Dalrymple, John, second Earl of Stair 1673-1747, general and diplomatist, was the second son of John Dalrymple, second viscount and first earl of Stair [qv.], lord advocate, lord justice clerk, and secretary of state for Scotland, by his wife, Elizabeth, heiress of Sir John Dundas of Newliston, and was born at Edinburgh on 20 July 1673. When only eight years old, in April 1682, he accidentally shot his elder brother dead at the family seat, Carsrecreugh Castle, Wigtonshire. For this act he received a pardon under the great seal, but his parents could not bear to see his face, and after he had spent three years at a tutor's he was sent over to his grandfather, Sir James Dalrymple, the ex-lord president of the court of session, and future Viscount Stair, who was then in exile in Holland. The boy studied at Leyden University, and there attracted the attention of the Prince of Orange, who remained his friend and patron for the rest of his life. When the Prince of Orange became king of England, as William III, he reinstated Sir James Dalrymple as lord president, created him Viscount Stair, and entrusted the government of Scotland to him and his son, who, as secretary of state for Scotland, bears the blame for the massacre of Glencoe. The younger John Dalrymple served in the campaign of 1692 as a volunteer with the regiment of Angus, afterwards the 26th (the Cameronians), and was present at the battle of Steenkerk, and he probably served in various subordinate grades throughout the wars of William III in Flanders, though no documentary evidence of his presence there exists. He often spoke in after life of having served under William III in a manner which leaves little doubt of his being present in all his chief campaigns, though the Stair papers, which have been examined by Mr. Graham for his Annals and Correspondence of the Viscount and the first and second Earls of Stair, throw no light on this period of his career. He became Master of Stair when his father succeeded to the viscounty in 1695, and accompanied Lord Lexington's embassy to Vienna in 1700, after which he travelled in Italy for a year, and on his return was appointed a lieutenant-colonel in the Scotch foot guards. William III died, however, in the following year, and the Master of Stair's commission was signed by Queen Anne, being one of the first acts of sovereignty which she performed. In 1703, in which year he became Viscount Dalrymple on his father being created Earl of Stair, he joined the army in Flanders as aide-de-camp to the Duke of Marlborough, and distinguished himself at the taking of Peer, when he was first in the breach, and at Venlo, when he served with the storming party under Lord Cutts, and saved the life of the Prince of Hesse-Cassel, afterwards king of Sweden. He was probably present at the battle of Blenheim in the following year, and in 1705 he was made colonel of a regiment in the Dutch service. The pay was, however, so bad that he petitioned to return to the English establishment, and was made colonel of his old regiment, the Cameronians, on 1 Jan. 1706. Marlborough at once made him a brigadier-general, and he commanded a brigade of infantry at the battle of Ramillies, and as a reward for his services he succeeded the gallant Lord John Hay as colonel of the Scots greys on 15 Aug. 1706. He then took command also of the cavalry brigade, consisting of his own regiment and the royal Irish dragoons, at the head of which he remained until the Duke of Marlborough's disgrace. He succeeded his father as second earl of Stair in January 1707, and so greatly distinguished himself at the battle of Oudenarde in 1708, when he exposed himself to the fire of two of the allied battalions in order to save them from inflicting loss on each other, that he was sent home with the despatches. He was graciously received by Queen Anne and Prince George of Denmark, who were charmed by his manners, and declared him made for an ambassador. He was promoted major-general on 1 Jan. 1709, and commanded his brigade at the siege of Lille and the battle of Malplaquet, where his lieutenant-colonel and future brother-in-law, Sir James Campbell (1667-1745) [qv.], made his famous charge with the Scots greys. The Earl of Stair, who was a gallant cavalry officer, then proposed, according to Voltaire in his Siècle de Louis Quinze, to make a dash at Paris with his horsemen, a statement both probable in itself and supported by Voltaire's known friendship with Stair in after years, but the proposal was rejected by Marlborough. Lord Stair was in the following winter sent on a special mission to Augustus, elector of Saxony and king of Poland, when he showed his ability as an ambassador, and won the friendship and admiration of Augustus, who had a special medal struck in his honour. He rejoined the army in time to cover the siege of Douai, and was promoted lieutenant-general on 1 Jan. 1710, and also made a knight of the Thistle. He also covered the siege of Bouchain in 1711. This was his last service in the war, as the tories on their accession to office recalled him, together with the Duke of Marlborough himself. Lord Stair was, however, promoted general on 1 Jan. 1712, but he was compelled to sell his regiment, the Scots greys, to David Colyear, earl of Portmore, in 1714. He retired to Edinburgh, where he became a leader of the whig party in Scotland, and made preparations to secure the accession of the elector, George, whom he had known upon the continent, after the death of Queen Anne. While in political disgrace in Edinburgh he fell in love with Eleanor, viscountess Primrose, daughter of the second Earl of Loudoun, and widow of James, first viscount Primrose. This lady, who was both beautiful and strong-minded, had been most cruelly treated by her first husband, and had been left a widow in 1706. She is the heroine of the strange story which formed the foundation of Scott's novel, My Aunt Margaret's Mirror, in the Chronicles of the Canongate (see Robert Chambers's Traditions of Edinburgh, ed. 1869, pp. 76-82), and she declared she would never marry again. Stair, however, declared that he would win her, and to get over her reluctance he concealed himself in her house, and by appearing at her bedroom window compelled her to marry him, to save her reputation, in 1714.
