Linlithgow Burghs


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Peebles (1790, 1807); Linlithgow (1796, 1812); Selkirk (1802, 1818); Lanark (1806)


20 June 1796JAMES GEORGE STOPFORD, Visct. Stopford 
 William Maxwell II1
 William Maxwell II2
 Sir Charles Lockhart Ross, Bt.2
 William Maxwell II1
31 May 1819 JOHN PRINGLE vice Riddell, deceased2
 Henry Monteith2

Main Article

The Dukes of Hamilton, Queensberry and Buccleuch possessed the principal interests in these burghs, and in 1784 Queensberry and Buccleuch had concurred in Hamilton’s nomination of the Member, which had in effect been his since 1772. His strength lay in Linlithgow and Lanark, though in the latter Buccleuch’s brother-in-law Archibald, Lord Douglas, was in a position to challenge him. Queensberry dominated Peebles and Buccleuch Selkirk, and Buccleuch was Queensberry’s heir, so the long-term advantages lay with him, reinforced by his alliance with Henry Dundas. Peebles being the returning borough in 1790, no objection was made to Queensberry’s bringing in his physician, although one of the parties subsequently denied that the agreement of 1784 applied to future elections; and despite the fact that Queensberry, unlike the other dukes, had deserted Pitt’s ministry during the Regency, which had led Henry Erskine* to hope that Queensberry would give him the seat, if he failed elsewhere. The lapse of ‘old Q’s’ rebellion after 1791 and his subsequent indifference to politics rendered his nominee null.1

In 1796 Buccleuch returned his son-in-law Viscount Stopford unopposed, and although Linlithgow was the returning burgh, Hamilton took no part in the election, making no reply to a letter from Buccleuch on the subject. Buccleuch accordingly relied on the interest of Lord Hopetoun at Linlithgow and of Lord Justice Clerk Macqueen at Lanark to secure his purpose.2 Hamilton died in 1799 and was succeeded by his uncle, who took no great interest but had two fervent Whig sons, Lord Douglas and Lord Archibald Hamilton. They encouraged a fellow Whig, William Maxwell of Carriden to manage the burgh of Linlithgow, which he contrived to do for the next 20 years, and to offer at the next general election. In other respects, they met with frustration. Dundas saw to it that their friends at Lanark were proscribed and fostered the Hopetoun interest there, as well as at Linlithgow. Buccleuch, in a letter to him of 2 July 1802, ridiculed the notion that Hamilton might now benefit from past compromises and expect his support even for the return to the Parliament after next, in exchange for support for Stopford’s renewed candidature this time, hinting strongly that being sure of Selkirk, the returning burgh, and of the alliance of Queensberry, he need not count on Hamilton’s support in the two burghs which the latter alleged he commanded. While he professed willingness for an understanding, he did not admit any advantages in coming to one and brushed aside Hamilton’s allegation that Queensberry shared his views.3

The only obstacles to Buccleuch’s plans in 1802 lay in Stopford’s unpopularity owing to his neglect of his constituency, and in Queenberry’s neglect of Peebles, which had fostered the ambition of Lt.-Col. William Dickson of Kilbucho, a respected local man, to offer for the district with the support of Peebles. Buccleuch soon learned that Dickson might be bought off with an ‘easy government’ which would enable him to sell out of the army and that he was willing to retire in Stopford’s favour; but he was advised to wait and see if Dickson could carry Lanark, which it was feared Stopford could not. In the end, Buccleuch decided to support Dickson rather than Stopford and only Linlithgow voted for Maxwell. Henry Dundas was evidently rather disappointed at this step, but Dickson promised ‘in gratitude’ to support Buccleuch next time. The implication was that, as soon as he got a post, he would make way for Stopford, but he did not obtain office, and Stopford found a seat elsewhere.4

