CRAUFURD, John (?1742-1814), of Errol, Perth; Auchenames, Renfrew; and Drumsoy, Ayr.
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Family and Education
Chamberlain of Fife and Strathearn 1767- d.
Jack Craufurd, nicknamed at Eton ‘The Fish’ for his avid curiosity, was a schoolfellow of Stephen Fox through whom he became an intimate of the Holland House circle.1 From 1760, when he began the grand tour with ‘Ste’, he made annual visits abroad and was as well known in French as in English society. A little man of weak physique but exceptional intelligence, he had a mercurial temperament, in which gaiety, wit, and restless activity alternated with melancholy, hypochondria and indolence. Notorious as a gambler, he was one of the founders of Almacks in 1764.
Disappointed in his hopes of succeeding his uncle Col. John Craufurd as M.P. for Berwick,2 he spent most of 1765 with Horace Walpole and David Hume in Paris, and formed an attachment to Madame du Deffand, whose devotion to her ‘petit Craufurd’ lasted many years.3 Early in 1766 he returned home, deeply in debt, to face an irate father, whom, however, he pacified by ‘prudence, management and submission’,4 and persuaded to make over to him the revenues of the Errol estate. Bored by his father’s society, and disliking Scotland as ‘a vile country’ where ‘neither love nor wit can flourish’,5 Fish was soon immersed in fashionable London life, cultivating Grafton’s favour for his father and himself at the next election.
When his scheme to secure a seat at Stockbridge fell through,6 Craufurd, obsessed by his health, went to Bath and later with Lord March and G. A. Selwyn to Paris, in a bored and despondent mood.7 Nevertheless he was kept informed of political changes,8 and maintained contact with Shelburne and with Grafton, who, shortly after Craufurd’s return home in December, offered him the place of chamberlain of Fife.9 He also obtained from Thomas Pitt the promise of a seat at Old Sarum and in addition proposed to contest Renfrew in place of his father.
Shortly after his election Craufurd had a dispute with Grafton, thought of ‘throwing up’ his place, but was dissuaded by Hume, who wrote 29 Aug. 1768:10
His Grace passes for the most inflexible man in the world ... And as his late coldness towards you proceeds more from a jealousy of friendship than anything else, it may rather be considered as obliging though unlucky.
Craufurd remained a Grafton supporter and voted with Administration on Wilkes and the Middlesex election. He next supported North’s Administration, voting with them on Brass Crosby, 27 Mar. 1771. During the recess Fish for once remained at home, where he persuaded his father to give him full possession of Errol. Mme du Deffand commented:11 ‘Il n’en est pas plus riche mais son credit en augmente et il aura la satisfaction de se pouvoir ruiner.’
I think he [Fox] has been too hasty in a step of this consequence ... It is better to err by too much spirit than by too little and as Charles does not mean to go into opposition, and is always worth a better place ... it is my opinion that what he has done will ... turn out to his advantage every way.
To this letter Fox added: ‘I should not have resigned at this moment merely on account of my complaints against Lord North, if I had not determined to vote against this Royal Family Bill.’ But Craufurd, in a competent maiden speech on 13 Mar. gave qualified support to the bill, and again, on 24 Mar., approved its principle.14 On 18 Dec. he made his final appearance as an orator, in support of the Government’s bill to restrain the East India Company from sending supervisors to India. He wrote to Stephen Fox:15
It was a prepared speech, ill-timed, ill-received, ill-delivered, languid, plaintive, and everything as bad as possible. Add to this, that it was very long, because being prepared and pompously begun, I did not know how the devil to get out of it ... The only thing I said which was sensible or to the purpose, was misrepresented by Burke. Charles was not ashamed to acknowledge me in my distress. He explained and defended what I had said with spirit, warmth and great kindness to me ... Certainly it was not the intention of nature that I should be a public speaker and I shall never attempt it any more.
