SUTHERLAND, William, Lord Strathnaver (1708-50).

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



1727 - 27 June 1733

Family and Education

b. 2 Oct. 1708, 1st surv. s. of William Gordon, afterwards Sutherland, M.P., Lord Strathnaver, by Catherine, da. of William Morrison, M.P., of Preston-grange, Haddington. educ. Grand Tour (France and Hanover) c.1726-7. m. (contract 17 Apr. 1734) Lady Elizabeth Wemyss, da. of David, 3rd Earl of Wemyss [S], 1s. 1da. suc. bro. 12 Dec. 1720, and gd.-fa. as 17th Earl of Sutherland [S] 27 June 1733.

Offices Held

Rep. peer [S] 1734-47; ld. of police [S] 1734-44, 1st ld. 1744-7.


Lord Strathnaver was the grandson and heir of the 16th Earl of Sutherland, who advised him, while he was on the Grand Tour in 1727, to go to Hanover to pay his court to Frederick, the new Prince of Wales, in the hope of becoming a gentleman of his bedchamber.1 Though he was only 18, his grandfather put him up for Sutherland at the general election that year, expressing the hope to the Duke of Argyll that the resolution that the eldest sons of peers of Scotland should not sit in the House of Commons would not be invoked, as Strathnaver was a grandson, not a son.2 Taking his seat without difficulty, he voted with the Administration on the Hessians in 1730 and on the excise bill in 1733. In 1730 he claimed repayment for arms surrendered to the Government, under the Act for disarming the Highlands, but his claim was deferred on the ground that ‘some of the receipts for arms produced for the Lord Strathnaver are attended with very suspicious circumstances’.3 On succeeding his grandfather as Earl of Sutherland in 1733, he was said to have made a bargain with Walpole and Ilay under which, in return for voting for the court list of representative peers, he was made one of them himself, appointed a lord of police in Scotland at £800 p.a., and granted a pension of £1,200 p.a.4 Promoted to be first lord of police in 1744, during the Forty-five he raised two independent companies on behalf of the Government, and was present at the battle of Culloden.5 Having apparently connected himself with Frederick, Prince of Wales, he lost his post in 1747, writing to Newcastle, 30 July 1747:

I had the honour of your Grace’s letter acquainting me that his Majesty thought it for his service to give the police to the Earl of Marchmont [under Hugh Hume Campbell, Lord Polwarth] ... At the same time, I must beg leave to acquaint your Grace that it surprised me, as I cannot charge my conscience with anything I ever did contrary to the King’s interest or that of his royal House ... The last time I had the honour to see your Grace you was so good as promise to speak to Mr. Pelham concerning the money I expended during the late wicked rebellion. As the reference was made to His Royal Highness the Duke, I was at the expense of sending my principal servant to Flanders to have the Duke’s determination. His Royal Highness has been pleased to return me a very favourable answer and will interest himself to get me freed of an expense incurred with cheerfulness to serve my King and country.6

He left the management of his estates in Scotland to his mother, preferring to live ‘near the Court, upon which I have still some pretensions’. Two years later, he reported to his uncle, James St. Clair:

I have no great hopes of getting justice since his Majesty and ministry are displeased at me ... I design to go to Tonbridge next month, for [to] Scotland I will not return on any account. I hope ... to satisfy the world of my behaviour for his Majesty’s service, though perhaps to the ruin of my family, and then shall go to foreign parts, where I hope to be better used.

He died at Montauban in France, 7 Dec. 1750, leaving debts amounting to £15,797.7

Ref Volumes: 1715-1754

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Sir W. Fraser, Sutherland Bk. ii. 33, 226.
  • 2. Ibid. i. 364.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1729-30, pp. 456, 458.
  • 4. HMC Polwarth, v. 110-11; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1731-4, p. 508.
  • 5. Sutherland Bk. i. 405-24.
  • 6. HMC Fortescue, i. 117-18; Add. 32712, f. 278.
  • 7. Sutherland Bk. i. 429-30; ii. 273.