CARNEGIE, John (c.1679-bef.1750), of Boysack, Inverkeillor, Forfar.

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 - 30 July 1716

Family and Education

b. c.1679, 1st s. of John Carnegie of Boysack by Jean, da. of David Fotheringham, MP[S], of Powrie, Forfar.  educ. Aberdeen Univ. (Marischal Coll.) 1696–8, Leyden 1700, aged 20; adv. 1703.  m. 6 Nov. 1707, Margaret, da. of James Skene of Grange and Kirkcaldy, Fife, 2s.  suc. fa. by 1683.1

Offices Held

Jt. curator, fac. adv. lib. [S] 1708–?1714.2

Burgess, Perth 1709, Dundee by 1713, Glasgow 1723.3

Sol.-gen. [S] Mar.–Oct. 1714.


Carnegie, whose grandfather, a younger son of the 1st Earl of Northesk, had sat for Forfarshire in the Scottish parliament in 1661–3, succeeded to the barony of Boysack at a very early age. As an advocate he demonstrated not only ability but an occasional stridency of expression, in one incident in January 1708 denouncing Scottish customs officers as ‘land robbers or privateers’. Carnegie was almost predestined towards a cavalier bent in politics by his family background and connexions. One of his professional patrons was Lord Dun SCJ, a determined opponent of union, while his acquaintances prior to election to Parliament were men like his kinsman the 4th Earl of Northesk, and the Earl of Mar’s brother Lord Grange SCJ (Hon. James Erskine†), whose distaste for the Duke of Hamilton’s electoral pact with the Squadrone in 1708 Carnegie shared.4

After his election for Forfarshire in 1708 Carnegie was granted the early distinction of appointment on 22 Nov. 1708 to the committee on the Address. On 29 Jan. 1709 he was nominated to the drafting committee for a bill to unify treason laws throughout Great Britain. This was a proposal, however, that in common with other Scottish Members of varying political persuasions he opposed. On 10 Mar. 1709 he spoke against the ministry’s conduct during the late invasion attempt, and the following year he voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell.5

Re-elected after a contest in 1710, Carnegie was wrongly classed as a Whig in the ‘Hanover list’. Richard Dongworth, the Duchess of Buccleuch’s chaplain, correctly listed him as an episcopal Tory, and it was with other Scottish Tories that on 10 Feb. 1711 he maintained an awkward silence during the hearing of his compatriot Mungo Graham’s* disputed election for Kinross-shire. At first, Graham (factor to the Squadrone Duke of Montrose) reported that Carnegie ‘never opened his mouth neither for me nor against me, but he divided against me’. In his next communication this account was amended: Graham wrote that Carnegie and some other Tories ‘who had been resolved to be against me, could not prevail with themselves to go the length to vote against me, so they went up to the galleries and skulked there’. On 5 Apr. Carnegie had been appointed to the drafting committee for George Lockhart’s elections bill and on 19 May he spoke in defence of George Yeaman’s linen bill. By this time Carnegie had been recruited into what one modern commentator has termed an informal ‘steering committee’ of Scottish Tory MPs, comprising Lockhart, Sir Alexander Areskine, 2nd Bt., Sir Alexander Cumming, 1st Bt., and Hon. James Murray. All except Cumming were Jacobite sympathizers, although their priority at this stage seems rather to have been the advancement of episcopalianism in Scotland. However, when Lockhart first put forward in the 1710–11 session the idea of a Scottish toleration bill he found Cumming, Murray and Carnegie ready with objections of the kind that ministerialists were also airing, an early indication that Carnegie, for one, was susceptible to the pull of the Court. Indeed, there had been rumours earlier in the year that Carnegie might obtain a judgeship in the court of session.6

At the start of the following session the five Members renewed their association, now resolving to bring forward the deferred toleration bill. ‘The Scots are most zealous in it’, reported George Baillie*, ‘and none more than Mr Carnegie.’ Nominated to the drafting committee on 21 Jan. 1712, he naturally voted for the bill on 7 Feb. Carnegie was equally active in other measures promoted by the ‘steering-committee’: on 13 Mar. he seconded the proposal to restore lay patronage in Scotland, and having acted as a teller was appointed to the drafting committee for the bill, also telling for its committal on the 28th. In the same month he managed the bill to repeal a Presbyterian-inspired act suppressing the Christmas recess of the court of session (Yule vacance). Scottish economic interests attracted his attention too. In January he had subscribed to a memorial signed by various Scots MPs to the attorney-general to represent the ‘universal concern’ to the people of Scotland of the proposed reconsideration by government of the staple contract; and on 29 Apr. he told in favour of a clause to be added to the land tax bill ‘for a rule whereby to tax the royal burghs of Scotland’ (see GLASGOW BURGHS). A tellership on 17 May against adjourning a session of the committee of ways and means shows him participating in a procedural dispute between back-bench Tories, though its significance remains unclear. The following month he managed a private bill for the relief of Lieutenant-General Sir William Douglas.7

