MACDONALD, Sir Archibald (1747-1826), of East Sheen, Surr.

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



9 Feb. 1777 - 1780
1780 - Feb. 1793

Family and Education

b. 13 July 1747, 3rd and posth. s. of Sir Alexander Macdonald, 7th Bt., by Lady Margaret Montgomerie, da. of Alexander, 9th Earl of Eglintoun [S]. educ. Westminster 1760-4; Christ Church, Oxf. 1764; L. Inn 1765, called 1770. m. 26 Dec. 1777, Lady Louisa Leveson Gower, da. of Granville Leveson Gower, 1st Mq. of Stafford, 2s. 5da. Kntd. 27 June 1788; cr. Bt. 27 Nov. 1813.

Offices Held

KC 22 Jan. 1778; bencher, L. Inn 1778, treasurer 1789; second justice of S. Wales circuit 1780-July 1788; solicitor-gen. Apr. 1784-1788, attorney-gen. June 1788-1793; PC 15 Feb. 1793; chief baron of Exchequer Feb. 1793-Nov. 1813.


Macdonald continued to sit on his father-in-law’s interest, surviving a contest in 1790. He lacked political finesse and, even as a lawyer, was not ‘profound or accurate’.1 Nevertheless he was attorney-general in Pitt’s administration during his last five years in the House. As such he spoke frequently on the legal aspects of public business. He announced his abstention on the question of reviving the impeachment of Warren Hastings, 22 Dec. 1790; defended the corn bill, 22 Feb. and 4 Apr. 1791; supported English Catholic relief, 1 Mar., but was listed hostile to the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. He opposed the indiscriminate adoption of English merchant law in Quebec, ‘leaving it to the wisdom of the local legislature to assimilate their mercantile law to that of England’, 11 May 1791. Next day he supported Grey’s motion for inquiry into imprisonment for debt, but opposed Fox’s motion for inquiry into the libel laws 20, 31 May. He framed the Newfoundland court bill and defended it, 26 May. He thwarted Hammet’s bill to make bankers’ and merchants’ estates liable for their debts, 3 May 1792. He explained his refusal to prosecute magistrates over their conduct during the riots of 1791, 21 May 1792. On 25 May he defended the royal declaration against sedition. He introduced the bill to prohibit the acceptance of French revolutionary assignats in England, 24 Dec. 1792. He last spoke on the aliens bill, 2 Jan. 1793, when he procured its recommittal.

Macdonald prosecuted Thomas Paine for his Rights of Man in December 1792, leaving the prosecution of John Frost to his successor in office John Scott*. In February 1793 he vacated his seat on becoming chief baron of the Exchequer. He was a judge in the trial in 1794 of Thomas Hardy the radical and presided over that of Governor Wall in 1802.2 In 1797 he had subscribed £1,000 to the loyalty loan; he was also an investor in East India Company stock. Nothing came of a suggestion of Lord Ellenborough’s in 1806 that Macdonald should be given the Irish seals, to make way for Thomas Erskine* at the Exchequer, and he remained there until in 1813 his eyesight failed and he was pensioned off with a baronetcy.3 Nicknamed ‘the Arabian knight for having a thousand and one tales’ for convivial occasions, he gave evidence to the House’s select committee on criminal law reform in 1819. He died 18 May 1826.4

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1826), i. 562.
  • 2. State Trials, xxii. 237; xxiv. 199; xxxviii. 51.
  • 3. Sidmouth mss, Ellenborough to Sidmouth, 1 Feb. 1806; Romilly, Mems. iii. 124.
  • 4. Minto, ii. 413.