Haddingtonshire (East Lothian)


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Number of enrolled freeholders:

90 in 1820; 107 in 1826; 109 in 1830


20 Mar. 1820SIR JAMES GRANT SUTTIE, bt39
 Lord John Hay38
20 June 1826LORD JOHN HAY 
10 Aug. 1830LORD JOHN HAY42
 George Grant Suttie32
 Sir David Baird, bt11

Main Article

Haddingtonshire was in the process of becoming one of the richest grain producing areas of Scotland, with numerous landlords keen to implement advanced farming techniques. It had a number of farmers’ clubs. Sheep were reared on the pastures of the Lammermuir hills, and there was some small-scale textile manufacturing. The royal burghs were Haddington, Dunbar and North Berwick. The other principal settlements were Cockenzie, East Linton, Prestonpans and Tranent.1 The county, which had no commanding local interest but was amenable to government management, had not been contested since 1768. The leading county Tories were the 8th earl of Haddington of Tyninghame Castle, lord lieutenant since 1804, and his brother-in-law the 4th earl of Hopetoun of Ormiston Hall, who was related by marriage to Lord Melville, the Liverpool ministry’s Scottish manager. Their combined interest had secured the return in 1816 of Sir James Grant Suttie of Balgone and Prestongrange. Opposition to them was led by the 8th marquess of Tweeeddale of Yester House, a Peninsular veteran, friend of the duke of Wellington and a Tory representative peer from 1818. He acted in conjunction with his uncle, the 8th earl of Lauderdale, who had a residence at Dunbar. Lauderdale, an enthusiast for the French Revolution and a prominent Foxite Whig thereafter, had begun to gravitate to the Tories by 1820; he received a green ribbon the following year as reward for his active support for the prosecution of Queen Caroline. Tweeddale had put forward his brother Lord John Hay, a one-armed naval officer, as a prospective candidate in 1816, but he had had to be withdrawn at the general election of 1818, when he was still at sea, and Grant Suttie came in unopposed.2 Another Tory peer with an interest was the self-styled 6th earl of Wemyss of Gosford House, who received a British coronation peerage as Baron Wemyss in 1821 and in 1826 had the attainder of his ancestor Lord Elcho reversed.

On 26 Oct. 1819 Haddington chaired a county meeting called to vote a loyal address to the regent condemning the attempts of ‘evil-minded and designing men’ to undermine the constitution. Tweeddale moved and Wemyss seconded the resolutions, Grant Suttie promised to act accordingly in the House and Hay proposed the vote of thanks to the chairman.3 At the general election four months later Grant Suttie and Hay offered. Neither made an overt reference to politics, but it was clear, as Haddington’s son Lord Binning* told Melville, that while Hay would ‘support government’ in the House, ‘everything opposition will support him against the slow moving Suttie’. The latter informed Melville that he had found ‘the party of my opponents stronger than before, but if I obtain the support of the government I think there is little doubt I will be again returned’. He was particularly keen to secure the influential backing of Sir George Warrender* of Lochend, a lord of the admiralty under Melville, whom he asked to ‘contradict’ the story ‘given out by Lord John Hay’s friends that government are neuter on this occasion’. Melville did so, and endorsed Grant Suttie as the incumbent supporter of government.4 The day before the election Warrender, who had done ‘everything I could’ for Grant Suttie, told Melville that it would be ‘near run’: ‘the vote for praeses will be carried by 39 to 37 and the vote for representative 39 to 39; Sir James will carry the praeses and by his vote the election, but still much is in the chapter of accidents’. In the event Grant Suttie’s friends managed to vote off the roll James Wilkie of Gilkerton, a freeholder for 60 years. (Warrender was ‘much annoyed at being obliged to vote against the poor old man ... but ... remembered the old proverb "not to eat the cow and worry about the tail"’.) This ‘made the numbers 39 to 38’ for Grant Suttie, while two paired on each side. A subsequent analysis revealed that the 24 freeholders voting on superiorities had divided evenly, but that proprietors and eldest sons had voted 29-28 for Grant Suttie. According to one of Melville’s correspondents, ‘the activity of the family of Tweeddale joined to the assumption of the support of government’ ran Grant Suttie ‘very close’, and only the ‘timeous arrival’ of Hepburn of Sydserff from Alderney and of voters from London and Galloway saved the day.5 Grant Suttie reported to Melville:

Though I had only a majority of one, yet my opponents brought all their strength into the field and were unable to muster a single vote more, though there is a great probability of several of their votes which are under challenge being put off the roll by the court of session, in which is the vote of Lord John Hay himself. Should this Parliament last for a session or two I expect to add as many to my side of the question as the other can and so keep up or rather increase the majority.

He reckoned that a judicious bestowal of patronage on some of the disgruntled freeholders who had ‘deserted’ him would strengthen his position. One elector informed Melville that it had ‘become necessary that Sir James and all the friends of your Lordship and administration in the existing state of society and of Europe should without delay unite and confer liferent qualifications on steady and faithful individuals’.6 But another correspondent of Melville had already predicted that ‘the Sutties will not be able to keep their ground ... beyond the next Parliament’.7 Hay petitioned, claiming a ‘majority of legal votes’, but the election committee quickly found in Grant Suttie’s favour.8

Many of the county’s towns and villages were illuminated to celebrate the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline in November 1820.9 In February 1823 the 69-year-old Haddington retired as lord lieutenant and was replaced by Tweeddale, who had continued to build up his interest in conjunction with Lauderdale. Procurators’ clerks of the county petitioned the Commons for repeal of the stamp duty on attorneys’ licences, 11 May, and the freeholders, justices and commissioners of supply did so for free trade in spirits within the United Kingdom, 12 May 1824.10 The county petitioned the Commons against relaxation of the corn laws, 28 Apr. 1825, and both Houses against interference with the Scottish banking system in 1826.11 At the general election that year Grant Suttie abandoned the seat to Hay.12

The county and its farmers petitioned Parliament against meddling with the corn laws and for a pivot price of 64s. for wheat in 1827, and the county petitioned the Commons against any further reduction of protection, 28 Apr. 1828.13 In May 1827 Hay told his brother Tweeddale that if the Canning ministry lasted they would ‘of course ... start someone against me in [the] county, but it will puzzle them to turn me out if Lord Melville stands firm’.14 The county petitioned the Commons against the proposed additional duty on corn spirits, 6 May 1830.15 That month Grant Suttie’s son George, who was Wemyss’s son-in-law, asked William Cadell to support him at the next election and secure him the backing of Sir John Buchan Hepburn of Smeaton Hepburn, the son and successor of an old friend of Melville’s father. They consulted Melville, a member of the duke of Wellington’s cabinet, who was also approached directly by Grant Suttie for government support but gave him no encouragement.16 At the end of the month Hay, who had supported the ministry, informed his brother:

I have no longer any doubt that George Suttie will start for the county ... All we have to do is fight the best battle we can. A very hard one it will be, and unless Lord Melville is spoken to by the duke success is by no means certain. Suttie’s connection with the Wemyss family must naturally throw many difficulties in my way ... If I lose another vote I must be beat. I doubt Sir G. Warrender’s support unless he is pressed hard by Lord Lauderdale ... All my former supporters will I think stand by me.

He urged Tweeddale to ‘get the duke to tell Lord Melville he does not wish me to be opposed’, which would ‘paralyze Suttie’s party more than anything we can do at present’. He also wanted Wellington to use his influence over Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton* of North Berwick.17 When Parliament was dissolved in July after the death of the king, Grant Suttie and Hay came forward.18 Warrender, who was now one of the Huskissonite group in opposition to the ministry and was thought to be retaliating for the government’s attack on the Grants in Inverness, asked Melville to secure ‘a declaration of neutrality on the part of government’ for the benefit of Grant Suttie, as both men were supporters of administration:

It will astonish many of your best friends in East Lothian if that is refused now, and while it will not prevent Mr. Suttie from being seated, it will excite no very pleasant feeling towards the government ... That party have ever been connected with your father and yourself, and it will indeed be strange if even neutrality is not adopted as between them and the supporters of Lord J. Hay.

