Berwickshire (Merse)

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:

65 in 17101


 Sir Patrick Hume, Bt. 
 George Winrame13

Main Article

The 1702 election to the Scottish parliament was fiercely contested in Berwickshire, with eight candidates competing for the four available seats. One of these, George Baillie, wisely took the precaution of also obtaining his return for Lanarkshire, eventually opting to sit there, despite being comfortably returned in the first three commissions for Berwickshire, together with Sir John Hume, 2nd Bt., of Blackadder and Sir Robert Sinclair, 3rd Bt., of Longformacus. The returns of Blackadder and Longformacus were not disputed, but Sir John Swinton* and Sir Patrick Hume, 1st Bt., of Lumsden were only seated on petition. All proved hostile to the Court in the ensuing parliament, and the minutes of the election confirm the existence of a Country platform in support of triennial parliaments, increased county representation in parliament, and consultation between commissioners and constituents before settling the succession or supporting union with England. Lumsden and Longformacus remained in opposition and opposed the Union, whereas Swinton voted in favour, albeit as an opposition cross-voter. Blackadder had defected from opposition to the ‘New Party’ in 1704, and, following his death in 1706, was succeeded at a by-election by a younger son of the Earl of Marchmont. This kept alive the Squadrone interest in the shire, and may even have been a means of keeping the seat warm for Baillie. As hereditary sheriff, Marchmont exercised substantial influence, though his authority was somewhat undermined by a rival claim to the sheriffdom from the earls of Home. The 6th Earl (d. 1706) was a prominent cavalier, and the 7th, who shared his father’s Jacobite sympathies, eventually made good the family’s claim as a consequence of his support for the ministry of Robert Harley*. The cavalier interest in the county was not unified, however, and the impecunious earls of Home were in danger of being overshadowed by the indirect but considerable influence of the Duke of Hamilton.2

The 1708 election appears to have gone to a contest, since canvassing against Baillie continued to the eve of the poll. For all this, Baillie possessed a commanding interest, both as Marchmont’s son-in-law and as a national political figure in his own right. Despite having sacrificed his Country credentials through his conduct as a leading member of the Squadrone, he could nevertheless claim credit for his successful attack on the Scottish Court party in the first Parliament of Great Britain. As a noted Presbyterian, he could also rely on support from the Kirk, and from the episcopalians might expect neutrality, if not goodwill, as a consequence of the Junto-Squadrone electoral pact with Hamilton. Baillie was alarmed to learn, however, that Sir Patrick Hume of Lumsden intended to stand. A wealthy lawyer of dubious morality, who allegedly had gained his estate by sharp practice, Lumsden had enjoyed Hamilton’s support in 1702, but was not prepared to follow the Duke’s lead in 1708. Baillie thought that Lumsden’s influence was ‘not to be despised’, particularly if united with that of Swinton, for the latter’s disappointment at being squeezed out of the county might lead him to support Lumsden out of pique. Baillie’s counter-measures were belated, partly because of a delayed departure from London. He did not campaign seriously until five days before the election, conducting a rapid canvass, both by personal interviews and correspondence. Baillie gave the following assessment of his prospects on the eve of the election:

I know not how the election will go. I’m doing what I can, and had I been home sooner it would have been more secure. As to my own particular concern, I’m very indifferent, for it should be my choice and much more for my interest to stay at home and I must say there is little encouragement to be of a public spirit when a man noted like Sir Patrick (whether just he or not I know not) is like to make such an interest. And what enemies I have are wholly on the public account . . . As far as I can learn, we shall need all our friends.

