ROSSE (ROSS), Hon. Charles (1667-1732).

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



3 Mar. 1710 - 1722
1727 - 5 Aug. 1732

Family and Education

b. 8 Feb. 1667, 2nd s. of George Ross, 11th Ld. Ross of Halkhead [S] by his 2nd w. Lady Jean, da. of George Ramsay, 2nd Earl of Dalhousie [S].  unm.1

Offices Held

Cornet, King’s own royal regt. Scots Horse by 1686; capt. 5 Drags. (R. Irish Drags.) Nov. 1688, brevet col. 1694, col. July 1695–Oct. 1715, 1729–d.; brig.-gen. Mar. 1702–Jan. 1704, maj.-gen. Jan. 1704–Jan. 1707, lt.-gen. Jan. 1707–Apr. 1712; col.-gen. of all drag. forces 1711; gen. Apr. 1712; gen. of horse c.1727.2

Burgess, Edinburgh 1710, Glasgow 1716, Perth 1716; provost, Tain Oct. 1714–c.1726; ld. lt. Ross-shire 1725–?d.3


A professional soldier who had served with distinction under King William in Ireland and in Flanders, and more recently with the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) at Blenheim, Ramillies and Oudenarde, Rosse seems to have shown little interest in politics prior to 1708, unless one counts the testimony he had given to the Commons in November 1692 against Count Solmes. There are no indications that he had ever contemplated membership of the Scottish parliament. However, in the election of 1708 his attempts to find a seat at Westminster led him to consider the Glasgow and Inverness districts of burghs, before standing for Clackmannanshire, where he was defeated by William Dalrymple* in a contest marked by bitter divisions between the two wings of the Court party. After his defeat, Rosse immediately advertised his intention to petition, and he and Dalrymple became involved in a ‘pen and ink scuffle’ in the Edinburgh press which the visiting Daniel Defoe regarded as ridiculous, and wantonly damaging to government. Pressure was brought to bear on both sides to resolve their differences, and eventually, in December 1709, Lord Mar was able to report that Rosse ‘has given over his election for Clackmannanshire’. It was presumably in order to persuade Rosse to abandon his pretensions (as well as a sop to the Argyll interest in general) that in the spring of 1709 he was offered the governorship of Jamaica; but this was a peculiarly unappetizing prospect, and he rejected it. After he withdrew his petition a vacancy arose in Ross-shire, and he was returned there by virtue of his brother’s interest. The prospect of the by-election had been discussed for some time in advance, and was presumably the reason which had induced him to drop the fight in Clackmannanshire. In the meantime Rosse had added Malplaquet to his battle honours. When he presented a further petition to Marlborough to secure a vacant troop in his own regiment for his nephew, the Duke was happy to endorse it.4

