Single Member Scottish County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 50 in 1760, 85 in 1780, 153 in 1788


2 May 1754Alexander Hume Campbell 
19 Feb. 1756Hume Campbell re-elected after appointment to office 
1 Jan. 1761James Pringle vice Hume Campbell, deceased 
23 Apr. 1761James Pringle 
9 Apr. 1768James Pringle 
24 Oct. 1774James Pringle 
15 Apr. 1779Sir John Paterson vice Pringle, vacated his seat 
21 Sept. 1780Hugh Scott50
 Sir John Paterson35
 Election declared void, 18 Mar. 1781 
12 Apr. 1781Hugh Scott 
27 Apr. 1784Patrick Home 

Main Article

Two major interests contended for control of the county: the Homes, earls of Home, and the Humes, earls of Marchmont, branches of a family which had separated in the fifteenth century, and were at bitter odds with each other. Hugh, 3rd Earl of Marchmont, was an able, rich, and arrogant politician, violently jealous of Argyll’s power as ‘viceroy’ of Scotland. William, 8th Earl of Home, whose father had been imprisoned on suspicion of Jacobitism, was an impoverished army officer who had the consistent support and affection of Argyll.

From 1734 Marchmont’s twin brother Alexander Hume Campbell had represented the county, and in 1754 he was returned unopposed. Newcastle, anxious to secure his support against Pitt, appointed him lord clerk register in 1755, and acceded to almost every request from Marchmont on Berwickshire patronage.1 At the by-election Hume Campbell was again returned unopposed, and the Marchmont interest was for a time completely in the ascendant. But when Hume Campbell failed to stand up to Pitt in the Commons the family’s stock fell, and in April 1757 Argyll obtained for Home the appointment of lord lieutenant of Berwickshire, ‘at which’, wrote John Calcraft, ‘the Marchmont Humes were deadly angry’.2 When Newcastle returned to office with Pitt the Marchmonts demanded Home’s removal from the lord lieutenancy as the price of their support. Lord Dupplin wrote to Newcastle on 8 Oct. 1757:3

If they could be assured there would not be an opposition ... they might not be so anxious about the lieutenancy, for their chief apprehension is of a defeat (and what they will think a disgrace) in the county election, and to guard against that they push the point of dispossessing Lord Home of the lieutenancy.

The attempt failed, but throughout 1758 and 1759 Marchmont and Home competed for patronage; and Marchmont attributed every disappointment to the ‘unrelenting resentment’ of Argyll.4 But John Calcraft wrote to Home, who was governor of Gibraltar, on 22 Dec. 1758:5 ‘The Duke of Argyll ... expressed great desire to serve you, but says the Duke of Newcastle won’t let him for fear of disobliging Lord Marchmont.’

As the general election of 1761 approached, the Home party invited Sir John Hall of Dunglass to stand; and when Hume Campbell died suddenly on 19 July 1760, Hall was forced to make an immediate decision as to whether or not he would become a candidate. His friend Lord Elibank wrote to him on 28 July:6

This is the time to make a struggle; in submitting now you seem to me to surrender yourselves forever. If Lord Marchmont shall fix on a popular man, he will strengthen his own interest and get into the undoubted possession of disposing of the shire forever at pleasure. ... Such a man will be more dangerous to your independency than Hume Campbell. On the other hand if you stand, as you are known to be of no party and have connexions with many who have been attached to Lord Marchmont, he cannot with any face oppose you.

While Hall hesitated, other candidates were mentioned, among them James Pringle, son of Marchmont’s friend Sir Robert Pringle, James Kerr of Moriston, Sir Alexander Don of Newton, and Alexander Renton of Lammerton.7 Marchmont gave his interest to Pringle, and the other candidates withdrew. At the general election, three months later, Pringle was again returned unopposed.

Home and Argyll both died in April 1761, and with their deaths some of the animosity between the two sides in Berwickshire disappeared. Pringle was a popular figure with both, and the Marchmont hold on the county was strengthened. In 1779 Pringle vacated his seat in favour of Marchmont’s son-in-law, Sir John Paterson, who was returned unopposed. But the choice of Paterson, a gambler of evil reputation, notorious for his sharp practices, was unpopular. At the general election of 1780 the Berwickshire gentry, with the support of the Home interest, prepared to oppose Paterson. Alexander Renton was again a candidate, but a more formidable one was Hugh Scott, grandson of Marchmont, who refused him support. Marchmont’s anger was intensified when there came into his possession an indiscreet letter, written by Scott’s father, ridiculing Marchmont’s pretensions; and a violent family quarrel ensued.8 To ensure Paterson’s defeat, Scott and Renton joined forces, and drew up an agreement by which Scott was to serve for four sessions and Renton for the remainder of the Parliament. United with Renton, and with the Home interest behind him, Scott defeated Paterson. News of the agreement, however, leaked out, and the House of Commons declared the election void. Paterson did not stand at the by-election, and Scott was returned unopposed. Marchmont never forgave his grandson, and soon afterwards left Berwickshire to live in London.

At the general election of 1784 Scott did not stand, and Patrick Home of Wedderburn was returned unopposed. In Marchmont’s absence his interest disintegrated, and by 1789 he had ‘given over all outward appearance at least of interfering in any public concern’.9 The Home interest, whose head from 1786 was a minor, was now in effect directed by Henry Dundas and the Duke of Buccleuch.

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Add. 32856, ff. 223, 302, 457; 32857, f. 239; 32858, f. 299.
  • 2. Add. 17493, f. 58.
  • 3. Add. 32874, ff. 26, 183, 264, 353, 479.
  • 4. Add. 32881, f. 88.
  • 5. Add. 17494, f. 56.
  • 6. Dunglass mss, SRO.
  • 7. Alex. Hay to Hall, 28 July, 13 Aug. 1760, Dunglass mss.
  • 8. Hugh Scott to Lord Balgony, 26 May 1779, Leven and Melville mss, SRO.
  • 9. Jas. Pringle to Wm. Hall, 4 Mar. 1789, Dunglass mss.