Single Member Scottish County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

26 in 1759, 114 in 1789


29 Apr. 1754William Mure 
16 Apr. 1761Patrick Craufurd 
 John Shaw Stewart20
24 Oct. 1774John Craufurd 
30 Sept. 1780John Shaw Stewart 
21 Aug. 1783WILLIAM McDOWALL vice McDowall, vacated his seat 
19 Oct. 1786John Shaw Stewart vice McDowall, vacated his seat63
 William McDowall44

Main Article

At the general election of 1754 William Mure, the sitting Member for Renfrewshire, was returned unopposed. An intimate friend of Bute, Mure early in 1759 took the lead in sponsoring the candidature of Patrick Craufurd in Ayr Burghs, in opposition to Lord Loudoun and the Duke of Argyll. This drew down upon him an opposition in Renfrewshire, where Lord Glencairn sponsored the candidature of William Cuninghame of Craigends.1 Mure wrote to Bute on 16 Oct. 1759, after the meeting of the Michaelmas head court:2

I too have got an antagonist, the most formidable that could have appeared in the county, the son of our late Member Cuninghame of Craigends, set up by Lord Glencairn, who had attempted to make four new votes ... to increase his influence. ... At the Michaelmas court ... I had the good fortune to out-number my opponents by more than two to one, so we kept off the roll the whole of Glencairn’s new creations and are preparing to stand a law suit in defence of our proceedings. During all this while, it was industriously given out that the Duke of Argyll was to give his interest to the other party. I found that made an impression, and several of my former friends promised me their votes only conditionally if he does not interfere.

Of the 26 freeholders who attended the head court, 13 declared for Mure, six for Cuninghame, and seven remained neutral, awaiting directions from Argyll.3

Mure immediately posted off to Inverary to placate Argyll, who, ‘excessively hurt’ by Bute’s opposition in Ayr Burghs, declined to give any assurances. Mure wrote to Bute on 16 Oct.:

When I talked to him of myself, he talked of you; when I mentioned the county of Renfrew, he recurred to the borough of Ayr. ... If let alone ... I carry it hollow. ... If I’m to be attacked merely from having the honour of being a friend of Lord Bute, I know I’ll be defended too. ’Tis not divided power that can hurt me. It would require the whole weight of influence.

Argyll was also courted by Glencairn and Loudoun, who, sending him the roll of Renfrewshire voters, wrote: ‘From the lists you will see the election depends entirely on your Grace.’4 Glencairn convinced himself that Argyll would declare in his favour, but in fact Argyll refrained from committing himself. In the spring of 1760 Loudoun prepared another survey of the electoral roll, which gave nine votes to Cuninghame, nine to Mure, seven on the Argyll interest, and one absent. With five newly-created votes for Cuninghame, eight for Mure, and one for Argyll, Loudoun calculated that with Argyll’s support Cuninghame would win by 22 to 17.5

But these calculations were overthrown when in September 1760 Argyll announced that he would support Mure. Negotiations now began for a settlement of the dispute between Bute and Argyll. Mure was to be made a baron of the Scottish Exchequer, and Argyll reluctantly agreed to accept Patrick Craufurd as Member for Renfrewshire. Mure’s appointment was made in February 1761, but the formal announcement was delayed until the dissolution of Parliament. Glencairn was placated by the offer of the governorship of Dumbarton castle, but Cuninghame and some of the independent voters remained obdurate. On 17 Apr. Craufurd wrote to Bute:

Yesterday I was unanimously elected for the county of Renfrew. My opponents continued their opposition till within a few days of the election, and then were convinced they would be beat by two to one, though I believe Lord Glencairn wished and inclined his friend would have dropped it sooner.

Patrick Craufurd, thus forced upon the county, was personally unpopular; Argyll’s death released his adherents from their obligations; and with little influence of his own in the county, Craufurd had to rely on the friendship of Mure and Bute. By the spring of 1765, when Bute was in eclipse, two prospective candidates had appeared for the next general election: John Shaw Stewart of Greenock, and William McDowall of Castle Semple. Mure realised that without a compromise Craufurd would be defeated, but his efforts to induce McDowall to withdraw were in vain.6 Shaw Stewart was equally resolved to stand a contest; and in the end Mure and Craufurd agreed to give their interest to McDowall on the understanding that McDowall would stand down at the following general election in favour of John Craufurd, Patrick’s son. Thus fortified, McDowall went on to defeat Shaw Stewart at the election.

At the general election of 1774 McDowall and John Craufurd joined their interests; and Shaw Stewart withdrew before polling day.7 Having fulfilled their election compact, McDowall and Craufurd, who heartily disliked each other, ended their alliance; and Mure’s death in 1776 left the situation in Renfrewshire fluid. At the general election of 1780, Shaw Stewart and McDowall, in order to throw out Craufurd, came to an agreement to divide the Parliament between them: Shaw Stewart was returned and in 1783 made way for William McDowall younger. A similar agreement was made in 1784, when it was agreed that McDowall should take the first turn. When the time came for him to vacate his seat in 1786, he broke the engagement and stood for re-election, but was defeated. At the end of this period William Adam calculated that Shaw Stewart could command 45 votes in Renfrewshire, as against 26 for McDowall, and only eight for Craufurd. The Mure interest, once so formidable, now numbered only two votes.8

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Caldwell Pprs. ii (1), p. 120; letters from Allan Whitefoord and Ld. Glencairn, Loudoun mss.
  • 2. Bute mss.
  • 3. List of the Renfrewshire roll, Loudoun mss.
  • 4. Loudoun to Argyll, 14 Oct. 1759, Argyll to Loudoun, 17 Oct. 1759, Loudoun mss.
  • 5. Loudoun mss.
  • 6. See McDOWALL, William.
  • 7. Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), 216, 220, 241.
  • 8. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, pp. 278-90.