HOUSTOUN (HOUSTON), John (d. 1722), of Houstoun, Renfrew, and Glasgow, Lanark.

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



Family and Education

o. s. of Sir John Houstoun, 2nd Bt., MP [S], of Houstoun and Glasgow by Anne, da. of John Drummond, 1st Earl of Melfort [S].  educ. Glasgow 1701.  m. c. Nov. 1713, Margaret, da. of Sir John Schaw, 2nd Bt., of Greenock, Renfrew, and sis. of Sir John Schaw, 3rd Bt.*, 1s. 2da.  suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. Dec. 1717.

Offices Held

Commissary, Glasgow by 1714.1


Houstoun’s strong Jacobite sympathies had several possible origins. This surprising turn in his family’s politics, which cut across their Covenanting and Whiggish traditions, may have derived from the influence of his maternal grandfather Lord Melfort, or from his friendship with George Lockhart*; or it may equally well have been a logical, if extreme, progression from his father’s radical Whiggery and determined opposition to the Union. In the troubles of the early 1680s Houstoun’s father and grandfather had done the best they could to remain passive or at least inconspicuous, but in June 1686 Fountainhall recorded that ‘a party of the King’s forces is sent to apprehend old Houstoun of that ilk [Sir Patrick, 1st Bt.], for resetting [i.e. receiving] rebels’. He added that Sir Patrick’s son, the Member’s father, ‘(though Melfort’s son-in-law) had not carried well in the parliament’. The next we hear of the second baronet is his participation in anti-Jacobite disturbances at Edinburgh late in 1688, and his involvement with other radical Presbyterians like Sir James Montgomerie of Skelmorlie, in cabals shortly after the Prince of Orange’s landing. An enthusiastic supporter of the Revolution, Sir John Houstoun signed the letter of congratulation to King William, and the act declaring the legality of the convention of estates, but by the autumn had joined Skelmorlie in the ‘Club’ opposition. He subsequently adhered to Melville’s ‘Presbyterian’ party, after which little is known of his opinions until 1700, when he figured in the Country party opposition over Darien and the standing army. In the Linlithgowshire by-election of 1703 he took a prominent role in assisting a Country party candidate, and, although supporting the ‘New Party’ over the succession in 1704, was a vehement opponent of Union, voting against the first article in November 1706 and against ratification the following January. So far as is known, however, he did not deviate from his devotion to a Protestant succession.2

The Houstouns were one of the oldest landed families in Renfrewshire, able to document their possession of a barony from as far back as the reign of Malcolm IV. In 1710 Sir John was described by one Lowland antiquarian as ‘a man of great, opulent fortune’, residing in ‘a very great old house, expressing both the greatness and antiquity of its owners’. At about the same time another local historian referred to Houstoun ‘castle’ as having been ‘much improved by Sir John Houstoun . . . with a beautiful avenue regularly planted, and having orchards, garden and park equal to most in Scotland’. That these descriptions were somewhat flattering is suggested by a rent-roll of 1731 (after the estate had slipped from the family’s possession), which runs to £2,886 p.a. Scots (some £240 sterling). But while the baronet was obliged to put one of his younger sons to the law, the Member, as heir, was offered no profession. Instead, he was provided with a parliamentary seat for his father’s old constituency of Linlithgowshire at a by-election in December 1708, chosen, in all probability, with the backing of the Duke of Hamilton. Little is known of his contribution to the proceedings of his first Parliament, other than an alleged vote in favour of the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. Lockhart later queried this attribution, recalling that Houstoun had been one of a small group who ‘stood firm by the Tories’. After his unopposed re-election for Linlithgowshire in 1710 he was described by the Duchess of Buccleuch’s episcopalian chaplain, Richard Dongworth, as an episcopal Tory, a description which was probably in error as regards his religion but accurate about his politics.3

