GRANT, Sir James, 8th Bt. (1738-1811), of Castle Grant, Elgin.

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



1761 - 1768
1790 - June 1795

Family and Education

b. 19 May 1738, o.s. of Sir Ludovick Grant, 7th Bt., of Castle Grant by 2nd w. Lady Margaret Ogilvy, da. of James, 5th Earl of Findlater [S]. educ. Westminster 1747-55; Christ’s, Camb. 1755; Grand Tour (Switzerland, Italy, Germany) 1758-60. m. 4 Jan. 1763, his 2nd cos. Joan, da. and h. of Alexander Duff of Hatton Castle, Aberdeen, 7s. 7da. suc. fa. as 8th Bt. 18 Mar. 1773.

Offices Held

Cashier of excise [S] 1794-d.

Ld. lt. Inverness 1794-1809.

Col. 1 (Strathspey) fencibles 1793-9, 97 Ft. 1794-1802, Inverness militia 1802-3.


The influence and prestige which Grant as chief of his clan enjoyed in Strathspey was enhanced by the popularity earned by his lively concern for local improvement and the welfare of his kinsmen and tenants. He had electoral interests in Elginshire, Inverness-shire and their burghs, where he aligned himself with his cousin Lord Findlater, to whom he stood heir, and with his wife’s uncle Lord Fife, although he sympathized with the movement to root out abuses in Scottish electoral practice.

His desire to re-enter Parliament in the early 1780s derived from a wish to advance his claims on the Treasury for compensation for sums expended by his predecessors in the service of government, in order to reduce the heavy encumbrances on his estates. In 1782, the barons of Exchequer conceded that he had a just claim for over £12,000, but he made little progress with his suit. He was defeated in Inverness-shire in 1784. The following year his brother-in-law Henry Mackenzie (the ‘Man of Feeling’) reported that Henry Dundas ‘seemed very friendly’ towards Grant and his case, and had pressed it with ‘unremitting energy’, despite its weakness as a claim of right and Pitt’s reluctance to set an expensive precedent.1 Grant’s neediness was a useful asset to Dundas in his manoeuvres to reconcile conflicting electoral interests in the northeast, and as part of the arrangement which he concluded in 1787 it was settled that Grant was to be brought in at the next election and his family interest restored to prominence in Elginshire. He was additionally promised ‘the first good office that falls in Scotland’. Francis Mackenzie of Seaforth, a leading Scottish Whig, regarded the ‘apostacy’ of Grant, ‘who if tolerably managed had been ours till Doomsday’, as a blow to opposition hopes in the north-east and an indictment of the lack of co-ordination: ‘he left us merely as he has avowed because we have no system or regular co-operation ... and because individuals unsupported had no chance against individuals supporting and supported’.2

Accordingly Grant was returned in 1790 for Banffshire and his eldest son for Elginshire. He gave silent support to government and, listed ‘doubtful’ beforehand, voted against the relief of Scotsmen from the Test Act, 10 May 1791. He told his wife, 12 Feb. 1791, that he had recently dined twice in company with Pitt, who ‘pleases me fully as much in private society as in the House of Commons’ and that this intercourse had ‘rub’d off the rust and shyness, in some measure, which bears heavy upon me’. From March 1793, when he raised the first regiment of fencibles in the country, to which the following year he added a regiment of the line, he was probably an infrequent attender. As early as November 1791 he was said to be ‘tired of Parliament’ and would probably have vacated in June 1793, had Fife been willing to co-operate with Dundas over his successor.3 In 1795, he gained his object in the shape of the office of cashier of excise, worth £3,000 a year and tenable during pleasure. He thereupon vacated his seat.

Grant continued to exercise his electoral influence in the interest of Dundas and government. Indeed he had to sacrifice the family interest to Dundas’s preference in the choice of candidate for Elginshire in 1796. The ‘Talents’, thinking that the threat of deprivation of his office might give them a power over him, courted his electoral support in 1806, but he showed little disposition to co-operate, except at a price. He claimed that he himself might stand for Elginshire and in compensation for the abandonment of this notion stipulated ‘any office he can respectably hold of £400 per annum or upwards for life in present possession’. He declined to provide an opening at Inverness Burghs for John Peter Grant*, who nevertheless believed him to be ‘conscientiously disposed to support those who may be entrusted with the government’. Yet Fife thought he was ‘entirely directed by Lord Melville’, with whom he co-operated wholeheartedly in local electoral manoeuvres which saw the county seat restored to his family in 1807.4

Grant, known locally as ‘the good Sir James’, died 18 Feb. 1811, some nine months before Findlater. Mrs Anne Grant of Laggan wrote:

His native Strath still mourns the recent loss of a chief, who, with all the polish of the best modern manners, and all the meekness of the best Christian principles, retained as much of the affections of his people, and as entire control over them, as was ever possessed by any patriarch or hero of antiquity, in the like circumstances. Gentleness and humanity were his distinguishing characteristics: yet his displeasure was as terrible to his people as that of the most ferocious leader of the ancient clans could have been to his followers.5

Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus, drawing on her mother’s recollections of gatherings at Castle Grant before relations between the two families were broken off, wrote:

Sir James Grant was hospitable in the feudal style; his house was open to all; to each and all he bade a hearty welcome, and he was glad to see his table filled, and scrupulous to pay fit attention to every individual present; but in spite of much cordiality of manner it was all somewhat in the King style, the chief condescending to the clan, above the best of whom he considered himself extremely.6

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: D. G. Henry / David R. Fisher


  • 1. Sir W. Fraser, Chiefs of Grant, i. 447-52; ii. 474-6, 487-8.
  • 2. Ibid. ii. 496-7, 499; HMC Laing, ii. 525; PRO 30/8/157, ff. 53, 63; Ginter, Whig Organization, 5-6; Blair Adam mss, Mackenzie to Adam, 3 Nov. 1788.
  • 3. Fraser, ii. 509; NLS mss 6, f. 29; SRO GD51/1/198/4/1.
  • 4. Add. 51471A, ff. 7-9; Blair Adam mss, Adam To Gibson, 1 Oct., J. P. Grant to Gillies, 23 Oct., to Adam, 5 Nov.; Fortescue mss, Fife to Grenville, 24 Oct. 1806, 10 June 1807; NLS, Melville mss, Melville to Saunders Dundas, 1 May 1807; see ELGINSHIRE.
  • 5. Fraser, i. 459.
  • 6. Mems. of a Highland Lady ed. Lady Strachey, 27.