ANSTRUTHER, Philip (c.1680-1760), of Airdrie, Fife.

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



27 Oct. 1722 - 1741

Family and Education

b. c.1680, o.s. of Sir James Anstruther of Airdrie by Catherine, da. of John Skene of Hallyards, Fife. unm. suc. fa. 1682.

Offices Held

Capt. and lt.-col. I Ft. Gds. 1710; col. 26 Ft. (Cameronians) 1720-d. ; lt. gov. Minorca 1733-47; brig.-gen. 1735; maj.-gen. 1739; lt.-gen. 1745.


A professional soldier, Anstruther was brought in for Anstruther Easter Burghs by his first cousin, Sir John Anstruther. He may have been the Mr. Anstruther who received a payment of £200 made by Lord Sunderland through the Duke of Roxburghe, the secretary of state for Scotland. He voted with the Administration except on the peerage bill of 1719, which he opposed. Surviving a double return in 1722, he was unopposed in 1727 and 1734. He seems to have had a taste for quarrels: in 1718 he challenged and outfaced Patrick Haldane in a coffee-house incident, and in 1730, when ‘in cups, late at night’, he fought a duel with a brother of Thomas Kennedy, both being wounded.1

Appointed to Minorca in 1733, his only known vote in the 1734 Parliament earned him the lasting dislike of most of his countrymen; for in 1737 he alone of their representatives supported the proposal to punish Edinburgh for the Porteous riots by, among other measures, demolishing the Netherbow Port. He is supposed thereafter to have passed through Edinburgh only in disguise and to have avoided the normal ferry route across the Forth whenever possible. On one such occasion, according to Horace Walpole, ‘crossing a firth he said to the waterman, "This is a pretty boat, I fancy you sometimes smuggle with it". The fellow replied, "I never smuggled a brigadier before".' Defeated in 1741 by an opposition candidate, Anstruther withdrew his petition on 19 Feb. 1742, when 'all the Scotch Members ... to a man' voted against him. Three weeks earlier, on 28 Jan., he had been called before the House of Lords to explain his own absence from Minorca for eleven months and why so many of his officers were similarly missing from their posts. Though he admitted the bad morale of his troops and general neglect in the defence of the island, a censure motion by the Opposition, describing the situation as 'precarious ... and highly injurious to the honour and interests of these kingdoms', was negatived by 69 votes to 57.2

Returning to Minorca, he arrested one of his officers there, Sir Henry Erskine, whom he suspected of conspiring against him, and, after a few weeks' confinement, had him court-martialled, when he was acquitted. He served under General Ligonier during the Forty-five. In 1747 Anstruther resigned his Minorca post which, under the Place Act of 1742, was no longer compatible with a seat in the House of Commons. At the general election he was once more returned by the unanimous vote of the five burghs and with Pelham's support, 'rather than let those burghs fall into such a hand as represented them last'. Meanwhile several complaints against his oppressive and extortionate administration in Minorca had been lodged with the Privy Council. Among these, the chief magistrate of Mahon, Juan Mir y Espineta, alleged inter alia on 11 Aug. 1743 that Anstruther had monopolized the sale of wine, imprisoned the magistrates, misappropriated funds and

opened a letter from the Earl of Hertford, the governor, ... opened a letter directed to the Duke of Argyll, ... frequently opened letters in order to discover complaints which were made against him to the Government here and in order to stifle such complaints and sometimes to find out matter of complaint against persons in the island whom he did not like and afterwards punished them on no other proof.

His case opened in January 1747 before a committee of the Privy Council, who reported on 1 Mar. 1749 that

the said General Anstruther during the times of his being lieutenant governor of your Majesty's Island of Minorca hath in many instances acted in an arbitrary and unwarrantable manner to the great injury and oppression of many of your Majesty's subjects there in breach of his duty to your Majesty and contrary to the constitution of the island. The committee, therefore, are of opinion that he justly deserved to have been removed from his post of lieutenant governor had he been in possession of it at this time ... Reparation and satisfaction ought to be made by the said General Anstruther to all who appear ... to have been injured by him either in their persons or properties; and that the whole of the expenses which have attended the prosecution of this complaint ... ought to be made good by the said General Anstruther.

