From the Book of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee 1513 to 1885.

James Elphinstone, Lord of Coupar - 21st April 1623



The Abbey of Coupar in Angus was founded by MALCOLM IV., on 12th July, 1164. It was dedicated to the Virgin, and the first Monks belonged to the Order of Cistercians, or White Friars, so called from the uncoloured robes which they wore. It remained as one of the principal ecclesiastical establishments in Scotland until the Reformation, but it was almost totally destroyed in 1559, by the same mob, it is asserted, of Burgesses from Dundee and Perth who had overthrown the Abbeys of St Andrews, Arbroath, Lindores, and Balmerino, and the Carthusian Monastery and Church at Perth. After this date the property belonging to the Abbey fell into the hands of lay Commendators, the first of these being LEONARD LESLEY, who died in 1605, at the advanced age of 85 years. On the 24th of March, 1603, LESLEY resigned the Commendatorship, and it was then conferred by JAMES VI. Upon Magister ANDREW LAMB, afterwards BISHOP OF BRECHIN, who was admitted Burgess of Dundee on 14th September, 1599 (vide page 82). Many of the documents relating to the Abbey are in the possession of the present EARL OF AIRLIE, whose ancestors were officially connected with it, and other papers referring to the temporality have come to E. A. STUART GRAY, Esq. Of Gray and Kinfauns, by inheritance.

Amongst the latter there is a deed by which ANDREW LAMB resigned all his claims to the benefice into the hands of the KING, that it might be secularised. By a special Act of Parliament, dated 9th July, 1606, the lands and baronies then belonging to the Abbey were converted into a temporal Lordship, and conferred upon JAMES ELPHINSTONE, second son of the first LORD BALMERINO. This Act declares that at that date all the members of the Convent were deceased, that Mr ANDREW LAMB had fully resigned the Commendatorship, and that the KING desired to testify his affection for his godson by bestowing the lands upon him. On 20th December, 1607, JAMES ELPHINSTONE obtained a charter of this temporal Lordship, with the title of Lord of Parliament, and the style of BARON COUPAR.
JAMES ELPHINSTONE was the only son of JAMES, first LORD BALMERINOCH, by his second wife, MARJORIE, daughter of HUGH MAXWELL of Tealing. He was born circa 1587, and the position which his father held as Secretary of State brought him early under the notice of KING JAMES, who stood sponsor for him at his christening. On the death of his half brother JOHN, second LORD BALMERINOCH, he was appointed an Extraordinary Lord of Session, but he did not greatly distinguish himself on the bench. A contemporary epigram contrasts his reputation with that of his brother in a very vigorous fashion :

"Fy upon death,
He's worse than a trouper,
That took from us Balmerinoch,
And left that howlit Cowper."

When the troops of CROMWELL overran Scotland, LORD COUPAR incurred the displeasure of the PROTECTOR through his sympathy with the Royalists, and he was fined £3,000 sterling, which sum was afterwards reduced to £750. At a later date he appeared as a Nonconformist, and was again fined £4,800 for opposing the establishment of Episcopacy. He was present as a witness against the MARQUESS OF ARGYLL at the trial of that nobleman in 1661. Eight years after this date he expired without issue, and his title and estates devolved upon his nephew, JOHN, third LORD BALMERINOCH, as was provided by the original letters patent.

LORD COUPAR was twice married first, to MARGARET, daughter of SIR JAMES HALIBURTON of Pitcur; and secondly, to LADY MARION OGILVY, eldest daughter of JAMES, second EARL OF AIRLIE. A curious Court of Session case arose regarding the latter marriage, which is thus related in RIDDELL'S Peerage and Consistorial Law

"When approaching eighty, and scarcely two years before his death, he 'had the misfortune' to marry a young lady of quality, who boldly resolved, under cloak of law and in spite of nature, which refused its aid to the 'poor old man,' to be the mother of a LORD COUPAR. With this view she inveigled her spouse into a conveyance of his honours and estates upon an Exchequer resignation (to the exclusion of LORD BALMERINOCH, his next heir, whom she artfully estranged from him) in favour of herself, 'and any whom she should please to marrie.' In this manner the notable Baroness, while the delectus persomae was in her, instead of the Crown, not only promoted the above objects, but facilitated the chance of forming an advantageous match. But it unfortunately happened that the Peer whose demise she evidently desired, gone in body as in mind, was labouring under a mortal malady; in other words, was on death bed at the critical moment, which, of course, voided the conveyance, that thus became a dead letter, and excluded any confirmation or intervention by the Crown. It must be indeed confessed that the state of this nobleman was piteous enough. At the time of granting the disposition he ' wes several nyghts waked, and the minister wes called to pray for him, whiche he wes never in use to doe before.' In order to counteract the law of deathbed, his tender helpmate resolved that he should go to kirk and market, which with us here operates as an exception; but it was objected that he went 'supported,' which again is fatal to the plea although her ladyship replied that this was not ex impatientia morlis, but owing to the accidental storminess of the day, which had even the force to break the kirk bell. After ecruciating the poor old nobleman' by the expedient, and at length reaching the church, 'he wes not able to goe up to his owne seat, but sat in CRIMON'S seat near the door with his furred cap, and the whole people who beheld him looking on him as a dead man. Lykeas in his returne he wes not only supported, but having swearved and foundered, he wes carried into his house in an armed chyer, when he had almost expyred had not brandie and cannel [cinnamon] wine revived his spirits, which wes poured in at his mouth, his teeth being halden open with an knyfe.' Owing to these circumstances the law of deathbed prevailed, and the conveyance of the honours and estate was set aside by the judgement of the Session, on the 28th of June, 1671, upon an action of reduction at the instance of LORD BALMERINOCH, the heir at law."

LADY COUPAR was afterwards married to JOHN LESME, third LORD LINDORES, and was mother of DAVID LESLIE, who succeeded as fourth LORD LINDORES.