Judging by the outcome, his preparations were sufficient, and Lumsden did not petition against the return.3

Baillie’s appointment to office in April 1710, which took place during the recess, would have required a by-election if Parliament had not been dissolved in September. In view of previous problems, Baillie did not wish to be caught unawares, and endeavoured to obtain sufficient support from Hamilton to neutralize Lumsden. Marchmont, for his part, took an active role and had laid some valuable groundwork by early August. Simultaneously, however, an attack on the seat was being organized by the Earl of Mar, the aspiring Scottish manager for the Harley ministry. Mar wished to unseat Baillie in order to facilitate his removal from the Board of Trade, with the additional benefit of obtaining a compliant Member for Berwickshire. Mar’s strategy, which was already formulated in mid-August, involved supporting the Earl of Home’s claim to the sheriffdom, which together with Hamilton’s co-operation might secure the election. Unfortunately, Mar rather took Hamilton’s support for granted, and only discovered later that the Duke had agreed to support Baillie. This situation gave rise to a series of embarrassing encounters at court, as Mar explained to his son on 14 Sept. 1710:

[I write] to let the full truth be known in case the Duke of Hamilton do not keep counsel . . . but attempt to vindicate himself and throw the blame on me . . . A little after Mr Baillie went from this [place] . . . and when I had reason to think the Duke of Hamilton and I were designing the same things and to go into the same measures, he one day told me that Mr Baillie . . . came to him and assured him that he was more his than anybody’s, with abundance of more compliments and desired his friendship and protection. His Grace asked me what I thought of it, I told him that I did not doubt but Mr Baillie would be glad to have him his friend and the more that none of those he used to be in friendship seemed to be now so much in the way of serving him, but I could not think . . . he would leave his old friends . . . to this the Duke seemed to acquiesce . . . When Lord Ilay returned from Scotland . . . he told me that Lord Home designed to join us, and that he was to set up a friend of his . . . in opposition to Mr Baillie and desired my concurrence . . . Lord Home . . . wrote me a letter offering his service to the Queen and desired I would speak to one of the secretaries to procure him a commission to be sheriff of that county . . . I thought it my duty to let the Queen know this and . . . I told her that Lord Home desired it soon because of the elections and that he was setting up one there where Mr Baillie was. Her Majesty was pleased to agree to what was proposed for Lord Home and passed the commission on Tuesday last . . . I chanced to visit the Duke of Hamilton last night and as I was going away he desired me to sit down for he has something to tell me. Says he, ‘Tis in my power by my friend Sir Patrick Home [of Lumsden] to make the election of the Merse go either for Mr Baillie or my Lord Home’s friend Mr [George] Winrame [of Eyemouth] and I have told the Queen so and asked her which way Sir Patrick shall be’, upon which he said she desired him to be for Mr Baillie and that he wrote accordingly.

In fact, Hamilton was not being entirely frank with Mar, creating the misleading impression that his instructions to Lumsden had only just been despatched. It appeared to Mar that the situation was salvageable, and he therefore sought an interview with the Queen the following day:

After I had stated it fully to her Majesty . . . she said that it was quite a different case from what she imagined . . . and that it must be remedied. She asked me if a flying pacquet could be as soon at Edinburgh as last post. I told her if it went then, it might, upon which the Queen would have had me carry a message to the Duke of Hamilton that he should write to Sir Patrick to join with Lord Home. I begged the Queen not to put that upon me, but to give him what commands she thought fit out of her own mouth, upon which she desired me to go to find out the Duke immediately and send him to her.

Hamilton was ‘very unwilling to go to the Queen’, reluctantly admitting that he had already received Lumsden’s answer about Baillie’s election, the Duke having already written to him on this topic ‘above a fortnight ago’ (an admission confirmed by Baillie’s own correspondence, which reveals that on 6 Sept. Hamilton had shown Roxburghe a written promise from Lumsden promising support for Baillie). Mar was furious and insisted that Hamilton ‘must go back to the Queen’ and allow her to decide on the best course of action. Hamilton lamely suggested that Home might not be affronted, and simply refused to shoulder responsibility for the consequences of his actions. Eventually he agreed to wait on the Queen, who declined to take any immediate action, but promised to give her decision the next day. Mar gave the following account to Harley of this latter meeting:

She told me that upon thinking further upon that affair she could not desire the Duke of Hamilton to contradict what he had formerly wrote, since he had wrote so long ago . . . I submitted . . . that I was afraid of the consequence it would have, and desired she might remember I was not to blame . . . This afternoon I was with the Duke of Hamilton and he told me that the Queen had said to him much to the same purpose . . . Said I, ‘But since it is thus over, is it not best for your Grace and me to write nothing of what had happened?’ . . . ‘No’, says he, ‘I must write and vindicate myself’ . . . He said he must write because the Queen had bid him go on and get Baillie chosen. Now if he do so it will make the matter worse than ever it was and get Baillie chosen most certainly, which I presume neither the Queen nor you design.