Four weeks later sentences passed by Anstruther on several other Minorchese between 1738 and 1742 were reversed; two of the complainants, including Don Juan Compagni, asked the Council for redress in the courts; finally, on 13 Feb. 1752, the master of the rolls (Sir John Strange) and General Humphrey Bland, assessors appointed by the Privy Council, awarded Juan Mir £2,500 in discharge of all reparations and expenses, to be paid in by Anstruther to the Bank of England by 11 Mar. No further action was taken on the other complaints, which Horace Walpole suggests 'Lord Granville defeated ... by calling in a Minorchese and talking to him for an hour in Spanish, and then assuring the Council that the witness had fully justified the General.' But in February 1751, during a debate on the mutiny bill, Sir Henry Erskine, complaining of the exorbitant powers of general officers on courts martial, instanced his own court martial in 1742 by Anstruther, whom he severely abused. On the next day Anstruther defended himself, 'saying he had undergone a long persecution from his countrymen, who all hated him' for his vote on the Porteous affair, 'but with so low a voice and so strong a Scotch accent that scarce ten people heard or understood him'. In subsequent debates Henry Fox supported Anstruther, and Pitt, who demanded a parliamentary inquiry, was for Erskine. To strengthen the case against Anstruther, George Townshend successfully moved on 4 Mar. that all the Privy Council reports relating to complaints from Minorca against the General, be placed before the House; and on 5 Mar. he presented a petition from Don Juan Compagni, who claimed several thousand pounds from the Treasury for his expenses against Anstruther. Although Pitt 'declared he would support such a cause to the last drop of his blood', the petition was turned down by 97 votes to 58, Fox arguing 'that it was Anstruther guilt [over Porteous] as much as the guilt of the governor, that had blown up this vengeance'. 'This affair would be a trifle', wrote Walpole (to Mann, 13 Mar. 1751), 'if it had not opened the long-smothered rivalry between Fox and Pitt; for these ten days they have been civilly at war together; and Mr. Pelham is bruised between both'. The Anstruther case was again debated on 18 and 24 Apr. 1751, when Pelham finally declared that the General could not be tried by a board of officers, as he (Pelham) had originally thought to be 'the properest way of carrying the cause before the King', because his alleged offences took place before 1743 and, in the opinion of all the lawyers in the House, he was therefore covered by the Act of Grace 1747. On this, at the request of the Speaker, Anstruther and Erskine gave a personal pledge 'to carry this quarrel no further'.3

However, in 1753, Erskine determined to attack Anstruther in his own burghs where, after Sir John Anstruther's death, the family's interest had declined sharply. Writing in October 1753 David Hume observed that Erskine 'by the assistance of his uncle's [James St. Clair] interest and purse is likely to prevail. Is this not delicious revenge? ... I own I envy Sir Harry: I never can hope to hate anybody so perfectly as he does that renowned commander: and no victory, triumph, vengeance, success, can be more complete'. Three months later St. Clair referred slightingly to the concept of an 'Anstruther's interest' in Fife, 'which indeed was absurd, as the General has no interest but among the few voters of his name, whom he keeps in expectation that at his death they are to have the spoils of Minorca divided among them'. Defeated by Erskine, Anstruther, at the age of 74, did not petition. He died 11 Nov. 1760.4

Ref Volumes: 1715-1754

Authors: J. M. Simpson / R. S. Lea


  • 1. Sunderland (Blenheim) mss D. II, 4; More Culloden Pprs. ii. 186-7, 228-9; H. Tayler, Seven Sons of the Provost, 142.
  • 2. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 42-43, 59, 61; W. Wood, The East Neuk of Fife, 403; Examination of Maj. Gen. Anstruther, printed for R. West (1742).
  • 3. More Culloden Pprs. iv. 146; Anstruther to Pelham, 11 July 1747, Newcastle (Clumber) mss; Reg. PC 2/97, 515; 2/98, 168; 2/100, 127; 2/101, 131, 202, 216, 532-5; 2/102, 163-71, 495-6; Mems. Geo. II, i. 42-43, 44, 56-57, 58-60, 95, 106-13; Dodington Diary, 94-95, 113-15.
  • 4. Letters of David Hume, ed. Greig, i. 181; Mems. Jas. Oswald, 334.