John Erskine, Earl of Mar (died 1572)

Portrait of John Erskine of Mar by John Scougal, circa 1660

John Erskine, Earl of Mar (died 28 October 1572), regent of Scotland, was a son of John, 5th Lord Erskine, who was guardian of King James V and afterwards of Mary, Queen of Scots. He is regarded as both the 18th earl (in the 1st creation) and the 1st earl (in the 7th).


John was Commendator of Dryburgh Abbey from 1547, and succeeded his father as 6th Lord Erskine in 1552. He joined the religious reformers, but was never very ardent in the cause. He did subscribe to the letter asking the Calvinist reformer John Knox to return to Scotland in 1557. The custody of Edinburgh Castle was in his hands during the struggle between the regent, Mary of Guise, and the Lords of the Congregation, during which he appears to have acted consistently in the interests of peace.

When Mary, Queen of Scots, returned to Scotland in 1561 Lord Erskine was a member of her council and was in favor of her marriage with Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. His wife was Annabella Murray, daughter of William Murray of Tullibardine and sister of William Murray of Tullibardine, Comptroller of Scotland in 1563. She was a frequent companion of Queen Mary; John Knox called Annabella a "verray Jesabell". In 1565 Erskine was granted the earldom of Mar when the queen restored the charter to him and his heirs "all and hail the said earldom of Mar." As guardian of James, afterwards King James VI, at Stirling Castle he prevented the young prince from falling into the hands of Lord Bothwell, and when the Scottish nobles rose against Mary and Bothwell, Mar was one of their leaders; he took part in the government of Scotland during Mary's imprisonment at Lochleven Castle in 1567–68 and also after her subsequent abdication.

Regent of Scotland

In September 1571 he was chosen Regent of Scotland, but he was overshadowed and perhaps slighted by James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton. He died at Stirling on 29 October 1572 after a short illness, widely agreed to have been natural causes. However, some sources indicate that he may have been poisoned at the behest of the Earl of Morton. Mar's illness, wrote James Melville, followed a banquet at Dalkeith Palace given by Morton.

John began building the house at Stirling called 'Mar's Wark', now a ruin under the care of Historic Scotland. The other seat of the family was Alloa Tower. James VI continued to regard Annabella Murray with affection and wrote to her as "Minnie". She was the governess of his son Prince Henry at Stirling.

  • Stewart, Alan (2003). The cradle king : the life of James VI & I, the first monarch of a United Great Britain. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-27488-7. OCLC 52886749.

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