     On the accession of George I, Stair as a whig leader at once returned to honour and favour. He was re-elected a representative peer, made a lord of the bedchamber, appointed colonel of the Inniskilling dragoons, sworn of the privy council, and appointed minister plenipotentiary at Paris. In January 1715 he reached Paris, and commenced his famous mission by compelling his predecessor, Matthew Prior, to give up the secret correspondence with the tory ministers, on which were based most of the charges laid in the impeachment of Oxford and Bolingbroke. During the few months which elapsed before the death of Louis XIV, Stair occupied himself in preparing for the new reign, and took care to make friends with the Duke of Orleans. When Louis XIV died he was therefore prepared to play the great part which has made him an important figure in English history. The era of peace which followed the wars of Louis XIV was really initiated by Stanhope and the regent Orleans, and it was Stair's duty to maintain the compact at Paris and to watch over the policy of Orleans. But he had a yet more important duty, namely, to keep the English government informed of the intrigues of the adherents of the Pretender after the Pretender himself had been expelled from France. To carry out these duties he lavished money with profusion, and lived in a princely fashion. His banquets and his gaming parties were famous; and though seeming to be devoted to pleasure, he took care to have every one in his pay. He was informed both of the most secret decisions of the regent's council and of every move of the friends of the Pretender, and the information he afforded to his ministry at home was invaluable. He kept watch, through his spies or though Madame de Gyllenburg, on the schemes of Alberoni, and revealed to the regent the conspiracy of Cellamare. He is believed to have signed, as representative of Great Britain in Paris, the preliminary convention with France of 18 July 1718. But in spite of his vigilant opposition to the intrigues of the Pretender's friends, he always insisted on rigid personal deference being paid to the unfortunate Mary of Modena, and even dismissed a young aide-de-camp who had spoken against her because she had once been queen of England. In February 1719 he was raised from the rank of minister plenipotentiary to that of ambassador, and made his famous official entry into Paris, a superb ceremony, chiefly arranged by his master of the horse, Captain James Gardiner, whom he had befriended ever since he was a cornet of dragoons, and who was afterwards killed at the battle of Prestonpans. At this period Stair seemed at the height of power, but his fortune had been impaired by his lavish expenditure, and he tried to repair it by stockjobbing on a large scale in the schemes of Law. He himself had introduced his compatriot to the Cardinal Dubois, and had recommended him to the ministers in London; yet when Law obtained his commanding influence in the councils of the regent Orleans, Stair became jealous of him, and quarrelled with him. Stanhope deemed it prudent to cultivate Law's favour, in view of Law's immense credit at the regent's court. He thought it better to rule the regent through Law than Stair. The great ambassador was therefore recalled in 1720 and succeeded by Sir Robert Sutton.
