ELLIOT MURRAY KYNYNMOUND, Sir Gilbert, 4th Bt. (1751-1814), of Minto, Roxburgh.
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Family and Education
b. 23 Apr. 1751, 1st s. of Sir Gilbert Elliot, 3rd Bt.†, by Agnes, da. and h. of Hugh Dalrymple Murray Kynynmound of Melgund, Forfar and Lochgelly and Kynynmound, Fife. educ. private tutor; La Pension Militaire, Fontainebleau 1764-6; Edinburgh Univ. 1766-8; Christ Church, Oxf. 1768; L. Inn 1769, called 1774. m. 3 Jan. 1777, Anna Maria, da. of Sir George Amyand, 1st Bt.†, 4s. 3da. suc. fa. as 4th Bt. 11 Jan. 1777; mother in Forfar and Fife estates and took additional name of Murray Kynynmound 28 Dec. 1778; cr. Baron Minto 20 Oct. 1797; Earl of Minto 24 Feb. 1813.
Civil commr. to Toulon and PC, 25 Sept. 1793; minister to the Italian states Mar.-May 1794; viceroy of Corsica June 1794-Oct. 1796; envoy extraordinary to Vienna June 1799-Nov. 1801; pres. Board of Control Feb.-July 1806; gov.-gen. Bengal July 1807-Oct. 1813.
Lt.-col. 1 batt. Roxburgh vols. 1803.
Elliot was not sure of a seat in Parliament in 1790, being no longer able to afford his insecure one for Berwick. He was disenchanted by the failure of the Whig opposition, to which he belonged, to press their advantage in the Regency crisis the previous year and was anxious to return to private life and recoup his finances. When the time was ripe, he hoped to sit for Roxburghshire, where his pretensions were still held at bay. The Duke of Portland, his leader, however,
pressed on him the propriety of continuing in Parliament (not of attending), and said repeatedly that he considered it as of importance to his cause and to our party that I should be in the House of Commons whether I should ever attend or not, for two, three or even four or five years to come.
Portland commended to him an opportunity to stand for Bristol, but it was a mirage. He came in, on petition, for Helston in December on the ‘new’ corporation interest, an opening procured and purchased for him by Lord Malmesbury, whose wife was Lady Elliot’s sister and who had not been able to make good his professed intention of the year before to bring him in for Christchurch.1
Impeded by the double return at Helston, Elliot missed the opening of the session, but was kept informed by his friend Burke of what transpired; he learnt with regret that Fox was critical of Burke’s Reflections on the French revolution; but without regret that Fox had been ‘unintentionally too late’ to restate his pretensions to be Speaker (he had been proposed but out voted twice in 1789), as he had ‘long ago dismissed this object’: indeed his only ambition, he maintained, was to be able to ‘act on principle’, and in the division among the Whigs which he now foresaw he sided with Portland and Burke against Fox: though he did not object to the latter so much as to some of his more restless supporters such as Sheridan. While the Helston election petition was being heard, he claimed to be ‘armed with philosophy and resignation against all events’, though virtually certain of being returned. When he was, he at once undertook the management of a petition to abolish the Test Act, for the benefit of the Scots Presbyterians. Dr Somerville, on behalf of the latter, praised his sagacity and deep understanding in this business, but the petition was lost, 10 May 1791: even his friend Burke was unsympathetic. Elliot had canvassed the House and more or less predicted the outcome. He loved a good cause and Lady Elliot lamented his enthusiasm for ‘blacks, prisons and workhouses’.
In May 1791 Elliot, who had supported Grey’s Oczakov resolutions on 12 Apr., gave offence to Burke by keeping to himself a set of ‘instructions’ he had sent him for the benefit of the Duke of Portland in his parley with Fox. He tended to dislike the doctrinaire approach whether it came from his friends in Portland’s circle or from the extremists in Fox’s circle like Philip Francis, whom he met at the Star and Garter, the Whig dining club, during the session and whom he stigmatized as having ‘no objection to a convulsion’. On 3 Apr. 1792 he voted with Fox and Pitt (after whose speech he said he ‘could hardly help almost liking him’) for the immediate abolition of the slave trade. During this session having ‘seen more of Fox and his set ... than usual’ and tried to get over ‘the little reserve, both on his side and mine’ that separated them, he concluded that the great difference in their private lives was one of the main obstacles to familiarity: he nevertheless wished, if possible, to encourage an understanding between Portland and Fox, and tried to impress on Burke his fear that ‘the influence of his authority’ on the question of the French revolution tended to drive the Whig leaders apart. On 8 Apr. 1792 he, Burke and Portland met with a view to an understanding, but he realized that Burke assumed that his view would prevail, and when the Foxite Whigs were sympathetic to the Association for Parliamentary Reform launched that month, he hoped that Fox would not publicly favour it, as this would certainly divide opposition.