He was less light-hearted over his father’s determination to curb expenditure and entail all the family estates. He consulted William Mure on this and on his election prospects, particularly as Sir Lawrence Dundas had offered, if he failed in Renfrewshire, to bring him in elsewhere.16 In the House his attendance was erratic. He did not vote on the naval captains’ question on 9 Feb. 1773, but on 11 Feb. postponed a social visit to attend the debates on St. Vincent.17 Feb.:18
Whether Administration has any settled plan with regard to [India] I cannot tell. Lord North is a very good Member of Parliament ... but I believe he is not a great minister and that he has neither the extent of mind necessary to form large views nor the boldness to carry them into execution. Is he really and truly minister? Why was he beat the other day by a majority of near 100 on ... the petition of the navy? Why did General Harvey, Sir Gilbert Elliot etc. vote and speak against him? I neither know nor care, but you, who are a greater politician than I am ... may form your own conclusions.
Nevertheless he voted with North on the Middlesex election, 26 Apr. 1773, and on Grenville’s Act, 25 Feb. 1774. By then he was actively making interest in Renfrewshire, and was extremely annoyed when, after he had induced 40 of his friends to attend the debate, the Renfrewshire petition against the Glasgow bridges bill was defeated through William MacDowall’s mismanagement.19
He showed considerable skill in election intrigue in Renfrewshire, Ayrshire, and Perthshire, but embarrassed his friend Andrew Stuart by his well-intentioned attempt to negotiate on behalf of the Hamilton interest a compromise with Daniel Campbell of Shawfield in Lanarkshire and Selkirk Burghs.20
In 1775 Craufurd induced North to give him life tenure of his place, hitherto held at pleasure; shortly afterwards, when the ministry was under attack over American affairs and a change seemed imminent, George Selwyn wrote to Lord Carlisle, 25 Nov. 1775:21
Fish is mightily embarrassed; he wants to be a patriot, to pay his court to Oss[ory] and Charles. But having just had a place made so for life he cannot honnêtement as they tell him pursue his own inclinations, which are to be well with the next Administration, but at present he has a merit with both. He votes with those who are in and loves cordially those who are out.
Craufurd’s absurdities became as notorious as his gambling. He plagued his friends with his imaginary ailments, his ‘ennui and jealousies’, with requests to pay his debts ‘pour le delivrer des Juifs’; ‘gate-crashed’ parties, but when invited seldom attended. Selwyn wrote to Carlisle, 19 Dec. 1775:22‘I think verily he grows more tiresome every day, and everybody’s patience is à bout.’
Nevertheless he retained his friends’ affection, and sought to stand well with both Government and Opposition. ‘Craufurdism’ became a synonym for fulsome flattery. He never voted against Administration, but when possible avoided committing himself. On 5 Mar. 1779 Robinson wrote to Jenkinson:23
Mr. Craufurd is a very ticklish blade and shirks. He is much attached to Charles Fox and he has been spoiled by Lord North’s granting him some bishop’s rents for life, which I protested against with all my might but it was afterwards carried when I was ill and he has ever since been captious and ruined.
He repeatedly solicited North for preferment for his brother. James Hare wrote to Selwyn, 18 May 1779:24
The old Fish ... has written Lord North the most ... importunate letters; full of professions of inviolable attachment to the present Administration and of his claims on Government; though it is well known that after Keppel’s trial, when Opposition seemed to be in a thriving way, the old Fish was wavering and actually kept away from the House when they were near run, that he might see whether they were likely to remain in their places or not ... I daresay Lord North will give him what he asks merely to get rid of his solicitations.
Craufurd’s voting record reflected the progress of the negotiations; he did not vote on the pensions question, 21 Feb. 1780, but when North, ‘conscious that he had distressed both him and his brother’, again took up James’s cause, Fish voted with the ministry in every recorded division to the end of the Parliament. At the general election, when faced by a combination against him, he was obliged to withdraw from Renfrewshire, and, with the support of the Hamilton and Argyll interest, transferred to Glasgow Burghs.
In the new Parliament he continued to keep a foot in each camp. Being now in funds himself by the sale of his estates of Errol and Drumsoy, he renewed his solicitations for his brother. He wrote to Jenkinson, 5 May 1781:25
I don’t love to talk of myself but I am now in my third Parliament, have been a steady friend to Government and ... have never made a request for these eight or nine years except when my brother’s distresses made me desire to have him sent minister to Munich. I am no man’s competitor in anything but if I should be thought deserving of any favour, I would wish to have it shown to me in the person of my brother.
