Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

103 in 1790, 21 in 1794, 49 in 1811


3 Aug. 1802CHARLES GRANT I15
 John Simon Frederick Fraser11
 Arthur Forbes6
16 Mar. 1819 GRANT re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

The second half of the 18th century saw a great multiplication of nominal votes in Inverness-shire. Those mainly responsible were the 4th Duke of Gordon, whose brother Lord William Gordon* won the seat in 1784, and Gen. Simon Fraser of Lovat, chief of his clan, who had occupied it for over 20 years until his death in 1782. When Lawrence Hill surveyed the situation he accorded Gordon the numerically dominant interest, with 31 votes. By his reckoning the Frasers commanded 15, but he noted that the new chief, Archibald Campbell Fraser, the general’s half-brother, had less influence with the clan than the trustees of the family estates, James Fraser of Gortuleg, Alexander Fraser of Strichen and James Fraser of Belladrum. Two other significant interests belonged to Lord Macdonald of Sleat (the ‘Lord of the Isles’), whose brother Archibald Macdonald* was Pitt’s attorney-general, and Norman Macleod of Dunvegan, chief of the clan Macleod, who had been on active military service in India since 1781. Sir James Grant* also carried considerable weight as chief of his clan.1

In 1785 Macleod, whose voters had opposed Gordon the previous year, wrote to Macdonald, Grant, the Duke of Argyll and Alexander Chisholm of Chisholm urging them to form an alliance to resist the Gordons’ threat to monopolize the representation. When new military regulations stripped him of his Indian brevet rank of major-general in 1788 he decided to return home, hoping to secure a seat in Parliament as a step towards obtaining restitution; and before leaving India, he evidently wrote a sweetening letter to Gordon, whose response was studiously non-committal. His principal abettor in the field was William Macleod Bannatyne, a lawyer whose closest Edinburgh associates were distinctly Whiggish. Henry Mackenzie (the ‘Man of Feeling’) trusted neither of them and advised his brother-in-law Sir James Grant, who had recently bound himself to Henry Dundas, to treat their feelers with extreme circumspection:

when Mr Dundas formed the plan to which you acceded ... the only circumstance on the ground of which Inverness-shire was reserved, was your prior engagement to your friends there; and it would seem odd ... for you now to enter into any new engagement, by which a contest would be stirred up there for a candidate who will probably be in opposition to government, and certainly in opposition to Mr Dundas’s wishes.

For their part, the leading Scottish Whigs concluded in 1789 that there was no party game to be played in the county after the defection of Macdonald and Grant to government.2

Macleod arrived home late in 1789 and secured Dundas’s ‘full support’, on condition that he ‘did not interfere with the views of the Duke of Gordon’. His major obstacle was ‘a sort of engagement’ between Gordon and the Frasers, whereby a Fraser candidate was to have the seat at the next election, or a Gordon nominee if the duke promised to support Campbell Fraser’s son John Simon Frederick, known as ‘young Lovat’, at the one after. Fraser of Lovat himself was in the field, but the lack of harmony between him and the Fraser trustees gave Macleod room to manoeuvre. On 28 Jan. 1790 Bannatyne told him that a meeting of 11 Frasers under Edward Simon Fraser of Raelig had agreed to support him:

The duke’s engagement ... is not to Lovat but the clan. They for the present, at least the great body of them ... are not for him but for you. In supporting you therefore with their approbation ... the duke on the strictest ideas of honour will fulfil his engagements. His brother for the present he cannot propose, except on some new arrangement suited to the views of the Frasers ... But the Frasers insist to have the succession secured for young Lovat. That cannot be effectually done, but with the concurrence of the duke, and it seems too much to expect that he should tie himself down for two parliaments successively; while such a settlement, should it be made agreeable to his Grace, would not perhaps on your part be altogether proper to Sir James Grant who has acted so handsomely towards you, to Lord Macdonald or even to the county at large.

