STUART MACKENZIE, Hon. James (?1719-1800), of Rosehaugh, Ross and Belmont, Angus.

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



3 Feb. 1742 - 1747
1747 - 1754
1754 - 1761
1761 - 1780

Family and Education

b. ?1719, 2nd s. of James Stuart, 2nd Earl of Bute [S], by Lady Anne Campbell, da. of Archibald, 1st Duke of Argyll [S], and sis. of John and Archibald, 2nd and 3rd Dukes.  educ. Eton 1728-32; Grand Tour; Leyden 1737.  m. 16 Feb. 1749, his cos. Lady Elizabeth Campbell, da. of John, 2nd Duke of Argyll, 2 ch. d. young.  suc. fa. in the estate of Rosehaugh 1723, under the entail of his gt.-gd.-fa. Sir George Mackenzie, and took add. name of Mackenzie.

Offices Held

Envoy extraordinary Turin 1758-61; P.C. 4 Sept. 1761; lord privy seal [S] Apr. 1763-May 1765, Aug. 1766- d.


At the general election of 1754 Mackenzie made an unsuccessful bid for Ross-shire, but was returned on the joint Argyll-Bute interest for Ayr Burghs. Listed by Dupplin as attached to Argyll, in Parliament he rarely spoke. On Bute’s junction with Pitt he went into opposition against the Newcastle-Fox Administration over the subsidy treaties and voted, 13 Nov. 1755, against the Address.1 He supported the Devonshire-Pitt Administration, and on Pitt’s dismissal voted against Newcastle over the loss of Minorca, 2 May 1757. During the negotiations for a new ministry, Newcastle listed him among six Scots attached neither to himself nor to Argyll, but to ‘the last ministry or Mr. Pitt’.2 Under the Pitt-Newcastle Administration Mackenzie, on receiving no office, reproached his brother for neglecting him while others were preferred,3 but in June 1758, with the Prince of Wales’s backing, was appointed envoy to Turin.4 Absent from England from October 1758 to August 1761, he thus had no share in the Bute-Argyll quarrel of 1759-60. In Turin he lived in splendid style, and while losing little of his gay good humour was respected for his integrity, penetration and generosity.5 At the accession of George III, although mentioned for the place of vice-chamberlain, he received nothing except the promise of a step in diplomatic rank.6 Having arranged with Lord Fortrose for his unopposed election for Ross-shire in 1761, Mackenzie, discouraged in his hopes of a red ribbon or other distinction, placed himself entirely at his brother’s disposal, but pressed for his transfer to Venice.7Arrangements for this were almost completed when Argyll’s death left the management of Scotland vacant. After considerable discussion Bute summoned his brother home and in August 1761 Mackenzie took over Scottish affairs from Gilbert Elliot, with a secret service pension of £2,000 p.a. pending his appointment to a lucrative office.8

Mackenzie tackled his new duties with vigour, competence, tact, and almost unfailing good humour, employing William Mure as his principal deputy. ‘A man of strict honour’, he disliked jobbery, and, though always ready to help his friends to preferment, was scrupulous in insisting that the best qualified man be appointed, whatever his ‘name or surname’ might be, and only rarely gave way to political pressure.9 Bute relied upon his judgment and in the summer of 1762 employed him in preliminary negotiations for the peace treaty.10 Mackenzie himself was attracted by a diplomatic career, and in September 1762 suggested to Bute that he should be sent ambassador to Spain and after the peace succeed Bedford in France.11 Rigby wrote to Bedford, 23 Feb. 1763:12 ‘Some people say Mackenzie has a mind for Paris; he likes living abroad and as I am told does not like his present employment ... of minister for Scotland, but his brother may not choose to part with him.’ Mackenzie certainly found his duties onerous; absorbed in the business of the annexed estates, in schemes for the settlement of disbanded soldiers and sailors, besieged with applications for places, acting as whip for the Scottish M.P.s, he never attempted to make a figure in the House.

