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James Maitland, eighth Earl of Lauderdale (1759-1839)

This article was written by George Fisher Russell Barker and was published in 1893.

James Maitland eighth Earl of Lauderdale, was the second son of James Maitland, seventh earl of Lauderdale, by his wife, Mary Turner, only child of Sir Thomas Lombe, alderman of London.

The eighth Earl of Lauderdale was born at Hatton House, in the parish of Ratho, Midlothian, on 26 January 1759. He was educated at the high school and university of Edinburgh, under the care of his tutor, Andrew Dalzel, who accompanied him to Paris in 1774. On 13 June 1775 he matriculated at Trinity College, Oxford, where he only resided a term, and subsequently studied at Glasgow University under Professor John Millar. He was admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn on 26 February 1777, and became a member of the Faculty of Advocates on 29 July 1780.

At the general election in September 1780 he was returned to the House of Commons for the borough of Newport, Cornwall. On 26 February 1781 he made a successful maiden speech in support of the second reading of Burke's Bill for the Regulation of the Civil List Establishments. In June 1781 he supported Fox's motion for a committee on the state of the American war, and declared that the authors of it were ‘no less inimical to the liberties of Great Britain than America’. He warmly supported Fox's East India Bill in November 1783, and ‘justified it on every principle upon which it had been attacked’. At the general election in the spring of 1784 he was returned for the borough of Malmesbury, and on 11 December 1787 was appointed by the House of Commons one of the managers of Hastings' impeachment.

On the death of his father in August 1789 he succeeded to the Scottish peerage as eighth Earl Lauderdale, and in July 1790 was elected a Scottish representative peer. He spoke for the first time in the House of Lords on 11 April 1791, when he insisted that ‘the pretences for going to war with Tippoo were highly unjustifiable and ungrounded’. During the debate on the king's proclamation against seditious writings on 31 May 1791, Lauderdale made a violent attack upon Charles Lennox third duke of Richmond, and General Benedict Arnold. On the following day he challenged the duke to a duel, but the affair was afterwards amicably settled. A bloodless meeting, however, took place between Lauderdale and Arnold on 1 July, when Fox attended as Lauderdale's second.

In August 1792 Lauderdale went with Dr. John Moore to France, where he formed an acquaintance with Brissot. During their stay in Paris the attack was made on the Tuileries. They remained in France until December. Upon his return Lauderdale took every opportunity of protesting against the war with France, and is said on one occasion to have appeared in the House of Lords ‘in the rough costume of Jacobinism’. In April 1794 he denounced the manner in which the trials of Muir and Palmer had been conducted, and in the following month opposed the passing of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Bill. On 5 June 1795 his motion in favour of making peace with France was only supported by eight votes. In November following he gave a strenuous opposition to the Treasonable Practices Bill, which he described as ‘one of the severest and most dangerous to the rights and liberties of the people that had ever been introduced’. On 13 May 1796 he called the attention of the house to the state of the public finances, but did not attempt to take a division upon his resolutions. In consequence of his uncompromising hostility to the ministerial policy, Lauderdale was not re-elected a Scottish representative peer either in 1796 or in 1802.

While out of the house he became a citizen of London by the purchase of his freedom from the Needlemakers' Company, and vainly attempted to get elected as sheriff. He appears also at the time to have ‘formed a plan to get into the House of Commons by a surrender of his peerage, which he thought was allowable by the Scottish law’. In 1804 he published his ‘Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Public Wealth, and into the Means and Causes of its Increase,’. It attracted considerable attention at the time and was reviewed by Brougham in the Edinburgh Review for July 1804. Lauderdale unwisely replied to Brougham's strictures in ‘Observations on the Review of his Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Public Wealth, published in the viiith Number of the Edinburgh Review,’ which provoked a sharp rejoinder from Brougham in his ‘Thoughts suggested by Lord Lauderdale's Observations upon the Edinburgh Review'.

Upon the accession of the whigs to power Lauderdale was created a peer of Great Britain and Ireland on 22 February 1806 by the title of Baron Lauderdale of Thirlestane in the county of Berwick. He was offered by Fox the post of governor-general of India, but subsequently withdrew his claims in consequence of the strong opposition of the court of directors to his appointment. Lauderdale thereupon accepted the office of lord high keeper of the great seal of Scotland, and was sworn a member of the privy council on 21 July 1806. On 2 August following he went to Paris as joint-commissioner with Francis Seymour, earl of Yarmouth, for concluding a peace with France. The negotiations proved abortive, and he returned to England in October. He resigned office upon Lord Grenville's downfall in March 1807, and was for many years an active member of the opposition in the House of Lords, and the recognised chief of the whig party in Scotland.

In the proceedings against Queen Caroline, however, Greville records that ‘there is no one more violent than Lord Lauderdale, and neither the Attorney-General nor the Solicitor-General can act with greater zeal than he does in support of the Bill’ (Memoirs). He was rewarded with the order of the Thistle on 17 July 1821. From this time Lauderdale's political views underwent much modification, and he became a tory. In February 1825 Lord Colchester remarks that though Lauderdale was not in the tory cabinet (of Lord Liverpool) he had ‘as much weight in the issue of its deliberations as if he were’. Lauderdale spoke for the last time in the House of Lords on 12 July 1830, when he protested against the second reading of the Court of Session Bill. During the remainder of his life he lived in the country and amused himself with agricultural pursuits. He voted by proxy against the second reading of the second and third Reform Bills. He died at Thirlestane Castle, Berwickshire, on 13 September 1839, aged 80, and was buried in the family vault at Haddington Abbey on the 20th of the same month.

Lauderdale was a violent-tempered, shrewd, eccentric man, with a fluent tongue, a broad Scottish accent, and a taste for political economy. In 1792 he was one of the founders of the ‘Friends of the People'; in June 1831, under ‘the skilful maneuvring of that cunning old recreant Lauderdale,’ twelve out of the sixteen Scottish representative peers were anti-reformers. In consequence of the attack which Lauderdale made with the Duke of Bedford upon Burke's pension, Burke wrote his celebrated ‘Letter to a Noble Lord’ (1796). Lauderdale was one of the connoisseurs who were imposed upon by the Ireland forgeries, and signed the attestation in favour of their authenticity.

He married, on 15 August 1782, Eleanor, only child of Anthony Todd, secretary of the general post office. She died at Thirlestane Castle on 16 September 1856, aged 94. By her Lauderdale had four sons, all of whom were unmarried, and five daughters. The two elder sons, James (d. 1860) and Anthony were successively ninth and tenth earls. Eleanor, the third daughter, married, on 19 January 1815, James Balfour of Whittinghame, Berwickshire, and died on 23 May 1869. Mr. Arthur James Balfour wass her grandson.

Several of Lauderdale's speeches were separately published, and there are no less than eighty-six of his protests in the ‘Journals of the House of Lords’. Besides the works already noticed he issued many political tracts.

Lauderdale's second son, Anthony Maitland, tenth Earl of Lauderdale 1785-1863, admiral of the red, entered the navy at an early age. He was wounded in Nelson's attack on the Boulogne flotilla in 1801, when he was made a C.B., and took part in Lord Exmouth's bombardment of Algiers in 1826. He was subsequently appointed G.C.B. and G.C.M.G. On his death (22 March 1863) the English barony of Lauderdale became extinct, but the Scottish earldom devolved on a cousin, Thomas Maitland, eleventh earl.

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