GILMOUR, Sir Alexander, 3rd Bt. (c.1737-92), of Craigmillar, Edinburgh.

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



12 Jan. 1761 - 1774

Family and Education

b. c.1737, o.s. of Sir Charles Gilmour, 2nd Bt., M.P. for Edinburghshire 1737-50, by Jean, da. of Sir Robert Sinclair, 3rd Bt., M.P. [S], of Longformacus, Berwickshire. educ. St. John’s Camb. 1753. m., s.p.1 suc. fa. 9 Aug. 1750.

Offices Held

Ensign 1 Ft. Gds. 1756, lt. and capt. 1760; res. 1765.

Clerk comptroller, Board of Green Cloth 1765-75; clerk 1775-9.


Gilmour served in 1758 in the expedition against Cherbourg and St. Malo, and was captured at St. Cas, 11 Sept.;2 on 11 Oct. he and Lord Frederick Cavendish ‘arrived at court on their paroles of honour to settle the exchange of prisoners’.3 On 21 Oct. 1759 he wrote to Newcastle asking for promotion—‘I need not ... mention ... that staying in the army to rise in a man’s own turn would be loss of time to any one who can live without it.’4

Informed in advance of the vacancy in Edinburghshire caused by the appointment of Lord Advocate Robert Dundas to the presidency of the court of session, he wrote, 25 May 1760, to Andrew Mitchell, his former guardian: ‘I am a candidate with the entire approval of Mr. Dundas to whose protection I have been recommended by the Duke of Newcastle ... Mr. Dalrymple, Sir William’s son ... has already declined it, so that I may very probably meet with no opposition.’5 His unopposed return both at the by-election and the general election was regarded as proof that the Arniston interest had been little affected by the ‘clamour about militia’,6 and Gilmour took no part in the renewed militia agitation of 1762.

His application for military promotion having been rejected by the King in February 1762 as presumptuous,7 he was subsequently recommended by Sir Henry Erskine, who proposed that he be appointed deputy adjutant in Ireland with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.8 The negotiation apparently hung fire; and in October Gilmour, having decided to join his friends Grafton, Cornwallis and George Onslow in Opposition, applied through Grafton for the post of deputy quartermaster general in Germany. On 17 Oct. 1762 Grafton wrote to Newcastle,9 asking for his support with Granby, the secretary at war having

promised to facilitate matters on his side as soon as he hears it would not be disagreeable to Lord Granby ... Sir Alexander has too much honour, and too right a way of thinking to apply for assistance (though in the most material and critical point in his life) to any but those to whom he would be happy to profess his obligation.

Newcastle at once wrote to Granby, enclosing Gilmour’s own application:

I have now a very great favour to ask ... It is in favour of a most worthy young man, a very particular friend of mine, Sir Alexander Gilmour ... You will see by the enclosed letter from the Duke of Grafton how much it would oblige him ... My nephew and friend Charles Townshend has promised to do it if you will send him your consent.

Granby agreed; but Bute, acting on Erskine’s proposal, early in November had recommended to the King Gilmour’s appointment as deputy adjutant in Ireland; when, however, Gilmour voted against the peace preliminaries, the King wrote to Bute, 10 Dec. 1762:

Sir Alexander Gilmour has no right now to what he wished in Ireland, for he had no occasion to attend Parliament this day he being on guard, consequently was forced to ask my leave to attend the House this day, which was never before asked when intending to oppose Government.10

The only Scots M.P. whom Newcastle, in April 1763, counted among his ‘sure friends’, Gilmour became uneasy about the effect in Scotland of his parliamentary conduct. After the session he and Cornwallis arranged to travel north together, with letters from Newcastle to Kinnoull, Hopetoun and Dundas. Newcastle wrote to Hardwicke, 2 June 1763:

My friend, Sir Alexander Gilmour, who is as worthy a man as ever was born and is zealously and constantly with us in everything, was here with me the other day ... My Lord Bute is so enraged with him that he has declared he shall never more come in for the county of Edinburgh where our friend the president of the session has the chief interest. Sir Alexander Gilmour owned to me that he was afraid that the reports spread in Scotland of our being enemies to Scotland and having put our opposition upon that, had made some impression upon our two good friends my Lord Hopetoun and the president of the session. But, however, they were so thoroughly attached to the Duke of Newcastle and my Lord Hardwicke, that letters from us by him would set all right.11

In July Gilmour and Cornwallis reported to Newcastle on their mission. Hopetoun and Dundas would continue their electoral support of Gilmour, but while remaining attached to Newcastle declined open opposition; no arguments could persuade Kinnoull to emerge from his retirement.12

