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  George Melville (1636–1707), by Sir John Baptiste de Medina, 1691 George Melville (1636–1707), by Sir John Baptiste de Medina, 1691
Melville, George, fourth Lord Melville and first earl of Melville (1636–1707), politician, was the eldest son of John Melville, third Lord Melville (d. 1643), and Anna (d. after 1643), elder daughter and coheir of of Innerteil.

On 6 May 1651 the king wrote to Melville from Dunfermline, seeking money on behalf of Melville's kinsman Sir George Melville of Garvock, who had obtained the position of under-master of the household to the king in Scotland. The following year the king wrote on his own behalf to Melville seeking financial aid. On 3 January 1654, in the aftermath of the abortive Glencairn rising, English troopers arrested Melville and one Sir John Carstairs in St Andrews. Although they had taken no part in the rising they were suspected of implication in the stealing of horses by some of Glencairn's men. Taken to Burntisland, they were briefly imprisoned.

By contract dated 17 January 1655 Melville married Catherine (1639–1713), only surviving daughter of Alexander Leslie, Lord Balgonie, and granddaughter of the famous covenanting general ; they had eight sons, including , and four daughters. Following his marriage, Melville's political profile increased. In 1656 he was a justice of the peace for Fife and Kinross-shire. That autumn he was named as a commissioner in Fife and Kinross for raising the counties' contribution to Cromwell's war with Spain and other Commonwealth expenses. He served again as a commissioner of assessment in the area in 1659. In May 1660 he was among the Scots who went to London to greet Charles II following his return to England, but stayed for only ten days, and ‘haveing kissed the Kings Maj. hand’ (Diary of Mr John Lamont, 122), returned home to Scotland on 12 June 1660. He attended the first session of the Restoration parliament in Scotland from 1 January to 12 July 1661, and served as a commissioner of supply for Fife and Kinross-shire.

In February 1663, Melville returned to London, possibly remaining there until after the marriage on 20 April of his wife's younger stepsister Anna Scott, countess of Buccleuch, to James, duke of Monmouth. Appointed one of the duchess of Buccleuch's curators, Melville afterwards managed her affairs efficiently in Scotland, obtaining the approval of the duke and duchess as well as that of Charles II. In September 1678 he received a special commission over the Buccleuch estates, probably as the result of a visit to London earlier that spring at the request of the duke. By 1681 Melville wanted to resign his position of curator, but he was persuaded to retain it until 1683.

During the Pentland rising of 1666 Melville was one of the Fife landowners summoned by the privy council to defend Edinburgh. Twelve years later, in the context of growing covenanting tensions and activities, on 29 January 1678 Melville was listed among those in the presbytery of Cupar who had not signed the bond for keeping the public peace; neither, it seems, had he signed the bond against conventicles. However, following the duke of Monmouth's appointment the following year as captain-general of the royal forces in opposition to the covenanters in Scotland, while at court in London Melville offered his services to the cause and the king accepted them. Melville joined Monmouth's forces the day before the battle of Bothwell Bridge on 22 June 1679. Monmouth later certified that then ‘I did direct and authorize the Lord Melvill to send propositions to the rebells, and receive some from them, in order to laying downe their armes, and submitting to the king's mercy’ (Fraser, 2.27).

A few years later Melville's association with Monmouth made him more vulnerable. In 1683 orders were issued for his arrest on suspicion of being involved in the Rye House plot, but by 28 July he had escaped to the Netherlands, where he attached himself to the court of the prince of Orange. In January 1684 Melville was summoned to appear before the privy council on 8 April, but when he was expected medical evidence was submitted by doctors in Rotterdam stating that he was too ill to travel. By 13 November 1684 Melville was being referred to by the privy council as ‘a declared fugitive’ (Reg. PCS, 10.26). Yet he was not an active participant in the Argyll and Monmouth rebellions of 1685. In a vindication of his conduct written in 1703 he stated that he was opposed to both expeditions, although he had reluctantly granted a bond for £500 to one James Stewart in support of the Argyll expedition, in ignorance that it had already sailed. The Scottish parliament none the less declared Melville a rebel and on 16 June 1685 his estates were forfeited and annexed to the crown. Punishment was modified by James VII in January 1687: the estates were granted to Melville's eldest son, the master of Melville. In return, Melville paid compensation of £3000 sterling (£36,000 Scots) and a yearly rent of £200 sterling (£2400 Scots). Nevertheless, he remained in the Netherlands until after William and Mary had been proclaimed king and queen in 1688.

