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

Alternated with Kinross-shire

Number of voters:

21 in 17081


 Hon. Charles Rosse8
18 Sept. 1713SIR JOHN ERSKINE, Bt. 

Main Article

The 1708 election in Clackmannanshire was fought between stage armies of faggot voters, brought into being by the rivalry of the Duke of Argyll and the Earl of Mar. Between them, these magnates accounted for a great majority of the new charters issued prior to the election, and were therefore largely responsible for increasing the electorate to 23 freeholders. Indeed, Mar’s first thoughts, in this duel by proxy, had turned to the possibility of creating new voters, as he explained to his brother Lord Grange SCJ (Hon. James Erskine†) in January 1708:

As to . . . Clackmannanshire, I would have you to consider how many barons I can make and let me know the scheme of it that I may take my resolutions in that matter. You may tell me at the same time what inconveniences there may be in it and I will think of the proper persons to entrust. You may be one of them yourself and I will find out the rest; the more I could make, the better.

Unfounded fears that the bill under consideration by Parliament for the regulation of elections would be too ‘strict’ to permit the ‘making new electors’ proved only a temporary blight, and by May both Mar and Argyll were manufacturing support. The only question for Mar was the identity of his nominee. After losing his first choice, Colonel James Bruce, to a combination of intimidation by Argyll and delay in settling the candidate’s own voting qualification, he settled upon Hon. William Dalrymple, whose recent purchase of a share in the county’s sheriffdom afforded an extra safeguard in the event of any dispute.2

When the freeholders’ court met on 16 June 1708 the three barons already enrolled (Erskine, Lord Tillicoultrie and Abercromby of Tullybody) were immediately joined by two others, both supporters of Dalrymple, whose claim to vote was of long standing but who for some reason had not been included in the previous roll. Their inclusion was put to a vote, in which Erskine was revealed to be in the minority in opposition. His likely hostility over the election had already been a cause of anxiety to Mar’s interest, given that in the previous Parliament Dalrymple had been identified as a client of the Duke of Montrose and thus a member of the Squadrone. He now signalled his commitment to the cause of Argyll’s candidate, Hon. Charles Rosse* (a brother of the 12th Lord Ross), by single-handedly entering a protest at the conduct of the sheriff depute, in allegedly delaying the court so as to give an opportunity for more charters to be issued and more signatures to pass the Scottish exchequer for spurious electors to qualify themselves. This protest having been brushed aside, the roll was made up with no less than 18 additions, 12 of which were based on charters issued within the preceding two months. Only one new voter was qualified on the basis of a retour of his service as heir. Dalrymple and his partner as sheriff, Alexander Inglis, relied on a decree covering the estate they had bought with the sheriffdom. The remainder were faggots: a trio of barons in Erskine’s pocket (including Rosse himself); five from Argyll’s interest, all bar one being Campbells; and seven from Mar’s, among whom were numbered Lord Grange and three other Erskines. Whereas all of Mar’s new barons were very recent additions, the majority of Argyll’s had received their charters several years before, demonstrating that the Duke’s involvement in the county was no recent whim. Before the poll Erskine repeated his earlier protestation, directing his objections this time against individual electors, and claiming (wrongly, as it turned out) that the lands involved had only been granted ‘in trust’ for the time of the election. In all, 11 of Dalrymple’s supporters were excepted against. Mar’s agents countered with objections against Rosse himself and seven of his supporters, whose rights, it was said, were ‘simulat[ed] . . . in order to make votes in this election’. No one was prevented from voting, and at the poll Dalrymple secured a majority of five votes. Rosse himself was not present at the election, however, and Inglis failed to register a vote. Mar gave the following report of the election to Stair:

By Mr [Henry] Cunningham* and his friends’ assistance we carried your brother William in Clackmannanshire in opposition to Rosse, and though the Pap [Sir John Erskine] and our friends’ people gave us all the opposition they could and entered several protests, yet it’s impossible they can make anything of it. Sandie [i.e. Inglis?] could be brought to do nothing in my particular . . . [and] had very ill will to Willie’s being chosen, and scrupled to vote for him; and though he pretended afterwards to agree to it, yet when the abjuration was offered . . . took occasion . . . and went out.

