Scottish County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

72 in 1710


24 June 1708JAMES JOHNSTON, Ld. Johnston 
 William Grierson 
7 Apr. 1709WILLIAM GRIERSON, vice Johnston, the eldest son of a peer of Scotland 
 Hon. James Murray32
 HON. JAMES MURRAY vice Grierson, on petition, 22 Feb. 1711 
 Hon. James Murray 

Main Article

Although Dumfries was the 2nd Duke of Queensberry’s ‘own shire’ he did not sit securely there, even at the height of his power and influence on the national scene. A vast ‘estate and interest’, enhanced by possession of the hereditary sheriffdom, did indeed give him ‘great awe and influence’ over some of the freeholders, but there were rival magnates of sufficient stature to challenge the Douglas ascendancy, notably the 1st Marquess of Annandale, of whom it has been observed, by a modern historian, that ‘opposition to Queensberry was almost the only consistent feature in [his] politics’. In the 1702 election to the Scottish parliament Queensberry secured the return as commissioners of only two of his nominees; Annandale could claim another, while the fourth was an adherent of the Country opposition. It was this titanic struggle of families and personalities, rather than party sentiment of any kind, which dominated elections until Queensberry’s death in 1711, despite the presence in the county of religious extremists from both sides - on the one hand a cavalier and Jacobite interest headed by the Catholic Earl of Nithsdale, on the other the surviving representatives of Dumfriesshire’s powerful tradition of covenanting radicalism.1

The 1708 election was a direct confrontation between the two magnates. The Duke’s interest was represented by William Grierson of Lag, whose father Sir Robert (the notorious ‘Auld Lag’ of covenanting demonology) was Queensberry’s uncle by marriage and had been for many years a client of the family; while Annandale put up his own son and heir, James, Lord Johnston. The fact that in national politics Annandale was co-operating with the Whig Junto would have entitled him to benefit from the electoral compact between the Squadrone and the Duke of Hamilton, and in any case Hamilton was his kinsman and happily canvassed on his behalf. A report that some of Lord Johnston’s likely voters were troubled by ‘the little oath’ suggests that the cavalier interest in general may have supported Lord Johnston, although the reputation and connexions of the Griersons presumably complicated matters in this respect. On the other side, Queensberry could not hope to draw upon any such party-political sentiment; indeed, his identification with the ministry that had carried the Union almost guaranteed a certain level of unpopularity, since not only had there been demonstrations in Dumfriesshire against the Union, but at one point the freeholders had addressed against the treaty. Queensberry was helped to a small degree by lingering notions of deference, as the likely defeat of his candidate in the local burghs district made some freeholders loth to deliver a second hammer-blow. It was ‘openly spoke that it would be an odd thing if the Duke, who is sheriff and grandee in the place, should lose both the Parliament-Members’. But for the most part Queensberry relied on material inducements, abandoning any scruple in his anxiety to ward off Annandale’s challenge. Two of the most prominent cavaliers in the county, Lord Nithsdale and Viscount Stormont, had already been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the Jacobite invasion attempt; now, through his control of the levers of power, Queensberry made sure that several lesser barons were either ‘gripped by warrant’ or ‘threatened with imprisonment for high treason’. As a result, a number of voters whom Annandale’s agents approached dared not even meet the Marquess. Besides seeking to deter Lord Johnston’s voters from attending the court, Queensberry was desperate enough to try to manufacture more votes for Grierson, allegedly procuring the passage of some 14 ‘new signatures’. However, when the court assembled these ‘new barons’ were ‘excluded from being enrolled’, a decision which resulted in drawn swords if not actual violence. After a rash of objections, not least from Grierson’s supporters to the fact that Lord Johnston was still a minor, Annandale’s party triumphed by a margin of four votes. The Marquess was jubilant, writing to tell the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†), among others, how he had defeated Queensberry ‘in spite of all the opposition he could give us’, and adding, ‘there never was such irregular and illegal practices as has been by his Grace and the other pretended ministry of this part of the kingdom’. Hamilton had a similar story to relate:

The Marquess of Annandale has carried his son’s election in the shire of Dumfries, where all the Duke of Queensberry’s interest lies, notwithstanding . . . all the countenance their power could give and all the tricks their invention could contrive . . . but though my cousin my Lord Johnston has carried it clearly by a majority of incontestable votes, we make no doubt the Duke of Queensberry will go on as he has begun and make it a double return . . .

