MACKENZIE, George (c.1662-1760), of Inchcoulter, Balconie, Kiltearn, Ross.
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Family and Education
b. c.1662, 1st s. of Alexander Mackenzie of Inchcoulter, being o. s. by his 1st w. Katherine, da. of William Mackenzie of Belmathudie, Knockbairn, Ross. m. c.June 1695 (with 5,000 merks), Anne, da. of Mackenzie of Fairburn, Ross, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da. suc. fa. ?1687.1
MP [S] Ross-shire 1704–7.
Sheriff depute Ross-shire by 1704, provost, Fortrose 1710–132.
Collector, rents and duties, earldom of Ross and lordship of Ardmarnock by 1715.3
A nephew of Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh (d. 1691), who in the office of king’s advocate in Scotland between 1677 and 1686 had made a formidable reputation not only as a jurist but also as a ruthless servant of the Stuart monarchy, George Mackenzie seems to have adopted his uncle’s exaggerated devotion to the crown and to an episcopalian church (expressed after the Revolution in a preference for ministers who would use an Anglican liturgy). Both in his writings and in his administration of justice the advocate had ‘screwed up’ the royal prerogative to new heights, so much so that he had been stigmatized as ‘bloody Mackenzie’ by the Covenanters whom he harried so violently. Until Queen Anne’s reign the laird of Inchcoulter dwelt in relative obscurity, contracting a marriage with a young lady of modest fortune, reading some Roman history and even finding the resolve to pursue the study of his uncle’s Institutes. However, marriage and parenthood soon concentrated his mind upon more material things. In 1702 he approached the Earl of Cromarty (then Viscount Tarbat), whom he addressed as his patron, for ‘advice and assistance’ to a suitable post, ‘whereby I may in some measure or capacity . . . be more serviceable to your lordship and family than hitherto I have been’. Probably thanks to Cromarty’s influence, he was appointed sheriff depute for Ross-shire and in 1704 was nominated as a commissioner of supply. As sheriff depute he was immediately embroiled in controversy, accused by political opponents of failing to prosecute the mob responsible for the rabbling of a Presbyterian minister at Dingwall, and instead turning his powers against those who came to ‘countenance’ the minister. The same year he was returned to the Scottish parliament at a by-election for the county, as representative of the clan Mackenzie in their long-running political feud with the Ross and Munro families. He and his opponent, David Ross of Balnagown, were both returned, and the parliament adjudicated in his favour. At first his cavalier sentiments seem to have been denied full expression in debate, his freedom of action compromised, perhaps, by Cromarty’s ambiguous relationship with the ministry. Over the succession question in 1704 he was able to resolve whatever difficulties had arisen, by the expedient of withdrawing. In the following year he did identify himself openly with the Country opposition, even though the need for employment remained (and prompted further applications from him to Cromarty). He joined Atholl’s protest in September 1705 against the Act for a treaty of union, and Scot, the Jacobite agent, regarded him as ‘a loyal, honest man’, who ‘stands firm with the Country party’. In the Union parliament he voted consistently with opposition, save for a few abstentions.4
Although Mackenzie continued to take an active part in local politics, assisting his family at elections in Ross-shire and in the struggle that developed in the county in 1709 over membership of the commission of the peace, it was not until 1710 that he was returned to Westminster. As provost of Fortrose, one of the participating burghs, he was elected for the Inverness district. In financial terms, he was unsure as to whether he had made the right decision. To a kinsman, John Mackenzie of Delvin, a writer to the signet who undertook estate business for him, he at length confided:
I wanted courage hitherto to tell you, who knows the state of my health, estate and family so well, that I have adventured to take a commission from the district of [Inverness] to represent them in Parliament . . . If this prove not well, like the bairns, I must say I’ll never do the like again, but if I have a voice in settling the monarchy and Church interest, I have what I most desire.
Richard Dongworth, the Duchess of Buccleuch’s chaplain, described him as an episcopal Tory in an analysis of the newly elected Scottish Members, and he was also classified as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’. A member of the October Club, he was listed among the ‘worthy patriots’ who exposed the mismanagements of the old ministry, and the ‘Tory patriots’ who opposed the continuation of the war. He was not overawed by the Commons, writing to John Mackenzie on 27 Dec. 1710 that
as yet nothing I hear or see makes me the least disesteem our country, and I must say the procedure of our parliament seemed to me more grave and august than that here. May God forgive those who occasioned the removing of that judicature so far from us.
