Inverness Burghs

Scottish burgh

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

Inverness (1708); Nairn (1710); Forres (1713), Elginshire; Fortrose, Ross-shire


 Alexander Mackenzie 
 John Forbes 
 ? Hon. Charles Rosse 
 John Forbes 
 George Mackenzie21

Main Article

The intense rivalries which are evident in neighbouring county elections rendered electoral politics in this burgh district inherently unstable, culminating in the success of a complete outsider in 1713. Inverness, the senior burgh in terms of rotation, was the most prosperous of the towns. As one patronizing English traveller remarked, not only did it possess ‘two very good streets’, but the inhabitants were ‘more polite than in most towns in Scotland . . . here are coffee-houses and taverns, as in England’. Economic grievances, following the Union, prompted mercantile petitions to Parliament over drawbacks on salt-cured fish, and against the monopolistic aspirations of the Royal Africa Company. As a centre of episcopalian dissent from the established Kirk, Inverness heartily embraced Scottish Tory initiatives for a legal toleration, and the high-flown terminology of the loyal address from the burgh in 1713 prompted suspicions that Jacobitism was rife there. Inverness was too independent to succumb to direct control by magnate or family interests, unlike other burghs in this district. The influence of clan Mackenzie over Fortrose was strong and, in terms of national politics, resolutely Tory and potentially Jacobite. The earls of Seaforth were the clan chieftains: the 4th Earl (d.1701) was a Jacobite exile, and the 5th, having been raised a Catholic, was the subject of continuing suspicion from the government after his return to Scotland. The effective leadership of the clan had in fact devolved upon Lord Cromarty. Of the lesser Mackenzies, George of Inchcoulter proved the most significant figure in this district. An episcopalian whose attitude towards the Pretender was shrouded in ambiguity, he managed the Mackenzie interest in Fortrose. The burgh of Forres, in contrast, had a Whiggish complexion, owing to the influence of Duncan Forbes of Culloden, a stalwart Presbyterian with an unimpeachable record during the Revolution. Nairn was influenced by, but not fully under the control of, Hugh Rose I* of Kilravock, who like Forbes was a supporter of the Hanoverian succession. A temporary alliance in Ross-shire between Rose and the Mackenzies in 1708 exposed him to accusations that he was conniving at Jacobitism. His conduct (and that of his son, Hugh II*) both at Westminster and in the Fifteen provides evidence to the contrary. The motive for attacks on Rose’s character lay in the bitter feud of the Ross and Munro families against the Mackenzies (see ROSS-SHIRE). The influence of Lord Ross therefore added to the complexity of electoral politics in Inverness Burghs. As in the neighbouring counties, local allegiances did not always tally with Whig and Tory loyalties at Westminster.2

In March 1708 it was rumoured that Hon. Charles Rosse*, brother to Lord Ross, would enter the lists. Eager for a high political profile to aid his campaign to secure the ancient earldom, Lord Ross was disconsolate at his brother’s failure. Complaining that Charles had been disappointed by some ‘who pretended to act for him’, he maintained that Alexander Duff, ‘the provost of Inverness, who was my brother’s friend and had no design to stand, finding my brother betrayed, stood himself to exclude my brother’s enemies’. Those enemies were not mentioned by name, but one Scottish newspaper reported that Colonel Alexander Mackenzie, Seaforth’s brother, and John Forbes*, son of Duncan of Culloden, had also stood. No mention was made of Rosse’s withdrawal in favour of Duff, and it remains unclear whether Duff carried the election by the casting vote of the presiding burgh in a four-way split, or by the votes of Inverness and Nairn against the single votes of Forres (for Forbes) and Fortrose (for Mackenzie). But the betrayal of which Lord Ross complained may plausibly be attributed to Nairn, and connected with the Mackenzie-Rose alliance in Ross-shire. An additional loss of support within Inverness perhaps accompanied this attack upon Lord Ross and his brother. Their support for the provost’s candidacy was merely an obstructive ploy against Alexander Mackenzie. The hopeful assertion by Lord Ross that Duff would ‘act in Parliament by my advice’ proved wide of the mark. A reluctant Member, Duff did not seek re-election.3

The 1710 election was a Tory victory. George Mackenzie reported after his election that ‘the acquisition was so easy without any application, that I was tempted in a struggle ’twixt three Wh[igs] to run away with the bone of contention’. John Forbes stood again, and the other Whigs mentioned, who apparently withdrew before the election, were Rose jnr. and possibly Robert Urquhart, the former Member for Elginshire. Mackenzie subsequently attempted to strengthen his position at Inverness by what he referred to as the ‘great change the To[rie]s have made in the government of their town’. His efforts included patronage requests to Lord Mar, the rising Scottish manager of the Oxford ministry. Frustrated by the lacklustre response, Mackenzie attributed his failure to retain the seat in 1713, at least in part, to this cause. The punishment of Inverness through punitive taxation in the convention of royal burghs in 1711 may have possessed electoral overtones, but equally may be attributed to economic rivalry, as in the case of Glasgow Burghs (see GLASGOW BURGHS). During the 1710 Parliament, the strength of Tory sentiment in the region was evident both in the Queen’s birthday celebrations at Fortrose in February 1712, and in the loyal address from Inverness in October on the communication of the peace terms, which referred to the designs of ‘evil-minded persons who may attempt to sow sedition among your subjects’. A subsequent address from Inverness in 1713 on the ‘glorious peace’ not only referred to the machinations of a ‘restless and never-to-be satisfied faction at home’, but went so far as to praise the Queen for ‘securing our religion and the succession to the hereditary crown of Great Britain in the family of your royal progenitors, the most ancient line of succession in the world’. Mackenzie was the driving force behind these addresses, and likewise those (albeit more moderate in tone) from Nairn and Fortrose.4

