JOHNSTON (JOHNSTONE), James, Lord Johnston (c.1687-1730).

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



24 - 26 June 1708
26 June - 3 Dec. 1708
26 June - 3 Dec. 1708

Family and Education

b. c.1687, 1st s. of William Johnstone, 1st Mq. of Annandale [S], by Sophia, da. of John Fairholm of Craigiehall, Linlithgow. unmsuc. fa. as 2nd Mq. 14 Jan. 1721.

Offices Held

Provost, Lochmaben 1707–9, 1711–13, 1715–17, 1719–23, Annan 1721–2, 1723–?d.1


A combination of personal and political circumstances conspired to deprive Lord Johnston of that important role which should have been his lot as the eldest son of one of the leading peers of Scotland. His father was noted for both political tergiversation and an ability to recover from the consequences of miscalculation: the most notable instance was his involvement in the Montgomery plot of 1690, which he survived by turning informant upon discovery. This narrow escape did not blight his career and he was subsequently appointed to a number of high offices, including that of joint secretary of state for Scotland in 1705. He opposed the Union, partly out of personal pique, and was consequently deprived of office. Determined, however, to take advantage of the new political situation, he promised his support to the Whig Junto and affirmed that ‘no man living will make it more his business to make this present union and settlement happy to this nation’. As proof of his worth, he cited his success in Dumfriesshire in the election of 1708: ‘I have made my son for the county, and a friend for whom I shall answer for the district of burghs’. These returns were especially gratifying to Annandale because they were made at the expense of his arch-rival the Duke of Queensberry. Johnston’s victory was shortlived, however, as he was deemed ineligible as the eldest son of a Scottish peer, following a ruling in the case of Lord Haddo (William Gordon*). This turn of events did nothing to improve relations between father and son, which had lately become somewhat strained. A disagreement over finances created an open breach within the family. The precise origins of this dispute are obscure, but it seems likely that Annandale’s displeasure was caused by his son’s desire for foreign travel. Johnston thought his father should have agreed to his demand for £400 p.a. and permission to travel abroad for two or three years, whereas Annandale considered his son to be embarking for ‘utter ruin and misery’, characterizing him as a ‘rebellious, obstinate and disobedient son, prompted by his mother to the last degree of foolery and madness’. Soon they were not even on speaking terms.2

In January 1712 Johnston explained to Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley*) that

there was an entail of the estate made in my infancy, for implement of my father’s contract of marriage with irritant clauses restricting my lord marquess to a liferent and against all dilapidation . . . My lord having only reserved power to burden it with a certain sum of money . . . imagined himself too much straitened and that he had not liberty to dispose of enough of his estate, which made him take a resolution several years before I was of age, that, as soon as I was in a capacity to do it, he would oblige me to denude myself of this right and sometime after proposed it to me with this hard alternative, that I must comply or forever forfeit his favour and countenance.

After consulting friends and ‘the best lawyers in this country’, who considered this to be ‘a point never to be yielded’, Johnston decided to resist his father’s demands. Annandale lost no time in putting his ‘threats into execution’ and afterwards Johnston was forced to live ‘almost a year without receiving any assistance from him or being allowed to come into his house’. Johnston considered it ‘worse than death to think of living any longer with him’. All attempts at intercession were rebuffed, and Annandale held out for ‘an unconditional and absolute surrender of the whole’. It was for this reason that Johnston, who described himself as ‘brought up to no business and without estate’, had decided to seek Oxford’s help. The lord treasurer responded with repeated assurances, but there was some delay before any money was forthcoming. In the meantime Johnston signalled his new political attachment by accompanying Oxford’s cousin, Thomas Harley*, on a diplomatic mission to Holland in May 1712. The expenses of this trip may well have been those to which Johnston referred as having ‘gone near to exhaust what sums I could raise upon my own credit’. He was eventually rewarded in February 1713 with a secret service payment of £500. Although Johnston was keen to assist Oxford in any capacity, and was willing to serve either at home or abroad, the surviving correspondence does not indicate that he fulfilled any genuine political or diplomatic function. It seems probable that Oxford was supporting Johnston with an eye to his future consequence as a Scottish peer. Between May 1713 and June 1714, he received a total of £750, in six quarterly instalments via the British plenipotentiary in France, Matthew Prior*. These funds were used to support himself in Paris and to finance a trip to Italy via Montpellier. His stay in southern France was marred by a clash with his father who was himself returning from Italy. Johnston requested an interview, but rejected the demand that he should first ‘sign a paper . . . containing an absolute renunciation of all my rights on our estate’. Any hope of reconciliation was further diminished by the death of Johnston’s mother in 1716 and his father’s remarriage, two years later, to the teenage daughter of a wealthy merchant.3

