JOHNSTONE, William (d. 1727), of Sciennes (Sheenes), Edinburgh, and Westerhall (Westraw), Dumfries.

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



30 Nov. 1708 - 1710
9 May - 8 Aug. 1713
1713 - 1715
1713 - 1715
1715 - 1722

Family and Education

2nd s. of Sir James Johnstone, MP [S], of Westerhall, by Margaret, da. of John Bannatyne of Corehouse, Lanark.  m. bef. 1698, Henrietta, da. and coh. of James Johnston of Sciennes, 2s.; bro. of Sir John Johnstone, 1st Bt.*  suc. bro. as 2nd Bt. 30 Sept. 1711.1

Offices Held

Burgess, Edinburgh 1697; councillor, Lochmaben, 1712–21, 1722–?d., bailie 1714; dep.-steward, Kirkcudbright 1717.2

MP [S], Annan 1698–1707.


Johnstone was a distant relation and close political associate of the Earl (later Marquess) of Annandale. Unlike his elder brother, who shifted his allegiances, William remained loyal. He entered the Scottish parliament in 1698, representing his patron’s burgh of Annan. Adhering to the Court from the outset, he continued in that course until Annandale became disaffected over the management of the Union. Johnstone voted in favour of the first article of the treaty, but indulged in opposition thereafter. His conduct was not wholehearted, being punctuated by absences and abstentions. George Lockhart* was convinced that Johnstone was not an anti-unionist on principle. Johnstone was naturally excluded from the Scottish contingent to the first Parliament of Great Britain, but he was returned for Dumfries Burghs on the Annandale interest in 1708. The Marquess was confident that he would prove a ‘very honest man’ and promised to be answerable for his conduct.3

Johnstone’s activities in the Parliament of 1708 have left little trace. He was listed, however, as voting against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. At the 1710 election, although there were rumours of a canvass from the Westerhall camp, it was his brother, Sir John, who was the potential candidate. In the event neither stood. The death in 1713 of the sitting Member, John Hutton II, provided an opening for Johnstone, who two years previously had inherited his brother’s baronetcy and sizable Dumfriesshire estates. Not only was he successful at this by-election, but in September 1713 was re-elected for the district and also chosen for the shire. He continued to sit for both seats throughout this Parliament. Evidence of parliamentary activity is again negligible. He was absent from the divisions of 4 and 18 June 1713 on the French commerce bill, but he voted against the expulsion of Richard Steele on 18 Mar. 1714, and in favour of extending the schism bill to cover Catholic education on 12 May. He was reported to Count Bothmar as firmly for the Hanoverian succession, an opinion with which Lord Polwarth concurred. On matters of Scottish interest he was prepared to co-operate with Jacobites such as Lockhart, as in the case of an abortive attempt on 24 June to force the commissioners of the Equivalent to ‘be accountable for the £14,000 appropriated for the wool with interest for it at 4 per cent, or that they should consign it in the town of Edinburgh’s hands, there to remain till the application was agreed upon’. This was not, however, an English party cause. The retrospective assessment in the Worsley list that Johnstone was a Whig who had sometimes voted with the Tories remains otherwise unsubstantiated.4

Johnstone was re-elected for Dumfriesshire in 1715 and, in so far as his behaviour is known, supported administration. During the Fifteen he was active as Annandale’s right-hand man in Dumfriesshire, reporting on the military progress of the rebels and taking his own measures locally in fortifying Dumfries. These preparations proved effective in deterring the rebels from attacking the town. He was on poor terms with Lord Johnston (James*), who succeeded as 2nd Marquess of Annandale in January 1721. At Annandale’s behest Johnstone was voted out of Lochmaben council later that year. This was a gross insult to one who had played a prominent role in burgh affairs as councillor, bailie and commissioner to the royal burghs. Upon appeal to the convention he was therefore reinstated. Ill-feeling persisted, and was exacerbated by the marriage of Sir William’s younger son, John, to Annandale’s stepmother. In 1726 the Marquess obtained a regrant of his peerage with the specific exemption of any collateral descent to ‘a certain family of Johnstone’, a measure that was directed against his stepmother and the Johnstones of Westerhall. Johnstone died on 8 Oct. 1727 and was succeeded by his elder son, James, who represented Dumfries Burghs, 1743–54.5

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: David Wilkinson


  • 1. Hist. Scot. Parl. 381; Scot. Rec. Soc. lix. 281.
  • 2. Hist. Scot. Parl. 381; Scot. Rec. Soc. 281; Trans. Dumfries. and Galloway Natural Hist. and Antiq. Soc. lii. 153–4.
  • 3. Info. from Dr P. W. J. Riley on members of Scot. parl.; Lockhart Mems. ed. Szechi, 287; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 278, 333; W. Fraser, Annandale Fam. Bk. ii. 240.
  • 4. Ewart Lib. Dumfries, Grierson mss 14D/GroupB9/3, William Alves to William Grierson*, 2 Aug. 1710; Services of Heirs, i. 1710–19, p. 14; Parlty. Hist. i. 69; Huntington Lib. Huntington mss HM44710, f. 242; Lockhart Letters ed. Szechi, 106–8.
  • 5. HMC Portland, x. 129–31; Fraser, 339; Linlithgow mss at Hopetoun House, box 46, bdle. 1, Stormont to [Annandale], 24 Oct. 1715; Trans. Dumfries. 153–4; J. B. Wilson, Lochmaben, 66; C. L. Johnstone, Hist. Johnstones, 175; Fraser, i. p. cccxxi.