DUFF, Hon. Arthur (1743-1805), of Orton, Elgin.

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



1774 - Mar. 1779

Family and Education

b. 1743, 5th surv. s. of William Duff, M.P., 1st Earl Fife [I], and bro. of James, 2nd Earl. educ. St. Andrews Univ. 1757; Glasgow Univ. 1759; adv. 1764; Leyden 1769. unm. suc. fa. in the Orton estate 1763.

Offices Held

Comptroller of Excise in Scotland Apr. 1779-1804.


On his father’s death, Duff’s brother Lord Fife tried without success to obtain for him a place at court in the household of Prince William.1 Thereafter Arthur seems to have made little effort to distinguish himself at the Scottish bar, but concerned himself mainly with farming and the legal and electoral affairs of the family.

When his cousin James Grant decided not to contest Elginshire at the general election of 1768, Lord Fife wrote to Grenville, 20 Oct. 1767:2

Mr. Grant, the Member for Murray ... without consulting me put up his uncle [Francis Grant] for the county, and in my absence secured several votes that have always gone with me, my brother upon that declared himself a candidate; upon my return to the country I found myself obliged to support my brother in opposition to the other; we have a good chance to carry the election ... at any rate they have put an end to their interest afterwards, for I can certainly make the county, it could not have been in doubt at present had they not gained advantage by unhandsome surprise.

The brother was apparently George, but it seems that Arthur had been considered.3 Fife reported to Grenville, 28 Apr. 1768:4 ‘My brother ... is beat, owing to his being too late in starting and all the power of [the] present Administration exerted against him.’

After his return from Leyden in 1769, Duff as prospective candidate took a leading part in the campaign against the Grants in Elgin and in Banff and their allies the Gordons in Aberdeenshire. He was praeses of the 1772 Michaelmas head court of Elgin, whose legality was established when the House of Lords reversed the decision of the court of session favouring a rival meeting dominated by the Grants.5 After the 1773 head court, Admiral Robert Duff congratulated Fife on having ‘defeated the combination of Gordons, Grants and Gardens with all their following—truly a great victory’.6 At the general election, after a ‘very near run contest’,7 Duff was returned, and in Parliament for a time followed his brother’s lead. He voted with the Opposition on Wilkes, 22 Feb. 1775, and looked forward to ‘some fun from Wilkes ... and the Liberty Boys in the streets’.8

Assiduous in attending the House, he reported to his mother by almost every post on personal and political affairs. Nevertheless Fife, censorious of the drinking habits which undermined his health, had little hesitation in proposing in 1776 to sacrifice Arthur’s parliamentary career to his own political schemes for a compromise with the Gordons. As a result, both Arthur and his mother quarrelled with ‘His Majesty of Fife’, who on 7 Feb. 1777 wrote from London to his factor, W. Rose: ‘I have been making a great many visits—first to the Duke and Duchess of Gordon ... I did not see them. Mr. Arthur Duff did me the honour to pass me without taking notice, so I did put no stop in his way, and yet, though I shall never probably wish him in my company, I would do him good.’9

Having now nothing to lose, Duff, irrespective of his brother’s views, continued to support North. On a rumour that a French war would result in a change of Administration he wrote to his mother, 19 Feb. 1778:10

I have so good an opinion of Lord North’s integrity that I should most sincerely regret his loss. But I will not allow myself to believe it, although I confess my spirits are a few pegs down upon the occasion.

Lord Fife, after voting for the Opposition motion to tax all places above a certain value, wrote to Rose 10 Mar. 1778:11 ‘I was in a majority 100 to 85. Lord North and all the ministry in the minority ... Arthur voted against, in order I suppose to do him honour.’

Although Fife’s negotiations with the Gordons and Grants were now well advanced, Duff still refused to co-operate. On 10 Mar. Fife informed Rose that he had arranged a conference with the Duke of Gordon:

I fancy it will land in my taking peace and quiet in Banffshire and giving the interest of the other counties. Arthur to be provided in something not under £500 a year. What a poor ungrateful fellow it is and a burden and drawback on me, doing nothing for himself.

While his fate was being decided Duff continued to support Administration through many exhausting night sittings, but is not known to have spoken. In December 1778 he wrote to his mother:

The present minority would be in every sense contemptible but that their abandoned principles rouses other emotions; many of them do not scruple to avow that they wish to see the country a province to France to mark the imbecility of the present Administration and make the nation regret when too late that they had not been called into power. From such patriots—Good Lord deliver us.12

On 29 Mar. Fife wrote to Rose:

It is settled that 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.

The brothers were now apparently reconciled. Fife wrote to Rose, Apr.:

Can you suppose that I felt a little in making the motion for a new writ for the county of Elgin in room of the Hon. Arthur Duff, steward of his Majesty’s manor of East Hendred ... Considering the trouble I had to bring him in, I felt a little at being the engine to turn him out. Arthur seems very sensible of the trouble I have taken for him, but so was he before.13

Duff never attempted to re-enter Parliament but spent the rest of his life in Scotland, living with his mother at Rothiemay until her death in 1788, and thereafter at Orton. The beloved bachelor uncle of numerous nephews and nieces, adviser and mediator in family crises and disputes, he died 2 June 1805, lamented by Lord Fife as his ‘favourite brother’.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. G. Grenville to Fife, 24 Nov. 1764, Grenville letter bk.
  • 2. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 3. If a letter from Arthur to Fife of 27 Aug. refers to this year: A. H. Tayler, Book of the Duffs, i. 159.
  • 4. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 5. Morayshire M.P.s, 27; Alex. Mackenzie to Sir Roderick Mackenzie, 24 Feb. 1773, Add. 39190, f. 193; LJ, 1, 3, 11, 31 Mar., 27 May, 8 June 1773.
  • 6. Morayshire M.P.s, 27.
  • 7. Laprade, 6. 20.
  • 8. Book of the Duffs, i. 160.
  • 9. A. H. Tayler, Ld. Fife his Factor, 97, 99, 123.
  • 10. Book of the Duffs, i. 161.
  • 11. Ld. Fife his Factor, 106.
  • 12. Book of the Duffs, i. 162, 163.
  • 13. Ld. Fife his Factor, 113, 114.