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:

37 in 1754, 74 in 1788


9 May 1754Kenneth Mackenzie, Lord Fortrose18
 James Stuart Mackenzie14
5 May 1761James Stuart Mackenzie 
12 May 1763Stuart Mackenzie re-elected after appointment to office 
5 Dec. 1766Stuart Mackenzie re-elected after appointment to office 
7 Apr. 1768James Stuart Mackenzie 
27 Oct. 1774James Stuart Mackenzie 
12 Oct. 1780John Mackenzie, Lord Macleod 
22 Apr. 1784Francis Humberston Mackenzie 
 John Mackenzie, Lord Macleod 

Main Article

The chief interest in Ross-shire belonged to the two branches of the clan Mackenzie, the earls of Seaforth (attainted after the ’15) and the earls of Cromarty (attainted after the ’45). At the general election of 1754 there was a contest between Kenneth Mackenzie, erroneously styled Lord Fortrose (son of the 5th Earl of Seaforth) and James Stuart Mackenzie, supported by his father-in-law the Duke of Argyll, and by Lord Ross. ‘There never was any election will run nearer’, wrote Aeneas Mackintosh to Lord Loudoun, 10 May 1754, ‘nor greater violence on both sides.’1 There were 37 freeholders on the roll, and the influence of Hugh Rose of Kilravock proved decisive: a supporter of Fortrose, and sheriff depute, he fixed the election for a day most convenient for his candidate, who was returned by 18 to 14.2

By 1758 Lord Fortrose’s intention not to stand again was well known. Lord Minto wrote to Gilbert Elliot, 29 Jan. 1758, that Sir John Gordon of Invergordon was trying to secure Fortrose’s interest for himself:3

A little condescension and proper civility might possibly obtain that interest for Stuart Mackenzie ... these means if used in time might have done his business even at last election: it will be necessary to let Lord Fortrose know that the opposition last election was originally Lord Ross’s scheme, not Stuart Mackenzie’s, but that from circumstances he was then obliged to give in to it.

When the election came, James Stuart Mackenzie stood ‘by concert’ with Fortrose, and was returned unopposed.4

Mackenzie held the seat without trouble until 1780, when he retired. Among the candidates talked of to succeed him were Sir John Gordon, Francis Humberston Mackenzie, John Mackenzie of Applecross, and Sir Hector Munro, but they all declined in favour of Dundas’s friend, Lord Macleod, who was elected unopposed while on service in India.5 By 1784 enthusiasm for Macleod had waned considerably, and he was opposed by Francis Humberston Mackenzie, nephew of the 5th Earl of Seaforth, who had succeeded to the Mackenzie estates. Macleod was strongly supported by Henry Dundas, Administration, and Lord Ankerville, but Humberston Mackenzie had built up a considerable number of nominal votes. The contest was close. The day before the poll Macleod’s brother wrote to Sir Roderick Mackenzie in great excitement that the numbers were equal at eleven each:

Your voice is now earnestly called for. It may and probably will fix whether the real or fictitious voters are to carry the county of Ross ... if they can have a majority of real voters (for which purpose they have used strong measures) they will keep their fictitious ones for a future occasion.

But Humberston Mackenzie carried the day comfortably. Alexander Mackenzie commented to Sir Roderick Mackenzie, 30 June 1784:

Lord Macleod and his brother are much mistaken in supposing that he lost his election by your and Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s not voting for him—for supposing you both had voted for him, the majority of real freeholders would be against him. But it is ridiculous to throw the other freeholders (who have an undoubted title to vote as the law stands) out of the question. Lord Macleod might have involved himself in an idle expense by petitioning had he followed the violent advice given him.6

In William Adam’s survey of 1788 Humberston Mackenzie was said to have ‘by far the most considerable estate and interest’, though Lord Ankerville would probably oppose him ‘from an aversion to his great interest founded on liferent votes’.7

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. Loudon mss.
  • 2. Caledonian Merc. 9, 14 May 1754.
  • 3. Minto mss.
  • 4. Letter of Patrick Craufurd, 17 Nov. 1760, Bute mss.
  • 5. Robinson’s survey, Royal archives; Edinburgh Evening Courant, 20 Oct. 1780; Aberdeen Jnl. 30 Oct. 1780.
  • 6. Add. 39191, ff. 97, 102.
  • 7. Pol. State of Scotland, 294.