Melville was summoned to the convention of estates which met on 14 March 1689 but did not subscribe the act of 16 March which declared it to be a free and lawful meeting of the estates. On 27 March he was appointed to the parliamentary committee for settling the government, and on 30 March as a commissioner of the militia in Fife and Kinross; on 23 April he was also appointed as a commissioner to treat for a union with England. Melville was in London when William and Mary were crowned as king and queen of Scotland. On 13 May 1689 he was appointed sole secretary of state for Scotland, securing the position from his rival Sir James Montgomerie of Skelmorlie, a militant presbyterian and the leader of the ‘Club’. Melville's moderate presbyterianism appears to have satisfied episcopalians, who were wary of Montgomerie's more militant stance. He took the oath at Hampton Court on 23 September 1689. On 21 January 1690 Melville was named as an exchequer commissioner in Scotland, and on 26 February he was appointed high commissioner to the forthcoming second session of William's and Mary's parliament in Scotland. Returning to Edinburgh between 8 March and 10 March 1690, he first attended the privy council on 10 March. On 8 April 1690 he was created earl of Melville, viscount of Kirkcaldy, and Lord Raith, Monymail, and Balwearie.

Melville continued as a high commissioner in the second session of the Williamite parliament in Scotland, apparently to the satisfaction of both people and king. His speech to the assembled estates on 15 April 1690 referred to William as ‘the Instrument in the Hand of God’ who ‘did so magnanimously expose Himself for the Rescuing you from the greatest of evils, Popery and Slavery; and Delivering you from the Fears you were ready to sink under’ and expressed his own ‘intire Faithfulness to the King my Master, a sincere respect to you, and a zealous application for promoting of the true Religion, and Common good of all’ (APS, 9, appx, 38). The strident demands of the ‘Club’ for constitutional reform and a presbyterian church made the securing of a settlement for the king difficult, but Melville presided over the abolition of the controversial lords of the articles (8 May) and the legislation re-establishing presbyterian church government of the church of Scotland (7 June). Legislation passed in July rescinding forfeitures and fines resulted in Melville, among others, receiving back his land and estates. However, King William was displeased at the Scottish religious settlement with its concentration of power in the hands of a militant minority of presbyterian ministers and its failure to grant liberty to conscience. Although Melville had probably done the best he could, given the atmosphere in the Edinburgh parliament, his position was weakened, especially at the English court. None the less, he continued as secretary of state and he was high commissioner to the short parliamentary session of 3–10 September 1690.

However, Melville soon suffered a political eclipse. In January 1691 Sir John Dalrymple of Stair was appointed as joint, and apparently senior, secretary of state, residing near the king and accompanying William to Flanders. On 29 December Melville exchanged his post as joint secretary for the lesser office of lord privy seal. He appears to have got on with the duties of this position and he remained in close contact with William Carstares, then one of the royal chaplains. He attended the parliamentary sessions of 1693 (18 April to 15 June) and 1695 (9 May to 17 July) as lord privy seal. Anxiety about the permanence of the 1690 restoration of his estates was allayed by the passing of an act of ratification in his favour on 12 June 1693. When the 1695 parliamentary session debated the 1692 massacre of Glencoe, Melville refused to vote either against Dalrymple, his erstwhile rival, or for the imprisonment of John Campbell, first earl of Breadalbane, on the grounds that the king should be consulted before any summary action was taken. On 28 June 1695 parliament was presented with a petition from the city of Edinburgh reclaiming from Melville a bond of £3000 sterling (£36,000 Scots) assigned to him when he was high commissioner. The case was remitted to the lords of session, but the dispute was not settled in Melville's favour until 1698 when the king endorsed the assignment. Meanwhile, on 17 July 1695, parliament granted to Melville the right to hold two yearly fairs, in May and October, in the parish of Monimail at Letham in Fife.