Johnston came to rely heavily on Oxford, referring hopefully to him as ‘another father’. Whilst regular payments were maintained, the protection of the lord treasurer seemed sufficient ‘to make up all the disadvantages of so unnatural a break’. Yet, the appearance of security was delusive: by July 1714, when Johnston anxiously enquired from Geneva about future payments, Oxford’s hold on power had become precarious and by the end of the month he had been dismissed. Little is known about how Johnston survived in the ensuing years, but he seems to have remained abroad for much of the time. This inevitably brought him into contact with Jacobite exiles, and some of them entertained hopes of recruiting him. He was approached by an agent in Brussels in September 1717 and although he allegedly asserted that ‘no man had a greater respect’ for the cause, he positively declined any direct contact for fear of further offending his father. When Annandale died in January 1721, his youthful widow was appointed ‘sole executrix and legatrix’, and given an annual income of £1,000. The will was unsuccessfully challenged by Johnston in the Lords.4

Johnston’s succession to the marquessate of Annandale was greeted by reports from the ‘emissaries of the Squadrone’ that he was ‘a professed Jacobite’. These allegations were probably calculated to discredit him as a candidate for the representative peerage. He stood in the election of 1722, but received a disappointing 21 votes. The defeat appears to have eliminated any lingering political ambitions. In 1726 he surrendered his honours and estates in return for a regrant under new conditions. This procedure confirmed the legality of collateral descent in the absence of heirs-male and excluded from the succession any heirs who married into ‘a certain family of Johnstone’. The first of these provisions proved necessary (since he never married), and the second was probably directed against his stepmother, who, following his father’s death, had married into the family of Johnstone of Westerhall (see JOHNSTONE, William). Annandale continued to enjoy foreign travel and died in Italy, aged 42, in February 1730. Although the inscription on the family monument in Westminster Abbey praised him as ‘a man of great parts and many excellent qualities’, his achievements fell far short of those of his more famous father.5

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: David Wilkinson


  • 1. J. B. Wilson, Lochmaben, 207; R. M. Sunter, Patronage and Pol. in Scotland, 169.
  • 2. DNB (Johnstone, William); P. W. J. Riley, King Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 40–41; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 140–1, 172–3; Annandale Fam. Bk. ii. 238–9; Lockhart Pprs. i. 297–8; Boyer, Anne Annals, vii. 269; Annandale mss at Raehills, bdle. 603, Johnston to [–], n.d.; SRO, Hamilton mss GD406/1/5561, Annandale to Hamilton, 22 Nov. 1709.
  • 3. Add. 70050, Johnston to Oxford, [Jan. 1712]; 70244, same to same, 10 Nov 1713. N.S.; 70358, abstract of payments to Johnston; Annandale mss, bdle. 603, Johnston to [–], n.d.; Scots Courant, 9–12 May 1712; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxviii. 381, 495; HMC Stuart, vii. 616; Annandale Fam. Bk. i. pp. cccxix–xxi.
  • 4. Add. 70050, Johnston to Oxford, n.d., same to Ld. Mar, 6 July 1714 N.S.; 70244, same to Oxford, 10 Nov. 1713 N.S.; HMC Stuart, v. 47; vii. 78; Annandale Fam. Bk. pp. cccxvi, cccxx–xxi.
  • 5. Annandale mss, bdle. 564, [–] to [–], 25 Jan. 1721; W. Robertson, Peerage of Scotland, 98–101; J. Riddell, Law and Practice in Scot. Peerages, i. 271; Hist. Reg. Chron. 1730, p. 18.