PRINGLE, John (c.1674-1754), of The Haining, Selkirk.
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Family and Education
b. c.1674, 2nd s. of Andrew Pringle of Clifton by Violet, da. of John Rutherford of Edgerston, Roxburgh. educ. Edinburgh Univ., MA 1692, ?Utrecht, 1696, adv. 1698. m. 22 Nov. 1713 (with 18,000 merks) Ann, da. of Sir James Murray, MP [S], of Philliphaugh, Selkirk, Ld. Philliphaugh SCJ, ld. clerk register [S], sis. of John Murray† of Philliphaugh, 3s. 3da. Styled Ld. Haining, 1729–d.1
MP [S] Selkirkshire 1702–7.
Commr. Equivalent [S] 1707–13 Jan. 1715; jt. keeper of the signet [S] 1711–13; ld. of session 1729–d.2
Burgess, Ayr 1709, Edinburgh 1735; councillor, Selkirk 1724–42.3
John Pringle was the beneficiary of the unscrupulous but advantageous matchmaking of his father, who succeeded in reuniting the Pringle estates via the marriage of his niece and his eldest son, Robert. This manoeuvre had involved more than a hint of chicanery, since the future heiress had been clandestinely removed across the border until her intended bridegroom was of marriageable age. The legal ramifications in Scotland were later ironed out by the payment of compensation to an aggrieved relative of the bride. The financial security thus obtained not only permitted John Pringle to benefit from a university education and vocational training as a lawyer, but also enabled his father in 1701 to purchase for him an estate costing £3,412. The Haining, in addition to being ‘very pleasant with its orchards, avenues, parks and planting’, was conveniently located on the periphery of the burgh of Selkirk, giving Pringle an immediate influence in the politics of both town and county. He took up residence in 1702 and had the barony of Haining ratified to him by the Scottish parliament in 1707. Pringle represented Selkirkshire from 1702 and, like his fellow county member John Murray* of Bowhill, owed his seat to the influence of the hereditary sheriff Sir James Murray of Philliphaugh. The connexion with Philliphaugh placed Pringle firmly in the Queensberryite camp and he voted consistently with the Court, except in 1704, when (as a consequence of Queensberry’s dissatisfaction at being superseded by Tweeddale and the ‘New Party’) Pringle voted in favour of the Duke of Hamilton’s motion to postpone settling the succession. In 1706 Pringle was described by the Jacobite agent Scot as being almost ‘entirely governed’ by Philliphaugh. Motives of personal and professional self-interest readily explain Pringle’s willingness to subordinate himself to such an eminent lawyer and influential politician. No electoral difficulties resulted from Philliphaugh’s death in 1708. John Murray, who succeeded his father as sheriff, continued to support Pringle’s return for Selkirkshire, and concurred in the marriage which took place in 1713 between Pringle and his, Murray’s, sister.4
In the Scottish parliament Pringle had given wholehearted support to Philliphaugh and Queensberry following their return to power in the wake of the failure of the ‘New Party’ experiment. Pringle followed the Court line with devoted regularity over the Union, apart from one absence of no apparent political significance. He was rewarded for his loyalty by inclusion in the list of Scottish representatives to the first Parliament of Great Britain, securing an additional mark of recognition in his appointment on 5 June 1707 as a commissioner for the Equivalent. Pringle probably viewed this as a stepping stone to future advancement. At Westminster he swiftly revealed his ministerialist colours by speaking against the abolition of the Scottish privy council in December 1707. He conceded the fact of former abuses but argued that limitations and restraints were preferable to abolition. Somewhat surprisingly, when the business of the Equivalent came before Parliament during February and March 1708, Pringle’s name does not figure in the Journals on this question, although other committee nominations indicate that he remained in London at least until mid-February. It remains possible that, without being specifically mentioned, Pringle participated in the proceedings on the Equivalent under the blanket description of those ‘that serve for North Britain’. Whatever his level of participation in the formulation of the Act for ‘further directing’ the payment of the Equivalent, he stood to benefit from the clause which promised a salary of £300 p.a. to the commissioners. One significant improvement made by the Equivalent Act of 1708 was that the task of classifying the claims on the Equivalent was transferred from the now defunct Scottish treasury to the barons of the Scottish exchequer. In April 1708 Pringle was rumoured to be a possible appointee to one of these places, but he failed to gain this promotion. In July he was even rumoured as a candidate for appointment to the court of session, but his career was insufficiently advanced to warrant serious consideration for such a prestigious post.5