After the Wilkes debate of 15 Nov. 1763, James Stuart Mackenzie wrote to William Mure:13 ‘On the second division, the most important one, Sir Alexander Gilmour voted with us ... Gilmour only arrived after the first division was over.’ But on general warrants, 6, 15 and 18 Feb. 1764, Gilmour voted with the Opposition; was a member of Wildman’s Club; and was again listed among Newcastle’s ‘sure friends’ (10 May). On 19 Mar. 1764 he seconded Lord Strange’s motion for regulating Scottish banks,14 and seems to have replaced Kinnoull as Newcastle’s principal Scottish adviser. In August 1764 he was once more entrusted with the interpretation of Newcastle’s views to his Scottish friends.15

John Dalrymple, who proposed, as soon as Gilmour left for London, to launch a campaign against him, wrote to Mackenzie, 24 Nov. 1764:16

Men’s minds being irritated against Sir Alexander Gilmour at present, on account of his parliamentary conduct, now is the time to make advantage of it; a delay ... may lose the opportunity of securing this ... first county of Scotland to the interests of his Majesty and your family.

But Mackenzie, while anxious to turn out Gilmour, was reluctant to sponsor a candidate so indiscreet as Dalrymple.

In Parliament Gilmour made his position clear. He spoke, 29 Jan. 1765,17 in support of Meredith’s motion to declare general warrants illegal but added: ‘if not a Scot [he] should say more against Wilkes’. During the negotiations of June and July 1765 Gilmour was one of Newcastle’s confidants, but in the lists for places in the Rockingham Administration his name was either omitted or crossed out, and after a visit from Gilmour Newcastle wrote to Rockingham, 14 July, complaining that his recommendations were disregarded: ‘Sir Alexander Gilmour is very importunate, as so are many other deserving friends.’ Impatiently awaiting the outcome of Newcastle’s interview with Rockingham, Gilmour wrote, 14 July:

Your Grace cannot I am sure be surprised at my being so anxious on a subject which so nearly concerns me, especially as I must again repeat that its not being done at present, will in the eyes of all men in my own country and indeed of those of many in this part of the island, imply either my having a very small share of the esteem and protection of those whose principles and conduct I not only have approved but pursued, or their having as little sense of gratitude as a just attention to those who are their real friends at all times in contradistinction to such as are only friends to themselves. If I am again to be told that what is not done to-day may be done another day, I shall only return the same answer as I did before, that I will accept of nothing from those I have reason to complain of; ill usage from those I dislike I despise; when it comes from those whose friendship I think myself entitled to, I own it hurts me, but at the same time forces me to change my opinion of those I always wished to conceive the highest opinion of and to stand as high in my idea of private integrity as public.

In the event Gilmour received the lucrative Green Cloth appointment, and throughout the Rockingham Administration continued to act as Newcastle’s Scottish adviser. On Sir Henry Erskine’s death he recommended Sir John Anstruther as candidate for Anstruther Burghs, and with Thomas Walpole was mainly responsible for negotiating the withdrawal of the petition against Anstruther’s return.18

He spoke in favour of repealing the Stamp Act, and on 18 Feb. sent Newcastle a list indicating how Scottish Members had voted on the repeal.19 Newcastle wrote to Hopetoun, 27 Feb.: ‘Our good friend Sir Alexander Gilmour is always steady in the good cause and of great use to it.’20

His influence apparently waned on the resignation of Grafton, whose admiration for Pitt he now shared,21 and whom he followed into the Chatham Administration. At the opening of Parliament, 11 Nov., he seconded the Address. Attentive to Scottish interests, he was particularly thanked by the committee of the Royal Burghs for his support of the Forth and Clyde canal project and for ‘introducing and conducting the flax bill through the House of Commons and recommending it to the Duke of Grafton’.22

Re-elected in 1768, with Dundas support, Gilmour uniformly supported the Grafton Administration on Wilkes and the Middlesex election; spoke several times, and seconded Onslow’s motion, 15 Apr. 1769, that Luttrell should have been returned. ‘I have never shown myself but as a sincere friend of liberty and an avowed contemner of seditious and licentious men.’23

On Grafton’s resignation he supported North but by the autumn of 1770 was heavily in debt and, aware of Henry Dundas’s designs on the county, uncertain of re-election. On 26 Sept. 1770 Dundas told Gilmour that he intended to stand for Edinburghshire at the next general election.24 Gilmour denied any desire to set up a separate interest, but hoped Dundas would not insist on contesting Edinburghshire ‘if the consequence thereof should be a total exclusion of him from Parliament’. To this Dundas would agree only if an alternative constituency could not be found.

