Forfarshire (Angus)

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:

107 in 1768, 95 in 1788


30 Apr. 1754William Maule, Earl of Panmure
1 May 1761William Maule, Earl of Panmure
14 Apr. 1768William Maule, Earl of Panmure
 Thomas Lyon
27 Oct. 1774William Maule, Earl of Panmure
29 Sept. 1780William Maule, Earl of Panmure
11 Feb. 1782Archibald Douglas vice Panmure, deceased
 Sir David Carnegie
16 Apr. 1784Archibald Douglas

Main Article

The principal interest in the county was that of the Maule family, though the Ogilvies, Carnegies, and Lyons had considerable influence. William Maule, Earl of Panmure, had held the seat since 1735, and was re-elected unopposed in 1754 and 1761. But by 1766 he was alarmed at an opposition declared by Thomas Lyon, brother of Lord Strathmore: the threat was so serious that Panmure prepared to fall back on Aberdeen Burghs for a seat at the general election. In the county he attempted to strengthen his position by creating 22 new votes, and although their validity was challenged, the House of Lords on appeal found in his favour.1 On the other hand, the Lyons succeeded in enlisting the support of Grafton, and made free use of his name during the canvass. Panmure won comfortably. Sir Gilbert Elliot, who had managed Lyon’s campaign, wrote to his wife (17 Apr. 1768):

The plan of the family was to show they had the real and considerable freeholders so I found my coming was very well taken. ... I was chosen praeses by a majority of one of the real freeholders, but lost it by a majority of 30 taking in the new-made votes. The election went exactly by the same numbers, 15 of Lord Panmure’s were admitted that day under protest and 17 more are already before the court of session. Mr. Lyon did not allow his new-made votes to be enrolled—which was very popular in the county and could not if admitted have been of material service to him. This family must carry it next election.

After the general election negotiations were begun and on 22 May 1770 the two families signed an agreement. The Lyons pledged themselves to support Panmure in the county, while he gave them his interest in Aberdeen Burghs. Should Panmure at any time decline to represent the shire, he engaged not to oppose Thomas Lyon. Both parties agreed to withdraw all lawsuits, and accepted the current electoral roll, which gave Lyon 46 voters, Panmure 51, with 10 doubtful.

As a result of this compromise, Panmure was returned unopposed in 1774 and 1780. But on his death in 1782 there was a contest between Sir David Carnegie of Southesk, one of his former supporters, and Archibald Douglas of Douglas, who had established his claims to the estates of the earldom of Angus. Douglas was supported by Lord Dalhousie, Panmure’s heir, and by Sir Gilbert Elliot, 4th Bt., and carried the day overwhelmingly. Carnegie’s petition, complaining that Douglas, as a claimant to the earldom of Angus, was ineligible, did not succeed.

Carnegie felt himself committed to stand again at the general election. To Elliot, whose cousin he had recently married, he wrote, 31 Dec. 1783:

Having once stood forward for the county, I am sensible that the party who espoused my interest will expect that I should not desert them and therefore either I ought to stand again or else be able to show them the impossibility of success ... it is a matter about which I confess myself (to you in confidence) not very anxious, the seat being at all events precarious from the number of parties and jarring interests among us.

Elliot himself was alarmed by reports that Douglas might quit Forfarshire and, with Government backing, stand against him in Roxburghshire. Carnegie, writing to Elliot 8 Jan. 1784, was inclined to discount the idea: ‘he surely does not mean to stand personally for two counties at such a distance’. But, in case Douglas did go through with it, Carnegie privately suggested that Elliot might offer himself for Forfarshire. The situation there was increasingly complicated. Carnegie thought the Duncans of Lundie might sponsor a candidate, and Colonel Alexander Fotheringham of Powrie also entertained hopes of the seat. Carnegie wrote to Elliot:

The colonel ... wishes to get into Parliament as the best road to be made a King’s A.D.C. and get a regiment and I make no doubt he would propose for me to give him the seat for the boroughs in return for his interest in the county. This I can never agree to.

Of the Fotheringhams he wrote to Elliot, 24 Jan.:

They magnify their own strength and hold themselves forth as able to support a candidate of their own, which is a perfect joke ... For my part should it be proposed to me on any footing to support the colonel as a candidate I should be obliged to decline both on account of the insignificance of their interest and because the family are far from popular. My own friends would not go on with me.

A crucial point was the attitude of Lord Dalhousie, who could control some 18 votes. Carnegie hoped that ‘the contempt and indifference with which Mr. Douglas’s party have treated his support’ might have alienated Dalhousie. But Dalhousie had strong links through Buccleuch, Dundas, and Ilay Campbell with the ministry, and gave his interest to Douglas.

Meanwhile rumours of the proposal that Elliot should stand for Forfarshire had leaked out. Carnegie was placed in an awkward position. He wrote, presumably early in February:

If it is put in ... Colonel Fotheringham’s power to assert that I had concurred in such a project to transfer my friends before I thought proper to communicate it to them myself, it may do me infinite mischief.

On 11 Mar., a month before the election, Carnegie told Elliot:

The decided coalition of Lord Dalhousie with Douglas makes it the public belief that all the other parties united would have hard work to beat them; ... Calculating upon my attached friends, Powrie’s party, Captain Duncan’s and one half of all the rest who are likely to vote, I make out about 36 votes, while Douglas by the same rule of computation has 40 votes ... it must remain a secret that I ever made this proposal to you because if I after all stood myself the knowledge of it would hurt my interest.2

Carnegie now had ‘no chance of success’, and declined the poll.3

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Add. 36171, f. 310.
  • 2. All quotations, unless otherwise stated are from the Minto mss.
  • 3. Geo. Dempster to Adam Fergusson, 5 Apr. 1784, Letters of Dempster to Fergusson, 127-8; Edinburgh Advertiser, 16 Apr. 1784.