DUFF, Alexander (1657-1726), of Drummuir, Banff.

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 - 1710

Family and Education

b. 1657, 1st s. of William Duff, MP [S], by his 1st wife Christian, da. of Alexander Duff of Kinloss, Elgin.  educ. ?1673 Aberdeen Univ. (King’s Coll.).  m. 1684, Katherine (d. 1758), da. and h. of Adam Duff of Drummuir, 7s. 7da.  suc. fa. 1715.1

Offices Held

MP [S] Inverness 1702–7.

Collector of customs, Inverness 1703.2

Provost, Inverness 1706–9, 1712–15.3


Duff’s father was a wealthy merchant of Inverness, who made his fortune by exporting fish to the Continent and, in return, importing foreign commodities. He was also an excise farmer under the Cromwellian regime and, after paying a fine of £1,800 at the Restoration, was appointed a collector of excise in 1662. Prominent in local affairs as provost of Inverness, he also made his mark in national politics as a commissioner from Inverness to the convention of royal burghs and as the town’s representative in the Scottish parliament of 1681, where he served as a lord of the Articles. At the Revolution he took the Williamite side and was rewarded with appointment as King’s chamberlain of Ross and Ardmeanach, and farmer of the inland excise for the northern shires. He was then commissioned to purchase supplies for the army, offsetting his costs against the funds under his jurisdiction.4

Alexander Duff participated fully in his father’s business, both in its mercantile and revenue aspects, frequently acting as his representative. In 1684 the estate of Drummuir was effectively purchased for him by his father, who agreed to clear all outstanding debts as a condition of his son’s marriage to its orphaned heiress. This commitment to Drummuir did not, however, extend to the previous owner’s widow, who was harshly treated. Not only was she a second wife and not the bride’s mother, but she was also an interloping Englishwoman. Denied her due, she sought redress in the court of session, where she received some compensation (being ‘a stranger and in a starving condition’) but thereafter departed permanently for England. After acquiring Drummuir, Duff continued to participate in the family’s commercial activities, but also gradually assumed some of the airs of a landed gentleman. This transformation did not go unremarked, Lord Lovat commenting on one occasion that ‘Drummuir’s words are rather like Louis XIV than like William Duff’s son’.5

In many respects Duff’s political career mirrored that of his father, not least in its demonstrable trimming. The elder Duff had accommodated himself successively to the Protectorate, the Restoration and the Revolution, whereas the younger supported the Revolution, opposed the Union, served briefly at Westminster, drifted towards Jacobitism and finally settled peacefully under the Hanoverian regime. Also like his father, Duff began his political career as a commissioner to the convention of royal burghs and went on to serve as provost of Inverness. He entered the Scottish parliament in 1702 and joined the cavalier wing of the Country party. He voted in favour of the Duke of Hamilton’s anti-succession motion in 1704 and continued in opposition up to and including the Union debates of 1706–7. On the latter question his conduct was marked by a certain independence, as evinced by his support of the Court over such issues as the communication of trade and the preservation of the rights of the royal burghs. But on the major divisions over the Union he was in opposition and therefore excluded from the slate of representatives to the first Parliament of Great Britain.6

Duff showed no particular eagerness to serve in Parliament and only stood for the Inverness district of burghs in 1708 after it became clear that the candidacy of Hon. Charles Rosse* would be unsuccessful. Prior to his departure for Westminster, he hosted a lavish feast at Inverness, at which participants drank the health of the Queen, Prince George and the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), toasting also ‘prosperity to the Protestant religion and success to her Majesty’s arms by sea and land’. In reports of the election, Duff’s political allegiance was claimed by Lords Ross and Seafield, both of whom predicted his support for the ministry of Lord Godolphin (Sidney†). In fact, having been returned essentially on his own interest, Duff pursued an independent line. His sympathies were Tory, grounded in both a strong episcopalian faith and his previous association with fellow anti-unionists such as George Lockhart*, who maintained that Duff adhered ‘constantly in all votes to the Tories’. No speech by him is known and the evidence of the Journals is minimal. Local economic interests explain his nomination on 16 Dec. to the drafting committee for a bill to encourage the fishery. His only recorded vote, however, contradicts Lockhart’s assessment, since Duff was listed as voting for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710. His inclusion on this list may simply be an error, but it is also possible that he voted in support of government for self-interested motives.7

Duff did not stand in 1710, giving way to another Tory, George Mackenzie, and is not known to have stood at any subsequent election. During the rebellion of 1715, he allegedly connived at the delivery of Inverness Castle into the hands of the Jacobites, who were led by his son-in-law Lachlan Mackintosh of Moy. Duff’s wife was a strong supporter of the Stuart cause and her influence was probably crucial. The recapture of Inverness by government forces in November did not result in any known repercussions against Duff and he continued to live prosperously and peacefully until his death on 22 Aug. 1726. Drummuir passed nominally to his eldest son, Robert, who was, nevertheless, deemed too weak-minded to exercise actual control, which remained with Duff’s widow.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: David Wilkinson


  • 1. A. and H. Tayler, Bk. of the Duffs, ii. 355, 360, 367, 380; Recs. Univ. and King’s Coll. Aberdeen (Spalding Club), 493; Hist. Scot. Parl. 207–8.
  • 2. Tayler, 367.
  • 3. Ibid. 376.
  • 4. Hist. Scot. Parl. 208; Tayler, 356–66.
  • 5. Reg. PC Scotland, 1686–9, pp. 580, 587; 1683–4, p. 327; Tayler, 345–53, 366, 371; Scot. Hist. Soc. ser. 2, ix. 18, 23, 31, 40, 43.
  • 6. Info. from Dr P. W. J. Riley on members of Scot. parl; Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. app. 42; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 333; Lockhart Pprs. i. 36, 166, 182, 186, 301.
  • 7. Add. 9102, ff. 68–69; 28055 f. 418; Edinburgh Courant, 8–10 Sept. 1708.
  • 8. A. and H. Tayler, Jacobites of Aberdeen. and Banff. in 1715, 49–51; More Culloden Pprs. ed. Warrand, ii. 153–5; M. Mackintosh, Hist. Inverness, 117–18; Tayler, Duffs, ii. 371–5, 380; Scot. Rec. Soc. iv. 4; Services of Heirs (ser. 1) i. 1730–9, p. 11.