Elgin 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

Elgin (1708); Banff (1710); Cullen (1713), Banffshire; Inverurie, Kintore, Aberdeenshire


17 Sept. 1713HON. JAMES MURRAY3
 Alexander Reid21
5 Apr. 1714HON. JAMES MURRAY, re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

Although the shires of Elgin, Aberdeen and Banff were noted for widespread sympathy towards the causes espoused by the cavalier wing of the Scottish Country party, the five burghs which comprised this post-Union district had only returned one Country oppositionist to the last Scottish parliament, namely William Sutherland for Elgin. Although Sutherland was a future Jacobite rebel, even he had voted both ways on the Union, against the first article but in favour of ratification. The other burgh commissioners were firmly in the Court interest: Sir Alexander Ogilvy, Lord Forglen SCJ (Banff), Hon. Patrick Ogilvy (Cullen), Sir Robert Forbes (Inverurie) and Sir George Allardice* (Kintore). Of these only Forbes was not directly connected to Lord Seafield. As a leading supporter of Union, Seafield had been able to secure nominations for Patrick Ogilvy and Allardice to the first Parliament of Great Britain. At the 1708 election, however, Allardice naturally deferred to the claim of Ogilvy, Seafield’s brother, to represent the district. He was returned unanimously and without a contest. At the election it was stipulated that Ogilvy should undertake to ‘serve all sessions of the ensuing Parliament at his own expense’.2

At the 1710 election Seafield’s candidate was Alexander Reid, the son of a local laird and a burgess of Kintore, who (as Lord Forglen’s son-in-law and Alexander Abercromby’s* cousin) was part of Seafield’s connexion. Reid voted in his own favour at the election as commissioner from Kintore and was returned, apparently without a contest. Yet his election may not have been entirely unanimous, for it was noted on the return as ‘by plurality’. Outright opposition to Seafield’s interest emerged during the life of this Parliament. The Earl of Kintore and his eldest son Lord Inverurie, who each held sway over his namesake burgh, were approached by Hon. James Murray. It was reported to Lord Seafield (now Findlater) in December 1712 that ‘being apprehensive of losing Dumfriesshire’, Murray was ‘doing what he can to secure your burghs’. Murray was not only Lord Inverurie’s nephew, but also a champion of the episcopalian interest, having been a leading proponent of the recent Toleration and Patronages Acts. Episcopalians were influential at Elgin, and if this vote was secured (and Murray’s uncle could deliver those of Kintore and Inverurie), then Findlater’s interest with Banff and Cullen would be of no account. In this context it should also be noted that, whereas Banff and Cullen, at Seafield’s behest, had sent loyal addresses which merely thanked the Queen for communicating the peace terms, those from Elgin, Inverurie and Kintore took pains to join their thanks for the peace with gratitude for religious toleration. Elgin’s address ventured to refer to the ‘afflicted sons of the episcopal church’, who were bound to defend the Queen’s hereditary title against her enemies abroad and ‘an inveterate faction at home’, a statement verging on Jacobitism. There had been rumours of clandestine co-operation, in the neighbourhood of Elgin, with French privateers, during the invasion scare of 1708, and Lord Inverurie and Murray were future Jacobite rebels. In the prelude to the 1713 election, however, it was Murray’s attitude towards episcopalian rights, rather than his opinion on the succession, which was probably more significant.3

