Kincardineshire (Mearns)

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:

33 in 1702, 21 in 17081


4 June 1708SIR DAVID RAMSAY, Bt.
 James Scott
2 Oct. 1713JAMES SCOTT

Main Article

Scot, the Jacobite agent, was guilty of no more than mild exaggeration when he described the population of Kincardineshire as entirely loyal to the Pretender. Nevertheless, at the last election to the Scottish parliament the Court had successfully carried the return of Sir James Falconer, Lord Phesdo SCJ, through the defection of James Scott I* of Logie and his father from the Country party. The second seat went to an oppositionist of a Presbyterian stamp, perhaps the only substantial ‘Revolution man’ in the Mearns, Sir Thomas Burnett, 3rd Bt.* However, at a by-election in 1705 caused by the death of Phesdo, the electors gave a more accurate reflection of the county’s religious and political composition by choosing Sir David Ramsay of Balmain, an episcopalian supporter of the Country party. The ‘barons and gentlemen’ of Kincardineshire, comprising such closely interrelated families as the non-juring viscounts Arbuthnott, the Bannermans of Elsick, Falconers of Glenfarquhar and Newton, Ramsays of Balmain and various branches of Scotts, likewise showed their political colours as a body in January 1707 when addressing the Scottish parliament against the treaty of Union. Most importantly, the magnate who dominated the county’s landed elite and who as hereditary sheriff possessed a potentially decisive influence over elections, the 8th Earl Marischal, was a prominent episcopalian (though probably on political rather than theological grounds, being allegedly something of a freethinker). His sympathy for the Pretender was sufficiently notorious for him to be interned during the emergency occasioned by the attempted invasion of 1708. To quote Scot again, Marischal was ‘of unquestionable loyalty, loved and respected, has great interest in elections for parliament, and on good occasion will be followed by the gentry and commons’.2

Sir Thomas Burnett’s late conversion to the Union and his connexion with the Squadrone secured him a place in the first Parliament of Great Britain, which was chosen from the membership of the last Scottish parliament without recourse to the electorate. He lost out at the general election of 1708, when popular feeling could be expressed. Ramsay, a moderate anti-unionist, was returned unopposed for the county. Burnett, who had not even bothered to register a vote in 1708, contemplated standing at the next general election. Recognizing a lost cause, however, he turned his sights elsewhere. Barely a month before the election in October 1710 Ramsay unexpectedly died after a riding accident. His brother, Sir Alexander, was drafted in to replace him, but the shortness of the notice encouraged James Scott II of Commieston to mount a challenge, even if unsuccessfully. Forty-three electors were enrolled at the Michaelmas head court before the election, but no details of the ensuing poll are known. The Scots Courant noted a straightforward victory for Ramsay over Scott, and the report of a double return by one English newspaper was simply an item of misinformation. Scott was a serving army officer, and in the reign of George I was to be firmly Whiggish in his politics, but at this stage was still regarded by many observers as a Tory. His election in place of the retiring Sir Alexander Ramsay in October 1713 should not necessarily be viewed as the result of any shift of opinion. The loyal address sent up from the county during the preceding summer, in gratitude for the ‘glorious peace’, had been unremittingly Tory in its tone, deprecating ‘the heavy burden of a destructive war abroad, and the restless spirit of faction at home’. It had, admittedly, emphasized the Queen’s supposed ‘good correspondence’ with her Protestant allies in Europe, which served to ‘dispel the groundless, unmannerly suggestion’ that she and her ministers were somehow equivocal over the succession. But perhaps more to the point, in explaining Scott’s election, was the passing of the Marischal title in 1712 to the 9th Earl, a man who shared with Scott the experience of military service and who, until his maltreatment by the Hanoverians, was by no means the pronounced Jacobite his predecessor had been.3

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. SRO, Stonehaven sheriff ct. recs. SC5/70/10, electoral ct. mins. 1702, 1708.
  • 2. Macpherson, Orig. Pprs. ii. 16-17; Hist. Scot. Parl. 236; Atholl mss at Blair Atholl, box 45, bdle. II, nos. 165, 219, Duke of Hamilton to [Earl of Tullibardine], 20 Aug. 1702, Ld. Haddo (William Gordon*) to [same], 7 Oct. 1702; Stonehaven sheriff ct. recs. SC5/70/10, electoral ct. mins. 1702; Clarke thesis, 66, 354, 423; Christ Church, Oxf. Wake mss 5, f. 13; Hooke Corresp. (Roxburghe Club), ii. 75; HMC Portland, viii. 206-7; APS, xi. 583; Macky Mems. 214.
  • 3. SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1003, Thomas Erskyne to Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), n.d. [Aug. 1710]; Stonehaven sheriff ct. recs. SC5/70/10, electoral ct. mins. 1708; SC5/70/1, reg. freeholders, 3 Oct. 1710; Scots Courant, 27-30 Oct. 1710; British Mercury, 3-6 Nov. 1710; London Gazette, 29 Aug.-1 Sept. 1713.