Linlithgow Burghs

Scottish burgh

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Linlithgow (1708); Selkirk (1710); Lanark (1713); Peebles


 Sir Robert Pollock, Bt. 
 Alexander Glen 
 William Hamilton21

Main Article

Each of the towns in this district was the head burgh of its respective shire, and the openness of elections reflected the absence of any overriding magnate interest. Linlithgow was influenced by the 4th Duke of Hamilton and his mother, who as 3rd Duchess suo jure also possessed the hereditary sheriffdom of Lanarkshire. It was generally believed within the family that, since the Union at least, the elder Duchess did ‘not care to meddle in elections’. Her endorsement was nevertheless thought highly desirable. The Hamilton interest suffered in this period from internal divisions: the Duke’s younger brothers pretended to a voice in the selection of candidates, as did Hamilton’s wife, who made an unsuccessful bid to control the district after her husband’s death in 1712. Yet the family had not even disposed of the single burgh seat in the Scottish parliament. The last commissioner for Linlithgow, Walter Stewart of Pardovan, was a courtier rather than a member of the Duke of Hamilton’s country party. Stewart, however, had opposed the Court over the Union, motivated by fears for the security of the Kirk. At Selkirk, the Murrays of Philiphaugh, hereditary sheriffs of the county, exerted a firm grip over elections. The family had been closely associated with the Duke of Queensberry’s Court party in the Scottish parliament, and the burgh was represented from 1689 by John Murray*, a younger brother of Lord Philiphaugh SCJ. Murray, having sat in the first Parliament of Great Britain, was a potential candidate for the burgh district, but lacked any desire to stand. Lanark was influenced by the Carmichael family: its senior branch, the earls of Hyndford, had supported the Court in the Scottish parliament, and William Carmichael, a younger son of the 1st Earl, voted for the Union as commissioner for the burgh. There was no strong magnate interest at Peebles, where the sheriffdom of the county had devolved in 1705 upon a minor, the 2nd Earl of March, who was Queensberry’s nephew. The last commissioner was a former provost of Peebles, Archibald Shiells, an opponent of the Union who did not seek a seat at Westminster.2

The balance of forces favoured the Scottish Court party at the 1708 election, and no discernible impact was made by the Duke of Hamilton’s compact with the Squadrone. Indeed, two Court candidates aspired to the seat: Sir Robert Pollock, 1st Bt.*, and Hon. George Douglas. Pollock, who was both a son-in-law of Provost Stewart and an officer in the regiment of Lord Carmichael (later 2nd Earl of Hyndford), ought to have been assured of the vote of Lanark’s delegate. For some obscure reason, however, no commissioner appeared for the burgh at the district election, a fact noted on the manuscript return. According to a newspaper account, Pollock stood a contest, as did the provost of Linlithgow, Alexander Glen. The election was carried in favour of Douglas, a brother of the 11th Earl of Morton, whose family had previously been major landholders in Peeblesshire. Despite having sold off most of this property in the 17th century, the family retained sufficient prestige to secure the vote of the delegate from Peebles, who was specifically instructed to vote for Douglas. The connexion between Morton and Queensberry readily explains the support for Douglas in Selkirk, though the initiative probably emanated from the candidate himself: he had complained in the run-up to the general election of the passivity of the Scottish Court compared to the activity of the Squadrone in numerous constituencies. Douglas may have acted upon his own admonition that the Court should not leave matters ‘too late, for all hands are at work and no time is to be lost’. Douglas encountered no difficulty in obtaining Philiphaugh’s support, and, with a pair of votes in his pocket, was in a commanding position in the four-burgh district. Moreover, the absence of Lanark’s delegate ensured that the casting vote of Linlithgow as presiding burgh was not brought into play. Douglas does not appear to have influenced events at Lanark. Even five months after the election, he had not yet met the town’s leaders in person. When he received an honorary burgess ticket in October the magistrates and council thanked him for his ‘kind and civil’ letters, but regretted that they were forced to rely upon second-hand reports of his character, nevertheless promising to regard him ‘as one of ourselves’ and trusting that he would act for the ‘defence of all our rights and privileges’.3

No evidence of a contest has been discovered for the 1710 election, but Douglas’ return was marked as ‘by plurality’ rather than as unanimous, which may indicate that some opposition was registered. His election would have been assured by the retention of former support because Selkirk presided at the election. The ease with which Douglas held on to the seat belied the insecurity of his tenure, and during the last session of this Parliament he began looking for a bolt-hole in expectation of difficulties at the coming election.4

