Sir David Nairne

The Life of a Scottish Jacobite at the Court of the Exiled Stuarts

by Edward Corp (Author)
Others XIV, 520 Pages


For nearly forty years David Nairne was actively involved in the administration of Jacobite politics. A member of the exiled courts of the Stuart Kings James II and James III, he worked for and with a succession of Jacobite secretaries of state, conducting the Jacobite correspondence, deciding on Jacobite policies and negotiating with the courts of Versailles, Lunéville and Rome. Moreover, he enjoyed particularly close relations for most of the period with both of the exiled kings. Despite this, his name is not well known to most historians of the period, so this completely new and original biography will restore him to the prominent and influential position which he occupied at the time. Nairne was both an observer and a participant in the struggle of the exiled Stuart monarchs to regain their kingdoms between 1689 and the end of the 1720s. The chance survival of many of his papers has made it possible to reconstruct a full account of his life from his birth in Scotland in 1655 until his death in Paris in 1740.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • A Note on Translations
  • Introduction: Nairne’s Unique Position at the Court and in Jacobite Historiography
  • Endnotes
  • Chapter 1: The Making of a Jacobite: From Scotland to France and Ireland, 1655–1689
  • Endnotes
  • Chapter 2: Chief Clerk at Rome and Saint-Germain, 1689–1701
  • Endnotes
  • Chapter 3: An Ex-Patriate at the Exiled Court, 1691–1708
  • Endnotes
  • Appendix to Chapter 3 Nairne’s Commitment as a Member of the Confraternity of the ‘Bona Morte’ or Happy Death
  • Endnotes to the Appendix
  • Chapter 4: Clerk of the King’s Council and Under-Secretary at Saint-Germain, 1701–1713
  • Endnotes
  • Chapter 5: Secretary of the King’s Closet in Lorraine, Avignon and the Papal States, 1713–1717
  • Endnotes
  • Chapter 6: Personal Disappointments and Family Problems, 1717–1719
  • Endnotes
  • Chapter 7: Jacobite Minister at Rome, 1718–1719
  • Endnotes
  • Chapter 8: Under-Secretary at Rome and Bologna, 1719–1729
  • Endnotes
  • Chapter 9: Retirement at Rome and Paris, 1729–1740
  • Endnotes
  • Chapter 10: A Jacobite Legacy
  • Endnotes
  • Appendix: The Nairne Papers
  • Endnotes
  • List of Manuscript Sources
  • Index
  • Series Index

| xi →


Chapter 2

Figure 1 John Drummond, Earl of Melfort, c.1692 (miniature), by an unknown artist (Belton House)

Figure 2 King James II, 1691 (miniature), by Nicolas de Largillière (private collection)

Chapter 3

Figure 3 Marie-Elisabeth Nairne, née de Compigny, 1700 (97 × 62.5 cm), by François de Troy (private collection)

Chapter 4

Figure 4 Charles, 2nd Earl of Middleton, c.1683 (73.6 × 60.9 cm), attributed to Sir Godfrey Kneller (private collection)

Chapter 5

Figure 5 King James III, 1714 (74 × 59.5 cm), by Alexis-Simon Belle (private collection)

Figure 6 David Nairne, 1714 (76.2 × 63.5 cm), by Alexis-Simon Belle (private collection) ← xi | xii →

Figure 7 The Meeting of James III and Don Carlo Albani on the Banks of the River Panaro outside Bologna, 13 March 1717, 1717 (149 × 225 cm), by Giuseppe Maria Crespi (Narodni Gallery, Prague)

Figure 8 James III being received by Cardinal Gozzadini at the Archbishop’s Palace at Imola, 16 March 1717, 1717 (dimensions unknown), by Antonio Gionima (Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome)

Chapter 6

Figure 9 King James III, 1717/18 (44 × 33 cm), by Antonio David (photo courtesy of the Weiss Gallery)

Figure 10 John Erskine, 6th Earl and 1st Duke of Mar, 1718 (70.5 × 57 cm), by Francesco Trevisani (Alloa Tower)

Figure 11 Cardinal Filippo Antonio Gualterio, c.1720 (90 × 70 cm), by Antonio David (private collection)

Chapter 7

Figure 12. James Murray, Earl of Dunbar, 1719 (101.6 × 76.2 cm), by Francesco Trevisani (Scone Palace)