Bannatyne advised Macleod to try to beat down the Frasers ‘from insisting on absolute engagement’ as to young Lovat’s succession to the seat, and to persuade them ‘to bet on the chance that their young chief may be then agreeable to the county, with an assurance that you will not personally stand in the way’, leaving the actual arrangement ‘to be matter of future adjustment between the duke, Sir James Grant and the Frasers’. Macleod accordingly addressed the Frasers, soliciting support and declaring in general terms his goodwill towards young Lovat, but the consequences of his initial approach to the Gordons, when he nearly overreached himself, forced him to tie himself down with the Frasers more explicitly than he had wished. The Duchess of Gordon took umbrage at his letter, which she regarded as an attempt to dictate to her husband, and promptly wrote to Fraser of Raelig pledging support for young Lovat at the election after next, if the clan would acquiesce in Lord William Gordon’s retention of the seat. Macleod sought to repair the damage by explaining to the duke, who had evidently taken less offence than his wife, that he had merely meant to say that ‘it would be a much more hazardous endeavour in your Grace to bring in a connexion from the south to represent the highland clans than one of the lords of your family’, and requesting him to rescind the duchess’s pledge to the Frasers, which would be seen as ‘an exclusive bargain between two families against all the rest, subverting and annihilating all their consequence’. According to Macleod’s cousin Alexander Brodie*, Gordon was strongly pressed by Dundas to adopt Macleod ‘as the best means of dissolving a bond of union with the Frasers with which he would be hampered for 14 years to come’. The duke was reluctant to set his brother aside and asked whether Macleod might not be accommodated elsewhere, but he eventually gave way to the extent that he promised to ‘give his interest to the man who shall be approved of by the clan Fraser’. In a letter to Fraser of Raelig intended for circulation among the clan, Macleod pledged himself ‘to bring young Lovat into Parliament for the next time’. To strengthen his bid, he added in a private aside:

Is it certain the duke will be able to bring Simon in for Inverness-shire next election? Is not my promise to bring him into Parliament, whether for the county or elsewhere, a better promise for him?

Early in March the Frasers agreed to support Macleod on the understanding that he would secure the return to Parliament of young Lovat, or any other named by the clan, after three-and-a-half years, or his election for the county for the Parliament after next. Bannatyne had slight reservations about the undertaking, which he thought might appear to some of Macleod’s supporters, particularly Grant and Macdonald, ‘as a continuance of the same exclusive league which they looked up to you as the means of breaking’. Gordon pledged his interest to Macleod, and Fraser of Lovat stood down, though he complained to Dundas that he had been robbed of the seat by the maladroitness of the Duchess of Gordon and Fraser of Raelig.3

Before the election meeting, when Macleod was returned without opposition, he and others who wished to eradicate the parchment votes which threatened to swamp the county resolved to put the trust oath to every known suspect voter who presented himself. None appeared, but Arthur Forbes of Culloden was appointed to ask the leading proprietors to withdraw their fictitious voters, failing which they would be struck off the roll at the Michaelmas head court. No decisive replies were received before the meeting, 5 Oct. 1790, when Macleod and Forbes secured the annulment of over 70 fictitious votes (including those belonging to Macleod himself), which reduced the roll to about 20. Macleod wrote to Gordon and Argyll vindicating the action and offering them the option of re-enrolling their voters, if they were prepared to submit to the usual processes of objection at the next head court. As Macleod had feared, Gordon lodged a protest with the court of session against the removal of the voters without due notice, and in June 1791 the court ordered their reinstatement. It is nevertheless clear that the number of voters on the roll fell significantly in the next 20 years.4

Macleod broke with Pitt and Dundas in 1791 and went over to opposition, subsequently joining the Friends of the People. As expected, Simon Fraser of Lovat came forward in 1796 and was returned unopposed, his only potential rival, Alastair Macdonell of Glengarry, having declined to press his claims when he discovered that Dundas had already endorsed Fraser.5

Fraser’s prolonged absences on military duty in Ireland created discontent in the county and provided James Grant of Redcastle and Hugh Grant of Moy with the chance to restore the Grant interest, on the pretext that the freeholders required a man of business who would attend more closely to local affairs. In the summer of 1800 they approached their kinsman Charles Grant, who had been born in the county in humble circumstances, but had not lived there for almost 50 years, and who, having made money in India, was a powerful figure at East India House. Grant’s evangelical temperament inclined him to search his conscience minutely as to the rectitude of his standing, and his doubts on the score of duty were compounded by his awareness that he had no property in the county. A consultation with his friend Dundas led him to believe that the minister ‘had no indisposition’ to him, but further prolonged reflection persuaded him that his standing, even though the idea was not his own, would ‘expose me to the imputation of stretching myself beyond the pretensions which become me’, and he recommended Redcastle to Dundas and Sir James Grant as a fitter candidate. On his recovery from illness in the autumn of 1801, Grant discovered that Moy and Redcastle had undertaken an active and promising canvass in his name. After another inner debate he submitted to Moy’s ultimatum, deciding that his duty to the interest of the clan rendered his personal reservations of minor account. Having once resolved to stand, Grant acted with characteristic energy. He arranged the purchase of an estate at Waternish and, to those who were disposed to regard him as an intruder, stressed the strict legality of his voting qualification:

Nor have I been influenced by a design of making the interests of a name the ground of contention ... It is obviously, and indeed avowedly, and I may say entirely, a clan interest on which Lovat stands ... I have been brought forward by those who wished to break through the monopoly, not to say despotism ... If the practice that has prevailed ever since the Union is to continue, it tends to render the representation hereditary in a very few families.

