GRAEME, David (1716-97), of Braco and Gorthy, Perth.

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



23 Mar. 1764 - May 1773

Family and Education

b. 2 Feb. 1716, 1st s. of James Graeme of Braco by Catherine, da. of Sir William Stirling, 2nd Bt., of Ardoch. m. ?1747, Catherine, 1st da. of James Hepburn of Keith, Haddington, sis. of Robert Rickart Hepburn, 1da. (who m. 13 June 1768 Thomas Hampden). suc. fa. 1736, and his cos. Mungo Graeme, M.P., in Gorthy estate 1754.

Offices Held

Served in the Scots brigade in Holland; capt. 1745; lt.-col. 1752; col. British army 1761; col. 105 Ft. 1761-3; maj.-gen. 1762; col. 49 Ft. 1764-8, 19 Ft. 1768- d.; lt.-gen. 1772; gen. 1783.

Sec. to the Queen Aug. 1761-Jan. 1774; comptroller of the Queen’s Household Oct. 1765-Jan. 1774.

Burgess of Edinburgh 1762.


Graeme’s father was ‘out’ in the ’15, escaped abroad, and lived for some years in Flanders;1 and Graeme as a young man joined the Scots brigade in Holland. Sent in February 1745 with a recruiting party to Scotland, he became involved in Jacobite intrigues with John Murray of Broughton;2 but returned to Holland in June, thus narrowly missing involvement in the rebellion, of which his mother was an ardent supporter.

In London in 1758 Graeme managed to ingratiate himself with Bute, with whose support he applied, jointly with Richard Oswald, for a contract for supplying the British and Hessian troops in Germany. But Commissary Boyd reported to Samuel Martin: ‘When I mentioned to the Prince [Ferdinand] Mr. Oswald’s proposal of sending a lieutenant-colonel in the character of a contractor, he immediately objected that we could not treat this gentleman as we might a common undertaker in case the contract was not complied with.’ Martin wrote to Bute, 24 Aug. 1758:3

I ... acquaint your Lordship on the first opportunity with Prince Ferdinand’s sentiments upon the employment of that gentleman who appears to me as he does to you a very unexceptionable man in his character.

Nevertheless Graeme secured army contracts; but in 1760 Oswald and Graeme were disgraced and their contracts cancelled.4 Lord North told James Harris in 17645 that ‘Graeme ... was a man of low and contemptible character, during the late war being concerning [sic] as an undertaker but dismissed.’

This view was not shared by Bute and George III, who in June 1761 sent Graeme on a secret mission to Germany to ask for the hand of Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; and on acceptance, to make arrangements for Harcourt’s official embassy and the journey of the Princess to England.6 His tactful handling of the situation delighted the King, who wrote to Bute:7 ‘The more I see of this affair the more I feel my obligations to my dearest friend in having pointed out Graeme to me.’ On his return with the Queen, Graeme was appointed her secretary, and colonel of the Queen’s Own Royal Regiment of Highlanders; and as her supposed confidant, he freely used her name in private to obtain political influence and further his friends’ interests.

In March 1764, when John Murray succeeded as Duke of Atholl, Graeme stood for Perthshire, with ‘the entire approbation of his Majesty’s servants’, and the support of Bute, Charles Townshend, and Breadalbane.8 He was unexpectedly opposed by George Drummond, the Atholl candidate. James Stuart Mackenzie wrote to William Mure, 11 Feb. 1764:9

To raise a flame in the country ... is in my mind as absurd a project as ever I heard of ... Let me add too ... that all this bustle and opposition is to be made to the first person belonging to—[the Queen] who has yet appeared among us as a candidate, and that person more peculiarly circumstanced than any other servant can be.

