STEWART, Hon. John (aft.1670-1748), of Sorbie, Wigtown.
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Family and Education
b. aft. 1670, 4th but 3rd surv. s. of Alexander Stewart, 3rd Earl of Galloway [S] by Lady Mary, da. of James Douglas, 2nd Earl of Queensberry [S]. educ. Glasgow 1687. ?unm.1
Ensign 3 Ft. Gds. 1691, capt.-lt. Apr. 1692, capt. and lt.-col. July 1692, 2nd lt.-col. 1704, 1st lt.-col. and col. of Ft. 1710; brig.-gen. 1710; ret. 1717.
MP [S], Wigtownshire 1702–7.
Burgess, Edinburgh 1707.2
A professional soldier who served in the Low Countries, Spain and Portugal, Stewart was never prominent in parliamentary affairs, either before or after the Union. His brother, the 5th Earl of Galloway, was one of the principal landowners in Wigtownshire, and Stewart himself had been granted a portion of the estates, sufficient to entitle him to election for the county to Queen Anne’s first Scottish parliament. Like his brother, Stewart acted in conjunction with the interest of his cousin the Duke of Queensberry, remaining with the Court rump in 1702. The desire for professional promotion was a strong motive for his political conduct. In his efforts to secure a full lieutenant-colonelcy, he also sought the support of his brother-in-law, John Clerk*, who promised to exert himself on behalf of the ‘honest colonel’. Their friendship had been cemented in tragic circumstances by the death in childbirth of Clerk’s wife in 1701.3
Stewart was faced with a dilemma in 1704, when Queensberry was out of office and conducting an unscrupulous campaign to destroy the New Party experiment. He voted with Queensberry’s followers in support of the Duke of Hamilton’s anti-succession motion, but made excuses for his actions, lest he damage his military career. Lieutenant-General George Ramsay reported Stewart’s vote, in a damning light, to Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) on 18 July 1704. Stewart took pains to rectify this impression and by December Ramsay conceded that the colonel ‘did vote wrong in the succession, but says he was abused in his vote, which I am ready to believe’. Some lingering misapprehension about Stewart’s loyalty may have coloured the wildly optimistic report of the Jacobite agent, Scot, that he was of ‘good inclinations’ and favoured ‘the grand resolve’. No sign of Jacobite sympathies emerged in the following years. Stewart continued broadly to follow the Court line, voting in favour of the Union and registering only two contrary votes on minor aspects of the treaty. But his brother was an outspoken critic, and differences on this subject caused a temporary breach. Stewart was not dependent on Galloway for selection to the first Parliament of Great Britain, which he obtained on the Court slate chosen from the existing Scottish parliament. He made no great mark at Westminster. Galloway at first refused to put Stewart forward as a candidate for Wigtownshire at the 1708 election, only to relent by early March, fearing that a rival candidate supported by the Earl of Stair might succeed by default.4
In the parliament of 1708 Stewart’s activities are impossible to distinguish from those of his various namesakes. He may well have departed from London before the end of the first session and was certainly in the Low Countries by June 1709. He had returned to Westminster by February 1710 and voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. At the general election he again stood for Wigtownshire, but found that resentment against his brother’s high-handed treatment of the electorate had spawned a fresh challenge. Defeated at the electoral court in November, Stewart petitioned and was seated the following March. Writing in Edinburgh, the day after the election in Wigtownshire and clearly unaware of Stewart’s apparent defeat, Richard Dongworth, chaplain to the Duchess of Buccleuch, classified Stewart as a Court Tory, who would be ‘episcopal or Presbyterian upon occasion’, depending on the impetus from ‘the Court ministers, D[ukes] of Hamilton, Argyll, and Queensberry and Earl of Mar’. It is not easy to discern Stewart’s precise loyalties within this disparate Court interest. Queensberry’s decision to remain in office after the fall of Godolphin may have persuaded Stewart to support the incoming Tory ministry, but the duke was no longer an influential politician and died the following year. Stewart may already have begun to look towards Argyll for political and military patronage, but nothing more than circumstantial evidence has been discovered to support this hypothesis. Stewart’s presence on a list of ‘worthy patriots’, who in 1710–11 helped to expose the mismanagements of the previous administration, may conceivably indicate that he was following an Argathelian line in support of Robert Harley*, as does his promotion to brigadier-general in September 1710. Stewart later served in the Peninsula concurrently with Argyll’s spell as commander-in-chief. He was absent in Portugal at the time of the vote on the Scottish toleration bill on 7 Feb. 1712.5
Stewart moved into opposition as part of that general tide of Scottish discontent following the malt tax crisis. He joined in the extra-parliamentary activity during May 1713 that produced the abortive motion in the Lords to dissolve the Union, and proceeded to vote on 4 and 18 June against the French commerce bill. He was listed as a ‘Hanoverian’, in other words a Whig, in Lord Polwarth’s analysis of the 1713 election results; and voted on 12 May 1714 for extending the schism bill to cover Catholic education. In the Worsley list he was also noted as a Whig. After the Hanoverian succession, Stewart was closely connected with Argyll and continued to represent Wigtownshire until 1727. He died on 22 Apr. 1748, apparently unmarried, though an Irish family of Steuart’s Lodge claim to have descended legitimately from a marriage contracted by him in old age.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: David Wilkinson
- 1. Scots Peerage ed. Paul, iv. 162–3; Hist. Scot. Parl. 672; Recs. Glasgow Univ. (Maitland Club, lxxii), iii. 145.
- 2. Scot. Rec. Soc. lxii. 195.
- 3. P. W. J. Riley, King Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 174; SRO, Clerk of Penicuik mss GD18/5238/21, Clerk to fa. 11 Jan. 1703; Clerk Mems. 40, 43, 87, 107, 175.
- 4. Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. app. 41; Riley, Union, 93, 331; Seafield Letters, 149; HMC Laing, ii. 92; APS, xi. 361; Baillie Corresp. 181; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 5; Clerk of Penicuik mss GD18/3140/22 Clerk to fa. 2, 4, Mar. 1708.
- 5. Add. 61281, ff. 182–3; SHR, lx. 61, 64.
- 6. Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Duff House (Montcoffer) mss 3175/2380, ‘Resolution of the Commons to Call a Meeting of the Lords’,  May 1713; Parlty. Hist. i. 70; Scot. Mag. 1748, p. 236.