When Bute resigned, he secured for his brother the office of lord privy seal [S], worth £3,000 p.a., and his continuation as Scottish minister. The King indeed insisted with Grenville that in Scottish affairs he must take ‘all recommendations from Mr. Mackenzie’.13 Mackenzie had no hand in Bute’s attempt in August to bring Pitt into Administration. Nevertheless there were conjectures that in view of Bute’s action his brother might either ‘decline public business’ or be discarded by the Grenville Administration.14 In October he saw the King, assured him of Scotland’s unanimity over the Wilkes case, and, having given Grenville ‘a full declaration of his support’, took steps to secure a full attendance of Scottish Members at the opening of Parliament. He remained vigilant throughout the session to counteract Opposition manœuvres.15 But despite his efforts to promote better relations between Bute and Grenville, he failed to remove the ministry's jealousy of his own intimacy with the King and his power of patronage in Scotland, where his attempts to recommend ‘the properest men’ were attacked by disappointed applicants. Bedford, who hated him, wrote to Grenville, 25 Dec. 1763:16

I find ... not only in Lord Garlies but in every Scotch nobleman or gentleman I speak with, a repugnance to have anything to do with Mr. Mackenzie,  who has not the good fortune to be much liked by his countrymen.

Although ‘tired to death with attendance on the House’ during the late sittings on Wilkes and general warrants, Mackenzie scrupulously dealt with every aspect of Scottish business, from University affairs, banking, the annexed estates, fisheries and manufactures, and even initiated conferences on the preparation of a reform bill ‘to put a stop to that abominable practice of splitting votes for the purpose of elections’, almost invariably consulting Bute on his line of conduct.17 Lady Dalkeith (Charles Townshend's wife) wrote caustically of her ‘black avised brother-in-law’ to Lord Garlies’s sister, Lady Susan Stewart:18

The lord and lady privy seal take extremely upon them when they are in Scotland. I never have a letter from her that does not say what a vast deal of business both public and private he has. For the public I can't pretend to judge. For the private ... I do remember ... at Dalkeith ten years ago ... he used to tire me to death with the same bags of dirty papers he brought out and looked over, and by all I could find out, it was only to settle how many men would be sufficient to weed some quickset hedges ... at a place of his in Angus ... Betty was really a very good kind of woman till she became sister [-in-law] to a minister and wife to a man that thinks himself one.

When in April 1764 Mackenzie conscientiously declined, on point of merit, to nominate to the Scottish bench a brother-in-law of Sir Lawrence Dundas, Grenville's friend, the King wrote to Bute:19

I am glad there has been this struggle of the ministers, for I will show them who recommends Scotch offices. I have ever declared Mr. Mackenzie for that department; I will settle that matter instantly and if they have not understood my orders on this occasion it is not for want of explaining the thing clearly. My words were that Mr. Grenville should see Mr. Mackenzie and desire him to name the person whose character would best supply the vacant gown ... as I understand my d. friend had settled with Mackenzie the judge I will hasten the execution of it.

When in May further vacancies occurred, Mackenzie, after consulting Bute, diplomatically agreed to recommend Dundas's relation ‘though perhaps not the properest person’.20 This promotion caused new appointments in the Scottish sheriffships and Grenville, strongly resenting Mackenzie's independence, readily accepted Lord Fife's complaint that Mackenzie's nomination of the sheriff of Banff was an attack upon his country interest and an insult to himself as Grenville's friend. Without awaiting investigation, Grenville wrote ‘a high imperious angry letter to Mackenzie, demanding the cancellation of the appointment. Stifling his resentment, Mackenzie replied ‘in the most calm and moderate style’, but to his brother protested:21

Mr. Grenville has come a great deal out of his way to attack me with such violence, and if the King pleases that Grenville should intermeddle in that manner with the affairs of this part of the kingdom all I would beg is that I may be allowed to retire from them; for ’tis impossible for me to go through all the variety of plagues that I have and at the same time be liable to the mortification of being thwarted and controlled and teased to death by such a man as he is.

When further inquiry proved that Fife had no real grounds for his accusations, Grenville was obliged to climb down, but friction continued. Jenkinson's attempts at reconciliation bore some fruit when a few months later the question of a new application for the sheriffship of Banff arose, and Mackenzie yielded to Grenville's insistence upon the appointment of Fife's nominee, whom he personally considered ill-qualified. He wrote to Mure, 27 Nov. 1764:22 ‘It was not a thing of moment enough to differ about and thereby to delay or prevent other matters of much greater consequence.’

During the abortive negotiations for a new Administration in May 1765, Bute's ‘banishment’ and Mackenzie's status were vital issues, and when the King was obliged to invite the Grenville ministry to continue, they made it a principal condition that Mackenzie should be removed both from the managament of Scotland and his office of privy seal.23 Mackenzie reported to Mure:24

His Majesty answered: ‘that as to the first it would be no great punishment ... to me, as I had never been very fond of that employment; but that as to the second I had his promise to continue in it for life ... If you force me ... to violate my royal word, remember you are responsible for it, not I.’