The ‘violent’ Jacobite language of the Inverness address, spurred the Duke of Argyll and his brother Lord Ilay to put up one of their clients against Mackenzie at the 1713 election. A clandestine canvass was conducted on behalf of William Steuart, and the return of an Argathelian with no local interest caught Mackenzie by surprise:

By the failure of Nairn, especially [Hugh Rose of] Clava, Mr Stewart [William Steuart] is returned Parliament-man for the towns I served last. But there were such ille-galities in the town of Nairn’s election that certainly the vote of that town can’t stand good by which I may pretend to have the true majority, having two uncontroverted votes for me.
I thought it strange to have heard nothing either from Mr Stewart [Steuart] himself or from any of his friends, that he was to stand or knew anything of it until I heard his name in collecting the voices. He needs not thank either [Hugh Rose II of] Kilravock or Captain [Robert] Urquhart much for his success, it being by their stiffness in not yielding to one another that they determined on Mr Stewart, by all means to keep me out, for had I [as commissioner for Fortrose] joined either of them, he had not been mentioned.
Since I have so just right to this election . . . I’ll do the best I can to controvert it, and if Mr Stewart must prevail I [would] rather he have it than either of the captains, Rose or Urquhart.

Steuart’s success was ensured by the casting vote of Forres, augmenting that of Nairn which had been acquired by the unspecified sharp practice mentioned by Mackenzie (probably involving bribery and a snap election of the town’s delegate). One supporter accused the collector of customs at Inverness of acting ‘so very effectually with the town of Nairn’ against Mackenzie. The necessity of his removal was pressed with Lord Mar.5

The vote of Forres in favour of Steuart indicates that the reversion of the family of Forbes of Culloden to their traditional patrons, the house of Argyll (which occurred in the life of the 1713 Parliament), was already under way. Urquhart also pretended to influence at Forres, but as an army officer had professional reasons for surrendering to pressure from Argyll, who exercised considerable influence in military affairs despite being out of favour with the ministry. Urquhart decided to ignore the Court blandishments voiced at a distance by Lord Findlater, who attempted via his client Alexander Reid* to persuade him to give his interest to Mackenzie. The attitude of Captain Hugh Rose II, whose regiment had recently been disbanded, may also have been influenced by military considerations.6

Mackenzie duly presented his petition to the House, but the elections committee never reported. Steuart retained the seat without a contest in 1715. Mackenzie, having failed to revive his flagging interest at Inverness, declined to stand, and a canvass on behalf of Colonel Mackenzie was not carried forward to the election. Although Urquhart obtained the provostship of Forres in 1715, and was thought to aspire to the ‘entire management’ of the burgh, he made no attempt to overturn the Forbes interest, which dominated the district from 1722, when the younger Duncan Forbes† gained the seat on petition, retaining it until his elevation to the session bench in 1737.7

Author: David Wilkinson


  • 1. Carried by the casting vote of Forres as presiding burgh.
  • 2. J. Macky, Journey through GB, 123-4; CJ, xvi. 14, 98; Clarke thesis, 285; SRO, Fortrose burgh recs. B28/8/1, pp. 38-39, 51, 54, council mins. 23 Sept. 1710, 26 Sept. 1712, 15 Sept. 1713; NLS, ms 1345, ff. 92, 97.
  • 3. SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/766/9, George Erskine to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 25 Mar. 1708; Add. 61628, ff. 174-5; Edinburgh Courant, 2-4 June 1708.
  • 4. NLS, ms 1345, f. 106; Case of the Royal Burghs [1712]; Extracts Glasgow Recs. 461, 466; T. Pagan, Convention of R. Burghs, 64-65; Scots Courant, 6-8 Nov. 1710, 13-15 Feb. 1712; Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1112/1-2, [-] to George Mackenzie, 26 Dec. 1713, George Mackenzie to Grange, 28 Dec. 1713; London Gazette, 7-11 Oct. 1712, 30 June-4 July 1713.
  • 5. Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP F54, ff. 8-9; SRO, Cromartie mss GD305 addit./bdle. 15, George Mackenzie to [Cromarty], 13 Oct. 1713; Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1112/1-2, [-] to George Mackenzie, 26 Dec. 1713, George Mackenzie to Ld. Grange, 28 Dec. 1713.
  • 6. NLS, ms 9241, f. 36.
  • 7. Fortrose burgh recs. B28/8/1, p. 72, council mins. 16 Feb. 1715; Mar and Kellie mss GD248/166/4/2, David Dunbar to Ludovic Brodie, 4 Jan. 1715.