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:

62 in 1790 rising to 63 in 1811


15 July 1790HON. JOHN HOPE34
 Sir William Augustus Cunynghame, Bt.20
6 June 1796HON. JOHN HOPE 
12 May 1800 HON. ALEXANDER HOPE vice Hope, vacated his seat 
 Hon. Henry Erskine12
 Hon. Henry Erskine15

Main Article

Sir William Cunynghame of Livingstone, Member since 1774, had survived a contest organized against him by Henry Dundas in 1784, in which Capt. George Dundas of Dundas was his opponent. As an avowed Whig, he was again a target in 1790, when Henry Dundas put up a much stronger candidate, his future brother-in-law John Hope, brother and heir of James, 3rd Earl of Hopetoun, whose interest in the county had originally guaranteed Cunynghame’s return and was now combined with that of the Dundases of Dundas against Cunynghame. Cunynghame’s friends were aware of the threat by April 1789, when Cunynghame alleged that Dundas was ‘moving heaven and earth’ against him. The Duke of Portland assured William Adam, 24 July 1789, that Cunynghame deserved ‘every exertion that can be made for him’; Cunynghame himself spared ‘neither my purse nor person in the cause’. It was to no avail, as government secured Lord Torpichen’s votes for Hope, if required, despite the Duke of York’s intervention, and by December 1789 Cunynghame was relying on the court of session accepting six claims rejected at the Michaelmas court. Even then his confidence depended upon the election taking place before 1 July. On being defeated, Cunynghame protested about the participation in the election of the lord advocate, Sir Alexander Livingston, and George Dundas of Dundas, whom he asserted to be peers. A county meeting in January in his interest had deprecated the interference of peers in elections. He objected to other votes, but the majority against him was decisive. His only consolation was Dundas’s oath ‘that the damned fellow Cunynghame has cost him more trouble than the half of Scotland’. His interest decayed subsequently and by 1802 his estate was to be sold.1

John Hope was elected unanimously in absentia in 1796, though Henry Dundas had been warned the preceding September that there was ‘much mischief a-hatching’ in the county:

It is well known, there are a vile set of disaffected democratic people in the county and those, and everybody else he can get hold of, Harry Erskine [of Ammondell], now a considerable proprietor, and his pretty brother the peer of Buchan, have been assembling at parties of pleasure, strawberry feasts at the old Castle of Nidding, house warming at New Year and the world knows what all without making a fuss, very unlike them if they had not some object in it ... as Colonel Hope is absent ... it would not be amiss to have somebody of common sense inquire into what is going forward.2

Nothing came of this then and Hopetoun’s interest was strong enough to substitute John Hope’s brother Alexander for him in 1800 and secure his unopposed return at the election of 1802. On the advent of the Whig ministry in January 1806, however, Henry Erskine, now appointed lord advocate, renewed his campaign. Lord Melville therefore hoped that reports of Hope’s neglect of some of his constituents were not true. The Prince of Wales lobbied Lord Moira on Erskine’s behalf at once, but received no encouragement from him, Moira asserting that he could not hope to influence the county except through Melville.3 In May 1806 the government were informed: ‘If an election takes place before a twelve month passes, the old Member will be returned, but if time be given to put more freeholders on the roll, the lord advocate will succeed’. Another report ran: ‘Both parties talk confidently but I incline to think that the sitting Member will prevail’.4 This proved correct, Erskine not having time to make up his freeholders; Sir William Cunynghame (who was disqualified) thought that the county was lost ‘all by mismanagement’. Erskine found that he had not as yet been able to dethrone Melville, whose influence was still felt. He informed William Adam that he might succeed if ministers could procure the votes they had ‘in Melville’s time’, although his new votes were not ready, for some of Hope’s friends were not attending, others had hastily promised Hope their votes on the understanding that there was no opposition, and he could object to two of Hope’s votes. He concluded, however, ‘But even in the best view I would have no chance for the return as the freeholders would disregard the objections to the two votes and thus put me to a petition’. Hope defeated Erskine ‘by a great majority’, only 38 of the 56 electors voting.5

In 1807 Erskine renewed the contest and, despite some anxiety expressed by Hope’s friends, fared little better. He informed Lord Grenville, 17 May: ‘I am afraid that Lord Melville will be too strong for me in the county of Linlithgow. Nothing that power can do to remove enemies and make friends has been spared.’6 Hopetoun’s interest remained predominant. As Lord Binning put it in 1812, when Erskine tried again: ‘Harry Erskine ... has however no chance against Hopetoun House and Melville Castle united’. No risks were taken; six new voters were enrolled on Hope’s interest and his prediction was 39 friends, 23 foes and 2 doubtful. Hope was absent in ‘the Regent’s service’, but on 16 Oct. Erskine, satisfied that his friends’ exertions would not succeed, declined, promising to offer again ‘when my doing so can afford them a well founded expectation of securing the independence of the county’.7 That day never came, for Erskine died in 1817 and Hope was chosen unanimously in 1818.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Ginter, Whig Organization, 59, 62, 70, 85, 89, 139; Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 227; N. Riding RO, Zetland mss ZNK X2/1/923; Edinburgh Advertiser, 29 Jan.-2 Feb., 13-16 July 1790; Add. 33049, f. 356.
  • 2. Edinburgh Advertiser, 31 May-3 June 1796; SRO GD51/5/17.
  • 3. NLS mss 9370, ff. 93-98; Hope of Luffness mss, Melville to A. Hope, 5 Jan. 1806.
  • 4. Spencer mss, Scottish list 1806.
  • 5. Fortescue mss, Erskine to Spencer, 18 Aug., 6 Oct.; Blair Adam mss, same to Adam, 27 Oct., Sir W. Cunynghame to same, 29 Oct.; Edinburgh Advertiser, 24-28 Oct., 31 Oct.-4 Nov., 7-11 Nov. 1806; SRO SC 41/91/8, ff. 130-153.
  • 6. Edinburgh Advertiser, 28 Apr.-1 May, 26-29 May; SRO GD51/1/198/3/41; Fortescue mss, Erskine to Grenville, 17 May 1807.
  • 7. NLS mss 1, ff. 206-9; Add. 38739, f. 80; Hope of Luffness mss, J. to A. Hope, 14 Sept., 2, 7, 12, 18 Oct.; Edinburgh Advertiser, 6, 20 Oct. 1812.