to be proceeded against in the way of public justice, and in no other way'. Same old whitewash in other words.

Dalrymple's last act was to support the Union of the Crowns. He was one of the Commissioners sent from Edinburgh to London, to negotiate the Treaty. The English and Scots delegates began the work on 16 April 1706, and for nine months Dalrymple worked hard at the negotiations. The Union was, naturally enough, resisted in Scotland. On 7 January 1707, after a long day during which Article 22 of the Treaty had been debated, Dalrymple went home late and died in his sleep. He was 58.

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