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:

about 50


 Sir John Anstruther,  Bt.
24 Mar. 1710SIR ROBERT ANSTRUTHER, Bt. vice Moncreiff, deceased
 James Spittall

Main Article

The lesser barons of Fife were sufficiently numerous to complicate the electoral management of the leading magnates, lords Rothes and Leven. At the very least, the course of any contest was rendered unpredictable by the variety of potential candidates; and occasionally, when fired by sectarian enthusiasm, the voters exhibited an independence from aristocratic direction. Although the Revolution settlement in the Kirk had passed off peacefully there, with little resistance to Presbyterian re-occupation of the parishes, a substantial episcopalian element remained, in both the resident peerage and gentry. At the 1702 election to the Scottish parliament, according to one contemporary report, the four commissioners returned were all ‘friends’ of Rothes. This description in fact may be applied to only one of the members: Sir William Anstruther, who as Lord Anstruther SCJ voted with the Squadrone over the Union. Anstruther, however, was not without Court connexions, including Leven himself. If Anstruther’s political friendship with Rothes was merely conditional, then that of the two cavaliers returned in 1702 was even more tenuous: Major Henry Balfour of Dunbog and David Bethune of Balfour remained with the Country party after the split of 1704 and went on to oppose the Union. Indeed, Balfour was out in the Fifteen, and Bethune’s heir, James, played host to Lord Mar at the outset of the rebellion. (The fourth commissioner, Sir Patrick Murray of Pitdunnes, never took his seat, and his successor at a controverted by-election, Robert Douglas of Strathendrie, died before the divisions on the Union.)1

As the 1708 election approached, Rothes began to make determined preparations to secure the county seat for his favoured candidate, Sir Peter Halkett, 2nd Bt.*, of Pitfirrane. Lord Yester, heir to the Marquess of Tweeddale, reported to his father in February of that year:

My Lord Rothes and I have in a manner now laid down all our measures in relation to the elections in this shire, and are resolved if we can to have Sir Peter Halkett either for the shire or some of the districts of the towns.

The chief opposition was likely to come from Leven, for not only were he and Rothes personally at daggers drawn but the political interests to which they respectively belonged, the Squadrone and the Court party headed by the Duke of Queensberry, were also in conflict. The fact that both groups had supported the Union made the jockeying that preceded the election a particularly delicate exercise. Neither magnate could afford to alienate the episcopalians, and there was also a strong popular opposition to the Union in the county on economic grounds, the trade of Fife’s small coastal towns being in serious decline and suffering sharply in the immediate aftermath of the Union’s passage. As Yester wrote, with reference to the general behaviour of the Squadrone at these elections, ‘whatever our zeal be elsewhere, the disaffected in Fife must not be disobliged, that my Lord Rothes’ friends may [not] lose the next elections’. He imagined that their opponents were similarly constrained, but in fact Leven’s followers seemed to have created for themselves rather more freedom of manoeuvre. The county meeting at the end of March, where Rothes intended to promote a loyal address of thanks for the Union, demonstrated the difficulties of his position and the more adroit tactics adopted by his rival. Public commitment to the Union left Rothes isolated. Before the meeting he claimed to have acquainted Leven of his intentions and even to have ‘showed him my draft’, receiving in return what he took for acquiescence. The event proved somewhat different. Rothes’ own account was that Sir Robert Anstruther, 1st Bt., the brother of the former commissioner,

desired the Union might not be named, and was seconded by a number of my Lord Leven’s people. This you may be sure we would not readily yield to. Then Sir Robert Anst[ruth]er proposed another draft wherein there was not a word of the Union, but a long, ridiculous compliment to my Lord Leven, for his courage, conduct and good success. We stuck to have the Union named and, they insisting on their draft, at last we divided . . .

According to Rothes, of the 50 or so lairds present, ‘40 of ours signed our draft’ while ‘a few signed theirs’. Assuming this report to be accurate, a dramatic change must have overcome the Fife electorate between then and the general election in May, for at the freeholders’ court it was Leven’s candidate, Patrick Moncreiff of Reidie, who was chosen, and by a majority large enough to deter Rothes from sending in a double return (though this last possibility was mooted in the Scottish press). Although Rothes was quick to offer what amounted to excuses for failure, the replacement of Halkett as a candidate by Sir William Anstruther’s son, Sir John, 1st Bt.*, prompts the inference that he himself had lost confidence even before the electors met. Anstruther’s defeat he ascribed to the unscrupulous machinations of Leven, assisted by Queensberry and other Court peers like the Earl of Glasgow. In the wake of the Jacobite invasion attempt the Court party had exploited the coercive powers of government to appropriate to their own devices the interest belonging to local cavaliers and non-jurors, men who had been suspected of Jacobitism and temporarily interned during the emergency. Such figures as the Earl of Moray, Viscount Stormont and Sir William Bruce were assured of Leven’s ‘protection’ in return for their assistance at the election. Rothes noted that ‘all the prisoners that had interest in the shire of Fife except Sinclair’ (the father of John Sinclair*) had written on Moncreiff’s behalf. There was also the questionable conduct of Anstruther’s father and uncle, and the candidate’s own frustrating inactivity. ‘To help all this’, he added, with heavy irony, ‘was the love the Squadrone has in this country, in our shire particularly, where my Lord Leven is believed by the Jacobites to be the finest creature that was made.’ The election also featured in an anti-Squadrone squib as one of several constituencies where that party reputedly ‘opposed the election of Whigs with Whigs merely as those Whigs fell in with their party’. Rothes hoped that Moncreiff’s majority of 16 or 17 votes would be overturned if enough of Anstruther’s objections at the electoral court were upheld by the House. These amounted to 24, of which Rothes was sure of at least 20, including, most significantly, an objection against Moncreiff’s own qualification as an elector. On the other side, only 10 or 11 of Anstruther’s supporters had been the subject of counter-objections, and ‘I am pretty positive that not above two or three will hold good’.2

