DALRYMPLE, John (1673-1747)

DALRYMPLE, John (1673–1747)

styled 1695-1703 Master of Stair; styled 1703-07 Visct. Dalrymple; suc. fa. 8 Jan. 1707 as 2nd earl of STAIR [S]

RP [S] 1707-8, 1715-34, 1744-d.

First sat 10 Nov. 1707; last sat 6 Aug. 1746

b. 20 July 1673, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of John Dalrymple, earl of Stair [S], of Carscreugh Castle, Old Luce, Wigtown, Stair House, Stair, Ayr and Castle Kennedy and Elizabeth, da. and h. of Sir John Dundas of Newliston, Linlithgow; bro. of Hon. William Dalrymple. educ. private tutor 1682-5; Leiden Univ. 1685, 1692; Edinburgh Univ. 1688/90; travelled abroad 1701-2. m. 1 Mar. 1708, Eleanor, da. of James Campbell, 2nd earl of Loudoun [S], sis. of Hugh Campbell, 3rd earl of Loudoun, and wid. of James, 1st Visct. Primrose [S], bro. of Archibald Primrose, earl of Rosebery [S], s.p. KT 25 Mar. 1710; kt. banneret 1743. d. 9 May 1747; will pr. 1747.

Gent. of bedchamber to Geo. I, 1714-27; PC 1714.

Commr. supply, Ayr and Wigtown 1695, 1704; burgess, Edinburgh 1710.1

Vol., 26 Ft. (Cameronians) 1692; lt.-col. Scots Ft. Gds. 1702; a.d.c. to John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, 1703; col. Scots coy. Ft. (Dutch service) 1703-6,2 26 Ft. 1706, 2 Drags. (Scots Greys) 1706-14, 1745-d., 6 Drags. (Inniskilling) 1715-34, 1743-5; brig.-gen. 1706, maj.-gen. 1709, lt.-gen. 1710, gen. 1712, field marshal 1742; lt.-gen. ft. [S], 1714, v. adm. [S] 1729-33; c.-in-c. Flanders 1742, S. Britain 1744-5; gov. Minorca 1742; gen. Marines 1746-d.

Envoy extraordinary Poland 1709-10, France 1714-1715; amb. extraordinary, France 1715-20, United Provinces 1742-3.

Associated with: Castle Kennedy, Wigtown.

Likenesses: oil on canvas, by school of G. Kneller, Govt. Art. Coll.; oil on canvas, by W. Aikman, c.1727, Glasgow Museums; oil on canvas by A. Ramsay, oils, c.1742 Newhailes, National Trust for Scotland.

At the age of nine Dalrymple killed his elder brother in a shooting accident at the family home. He was pardoned under the Great Seal but his broken-hearted parents sent him away, first to a private tutor, and then to his grandfather Sir James Dalrymple, living in exile in the Low Countries, where Dalrymple studied for a time at the University of Leiden and came to the attention of the prince of Orange. He returned to Scotland after the Revolution, when his father and grandfather were appointed to high office in the Williamite government in Scotland. While there may have been some pressure to follow in the family tradition of the law, his own inclinations were more adventurous. After enrolling for the second time at Leiden in January 1692, he abandoned his studies, and instead served an unofficial apprenticeship in the army and in the diplomatic service.3 He was at Steenkirk in 1692 as a volunteer with the Cameronian regiment and later travelled to Vienna with the embassy (1694-7) of Robert Sutton, 2nd Baron Lexinton.4 In 1702 he was given a commission as lieutenant-colonel in the Scots Foot Guards and again went on campaign in the Netherlands as a volunteer.5 He was present at the storming of Venlo (where he is said to have saved the life of Prince Friedrich of Hessen-Kassel, the future King Fredrik 1 of Sweden). His exploits caught the eye of the duke of Marlborough, who, having chosen Dalrymple, now styled Viscount Dalrymple, as his aide-de-camp in 1703, used his influence with Grand Pensionary Heinsius to secure him command of a regiment in the Dutch service.6

Under Marlborough’s careful guidance, Dalrymple enjoyed a distinguished military career. He was present at all Marlborough’s great victories, from Blenheim onwards. Early in 1706 Marlborough helped him exchange his command in the Dutch service for the colonelcy of the Cameronians, and in the summer of 1706, after Dalrymple had commanded an infantry brigade at Ramillies, he moved to become colonel of the Scots Greys and was advanced to the rank of brigadier-general, preferments which also had the advantage of cementing the earl of Stair’s loyalty in the ongoing union negotiations.7

