Glasgow 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

Glasgow (1708), Lanarkshire; Dumbarton (1710); Renfrew (1713); Rutherglen, Lanarkshire


 Daniel Campbell21
27 Oct. 1710THOMAS SMITH 
 Sir James Smollett 
17 Sept. 1713THOMAS SMITH 

Main Article

Glasgow, the most important burgh in this district, benefited immensely from the Union, steadily increasing in wealth through its access to imperial markets. Such advantages, however, were not immediately apparent. Vociferous anti-Unionism preceded the treaty of 1707, and for the remainder of the war Glasgow merchants were more prone to lament shipping losses than to proclaim the economic rewards of Union. Viewed over the longer term, Glasgow’s progress was undeniable: an adventurous mercantile spirit was clearly in evidence by the second half of the 17th century, being further enhanced by the establishment of Port Glasgow and the negotiation of the Clyde privileges from Dumbarton. Glasgow merchants, numbering some 100 in 1690, had long and skilfully exploited the re-export trade; and economic historians now emphasize the symbiotic relationship between such entrepot-trading and industrial development. The mercantile elite had not merely enriched itself in isolation: wealth brought in its wake a keenness to develop local manufacturing, and international trade made it necessary to initiate complicated transactions, such skills themselves providing a further boost towards economic growth. Scottish commercial expertise undoubtedly lagged behind English; but ubiquitous contact with London for financial services allowed many shortcomings to be circumvented. Indeed, it has been noted that the more rigorous enforcement of English trade restrictions was an element in short-term political manoeuvring preceding unification. If Glasgow merchants had been eager to grasp the economic carrot of Union, they had certainly taken a beating over the Company of Scotland. The council had subscribed £3,450 to the Darien scheme, and the total losses sustained by private individuals was four times this sum. These losses contributed to a relative slump in trade, and resentment on this score was a contributory cause of anti-Union riots in November 1706. To the fore on this occasion, however, were popular fears about the security of the Kirk if Scottish representation was subsumed within an Anglican-dominated Parliament at Westminster. Under the later Stuarts, field preachers and conventicles had proliferated in western Scotland, and anti-Unionism undoubtedly had a covenanting edge. Glasgow council, moreover, had but recently escaped from episcopalian control. At the Revolution the town was granted freedom of election through the abolition of the supervisory powers of the archbishop of Glasgow. Free election did not connote popular sovereignty: Glasgow municipal elections followed the predominant Scottish pattern of self-perpetuating oligarchy. As one modern historian has pointed out, the dispute was ‘not whether the “people” would govern the city, but whether the “city” would govern itself’. The net result, as the episcopalian Jacobite George Lockhart* maintained in 1701, was that it ‘was as if the said council were come in place of the archbishop’. Nor did Presbyterian solidarity avert political strife within the merchant elite. One English observer noted that ‘Glasgow is as factious as it is rich’. All commentators were nevertheless agreed that on questions of national significance Glasgow was unreservedly Whiggish. Glasgow ‘stands on the Revolution foot’, asserted Provost Robert Rodger in 1708; and Macky deemed the town ‘the best affected’ to the Hanoverian succession ‘of any in Scotland’. MacUre, likewise, was justly proud of Glasgow’s ‘steadfast adherence to the Revolution interest and the succession of the Protestant line’. The furore which accompanied the passage of the Union swiftly subsided, and any lingering resentment proved of little or no benefit to the Jacobite cause.2