Melville replied that government ‘would act in a manner not only unusual but unfair and unjust if they did not do their utmost to secure the re-election of any person who steadily supported them’, as Hay had done. The knowledge that Hay was the government’s preferred candidate was reckoned to have made him ‘secure’.19 Sir George Clerk*, a junior minister and Member for neighbouring Edinburghshire, hoped that

my friend Tweeddale will be successful, and ... also that he will profit by the lesson which the present struggle cannot fail to give him with respect to the necessity of cultivating assiduously the goodwill of the families of the county. A man of high rank, good family, considerable fortune and popular manners may always have a large following in his own county in Scotland if he takes the necessary pains to acquire it.20

According to Tweeddale, Wellington professed to know ‘nothing of the matter’ when they talked about it; but the duke personally tried to persuade Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton (whose brother was married to Warrender’s sister) to leave his sickly wife in Paris and go over to vote for Hay. Sir Hew declined to do so, but claimed to have written to his friends to back Hay and was willing to pair if it could be arranged.21 At the election meeting, which was attended by about 75 freeholders, Sir Francis Walker Drummond of Hawthornden, Edinburghshire, and Cadell proposed as praeses James Balfour of Whittinghame, Lauderdale’s son-in-law and ministerialist Member for Anstruther Burghs. Charles Fergusson of Kilkerran, Ayrshire, the son of Sir James Fergusson, and James Hall of Dunglass, son of Sir James Hall, nominated Sir James Grant Suttie. Balfour carried it by 42 votes to 31. One man was added to the roll. Hay was proposed as Member by General Patrick Stuart of Eaglescairnie, brother of the 11th Lord Blantyre, and seconded by James Hunter of Thurston. George Grant Suttie was sponsored by Warrender and Hall. Warrender argued that such an important agricultural county, of which Hay owned not an acre, should be represented by ‘one of its own great landed proprietors’. He called on Sir David Baird of Newbyth to vote for Grant Suttie as ‘a country gentleman’ and denounced the ‘novel’ and ‘marked’ interference of government in Haddingtonshire and Scotland generally, notably against the Grants. Drummond endorsed Hay, who remained silent until after the vote. Grant Suttie claimed to have ‘on his side the whole independence of this county’ and ‘felt sore at the weight of government being thrown into the scale against him’. Hay was elected by 42 votes to 32. Baird, who was related to Hay and voted for him, said that although Grant Suttie was ‘professedly not opposed to ... government’, he had stood ‘under the auspices’ of Warrender, who was ‘diametrically so’. Hay shrugged off his lack of a personal stake in the county and admitted that he had had government support, but made some dubious claims about his ‘independent’ voting record and insisted that he was ‘under no pledge to ministers’.22 He told Wellington, who congratulated him on his success, that Dalrymple Hamilton’s friends had in fact opposed him. Lauderdale assured the duke that better management would have doubled the majority.23

