Edinburghshire (Midlothian)

Single Member Scottish County

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

Number of voters:

84 in 1764, 104 in 1774, 93 in 1788


25 Apr. 1754Robert Dundas 
20 Dec. 1754Dundas re-elected after appointment to office 
12 Jan. 1761Sir Alexander Gilmour vice Dundas, appointed to office 
9 Apr. 1761Sir Alexander Gilmour 
2 Jan. 1766Gilmour re-elected after appointment to office 
2 Apr. 1768Sir Alexander Gilmour 
20 Oct. 1774Henry Dundas57
 Sir Alexander Gilmour21
8 June 1775Dundas re-elected after appointment to office 
14 Mar. 1777Dundas re-elected after appointment to office 
16 July 1779Dundas re-elected after appointment to office 
22 Sept. 1780Henry Dundas 
2 Jan. 1783Dundas re-elected after appointment to office 
8 Jan. 1784Dundas re-elected after appointment to office 
8 Apr. 1784Henry Dundas 

Main Article

In Edinburghshire, ‘the first county of Scotland’, a majority of the freeholders were members of the Scottish bar, law agents, administrators, and men of wealth, culture, and independence. The principal landowner, the Duke of Buccleuch, was a minor until 1767, and although other peers possessed estates in the shire they exercised minor influence in comparison with the celebrated legal family, the Dundases of Arniston, who, though of no great fortune, had by their personal interest obtained ‘the entire command’ of the county. By tradition the county was opposed to the Duke of Argyll’s influence in Scottish affairs.

Robert Dundas of Arniston was returned unopposed at the general election in April 1754, and in August was appointed lord advocate. At odds with ‘Viceroy’ Argyll, he had to rely on Newcastle, Hardwicke, and the ‘English ministry’ for patronage to safeguard his interest in the county. He wrote to Newcastle on 1 Aug. 1758 in connexion with the appointment of the sheriff:1

My constituents, who are nowise ignorant of my attachment to your Grace, must form a very unfavourable impression of me if they see me so greatly discountenanced and neglected by Government.

By the summer of 1759 rival interests were appearing. Lord Lauderdale sought to gain prestige by offering to raise a regiment, but was rebuffed.2 A more serious threat came from Charles Townshend who as guardian and step-father of the young Duke of Buccleuch held court at Dalkeith, gained great popularity as a champion of a Scottish militia, and was enrolled as a freeholder of Edinburghshire. Townshend’s friends proposed to set up John Dalrymple younger of Cranstoun as candidate. A Dalrymple supporter wrote:3 ‘The Advocate has taken the alarm ... and solicited the votes of several of the freeholders. ... The seat is not as certain as many people imagine.’

When a county meeting on 19 Mar. 1760 petitioned for a militia and instructed their M.P. to support the bill, Dundas, having already been promised the appointment of lord president of the court of session, defied his constituents and opposed the bill.4 Nevertheless his interest was still strong enough to carry the by-election for his nominee. By agreement with Newcastle, the Dundas interest was given to Sir Alexander Gilmour, son of Sir Charles Gilmour, M.P. for Edinburghshire 1737-50, who was returned unopposed.5 At the general election three months later, Dalrymple made an approach to Dundas. ‘I offered to your Lordship’, he wrote subsequently, ‘to declare to all that I held this county from you and to restore it to your family at the end of seven years.’6 But the offer was rejected and Gilmour was again returned unopposed.

The situation changed when Gilmour followed Newcastle into opposition and bitterly offended Bute, who ‘declared he should never more come in for the county of Edinburgh’.7 Fearing Dundas’s disapproval, Gilmour went to Scotland in the summer of 1763 armed with letters from Newcastle and Hardwicke justifying their political conduct.8 Dundas agreed to continue to support Gilmour, but his position as a judge made him unwilling to ‘appear busy’ in politics.9 He was even more cautious in 1764 when Gilmour by his attitude over Wilkes had still further offended Scottish opinion.10 Dalrymple seized the opportunity to put himself forward as a prospective candidate, and sought support from James Stuart Mackenzie, the Government manager for Scotland:11

The weight of Administration is great in this county. Men’s minds being irritated against Sir Alexander Gilmour at present on account of his parliamentary conduct, now is the time to take advantage of it; a delay which gives occasion for the greatest heats to cool may lose the opportunity of securing this ... first county of Scotland to the interests of his Majesty and your family ... The friends of Administration should at least be told not to engage themselves to Sir Alexander Gilmour and ... attention should be paid to create votes.

In a proposed circular letter to the electors he wrote:

I find it very disagreeable to many freeholders ... that the first county of Scotland should be represented by a gentleman who ... is joined in opposition to his Majesty’s measures in Parliament; an opposition which was at first set on foot against Lord Bute for no reason on earth but because he was a Scotchman.

Enclosing for Mackenzie’s information a ‘state’ of the county, he listed 19 votes uncertain; 22 for Gilmour, representing the combined Dundas, Gilmour, and Hopetoun interests; 38 anti-Gilmour votes, including his own supporters, personal connexions of the Bute family, and Lord Milton, an old enemy of Dundas; and 7 ‘ministerial’ votes. Mackenzie refused to commit himself, but consulted William Mure about a ‘properer candidate’ than the ebullient Dalrymple.

But this intended opposition came to nothing. Seven months later the Rockingham Administration took office; Lord President Dundas was offered, but declined, the management of Scotland; and Gilmour was re-elected unopposed in January 1766.

In 1768 Gilmour was again unchallenged, but two new figures now appeared on the scene: the Duke of Buccleuch, recently come of age; and Henry Dundas, solicitor-general for Scotland, the lord president’s half-brother. In 1770 Gilmour, hoping that he might shortly be offered a place, sounded Henry Dundas on his attitude in the event of a re-election. Dundas replied that in that event he would not oppose Gilmour, but that he expected Gilmour to make way for him at the next general election.12 Gilmour denied any desire to set up a separate interest and suggested that Dundas should find an alternative seat, but Dundas insisted that Gilmour, not himself, should yield.

No compromise was reached, but the contest was conducted without rancour. Sir Alexander Dick thus described the election:13

This day our county of Midlothian election came on, and Mr. Solicitor-General Dundas carried [it] against Sir Alexander Gilmour, 57 for the solicitor, 21 for Sir Alexander and the solicitor was one of them. They behaved like friends and gentlemen to one another, though they dined in separate houses.

The Dundases, having thus demonstrated their strength, were never again seriously challenged during this period.

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Add. 32882, f. 192.
  • 2. Add. 32893, ff. 469, 489; 32894, ff. 27, 44, 97, 273.
  • 3. John Campbell of Stonefield to Townshend, 25 Sept. 1759, Buccleuch mss.
  • 4. Add. 32903, ff. 106, 416.
  • 5. Add. 6860, f. 286; 32913, f. 269.
  • 6. Arniston Mems. 182.
  • 7. Newcastle to Hardwicke, 3 June 1763, Add. 32949, f. 5.
  • 8. Arniston Mems. 172-6.
  • 9. Add. 32949, f. 412.
  • 10. Add. 32963, f. 34.
  • 11. Caldwell Pprs. ii (1), 283-90.
  • 12. Arniston Mems. 183-4.
  • 13. M. A. Forbes, Curiosities of a Scots Charta Chest, 254.