Houstoun retained his close association with Lockhart in the new Parliament, voting consistently with the Tories in the first session, and especially in election cases. A Whig Member commented after the unseating of Mungo Graham* in February 1711 that Houstoun was one of those Scots Members ‘who indeed have never spared one Whig in their vote since they came hither’. His social circle in 1710–11 nevertheless included both English Whigs and Scottish Jacobites: Houstoun was a regular attender of Lord Ossulston’s Anglo-Scottish dining group. Houstoun was also known in English Tory circles, enjoying a reputation sufficient to warrant the suggestion that he would be a suitable Scottish nominee to the commission of accounts, an honour which he declined in favour of Lockhart. He did agree to let his name go forward to the ballot for the proposed commission of inquiry into crown grants, being chosen on 20 Apr. 1711, in fifth place, the only successful candidate who was not a member of the October Club. Unfortunately for him, the enabling bill was then defeated in the Lords.4

In the next session Houstoun voted on 7 Feb. 1712 against the Scottish toleration bill. This placed him on the opposite side to fellow Scottish Tories, and may be explained either in terms of ancestral loyalty or perhaps as a gesture towards the dowager Duchess of Hamilton, whose electoral influence in Linlithgowshire was considerable. His tellerships on 13 Mar. and 10 Apr. against General George Hamilton* in the disputed election for Anstruther Easter Burghs, were presumably on personal rather than party-political grounds. Lockhart remained convinced of his Jacobite credentials at this time, recalling in his memoirs that Houstoun was in close concert with the Duke of Argyll, a ‘particular friend’, in order to forward the Pretender’s interests. On 8 May Houstoun was given leave of absence for six weeks. In the following session he told on 21 May 1713 with fellow Tory John Carnegie* in the crucial division on the malt tax, against the amendment to fix the duty in Scotland at 6d. During the subsequent agitation for repeal of the Union he kept a lower profile, and in the proceedings on the French commerce bill followed the line taken by Lockhart and other Scottish Tories (most of them Jacobites), abstaining on 4 June at the committal but supporting the ministry on the 18th at the engrossment. This final shift towards the Court has been associated with the Jacobites’ presumed receipt in the interim of a letter from the Pretender urging them to support the administration.5

The 1713 election in Linlithgowshire was very much a party affair, with Houstoun challenged by a Whig, Sir James Carmichael, 3rd Bt. While the Hamilton interest remained at Houstoun’s disposal, it would appear that his erstwhile ‘friend’, Argyll, now reincarnated as a staunch Revolution man, was striving to secure Carmichael’s return. The contest was fought with unprecedented venom, and party-political issues were much to the fore, especially the fate of the Protestant succession. If the Presbyterian minister Robert Wodrow is to be believed, Carmichael was able to produce a trump card at the electoral court itself in the form of a letter from the son of the Jacobite secretary of state the Earl of Middleton (Charles†) to a Linlithgowshire freeholder urging the voter to support Houstoun. In his petition against Carmichael’s return, Houstoun, not surprisingly, omitted to mention this incident. He instead alleged that undue influence had been brought to bear upon electors by ‘several peers, and Presbyterian ministers, and one of the judges’, and on 8 Apr. the Commons’ majority easily carried Houstoun’s election. By now Houstoun had been granted the office of commissary of Glasgow, but this preferment did not tie him to the Court. It was instead his close friendship with Lockhart, with whom he shared lodgings during this Parliament, which seemed to determine his conduct. In the Worsley list he was described as a Tory. He voted on 12 May against the Whig motion to extend the scope of the schism bill to cover Catholic education, and at about the same time reported to a Linlithgowshire neighbour his and other Tories’ aversion to the reintroduction of a malt tax, urging the preparation of a county address against it. According to Lockhart, Houstoun was also one of the few Tories to support his proposal to resurrect the motion for repeal of the Union, believing it to be ‘expedient for the interest of their king and country’. But while loyal to his friend in the Commons, Houstoun proved himself a liability outside, for it was his carelessness in handling Lockhart’s unpublished and anonymous ‘Memoirs of North Britain’ that enabled Hon. Sir David Dalrymple, 1st Bt.*, to obtain a pirated copy of this treasonable work. Houstoun had entrusted the manuscript to a copyist, who in turn had alerted Dalrymple. Lockhart was of the opinion that Houstoun ‘did it out of simplicity, and he’s like to hang himself for it’.6

