Linlithgowshire (West Lothian)

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:

23 in 1708


26 June 1708JAMES JOHNSTON, Ld. Johnston14
 John Montgomerie9
22 Dec. 1708JOHN HOUSTOUN  vice Johnston, eldest son of a peer of Scotland 
10 Sept. 1713SIR JAMES CARMICHAEL,  Bt. 
 John Houstoun 
 HOUSTOUN vice Carmichael on petition, 8 Apr. 1714 

Main Article

The lesser nobility and wealthier resident lairds held centre-stage in Linlithgowshire elections, despite the constant, formidable presence of the Duke of Hamilton in the wings, and an occasional passing interest shown by other magnates. Hamilton and his mother had clearly assumed that they would have a say in returns from the county to the Scottish parliament, but received an unpleasant surprise in 1702 when only one of their favoured candidates, Patrick Murray of Livingstone, was returned, together with a Court supporter, Charles Hope of Hopetoun, himself the most important of the lairds. Worse still, there had not been ‘a contradictory vote’. Hamilton’s chamberlain reported that

some blame Livingstone for it. He and others both say he was necessitated to do what he did, otherwise he had lost it himself, there being so great and unexpected an alteration among the lairds, some falling off and others brought out of obscurity who were not thought of.

Another of the Duke’s advisers commented sourly that ‘many who voted there had not the proper qualifications’. However, when Murray’s sudden death required a by-election in 1703 it was the Country party candidate who was then returned, Thomas Sharp (Shairp) of Houstoun, by 15 votes to 10 over the veteran soldier and current commander-in-chief in Scotland, Lieutenant-General George Ramsay of Carriden (brother to the 4th Earl of Dalhousie), in a poll in which 14 of the 25 votes were the subject of protests, and a further six were disputed. In the proceedings in the electoral court Hope had led for Ramsay, while Sharp had been the chief protagonist in his own cause, supported by Sir John Houstoun of Houstoun. When, in the following year, Hope was raised to the Scottish peerage as Earl of Hopetoun, the balance was retained in the county’s parliamentary commission, his replacement being a sound courtier, John Montgomerie I*. However, anti-unionist opinion in the county was still strong enough to produce an address to the Scottish parliament in 1706 against allowing the treaty to be ratified.1

The county election of 1708 seems to have been viewed locally, at least in some quarters, as a party battle. A marked list of freeholders dating from 1708, which may well have served as a private record of the poll, distinguished the two sides by the letters ‘T’ and ‘W’, presumably Tory and Whig. But the reality was not so straightforward. The national electoral compact which Hamilton had made with the Squadrone to oppose Queensberry’s Court party was reflected in the alignment of forces in the county, where the two candidates were Montgomerie of Wrae, still closely identified with the Court; and James, Lord Johnston, heir apparent to the opposition peer the Marquess of Annandale. Hamilton supported Lord Johnston, as did the cavalier lairds such as Houstoun of Houstoun, and perhaps also those who had opposed the Union. On the Whig side, some heritors voted for Montgomerie, but those inclining to the Squadrone, such as Lord Torphichen, seem to have followed their leaders and combined with Hamilton. There was also a significant personal element, in that Montgomerie was closely identified with Queensberry, taking office as his under-secretary in the following year. Hamilton certainly observed at the time that Queensberry had ‘set up’ Montgomerie, and even that he had ‘made it a point of the highest politics by his friends and myrmidons that I should not have the interest to carry it in this shire with the assistance of my friends’. As for Annandale, ‘opposition to Queensberry was almost the only consistent factor in [his] politics’. However, his motive in putting up his son in Linlithgowshire was not to get at Queensberry indirectly through Montgomerie, but rather to find a refuge for Lord Johnston in case Queensberry secured the young man’s defeat on their home ground in Dumfriesshire, where Johnston was also standing as a candidate. The attraction of Linlithgowshire was that Lord Hopetoun was Annandale’s son-in-law, and the Hope and Hamilton interests could be combined. The result of voting in the electoral court was a clear majority for Johnston, almost identical to Sharp’s margin of victory five years earlier. Whether the return would be allowed to stand was, however, always in some doubt. Besides the fact that Johnston was still a minor, which would have been ample (though not inevitable) disqualification in itself, his eligibility as the heir apparent to a Scottish peerage was questionable because the eldest sons of peers had not been entitled to sit in the Scottish parliament. Montgomerie was himself open to objection and possible disqualification as a commissioner of excise, a post he had reportedly been prepared to relinquish in his quest for a parliamentary seat but which he still retained. It may well have been for this reason that he did not prefer a petition against the return, and when Johnston was duly disqualified, Montgomerie seems not to have considered himself as a possible candidate for the vacancy.2