Chapter 8

Figure 13 Queen Clementina and Prince Charles, 1721 (167.6 × 116.8 cm), by Girolamo Pesci (Stanford Hall)

Figure 14 John Hay, Earl of Inverness, 1724 (96.5 × 76.2 cm), by Francesco Trevisani (collection of the Earl of Kinnoul)

Figure 15 Queen Clementina, 1727 (43 × 32 cm), by Antonio David (photo courtesy of Sotheby’s) ← xii | xiii →

| xv →

A Note on Translations

Although David Nairne was Scottish, he lived most of his life in France. For this reason his surviving papers (his diary and his letters) are written in French as well as English. For example, the diary of his visit to Italy in 1689–91 is entirely written in French. So too are both his copious correspondence with Cardinal Gualterio from 1713 to 1719, and the surviving letters written by his daughters. For the convenience of the reader, all quotations in the main text from these and other French sources have been translated into English. This is regrettable, because the flavour of Nairne’s French cannot therefore be compared with that of his English. However all quotations in the endnotes have been left in the original language, for any readers who wish to study the subject beyond the basic text.

The many translations, which run throughout the entire book, have been made by my wife Elizabeth. In doing them, she has preferred the clarity of modern English rather than a recreation of the late seventeenth- or early eighteenth-century style which Nairne uses in his English letters. To this extent, the contrast between what Nairne wrote in French and what he wrote in English may have been maintained.

| 1 →


Nairne’s Unique Position at the Court and in Jacobite Historiography

For nearly forty years, David Nairne was actively involved in the administration of Jacobite politics. A member of the exiled courts of the Stuart kings James II and James III, he worked for and with a succession of Jacobite secretaries of state: the Earl of Melfort; John, Lord Caryll; the Earl of Middleton; the Duke of Mar; the Earl of Dunbar; and the Earl of Inverness. Although his social status was unquestionably lower than that of these titled aristocrats, he was nevertheless just as involved in conducting Jacobite correspondence, deciding on Jacobite policies, and negotiating with the courts of Versailles, Lunéville and Rome. Morevover he enjoyed particularly close relations for most of the period with both of the exiled kings. Despite this, his name is not well known to most historians of the period, and one purpose of the present biography is to restore him to the relatively prominent and influential position which he occupied at the time.

It is unusual to be able to produce a comprehensive biography of a subordinate official. After all, most political biographies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries concentrate on the activities of monarchs, statesmen, diplomatists, aristocrats and other influential figures at the top level of society. They were not only the people who were responsible for the policies which they themselves formulated, they were also the people who preserved the archives on which most biographical studies are based. Yet political administration and diplomacy have always involved lesser individuals – often described as clerks or secretaries – who carried out subordinate duties like drafting, copying, translating and filing, and who might also, as was the case with David Nairne, have been asked to give advice and help formulate policy. All too often, we know little or nothing about these people beyond their names, their official positions, and perhaps their salaries, for the simple reason that the information concerning their private and even ← 1 | 2 → their public lives has regrettably not survived. David Nairne was both an observer and a participant in the struggle of the exiled Stuart monarchs to regain their kingdoms between 1689 and the end of the 1720s. It is therefore particularly fortunate that the chance survival of many of his papers has made it possible to reconstruct a full account of his life from his birth in Scotland in 1655 until his death in Paris in 1740.

Nairne wrote well in excess of 100,000 letters during his life. Even though only a small proportion of these has survived, it is nevertheless sufficient to give us the main outlines of most of his life. In addition to these letters, we have Nairne’s own autobiography, covering the years from his birth until 1689, and the private diary that he then kept from 1689 until 1708. We also have a large collection of papers which he assembled and which cover most of his official career. The survival of these various documents has made it possible to write the present biography, which provides an account of Nairne’s private as well as his official life. And it should be stressed that this is the only biography which could be written about any of the hundreds of Jacobites who lived and worked at the exiled courts. We know virtually nothing about the private lives in exile of even the secretaries of state or the most senior household officials. If it were not for Nairne, we would know very little about the life of the court itself.

