Lord Elgin was educated at Harrow and Westminster Schools and at both St Andrews and Paris universities. He served in the Foot Guards rising to the rank of General by 1837. He served on diplomatic missions to Vienna, Brussels, Berlin, and Constantinople. He is chiefly remembered for his study of ancient Greek art and architecture and for his purchase of the 'Elgin' marbles removed from the Parthenon in Athens, whilst en route to take up the post of Ambassador to Constantinople in 1799. He succeeded his brother in 1771. He married twice: first to Mary (d.1855), only child of William Hamilton Nisbet of Dirleton and Belhaven, Haddington; they were divorced in 1808; he married second Elizabeth (d.1860), youngest daughter of J. T. Oswald, MP, of Dunnikeir, Fife, in 1810. These dessert plates, engraved with the Royal arms, were almost certainly part of the ambassadorial plate Lord Elgin would have taken to Vienna in 1791. He was sent as envoy-extraordinary to the court of the Austrian Emperor due to the sudden illness which had incapacitated the previous ambassador Sir Robert Keith.