ROSSLYN, EARLS OF. The first earl of Rosslyn was Alexander Wedderburn (see below), who was succeeded by his nephew, James St Clair Erskine (17621837), a son of
Wedderburnıs sister Janet by her marriage with Sir Henry Erskine (d. 1765), a Scottish baronet and soldier. Entering the army in 1776, James Erskine served in Portugal, in Denmark and in the Netherlands, and became a general in 1-814. From 1782 until 1805, when he became a peer, he was a member of parliament; a Tory politician and an associate of the duke of Wellington, he was lord privy seal in 182930 and lord president of the council in 183435. He inherited the estates of the family of St Clair and took this name in 1789, and he died on the i8th of January 1837. His son, James Alexander (I8o2I866), became 3rd earl, and in 1890 the latterıs grandson, James Francis Harry (b. 1869), became 5th earl.
ROSSLYN, ALEXANDER WEDDERBURN, 1ST EARL OF (17331805), Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, was the eldest son of Peter Wedderburn (a lord of session as Lord Chesterhall), and was born in East Lothian on the I3th of February 1733. He acquired the rudiments of his education at Dalkeith, and in his fourteenth year matriculated at the university of Edinburgh. It was from the first his desire to practise at the English bar, though in deference to his fatherıs wishes he qualified as an advocate at Edinburgh, in 1754, but entered himself at the Inner Temple on the 8th of May 1753, so that he might keep the Easter and Trinity terms in that year. His father was called to the bench in 1755, and for the next three years Wedderburn stuck to his practice in Edinburgh, during which period he employed his oratorical powers in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and passed his evenings in the social and argumentative clubs which abound in Edinburgh. In 1755 the precursor of the later Edinburgh Review was started, now chiefly remembered because in its pages Adam Smith criticized the dictionary of Dr Johnson, and because the contents of its two numbers were edited by Wedderburn. The dean of faculty at this time, Lockhart, afterwards Lord Covington, a lawyer notorious for his harsh demeanour, in the autumn of 1757 assailed Wedderburn with more than ordinary insolence. His victim retorted with extraordinary powers of invective, and on being rebuked by the bench declined to retract or apologize, but placed his gown upon the table, and with a low bow left the court for ever. He was called to the English bar at the Inner Temple in 1757. To shake off his native accent and to acquire the graces of oratorical action, he engaged the services of Thomas Sheridan and Charles Macklin. To secure business and to conduct his cases with adequate knowledge, he studied the forms of English law, he solicited William Strahan, the printer, ³ to get him employed in city causes,² and he entered into social intercourse (as is noted in Alexander Carlyleıs autobiography) with busy London solicitors. His local connexions and the incidents of his previous career introduced him to the notice of his countrymen Lords Bute and Mansfield. When Lord Bute was prime minister this legal satellite used, says Dr Johnson, to go on errands for him, and it is to Wedderburnıs credit that he first suggested to the premier the propriety of granting Johnson a pension. Through the favour of Lord Bute, he was returned to parliament for the Ayr burghs in 1761. In I 763 he became kingıs counsel and bencher of Lincolnıs Inn, and for a short time went the northern. circuits, but was more successful in obtaining business in the Court of Chancery. He obtained a considerable addition to his resources (Carlyle puts the amount at £10,000) on his marriage in. 1767 to Betty Anne, sole child and heiress of John Dawson of Marly in Yorkshire. When George Grenville, whose principles leaned to Toryism, quarrelled with the court, Wedderburn affected to regard him as his leader in politics. At the dissolution in the spring of 1768 he was returned by Sir Lawrence Dundas for Richmond as a Tory, but in the questions that arose over John Wilkes (qv.) he took the popular side of ³ Wilkes and liberty,² and resigned his seat in May 1769. In the opinion of the people he was now regarded as the embodiment of all legal virtue; his health ~~-as toasted at the dinners of the Whigs amid rounds of applause, and, in recompense for the loss of his seat in parliament, he was returned by Lord Clive for his pocket-borough of Bishopıs Castle, in Shropshire, in January 1770. During the next session
He acted vigorously in opposition, but his conduct was always viewed with distrust by his new associates, and his attacks on the ministry of Lord North grew less and less animated in proportion to its apparent fixity of tenure. In January 1771 he was offered and accepted the post of solicitor-general. The high road to the woolsack was now open, but his defection from his former path has stamped his character with general infamy. Junius wrote of him, ³As for Mr Wedderburn, there is something about him which even treachery cannot trust,² and Colonel Barrh imttacked him in the House of Commons. The new law officer defended his conduct with the assertion that his alliance in politics had been with Mr George Grenville, and that the connexion had been. severed on his death. All through tb American War he consistently declaimed against the colonies, and he was bitter in his attack on Benjamin Franklin (q.v.) before the Privy Council. In June 1778 Wedderburn was promoted to the post of attorney-general, and in the same year he refused the dignity of chief baron of the exchequer because the offer was not accompanied by the promise of a peerage. At the dissolution in 1774 he had been returned for Okehampton in Devonshire, and for Castle Rising in Norfolk, and selected the former constituency; on his promotion as leading law officer of the crown he returned to Bishopıs Castle. The coveted peerage was not long delayed. In June 1780 he was created chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas, with the title of Baron Loughborough.
During the existence of the coalition ministry of North and Fox, the great seal was in commission (April to December 1783), and Lord Loughborough held the leading place among the commissioners. For some time after that ministryıs fall he was considered the leader of the Whig party in the House of Lords, and, had the illness of the king brought about the return of the Whigs to power, the great seal would have been placed in his hands. The kingıs restoration to health secured Pittıs continuance in office, and disappointed theı expectations of the Whigs. In 1792, during the period of the French Revolution, Lord Loughborough seceded from Fox, and on the 28th of January 1793 he received the great seal in the Tory cabinet of Pitt. The resignation of Pitt on the question. of Catholic emancipation (I8o1) put an end to Wedderburnıs tenure of the Lord Chancellorship, for, much to his surprise, no place was found for him in Addingtonıs cabinet. His first wife died in 1781 without leaving issue, and he married in the following year Charlotte, youngest daughter of William, Viscount Courtenay; but her only son died in childhood. Lord Loughborough accordingly obtained in 1795 a re-grant of his barony with remainder to his nephew, Sir James St Clair Erskine. His fall in i8oi was softened by the grant of an earldom (he was created earl of Rosslyn 21st April 1801, with remainder to his nephew), and by a pension of £4000 per annum. After this date he rarely appeared in public, but he was a constant figure at all the royal festivities. He attended one of those gatherings at Frogmore, on the 31st of December 1804. On the following day he was seized with an attack of gout in the stomach, and on the 2nd of January 1805 he died at his seat, Baylis, near Salt Hill, Windsor. His remains were buried in St Paulıs Cathedral on the IIth of January.
At the bar Wedderburn was the most elegant speaker of his time, and, although his knowledge of the principles and precedents of law was deficient, his skill in marshalling facts and his clearness of diction were marvellous; on the bench his judgments were remarkable for their perspicuity, particularly in the appeal cases to the House of Lords. For cool and sustained declamation he stood unrivalled in parliament, and his readiness in debate was universally acknowledged. In social life, in the company of the wits and writers of his day, his faculties seemed to desert him. He was not only dull, but the cause of dulness in others, and even Alexander Carlyle confesses that in conversation his illustrious countryman was ³ stiff and pompous.² In Wedderburnıs character ambition banished all rectitude of principle, but the love of money for moneyıs sake was not among his faults.
See Broughamıs Statesmen of the Reign of George IlL; Fossıs Judges; Campbellıs Lives of Lord Chancellors. (W. P. C.)