HEPBURNE SCOTT, Henry Francis (1800-1867), of Mertoun House, Berwick

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



8 May 1826 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 1 Jan. 1800, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Hugh Scott† (afterwards Hepburne Scott) of Harden, Roxburgh (confirmed as 6th Lord Polwarth [S] 26 June 1835) and Henrietta, da. of Hans Moritz, Count von Brühl of Martinskirk, Saxon envoy to London; bro. of Francis Scott†. educ. St. John’s, Camb. 1818. m. 11 Nov. 1835, Georgina, da. of George Baillie† of Jerviswoode, Berwick, 2s. 3da. styled master of Polwarth 1835-41; took name of Hepburne before Scott as heir-at-law to fa.’s cos. James Hepburne (d. 1793) of Humbie, Haddington in Dec. 1820; suc. fa. as 7th Lord Polwarth [S] 28 Dec. 1841. d. 16 Aug. 1867.

Offices Held

Rep. peer [S] 1843-d.; ld. in waiting Feb.-Dec. 1852, Mar. 1858-June 1859, July 1866-d.

Ld. lt. Selkirk 1845-d.

Capt. Roxburgh yeomanry 1824; commdt. Selkirk militia 1855; lt.-col. Roxburgh and Selkirk vol. rifle corps 1861.


Scott, as he was generally known, despite taking the name of Hepburne, had become heir to his family’s estates in Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire by the death in 1804 of his brother Charles Walter Scott. The parliamentary career of his father, who briefly represented Berwickshire, had been curtailed in 1784 by a political and dynastic dispute over the succession to the Polwarth peerage and estates, from which the will of his grandfather, the 3rd earl of Marchmont, had barred him, but he remained an influential political figure in the Borders with his cousin Sir Walter Scott.1 Born in Brighton, near the Petworth estate of his mother’s half-brother, the 3rd earl of Egremont, Scott was educated and sent to Cambridge with his brother William, 16 months his junior, their father’s favourite.2 After stewarding at Kelso races in September 1822, he spent most of the next 15 months with his mother’s relations in Berlin, Dresden and Frankfurt, and another six in Lausanne under the tutelage, with Sir John Dalrymple†, of a Monsieur Leigneux. He kept a journal throughout.3 During his absence the Lords confirmed the Scotts’ rival Sir William Purves Hume Campbell in possession of the Marchmont estates in Berwickshire and his father waived his prior claim to government assistance there at the next election. This, and astute canvassing by his relations, served Scott well when the sudden death of Sir Alexander Don produced a vacancy for Roxburghshire in April 1826.4 The major interests of the Tory 5th duke of Buccleuch and 7th marquess of Lothian and the Whig 2nd earl of Minto backed him, the Liverpool administration’s Scottish manager Lord Melville endorsed his candidature, and he saw off his challengers, Sir William Francis Eliott of Stobbs Castle, and Sir John Scott Douglas of Springwood Park, to come in unopposed.5 Recommending him to Buccleuch’s guardian Lord Montagu, Sir Walter Scott wrote: ‘A good honest lad he is and a plain speaking one and I think has no vacillation in his character’.6 His father granted him £400 a year drawn quarterly on Coutts towards his London expenses.7 After celebrating he informed Lothian:

I have got one election over, and did not stick in my speech of thanks, but did not contrive to say all I wanted to say at dinner. I have a most uncommon headache this morning, which comes of drinking without being drunk. We dined 103 and finished 19 dozen kegs and some bottles of wine. I shall be with you in a few days when you shall have a full account of the proceedings.8

Minto’s support and Scott’s election speech, or rather the absence from it of a protectionist statement on corn, fuelled Tory speculation that he was a covert Whig, and this was further encouraged by his arrival in London ‘too late’ to vote on corn law reform and Scottish banking. On his father and Melville’s advice he did not over-react to the reports. Scott Douglas’s attempt to exploit them failed and, having cast a solitary known vote against Lord John Russell’s electoral bribery resolutions, 26 May, Scott was returned unopposed at the general election in June 1826.9 In addresses and on the hustings he asserted his independence and confirmed that he would support Lord Liverpool’s ministry if he deemed their policies satisfactory.10 That summer he and his brothers hunted otters at Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford estate and were guests of Buccleuch for the shooting at Drumlanrig.11

