GRANT, Francis William (1778-1853), of Castle Grant, Elgin and Cullen House, Banff.
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Family and Educationb. 6 Mar. 1778, 4th but 2nd surv. s. of Sir James Grant†, 8th bt. (d. 1811), of Castle Grant and Jean, da. and h. of Alexander Duff of Hatton Castle, Aberdeen; bro. of Lewis Alexander Grant†. m. (1) 20 May 1811, Mary Anne (d. 27 Feb. 1840), da. of John Charles Dunn of Higham House, Suss. and St. Helena, 7s. (3 d.v.p.) 1da.; (2) 17 Aug. 1843, Louisa Emma, da. of Robert George Maunsell of Limerick, s.p. suc. bro. Lewis as 6th earl of Seafield [S] 26 Oct. 1840. d. 30 July 1853.
Rep. peer [S] 1841-d.
Lt. 1 (Strathspey) fencibles 1793; capt. 97 Ft. 1794; maj. (perm. rank) Fraser’s fencibles 1795, lt.-col 1796; lt.-col. (perm. rank) Argyll fencibles 1799, half-pay 1802-25; brevet col. 1809.
Col. Inverness militia 1803-13; ld. lt. Inverness 1809-d.; provost, Nairn, Elgin and Forres on various occasions up to 1818.
Colonel Grant, a strait-laced, congenitally shy man, had been acting head of his Strathspey clan since 1811, when his imbecile bachelor elder brother Lewis had succeeded their father in the baronetcy and their cousin James Ogilvy (7th earl of Findlater) as 5th earl of Seafield.1 Although he was a generally steady supporter of the Liverpool ministry, he was disgruntled because he had again been passed over in the brevet promotion of 1819, as his friend Francis Nicoll, principal of St. Andrews University, explained to Lord Melville, the government’s Scottish manger, at the end of the year:
Colonel Grant is virtually the representative of two very old families and at the head of perhaps the first property in the north of Scotland ... which after the expiring of the existing leases will not be worth less than £50,000 a year. He is therefore galled exceedingly at finding men of his own clan passing over his head in the army, whilst he can neither get forward nor be allowed to quit the profession ... He is met in every corner of the society in which he moves by superior officers and new made knights who of course take precedence of him.
Nicoll suggested that if the promotion could not be awarded, Grant would be more than satisfied with the rank of the younger children of an earl, which would have been his by right had his father outlived and succeeded Findlater, being conferred on himself and his sisters. He remained a colonel for the rest of his life, but was given the precedence he coveted in 1822.2 In August 1819 he had taken his wife abroad for the sake of her health, and they were in Italy when George III’s death in late January 1820 precipitated a dissolution. His friends and agents in Elginshire quickly secured declarations of support for his re-election from the leading county proprietors, including the 4th Earl Fife*, who was seen as a potential threat.3 Although he was still absent at the time of the election, Grant was returned unopposed, for the fourth consecutive time, and he sat unchallenged for the rest of this period. Fife attacked his precarious controlling interest in the burgh of Elgin, but was unable on this occasion to secure the return of his brother for Elgin Burghs.4
Grant continued to support the ministry, but he was an indifferent attender.5 In ‘a maiden speech’ (after 18 years in the House), 16 May 1820, he objected ‘as a military man’ to any reduction in the grant for the cavalry. He was given a month’s leave to deal with urgent private business, 30 June. On 3 July he was examined by the select committee on the Scottish royal burghs, and admitted, in vague and evasive testimony, that he had ‘probably’ in 1818 been provost of Nairn and of Cullen and a councillor of Elgin and Forres; he also stated that he had expended £3,000 of his own money on the erection of a new harbour at Cullen. The committee’s report noticed ‘the very extraordinary facts’ disclosed by Grant, apparently infringing the setts of three of these burghs, which required councillors to be residents, but blamed such ‘culpable irregularity’ more on the defects of prevailing practice than on Grant himself. He was not pleased, and wrote to the revived committee in 1821 claiming that the sett of Forres did not require residence; that no sett for Nairn had ever been seen; that the sett of Elgin did require residence, but that long practice had dispensed with this for the provost, and that his position as praeses of Cullen was purely honorary. The committee resolved, 5 Mar. 1821, that his conduct was ‘not liable to the imputation of irregularity’ and conceded that the remarks in the previous year’s report had been ‘founded on an inaccurate view of the evidence’ and should not have been published. At the same time, they reprimanded Grant and invited him to apologize for ‘expressions which imply an [unwarranted] imputation on a member of the last committee [not named]’. Grant subsequently gave a satisfactory explanation.6 He voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb., and on the revenue, 6 Mar., but cast wayward votes for repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr. He had previously opposed Catholic claims, but he voted to concede them, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr. and (as a pair) 10 May 1825. He received another six weeks’ leave for urgent business, 5 Apr. 1821. He was in the ministerial majorities against abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822, and reform of the Scottish electoral system, 2 June 1823, in defence of the trial in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824, and for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825. He divided for repeal of the usury laws, 17 Feb. 1825. He presented an Elginshire petition against relaxation of the corn laws, 3 May 1825.7 He was abroad with his ailing wife for most of the 1826 session.8
