CAMPBELL, Lord Frederick (1729-1816), of Ardencaple, Dunbarton, and Coombe Bank, Kent

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



1761 - 1780
1780 - July 1799

Family and Education

b. 1729, 2nd surv. s. of John Campbell (d. 1770) , 4th Duke of Argyll [S]; bro. of John, Lord Lorne, and Lord William Campbell.  educ. Westminster 1743-6; Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1747; M. Temple 1751, called 1754.  m. 28 Mar. 1769, Mary, da. of Amos Meredith, sis. of Sir William Meredith, wid. of Laurence Shirley, 4th Earl Ferrers, 2da.  suc. fa. to Coombe Bank estate 9 Nov. 1770.

Offices Held

M.P. [I] 1767-76.

Ld. privy seal [S] May-July 1765; P.C. 29 May 1765; chief sec. [I] 1767-8; ld. clerk register [S] 1768- d.; ld. of Trade 1786-1801; vice-treasurer [I] 1787-93; member Board of Control, India 1790-3.


Campbell, as a young lawyer, ‘knew necessity’ and ‘squeezed with difficulty’ 150 guineas from his patrimony to make a continental tour with his life-long friend Robert Murray Keith1 and on his return owed much of his practice to the assistance of his brother-in-law Henry Seymour Conway.2 In 1759 he became involved in the dispute over Ayr Burghs, which Argyll had intended for him, but when Bute set up Patrick Craufurd, Argyll gave his interest to Sir Adam Fergusson. When Bute, to settle the quarrel, offered to bring in Frederick as a candidate acceptable to them both, Argyll forbade him to stand unless Fergusson voluntarily withdrew.3 Eventually, when Fergusson had been induced to stand down, Frederick was returned, but on the very same day (20 Apr.) his brother, Lord Lorne, the unopposed candidate for Glasgow Burghs, became ineligible by their father’s accession as 4th Duke. Frederick was hastily brought in, in his brother’s place, as a stop-gap, but chose to retain the seat and relinquish Ayr Burghs.

On good terms with Bute and Stuart Mackenzie, he soon made his mark as a Government speaker; opposed, 11 Dec. 1761, the motion for Spanish papers; seconded the Address on the war with Spain, 19 Jan. 1762, ‘very handsomely both as to style and matter’;4 and in July was rewarded with the grant for life of the feu duty of the island of Islay, worth £450 p.a.5

He spoke 10 Dec. 1762 in favour of the Peace;6 continued to support Bute to the end of his Administration, but left him in autumn 1763 to attach himself to the Bedford party. Having seconded the Address, 16 Nov. ‘with great approbation and propriety’,7 he distinguished himself by the ‘warmth’ and ‘impetuosity’ of his speeches, particularly on Wilkes and general warrants8 and, violently disagreeing with Conway, made no protest against his dismissal. Walpole wrote:9

Lord Frederick was sensible, shrewd, and selfish; and on this and a subsequent crisis showed that no connexion or obligation could stand against the eagerness with which he pursued immediate fortune. Nothing else weighed with him, except the inveteracy of national prejudice. As Mr. Conway had acted in opposition to Scottish measures, Lord Frederick, forgetting Mr. Conway’s friendship and kindness and his own youthful situation, and borne away by a hot temper, often and indecently attacked him in Parliament, though without any brilliancy of parts to colour over such improper behaviour.

He opposed, 29 Jan. 1765, Sir William Meredith’s motion on general warrants, and, 5 Mar., Calvert’s motion for restraining the powers of the attorney-general; spoke 15 Feb. against receiving colonial petitions against the Stamp Act; and on the Regency question on 9 May favoured leaving the choice of regent to the King.10

On 23 May, Grenville, having forced the King to agree to Smart Mackenzie’s dismissal, nominated Lord Frederick to the office of lord privy seal (which Lorne had declined in his brother’s favour) together with the management of Scotland ‘under certain limitations ... but without access to the Closet’.11 Seven weeks later Grenville’s Administration was dismissed, and Lord Frederick, after consulting Lorne, on 23 July12 resigned his office with its £3,000 p.a., and followed Grenville and Bedford into Opposition.

