Scottish burgh

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:



15 June 1708DOUGAL STEWART42
 John Haldane25
 John Haldane32
 Lord James Murray 

Main Article

As the major territorial magnate in Perthshire, and hereditary sheriff besides, the Duke of Atholl could expect to command a considerable following. Because of his family’s residual reputation as Stuart loyalists, he enjoyed customary support from the lesser nobility of the shire and the numerous cavalier lairds whom the Jacobite agent Scot characterized as ‘of undoubted loyalty’. But these men could not be taken for granted. On the debit side, Atholl’s own political record admitted of more than a little ambiguity. While his brother, Lord James Murray of Dowally, had briefly taken up arms with the Jacobite forces after the Revolution and their father (the 1st Marquess, d. 1703) had cultivated a public posture akin to non-alignment, Atholl himself (then Lord Tullibardine) had declared for the Williamites. Afterwards he had for a time headed the Scottish administration and, although reverting to opposition at the end of the 1690s, persisted in ‘trimming’ between his cavalier allies and the Court, to the extent of encouraging scepticism even in Jacobite minds as to his true principles. The Atholl interest, therefore, did not command an unquestioned primacy in the shire. Atholl enjoyed a good relationship with peers such as the Earl of Kinnoull and his son Lord Dupplin (George Hay*), but came to be on bad terms with Viscount Stormont over a legal dispute, and also lost the allegiance of one Jacobite supporter, Lord Nairne, in 1713. Moreover the presence of the Squadrone magnate the Duke of Montrose was also felt in county elections, albeit indirectly. Prior to the Country party split of 1704 the Montrose and Atholl interests had been united against the Scottish Court party. At the last election to the Scottish parliament in 1702 their agreed Country platform was enthusiastically supported. A pre-arranged ticket of four members was carried by majorities of more than five to one over the two hapless candidates put up by the Court. At the head of the poll, with 70 votes, came John Haldane* of Gleneagles; he was followed by two cavalier lairds, Sir Patrick Murray of Ochtertyre and William Oliphant of Gask (with 65 and 57 votes respectively); and in fourth place, with 55 votes, Montrose’s factor, Mungo Graham of Gorthy. Both Haldane and Graham followed the Squadrone line in supporting the Union and thus earned seats in the first Parliament of Great Britain in 1707, but were subject to some local criticism for the manner of their return. The election of representatives directly from the Edinburgh parliament without reference to the Scottish electorate was regarded as an affront in a county that had already indicated its anti-unionism in an address against the treaty in November 1706. The prevalence of episcopalianism was also signalled by the pointed omission from this address of any fears that the Union might weaken the position of the Kirk. (The clergyman Richard Dongworth described Perthshire as ‘mostly episcopal’ in 1710, and at least one modern historian has discerned widespread Jacobitism among episcopalian ministers in the county.) Of Perthshire’s former representatives, only Haldane came forward at the first election after the Union in 1708. His colleague Graham readily ceded his lesser pretension to the now single-Member seat. Murray of Ochtertyre, an anti-unionist, did not stand and, indeed, took little further part in elections. Oliphant had died in 1704 and his cavalier replacement, John Murray of Strowan, expressed no desire for a seat at Westminster.1

The 1708 election took place in strained circumstances for Atholl. His brother Lord James Murray had been brought into preventive detention during the emergency over the projected Jacobite invasion, and he himself had only avoided the indignity of imprisonment by means of a convenient illness which had obliged him to remain (virtually incommunicado) at Blair Atholl rather than surrender to the authorities. What was worse, some suspicious letters of his had come to light. Their overly discreet language was assumed by ministers to imply some clandestine activity, and the intended recipients were arrested and held in temporary custody. One of them, Lord Bute’s brother Dougal Stewart, decided to stand for Perthshire as an insurance. Bute informed Lord Breadalbane, who possessed some interest in the county both in his own right and indirectly through his friendship with Atholl, that Stewart had been

advised by several of his friends that being a Parliament-man will be the most effectual way and the first thing that will relieve him out of the trouble . . . He resolves to set up to be elected for Perthshire, where he is an heritor, and he expects that the Duke of Atholl will employ all his friends to vote for him and use all his interest with others to get him elected, for since it is upon the Duke’s account that he suffers . . . everybody thinks it just and doubts not but the Duke will employ his interest and use his utmost endeavour to get him extract[ed] out of it.

