Kirkcudbright Stewartry

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:

51 in 1747


25 June 1708JOHN STEWART
 Alexander McKie
17 Sept. 1713JOHN STEWART
 John Grierson

Main Article

In the last Scottish parliament the stewartry’s two members opposed the Union: William Maxwell of Cardoness, a professional soldier firmly in the Revolution interest and usually loyal to the Court, who voted in favour of the 1st article but ended by opposing ratification of the treaty; and Alexander McKie of Palgown, from the cavalier wing of the opposition, who voted consistently against it throughout. Both commissioners, therefore, placed themselves out of the running for selection as Scottish representatives to the first Parliament of Great Britain. Local hostility towards the Union was also reflected in a freeholders’ petition against the treaty and some violent, though transitory, unrest.1

At the general election of 1708 McKie stood against the Court candidate, John Stewart of Livingstone and Stewartfield, a professional soldier actively involved in countering the threat of Jacobite invasion. Stewart’s recent association, in a professional capacity, with the Earl of Leven, together with the powerful local influence of the Duke of Queensberry, gave him considerable electoral advantages, not least of which was having his opponent ‘gripped by warrant’ as a suspected Jacobite. This election should therefore be understood in conjunction with that of neighbouring Dumfriesshire. Undergoing a challenge in his ‘own shire’, Queensberry was intent on delivering a counter-blow against Lord Annandale, who pretended to the hereditary stewardship of Kirkcudbright.2

In 1698 the Earl of Nithsdale, who was ineligible as a Catholic from exercising his hereditary office, had disponed the stewardship, under certain conditions, to Queensberry. As a consequence of the technicalities of this arrangement Queensberry had permitted the office to revert to Nithsdale in 1707, no doubt expecting a re-grant on a more permanent footing. Instead, Nithsdale chose to transfer it immediately to Annandale. Queensberry, however, made good use of his official powers to delay the execution of the new compact, while securing from the Queen a life-grant of the office, subject only to Nithsdale’s continuing ineligibility. Annandale was forced to seek redress in the court of session. Queensberry’s deputy retained authority in the meanwhile. Not until 1711 was this situation resolved to Annandale’s satisfaction, when ‘the death of the Duke . . . put an end to his right and commission’.3

The contest in 1708 between Stewart and McKie had therefore been weighted in favour of the former, despite the latter’s apparent advantages of previous parliamentary service for the stewartry and the current support of three influential magnates: Annandale, the Earl of Galloway and the Duke of Hamilton. Galloway, formerly an adherent of Queensberry, had vigorously opposed the Union, which gave him sufficient reason to canvass on behalf of McKie. He brought to bear not only his own influence as a principal local landowner, but also acted as a channel through which Hamilton’s status as the acknowledged leader of the cavaliers might be utilized to good effect. Galloway requested, for example, that Hamilton write to one voter to ‘let him know your inclination’. The Earl was at pains to emphasize the difficulties created by non-juring ‘scruples’ and complained that ‘the generality of all those that had engaged’ for McKie ‘will by no means qualify’. To Annandale he admitted that many of those who had pledged their votes were ‘extremely jumbled with the necessity of taking the Abjuration’, being ‘somewhat scrupulous in conscience’. Just as in Dumfriesshire, fear of imprisonment at the whim of government was an additional disincentive to opposing Queensberry’s nominee. Afterwards Galloway asserted that the election had been lost ‘entirely . . . through mismanagement, and partly with the threatening of some and the insolent carriage of others’.4

The election of 1710 was uneventful. No contest is recorded and the parliamentary return corroborates that Stewart was re-elected unanimously. The reasons may be readily surmised: Queensberry still retained some, albeit waning, influence in government and Stewart, a paroled prisoner-of-war, had pressing reasons for retaining the seat in order to further his campaign for a satisfactory exchange. In 1713 Stewart was opposed by John Grierson, brother of William* and the third son of the infamous Sir Robert Grierson of Lag. Little is known of the election save for an election petition, which never emerged from committee. Stewart had been somewhat taken aback by this unexpected challenge, and took the precaution of writing to Sir Robert Grierson some six months after the election:

I presume to give you this trouble to ask your consent to my election in the ensuing Parliament, in case you are not to set up for any of your own family or to be otherwise engaged. I am far from forgetting the favours formerly done me and even in the last I hope I showed no disrespect to you or any belonging to you, else I would not have the confidence to make my addresses now.

Grierson’s draft reply, written on Stewart’s letter, acknowledged that this was the first such request, adding that ‘as for any of my family, their setting up, I know of no such design, neither am I resolved that any of them shall’. Despite such an encouraging response to his advance preparations, Stewart did not stand at the next election. One cause of his change of heart may have been the breaking of his regiment, leaving no professional incentive for re-election. Perhaps he had also become less involved locally and was looking towards retirement on his Roxburghshire estate. The way was left clear therefore for Alexander Murray of Broughton, whose extensive estates and family ties with the marquesses of Annandale were sufficient to secure unopposed returns for the stewartry until 1727.5

Author: David Wilkinson


  • 1. Hist. Scot. Parl. 461, 478; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 332-3; Humble Address of the Barons and Freeholders of Kirkcudbright [1706]; APS, xi. 327, 341, 343; Lockhart Mems. ed. Szechi, 177.
  • 2. Edinburgh Courant, 28-30 June 1708; Annandale mss at Raehills, bdle. 826, [Sir] William Johnstone* to [James, Ld. Johnston*], n.d. [1708]; HMC Lords, n.s. viii. 107, 111; SRO, Hamilton mss GD406/1/5724, Stormont to [Hamilton], 2 Mar 1711.
  • 3. HMC Portland, x. 187, 460.
  • 4. Annandale mss, bdle. 826, Galloway to [Hamilton], 9 June 1708, same to [Annandale], 9 June 1708, James Dunbar to same, 9 June 1708, Galloway to [same], 26 June 1708.
  • 5. C219/110; C219/114; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 7, f. 181; Ewart Lib. Dumfries, Grierson mss 14D/GroupB8/99, Stewart to Sir Robert Grierson, 19 Apr. 1714.