Between the time of his election on 3 Mar. 1710 in Ross-shire and his departure from London in the first week of April to rejoin his regiment in Flanders, Rosse may have had time to take his seat in the Commons, but it is unlikely that he was able to do very much there. His inclusion in the ‘white list’ (issued before the next general election) of those who had opposed the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, seems therefore somewhat dubious. In fact, the evidence concerning his party-political allegiance at this time is conflicting: George Lockhart* was later to suggest that he had voted with the Whigs, while another observer reported that the Court Whigs disliked him. Fraternal loyalty would certainly have inclined him to the Whig interest. His brother, Lord Ross, a connexion of Lord Wharton (Thomas*), had been a keen supporter of the Revolution, even something of an extremist in that he had joined the ‘Club’ opposition in the convention of estates, and after its demise had been implicated in the Skelmorlie ‘plot’ (local or family legend that Rosse himself had also taken part seems to be without foundation). Lord Ross still identified the family with the ‘Revolution interest’ in their locality. Indeed, ever since the 1708 election he and his allies had been conducting a vigorous campaign against the leaders of the clan Mackenzie for control over local government in Ross-shire, arguing that they themselves represented the established Church and Hanoverian succession while the Mackenzies represented an interest that was papist or crypto-papist, Highland and Jacobite. Charles himself wrote in June 1709 to Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) to press the claims of ‘the honest party in Ross’, and in particular to urge the appointment of his kinsman David Ross of Balnagown as sheriff of the county. His own return in the March by-election, and retention of the seat in the general election in the autumn, was accomplished by the same alliance of Whiggish interests – Rosses, Munros and Gordons – which in conjunction with the local presbytery had repeatedly denounced Mackenzie j.p.s for disloyalty. One of the charges had been that they had encouraged episcopalian intrusions into parishes by protecting ‘rabblers’ of orthodox ministers. It seems odd, therefore, that in the first session of the 1710 Parliament Rosse should have been listed among the ‘worthy patriots’ who were exposing the mismanagements of the previous ministry and among the ‘Tory patriots’ who opposed the continuation of the war, the latter particularly surprising given his professional employment. The most likely explanation is that he was, in Peter Wentworth’s phrase, ‘a cunning Scotchman’. Wentworth retailed a story that during the officers’ drinking bouts which had ended in toasts of ‘confusion to the new ministry’, for which Thomas Meredyth* and others had been disciplined, Rosse ‘always when they began these sort of healths left the company’, to avoid incriminating himself. As worried about money as any younger son of a Scottish peer could expect to be, Rosse was currently engaged in petitioning both the Treasury and the Commons for arrears of pay. He had also concluded a transaction by which his brother conveyed to him his reversionary interest in the estate of David Ross of Balnagown, hitherto the head of the Ross ‘name’, in return for £35,000, Lord Ross having been advised by his lawyers that he ought not to take up the interest himself. The death of David Ross in April 1711 gave Charles almost immediate possession of the estate (confirmed by a charter of infeftment in 1713), though he did not live in the house until the death of David Ross’s widow in 1719. At the same time, the acquisition rendered the demands on his financial resources even more pressing. Rumours the following year that he was to marry the widow of the Earl of Ranelagh (Richard Jones*) may have stemmed from his active contemplation of the various avenues to financial security. He voted in February 1711 in favour of Mungo Graham* in the disputed election for Kinross-shire. Rosse succeeded in cultivating the new ministry, and obtained from the Queen in April promotion to colonel-general of dragoons. He found time, en route for the continental campaign, to pen his gratitude and effusive congratulations to Robert Harley* on the latter’s ennoblement as Earl of Oxford.5

Rosse returned to Westminster in the winter of 1711–12 in a somewhat more forthright mood. Over Scottish affairs he was still the loyal Presbyterian, helping to concert measures against the toleration bill and voting against it in the division of 7 Feb. 1712. But as regards his former commanding officer he was prepared to cast off former obligations, voting against Marlborough in the censure debate in January. In coffee-house politics, and one must assume in the Commons as well, he now identified himself as a Tory, his object clearly to further his army career, with the new commander-in-chief, Ormond, and the ministers. His supposed devotion to Oxford had been shaken by the ministry’s failure to pay ‘the least regard to my pretensions’, as he himself put it, but after a protest to the lord treasurer, and some application to other sources, he was promoted to the rank of full general, effective from the preceding April. In all probability Ormond was chiefly responsible, for in July 1712 Secretary Bolingbroke (Henry St. John II*) wrote to the Duke: ‘I never doubted Mr Ross; he is a man of honour, and I have taken occasion from your grace’s letter, to do him justice to the Queen, who will be brought, I hope, at last, to take such measures as may make the army her own’.6

