COCHRANE, William (aft.1659-1717), of Kilmaronock, Dunbarton.

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



14 Dec. 1708 - 1713

Family and Education

b. aft. 1659, 2nd s. of William Cochrane, styled Ld. Cochrane (1st s. d.v.p. of William, 1st Earl of Dundonald [S]), by Lady Katherine, da. of John Kennedy, 6th Earl of Cassillis [S].  m. Lady Grizel, da. of James Graham, 2nd Marquess of Montrose [S], 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da.  suc. gdfa. to Kilmaronock 1679 (via disposition); bro. to Powkellie 1694.1

Offices Held

Burgess, Dumbarton 1682, Glasgow 1696, Edinburgh 1712.2

Lieut. Lord Ross’s indep. tp. of horse, 1689–by 1691; commr. justiciary for the Highlands [S] 1693; jt. keeper of signet [S] 1711–13.3

MP [S] Renfrew 1689–95, Dunbartonshire 1702–7.


The career of William Cochrane of Kilmaronock illustrates the difficulties in classifying Scots Members in this period. He supported the Revolution, but later joined the cavalier wing of the Scottish Country party. A vigorous opponent of Union, he entered actively into Jacobite conspiracy, only to become a placeman under Lord Oxford (Robert Harley*). After his activities were investigated by the commissioners of public accounts in 1712, he narrowly escaped expulsion from the House, thereafter retiring from political life and not stirring during the rebellion of 1715. While at Westminster, he had acted with the Tories, but the route to this association was not straightforward. The Cochrane family had earned a reputation for extreme Presbyterianism by the late 17th century, despite the royalist vigour which had earned William’s grandfather a peerage as 1st Earl of Dundonald. Cochrane’s mother had insisted that Presbyterian ministers attend her husband’s deathbed in 1679, one of whom reportedly prayed for the success of the western rebels. The mother’s fervour, however, did not transmit to her daughters, one marrying the notorious John Graham of Claverhouse, another the 9th Earl of Eglintoun, a prominent episcopalian. The most influential marital connexion, however, was that between Cochrane’s elder brother, the 2nd Earl of Dundonald, and a daughter of the 3rd Duke of Hamilton: in due course Cochrane became a firm adherent of the 4th Duke. Cochrane himself married into the family of Graham, marquesses (later dukes) of Montrose. The proximity of his family’s estates to those of Montrose resulted in a degree of co-operation on legal, estate and political affairs. But, during the greater part of his Westminster career, Cochrane was estranged from the Duke of Montrose because of the latter’s association with the Squadrone.4

Cochrane was returned for Renfrew to the Convention of Estates in 1689 and signed the act declaring its legality and the letter of congratulation to William III. A member of the ‘Club’ opposition of 1689–90, he continued to represent Renfrew in the Scottish parliament until 1695, also serving on several occasions as commissioner to the convention of royal burghs. Cochrane, indeed, had taken up arms in support of the Revolution, though there was a strong element of self-preservation involved. His estate, which bordered Loch Lomond, was a prime target for Highland raiders. Despite some successes, such as the capture of Lieutenant-Colonel MacGregor, a Jacobite officer and ‘one of the greatest robbers and plunderers that this nation has seen’, Cochrane was unable to prevent a serious devastation in November 1689, for which he later claimed damages of 34,000 merks. In the aftermath of repeated attacks, Cochrane and other landowners sought permission from the Scottish privy council in 1691 to establish a watch to guard against ‘the incursions of thieves and broken men from the Highlands’. The watchmen subsequently employed, however, were themselves MacGregors, and in the estimation of one local historian ran a virtual protection racket, using one half of their band ‘to recover stolen cattle, and the other half of them to steal to make blackmail necessary’. These difficulties had determined, to a great extent, Cochrane’s loyalty during the establishment of the Williamite regime in Scotland. Having lost £1,000 in the Darien scheme, he stood as a Country candidate for Dunbartonshire in 1702. For his part in a bitter contest, Cochrane was deemed to have rekindled animosity between Montrose and the Duke of Argyll. In order to avert threats of imprisonment, he not only paid off some of his supporters’ debts, but also brought £1,000 with him on election day. In the Scottish parliament he acted with the cavaliers, signing Country protests and following the lead of the Duke of Hamilton, whose motion in 1704 for deferring a decision on the succession he supported.5

