Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

148 in 1790 reduced to 98 in 1811


 Hon. Charles Douglas13
 Hon. Charles Douglas27
 Sir Alexander Forrester Inglis Cochrane45

Main Article

The predominant interest was that of Archibald, 8th Duke of Hamilton, restored in 1774 and unchallenged since. While the duke repeatedly complained of Pitt’s neglect of his applications for local patronage, his nominee Sir James Steuart Denham was, in the view of both, a uniform supporter of Pitt’s administration.2 On the death of the duke in 1799, the situation was changed by the succession of his uncle with two sons of parliamentary age, an event which at once prompted Sir James Steuart Denham to remind government of his claims on their support. Lord Archibald Hamilton, the new duke’s second son, informed his friend Lord Holland, 28 Oct. 1799: ‘The county of Lanark, I suppose, will be at my father’s disposal—my brother cannot sit for Scotland—ergo I must, probably, be the man’. In January 1801, in anticipation of a dissolution, he offered for the county, claiming privately that the opposition to him had ‘tried their strength clandestinely’ and would, if there were any prospect of their succeeding, persist. No effective opposition materialized, for on 11 June 1802 Sir James Steuart Denham declined a contest, ‘in favour of harmony in the county’, though he claimed that he would have succeeded. Henry Dundas backed him against Hamilton, whose family were considered ‘decidedly hostile’ to Dundas: the latter, according to Hamilton, had declared ‘bellum internecinum’ against the Hamiltons.3

Lord Archibald Hamilton’s opposition politics provided a further reason for challenging him in the eyes of those interests on which the Hamiltons had trodden to obtain control of the county. One such was Lord Douglas of Bothwell, the controversial heir to the late Duke of Douglas’s estates, who was married to a sister of Henry, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch. On 16 July 1804 Buccleuch informed Lord Melville:

My son Lord Dalkeith has been for some time past very anxious to prevail upon Lord Douglas to bring forward one of his sons as Member for the county of Lanark. It has also been my opinion that the gentlemen of that county would be very glad to exchange one of them for Lord Archibald Hamilton.

He added that Lord Douglas agreed, ‘if he could be sure of the support of government’, and that ‘I think ministers, I mean the present administration, would not be sorry to humble the proud spirit of the Hamiltons’. Although Sir Charles Ross had ‘views on Lanarkshire’ when he doubted his success in Ross-shire in 1805, he yielded to Buccleuch’s scheme, which involved bestowing county patronage on the Douglases, and received Pitt’s consent. By December 1805 Lord Archibald knew that his opponent was to be Lord Douglas’s younger son Maj. Charles Douglas, whose candidature was publicly avowed. The challenge was taken up by Hamilton before Pitt’s death brought his own friends to power.4

In the spring of 1806 the Grenville ministry had no doubt that Douglas could not ‘shake’ Hamilton:

This is the Duke of Hamilton’s interest against Lord Douglas’s, neither of which can calculate upon having the county at their disposal, upon a general principle, because there are many very considerable interests in the county and attached to neither family.

Lord Melville was doubtless gratified to be informed, 18 May 1806: ‘The Hamiltons during their short reign have contrived to make themselves universally odious. The only chance they have of carrying the county is their party being in power.’ This certainly was material, for when Lord Douglas, the candidate’s father, applied to the premier at that time to ask support ‘as a friend of government’, Grenville received him ‘very coldly and told him very fairly, that he did not understand on what ground he stated himself to be a friend of government while he was voting against them’. Lord Archibald maintained that Douglas was ‘the mere instrument of Lord Melville’ and complained bitterly of government’s lack of activity on his behalf in the county, though still more of their neglect of Linlithgow Burghs, on which he meant to fall back if defeated and where Melville’s nephew was successfully challenging the Hamilton interest.5 In the county, at least, he was quite safe, receiving more than three times as many votes as Douglas. Even in 1807 when, on the change of government, Douglas was the official favourite, Hamilton managed to retain his seat by nine votes. Lord Douglas, who persisted in ‘countering the violent and powerful influence of the Hamilton family’, pressed the government to bestow not only county patronage but other favours on his friends, to strengthen their cause, in April 1808, In November 1810 the Melvillite forecast was: ‘Doubtful contest. The Duke of Hamilton should be the best but not calculated to improve an interest.’6