It is very convenient that David Nairne should be the one exception, because he occupied a unique position at that court. He was not, as the others were, a reluctant political exile, but rather a voluntary ex-patriate. All the other Jacobites at the court in France, then Italy, had chosen to follow their king into exile, and were hoping to be able to return to their homes when he was restored. Nairne was already living in France by choice when the king first arrived, and had no desire to return to Scotland. He had a French wife, a stake in a French country estate, and children who were brought up to be more French than Scottish, all of which adds an extra dimension to his biography. In addition to giving an idea of what life at the exiled court was really like for the many Jacobites who lived there, Nairne’s biography provides us with a fascinating account of the social conditions experienced by a Scottish ex-patriate gentleman, dividing his time between his home in Saint-Germain and his country estate ← 2 | 3 → near the river Yonne, and with no obvious personal stake in helping to achieve a Stuart restoration.

There is another respect in which Nairne occupied a unique position at the exiled court. He was the only servant of his seniority at Saint-Germain who was still with the court when it moved to Rome, and thus the only person other than the king through whose eyes we can learn about the gradual evolution of the court, and discover the contrast between what the court had been like in France and what it became in Italy. Moreover when the court did move to Rome, Nairne was the only courtier who had previously lived there.

These are not the only reasons why Nairne is such an ideal subject for a biography. As a young man in Paris he became particularly keen on playing and listening to music, and was acquainted if not friendly with some of the leading French composers living in the city. His diary and his letters give us precious information about the musical life of the exiled court. A little later, under the tutelage of Lord Melfort, himself a great connoisseur of painting, Nairne was introduced to many of the painters and dealers in Rome and became in his turn very experienced in commissioning portraits, particularly of the Stuart royal family. Our knowledge of the cultural life of the court, both musical and artistic, would be very considerably diminished if we did not have the testimony of David Nairne.

It is, however, his involvement in politics which is the most important theme in this biography. Nairne accompanied James II to Ireland in 1689, and to both La Hougue in 1692 and Calais in 1696 when the king was hoping to invade England with a Franco-Irish army. By the end of James II’s life, Nairne had perhaps become the king’s most trusted servant (his confessor excluded): he was entrusted with all the king’s personal papers, and used them to write James II’s first biography. Nairne was then closely involved in the negotiations with the French court leading up to the Franco-Jacobite attempt to invade Scotland in 1708. On that occasion, he sailed to Scotland in the same ship as James III. From 1711 to 1714, Nairne played a crucial role in the negotiations between James III and the Tory ministers in London aimed at repealing the Act of Settlement and preventing the Hanoverian Succession. Indeed, from 1714 to 1715, Nairne was the exiled king’s principal adviser. He was with the king in Scotland during the ← 3 | 4 → ‘Fifteen’ rising, and again sailed back with him to France in the same ship. A little later he was accredited as James III’s minister at the papal court when the king was in Spain planning yet another unsuccessful attempt to invade Great Britain. He made the arrangements at the court for the birth in Rome of Prince Charles Stuart (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’) and, as an old man, remained a shrewd observer of the unfortunate developments at the court during the 1720s.

It is only by examining the testimony of Nairne that we can fully appreciate this gradual change in the nature of the exiled court, which had a significant impact on the prospects of the Jacobite movement as a whole. James II has a bad reputation among most British historians, but it is clear that he was dearly loved and respected by his servants at Saint-Germain. So too at first was his son, as Prince of Wales and then as James III. But the Hanoverian Succession in 1714, followed by the failure of the ‘Fifteen’, had a profound effect on the latter’s personality. The young king, treated as an equal by Louis XIV at Versailles and Marly, and assuming that he would one day succeed his half-sister Anne as de facto King of Great Britain and Ireland, was embittered by the unexpected events of 1714–16, which completely undermined his prospects and his self-confidence. Through the correspondence of Nairne we can watch as the exiled Catholic king, now forced to live in the Papal States, gradually came under the influence of a small group of Protestants who gave him bad advice and deliberately alienated him from the people who had served him until then. We can see how Nairne in particular, having been the king’s principal adviser, was gradually supplanted by these new favourites who succeeded in dominating James III and persuading him to follow their advice. As this even extended to the unkind way in which he treated his wife, Queen Clementina, and the ill-judged way in which he brought up their elder son Prince Charles, Nairne’s letters permit us to understand how the king’s personality hardened, and how it developed an unpleasant streak which had serious long-term consequences for Jacobitism. Nairne served the king in Italy through loyalty and obedience, whereas he had also served him in France with profound affection. And in this respect Nairne’s experience was representative of the court as a whole. Through his testimony, we are able to appreciate the extent to which James III, obliged ← 4 | 5 → to live as the guest of an unpredictable papacy, and with little immediate prospect of a restoration, ceased to be the attractive young prince that he had once been, and alienated the leading Jacobites who might otherwise have chosen to live at his court.

