DUNDAS, Robert (1685-1753), of Arniston, Edinburgh.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1722 - 10 June 1737

Family and Education

b. 9 Dec. 1685, 1st surv. s. of Robert Dundas, M.P. [S], of Arniston, Lord Arniston, S.C.J., by Margaret, da. of Sir Robert Sinclair, 3rd Bt., M.P. [S], of Stevenston, Haddington. educ. Utrecht, c.1700; adv. 1709. m. (1) contract 14 Oct. 1712, Elizabeth (d. Jan. 1734), da. of Robert Watson of Muirhouse, Edinburgh, 3s. 4da.; (2) 3 June 1734, Anne, da. of Sir William Gordon, 1st Bt., of Invergordon, Ross, 5s. 1da. suc. fa. 1726.

Offices Held

Assessor to city of Edinburgh c.1717-21; solicitor-gen. [S] 1717-20; ld. adv. 1720-5; dean, faculty of advocates, 1721-37; ld. of session, Lord Arniston, 1737-d., ld. pres. 1748-d.


The son and grandson of judges of the court of session, Dundas, quickly making his way at the bar, was appointed in 1717 solicitor-general of Scotland by its secretary of state, the Duke of Roxburghe, the head of the Squadrone, to whom he owed his promotion in 1720 to be lord advocate in succession to Sir David Dalrymple. Returned in 1722 for Edinburghshire, where he secured the Jacobite vote on the understanding that he ‘would preserve ... some ... honest men’s estates from being forfeited’, he sat for it till the end of his parliamentary career, building up a predominant interest by placing his legal services at the disposal of the freeholders gratis. Dismissed in 1725 for drawing up a resolution opposing the enforcement of the malt tax in Scotland at a meeting of the Squadrone Members of the House of Commons, he considered applying to succeed his father on the court of session, a proposal at which, he was told by Roxburghe, Walpole would ‘with joy, jump, ... for ... the greater a man is, the less he does like to be opposed or tousled in Parliament’. Deciding against this course, he acted as counsel for the Glasgow magistrates when they were charged with conniving at the riots against the malt tax, which he also encouraged the Edinburgh brewers to resist, becoming the ‘spring’ of the agitation against the tax. In the Commons, on 4 Mar. 1726, he belittled the riots, ascribing them to the mismanagement of the Government and the military authorities. A fortnight later he described a proposal to allocate part of the tax to improvements in Scotland as a job. In 1727 he opposed a loyal address of the court of session, proposing a counter-address against the malt tax.1

In the next Parliament Dundas continued in opposition, speaking against the Government in the Dunkirk debate, 12 Feb. 1730. On 9 Feb. 1732, he spoke against the revival of the salt duty, suggesting that it was being revived to influence elections through the officials appointed to collect it. He was among the opposition Members who, in April 1733, supported a ‘violent’ motion designed to secure the outright rejection of the excise bill, instead of allowing it to be withdrawn.2

After the general election of 1734, Dundas and James Erskine concerted plans with the opposition peers for an attack in both Houses on the methods by which the Government had carried their list of representative peers of Scotland. The plans miscarried, but on 5 May 1735 the Commons passed a bill drafted by Erskine and introduced by Dundas to prevent the wrongful imprisonment of persons coming to vote in elections.

It was made a point of great consequence by the court party, and Sir Robert Walpole spoke twice with warmth against it ... Sir Robert Walpole told the Scots advocate, Mr. Dundas, that nothing this session gave him more concern.3

The bill was thrown out by the Lords.

In 1737 Dundas applied for the lord presidency of the court of session, the highest judicial appointment in Scotland. The post went to his rival, Duncan Forbes, but Dundas was offered a judgeship, which he accepted on the advice of Lord Ilay, Roxburghe’s successor as minister for Scotland. Ilay told him that

some years ago I was not unwilling that you should have stood first oars (as we say here), which the other (Forbes) does now, so that all that remains is whether you should take the other.

Thenceforth Dundas took no further part in politics, declining an invitation by Ilay’s successor, Lord Tweeddale, after Walpole’s fall, to act with Forbes as his advisers in matters relating to Scotland. On Forbes’s death in 1747 he again applied for the lord presidency, for which Ilay, now back in power as Duke of Argyll, supported Charles Areskine. At a meeting of ministers to consider the appointment Pelham supported Areskine ‘as the Duke of Argyll’s man ... saying the Duke had assisted them and was to be preferred to the Squadrone, who were linked with Lord Granville, Sir John Gordon, and the Prince’. Lord Chesterfield expressed the opinion that ‘the best qualified for a judge and the honestest man should be named, without regard to Whig or Tory. This the Chancellor [Hardwicke] highly approved of, seeing where it pointed’, viz. to Dundas, who secured the post. The greatest lawyer produced by Scotland in the 18th century, he died 26 Aug. 1753.4

Ref Volumes: 1715-1754

Author: Romney R. Sedgwick


  • 1. Lockhart Pprs. ii. 88; Ramsay of Ochtertyre, Scotland and Scotsmen in 18th Cent. i. 71-72; G. W. T. Omond, Arniston Mems. 60-63, 69-70; Coxe, Walpole, ii. 440; Knatchbull Diary, 4 Mar. 1726; Wodrow, Anacleta (Maitland Club, lx), iii. 404.
  • 2. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 42, 360.
  • 3. Arniston Mems. 83-85; Rose, Marchmont Pprs. ii. 57-67; HMC Polwarth, v. 102-4; HMC Egmont Diary, ii. 174.
  • 4. Arniston Mems. 90; HMC Polwarth, v. 265-6; Ramsay, 64.