Both Mar and Hamilton, in fact, wrote confidentially to Scotland, so that their own versions could be disseminated discreetly. The effect of this episode on the outcome of the election remains debatable. Hamilton’s support undoubtedly assisted Baillie, but the converse assertion, which Mar accepted at face value, that Hamilton and Lumsden could have tipped the scales in favour of Lord Home’s candidate, is questionable. There was in fact considerable ill feeling between Home and Lumsden. At one point the Earl considered abandoning his challenge to Baillie, musing that an accommodation might ‘for ever defeat Sir Patrick Hume [of Lumsden], who has always been designing my prejudice, both in my public and private affairs’.4

The canvassing by Lord Home on behalf of George Winrame (or Winraham) of Eyemouth was ostensibly on the basis of the candidate’s respectability and inherent worth; but observers were perfectly aware of Home’s underlying political sympathies. Richard Dongworth, an indefatigable quantifier of episcopalianism in Scotland, noted with approval that Home kept an episcopal chaplain at his family seat, and implied his support for the meeting house at Coldringham. Hon. Sir David Dalrymple, 1st Bt.*, from the opposite perspective, deemed Winrame utterly unsuitable because this was ‘the first time he had been willing to take the oaths of any kind since the Revolution’. A number of replies to Home from freeholders also indicates the strength of support upon which Baillie could rely. One stated baldly that ‘I am so pre-engaged for [Baillie of] Jerviswood that I could not desert him, though my father should stand his opposite’; another, more diplomatically, craved time ‘to inform myself and to consider upon this affair’; a third simply professed a willingness to serve Home ‘in anything I could do legally’, but denied that he fulfilled the land qualification, ‘never being in use to vote’. The question of prior commitment was particularly important: Home gradually realized that ‘we were, indeed, too late in appearing and several who would have been on our side were pre-engaged, which they now very much regret’. Although this sentiment may have been genuine in some instances, it was not universally the case. Lord Lauderdale admitted to a confidant, in early October, that he had just received a letter from Marchmont requesting him to use his influence to secure two voters: ‘accordingly I wrote to them both in as pressing terms as I could’. However, he went on to explain that some eight days previously he had received a letter in similar terms from Lord Home: ‘I answered his lordship that I believed the gentlemen were pre-engaged . . . I would not have it known that I wrote to them since the receipt of my Lord Home’s letter’.5

The weight of local influence against Home was considerable. He listed the ‘supporters of the other party’, as the ‘Dukes [of] Hamilton and Roxburghe, Earls Lauderdale, Marchmont and Hyndford, Lords Polwarth, Minto, and Lord Advocate [Dalrymple]’. With such wide-ranging support, waverers could be disciplined in a variety of ways. Thus Lauderdale’s bailiff, who possessed a vote, was brought to heel; and pressure was brought to bear, via Lord Seafield, on another voter, whose son held an excise post in Leith; yet another was given moral support against a threatened prosecution emanating from the Home camp. In view of the strength of Baillie’s support, much depended on the advantage which Home might derive from the sheriffdom. Marchmont took this threat very seriously, and as soon as he got wind of Home’s claim wrote to the Queen, emphasizing his own loyal service and denigrating his competitor, ‘who has as yet given no proof of his affection to your government’. Marchmont initially believed that Home would adopt the conventional approach of proving his case in the courts, so as to ‘qualify himself in law, and enter into the office upon a hereditary right’. In fact, through Mar’s influence with the Queen, this time-consuming process was side-stepped, and Home obtained ‘a gift of the office from her Majesty during pleasure’. Although Marchmont interpreted this as ‘a token that my Lord Home has not any other right that will bear’, the immediate effect was inescapable. During the period of uncertainty in early September, Marchmont had attempted to pre-empt Home’s accession to the sheriffdom by surreptitiously obtaining the electoral writ for Berwickshire. On 10 Sept. he wrote to the Scottish solicitor general, Sir James Stewart, 1st Bt.*:

You know all writs are directed to the sheriff of the shire, without naming the person, and the writ will certainly come to your hand . . . and if you can order matters so as to send the writ to me, who am at present sheriff, it may prevent a great deal of uncertainty and trouble which might otherwise follow to Jerviswood’s election though he should have never so many valid votes. Therefore if it can be done without a stretch which might reflect upon you, I wish the writ may be without delay sent to me so soon as it comes to hand.

Once it became clear that Home had obtained the office by direct royal grant, Marchmont was forced to abandon this approach, and wrote instead to the Queen informing her that he would ‘forbear further acting as sheriff, or giving any hindrance to Lord Home in his exercise of that gift . . . till the matter be determined in the cause of common law’. Home, therefore, secured the writ and commissioned his sheriff depute without any interference. Despite this advantage, Baillie triumphed by an impressive majority ‘in a full meeting of barons and freeholders’, leaving no scope for a double return or petition. Winrame had contemplated a bizarre expedient to subvert the election, namely to frame the commission ‘in such general terms as may be most for the Queen’s interest and that whoever is to be elected may be obliged to act accordingly, in case he contravene by reasonings in Parliament or otherwise the commission shall devolve upon another who may be also named therein and no vote to be allowed the contravenor’. He naively imagined that ‘when this is offered at the meeting the other party may be against it, but if brought to a vote will carry because many of that party are really the Earl of Home’s friends, but pre-engaged before his design was known’. That such harebrained schemes were in contemplation indicates how strongly the tide was running against Winrame in the run-up to the election - an impression confirmed by the complaint of one of Mar’s kinsmen, Erskine of Shefield, that ‘I find by my voting against Jerviswood I will lose the favour of some of my good friends here, which will be no small prejudice to me’. Lord Home sensed the prevailing mood and was in little doubt as to the cause, citing the case of Sir George Hume of Wedderburn, 2nd Bt., who had been threatened ‘with ruin’ by his father-in-law Lumsden:

Wedderburn has three or four voters who promised to go along with him and who would undoubtedly serve our interest if left to themselves, but Sir Patrick’s threatenings are against him and all that concur with him. This proceeds from Sir Patrick immediately, but a great man [Hamilton] is the cause thereof. We daily meet with more and more discouragements. Some of our barons pretend the Kirk is in hazard, others are cajoled, a third sort are threatened, a fourth stand off because of oaths, and a fifth pretend to be such politicians as not to declare themselves till the day of election.

That Home’s interest was fundamentally Jacobite is confirmed not simply by his reference to supporters being unwilling to take the oaths, but also by the fact that Wedderburn was out in the Fifteen, whereas Home himself was pre-emptively arrested.6

In the aftermath of the defeat in 1710 Home attempted to prepare the ground for the next election. His strategy was to exploit his status as a representative peer to promote a private bill in the Lords, transferring the sheriff court from Greenlaw to Duns. An ambiguity about their respective rights existed because the ancient county town of Berwick had been long since absorbed into England. Since Greenlaw’s immediate right of precedence depended on a Scottish act of 1696, it was conceivable that, with backing from the Court, a British act in favour of Duns might be obtained. Marchmont lobbied vigorously against this initiative, which he described as ‘a great prejudice to my fortune and a thing highly dishonourable to me and my family’. Unable to influence the Lords’ proceedings directly himself, and with no Squadrone peers in the 1710 Parliament, Marchmont used Baillie as his chief instrument, but also wrote on this matter to a dozen leading English peers. On 17 Apr. 1711 Baillie reported that he had ‘at last got Home to give over prosecuting the affair of Greenlaw till Marchmont and he meet’. No further proceedings ensued, indicating that some compromise was reached, and the next election took place at Greenlaw, as before.7