Glasgow’s last representative to the Scottish parliament, Hugh Montgomerie*, himself a member of the Union commission, had boycotted its proceedings and voted against the treaty. No evidence survives that he was particularly influenced by popular or mercantile fears, though such factors cannot be ruled out. Provost George Spence of Rutherglen, normally well-affected to ministers, also voted against the treaty. The relative openness of the franchise in Rutherglen (based on the sett of 1671 which comprehended the ‘incorporated trades and unincorporated burgesses’) made the town, after the Union, no less receptive than smaller electorates to financial inducements during canvassing. Dumbarton’s representative, Sir James Smollett*, had remained true to his Court instincts in 1706-7, even to the extent of defying specific instructions from his constituents to oppose Union. This altercation did nothing to undermine his interest in Dumbarton. Robert Wodrow, minister at Eastwood near Glasgow, recorded in the late 1720s that the Smolletts had possessed ‘the direction of that burgh since before the Revolution’. Renfrew’s last commissioner, Colin Campbell of Woodside (later of Blythswood), might have been expected to follow the Argathelian line of wholehearted support for the Union, but he abstained on this question while adhering to the Court on other issues. Blythswood had a strong interest at Renfrew and was able to influence its vote in subsequent parliamentary elections. There were undoubted limits to the influence of magnates in this district. The Duke of Montrose, who owned sizable estates in the vicinity of Dumbarton, sought a voice in elections, but found himself following events more often than setting his own agenda. Considerable deference might be expected by the Duke of Argyll from his Campbell clients, but the most ambitious of his adherents, Daniel Campbell* of Shawfield, was headstrong and self-reliant, cultivating an interest based on personal wealth and connexions in Glasgow, Renfrew and Rutherglen. With his eye flitting between a county or burgh seat, he also courted the 3rd Duchess of Hamilton’s support, her influence being derived from her role as hereditary sheriff and returning officer when either of the Lanarkshire burghs presided. The relationship between the Duchess and Glasgow was further complicated by her patronage of university bursaries; and, in the opposite direction, the influence of the council could be felt in Lanarkshire elections because ownership of Provan gave Glasgow a freeholder’s vote.3

Above all, electoral politics in this district were driven by Glasgow’s desire to dominate. In economic terms there was simply no competition. Rutherglen, as the antiquary William Hamilton recorded, had ‘very little trade . . . because Glasgow lies between it and the sea so that all merchandising men of any metal go to dwell there’. Indeed, Glasgow’s resentment on matters of trade was not so much directed against its co-electing royal burghs, as towards Greenock, a mere burgh of barony. ‘A great deal of foreign trade’, complained Glasgow’s commissioner to the royal convention of burghs in 1711, ‘and almost all the fishing of the west seas, reputed to be in the town of Glasgow, has been and is managed by the town of Greenock . . . not to mention the removal of several of our chief merchants . . . to other places where they can be easier in their stent’ (an assessment for taxation based on property values). The calculation of Glasgow’s proportion of the tax roll in the royal convention was an important issue, leading to conflict in this period with Edinburgh. Already in the 1690s Glasgow was paying 23 times as much cess as Dumbarton, Renfrew and Rutherglen put together. To the English traveller Thomas Morer, Glasgow was ‘the emporium of the west of Scotland, for its commerce and riches the second in the northern part of Great Britain’. Jealousy of Scotland’s capital was unavoidable: MacUre emphasized that Glasgow ‘has been long and justly reckoned the chief town in the kingdom next to Edinburgh’. Competition between the two burghs was all the keener because Edinburgh alone was entitled to elect a Member in its own right. It was a matter of considerable pride, therefore, that Glasgow Burghs returned none but Glasgow councillors to Westminster.4