In any case, other eyes had turned in that direction. Lord Marchmont, the elder statesman of the Squadrone, prompted by his son-in-law George Baillie*, spied a further chance to exploit his party’s current alliance with Annandale and Hamilton to push forward a protégé, his ‘cousin and particular friend’ Robert Pringle. A younger son of Sir Robert, 1st Bt., of Stichill in Roxburghshire, Pringle had the advantage of being Lord Torphichen’s brother-in-law, and might also be sponsored by Hopetoun. Pringle himself was somewhat surprised by the proposal, but was happy to go along with it, provided that he did not have to leave his comfortable berth in England to make any personal effort. He confessed to Marchmont his surprise,

for I was little thinking of being chosen for any place, and my interest in that shire is so small that my expectation of succeeding, if there is any competition, cannot be great. However, if by my Lord Hopetoun and others appearing for me it might be brought about, I shall not decline it, providing it may be done without my being obliged to be on the place, which I would most willingly avoid, for, being out of all employment, I am tied to a management of my little estate, as indeed will not allow of such journeys . . . I have writ fully to my brother, that he may discourse my Lord Hopetoun on that head, and make up the title [which] may be necessary to qualify me, in which I doubt not but my Lord Torphichen shall freely concur, since it can do him no prejudice.

Confident that Pringle need attend the electoral court only if he was intending to vote, and not if he was a candidate, Marchmont wrote off to Hopetoun and Torphichen to secure their interest even before the seat had become vacant. He then discovered to his disappointment that he was not after all the first in the field. That advantage went instead to John Houstoun, the son of Sir John, a young man of such pronounced cavalier sympathies that in later years he would be accused of Jacobitism. Houstoun could be sure of the votes of the cavalier lairds, and possibly also of the support of Hamilton. His appearance on the scene thus gave Marchmont pause, but at first the Earl wrote optimistically to Pringle’s brother Thomas, a writer to the signet in Edinburgh:

The impediment you write of to what I designed was no surprise to me, and for all that I do think that by my Lord Torphichen’s pains in the shire and what my Lord Hopetoun may perhaps prevail upon Houstoun, especially if the D[uke] of H[amilton] can be prevailed upon . . . to favour the designs (and I am hopeful that can be done) it may be accomplished to satisfaction. I had not heard anything of Houstoun’s [?-] moving that way when I wrote first to your brother, but, whatever way that might have moved me if I had known of it before I wrote to him, it cannot divert me now that motion is made and I incline to insist in it as far as I can . . . I wish you to meet with Lord Torphichen, whom you may acquaint with my thoughts . . .

This bullishness was destined for disappointment, since, for whatever reason (most likely Hamilton’s unwillingness to co-operate), Houstoun’s candidacy soon took on dimensions of unstoppability, and Marchmont was obliged to cancel his project. ‘Others had been so early in engaging persons concerned’, he told his nominee, ‘that it was not possible for me to have prevented them. I was very loth to give up . . . but your most concerned friends were at pains to convince me that it would be vain to insist.’ Evidently Houstoun was then returned unopposed.3

