BURNETT, Sir Thomas, 3rd Bt. (aft.1656-1714), of Crathes Castle and Leys, Kincardine.

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



1707 - 1708

Family and Education

b. aft. 1656, 1st s. of Sir Alexander Burnett, 2nd Bt., of Crathes Castle and Leys by Elizabeth, da. of (?William) Coutts of Auchtercoull, Aberdeen.  m. 1677, his cos. Margaret (d. 1744), da. of Robert, 2nd Visct. Arbuthnott [S], 9s. (4 d.v.p.) 7da. (?5 o.ch. d.v.p.).  suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. by 8 May 1663; uncle to Pittenkeirie and Sauchen, Aberdeen 1691.1

Offices Held

Burgess, Aberdeen 1674; rector, King’s Coll. Aberdeen Univ. 1698–1705.2

MP [S] Kincardineshire 1689–1707.

PC [S] 1690–?1702, 1707–8; commr. reg. clerk [S] 1689–aft. 1690, visitation of schs. and colls. [S] 1690–aft. 1697, justiciary for Highlands [S] 1693, 1697, 1701, 1702, Equivalent [S] 1707–d., exchequer [S] 1707–8.3


Burnett restored the political fortunes of the lairds of Leys, both locally and nationally, to something approaching the reputation his Covenanting grandfather had enjoyed, but the family’s financial health continued to decline, and a constant tension between ambition and straitening means may be one explanation for his having been regarded as awkward and unpredictable. Indebtedness had accelerated steeply during his father’s possession of the estate, a man whom the diarist Brodie of Brodie had deplored as ‘profane, dissolute and naughty’, but Burnett bore considerable responsibility for his own difficulties, his extravagance extinguishing the temporary recovery secured by the prudent management of his guardian, the 7th Earl Marischal, appointed when he had inherited as a minor. That he flouted Marischal’s disapproval in order to marry while still in his nonage, also seems to indicate a headstrong personality.4

Despite manifold episcopalian and loyalist connexions, Burnett was true to his grandfather’s political heritage. Enthusiastic for the Revolution, he was elected by his county to the Scottish convention, where he subscribed the act declaring the legality of proceedings and the letter of congratulation to King William, and in 1689–90 was chosen to several significant committees, including those for the security of the kingdom, for supply, for the plantation of kirks and for the visitation of schools and colleges. His value to the Revolution interest received prompt recognition from the government in appointment to the privy council and the commission entrusted with the office of register clerk. He was associated with the Tweeddale–Johnston faction in 1693–6, and, following the successive dismissals of Lord Tweeddale, James Johnston*, and Lord Tullibardine, moved into opposition in 1698. His motives were the usual combination of support for the former ministers and anger at personal losses in the Darien scheme, in his case an investment of £1,000. Although there was a rumour in June 1701 that Burnett was to be offered a peerage, his role as a prominent opposition member meant that he was not reappointed a privy councillor at Queen Anne’s accession, and may indeed have already been dismissed.5

As an ‘undoubted Revolution man’ Burnett acted in concert with the Squadrone but kept a degree of independence. In September 1703 he argued in the Scottish parliament in favour of reading Lord Marchmont’s proposal for an act to declare the succession in the Electress Sophia, subject to ‘several weighty conditions’, but only if this was not recorded in the minutes. He did not secede from opposition at the formation of the ‘New Party’ ministry in 1704, voting with the Duke of Hamilton in favour of postponing a decision on the succession. Otherwise, however, he was prepared to give limited co-operation to the Court over supply. Early in 1705 George Baillie* considered him to be a catch the ministry might well be able to land with an appropriate bait: ‘the making Sir Thomas Burnett a councillor would gain him entirely’. The passing of a grant to the Duke of Queensberry (whose presence at the head of the Scottish ministry Burnett had long opposed) postponed a rapprochement, however, and it was as an opposition candidate that Burnett became a member of the committee of trade in 1705. The leaders of the cavaliers were convinced of his continuing ‘honesty’, and in 1706 the Pretender was informed that although Burnett

was very wrong at the Revolution, and sometimes varies in parliament . . . he has for these last three sessions been for the most with the Country party, particularly for the grand resolves, and spoke boldly against the Hanoverian succession when proposed by Polwarth [i.e. Lord Marchmont]; and told myself, a week or two before I came from Scotland, that he would to the utmost of his power oppose the Union.