The debate on Grey’s motion on parliamentary reform, 1 May 1792, brought out, as Elliot had feared, the division between the Whig leaders: like Portland he was hostile to the motion and sat from ten in the morning until ten at night without eating, planning to oppose it, but ‘did not find resolution to rise’. He hoped the news from France would show the ‘reforming confederacy’ that ‘anarchy is a severe government’, but ‘a thorough schism in the party’ was provoked in May when Pitt met Portland and asked him to agree to a proclamation against sedition. Elliot, asked by Portland to remain in town, agreed to the proclamation, but suggested some amendments which were duly incorporated. He meant to speak when the proclamation was passed, 25 May, but did not: ‘I certainly have some impediment in my speech ... or other’, he joked with his wife (he was said to speak ‘with ease and elegance’).2 He hoped that the proclamation would not split the Whigs, though a meeting of the two factions had not gone off well, as Fox ‘does not trim well’: Elliot believed that ‘a connection such as the Whig party is a very desirable thing for the country whether they be in or out’.
Elliot returned to Minto during the recess, but Portland asked him to be ready to return, in view of the negotiations for a coalition then impending. The duke contemplated his becoming governor-general of Bengal. Elliot’s correspondents made it clear to him that the negotiations failed over the inclusion of Fox in a coalition and that Pitt could only parley with Portland, which tended to drive Portland and Fox irrevocably apart. When he returned to London in December 1792 he reported: ‘the party has not planned anything ... for my part, I am determined to support government in its measures for suppressing sedition and putting the country in a state of defence’. He added that he would vote against Fox’s amendment to the address. At the same time he ‘heartily rejoiced’ that no coalition had been formed between Portland and Pitt.
It was at this point that Elliot became a keen critic of Portland’s ‘indecision and feebleness of character’, which laid his friends ‘under great difficulties’. He was one of a group of Portland Whigs who petitioned the duke to renounce Fox publicly, which the claims of private friendship made him most reluctant to do.3 Elliot stated that he and his friends wished ‘not to join ministry but to support government in a separate body—if the duke ... delays longer, most of his party will go individually to ministry. Not I, however’, he added in a letter to his wife, 18 Dec. 1792. Two days later he described himself as ‘grand mediator’ and stated that he had pressed the duke to declare openly against Fox ‘on the morrow’ in the Lords and that it was expected that some of their group would take office and the rest support government, since if all remained out of office, the ‘Portland connection’ would ‘melt away’. There was no question of ‘a more general coalition’. On 22 Dec. Elliot complained that despite their pressure, Portland had not kept his word about a public declaration, which amounted ‘almost to duplicity’, so his friends were ‘ready to dissolve our connection with him’; he himself would declare himself ‘entirely unconnected’ and would accept no office. He complained that the duke’s willingness to support government out of office, which he would admit ‘only at his own fireside’, made his followers, who no longer voted with Fox, ‘look like individuals falling off from their party’.
Next day, however, Elliot went with Malmesbury and Windham to Burlington House and prevailed on Portland to make a public declaration in the Lords and his heir Lord Titchfield in the Commons: a memorandum was drawn up pledging the duke as ‘natural head and leader’ of the party to dissociate himself from Fox. But the duke through ‘mere nerves, and the horror of public speaking’, so Elliot believed, remained silent, and on 28 Dec. Elliot, in supporting the aliens bill, dissociated himself from Fox ‘in guarded and civil language’ and associated Portland with a general support of administration.4 This speech caused a sensation and, as it ‘gave him a weight in the House, and entitled him to a grateful recompense from ministers’, made him enemies; Fox was rattled, the duke embarrassed and a squabble among them occurred that evening at Burlington House. Elliot, however, noted that ‘I did not feel the terror of speaking either before or at the time, nearly so much as usual’, and that he did not fear an attack on him promised by Fox.5
On 31 Dec. Elliot defended in the House his invoking Portland’s name in support of administration, claiming the duke’s authorization for it. Portland’s heir followed with a speech devised for him by Windham, backing Elliot up, but prejudiced, according to the latter, by a conclusion insinuated by Fox. ‘In short the duke is two men’, he lamented on the eve of returning to Scotland, though he noted that Fox had not attacked him after all.