The first candidate in the field at the 1708 election was Hon. Charles Rosse*, who enjoyed the backing of two leading Squadrone peers: his own brother Lord Ross and the Duke of Montrose. In January it was reported by a supporter of the Montrose interest that ‘Lord Ross is taking all the pains he can upon our magistrates and town council to get them to stand for his brother Major-General Ross[e] to be Parliament-man for Glasgow . . . by what I heard they are not yet all agreed but have only given general answers’. The following month the disappointing news was relayed that Glasgow council was ‘now managed in the foolishest manner imaginable for Provost Aird dictates to them, and . . . he may be foolish enough in making them determine themselves to some foolish body or side’. Hopes that an intimation from Montrose would prevent ‘rash measures’ and the outright rejection of ‘Lord Ross’s proposal’ proved groundless. John Aird, who had in fact been succeeded in office by Robert Rodger in Michaelmas 1707, was unwilling to allow the seat to fall to a non-Glaswegian; whereas Rodger himself had been active in preparing for the forthcoming election, paying close attention to procedural details and securing his own return as Glasgow’s commissioner to the district election. His competitor for the seat was Campbell of Shawfield, formerly a representative in the Scottish parliament for Inveraray and one of the Scottish Members of the first Parliament of Great Britain. Having secured the votes of Renfrew and Rutherglen, Campbell looked set to steal the seat because of the absence of Dumbarton’s delegate at the start of the election. Provost Rodger, acting as praeses, maintained his right to ‘fix the hour of the meeting’ and, after the arrival of the commissioner from Dumbarton, returned himself. Campbell had retired in disgust, indulging in the vanity of an unofficial election attended by himself as Renfrew’s delegate and Campbell of Blythswood for Rutherglen. Shawfield hoped that the Lanarkshire candidacy of the Duchess of Hamilton’s son, Lord Archibald Hamilton*, would provide sufficient leverage with the sheriff for him to be returned in preference to Rodger. The Duchess received cautious but astute advice: her Edinburgh agent reported the opinion of her eldest son (the 4th Duke) that it was

a good opportunity to get votes for Lord Archibald on both sides. Because it being in your Grace’s power to return whom you please, and there is no haste of returning either till Lord Archibald’s election be over, both the town of Glasgow and Daniel Campbell offers [sic] their votes.

Lord Ilay was pressing strongly for Campbell’s return, but the Hamiltons’ agent pointed out that there was ‘a penalty by law inflicted on sheriffs who make wrong returns’. The Duke of Hamilton sided with Campbell, but with a proviso. ‘If I had been sheriff myself’, he wrote, ‘I should have taken it upon me to have returned Daniel Campbell, for the appearance he has made for my brother Arch[ibald] at this juncture, but considering your Grace’s circumstance I can’t take it upon me to advise you.’ The Duchess eventually decided in favour of Rodger. Given the ‘Devil’s compact’ between the Duke of Hamilton and the Squadrone at the 1708 election, Campbell might therefore have expected to receive Montrose’s support for his petition. But Rodger had taken care in the meanwhile to flatter Montrose, writing to him shortly after the election:

I am heartily sorry I was out of town when your Grace was calling for me to give your advice which might be of great use to me . . . The town of Glasgow is most sensible of your Grace’s good inclinations towards them, for your Grace has given proof thereof upon every occasion, and your Grace has been so kind to myself in particular as to offer your advice in a matter I have no experience of, I should not act conform to the trust now put in my hand . . . if I did not make use of your Grace’s interest and advice to support me at this time.

So impressed was Montrose by this deference that he forwarded a copy of the letter to his Junto ally in England, the Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*), adding his own opinion that Rodger had the ‘best right to sit’ and would be more easily managed than Campbell. No direct evidence survives that proceedings on Campbell’s petition were delayed by government intervention, though this is not improbable. Locally, Campbell had not helped his cause by adopting a high-handed tone with Aird, who reportedly complained after the renewal of Campbell’s petition that he ‘would [n]ever engage the town in any unreasonable servitude’. Montrose’s agent was confident that Aird ‘would do nothing unworthy of the town of Glasgow, or belie himself as provost’. Preparations were made for a by-election should the return be declared void, Rodger being assured of the votes of Glasgow, Dumbarton and Rutherglen. Care was taken to quash rumours in London that Rodger wished to relinquish his seat, and Sunderland promised to aid him ‘in procuring justice’. Recognizing that his cause was lost, Campbell withdrew his petition; he did not stand again for this seat until 1715.5