After his father’s sudden and unexpected death, Dalrymple took his seat in the Scottish Parliament on 21 Jan. 1707, and joined the rest of his family in the ranks of the Scottish court party headed by James Douglas, 2nd duke of Queensberry [S]. He certainly shared his father’s enthusiasm for Union, and had even now conceived the idea that he ought to be rewarded for his family’s several generations of service to the crown with the grant of a British peerage.8 Through Queensberry’s influence he was chosen in February as one of the first cohort of representative peers sent to the united Parliament, ‘both upon his own account and his father’s’. In an assessment of 1707 by Patrick Hume, earl of Marchmont [S], he was described as ‘sicut [i.e. just as] Queensberry or Argyll [John Campbell, 2nd duke of Argyll [S] and earl of Greenwich]’, and it was noted that of members of the Commons, William Dalrymple ‘will be much influenced by’ him, and that Alexander Abercrombie might be influenced by him or by James Ogilvy, earl of Seafield [S] (later 4th earl of Findlater [S]. He took his place in the Lords on 10 Nov. 1707 on the same day that Marlborough also resumed his seat.9 On 7 Feb. 1708 he signed a protest against the passage of the bill improving the Union, which disapproving of the abolition of the Scottish Privy Council in May rather than October and the introduction into Scotland of the English system of justices of the peace, which was seen as a violation of the Treaty of Union. In all, he attended on 65 days of the session, 61 per cent of the total. On a printed list from about May 1708 of the first Parliament of Great Britain, he was classed as a Whig.

Stair remained in the House a week longer than Marlborough, until the last day of the session on 1 Apr. 1708, after which he went immediately to rejoin the army and in consequence was unable to attend the peers’ election in Edinburgh, for which he was included again on the court list. He entrusted his proxy to his brother-in-law, Loudoun, who duly cast it for the court candidates.10 Since Marlborough was eligible to vote, by virtue of his Scottish barony of Eyemouth, Stair also forwarded the duke’s proxy (naming Stair as one of his preferred candidates) to Queensberry’s close ally John Erskine, 22nd earl of Mar [S].11 Despite all this influential support, Stair was not elected, being one of several Queensberryites ousted by the electoral alliance of James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S], and the Squadrone Volante, which was supported by the Whig Junto in London, and especially by the Whig secretary of state, Marlborough’s son-in-law, Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland. It was reported that ‘many are very angry at young Lord Stair being out’: some criticized his own family; others pointed a finger at those court party candidates who had been returned, like Lord Rosebery. In fact, what seems to have happened is that Stair lost because he could not obtain a sufficient number of court proxies, which were allocated by the candidates throwing dice for them at Queensberry House in Edinburgh. In Stair’s case the dice were thrown for him by another member of his family, whose luck was out while Rosebery’s was in.12 In giving Marlborough news of the election, Mar was apologetic, blaming Sunderland: ‘Though we have the greatest part, yet I am sorry more of them did not carry, and particularly my Lord Stair.’13

After the victory at Oudenarde in July 1708, Marlborough sent Stair to carry an account of the battle to the queen (a task for which he subsequently received a gratuity of £1,000).14 He arrived at Windsor on 5 July, taking the opportunity to renew his request for an English peerage as compensation for his failure to secure a place as one of the representative peers. This request was strongly supported by Marlborough, who was also determined to make amends for Stair’s disappointment (his own annoyance aggravated by Sunderland’s involvement). However the lord treasurer, Sidney Godolphin, earl of Godolphin, did not share Marlborough’s urgency. He was more concerned at the threatened opposition to Queensberry’s British peerage, and ‘endeavoured to satisfy my Lord Stair that it would not be advisable for himself, nor for the queen, to press it at this time.’15 Stair had to be content with an assurance from the queen ‘that as soon as it is convenient for my affairs, I will do for him what he desires’.16 This, and a promise that he would be promoted to major-general, was evidently enough to make Stair ‘happy’.17 It did not satisfy Marlborough, who wrote from The Hague in January 1709 to remind Godolphin

of the good opinion and friendship I have for Lord Stair, so that I do make it my request to her Majesty, that if her affairs can permit it, that she would be pleased, as she promised, to make him an English peer; and I will be answerable the queen shall always find him a grateful and dutiful subject. I beg you will make this easy, so that he may have the pleasure of serving this session.18

On 21 Jan., however, the Lords made a ruling that Queensbury, having been made the British duke of Dover in May 1708, was ineligible to cast his vote in the election of Scottish representative peers, a decision which for the time being put an end to Stair’s pretensions. 