Houstoun easily retained the seat at the general election of 1710 despite the fracturing of the Squadrone- Hamilton compact. Reaction to the Sacheverell affair had produced a general upswing in Scottish, as in English, ‘Tory’ opinion; and besides, the rivalry of Annandale and Queensberry may have manifested itself once again in a willingness on Hopetoun’s part, as Annandale’s son-in-law, to countenance a candidate who was anti-Queensberry, even if of cavalier proclivities. In 1713, however, there was not only opposition, but formidable opposition, in the shape of Sir James Carmichael, 4th Bt., Annandale’s nephew. The appearance of Carmichael seems at last to have united the ‘Whig’ interest in the county, of whose ‘fatal divisions’ Presbyterians had complained bitterly in the summer of 1713. His candidature was publicly supported by Hopetoun and the Squadrone peer Lord Buchan, whose combined efforts - doing ‘a great deal more than came to their share by going about soliciting’ - provoked the anger of the 4th Duchess of Hamilton, whose ill humour at the time of writing had much to do with the failure of her schemes in Linlithgow Burghs. The county election, according to the Duchess, had been a ‘very undue’ occasion, and although the minutes of the court record only five objections by Houstoun (including a protest against Carmichael’s own qualification, based upon a questionable resignation of lands in 1703), the Presbyterian minister Robert Wodrow’s account suggests a controversial election:

Mr Houstoun set up upon the Tory side for that shire, and Sir James Carmichael upon the other. Sir James was not a little diffident of his voters; and a gentleman whom he had gained over to his side, who formerly used to be for Mr Houstoun, and had been acquainted some way in England or France with my Lord Clermont, Middleton’s [Charles, 2nd Earl (S)] son, received a letter from the said Lord Clermont to this purpose: that the King [‘James III’] was mightily concerned in the elections . . . and that he had a special regard for Scotland . . . He was well assured Mr Houstoun was firm to his interests, and a youth of great expectation; and therefore he could not but use any interest he had with him to procure him votes for their shire, and assured the gentleman that the next post after the receiving of the account of Mr Houstoun’s being chosen, he might expect a letter of thanks from his Majesty for this good service done him. The gentleman discovered this to Sir James Carmichael, and both agreed to say very little about it till the day of election, where, in the meeting of the gentlemen, this letter was produced and read; which immediately cast the election in favour of Sir James Carmichael . . .

Houstoun’s subsequent petition made no mention of this incident, instead claiming that ‘several peers, and Presbyterian ministers, and one of the judges, were guilty of divers illegal practices, whereby to influence electors, in wrong of the petitioner’. The petition was heard at the bar on 8 Apr. 1714, and after two divisions, the first on the legality of Carmichael’s own vote, and the second on the propriety of the election as a whole, Houstoun was seated in Carmichael’s place. To judge from the identity of the tellers on each occasion, the division in the Commons seems to have been on party lines.4

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. SRO, Hamilton mss GD406/1/4591, 4593, David Crawford to Hamilton, 19 Apr. 1700, Daniel Hamilton to same, 24 Oct. 1702; HMC Hamilton, ii. 156; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Dundas of Dundas pprs. 80.7.1, f. 3; Douglas, Scots Peerage ed. Paul, iii. 100-1; APS, xi. 48, 62, 311; Boyer, Anne Annals, v. 353.
  • 2. SRO, Shairp of Houstoun mss GD30/2216/1, freeholders roll, [1708]; Hamilton mss GD406/1/5497, 7866, George Dallas to Hamilton, 26 June 1708, Hamilton to his mother, 23 June 1708; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 13; Dundas of Dundas pprs. 80.7.1, ff. 3-4; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/802/11, Mungo Graham* to Montrose, 26 June 1708; Edinburgh Courant, 25-28, 28-30 June 1708; Add. 61628, ff. 120-1; 61631, f. 56; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 93-4.
  • 3. SRO, Hume of Marchmont mss GD158/1097/11, Robert Pringle to Marchmont, 12 Aug. 1708; GD158/1174/36-38, 42-43, 46-47, Marchmont to Thomas Pringle, 11, 15 Oct. 1708, same to Hopetoun, 11 Oct. 1708, same to Torphichen, 11 Oct. 1708, same to Robert Pringle, 11 Nov. 1708; Add. 61631, f. 64; Scot. Rec. Soc. lvi. 174.
  • 4. NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 7, f. 177; Dundas of Dundas pprs. 80,7.1, f. 4; Add. 70223, 4th Duchess of Hamilton to Ld. Oxford (Robert Harley*), 21 Sept. [1713]; Wodrow, Analecta, ii. 246.