Maxwell now assailed Lanark and Peebles with a view to the next vacancy. Robert Dundas of Arniston warned Buccleuch of this and commended Lady Ross for helping to keep the provost of Lanark ‘firm and steady’. Thus Maxwell, while he gained Peebles where Queensberry’s interest had clearly lapsed, failed to secure Lanark, which was the returning burgh. When Sir Charles Lockhart Ross, Member for Ross-shire and Lord Melville’s nephew, joined his mother in the battle to retain Lanark and indicated that he was prepared to stand for the burghs at the next election, he was taken up by Buccleuch. As Ross professed to support the Grenville ministry, Lord Grenville was embarrassed when approached by William Adam, the Scottish Whig manager, for his blessing for William Maxwell as ‘the natural person for government to support’, but he finally admitted that ‘the only candidates to fight Melville were Foxites’, and as ‘no letter of engagement was found to be addressed to Sir C. Ross’ he unenthusiastically gave way, to Ross’s indignation. Apart from this hesitation, Maxwell had also to contend with his own illness during the election campaign (though Ross was also ill) and, worse still, with his allies the Hamiltons’ inability to secure Lanark, which they had promised to do for him. ‘The Hamiltons, I fear, have done nothing effectual’, he informed Adam, 28 Oct. 1806. Lord Douglas and Lord Archibald Hamilton did not help matters by blaming the government for want of interest and calling for the proscription of Provost Vary of Lanark, Ross’s friend, and of an assistant surveyor of taxes, as proof of goodwill. Lord Archibald was the more vehement because he had at Lord Lauderdale’s instigation agreed with Maxwell that, if defeated in the contest for Lanarkshire, he was to replace Maxwell as Member for the burghs and Maxwell was to have the seat in the Parliament after next. There was also a notion of Henry Erskine, then lord advocate, obtaining the seat if he failed in his election.5

Maxwell had no alternative but to make a bid for Selkirk, with the aid of Sir James Naesmyth of Posso and of Lord Minto’s son Gilbert. At one o’clock on 10 Nov. 1806, Maxwell unanimously carried a delegate, John Allan, hosier, dean of the guild, in his favour at a rushed meeting which the chief magistrate and town clerk refused to accept. An hour later a delegate in Ross’s interest was chosen by a ‘great majority’ and f’ted by Buccleuch’s friends. Nevertheless, Maxwell’s delegate announced that he would vote. Ross was returned, but Maxwell’s delegate for Selkirk as well as Ross’s voted on 24 Nov., which the returning officer refused to allow. Maxwell proceeded to petition against the return, but on 25 Mar. 1807 the House found in Ross’s favour.6

Maxwell again opposed Ross in 1807, and although Buccleuch and Lord Melville were behind Ross, his ‘perfectly scandalous’ negligence earned him Melville’s opprobrium. Peebles, the returning burgh, resisted Buccleuch’s efforts and declared by nine votes to eight for Maxwell; while, through what Melville called ‘a great desertion and breach of promise of deacons’, Linlithgow adhered to Maxwell. He was thus returned by Peebles’ casting vote, Ross retaining Selkirk and Lanark. Ross’s friends objected to the Peebles and Linlithgow commissions, but there was no petition.7

In 1810 Buccleuch came into the Queensberry inheritance. He died in January 1812, but his heir the 4th Duke was keen to recapture the seat from Maxwell. Yet on 24 Mar. 1812, when Sir John Buchanan Riddell, whom he had disappointed elsewhere, offered to be his candidate, Buccleuch hesitated. Robert Dundas advised him on 5 July that

any monied friend of your own, and a large sum could not I think be requisite, because Maxwell has none, and Sir Charles [Ross] won’t part with his ... should immediately take the field, and with Selkirk and Peebles in his favour, would soon by the attack of Lanark and Linlithgow sicken both his opponents there and I think carry one if not both, specially if the general election does not come on till after Michaelmas.

