ANSTRUTHER, Sir John, 1st Bt. (c.1678-1753), of Anstruther and Elie House, Elie, Fife.

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



1708 - 10 Apr. 1712
1715 - 1741

Family and Education

b. c.1678, o. s. of Sir William Anstruther, MP [S], of Anstruther and Elie House, Ld. Anstruther SCJ by Lady Helen Hamilton, da. of John, 4th Earl of Haddington [S]; nephew of Sir Robert Anstruther, 1st Bt.*  m. contr. 24 Jan. 1717, Lady Margaret Carmichael (d. 1721), da. of James, 2nd Earl of Hyndford [S], 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da. d.v.pcr. Bt. 6 Jan. 1700; suc. fa. 1711.1

Offices Held

MP [S] Anstruther Easter 1702–7.

Burgess, Edinburgh 1708, Perth 1709, Ayr 1710; hereditary bailie, lordship of Pittenweem 1711–d.; hereditary searcher of customs and keeper of cocquets, Anstruther and Elie 1711–d.; commr. visitation, St. Andrews Univ. 1718.2

Hereditary carver and master of royal household [S] 1711–d.; master of works [S] 1717–43; commr. police [S] 1743–aft. 1744.3


Anstruther’s father, a successful and occasionally formidable lawyer, provided his son with the landed endowment and political contacts necessary to launch him into Parliament. Although the two men may briefly have steered separate political courses at the time of the Union, the differences between them were never fundamental and Anstruther’s later career as a Whig placeman faithfully reproduced his father’s example. Sir William Anstruther, himself the younger son of a devoted cavalier, had secured a household office at the beginning of James II’s reign but had subsequently struck out on a Presbyterian tack, and after the Revolution tied himself to the Melville interest, through whose influence he was made a lord of judiciary. He remained with the Court party under the Dalrymples, his loyalty secured by the grant of a sheaf of hereditary offices, but went into opposition with many of his colleagues in 1698 and did not return into the ministerial fold until some time after 1703. According to George Lockhart* his assistance to carry the Union was bought for £300.4

In the meantime Sir John Anstruther had entered the Scottish parliament in 1702 for the burgh of Anstruther Easter. The family had been seated at Anstruther since the days of King David II, and Sir William had recently returned to live nearby at Elie, where he had purchased an estate and built an imposing house. Not unexpectedly, Sir John quickly associated himself with the Country opposition in the Scottish parliament, signing the protest in 1703 against the wine act. Through his mother he was connected with Lord Rothes, and according to Lockhart he followed Rothes and most of the Squadrone over to the Court in 1704. However, he gave his vote for the Duke of Hamilton’s motion on the succession, the kind of behaviour which presumably led the Jacobite agent Scot to regard him as being of uncertain principles because his actions were variable. His mixed voting record on the Union would have done little to clear up the confusion. For the most part he abstained, notably on the crucial divisions on the first article and on ratification. In general he opposed the treaty, possibly on economic grounds since members of his family were actively engaged in trade in Anstruther itself and in the other small ports of east Fife. But Rothes persuaded him to be absent. Once the issue had been decided Anstruther fell into line with the Squadrone as they voted against the Court over the commissioners’ allowances and over the Equivalent. A lingering uncertainty over his real opinions may well have been what deterred Court and Squadrone managers from including him among the Members returned to represent Scotland in the first Parliament of Great Britain. For all his own receptivity to Rothes’ blandishments, his father was reported as late as December 1707 to be ‘not . . . altogether for the measures of the Squadrone’.5

By the time of the 1708 election, Anstruther had firmly committed himself to Rothes’ interest, on which he stood both for the burghs district and for knight of the shire. Even though he succeeded in the burghs, Rothes was so determined to secure the county seat, and so confident of the strength of his party’s interest in the new Parliament, that a petition was duly put forward for Fifeshire. The death of the sitting member, Patrick Moncrieff*, before the case was heard in the House, prompted Anstruther to seek leave to withdraw in January 1709, perhaps as part of an electoral compact between Rothes and the Earl of Leven. Already possessing a seat in the Commons, Anstruther did not contest the ensuing by-election. He had not himself made much of an impression in the House as yet. He spoke and voted with his Squadrone colleagues, George Baillie and John Cockburn, against the ministry’s conduct during the recent Jacobite invasion attempt, thereby keeping faith with the Hamilton pact, and he was considered by his party as a likely candidate for the place of clerk of the bills in a reshuffle of Scottish judicial appointments. His appearance on the Tory ‘white list’ of those who had voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell was probably an error. When he was returned again in 1710 it was still as a Squadrone supporter, even though the Duchess of Buccleuch’s chaplain, Richard Dongworth, classified him as a Court Tory.6

Anstruther’s re-election was bitterly contested, and the involvement of a leading Tory, Sir Alexander Areskine, 2nd Bt.*, in the pre-election manoeuvres against him distinguished the affair as a party cause. The defeated candidate, George Hamilton*, petitioned the House, but before the case could be heard, Anstruther faced another, different, challenge to his right to sit, when on the death of his father early in 1711 he succeeded to a hereditary customs office at Anstruther and Elie, and thus came into jeopardy under the terms of the 1701 Act which excluded commissioners and other officers of the customs. He brought the matter to the House’s notice himself on 26 Feb. 1711, requesting a judgment as to whether, through succeeding his father in this post, he was ‘incapacitated from sitting’. After a sequence of adjournments the matter was finally debated on 10 Apr., by which time Anstruther’s enemies had printed and distributed the arguments for disqualification. In a relatively thin House opinion was narrowly in his favour, the division being 61–57 on an amendment to the resolution. One of the tellers on his side was Robert Walpole II, while the two against were both High Tories, Henry Campion and William Shippen. In 1710–11 Anstruther twice attended the Anglo-Scottish dining group of Lord Ossulston, an informal association of a mixed political complexion. He was listed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who helped to expose the mismanagements of the previous administration, but probably retained his Squadrone affiliation.7