Although he was an ex-patriate, and although his primary loyalty was to the Jacobite king, Nairne remained very conscious of his Scottish origins. He enjoyed very close relations with the members of the Collège des Ecossais in Paris, whom he visited whenever he could, and with whom he often corresponded on a daily basis. He also took a particular interest both in the Catholic mission to Scotland and in the general history of the country.

One important aspect of the history of Scotland concerns the development of Freemasonry. This subject is so shrouded in mystery that it is not surprising that Nairne’s own links with the Craft remain obscure. But Nairne occupies a significant place in the history of Freemasonry because he was extremely friendly with the Chevalier Ramsay, another voluntary Scottish ex-patriate living in France. Ramsay was not only the author of one of the most important and influential texts in the entire history of Freemasonry, but was also married to one of Nairne’s daughters. Masonic historians have known virtually nothing about Ramsay’s wife, let alone the father-in-law with whom the couple was living when he (Ramsay) wrote his celebrated Discours. An account of Nairne’s private life (his marriage, and the lives of his children) therefore adds considerably to our knowledge and understanding of this aspect of masonic history. Despite the differences in their ages, Nairne and Ramsay quickly established a close relationship when they first met, and indeed it was because the two men were already on such good terms that Ramsay chose to marry Nairne’s daughter. Like so many other people who met him, Ramsay appreciated Nairne’s intellect, and his modest and engaging personality.

We know what Nairne looked like in middle age, because we have his portrait, painted when he was fifty-nine years old.1 He had brown eyes, and a prominent scar on the left side of his chin. We also know that he was of below average height for his generation, so perhaps little more than five feet tall.2 He was a good linguist, fluent in both French and Italian as well as his native English, and able to read and translate Latin without difficulty. He had the capacity to work for very long periods of time, and had beautiful ← 5 | 6 → regular handwriting, though his eyesight inevitably suffered from too much secretarial work, and he had to wear glasses for reading. He seems to have been unusually honest, but unquestionably too reserved and self-effacing. If he had been more ambitious, and a more skilful courtier, he might well have been able to advance his career and achieve a more elevated status at the court. He might also have been able to counter the unfortunate influence of the king’s new Protestant favourites.

Nairne, in fact, tended towards Quietism, which had been defended by Ramsay in the biography he wrote of his spiritual mentor, Archbishop Fénelon. Nairne was a convert to Catholicism, and was exceptionally pious, even by the standards of his time. In particular, he had a profound faith in Divine Providence, which inclined him to accept all adversity as God’s will, and which inspired him to be optimistic about the eventual prospects of a Jacobite restoration. To a great extent this originated in the events of 1688–9. He had remained unemployed in Paris, despite all his attempts to obtain a position, so that he had been available to serve James II and Lord Melfort when they had been forced into exile. If anything good happened, such as when he and James III were not captured or shipwrecked when returning to France from Scotland in 1708 or 1716, then their lives had been preserved by Divine Providence. If one of his children recovered from an illness, or when his daughter remained a spinster so that the Chevalier Ramsay could propose marriage to her, this was also due to Divine Providence. But this calm acceptance of God’s will, whereby the expected Jacobite restoration was merely delayed for reasons known to Him, could not be sustained indefinitely, and it seems that in his old age Nairne came to accept that God did not intend there to be an eventual triumph for the Jacobite cause.

For most of his career, however, Nairne’s Quietism and essential goodness made him an agreeable companion. He was a good husband and a loving father, though he completely failed to establish good relations with his son and heir. He was sociable and never let his piety interfere with his enjoyment. He liked entertaining with his wife, he liked dancing, and he loved music and the visual arts (particularly painting and decorated baroque churches). He was also charitable. His greatest virtue, however, lay in his ability to bring people together and act as a peacemaker. When a succession ← 6 | 7 → dispute arose over his wife’s family estate he was able to bring the two sides together and effect a compromise. If there was sometimes tension at the exiled court between the three British nationalities (English, Irish and Scottish), he was noted for maintaining good relations with all three, and for inviting all three to his home. If there was friction at the court, he did his best to remain neutral, though by the 1720s, when the king’s favourites were badly treating the queen, he was no longer able to achieve this.

