William Grant, the Lord Advocate

The Grant Suttie Dynasty owned and occupied Prestongrange House in Prestonpans, East Lothian for almost two centuries, effectively ending in 1909 with the death of Lady Susan, as her son George, the 7th Baronet, chose to live elsewhere. The dynasty was founded in 1746 when Prestongrange was purchased following the bankruptcy of previous owner, William Morison, “at a judicial sale, by Mr William Grant – His Majesty’s Advocate.”

William was the second son of Francis Grant – Lord Cullen. The Dictionary of National Biography claims he was born in 1701 (but a question mark is included) with his mother shown as Sarah Fordyce, second wife of Lord Cullen. That record is incorrect; Cullen married three times. On 15 March 1694 he married Jean Meldrum, with whom he had three sons and three daughters. He did not marry Sarah Fordyce until 19 October 1708 and together became the parents of two daughters. Cullen married his third wife, Agnes Hay in Edinburgh on 27 July 1718.

Most records suggest some mystery surrounding the actual birthday for William Grant. Records at the Faculty of Advocates show a baptism on 4 May 1701 – but no actual birthday. Edinburgh Old Parish Records however show the birthday as 4 May 1701 and the parents as Sir Francis Grant and Jean Meldrum.

William Grant read law at Edinburgh and was called to the Bar on 24 February 1722. As was common in legal circles, he became involved with the Church of Scotland and, on 13 May 1731, was appointed Procurator (legal advisor) and Principal Clerk by the General Assembly. He consistently claimed to despise patronage and, in 1736, wrote a paper – Remarks on the State of the Church of Scotland with Respect to Patronages – but evidence exists that both he, and later his family, arranged that their chosen ministers were granted the “Living” at Prestonpans.

Grant’s progression through the legal ranks was steady rather than meteoric. Not until 1737 – some 15 years after becoming an advocate, was he appointed Solicitor General with permission forthcoming from the Church of Scotland to appoint a deputy should his new position conflict with that of the Church.

When Charles Erskine resigned as Lord Advocate in 1742, Grant hoped to succeed him, but was passed over in favour of Robert Craigie. It is perhaps a measure of the man that he wrote Craigie an apparently genuine letter of congratulation. He eventually became Lord Advocate on 26 February 1746 – an appointment which in some ways became something of a poisoned chalice. He had already been elected M.P. for Elgin, and now had to balance his Scottish legal responsibilities with those of a parliamentarian. He found favour at Westminster with Prime Minister Walpole, particularly with his efforts to achieve justice following the ill fated 1745 Jacobite rebellion. He resisted the absolute Crown annexation of all highland estates and helped to contain such penalties to proven highland rebels. He introduced a Bill on 24 February 1752, annexing actual forfeited estates to the Crown “for all time.”

Grant was fortunate in not having to personally prosecute many of the Jacobite rebels who were instead taken south to Penrith, York or London to face summary trials and inevitable execution. He may even have had some undeclared sympathy with the rebels. When impeachment of the old Jacobite Lord Lovat was being considered, Grant advised London that “there were scarcely twenty-four Freeholders in the County of Inverness well affected to His Majesty – exclusive of peers, Lord President (of the Court of Session) Forbes, and five proprietors who have Commons seats. There is too much ground to doubt whether a Bill of Indictment would be found against Lord Lovat by a Grand Jury to be summoned in the County of Inverness”.

That protectionist measure was in vain. Lord Lovat – who incidentally had never actually borne arms for Prince Charles – was taken to London and there suffered the obligatory show trial and execution.

The Church of Scotland decided to replace Grant as Procurator following his appointment as Lord Advocate. A position on the Bench became available in 1748, but again he was passed over and continued as Lord Advocate.

What was certainly a blemish on his Lord Advocacy was personal involvement in the charade that became known as the Appin Murder. Administrators were appointed to control post 1745 annexed highland estates. While these properties had been controlled by clan chiefs, matters such as rent collection had often been ignored but much tighter control was now exercised by the new administrators.

Colin Campbell of Glenure managed the forfeited estates of Lochiel and Ardshiel where, on 15 May 1752, he intended to evict a number of tenants for rent non compliance. On May 14, accompanied by an Edinburgh lawyer, a Sheriff Officer and another servant, Campbell was shot dead while riding at the entrance to Glencoe. Allan Breck Stewart – later to figure in R.L. Stevenson’s Kidnapped – and his kinsman James Stewart, were soon suspected of the murder, Allan of actually committing the crime and James as his accomplice.

Allan escaped to France and only James was arrested. His subsequent trial was a farce and, by becoming involved when he could have delegated prosecution to a depute, William Grant did himself no credit. The Circuit High Court of Justiciary was constituted in Inverary – home of the Campbells. Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll, was Lord Justice General and assumed personal charge of the trial In keeping with procedure, Argyll personally selected the jury; eleven of the chosen fifteen members were Campbells. Never before had a Lord Advocate gone “on circuit” and there is no known reason why Grant decided to personally conduct the prosecution of James Stewart – unless, like other Scottish Members of Parliament, his actions were controlled by Argyll. The Lord Advocate took with him four “Juniors,” two of whom were also Campbells!

Surviving records leave little doubt that the proceedings were extremely biased throughout , with the Defence being denied a fair hearing. James Stewart was inevitably found guilty and hanged. Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland states “James Stewart was Ardsheil’s half brother and there is little doubt of his being guilty as charged.” That is a sweeping assumption based on what was an undoubted parody of justice!

Trial records were to be destroyed (though one copy of Precognitions survive in the National Library of Scotland) but, from evidence available, it is extremely unlikely that James Stewart would have been convicted today.

Apart from that Inverary debacle, Lord Advocate Grant was consistently moderate and usually fair in his Scottish prosecutions, an attribute which was later recognised in his appointment to the Bench on 14 November 1754, as Lord Prestongrange. As a new Lord of Session, he had to resign his membership of Parliament. He remained a Judge until his death – while in Somerset – on 23 May 1764. His burial took place in Prestonpans churchyard.

Lord Prestongrange enjoyed a good domestic life. In 1729 he married Grizel Millar – the daughter of a Renfewshire church minister – and they had four daughters. The eldest, Janet, on 8 January 1749, married John Carmichael, 4th Earl of Hyndford. She inherited her father’s Prestongrange estate and, when nearby Winton Estates were broken up, added the Tranent farms of Myles and Birslie to Prestongrange holdings. Janet, who was childless and survived her husband by many years, died at Prestongrange in 1818.

Agnes (Nannie) Grant , William’s second daughter, married Sir George Suttie , 3rd Baronet of Balgone at North Berwick on 7 June 1757. Their son, Sir James, inherited Prestongrange on the death of his aunt Janet and then adopted the name Grant – Suttie. The other two daughters were not involved in the line of descent. Jean – or Jane – married Robert Dundas of Arniston, who had succeeded his now father in law as Lord Advocate, and the youngest daughter Christian never married.

What happened to Grizel Grant following the death of her husband is unclear. She is known to have survived William for 28 years but there is no record to show whether she spent her latter years with her daughter Janet at Prestongrange House.

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