In fact Queensberry did no such thing; but Grierson petitioned, both on the grounds that his opponent was under age at the time of the election and because he would have been disqualified from the Edinburgh parliament as the eldest son of a Scottish peer. Ineligibility by the latter criterion had deliberately been left vague under the terms of the Union, but was resolved on 3 Dec. in the election case of William Gordon, Lord Haddo*, for Aberdeenshire. Johnston’s own disqualification followed inevitably and immediately from that of Lord Haddo.2

No details are known of the 1709 by-election other than that William Grierson was returned, to Queensberry’s satisfaction. Perhaps Annandale could not find an alternative candidate. A year later he did not have to search, for James Murray, Viscount Stormont’s second son and a promising young advocate, put himself forward. To some extent Murray was able to stand on his own feet: his family’s landed possessions in the county enabled him to ‘make four barons besides himself’, and as well as his father’s support he could count on the backing of Lord Nithsdale. But, as his later correspondence reveals, he had also ‘engaged to defend my Lord Annandale’s interest . . . upon assurances of a lasting friendship’, and this agreement brought him not only the Marquess’ own influence but also the goodwill of Annandale’s Squadrone allies. Annandale himself was playing all possible cards, as he reassured Lord Dupplin (George Hay*) that he was ‘very earnest to support the interest’ of the incoming Tory ministers. On the other side was ranged ‘all the Duke of Queensberry’s interest’, mobilized once more on behalf of Grierson. At first Queensberry had entertained some doubts as to whether his candidate would be willing to run again, since Murray was related to the Grierson family through his mother and might be expected to try to persuade his kinsman to step down on his behalf. But a firm letter from one of Queensberry’s agents, complete with detailed instructions as to when and where to canvass, dispelled any reluctance. On this occasion the local Presbyterian establishment declared openly for Grierson. Lord Stormont reported, without any sense of historical irony, that ‘the ministers cry it tends to the honour and glory of God [that] Lag be elected’, while Murray’s subsequent petition claimed that

some of the Kirk clergy insinuated among the freeholders, that the petitioner’s father . . . and the petitioner were malignants, because his father kept a chaplain of the Church of England in his family; that the glory of God and the interest of Jesus Christ were at stake in this election, and the freeholders ought to vote only for such who were for the glory of God and the interest of Jesus Christ, which Mr Grierson was, who had engaged to be for the interest of their Kirk, but the petitioner was for the Church of England and an enemy to their Kirk.

Probably of greater importance were the more traditional forms of electioneering to which Queensberry’s agents were said to have resorted, for example circulating a letter from the Duke among the freeholders ‘wherein he intimates his desire that they should vote for Mr Grierson, and that he would look upon their voting so as a mark of esteem and respect to himself and family’. This was reinforced by such other practices as the arrest of opposing voters, this time for debt rather than high treason. None of this so much as dented Murray’s confidence; indeed, his acquisition of a copy of Queensberry’s circular letter made him certain that he would ‘carry this matter over the Duke’s . . . belly’. It was only a last-minute multiplication of freeholds (at the recommendation of Queensberry’s ‘commissary’, William Alves) to produce ten extra votes, that gave Grierson any chance of being returned. As a result of the sharp practices in which both parties had indulged, the electoral court was a scene of continuous protest: as many as half the 72 voters attending were subject to objections. Of these 25 were Grierson’s supporters, ten of them being ‘split votes’, and at least seven others who had been ‘infeft of estates . . . redeemable upon the paying of a rose noble’. In turn Grierson objected against 11 of Murray’s votes, some at least of which had been derived from split freeholds. None of the disputable voters having been excluded, Grierson was declared to have a majority of eight, and Queensberry as sheriff was happy to make the return.3

Murray’s petition alleged that Grierson’s majority had been obtained by

the sheriff’s influence and partiality, splitting of freeholds, and making conveyances, with particular clauses of redemption for a small matter, who were admitted to poll without taking the oath of a freeholder, though required so to do . . .

