It’s Sitting Peer Sunday and this week we have James Thorne Erskine, 14th Earl of Mar and 16th Earl of Kellie, who sits as a Liberal Democrat.
Lord Mar was born on March 10, 1949, and educated at Eton, serving as Page of Honour to the Queen in 1962 and 1963. He proceeded to Moray House College of Education, Edinburgh, before embarking on a career in social work with various Scottish local authorities. He has also worked as a boatbuilder and has served with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and Royal Naval Auxiliary Service.
Following the death of the 13th Earl in 1993, Lord Mar took his place on the red benches in 1994, where he was an active member until the House of Lords Act 1999 deprived him and all other hereditary peers of their right to sit in the House.
He was an unsuccessful candidate for Ochil in the 1999 Scottish Parliament elections but re-entered the House of Lords in 2000 after being made a life peer with the title Baron Erskine of Alloa Tower, of Alloa in the County of Clackmannanshire.
As the 16th Viscount Fentoun, he is Premier Viscount of Scotland. He is also Chief of the Name and Arms of Erskine. Since 1991, he has been a Deputy Lieutenant of Clackmannanshire.
Lord Mar is one of two peers bearing the title Earl of Mar, both of which sit in the House of Lords, the other being Margaret Mar, 31st Countess of Mar.
The anomaly arose out of a nineteenth century dispute regarding the earldom’s seven creations following its restoration via an Act of Parliament in 1824.
The title had been forfeit for more than a century after John Erskine, 22nd Earl of Mar, raised the standard of rebellion against George I. Nicknamed ‘Bobbing John’ for his tendency to shift back and forth from faction to faction, whether from Tory to Whig or Hanoverian to Jacobite, he rebelled against the new Hanoverian king in 1714 after being deprived of office.
At the battle of Sheriffmuir in November 1715, Mar’s forces outnumbered those of his opponent, but victory eluded him. At Fetteresso his cause was lost, and he fled to France, where he would spend the remainder of his life. Parliament passed a Writ of Attainder for treason against Mar in 1716, as punishment for his disloyalty. He died in 1732.
The earldom was restored to Mar’s heir, John Erskine, who became the 23rd Earl of Mar in 1824 and died the following year. His grandson, the 25th Earl, successfully claimed inheritance the earldom of Kellie and associated titles in 1835 after the death of his nephew Charles Erskine, 8th Earl Kellie.
At this death in 1866, the Earldom of Kellie and the family’s estates passed to Walter Erskine, cousin of the late Earl, and his heir male. Meanwhile, it was assumed that the Earldom of Mar passed to John Francis Goodeve, the late Earl’s nephew, and his heir general.
Goodeve changed his name to Goodeve Erskine and his claim was agreed upon by all. However, the Earl of Kellie submitted a petition to the House of Lords asking that the Earldom of Mar be declared his, though he died before it could be considered. His son, the 13th Earl of Kellie, renewed the petition, and the Lords referred it to their Committee on Privileges.
The House of Lords Committee on Privileges ruled in 1875, to the dissatisfaction of many, that the Earldom of Mar was newly created in 1565, passed only to heirs-male, and therefore belonged to the Earl of Kellie, and not to Goodeve Erskine. The Lord Chancellor, Roundell Palmer, 1st Baron Selborne, declared it to be “final, right or wrong, and not to be questioned”.
However, there was a sentiment that the Lords had decided wrongly. A bill was brought to Parliament, to allow Goodeve Erskine to assume the title, and was passed without dissent. The Earldom of Mar Restitution Act 1885 declared that because of the doubts relating to the 1565 creation, it would be assumed that there are two Earldoms of Mar.
The Earldom created in 1565 would be held by the Earl of Kellie. The ancient Earldom, however, was declared to be still in existence, and was given to John Goodeve Erskine. For the purposes of precedence, it is assumed that the Earldom held by Goodeve Erskine’s heirs was created in 1404.