Sir John Clerk, 2nd Baronet

Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, 2nd Baronet, 1676 – 1755, was a Scottish politician, lawyer, judge, composer and architect.

Early life

John Clerk was son of Sir John Clerk, 1st Baronet by his first wife Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Henderson of Elvington, and succeeded his father in his title and estates in 1722.


He was a member of the Parliament of Scotland for Whithorn from 1702 to 1707, anda Commissioner for the Union of Parliaments for the Whig Party: he sat in the first Parliament of Great Britain in 1707. He was appointed a Baron of the Exchequer for Scotland on the constitution of the Exchequer Court, May 13, 1708, a position he held for nearly half a century. With Baron Scrope, in 1726, he drew up an "Historical View of the Forms and Powers of the Court of Exchequer in Scotland", which was printed at the expense of the Barons of Exchequer for private circulation.

A leading supporter of the Act of Union 1707 with the Kingdom of England, Clerk wrote in his memoirs of English novelist, journalist and secret agent Daniel Defoe:

:"He was a spy among us, but not known as such, otherwise the Mob of Edinburgh would pull him to pieces."

Academic leanings

Of his other treatises, Clerk wrote papers in the "Philosophical Transactions": one an "Account of the Stylus of the Ancients and their different sorts of Paper", printed in 1731, and the others "On the effects of Thunder on Trees" and "Of a large Deer's Horns found in the heart of an Oak", printed in 1739. He was the author of a tract entitled "Dissertatio de quibusdam Minumentis Romanis &c", written in 1730 but not published until 1750. For upwards of twenty years he also carried on a learned correspondence with Roger Gale, the English antiquary, which forms a portion of the "Reliquiae Britannica" of 1782.

Patron of the Arts

Sir John Clerk was one of the friends and patrons of Allan Ramsay who, during his latter years, spent much of his time at Penicuik House. Upon his death Sir John erected at his family seat an obelisk to Ramsay's memory. He was a patron to various other artists and architects, and even dabbled in architecture himself.

Musical talent

Clerk had a musical bent also, and was tutored by the baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli, but his own work has often been overlooked, primarily since the only record of his composition seems to be his own papers. One of his humorous Scotch songs was "O merry may the maid be that marries the miller".


Sir John unsuccessfully courted Susanna, daughter of Sir Archibald Kennedy of Culzean, Baronet (ancestor of the Marquess of Ailsa) and that correspondence is in the National Archives. She became the third wife of Alexander, 9th Earl of Eglinton.

He married, firstly, on February 23, 1701, Lady Margaret, eldest daughter of Alexander Stewart, 3rd Earl of Galloway who died in childbirth on December 26th of that year. Her son, John, survived, but died unmarried in 1722. Sir John remarried Janet, daughter of Sir John Inglis of Cramond, by whom he had seven sons and six daughters.

He died at Penicuik House on October 4, 1755.


* Anderson, William, "The Scottish Nation", Edinburgh, 1867, vol.iii, p.653-4.

External links

* Digitised scores of his musical works can be viewed through the [ Five Centuries of Scottish Music] collection hosted by [ AHDS Performing Arts]

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