The son of the 15th Lord Elphinstone and Constance, daughter of the 6th Earl of Dunmore, he was educated at Marlborough College and succeeded his father in 1893. In 1910 he married Lady Mary Bowes Lyon, daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore. They had five children:
Lord Elphinstone was Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1923 and 1924, Lord Clerk Register of Scotland and Keeper of the Signet from 1944 until his death. He was invested as a Knight of the Thistle in 1927 and was Chancellor of the Order from 1949. He was Captain General of the Royal Company of Archers from 1935 until 1953 and was Governor of the Bank of Scotland.