After a lacklustre parliamentary performance, Rodger retired in 1710, and was succeeded by Glasgow’s dean of guild Thomas Smith. An assiduous reporter of parliamentary business, Smith proved a useful Member and retained the seat until his death. He endured a contest at his first election but not thereafter. Smollett sought to take advantage of Dumbarton’s role as presiding burgh in 1710, a situation which meant that only the vote of one other burgh would be required to carry the election. Smith secured his own election as Glasgow’s delegate and, though no detailed accounts of the election are known, must have persuaded Rutherglen and Renfrew to vote for him. One Scottish newspaper simply reported that Smith had defeated Smollett. The latter’s resentment apparently spilled over into the ensuing convention of royal burghs, where punitive taxation measures were taken against Glasgow and several other burghs, reportedly ‘because of the choice they had made of Members to serve in this present Parliament’. This complicated affair had many strands, however, and its alleged correlation with parliamentary elections is suggestive if not conclusive.6

The system of apportioning the tax roll of the royal burghs was explained in the following terms in an anonymous pamphlet of 1712 designed for an English audience:

The standard . . . is an imaginary hundred pounds Scots. This hundred pounds they distribute among all the burghs . . . assigning, for example, to Edinburgh perhaps forty pounds . . . to Glasgow twenty, to Perth four . . . and so on among the rest, till the whole hundred pounds be distributed . . . And this distribution of the quota or proportion of each burgh is what they call the tax roll.

It had been customary for an assessment to be preceded by an investigation of the state of each burgh, the resultant tax roll lasting for five to seven years.

But of late it has been the practice, not to settle any fixed regulation for any number of years, but to leave it to be adjusted every year . . . that the chief managers . . . might have it every year in their power to overawe the several burghs in their election of magistrates and their representatives in Parliament; by threatening them . . . with a greater share of the land tax than they had formerly bore . . . It is just the same thing as if the commissioners of the land tax for any particular county in England should at their pleasure lay the greatest part of the tax . . . on one or two hundreds or divisions of the county, in order to free the others from the burden.

Glasgow traced its own harsh treatment to a farm of the Scottish customs before the Union, when its councillors had ‘asserted their just title to their share of the profits’, unlike the majority of the other burghs which had simply surrendered ‘for a trifle’ their interest to the customs farmers, who were themselves leading members of the royal convention. As a result, Glasgow had been advanced in the tax roll, at a net cost of £404 sterling p.a. Some small-scale relief had been offered in 1707 and 1708, as was customary, in response to complaints about ‘their great loss . . . lately sustained in their shipping’. Nevertheless, after the 1710 election, 11 burghs from eight different electoral districts were unfairly apportioned responsibility for a shortfall in tax revenues caused by the non-payment of £4 in the tax roll which had been leased to an agent of the unfree burghs. A pattern of sorts is evident in the victims: in four elections (see the burgh districts of ABERDEEN, ANSTRUTHER EASTER, PERTH, STIRLING), the penalized burghs had played some role in opposing candidates supported by the Court Tory interest under the overall management of the Earl of Mar. The case of Glasgow, however, was slightly different. Smollett was indeed a former Queensberryite courtier, and as such might well have secured Mar’s approval, but no evidence survives of his candidacy being supported by the Court. Instead, this aspect of the attack was directly attributable to Glasgow’s rivalry with Edinburgh. Straightforward party-political analysis is unsustainable because the towns may not be distinguished on Whig-Tory lines, both their respective Members being Whiggish Presbyterians. Indeed, it was gleefully reported by the episcopalian minister, James Greenshields, after his celebrated appeal to the House of Lords against Presbyterian persecution, that Thomas Smith and Sir Patrick Johnston had been seen together in penitential prayer in the Commons on the morning after the trial. National political alignments on burghal taxation were further confused by the involvement of George Lockhart, Tory Member for Edinburghshire, who subsequently led the opposition against any attempt to ‘devise a rule whereby to tax the royal burghs of Scotland’. This stance placed him in the opposite camp to at least two fellow Scottish Tories. Such convoluted developments must be traced to the Land Tax Act of 1711, to which a clause had been added stipulating that the quota of cess payable by each burgh ought to be determined by its valued rent. Thus, in Smith’s words, a ‘settled rule for assessing the burghs’ would be inaugurated. ‘Any rule’, he maintained, ‘is better than no rule at all’, the main objective being to prevent Edinburgh from taking ‘what part of the cess to themselves . . . they should think fit’. The Scottish capital would inevitably resist any diminution of ‘their and their friends power over the burghs’, but this reaction would ‘lay open to the world how much they had employed it to the easing themselves and oppressing some others’. Controversy ensued in the royal convention of 1712, when Edinburgh deliberately rendered the new regulation unworkable and commenced a successful campaign to have the clause discarded in the next session of Parliament. An attempt by Glasgow and several other burghs to have it reinstated the following year also failed. It appears therefore that the alleged intimidation of those burghs which had failed to support Court candidates at the 1710 election formed only part of the controversy. Nor could such tactics ever succeed in intimidating Glasgow into electoral subservience. The introduction of this theme into Glasgow’s polemics was designed to give a constitutional slant to an otherwise self-serving desire to pay less tax.7