In February 1828 Grant, who was largely a cipher in the 1826 Parliament, applied to the new premier, the duke of Wellington, for a United Kingdom peerage, to be annexed to the Scottish earldom of Seafield to which he was heir presumptive. Melville, a member of the cabinet, endorsed his claim, but the duke was unwilling to add to the large number of creations since 1826.9 Grant paired for Catholic relief, 12 May 1828, and as expected voted ‘with government’ for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. His only other known vote in that Parliament was against the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. Immediately after the death of George IV in late June 1830, Melville told Wellington that Grant, who had an important role to play in the forthcoming elections for Inverness-shire and Inverness Burghs, where ministers were trying to oust the Huskissonite Grant brothers, was still sore at his failure to obtain a British peerage, to which he had strong claims. Melville had to inform Grant that as the new king had no intention of creating new peers ‘at present’, Wellington could do nothing for him for now, but gave him reason to have hope for the future:
The duke is not a person to forget a friend or leave him in the lurch when it may be in his power to serve that friend. As for myself, I have no motive to disguise ... the opinion which I have already expressed to yourself, that with reference partly to the Scottish earldom to which you or your children will succeed, and partly to your own situation in the country and to your steady support for so many years, you have ... a preferable claim ... to any other person in Scotland, and as far as I may have an opportunity of advising or influencing, I shall act upon that opinion.10
Grant refused to support Charles Grant* in Inverness-shire, as ‘from the line of politics opposite to mine which he and his brother have adopted it is quite impossible that I can [do so] consistently with the terms upon which I am with the present government [and] my approbation of their measures’, and worked to secure clan support for the unsuccessful ministerial candidate.11
After the elections ministers of course listed him among their ‘friends’, and he was in their minority in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. The following day he renewed his peerage application, but three weeks later Melville told him that it had been ‘quite impossible’ to act on it as Wellington had already resigned.12 He divided against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s English reform bill, 22 Mar. He was ‘angry’ with John Morison, Member for Banffshire, for abstaining on a flimsy pretext, and promoted an opposition to him at the 1831 general election.13 He voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr., and next day presented a petition against Scottish reform from the freeholders, commissioners and heritors of Elginshire. At his own election he claimed to be ‘a friend to rational reform’, but condemned the ministerial scheme as ‘too extensive and sweeping’. He divided against the second reading of the reintroduced English reform bill, 6 July, for use of the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, against the inclusion of Chippenham in schedule B, 27 July, and against the passage of the measure, 21 Sept. He voted against the second reading of the Scottish reform bill, 23 Sept., and on 3 Oct. pleaded with ministers to reconsider the proposed annexation of Nairnshire to Elginshire for electoral purposes, which he deemed a ‘gross ... injustice’. He voted against the second reading of the revised English reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, going into committee on it, 20 Jan., the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 29 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. His only other known votes in this period were against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and the malt drawback bill, 2 Apr., after presenting hostile Elginshire petitions, 20, 26 Mar. He helped to secure an amendment to the registration clause of the Scottish reform bill, 5 June. He was given a month’s leave on urgent private business, 3 July 1832.
Grant, still professing support for moderate reform, was returned unopposed as a Conservative for Elgin and Nairnshire at the 1832 general election.14 As soon as Peel came to power in late 1834 he renewed his peerage claim, but to no avail.15 He retired from Parliament after the death of his first wife in 1840 and later that year succeeded his brother as 6th earl of Seafield. A generous promoter of local improvements, he was a Conservative representative peer from 1841 until his death at Cullen House in July 1853.16 He was succeeded by his eldest surviving son John Charles (1815-81), who was created Baron Strathspey in the United Kingdom peerage in 1858.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 64-66, 70-72.
- 2. St. Andrews Univ. Lib. Melville mss 4587, 4589.
- 3. NAS GD248/824/2/12, 14, 15, 19, 21; Melville mss 4614.
- 4. NAS GD51/1/198/17/14; GD248/824/2/25, 36, 54.
- 5. Black Bk. (1823), 159; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 466.
- 6. PP (1820), iii. 5-6, 59-62; (1821), vii. 71.
- 7. The Times, 4 May 1825.
- 8. NAS GD248/824/6/4, 9, 11.
- 9. Wellington mss WP1/917/22; 918/5; 920/48.
- 10. Wellington mss WP1/1121/39; NLS mss 2, f. 173.
- 11. NAS GD23/6/659/1, 2; Macpherson Grant mss 690, Grant to G. Macpherson Grant, 6 July; Castle Howard mss, Abercromby to Lady Carlisle, 10 July 1830.
- 12. NAS GD51/1/194.
- 13. Macpherson Grant mss 361, J. to G. Macpherson Grant, 2/4, 19 Apr. 1831.
- 14. NAS GD23/6/659/8; Inverness Courier, 19, 26 Dec. 1832.
- 15. Add. 40405, f. 300.
- 16. Sir W. Fraser, Chiefs of Grant, i. 476-9; Gent. Mag. (1853), ii. 308.