Cochrane did not greatly involve himself in the management of his estates, preferring instead to lease them out and channel his resources into commercial and speculative ventures. In January 1705 he made an unsuccessful bid as part of a consortium for the ‘roup of the customs’. This plan was blocked by the Marquess of Annandale, who set the public price at £31,000 in order to deter Cochrane and his partners but privately offered the contract to a group of Court supporters for £2,500 less. This action prompted George Lockhart* to complain about the ‘scandalous, barefaced seducing of members of parliament’. In the face of such hostility from the Court Cochrane continued to act with the opposition. Although bitterly opposed to union with England, he helped persuade Lockhart to attend the negotiations in London, arguing that ‘if he sat quiet and concealed his opinion’ the other commissioners ‘would not be so shy, and he might make discoveries’. Throughout the Union debates Cochrane took an extreme opposition line, signing numerous protests and only once voting with the Court, over the disposal of the Equivalent money. He tried to make political capital out of the anti-Union disturbances in Edinburgh and, as an episcopalian, opposed legislation to protect the status of the Kirk. Not content with parliamentary opposition, Cochrane and Lockhart were intent on fomenting rebellion in the western shires. In response to an initiative from Major James Cunningham of Aiket, they advanced 50 guineas for an exploratory mission and attempted to secure magnate approval. The Duke of Atholl proved a wholehearted convert, promising Highland support, whereas Hamilton was ‘somewhat shy’ and later ‘thwarted and broke the measure’ without consulting Cochrane and his co-conspirators. Since Cunningham was apparently a double agent, Hamilton’s caution may have saved Cochrane from disaster.6

Having failed to prevent the Union, Cochrane determined nevertheless to derive from it the best advantages for Scotland and for himself. The rationalization of English and Scottish customs duties inevitably created short-term anomalies that were an encouragement to sharp practice and smuggling. In July 1707 Cochrane led a pressure group of merchants against a government crackdown on smuggling and succeeded in forcing some minor concessions from Lord Seafield. On 13 Dec. Cochrane wrote to Montrose, soliciting support on the question of drawbacks on salt-cured fish:

The great drawback on our fishes would be allowed us, though cured with salt brought in here before 1 May last and did not pay the great duties, if it were not opposed by our own Scots Members. This is most confounding and astonishing to every man . . . Is not this declared by the articles of Union and pled in our parliament as a vast encouragement to our fishing? . . . Is there not the same reason for giving us the drawback as was in allowing us to bring in wines and brandy into England? . . . If this be the way to engage our nation cordially to this Union, then I own I do not understand common sense. I am sure, be the Scotsmen who they will that does oppose this just and reasonable drawback to us, they must own they do not value whether they oblige or disoblige their friends and countrymen.7

Cochrane’s involvement with Jacobite conspiracy continued. He was contacted by Colonel Hooke prior to the invasion attempt of 1708, but found himself compromised by the equivocal behaviour of Hamilton, who was accused of double-dealing by other Jacobites. Cochrane may well have shared Hamilton’s fears that the intended force was insufficient. Montrose was keen to have Cochrane arrested during the invasion scare, but he remained unmolested on his estate, where he received the Stuart emissary Charles Fleming. Described by Fleming as ‘very zealous in the King’s interest’, Cochrane was spared the dangers of armed rebellion by news of the invasion’s failure.8

Cochrane thought of standing for Renfrewshire in 1708, hoping to secure support from Sir John Schaw, 3rd Bt.*, in return for his own interest in Dunbartonshire. He turned down Schaw’s suggested reversal of this arrangement, and, after briefly canvassing in Stirlingshire, decided to wait until a convenient vacancy occurred at Wigtown Burghs in December 1708, where he was returned on the interest of his kinsman and fellow anti-unionist, the Earl of Galloway.9

