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:

15 in 17081


7 May 1714SIR WILLIAM GORDON, Bt. vice Morison, chose to sit for Peeblesshire

Main Article

Sutherland had always been afflicted with a shortage of freeholders, so much so that the act of 1633 which granted the county the right to send commissioners to the Scottish parliament specifically extended the franchise beyond the ‘free barons’ to ‘other inhabitants’. Further legislation in 1641 to apportion responsibility for the commissioners’ wages noted that there were at that time only two royal vassals to be found in the shire, the remaining heritors being vassals of the hereditary sheriff the Earl of Sutherland, or some other superior, a comment echoed in 1706 by the Jacobite agent Scot, who reported the presence of ‘only two or three barons’:

The Earl of Sutherland’s vassals are privileged by an express act of parliament to elect commissioners, contrary to the general rule of law and standard of the nation. So this Earl must always rule the election as he thinks fit.

The fact that one of the commissioners returned in 1702, Alexander Gordon of Garty, was a wadsetter on the Sutherland estate testifies to the Earl’s influence. The county’s other representative was a kinsman, David Sutherland the younger of Kinnauld. But his return was controverted, suggesting the possibility of an alternative interest at work. Neither voted over the Union: one modern historian has classified Gordon as an opposition absentee and Sutherland as a would-be courtier reputedly in prison.2

Despite its scarcity of freeholders, Sutherland was not included among the six Scottish counties condemned under the terms of the Act of Union to alternate their representation. The commissioners from neighbouring Caithness entered an abortive protest at the nomination of their own county for this unwelcome distinction instead of Sutherland. The relevant clause was approved on a division in January 1707, when presumably the influence of the Earl of Sutherland with the Court and the Squadrone tipped the balance his way. At the 1708 election Sir William Gordon, 1st Bt., a ‘Revolution Whig’, was returned ‘unanimously’, according to a report in a Scottish newspaper. In 1710 Gordon was re-elected, again without a contest. But in 1713 he was obliged to make way for William Morison of Prestongrange, father-in-law to Sutherland’s heir Lord Strathnaver (William Sutherland*). The decision was not Sutherland’s directly, for it would appear that Strathnaver had taken over control of the family estates and interest from the Earl. The outcome was predictable, though Strathnaver took the trouble to secure the goodwill of the Breadalbane interest in Caithness. Morison, however, opted to sit for Peeblesshire instead, and Gordon reclaimed his accustomed seat at the ensuing by-election.3

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. C219/106.
  • 2. APS, v. 62-63, 384-5; vi(2), 720; xi. 11; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 18; Hist. Scot. Parl. 284, 687; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 329.
  • 3. APS, xi. 420; Scots Courant, 16-18 June 1708; NLS, Sutherland mss Dep. 313/572, Alexander Ross to [?Strathnaver], 29 Aug. 1713; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/33, Robert Munro* to Robert Walpole II*, 29 Oct. 1713; SRO, Breadalbane mss GD112/39/243/36, Glenorchy to Breadalbane, 26 Aug. 1713.