The episcopalians of Elgin had been involved in a longstanding conflict with the Scottish authorities over freedom of worship. The congregation was one of the first to make use of the English prayer book after 1702, and in 1703 had attempted to justify before the Scottish privy council its call to an episcopalian minister. Having been at the forefront of the increasing assertiveness of episcopalianism, the provost and magistrates of Elgin naturally sought to extract maximum benefit from the Toleration Act. The controversy focused on the peculiar circumstance that there were two church buildings in Elgin. The larger was served by two Presbyterian ministers and supported by an adequate benefice. Although there had been occasional attempts to fund a third minister, to serve in the smaller church, these had not been sustained. The little church, lacking a benefice, had fallen into disuse. It was to this church that the episcopalians had made their call to a minister in 1702, but they had been forced, by legal retaliation from the Presbyterians, into vacating the premises. In the wake of the successful parliamentary campaign for toleration, an ostentatious service was held in the little church on 29 May 1712, the anniversary of the Restoration. The ceremony was conducted by Elgin’s episcopalian minister Robert Blair in conjunction with the chaplain of an English regiment stationed locally. This was considered sufficiently newsworthy to merit mention in the English press. There was a predictable Presbyterian backlash: action was taken in the Scottish courts against this so-called ‘intrusion’. Despite being fined by the court of session in December 1712, the magistrates of Elgin appealed to the Lords in April 1713 and obtained a reversal of the judgment in July. The burgh’s ability to finance this appeal had been partly met by voluntary subscription, organized by the bishop of Edinburgh. The extent to which Murray contributed to Elgin’s victory is unclear, but he certainly espoused this cause in private, and emerged as a candidate for the district at the same time as the magistrates of Elgin were suffering at the hands of the Scottish courts. It is significant that Murray’s election was supported by the provost (who had been active in the ecclesiastical controversy) and that ‘none in that town were so violent for Mr Murray as the meeting house minister, Mr Blair, who is said to have taken off the whole trades’.4

Prior to departing from London to prepare for the election, Murray attempted to persuade Lord Findlater (the former Seafield) to support his candidacy. This strategy was made plausible by the fact that both men, having been involved in the recent campaign to dissolve the Union, shortly afterwards reverted to the Court. Although political co-operation was theoretically possible, Findlater refused to accede to Murray’s request and continued to support Reid’s candidacy. Yet, as late as May 1713, one of Findlater’s agents had reported that Reid would probably refuse to stand for the district. This may be attributed to Reid’s aspirations to represent Aberdeenshire, and to this end he was encouraging Thomas Erskyne of Pittodrie to stand for the district, supplying him with advice on how best to obtain Lord Kintore’s favour, and promising ‘if possible to convert Findlater upon this head’. This attempt failed, for Findlater gave instructions to his agent in August to ‘wait on my Lord Forglen and concur with him in speaking to the magistrates of Banff and Elgin in favours of Mr Reid; if they befriend him, both these communities shall oblige me to do them what service is in my power’. Findlater’s rejection of Erskyne, a known Jacobite, was hardly surprising. Moreover, Erskyne looked to the Earl of Mar’s brother Lord Grange SCJ (Hon. James Erskine†) for support, and Mar endorsed Findlater’s decision to support Reid. Moral support was also forthcoming from Lord Ilay, who took the trouble to inform Reid that ‘Lord Inverurie wanted to know whether his concerning himself for Mr Murray would please the Court’. In reporting this to Findlater on 30 Aug. Reid noted that the ‘letters I have from your lordship and my Lord Mar I hope will make this easy’. At this juncture he had clearly decided to stand, but had not informed Erskyne of the change in circumstances. In early September the latter only suspected that Reid was about to renege on their arrangement. If his suspicions were confirmed, Erskyne vowed to use his influence at Elgin to prevent Reid’s election. He also realized that his own plans to secure this burgh’s vote were threatened by the actions of the provost, George Innes of Dunkinty. The provost supported Murray, but had made this engagement, according to Erskyne, ‘without the knowledge of the magistracy and council, which I have improven so the town is resolved to come into my measures and to carry it in the council if arguments do not prevail’. Yet Erskyne proved unable to prevent the provost from assuming the electoral commission, and consequently declined to stand at the district election. He was even persuaded to support Reid: one of Findlater’s agents reported that as part of the preparations for the main election, Erskyne, in company with Reid, Lord Forglen, and William Gordon of Forskan, ‘went to Elgin and made several friends there’. They were unable to overturn the provost’s commissionership, but made sure that protests were entered against the manner of his election. The three bailies who thus protested were subsequently commended to Findlater as ‘your lordship’s real friends’. Such protests formed the first line of attack at the election.5