While at Minto, in a letter to his friend Sir David Carnegie* (January 1793) Elliot attributed the ‘late split in the party’ to the French revolution ‘which has at length grown into the Aaron’s rod and swallowed up all the other business and concerns of the world’. Burke and Fox had disagreed over this and the formation of the Friends of the People further divided the party. Elliot considered that he supported the Portland group because it was opposed to sedition, parliamentary reform, democracy and French expansion and ideas, and was prepared to support the government in time of crisis. Unfortunately, he added, the duke’s divided loyalties made him a bad leader.
On 21 Jan. 1793 Malmesbury wrote to Elliot asking him to consider the possibility of taking office: he replied that he would not choose to go straight from opposition into office, but would be open to suggestion. He noted that Portland was now ‘entirely unfit’ to lead his connexion and on his return to London joined the meeting at Windham’s house (12 Feb.) of those prepared to support government: ‘The duke has not acted yet ... but we have as a body’, was his comment. He seceded from the Whig Club on 28 Feb. Early in March he was present at a conference between Windham and Burke, Pitt and Dundas on naval defence, ‘more like a cabinet’ than anything else. At the same time Portland’s unwillingness to declare against Fox at the Whig Club led to his more outspoken followers being ‘treated as deserters’ by the Foxites: ‘this is direct duplicity’ remarked Elliot. The Foxites complimented him with the same characteristic.6
At Easter 1793 Elliot had thought of visiting Holland with Malmesbury, but they decided it would be unsafe; instead he was flattered at Downing Street by Pitt, who accepted some amendments he proposed to the traitorous correspondence bill (in preference to those suggested by Burke, who was now ‘very close’ to ministers) and he made the acquaintance of ‘all the Parlezvous in London’ (i.e. the émigrés). He was by now not on such familiar terms with Portland and had joined ‘a political dining club of Windhamites’. He planned to speak against parliamentary reform on 7 May 1793, but did not find an opening, which he considered ‘an escape’.
In May, Elliot, who would have welcomed a place on the Board of Control, was offered the government of Madras (while at Minto) but refused on his wife’s account.7 In June he came to London and explained to Lord Chancellor Loughborough and Dundas why he would not go: Dundas proposed the Irish secretaryship for him. (Loughborough pretended that Pitt was prepared to create the vice-presidency of the Board of Trade for him, but Dundas called this ‘a mere story’. Pitt had mentioned the office of secretary at war.) The negotiations were shelved and he returned to Minto. He learnt that Earl Spencer’s final refusal of the lord lieutenancy marred his Irish prospects at present. On 29 Aug. he was invited by Dundas to undertake a commission to Dunkirk if it fell to the allies, but it did not. When Toulon fell in September, he was sent there instead: in accepting this, he consulted Windham, but not Portland.8
The commission, about which he had many misgivings, was something of a fiasco: Elliot failed to persuade Pitt to appoint Sylvester Douglas* to accompany him. When he got there, he realized that the English hold was ‘very precarious’ and in December he informed his wife, on board ship, ‘I have escaped’. While there, however, he made a good impression and, on landing in Italy, did much to succour the French refugees who escaped with him.9 He was also sent (January 1794) to Corsica ‘to settle with Paoli the cession of Corsica to England’, which he did. He narrowly escaped death by shipwreck when sailing to Leghorn, 30 Jan. While at Florence he was appointed British commissioner to promote a confederacy of Italian states against France, and in June, at the recommendation of Portland, who to his great relief had at length agreed to take office, became viceroy of Corsica. In this capacity he opened the parliament there, but found the government’s neglect of its new possession reprehensible and began to view it in terms of personal neglect. He had hoped to see it made the focus for English interest in the Mediterranean.10 He was also disappointed in his hopes of retaining his seat for Helston: in June 1795, after repeated procrastination, he was ruled ineligible and displaced.
