KINNAIRD, Hon. Charles (1780-1826), of Rossie Priory, Perth.

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



1802 - 11 Oct. 1805

Family and Education

b. 12 Apr. 1780, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of George, 7th Baron Kinnaird [S], by Elizabeth, da. and h. of Griffin Ransom, banker, of New Palace Yard, Westminster; bro. of Hon. Douglas James William Kinnaird*. educ. Eton until 1796; Glasgow Univ. 1796; Edinburgh Univ. 1798; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1798; L. Inn 1799; Geneva 1800-2. m. 8 May 1806, Lady Olivia Letitia Catherine Fitzgerald, da. of William Robert, 2nd Duke of Leinster [I], 3s. 2da. suc. fa. as 8th Baron Kinnaird [S] 11 Oct. 1805.

Offices Held

Rep. peer [S] Dec. 1806-June 1807; counsellor [S] to Prince of Wales 1812-20.

Capt. Carse of Gowrie vols. 1798, lt.-col. commdt. 1803.


Kinnaird’s ‘native assurance’ was reinforced by an elaborate education. At Edinburgh he was president of the Speculative Society. Before he went to Switzerland in 1800 Lady Holland reported: ‘He is clever and willing to please; one cannot pity him for shyness, as he labours under no embarrassment upon that score ... He is an eager politician against ministers.’ This was the less surprising as his father, partner through his wife in a London bank, had been treasurer of the Friends of the People and remained a political frondeur. Soon after his return from abroad and presentation at court in May 1802 Lord Kinnaird, who seems at first to have had Hedon in mind for him, sent him to Leominster, without any connexion there, to contest the borough.1 It was a shrewd move and paid off, for Kinnaird was returned at the expense of a financially ailing sitting Member, William Taylor. He then visited France.

Kinnaird was ‘impatient to open’ in debate. Fox, whose adherent he was, regretted that he did not encourage him to attack ‘the low estimates’, but ‘was delicate against advising him to débuter upon what was supposed to be unpopular ground’. As it was, Kinnaird tackled the commission of naval inquiry, 15 Dec. 1802, and secured a motion for the production of the patents of the Admiralty and Navy boards to ascertain whether they did not have powers to put their own house in order without reference to parliamentary jurisdiction. On the strength of this, he went on to oppose the third reading of the naval inquiry bill, giving four reasons, most significant among which was the increase of crown influence in the appointment of commissioners. He welcomed the amendments to the bill which weakened the commissioners’ powers, but complained, 27 Dec., that it had been ‘changed at nurse’ to meet the requirements of St. Vincent at the Admiralty. On 1 Mar. 1803 he took leave of absence, but on 4 Mar. favoured inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, as the provision made for the Prince was inadequate. It was on this occasion that in gesticulating he knocked a Member’s hat off, ironically Hurst’s, a nominee of the Duke of Norfolk whose interest he had defeated at Leominster. On 21 Mar. he expressed an interest in Indian affairs, and on 28 Mar. secured the same treatment for Scotland as for England in the militia officers bill. He warned the House against hidden interests behind the Edinburgh road bill, 25 Apr. All these ‘little speeches’, his friend Henry Brougham* cautioned him in a ‘caustic philippic’, would have been better supplied by ‘a little book’: only to be cut by Kinnaird for his pains. On 15 Mar. he had joined Brooks’s Club. He laughed loudest at Addington, 19 May, and voted with opposition on the resumption of hostilities, 24 May. He assailed the property tax in vain on the grounds that it could not be applied to Scotland under the articles of the Union, 18 June, 5, 13-16 July. While he welcomed the defence bill, 20 July, he complained that it came too late, without consultation with Fox, and repressed ‘the voluntary spirit of the nation’. He himself was a volunteer officer and in December 1803 joined his corps: Brougham commented, ‘he is of more use there [in Scotland] than in Parliament, and cannot easily expose himself so much’ and added that Kinnaird’s fault was want of ‘character’—he had ‘a certain quickness and flow of animal spirits’ but was distrait and over compensated for it by a gushing condescension which only led to his being thought ‘mighty or distant’.2