According to Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus, her father John Peter Grant* canvassed the county, but was bought off by Charles Grant’s promise of ‘unlimited Indian appointments’. Young Lovat decided to resist Grant’s challenge and a third candidate appeared in the shape of Forbes of Culloden who, according to Grant’s biographer, was put up by Chisholm, Macdonell and Aeneas Mackintosh of Mackintosh, the leaders of a group of local landowners described by the Grants as the ‘Secret Chieftain League’. Dundas appears to have remained neutral. Only 32 votes were cast and Grant beat Fraser by four, with Forbes relegated to third place. One of Fraser’s supporters later attributed his defeat to ‘desertions in the clan and an union between Culloden and Grant whereby nine bad votes were admitted’, while another observer reckoned that ‘a coalition was projected between Lovat and Culloden, but Lovat’s barons of the Fraser name would not transfer’. Fraser prepared to petition, but gave up the idea on discovering that the best he could hope for was to void the election, which would necessitate a re-run to which his health was not equal.6

Grant, who prided himself on his independence, was regarded with enough suspicion by the ‘Talents’ for them to consider backing his declared rival Archibald Macdonald, nephew of the former attorney-general (who was now lord chief baron) as early as May 1806. Grant hoped that his avowed intention to support them as ministers of the crown ‘where I can, without binding myself to go with them’ on all occasions, would deter them from molesting him, ‘though the private connections of the Macdonald family will no doubt seek to influence the men who have now a lead in the affairs of Scotland’. Ministers nevertheless continued to encourage Macdonald, and in October 1806 Earl Spencer had a meeting with Lord Seaforth, who had been trying for some time to make inroads in Inverness-shire. Seaforth clarified his views to the Home secretary, 21 Oct.:

I have no direct interest ... but I have some very attached friends ... I am by no means sure that any proper opportunity will offer for my interference and having no personal feeling as to the county, I merely wished to know your lordship’s wishes that I might not unintentionally play the marplot; there are very few voters that can attend, of these few many will not take the oath and others can be questioned. One of the parties is of very old established interest and family, the other is rich, of good name, but personally of rather low extraction and highlanders are fond of rank and family. Altogether it is far from impossible but openings may occur for a successful coup de main and your lordship may be assured that for my own sake I would not interfere unless I saw clearly that such interference would be attended with success.

Spencer replied next day that ‘any assistance which you can afford’ to Macdonald ‘will be esteemed as acceptable’; but Macdonald subsequently found that he could muster only seven votes and did not go to a poll.7

He did not oppose Grant in 1807, though he threatened to stand on a future occasion. In 1810 Simon Fraser, younger brother of Lord Saltoun, was encouraged by his mother to sound Lord Melville about a possible attempt on the county, but he died the following year and there was no disturbance in 1812. When Grant handed over to his son in 1818 there were some rumblings of discontent, but at the election meeting John Norman Macleod, son of the former Member, ‘cheerfully’ waived his pretensions to the seat.8

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, pp. 172-82.
  • 2. I. F. Grant, Macleods, 519-20; Bk. of Dunvegan ed. Macleod, ii. 37; Macleod mss, box 38c, Gordon to Macleod, 1 Aug. 1789; Sir W. Fraser, Chiefs of Grant, ii. 505-6; Ginter, Whig Organization, 119.
  • 3. Macleod mss, box 38c, Macleod to Grant, 23 Jan., to Gordon, 6 Feb., 12 Mar., to Fraser of Raelig, 16 Feb., to Fraser of Lovat, 7 Mar., to Dundas, 17 Mar., Bannatyne to Macleod, 28 Jan., 12 Mar., Duchess of Gordon to same [3 Feb.], Brodie to same, 25 Feb., Lovat to same, 8 Mar. 1790; NLS mss 1, f. 21; SRO GD51/16/81.
  • 4. Edinburgh Advertiser, 30 July-3 Aug. 1790; HMC Laing, ii. 536-41; Grant, 522-5.
  • 5. SRO GD51/1/198/11/1; NLS mss 5, f. 65; 1053, ff. 60, 65.
  • 6. Fraser, ii. 512-15, 520-1; H. Morris, Charles Grant (1904), 274-80; Mems. of Highland Lady ed. Lady Strachey, 62; Blair Adam mss, A. Fraser to Adam, 4 Aug.; SRO GD46/17/21, E.S. Fraser to Seaforth, 12 Aug.; Edinburgh Advertiser, 7 Dec. 1802.
  • 7. Fortescue mss, Lauderdale to Grenville [16 June 1806]; Morris, 288-9; Spencer mss.
  • 8. Edinburgh Advertiser, 8-12 May 1807, 7 Aug. 1818; SRO GD51/6/1738; Morris, 290-1.