ST. CLAIR, Hon. James (1688-1762), of Sinclair, Fife and Balblair, Sutherland.

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



27 Oct. 1722 - 1734
6 May 1736 - 1747
1747 - 1754
1754 - 30 Nov. 1762

Family and Education

b. 1688, 2nd s. of Henry, 10th Lord Sinclair [S], by Barbara, da. of Sir James Cockburn, 1st Bt., of Cockburn.  m. Janet, da. of Sir David Dalrymple of Hailes, wid. of Sir John Baird, 2nd Bt., of Newbyth, s.p.  suc. fa. 1723 vice e. bro. John, Master of Sinclair (attainted 1716) in the family estates, which he surrendered on his brother’s pardon 1726, and to which, on his brother’s d. in 1750, he again suc. as titular 11th Lord Sinclair.

Offices Held

Ensign 6 Ft. 1694, capt. 1708; capt. 3 Ft. Gds. and lt.-col. 1714; col. army 1722; col. 22 Ft. 1734-7; col. 1 Ft. 1737- d.; maj.-gen. 1741; lt.-gen. 1745; gen. 1761.


St. Clair, the brother of a Jacobite, was himself a staunch Whig, and before 1754 had a distinguished career in the army. At the general election of 1754 he was returned unopposed for Fife, and secured the return of his nephew, Sir Henry Erskine, for Anstruther Burghs. In Dupplin’s list St. Clair was classed as an Administration supporter, attached to the Duke of Argyll. But affectionate concern for his nephew’s military career, friendship with Bute, and regard for Pitt, tended to make his adherence to Newcastle nominal. In the debate of 2 May 1757 on the Minorca inquiry, Fox listed him among those ‘who very unexpectedly left us’.1 During the negotiations for a new Administration, Newcastle classed him among Argyll’s supporters who might possibly desert their chief if deposed from the ‘vice-royalty’ of Scotland.2 Under the Pitt-Newcastle Coalition he was connected through Erskine with Bute, but was not apparently involved in the Bute-Argyll quarrel, 1759-60.

Although there was considerable opposition in Fife to a Scottish militia, St. Clair was appointed to the parliamentary committee to prepare the bill, and did not vote against it. During Ligonier’s illness in 1760, Pitt pressed St. Clair’s claims to succeed as commander-in-chief. Newcastle wrote to Hardwicke, 17 Sept.:

[Pitt said] that General St. Clair was undoubtedly the best, the ablest officer, and the fittest person for this station ... I declared my opinion against St. Clair and nothing shall make me alter it. Certainly no great general, certainly a Scotchman who would fill the army with all Scotch, a low Scotchman ... I am sure Lord Bute in his heart would greatly prefer St. Clair to Tyrawley ... Lady Yarmouth assures me positively that the King will not have St. Clair.

Hardwicke heartily concurred in these and other objections to St. Clair’s age and deafness ‘which would tire out the King’. ‘It is absurd and impossible and Mr. Pitt can never take it up but to parry Tyrawley.’3

A patriarchal figure of great wealth, derived mainly from his collieries,4 St. Clair was the generous patron and adviser of his numerous relations and friends. Re-elected unopposed in 1761, he died 30 Nov. 1762, leaving Erskine the heir to his unentailed estates.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Edith Lady Haden-Guest


  • 1. Fox to Devonshire, 3 May 1757, Devonshire mss.
  • 2. Add. 32995, f. 383.
  • 3. Add. 32911, ff. 364, 382.
  • 4. Pococke, Tours in Scotland (Sc. Hist. Soc.), 281.