James Elphinstone Balmerino, 1st Baron (c. 1553-1612), Scottish politician, was the third son of Robert, 3rd Lord Elphinstone (d. 1602). Rising to power under James VI. he became a judge and a royal secretary; he accompanied the king to London in 1603 and was made Lord Balmerino, or Balmerinoch, in 1604. In 1605 he became president of the court of session, but his ardour for the Roman Catholic religion brought about his overthrow. In 1599 on the king's behalf, but without the king's knowledge, he had sent a letter to Clement VIII. in which he addressed the pope in very cordial terms. A copy of this letter having been seen by Elizabeth, the English queen asked James for an explanation, whereupon both the king and the secretary declared it was a forgery. There the matter rested until 1608, when the existence of the letter was again referred to during some controversy between James and Cardinal Bellarmine. Interrogated afresh Balmerino admitted that he had written the compromising letter, that he had surreptitiously obtained the king's signature, and that afterwards he had added the full titles of the pope.
In March 1609 he was tried, attainted and sentenced to death, but after a brief imprisonment he was released and he died at Balmerino in July 1612.
Balmerino's elder son John (d. 1649) was permitted to take his father's title in 1613. In 1634 he was imprisoned for his opposition to Charles I. in Scotland, and by a bare majority of the jury he was found guilty of "leasing-making" and was sentenced to death. But popular sympathy was strongly in his favour; the poet Drummond of Hawthornden and others interceded for him, and after much hesitation Charles pardoned him. Balmerino, however, did not desist from his opposition to the king. A chief among the Covenanters and a trusted counsellor of the marquess of Argyll, he presided over the celebrated parliament which met in Edinburgh in August 1641, and was one of the Scottish commissioners who visited England in 1644. He died in February 1649 and was succeeded as 3rd lord by his son John (1623-1704), who in 1669 inherited from his uncle James the title of Lord Coupar. John's son John, 4th Lord Balmerino (1652-1736), was a lawyer of some repute and, although a sturdy opponent of the Union, was a Scottish representative peer in 1710 and 1713. John's son Arthur (1688-1746) who became 6th Lord Balmerino on the death of his half-brother John in January 1746, is famous as a Jacobite. He joined the partisans of James Edward, the Old Pretender, after the battle of Sheriffmuir in November 1713, and then lived for some time in exile, returning to Scotland in 1733 when his father had secured for him a pardon.
He was one of the first to join Charles Edward in 1745; he marched with the Jacobites to Derby, fought at Falkirk and was captured at Culloden. Tried for treason in Westminster Hall he was found guilty, and was beheaded on the 11th of August 1746, behaving both at his trial and at his execution with great constancy and courage. On his death without issue his titles became extinct.