One potential cavalier candidate, who was to have stood against Haldane, had already given way to Stewart, whose canvass was also gaining further momentum from the support of Court Tory peers such as Mar, Glasgow and Leven. Stewart, a Court Tory himself, believed that Glasgow and Leven deserved the credit for procuring his release. Atholl was willing to support Stewart, but relayed a message that his own confinement made it difficult to see ‘how to serve him, having neither liberty to write to his [own] friends, nor they liberty to converse with him, yea not so much as to visit him, without thinking themselves in some hazard’. Stewart’s election, therefore, was not a foregone conclusion. Haldane was conducting an energetic canvass, and the electoral pact made by the Squadrone with the Duke of Hamilton was also exploited on his behalf. The various arguments presented by Hamilton’s wife and brother failed, however, to shake Atholl from his initial decision. As the election approached, the tactics employed by Glasgow and Leven on Stewart’s behalf descended into the realm of skulduggery: to make certain of their administrative advantage ‘they imprisoned the Duke of Atholl’s sheriff depute’, Haldane reported, ‘and again liberat[ed] him on condition that he would use all his interest against me’. It was also said that Atholl had publicly declared his determination to return Stewart come what may, but it happened that the majority fell to him in any case, bolstered as he was not only by Atholl’s interest, but also by the support of other Tory peers with lands in Perthshire, like Breadalbane and Mar. (The latter had refused to bargain with Haldane for votes in Stirlingshire.) Lord James Murray made this report of the election to Breadalbane:

It was pleaded by Gleneagles that none could vote in the election of the praeses, but such as were enrolled and were voters at the last elections, which though it was very odd prevailed, and yet notwithstanding, these voters carried Mr John Mackenzie of Delvin to be praeses, by eleven votes supernumerary which was a confounding stroke. Then the [oaths of] allegiance and assurance went on, and many more than last voting pleaded the benefit of them, and some produced charters in order to be admitted, others were to vote in periculo, which cost a long debate before they could be enrolled. Then notwithstanding of assurances . . . that none of Gleneagles party should propose the Abjuration . . . it was proposed by [Graham of] Gorthy, against which Mr Dougal pleaded . . . as being unnecessary. However, it went on, and five or six of Gleneagles party went off, and eight of Mr Dougal’s side, all of which had immediately before taken the other oath. In the voting there were protestations against 12 of Mr Dougal’s side (but the most of them altogether groundless) and against four of Gleneagles’ side, well grounded. At length the election ended . . . with 42 votes for Mr Dougal and 25 for Gleneagles, so that though Gleneagles labours to have it a controverted election, yet though all the protestations were allowed on both sides [sic], Mr Dougal carries it by one.

Haldane petitioned against the return, but no hearing took place. During the summer recess Stewart was appointed a lord of session, but the consequent by-election was delayed by Haldane’s decision to renew his petition. Though he withdrew on 14 Jan. 1710, and a writ was issued on 22 Feb., no by-election took place.2

During the jockeying for position in the latter part of the 1708 Parliament, Haldane’s renewed candidacy had alarmed Leven, who pressed Breadalbane to find an alternative: ‘Pray bestir yourself against a Squadrone man’, he had urged in May 1709. By the following October, Breadalbane had begun a preliminary canvass in favour of Atholl’s brother, Lord James Murray. Preparations to transfer sufficient property to Murray were under way next month, and the following spring he was ready to make his ‘tour through the gentlemen of the shire’. He also took the trouble to approach the Duke of Argyll’s brother Lord Ilay for a few Campbell votes. These careful preparations were briefly marred, however, by a disagreement between Breadalbane and Atholl. In attempting to secure a vote for Murray from a freeholder currently in a rental dispute with Atholl, Breadalbane found himself castigated by both the Duke and his brother. Breadalbane complained that Atholl was unreasonably ‘displeased’ and could not understand why Murray believed he now ‘fared the worse for my soliciting’. But, after some ingratiating letters from Breadalbane and the intercession of Lord Nairne, normal relations were restored.3