Dalrymple naturally refused a request from Rosse for a double return in consideration of the large number of objections.3

Rosse and his friends, notably Sir John Erskine, made vigorous preparations for a petition; and when Dalrymple took space in an Edinburgh newspaper to publish news of his election, the defeated candidate responded with an announcement of his own protestation, much to the amusement of Daniel Defoe, who described the exchange as a ‘pen and ink scuffle’ which served ‘for nothing but to make their enemies laugh at both’. In one squib on the Scottish elections, a disingenuous attempt was made to link Clackmannanshire with other constituencies that had allegedly been affected by the Hamilton-?Squadrone pact. The involvement of Erskine might appear to lend some credibility to this accusation, but the notion that Rosse was a cavalier-cum-Jacobite will not bear scrutiny. In fact it was the involvement of Court interests on either side which resolved the dispute: Argyll continued to give Rosse his backing, and Lord Ross also took a hand in soliciting the English ministry. Moreover, with Hon. Sir David Dalrymple, 1st Bt.*, retained as counsel, the outcome of the petition was by no means a foregone conclusion. Mar was moved to intervene, with an approach to Sir David to stop the case. Eventually pressure of this kind seems to have brought about the desired result: the petition was ordered to be heard at the bar, but nothing transpired, and was subsequently dropped.4

By the time the county was to elect again, in 1713, there had been a reversal of alliances, at least in so far as Sir John Erskine had transferred from Montrose’s clientage to that of Lord Mar. At the same time, Dalrymple may possibly have shifted slightly towards Argyll. Erskine, who had denied himself the privilege of standing elsewhere in 1710 and now wished to claim his reward from Mar for good behaviour, made at least a pretence at securing the goodwill of Argyll as well. Although no express response was forthcoming, Argyll moved behind the scenes. Erskine was told by Grange that Argyll had only refrained from nominating an alternative candidate because he

found he could not oppose you effectually. He applied to E[arl of] Stair and his brother the colonel [Hon. William Dalrymple] to join him, but my brother having got them to refuse his Grace, he dropped his pretensions, but dropping on such an account is only till he finds he can do better and therefore you do best on your guard. But after this I wonder that Colonel Dalrymple has not been franker with you, than by the strain of your letter it would appear he has been. Though I believe he will be for you, at least if some unexpected thing come not in the way.

Argyll evidently could not ‘do better’, for at the electoral court Erskine was chosen unopposed. Nine voters attended, all of them previously enrolled and representing a combination of Mar’s and Erskine’s interests. That many of the newly enfranchised of 1708 were still on the roll indicates that, while they were ‘fictitious voters’ in one sense, they were not quite the ‘barons for a day’ Defoe had alleged. Of those given their charters by Argyll before the 1708 election none appeared but Sir James Campbell of Aberuchill, soon to be appointed to the Scottish customs commission and thus, we may assume, a recent convert to the Court.5

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. SRO, Alloa sheriff ct. recs. SC64/63/24, Clackmannan electoral ct. mins. 16 June 1708.
  • 2. Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/754/1, 7, 18, 23, Mar to Grange, 6 Jan., 19 Feb., 16 Apr., 4 May 1708; GD124/15/768/5, Grange to Mar, 28 Feb. 1708.
  • 3. Alloa sheriff ct. recs. SC64/63/24, electoral ct. mins. 16 June 1708; Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/762/9, George Erskine to Grange, 25 Mar. [1708]; J. Wallace, Sheriffdom of Clackmannan, 52-55, 108-11; Add. 61628, ff. 174-8; SRO, Stair mss GD135/138, Mar to Stair, 20 June 1708.
  • 4. Lincs. AO, Yarborough mss 16/7/1, Defoe to [Ld. Godolphin (Sidney†)], 29 June 1708; Edinburgh Courant, 16-18, 21-23 June 1708; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/6/1778/1-3, ‘Brief Acct. Elections in N. Britain’ [1708]; Add. 61628, f. 175; 61631, ff. 61-62, 80; Mar and Kellie mss, GD124/15/897/1-2, Mar to Sir David Dalrymple, 5 Oct. 1708, Sir David Dalrymple to Mar, 12 Oct. 1708; GD124/15/959, Alexander Rait to Mar, 17 Feb. 1709.
  • 5. NLS, ms 5087, ff. 127-8; 5156, f. 22; Alloa sheriff ct. recs. SC64/63/24, electoral ct. mins. 18 Sept. 1713; SRO, Morton mss GD150/3461/1, Hon. George Douglas* to Morton, 16 Oct. 1713; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 197.