Prior to the 1713 session Carnegie joined other Scottish episcopalian MPs and peers in signing a letter to Bishop Rose of Edinburgh, urging that non-juring clergy be prevailed upon to take the oaths, in order to give the lie to Presbyterian insinuations about their loyalty. At Westminster on 29 Apr. Carnegie once again told on the issue of the apportionment of land tax among the royal burghs. During this session his attention, like that of most Scottish Members, was principally directed towards the malt tax crisis and its sequel, the motion to dissolve the Union. A teller on 21 May against the original amendment from the committee on the malt duty bill to set the tax in Scotland at 6d. per bushel, he was one of those deputed by a meeting of Scottish Members in the evening after the debate to represent to Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley*) the nation’s grievance over the vote. He participated also in joint meetings with Scottish peers, and when it was agreed to move for the dissolution of the Union, it was Carnegie, along with Cumming, Lockhart and Murray, who was summoned by ‘a great man’ to be plied with counter-arguments. He did not, however, maintain for long any distance between himself and administration. He voted with the Court in the divisions of 4 and 18 June 1713 on the French commerce bill. He continued to angle for appointment to the court of session, and may have enjoyed the backing of the Duke of Argyll’s brother Lord Ilay. In December 1713, after Carnegie had been safely re-elected for Forfarshire, he wrote to Oxford, setting out his ‘pretensions to preferment’.8

Listed as a ‘Jacobite’ (i.e. a Tory) in Lord Polwarth’s analysis of the Scottish election results, Carnegie was increasingly associated in this Parliament with Lord Bolingbroke (Henry St. John II*). When Lockhart suggested that the campaign to dissolve the Union should be revived, Carnegie sided with Cumming and Murray in declaring that Bolingbroke was ‘a good man and a wise man, and knew what was to be done and when to do it’. On 4 Mar. 1714 he told on the Tory side in the disputed election for Anstruther Easter Burghs, and spoke likewise on 18 Mar. in favour of the expulsion of Richard Steele. Later that month, upon the removal of Sir James Stewart, 1st Bt.*, for voting with the Whigs over the Steele case, Carnegie was appointed Scottish solicitor-general, at a salary of £200 a year. The good news was conveyed to Carnegie by Mar, who made a point of inviting him to dine before his formal audience at court. He supported Bolingbroke over the schism bill, voting on 12 May against the Whig wrecking amendment to extend its provisions to Catholic education. Relations with Lockhart and Areskine were soured by a convoluted dispute during May and June over a bill to resume the bishops’ rents in Scotland in the crown as a fund for the maintenance of episcopalian clergy. Fears at court over the sweeping nature of Lockhart’s draft bill and the lobbying of interested parties caused ministers to change their minds, a decision with which Carnegie, Cumming and Murray concurred. Carnegie approved of a watered-down proposal to appoint commissioners to investigate these revenues, but the enabling bill ran out of time in this session. Carnegie and Lockhart took opposite sides over the Scottish militia bill in May and June. This division within Scottish Tory ranks caused at least one Whig commentator to suspect a double game. In fact Carnegie had assumed the management of the bill at Bolingbroke’s behest, presenting it on 26 May. Lockhart objected to it, however, as an English measure that would increase Scottish divisions and therefore took up the cause of the Duke of Argyll, whose hereditary rights were threatened by the bill. Lockhart proved the more astute parliamentarian and thwarted Carnegie’s management by creating procedural delay. Carnegie told on two further occasions in this session: on 8 June, for an additional clause in the bill explaining the 1696 Bristol Workhouse Act, which may well have been part of a High Church attack on the financing of the institution; and on the 22nd, for an amendment to a resolution from ways and means, in order to exempt calicos and linens from the duty proposed to be levied on dyed and printed stuffs, a move to protect one of Scotland’s major industries, on behalf of which Carnegie had already spoken in the debate on the reintroduced bill to regulate the Scottish linen manufacture.9

