Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 10 in 1754


 Sir John Gordon
31 Aug. 1727WILLIAM SUTHEREAND, Lord Strathnaver
15 Feb. 1734SIR JAMES FERGUSSON vice Strathnaver, called to the Upper House
 Sir William Gordon
6 May 1736JAMES ST. CLAIR vice Fergusson, appointed to office
1 June 1741JAMES ST. CLAIR
 George Mackay
 James St. Clair

Main Article

The chief interest in Sutherland was that of the earls of Sutherland, its hereditary sheriffs, Whigs and government pensioners. In 1715 Sir William Gordon, a leading member of the Squadrone, related to the Earl of Sutherland, was unopposed. In 1722 he defeated a candidate, whose petition, supported by the Duke of Argyll’s party, claimed that the sheriff had admitted a number of voters holding not of the Crown but of the Earl, whose vassals had no vote. The elections committee upheld Gordon’s election, deciding that the franchise was not only in the tenants-in-chief of the Crown but also in those of the earls of Sutherland.1 In 1727 the seat was filled by Lord Strathnaver, the heir to the earldom of Sutherland, to which he succeeded in 1733, bringing in his cousin by marriage, Sir James Fergusson, in 1734. On Fergusson’s elevation to the bench in 1735, Lord Sutherland’s uncle, General James St. Clair, was returned. In 1741 St. Clair defeated George Mackay, the son of a rival Sutherland landowner, Lord Reay, who in 1745 concluded an agreement with Sutherland, pledging themselves ‘to act in mutual concert’ in all future elections.2 In 1747 Mackay, apparently in concert with St. Clair, obtained Pelham’s approval of his standing for the county.3 But on 23 July 1747 the Duke of Argyll wrote to Pelham:

General St. Clair is certainly gone to stand for the shire of Sutherland, the inducement to which was this: Lord Sutherland’s mother is worth £15,000. She offered Gen. St. Clair that she would settle, out of her power, that sum upon Ld. Strathnaver, Earl Sutherland’s son, after her death, who is St. Clair’s nephew, and St. Clair to be trustee. This all the General’s friends advised him to accept of.

On 1 Aug. Lord Reay reported to Pelham

When I last wrote to you I rather looked for assistance than opposition from General St. Clair. But contrary to concert he joined with Sir John Gordon and stood against my son. Yet notwithstanding of all their opposition, I have the pleasure to tell you that yesterday my son was chosen and returned for this county.4

In the 2nd Lord Egmont’s electoral survey, c.1749-50, Sutherland is described as ‘between Lord Sutherland and Lord Reay’.

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. CJ, xx. 38, 151-3, and The Case of the Election for the county of Sutherland, 1722.
  • 2. A. Mackay, Book of Mackay, 186-7, 430-3.
  • 3. Reay to Pelham, 17 June 1747, Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
  • 4. Ibid.