When Grenville offered to ‘make some arrangement for Mr. Mackenzie’ the King scathingly replied: ‘If I know anything of him, he will give himself very little trouble about your arrangements for him.’ Rather than ‘throw the country into confusion without a government’, the King, on receipt of a letter from Bute releasing him, in his own and Mackenzie's name, ‘from the promise, was obliged to yield.25 After ‘an affecting scene’ with the King, Mackenzie was dismissed on 23 May 1765, and bitterly resented the conduct of his relation, Lord Frederick Campbell in accepting his office.

When a few weeks later, new negotiations began for a change of ministry, the King made Mackenzie's reinstatement a major issue. Pitt, when approached, proposed for Mackenzie ‘some other office equivalent in value to that he had quitted but without power’.26 On the failure of the Pitt-Temple negotiation, Newcastle and Rockingham, obsessed by jealousy of Bute's influence, refused any such accommodation. ‘We cannot come in if Mr. Mackenzie is restored to his employment or has any new one’, wrote Newcastle to Portland, 1 July 1765.27

On the formation of the Rockingham Administration, Mackenzie wrote to Mure, 11 July 1765:28

As to myself, I shall remain as I am, out of office ... My brother (after a conversation he and I had together) wrote a letter to the King, begging that his Majesty would allow me to decline all office, rather than obstruct any arrangement of Government which might be thought expedient for his service. This being the state of the case, I am mighty well pleased in being as I am.

Some ten days later he went to Scotland and en route visited Lord Northumberland, with whom he discussed plans ‘for the King's friends connecting themselves together closely and acting in a body’. He wrote to Jenkinson, 4 Aug.:29 ‘This seems to be the opinion of everybody who really loves the King and desires to keep free from every cabal whether in power or out of it.’ He followed with a certain contemptuous detachment the ministry's attempts to select a successor in his old office. Returning to London in November, he attended the brief December session, ‘reconnoitred’ the political situation, and, acting as whip for the King's Scottish friends, advised them to attend before Parliament reassembled in January so that ‘whatever line we then take we may all act together in a respectable body’.30 Active behind the scenes, and well-informed on party political moves, he took down at Bute's dictation his account of the discussion with Grenville and Bedford at the conference arranged by Eglintoun on 12 Feb. 1766.31 In Parliament he supported Administration in general but voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, although he is not known to have spoken. Changes were foreshadowed when on 4 Mar. Pitt made an attack on Grenville for turning out Mackenzie, merely because he was Bute's brother. A friend reported the debate to Mure:32

[Pitt] then attacked the pusillanimity of the present ministry for not having dared replace him, not indeed as a minister for Scotland, but to enjoy an office he every way deserves, and to which his sovereign's goodness had raised him.

All parties now sought the support of Bute's friends. On Grafton's resignation the Cabinet were prepared to make concessions; Conway proposed that Mackenzie should have the ‘first proper employment’ vacant, and suggested the vice-treasurership of Ireland.33 ‘Rockingham was very peevish’, wrote the King to Bute, 3 May, ‘and would come into nothing but Mr. Mackenzie, the Duke of Newcastle and Lord Winchilsea quite hurt even with that.’ Lord Egmont, aware that this alone was insufficient to win over Bute's friends, advised Mackenzie not to reject any proposals ‘in the style of a party’ or to appear offensive or unfriendly, since this would only precipitate ‘a violent change’ and embarrass the King.34 Mackenzie and his friends accepted the warning but declined a coalition on such terms. Bute, unwilling to ‘disturb the King's affairs’, gave his friends leave ‘to do what was most agreeable’ to themselves and, according to Jenkinson, ‘assumed that authority over his brother which we wondered he had not done before’.35

On the formation of the Chatham Administration, Mackenzie was at once reinstated in his office of privy seal without prior consultation with Bute. ‘My  being restored ... was solely and entirely the King's own act’, he wrote to Mure, 3 Sept.36 The ministers were ‘very civil’ but only Grafton showed him ‘particular attention’. He was not, however, entrusted with the management of Scotland, but professed himself ‘very happy in having no concern with his former department’. Nevetheless at first he exercised very considerable influence, and after Chatham's virtual abdication early in 1767, was increasingly consulted by Grafton on Scottish patronage, and acted as whip for ministerial members of the Bute connexion. But he became increasingly concerned with family affairs, and less with politics. Thus he was not among the M.P.s consulted by Grafton and North in Aprill 1768 about the expulsion of Wilkes.