On 27 Jan. 1811 Lord Douglas informed Lord Melville that a scrutiny of the roll showed 51 for Hamilton against 28 for Douglas, nine doubtful, and those likely to be enrolled ‘nearly equal’. He therefore thought his son’s prospects of success ‘very small indeed’ and suggested that he should give up, if only in favour of another candidate, though he could have wished ‘his Majesty’s servants’ had been ‘a little more attentive to their friends, and more determined to support them’. Melville, in reply, 30 Jan. 1811, disclaimed responsibility:

so far as I can judge from an inspection of your roll, I am rather inclined to think that no exertion of government interest could have enabled you to counteract effectually the Hamilton interest, from the dissolution of Mr Pitt’s government to the present day, nor do I think it will be accomplished for a considerable time to come. Various circumstances concur to induce me to entertain that opinion. The interest of the Hamilton family was at all times naturally the paramount interest in Lanarkshire. There is at this day more real spirit of clanship in that county than what now remains in most counties of the north, and, with very few exceptions the connection and descendants of the family of Hamilton have kept in a body, and notwithstanding much neglect and mismanagement they have generally rallied to their standard when the interest of the family of Hamilton was at stake.

After referring to the success of a combination of ‘the upper ward against the lower ward of Clydesdale’ engineered by his brother against the Hamilton interest many years before, he added:

I need not tell you that this division of interests and jealousy between the Upper and Lower wards is now quite annihilated as to any political effects, and upon investigating your roll sent to me, I observed a very considerable number of those who used to be steady supporters of the Upper ward interest standing in the list of Lord Archibald Hamilton’s friends.

‘But,’ Melville went on,

this is not the only or perhaps the chief support which the family at Hamilton at present enjoys. The Jacobinical spirit introduced into the country a considerable number of years ago and still confederated together under the name of the Foxite interest has been and continues to be the great prop of the interest of the Hamilton family in Lanarkshire. There are very few of the great families of Scotland of Jacobinical principles and not many attached on any principle to the coalition which forms the present formidable opposition to his Majesty’s government. I believe I am not very far wrong when I say there is scarcely any family of very high rank except the family of Hamilton ... They naturally are looked up to as their main pillars, and whenever their interest is in any respect attacked or in danger, there is not a Jacobin or a Foxite in the whole country that will not step forward to protect their interests at any risk or inconvenience to themselves.

After pointing out that there were 19 at least of this description on the roll, Melville concluded:

I am ready to admit that a very great part of their support rests on a hollow and rotten foundation and will most certainly moulder away. But its fall will not be by any vigorous exertion at the present moment. It will take place gradually.

No substitute for Charles Douglas materialized and on 5 Oct. 1812 he declined a contest from ‘considerations of a private nature, and my acquaintance with the present state of the roll of freeholders’. Privately, he wrote: ‘My way of living with them, or rather, not living with them for these last five years, put success out of the question, and with a long train of etcetera reasons brought on that conclusion’.7

By the autumn of 1816 Lord Archibald Hamilton had been confronted with a new challenger, Sir Alexander Forrester Inglis Cochrane*, ‘supported by the weight of government joined to Lord Douglas and Sir James Stewart’s interest’. In his election address of 10 June 1818 Hamilton, delayed in London, wrote, ‘You are aware that a contest in the county has prevailed nearly two years: I wish I could add that in the progress of that contest, no influence had been exerted foreign to the county itself’.8 There were threatening symptoms from his point of view. In 1816 Miss Hamilton, illegitimate daughter of the late duke, had offered her interest to government in exchange for a baronetcy for a friend, and in January 1818 Lord Douglas asked Lord Melville for the same favour for Stirling, whose family had abandoned the Hamiltons in favour of his protégé Cochrane. On 5 Jan. 1818 William Eliott Lockhart reported to the Duke of Buccleuch:

I am informed that the Hamilton cause is rather declining in the county and that some were repenting of the promise they had made. Lord Archibald finds it difficult to dispose of his nominal votes ... It is a pity Sir A. Cochrane had started so early.