Although Carnegie signed the proclamation of George I in Edinburgh, he was promptly, and somewhat brusquely, removed from office in October 1714. Returned again for Forfarshire in the general election of 1715, he was put down as a Tory on the Worsley list and on an analysis of the new House, but abandoned parliamentary politics in favour of armed rebellion. After the failure of the Fifteen he fled to France, via Norway, with his ‘very good friend Lord Pitsligo’, and in his absence was expelled from the House and ordered to be prosecuted for high treason. The Pretender found some use for him in 1717 as envoy to the Swiss states, but exile did not prove congenial. In 1719 he was said to ‘depend too much on Mr M[urra]y’ and by 1726, allegedly because his private affairs were ‘in great confusion’, he returned to live in Scotland. Earlier he had advised other distressed Jacobite fugitives to do the same, on the pretext that they would be of more use to their master at home. He was accused, however, by Jacobites abroad of being ‘attached to [the] Duke of Mar, in opposition to the King’s present measures’. After persuading his old friend Lockhart to help him send a letter to the Pretender protesting innocence of these charges (in circumstances which make it clear that he was not himself in regular correspondence with James), he embroiled himself the very next year in the ‘usager’ controversy, encouraging dissident episcopalian clergy to resist the Pretender’s interference in their affairs, in a way that Lockhart interpreted as ‘basely’ contravening his earlier ‘solemn professions’ of loyalty. An old man by the 1740s, he played no role in the Forty-Five, though a nephew, Sir John Wedderburn, was executed for taking part in the rising.10

Carnegie was dead by 14 May 1750, when his elder son was served as heir.

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Scots Peerage ed. Paul, vi. 495–6; Recs. Marischal Coll. and Univ. of Aberdeen (New Spalding Club), ii. 272–3; Mems. Fam. of Skene (New Spalding Club), 53–54; Scot. Rec. Soc. lxxvi. 32; viii. 67; Album Studiosorum Academiciae Lugduno Batavae, ed. Du Rieu, 758.
  • 2. Stair Soc. xxix. 272; xxxii. 4.
  • 3. Sandeman Lib. Perth, Perth Burgh Recs. B59/24/1/17, p. 14; Dundee City Archives, Dundee burgh recs. treasurer’s accts. 1712–13 (unfol.); Scot. Rec. Soc. lvi. 366.
  • 4. W. Fraser, Hist. Carnegies, i. p. lxxxvi; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxii. 90; xxvi. 275; Cromartie Corresp. ii. 57.
  • 5. Scot. Cath. Archs. Blairs Coll. mss BL2/158/3, James Carnegy to Scots Coll. n.d. [1709].
  • 6. G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 338; SHR, lx. 63; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/808/17, 18a–b, Graham to Montrose, 10, 13 Feb. 1711; Lockhart Pprs. i. 329, 338–9; D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 102; SRO, Seafield mss GD248/560/46/18, John Philp to Seafield, 22 Jan. 1711.
  • 7. Lockhart Pprs. 378; Montrose mss GD220/5/268/6, 8, Baillie to Montrose, 26 Jan., 15 Mar. 1711–12; NSA, Kreienberg despatch 14 Mar. 1712; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 56–57.
  • 8. Spalding Club, Misc. iv. 84–87; Lockhart Letters, 73, 75–76; Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Duff House (Montcoffer) mss 3175/2380, ‘Resolution of the Commons to Call a Meeting of the Lords’, [23] May 1713; Parlty. Hist. i. 69; HMC Portland, v. 183; x. 273, 443.
  • 9. Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 561; Holmes, 280; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 252–3; Lockhart Pprs. 444–7, 449, 451–2, 458–9, 536; Douglas diary (Hist. Parl. trans.), 18 Mar. 1714; Kreienberg despatch 19 Mar. 1714; SP55/1, p. 39; HMC Portland, x. 217; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 358; Lockhart Letters, 101; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 8, ff. 133–4.
  • 10. Boyer, Pol. State, viii. 124; SP55/3, p. 10; Scot. Hist. Soc. (ser. 3), xxi. 302; xxxi. 87; HMC Stuart, iii. 270–1; iv. 458–9; Lockhart Letters, 285–6, 296, 301–2, 308, 334; Fraser, p. lxxxvi.