There was no contest in 1713, Baillie being returned ‘unanimously’. After the Hanoverian succession Marchmont was restored to the sheriffdom, and was therefore in a position to defeat any threat to his political leadership in the county. In May 1715 he warned Home against convening a freeholders’ meeting at Duns to complain about Scotland’s sufferings under the Union. Treating him to a lecture on the merits of the succession as established by law, Marchmont also pointed out that

the heritors at the head courts, and the justices of the peace at their quarter sessions, meet by authority, and are legal meetings; but how any [other] person can call together warrantably the heritors to a meeting, or how such a meeting can consult or act in what relates to the government of the kingdom . . . I cannot comprehend.

The failure of the Jacobite rising in 1715, merely served to confirm the dominance of the Marchmont interest in the shire. Baillie was returned without difficulty over the next two decades, his daughter claiming that this was achieved ‘without its ever costing him a shilling, except a dinner the day of election’.8

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Roxburghe mss at Floors Castle, bdle. 767, Roxburghe to his mother [6 Nov. 1710].
  • 2. Duns Lib. Local Hist. Coll. Folio 9, folder 36, Berwicks. electoral ct. mins. 22 Oct. 1702; NLS, ms 14498, ff. 82-83; Buccleuch mss at Drumlanrig Castle, bdle. 1155, Seafield to Queensberry, n.d. [1702]; Douglas-Home mss at the Hirsel, box 21, folder 4, Dalrymple to Home, 20 Sept. 1702; Roxburghe mss, bdle. 738, R. Hay to Countess of Roxburghe, 1 Oct. 1702; APS, xi. 38-39, 45; Hist. Scot. Parl. 30, 349-52, 642, 689; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 12, 333-4.
  • 3. Hist. Scot. Parl. 351-2; Pringle mss at Torwoodlee, box 13, Baillie to Greenknow, 23, 26 May 1708.
  • 4. NLS, ms 14413, f. 11; SRO, Hume of Marchmont mss GD158/967, ff.19, 29; Add. 70048, Mar to Harley, 25 Aug. 1710; Haddington mss at Mellerstain, 4, [Roxburghe] to Baillie, 6 Sept. 1710 (ex inf. Dr C. Jones); SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/975/19, Mar to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 14 Sept. 1710; GD124/15/1017, Home to Grange, 28 Oct. 1710; HMC Portland, x. 342-4, 353-7.
  • 5. Christ Church, Oxf. Wake mss 5, f. 10; Add. 70230, Dalrymple to Harley, 10 Oct. 1710; Douglas-Home mss, box 22, folder 2, Patrick Scott to Home, 19 Sept. 1710, James Peter to same, 20 Sept. 1710, Patrick Rochester to same, 2 Oct. 1710; SRO, Seafield mss GD248/800/3, Lauderdale to [Seafield], 5 Oct. 1710.
  • 6. Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1017-8, Home to Grange, 28 Oct. 1710, Winrame to same, 29 Oct. 1710; GD124/15/1007, John Erskine of Shefield to same, 11 Sept. 1710; Seafield mss GD248/560/45/59, Marchmont to Seafield, 2 Oct. 1710; GD248/800/3, Lauderdale to [same], 5 Oct. 1710; Hume of Marchmont mss GD158/967, pp. 40-5; Marchmont Pprs. iii. 373, 376; Scots Courant, 6-8 Nov. 1710; Roxburghe mss, bdle. 767, Roxburghe to mother [6 Nov. 1710].
  • 7. Hume of Marchmont mss GD158/967, pp. 49-50, 65-7; Haddington mss 4, Baillie to wife, 17 Apr. 1711 (ex inf. Dr C. Jones); R. Gibson, An Old Berwickshire Town, 145; C219/114.
  • 8. Atholl mss at Blair Atholl, box 45, bdle. 11, no. 37, John Douglas to [Atholl], 22 Oct. 1713; Marchmont Pprs. iii. 383-4; Lady Murray, Mems. of George Baillie (1824), 23.