At the 1710 election Murray defeated Haldane by 16 votes. One tactic employed was an announcement by the sheriff clerk that polling would be held on the basis of a list of freeholders who had been present at the election of 1708, at which time 134 electors had been recorded as entitled to vote, though only 67 had done so. The production of this list was an improper procedure; the correct mode was to elect a praeses on the basis of the freeholders enrolled at the preceding Michaelmas head court, and then for the rights of other aspiring voters to be vetted by the electoral court thus constituted. The proceedings at the electoral court prompted the freeholders of Perth to petition the Commons, though their claim that following the illegal election of the praeses they ‘protested and withdrew’ rather oversimplified events. Lists of voters in the Atholl papers indicate that neither candidate was entirely restricted to old voters. Murray polled 12 new voters together with 24 freeholders who had voted for Stewart in 1708, plus two former Haldane voters and a further ten absentees from 1708. Haldane had 17 new voters, and his remaining 15 comprised those who had supported him in 1708.4

Haldane’s petition was never reported, and the election seemed to mark Atholl’s ascendancy in the county. Addresses of thanks for the peace, which the nobles, barons and freeholders sent up in 1712 and again in 1713 to flatter the ministry and damn its opponents, were organized at the Duke’s behest. But at the same time these expressions of cavalier prejudice tapped a deep vein of sentiment, what the 1712 address called ‘the inviolable loyalty of this shire’, and the conclusion that Atholl may have been following rather than leading opinion in this respect is suggested by the surprising turn of events at the next general election. True to his family’s politique tradition, he may have been beginning to draw back from the implications of extreme loyalism. Certainly in the Fifteen the family would once more divide itself between the two sides, Atholl himself and his second son, Lord James Murray† of Garth, adhering to Hanover while his heir, Lord Tullibardine, and another son joined the Jacobites. Preparations for the election of the younger Lord James were under way in November 1712, and his property qualification had been arranged by the end of the year. His uncle and namesake created difficulties by claiming a prior invitation from the freeholders and refused to step down. Murray of Dowally’s personal standing among local cavaliers had recently been enhanced by his patronage of a non-juring episcopalian minister at Dunkeld, and to Atholl’s dismay he succeeded in holding onto the seat. Details of the election are scant. The only known list simply records the participation of 45 freeholders without distinguishing votes on either side. It is clear from correspondence, however, that Breadalbane supported Atholl by instructing his own friends that any former votes for Murray of Dowally had been given in service of the Duke and that there was no betrayal in now transferring support to his son. In contrast Lord Nairne abandoned his former attitude and went out of his way to oppose Atholl, acting as the ‘main manager’ on behalf of Murray of Dowally. Also, John Mackenzie of Delvin (the praeses of 1708) appeared ‘openly’ for Dowally and played an invaluable role in counteracting false reports that he had given way to his nephew. At the electoral court itself Haldane and a number of his supporters played an equivocal role, aiding opponents of the Atholl interest in the election of a praeses and clerk but declining to vote in the main election. One Scottish newspaper initially reported that the ‘plurality’ gained by Dowally would not stand because protests had been entered against ‘near one half of his electors’. Atholl himself briefly considered making a double return, but backed down after Lord Chancellor Findlater counselled him that a Scottish sheriff was not ‘judge-competent’ of the poll and that the Commons took a dim view of peers meddling in elections. A petition was submitted instead, but was never reported. The promise to Dowally of an office that would have rendered him ineligible for re-election gave rise to expectations of a by-election in 1714. Yet, political changes caused by the Queen’s death prevented the confirmation of Dowally’s grant. In any event, he decided not to oppose his nephew at the 1715 election, when Sir Henry Stirling of Ardoch, one of Dowally’s leading supporters from 1713, stood instead. A cavalier and future Jacobite agent, Stirling reportedly polled some 40 votes to Garth’s 15. The sheriff on this occasion, being intent on proving his loyalty to the new regime, had no compunction about returning his son on the grounds that Stirling’s supporters had refused to take the oaths.5