Douglas faced two main competitors in 1713, eventually ceding his own interest to the more amenable of the candidates, Sir James Carmichael, 4th Bt., in exchange for a promise of future support. He remained hostile to the other, William Hamilton, a nominee of the 4th Duchess of Hamilton, not least because she had attempted to use her influence with Lord Oxford (Robert Harley*) to pressurize him into standing down voluntarily. She bore no prior grudge against Douglas, but sought the return of Hamilton for personal reasons. Heiress to sizable English estates, the Duchess was involved in a dispute with Thomas Fleetwood of Colwich, Staffordshire over the inheritance of the 5th Lord Gerard of Gerard’s Bromley. Property in Cheshire and Staffordshire had been left by the 6th Lord Gerard to his sister, the wife of Thomas Fleetwood, in preference to the heir to the Gerard peerage, who would have been disbarred as a Catholic from inheriting these estates. The Duchess of Hamilton disputed the will, however, and sought to establish her own rights. Having given William Hamilton responsibility for managing this affair, the Duchess was convinced of the advantages of his election to Parliament, and wrote to her mother-in-law in early February, stressing that it would ‘be of great use to me here to have him in the House of Commons, where my lawsuit with Mr Fleetwood is to come’. Unfortunately, there were at least two competitors for the Hamilton interest, and this rivalry caused concern to the elder Duchess’s agent, who lamented that there were ‘so many different recommendations from the same family . . . for it is the way to lose all . . . it had been better that all of them had in the first place concerted measures with your grace’. One of the elder Duchess’s sons, Lord Orkney, had already written to Lord Hyndford to obtain his interest in favour of (Sir) James Abercromby*. This manoeuvre was countered by the younger Duchess, who intimidated Abercromby into stepping down. He apologized, on 14 Mar., for being ‘so late in making my application . . . and that my friends did not mention me to your grace’. This letter, accompanied by a reiteration of her own wishes respecting William Hamilton, was forwarded to the elder Duchess. Furthermore, Lord Selkirk, an elder brother of Orkney, sided with his sister-in-law and was employed by her to persuade his mother to support Hamilton. He emphasized that it was

not prudent for my brother Orkney to oppose my lady Duchess. I have writ to him as pressing as I could to insist . . . that he will give his interest to my lady Duchess . . . this election is of the last consequence to her. I had a letter two days ago begging I would write . . . to get your Grace to countenance her in this matter . . . I am sure it is fit to humour her in this since . . . I find her most zealous to promote her son’s interest and the good of the family, and the opposing of this election will hurt both.

Selkirk also wrote to Lord Pencaitland SCJ, in order to prevent the appearance of yet another candidate, one Dr Graham:

I have formerly writ so pressingly to you in relation to William Hamilton’s election that it is impossible for me to add anything, yet having since my last heard from [the 4th] Duchess [of] Hamilton . . . I find she has the election so much at heart that if she does not carry it those that have opposed her in it will be esteemed by her as none of the friends of the family nor hers . . . she is very much dissatisfied that she has not your concurrence and assistance in this matter, for she is made believe that you are master enough to get your son-in-law to drop his brother’s interest. Duchess H. says she did not think that the only opposition she meets with should have been from the friends of the family . . . if things go on as they are I am sure it will have worse consequences than you imagine. Sir James Abercromby has given his interest so I hope my brother Orkney will push that no more. I never heard of that third person you say the town of Lanark are for. If this be so I am sure it is an argument for Dr Graham’s dropping his pretension, for with the opposition Duchess Hamilton and her friends will be able to make he will never carry it.

Although the identity of Pencaitland’s son-in-law can be established, that of his ‘brother’, Dr Graham, remains uncertain. James Graham, a judge in the admiralty court, married Marion Hamilton, youngest daughter of Pencaitland, in 1700. Yet this Graham is thought to have been an only surviving son. One plausible candidate (though probably not his brother-german) is the London-based Scot, Thomas Graham, who was appointed apothecary to George I in 1716. In any event, Selkirk’s warning to Pencaitland forestalled Dr Graham’s candidacy. Furthermore, the identity of the unnamed individual supported by Lanark remains obscure, but some light is cast on this matter by the reports of Douglas to Morton on his own electoral difficulties. On 20 Mar. he had written from London that

the Duchess of Hamilton and Brandon and others of that family are making great interest against me in favour of William Hamilton, a son of [William Hamilton of] Wishaw, who is solicitor here, and I believe I shall lose the election for Sir James Carmichael is to assist them with Lanark and they are to assist him in his election for the shire of Linlithgow, and they have carried off Selkirk from me by their new alliance with [Murray of] Philiphaugh so that I despair of succeeding, Lanark having the casting vote.