Kinnaird was reluctant to engage in military affairs, but there was nothing for it.3 On 19 and 20 Mar. 1804 he was a critic of the volunteer consolidation bill and on 11 and 13 Apr. of the Irish militia augmentation bill, explaining that he wished ‘to carry the war in some measure out of the kingdom’ by animating the continent against the French. He voted steadily against government on defence questions that spring. At the time Addington’s ministry fell he was pursuing motions on the plight of half-pay officers and on the security of India. He was listed ‘Fox’ and was hostile to Pitt’s second ministry, acting sometimes as opposition teller. He was a critic of the lord advocate of Scotland, 22 June 1804, called the Scottish additional force bill a violation of the Union, 25 June, and criticized the Indian budget, 10 July. He found the army estimates excessive, 4 Feb. 1805, opposed the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland, 15 Feb., and the salt duties, 19 Feb. and 7 Mar., on which day he presented Scottish petitions against the Corn Laws. He voted for the censure against Melville, describing him, 10 Apr., as a bitter political adversary in Scotland, which might now look forward to its emancipation from him. He did not deny that he had been on social terms with Melville. He favoured impeachment, 25 Apr., but voted for criminal prosecution on 12 June; on 26 June he was appointed one of the managers of the impeachment. On the other hand he supported the Duke of Atholl’s claims to compensation, 19 June.

Kinnaird’s chief preoccupation that session was his own campaign for the investigation of naval administrative abuses. On 5 Feb. 1805 he moved for information on the repair of ships under his command by Sir Home Riggs Popham*, which led to complaints against the navy board and against Sir Andrew Snape Hamond* in particular, 25 Apr. Kinnaird turned on Hamond, 7 May, but next day Pitt insisted on a ballot for the select committee of inquiry moved for by Kinnaird and carried his point. In revenge Kinnaird supported the attack of John Jeffery* on St. Vincent’s naval administration, 1, 11 July, but was unable to prevent a navy board cover up, 12 July. Before he could resume his activities, to his dismay he succeeded his father in the peerage. In 1806, when he sponsored the return of Francis Horner* to Parliament, he asked his friends in office to make him a British peer, but had to be satisfied with a brief interlude as a Scots representative peer. Thereafter he was reduced to ‘whispering, gesticulating and prophecizing’.4

Inevitably, with his penchant for radicalism, he got into scrapes. He was exiled from Paris after the restoration ‘for saying the Bourbons were old women’ and expelled from Belgium and arrested in Paris in 1817 after revealing a plot to assassinate the Duke of Wellington, but refusing to disclose his source. Wellington intervened to prevent his imprisonment. His ‘ill health forbade exertion’. Not long before his death he was ‘just as lively, clever, eager, agreeable and passionate’ as ever, but, reflected a friend, ‘such talents and activity’ were rendered useless by his ‘disqualification’ and ‘give him more pain than pleasure’.5 He died 11/12 Dec. 1826.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: M. J. Williams / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Add. 51744, Caroline Fox to Holland, 25 Aug. 1800; Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 47, 114; see HEDON; The Times, 6, 7 May 1802.
  • 2. Add. 47565, f. 211; 51736, Caroline Fox to Holland, 24 Dec. [1802], 11 Mar. [1803]; Brougham and his Early Friends, ii. 64, 97; Horner Mems. i. 217.
  • 3. Brougham mss 7926.
  • 4. Horner Mems. i. 364-5, 382-3; Add. 51686, Kinnaird to Petty, 21 Oct. 1806; Letters of Countess Granville, i. 87.
  • 5. Moore, Byron Letters (1875), 430; DNB; Gent. Mag. (1840), ii. 640; Haddington mss, Dudley to Binning, 8 Apr. 1824.