MONTGOMERY, James (1766-1839), of Stanhope, Peebles.

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



23 Dec. 1800 - Feb. 1831

Family and Education

b. 9 Oct. 1766, 2nd s. of Sir James (William) Montgomery, 1st Bt., of Stanhope by Margaret, da. and h. of Robert Scott of Killearn, Stirling; bro. of William Montgomery*. educ. Edinburgh h.s.; Edinburgh Univ. 1784; adv. 1787. m. (1) 1 Aug. 1806, Lady Elizabeth Douglas (d. 28 Oct. 1814), da. of Dunbar, 4th Earl of Selkirk [S], 1s. d.v.p. 2da.; (2) 13 May 1816, Helen, da. of Thomas Graham II* of Kinross, 3s. 2da. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 2 Apr. 1803.

Offices Held

Ld. advocate [S] Dec. 1804-Mar. 1806; presenter of signatures in the Exchequer [S] for life.

Capt. R. Edinburgh vols. 1797, Peebles yeoman cav. 1803; dep. gov. British Linen Co. 1817.


Montgomery, whose father was lord chief baron from 1775 until 1801, likewise pursued a legal career. In 1800 he succeeded to his deceased elder brother’s seat for the county on the family interest and was never challenged for it. His maiden speech was on safeguards against bank-note forgery in Scotland, 21 Apr. 1801. When a reshuffle of the Scottish judiciary took place under Henry Dundas’s supervision in 1801, Montgomery’s father retired in favour of Dundas’s nephew Robert with a baronetcy and a pension of £2,000 per annum. Dundas also promised Montgomery that he should become solicitor-general on the anticipated removal of Robert Blair, but nothing came of it.1

On 10 Nov. 1801 Montgomery was introduced to Addington by his ‘cousin’ John Beresford* and there is no evidence that he opposed the minister until his fall was imminent, when the Dundases nudged him to do so—he was in the minorities on Fox’s and Pitt’s defence motions on 23 and 25 Apr. 1804. Though nominally independent of Dundas, he was in fact attached to him and, on Pitt’s return to power, became lord advocate on his recommendation. The only snag was that he was requested to give up his sinecure, worth in practice over £500 a year, which was wanted for one of the Dundas clan. Rather than do this, he wished to decline an office which, however ‘honourable and lucrative’, was ‘precarious’ and to which he feared he was ‘unequal’, bearing in mind that his late father had enjoined him, when there was talk of his becoming solicitor-general, ‘never to part with it unless for another equally permanent’. The dilemma was solved by Montgomery’s offering to award the emoluments of his sinecure to Robert Dundas while he held office.2

Montgomery was not active in Parliament as lord advocate, though he attended and voted with the government minority against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805. In October he acted as intermediary for the Scottish judiciary with the Home secretary in putting forward their proposals for reform. Montgomery’s fears about the precariousness of his office were realized when the Grenville ministry displaced him in favour of Henry Erskine in 1806. All invidiousness was removed, according to Montgomery’s colleague the lord justice clerk, by his short tenure of office, while ‘his comparative age and standing and his great fortune will prevent his removal (however unpleasant to himself and his private friends) from giving much displeasure or uneasiness to the country at large’. He also regained his sinecure. With an ample fortune, he did not court practice subsequently—he had no more than ‘a fair ordinary share of abilities’ and, ‘without being an orator’, was ‘a gentlemanlike and easy speaker, though he never (it is believed) spoke in the House of Commons’.3

The Grenville ministry not surprisingly reckoned Montgomery ‘in opposition and inclined, though not devoted to Lord Melville’ and were ‘doubtful’ of him,4 but he supported successive governments after 1807. On 13 and 18 May 1808 he criticized the balloting plan proposed by Castlereagh for the local militia bill on humanitarian grounds, and on 18 Apr. 1809 secured an amendment to the militia completion bill. He voted for the address, 23 Jan., and was in the government minorities on the Scheldt question, 26 Jan., 23 Feb. and 5 Mar. 1810, pairing on 30 Mar. In that year his allegiance to the Melville connexion was noted, as well as his being ‘against the Opposition’. He appeared on the government side on the sinecure paymastership, 21 and 24 Feb. 1812.

He was on the Treasury list after the ensuing election. On 24 May 1813 he appears to have voted for the Catholic relief bill. Despite obtaining sick leave on 1 Mar., he voted with the majority for the army estimates, 6 and 8 Mar. 1816, but against the property tax, 18 Mar. He was circularized for government by Lord Melville in January 1817. On 4 Aug. 1817, having been for 17 years a ‘steady adherent of the party whether in or out of power’, he expressed to Melville his disappointment that ministers had not heeded his application for his brother Robert to become a commissioner of excise, but Melville could hold out no hopes. He voted with ministers on the conduct of the Scottish law officers, 10 Feb. 1818. In the Parliament of 1818 he was in the government majorities on 29 Mar., if not also on 18 May and 10 June 1819, and in the minority against the Marriage Act amendment bill on 26 Apr. On 24 June he delivered his most ambitious speech, ‘singularly attic, simple, and clear’, drawing attention to the destruction of Lord Selkirk’s settlement of Highlanders on the Red river by the North West Company.5 He died 27 May 1839.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Dundas of Arniston mss, Dundas to Ld. Chief Baron Montgomery (copy), 13 Apr. 1801.
  • 2. Add. 35731, f. 186; W. C. Clements Lib. Pitt letters, Pitt to Melville, 11 Apr. 1804; SRO GD51/5/431/1-3.
  • 3. Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3145, 3147, 3148; Spencer mss, Hope to Spencer, 7 Mar.; Scottish Bar Sketches, 1806.
  • 4. Spencer mss, Scottish Bar Sketches, 1806; Grey mss, Adam to Howick, 7 Feb. 1807.
  • 5. SRO GD51/5/3624/24; Life of Wilberforce (1838), v. 27.