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The Earl of Wemyss and March: Landowner and conservationist
who served the Scottish National Trust for half a century
The Independent 15 December 2008
'I learnt from my Basuto boys always to seem cheerful and never to fuss':
the Earl of Wemyss and March in 1973
Two brothers and a half-brother, very different in character, sons of Lady Violet Manners, daughter of the eighth Duke of Rutland, each made a huge, and very different, contribution to the heritage.
The youngest was the architect Jeremy Benson, owner of the beautiful Walpole House on the Thames, son of Lady Violet's second husband Guy Benson, who, with Commander Michael Saunders Watson of Rockingham Castle, used to attend Finance Bill after Finance Bill Committee Stage in the 1970s, often until the small hours of the morning, offering amendments and expert advice to any MP on the committee who was disposed to try and help the heritage. The middle brother, Martin Charteris, later Lord Charteris of Amisfield, was Private Secretary to the Queen for many years and later Provost of Eton and, from 1980 to 1992, Chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund.
The eldest of Lady Violet's "brood" – his description – was David Charteris, 12th Earl of Wemyss and eighth Earl of March, Chairman of the Council of the National Trust for Scotland from 1946 to 1969, then its President and finally its President Emeritus.
At the very centre of the Scottish aristocracy, no man could have been less pompous and less grand. On the contrary, David Wemyss was an artist in gently but effectively prickingpomposity, in deflating tendencies to self-grandeur in others. Though he liked to disguise it, Wemyss was of piercing intelligence, with a reservoir of unexpected knowledge. Above all, he held that membership and association with the National Trust for Scotland should encompass every walk of life in Scotland.
Wemyss was born into a family with a long tradition of royal service: John Wemyss was given an earldom for services to the House of Stuart in 1633 on Charles I's visit to Scotland; David, the fourth Earl, was a Commissioner who fixed the Treaty of Union in 1707 (not an episode about which the 12th Earl boasted). Francis, the eighth Earl, was "Scotch Lord of the Treasury" in the 1850s and an ADC to Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. His son Hugo, before he succeeded as ninth Earl, was MP for Haddingtonshire and then for Ipswich.
Wemyss's father, Captain Lord Elcho, was killed in action at Katiain Egypt in 1916, aged 31, leaving David aged four and Martin aged three. There is a moving account of his death and its consequences for the familyin Lady Cynthia Asquith's Diaries1915-18 (1968).
At Eton, the future Lord Wemyss, then styled Lord Elcho, was at the house of C.H.K. Marten, later Provost of Eton and tutor in history to the Queen. He considered himself fortunate to be taught history by two extremely erudite "beaks", C.R.N. Routh and A.K. Wickham, who took him abroad during holidays, introducing him to the civilisations of Italy and France, and giving him a serious appreciation of art. A source of Wemyss's quiet authority in later life was the realisation by many luminaries in the art world that they were dealing, not with an old fogey, but with a modest scholar on their home territory who happened to have one of the largest and most historically interesting collections in Scotland.
Timothy Clifford, the retiring Director-in-Chief of the National Galleries of Scotland, comments: "Wemyss was one of the most erudite people whomI have ever met – not only was hephenomenally inquisitive, but remarkably retentive of obscure and arcane information."
That Eton should decide to recommend to "Letty" Elcho that her first-born should go to Balliol, rather than one of the "aristocratic colleges" of the 1930s, reflected their assessment of his abilities. Balliol left its mark. On domestic politics, I never heard him criticise the Wilson/Callaghan government. When I expressed surprise that this landowner of thousands of acres was so relaxed about a Labour government, he chuckled as he told me, "Sandy Lindsay was my Master, as well as Denis Healey's. And I was supervised by Christopher Hill, then at the flood tide of his Communist zeal."
Politically, Wemyss was annoyed with me only once – over HaroldWilson's "messing around" over Ian Smith and Rhodesia, making matters worse rather than better, as he saw the situation – and, paradoxically, angry over my supportive vote for Jim Callaghan, as Home Secretary, over the Kenyan Asians. His background explained his distaste. Coming down from Balliol in 1937, he became a District Commissioner in Basutoland, and served as a major with Basuto troops, briefly in Eritrea, and then with the Eighth Army. Twenty years later, leading a National Trust cruise on the British India ship Dunera, when one calamity after another seemed to be happening to us, he told me, "Calm down – I learnt from my Basuto boys always to seem cheerful and never to fuss." Referring to someone as a "fuss-pot" was high up in the Wemyss vocabulary of abuse.