In fact, his entire career was only made possible because he was able to establish and maintain good relations with virtually all the people with whom he worked, and this is particularly evident in his dealings with the secretaries of state at Saint-Germain. He first worked for the Earl of Melfort, who was also Scottish and with whom he became a personal friend. Yet when Melfort was forced to resign and was replaced by John Caryll, an Englishman, Nairne established equally good relations with his new superior. Melfort was a bitter rival, if not enemy, of the Earl of Middleton, yet Nairne then began to work for Middleton as well as Caryll and established equally good relations with him. All the while, Nairne maintained his friendship with Melfort, so that eventually he was able to effect a reconciliation between the latter and Middleton. It was this sort of thing which made Nairne so popular at the exiled court. He was respected for his moderation and his relative lack of ambition, his desire to avoid conflict and confrontation, and his wish to preserve harmony among the courtiers who served the exiled kings. It was his failure to achieve this in his later years when the court was in Rome, and when the treatment of Queen Clementina was in such marked contrast to the respect shown to Mary of Modena at Saint-Germain, that made him keen to retire and live peacefully in Paris.

In one typical letter, sent from Cadiz in 1723, the king’s former legal adviser, an Irishman who had decided to return to Ireland, and who had not seen Nairne for over ten years, wrote: ‘My dear and most beloved friend, … according to my hart you know I can’t but love you, and believe I do above all Gentlemen this side of the water.’3 It is in part his ability to inspire sentiments like this that makes Nairne an ideal subject for an extended biography. His honesty and relative detachment, combined with the chance survival of his diary and of so much of his private and official correspondence, mean that we are able to view the evolution of the exiled ← 7 | 8 → court at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Bar-le-Duc, Avignon, Pesaro, Urbino, Rome and Bologna through his eyes.


1. It was painted by Alexis-Simon Belle at Bar-le-Duc in 1714. See p. 218

2. In one of his letters, Nairne told Cardinal Gualterio that ‘le Comte de Douglas est un petit homme un peu pres de ma hauteur’ (BL. Add MSS 31260, f.124, 26 August 1717). In a letter written a few months later, the Earl of Southesk referred to ‘little Nairne’ (HMC Stuart V, p. 204, to Paterson, 13 November 1717).

3. RA. SP 68/101, Power to Nairne, 23 August 1723. For Robert Power, see p. 144 and p. 195, note 21.

| 9 →


The Making of a Jacobite: From Scotland to France and Ireland, 1655–1689

David Nairne left Scotland at the age of eighteen, and lived most of his life abroad, but he remained conscious and proud of his Scottish origins. His family possessed the estate of Sandford in Fife, where it had been established for as long as anyone could remember, and he would himself have become the Laird of Sandford if the estate had not been confiscated by the government of William III.

In December 1716, when he was living in Avignon, Nairne received a bundle of papers concerning what he described as the family’s ‘antient little estate’. ‘The oldest paper’, he noted with some pride, ‘is I think in 14th age [i.e. century] signd by one George Nairne of St foord which itself is I think a proof of pretty old standing of that Estates being in the name, about 400 years ago.’1 A little later, by which time he was living in Urbino, he described the Nairnes as ‘an old Scottish family whose title dates back more than 400 years and whose lands remained in their possession until the Revolution’.2

This statement was not entirely correct: the Nairnes had actually lost their estates temporarily during the upheavals of the 1650s. David’s father, Sir Thomas, was captured during the Anglo-Scottish war of 1650–1 and imprisoned in London.3 By the time he was released, in 1653 or 1654, the Cromwellian government had leased and then sold the estate to one Alexander Walker, and it was not recovered until the restoration of Charles II in 1660.4 It was during that period, when the family was dispossessed, that David Nairne was born – ‘about ye end of August’ 1655.5

The family had presumably taken up temporary residence in St Andrews, because David was baptized near there, in St Fillan’s Church, on 7 September. The identity of his godmother is unknown, but his two godfathers came ← 9 | 10 → from the family of his mother Margaret. One was his grandfather, Sir David Barclay of Collarnie; the other was his grandmother’s brother, David Leslie.6 The latter had been commander-in-chief of the Scottish forces at both Dunbar and Worcester, and was to be given a peerage as Baron Newark in 1661. It was no doubt partly through his influence that the Nairnes were able to recover their estates in the general land settlement of 1660.