The inhabitants of Tranent petitioned the Lords, 16 Nov., and the Commons, 18 Dec. 1830, for the abolition of slavery.24 Two days before the fall of the ministry on 15 Nov. Tweeddale told the premier that there was no sympathy in the county for the ‘Swing’ rioters in England.25 Responding to the new Grey ministry’s promise to bring in a significant measure of parliamentary reform, Hay turned his mind to the issue. He was harangued on it by Lauderdale’s son Lord Maitland*, who warned him that he was believed in the county to be ‘for going all lengths’, which would dish him there. In fact, as Hay told Tweeddale, he had always qualified his theoretical support for a ‘simple and extensive’ reform which would concede enough to avert ‘revolution’ by stressing that it was contingent on his being ‘compelled’ to consider the issue. Through Tweeddale he sounded the leading county proprietors, including Lauderdale, and received ‘a negative opinion’ overall.26 The inhabitants of East Linton petitioned the Lords for an extension of the franchise, 25 Feb. 1831.27 The government’s reform scheme appalled Hay, who resolved to vote against it. Even leaving aside the pertinent fact that the proposed £500 property qualification for Scottish county Members would rule him out, he was strongly inclined to retire at the next dissolution on the assumption that reform would be enacted sooner of later and make his brother’s county interest too difficult and costly to maintain. He suggested putting Balfour forward in his room as ‘the most certain way of securing the most substantial and ... permanent interest for your own family’.28 In March the inhabitants of East Linton and the county’s farmers petitioned Parliament in favour of the reform proposals, and the farmers and agriculturists petitioned the Lords for Scottish reform and extension of the county franchise to tenants.29 At a county meeting chaired by Robert Hay of Lawfield, 31 Mar., Charles Fergusson condemned the government’s proposals as a threat to the constitution. George Grant Suttie argued that a measure of Scottish reform was essential, called for approval of the principle of the ministerial bill and seconded the resolutions moved by Charles Stuart. David Anderson of St. Germain’s moved and Hall seconded an amendment condemning the bill as ‘too sweeping and violent’. Baird, who was being considered as a man to support by the Whig Sir John Hay Dalrymple† of Oxenfoord, Edinburghshire, declared his support for reform, Warrender’s brother John opposed it and Dalrymple Hamilton said he could not go the whole length of the bill. The anti-reform amendment was carried by 12 votes to eight, with four abstentions.30 By the beginning of April Tweeddale and Lauderdale had agreed to Hay’s retiring at the next dissolution ‘and Balfour starting’. They concocted an address to the freeholders attributing Hay’s decision to the likelihood of his being called to active service in the current ‘aspect of affairs in Europe’; reform was not mentioned.31 Hay issued his address on 8 Apr., when the young anti-reformer, John Thomas Hope* of Luffness, a kinsman of Hopetoun, was known to be a contender, along with Baird and George Grant Suttie.32 Balfour declared his candidature on 15 Apr., professing support for ‘advantageous’ reform but condemning the government scheme, and Baird and Hope soon followed suit.33 When Parliament was suddenly dissolved after the defeat of the English reform bill on the 19th, Grant Suttie withdrew and Hope did likewise, to avoid splitting the anti-reform vote.34 Baird claimed privately that Hay had previously given him ‘an unqualified promise’ of support when he retired, but Hay denied this, adding to Tweeddale that ‘even if I did, his conduct in having started against me would of itself have released me from any such engagement’. He told Baird as much. Accused also of damaging Balfour’s chances by not publicly endorsing him, he insisted that he had ‘naturally concluded that my withdrawing would give Balfour, Sir G. Warrender and the Maitland [Lauderdale] family an opportunity to realize that confident hope they had long entertained of making him the Member’, but had ‘kept out of the way as much as possible’ on account of his awareness of ‘the difficulties of accomplishing this’.35 At the election, when the inhabitants of Haddington mustered in large numbers and gave noisy support to Baird, Hall and Hunter of Thurston proposed Drummond as praeses, and Baird declined to oppose his election. Three new freeholders were enrolled, including Hope and a younger son of Sir John Buchanan Hepburn. Hay gave his specious reason for retiring. Hall and Hunter nominated Balfour, and Robert Ferguson* of Raith, Fife, whose wife had property at Dirleton, and Sir Thomas Dick Lauder of Fountain Hill sponsored Baird. Balfour stressed his local residence and claimed to want ‘wise and prudent’ reform. He easily beat Baird, who was later drawn through the streets of Haddington by the mob.36