Anstruther duly presented his petition, arguing principally from the objections made against Moncreiff and his voters. It was ordered to be heard at the bar. The appointed day passed without notice, however, and Anstruther was obliged to reintroduce the petition on 28 Nov. 1709, by which time Moncrieff was already dead. Anstruther could none the less have persisted with his case; the fact that he did not do so but instead allowed his uncle Sir Robert Anstruther to be returned unopposed at the by-election points to a compromise having been settled between Rothes and Leven, possibly forced on them by the threat of a third candidate. There was no shortage of interested parties: as early as February 1709 the Earl of Mar’s brother had reported that at least five lairds were thinking of ‘setting up’ at the forthcoming by-election. Their various political affiliations ranged from cavalier to Squadrone, and included mavericks of whom ‘I’ll think it a wonder if any party be for them’. Distinguished among the throng, however, was the formidable figure of the Lord Lyon, Sir Alexander Areskine, 2nd Bt., of Cambo, whose aggressive episcopalianism would have made him a popular choice.3

Fear of an upsurge of cavalier sentiment may well have pushed Rothes and Leven into each other’s arms. Certainly by the time of the general election in the autumn of 1710 the two erstwhile enemies had joined forces. ‘Rothes and Leven’, reported one Scottish Tory, ‘are to concert betwixt them our election and if that be there is an agreement betwixt the Squadrone and the Court party and so I doubt not but [their candidate] . . . will be a Whig.’ Even acting together they could do little on this occasion to stop Areskine. They put up James Spittall of Leuchat, a Squadrone supporter who had represented Inverkeithing in the Scottish parliament, but he was defeated in ‘a full assembly of barons and freeholders’ by what one Scottish newspaper described as ‘a very great majority’. Areskine had been urged to stand by Mar as part of his electoral efforts on behalf of the new ministry of Robert Harley*, and was supported locally by James Bethune of Balfour. Voters evidently divided on sectarian lines, Areskine receiving only one Presbyterian vote.4

Rothes and Leven remained in full retreat for the remainder of the Queen’s reign. In the summer of 1712 a gathering of the nobility and gentry of Fife, headed by the earls of Kincardine, Morton and Wemyss, and the lords Balmerino, Colvill and Sinclair, and numbering more than 150, drew up an address to thank the Queen for communicating the peace terms and to deprecate, in terms that Areskine could well have dictated, ‘factious and seditious practices at home and ingratitude abroad’. A year later, just before the general election, came another address that expressed precisely the opinions of the outgoing Member, this time a bitter denunciation of the Union, the dissolution of which Areskine and others had vigorously demanded in the preceding session. After Areskine had been re-elected ‘unanimously’, the gentry joined in yet another High Tory address, in April 1714, complaining at the recent proclamation of a fast by the synod of Fife ‘for averting the threatened dangers of popery’, and asking the Queen to take appropriate steps to ‘reduce’ those responsible ‘to a due regard to her administration’. The extent to which Areskine’s ascendancy was constructed upon the episcopalian majority among the Fife lairds was plainly demonstrated after the Hanoverian succession, when in the 1715 election Sir John Anstruther won back the seat for Rothes’ interest, but only after calling for the oaths to be tendered to the electors, and thereby excluding the non-jurors who had previously turned the scale.5

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. HMC Laing, ii. 75; W. Wood, East Neuk of Fife, 181; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 14; Atholl mss at Blair Atholl, box 45, bdle. II, no.221, Gilbert Stewart to [Tullibardine], 8 Oct. 1702; Hist. Scot. Parl. 20, 35, 51, 199, 530-1; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 332, 334.
  • 2. NLS, ms 7023, ff. 126, 130; Riley, 297; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/159/4-5, Rothes to Montrose, 30 Mar. 1708, ‘Saturday, six at night’ [1708]; GD220/6/1778/1-3, ‘Brief Acct. Elections in N. Britain’ [1708]; Edinburgh Courant, 21-24 May 1708.
  • 3. SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/943/5, Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†) to Mar, 5 Feb. 1709.
  • 4. NLS, Crawford mss, 9769/19/44, David Scott to Balcarres, 13 July 1710; Hist. Scot. Parl. 655; Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 1 51; SRO, Seafield mss GD248/560/?45/58, Rothes to [Ld. Seafield], 23 Sept. 1710; D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 66; Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/975/10, Mar to Grange, 27 July 1710; GD124/15/1014, Ld. Bowhill (John Murray*) to same, 23 Sept. 1710; GD124/15/1011/3, Areskine to same, n.d. 1710; Scots Courant, 25-27 Oct. 1710.
  • 5. London Gazette, 2-5 Aug. 1712; Scots Courant, 8-11 Aug. 1712, 25-28 Sept. 1713, 7-10, 10-12 May 1714; Huntington Lib. HM 44710, ff. 359-60; HMC Portland, x. 489; C219/114; SRO, Kennedy of Dalquharran mss GD27/3/24/4, Mungo Graham* to Cornelius Kennedy, 12 Feb. 1715.