Cochrane’s activities at Westminster have left little trace in the Journals. This impression of inactivity is somewhat misleading, however, for he helped secure the Act enforcing payment of the drawbacks on salt-cured fish. Customs officers had refused to pay the stipulated drawback to which Scots merchants were entitled under the Union treaty. Cochrane was sent up to London with a specific commission as a lobbyist and was paid for his services. Lockhart also testified to Cochrane’s general activity at this time, naming him as one of those who ‘stood firm by the Tories’. According to an undated report, he joined five or six Scotsmen in criticizing the ‘ministry’s proceedings against the Scots after the invasion last year’. This debate can be provisionally attributed to 10 Mar. 1709 on a motion congratulating the government for ‘timely and effectual’ action. The following year he was listed as having voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, which seems intrinsically unlikely and was specifically refuted by Lockhart. In the summer of 1710 Cochrane campaigned for addresses in favour of a dissolution, believing with Hamilton that ‘her Majesty is very timorous and needs to be supported’. Re-elected for Wigtown Burghs in 1710, Cochrane was classified as an episcopal Tory by the Duchess of Buccleuch’s chaplain Richard Dongworth. On another occasion Dongworth praised Cochrane and his family for their support of episcopalian clergy and laity.10

Cochrane proved a loyal supporter of the new Tory administration and in 1711 was made joint keeper of the Scottish signet, an office worth about £700 p.a. This appointment was, in part, a friendly gesture towards Hamilton. In an attempt to stretch patronage a bit further Lord Treasurer Oxford negotiated a private agreement by which the joint keepers, Cochrane and John Pringle*, were instructed to share the profits of the signet with an unofficial participant, Sir Alexander Areskine, 2nd Bt.* They reneged on this deal, however, and Areskine whistled in vain for his money. Cochrane gradually assumed a self-ordained role as adviser to Oxford on Scots affairs, particularly over the management of the customs. He was consulted over the appointment of j.p.s in Renfrewshire and secured valuable forage contracts for the army in Scotland.11

In January 1711 Cochrane presented a petition against the return of Patrick Vans for Wigtownshire, favouring the case of Galloway’s brother, Hon. John Stewart*, and, with Lockhart, harrying the sheriff of Wigtown for his conduct during the election. He also acted against Mungo Graham*, a client of Montrose, in the disputed election for Kinross-shire, his particular animosity being attributed to resentment at the Duke’s earlier attempts to secure his arrest as a suspected Jacobite. Thomas Smith II* described Cochrane at this time as one of those who had never ‘spared one Whig in their votes since coming hither’. On a social level, however, he was not averse to mixing with Whigs and frequently attended Lord Ossulston’s Anglo-Scottish dining group. He strongly favoured peace negotiations, and thought a successful outcome was essential for the survival of the ministry. He naturally voted for the Scottish toleration bill on 7 Feb. 1712.12

Cochrane’s attention to political issues in the remainder of this Parliament was overshadowed by an unexpected personal attack upon him by the commissioners of public accounts, chaired by his former ally Lockhart. The commissioners’ second report, presented to the House on 17 Mar. 1712, stated that those responsible for implementing the 1709 Act enforcing payment of the drawbacks on salt-cured fish ‘had not applied all the money . . . to the uses therein mentioned’. Gilbert Stuart, one of those responsible, deponed that Cochrane, ‘who was concerned in trade with Stuart and others’, had been sent to London on a dual mission. He was to ‘dispose of a quantity of goods they had sent thither’, for which he was paid expenses of £300, but at the same time he was to lobby for an act enforcing payment of the debentures. It was agreed beforehand that, in recognition of the agreement to pay his expenses, he would refund to his trading partners ‘whatever sum should be given as a gratuity from the proprietors of the salt and debentures’. Accordingly, when Cochrane was paid £195 ‘he gave his receipt for it’, but ‘Stuart retained the money and afterwards divided it betwixt himself and partners in trade’. This amounted to a bribe, according to Lockhart, who nevertheless maintained that there was no vindictiveness in these proceedings, for ‘though we heard a surmise that bribes had been given, we did not in the least expect or know anything of Mr Cochrane. But since he was accused, we could not help reporting it to the House.’ Lockhart’s description was somewhat disingenuous, for there had been a distinct cooling in relationships. He referred to ‘indignities received, without any reason’, from Cochrane and ‘many instances of his hearty goodwill to have ruined me’. One consequence of the immediate crisis was that mutual friends manufactured a reconciliation. In Lockhart’s version of events, this involved Cochrane becoming convinced of his ‘error (to give it no worse term)’ and presenting himself at Lockhart’s house, ‘where he acknowledged the same’. To Cochrane this was no more than a ‘seeming friendship’ brought about at the ‘earnest desire of some of my good friends’. Among his other Scottish persecutors, Cochrane mentioned John Carnegie*, Alexander Murray*, Sir Alexander Cumming, 1st Bt.*, and John Houstoun*, noting that the last had taken the trouble to ‘draw up some comparisons . . . between Mr Walpole’s [Robert II*] case and mine (of which without saying any more) I am glad I was not here when he was sent to the Tower’. In his defence Cochrane mustered a wide range of support, including such obvious figures as Hamilton, Mar and Dundonald, but also, surprisingly, Montrose, to whom Cochrane wrote ‘with all imaginable sincerity’:

It is a true saying that friends are never better known than when one is in trouble . . . and if it had not been for all our countrymen (except six or seven) and the generality of Englishmen, I had been expelled our House long ere now, with all the ignom[in]y their malice could invent . . . The spring of all this affair proceeded without any manner of cause, unless it be because I have the honour and happiness to be married to one of your Grace’s family . . . I must say never man could have acted a more kindly and friendly part. You have done more for me than I could ask.

The notion that hostility to Montrose lay at the root of this affair is utterly unconvincing, despite the fact that Argyll and his brother Lord Ilay had been active behind the scenes. Although they had no great love for Montrose, they also had sufficient grounds to dislike Cochrane in his own right. There is no doubt, however, that Montrose’s influence turned the tide. Cochrane believed that it was the Duke’s influence which obliged Carnegie ‘to be altogether silent’ on 17 May, when consideration of the report was further deferred. No more proceedings took place during this Parliament and the question was never revived. Cochrane’s gratitude was fulsome and his apology abject. ‘I never sit down to write to your Grace’, he told him the following year, ‘but I blush when I look back on the past time and how unkindly by, yea and unjustly, I have lived with you, which was unpardonable in me.’ His physical and mental health was suffering from the ordeal. Even his involvement with the forage contracts was scrutinized, and in panic he consulted Lockhart for advice, receiving the sarcastic reply that

I take it a little ill [that] you should banter me so much as to desire my assistance . . . Did you offer me your friendship in assisting me to get a good place, ’twould be more natural, than for me to pretend to do service to one whose court is so well established and interest so great with the rulers of the land.

A more helpful response was forthcoming from John Pringle, who promised to be active on his behalf. In the event Cochrane suffered no repercussions from this inquiry and was on the way to recovering his health by June 1713. He did not stand at the general election and made no notable impact on public affairs thereafter. The surviving correspondence of his wife indicates the existence of financial difficulties, though their severity remains unclear. Cochrane died in August 1717 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Thomas, who later succeeded his cousin as 6th Earl of Dundonald. In the consequent process of consolidating his estates, Kilmaronock was sold to the Duke of Montrose.13