In discussing potential candidates, Dundas feared that Sir George Montgomery of Magbie Hill, whose interest was of service at Peebles, would lack cash to attack the other burghs. He suggested Hugh Scott of Harden or Sir John Riddell, and that whoever was chosen should perhaps negotiate with Maxwell (through the latter’s brother-in-law Lord Rosslyn) a partition of the Parliament, provided Maxwell was not drawn into an agreement with Sir Charles Ross. Two days later Buccleuch was informed that Ross had secured Lanark in his interest for the next election, but he still declined to name a candidate.8

Robert Dundas now urged Ross to give Lanark to Buccleuch, whose father had given him Selkirk last time, and thus enable Buccleuch to recapture the seat. When Ross demurred, Dundas went further and with the duke’s authority offered Ross the seat by means of the support of Selkirk and Peebles (though the latter must be ‘instantly secured’), provided Ross gave Lanark (which would then be the returning burgh) to Buccleuch at the election after next to secure him the nomination. Ross still prevaricated and was reluctant to accept Selkirk as a gift, regarding it as a debt due for his support of Buccleuch’s relative in the Lanarkshire election. Meanwhile he had conceived the notion of standing for Ross-shire, with the burghs to fall back on if he failed. William Dundas ridiculed this and on 24 July 1812 Ross wrote to ask if he might stand for Ross-shire now and expect Buccleuch’s support in the burghs in the future, in exchange for securing Lanark for him now. Dundas pressed Ross to make up his mind and Buccleuch waited for his decision. Ross affected to be awaiting the decision of his friend Provost Richard Vary of Lanark and meanwhile, on 5 Aug., wrote to Dundas insinuating that he could expect better terms from Buccleuch, who must have Lanark to carry the election, as Linlithgow was the returning burgh, which enabled Linlithgow and Lanark to command the return this time and, so he unwarrantedly alleged, next time. On 8 Aug., in accordance with the provost’s instructions, Ross announced that the burgh of Lanark would treat ‘with contempt’ any transfer of its interest.9

Robert Dundas now washed his hands of Ross, whom he supposed to have attempted a deal with the Hamiltons for Linlithgow, and, consoling Buccleuch with the thought that Ross could be deprived of Lanark, and Linlithgow might be captured on the death of the aged and inactive Lord Hopetoun, urged him to select his candidate. On 26 Sept. 1812, Ross capitulated to Buccleuch, ‘understanding from the chief baron that at the succeeding [election] your Grace will give your support in the district to whoever I nominate’. Finally, on 1 Oct., Buccleuch invited Riddell to be his candidate with the support of Selkirk, probably also of Peebles, and with Sir Charles Ross’s conditional offering of Lanark. Riddell accepted, after claiming freedom to give a ‘qualified support’ to Catholic relief. At Peebles, Buccleuch obtained Riddell the support of Sir John Hay and of Sir George Montgomery, who had canvassed the burgh to keep out Maxwell. In ceding to Riddell, Sir George informed Buccleuch that he stood pledged to the magistrates of Peebles to propose an understanding of reciprocal support between Peebles and Selkirk when either became the returning burgh. Riddell had now to secure Lanark, where Sir Charles Ross’s ‘excessive mismanagement’ put him at a disadvantage. Ross, in withdrawing, had absolved the magistrates from their pledges to him and merely hoped they would support a ministerialist candidate, whereupon they concluded ‘the more choice, the more feasting’—or so Riddell informed Buccleuch in one of his many election ‘bulletins’. He was not unduly worried, because his opponents at Lanark were divided, Maxwell canvassing for himself, and James Joseph Hope Weir (alias Hope Vere), a staunch oppositionist friendly with the Hamiltons, also for himself, though somewhat hesitantly, as it would appear that he was stronger at Linlithgow, where Maxwell was now regarded as ‘a man who could do nothing for the town’, than at Lanark. In the event both Maxwell, though sure of Linlithgow once more, and Hope Weir withdrew. Riddell secured Lanark, 17 Oct., and was chosen unanimously. At one moment (9 Oct.) he had despaired of carrying Lanark and suggested that Sir Charles Ross be substituted for himself to ensure the return of a ministerialist. Robert Dundas, still evidently out of humour with Ross, would have preferred Sir George Montgomery as Riddell’s substitute. Moreover, he insisted that Ross should ‘foot the bill for his folly’ at Lanark and that this should be a precondition of his obtaining Buccleuch’s support next time.10