On 10 Apr. 1818 Lord Archibald exposed in the House an offer of a situation under government by Thomas Ferguson, an agent of Lord Douglas’s, in exchange for a vote. Douglas denied authorizing it and got away with it, leaving Ferguson to be reprimanded.9

At the election, which took place in church because the county hall proved too small, there was ‘a great deal of indecency and violence’. On 3 July (at 3 a.m.) Hamilton emerged the victor. He had suffered a setback through the Stirlingshire election being arranged for the same day. His choice of praeses, Sir John Maxwell of Pollok, had been preferred to Cochrane’s choice, Sir William Maxwell of Calderwood. The result was that while new claimants for Hamilton were accepted, eight of those for Cochrane—including Cochrane himself—were rejected. Cochrane, proposed by Charles Douglas and seconded by lord clerk register, protested at nine of Hamilton’s votes, but that was not enough to change the result.10 Lord Archibald informed Lord Holland, 10 July, that he was re-elected

in spite of all the machinations of ministers and their agents here—and of the baseness of some of their instruments ... indeed I never witnessed in Scotland so much appearance of public spirit and political feeling as upon the event of my victory ... The nature and extent of the exertions made against my success were so gross, as to leave even here a sort of rebound and many of the supporters of ministers do most cordially rejoice at my return.

A petition held no fears for Hamilton, since ‘a void election would serve me infallibly, as I have a large majority of the new voters’: but if he were obliged to counter-petition, it would not be in objection to the validity of certain votes, but to ‘the whole proceedings’, which he deemed irregular. The petitions against his return failed. Cochrane was to have stood in 1820, but gave it up: he could ill afford the contest of 1818 and had had recourse to a subscription after the election.11 Lord Archibald was secure for life and Charles Douglas did not win the seat until 1830.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Return amended by order of the House, 17 Dec. 1790, inserting ‘Denham’ after ‘Steuart’.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/129, f. 119; 141, ff. 111, 139, 151, 157.
  • 3. SRO GD51/5/364/11; Add. 33049, ff. 350, 354; 51570, Hamilton to Holland, 28 Oct. [1799], [2, 16 Feb. 1801], 12 Oct. [1802]; Blair Adam mss, Coutts Trotter to Adam, 27 Jan. 1801; Edinburgh Advertiser, 9-13 July 1802.
  • 4. SRO GD51/1/198/15/24; Add. 39196, f. 178; HO102/19/270, Sir C. Ross to J. King, 26 Nov.; Blair Adam mss, Hamilton to Adam, 18 Dec. [1805]; Edinburgh Advertiser, 3-7, 24-28 Jan. 1806.
  • 5. Spencer mss, Scottish list, 1806; SRO GD51/9/248/1; NLS mss 11061, f. 97; Fortescue mss, Hamilton to H. Erskine, 20 Sept. 1806.
  • 6. Edinburgh Advertiser, 18-21 Nov. 1806, 26-29 May 1807; NLS mss 1, ff. 206-9; 9, ff. 30, 32.
  • 7. NLS mss 1, ff. 228, 232; Edinburgh Advertiser, 23 Oct.; SRO GD224/581, C. Douglas to Buccleuch [recd. 8 Oct. 1812].
  • 8. Edinburgh Advertiser, 12, 16, 23 June 1818; NLS mss 2265, ff. 98, 104.
  • 9. NLS mss 9, f. 237, and Melville mss (Acc. 6068), Ld. Douglas to Melville, 19 Jan., reply 6 Feb. 1818; SRO GD224/580; Parl. Deb. xxxvii. 1266; xxxviii. 757, 800, 836.
  • 10. Edinburgh Advertiser, 3, 7, 14 July; SRO GD46/17/49, Hamilton to Stewart Mackenzie [18 June 1818]; NLS mss 1496, f. 142; The Late Elections (1818), 452.
  • 11. SRO GD46/17/50, Hamilton to Stewart Mackenzie, [19], 23 Sept. [1818]; Brougham mss 10161; CJ, lxxiv. 89, 337.