David Nairne matriculated at St Salvator’s College in nearby St Andrews in 1669, and remained there for four years. It is not known what he studied. At that time the students of the university paid their fees at one of three rates: the sons of peers the highest, the sons of landed or professional men the middle, and the sons of artisans the lowest. Nairne was predictably placed in the second category, but at his graduation in 1673, when a student’s social status gave way to his academic performance, he was placed top of his entire year. He then paid for his BA degree7 and returned to Sandford to decide on his future career.

During the previous year various members of the Nairne family had registered their arms with the Lord Lyon. Apart from David himself, the surviving list includes his grandfather Alexander, but not his father Sir Thomas, who had died in July 1664. It also includes his elder brother, called Alexander like his grandfather and described as the Master of Sandford.8 He had two younger brothers (not included in the list) and one sister, all of whom are mentioned in his diary. One brother is referred to as Sam, but neither of the other two names is ever given.

As his elder brother would in due course inherit the family estates, David was destined to become a lawyer. It is not clear how he occupied himself from 1673 to 1674. We may assume that he began some legal studies, perhaps at St Andrews, where he also paid for his MA degree.9 At that time, it was traditional for Scots to study the law at Dutch universities,10 so it might have been necessary to enter into correspondence with contacts in the United Provinces to make the arrangements. David was to study at the University of Leyden for six months and then at the University of Francker for a further five, before specializing in civil law at the University of Utrecht. He left Sandford in July 167411 and was probably expected to return at the end of 1676 or during 1677. In fact, he never did return, and saw neither his mother nor his elder brother ever again. ← 10 | 11 →

Nairne’s diary contains plenty of information about his time as a student in the United Provinces, but does not adequately explain why he remained abroad. What was it that made him a permanent ex-patriate? He had been brought up in the Episcopalian Church of Scotland, and later converted to Catholicism. At one point, he suggested that he remained abroad because of his religion,12 but (as we shall see) that is not a convincing explanation. His long-term plans, if he had any when he embarked at Leith in a merchant ship bound for Holland on 16 July 1674, cannot be discovered.

David Nairne’s diary tells us nothing about studying law, concentrating rather on his travels and the people that he met. Thus we know that the sea voyage from Scotland to the United Provinces took ten days, during which ‘wee had storme’, and that in his first year he visited both Amsterdam and Haarlem. He was at Leyden from August 1674 to February 1675, and then at Francker until July. When he was at Utrecht, from July 1675 until October 1676, he fell into bad company, drank too much and even fought two duels. The first was with a fellow student called John Cockburn: ‘ther was no hurt done on either side, and wee were made all friends again.’13 The second was more serious. The Dutch were fighting a major war against France, and although England was neutral there were many English volunteers serving with the Dutch forces. Sir John Fenwick’s regiment ‘was in garison there that winter’, and Nairne spent his free time with the younger officers. He recorded that with Lieutenant Cunningham ‘I was ingagd in a duell wherein after I had given him a slight hurt in ye face he closd upon me, and in ye closing his sword or mine gave me ye cutt I bear ye mark of on my chinne, wch I did not feel nor perceive till ye blood discovered it to me after ye seconds … had parted us.’14 Nairne was probably lucky to escape without a more serious injury, but he was left with the scar which is clearly visible in his only known portrait.15 Twenty years later, when looking back on these years, he referred to the ‘follies of imprudent youth’ and the ‘effects of bad company and drinking’.16

In the autumn of 1676, there then occurred a turning point in Nairne’s life. The United Provinces and France were still locked in war, but he decided to travel overland from Utrecht to visit Paris. It is true that the campaigning season had finished and that the frontiers between belligerent ← 11 | 12 → powers were not regarded in those days as uncrossable, particularly by a neutral foreigner. But still it was an unexpected decision. Was he discontented with his legal studies and reluctant to go back to Scotland? Or was he merely keen to see a little more of continental Europe before returning to Fife? There is no means of knowing, though his diary implies the latter. In any event, Nairne left Utrecht in October 1676 and travelled for eight days through Holland, Zealand and the Spanish Netherlands, until he reached Calais. There he boarded ‘ye Calais coach for Paris’, which cost him 18 livres. After another seven days, he reached Paris in the evening of 5 November.17 He was to live there for the next twelve years.

