William Carstairs (1649-1716)

William Carstairs (1649-1716)

Church of Scotland minister and political adviser

William Carstairs (or Carstares) was the son of the Covenanting minister of Cathcart in Lanarkshire. He was educated at Edinburgh and at Utrecht, having left Scotland after his father was outlawed. He moved to London in 1672, probably as an agent of William of Orange, and was held in Edinburgh Castle 1674-9. During 1682-3 he helped to organise a rising by the Whigs and the earl of Argyll. He was captured in 1683 and under torture made a partial confession on the promise that it would not be used as evidence; but it was used in the trial of George Baillie of Jeviswood, who was executed. On his release from prison he went to the continent in 1685 and became minister of a Scottish congregation at Leiden. He accompanied William of Orange as chaplain to England in 1688, and on campaigns in Ireland and Flanders, 1689-1702. He took part in drafting the legislation for establishing presbyterianism in Scotland as part of the Revolution Settlement of 1690, and in 1694 dissuaded King William from sending instructions to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which might have started a presbyterian rebellion. From 1695 he began meddling in Scottish politics, earning himself the nickname of 'Cardinal Carstares', though his power waned abruptly on William's death in 1702. He was Principal of the University of Edinburgh, 1703-15, and a minister of Greyfriars Church, 1704-7, and of St Giles, 1707-15. He was also four times Moderator of the General Assembly. He died in December 1715, a strong supporter of the Union to the last.

Testament of William Carstairs

National Records of Scotland, CC8/8/86 pp 414-419

In his will he expresses his deep affection for his wife, Elizabeth Rikewick: 'her faithfull and Tender affection to me in all Changes of my Condition Doth deserve more from me than I have to give' and commends her to the care of his brother, sister-in-law and their children: 'And I Doubt not but my relations will Show her all kindness and Give her all the assistance they can as her Circumstances Shall require It'. In the inventory his debtors include David, earl of Leven, governor of Edinburgh Castle, who had fought at the battle of Killiecrankie and Sir James Stuart of Goodtrees, second baronet, Solicitor General, son of his old friend the strongly Presbyterian Sir James Stuart of Goodtrees, Lord Advocate (1692-1709 and 1711-13).

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