A letter sent by Rosse to Lord Oxford in February 1713 indicates that at the time he regarded himself as very much the ministry’s man: ‘nothing can be so agreeable to me as to follow the Queen’s service and obey your lordship’s commands’. In March 1713 he was reported to have been ordered to Catalonia to assist in the evacuation of Imperial troops, but the rumour proved false. In the parliamentary furore over the malt tax he seems to have done what he could to help the ministry, though without compromising himself by overtly supporting the tax, which no Scot could have done; indeed, on 21 May 1713 he told (with a fellow army officer, Alexander Abercromby) against the fateful clause in the malt duty bill which charged malt produced in Scotland at 6d. a bushel. Then, in the meeting of Scots lords and commoners held to review strategy following the bill’s engrossment, he and Colonel George Douglas* proposed a boycott of Parliament if the motion to repeal the Union should fail. One historian has characterized this as a Jacobite ploy, on the assumption (for which no evidence has been found) that both men harboured Jacobite sympathies. It is equally possible that it represented a piece of underhand ministerial mischief-making, or that the renascent Argyll interest was somehow involved, since both Argyll and his brother Ilay had spoken strongly in favour of repeal. Rosse certainly supported the Court over the French commerce bill, voting on 4 June in favour of the second reading, and again on the 18th for the engrossment. He then acted as a teller on 1 July with Sir William Wyndham, 3rd Bt., in favour of agreeing with the committee of supply in a resolution to authorize a grant to cover pay and forage money to general and staff officers who had served in Flanders in 1712, over and above the establishment for that year.7

In what seems to have been a reward for good behaviour, Rosse was named in September 1713 to succeed Matthew Prior* as envoy extraordinary to France. He kissed the Queen’s hand on the appointment, and a month later a warrant was issued for £500 equipage money, plus £5 a day ‘ordinary’. Even though Rosse did not take up his post, payment began immediately, and by January almost £1,000 had been disbursed. At about the same time the Treasury issued a warrant for a charter to Rosse to erect his property in and around Balnagown into a unified barony, and Bolingbroke also provided an intangible but no less welcome bounty in pressing the Scottish secretary, Mar, to assist Rosse’s re-election to Parliament. Since Rosse had been named as envoy to Paris he could spend little time in canvassing his constituents personally, and Bolingbroke wrote to Mar to express the hope that neither

his interest in his country nor his election will . . . suffer by his long stay here, by the short stay he must be obliged to make in the north, and . . . by his going no farther than Edinburgh. I know I need not recommend him to your lordship’s favour, nor insinuate to you, that it would have an ill air, if his being advanced in the Queen’s service should not rather secure than hazard his election.

In consequence the curious situation arose whereby Rosse was re-elected on a Whig interest in his county but with the backing of the Tory administration in Edinburgh and at London. His inclusion as a ‘Jacobite’ (i.e. Tory) in Lord Polwarth’s analysis of the newly chosen Scottish Members reflects this close relationship with the ministers. For his own part, he had devoted some of the time he was able to spend in Scotland in the autumn of 1713 to canvassing support for his ministerial friends after the disasters of the preceding parliamentary session. He told Oxford that he ‘made it my business during my northern progress to remove those impressions which some insinuations to which those remote parts are liable, had given, and I hope I may say with success’, promising at his return to ‘lay a true state of the country before your lordship . . . and then submit everything to what you think proper’.8

When Rosse did speak to Oxford he may have intimated that he did not wish to take up the post of envoy to Paris, since there was soon talk of the appointment being cancelled; alternatively, Oxford may have been reluctant to recall his friend Prior or to have a supporter absent from the forthcoming session. At all events, nothing more was done for several months, and even after receiving his credentials and instructions in early May Rosse did not embark for Paris, being detained by illness. Meanwhile he solicited a more remunerative or at least a more soundly established position, suggesting at one point that he might go as governor to Port Mahon with a salary of £2,000 p.a. In the early part of the 1714 session he showed his customary sensitivity to shifts in high politics, his speech on 22 Apr. in the debate over concurring with a Lords’ address puzzling observers by its ‘moderate’ tone. Speaking after General Cadogan, who had answered ministerial vindications of the cessation of arms in 1712, Rosse managed to defend the decision to make a separate peace while at the same time acknowledging that Marlborough’s military successes had left France in a weak position in 1711, Bouchain being the Duke’s ‘greatest honour’. He did so by placing blame squarely on the allies:

I do verily believe we should have been victorious at the time of cessation but the Queen’s goodness to restore peace could not therefore come more opportunely. We had such advantages than that if our allies had come in with us we might have had better terms . . . Our readiness to support our allies so liberally was the reason of their obstinacy in not coming in to us . . .