Africa was to remain part of his life. In 1940, before being posted to the Eighth Army, he had married Mavis, daughter of Edwin Murray, of Hermanus, Cape Province, known to all as Babs. Every year, until Babs died in 1988, they would return to the Cape for extended periods.
Returning to Scotland, and his cavernous great home at Gosford in East Lothian, he proved to be an obvious choice to lead heritage bodies. In 1937, on the death of his grandfather, he had succeeded to the earldoms of Wemyss and March (March came, according to arcane Scottish custom, from the sixth Earl's inheriting the Peeblesshire estates of his cousin, the fourth Marquess of Queensberry). Within weeks of being "demobbed" – somehow not an entirely apt word for the Earl of Wemyss's leaving the Army – he was "inveigled", as he put it, by the Chairman of the National Trust for Scotland, Sir Ian Colquhoun of Luss, the Trust's Secretary, Sir Edward Stevenson, and their two powerful lawyers, Professor Sir Ernest Wedderburn and Arthur Russell, senior partner of Strathearn and Blair, into becoming the trust's Vice-Chairman.
Shrewd and canny old boys that they were, they picked the right 34-year-old. Within months, he found himself Chairman, owing to the unanticipated ill-health of Colquhoun of Luss. For the next 23 years, Wemyss was to be Chairman of Council, and subsequently, from 1967 to 1991, an extremely active, though not meddling, President.
His first engagement was to accept the gift of the Binns, West Lothian, in 1946, and during his stewardship (Wemyss's own description) Leith Hall, the great Kennedy castle of Culzean, Brodie, Falkland and the Castles of Mar, and much else came into the care of the National Trust.
One of Wemyss's strengths was that he was an extremely perceptive chooser of people. A crucial choice, in 1949, was to choose as Secretary and Director a young Kelso solicitor with a Military Cross and an outstanding war record, Jamie Stormonth Darling, with whom he was to work hand in glove for the next half-century.
Wemyss wrote of Stormonth Darling: "He kept having splendid ideas and feared no controversy. For example, we fought to get a share in Scotland's Garden Scheme, and we won that share triumphantly. Among my memories of those years was our first trip to St Kilda in a strong north headwind. James was mainly responsible for acquiring a great many of our properties, although of course many others contributed to that.
"He had the art of handling people, many different kinds, some of them difficult indeed. One day in Aberdeen, when Jamie and I were striving torescue Provost Ross's House fromthe would-be demolishers of the City Council, we retired together underthe main stair of the Station Hotel, where the telephone happened to be, and we rang up the Queen Motherfor help. I don't know what Her Majesty said, nor to whom she said it, but it worked. Provost Ross's House was saved!"
In 1959, Wemyss was the personal choice of Harold Macmillan as the Lord High Commissioner to theGeneral Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Re-appointed in 1960 for the usual two-year term, unusually he was re-appointed 17 years later in 1977by the Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan, on the advice of PeggyHerbison, who had herself been Harold Wilson's choice as Lord High Commissioner.
In 1949, he was asked to succeed as Chairman of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments for Scotland. John Dunbar, Secretary of the Royal Commission from 1978 to 1990, recalls: "During Lord Wemyss's 36 years of benign but shrewd chairmanship, the RCAHMS changed direction and took over new responsibilities. As Chairman his greatest gift, among many, was to make Commissioners and staff feel that they enjoyed his complete confidence, for this invariably ensured that they made every effort to earn it."
Into great old age, Wemyss, albeit increasingly deaf, was astonishingly physically active. He thought little in his early eighties of going up a specially constructed fireman's ladder to effect repairs to the huge cupola above the great hall at Gosford.
In 1995, seven years after Babs's death, with his grandson as best man, he married in the beautiful East Lothian church of Aberlady the Canadian Mrs Shelagh Kennedy, who had been the NTS Representative at the Georgian House – Robert Adam's 7 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh.
It was the essence of David Wemyss's character that, when asked why he did not participate in the pre-reform House of Lords, he should reply, "One either does a thing properly or not at all. What right has an earl like me to go to London occasionally to blow in, blow up, and blow out? I do not wish to be a regular attender, and therefore have no moral right to vote."