North deplored Graeme’s advancement, particularly ‘his turning out the Duke of Atholl’s friend’.10

During the crises of 1765-6 Graeme played his own hand—it is unlikely that the Queen had any knowledge of his intrigues. When Grenville resumed office on 23 May 1765, having forced the King to disclaim Bute and dismiss Stuart Mackenzie, ‘General Graeme came to Mr. Grenville’s levee (28 May 1765) and made profession of wishing him well and desired to speak with him the first day that was convenient’; but a few days later cancelled the appointment. While listed ‘pro’ by Rockingham in July 1765, Graeme remained in touch with Temple through his Perthshire friend Robert Mackintosh, a dubious figure, and acting, it was presumed, on behalf of the Queen, embarked upon a secret negotiation. Humphrey Cotes reported to Temple, 13 Oct.:

Our friend Mackintosh ... told me of the conversation had with General Graeme, secretary to her Majesty, and showed me the notes he had taken to preserve precision. I in turn acquainted him with the particulars which your Lordship gave me in charge.11

At Graeme’s request Cotes and Mackintosh prepared a paper, expressing Temple’s sentiments: praising ‘the Queen’s amiable qualities and prudent conduct’, he declared his willingness ‘to undertake public service’ if assured of the King’s full ‘cordiality and confidence’. Cotes continued: ‘Mr. Graeme had not an opportunity of conveying the written paper to the Queen till last Tuesday night when he gave it into her own hand, together with a letter he wrote himself upon the subject.’ But nothing more appears about it. Next, under date of 9 Feb. 1766,12 Bedford wrote in ‘Minutes’ for the Duke of York:

Sir Lawrence Dundas desired to speak to me apart to inform me that a friend of his whom he did not name, but I suppose to be Col. Graeme, had told him that morning, viz. that he usually went to the King after the debates in each House to report them and the numbers on the divisions. He told them the King was greatly affected at the result of the last great majority in the House of Commons and that he wished to change his Administration. This Sir Lawrence desired Mr. Grenville and I should be informed of.

Walpole believed that Graeme instigated the meeting on 12 Feb. 1766 between Bute, Bedford and Grenville, arranged by Eglintoun in an attempt to form a united Opposition. ‘Certain it is that Colonel Graeme, the Queen’s secretary, and much a confidant, had indirectly and by an oblique channel opened a kind of negotiation.’13 That Graeme wished to have these things believed is more than probable; but what foundation of truth there is to them is very uncertain: there is not a shred of evidence to confirm these stories.

Graeme voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act; and supported the Chatham Administration. His prestige in Scotland stood high. He was active in support of the linen industry and the Forth and Clyde canal; Patrick Craufurd’s son James was ‘made equerry to the Queen entirely by General Graeme’s interest’;14 Lord George Sackville sought his support for General Irwin in Kinross;15 his interest with Findlater and the Bute connexion secured Kincardineshire for his brother-in-law Robert Rickart Hepburn.16

During the negotiations of July 1767, Graeme was privately in touch with Grenville; and next came up against Grafton.17 On 24 Aug. 1767 Whately wrote to Grenville that Grafton ‘has contrived lately to offend the Queen ... for that, on the vacancy of the place of vice-admiral of Scotland, she expressed her wish that the King might on that occasion bestow a mark of his favour on General Graeme’; but ‘Grafton carried the point for Lord March’.

Henceforth Graeme was openly connected with Temple and Grenville; joined with them in supporting Robert Mackintosh, Clive’s candidate for Perth Burghs against George Dempster, canvassed for him in Scotland in October 1767, and on his return acted as Mackintosh’s confidant and adviser in the complicated legal and parliamentary proceedings arising from Dempster’s arrest for alleged bribery.18 Graeme conferred with the Grenvilles and Clive’s agent, John Walsh, who gladly handed over to him Mackintosh’s ‘vast packets’ on election matters and ‘desired him to take the general management of the affair’.19

In November 1767 General Irwin told Grenville a ‘surprising anecdote’:20

That General Graeme told him that he, General Graeme, had leave from the Queen to go into open Opposition to the present Administration if he chose it; that he had talked much to him of the King’s ... feeling the weakness and insufficiency of the present ministry but not knowing well how to get rid of them ... that everybody saw and knew that it must end in the King’s sending for Mr. Grenville; to which General Irwin said he thought his Majesty was angry and displeased at Mr. Grenville. The General answered him, that had been so but all was forgot and that matters would go very easy with regard to Mr. Grenville and more so with Lord Temple.