In October 1695 Melville received a letter from Carstares suggesting that if he were to come to London then the king would not be displeased. Melville's return to political favour was apparent by May 1696 when he was offered the position of president of the privy council. He initially declined but persuasion from Carstares and William Bentinck, first earl of Portland, eventually changed his mind, and he took up the position about the middle of August 1696. Attending parliament in this capacity, on 10 September he became president of, and an important influence on, the committee for the security of the kingdom; he also signed the association in defence of King William on the same day. During the 1698 parliamentary session (19 July to 1 September) he was a member of the same committee but Archibald Campbell, tenth earl of Argyll, wrote to Carstares that ‘Our friend Melvill has not opened his mouth scarce all this session’ (Fraser, 2.237). However, he continued as president of the privy council until December 1702, when he was deprived following the accession of Queen Anne.

Melville was not closely associated with the Darien project and, unlike his sons, he was not a stockholder in the Company of Scotland. Having attended the parliamentary session of May 1700 he went to Bath in an attempt to relieve his health problems and thereafter to London. Back in Scotland to attend the parliamentary session which sat from 29 October 1700 to 31 January 1701, on 16 January he voted in favour of a parliamentary address, as opposed to a full act, being presented to William over the legality of the Darien enterprise. In the 1702 parliamentary session he was again a member of the committee for the security of the kingdom. Although an attender at the majority of the sessions of the new parliament of 1703–7, he was not present from 3 October 1706 to 25 March 1707 and therefore he did not vote on the articles of the treaty of union. In his absence, on 12 February 1707, he was voted recompense for money advanced from him in 1689–90 for the payment of officers' commissions and to help maintain troops who had not been paid. Melville died on 20 May 1707 and was buried in the parish church of Monimail, Fife. His widow died on 2 April 1713. Writing in the early eighteenth century, Macky wrote of Melville in old age:
He hath neither Learning, Wit, nor common Conversation; but a Steadiness of Principle, and a firm Boldness for Presbyterian Government, in all Reigns … He makes a very mean Figure in his Person, being low, thin, with a great Head, a long Chin, and little Eyes. (Memoirs of the Secret Services, 203)

John R. Young


W. Fraser, ed., The Melvilles, earls of Melville, and the Leslies, earls of Leven, 3 vols. (1890) · Scots peerage, vol. 6 · APS, 1648–1707 · Reg. PCS, 3rd ser., vols. 11–16 · E. W. M. Balfour-Melville, ed., An account of the proceedings of the estates in Scotland, 1689–1690, 1, Scottish History Society, 3rd ser., 46 (1954) · T. B. Macaulay, The history of England from the accession of James II, new edn, 2 vols. (1889) · The diary of Mr John Lamont of Newton, 1649–1671, ed. G. R. Kinloch, Maitland Club, 7 (1830) · Memoirs of the secret services of John Macky, ed. A. R. (1733) · W. H. L. Melville, ed., Leven and Melville papers: letters and state papers chiefly addressed to George, earl of Melville … 1689–1691, Bannatyne Club, 77 (1843) · State papers and letters addressed to William Carstares, ed. J. M'Cormick (1774) · Bishop Burnet's History · P. W. J. Riley, King William and the Scottish politicians (1979)


NA Scot., Leven and Melville muniments, GD.26 · NRA, priv. coll., corresp.


J. B. de Medina, oils, 1691, priv. coll. [see illus.] · J. B. Medina, oils, Scot. NPG · R. White, line engraving (after J. B. Medina), BM, NPG · portrait, repro. in Fraser, ed., Melville, 1