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:

26 in 1754, 98 in 1780, 103 in 1788


16 May 1754Pryse Campbell
2 May 1761Simon Fraser
20 Apr. 1768Simon Fraser
10 Nov. 1774Simon Fraser
16 Oct. 1780Simon Fraser
28 Mar. 1782Archibald Campbell Fraser vice Simon Fraser, deceased
29 Apr. 1784Lord William Gordon
 Sir James Grant

Main Article

Inverness-shire was dominated by four great clans: the Frasers, the Grants, the Macleods, and the Macdonalds. The Frasers had potentially the largest electoral interest, but following the attainder of Lord Lovat in 1747 their estates were forfeited. During the early part of this period vast influence was exercised by Archibald, Duke of Argyll.

In 1753 Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat’s son, pardoned only in 1750, offered himself as a candidate for the forthcoming general election. Administration saw this as a direct encouragement to ‘clanship’, and were resolved to prevent it. Argyll sent for Fraser and persuaded him to stand down.1 He suggested to Pelham that Pryse Campbell younger of Calder should be the candidate, and Campbell was returned unopposed.

In 1759 Campbell offended Argyll and his Inverness-shire constituents by voting for the Irish cattle bill; and the candidature of Simon Fraser, who was with his regiment in America, was revived. Pryse Campbell wrote to Bute on 18 Feb. 1761:2

The Duke of Argyll ... told me yesterday that he should endeavour to prevent Colonel Fraser’s being a candidate, but could not recommend me. ... The Duke had been so much misinformed as to believe that Sir Ludovick Grant would be a candidate in opposition to me, whereas both Sir Ludovick and his son have given me the strongest assurances of their assistance.

Various alternative candidates were suggested, but no one had been selected when, on 15 Apr. 1761, Argyll died. The Frasers then resolved to defy the ban upon their chief, and Fraser was returned unopposed on 2 May, the day after his arrival in London from America.

By 1768 conditions had changed a good deal in Inverness-shire. The Highland chieftain residing among his clan had become in many cases the absentee landlord. Macleod of Macleod lived usually in Edinburgh; the young Macdonalds were anglicised; and Fraser himself had taken service with the Portuguese army. A new element was introduced when the young Duke of Gordon began to extend his interest by creating votes, which Fraser, whose estates were still under forfeiture, was unable to do. But the welcome he received from his constituents when he returned for a brief visit in 1766 encouraged his hopes of success; and he made a bargain with the Gordons either to retire in 1774 in favour of a Gordon candidate or to secure for him another seat. Consequently at the general election of 1768 Fraser, now absent again in Portugal, was returned unopposed.

In the spring of 1774 Fraser secured the restoration of his estates, and at the general election bought a seat at Ludgershall for Lord George Gordon, the Gordon candidate for Inverness-shire. His interest was now secure, and it was strengthened by his raising a Highland regiment and by the creation of new votes on his restored estates. On Fraser’s death in 1782, his half-brother Archibald Campbell Fraser was returned unopposed. But the Fraser estates were now in the hands of trustees, which gave an opportunity to the Duke of Gordon to renew his family’s pretensions; and at the general election of 1784 Lord William Gordon declared himself a candidate. His opponent, Sir James Grant of Grant, refused to make use of fictitious votes, and was defeated ‘by a great majority’.3

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. See FRASER, Simon.
  • 2. Bute mss.
  • 3. Chiefs of Grant, ii. 481-2; Edinburgh Advertiser, 30 Apr. 1784.