Gordon of Forskan, as praeses and commissioner for Cullen, accused Innes of having secured his commission improperly at a meeting which had been convened while certain members of the council were absent from town. To this complaint was added the assertion that at least one of the provost’s supporters had failed to take the abjuration oath. The praeses also objected against the returns from Kintore and Inverurie ‘in so far as they did not bear [that] the commissioners named therein to be men fearing God or of the true Protestant religion publicly professed’. Furthermore, it was asserted that these individuals did neither ‘bear a part of the public burdens’, nor fully participate in the business of their burghs. If only one of these three commissions had been rejected, then Cullen with the support of Banff could have carried the election. This strategy was defeated, however, by the refusal of any of the disputed commissioners to submit to the immediate judgment of the meeting, preferring rather that these matters should be referred to Parliament. As a last-ditch effort, Banff and Cullen raised the objection that Murray was ‘neither resident nor burgess in any of the five burghs’. In reply it was maintained that he was burgess of both Elgin and Inverurie. The objection that these burgess-tickets had only been made out after the issuing of the writs was simply brushed aside. The question of expenses was then raised, with Reid, who was present, offering to serve gratis. Murray’s absence, argued the commissioners from Cullen and Banff, left it unclear ‘at what rate he would serve’. The other burghs answered that they would, if necessary, pay any expenses, a response which elicited the complaint that the commissioner for Inverurie was thereby abandoning a previous agreement with Cullen and Banff. On this rather lame point the objections ceased, and Murray was returned by the votes of Elgin, Kintore and Inverurie.6

When these events were subsequently related to Findlater’s son, Lord Deskford, he expressed his gratitude to those in Elgin who had ‘stood so firmly to my interest for [Reid of] Barra’, and instructed his agent to ‘employ them in the way of business for anything I may want for my family till I have the opportunity to do them better service, and tell [Gordon of] Forskan that I shall not [let] slip the first opportunity I have to do him kindness’. He expressed concern at any idea of obtaining a double return by virtue of Findlater’s role as sheriff of Banff. Deskford insisted that ‘Mr Murray should be simply returned, and notwithstanding thereof it will be still competent to Barra to lodge a petition and make it a controverted election, if we think proper, upon the objections made at the election, which I think were very well founded and rightly managed’. Reid wrote to Findlater on 25 Sept., claiming that ‘there was nothing wanting in my diligence to have made it miscarry, but . . . I have a very good right to be returned, if your lordship sees fit’. In the meantime, he sought support for his Aberdeenshire canvass. Findlater agreed to the latter request, but declined either to make a double return, or to support a petition (even after Reid failed to capture the county seat). This decision stemmed from Findlater’s fear of falling foul of the Commons as a peer interfering in an election. He was also aware of the difference between returning officers in England and a Scottish sheriff in a burghal election: the latter was not ‘judge competent’ and therefore it was improper for him to make a double return. His reluctance to instigate a petition may have been influenced by a letter from Murray, in which the sitting Member offered to ‘be as much my Lord Findlater’s servant as any man he could have brought in for that place’. Murray expressed himself willing to regard Findlater’s recent actions as having been ‘rather in favour of your friend than against me’ and hinted that if Findlater were to write to Lord Kintore and the provost of Elgin, ‘expressing your approbation of their choice’, then he might rely on the proxy of Lord Stormont (Murray’s father) at the next Scottish peerage election.7

Findlater was so far reconciled to Murray’s return as to support his re-election upon appointment to office in 1714, writing to Deskford:

In respect that Mr Murray is now in the Queen’s service and has made his application to me I wish that he may meet with no opposition, so, as far as you can with the town of Banff and Cullen, endeavour to prevent it . . . You must also acquaint the magistracy of Banff that I could not write to them because this is still [a] matter of election. I am extremely sensible of their friendship to me and I hope that they will continue to take my advice.

