Ayr Burghs

Single Member Scottish burgh

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Campbeltown (1754, ’84), Argyll; Ayr (1761), Irvine (1768), Ayrshire; Rothesay (1774), Bute; Inverary (1780), Argyll


9 May 1754James Stuart Mackenzie
20 Apr. 1761Frederick Campbell
28 Dec. 1761Alexander Wedderburn vice Campbell, chose to sit for Glasgow Burghs
11 Apr. 1768James Stuart
31 Oct. 1774Sir George Macartney
17 Jan. 1776Frederick Stuart vice Macartney, appointed to office
2 Oct. 1780Sir Archibald Edmonstone
26 Apr. 1784Sir Archibald Edmonstone

Main Article

Inveraray and Campbeltown, the two ‘Highland burghs’, were controlled by the Duke of Argyll; Rothesay by the Earl of Bute; and Irvine by the Earl of Eglintoun. Ayr, which prided itself on its incorruptibility, always maintained a certain independence but was influenced by the Earl of Loudoun.

While Bute and his uncle Argyll were on friendly terms they commanded the constituency, and in 1754 Bute’s brother James Stuart Mackenzie was returned unopposed. In 1759 however uncle and nephew were at feud. When Stuart Mackenzie decided to stand for Ross-shire at the next general election, Bute gave his interest to Patrick Craufurd, although aware that Argyll intended the seat for his cousin Frederick Campbell. With Eglintoun supporting Bute, each side had two burghs, and everything depended upon Ayr. At Michaelmas 1759 Argyll, with Loudoun’s support, intervened in the Ayr burgh election and secured a council in which his friends predominated. Unwilling to embroil Frederick Campbell in a family feud, he replaced him as candidate by Sir Adam Fergusson. At Michaelmas 1760 Argyll repeated his success in the Ayr elections, and now appeared to have the constituency at his command.

But the accession of George III, and Bute’s rise to power at court, disposed Argyll to a compromise. It was agreed that the two candidates, Craufurd and Fergusson, should stand down, and that Bute and Argyll should jointly sponsor a new candidate. In compliment to his uncle, Bute named Argyll’s original choice Frederick Campbell. But the Ayr council, irritated by the attitude of the patrons, ‘as if the town was insignificant’, defied the threat of their displeasure and secured a promise from Fergusson ‘that he would never desert them’. Argyll now declared that he would not allow Campbell to stand unless Fergusson voluntarily withdrew, and an impasse seemed to have occurred.

Loudoun, sent to negotiate, reported to Bute on 28 Mar. that Fergusson, though willing to stand down, could not do so unless released from his pledge by the Ayr council. This the council refused to do unless Bute and Argyll each wrote them a letter personally requesting their co-operation. In the end Eglintoun wrote to Ayr, allegedly by Bute’s authority, in the terms demanded; and Loudoun quoted to the council a letter from Argyll asking them, if Fergusson withdrew, to concur in accepting Campbell. Both statements were probably spurious but they convinced the Ayr council, who agreed to release Fergusson from his pledge. Campbell was returned on the very day that news reached the constituency of Argyll’s death and the succession of Campbell’s father to the dukedom. This automatically precluded John Campbell, Frederick’s brother, now the eldest son of a Scottish peer, from representing Glasgow Burghs. Frederick Campbell took over the seat intended for his brother, and Alexander Wedderburn was returned in his place for Ayr Burghs.1

Bute filled the seat at the general election of 1768, and in 1774 expected to do so again. But on 3 May 1774 he reported to William Mure a visit from his kinsman John, 5th Duke of Argyll:

He began upon the boroughs, saying that as he had accommodated me last time he hoped it would not be thought unreasonable if he desired a friend of his own. I acknowledged the propriety but expressed my concern at his idea, as I had intended sending my brother to propose a near relation of my own. On this the Duke in a very polite manner said that if I had thought of any such person he would not put any bar to it.

When informed however that the ‘near relation’ was Sir George Macartney, Bute’s son-in-law, Argyll objected that the choice might be unpopular ‘as he was not of the country’, but was apparently satisfied by the argument that Macartney’s relationship to Bute virtually made him a Scot, that he claimed Scottish descent, and still owned a small ancestral estate in Scotland. With Argyll’s concurrence, Macartney was returned, and when his appointment as governor of Grenada in 1776 vacated his seat he was succeeded by Bute’s third son Frederick Stuart.2

In 1780 and 1784 Argyll chose the Member.

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Corresp. in Bute Loudoun mss; W. L. Burn, ‘The General Election of 1761 at Ayr’, EHR 1937, pp. 103-9; Caldwell Pprs. ii (1), pp. 119, 123, 133-4, 150.
  • 2. Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), pp. 232-3; Mure to Bute, 26 Oct. 1774, Bute mss.