The ‘clamorous’ tone of the petition, which was noted by a fellow Scottish Tory, may have been the reason why the House decided that it should be heard not in committee but at the bar. Certainly one of Murray’s London correspondents considered this to be a propitious sign. ‘There was above 50 petitions before yours’, he wrote,

so that according to the common course of things . . . in all probability it could not be heard the next session of Parliament . . . This day your petition was read . . . and instead of referring it the common way to the committee of elections, they have appointed the 27th [January 1711] . . . to hear your cause at the bar . . . which is the greatest favour the House of Commons can do you . . . You will please to direct everything that may be proper to evidence . . . and this must be by at least one living witness for though the House of Commons have not power to examine witnesses upon oath, yet they are not sufficiently acquainted with your method of protestations and taking of instruments, etc. thereby to frame their judgments . . . one single witness being a man of sense and good reputation will do . . . The affair seems to me to turn upon the making of ten freeholders the night before the election; this matter must be fully cleared as being against the law and constitution. The sheriff depute . . . should be summoned to attend at the hearing, with all the minutes and proceedings . . .

According to a retrospective account by George Lockhart*, resentment against the old Scottish Court party determined the outcome of this case. Although Grierson ‘deserved very well, having stood very firmly in the last Parliament by the Tories’, he was tainted by his association with Queensberry, and for this reason ‘the Scots Tories resolved to exert themselves against him, on purpose to show how much they resented the Duke’s having been the chief instrument in carrying the Union’. The affair certainly attracted considerable interest: one Scottish newsletter-writer reported that Murray was supported by the attendance of ‘a great number of our peers . . . in the galleries, viz. D[uke of] Hamilton, Atholl, Annandale, Marischal, Ilay, Kilsyth, Blantyre and E[arl of] Nottingham also’. After two adjournments, the hearing began on 13 Feb. Murray’s ‘living witness’ was refused permission to give evidence, but the House did vote to disallow the ten ‘split votes’ and six more based on short-term conveyances (three of which had been given to men of the Grierson name) before adjourning again. These resolutions were not by themselves enough, though they had paved the way for a final judgment. There were two further adjournments before matters were concluded. Two more of Grierson’s votes were then disallowed, and ‘without a division’ the House voted Murray duly elected. Stormont promptly wrote to thank Hamilton, claiming that Murray ‘owes it entirely to your grace’s friendship’. He could not resist a gloating postscript: ‘I am persuaded the world now sees how little the D[uke] of Q[ueensberry] signifies, that had not the interest to make one Member of Parliament in this kingdom; no, not in his own shire.’ In order to rub salt into the wound, Murray drew up a list of recommendations of Dumfriesshire magistrates ‘to be turned out’, which included Queensberry’s chief election agents, Alves and the former parliamentary commissioner John Sharp of Hoddom (as ‘attorneys and men of very bad character’), and two of the Duke’s ‘stewards’, James Carruthers of Roberthill and Archibald Douglas of Ringland.4

The death of Queensberry in July 1711 signalled a lengthy eclipse of the Douglas power. There was a confused succession, followed by a dynastic hiatus. The titles were divided between the eldest son, who was an idiot, and his younger brother, who was still a minor, while the estates passed intact to the latter. At the same time the Tory ascendancy at Westminster and the polarization of Scottish politics squeezed and then crushed the old Court party which the Duke had headed. The Annandale interest could thus expect a free run at the next general election, and in the absence of the Marquess in England, though not necessarily without his knowledge or approval, his agents and followers in Dumfriesshire prepared to ditch Murray in favour of Sir William Johnstone of Westerhall, who had previously been Annandale’s nominee in the burghs. In order to contrive a quarrel between Murray and Annandale, Westerhall and his friends made Lord Stormont an offer he could not accept, to settle a dispute with Annandale over title to various local dignities in return for Murray’s withdrawal from the county representation. In high indignation Murray protested to Lady Annandale:

I used my utmost endeavours with my father to have discharged his claim to the stewartry of Annandale and constabulary of Lochmaben, in order to have made other matters easy, to which he made answer that it was a way of bargaining he was not acquainted with, and what my lord Marquess never did, nor he was sure never would demand it of him upon such terms, and farther that tho’ he would have drunk it over to my lord Marquess in a glass of wine, he said it should never by any measure of this kind be extorted from him . . . You’ll give me leave in the first place to complain . . . that I am ill-treated, having been engaged to defend my Lord Annandale’s interest at the expense of £300 of my own money upon assurance of a lasting friendship; if now, upon the first occasion of his absence, his interest be withdrawn from me . . . you’ll pardon me to say that according to the way of the world it will sound ill abroad . . . As I believe the design of this concert is not to make way for another gentleman . . . but to throw me out of the House, I must acquaint you that those gentlemen will miss of their aim . . . I cannot but say . . . that some who pretend to be my lord’s friends are upon measures which the event will prove to have been destructive of his interest, for whatever be the fate of the next election in that shire I do tell your ladyship, if the present prospect goes on, that my lord shall never be able in opposition to the Duke of Queensberry to make a Member for that place; and I desire Sir William may know that I said so.