At the general election of 1708 Pringle was re-elected without any difficulty. Assessing the political situation in December, he wrote that ‘matters in the House of Commons are much as last year, but I must say our commons from North Britain are a little more at one, and they have had the fortune to evidence their unanimity’. He went on to describe the decisive role played by the Scottish Members in securing the victory of the Tory candidate in the Westminster election case. He promised William Bennet* that he would ‘drink a bottle on this excellent occasion of our countrymen’s showing their power in the House’. Pringle was an active Member and his interest in Scottish affairs and legal matters was evident in a series of nominations to drafting committees: a bill to encourage the fishery (18 Dec. 1708); another to ease insolvent debtors (17 Jan. 1709); and a further measure to standardize treason laws following the Union (29 Jan.). Whether he joined in the widespread Scottish opposition to this last measure is unknown. He was also included, on 12 Mar., with those Members ordered to draft a bill to regulate the militia in Scotland.6
Pringle, who had been retained in the reduced Equivalent commission, presented to the House an abstract of the remaining demands upon the Equivalent on 11 Mar. 1710. In accordance with Queensberry’s promise to support the ministry, Pringle voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710. After the fall of Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†), he transferred his allegiance to the new ministry under Robert Harley*. Before the general election the Earl of Mar paid tribute to Pringle’s growing reputation as a man of business, describing him as ‘a really very good lad, very well esteemed among the English’, adding that few of the Scottish Members could ‘be of so much use’ at Westminster.7
Re-elected without opposition, Pringle was classified as a Whig in the ‘Hanover list’ (presumably because of his earlier support for the Godolphin ministry); but the Duchess of Buccleuch’s chaplain, Richard Dongworth, was closer to the mark with his description of him as a Court Tory. He told for adjourning consideration of the merits of the return for Aberdeen Burghs on 1 Feb. 1711, and played a prominent part during proceedings at the bar over the disputed election for Kinross-shire: his first intervention was to ask for counsel to withdraw, and he then made a declaration in favour of the sitting Member, Mungo Graham, only to reverse that opinion when the lawyers re-entered the House. His third speech voiced further doubts on technical aspects of the case, but to Graham’s surprise ‘Pringle changed his mind for the fourth time . . . was for me in the question, and not only so but a teller for me’. This conduct placed him alongside the Squadrone Member John Cockburn, and in the opposite camp from ‘Harley’s people’ among the English, and seven or eight Scottish Tories. It would appear, therefore, that Pringle had wished for the case to be considered on its merits, rather than as a party cause. Otherwise, he continued to support the ministry and soon benefited from his decision to support Lord Treasurer Oxford (the former Harley). Following the death of Queensberry in July 1711, it suited Oxford’s purposes to leave vacant the post of secretary of state for Scotland, thereby pre-empting a bout of magnate rivalry and simultaneously releasing a lucrative office, the Scottish signet, formerly held by the secretary. As part of Oxford’s new scheme for governing Scotland Pringle was appointed joint keeper of the signet with William Cochrane*. The profits from the signet, according to a contemporary estimate, amounted to 30,000 merks p.a.: one modern historian has calculated its annual worth at about £1,300. A private agreement was made, at Oxford’s behest, to split the profits three ways to include Sir Alexander Areskine, 2nd Bt.* As an unofficial participant, Areskine was unable to establish his claim and never received his share. The refusal of Pringle and Cochrane to part with their money was later described by Mar as extremely ‘unjust’.8
The financial rewards of office helped compensate Pringle for continuing service (time-consuming and still unpaid) as a commissioner for the Equivalent. In May 1711 the public accounts commission, intent on discovering maladministration under the Godolphin ministry, had called for all vouchers and written records relating to the distribution of the Equivalent. Upon petition from the Equivalent commissioners, a compromise solution was devised whereby an Act empowering the barons of the exchequer to conduct the examination in Scotland obviated the inconvenience of transporting all the documentation from Edinburgh to London. Unfortunately for Pringle and the other commissioners, this solution did not satisfy the Lords, who insisted on the papers being brought down. On 15 Nov. 1711 Pringle wrote to the lord treasurer from Edinburgh informing him that Hon. Sir Andrew Hume*, Sir Patrick Johnstone* and himself would ‘attend their Lordships with our accounts and vouchers’, at the same time promising Oxford that they would not take any step in this matter without his ‘advice and approbation’. Pringle once more presented to the Commons a ‘general abbreviate’ of the Equivalent accounts on 23 Jan. 1712. Although the Commons proceeded so far as to present a report on 5 Apr. 1712, the Lords found no time to consider the accounts and papers, leaving the business effectively stalled.9
