MACKENZIE, John, (Lord Macleod) (1727-89).

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



1780 - 1784

Family and Education

b. 1727, 1st s. of George, 3rd Earl of Cromartie [S], attainted 1746, by Isabella, da. of Sir William Gordon, 1st Bt., M.P., of Invergordon.  m. 4 June 1786, Margery, da. of James, 17th Lord Forbes [S], s.p.  suc. fa. 28 Sept. 1766; his uncle Sir John Gordon in Invergordon estates 1783, which he sold 1786; recovered the Cromartie estates 1784.

Offices Held

Entered army 1777 as col. 73 Ft. (from 1786 the 71st); maj.-gen. (temp. rank in E. Indies) 1781; maj.-gen. 1782.


Lord Macleod (generally but incorrectly so styled) was educated at home under Presbyterian ministers and in Edinburgh under the direction of his uncle by marriage, Robert Dundas of Arniston. During the ‘45 he was offered the captaincy of an independent company of foot, but was overruled by his father who raised a regiment for the rebels with Macleod as lieutenant-colonel.1 Macleod fought at Falkirk, and after the retreat northward took a prominent part in the operations in Ross, Sutherland and Caithness until his capture at Dunrobin Castle, when he was sent to join his father in the Tower.2 Both father and son pleaded guilty; Cromartie was attainted and his estates forfeited, but he escaped execution. Macleod, at his trial, 20 Dec. 1746, pleaded for mercy:3

My heart was never consenting to the unnatural and wicked part I then acted. Remember, my Lords, my youth and that I am in that state of life when even an unhappy father’s example is almost a law.

He escaped formal attainder, and in January 1748 was pardoned on condition that he surrendered all claim to the forfeited Cromartie estates.

In January 1750 Macleod obtained a captain’s commission in the Swedish army,4 and through Lord George Murray received money from the Old Pretender to pay for his equipment. During the seven years’ war, ‘eager to have an opportunity of wiping off the crimes of his youth’, he joined the Prussian service as a volunteer, ‘in hopes to pave the way ... for an honourable introduction into the service of his natural Prince’.5 As aide-de-camp to Marshal Keith he served in the Bohemian campaign of 1757, won the friendship of Frederick of Prussia and Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick, but on the outbreak of hostilities between Sweden and Prussia returned to Sweden.6 In 1758, on hearing that his friend Simon Fraser was raising a Highland regiment, Macleod obtained leave to come home. In London he applied for employment to Harrington, Ligonier, and Barrington, but despite the assistance of Baron Knyphausen, the Prussian ambassador, and Lord Hardwicke, he failed to obtain permission to raise a regiment. On 19 Apr. 1759 he wrote to Hardwicke:7

Lord Macleod under a necessity of returning for bread to Sweden, but if his services should at any other time be found acceptable he will be ready on the first intimation to return to his native country.

A favourite at the Swedish court, he was created a knight of the order of the Sword and the North Star and a Swedish count.

In 1774, after Simon Fraser had obtained a bill restoring to him the forfeited Lovat estates, Macleod decided to return from Finland and seek a similar bill himself. On his arrival he consulted his cousin Henry Dundas, James Stuart Mackenzie, Richard Atkinson and others, and in the autumn of 1775 made an approach to North.8 But his efforts were unsuccessful, and he returned to Sweden. In 1777 Dundas and Atkinson tried a new approach. Atkinson wrote to John Robinson, 3 Dec. 1777:9

I cannot help supposing that new corps may be thought of. Permit me to mention the name of Lord Macleod ... If leave could now be obtained to raise a regiment in the north of Scotland to be commanded by Lord Macleod, I have no difficulty in making myself answerable (in every pecuniary sense) that it shall be ready with the earliest corps that can be raised ... and that Lord Macleod will upon the first notice quit the Swedish service and devote himself to the fulfilling the engagements entered into by his friends.

Dundas approached Lord George Germain, and learnt that Macleod could expect only the rank of major-commandant. He wrote to Atkinson, 12 Dec. 1777:10

But if only that ... was to be granted, I should be for accepting, the after civil establishment and not any military prospect being the object Lord Macleod would have chiefly in view. Nay, if the corps ... was granted to his brother George ... I should esteem that a material point in the view of forwarding what is my great object with regard to the final establishment of Lord Macleod in his own country.

