Elginshire (Morayshire)

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:

77 in 1788


1 May 1754Sir Ludovick Grant 
16 Apr. 1761James Grant 
21 Apr. 1768Francis Grant 
2 Nov. 1774Arthur Duff 
39 Apr. 1779Lord William Gordon vice Duff, vacated his seat 
6 Oct. 1780Lord William Gordon 
25 Apr. 1782Gordon re-elected after appointment to office 
15 Apr. 1784James Duff, Earl Fife24
 Alexander Penrose Cumming8

Main Article

The Grants of Grant, the Earl Fife, and the Duke of Gordon contended for control of the county; the interest of the Brodies of Brodie, once considerable, did not revive until the 1780’s. The seat was held from 1741 by Sir Ludovick Grant, chief of the clan, who was attached to the Duke of Newcastle and was distrusted by both Argyll and Bute. He was a disagreeable man, frequently at odds with the Gordons and with his near relations the Duffs, but nevertheless was returned unopposed in 1754. By 1761, however, he had become so unpopular that when the Earl of Moray proposed to set up his brother John Stewart against him, Sir Ludovick on the advice of his friends withdrew in favour of his son James, who, with the support of the Duffs, was returned unopposed.1

In 1767 James Grant announced his intention not to seek re-election. The minister of Forres wrote to a friend, 28 Sept. 1767:2

Mr. Grant has given up the county in favour of his uncle the colonel [Francis Grant]. Against the colonel have started two nephews, Sir James Innes and Mr. George Duff, brother to Earl Fife. Mr. Grant of Grant’s intention was only notified about fourteen days past, and ever since there has been such whipping, spurring, and rattling of coaches, etc. back and fore that Sunday was no sabbath day. There are seven nephews all confederate to unhorse the Grants, but the probability is they will keep the saddle.

Lord Fife, annoyed that Grant had not consulted him, gave his interest to his brother, and wrote to Grenville on 20 Oct. 1767:3

We have a good chance to carry the election or run it very near; at any rate they have put an end to their interest afterwards, for I certainly can make the county. It could not have been in doubt at present had they not gained advantage by unhandsome surprise.

Among the seven nephews opposing Francis Grant was William Grant of Ballindalloch, who joined the Duffs.4 It is not certain whether or not there was a poll, but at any rate the Grants retained the seat.

After the election was over, Lord Fife began buying lands and superiorities and creating votes.5 The Grants, although encumbered by debts, did their best to compete; and the Duke of Gordon also entered the contest. At the 1771 Michaelmas head court the Grants kept six Duff voters off the roll, but the court of session ordered their enrolment and this decision was confirmed by the House of Lords.6 Fife chose his younger brother Arthur as his candidate, and planned to gain control of the 1772 head court by keeping eleven of his opponents’ voters off the roll.7 The Grants however demanded that before the election of the praeses, all the freeholders should take the trust oath affirming the validity of their qualifications. When Lord Fife and his party refused, the Grants held a separate meeting and struck all the Duff voters off the roll. Fife began an action in the court of session which was decided against him, but the decision was reversed on appeal to the House of Lords.8 Fife was also successful in an action against the qualifications of the Duke of Gordon’s voters; and at the general election of 1774 Arthur Duff was chosen unanimously.9

In 1776 Fife, hard pressed by the Gordon interest in Banffshire, decided to compromise with his opponents, and to this end prepared to sacrifice his brother’s seat in the House of Commons.10 Having made his peace with his cousin Sir James Grant, he negotiated with the Duke of Gordon; and on 10 Mar. 1778 wrote to his factor: ‘I fancy it will land in my taking peace and quiet in Banffshire and giving [up] the interest of the other counties [Elgin and Aberdeen].’ And in March 1779: ‘My brother Arthur vacates his seat and he is to have the office of comptroller of the Excise. Lord William Gordon offers himself as candidate for Moray. I have agreed to give him my vote and interest. I understand there is no probability of opposition.’

Lord William Gordon was accordingly returned unopposed in 1779, 1780, and 1782. Many of the independent freeholders, hopelessly outnumbered by fictitious votes, did not even bother to attend these elections. Resenting the subjugation of their county and inspired by the movement for reform, they formed in 1783 the Moray Association, with the intention of abolishing nominal qualifications. Although Sir James Grant shared their views, he remained attached to Fife. But his brother-in-law Alexander Penrose Cumming of Altyre joined forces with Fife’s brother-in-law James Brodie of Brodie to take the leadership of the Association. In the autumn of 1783 they presented a petition to Parliament complaining that three-quarters of the voters on the Elginshire roll were purely nominal, with no property in the shire and in ‘servile dependence’ on a few ‘overgrown proprietors and lords superior’.11 Nothing came of this petition, and at the general election of 1784 Fife, who was himself the candidate for Elginshire, expected no opposition.

But the Moray Association decided to contest the election and to challenge the validity of the votes on which Fife’s return depended. They put up as candidate their chairman Alexander Penrose Cumming, and although defeated continued the battle in the courts, bringing actions for perjury against nominal voters who had sworn the trust oath. They secured no convictions, and Cumming was equally unsuccessful when he petitioned the House against Fife’s return.12 But the Association increased in strength, and in 1786 began to negotiate both with the Gordons and with the Grants against Fife. Finally, Henry Dundas took a hand in the game and negotiated a settlement covering Elginshire, Elgin Burghs, Aberdeenshire, and Banffshire, which restored Elginshire to the Grants.13

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Add. 33049, f. 306.
  • 2. C. Fraser Mackintosh, Letters of Two Centuries, 266-7.
  • 3. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 4. Add. 25412, ff. 301-2.
  • 5. A. H. Tayler, Lord Fife his Factor, 72.
  • 6. LJ, 4 Feb., 20 Apr. 1772.
  • 7. A. H. Tayler, Book of the Duffs, i. 159.
  • 8. Add. 39190, f. 193; LJ, 1, 31 Mar. 1773.
  • 9. Caledonian Merc. 9 Nov. 1774.
  • 10. Lord Fife his Factor , 102, 106, 113-14.
  • 11. Scots Mag. 1783, pp. 668-9.
  • 12. Lord Fife his Factor, 81, 163-4; CJ, 28 May 1784, 28 Jan., 3 Mar., 5 Apr. 1785.
  • 13. ‘A Fair Statement of Northern Politics’, Melville mss, NLS; Chiefs of Grant, ii. 492-4; H. Furber, Hen. Dundas, 209-15.