He was a passionate Scot, and passionate in a way found among those who have spent their formative years among the Scottish diaspora.
Earl of Wemyss and March
Earl of Wemyss (pronounced "Weemz") and Earl of March are two titles in the Peerage of Scotland, created in 1633 and 1697 respectively, that have been held by a joint holder since 1826.
The Scottish Wemyss family had possessed the lands of Wemyss in Fife since the 12th century. In 1625 John Wemyss was created a Baronet, of Wemyss in the County of Fife, in the Baronetage of Nova Scotia. In 1628 he was raised to the Peerage of Scotland as Lord Wemyss of Elcho, and in 1633 he was further honoured when he was made Lord Elcho and Methel and Earl of Wemyss, also in the Peerage of Scotland. He later supported the Scottish parliament against Charles I, and died in 1649. He was succeeded by his son, the second Earl. In 1672 he resigned his peerages to the Crown in return for a new patent with original precedency and extending the limitation to his daughters. Lord Wemyss had no male issue and on his death in 1679 the baronetcy became extinct. He was succeeded in the peerages according to the new patent by his daughter Margaret, the third Countess of Wemyss. She married as her first husband her third cousin twice removed Sir James Wemyss, Lord Burntisland. He was the son of General Sir James Wemyss of Caskieberry, grandson of James Wemyss, younger brother of Sir John Wemyss, great-grandfather of the first Earl of Wemyss. She was succeeded by her son from her first marriage, David, the fourth Earl. He served as Lord High Admiral of Scotland and sat in the House of Lords as a Scottish Representative Peer from 1707 to 1710. Lord Wemyss married Lady Anne Douglas, daughter of William Douglas, 1st Duke of Queensberry and sister of William Douglas, 1st Earl of March.
On his death the titles passed to his second but eldest surviving son James, the fifth Earl. He married the great heiress Janet Charteris, daughter of Colonel Francis Charteris, who had made a large fortune by gambling. Their eldest son David, Lord Elcho, was implicated in the Jacobite rising of 1745, and was consequently attainted. On his father's death in 1756 he was not allowed to succeeded to the peerages but nonetheless assumed the title of Earl of Wemyss. Lord Elcho died childless and the peerages would have but for the attainder devolved upon his younger brother Francis, the de jure seventh Earl, who nevertheless assumed the title. He assumed the surname of Charteris in lieu of Wemyss on being made heir his maternal grandfather Colonel Charteris's estate. His successor was his grandson Francis, the de jure eighth Earl (the son of Francis Wemyss Charteris, "Lord Elcho"). In 1810, upon the death of William Queensberry, 4th Duke of Queensberry and 3rd Earl of March, he succeeded as fourth Earl of March, fourth Viscount of Peebles and fourth Lord Douglas of Neidpath, Lyne and Munard as the lineal heir male of the aforementioned Lady Anne Douglas, sister of the first Earl of March (see below). On his accession to these titles he assumed the surname of Charteris-Wemyss-Douglas. In 1821 he was created Baron Wemyss, of Wemyss in the County of Fife, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. In 1826 he also obtained a reversal of the attainder of the earldom of Wemyss and became the eighth Earl of Wemyss.
He was succeeded by his son, the ninth Earl of Wemyss and fifth Earl of March. He served as Lord-Lieutenant of Peeblesshire from 1853 to 1880. When he died the titles passed to his son, the tenth Earl. He represented Gloucestershire and Haddingtonshire in the House of Commons for many years. He was succeeded by his fifth but eldest surviving son, the eleventh Earl. He sat as Conservative Member of Parliament for Haddingtonshire and Ipswich and served as Lord-Lieutenant of Haddingtonshire from 1918 to 1937. As of 2007 the titles are held by his grandson, the twelfth Earl of Wemyss and eighth Earl of March, who succeeded in 1937. He is the eldest son of Captain Hugo Francis Charteris, Lord Elcho (1884-1916), who was killed in action in the First World War. Lord Wemyss and March has notably served as Lord-Lieutenant of East Lothian from 1967 to 1987 and as Lord Clerk Register from 1974 to 2007 and was made a Knight of the Thistle in 1966. He is also Chief of Clan Charteris.