In that case my desire not to divide the county ... and my regard for him ... would incline me to leave the representation of the county with him, rather than that he should be put in a situation (I mean out of Parliament) which I knew as his affairs were circumstanced would be highly inconvenient for him.

But the proposed agreement broke down, and in 1774 Gilmour engaged in a contest with Henry Dundas, who obtained North’s support. Unable to find a safe alternative seat, in 1773 he applied without success for the governorship of Jamaica.25

In 1774, defeated in Edinburghshire, he desperately sought another seat; replaced his friend Patrick Warrender as candidate for Haddington Burghs, and at the last moment replaced James Masterton, Sir Lawrence Dundas’s candidate, at Stirling Burghs. His petitions were supported by the Bute family, with whom he had been on intimate terms for some years.26 Gilmour lost his Haddington petition on 8 May 1775 and withdrew his Stirling petition on 5 Feb. 1776. In September 1776 North failed to persuade Lord Irwin to bring him in for Horsham.27 Deprived of parliamentary immunity, Gilmour went abroad to escape his creditors, and in 1779 lost his place at the Board of Green Cloth. In 1780 and 1781 he received occasional doles from secret service funds, amounting in all to £500.28

On 29 July 1782 he wrote to Shelburne asking to be recommended to the King for relief from his ‘dreadful situation’, the details of which Henry Dundas, who delivered the letter, was authorized to explain.29 And on 30 Aug. he wrote to the King:30

Your Majesty’s known humanity and benevolence will ... plead my excuse for presuming humbly to make known to your Majesty the very distressed situation in which I at present feel myself, owing most assuredly, in the first instance to my own folly and imprudence, of which ... I have sufficiently repented and for which I hope your Majesty will think I have been sufficiently punished, by having been four years banished in solitude from the society of the world. And before returning to it, I made every compensation to my creditors which the settlement of my estate would permit of ... I hope after having had the honour of serving your Majesty nine years in the Guards and fourteen at the Green Cloth ... Your Majesty will be graciously pleased to take my melancholy situation into your consideration ...

His plea seems to have been in vain; he was obliged to live abroad, mainly at Boulogne, for the rest of his life. George Dempster wrote to Sir Adam Fergusson, 28 June 1784:31

I thank you for enabling me to satisfy poor Sir Alexander Gilmour’s curiosity [probably on Edinburgh election affairs], the only one of his wants that I fear we shall ever be able to satisfy. I am sorry to say the very generous exertion of his friends to extricate him from difficulties in this island have only served to involve him in new ones on the Continent. He furnishes a strong confirmation of the truth of the maxim that all the noble virtues are often useless unless accompanied by that dirty one, economy.

He died at Boulogne, 27 Dec. 1792.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. For evidence as to his marriage, see Gent. Mag. 1780, p. 102.
  • 2. Fortescue, Hist. Army, ii. 349.
  • 3. Gent. Mag. 1758, p. 501.
  • 4. Add. 32897, f. 275.
  • 5. Add. 6860, f. 286.
  • 6. Hardwicke to Dundas, 31 Aug. 1760, G. W. T. Omond, Arniston Mems. 165.
  • 7. Sedgwick, 84.
  • 8. Add. 38339, f. 190.
  • 9. Add. 32943, f. 272.
  • 10. Ibid. ff. 301, 355-6; 32945, f. 13; Sedgwick, 154, 173.
  • 11. Add. 32948, f. 140; 32949, ff. 1, 9-10.
  • 12. Add. 32949, ff. 412, 436, 447.
  • 13. Caldwell Pprs. ii (1), p. 199.
  • 14. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
  • 15. Add. 32961, f. 298.
  • 16. Caldwell Pprs. ii (1), pp. 281, 283.
  • 17. Harris’s ‘Debates’; Newdigate’s ‘Debates’.
  • 18. Add. 32967, ff. 75, 390, 417; 32969, f. 209; 32974, f. 187.
  • 19. Add. 32973, f. 321; Add. 32974, f. 24; Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, ii. 204.
  • 20. Add. 32974, f. 101.
  • 21. Add. 6860, ff. 288, 290, 297.
  • 22. Recs. Convention Royal Burghs 1759-79, pp. 243, 269, 272.
  • 23. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’ Egerton 219, p. 224.
  • 24. Arniston Mems. 183.
  • 25. Corresp. Sir R. M. Keith, i. 371.
  • 26. Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), p. 195; Boswell, Private Pprs. x. 202, 207.
  • 27. Walpole, Last Jnls. i. 572.
  • 28. Royal archives, Windsor.
  • 29. Lansdowne mss.
  • 30. Fortescue, Corresp. Geo. III, vi. 118-19.
  • 31. Jas. Fergusson, Letters of Geo. Dempster to Sir Adam Fergusson, 133.