, first earl of Marchmont (16411724), politician
, was born at Redbraes, Berwickshire, on 13 January 1641, the eldest son of Sir Patrick Hume of Polwarth, first baronet (d
. 1648), and Christian (d
. 1688), youngest daughter of Sir Alexander Hamilton of Innerwick and Ballencrief. (c
.15501609) was his grandfather. Following his father's death in April 1648 he succeeded as second baronet, being brought up by his mother, who before 1656 married Robert Kerr, from 1670 Lord Jedburgh. Polwarth went to Paris to study law; Sir David Hume of Crossrig was one of his fellow students. This may have been before or after his marriage on 29 January 1660 to Grizel (d
. 1703), daughter of Sir Thomas Ker of Cavers and his wife, Grizel Halket. Their eldest son, Patrick (d
. 1709), was born in November 1664; many of their seventeen children died young.
Early political career
On 9 October 1663 parliament appointed Polwarth a justice of the peace for Berwickshire, although the start of his political life is usually dated to 1665. An MP for Berwickshire in the conventions of estates of 1665 (24 August) and 1667 (923 January), on 23 January 1667 he was appointed a commissioner of supply for the county. The privy council employed him in its action against the Pentland rising in November 1666, commissioned him captain of the horse in the Berwickshire militia on 6 May 1668, and appointed him an excise commissioner in Berwickshire on 26 November. He again represented Berwickshire in Charles II's second parliament in 166974. On 23 December 1669 he secured the parliamentary ratification of the barony of Polwarth. That April he was named a commissioner in the trial of one Henry Wilson, a prisoner in Duns Tolbooth, for witchcraft, while on 20 July 1671 and 7 March 1673 he was appointed a highway commissioner for Berwickshire. He also commanded a troop of horse in the Berwickshire militia in 1672, 1673, 1674, and 1675. With the outbreak of warfare against the United Provinces of the Netherlands in 1672, he was appointed on 4 April an overseer for raising ten men from Berwickshire as part of the total levy of 500 seamen from Scotland.
An opponent of the policies of John Maitland, first duke of Lauderdale, in the administration of Scotland, Polwarth spoke out against him in the 1673 parliamentary session, and in 1674 he was among several Scottish politicians who accompanied William Douglas, third duke of Hamilton, to London to complain about Lauderdale to Charles II. Polwarth fell foul of the authorities in September 1675 when he objected to the privy council garrisoning the houses of several gentlemen, especially in Berwickshire, and refused to support the policy financially. In a letter from Whitehall of 30 September the king referred to Polwarth's insolent cariage (Reg. PCS
, 4.472), and with Charles's approval, Polwarth was declared to be a factious person, having done what may usher in confusion and therefore incapable of all public trust (Scots peerage
, 6.13). He was imprisoned first in Edinburgh Castle and then successively in the castles of Dumbarton and Stirling. He was released on 29 February 1676 but re-incarcerated shortly afterwards. On 4 September 1678 Charles II ordered his removal from Edinburgh Tolbooth to Dumbarton Castle; by July 1679 he had been transferred to Stirling Castle, but on 24 July the privy council received royal instructions for his release, largely obtained through the influence of his English relations, especially his cousin, the countess of Northumberland.