In the new session he spoke13 and voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, although, since many Glasgow merchants favoured repeal, it was thought ‘he must leave his leader upon this question’.14 He continued to act with the Bedford group until December 1766, when, with Lorne, he ‘declared off’ from Bedford, adhered to the Chatham Administration, and voted with them on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767. Having in effect abandoned his legal practice, Campbell, with little money or property, except the Ardencaple estate (purchased for him by his father), now sought lucrative employment. He failed to obtain through Conway the office of vice-admiral of Scotland,15 but accepted appointment as chief secretary to Lord Townshend, the new lord lieutenant of Ireland. He wrote to William Mure, 25 Sept. 1767:16

Nothing should at present have made me solicit this troublesome office, with all its advantages, but, finding it handsomely and heartily offered, I thought I owed it to myself not to decline service.

His services were rewarded in 1768 by the office of lord clerk register.

Henceforth he voted consistently with Administration. On 28 Nov. 1772 he was elected to the secret committee on East India affairs, but declined the chairmanship. Possessed of a lucrative office and a fine estate, Lord Frederick now had less incentive to distinguish himself in Parliament and rarely spoke. A member of a social group, ‘the Gang’, which included Henry Drummond, Richard Rigby, Thomas Bradshaw, and Thomas Harley he preferred retirement at Coombe Bank, and maintained a certain detachment in controversial issues. Deploring North’s vacillation and the Cabinet’s divided views in the heated debate of 10 May 177317 on East India affairs, he spoke and voted on 21 May against Burgoyne’s motion condemning Clive.18 On American affairs, he wrote to Robert Murray Keith, 3 Feb. 1775:19 ‘This conflict is terrible-however, the Administration is united, firm and confident, yet many good men doubt.’ On 22 Mar. Campbell spoke against Burke’s conciliatory propositions, and on 8 Nov. advocated ‘vigorous armaments’.20

For financial reasons Campbell in autumn 1776 decided to reduce his London establishment and attend Parliament only some two days per week.21 Having unsuccessfully applied for the office of keeper of the signet in 1776, he was compensated with the grant of his registership for life in February 1777.22

In 1780, Campbell, in ill health and tired of the burden of representing Glasgow Burghs, decided to seek a county constituency. Certain of return for Argyllshire, he also stood for Dunbartonshire where the Argyll interest was seriously threatened. After a violent contest he was returned, but did not seriously contest the petition which George Keith Elphinstone brought against him.

As Member for Argyll he could now indulge his ‘idleness’.23 A placeman ‘attached to the Crown if not to the Government’, he supported successive Administrations; spoke 15 May 1782 in favour of a Scottish militia; and 17 Feb. 1783 declared that ‘he meant to vote honestly and fairly’ for the peace.24 Nonetheless he supported the Coalition, voted for Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783, and on the change of Administration took ‘a warm and zealous part’ in the address to the King against a dissolution.25

Listed ‘hopeful’ by Robinson in early January 1784, he spoke 12 Jan. in favour of considering Pitt’s East India bill: ‘He had voted for the other bill but whichever bill appeared to him to be the best ... by that he would abide.’26 On 20 Jan.27 he pleaded for moderation and an ‘accommodation between the parties in the present struggle for power’; thought the constitution was not in danger, but if the contrary was proved would join Fox. When Fox dispelled his ‘sanguine hopes of union’ Campbell went over to Pitt and by the end of the Parliament was counted ‘Administration’. In the new Parliament he supported Pitt’s measures, though strongly opposing his reform bill, 18 Apr. 1785.28 He was now closely connected with Henry Dundas who appointed him to the Board of Trade in 1786, and in 1787 secured for him the place of vice treasurer of Ireland. Sacrificing his ‘idleness’, he became more active in parliamentary business, was chairman of the committee of the whole House in May 1787 on East India affairs, and on more than one occasion urged Members to learn from his example to restrain their ‘warm tempers’.29 To avoid violent controversy, he proposed the deferment of the slave trade bill, 21 May 1788.30 A strong Government supporter in the Regency debate of 12 Dec. 1788, he had an acrimonious dispute with Fox who taunted him with time serving.31 He remained faithful to Pitt until at the age of 70 he resigned his seat.