He was especially severe on the Emperor, whose treachery had, he claimed, prevented the end of the war after Toulon, and who throughout the conflict ‘cost us more than he ever can be of service to us’. Rosse explained the circumstances of the cessation of arms in the same way, by reference to ‘the obstinance [sic] of the allies’,

that they would not come into the Queen’s measures for a cessation of arms for two months, which would have been great retardment to the progress of their arms; for if after that time they found the king of France not sincere, he believed they might have entered the heart of France, but ’twas high time for the Queen to separate her troops when ’twas known that none of the allies would obey her general.

Perhaps remembering his sanguine comments to Sunderland in 1709,

[he] confessed there was a project set on foot in the late ministry which would have put a glorious end to [the] war, and would do justice to the general he served under, and to all the officers of that campaign; ’twas much wished and expected by them all and could not fail of success, but that Prince Eugene had orders from the Emperor not to take it, and he they all own was a man of spirit and desirous of action.

Some observers thought that ‘he smelt a rat, and might be well of all sides if a change should happen’. However, as the session progressed Rosse seemed to move away from a ‘moderate’ position and towards the ministerial faction headed by Bolingbroke, who in April was pressing for Prior’s recall from Paris so that Rosse could be sent out. As late as June Rosse was still scheduled to go over as envoy, but was delayed by a bout of illness, though he was able to join Bolingbroke’s crony Hon. James Murray* on 10 June in opposing the amended militia bill. Whether Rosse had attached himself to Bolingbroke or to Ormond is not clear: evidence that in the last days of the Queen’s life Bolingbroke dissuaded Ormond and Rosse from any plans for a Jacobite coup after her death is open to various interpretations. Whatever Rosse’s personal loyalties may have been at this time, he was not involved in further Jacobite activity after the succession crisis had broken. He signed the proclamation of King George I at St. James’s on 1 Aug.9

Rosse was re-elected in 1715 with the countenance of the Cromarty Mackenzies as well as the continued support of his own family and their allies. During the election campaign he had also made some tentative overtures towards the Argyll interest, but at Westminster he continued to behave as a Tory, and in consequence lost his regiment. He continued in opposition, and by 1721 seems to have been realigning himself with Argyll; a profitable move in the long run, since although he lost his parliamentary seat in 1722 he was made lord lieutenant of Ross-shire in 1725 through the Duke’s influence, and within two years of returning to the Commons at the next general election had recovered his regiment. He voted thereafter with the administration.10

Rosse died at Bath on 5 Aug. 1732, and was buried at Fearn Abbey in Ross-shire. He left his ‘great estate’ to his great-nephew Charles Ross, who lost his life at Fontenoy. After the next successor, another great-nephew, had also died unmarried, the estate reverted to the Member’s sister Grizel, widow of Sir James Lockhart of Carstairs. Her second son, Sir James Lockhart Ross, 4th Bt., succeeded. The sixth baronet, Admiral Sir John Lockhart Ross, who inherited Balnagown in 1760, sat for Linlithgow Burghs and Lanarkshire 1761–74. Only in 1796 did the family recover the Ross-shire parliamentary seat.11