In May he was toadying to North,26 but in July, when he had received nothing, he ‘took occasion to say everything disagreeable to Lord North that one could well imagine’.27 Selwyn wrote to Carlisle, 26 Oct. 1781:28 ‘That abominable cortigiano-ism with his affected disinterestedness and noblesse d’âme make him intolerable.’ Craufurd did not vote on the Address (27 Nov.), ‘which he was much impatient to discover to Charles with one of his fulsome compliments’;29 voted with Government on 12 Dec. on Lowther’s motion against the war; but in the New Year was ‘declaiming against Government with more than usual vehemence’.30 When he was in a quandary Craufurd usually made illness his excuse. Before the motion of censure against the Admiralty of 20 Feb., Selwyn wrote to Carlisle:31
It is thought that we shall be hard run in the House tomorrow ... Absentees in the last question on both sides will now appear. I hope that Government will send two yeomen of the guard to carry the Fish down in his blankets, for he pretends to have the gout ... He should be deposited ... and be fairly asked his opinion and forced to give it one way or the other en pleine assemblée.
Craufurd, ‘though he assured Lord Ossory in the morning that he would not vote at all ... came down ... and divided with the Government’.32 But on the 22nd, on Conway’s motion against the war, ‘he retired before the division’. Selwyn commented:33
At Brooks’s he gave it as a reason that he did not like the question. I believe that it is not questions but answers to which he generally objects. But Lord North may thank himself for the Fish’s system of acting. A place given for life to the scaly brood is sure to produce scruples at particular crises.
Anthony Storer was even more contemptuous: ‘His own party, for so I call the Opposition, despise his conduct as much as we do; they laugh at him and abuse him for the most pitiful fellow that ever existed.’ Craufurd again abstained on 27 Feb. on Conway’s motion. On 1 Mar. Selwyn wrote to Carlisle: ‘Fish, as I hear, doubles and trebles all his flattery to Charles and now and then throws in a compliment to Lord North, not being quite sure what may happen.’ But he voted with Administration on Cavendish’s motion of 8 Mar. and Rous’s motion of no confidence on 15 Mar. While Selwyn suspected some ulterior motive, North himself was surprised at Craufurd’s friendship in adversity; and for a time Fish fell ‘greatly out of favour’ with his Foxite friends at Brooks’s.34 But he soon transferred his allegiance to the new Administration, and remained faithful to Fox to the end of the Parliament; voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783; voted for Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783; and followed Fox into opposition.
On 6 Jan. 1784 Thomas Coutts wrote to Col. J. W. Crawfurd:35
In case of a dissolution ... J. Craufurd intends standing for Ayrshire as well as for Renfrewshire and Glasgow, and to put his brother in for the former and some friend I suppose for the latter. He assures me he will have such support as you can have no idea of.
When no immediate dissolution took place, Fish fell ‘ill’ and went to Bath. On his return Coutts wrote, 19 Mar. 1784:36 ‘I have seen Mr. Craufurd but once ... I do not know what alteration his friends being out of office will make on his politics, or whether he still means the “Great Line” viz. Ayrshire, Renfrewshire, Glasgow, etc.’ Craufurd did not attempt Renfrewshire; in Ayrshire his chances were slight;37 and at the general election he lost Glasgow Burghs.
Coutts wrote to Col. J. W. Crawfurd, 10 June 1784:38
Jack Craufurd seems to bear his disappointments pretty well but I dare say he will pay his way into Parliament the first opportunity that offers. It is the fashion to be there and those he lives with are in it. He should buy a seat always, for his indolence will never do to keep up an interest even in a county.
Fish out of Parliament was a fish out of water.39 He became more hypochondriac than ever, and spent much time abroad, but returned home during the Regency crisis. Coutts wrote from Paris to the Duchess of Devonshire, 24 Dec. 1788:40 ‘I have a great idea of our friend Mr Craufurd's ability to fill some public employment and that his health would improve by having something to do. Where judgement is necessary I know no man superior.’