By December 1712 it was rumoured that Murray, ‘being apprehensive of losing Dumfriesshire’, was searching for an alternative seat, but in the following May he presented a county address on the peace which was almost ferocious in the intensity of its devotion to crown and ministry, and he persisted with his candidacy there despite taking the insurance of standing in a burghs district elsewhere. The election in September 1713 proved surprisingly close, and one Scottish newspaper listed Murray as having been returned. In fact Johnstone had carried the day by some six votes. Little is known of the proceedings of this court. The single surviving reference suggests that there may have been a sharp reversal of alliances since 1710, and that Murray may have acted upon his implied threat and turned to the Queensberry interest after rejection by Annandale, or at least come to some agreement with the Griersons, who had been released by Queensberry’s death from their unnatural partnership with the Kirk and were free to pursue their cavalier inclinations. Murray was said to have ‘brought in all the voters that were rejected by the House of Commons in the controverted election of that shire betwixt Mr Murray and Mr Grierson’.5

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Buccleuch mss at Drumlanrig Castle, vol. 126, no. 45, [Ld. Tullibardine] to [Queensberry], 12 May [n.y.]; SRO, Hamilton mss GD406/1/5724, Stormont to [Hamilton], 2 Mar. 1711; Annandale Fam. Bk. ii. 240; The Case of the Honourable James Murray [c.1710]; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 93-94; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 11.
  • 2. Hamilton mss GD406/1/5512, [?W.] Welch to [Hamilton], 2 June 1708; Lockhart Mems. ed. Szechi, 177; Boyer, Anne Annals, v. 350; Annandale mss at Raehills, bdle. 826, William Johnstone to [Ld. Johnston], [1708]; bdle. 411, [?Sir] Patrick Home to Annandale, 14 June 1708; Add. 61628, ff. 120-1; Scot. Hist. Soc. xiii. 72-73; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/802/11, Mungo Graham* to Montrose, 26 June 1708; Edinburgh Courant, 25-28 June 1708; Annandale Fam. Bk. 240.
  • 3. Ewart Lib. Dumfries, Grierson mss 14D/GroupB9/2, 3, John Montgomerie I* to Grierson, 19 Apr. 1709, William Alves to same, 2 Aug. 1710; Mansfield mss at Scone Palace, bdle. 1248, Stormont to Alexander Barclay, 3, 10, 13, 17 Sept., 8 Oct. 1710, Murray to same, 12 Aug., [n.d. Sept.], 4, 24 Sept., 22 Oct. 1710; Annandale mss, bdle. 603, Murray to [Lady Annandale], [c. 1712]; Roxburghe mss at Floors Castle, bdle. 767, Roxburghe to his mother, 4 Nov. 1710; HMC Portland, iv. 564; Case of . . . Murray; Scots Courant, 10-13 Nov. 1710.
  • 4. SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1011/2, Sir Alexander Areskine, 2nd Bt.*, to Mar, 5 Dec. 1710; Mansfield mss, bdle. 221, Gawin Mason to [James Murray], 5 Dec. 1710, Murray to Alexander Barclay, 13 Feb. 1711; Lockhart Pprs. i. 325-6; Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, box 75, bdle. 11, newsletter 19 Feb. 1711; Montrose mss GD220/5/808/22, Graham to Montrose, 22 Feb. 1711; Hamilton mss GD406/1/5724, Stormont to [Hamilton], 2 Mar. 1711; Add. 70166, list of Murray’s recommendations, [c.1711].
  • 5. Annandale mss, bdle. 603, Murray to [Lady Annandale], [c.1712]; SRO, Seafield mss GD248/561/47/46, John Philp to [Findlater], 23 Dec. 1712; Scots Courant, 11-13 May, 14-16 Sept. 1713; NLS, Sutherland mss Dep. 313/572, Alexander Ross to [?William Sutherland*, Ld. Strathnaver], 17 Sept. 1713.