There was already a Scottish community in Paris, centred around the Collège des Ecossais in the rue des Fossés-Saint-Victor, and it is possible that Nairne contacted his fellow countrymen. But he does not say so. He began by finding temporary lodgings in the rue Saint-Denis on the rive droite, near where the Calais coach entered Paris from the north. He then moved to the rive gauche near the Scots College and ‘lodgd by St Etienne[-du-Mont]’.18 Presumably he behaved like any tourist, and perhaps he intended to leave in the spring of 1677 when the weather improved. His reticence in the diary is frustrating. All he says is that after about a month he moved closer to the Seine, to what is now the Latin Quarter, and took a ‘chambre garnie, rue de la Harpe, wher I fell acquainted with Mr l’abbé Jossier whose friendship induced and enabled me to stay in France longer than I intended’.19

It was Jossier who introduced Nairne to French society, and made him feel at home in Paris. The two men soon became the best of friends, and Nairne later recalled that ‘when I was a day without seeing him he was uneasy, and when he had any treate to give or to receive, he had no plaisure unless I was of ye company, and his friends yt knew it did commonly invite me as his inseparable friend and camarad every time they invited him’.20 All this while Nairne received an allowance from his elder brother Alexander in Scotland, supplemented by money from ‘ye patrimony my father left me by his testament’.21

Nairne was now twenty-one years old, and in the first half of 1677 he applied himself ‘wholly to learn ye French tongue’, immersing himself in French history and literature, and ‘conversing with French people’. He ← 12 | 13 → seems to have dropped the idea of studying or practising the law in Scotland. On the contrary, he began to try to obtain some employment in Paris. Jossier’s father Louis had an important and influential post in the French war secretariat, responsible for payments as trésorier extraordinaire des guerres, and Nairne’s friend promised him that he could be found a well-paid post. Nothing came of this, however, because Louis Jossier was obliged to resign. Nairne does not explain why, merely stating that ‘unfortunately his affaires went wrong and he was forced to absent and could never recover his credit again nor his place … so all my prospect of making my fortune by that means ceased.’22

This failure placed Nairne in a difficult position, as his family in Scotland was becoming concerned at his delayed return. In an attempt to persuade him to return to Sandford, his mother and brother cut off his allowance and refused even to send him the rest of the money he had inherited from his father. This was counter-productive. In July 1678, a few weeks short of his twenty-third birthday, Nairne informed them that he had decided ‘to try to seek my fortune amonst strangers in France, since my relations did in a manner abandon me, as I termd it’.23 He even told them that they could keep the rest of the money from his father. At this early stage in his life, Nairne seemed to be drifting towards disaster. Scarred by duelling in Utrecht, he now faced an unpromising future in a foreign country, without any income and with little prospect of gaining respectable employment. Moreover, he was a Protestant in a Catholic country where religious toleration was gradually being eroded.

What was it that motivated Nairne during these years, and how did he pass his time? It is impossible to say, but music might provide a clue. Evidence from the later years of his life shows that he not only had a profound love of music but also the ability to play several instruments to a high standard. It is possible to speculate that he was attracted by the rich and exciting musical life to be experienced in the French capital. Two of his cousins had settled in Paris in 1677 and were to stay there until 1684. These were James and Harry Maule (later 4th and 5th Earls of Panmure), who were enthusiastic musicians. The Maule brothers took lessons on the viol from the celebrated Sainte-Colombe, and were well acquainted with the latter’s pupil Marin Marais. Nairne probably benefited from these ← 13 | 14 → contacts. It is also possible, as has been explained in detail elsewhere, that he earned a small amount of money by copying musical manuscripts.24

Nevertheless Nairne’s decision to sever his links with his family in Scotland made him totally dependent on his friend the abbé Jossier. In August 1678 he left his ‘chambre garnie’ in the rue de la Harpe and accompanied Jossier to Arquenay, ‘a prieury of his near Laval wher we stayd about 3 months’.25 Back in Paris in the autumn of that year, he needed to find new and cheaper accommodation, so he moved temporarily to the rue des ‘Fossés de Mr le Prince’ near the Palais de Luxembourg, while looking for something permanent. The following April he moved back to the rive droite and ‘lodged chez Mr Passanant rue St Anthoine au Griffon d’Or where I lived 7 years’.26 It seems clear that his rent and his living expenses were now all being paid for him by Jossier.