Smith was re-elected without a contest in 1713. Argyll and Ilay were keen to take some of the credit, having now fallen out with the Tory ministry. ‘We have chosen Mr Smith at Glasgow’, Ilay informed the Whig peer Lord Cowper (William*) in October, ‘because he has behaved himself so agreeable to your friends in England.’ Although its main purpose was to denigrate the Squadrone’s performance at the general election, this assertion was not entirely devoid of substance. One of Smith’s friends in Glasgow admitted that

it was certainly in the power of [Campbell of] Blythswood to have chosen any, having both Dumbarton and Rugland [Rutherglen] at his nod, and had declared oftener than once openly [that] he resolved to stand himself, and that morning before he went down made offer of it to [Campbell of] Shawfield, who absolutely declined it and told him it would be an affront to him [which] could not be rubbed off, everyone would believe it was a concert and was contrary to all the reasonings they had made use of with the baronry people that Tho[mas] Smith was to have the burghs . . . [Sir James Hamilton, 2nd Bt.*, of] Rosehaugh and his squad came down here that day and were in mighty hopes that Blythswood was to have been the man and . . . very wisely Blythswood met his council [Renfrew] before the election to know their mind whom they would desire, who unanimously approved T[homas] S[mith], so when the electors met he [Blythswood] hinted this in a short, pathetic speech and so [Smith was] chosen unanimously.

The arrangement between Smith and Shawfield related to Glasgow’s vote in the Lanarkshire election, where the latter stood unsuccessfully against Hamilton. His defeat was partly attributable to the town’s vote being disallowed.8

In the forefront of Scottish loyalism at the Hanoverian succession, Glasgow not only hosted celebratory processions and transmitted loyal addresses to George I, but also indulged in a little mob violence against an episcopalian minister. Seized on by Jacobites as a handle to disband the volunteer forces arming against the Pretender, the town maintained its right to organize it defences, and later offered military aid to Argyll during the Fifteen. At the 1715 election Argyll and Montrose, acting in a spirit of compromise engendered by their mutual anti-Jacobitism, had both supported the re-election of Smith, who attended in person as Glasgow’s delegate. Campbell of Shawfield, however, stood on his own interest, failing on this occasion but successfully capturing the seat after Smith’s death in 1716, by which time the Argyll-Montrose pact had ceased to exist.9