Wraxall describes him in 1785:32

Lord Frederick ... still retained all the graces he had inherited from his mother. His figure united symmetry with elegance, and his manners, noble yet soft, dignified yet devoid of any pride or affectation, conciliated all who approached him. Devoid of shining talents, he nevertheless wanted not either ability or eloquence in a certain degree, both which were under the control of reason and temper.

He died 8 June 1816.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Campbell to Keith, 11 Apr. 1773, Mems. and Corresp. of Sir R. M. Keith, i. 402.
  • 2. Duke of Richmond to J. Caryll, 3 Jan. 1760, Add. 28233, f. 316.
  • 3. Argyll to Sir H. Erskine, Mar. 1761, Bute mss; Sir H. Bellenden to W. Mure 26 Mar. 1761, Caldwell Pprs. ii (I), p. 150; Argyll to R. Campbell, 4, 7 Apr. 1761; Frederick’s corresp. with Loudoun, Mar. and Apr. 1761, Loudoun mss.
  • 4. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
  • 5. Payable by Daniel Campbell of Shawfield, T17/18/213-5; see also Walpole Mems. Geo. III, ii. 127.
  • 6. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
  • 7. Grenville to the King, 16 Nov. 1763, Fortescue, i. 58.
  • 8. Harris’s ‘Debates’, 6, 14 Feb.; Onslow to Newcastle 13 Feb., Add. 32955, f. 462; Grenville to the King, 15 Feb., Grenville Pprs. ii. 262.
  • 9. Mems. Geo. III, i. 322.
  • 10. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
  • 11. Gilbert Elliot’s memorandum, Jenkinson Pprs. 372.
  • 12. Campbell to Grenville, 23 July, Grenville to Campbell, 25 July 1765, Grenville mss (JM); Jenkinson Pprs. 379.
  • 13. 17 Dec. 1765, Harris’s ‘Debates’, 3, 5 Feb. 1766; Ryder’s ‘Debates’, Harrowby mss.
  • 14. W. Rouet to W. Mure, 10 Jan. 1766, Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), pp. 58-59.
  • 15. Augustus Hervey to Grenville, 31 July 1767, T. Whately to Grenville, 24 Aug., Grenville Pprs. iv. 131, 157.
  • 16. Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), p. 124.
  • 17. See his letter to R. M. Keith of 11 May 1773, Mems. and Corresp. of Sir R. M. Keith, i. 407-10.
  • 18. Fortescue, ii. 489.
  • 19. Add. 35508, f. 256.
  • 20. Almon, i. 369; iii. 150.
  • 21. Campbell to Keith, 1, 27 Nov. 1776, Add. 35511, ff. 47, 81.
  • 22. Campbell to Keith, 7 Mar. 1777, ibid, f. 200.
  • 23. Campbell to Keith, 13 Mar. 1781, Add. 35521, f. 211.
  • 24. Debrett, vii. 165; ix. 288.
  • 25. See Fox’s attack upon him, 12 Dec. 1788, Stockdale, xvi. 38.
  • 26. Debrett xii. 520.
  • 27. Ibid. 608-9.
  • 28. Ibid. xviii. 78.
  • 29. e.g., 18 Apr. 1788, on naval promotions; Stockdale, xiv. 140.
  • 30. Ibid. xv. 76.
  • 31. Ibid. xvi. 38.
  • 32. Mems. iv. 77-78.