His prime interest seems to have been in securing some legislative relief for episcopalian clergy in Scotland, though he realized there was little chance that anything would be done quickly. On 10 Feb. 1711 he gleefully divided against Mungo Graham* in the disputed election for Kinross-shire, and he was almost certainly the ‘Mr Mackenzie’ who acted as a teller. Of sufficient prominence to have been included on 5 Apr. (alongside John Carnegie and George Lockhart) in the drafting committee for a bill to regulate elections in Scotland, he nearly succeeded in securing a place on the commission of inquiry into crown grants of forfeited estates. Presumably one of the October Club’s candidates in the ballot, he tied for the seventh and last commissionership with another club member, William Wrightson (having been given the benefit of a vote for a ‘Mr Mackenzie’ which the scrutinizing committee allowed him), but was defeated in a run-off. His overall contribution to the Tory cause had persuaded Sir Alexander Areskine, 2nd Bt.*, to recommend him to Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley*) as ‘a gentleman of as good sense as any representative of Scotland’. Lord Mar, it was asserted, would also ‘speak for him’. A place in customs and excise appears to have been Mackenzie’s immediate objective, and he continued to remind Cromarty of his pretensions.5
Mackenzie became even more vocal in his Tory opinions during the following session. After the passage of the censure against the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) in January 1712, he reassured John Mackenzie that
the monarchy and church should be free of all danger. There is no public account of the progress at Utrecht, but you see the Commons have foiled the invincible Duke, and this night they have voted the Dutch, in a full committee, deficient in advancing their quotas of men and money, which will load the last ministry.
Again he was busy in support of measures to relieve episcopalians, often working alongside Areskine, John Carnegie and others within the inner circle of Scottish Tory Members. He voted on 7 Feb. 1712 in favour of the toleration bill, and was one of the prime movers for a bill to restore the ‘Yule Vacance’ (the Christmas recess of the court of session, which had been abolished by a Presbyterian-inspired act of the Scottish parliament). Mackenzie was named on 13 Mar. to the drafting committee for the bill to restore lay patronage in Scotland. It seems probable that he (rather than Alexander Mackenzie of Fraserdale) was the teller on 10 Apr. against Sir John Anstruther, 1st Bt.*, in the Anstruther Easter Burghs election case. Soon afterwards he accompanied Fraserdale to Bath. They were obliged to return by a call of the House but on 17 May Mackenzie succeeded in obtaining a grant of a month’s leave of absence and promptly ‘went down’ to Scotland, leaving Mar to restate the arguments on his behalf to Lord Oxford for some timely preferment. ‘Allow me to put you in mind of George Mackenzie’, he wrote,
whom you marked down last year as fit to be of the customs, or, failing of that, in some other post. I believe Lord Dupplin [George Hay*] has mentioned him to your lordship several times since . . . He is a very honest man and capable of that or any other proper post there. It is not far now to new elections, and if those who were serviceable in the last be not minded and something done for them, we will come but ill speed in the next.6
By this time Mackenzie’s enthusiasm for parliamentary affairs was wearing thin. He told John Mackenzie in July 1712 that ‘my demands from the public are modest; and if the monarchy is in its true channel, and the Church free from the stains of pres[bytery], I have my wish; though my wife’s friends in this country [Scotland] think I have ventured too much of my children’s bread that way’. In 1713, in what was to prove his last session as a Member, he registered no significant involvement in Commons’ business. Since he was ill at home in Fortrose till at least March 1713, he may well not have attended at all; he was certainly absent for the two divisions on the bill confirming the 8th and 9th articles of the French commercial treaty, on 4 and 18 June, and was in Edinburgh by 1 July.7
Mackenzie continued to assist Tory interests locally. In the 1713 general election, about which Lord Mar had previously been so anxious, Mackenzie received informal backing from ministers, but not the practical help he had begged for his supporters in Inverness. An approach to Mar to recommend the nomination of a Tory to the customs collection in the burgh yielded nothing, and in all probability this snub played a part in Mackenzie’s exclusion in the district, to the benefit of William Steuart*. Lord Ilay represented the outcome as the replacement of a Jacobite by a loyal Hanoverian, basing his denunciation of Mackenzie on the fact that the outgoing Member was the person responsible for sending up to court in June 1713 the Inverness burgh address on the peace, which, with its reference to the hereditary line of succession, Ilay saw as overtly, not to say ‘violently’ disloyal. The same ascription of Jacobitism to Mackenzie has been made by a modern historian, though without supporting evidence. Mackenzie’s own comments, regarding the return of monarchy to its ‘true channel’, are suggestive but insufficiently precise.8
