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April 20th 1673

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Life reflected in art

Sir Thomas Steuart of Grandtully (1608-1688) was a Royalist but a cautious one. Though he gave lip service, but little else, to the Covenantors in their quarrel with Charles 1st he was just as reluctant to give any active support to Montrose and his Royalist forces. When Cromwell occupied the country he accepted the reality of the situation and even consented to serve as a J.P..

After the restoration of Charles 2nd it was perhaps not altogether surprising that Sir Thomasí name was among those who were alleged to have resisted the Royal authority during the civil war, or been active in supporting the government of Cromwell. Sir Thomas was fined £18,000 but due to the efforts of his son-in-law Sir James Mercer, one of Charlesí gentlemen ushers, the fine was eventually remitted.

Sir James Mercer of Aldie and Meikleour was married to Sir Thomasí daughter Jean and being without male heirs and anxious to retain the family name, he executed a deed of tailzie whereby he settled his estates upon his eldest daughter who was bound to marry a gentleman of the name of Mercer or one who would be prepared to assume the surname. Such a gentleman would also be bound to pay the debts and portions of the estate.

After the death of Sir James Mercer the search began for a suitable husband for the eldest daughter, Grissel, and there being no one in Scotland of sufficient wealth to pay the debts of the estate, the search switched to Ireland where lived a distant relative, Lieutenant-Colonel William Mercer. It was proposed that his son might marry Grissel and to this end the Colonel came to Grandtully where he had meetings with both Sir Thomas Steuart and his daughter, Lady Jean Mercer. The Colonel who had already published a poetical work entitled ĎAngliae Speculum or Englandís Looking Glassí had a propensity for breaking out into verse whenever he felt the occasion appropriate.

While staying at Grandtully he commented upon his own matrimonial life.

For in my tyme I married four fyne wives
For by such matches many bad men thrives
Two maids between two widows, first and last;
The first three failed and now the fourth holds fast
A Murray, Mervyn, Conway and a Duff
My Lady smiles and says these wer enuffe.

ĎMy Ladyí who was Lady Jean Mercer and her father Sir Thomas Steuart seem to have been sufficiently impressed by Colonel Mercer for him to return to Dublin and raise a sum of £2,000 to pay off the debts of the Mercer family and return with his son to Scotland. It is interesting to find that Grissel does not seem to have been consulted in the marriage making, though perhaps she did indeed make her feelings clear to her mother. Whatever the circumstances when Colonel Mercer and his son arrived in Perthshire, Lady Jean refused to see either the Colonel or his son. The Colonel was distraught and raised an action for damages for breach of verbal treaty of marriage. To influence the Court of Session he once more resorted to poetry.

My son grows melancholie
And when you find he doth deserve the woman
Then make the lady to the lad furth comen
And if all parties be not well content
Then let the ladies call a parliament
And put to votes, Iíle pand my life upon
A hundred voices for the ladyís one;
Nor shall they think to bring me to that pass
To come to Scotland and turn back an ass.

He even considered petitioning the King directly but decided against it.

I have made joyful journeys to Whitehall
But am afraid this will be worst of all
Because the Echo answering at the tower
May blow a bullet and break down Micklour
And doing so make massacrs and slaughters
Then must I save My Lady and her daughters.

But it was all to no avail and the Colonel eventually admits defeat.

For Grisselís of a graver compositione
She grieves to be provoked by oppositione
Nor is it in her fatherís will exprest
He says, she marrying Mercer that is best
A Mercer man and meens, as now appears,
There have been Mercers nere nyne hundred years
All that I shall ask is, ad unto the score
My sons and Grissel yet one hundred more
But I am sure, though Grissel grows so good
That for her worth a prince may be allowd
Yet in this caise no man of worth or honour
(Since my young son has set his worth upon her)
Will ever aim it or intend to woo
But do to him as he would do to you.

All in all Colonel Mercer appears to have been a little hard done by though the quality of his poetry was hardly a recommendation. Grissel herself, though propositioned by many other gentlemen in after years, lived her life and died unmarried.



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