The King wrote to North, 15 Dec. 1777:11

I cannot say ... that I approve of the placing Lord Macleod ... as colonel, he never having been in the service of his country but in that of Sweden.

Nevertheless, Macleod was granted a colonel’s commission on 19 Dec. The appointment was strongly criticized. Walpole, reporting the debate of 4 Feb. 1778 on the new levies, writes:12

Many new colonels had rank assigned them over old officers, particularly the Lord Macleod ... Dundas, the lord advocate, made a very confident apology for the adopted Scotch outlaws.

The corps was completed by April, embodied as the 73rd, and a second battalion raised.

In January 1779 Macleod and his regiment embarked for Madras where, after capturing Goree on the way, they arrived in January 1780. In July 1780 he was appointed to command the army sent to oppose Hyder Ali’s invasion of the Carnatic, but, strongly disapproving the plan of campaign, declined the honour.13 He agreed, however, to serve under Sir Hector Munro, whose disastrous management of the campaign fully justified Macleod’s warnings. A few months later he had a dispute with Sir Eyre Coote over ‘a point of military etiquette’; complained to Jenkinson ‘of the peculiarity of his situation in this country’;14 and in 1782 left India for home.

During his absence he had been returned for Ross-shire at the general election of 1780, with the support of Henry Dundas. Macleod seems to have arrived home in the late summer of 1783, but did not vote on Fox’s East India bill. In December, before the change of Administration, he was counted by Robinson as ‘doubtful’,15 but by January 1784, under Dundas’s guidance, was listed as a supporter of Pitt.

Ross-shire electors had been offended by the appointment of Dundas’s brother to the place of chamberlain of Ross, once held by the Earl of Cromartie. Alexander Mackenzie wrote to Sir Roderick Mackenzie of Scatwell, 19 Jan. 1784:16

I think you judge well in deferring your answer to any political solicitations ... till you consider fully the reasons for deciding ... If the new ministry fall, it will be very unfortunate for poor Lord Macleod to have been in Parliament. The late advocate, Mr. Dundas, makes a catspaw of him to gratify his own ambition, and has done so all along; for had he done as he ought, Lord Macleod would have got his estate e’er now. And in place of getting Sir Harry Munro’s office with £538 6s. 8d. p.a. of salary to Lord Macleod, or any other gentleman of the country, Mr. Dundas gets it to his own brother, which was treating the county with great contempt ... and I fear that in place of advantage it will be a disadvantage to Lord Macleod to be connected with him.

Dundas misjudged the Ross-shire election. He assumed that Francis Humberston Mackenzie, the deaf and dumb Seaforth representative, would not be a candidate and that Macleod would be re-elected.17 But Humberston Mackenzie did stand, and was returned. A Seaforth supporter wrote, 30 June 1784: ‘Lord Macleod might have involved himself in an idle expense by petitioning, had he followed the violent advice given him.’18

By the Act of August 1784 the forfeited Cromartie estates were at last restored to Macleod on payment of the £19,000 debts upon them. He now planned to establish himself in his own country, resigned the active command of his regiment to his brother, rebuilt the dilapidated Tarbat House, and at the age of 59 carried out his ‘laudable intention’ of marrying.19  He died 2 Apr. 1789.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. More Culloden Pprs. iv. 58, 69, 75; W. Fraser, Earls of Cromartie, ii. nos. 393-5.
  • 2. Ibid. no. 556; Egerton 2000, f. 57.
  • 3. Earls of Cromartie, i. p. ccxli.
  • 4. Ibid. ii. no. 449.
  • 5. Macleod’s memorial to Harrington, ?1759, Add. 33055, f. 269.
  • 6. Earls of Cromartie, ii. no. 577.
  • 7. Add. 35449, f. 177.
  • 8. Earls of Cromartie, i. p. ccxlvi.
  • 9. Ibid. p. ccxlvii.
  • 10. Ibid. p. ccxlviii-lx.
  • 11. Fortescue, iii. 514.
  • 12. Last Jnls. ii. 103-4.
  • 13. Add. 38404, f. 168.
  • 14. Earls of Cromartie, i. p. cclv; Add. 38407, f. 173.
  • 15. Laprade, 104.
  • 16. Add. 39191, f. 90.
  • 17. Laprade, 104.
  • 18. Add. 39191, f. 102.
  • 19. Alex. Mackenzie to Sir Roderick Mackenzie, 13 Nov. 1784, ibid. f. 112.