Pringle was rapidly gaining a reputation as a useful political contact because of his good relationship with Oxford. He acted as a conduit of information and minor patronage, and was sometimes employed to sound out Scottish opinion. He spoke against the introduction of the Scottish toleration bill on 21 Jan. 1712, arguing that it was contrary to the Claim of Right, and told against the passage of the bill on 7 Feb. He was formally thanked for his conduct by the presbytery of Selkirk. A teller on 19 Mar. against an opposition amendment to reduce the estimates for guards and garrisons, Pringle was also nominated to prepare a bill to encourage the import of naval stores from Scotland (9 Apr.). On 18 June he carried to the Lords the bill appointing circuit courts in Scotland.10
During the malt tax crisis and the campaign to dissolve the Union in 1713, Pringle was forced to trim between his loyalty to the ministry and half-hearted attempts to maintain some credibility as a Scot. On 23 May, two days after the House had extended the malt tax to Scotland, Pringle attended a meeting of Scottish Members and signed the resultant memorandum calling for a joint conference of Scottish representatives to devise a motion for the dissolution of the Union. He may have participated only to gain inside information for the ministry. Certainly, George Lockhart* was convinced that Pringle was acting as Oxford’s spy. At the joint meeting of Scottish peers and commoners on 26 May Pringle joined George Baillie* in raising objections, but these ran counter to the general sentiment in favour of sending a deputation to the Queen. After a further meeting to consider the Queen’s negative response, it was agreed to raise the question of dissolving the Union in the Lords. The summary defeat of this manoeuvre did not, however, mark the end of the ministry’s difficulties in Parliament: Pringle, who had already made clear where his greater loyalty lay, voted on 4 and 18 June in support of the contentious French commerce bill.11
One consequence of the parliamentary crisis of 1713 was that Oxford was forced to reconsider his management of Scotland, the supposed advantages of leaving the Scottish secretaryship vacant having proved unsound. During the summer recess he decided to appoint Mar to this office. It seems likely that Pringle got wind of this intended change and realized that the keepership of the signet would automatically revert to its status as a subsidiary emolument for the secretary. He tried to put a brave face on his disappointment and made a virtue of his probable dismissal by writing to Oxford in advance of receiving official notification:
I am not unaware but that at this time your lordship may be obliged for the public good to make some alteration in the Scots affairs; however, [if] it seems good for your lordship’s service I shall be contented, and will depend only upon your lordship’s favour and protection when agreeable to your lordship’s convenience.
This exercise in self-abnegation did not gain him any compensatory reward upon his removal from the keepership following Mar’s appointment in September. In the same letter Pringle had also predicted a hint of opposition to his interest in Selkirkshire.
I beg leave to take notice of the malice and envy of some, which has gone so far as not only to make me ridiculous in relation to your lordship, but also to attempt the prevention of my election and quiet at home: neither of which they have been able hitherto (or I hope ever shall) effect.
He was, in the event, returned once more without a contest. In Lord Polwarth’s analysis of the Scottish returns, he was described as a ‘Jacobite’, in other words a Tory.12
In this Parliament Pringle continued his involvement with Equivalent business. On 7 June the commissioners attended the lord treasurer with a petition complaining that the consideration of their accounts had been repeatedly delayed and that they had attended Parliament for three years without tangible redress. They were ‘still accountable for upwards of £380,000’ and ‘unable to discharge the other part of their trade’. Having been summoned to attend the lords with their accounts, they ‘did not know whether they were at liberty to carry them back to Scotland till they were acquitted’. Oxford’s response was to refer the matter to Parliament, but his own difficulties, combined with a lack of real interest in this problem, meant that he did not present the whole question to Parliament. Instead there were piecemeal proceedings in both Houses: Pringle was one of those examined before the Lords in June and July; meanwhile in the Commons a bill was passed discharging the commissioners of responsibility for the sums already issued. The Equivalent Act of 1714, while confirming that the commissioners were undoubtedly entitled to their salaries, did not include any provision to give immediate priority to their payment. A further reduction in the size of the Equivalent commission was decided upon, and it was hardly surprising that Pringle was excluded from the new list that was issued by the Whig ministry the following year.13