We are not told why Nairne moved to the rue Saint-Antoine and remained there for such a long time, but it was an attractive area for someone who appreciated music. The organist in his own parish church of Saint-Paul was Henri Du Mont, one of the sous-maîtres of the Chapelle Royale, while the organist and musical director of the adjacent church of Saint-Louis des Jésuites was Michel-Richard Delalande, the most talented of the young composers living in Paris. The nearby parish church of Saint-Gervais had until very recently employed as its organist Charles Couperin, who had been training his son François (later known as Couperin le grand) eventually to inherit the post. Charles Couperin had died at the beginning of 1679 when his son was still only a boy, obliging the church wardens to find a replacement. Louis Jossier, despite his earlier problems, was one of the two church wardens at the time, and he persuaded Delalande to accept the post at Saint-Gervais on a temporary basis, and promise to evacuate it once François Couperin was old enough to take over.27 Given Nairne’s intimacy with the Jossier family and his strong interest in music it is likely that he was aware of this arrangement, which was made less than two months before his move to the rue Saint-Antoine. It is more than probable that he soon became acquainted with the ten-year-old François Couperin.

Nairne, however, was not a Catholic and showed no signs of becoming one – despite his dependence on the abbé Jossier. Shortly after moving to the rue Saint-Antoine, he became acquainted with Father Bruzeau, one of ← 14 | 15 → the priests in the church of Saint-Gervais. What followed is worth quoting at length from Nairne’s diary:

Mr Bruzeau prêtre de St Gervais … engaged me in reading some books of controversy which gave me ye first douts of my religion. A sickness yt happened me this summer [1679] augmented my apprehensions and occasioned my applying myself seriously when ever I was recovered to instruct myself in ye controverted points of religion. To this end I had frequent disputes with Mr Bruzeau and one Mr Talon a learnd controversiste. I read ye Perpetuité de la Foy, I went twice or thrice to Mr Claude with whom I had long conferences as well as with another [Protestant] Minister of Charenton then at Paris, but got no solid satisfaction from any of them upon ye difficultys I proposd to them. I saw also ye Abbot of St Genevieve, Mr Beuvrier, with whom and with another Canon Regular of that Church I had severall conferences, and last of all I saw Mr Bossuet l’Eveque de Meaux at Paris and once at St Germains. This lasted about a 12 month before I could fully determine myself, so hard it is to change ye sentiments of religion in which one has been educated, even tho’ never so erroneous. Ye 1st impression does generally so prevent people yt nothing but a particular providence and grace of God can remove that obstacle which blinds them to that degree sometimes, yt tho they have arguments layd before them as clear as demonstration they are insensible of them, and do not perceive ye convincing strength of them, till it pleases God to open their eyes afterwards, and then they wonder how they could have been so destitute of sense and reason as not to feel and see what was so plain and palpable. This was my case.28

Although he does not say so, Nairne’s conversion seems to have gone beyond simply a question of religion. His eventual rejection of Protestantism also involved the adoption of a more sober and serious, even devout, attitude to life – a general acceptance of ‘sense and reason’. Thenceforth he developed the attractive personality that would endear him to so many of his friends and acquaintances, combining modesty and reliability with an active appreciation of the fine arts. The days of duelling and excessive drinking had gone for good.

Although his own parish church was Saint-Paul, Nairne chose to be received into the Catholic faith by Father Bruzeau at Saint-Gervais. The ceremony took place privately on the Tuesday before Easter in 1680. Thereafter he regularly went to mass and took communion at Saint-Paul,29 but he delayed his confirmation for another eighteen years. It was not until 25 May 1698, when he was living at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, that he went ← 15 | 16 → to Paris to be confirmed in the Cathedral of Notre Dame.30 In his diary, he offers no explanation for this delay.


XIV, 520
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (July)
Jacobitism The Stuarts in Exile King James II Sir David Nairne Stuarts Jacobites
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2018. XIV, 520 pp., 1 coloured ill., 16 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Edward Corp (Author)

Edward Corp lives in France, and is now retired. He was Professor of British History at the University of Toulouse. He has published extensively on the exiled Stuarts, including a three-volume history of the Stuart court in exile. He has also curated two major exhibitions on the Stuarts in exile, at the Château-Vieux de Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.


Title: Sir David Nairne