HALKETT, Sir Peter, 1st Bt. (c.1660-1746), of Gosford, Haddington and Pitfirrane, Fife.
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Family and Education
b. c.1660, 2nd s. of Sir Peter Wedderburn of Gosford, Ld. Gosford SCJ, by his 2nd w. Agnes, da. of John Dickson of Hartree, Peebles, Ld. Hartree SCJ. educ. St. Andrews Univ. 1675. m. 1694 Janet (d. 1713), da. and event. h. of Sir Charles Halkett, 1st Bt., of Pitfirrane, 7s. (2 d.v.p.) 5da. (2 d.v.p.). cr. Bt. 31 Dec. 1697; suc. bro. to Gosford 1688, bro.-in-law to Pitfirrane and assumed name of Halkett 1705.1
Lt. R. Reg. Ft. 1686, capt. 1688.
Burgess, Glasgow 1700, Perth 1709; provost, Dunfermline 1705–34.2
MP [S] Dunfermline 1705–7.
Commr. visitation, St. Andrews Univ. 1718.
Wedderburn’s father was an eminent royalist lawyer, who was fined under the Protectorate, but succeeded in uniting his extensive Haddingtonshire properties as the barony of Gosford in 1659. Knighted at the Restoration, he was appointed to the court of session as Lord Gosford in 1668. On Gosford’s death in 1679, the estate passed to his eldest son, who was drowned at sea in 1688. Wedderburn therefore succeeded, and chose to abandon his military career. He was made a baronet in 1697, and in 1705 his wife’s inheritance of Pitfirrane in Fifeshire gave him sufficient influence to enter the Scottish parliament for Dunfermline, where he succeeded his late brother-in-law, Sir James Halkett, 2nd Bt. Wedderburn now assumed the surname Halkett. His first political forays, following in his predecessor’s footsteps, were as a Country oppositionist, but he later joined the Squadrone. He voted the party line of qualified support for the Union and was included in the Squadrone contingent of representatives to the first Parliament of Great Britain.3
Halkett was not a particularly active Member, securing only two appointments to drafting committees: to repeal the Scottish act of security (4 Dec. 1707) and to deter disloyal clan chiefs (11 Feb.). Only one speech is known, which survives as an undated copy in his own hand. It relates to George Baillie’s motion, in a committee of the whole on 29 Nov. 1707, for the abolition of the Scottish privy council, but (despite being addressed to ‘this honourable committee’) may have been delivered upon the report of this resolution on 11 Dec. Despite such uncertainties, the speech clearly indicates that Halkett was a Squadrone supporter:
A separate council in Scotland will be dangerous not only to that part of Britain, but to the whole island; the many attempts upon our liberty . . . committed by a council in Scotland have been so fully represented by many worthy Members, that even those who have spoke for continuing of it there, are of opinion that it should be but for a time, so that I believe there is not one in this House who is not persuaded of the necessity of laying it aside some time or other, the only debate which remains, is when that should be done . . . The solid foundation of a peaceable and lasting government is most firmly established upon the hearts of the people, who will not refuse to submit to wholesome laws, when by the just execution of them the subjects are made sensible that they conduce to the happiness and advantage of the whole body politic . . . It is love and affection to the government which makes it happy and secure; how this love, this affection is to be purchased by a separate council, is what I cannot understand. The apprehensions of a council which had been in use to exercise so much arbitrary power, may establish terror but never love . . . The most effectual way of procuring that peace and quiet, which all good men wish for, is to put us under the same government with England; nobody is ignorant of the happiness of its constitution, under which the subject enjoys liberty and property, and the monarch can put the laws into execution with safety . . . If the use of a separate council be easy to keep the peace, which is all that is pretended, . . . that may be done with greater safety by other judicatures, which being diffused through the whole nation, the great body of the nobility and gentry will apply themselves to preserve the common security, when they are fully entrusted with putting the laws into execution, and when there is no separate council to discourage them from doing their duty.
Apart from references to Halkett socializing with Squadrone leaders, no further evidence of his activities at Westminster has been discovered. He returned to Scotland shortly before the prorogation and was present at a meeting of Fifeshire freeholders on 20 Mar. 1708, when he supported Lord Rothes over a loyal address to the crown. His deference to the Squadrone leadership was also evident in his willingness to support, via his Dunfermline interest, the candidacy for Stirling Burghs of Lord Yester, the Marquess of Tweeddale’s son. It had been mooted, as part of this arrangement, that Halkett himself might stand for another district of burghs or even for Fifeshire, but nothing came of this. He continued to enjoy the favour of Rothes, who desired his candidacy for a subsequent Fifeshire by-election. Halkett rejected this suggestion, and is not known to have stood on any subsequent occasion. His eldest son, Peter, successfully contested Stirling Burghs in 1734. Halkett died on 20 Mar. 1746 and was buried in Dunfermline Abbey. Under the provisions of entails made in 1706, which later gave rise to protracted litigation, the estate of Pitfirrane and the name of Halkett passed to the eldest son, whereas Gosford went to the second son, Charles, who retained the Wedderburn name.4
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: David Wilkinson
- 1. A. Wedderburn, Wedderburn Bk. i. 369, 371, 374–6; NLS, ms 6503, ff. 37–47; Hist. Scot. Parl. 310–11, 723; Retours of Heirs, i. Haddington, 360–1; Scot. Rec. Soc. lxvii. 49.
- 2. Scot. Rec. Soc. lvi. 243; Sandeman Lib. Perth, Perth burgh recs. B59/24/1/17, p. 14, list of burgesses; Hist. Scot. Parl. 311.
- 3. Pitfirrane mss 6503, ff. 37–47; Brunton and Haig, Senators Coll. of Justice, 394; Hist. Scot. Parl. 310–11, 723; Services of Heirs (ser. 1), i. 1700–9, p. 11; Wedderburn, 374–6; APS, xi. 236–7; info. from Dr P. W. J. Riley on members of Scot. parl.; P. W.?J. Riley, Union, 334.
- 4. Pitfirrane mss 6503, ff. 140–1; Roxburghe mss at Floors Castle, bdle. 795, William Bennet* to Countess of Roxburghe, 15 Nov. 1707; bdle. 755, Roxburghe to same, 25 Dec. 1707; bdle. 739, R. Hay, to same, 28 Mar. 1708; NLS, ms 7021, f. 126; 14415, f. 165; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/159/4, same to Montrose, 30 Mar. 1708; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/754/19, Mar to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 17 Apr. 1708; Wedderburn, 374–6, 386–7.