Craufurd did not contest the Ayrshire by-election of 1789. Coutts commented:41 ‘I do not imagine he thinks of Ayr or Renfrew any more. Politics is by no means his natural bent; yet had he taken a public line early, few have better abilities.’
When Glasgow Burghs fell vacant, Craufurd won back his old seat for a few months, but lost it again at the general election of 1790, when his bid for Dysart Burghs also failed.42
Soon afterwards he fell seriously ill, and in 1792 went to Paris, returning horrified by revolutionary excesses. Thereafter he left his Foxite friends but did not seek to re-enter Parliament. After the Peace of Amiens he hastened to Paris ‘very angry at being thought to ... be in health ... but delighted at being mistaken for the English ambassador—determined ... to be taken for an Emperor incog. next time’ by the number of carriages conveying him and his suite to the south of France.43
Always anxious to be on the winning side, The Fish turned Foxite44 in 1806, but did not re-enter public life. He died 26 May 1814.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest
- 1. Norman Pearson's article on Fish Craufurd, Nineteenth Century and After, Feb. 1914.
- 2. Grenville to Patrick Craufurd, 11 Dec. 1764, Grenville letter bk.
- 3. See Horace Walpole’s Corresp. with Mme. du Deffand.
- 4. Hume to Craufurd, 20 Dec. 1766, New Letters of Hume, ed. Klibansky Mossner, 155.
- 5. Craufurd to Hume, 9 Dec. 1766, ibid. 154.
- 6. Chas. Fox to Craufurd, 15 Jan. 1767, Corresp. C. J. Fox, i. 35.
- 7. Walpole-du Deffand Corresp. i. 234, 265, 350, 355-6, 382-3.
- 8. Hume to Craufurd, 20 July 1767, New Letters, 173-5.
- 9. Mme. du Deffand to Walpole, 26 Dec. 1767; Selwyn to Carlisle, 29 Dec., HMC Carlisle, 225; T27/20/26.
- 10. New Letters, 184.
- 11. Mme du Deffand to Walpole, 10 Dec. 1771.
- 12. Same to same, 26 Feb. 1772.
- 13. Corresp. C. J. Fox, i. 72-74.
- 14. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 237, pp. 33-35; 239, pp. 126-32; Walpole, Last Jnls. i. 50.
- 15. Corresp. C. J. Fox, i. 81-82.
- 16. Caldwell Pprs. ii (2), p. 216.
- 17. Walpole to Lady Ossory, 11 Feb. 1773.
- 18. Caldwell Pprs. ii. (2), p. 217.
- 19. Craufurd to Mure, 7 Apr. 1774, ibid. 231-2.
- 20. Duke of Argyll, Intimate Society Letters, i. 178-86.
- 21. HMC Carlisle, 749.
- 22. Ibid. 312.
- 23. Add. 38210, f. 325.
- 24. J. H. Jesse, Geo. Selwyn and his Contemporaries, iv. 141.
- 25. Add. 38216, f. 101.
- 26. Selwyn to Carlisle, 31 May 1781, HMC Carlisle, 490.
- 27. Anthony Storer to Carlisle, 18 July 1781, ibid. 514.
- 28. Ibid. 523.
- 29. Selwyn to Carlisle, 28 Nov. 1781, ibid. 538.
- 30. Hare to Carlisle, 11 Feb. 1781, ibid. 576.
- 31. Ibid. 580.
- 32. Storer to Carlisle, 24 Feb. 1782, ibid. 582.
- 33. Ibid. 583.
- 34. Ibid. 582, 585, 595, 600.
- 35. E. H. Coleridge, Life of T. Coutts, i. 173.
- 36. Ibid. 177.
- 37. Ibid. 179.
- 38. Ibid. 184.
- 39. Coutts to Col. Crawfurd, 30 Nov. 1784, ibid. 191.
- 40. Ibid. 264.
- 41. Ibid. 275.
- 42. H. Furber, Hen. Dundas, 228.
- 43. Ld. Granville Leveson Gower Corresp. i. 366-7, Lady Bessborough quoting a letter from Jas. Hare in Paris.
- 44. Corresp. C. J. Fox, iv. 130.