Although his family looked to his interest at Lanark after 1812, Sir Charles Ross died two years later and on 16 Dec. 1817 Riddell asked to be readopted. Buccleuch felt obliged to offer the option to Sir George Montgomery, who did not come forward. Meanwhile Maxwell’s brother was active at Selkirk, the returning burgh, and his prospects at Lanark seemed brighter: Robert Owen had taken over the two cotton mills previously owned by Ross’s friends; Lord Armadale was assisting Maxwell there, and if Hope Weir and the Hamiltons backed him, Riddell had only the Glasgow wholesale merchants’ influence and what William Eliott Lockhart* could save of Ross’s to count on. On the other hand, Owen was ‘thought a madman’ and Lord Archibald Hamilton hors de combat. On 2 Feb. 1818 Buccleuch formally invited Riddell to stand again, having meanwhile turned down the lord advocate and, subsequently, an application from Lady Ross. That month, at Buccleuch’s expense, Riddell made a ‘sudden attack’ on Selkirk which appeared to be successful, and he was well received at Peebles, where Sir John Hay stood by him.11 In March a third candidate was expected at Selkirk, said at first to be Kirkman Finlay* and afterwards Charles Forbes*, but nothing came of it beyond a further allegation (unconfirmed and subsequently denied) that Inglis, the East India Company director, said to be behind Forbes at the time, would put up his son for his native Lanark instead. There was also a diversion created by Lady Ross, whose letter on behalf of the third son of her friend Lady de Roos was thrown into the fire by the provost of Lanark. By 25 Mar. there was no further question of a third man and Riddell claimed it was a straight party contest between him and Maxwell. On 20 Mar., by the provost’s casting vote, Lanark had decided to snub Maxwell, and at Selkirk two corporators who deserted to him had their votes invalidated, though Riddell feared ‘the hostility of the mob’ as a result. Maxwell was further hampered by his lack of means; he could not afford an attack on Selkirk, where he had a party led by William Dobson, and some of his friends thought a candidate who could should be substituted for him, such as Hope of Craigiehall.12 Nevertheless, Riddell was worried about Peebles, where he blamed Sir John Hay’s complacency for his slender majority, and his ally William Eliott Lockhart admitted that Maxwell had ‘a strong hold on the trades and populace’ generally. Maxwell survived being ‘nearly killed by a drunken deacon falling upon him as he was going down stairs’, but he carried only the vote of Linlithgow at the election. Riddell’s delegate, William Lamb, was chosen for Selkirk by 20 votes to 12. At Peebles, where Maxwell claimed to have nine out of 17 votes, though one deserted on Sir John Hay’s solicitation, Riddell’s delegate was chosen by nine votes, most of the opposition being absent. At Lanark, where the provost had been promised an East India cadetship, he also carried the day.13 Nor could Maxwell’s party effectually resist the ‘purge’ of Selkirk council that Michaelmas.14

The absence of Buccleuch in Lisbon (where he had in fact died on 20 Apr.) and the death of Sir John Riddell on 21 Apr. 1819 threw the Buccleuch party into disarray, though they hoped to benefit from Selkirk’s being the returning burgh. Lord Montagu, Buccleuch’s brother, could not prevail on Hugh Scott of Harden, ‘the person (next to Mr Charles Douglas) who my brother would have been most anxious to support’, to stand, and at first supported Campbell of Kailzie, who had been abroad the year before, but had then made his pretensions known.15 Campbell, in turn, would have made way, so he claimed, for Sir John Hay’s eldest son, but the latter was in Greece and Sir John placed Peebles at Campbell’s disposal. William Eliott Lockhart could be expected to do the same in the case of Lanark. Meanwhile Chisholm of Chisholm, another would-be candidate friendly to government, had canvassed Selkirk, which was, however, well disposed to the opposition candidate, John Pringle of Haining, to whom Maxwell, who still controlled Linlithgow, had given way. So, apparently, had Hope Weir and Robert Owen of Lanark, ‘a wild visionary leveller’. Pringle had expected to sway the provost, his former factor Andrew Lang, but the latter was in collusion with the other side. Walter Scott, acting for the Buccleuch party, cautioned Chisholm that Campbell was the Buccleuch choice, and informed Lord Montagu, 24 Apr. 1819:

I was under the necessity of letting Chisholm proceed with his canvass or seeing Selkirk secured by Pringle ... if we carry Selkirk which I have great hopes of, Campbell having secured Peebles and having every chance of Lanark will be the sitting Member. Or if he loses Lanark Chisholm may come in for Peebles and Selkirk. He made a very manly declaration of ministerial politics. Anyway Pringle is kept out—And matters must in future be better and earlier looked to. I have had a scheme to propose to the duke respecting these politics and others which he would find very useful but alas! times have not been fit for canvassing such matters.16

Scott referred to Pringle as ‘a silly dandy’, and some of Pringle’s supporters feared that his youth and appearance, and his reluctance to spend more than £1,000, would tell against him: they, including Maxwell, would have preferred to see Lord Minto’s brother George Elliot stand, but Pringle’s friends would not transfer their interest and Elliot gave up. Walter Scott believed that Elliot had ‘no interest’ in the burghs and was merely making a bid for Pringle’s support for his pretensions to the Roxburghshire seat, but this was not borne out by Elliot’s letters to his brother which indicated that Elliot still hoped that Pringle would make way for him in the end and that Pringle would have done so, if Eliot had stood the better chance.17 As it was, Pringle was afraid to quit Selkirk, where he carried the day by 17 votes to 14. It was only then that Hope Weir, ‘after doing all the mischief possible by his delay’, finally resigned his pretensions, enabling Pringle to count on Linlithgow, despite a bid to thwart him by substituting Henry Monteith of Carstairs, lord provost of Glasgow, who carried some weight at Linlithgow, for Campbell of Kailzie. In the event, Monteith obtaining the votes of Lanark and Peebles, Pringle was returned by the casting vote of Selkirk, where Provost Lang was overruled when he clung to the cause of Chisholm, ‘and another independent Member thus added to the Scottish representation’.18 Monteith protested against the return and within a year the Buccleuch interest had recaptured the seat.

