OSWALD, James (d. 1716), of Dunnikier, Fife.

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



1710 - 1715

Family and Education

2nd s. of Thomas Oswald of Kirkcaldy, Fife.  m. bef. 1695, Isobel (d. aft. 1719) da. of Matthew Anderson, 1s.1

Offices Held

Burgess, Kirkcaldy by 1689, Edinburgh 1706; dean of guild, Kirkcaldy by 1702, provost 1706–8, 1710–12, 1714–15.2

MP [S], Kirkcaldy 1702–7.


The son of a Kirkcaldy skipper, Oswald followed his father’s trade and became a wealthy merchant captain. In 1689, when a mere burgess, he presented a successful petition on behalf of the burgh to the Scottish privy council for a discharge of tax arrears and future abatement of assessment. Elected to the Scottish parliament for Kirkcaldy in 1702, by which time he was a dean of guild, he also became the burgh’s customary representative at the convention of royal burghs. His increasing wealth was indicated by the purchase of Dunnikier in 1703. In parliament he acted with the cavalier wing of the Country party, voting in favour of the Duke of Hamilton’s motion for deferring a decision on the succession in 1704. Having been elected provost of Kirkcaldy in 1706, he voted against the Union in the Scottish parliament. In October he sought approval for this conduct from his constituents, who left this matter to his own judgment. He was summoned home in January 1707 on the ostensible grounds of the ‘vast expense’ of his attendance. The burgh expressed gratitude, however, for his efforts in securing a local tax for the improvement of the harbour.3

Oswald declined to stand for the British Parliament either in 1708 or at a by-election in 1710. On the latter occasion, he supported Hamilton’s candidate, James Abercromby*, partly out of loyalty, but also with a view to obtaining the Duke’s influence at court over redress for the seizure of one of Oswald’s ships. On 4 Mar. 1709 the Isobel had been attacked by an Algerian cruiser. The captain, Oswald’s nephew Henry, had initially responded to the threat by hoisting Danish colours; at the last minute, or so he claimed, he raised British colours, and immediately produced documentation verifying the ship’s true nationality. This version of events was denied by the Algerian captain: the ship and its cargo were deemed a legitimate prize, and the crew sold into slavery. Despite pressure on the British government from Lords Weymss and Sinclair, who were part-owners of the ship, it only proved possible to secure the release of the 12 Britons in the crew. Neither the cargo, nor the crew-members of other nationalities, were released. Henry Oswald reported from Algiers in December 1709 that he suspected the British consul was not pressing matters vigorously for fear of losing profitable concessions in the corn trade. After being released from Algiers, he returned to Kirkaldy and renewed his depositions on 11 Apr. 1710. The same day, Lord Sinclair transmitted to Hamilton ‘my own and friends in Kirkcaldy, their humble acknowledgements to your lordship about our ship’.4

Oswald’s gratitude towards Hamilton did not last until the next election, when Kirkcaldy was due to preside and his own influence would be paramount. In the words of Hamilton’s agent, Oswald’s return to the provostship in 1710 made him ‘the only man who can carry the election of that district’. It was hoped that he might renew his support for Abercromby, but Oswald (having declined a personal interview with the Duke) was unanimously elected. He was classified as an episcopal Tory in the analysis of the Scottish elections by the Duchess of Buccleuch’s chaplain, Richard Dongworth.5

Oswald made no known speech in the Commons, and only once was he ever directly involved in the initiation of legislation: on 19 Mar. 1711 when he was named to assist in drafting a bill to regulate the Scottish linen industry. He voted against Mungo Graham* over the Kinross-shire election on 10 Feb., when it was also noted that Oswald was one of those Scots who had ‘never spared one Whig in their votes, since they came here’. He was listed as a ‘Tory patriot’ who opposed the war, and as a ‘worthy patriot’ who had assisted in detecting the mismanagements of the previous administration. On 7 Feb. 1712 he voted in favour of the Scottish toleration bill. In May his constituents responded to his call for a loyal address in support of the peace, but Oswald later opposed the French commerce bill, voting on 4 June 1713 against the second reading and against the engrossment on the 18th. On an English list of the latter division, he was incorrectly described as a Whig.6

Oswald was re-elected in 1713, being classified as a Jacobite (a catch-all description) in the list sent to Hanover by Lord Polwarth. He made no mark in this Parliament, apart from registering a vote on 12 May 1714 against extending the schism bill to outlaw Catholic education. He did not stand in 1715, and appears in the Worsley list as a former Tory Member. His classification by one modern historian as a ‘probable Jacobite’ is based solely on his parliamentary activity. In the absence of any stronger evidence, he should be described as a Scottish Tory. Moreover, as provost of Kirkcaldy in 1714, Oswald concurred in the council’s unanimous decision, motivated by ‘true and just principles of loyalty’, to celebrate the coronation of George I. Oswald died in 1716. It was his grandson not his son (both named James) who sat for Dysart Burghs in George II’s reign.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: David Wilkinson


  • 1. S. P. Anderson, unpublished ped. of Oswald fam. (R. Commn. on Hist. Mss); Hist. Scot. Parl. 557.
  • 2. Reg. PC Scotland 1689, p. 487; Scot. Rec. Soc. lxxii. 156; Hist. Scot. Parl. 557; L. MacBean, Kirkcaldy Burgh Recs. 53; info. from C. Bell, Fife Council.
  • 3. Anderson; Reg. PC Scotland 1689, pp. 487–9; MacBean, 53, 226–7; R. Sibbald, Hist. Sheriffdoms of Fife and Kinross, 125; info. from Dr P. W. J. Riley on members of Scot. parl.; Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. app. 42; Lockhart Mems. ed. Szechi, 162, 165, 169; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 334; APS, xi. 335.
  • 4. Add. 61535, ff. 138–81; SRO, Hamilton mss GD406/1/5606, Sinclair to Hamilton, 11 Apr. 1710.
  • 5. Hamilton mss GD406/1/5644–6, Oswald to Duke of Hamilton, 18 Oct. 1710, [Abercromby] to [same], [?3] Oct. 1710, John Hamilton to same, 3 Oct. 1710; SHR, lx. 65.
  • 6. SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/808/18a–b, Graham to Montrose, 13 Feb. 1711; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 5, f. 128; Post Boy, 17–19 July 1712; Parlty. Hist. i. 69.
  • 7. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 201; MacBean, 234; Hist. Scot. Parl. 557; Scot. Rec. Soc. viii. 263; Services of Heirs (ser. 1), i. 1720–9, p. 23; 1730–9, p. 28; Anderson.