HOPE, Charles (1763-1851), of Granton, Edinburgh.

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



1802 - Dec. 1802
4 Jan. 1803 - 20 Nov. 1804

Family and Education

b. 29 June 1763, 1st s. of John Hope of Craigiehall, Linlithgow by Mary, da. of Eliab Breton of Forty Hill, Enfield, Mdx; bro of William Johnstone Hope*. educ. Enfield g.s.; Edinburgh h.s. 1777; Edinburgh Univ. 1779; adv. 1784, depute adv. 1786; L. Inn 1789. m. 8 Aug. 1793, his cos. Lady Charlotte Hope, da. of John, 2nd Earl of Hopetoun [S], 4s. 8da. suc. fa. 1785.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Orkney June 1792-1801; ld. adv. June 1801-4, ld. of session and ld. justice clerk Dec. 1804-11; ld. pres. of ct. of session Nov. 1811 and ld. justice-gen. Dec. 1836-41; PC 17 Aug. 1822; commr. of inquiry, appeals [S] July 1823.

Capt. R. Edinburgh vols. 1796, maj. 1797, lt.-col. 1800-14, 1819.


Hope’s father, a self proclaimed citizen of the world, had ruined his public career by alienating the head of his family, the Earl of Hopetoun, through his attachment to opposition politics. Hope was reclaimed by the family for Scotland and his marriage to Lord Hopetoun’s daughter in 1793 set their seal of approval on him. He was by then, through their connexion with Henry Dundas, sheriff of Orkney and subsequently made himself useful to the Dundas interest in Edinburgh by public exertions on behalf of law and order and of their political hegemony. Robert Dundas, the lord advocate, wrote to Henry Dundas, 10 May 1798, in anticipation of Hope’s eventually succeeding him in office: ‘The more I know of Charles Hope, the more I venerate his character ... in Parliament he must one day or other, if you bring him forward there, prove a most valuable acquisition’.1

On 16 Feb. 1801 Hope informed Dundas, who had just resigned with Pitt, that, though he felt it to be his duty to support Addington’s weak administration, he would not take office except under Dundas’s aegis. By April, Dundas had decided that Hope should succeed Robert Dundas as lord advocate. He was appointed in June. His colleagues at the Scottish bar were envious:

Hope will make an immensity of money; being obliged to go to London at any rate (as he comes into Parliament of course) he will be employed in every appeal to the House of Lords, on business which he has hitherto so uniformly declined.

A seat was found for him at the ensuing election for Dumfries Burghs on the interest of the Duke of Buccleuch. Dundas had already earmarked him as his successor in the representation of the city of Edinburgh, but the delay in Dundas’s peerage and in arranging the return of his successor at Dumfries postponed this until January 1803.2

Hope made his parliamentary debut by opposing the prosecution of James Trotter, a defaulting witness from the Dunfermline election committee, because it was intended to undermine the situation of the sitting Member, 28 Mar. 1803. On 25 Apr. he defended the Edinburgh road bill. On 5 May he moved the committal of and vindicated his bill to improve the lot of Scottish parochial schoolmasters. In the spring of 1804 he was placed in a predicament by Lord Melville’s rallying to Pitt’s opposition to the Addington ministry; he subsequently assured Addington that he would have resigned on this, had he not heard the news of his friends’ line on ‘the very eve of our circuits in Scotland, when my resignation would have thrown the public business into great confusion, and when my retiring from office would only have left me at liberty to vote against you, without giving you time to seat my successor in the House’. He resisted pressure to come to London and vote against Addington until it was no longer necessary; indeed Pitt had maintained that he need not resign until he came to London and ‘it may then be unnecessary’. Pitt’s succession to power made Hope’s resignation superfluous. He acted as go-between for Lord Moira (then at Edinburgh) with the new government when soundings took place as to a broader basis for it, both before and after it was formed.3

On 22 June 1804 Hope held the stage in Parliament when he vindicated himself on a motion

made by Mr Whitbread to censure some proceedings of the lord advocate of Scotland occasioned by the conduct of a person in the county of Banff who had refused to suffer a farming servant to attend an inspection of a volunteer corps last October, when great expectation was entertained of an immediate attack from the enemy

as Pitt described it to the King. Hope, an enthusiastic lieutenant-colonel of the royal Edinburgh Volunteers whose regimental orders of 18 Oct. 1803 were a model of their kind, treated the House to a display of judicial eloquence, emphasizing the peril of that moment and the pressures of his increasingly important office. He was exonerated by 159 votes to 82, in what was treated as a party question. His friend Moira assured Col. McMahon that the Foxites had made a political mistake in this motion: ‘they make war unnecessarily on a powerful connection ... Morally, they have not sufficiently examined their ground. The lord advocate, though somewhat intemperate, is an useful and energetic servant of the crown.’ Hope himself subsequently remarked of the lord advocate’s office: ‘I know from the experience of nearly four years, that it requires a degree of temper and forbearance, which I often found it very difficult to command’.4

In December 1804 Hope went out of Parliament on succeeding Lord Eskgrove as lord justice clerk. He had insisted on giving Henry Erskine* the first refusal of this office and informed Pitt on 18 Dec. that he regretted being ‘hors de combat’, adding ‘I should have liked to have fought by your side a little longer, and if I had been a bachelor, like you, I should not have deserted you. But a wife and six children are a sad damp to ambitions.’5 He was secure in Moira’s friendship on the change of ministry in 1806 and again acted as a mediator between him and Melville, in the quest for an arrangement of Scottish patronage.6 It was, as he admitted, not in his nature to despond and at critical moments, such as the Duke of York’s disgrace in 1809, he relied on ‘a fund of good sense in this country’ to prevent calamity in ‘this excess of squeamish and fastidious virtue’. For the same reason he was undismayed at Melville’s proscription from office, believing that he could serve his country just as well out of it. In 1811, although he would have been content to remain where he was and see Archibald Campbell Colquhoun succeed Blair as lord president of the court of session, he fell in with the Melvillite plan that, on Robert Dundas’s refusal, he should succeed as president.7 As such, he lies embalmed in Cockburn’s memoirs as a majestic ornament of justice, imposing in appearance, voice and eloquence. Retiring in 1841, he died 30 Oct. 1851.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. NLS mss 7, f. 78; SRO GD51/5/423/2.
  • 2. NLS mss 9370, ff. 73-75; Dundas of Arniston mss, Dundas to Montgomery, 13 Apr. 1801; Brougham and his Early Friends, i. 267; Sidmouth mss, Dundas to Addington, 10 Aug.; SRO GD224/581, Dundas to Buccleuch, 13 Aug. 1802.
  • 3. Sidmouth mss, Hope to Addington, 1 May 1804; Stanhope, Pitt, iv. 148; Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1844; Secret Corresp. conn. with Mr Pitt’s return to office in 1804 ed. Ld. Mahon, 5; PRO 30/8/146, f. 72.
  • 4. Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2894; Colchester, i. 521; Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 1886; Spencer mss, Hope to Spencer, 7 Mar. 1806.
  • 5. Brougham, Life and Times, i. 235; PRO 30/8/146, f. 84.
  • 6. NLS mss 9370, ff. 93-98.
  • 7. Buccleuch mss, Hope to Bucceleuch, 14 Mar. 1809; SRO GD51/1/130; NLS mss 9, ff. 101-11; Perceval (Holland) mss F62.