The inhabitants of East Linton petitioned the Lords for reform, 30 Sept., and the county’s farmers and the residents of Prestonpans did likewise, 4 Oct. 1831. At the general election of 1832, when the county had a registered electorate of 617, Balfour defeated Baird by 39 votes in a poll of 503.37 Ferguson of Raith beat Hope by a similar margin in 1835, but the Conservatives regained the seat in 1837 and held it, with the Wemyss interest dominant, for almost 50 years.38

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), ii. 234, 237-9.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, i. 541-3.
  • 3. The Times, 2, 6 Nov. 1819; Wellington mss WP1/623/1.
  • 4. Caledonian Mercury, 7, 10 Feb. 1820; NAS GD51/1/198/9/22-25; 51/5/749/1, pp. 186, 187; NLS mss 11, ff. 14, 24.
  • 5. NAS GD51/1/198/9/26, 28, 30, 33; NLS mss 11, f. 79; Caledonian Mercury, 23 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. NAS GD51/1/198/9/29, 30.
  • 7. NAS GD51/1/198/26/42.
  • 8. CJ, lxxv. 162, 289, 290, 291, 305.
  • 9. Caledonian Mercury, 20, 23 Nov. 1820.
  • 10. CJ, lxxix. 348, 354.
  • 11. Ibid. lxxx. 350; LJ, lviii. 58.
  • 12. Caledonian Mercury, 8, 15, 22 June 1826.
  • 13. CJ, lxxxii. 239; lxxxiii. 277; LJ, lix. 117, 210, 223.
  • 14. NLS mss 14441, ff. 20, 24.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxv. 382.
  • 16. NLS mss 2, ff. 143, 145, 147.
  • 17. NLS 14441, f. 63.
  • 18. Caledonian Mercury, 15 July 1830.
  • 19. Add. 56554, f. 133; NLS mss 2, ff. 149, 151; Caledonian Mercury, 17 July 1830; Hopetoun mss 167, f. 155.
  • 20. Stair mss (History of Parliament Aspinall transcripts), Clerk to Sir J. Dalrymple, 28 July 1830.
  • 21. Add. 56554, f. 135; Wellington mss WP1/1132/26; 1137/20.
  • 22. Caledonian Mercury, 12 Aug.; Inverness Courier, 18 Aug.; Stair mss, J.A. Murray to Dalrymple [10 Aug. 1830].
  • 23. Wellington mss WP1/1133/38; 1134/10.
  • 24. LJ, lxiii. 98; CJ, lxxxvi.188.
  • 25. Wellington mss WP1/1151/11.
  • 26. NLS mss 14441, ff. 104, 110, 116.
  • 27. LJ, lxiii. 253.
  • 28. NLS mss 14441, ff. 102, 114.
  • 29. CJ, lxxxvi. 406; LJ, lxiii. 337, 356; Caledonian Mercury, 17 Mar. 1831.
  • 30. Caledonian Mercury, 4 Apr.; Stair mss, J. Anderson to Dalrymple, 28 Mar. 1831; NLS mss 14441, f. 100.
  • 31. NLS mss 14441, ff. 100, 119.
  • 32. Edinburgh Evening Courant, 14 Apr. 1831; Wellington mss WP1/1181/14.
  • 33. Edinburgh Evening Courant, 16, 21, 23 Apr.; Add. 51570, Lauderdale to Lady Holland, 16 Apr. 1831; Wellington mss WP1/1182/9.
  • 34. Edinburgh Evening Courant, 25, 28 Apr.; Caledonian Mercury, 2 May 1831.
  • 35. NLS mss 14441, ff. 122, 124, 126, 128.
  • 36. Edinburgh Evening Courant, 12 May; Caledonian Mercury, 12 May; The Times, 14 May 1831.
  • 37. Caledonian Mercury, 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 38. Scottish Electoral Politics, 221, 232, 236, 237, 253.