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. J. Murray, [7th Duke of Atholl], Chrons. Atholl and Tullibardine Fams. i. 173, 303-4, 328; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/137, Haldane to Montrose, 30 Aug. 1707; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 14; HMC Portland, viii. 205-6; Crossrig Diary, 178; Hist. Scot. Parl. 204, 292-3, 306, 528-9, 533, 555-6; P. W. J. Riley, King Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 170-1; Riley, Union, 333-4; Atholl mss at Blair Atholl, box 45, bdle. II, no. 221, Gilbert Stewart to [Tullibardine], 8 Oct. 1702; bdle. 10, nos. 140, 153, John Fleming to [Atholl], 20 Nov., 5 Dec. 1712; box 45, bdle. 11, no. 160, Sir Patrick Murray to Atholl, 4 July, same to Ld. Edward Murray, 7 Aug. 1714; Buccleuch mss at Drumlanrig Castle, bdle. 1155, Seafield to Queensberry, 17 Sept. 1702; SRO, Hamilton mss GD406/1/7998, Atholl to 3rd Duchess of Hamilton, 7 Sept. 1707; Christ Church, Oxf. Wake mss 5, f. 13; Clarke thesis, 110.
  • 2. SRO, Breadalbane mss GD112/39/216/1, 24, Bute to Breadalbane, 3 May 1708, Dougal Stewart to same, n.d. [aft. 15 June 1708]; GD112/39/217/24, Ld. James Murray to same, 15 June 1708; SRO, Kinross House mss GD29/1951, Dougal Stewart to Sir William Bruce, 3 May 1708; Add. 61631, ff. 54, 166; 61628, f. 174; 9102, f. 74; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 438, 443; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss, GD124/859/1, Dupplin to Mar, 27 May 1708; GD124/831/12, Mar to Sir David Nairne, 8 June 1708; Edinburgh Courant, 16-18 June 1708; Atholl mss, box 42, bdle. II(4), no. 33, roll of freeholders, 15 June 1708.
  • 3. Breadalbane mss GD112/39/228/5, Leven to [Breadalbane], 5 May 1709; Atholl mss, box 45, bdle. 8, nos. 99, 109, [Breadalbane] to [Atholl], 6 Oct. 1709, Ld. James Murray of Dowally to same, 9 Nov. 1709; bdle. 9, nos. 46, 53, 57, 64, 74, 78-79, 89, 122, same to same, 18 Mar., 10 Apr. 1710, Breadalbane to [same], 27 Mar., 3 Apr. 1710, 5 Jan. 1711, Atholl to Breadalbane, 28 Mar. 1710, Ld. Blairhall to Atholl, 21 Apr. 1710, Lady Nairne to [Atholl], 13 Apr., 5 May 1710; Mar and Kellie mss GD124/992/1, William Nairne to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 11 Aug. 1710; HMC Portland, x. 254-5, 297-8; v. 240, 302.
  • 4. Atholl mss, box 45, bdle. II(4), no. 33, voters for Ld. James Murray in 1710; box 50, bdle. III(5), no. 2, rolls of Perthshire freeholders, 1708-22.
  • 5. Atholl mss, box 45, bdle. 10, nos. 132, 153, 176, Atholl to Ld. Oxford, 27 Oct. 1712, James Murray to Atholl, 28 Nov. 1712, John Mackewan to same, 22 Dec. 1712; bdle. 11, nos. 21, 138, 143, Ld. James Murray of Garth to [same], 6 June 1713, 29 July 1714, 28 Aug. 1714, John Fleming to [same], 23 Oct. 1713; Breadalbane mss GD112/39/270/25, Breadalbane to Colin [Campbell] of Ardconaig, n.d. 1713; GD112/39/269/19, Charles Tais to Breadalbane, 26 Sept. 1713; London Gazette, 22-25 Nov. 1712, 22-25 Aug. 1713; Add. 70249, Atholl to Ld. Oxford (Robert Harley*), 6 July 1713; D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 151; Scots Courant, 2-5 Oct., 2-4 Nov. 1713; SRO, Kennedy of Dalquharran mss GD27/3/24/4, Mungo Graham to Cornelius Kennedy, 12 Feb. 1715.