Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

76 in 1790 reduced to 35 in 1811


16 June 1796JAMES BRODIE
20 July 1802JAMES BRODIE
27 Nov. 1806JAMES BRODIE

Main Article

The central conflict in Elginshire in the mid 1780s was between the sitting Member James Duff, 2nd Earl Fife, and the Moray Association of resident freeholders, led by Alexander Penrose Cumming Gordon* of Altyre and Fife’s brother-in-law James Brodie of Brodie, who sought to eradicate the nominal votes on which Fife’s interest was based. The other significant figures were the 4th Duke of Gordon, who was generally at odds with Fife, and Sir James Grant* of Castle Grant, who aligned himself with Fife, his wife’s uncle, but was under pressure from Cumming Gordon* his brother-in-law, and the Association, with whose ideals he sympathized. Elginshire came within the compass of the settlement negotiated by Henry Dundas between the contending interests in northeast Scotland in 1787. Under its terms the seat was to be restored to the Grants at the next election, and in 1790 Sir James’s eldest son was accordingly returned. Fife, for his part, received a British peerage.1

Lewis Grant suffered a mental breakdown in 1791 and it soon became clear that he was unfit to continue as Member, but it was not until 1794 that Cumming Gordon, who had had an eye on the seat for two years, secured Sir James Grant’s promise of support at the next election and, claiming that a dissolution was imminent, announced his candidature. Grant felt unable to communicate directly with Dundas on the matter, but transmitted his recommendation of Cumming Gordon to the minister via another brother-in-law, Henry (the ‘Man of Feeling’) Mackenzie. Dundas was annoyed by Cumming Gordon’s precipitancy and the Grants’ failure to consult him and feared that a premature canvass in Elginshire would have disruptive consequences throughout the north east. James Brodie and Francis Russell of Blackhall, a Whig, also entered the field. Russell had no real chance, but Brodie had the backing of Fife, with whom he had recently settled their differences, though Mackenzie argued that their ‘coalition’ was ‘a very ungracious and unpopular one’. Brodie’s brother Alexander*, a close friend of Dundas, put the case for government endorsement of James and observed that Mackenzie was much mistaken

if he adopts the ideas of Mr Cumming whose common boast has been that Banff, Moray and Inverness were politically in the possession of the Grants ... and that I owed my seat [Elgin Burghs] to them also. Mr Cumming ... must know that ... to you alone I owe my parliamentary situation ... [and] that Sir James Grant and his son are equally indebted to the same patron ... Had he ... obtained your previous approbation ... he might have come forward ... unopposed, for in that case I do not suppose that Lord Fife would have taken any part ... I have given Mr Cumming credit for all the Grants upon the roll. I have nevertheless reason to believe that some ... do not altogether approve of ... [his] proceedings. I doubt not however but they will ultimately support him, but ... Mr Cumming will not ... have the return ... unless it is your determination that he shall represent the county against my brother and, I may add, the sense of the county. Lord Fife has for many years ... been at pains to convince me of the desire he had to be on good terms with my brother ... But Lord Fife ... is very sensible that my brother is the only one of the independent gentlemen ... capable of reconciling the different interests hostile to his lordship ... the invincible dislike which Lord Fife entertains to Altyre may have operated as powerfully ... as his desire to be reconciled to my brother and to be useful to his family.

Dundas decided to back Brodie, for whom an analysis in the Melville papers of the much reduced electorate, 8 May 1795, predicted a majority of between one and four. Dundas’s decision upset the Grants, but when Gen. James Grant* reproached him for backing a man ‘of a very good family but small fortune’ against Cumming Gordon ‘who has better than four thousand pounds a year in the county, standing upon the interest of your old friends the Grants’, the minister replied that if the Grants had deprived themselves of his support it was their own fault. Cumming Gordon, though ‘convinced at present I have an equal chance’, conceded the ground to Dundas shortly before the 1796 election and Brodie was returned without opposition, as he was again in 1802, when Cumming Gordon, again at Dundas’s behest, ‘did not stir’.2

In April 1806 John Peter Grant* of Rothiemurchus, a rising Whig lawyer, announced his intention of standing at the next election, although he would not be legally qualified for another year. Brodie, who initially opposed the ‘Talents’, but at about this time began to support them, also renewed his pretensions, claiming to have seen ‘by accident’ a letter of solicitation from Francis William Grant, Sir James’s second son. In July ministers decided to ask Brodie to retire at the next election with a promise of an office in reversion, in order to make way for Francis Grant, whose intended berth at Inverness Burghs might then, if Sir James Grant agreed, go to Rothiemurchus, whom they were anxious to bring in. Brodie evidently did not like the terms offered, and in August 1806 Lord Grenville assured him of ‘best wishes for your success’ at the next election. Rothiemurchus remained confident of his chances in Elginshire, but the early dissolution was a blow to his hopes. Fife, who had again turned against Brodie, offered to return Rothiemurchus for Elgin Burghs if he would back his nephew James Duff* in the county, but he had reservations, being aware that ‘there are great difficulties in Lord Fife’s way in this county’, and pinned more hope on a deal with Sir James Grant to return himself for Inverness Burghs and Francis Grant for Elginshire. Sir James showed an interest in the plan, but raised the problems of prior engagements in the burghs and his desire to be compensated for the sacrifice of his own professed pretensions to the county seat. Rothiemurchus pressed the Whig understrappers in Edinburgh to persuade Adam to induce ministers to buy Brodie off as soon as possible, although he viewed the situation optimistically, even if Brodie were to stand his ground:

I am not eligible till June, but a friend, a Whig, will sit for me till then if we can carry his election. The number who will vote if James Duff comes home is 23—Brodie 10; myself 8; Lord Fife 5. The two latter therefore can carry it; and next June both Brodie and I will have acquired two votes each, leaving us in the same relative situation.

Brodie complained to Adam of Rothiemurchus’s ‘vexatious’ conduct and, failing to secure a frank declaration of intent from Fife, appealed to Grenville to intervene. To his brother Brodie wrote:

Every trick is to be put in practice against me. Who is to be catspaw? Whether young Duff, [Dunbar Brodie of] Burgie, or [Alexander Grant of] Redcastle I cannot find out. I have been very ill treated by the present Scotch administration. Nothing shall be left undone on my part ... Adam could by a word prevent all this.

Grenville told Fife that Brodie was not to be opposed and Adam assured Brodie that he had given no encouragement to Rothiemurchus. When he and Adam met, it was agreed that Brodie was to be left unmolested in Elginshire, but was to vacate for Francis Grant as soon as he was provided with a suitable office. Brodie concurred, and although Adam was unable to persuade Sir James Grant to accommodate Rothiemurchus at Inverness Burghs, there was no further disturbance in Elginshire at this election.3

On the fall of the ‘Talents’, Brodie transferred his support to their successors. Two weeks after the 1807 election Fife, claiming to have ‘brought in’ Brodie in 1806 ‘under an absolute condition that he was to support my friend in the event of his retiring’, related his version of events to Grenville:

Lord Fife resolved on the recommendation of Lord Grenville to support ... Rothiemurchus in opposition to Mr Brodie. By the state of the roll at the late election 11 votes carried this county: of these Lord Fife counted six certain ... and Rothiemurchus pledged himself for the other five, and the business was therefore hollow against Brodie ... Lord Melville, finding that Rothiemurchus would thus carry his election and every effort on his part to make any of the gentlemen who were pledged to support Rothiemurchus go over to Brodie having failed, bethought himself of another plan, which was to withdraw Brodie ... by making him knight marshal ... and then started Sir James Grant’s son ... This scheme had the desired effect. Three of Rothiemurchus’s Grant friends were attached on the footing of clanship and though they could not be prevailed upon just to break their pledge, they so far explained it away as to refuse to vote against their young chief ... which ... kept Rothiemurchus in a minority of two, and he was obliged ... to give up the contest two days before the election.

Fife’s story is largely confirmed by other evidence (although Brodie was not actually provided for until 1809) and Melville’s involvement in the business is clear. The episode led to a severance of relations between Rothiemurchus and Castle Grant.4

Francis Grant, who became acting chief of the the clan in 1811, sat unopposed for the rest of this period, but in 1818 ministers had to talk him out of retiring, for fear that without adequate preparation any other candidate would lose the seat to Rothiemurchus.5

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. SRO GD51/1/198/1/2-4; Lord Fife and his Factor, 187; Sir W. Fraser, Chiefs of Grant, ii. 492-4, 497; NLS mss 5, ff. 16, 41; H. Furber, Henry Dundas, 206-14.
  • 2. SRO GD51/1/198/4/5; 51/1/198/17/1-3, 5, 7, 10, 11; NLS mss 1, f. 97; 1053, ff. 48, 102; Macpherson Grant mss 461, Dundas to Gen. Grant, 9 Sept. 1795 (NRA [S] 771).
  • 3. Edinburgh Advertiser, 18-22 Apr.; Spencer mss, memo, 16 July; Fortescue mss, Grenville to Brodie, 6 Aug., Fife to Grenville, 24 Oct., 9 Nov., Brodie to same, 25 Oct.; Blair Adam mss, Clerk to Adam, 10 Sept., Rothiemurchus to same, 3 Oct., 1, 5, 9 Nov., to Gillies, 23 Oct.; Brodie to Adam, 24 Oct., 4 Nov., to A. Brodie, 25 Oct., Gillies to Adam, 30 Oct., Adam to Gibson, 1 Oct., to Brodie, 28 Oct., 1 Nov., to Sir J. Grant, 1 Nov. 1806.
  • 4. Fortescue mss, Fife to Grenville, 17 May, 10 June, Rothiermurchus to same, 27 May; NLS, Melville mss, Melville to Saunders Dundas, 1 May 1807; Mems. of a Highland Lady ed. Lady Strachey, 62.
  • 5. NLS mss 10, f. 72; St. Andrews Univ. Lib. Melville mss 4555.