Pringle had taken care to join those ‘gentlemen of quality’ who added their signatures to the Privy Council’s proclamation of George I on 1 Aug. 1714. His assessment of the political changes following the succession was that ‘not only the Tories but even the Whigs themselves seem to think that those employed by his Majesty are too . . . much of one way or rather of one family’, but Pringle signalled his intention not to become embroiled in party strife. ‘I have not yet taken any measure for myself’, he informed John Clerk* on 29 Oct., ‘nor will I be rash, and I hope to be with you when there’s occasion for it.’ In a further letter on 16 Apr. 1715, Pringle analysed proceedings towards Oxford’s impeachment. He thought that the intention was to ‘reach him upon the peace’ and that matters could not realistically be taken beyond charges of ‘crimes of high misdemeanour’, despite the fact that ‘one side talk very high’. Pringle also asserted that most people believed Oxford to have engaged in ‘no manner of treasonable correspondence’, adding that ‘I have thought my interest to go along with the fallen party, for some time, but you may answer for it that I will always be firm to the constitution of Church and state as by law now established, and I will not join in opposition to the King’s service’.14
Although he had earlier declared himself to be ‘weary of parliamenteering’, Pringle decided to retain his seat in 1715. He was described straightforwardly as a Whig in one analysis of the new Parliament, but his voting record was not entirely overlooked, for in the Worsley list he was classified as a Whig who had voted with the Tories in the old Parliament. He voted consistently with the government for the remainder of his parliamentary career. He was eventually rewarded with a place in the court of session, assuming the title of Lord Haining on 1 July 1729. The achievement of this cherished ambition was partly due to the influence of John Scrope†, secretary to the Treasury, who had ‘insisted hard for Pringle’ at the time of the previous vacancy in 1725, and by so doing made it virtually certain that Pringle would succeed to the next.15
Lord Haining continued to be active in local politics and devoted much of his attention to promoting the legal career of his eldest son, Andrew, who later achieved distinction as Lord Alemoor SCJ. He died at Edinburgh on 19 Aug. 1754 ‘in his eightieth year’ and was buried in the Old Kirkyard, Selkirk. His widow was sole executrix and inherited a life-rent which had been specified as a condition of their marriage contract. Her tocher of 18,000 merks, together with 12,000 merks of her husband’s money had been invested in land, which guaranteed her an annual income of 2,000 merks. Andrew, as his eldest son, succeeded to the estate at The Haining, but decided to transfer this property to his younger brother John, who therefore assumed responsibility for the considerable indebtedness with which it was encumbered. John Pringle later followed in his father’s footsteps by representing Selkirkshire from 1765.16
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: David Wilkinson
- 1. Hist. Scot. Parl. 573; Burke, LG (1855), 980; A. Pringle, Recs. of Pringles, 173–4; Edinburgh Graduates, 144; Album Studiosum Academiae Rehno-Tractiniae, col. 96; Scot. Rec. Soc. lxxvi. 174; xxxv. 437; Brunton and Haig, Senators Coll. Justice, 502.
- 2. Brunton and Haig, 502; CJ, xv. 419.
- 3. Carnegie Lib. Ayr, Ayr burgh recs. B6/18/8, council mins. 4 Oct. 1709; T. Craig Brown, Hist. of Selkirkshire, ii. 309; Scot. Rec. Soc. lxii. 164.
- 4. Craig Brown, 307; Lauder of Fountainhall, Hist. Notices (Bannatyne Club, lxxxvii), 669, 672–3; Scot. Hist. Soc. ser. 1, li(1), 355–6; APS, xi. 466; Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. app. 41; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 11.
- 5. Info. from Dr P. W. J. Riley on members of Scot. parl.; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 130, 177; R. Walcott, Pol. Early 18th Cent. 234; Cunningham, Hist. GB, ii. 135; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 213; SRO, Clerk of Penicuik mss GD18/3140/14, John to Sir John Clerk, 13 Apr. 1708; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/802/14, Mungo Graham* to Montrose, 6 July 1708.
- 6. SRO, Ogilvy of Inverquharity mss GD205/34/4, Pringle to Bennet, 18 Dec. 1708.
- 7. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiii. 234; Riley, Eng. Ministers, 214–5; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/975/11, Mar to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 29 July 1710.
- 8. NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 6, f. 19; Riley, Eng. Ministers, 168–70; HMC Portland, x. 324.
- 9. HMC Portland, 405.
- 10. Ibid. 464, 485; Add. 70292, Pringle to [Oxford], 21 July 1711; 70331, canvassing list; SRO, Seafield mss GD248/572/1/7/10, Abercromby to Findlater, 18 Jan. 1712; Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 6, f. 93.
- 11. Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Duff House (Montcoffer) mss 3175/2380, ‘Resolution of the Commons to Call a Meeting of the Lords’,  May 1713; Lockhart Pprs. i. 424–5; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 79–81; Parlty. Hist. i. 70.
- 12. Add. 70050, Pringle to Oxford, 2 Sept. 1713; HMC Portland, 443.
- 13. SRO, Grant of Monymusk mss GD345/1138/2/64, Alexander Grant* to Ld. Cullen, 6 Apr. 1714; HMC Lords, n.s. x. 357–8; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1708–14, p. 594.
- 14. Boyer, Pol. State, vii. 118; Clerk of Penicuik mss GD18/3153, Pringle to Clerk, 16 Apr. ; GD18/5284/1, same to same, 29 Oct. 1714.
- 15. J. S. Shaw, Management of Scot. Soc. 44–45; NLS, ms 16531, f. 21; Clerk of Penicuik mss GD18/3211, Pringle to Clerk, 3 June 1729.
- 16. Craig Brown, 109–10; DNB (Pringle, Andrew); London Mag. 1754, p. 380; Selkirkshire Antiq. Soc. Gravestone Inscriptions, i. 47; Pringle, 174–6.