Fearful that presbyterian activities and commitment might deny him peaceful possession of his land, Polwarth became involved in the Carolina project with other Scotsmen of like mind. The original plan to purchase New York in conjunction with an English presbyterian for £15,000 sterling was abandoned in favour of a settlement in Carolina. Polwarth went to England to lobby Charles II who gave his approval, but the exposure of the Rye House plot in 1683 brought a swift end to the scheme, as several of its leading promoters, including Polwarth, were supposedly involved in the conspiracy. To the end of his life Polwarth protested that he was guiltless of plotting to kill Charles II and the duke of York, arguing that his strict friendship (Crawford, 241) with Lord Russell, James Scott, duke of Monmouth, and Anthony Ashley Cooper, first earl of Shaftesbury, was only to consider what might best be done to secure the kingdom of Scotland against the Papal supremacy and the exercise of arbitrary power, in the event of the succession of a Roman Catholic to the throne (Warrender, 31). After returning to Scotland, Polwarth only narrowly escaped capture by hiding in the vault beneath Polwarth church, where he was supplied with food by his wife and his eighteen-year-old daughter, Grizel. He then hid under his own house before travelling to London disguised as a surgeon. Thereafter he escaped to France and went via Ostend and Bruges to Brussels, where he hoped to meet Monmouth; failing in this he proceeded to Rotterdam for a time and then to Utrecht. There he enjoyed the protection of the prince of Orange and he sent for his wife and children to join him. Meanwhile, on 13 November 1684 the Scottish privy council set in motion process for treason against him, confirmed when it received royal endorsement for his parliamentary prosecution on 7 January 1685.
In Utrecht when he heard the surprising newes of Charles II's death, Polwarth believed base and treacherous means had effected it as part of a conspiracy for the re-establishment of popery (A Selection from the Papers of the Earls of Marchmont
, 3.3). He discussed the situation with some worthy, liberal spirited gentlemen of our nation at Utrecht and thereafter met at Rotterdam other members of the exile community, including Monmouth and Archibald Campbell, ninth earl of Argyll. It was resolved to endeavour the rescue, defence, and relief, of our religion, rights and liberties, and the many distressed sufferers on their behalf against the Duke of York (ibid., 5). Polwarth was closely involved in the abortive rebellion of 1685 which ensued, writing an account entitled Narrative of the earl of Argyle's expedition, published in A Selection from the Papers of the Earls of Marchmont
, although he strongly opposed Argyll's strategy of landing in the western highlands, advocating instead a landing in the western lowlands. In the aftermath of the rebellion, Polwarth narrowly escaped with his life. He hid in Ayrshire before escaping from the west coast of Scotland to Ireland, from where he sailed to Bordeaux and travelled via Geneva back home to his family in the summer of 1686. On 22 May 1685 the Scottish parliament passed a decree of forfeiture against him and legislation of 16 June annexed his lands to the crown. On 3 September 1686 the privy council received instructions from King James giving Polwarth's estate to Kenneth Mackenzie, earl of Seaforth, for a payment of £2000 sterling.
Revolution and the convention
Polwarth remained in the Netherlands until the revolution of 1688, living under the alias of Dr Wallace and claiming to be a surgeon. In a letter from Utrecht dated 15 June 1688 and sent to Sir William Denholm of Westshiel, he warned the presbyterian ministers of Scotland against a proposal advocated by Sir James Stewart, one who had much power with them, for a toleration, which would have included the papists, and thereby acceptable to the King, but as dangerous to the protestant interest (A Selection from the Papers of the Earls of Marchmont
, 3.73). In November 1688 Polwarth was among the invasion forces accompanying William of Orange to London. Present at the meeting of the Scottish nobility and gentry with William in the council chamber at Whitehall on 89 January 1689, on the second day he spoke out against a motion by James Douglas, earl of Arran, that William should ask King James to return and call a free parliament to secure the protestant religion and heal divisions. Polwarth asked those assembled if anyone would second Arran's motion, but none appearing to do it, he argued that the proposal was evidently opposite and inimicous to His Highness the Prince of Orange's Undertaking, his Declaration, and the Good Intentions of preserving the Protestant Religion, and of Restoring their Laws and Liberties exprest in it (Melville Balfour-Melville, 2, appx, 294). His action proved effective in safeguarding William's position: Arran's motion was rejected and he was publicly rebuked by his own father, the duke of Hamilton, the president of the meeting.
