Scottish County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

19 in 1713



Main Article

The influence that James Ogilvy, Earl of Seafield, derived from membership of successive Scottish administrations was more than sufficient to enable him to fill the power vacuum in Banffshire created by the non-juring scruples, Jacobite indiscretions and financial misfortunes of the other barons. Not only did Seafield hold high office from 1696 to 1708 as either secretary of state or lord chancellor for Scotland, he was also granted the hereditary sheriffdom of Banffshire in 1692. Among the peers he did not have a rival: the Catholic Duke of Gordon took no part in elections; the 13th Earl of Erroll, a Jacobite sympathizer interned alongside Gordon during the invasion scare of 1708, was similarly inactive and in any case went to live abroad in 1712; the 3rd Lord Banff, although renouncing Catholicism and supporting the Union, was at best a minor player in county affairs; and lastly the 7th Lord Oliphant, another Protestant scion of an old Catholic family, forfeited his local interest when in 1709 he made over his Banffshire property to a Jacobite cousin, Oliphant of Gask. Of the lairds, a few had been recruited as Seafield’s clients. His kinsman Sir Alexander Ogilvy, Lord Forglen SCJ, served as his chief political agent, reliably enough for the most part, and Seafield had also in effect bought up the impoverished Abercrombys: Alexander of Glassaugh and Sir James of Birkenbog. Other proprietors were neutered by debt or were reluctant to qualify themselves. Only Duff of Braco and Ogilvy of Boyne had offered resistance. In the 1702 election to the Scottish parliament, which was attended by 26 freeholders on an unrevised and disputed roll, Alexander Duff and the young James Ogilvy of Boyne had upset Seafield’s candidates (one of whom was certainly Birkenbog, with probably Glassaugh as his running-mate) and obtained both places for themselves. Almost certainly they had done so by playing on popular fury over the Darien disaster, and by exploiting the barely concealed Jacobite proclivities of many of the Banffshire gentry. Both men could be described as Country cavaliers. But in 1706 Duff died, his heir William being a man of rather less political weight and force of character. Soon afterwards Ogilvy of Boyne lost control over his estate, which passed to Seafield, of all people, and following the Union Ogilvy departed for a Jacobite adventure. Meanwhile Duff’s seat in the Scottish parliament had been filled by Alexander Abercromby of Glassaugh, the safest of all Seafield’s men, at the Earl’s uncontested recommendation.1

In each of the first three general elections to the Parliament of Great Britain Abercromby of Glassaugh was returned unopposed. There was a marked absence of the passion which had disturbed the 1702 election, and which still seems to have agitated Banffshire politics as late as 1705, when rumour spoke of a ‘bloody skirmish’ among the gentlemen. Other parliamentary aspirants occasionally appeared, but none took their ambitions as far as the freeholders’ court. The transformation was carried through without any interference with the electorate. Although fewer voters seem to have participated after the Union than in 1702 (when Forglen had protested at what he alleged to be the inadequate qualifications of many on the roll), no revision was subsequently undertaken: it was simply that more freeholders were now disdaining the oaths. Of greater relevance to the extension of Seafield’s authority was his continued enjoyment of ministerial favour after 1708, and in particular his success after 1710 in disentangling himself from the Duke of Queensberry and Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) and attaching himself instead to the new ministry headed by Robert Harley*, later Lord Treasurer Oxford. Although there was no abandonment of Seafield’s own principles, which kept him committed to the Union and the Protestant Succession, this association with a Tory administration gave a pretext even for downright Jacobites to engage in his interest.2

