BRODIE, James (1744-1824), of Brodie House, Forres, Elgin.

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



1796 - 1807

Family and Education

b. 31 Aug. 1744, 1st s. of James Brodie, adv., of Spynie, and bro. of Alexander Brodie*. educ. Elgin g.s.; Aberdeen Univ.1 m. 6 Mar. 1767,2 Lady Margaret Duff, da. of William Duff 1st Earl Fife [I], 2s. 3da. suc. fa. 1756; 2nd cos. Alexander Brodie as laird of Brodie 1759.3

Offices Held

Master of the works [S] 1809-d.

Ld. lt. Nairn 1794-d.; capt. Nairn vols. 1794, maj. commdt. 1797-9; lt.-col. Ross militia 1799.


The estates which Brodie inherited at the age of 15 were heavily encumbered and he appears to have struggled financially for most of his life. His marriage to the sister of James, 2nd Earl Fife, connected him with one of the dominant political figures in north-east Scotland, but Fife evidently disliked the match from the outset and relations between the two men were seldom better than strained. Matters were worsened when Brodie involved himself with the Moray association of independent freeholders, formed in the 1780s to combat Fife’s hegemony in Elginshire. In 1772 Lady Margaret, driven to distraction by her isolated existence and Brodie’s moodiness, was on the verge of leaving him, but her brother told her to make the best of things:

I beg of you ... to try to make yourself agreeable to Mr Brodie by conforming as much as you can to his temper ... I am very sorry that his affairs are not in a way ... to be soon settled. I cannot say my influences in those matters are great with him, I am sure they have cost me much thought and trouble ... The state that matters are in, may perhaps affect his temper, and I hope you will make allowance for that.

The marriage seems to have been patched up, but Lady Margaret died in a fire at Brodie House, 24 Apr. 1786.4

Brodie made a token challenge to the Coalition candidate in Nairnshire in 1784. The following year his wealthy nabob brother Alexander, a close friend of Henry Dundas, was returned for that county with government support. Brodie, who probably wanted a seat in the House in order to get a share in the spoils system, entered the field for Elginshire in 1794. He was backed by Fife, with whom he had recently become reconciled, and was eventually endorsed by Dundas, at his brother’s prompting. Despite the resentment of the Grant family at the minister’s supporting a man of ‘small fortune’ against their interest, there was no opposition to his return in 1796.5

Brodie was probably an infrequent attender and he is not known to have spoken in the House. In April 1797, confessing that he was ‘really unhappy’ in London, he asked Dundas for permission to return to Scotland to attend to local military duties.6 He did not vote for the assessed taxes augmentation bill, 4 Jan. 1798. After his unopposed return for Elginshire in 1802, Charles Innes described him as ‘independent of Mr Dundas, will vote with administration’; but a contemporaneous analysis in the Melville papers placed him among ‘partisans to the politics of Mr Pitt and Mr Dundas’. He voted twice against Addington’s government in its last days, 23 and 25 Apr. 1804, and supported Pitt’s second ministry, voting against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805.

His attitude towards the ‘Talents’ was highly equivocal. Early in 1806 William Adam classed him as one of the ‘Dundas etc. interest’ and he voted against the government on the question of Ellenborough’s seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar.; but on 30 Apr. he voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act. He came under threat of opposition at the next election from Francis William Grant*, son of Sir James, chief of the clan, and John Peter Grant* of Rothiemurchus, a Whig lawyer. Ministers, who noted him as one of the Scottish lord lieutenants whose dismissal might be considered ‘if provoked by any act of marked hostility’, resolved to ask him ‘whether he would wish to retire, with a promise of the office of master of the works’ on the death of Sir James Pringle, with a view to securing Francis Grant’s return for Elginshire and, by arrangement with Sir James Grant, the election of Rothiemurchus for Inverness Burghs. He must have regarded the terms offered as inadequate, for early in August he demanded and received from Lord Grenville an assurance of ministerial goodwill at the next election.7

When Parliament was dissolved Brodie, vexed by Rothiemurchus’s continued meddling in the county and rightly suspecting that Fife was now working against him, complained to Adam and asked Grenville to intercede, observing that ‘if I do not succeed in again representing this county, your lordship will lose a steady friend’. Although Fife told Grenville that Brodie had only started to support government out of self-interest, and that ‘you cannot depend upon him, for he is perfectly under the direction of Lord Melville’, the premier indicated that he did not wish him to be opposed and Adam told him that ‘I know it to be Lord Grenville’s wish to consider you as a supporter of government’. Adam and Rothiemurchus agreed on a plan whereby Brodie was to be unmolested in Elginshire and Rothiemurchus, pace Sir James Grant, to come in for Inverness Burghs, with the proviso that when Brodie, as Adam explained, secured ‘objects which I understand you to be desirous of’, he would make way for Francis Grant. Brodie ‘cheerfully’ agreed and reaffirmed his wish to support government. He correctly predicted that Sir James Grant would not accede to the proposal, but his own seat had been made secure.8

Early in 1807 Brodie was listed by Adam among ‘friends of govt. unconnected with Lord Melville’, but on the fall of the ‘Talents’ he transferred his support to their successors, as Fife had forecast. Although he originally intended to stand again for Elginshire, he was induced by a promise of the office of knight marischall, which originated with Melville, to stand down for Francis Grant, who was reckoned to have a better chance of defeating the challenge of Rothiemurchus and Fife. He was compelled by Melville to vote against Adam in Kincardine, contrary to his personal inclinations and his conduct in 1806.9

Brodie did not become knight marischall and on he asked Melville’s son to secure his appointment as a commissioner of appeal on the assessed taxes. Robert Dundas, reminding the Duke of Portland, 14 Sept. 1808, that government had still not provided for Brodie, recommended his appointment as auditor of excise.10 Nothing came of this, but on Pringle’s death in 1809 Brodie secured the mastership of the works. He died 17 Jan. 1824.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. According to J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1806), 81.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1767), 144.
  • 3. Ibid. (1759), 497.
  • 4. A. and H. Tayler, Moray MPs, 38; Ld. Fife and his Factor, 73-75.
  • 5. SRO GD51/1/198/4/5; 51/1/198/17/5, 11.
  • 6. SRO GD51/1/884.
  • 7. Spencer mss, memo, 16 July; Add. 51471A, ff. 12-13; Fortescue mss, Grenville to Brodie, 6 Aug. 1806.
  • 8. Fortescue mss, Fife to Grenville, 24 Oct., Brodie to same, 25 Oct.; Blair Adam mss, Brodie to Adam, 24 Oct., 4 Nov., to A. Brodie, 25 Oct., Adam to Brodie, 28 Oct., 1 Nov. 1806.
  • 9. Blair Adam mss, Fife to Adam, 16 May, Brodie to same, 20 May; Fortescue mss, J. P. Grant to Grenville, 27 May, Fife to same, 10 June 1807; SRO GD51/1/198/12/33.
  • 10. SRO GD51/5/365/15/3; NLI, Melville mss.