Nevertheless, when the treaty came before the Scottish parliament he went along with the Squadrone. After some early statements of ‘Country’ principle (that members should consult their constituents before voting, and that the English Act of Settlement – with its express limitations on royal power – should be read out) he stuck to a Squadrone line, his one quirk being to join the protest against the use of troops in Edinburgh. The rewards were readmission to the privy council and nomination to two commissions: the exchequer and the Equivalent. Without a salary he remained ‘uneasy’ for a time, but was chosen for a seat in the first Parliament of Great Britain.6

Self-interest prompted Burnett to oppose his Squadrone colleagues, in his only known speech at Westminster, over the motion to abolish the Scottish privy council on 11 December 1707. He was nominated the following day to the drafting committee for the bill to repeal the Scottish act of security and the act anent peace and war. He is known to have approved of the cathedrals bill, possibly influenced by his ‘cousin german’, the bishop of Salisbury. Evidently regarded as a Court supporter, Burnett was promised some further ‘consideration’, only to be informed by Lord Mar in May 1708 that his ‘concern’ had miscarried, for the present, but that Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) had pledged that ‘you should be taken care of another way as much to your advantage’. Nothing came of this, however.7

A victim of anti-unionist sentiment in Kincardineshire in 1708, Burnett did not even bother to register a vote let alone put himself forward as a candidate. He also boycotted the Aberdeenshire election, signing the petition against the return of Lord Haddo (William Gordon*) as the eldest son of a Scottish peer. More enthusiastic for a seat in 1710, he canvassed both in Kincardineshire and Aberdeenshire, albeit unsuccessfully. Burnett died in January 1714, leaving to his eldest son a ‘well built’ house and a ‘well planted’ estate, but financial affairs that were ‘difficulted’, with extensive debts and encumbrances, and unpaid bills. The 4th baronet was forced into further sales of land, and the sacrifice of part of his wife’s jointure for the education of their children.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Fam. of Burnett of Leys (New Spalding Club), 60, 73, 79, 84–85; SRO Indexes, vii. 85; C. Rogers, Fams. of Colt and Coutts, 13; Scots Peerage ed. Paul, i. 308.
  • 2. New Spalding Club, Misc. ii. 441; Officers and Graduates of Univ. and King’s Coll. Aberdeen 1495–1860 (New Spalding Club), 12.
  • 3. Reg. PC Scotland 1690, pp. 19–20; Fam. of Burnett, 80–81; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 349; 1691–2, p. 167; 1696, p.168; 1697, p. 80; 1700–2, p. 338; 1702–3, p. 353; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 9; APS, ix. 164; Recs. Glasgow Univ. (Maitland Club lxxii), ii. 552; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiii. 234; xxix. 342; Sir J. Clerk and J. Scrope, Hist. View of Forms and Powers of Ct. of Exchequer in Scotland (1820), 120–3.
  • 4. Fam. of Burnett, 72, 78–79, 85, 91–92; Diary of Brodie of Brodie (Spalding Club), 122; HMC Portland, iv. 199.
  • 5. Info. from Dr P. W. J. Riley on members of Scot. parl.; APS, ix. 9, 20, 164, 188, 201; ix. (supp.). 56; x. 246, 269, 294; Scot. Hist. Soc. ser. 3, xlvii. 160; NLS, ms 7029, f. 88; Darien Pprs. (Bannatyne Club, xc), 400, 408; Fam. of Burnett, 80; Carstares, State Pprs. 387, 396.
  • 6. Info. from Dr Riley; APS, xi. 72, 102, 222; Crossrigg Diary, 122, 131, 138, 174; P. W. J. Riley, King Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 142; HMC Portland, iv. 342; viii. 207; Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. app. 42; HMC Laing, ii. 80; Baillie Corresp. 49, 59; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 14; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 16–17; EHR, lxxxiv. 521; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 334; Fam. of Burnett, 81; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 404.
  • 7. R. Walcott, Pol. Early 18th Cent. 233; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 459; Burnet, vi. 252; Fam. of Burnett, 82.
  • 8. Fam. of Burnett, 84–85, 91–92; Colls. Aberdeen and Banff (Spalding Club), i. 33; James Gordon’s Diary (3rd Spalding Club), 158, 161; NRA [S], Rep. 0024 (Burnett of Leys mss), pp. 21–23.