In the following two years Polwarth played an important role in Scotland. Despite being a loyal supporter of William, his earlier experiences had led him to resist any encroachment of the royal prerogative on parliamentary rights and powers. He was associated with a political grouping known as the Club, whose main aims were the enhancement of Scottish parliamentary powers and the securing of a presbyterian church, and he argued strongly in favour of parliamentary control over the nomination of judges. Although still technically under a sentence of forfeiture, he was an MP for Berwickshire in the 1689 convention of estates. On 16 March he subscribed the act declaring the meeting of the estates to be free and lawful and on 19 March he was appointed captain of the militia troop in Berwickshire. On 23 March he subscribed the convention's letter to William thanking him in delyvering us and in perserveing to us the Protestant religion (APS
, 9.20). By 19 April Polwarth had offered to levy at his own cost an armed troop of fifty horsemen, requesting that his son Patrick be given the command of these additional men; this was approved by the estates. On 27 April he was named a commissioner of supply for Berwickshire.
Polwarth was included on many of the most important committees of the 1689 convention, especially that of 27 March for settling the government, the so-called grand committee. Polwarth sat on its subcommittee to draw the Reasons of the Vacancy (Melville Balfour-Melville, 2.24), which drew up the Scottish Claim of right and the Articles of grievance, the two leading constitutional documents of the Scottish revolutionary settlement. On 16 April Polwarth was appointed to the committee which was to draw up a letter from the estates to William offering him the Scottish crown, and on 23 April to the committee to treat for a union between England and Scotland. Also a member of the committee of estates, on 22 May he was deputed to seize and dispose for the use of the armed forces a quantity of gunpowder which he had discovered. Two days later he was named representative for the shire commissioners in the convention's three-man delegation to brief the king before the forthcoming session of parliament.
Supporter of King William
In the first parliament in Scotland of William and Mary, which opened on 5 June 1689, Polwarth once more represented Berwickshire. That day he was appointed to the committee deputed to prepare legislation turning the meeting of the estates into a full parliament. He sat again for Berwickshire in its second and third sessions, from 15 April to 22 July and on 310 September 1690. A member of the important committee for settling church government of 9 May 1690, he was appointed a commissioner of supply for Berwickshire on 7 June. On 4 July his forfeiture was rescinded as part of a wider piece of legislation rescinding forfeitures and fines since 1665, while on 8 July an individual act for the same purpose was read. Formal confirmation of this and of the restoration of his lands and estates came on 22 July. He continued to be included on commissionsfor the visitation of schools, colleges, and universities (4 July), for the plantation of kirks and valuation of teinds (19 July), and for the preparation of acts in relation to shires and burghs (4 September).
During this period Polwarth was also a member of William's Scottish privy council, where he had a proactive role in military affairs, including the listing of prisoners taken in the first Jacobite rising, auditing military accounts, and reviewing the numbers and condition of the forces of the west-country men. In September 1689 Polwarth and Lord Ruthven reported to the privy council on the condition of the army. They later received a fee of £25 sterling for having mustered and inspected the armed forces in Stirling, Perth, and Dundee. Polwarth was sheriff of Berwick by 11 July 1690, when he was once more put in charge of the Berwickshire militia.
As a reward for his loyal services to King William, Polwarth was promoted into the peerage as Lord Polwarth by a patent dated 26 December 1690. As a special mark of favour, William granted him as an addition to his arms an orange proper, ensigned with an imperial crown. In 1692 he was appointed sheriff of Berwick, and in 1693 he was made an extraordinary lord of session. Lord Polwarth attended the parliamentary sessions of 1693 and 1695 as a member of the noble estate and was a member of the committees for security of the kingdom on both occasions. On 2 May 1696 he gained the highest political office in the kingdom, that of chancellor of Scotland. In his speech to parliament on 8 September, Polwarth extolled the virtues of William as a king who has been a Blessing from Heaven to us (APS
, 10, appx, 2). Commenting on the course of the Nine Years' War since 1689, he stated that Tis true this War, is the greatest that ever was in Europe (ibid.). He also gained notoriety that year when his casting vote in the privy council secured the execution of the young student Thomas Aikenhead for his speaking of blasphemous opinions. Macaulay described Polwarth's role in this affair as the worst action of his bad life (Macaulay, 2.621).
