ST. CLAIR, Hon. James (1688-1762), of Sinclair, Fife and Balblair, Sutherland.

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



27 Oct. 1722 - 1734
6 May 1736 - 1747
1747 - 1754
1754 - 30 Nov. 1762

Family and Education

b. 1688, 2nd s. of Henry St. Clair, 10th Ld. Sinclair [S], by Barbara, da. of Sir James Cockburn, 1st Bt., of Cockburn. m. Janet, da. of Hon. Sir David Dalrymple, 1st Bt., of Hailes, wid. of Sir John Baird, 2nd Bt., of Newbyth (d. 30 Sept. 1745), s.p. suc. fa. 1723 (vice e. bro. John, Master of Sinclair, attainted 1716) in the family estates, which he surrendered on his bro.’s pardon 1736, and to which, on John’s death in 1750, he again suc. as titular 12th Ld. Sinclair.

Offices Held

Ensign 1 Ft. 1694, capt. 1708, half-pay 1713; capt. and lt.-col. 3 Ft. Gds. 1714, 2nd maj. 1722, 1st maj. 1723; brevet col. 1722; lt. gov. Berwick and Holy Island 1733; col. 22 Ft. 1734-7, 1 Ft. 1737-d.; brig.-gen. 1739; maj.-gen. 1741; lt.-gen. 1745; gen. 1761.


St. Clair, a professional soldier commissioned at the age of six, represented his native district of burghs as an Argyll and Walpole Whig, until turned out by the Squadrone in 1734. Having secured another seat on the interest of his kinsman, William, 17th Earl of Sutherland, he ‘made it his constant practice to support his Majesty’s measures’ throughout successive Administrations.1 After serving under Cumberland in Flanders, and in England during the Forty-five, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the expedition intended against Canada in 1746. David Hume, his kinsman and secretary, wrote 24 July 1746:

The General ... though rigorous in exacting obedience ... has insinuation and address to gain the sea officers and colonies. All our captains were exceedingly taken with his civilities.

On the cancellation of the American venture, the force made an unsuccessful attack on the French coast at L’Orient, St. Clair’s conduct of which was strongly criticized.2

Defeated at Sutherland in 1747, St. Clair was obliged to return to Dysart Burghs, which he had intended for his nephew, Sir Harry Erskine, as part of a scheme concerted with his friend James Oswald to gain control of the county and boroughs of Fife.3 In 1748 he was sent as special envoy to Vienna and Turin, taking with him as aides David Hume and Erksine. Though described by Horace Walpole as ‘Scotchissimé ... and not very able’, he seems to have carried out this military and diplomatic mission successfully.4

In 1749 St. Clair, through Argyll, secured the return of Sir Harry Erskine, who in 1751 attacked General Philip Anstruther. Having by this incurred the hostility of the Duke of Cumberland, St. Clair in 1752 was refused the colonelcy of the 3rd Guards, which was given to Lord Rothes, Anstruther’s supporter in Fifeshire politics.5 When in 1753 Anstruther put up his secretary, Major Moncrieff, as candidate for Fifeshire at the impending general election, St. Clair, exchanging constituencies with Oswald, stood for Fifeshire, sending Erskine to oppose Anstruther in his own stronghold, Anstruther Burghs. He wrote to Oswald, 1 Aug. 1753:

Our affairs in the county stand extremely well, Major Moncrieff’s attempt being laughed at by all the free-holders except those depending on the Anstruthers ... though joined by the party of the Earls of Rothes and Leven and supported by the War Office.

On being informed through Oswald that Pelham would give the government interest to Anstruther, St. Clair wrote a protest, which he asked Oswald to convey to Pelham ‘in the genteelest manner’ possible:

’Tis not from the vote against the gate of Edinburgh that this attack has taken its rise; ’tis from the General’s behaviour towards us ... to render both me and my nephew his implacable enemies ... He sent his agents to insinuate that as we were descended from Jacobite families we must be looked on as disaffected to his Majesty and his Government ... I never could have imagined my adversary’s military services could have weighed more with his Majesty than mine; I did not know his parliamentary services were greater. I doubt ... if Mr. Pelham will find his personal attachment to him is so great or so sincere ... it must not be supposed that after Mr. Anstruther’s insolent, outrageous and injurious behaviour he shall be suffered to tread me and my relations underfoot with impunity. I have given the strongest assurances to our friends in the Eastern [Anstruther] burghs that I never will abandon them ... Were I to desist, I should give the world reason to believe that I acquiesce in the aspersions spread by his emissaries.6

Returned for the county as a government supporter, attached to Argyll, he retained his seat till his death, 30 Nov. 1762.

Ref Volumes: 1715-1754

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. St. Clair to Newcastle, 19 Apr. 1752, Add. 32726, ff. 446, 448.
  • 2. New Letters of David Hume (ed. Klibansky Mossner), 20; Letters of David Hume (ed. Greig), i. 228-9; Yorke, Hardwicke, i. 636-7.
  • 3. Jas. Oswald to G. Grenville, 1 Aug. 1747, Grenville mss; Lady Morton to Morton, 13 Aug. 1747. Morton mss SRO.; Mems. Jas. Oswald, 333 et seq.
  • 4. Walpole to Mann, 12 Jan. 1748; Letters of David Hume, i. 108 et seq.; St. Clair to Newcastle, 9 and 12 Oct. 1748, Add. 32814, f. 362; 32815, ff. 1 et seq.
  • 5. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 44, 56; St. Clair to Newcastle, 19 Apr. 1752, Add. 32726, ff. 446, 448; Newcastle to St. Clair, 29 Apr., 10 May 1752, Add. 32727, f. 19.
  • 6. Oswald mss; St. Clair to Oswald, 26 Jan. 1754, Mems. of Jas. Oswald, 330 et seq.