Elliot had intended to hold his office only until the affairs of Corsica were ‘settled’, but Portland discouraged him from returning in May 1796 to offer for Roxburghshire, where his prospects were slim, as Henry Dundas had already attempted to persuade him, and it was not until October that he was informed that the government had decided to abandon Corsica. On his return to England (March 1797) he felt demoralized: he was without either office or seat, though William Elliot* had long been lobbying ministers for him. He did not succeed in getting one: Pitt was inaccessible. He found that his mission to Corsica was misunderstood and even had to scotch a rumour that Buonaparte had applied to him for promotion in a Corsican regiment and, on being refused, had gone to Paris and become England’s bitter enemy.11
Elliot, who continued to act with Windham, was consoled with a peerage for which he had importuned Dundas in stormy interviews in June and on 18 July. Both tried to dissuade him, and Pitt promised him the first suitable office, but none occurred and he became a peer in October 1797, settling at Roehampton. The King was sure he would be ‘of great use’ in the Lords.12 He supported union with Ireland there (March 1799). He had expressed willingness to go on a continental mission and in June 1799 was sent as envoy extraordinary to Vienna, where he concluded a treaty of alliance in June 1800, broken by the Emperor in 1801, whereupon he came home. He informed Arthur Paget*, ‘I never considered myself as a permanent member of the diplomatic corps. My anti-Gallican zeal brought me here. The peace and all that is to follow it is not to my mind.’13 He was fully in sympathy with Pitt’s resignation over Catholic relief in 1801, calling him ‘the Atlas of our reeling globe’, but after being critical of Addington’s ministry he surprised many by joining Windham and Grenville in opposition to Pitt’s second administration. The latter had hopes of sending him to St. Petersburg, but he was now averse to foreign missions. When the Grenville ministry was formed in 1806, he became president of the Board of Control, an office he ‘should have preferred almost to any other’, though without a seat in the cabinet.14 Later in the year when Lauderdale proved unacceptable to the East India Company directors, he was made governor-general of India and remained there until 1813. Though expected to be ‘smooth and cautious’, Minto, who decided not to resign his office on the fall of the ministry, showed a lively interest in Indian affairs and his tenure of office proved both controversial and momentous. He received the thanks of the House, 10 Jan. 1812, and an earldom on his retirement.15 He arrived back in England in May 1814 and, after being reunited with his many friends in London, died on his way to Minto, 21 June 1814.
His ‘zeal, activity and perseverance’ had found a scope in India denied him in his previous offices, or at least frustrated by events beyond his control. During the course of his career, he gained the unsolicited esteem of contemporaries as diverse in character as Lord St. Vincent, Lord Hervey, Burke and William Windham: the latter was inclined to disparage his intellect, but Windham benefited from Minto’s insight into his strange character. ‘Lord Minto’s manners were mild and pleasant’, according to an obituary, ‘his conversation was naturally playful—but he could make it serious and instructive ... He was an elegant scholar, a good linguist and well versed both in ancient and in modern history.’16 That he was ‘most warmly attached to his family’ was not surprising: it was a well kept secret that he had a second one, without benefit of clergy.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
Based, except where otherwise stated, on Life and Letters of Sir G. Elliot ed. Countess of Minto (1874).
- 1. NLS mss 11047, ff. 181, 185, 188, 212; 11111, f. 224; 11193, f. 83; 13339, Portland to Elliot, 12 June 1790.
- 2. Parl Portraits (1795), ii. 158.
- 3. NLS mss 11193, f. 110.
- 4. Glenbervie Jnls. 66.
- 5. Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 99; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F31/5; Holland, Mems. Whig Party, i. 24; Malmesbury Diaries, ii. 455-98; Windham Pprs. i. 117.
- 6. Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 161.
- 7. NLS mss 11048, ff. 269, 287; 11139, f. 1; Glenbervie Jnls. 117; Add. 34451, f. 438.
- 8. NLS mss 11048, ff. 292, 297; 11139, f. 30; 11159, f. 5; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 949.
- 9. Windham Pprs. i. 155-9; Sheffield City Lib. Wharncliffe mss, Lord Hervey to Lady Erne, 1 Dec. 1793; Add. 37873, f. 216.
- 10. Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1109, 1148, 1184, 1207, 1297, 1299, 1311, 1461, 1483; Windham Pprs. i. 288-95, 300, 303; Add. 37852, ff. 240, 266; Portland mss PwF3575.
- 11. H. Furber, Henry Dundas, 259; PRO 30/8/160, ff. 39, 41, 43; Portland mss PwV110.
- 12. NLS mss 11051, ff. 48, 98, 106, 108, 120, 125; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1626.
- 13. Paget Pprs. i. 319.
- 14. Windham Pprs. ii. 171; HMC Fortescue, vi. 463; vii. 300, 346, 349.
- 15. Lord Minto in India ed. Countess of Minto (1880).
- 16. Gent. Mag. (1814), ii. 393; Windham Pprs. 140; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 217; HMC Fortescue, v. 88.