     Stair's services were very inadequately rewarded; he received the sinecure office of vice-admiral of Scotland, but nothing more, and practically retired from politics for a time. His friend Stanhope died a few months after recalling him, and Sir Robert Walpole, while carrying out the policy initiated by Stanhope, preferred to have his brother, Horace Walpole, at Paris. Stair occupied himself in trying to repair his shattered fortunes. From January to April of each year he lived in London, attending the House of Lords (1707-8 and 1715-34) while he was a Scotch representative peer. For the rest of the year he lived on his estates in Scotland, either at his hereditary seat of Castle Kennedy in Wigtownshire, or at Newliston in Linlithgowshire, which he had inherited from his mother. He was the foremost agriculturist and rural economist of his time. He introduced many improvements on his farms; he laid out Newliston afresh—it is said in exact imitation of the military positions at the battle of Blenheim; and he was the first Scotchman to plant turnips and cabbages in fields upon a large scale; while Lady Stair became a leader of society in Scotland, and, among other things, helped to bring the watering-place of Moffat, whither she went every year to drink the waters, into repute. But his active temperament tired of inaction; he became one of the leading opponents of Sir Robert Walpole, and still more of Archibald Campbell, earl of Islay, the brother of John, duke of Argyll and Greenwich, who was entrusted with the government of Scotland by Sir Robert [see Campbell, Archibald, third Duke of Argyll]. In particular, Lord Stair objected to Islay's plan of drawing up a government list of the sixteen Scotch representative peers previous to each election, and asserted the right of the peers to elect freely at Holyrood, and in consequence he was deprived of his post of vice-admiral of Scotland in April 1733. This disgrace only increased his opposition to Walpole and Lord Islay, and on 17 April 1734 he was deprived of his colonelcy of the Inniskilling dragoons. He was also not re-elected a representative peer in the same year, and then devoted all his energies to organising an opposition to Walpole and Islay in Scotland. He and his brother malcontents were quite successful, and in 1741 no less than two-thirds of the Scotch M.P.'s were returned in the anti-Walpole interest.
     On Walpole's fall Stair was created a field-marshal on 28 March 1742, and made governor of Minorca, with leave not to reside there. He also received the command-in-chief of the army sent to act upon the continent in conjunction with the Dutch and Austrian forces when England decided to support the claims of Maria Theresa and insist upon the performance of the pragmatic sanction. In imitation of his great master, the Duke of Marlborough, Stair moved rapidly into Bavaria to join the Austrian general, Count von Khevenhüller. He was, however, out-maneuvred by the French general, Noailles, who had gained great strategic advantages, when George II came to Germany in person to take command of the army. The battle of Dettingen was then fought, in which Lord Stair showed his usual gallantry, but was nearly taken prisoner owing to his shortsightedness and audacity. When the victory was won, Lord Stair proposed various plans for the allies to follow, but the king, relying, it was said, upon his Hanoverian councillors, rejected them all, and Stair sent in the resignation of his command. It was many times refused, until he sent the king a most remarkable memorial, printed by Mr. Graham in his ‘Annals and Correspondence of the Viscount and the first and second Earls of Stair,’ ii. 454-6, of which the conclusion is worth quoting: ‘I shall leave it to your majesty as my political testament, never to separate yourself from the House of Austria. If ever you do so, France will treat you, as she did Queen Anne, and all the courts that are guided by her counsels. I hope your majesty will give me leave to return to my plough without any mark of your displeasure.’ To the credit of George II be it said that he in no way disgraced the old field-marshal for his behaviour, for in April 1743 he was once more appointed colonel of the Inniskilling dragoons. In the following year, when a Jacobite rising was expected, he offered his services to the king once more, and was made commander-in-chief of all the forces in south Britain, and he was also elected a representative Scotch peer in the place of the Earl of Lauderdale. In 1745 he was again made colonel of his old regiment, the Scots greys, in the place of his gallant brother-in-law, Sir James Campbell, who was killed at the battle of Fontenoy. In 1746 he received his last appointment as general of the marines, and on 9 May 1747 he died at Queensberry House, Edinburgh, leaving a great reputation as a general and a diplomatist, and was buried in the family vault at Kirkliston, Linlithgowshire. His countess survived him twelve years, and remained till the day of her death the most striking figure in Edinburgh society (see Chambers, Traditions of Edinburgh, pp. 76-82)

     The leading authority for the life of Lord Stair is The Annals and Correspondence of the Viscount and the first and second Earls of Stair, by J. Murray Graham, 2 vols. 1875, who had the use of the Stair papers for the embassy to Paris, and of Stair's letters to the Earl of Mar for the Marlborough campaigns. Two biographies, published directly after his death, the one by Alexander Henderson and the other anonymously, have formed the basis of previous biographical articles, but they are both extremely incorrect. For his embassy see also Stanhope's History of England from 1713 to 1783; Voltaire's Siècle de Louis XV; and Saint-Simon's Mémoires; and for the campaign of Dettingen, Carlyle's History of Frederick the Great.

Contributor: H. M. S. [Henry Morse Stephens]

Published:     1888