Author: David Wilkinson


  • 1. Only the votes of Glasgow and Dumbarton were registered on the official return, but those of Renfrew and Rutherglen were cast for Campbell at an unofficial return that was subsequently rejected by the sheriff: C219/106; Edinburgh Courant, 26-28 May, 31 May-2 June 1708.
  • 2. Glasgow ed. Devine and Jackson, i. 8-10, 67-76; Recs. Convention R. Burghs, iv. 10-11; J. MacUre, View of Glasgow, 1-2, 100-3, 122, 201, 207-8, 311; SHR, vii. 194-212; xlvii. 53-71; A. Gibb, Glasgow: The Making of a City, 37-53; G. Eyre-Todd, Hist. Glasgow, iii. 8-9, 30, 39-42, 54, 59, 66-73, 78; APS, x. 235-7; Extracts Glasgow Burgh Recs. iv. 399-402; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 197, 278, 282-3; J. Marwick, River Clyde and Clyde Burghs, 150-67; A. Brown, Hist. Glasgow, ii. 37; A. MacGeorge, Old Glasgow, 242-3; J. Strang, Glasgow Clubs, 5, 31-32; J. Gibson, Hist. Glasgow, 101-4; D. Daiches, Glasgow, 50-51; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/266/8, Rodger to Montrose, n.d. [aft. 26 May 1708]; T. Morer, Short Acct. of Scotland (1702), 107-8; Macky, Journey through GB, 294-5; SRO, Leven and Melville mss GD26/13/142, Rodger to Leven, 14 Mar. 1708.
  • 3. Hist. Scot. Parl. 101-2, 505, 650, 654; Riley, 274, 278, 329, 332; H. Muir, Reminiscences . . . of Rutherglen, 161; W. R. Shearer, Rutherglen Lore, 290, 323; Wodrow, Analecta, iv. 25; Dumbarton Burgh Recs. app. list of provosts; J. A. Dunn, Hist. Renfrew, 177-8; Eyre-Todd, 77; D. Murray, Early Burgh Organization, iii. 13, 25.
  • 4. Murray, 13, 25; Gibson, 101-2; Morer, 107-8; MacUre, 1-2.
  • 5. Montrose mss GD220/5/150/1, 3, John Grahame to Montrose, 5 Jan., 28 Feb. 1708; GD220/56/266/8, Rodger to Montrose, n.d. [aft. 26 May 1708]; GD220/5/219, John Grahame to Montrose, 22 Dec. 1709; GD220/216/1-2, Aird to Montrose, 28 Nov., 16 Dec. 1709; Glasgow Recs. iv. 423, 425; Edinburgh Courant, 26-28 May, 31 May-2 June 1708; C219/106; SRO, Hamilton mss GD406/1/5492, [-] to [3rd Duchess of Hamilton], 27 May 1708; GD406/1/7866, 4th Duke of Hamilton to same, 23 June 1708; Add. 9102, ff. 72-74; 61632, f. 70; 61652, f. 193.
  • 6. Glasgow Recs. 455; Scots Courant, 30 Oct.-1 Nov. 1710; Case of the Royal Burghs [1712].
  • 7. Case of the Royal Burghs [1712]; Recs. Convention R. Burghs, iv. 406, 466; v. 7-15, 29-40, 47-48, 52-62, 65-78, 87-90, 99-103; Glasgow Recs. 461, 466, 470-1, 484, 489-91, 502, 515; SRO, Dalhousie mss GD45/14/349/15, Greenshields to [Maule], 3 Mar. 1711; Wodrow, ii. 75; D. Macleod, Ancient Recs. Dumbarton, 75-8; SRO, Seafield mss GD248/566/84/50, Alexander Reid* to [Findlater], 27 [Apr. 1713]; CJ, xvii. 305; Statutes, ix. 536-7; T. Pagan, Convention of R. Burghs, 58-65.
  • 8. Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP F54, ff. 8-9; NLS, Advocates mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 7, f. 184; Eyre-Todd, 78.
  • 9. Scots Courant, 15-17, 18-20 Feb. 1714; SP55/1, pp. 60-61; SP54/7/26; Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 8, f. 96; Glasgow Recs. 88; Eyre-Todd, 86-93; MacUre, 100-3; Brown, ii. 38; R. M. Sunter, Patronage and Pol. in Scotland, 199-208.