There is every reason to suppose that the loss of his parliamentary seat, which he did not even contest in 1715, and at the same time the collectorship of the earldom of Ross, which Lord Cromarty had previously granted him, would have made Mackenzie at least discontented with the Hanoverian regime. He was arrested at the time of the Fifteen, together with the 2nd Earl of Cromarty, but no ‘actual rebellion’ could be proved against either, and through the intercession of Simon Fraser they were immediately released on parole, Mackenzie promising in return to do all he could to assist Fraser in his claim to the barony and estate of Lovat. It was, he wrote, ‘a seasonable relief to my broken health, which would not bear confinement’, but he was still distressed by the predicament of so many of his fellow clansmen, and by ‘the calamity of our country and people’. ‘I still depend’, he wrote to John Mackenzie, ‘when you are at Edinburgh on your endeavours to ward off any other attack a malicious information may suggest upon me, for as I’m innocent of public crimes I never industriously endeavoured to disoblige anybody’. Two years later he was again lamenting his ‘broken health’ and the accumulating debts which had attracted the vultures to his estate in the expectation that he would soon be forced to sell up. He even wrote to a former opponent in Ross-shire elections, Hon. Charles Ross*, with assurances that he would ‘embrace any opportunity to do you service’ and asking to be remembered to ‘our old worthy Speaker, Mr Bromley [William II*]’. Despite these early intimations of mortality, Mackenzie remained in possession of his estate and able to contribute something to the Mackenzie interest for many years. In 1732 he was named as one of a covey of Mackenzies allegedly preparing to break from their clan and absent themselves from the forthcoming by-election for Ross-shire in order to facilitate the election of a Munro, but eight years later he backed Lord Seaforth and Lord Cromarty in co-ordinating the defence of those clansmen under threat of prosecution for violence at the Dingwall burgh election. By the time of the Forty-Five he was of course an old man, and although there is some indication that he was sympathetic to the Jacobite cause he again made no move to identify himself with it. His one surviving comment, made in July 1746, offers more ambiguity: ‘our triumphant Duke [Cumberland] is now left us, and the rebels dispersed, and in the greatest misery; our last scheme is, that three independent companies are gone to our west Highlands to scour these countries . . . may God preserve the innocent!’9
Mackenzie died ‘at his seat in Ross-shire’ 1 Apr. 1760, at the ripe age of 98. ‘He was quite free of pain’, his son recorded, ‘but spoke none for eight days before, nor opened his eyes.’ The ‘great load of debt’ he left behind him threatened the integrity of the estate but did not devour it immediately. Inchcoulter eventually passed in 1790 to a granddaughter. She married late in life, and her widower sold up.10
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. D. Mackenzie, Gen. Tables of Clan Mackenzie, sheet 11; NLS, ms 1345, ff. 5, 357.
- 2. SRO, Fortrose burgh recs. B28/8/1, council mins. 1706–26, pp. 39, 51, 58.
- 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 723.
- 4. DNB (Mackenzie, Sir George); NLS, ms. 1345, ff. 5–6, 53, 76; Cromartie Corresp. i. 153–7; info. from Dr P. W. J. Riley on members of Scot. parl.; APS, xi. 151, 236–7; SRO, Cromartie mss GD305/1/159/7, ‘Info. for Lord Ross, Balnagown and Foulis against the Mackenzies’, 1709; SRO, Balnagown Castle mss GD129/box 30/116/46A, ‘Info. for Balnagown’, 29 June 1705; HMC Portland, iv. 202.
- 5. NLS, ms 1345, ff. 92, 97, 106, 110–12; Cromartie mss GD305 addit./bdle. 12, Sir James Mackenzie to [Cromarty], 24 May 1708; GD305/1/168/21, Ross-shire electoral ct. mins. 3 Mar. 1710; GD305 addit./bdle. 14, Mackenzie to [Cromarty], 21 Sept. 1711; SHR, lx. 65; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 5, f. 128; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/808/18a–b, Graham to Montrose, 13 Feb. 1711; HMC Portland, x. 462–3; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 178–9.
- 6. NLS, ms 1345, ff. 116–18; NSA, Kreienberg despatch 14 Mar. 1712; Boyer, Anne Annals, x. 371; Cromartie mss GD305 addit./bdle. 14, Mackenzie to [Cromarty], 3 May 1712; HMC Portland, 267.
- 7. NLS, ms 1345, ff. 120, 122–3, 126; Parlty. Hist. i. 69.
- 8. Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 84–85; NLS, ms 1345, f. 124; 9241, f. 36; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1112/2, [?W] Robertson to Mackenzie, 26 Dec. 1713; GD124/15/1112/1, Mackenzie to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 28 Dec. 1713; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP F54, ff. 8–9; D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 201; Szechi thesis, app.
- 9. Cromartie Corresp. ii. 283; NLS, ms 1345, ff. 138, 149, 203, 264, 284; Balnagown castle mss GD129/box 29/110, Mackenzie to [Ross], 27 Feb. 1718; More Culloden Pprs. ed. Warrand, iii. 79; v. 24.
- 10. Scots Mag. 1760, p. 158; NLS, ms 1345, ff. 412, 419; Gen. Table, sheet 11.