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Review by Hamish Coghill

What do you do with a wife who is out of control? A woman who rants and raves in public, who drinks to excess, who is the mother of your children but does not take kindly to your mistress? And who, most of all, might expose your secret political feelings and thus, almost certainly, scupper your chances of advancement in the eyes of the British Government?

Well, for Lord Grange, a high-powered judge and influential figure in 18th-century Scotland, the answer was to have her kidnapped and exiled to one of the most remote islands in the land. And it all had to be done in a way to preserve his innocence in the affair.

James Erskine married his wife Rachel long before he took the judicial lordship title and they lived in some style and comfort in the Preston estate on the outskirts of the Scottish capitol. But as Lady Grange's behaviour became increasingly unpredictable by 1730, a plot was maturing in her husband's mind -- supported by his friends.

"It was essential to James that Rachel's unacceptable behaviour towards himself and the children should be regarded as the sole reason for the breakdown of his marriage. He was remarkably successful in achieving this," suggests Margaret Macaulay in her story of The Prisoner of St Kilda. "Nobody seems to have raised the subject of his lordship's marital infidelities, or thought fit to refer to late-night carousals at Preston. And naturally, there was no mention of possible treasonable activities. Lord Grange was above reproach, both as a family man and a loyal supporter of the Hanoverians, who had been seated, more or less comfortably, on the British throne for the past 15 years." (There was little doubt about the good judge's true allegiances, though; Erskine had unsuccessfully pleaded the case of his brother who had fought with the Jacobites and lost the right to the Earldom of Mar as a result.)

Eventually, the plot was hatched...and finalized, almost certainly, with the involvement of the Jacobite Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat. So in January 1732 Lady Grange was visited at her Edinburgh lodgings by "two Highland gentlemen" who told her she was to be taken to a place of security in the country, at the behest of her husband. Her resistance proved fruitless and she then embarked on a months-long series of journeys that eventually brought her to the island of St. Kilda off the far northwest coast of Scotland in 1734. There, in the most remote corner of the British Isles, she was cut off from communication with her friends and family, managing to smuggle out only two letters pleading her cause.

The full text of this article is available in the Summer 2010 issue of Scottish Life.

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