Stair was compensated at the end of the year when he was named as the queen’s envoy extraordinary to the king of Poland. He conferred in advance with the Dutch, who were also sending an envoy of their own, and he and his Dutch colleague were able to ensure that the Polish king did nothing to encourage Sweden to attack the Emperor’s German territories, and thus create a strategic diversion in order to assist the French. Stair was also successful in persuading the Polish king, who was also elector of Saxony, to allow two battalions of Saxon troops to join the allied forces.19 His immediate reward, obtained through Marlborough’s influence, was nomination to the vacancy in the Order of the Thistle in March 1710, though he seems to have been kept waiting to be reimbursed for his expenses in Poland.20 Impressed with his intelligence and diplomatic skills, Marlborough decided that Stair should be sent to England to find out whether it was likely that Parliament would be dissolved. When the dissolution occurred, on 21 Sept., Stair immediately advised Marlborough that ‘your Grace’s presence here will be very necessary to calm things before the sitting down of Parliament. The delay of dissolving Parliament has been a great disadvantage to the new party. The Whigs have recovered themselves and are united and bold.’21

Before the election of 10 Nov. 1710 Mar urged Robert Harley, later earl of Oxford, to do something to gratify Stair, but nothing was forthcoming, and it was assumed that, with the rest of his family, he would use his influence against the new Tory ministry. Stair made strenuous efforts to secure his own return as a representative peer but, despite reaching a private agreement with the Squadrone Volante, was unable to secure a seat.22 In the event he neither attended the election in person nor left a proxy.23 Evidently he was one of a number of friends of the late ministry whom the Tories insisted on black-listing, and Mar could not get Stair included on the list he had agreed with Hamilton and Argyll.24 Nonetheless, Daniel Defoe considered that Stair was one of the few men whom all sides in Scotland might still trust: there was only one possible objection against him, ‘his late engagement with the Squadrone.’25 Electoral disappointment was followed by a further revival of his request for a British peerage. On 17 May 1711 he wrote to Mar to remind him of the queen’s promise, adding,

I think I can never apply myself to a man who can better judge of the service my father and his friends did in the matter of the Union than to yourself. I hope the friendship which was between you and him won’t make you averse to the having this mark of honour and distinction put upon his family. In my profession and as far as it lay in my way I have ever been zealous for the queen’s service, without running at any time into the violence of parties. If the queen makes any peers at this time I shall think myself very happy to have your favour and protection. You shall find me more sensible of an obligation than people that are apter to make great professions.26

In a second letter he tried to explain his political stance. 

Now my lord, I must beg your good offices with this great man, if he thinks fit to do me any good, I have nothing that hinders me to be his humble servant and to make him the best returns I can. Last year I thought myself obliged not to meddle in the change, though I had no connection of any kind with the Junto, yet I was in friendship and had obligations to people who opposed the alterations. I was not clear-sighted enough to see that they could be made without some danger to the public, but sic stantibus, for the very same goodwill I have to my country, I should be sorry to see any considerable alteration in the ministry now, and if I can be protected I shall be very glad to give my small assistance to the supporting of it.27