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: David Wilkinson


  • 1. K. Parker and J. Anderson, Ped. of Cochranes; Hist. Scot. Parl. 127; Scots Peerage ed. Paul, iii. 344–52; Retour of Heirs, ii. Inquisitiones Gen. 7529.
  • 2. Scot. Rec. Soc. lxxiii. 16; lvi. 238; lxii. 40.
  • 3. APS, ix. 54.
  • 4. Lauder of Fountainhall, Decisions of Ct. of Session, i. 299; M. Napier, Mem. Dundee, ii. 386; HMC Laing, i. 343; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 216; DNB (Cochrane, Sir John; Cochrane, Sir William); Scots Peerage, iv. 382; vi. 258.
  • 5. Hist. Scot. Parl. 127; info. on members of Scot. parl. from Dr P. W. J. Riley; P. W. J. Riley, King Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 175; Bk. of Dumbartonshire, ii. 222, 287; Reg. PC Scotland, 1689, pp. 530–1; 1690, p. 5; 1691, pp. 124–5; P. A. Hopkins, Glencoe, 201; Scot. Hist. Soc. ser. 3, xlvii. 62, 86–87; Darien Pprs. (Bannatyne Club, xc), 373; Atholl mss at Blair Atholl, box 45, bdle. II, nos. 169, 248, Hamilton to [Tullibardine], 20 Aug. 1702, John Haldane* to [same], 26 Oct. 1702; Buccleuch mss at Drumlanrig Castle, bdle. 1151, no. 23, [–] to [Queensberry], 25 Sept. 1702; HMC Hamilton suppl. 157; Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. app. 41.
  • 6. Bk. of Dumbartonshire, 223; J. G. Smith, Strathendick and its Inhabitants, 354; SRO, Seafield mss GD248/571/6/11, Annandale to Seafield, 2 Jan. [1705]; SRO, Breadalbane mss GD112/39/211/19, Polton to [Breadalbane], 18 Jan. [1705]; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi. 10; info. from Dr Riley; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 333; Lockhart Pprs. i. 142, 166, 182, 186, 189, 204, 211, 221; Scot. Hist. Soc. ser. 5, vi. 109; APS, xi. 321–2, 415.
  • 7. HMC Mar and Kellie, 409, 411; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/113/6, Cochrane to Montrose, 13 Dec. 1707.
  • 8. Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 12; Hooke Corresp. 141, 543–4; Lockhart Pprs. 197–200, 232, 235; Wodrow, Analecta, i. 320–1; Hooke’s Negotiations Scot. 182; Riley, Union, 286.
  • 9. Montrose mss GD220/5/250/3, John Grahame to Montrose, 28 Feb. 1708; GD220/5/154/2, Linlithgow to same, 1708.
  • 10. P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 120–1; Lockhart Mems. ed Szechi, 287; Lockhart Pprs. 36, 301; Scottish Cath. Archs., Blairs College mss BL2/158/3, James Carnegy to Scots Coll. [1709]; Breadalbane mss GD112/39/243/27, Cochrane to [Breadalbane], 29 Aug. 1710; SHR, lx. 66; Christ Church Oxf. Wake mss 5, f. 13.
  • 11. SRO, Hamilton mss GD406/1/5755, John Hamilton to Duke of Hamilton, 4 Sept. 1711; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 6, f. 19; Riley, Eng. Ministers, 168–70; HMC Portland, x. 156, 165–6, 239–40, 275–6, 324; Add. 70166, list of Renfrew j.p.s; 70278, Cochrane to [Oxford], 29 Oct. 1711; SRO, Smythe of Methven mss GD190/3/282/6, A. Symmers to Cochrane, 1713; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxv. 234, 542; xxvi. 78, 149, 159; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1708–14, p. 351.
  • 12. SRO, Mar and Kellie mss, Hon. Sir James Dunbar, 1st Bt.*, to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 20 Jan. 1711; Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 5, f. 128; Montrose mss GD220/5/808/17, 18a–b, Graham to Montrose, 10, 13 Feb. 1711; SHR, lxxi, 116, 125; Wodrow, Analecta, 348.
  • 13. Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 1118–19; Lockhart Letters, 57; Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 6, f. 174; HMC Portland, 239; Montrose mss GD220/5/283/1–3, Cochrane to Montrose, [April], 17 May 1712, Montrose to Cochrane, 2 May 1712; GD220/5/295/4, Cochrane to [Montrose], 7 May 1713; Atholl mss box 45, bdle. 11, John Douglas to Atholl, 6 June 1713; Smythe of Methven mss GD190/3/282/3, 7, 9, Lockhart to Cochrane, 8 Nov. 1712, Pringle to same, 16 June 1713, same to [–], 25 June 1713; GD190/3/279, corresp. of Grizel Cochrane; Scot. Rec. Soc. vii. 104; Services of Heirs, i. 1710–19, p. 6; Scots Peerage, iii. 351; Parker and Anderson, Ped. of Cochranes.