Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Meldrum, John
MELDRUM, Sir JOHN (d. 1645), soldier, claims in the letter which he wrote to Charles I in 1642 to have spent thirty-six years in the service of the king and of his father, and speaks of his ‘zeal to your majesty's father's service in Ireland in settling the province of Ulster’ (Rushworth, iv. 628). In November 1610 Sir Arthur Chichester wrote from Ireland to the Earl of Salisbury, complaining of one Meldrum, who had brought a letter from the king for a share in the plantation. In spite of this remonstrance James, on 17 April 1611, reminded Chichester of his previous instructions to further the claim of Captain John Meldrum, upon the vacancy of any charge fit for him, and on 13 March 1617 he was granted some land in the county of Fermanagh. Meldrum seems to have been the agent of Lord Balfour of Burley, who had extensive grants both in Fermanagh and Donegal (Cal. State Papers, Irish, 1608–10 p. 526, 1611–14 p. 30, 1615–25 p. 152). After serving in the wars in the Low Countries he returned to England, and was knighted at Windsor on 6 Aug. 1622 (Metcalfe, Book of Knights, p. 180). In the next reign he took part in the expedition to Rochelle, and the war with France (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1627–8, pp. 417, 489). Monro mentions him in his list of Scottish officers serving under Gustavus Adolphus as ‘colonel in Spruce to foot’ (Monro, His Expedition with the worthy Scotch Regiment called Mackay's, fol. 1637, App. to pt. i).
About 1618 Meldrum purchased from a previous grantee the half-share in a patent for maintaining a lighthouse at Winterton Ness, by means of a tax of a penny a ton on passing ships. The patent was complained against as a grievance in the parliament of 1624, but the king refused to consent to its abolition. In 1635 Meldrum obtained a similar patent for erecting lighthouses on the North and South Foreland, which involved him in controversies with adjacent ports and with Trinity House (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1611–18 pp. 537, 545, 1623–5 pp. 255, 258, 1634–5 pp. 505, 529). The desire to preserve these lucrative privileges was, according to the royalists, the reason which led Meldrum to adopt the service of the parliament during the civil wars. In an acrimonious correspondence exchanged at the siege of Scarborough in 1645, Sir Hugh Cholmley [q. v.] taunted Meldrum with boasting about ‘the dazzling light of reformation, all men knowing what lights you study to preserve, which not like seamarks have directed, but like ignes fatui have misled you out of the way of obedience’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. vi. 156; cf. Husbands, Exact Collection, 4to, 1643, p. 580).
Meldrum asserted that he was guided simply by his hostility to the king's policy in church and state. ‘A moderate and well-tempered monarchy’ he loved, but ‘a Straffordian monarchy’ he deemed ‘at least cousin-german to, if not worse than, anarchy itself.’ In July 1642 Meldrum accepted a commission to assist Sir John Hotham in the defence of Hull. Before actual hostilities began he wrote a bold letter to the king, assailing the policy of Charles, justifying his own conduct. ‘When I perceived that no corner in your dominions could afford a good man … who did not groan under the exorbitances of the time … I could find no better way to do your majesty a more general service than by stopping the course of a civil war … as to cast myself into Hull’ (Rushworth, iv. 628). He made two sallies against the king's forces, ‘the first blood as some say that was shed in these unnatural wars’ (ib. p. 610). In September Meldrum assisted Sir William Waller in the reduction of Portsmouth (Vicars, Jehovah Jireh, p. 161), and served under Essex at Edgehill and at the siege of Reading in April 1643 (ib. pp. 161, 193, 308). In June 1643 parliament sent him to be commander-in-chief of the Nottinghamshire forces, and he arrested Captain John Hotham, and stopped his intended treachery (Rushworth, v. 275; Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson, i. 221, ed. 1885). In October Manchester sent Meldrum and four hundred men to reinforce the besieged garrison of Hull. The successful sally of 9 Oct. was commanded by Meldrum, who was wounded in leading it (Vicars, God's Ark, p. 39; Report on the Portland MSS. i. 138). After the siege of Hull had been raised Meldrum was placed in command of a portion of Manchester's army, with which he captured Gainsborough (December 1643), drove the royalists out of the Isle of Axholme (February 1644), took Cawood Castle and the fort of Airemouth in Yorkshire (May 1643). He also commanded a division of foot in Lord Fairfax's victory at Selby (11 April 1644; Vicars, God's Ark, pp. 102, 147, 205, 233, 234; Rushworth, v. 618). At the end of February 1644, however, he had been commanded to besiege Newark, but Prince Rupert raised the siege, and forced Meldrum to make a disadvantageous capitulation (22 March), by which he sacrificed his artillery and the muskets of his men (ib. p. 307). Baillie attributes the disaster to ‘his own improvidence alone,’ but other accounts show that it was mainly caused by the misconduct of his subordinates and the weakness of his forces (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1644, pp. 24, 61, 76; Life of Colonel Hutchinson, i. 322; Letters of Robert Baillie, ed. Laing, ii. 152–158).
It is evident that Meldrum's defeat was not attributed to incapacity, for in May 1644 he was detached with two regiments to secure Manchester, and take command of the Lancashire forces against Prince Rupert. He held Manchester, but could not prevent the loss of Bolton and Liverpool. After the battle of Marston Moor, however, he defeated Rupert's fugitive horse at Ormskirk on 20 Aug., and on 1 Nov. recaptured Liverpool (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1644, pp. 173, 440, 442; Robinson, Discourse of the War in Lancashire, pp. 54–9; Ormerod, Lancashire Civil War Tracts, p. 204; Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. pt. iv. pp. 73, 95). On 18 Sept. 1644 Meldrum took part in the defeat of Lord Byron before Montgomery Castle. ‘Sir John Meldrum,’ says Sir William Brereton's letter, ‘did with much judgment order and command these forces, and therefore deserves a large share in the honour of this day's success’ (Phillips, Civil War in Wales, ii. 201). Meldrum, however, bitterly complained that the newspapers gave all the credit of the victory to Brereton (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1644–5, p. 6). In February 1645 he returned to Yorkshire to besiege Scarborough, which was held by Sir Hugh Cholmley for the king. He stormed the town early in February, but was mortally wounded in a sally during May. Parliament voted him 1,500l., and the committee of both kingdoms sent him on 26 May a singularly warm and complimentary letter. But the castle held out till 21 July, and Meldrum seems to have died before it was taken. His will, dated 24 May 1645, was proved on 2 June 1647 (ib. pp. 304, 527; Rushworth, vi. 118; Chester, Westminster Abbey Registers, p. 137; Commons' Journals, iv. 59, 97, 149). Ricraft gives a panegyric on Meldrum in his ‘Survey of England's Champions,’ 1647, p. 50, and also a portrait. A drawing is among the Sutherland collection in the Bodleian Library (Catalogue of the Sutherland Collection, i. 634).
[Numerous letters of Meldrum's are calendared among the Domestic State Papers for 1644 and 1645. The following pamphlets relate to him: The Copy of a Letter sent to the King by Sir John Meldrum, 4to, 1642; A True Relation of the great Victories obtained by the Earl of Manchester and the Lord Fairfax … with two Letters concerning the said Victories, the one from the Lord Fairfax, the other from Sir John Meldrum, 4to, 1643; A True Relation of two great Victories, the one by Sir W. Brereton in Cheshire, the other by Sir John Meldrum in Lancashire, 4to, 1644; A Brief Relation of the Siege at Newark, as it was delivered by Lieutenant-colonel Bury, 4to, 1644. Other authorities mentioned in the article.]