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John Erskine, Earl of Mar (1558–1634)

Portrait of John Erskine, Earl of Mar.

John Erskine, Earl of Mar (c. 1562 – 14 December 1634)[1] was a Scottish politician, the only son of another John Erskine and Annabella Murray. He is regarded as both the 19th earl (in the 1st creation) and the 2nd earl (in the 7th).[2]


John Erskine was born in 1558, though the precise date is unknown. Together with King James VI of Scotland he was educated by George Buchanan. He succeeded to the earldom of Mar on the death of his father in 1572. After attaining his majority he was nominally the guardian of the young king, who was about seven years his junior, and who lived with him at Stirling; but he was in reality something of a puppet in the hands of the regent, James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton; and he lost power and position when Morton was imprisoned.[3]

He married his first wife, Anne Drummond (1555 – 1587) in October 1580. Anne was the daughter of Lord David Drummond (d. 1571) and Lilias Ruthven (d. 1579).[4] Their marriage was cut short by Anne's early death in 1587, but the marriage did produce John's son and heir, John Erskine.

Arms of Sir John Erskine, Earl of Mar, KG

He was concerned in the seizure of James VI in 1582 (a plot known as the raid of Ruthven); but when James escaped from his new custodians the earl fled into the west of Scotland. Then leaving his hiding-place the Earl of Mar seized Stirling Castle, whereupon James marched against him, and he took refuge in England. Queen Elizabeth I interceded for him, but in vain, and after some futile communications between the governments of England and Scotland the Earl of Mar and his friends gathered an army, entered the presence of the king at Stirling, and were soon in supreme authority (1585). The Earl of Mar was restored to his lands and titles. Henceforward he stood high in the royal favor; he became governor of Edinburgh Castle and was made tutor to James's son, Prince Henry.[3] His great achievement was the recovery of the Mar estates, alienated by the Crown during the long period that his family had been out of possession, including Kildrummy, the seat of the earldom.[5]

In December 1592 he married his second wife Marie Stewart, daughter of Esmé Stewart, 1st Duke of Lennox at Holyroodhouse. The marriage was intended to be held at Dalkeith Palace but was delayed by Mar's illness, the match was opposed by many because Mary was a Catholic.[6] Their daughter, Lady Mary Erskine, married William Keith, 5th Earl Marischal.[7]

Mar was made keeper of Prince Henry at Stirling Castle in 1594. This led to disagreement with Anne of Denmark. In September 1595 she would not look at Mar when he was in the same room with her at Falkland Palace.[8]

In 1601, the earl was sent as envoy to London; here Elizabeth I assured him that James should be her successor, and his mission was conducted with tact and prudence. Subsequently, Mar and the King continued a secret correspondence with Robert Cecil.

While Mar was away Anne of Denmark came to Stirling Castle on 7 May 1603 to take away Prince Henry. The Countess, his wife Marie, refused to allow this. Mar made his apology for the events of the day to the queen on 5 July at Windsor Castle.[9]

After the Union of the Crowns, having joined the English privy council, the Earl of Mar was created Lord Cardross in 1610; he was a member of the Court of High Commission and was Lord High Treasurer of Scotland from 1615 to 1630.[3]

In January 1608, Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton wrote to Mar asking for recipe that would restore his favour with Anne of Denmark.[10]

Mar died at Stirling on 14 December 1634.


John (c. 1585–1654), his only son by his first wife, succeeded to his earldom; by his second wife he had five sons, among them being James (died 1640), earl of Buchan; Henry, Master of Cardross and Commendator of Dryburgh (died 1628), whose son David succeeded to the barony of Cardross; and Charles, the ancestor of the earls of Rosslyn.

Mar and the King's JewelsEdit

From time to time James would lodge jewels with Mar for safety and as pledges for loans. In December 1601 Mar returned several pieces including a cross set seven diamonds and two rubies, a hat string with 89 diamonds, a "feather" jewel to wear in a hat in the shape of a capital letter "A" for Anne of Denmark made with 110 diamonds, and other pieces.[11]


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online (ODNB), "John Erskine, eighteenth or second earl of Mar," by Julian Goodare.
  2. ^ Some sources deem him the 18th Earl, still others as the 7th Earl. (cf. Earl of Mar#Notes)
  3. ^ a b c   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Mar, John Erskine, 2nd or 7th Earl of". Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 666.
  4. ^ ODNB, "James Drummond, first Lord Maderty," by Michael Wasser; Calendar of State Papers relating to Scotland, and Mary, Queen of Scots...1574-1581, (Edinburgh, 1907), pp. 447, 449.
  5. ^   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainRound, John Horace (1911). "Mar, Earldom of". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 665–666.
  6. ^ Calendar of State Papers Scotland vol. 10 (Edinburgh, 1936), p. 778, 780.
  7. ^ "Lady Mary Erskine at". Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  8. ^ Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 12 (Edinburgh, 1952), p. 18.
  9. ^ Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, vol. 6 (Edinburgh, 1894), pp. 577-8.
  10. ^ Historical Manuscript Commission: Report on the Manuscripts of the Earl of Mar and Kellie (London, 1904), p. 58.
  11. ^ Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, vol. 6 (Edinburgh, 1894), p. 328.
Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
John Erskine
Earl of Mar
Succeeded by
John Erskine