Murray was returned unanimously and without a contest. This electoral pact was terminated by the Hanoverian succession. Findlater was determined to distance himself from the late administration and to prove that he would ‘continue firm to the established government’. He secured loyal addresses from those burghs and shires within his sphere of influence, pointing out that these would ‘contribute very much to the safety of those who sign them’. Conversely, the succession drove Murray to Jacobitism. This transformation did not, however, take place until after he had contested a bitter election in 1715, at which Findlater supported the Duke of Argyll’s cousin John Campbell*.8

Author: David Wilkinson


  • 1. SRO, Seafield mss GD248/594/6/20, acct. of election, 17 Sept. 1713.
  • 2. SRO, Hamilton mss GD406/1/4672, 4870 Earl Marischal to [Hamilton], 9 Jan. 1700, Saltoun to same, 3 May 1701; Hist. Scot. Parl. 14, 248, 551, 548, 686; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 124-5, 331, 334; Recs. of Elgin (New Spalding Club), i. 374.
  • 3. C219/110; Seafield mss GD248/593/7/54, acct. of election, 27 Oct. 1710; GD248/561/?47/46, John Philp to [Findlater], 23 Dec. 1712; London Gazette, 29-31 July, 11-14 Oct. 1712, 7-10, 10-14 Mar 1712[-13]; Post Boy, 7-9 Aug. 1712; Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 237; HMC Lords, n.s. viii. 149, 151.
  • 4. Clarke thesis, 186, 189-90; Add. 61629, ff. 143, 146; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 260; Christ Church, Oxf. Wake mss 5, f. 13; HMC Portland, x. 248-51, 273, 398; Post Boy, 17-19 June 1712; Shaw and Gordon, Hist. Province of Moray (1882), i. 374; Seafield mss GD248/561/47/45-46, John Philp to [Findlater], 18, 23 Dec. 1712; GD248/561/48/19, [same] to Findlater, 5 Mar. 1713; GD248/561/49/16, John to William Lorimer, 16 May 1713; HMC Lords, n.s. x. 53-54; NLS, ms 1454, f. 90; Atholl mss at Blair Atholl, box 45, bdle. 10, no.81, Murray to [Atholl], 17 July 1712.
  • 5. Seafield mss GD248/561/49/23, 30, 36, Findlater to [?William Lorimer], 21 Aug. 1713, William Lorimer to Findlater, 26 Sept. 1713, Murray to [Findlater], 28 Sept. 1713; GD248/561/49/16, John to William Lorimer, 16 May 1713; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1009/?3-4, Reid to Erskyne, 7 May 1713, Erskyne to Grange, 8 Sept. 1713; GD248/561/48/56, Reid to Findlater, 30 Aug. 1713; GD248/594/6, acct. of election, 17 Sept. 1713; Jacobite Cess Roll of Aberdeenshire (New Spalding Club), 82; A. and H. Tayler, Jacobites of Aberdeenshire and Banffshire 56-58.
  • 6. Seafield mss GD248/594/6/?20, acct. of election, 17 Sept. 1713; GD248/561/49/?30, William Lorimer to Findlater, 26 Sept. 1713.
  • 7. Seafield mss GD248/566/88/?39, Deskford to William Lorimer, n.d. [aft. 17 Sept. 1713]; GD248/?561/?49/?35, 36, Reid to Findlater, 25 Sept. 1713, Murray to Findlater, 28 Sept. 1713; Atholl mss, box 45, bdle. 11, no. 138, John Fleming to Atholl, 23 Oct. 1713.
  • 8. GD248/561/50/21, Findlater to [Deskford], 9 Mar. 1714; GD248/561/47/48, John Philp to William Lorimer, 27 Oct. 1714; GD248/561/51/4, 22, 25-26, 28, J[ohn] Lorimer to [William Lorimer], 2 Nov. 1714, Findlater to same, 5 Oct. 1714, Alexander Ogilvy to same, 12 Oct. 1714, [Lady Deskford] to [Ld. Deskford], 17 Oct. 1714; [Philp] to [William Lorimer], 21 Oct. 1714.