Grenville commented: ‘Words like these are ... frequently circulated possibly with no other meaning than to keep up a degree of good humour’; but when after his conversation with Bedford on 4 Dec. Grenville realized that Bedford intended joining Administration, first Temple, and next Whately immediately discussed the situation with Graeme. Whately reported to Grenville, 4 Dec. 1767:21

He thinks you were never in so respectable a situation as now, that you preserve all your importance without the support of party, and he feels the liberty you enjoy upon being freed from such party connexions.

Graeme voted with Government on Wilkes and the Middlesex election. But Alexander Carlyle records that in the spring of 176922 he found

Graeme talking strongly against Administration for not advising the King to yield to the popular cry ... I drew an inference, which proved true, that he had been tampering with her Majesty, and using political freedoms, which were not long afterwards the cause of his disgrace. Graeme was a shrewd and sensible man, but the Queen’s favour and his prosperity had made him arrogant and presumptuous and he blew himself up.

In May 1773 he decided to resign his seat in favour of his kinsman Thomas Graham of Balgowan. But North, who had always disliked him, seized the opportunity by ‘an uncommon exertion of ministerial influence’,23 to restore the Atholl interest. There is no record of Graeme having spoken in the House.

When next on a vacancy the office of Queen’s treasurer was in January 1774 secured by North for Lord Guilford, Graeme ‘declined to continue in the inferior office’.24 He ‘retired into obscurity in Scotland for the rest of his days’, living on estates encumbered with debts he had incurred by his ‘large hearted’ spending and extravagant life at court.25 His attempts in 1775 and 1779 to return to favour and ‘manifest his zeal for his Majesty’s service’ met with no success;26 and he did not try to re-enter Parliament, but at every election exerted his interest against the Atholl family’s control of Perthshire.

He died 19 Jan. 1797, mainly remembered as the man ‘who brought over the Queen from Germany’.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. HMC Stuart, i. 495-9; ii. 202, 234, 268.
  • 2. Scots Brigade in Holland, ii. 230, 261-2, 282, 294; Murray of Broughton’s Memorials, 133, 139.
  • 3. Bute mss.
  • 4. Add. 17495, f. 150b.
  • 5. Harris’s memorandum, 22 Sept. 1764.
  • 6. Sedgwick, 55-62; Graeme’s letters in Add. 36796.
  • 7. Sedgwick, 58.
  • 8. HMC Laing , ii. 442.
  • 9. Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), p. 235.
  • 10. Harris’s memorandum, 22 Sept. 1764.
  • 11. Grenville Pprs. iii. 92-93, 96-97, 190, 192.
  • 12. Bedford Corresp. iii. 327.
  • 13. Mems. Geo. III, ii. 208.
  • 14. P. Craufurd to W. Mure, 11 Dec. 1766, Caldwell Pprs. ii(2), p. 96.
  • 15. Sackville to Irwin, 27 Mar., 27 June, 27 July 1766, Germain mss, Clements Lib., Ann Arbor.
  • 16. Add. 38205, ff. 138, 139, 142.
  • 17. Grenville Pprs. iv. 123, 157.
  • 18. G. Clive to Ld. Clive, 8 Oct. 1767; Mackintosh to Graeme, 16 Nov., Clive mss.
  • 19. Walsh to Clive, 22 Dec. 1767, ibid.
  • 20. Grenville Pprs. iv. 233-4.
  • 21. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 22. Autobiog. 515.
  • 23. Strathmore to Portland, 20 July 1773, Portland mss.
  • 24. Harris’s memoranda, 12 Jan. 1774, 16 May 1778.
  • 25. Carlyle, Autobiog. 515; L. G. Graeme, Or and Sable, 478-81.
  • 26. Add. 38306, ff. 107, 109.