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. C. Rogers, Monuments and MIs in Scotland, ii. 387.
  • 2. Reg. PC Scotland 1686, p. 310; CSP Dom. 1687–9, p. 365; Gent. Mag. 1732, p. 929.
  • 3. Scot. Rec. Soc. lxii. 175; lvi. 323; Sandeman Lib. Perth, Perth burgh recs. B59/24/1/17, p. 40; W. MacGill, Old Ross-shire and Scotland, i. 105, 284; ii. 92–95; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 286.
  • 4. A. M. Ross, Hist. Clan Ross, 202–3; Boyer, Anne Annals, iv. 81, app. 49; HMC Portland, iv. 310; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 977, 1227, 1468; Luttrell Diary, 255; More Culloden Pprs. ed. Warrand, ii. 10; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/150/1, John Grahame to Montrose, 5 Jan. 1708; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/762, George Erskine to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 25 Mar. [1708]; GD124/15/969/4, Mar to Grange, 6 Dec. 1709; SRO, Alloa sheriff ct. recs. SC64/63/24, Clackmannan electoral ct. mins. 16 June 1708; Lincs. AO, Yarborough mss 16/7/1, Defoe to Ld. Godolphin (Sidney†), 29 June 1708; NLS, ms 2964, ff. 124, 126; HMC Townshend, 68.
  • 5. Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 567; CJ, xvi. 215, 534, 669–70; More Culloden Pprs. ii. 20–21, 24–25; Lockhart Mems. ed. Szechi, 287; APS, ix. 9, 20, supp. 54, 69, 78–79; Rogers, 387; Seafield Corresp. 62; CSP Dom. 1690–1, pp. 43, 53, 59; Add. 61632, ff. 6–7; Cromartie mss GD305/1/168/21, Ross electoral ct. mins. 3 Mar. 1710; GD305 addit./bdle. 38, Hon. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie, 3rd Bt.*, to [Earl of Cromarty] 28 June [?1711]; Wentworth Pprs, 162, 164; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxv. 159; Ross, 33–35; MacGill, i. 283; Add. 22226, f. 219; 61315, ff. 56–57; Montrose mss GD220/5/808/18a–b, Mungo Graham to Montrose, 13 Feb. 1711; HMC Portland, x. 66.
  • 6. Add. 17677 FFF, f. 36; CJ, xvi. 424; Boyer, Anne Annals, x. 29–30; D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 107; NLS, Advocates’ mss Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 6, f. 96; Swift Stella ed. Davis, ii. 485; HMC Portland, x. 80; Bolingbroke Corresp. ii. 482.
  • 7. Add. 70279, Rosse to Oxford, 13 Feb. 1713; 17677 GGG, f. 89; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 76–77; Szechi, Jacobitism, 77, 133, 201; Szechi thesis, app.; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 28; Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Duff House (Montcoffer) mss 3175/2380, ‘Resolution of the Commons to Call a Meeting of the Lords’, [23] May 1713; Parlty. Hist. i. 54, 70.
  • 8. Bolingbroke Corresp. iv. 306–7; Boyer, Pol. State, vi. 187; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvii. 405, 482; xxviii. 90; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 561; Add. 70255, Rosse to Oxford, 14 Nov. 1713.
  • 9. Univ. of Pennsylvania Lib. mss Fr. 121, f. 31, Gaultier to Torcy, 15 Jan. N.S. 1714; 139 (unfol.), same to same, 16 Apr. N.S. 1714; Br. Dipl. Reps. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, xlvi), 14; Add. 17677 HHH, ff. 200, 205; AECP Ang. 251 (D’Iberville’s despatches), ff. 213, 261, 14 Apr., 4 June 1714; Wentworth Pprs. 378; Douglas diary (Hist. of Parl. trans.), 22 Apr. 1714; HMC Portland, v. 423, 433, 469; Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 8, f. 135; Szechi, Jacobitism, 183; Boyer, Pol. State, viii. 117.
  • 10. MacGill, i. 28–29, 105–6; Cromartie Corresp. ii. 152–3; SRO, Balnagown Castle mss GD129/box 29/110, Ross voters [aft. 1715]; More Culloden Pprs. 62; HMC Stuart, vii. 570; Balnagown castle mss GD129/box 29/110, George Mackenzie* to [Rosse], 27 Feb. 1718; Lockhart Letters, 175; SRO, Rose of Kilravock mss, box 21, Robert Munro* to Hugh Rose II*, 12 June [1725].
  • 11. Hist. Reg. Chron. 1732, p. 32; Rogers, 387; MacGill, i. 284–5; Gent. Mag. 1732, p. 929; Ross, 202–3.