Authors: D. G. Henry / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. N. Riding RO, Zetland mss ZNK X2/1, Erskine to Sir T. Dundas [Jan. 1789]; True Briton, 23 May 1796.
  • 2. SRO GD224/581, Buccleuch to Hamilton (copy), 2 July 1802.
  • 3. Ibid. reply to Hamilton’s letter of 20 June; Add. 51570, Ld. A. Hamilton to Holland, 12 Oct.; Hamilton mss, Boyes to Duke of Hamilton, 9 May 1802.
  • 4. SRO GD224/581, Reid to Elibank [13 June]; Dickson to Buccleuch, 5 July; Reid to Tait, 7 July; Hope to Buccleuch, 14 July, Dundas to same, 28 July 1802.
  • 5. SRO GD224/581, Dundas to Buccleuch, Thurs. [c.Aug. 1802]; HO102/19/262, 270, Ross to W. Dundas, 21 Sept., to Hawkesbury, 13 Nov. 1805; Fortescue mss, Ross to Grenville, 13 Sept., 5 Dec.; Ld. A. Hamilton to Erskine, 20 Sept., 17 Oct.; Douglas to Grenville, 18 Oct.; Grenville to Erskine, 22 Oct.; Blair Adam mss, Adam to Gibson, 1 Oct., Gibson to Adam, 27, 28 Oct., Maxwell to same, 28 Oct., Gibson to Rosslyn (copy), 31 Oct. 1806.
  • 6. NLS mss 11740, f. 158; 13434, Maxwell to Elliot, 5 Nov.; Edinburgh Advertiser, 7-11, 11-14, 25-28 Nov.; Blair Adam mss, Moncreiff Wellwood to Adam, 21 Nov., Gillies to same, 27 Nov., Maxwell to same, 16 Dec. [1806]; CJ, lxii. 35, 295.
  • 7. SRO GD51/1/195/27; NLS mss 8, f. 172, and Melville mss (Acc. 6409), Melville to Saunders Dundas, Sunday [May]; Edinburgh Advertiser, 1-5, 8-12, 12-15, 29 May-2 June 1807.
  • 8. SRO GD224/580, Riddell to Buccleuch, 24 Mar., Dundas to same, 5 July, Anderson to same, 7 July 1812.
  • 9. Ibid. Ross to W. Dundas, 15 June, W. Dundas to Ross, Fri. [?26 June], 2 July, to R. Dundas, Fri. [?26 June], to Lady Ross, 2 July; R. Dundas to Buccleuch, 15, 30 July, Ross to R. Dundas, 24 July, R. Dundas to Ross, 30 July, Ross to R. Dundas, 5, 8 Aug. 1812.
  • 10. Ibid. R. Dundas to Buccleuch, 14 Aug., Sunday [11 Oct.], 29 Oct., to Horne, 18 Aug., Buccleuch to Riddell, 1, 3 Oct., 1 Nov., Riddell to Buccleuch, 1, 2 Oct., Fri. [Oct.], Tues. [Oct.], Thurs. [8 Oct.], 9 Oct., Sunday [11 Oct.], 31 Oct.; GD224/581, Ross to Buccleuch, 26 Sept.; Sir J. Hay to Sir G. Montgomery, 4 Oct., reply 6 Oct.; Add. 51691, Lauderdale to Holland [1812]; Northumb. RO, Riddell mss ZRW 92.
  • 11. SRO GD224/580, Riddell to Buccleuch, 16, 20, 24, 31 Dec. 1817, Feb., Thurs. [19 Feb.], 20, 24, 28 Feb., Eliott Lockhart to same, 5 Jan., Buccleuch to ld. advocate, 18 Jan., to Riddell, 2, 21 Feb., to Lady Ross, 3 Mar. 1818; Northumb. RO, Riddell mss ZRW 99-103.
  • 12. SRO GD224/580, Eliott Lockhart to Buccleuch, 17, 25 Mar., Riddell to same, 18, 22, 25 (bis), 26, 27 Mar., 9, 10 Apr., Lockhart to Riddell, 21 Mar.; NLS mss 1343, Clerk to Minto [Mar.], 3, 22 Mar. 1818.
  • 13. SRO GD224/580, Riddell to Buccleuch, 18, 21, 24 Apr., 9, 19, 24 June 1818; NLS mss 1496, f. 141; Edinburgh Advertiser, 26 June, 17 July 1818; The Scotsman, no. 67.
  • 14. SRO GD224/580, Riddell to Buccleuch, 19 Sept., 9 Oct., Long to Riddell, 22 Sept. 1818.
  • 15. SRO GD51/1/198/25; GD224/580, Riddell to Buccleuch, Mon. [16 Mar. 1818].
  • 16. SRO GD51/1/198/20/1; NLS mss 13341, Hon. G. Elliot to Minto, Tues. [28 Apr. 1819]; Scott Letters ed. Grierson, v. 370.
  • 17. NLS mss 13341, Clerk to Minto, 1 May, Hon. G. Elliott to same, Tues. [28 Apr.], 30 Apr., 5, 8, 10 May 1819.
  • 18. NLS mss 13341, Hon. G. Elliot to Minto, 2, 3, 4, [5], 8, 10 May 1819; The Scotsman, no. 124; Edinburgh Advertiser, 4 June 1819.