He remained pessimistic during May but was ‘resolved to push it to the last’. Returning to Scotland, he reported on 27 Aug. that

I have been through all my burghs and have Peebles and Selkirk secure, but have little or no hopes of Lanark or Linlithgow, by which I will lose the election, Lanark being the presiding burgh and they two are joined for Sir James Carmichael, but in case he be chosen for the shire they are to be for the provost of Linlithgow’s brother-in-law who resides at London.

It is clear therefore that the agreement between the 4th Duchess of Hamilton and Carmichael had broken down. The latter (who enjoyed wide-ranging support, including that of his uncle the Marquess of Annandale and his kinsman Lord Hyndford) was intent on gaining the shire in spite of opposition from the Hamiltons, and had no intention of supporting William Hamilton for the burgh district under any circumstances. Indeed, the above-mentioned son-in-law of the provost of Linlithgow may well be identical with the unnamed individual noted by Selkirk in his letter to Pencaitland. The fracturing of the Hamilton- Carmichael pact, which may have been a by-product of partisan and religious conflict in the county, provided a perfect opportunity for Douglas, who had declared to the 4th Duchess prior to leaving London that ‘he had rather the devil himself were chose’ than her nominee. With great delight, Douglas reported to Morton on 23 Sept. that the Duchess of Hamilton

hath insisted so violently against me . . . that I was obliged to join with Sir James Carmichael and thereby hath defeat[ed] her Grace who came to Lanark to solicit the magistrates and stayed therewith all night to no purpose. She got Linlithgow and Selkirk to vote for Hamilton, and I caused Peebles [to] join Lanark . . . for Sir James Carmichael by which he hath carried the election, and Sir James and the magistrates of Lanark hath engaged to vote for me at the next election. I declare I had rather given £100 than her grace had carried the election for Hamilton, for I told her . . . that though she might do me hurt yet it was not possible that she should carry it.

The Duchess, meanwhile, had written to Lord Oxford, falsely asserting that ‘the election for Lanark went for Mr Hamilton’, adding by way of qualification that ‘the towns that opposed him not being qualified by law however we must make a double return’. This was mere bluster on her part, since the authorization of the return was the responsibility of the sheriff-depute, who was answerable to the elder Duchess as sheriff of Lanarkshire. She declined to comply with her daughter-in-law’s wishes, and Carmichael was duly returned. William Hamilton petitioned, but the case was never reported. Douglas recaptured the seat at the next election, profiting from his agreement with Carmichael and the electors of Lanark, but lost it to a third party in 1722.5

Author: David Wilkinson


  • 1. Carried by the casting vote of Lanark as presiding burgh.
  • 2. Hamilton mss at Lennoxlove, C3/325, Selkirk to Pencaitland, 18 May N.S. 1713; Hist. Scot. Parl. 107, 523, 670-1; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 274, 278-9, 331, 334.
  • 3. J. Ferguson, Linlithgow Palace, 220-2, 298; C. Rogers, Memorials Scot. Fam. of Glen, 13; C219/106; Edinburgh Courant, 26-28 May 1708; SRO, Hamilton mss GD406/1/5492, [-] to 3rd Duchess of Hamilton, 27 May 1708; SRO, Peebles burgh recs. B58/13/3, council mins. 14 Apr. 1708; J.W. Buchan, Hist. Peeblesshire ii. 74; SRO, Morton mss GD150/3462/1, William Inglis to Douglas, 27 Oct. 1708.
  • 4. Morton mss GD150/3461/7, Douglas to Morton, 20 Mar. 1713.
  • 5. Add. 70223, 4th Duchess of Hamilton to Oxford, 31 Aug., 21 Sept. [1713]; R. W. Buss, Fam. of Fleetwood, 2-5; Hamilton mss at Lennoxlove, C3/1621, 4th to 3rd Duchess of Hamilton, 10 Feb. 1713; C3/1585, same to same, 28 Mar. [1713]; C3/1628, William Hamilton to same, 10 Feb. 1713; C3/8, D. Crawford to same, 25 Feb. 1713; C3/1592, Selkirk to same, 16 Apr. N.S. 1713; C3/9, Abercromby to [4th Duchess], 14 Mar. 1713; C3/325, Selkirk to Pencaitland, 18 May N.S. 1713; Scot. Rec. Soc. xxvii. 303; lxvi. 86; L. G. Graeme, Or and Sable, 607; P. J. and R. V. Wallis, 18th Cent. Medics, 239; L. G. Matthews, Royal Apothecaries, 146; Scot. Peerage ed. Paul, ii. 42-43, 48-49; Morton mss GD150/3461/7-8, 12, Douglas to Morton, 20 Mar., 10 May, 27 Aug. 1713; C219/114.