The most determined of Abercromby’s prospective challengers was Archibald Ogilvy of Rothiemay, who announced his candidature in the autumn of 1712 and did not retract it until shortly before the election a year later. His original decision was no reflection on Seafield, now 4th Earl of Findlater, who had indeed just given further proof of his continuing political health by procuring loyal addresses on the peace terms from the county and its boroughs, but rather on Abercromby himself, whose deepening financial embarrassment was making it almost impossible for him to afford continued parliamentary service. At first Findlater’s agents could report only two possible defectors: one, the Jacobite Charles Hay of Rannas, whose property qualification depended upon a sasine issued by Findlater in 1710 and who in any case was by no means certain to take the oaths; and the other a laird who had been won over to Ogilvy through the domestic influence of his own wife and sister-in-law. However, Ogilvy concentrated his attention on the vulnerable figure of the sitting Member himself, with gratifying results. By May 1713 Abercromby had been persuaded to step down, by the promise of ‘very good things’ to relieve his mounting debts, a ploy directed as much at the anxieties of Abercromby’s wife as at the Member’s own feelings. However, such tampering with his client was not something that Findlater could permit. He redoubled his efforts to secure Abercromby some relief in the form of court patronage, reassuring Mrs Abercromby that ‘I will answer to her and her relations for what I do in this’, a pledge he had subsequently to make good from his own pocket when ministerial friends failed him; and his agents were despatched to ‘speak to the gentlemen of the shire and tell them it will be very obliging if they support Glassaugh’. ‘I had written to them in his behalf’, Findlater observed, ‘if the law had not hindered me, which declares that no peer is to meddle in the elections after the teste of the writ’. Monetary inducements were brought to bear to enlist the support of Lord Banff, and Abercromby of Birkenbog, who had come to depend directly on Findlater’s assistance. ‘I expect that Sir James Abercromby will qualify himself rather than that Glassaugh should be at a loss’, Findlater warned his steward, adding, ‘it is impossible to do for Sir James himself so long as he is not qualified’. The combination of some explicit promises and a general call upon the prestige of Findlater’s name proved sufficient to counteract the advantage Ogilvy had obtained by ‘taking the start’ of his rival. In particular the Jacobite or quasi-Jacobite proprietors to whom Ogilvy seems initially to have appealed were soon drifting away from him into neutrality or outright opposition: the Marquess of Huntly (the Duke of Gordon’s heir) dropped away; William Duff of Braco declared for Abercromby; Sir John Gordon of Park, Hay of Rannas, Birkenbog and Sir James Dunbar of Durn all let it be known that they had no intention of qualifying, and indeed neither Birkenbog nor Durn would have voted for Ogilvy even if they could have been brought to take the oaths. Glassaugh wrote:

I doubt but Durn would have qualified had I been pinched, for at Crombie before several, while Mr A[rchibald] O[gilvy] was dissuading [sic] him to perjure himself, he swore bitterly again and again he would rather risk perjury than that he should carry any election against the family of Findlater, though I were not concerned; Birkenbog the same; Braco more frank; so that to do everybody justice I can hardly say who was frankest.

Ogilvy remained ‘violent’ almost to the last in his determination to maintain his candidature, standing firm in an interview with Lord Forglen as late as 28 Sept. 1713. But his last throw seems to have been made at the Michaelmas head court four days later, at which, with only six freeholders present, a decision was taken to postpone any revision of the electoral roll, first to Easter, and then to the following Michaelmas. The election itself, on the 9th, was attended by more than 20 barons, of whom 18 had qualified themselves (excluding Abercromby of Birkenbog and Dunbar of Durn). Lord Forglen was chosen praeses, one further voter was admitted on application, and then Abercromby of Glassaugh was chosen without opposition. The general political discontents of the more high-flying lairds were vented in a signed letter of ‘recommendations’ to their representative, but, presumably out of deference to Findlater, these were restricted to ‘the preventing the malt tax and importing Irish victuals’. Abercromby’s subsequent pronouncement to the lord treasurer that he had been ‘unanimously chosen, which I flatter myself I shall always be in this shire, while I think it convenient or desirable’, was thus an empty boast, since it left out of consideration the most important element in the election, namely the interest of his patron, which was to be exercised again in securing his unopposed return at the first two general elections under the Hanoverians.3

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Recs. Co. Banff (New Spalding Club), 87, 95-96, 110-17, 120-3; SRO, Seafield mss GD248/566/85/25, James Ogilvy of Boyne to Findlater, [1702]; GD248/566/87/34, Alexander Abercromby to [same], [1702]; Hist. Scot. Parl. 2, 207, 547; APS, x. 242; HMC Portland, viii. 374; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 18; Hooke Corresp. (Roxburghe Club), ii. 248; A. and H. Tayler, Bk. of the Duffs, i. 74-79; Seafield Corresp. 452.
  • 2. Seafield Corresp. 421; Gordon mss at Goodwood Park, Gordon fam. letters 1710-20, H. Huntley to Mq. of Huntly, n.d. [1710]; Recs. Co. Banff, 110-17, 120-3, 126.
  • 3. Seafield mss GD248/561/47/35, 39, [John Philp] to William Lorimer, 19 Nov. 1712, [same] to Findlater, 29 Nov. 1712; GD248/561/48/37, John to William Lorimer, 13 May 1713; GD248/561/49/16, 31, same to same, 16 May 1713, Alexander Abercromby to [Findlater], 29 Sept. 1713; GD248/567/92/1, 23, Findlater to William Lorimer, (2 letters) n.d. [?Sept. 1713]; GD248/566/84/43, [?John Philp] to [Findlater], [?Sept. 1713]; GD248/561/49/23, 30, Findlater to [?William Lorimer], 21 Aug. 1713, William Lorimer to [Findlater], 26 Sept. 1713; GD248/572/1/7/11, Alexander Abercromby to [Findlater], 12 Oct. 1713; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 237; HMC Portland, x. 199, 305; London Gazette, 11-14 Oct. 1712; Recs. Co. Banff, 131-4, 138, 348; SRO, Banff sheriff ct. recs. SC2/69/1, 2, electoral ct. mins. 9 Oct. 1713.