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The Architectural, Landscape and Constitutional Plans

of the Earl of Mar, 1700-32


Margaret Stewart


Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2016

Hardback. xxx+418 p. ISBN 978-1846825750. Ä49.50


Reviewed by Clarisse Godard Desmarest

Universitť de Picardie Jules Verne (Amiens)



This book is the result of Margaret Stewartís lifelong interest in John Erskine, sixth Earl of Mar (1675-1732), one of Scotlandís foremost citizens of the early eighteenth century. It brings to the readerís attention a vast body of material uncovered in the last decades and only partially presented by the author in past conferences and articles. This large and finely illustrated monograph is the outcome of extended research conducted in several places in England and Scotland as well as in Paris, Rome, Bologna, Aachen and Antwerp.

Although Stewartís approach is mainly that of the architectural historian, the book extends far beyond the discipline of architectural history and encompasses many aspects of Scottish and Jacobite political and economic history. It also dwells upon the constitutional plans devised by the Earl of Mar for Scotland and compiled in a manuscript entitled ďLegacy to my deare son Thomas, Lord Erskine, Chillon, March 1726Ē. The main interest of the book, however, lies in the detailed discussion of Marís architectural plans, landscape designs and city plans (currently in the care of the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh), which form the largest surviving Scottish collection of drawings by a single artist. The political sections of the book rely on published histories. For the sake of coherence, the author deliberately chose to exclude from the scope of her analysis a discussion of Marís involvement in the preparation for the 1715 Jacobite uprising and a lengthy history of that campaign. As the only historian who recently has dealt with the landscape and economic plans of Mar in detail, Stewart contradicts Howard Colvinís interpretation that Mar was a dilettante who lacked understanding and practical experience in architecture. For Stewart, on the contrary, Mar was an incredibly gifted and original thinker whose involvement touched almost every aspect of Scotland and whose legacy remains with us today. The book is a clear attempt to restore Marís reputation and highlight his commitment to Scotland as well as his creativity and courage.

Because Mar was a controversial figure, Stewart was confronted with many biased accounts of his life with Tory or Whig slants. She therefore warns against ďlazy historyĒ and insists on the value of primary sources to combat false assumptions or ready-made judgments. Stewart explains for instance that the nickname ďBobbing JohnĒ, used disparagingly by the Whig mob in London to characterise Marís sympathy for a Jacobite rising, probably after the Hanoverian succession, had no political connotation in Scotland but was rather a reference to the bobbing of Marís head when he walked as a result of a spinal deformity.

The book is divided into four parts: castle, nation, city and palace. Each section can be read separately, and together they explain Marís manifold activities, ranging from politics to landscape design. Mar was born in 1675 at Alloa, the eldest son of Charles, the fifth Earl, who died in 1689 following imprisonment for opposing the accession of William and Mary of Orange. Raised by his mother, the Episcopalian Countess of Mar, Mar joined the family regiment and possibly travelled overseas with it. In 1696 he attained his majority and soon after took his seat in the Scottish Parliament. An able estate manager, he developed his estate at Alloa from 1701 to 1715 as the most successful and ambitious scheme of landscape design and industrialisation in early modern Scotland. He adhered to the party of the second Duke of Queensberry (1662-1711) and was a leading figure behind the Treaty of Union in 1707. He also at that time became acquainted with Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, the vociferous Scottish patriot.

Realising that the Union did not deliver the benefits he had expected for Scotland, Mar decided to campaign for its dissolution in 1711 and soon obtained an agreement with James VIII/III to support dissolution in exchange for Marís support of a military campaign to restore James to the throne. The 1715 uprising was a notorious failure, and Mar escaped in exile with his king in early 1716. He was declared a rebel and his estates and titles in Britain were forfeited. The rest of his life (he died in Aix-la-Chapelle in 1732) was spent in exile on the Continent, where he continued to express concern for his estate and for the future of his country. For Stewart, Marís attitude toward the Union was consistent because Scotlandís interests had to prevail over British ones. Stewart recalls Marís proposal for a federation of Scotland, Ireland, France and England, which Mar submitted to Philippe, duc díOrlťans, the regent of France. This project embittered Marís enemies, who feared the loss of power for England, and Mar was dismissed by James VIII/III in 1724. As for his character, Stewart insists on Marís obliging disposition and contends that his aristocratic hauteur was appropriate to his high social status.

Probably no other historian can match Stewartís extensive and intimate knowledge of Marís drawings. Although little is known of Marís early education in architecture, Stewart maintains that a circle of gentlemen architects, amateurs and landscapists in Scotland, including Alexander Edward (1651-1708), shaped Marís architectural and artistic taste. The book offers a detailed analysis of the elaborate designs by Mar at Alloa and of his ambitious proposals for Edinburgh, London and Paris. Stewart offers valuable comments about the style of draughtsmanship in some of Marís Continental plans, which he drew from the various places of his exile (Avignon, Lucca, Pistoia, Geneva, Bourbon, Paris and Antwerp). With Stewart, one may regret that so few of Marís plans were actually built and may question Marís true intentions. Given the importance of commemoration and image in the designs, Stewart thinks it likely that Mar was exploring a Jacobite architectural style in anticipation of the kingís restoration, or that simply the act of designing was an end in itself.

This book takes us far beyond Stewartís previous analyses on the Scottish historical landscape. The beautiful illustrations, which include portraits and other treasures in the family collection of the present fourteenth Earl of Mar and sixteenth Earl of Kellie, pay great tribute to a man of taste, familiar with the most novel architecture in Europe. The book also invites the reader to pay a visit to Alloa Tower, Marís birthplace, which after a restoration (from 1985 to 1991) is now open to the public as a National Trust for Scotland property. Lastly, it is particularly fitting that this book should be published by a Dublin publisher given Marís affection for the Irish people, which Stewart eloquently explains [269-272].


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