In the next session Anstruther voted with his Squadrone colleagues in favour of the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion on 7 Dec. 1711, and likewise opposed the toleration bill on 7 Feb. 1712. He was himself a teller on 12 Mar., but on an issue of local rather than partisan significance, for an address to the Queen to lay before the House an estimate of the cost of completing the fortifications at Stirling. The very next day the report was made on Hamilton’s election petition, but although the committee had found for Anstruther the House insisted the resolution be recommitted, in a division in which the tellers in favour of recommittal were both Argathelian Tories. On 10 Apr. the committee reported for the second time, changing its mind to endorse the petition, and Anstruther was unseated, Scottish Tories once more leading the hunt against him.

Anstruther now travelled abroad for the sake of his health, visiting his fellow Squadrone supporter Hon. William Kerr* at a military camp near Ghent in July 1712 and then travelling on to Aix-la-Chapelle in search of ‘benefit by the waters’. In August he planned an excursion to Paris and intended there to meet the recent diplomatic appointee, the Duke of Hamilton, with whom he was on good terms notwithstanding their political differences. Their meeting was prevented, however, by the Duke’s untimely death by duelling in November 1712, prior to his departure from England.8

Anstruther recovered his seat for the burghs at the 1713 general election, and was classified as a Hanoverian in Lord Polwarth’s analysis of the Scottish returns. As before, his defeated opponent was Hamilton, whose petition was rejected on 29 Apr. 1714, thanks to a combination of Whig determination, Tory slackness, and the defection of some Court supporters. He had already voted on 18 Mar. 1714 against the expulsion of Richard Steele, and went on to divide on 12 May in favour of Robert Walpole II’s amendment to extend the scope of the schism bill to cover Catholic education. His Whiggish sympathies were further in evidence during May, when he presented an address from Fifeshire on the Queen’s recovery which took a distinctly Hanoverian line in contrast to that sponsored by his great rival Areskine, belittling the Jacobite threat. Areskine’s subsequent reliance on non-juring (and therefore ineligible) voters backfired at the 1715 election, when Anstruther wrested the seat from him. He was simply listed as a Whig in the Worsley list.9

Anstruther was a target for Jacobite hostility during the Fifteen, his house being occupied for a time by rebel troops and his groom assaulted for refusing to divulge the whereabouts of hidden valuables. Re-elected to Parliament that year for the county as a Squadrone Whig, he voted consistently for administration, earning advancement in 1717 to the mastership of the works. His marriage tied him even more firmly into the Squadrone, especially since, by all accounts, his wife possessed considerable force of character. When he published a volume on Drill Husbandry a wag observed that ‘no one could be better qualified to write on that subject, since there was not a better drilled husband in all Fife’. She was dead long before the Squadrone were ousted from power, so did not see Anstruther break ranks and align himself with the new Court managers. He kept to a ministerial line under Argyll until 1741, when he left Parliament. Two years later he exchanged his post for a pension and a place on the police commission.10

Anstruther died at Elie House on 27 Sept. 1753, leaving his only surviving son an estate in Fife that had expanded substantially through a series of purchases financed from the fruits of office.11

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Hist. Scot. Parl. 20–21; W. Wood, East Neuk of Fife, 245.
  • 2. Scot. Rec. Soc. lxii. 8; Sandeman Lib. Perth, Perth burgh recs. B59/24/1/17, p.15; Carnegie Lib. Ayr, Ayr burgh recs. B6/18/8, council mins. 4 Oct. 1710; Brunton and Haig, Senators Coll. of Justice, 443–4.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxxi. 413; Cal. Treas. Bks. and Pprs. 1742–5, p. 435.
  • 4. Reg. PC Scotland, 1683–4, p. 137; 1685–6, p. 28; Wood, 187; Balcarres Mems. (Bannatyne Club, lxxi), 12; Leven and Melville Pprs. (Bannatyne Club, lxxvii), 305, 307, 321; Carstares, State Pprs. 257; APS, ix. 9, 20, 29; x. 246, 251, 269; xi. 102, 255; P. W. J. Riley, King Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 44, 170; Cromartie Corresp. i. 188.
  • 5. Wood, 178, 243; R. Sibbald, Hist. Sheriffdoms of Fife and Kinross (1710), 131; info. from Dr P. W. J. Riley on members of Scot. parl.; APS, xi. 102, 417, 420, 423, 440; W. Fraser, Earls of Haddington, i. 251; Lockhart Mems. ed. Szechi, 67; Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. app. 42; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 15; Riley, Union, 329, 335; Cromartie Corresp. ii. 57.
  • 6. SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/159/5, Rothes to Montrose, ‘Saturday at night’ [1708]; GD220/5/202, Ormiston to same, 17 Mar. 1709; Scot. Hist. Soc. Misc. xii. 134; SHR, lx. 65.
  • 7. L. Inn Lib. MP 100/166, Reasons Why Sir John Anstruther Is Incapable of Sitting in the House of Commons [1711]; SHR, lxxi. 125.
  • 8. Roxburghe mss at Floors Castle, bdle. 1077, Kerr to his mother, 27 July 1712; Glos. RO, Blathwayt mss D1799/F172, passport, 1712.
  • 9. Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 72–73; Add. 17677 HHH, ff. 205–6; Scots Courant, 7–10, 10–12 May 1714.
  • 10. Wood, 188, 193; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 266.
  • 11. Scot. Rec. Soc. xxxi. 2; Wood, 185, 209.