The titles of Lord Douglas of Neidpath, Lyne and Munard, Viscount of Peebles and Earl of March were created in the Peerage of Scotland in 1697 for Lord William Douglas, with remainder to heirs male of his body, failing which to his other heirs male and of tailzie. He was the second son of William Douglas, 1st Duke of Queensberry. He married Anne Hamilton, 2nd Countess of Ruglen, daughter of William Douglas, 3rd Earl of Selkirk and 1st Earl of Ruglen. They were both succeeded by their son William, the third Earl of March and third Earl of Ruglen. In 1768 he was created Baron Douglas of Amesbury, in the County of Wiltshire, in the Peerage of Great Britain. In 1778 Lord March and Ruglen also succeeded his first cousin twice removed Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensberry, as fourth Duke of Queensberry. However, he died unmarried in 1810. On his death the barony of Douglas of Amesbury and earldom of Ruglen became extinct. The dukedom was inherited by his second cousin once removed Henry Scott, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch (see the Duke of Buccleuch for later history of this title) while the marquessate and earldom of Queensberry passed to his kinsman Sir Charles Douglas, 5th Baronet (see the Marquess of Queensberry for later history of these titles). He was succeeded in the earldom of March and its two subsidiary titles by his second cousin once removed Francis Wemyss-Charteris, later the eighth Earl of Wemyss. See above for further history of the titles.
Several other members of the Wemyss, later Charteris, family, have also gained distinction. William Wemyss (1760-1822), son of the Hon. James Wemyss (1726-1786), third son of the fifth Earl, was a Lieutenant-General in the Army. His elder son James Erskine Wemyss (1789-1854) was a Rear-Admiral in the Royal Navy and the grandfather of Admiral of the Fleet Rosslyn Erskine-Wemyss, 1st Baron Wester Wemyss. William Wemyss (1790-1852), younger son of the aforementioned William Wemyss, was a Lieutenant-General in the Army. William Binfield Wemyss (1810-1890), son of James Wemyss (1778-1849), younger son of the aforementioned the Hon. James Wemyss, was a General in the Army. The Hon. Frederick William Charteris (1833-1887), third son of the ninth Earl, was a Captain in the Royal Navy. The Hon. Sir Evan Edward Charteris (1864-1940), sixth son of the tenth Earl, was a historian, biographer and barrister and notably published biographies of John Singer Sargent and of Edmund Gosse. The Hon. Martin Michael Charles Charteris, second son of the aforementioned Captain Hugo Francis Charteris, Lord Elcho, eldest son of the eleventh Earl, was private secretary to Queen Elizabeth II and was created a life peer as Baron Charteris of Amisfield in 1978.
The current Earl of Wemyss resides at Gosford House near Longniddry, East Lothian. The large mansion was designed by Robert Adam (although there have been many alterations) and built 1790–1800. The family also owns Stanway House in Gloucestershire, Neidpath Castle near Peebles and Elcho Castle near Perth.
Earls of Wemyss (1633)
John Wemyss, 1st Earl of Wemyss (d. 1649)
David Wemyss, 2nd Earl of Wemyss (1610-1679)
Margaret Wemyss, 3rd Countess of Wemyss (1659-1705)
David Wemyss, 4th Earl of Wemyss (c. 1678-1720)
James Wemyss, 5th Earl of Wemyss (1699-1756)
David Wemyss, de jure 6th Earl of Wemyss (1721-1787) (attainted 1746)
Francis Wemyss Charteris, de jure 7th Earl of Wemyss (1723-1808)
Francis Wemyss Charteris Douglas, 8th Earl of Wemyss, 4th Earl of March (1772-1853) (restored 1826)
Francis Wemyss-Charteris, 9th Earl of Wemyss, 5th Earl of March (1796-1883)
Francis Richard Charteris, 10th Earl of Wemyss, 6th Earl of March (1818-1914)
Hugo Richard Charteris, 11th Earl of Wemyss, 7th Earl of March (1857-1937)
(Francis) David Charteris, 12th Earl of Wemyss, 8th Earl of March (1912-2008)
The Heir Apparent is the present holder's son James Donald Charteris, Lord Neidpath (b. 1948)
The Heir Apparent's Heir Apparent is his son the Hon. Francis Richard Charteris, (b. 1984)
The Thistle Knights
Anger at National Trust grouse shoots triggers withdrawal
Cameron's school pic is pulled
Frost's Scottish Who's Who - Earl (Francis David Charteris)
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