On Grafton's resignation, he was one of the parliamentary leaders sent for by North on 29 Jan. 1770,37 agreed to support him, and was soon rounding up Scottish friends in support of Government over the controverted Pembrokeshire election.38 But with two of Bute's sons in the House he was inclined to leave to Mountstuart the defence of his father's interests and the leadership of what remained of the Bute connexion. By autumn 1770 he had little inside information about Government plans,39 and though he used his interest in support of the ministerial candidates at a by-election for a Scottish representative peer and the Elgin Burghs by-election of 1771, it seems clear that he was disengaging himself from active management.

In the Parliament of 1774-80 Mackenzie, although still solicited by place hunters, more often than not decided not ‘to meddle’ except on behalf of close friends. He went to Italy in the winter of 1777-8; during his absence, so low had his influence fallen that North twice offered the reversion of his office of privy seal to Alexander Wedderburn, who from loyalty to the Bute family declined.40 Though he seems to have shared the views of his nephew Charles on the conduct of the American war,41 he continued to vote with North in every recorded division to the end of the Parliament. In the summer of 1780 he declared his intention to leave Parliament and retired to his scientific studies and his exceptionally happy domestic and social life.

Described by Lady Louisa Stuart as ‘the best humoured mortal alive’,42 shrewd, industrious and extremely able Mackenzie was too honest, scrupulous and forthright to play an effective role in party intrigue and political management. Whether because he was no orator, or to avoid embarrassing Bute or the King, he is not known to have spoken in the House. Unambitious of an independent parliamentary career, he gave his entire devotion to his brother and his family.  He died 6 Apr. 1800.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. G. F. S. Elliot, Border Elliots, 349.
  • 2. Add. 32995, f. 583.
  • 3. Bute to Mackenzie, n.d. [1757], Bute mss.
  • 4. Sedgwick, 10.
  • 5. L. Dutens, Mems. of a Traveller, i. 165.
  • 6. Walpole to Mann, 14 Nov. 1760, 27 Jan. 1761; Mackenzie to Bute, 12 Nov. 1760, Bute mss.
  • 7. Mackenzie to Bute, 8, 15 Apr. 1761, ibid.
  • 8. Namier, Structure, 216.
  • 9. Walpole to Mann, 20 Dec. 1762; Mackenzie to Mure, 24 June 1762, Caldwell mss, NLS. 4942 f. 102,
  • 10. Register of Bute Corresp., Add. 39796; Mackenzie to Bute, May, 30 July 1762.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. Bedford Corresp. iii. 210, 214.
  • 13. Sedgwick, 209-10.
  • 14. Caldwell Pprs. ii (1), p. 194.
  • 15. Grenville Pprs. ii. 122, 126, 251.
  • 16. Bedford mss.
  • 17. Caldwell Pprs. ii (I), p. 257.
  • 18. Duke of Argyll, Intimate Society Letters, i. 302.
  • 19. Sedgwick, 238.
  • 20. Mackenzie to Bute, 28 may, 3 June 1764, Bute mss.
  • 21. 15 July 1764, ibid.
  • 22. Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), p. 275.
  • 23. Grenville Pprs. iii. 181-5.
  • 24. Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), pp. 37-38.
  • 25. Fortescue, i. 114-115, 172-3; Grenville Pprs. iii. 185; Jenkinson Pprs. 367-77.
  • 26. Grenville Pprs. iii. 201; Fortescue, i. 176.
  • 27. Add. 32967, f. 186.
  • 28. Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), p. 42.
  • 29. Jenkinson Pprs. 379-80.
  • 30. Caldwell Pprs. ii. (2), p. 46.
  • 31. Bute mss; Fortescue, i. 271.
  • 32. Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), pp. 78-79; HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 109.
  • 33. Newcastle's Narrative, ed. Bateson, 61; Sedgwick, 247.
  • 34. Fortescue, i. 297-8, 303-6.
  • 35. Newcastle's Narrative, 63, 64; Jenkinson to Elliot, 29 May 1766, Minto mss.
  • 36. Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), p. 90.
  • 37. G.F.S. Elliot, Border Elliots, 406.
  • 38. Mackenzie to Loudoun, 21 Feb. 1770, Loudoun mss.
  • 39. Mackenzie to Loudoun, 17 Oct. 1770, ibid.
  • 40. Fortescue, iv. 158.
  • 41. E. Stuart Wortley, A Prime Minister and his Son, 147.
  • 42. Jnl. Lady Mary Coke, i. p. li.