Mar passed the letter to Harley, but nothing transpired. Stair was then able to speak directly to Harley (now lord treasurer and earl of Oxford), when he was sent to England in the summer by Marlborough to try to improve relations with Oxford. Stair brought ‘a project relating to the public service and the carrying on of the war, which cannot be concerted in writing, there being often things which may be found necessary to be altered and many points require to be explained.’28 He had three meetings with Oxford in July but he had nothing to tell Marlborough when he wrote on 24 July because, he said, Oxford ‘intends to write himself’.29 Stair remained in England until September while Oxford and Marlborough exchanged letters. He used the opportunity to make the case for a new diplomatic posting, alleging that he was still out of pocket from his Polish embassy.30 His return to the continent was delayed, but he finally reached Marlborough’s camp by mid-September carrying Oxford’s response.31 Although Oxford had expressed approval of Marlborough’s project, the French had opened peace negotiations, and the project had therefore come to nothing.32 Stair told Oxford that he had believed that together Oxford and Marlborough could have saved the country, but now he was convinced ‘that you will find it a very hard task. I wish you good success with all my heart. I shall think myself happy enough in my share in the public good fortune, without proposing or pretending any other advantage to myself.’33 In later years he would claim that after all his attempts to negotiate with Oxford, ‘in the end, I was allowed to go back to the siege of Bouchain with a bamboozling letter ... to the duke of Marlborough’.34 After Marlborough’s dismissal in December 1711 Stair kept a healthy distance between himself and Oxford, and did not renew his requests. Little is known of his political position in these years, except that in 1713 he seems to have supported Scottish resistance to the malt tax, publicly endorsing the motion in June 1713 for the dissolution of the Union.35 At the same time he continued to petition the treasury for arrears of army pay.36 Eventually, in 1714 he was forced to sell his regiment to David Colyear, earl of Portmore [S], but at least received £6,000 for it, a sum of money of which he was said to have great need.37 Indeed, he was said to have ‘played and lived at such a rate that he will be quite undone if he is turned out’.38

It was not until after the Hanoverian Succession that Stair’s talents would be put to use again by government. In October 1714 he was named to the Privy Council and given a post in the new king’s household, and after re-election as a representative peer in 1715 returned to the diplomatic service with a plum posting to Paris. His parliamentary and official career after 1715 will be examined in detail in the second part of this work.

He died at Queensberry House on 9 May 1747.


  • 1 Scot. Rec. Soc. lxii. 191.
  • 2 Scot. Rec. Soc. xxxv. 34, 36, 38.
  • 3 Album Studiosorum Academiae Lugduno Batavae, 719.
  • 4 CSP Dom. 1691-2, p. 513; 1694-5, p. 498.
  • 5 HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 224-5.
  • 6 Marlborough-Heinsius Corresp. ed. van’t Hoff (Hist. Genootschap te Utrecht, Werken, ser. 4, i), 58.
  • 7 Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. 673; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 279; P.W.J. Riley, Union, 255.
  • 8 HMC Mar and Kellie, i, 267, 276; NAS, GD 158/1163.
  • 9 HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 371, 374.
  • 10 NLS, ms 1026, ff. 23, 34.
  • 11 HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 442.
  • 12 Seafield Letters, 186-7; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 453.
  • 13 Priv. Corr. D. M. ii. 282; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 451.
  • 14 Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. 1024, 1026; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 323; CTB, xxii. 299.
  • 15 Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. 1027-8.
  • 16 Q. Anne Letters ed. Brown, 254.
  • 17 Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. 1033; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 330.
  • 18 Priv. Corr. D. M. ii. 297.
  • 19 Q. Anne Letters, 287-91; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 530.
  • 20 Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. 1455, 1542, 1552.
  • 21 Marlborough-Heinsius Corresp. 475-478, 493.
  • 22 NLS, ms 9769/19/2/7; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 633; HMC Portland, iv. 558, 630; x. 328, 331.
  • 23 NLS, ms 1026, f. 62.
  • 24 HMC Portland, x. 349-50; Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scot. 156.
  • 25 HMC Portland, iv. 661.
  • 26 HMC Portland, iv. 690; Add. 70027, f. 169.
  • 27 HMC Portland, x. 367.
  • 28 HMC Portland, v. 43-44.
  • 29 W.S. Churchill, Marlborough, iv. 415.
  • 30 CTP 1708-14, p. 308.
  • 31 HMC Portland, v. 92-93.
  • 32 Coxe, Marlborough (1847-8), iii. 248.
  • 33 HMC Portland, v. 92.
  • 34 Churchill, iv. 415.
  • 35 Scot. Hist. Soc. Misc. xii. 164.
  • 36 CTB, xxvii. 443; CTB, xxviii. 29, 196, 373-4.
  • 37 HMC Portland, v. 417, 430; NAS, GD 2/5/897; Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scot. 252.
  • 38 Wentworth Pprs. 362.