However, continued royal favour led to Polwarth's creation on 23 April 1697 as earl of Marchmont, Viscount Blasonberrie, and Lord Polwarth of Polwarth, Redbraes, and Greenlaw. A commissioner of the Treasury and Admiralty that year, he was high commissioner in the 1698 parliamentary session. His parliamentary speeches over the next few years covered foreign affairs as well as domestic Scottish matters, including (19 July 1698) the treaty of Ryswick (an honourable Peace; APS
, 10, appx, 17) and the outbreak of the Great Northern War. Marchmont strenuously defended William's opposition to the Darien project on the grounds that it would infallibly disturb the general Peace of Christendome, and bring inevitably upon this Kingdom a heavy War, wherein we could expect no assistance. It was clear that the power of the Spanish Monarchy, and of those concerned in the Support of it, would be united against us, and we in all appearance left to our own strength, without expectation of any Assistants (ibid., appx, 45).
Career under Anne
In 1702 Marchmont was appointed lord high commissioner to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland but its proceedings were interrupted by the death of King William, and although Marchmont was immediately reappointed by Queen Anne, the assembly was dissolved before the warrant arrived. He was chancellor in the first parliamentary session under Queen Annealso the last of the parliament inaugurated in 1689and aroused major controversy when he presented an act imposing an oath abjuring the prince of Wales, the Old Pretender (James Stuart). George Lockhart considered it to be in the most horrid, scurrilous terms imaginable (Scotland's Ruine
, 15): Marchmont had suggested that the Pretender had no right or title whatsoever to the Scottish crown, thus implying that the prince was not the son of the forfeited James VII. According to Lockhart, Marchmont acted from an headstrong overgrown seal, against the advice of friends (ibid.) and against the instructions of the high commissioner, James Douglas, second duke of Queensberry. On 11 July 1702 Marchmont sent a memorial to the queen defending and justifying his behaviour, but he was replaced as chancellor by James Ogilvie, first earl of Seafield. Nevertheless, he succeeded in getting an act passed in the 1703 parliamentary session for the security of the presbyterian form of church government.
In the parliamentary sessions of 17047 Marchmont proved a strong and consistent supporter of a treaty of union with England; he was a leading figure within the squadrone volante
, the political group whose votes secured the treaty in the Scottish parliament. According to Lockhart, Marchmont received a payment of £1104 15s
. sterling out of the £20,000 sterling sent north for distribution by the Scottish treasurer, David Boyle, first earl of Glasgow, but modern calculations indicate that Marchmont had recorded arrears of salary of £2250 sterling and the accusation that Marchmont was bribed was strongly refuted by Sir George Rose. Queen Anne wrote to Marchmont thanking him for his role in the great affaire of the Union (Warrender, 58).
Thereafter, Marchmont's political career declined. Unsuccessful in his attempts to be elected as a representative peer in 1707 and 1708, in 1710 he was deprived of the office of sheriff of Berwickshire and was replaced by the earl of Home. With the accession of George I in 1714, however, Marchmont was restored to that office and he was also made a lord of the court of police, although he took no further prominent role in politics. He died of a fever at his home, Marchmont House, Berwick, on 1 August 1724, aged eighty-three. Some years previously he had moved from Redbraes Castle to Berwick. He was buried with his wife, who had died on 11 October 1703, in the Canongate churchyard in Edinburgh. About 1710 John Macky wrote of Marchmont that:
he hath been a fine Gentleman, of clear Parts, but always a Lover of set long Speeches, and could hardly give Advice to a private Friend without them; zealous for the Presbyterian Government in the Church, and its Divine Right, which was the great Motive that encouraged him against the Crown … Business and Years have now almost wore him out; he hath been handsom and lovely; and was so since King William came to the throne. (Memoirs of the Secret Services, 21617)
Marchmont's eldest son, Patrick, had died on 25 November 1709; he was succeeded as second earl by his third but eldest surviving son, .
John R. Young