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:



 John Brisbane

Main Article

Although Ayrshire had a recent history of controverted elections to the Scottish parliament, the county remained relatively untroubled by political strife in the aftermath of the Union. The strong popular opposition to the treaty had been largely Presbyterian in origin, from an extreme covenanting element, but Presbyterians became reconciled to the Union in due course, on contemplation of the Jacobite alternative. On the other side, the episcopalian minority was too small to form a substantial political interest: the optimism displayed by the Jacobite agent Scot in 1706 in suggesting that, while the commons were ‘generally Whigs’, ‘many of the gentry are well affected’, was contradicted by a correspondent of Robert Harley* a year or so later, and effectively disproved by the poor response to the Fifteen, when Lord Kilmarnock was the only figure of note in the county to come out.1

At the 1708 election the sheriff, the Earl of Loudoun, a supporter of the Duke of Queensberry’s Scottish Court party, gave his interest to Hon. Francis Montgomerie, himself a Union commissioner and Court nominee to the first Parliament of Great Britain. Montgomerie might also have been expected to derive support from another influential Ayrshire magnate, namely his nephew, the Earl of Eglintoun. Notwithstanding the fact that Eglintoun had toed the Court line in the Union parliament, his episcopalian sympathies were now beginning to create tension in his political allegiance. Refusing to endorse his uncle’s candidacy, his choice fell instead on John Brisbane of Bishopton, a former commissioner to the Scottish parliament and a determined opponent of Union, whom the Jacobite agent Scot had extolled in 1706 as ‘a loyal, honest man and a close adherent to the country party’. Presumably Brisbane stood on an anti-Union platform, and it may have been the case that Eglintoun’s desertion of Montgomerie reflected dissatisfaction with the ministry’s growing reliance on the Whig Junto. Also, during the previous Parliament, Eglintoun had expressed fears about a legislative initiative to impose the Abjuration on Scottish voters, counselling Montgomerie in February 1708 to rein in his Whiggish sympathies and to be ‘among the forwardest’ in opposing such a manoeuvre ‘if he expects to be elected next Parliament’, not least because it would reduce the family’s electoral interest to some half-dozen voters. Although nothing came of the plan, it is conceivable that Eglintoun was dissatisfied with Montgomerie’s parliamentary conduct. As a counterweight to the loss of his uncle’s electoral patronage, Montgomerie was assured of support from the other major family in Ayrshire, the Dalrymples, earls of Stair, who were also political associates of Queensberry. With the backing of Loudoun and Stair, Montgomerie’s election was almost a foregone conclusion. None the less, the contest evidently went as far as a vote, for the minutes of the electoral court record that Montgomerie was chosen ‘by plurality’.2

Sufficient reconciliation had taken place by 1710 for Eglintoun and Montgomerie to agree upon the candidacy of the latter’s son, John Montgomerie II. This united front was sufficient to deter Sir Robert Montgomerie, 5th Bt., of Skelmorlie from standing. He had expressed an interest as early as March, and in the run-up to the election pestered his own uncle, Hugh Montgomerie*, until being informed in mid-September that he had ‘no hope’ because Eglintoun ‘had fixed on Mr Montgomerie’s eldest son . . . and was soliciting his friends for that end’. John Montgomerie was returned unopposed, by a court attended by 42 freeholders. He had not as yet developed a political persona distinct from that of his father, and kinship with the Court peer, the Earl of Seafield, ensured that at first he retained some association with the incoming Tory ministry. He could expect to retain Eglintoun’s support, and made sure of Loudoun’s with a submissive letter. By 1713, the young Montgomerie had transmuted into an Argathelian Whig. By itself this was sufficient to secure the continued backing of Loudoun. Eglintoun, by contrast, although unlikely to have gone as far as Jacobitism, had certainly come to adopt a resolutely Tory allegiance. His attitude to Montgomerie’s candidacy in 1713 remains uncertain, but such was the strength of feeling among the Presbyterian lairds that Eglintoun’s opinion was almost irrelevant. The 34 voters who attended the electoral court chose the same praeses as in 1710, and then proceeded to return Montgomerie without a hint of opposition. After he had given the court an account of ‘his behaviour in the last Parliament’, which was formally approved, with particular reference to ‘his care and support of the Presbyterian church as by law established’, he was elected ‘unanimously’.3

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. APS, ix. 110; x. 221, 225, 227, 235, 237; xi. 39, 43; NLS, ms 14498, f. 82; Lockhart Mems. ed. Szechi, 177-83; Christ Church, Oxf. Wake mss 5, f. 13; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 12; HMC Portland, viii. 373; HMC Hamilton, ii. 147; SRO, Stair mss GD135/141/1, Hon. William Dalrymple* to Stair, 14 Aug. 1714.
  • 2. P. W. J. Riley, Union, 330, 333; Sir W. Fraser, Memorials Earls of Eglinton, 327-8; Hist. Scot. Parl. 68; Orig. Pprs. 12; SRO, Eglinton mss GD3/5/869, Francis to Hugh Montgomerie, 17 May 1708; SRO, Ayr sheriff ct. recs. SC6/78/11, Ayr electoral ct. mins. 27 May 1708; Edinburgh Courant, 28-31 May 1708.
  • 3. Bute mss at Dumfries House, bdle. A234, John Montgomerie II to Loudoun, 30 Aug. 1710 (ex inf. Dr C. Jones); Eglinton mss GD3/5/847, bdle. B, Sir Robert to Hugh Montgomerie, 3 Mar., 7, 13 Sept. 1710, Hugh to Sir Robert Montgomerie, 11 Sept. 1710; Ayr sheriff ct. recs. SC6/78/11, electoral ct. mins. 3 Nov. 1710, 2 [Oct. 1713]; D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 87, 106, 132, 134, 158, 202.