For all his Jacobite bravado before the Hanoverian succession, little is heard of Houstoun afterwards. He did not stand in 1715, and probably through the influence of his recently acquired father-in-law, Sir John Schaw, retained his commissary’s office at least until 1716. At about that time a petition was entered by a Whig laird, Alexander Porterfield of that ilk, whose family had previously suffered at the hands of Lord Melfort, to request a grant of the appointment for himself as an appropriate recompense for past sufferings. In his own justification Porterfield denounced Houstoun as an unregenerate Jacobite, one who

has shown no manner of concern for the defence of our country at this juncture, nor has he appeared in arms with the well-affected noblemen and gentlemen in the west. But on the contrary obstructed the rendezvousing and arming the fencible men as far as he could, quarrelled the power of the lieutenants of the county and weakened their hands. What his behaviour was in the Parliaments of the last years of the Queen’s reign is abundantly well known; nor needs there a greater indication of that gentleman’s spirits, if it be remembered how far his intimacy with a set of men who have now thrown off the mask contributed to the publication of Carnwath’s Memoirs, that memorable book which blackens the memory of King William and all the patriots of religion and liberty in this nation, and at the same time gives so full a view of the dark and wicked designs of that party.

The outcome of Porterfield’s request is not known, but two years later the draft of a charter of gift to ‘Mr Houstoun’ came before the lords of the Treasury. Houstoun died on 27 Jan. 1722, having already transferred Houstoun Castle and estate to Sir John Schaw. Wodrow, while lamenting Houstoun’s Jacobite sympathies, recalled him as ‘a man of excellent sense, and a very deep reach’, noting also that he had left ‘that old and once great estate in such low circumstances, as that some say there will [be no] more than 200,000 merks of debt when the whole estate is sold’.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. The Gen. v. 22–3; Extracts Glasgow Burgh Recs. iv. 278; Recs. Glasgow Univ. (Maitland Club, lxxii), iii. 173; SRO Indexes, iii. 440.
  • 2. Lauder of Fountainhall, Hist. Notices (Bannatyne Club, lxxxvii), 740; Cromartie Corresp. i, p. cxx; NLS, Crawford mss 19/3/63, memo. [c.1689]; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Dundas of Dundas pprs. 80.7.1, ff. 3–4; APS, ix. 9, 20; Fraser, Melvilles, 212; P. W. J. Riley, King Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 172; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 13; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 95, 110, 333; HMC Portland, viii. 205.
  • 3. W. Hector, Judicial Recs. Renfrew. ser. 2, pp. 72–73, 274; Sheriffdoms of Lanark and Renfrew (Maitland Club, xii), 99–100; Scot. Rec. Soc. lxxvi. 106; SRO, Hamilton mss GD406/1/4921, J. Brisbane to Hamilton, 6 July 1702; Lockhart Pprs. i. 301; SHR, lx. 66.
  • 4. Lockhart Pprs. 308, 325; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/808/18a–b, Graham to Montrose, 13 Feb. 1711; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 5, f. 128; Huntington Lib. Q. xxxiii. 163.
  • 5. Lockhart Pprs. 396–8, 409; Parlty. Hist. i. 65, 69.
  • 6. Add. 70223, 4th Duchess of Hamilton to Oxford, 21 Sept. [1713]; D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 150–1; Wodrow, Analecta, ii. 246; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 95, 110, 112–13; SRO, Shairp of Houstoun mss at Thrirlestane Castle GD30/1562, Houstoun to Thomas Shairp, 8 May 1714; Lockhart Pprs. i. 444.
  • 7. Lauderdale mss at Thirlestane Castle 2/19, memorial of Alexander Porterfield [c.1716]; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxxii. 5; Wodrow, Analecta, ii. 358; Hector, p. 74.