Scott, who corresponded regularly on political issues with his father, Buccleuch, Lothian and Minto, made no significant reported speech in the House before 1831. Canning summoned him in September 1826 to vote for the admission of foreign corn, and after discussing it at length with his father, who cautioned him against concerning himself with the theories of the political economists, he divided uneasily for the Liverpool ministry’s corn bill, 9 Mar. 1827, and corresponded regularly with the leaders of the Union Agricultural Society on the subject.12 To his father’s relief he divided against Catholic claims, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828, with government for the award to the duke of Clarence, 16 Mar. 1827, and against repealing the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828.13 As the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary Planta had predicted, Scott voted for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., but he presented anti-Catholic petitions from Kelso and elsewhere, 12, 16 Mar. 1829. The following session he voted against Lord Blandford’s reform proposals, 18 Feb., the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and abolition of the death penalty for forgery offences, 7 June, having presented a favourable petition from Hawick, 14 May. He presented one supporting the Northern roads bill from Roxburghshire’s freeholders, justices and commissioners of supply, 24 June 1830. He was unopposed at the general election that summer,14 when his main concern was the death of his brother George, taken ill while touring the continent with their brother Francis.15

The Wellington ministry counted Scott among their ‘friends’ and he divided with them on the civil list when they were brought down, 15 Nov. 1830. He wrote to his mother next day:

It is impossible [not] to feel most anxious as to what the turn of public affairs may now be and I am not without great hopes that all may turn out for the best, as the Whig government which the turbulent people of the country are calling out for must now come in and they will hardly be able to do anything very violent with the strong opposition which will necessarily watch their motions. I believe many of those who voted against the government were sincerely voting for it when they found they were in a majority which they did not in the least expect and had only intended ... a bit of populism in voting against government on a finance question. Peel, I am convinced, was glad of it and rather intended he should be beat on a question of retrenchment rather than reform.16

His letters to relations that month reveal a certain disillusionment with the ‘bore’ of parliamentary life and his opposition to reform,17 of which he wrote entertainingly to his sister Anne, the wife of George Baillie of Jerviswoode, 4 Nov. 1830:

We have been through long nights talking a great deal and doing nothing and from all appearance shall go on doing so. I begin to dread that I shall not emerge till very near Xmas and London is truly detestable. It is such a change from being out all day to be now cooped up in the heated atmosphere of the House and when out to trudge about the hard pavement ... I have little amusing to write about unless I give you a full description of how beautiful and elegant the Miss Riddells looked in celestial blue gowns and white feathers in the House of Lords and how I escaped without speaking to them, dreading the hatred of their bright eyes. I have [seen] few of our relations. The last I beheld was poor [Sir George] Murray who at all times is not over beautiful and yesterday while attempting to make a speech in the House looked more as if a letter of his name had been transposed than ever. He did not by any means succeed and I do not think will attempt it often again. He spoke in favour of reform and I am sorry he did, as at the time heard it was uncalled for and I think he will be sorry he has committed himself on it so soon. Last year he was quite against it. I shall today try and dine [with] Lord Egremont as I am tired of bad mutton in the hot coffee room of the ... Commons and must now set out to bespeak a place at the peer’s table. His house is most wonderfully improved by a little paint and paper and when the floors are washed will look not look so uninhabitable as it used to do.18

A campaign to replace Scott with a reformer was under way before the county meeting at Jedburgh, 25 Jan., determined to test him and Lothian by asking them to present and endorse their reform petition, which Scott refused to do, 29 Jan. 1831.19 Inspired by his correspondence and dinners with Sir Walter Scott, who delighted in their exchanges and predicted that he would ‘do remarkably well if he can get rid of his bashfulness’, he publicly condemned the Grey ministry’s reform bills as too sweeping and hosted a meeting of ‘some of the Scotch Members’ in his room, 12 Mar.20 Afterwards, he reported to Lothian:

We have decided that it is not desirable on the main question that we should have any further discussion on the Scotch bill on its being read a first time, reserving our opposition until the second reading which I trust will never take place, as should the English bill be lost, the Scotch one will go along with it. At the same time, Sir George Clerk or someone is to state on the first reading the silence of [the] Scotch on the general question was not from any feeling of assent, but because he the lord advocate had neglected to explain the measure so as to make it comprehensible. Nor did he make it much more so, when, at the end of the debate, we called on him for further explanations and after making a speech of three quarters of an hour he pressed some of the most important points. We certainly ought to petition against the measure, but at the same time it will require some caution to ascertain if there is a sufficiently strong feeling amongst the commissioners of supply and farmers to induce them to petition against what at first sight may appear to be for their advantage or at least a boon or rather bait held out to them. If the farmers dislike the measure it would be most desirable that we should have petitions from every parish. Both sides talk with great confidence of carrying the question, but I still think we are safe, but I fear not with a greater majority than 30. There are many who have not yet made up their minds and every exertion is making to sway votes both in public and private. We have been over the list of Scotch Members with care and I am sorry to say there are 16 in favour and I fear it will be difficult to bring them over.21

Despite the robust tone of his letters to Sir Walter Scott, by the 15th his confidence that the English bill would be lost at its second reading had evaporated, although ‘in conversations I always talk of it as being certain of a majority of 50’, and he was convinced that ‘some measure of reform’ would have to be conceded.22 He did not attend the rival Roxburghshire reform meetings, 21, 22 Mar., but his letter to the former criticized the ministerial measure as badly timed, a promoter of urban-rural divisions, a sop to popular clamour and a violation of vested corporate interests. He condemned the creation of leaseholder votes as destructive of landlord-tenant relations and a step towards the ballot - tenets which he and Francis ensured were incorporated in a petition adopted by the Roxburghshire anti-reformers, 21 Mar., which Scott presented on the 29th.23 After voting against the second reading of English bill, 22 Mar., he described to Lothian how

on the last man walking in and numbers declared I confess I felt as if my nearest relation was dead, a sort of shock I could hardly have conceived it possible to feel on a division in the House and it was evident enough I was not the only one, for many were so, I may almost say overcome as hardly to be unable to speak ... I do not know what is to be the fate of the Scotch bill. The second reading stands for tomorrow and I understand there is a count before it in which case it must stand over till after Easter. I want it debated, as I am sure we can show more bad then ... and that nothing explains a measure so fully to the country as a debate in the House.24

He disputed Hume’s claims that reform petitions like the Renfrewshire one were unsolicited and the people of Scotland almost universally favourable to reform, 25 Mar., and he spoke again of the popular urban clamour for the ministerial bill and the opposition of the ‘wealth and intelligence of Scotland’ to it, when Hunt presented the radical New Lanark petition, 14 Apr. He voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. Backed by Buccleuch, Lothian and Melville, he defeated the reformer Sir William Eliott at the ensuing general election after a bitter and violent campaign, and supported anti-reformers in neighbouring constituencies.25

It had been mooted on the hustings that Scott, whose father had resubmitted his claim to the Polwarth barony, was disqualified from standing as a Scottish peer’s eldest son, but the House rejected Eliott’s petition to this effect, 22 July 1831.26 Nevertheless, what Scott termed ‘this confounded peerage case’, which was unexpectedly postponed sine die, 1 Sept., obliged him to campaign for Buccleuch’s brother Lord John Scott as his likely replacement and undermined his authority in the constituency, especially after it was put about that his father’s intention had been to unseat him as ‘unsatisfactory’ and bring in William, who had qualified as a barrister.27 On 25 Aug. 1831 The Times’s survey of anti-reformers in the 1831 Parliament noted that Scott was ‘only known as the reported dependant of the duke of Buccleuch’. His private papers reveal that he prepared far more speeches on reform in 1831-2 than he was able to deliver and that although present, he frequently chose not to vote.28 He presented a petition from Lauder for the £10 burgh franchise before dividing against the second reading of the reintroduced English reform bill, 6 July, and voted to postpone consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, and against disfranchising non-resident freeholders of Aylesbury, Cricklade, East Retford and New Shoreham, 2 Sept. He divided against the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and against the second reading of the revised English reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831. He and his father tried to rally the Roxburghshire anti-reformers during the Christmas recess and to procure a petition on the lines of the hostile Berwickshire one, but it foundered through lack of support from Buccleuch’s agents.29 Disillusioned, Scott accepted an invitation to go shooting ‘for ten days or so’ from 10 Jan. 1832 with his friend Charles Baring Wall*, in order to meet Lord and Lady Henry Thynne*.30 He voted against the reform bill’s committal, 20 Jan., enfranchising Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and probably the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832.31 On 2 Mar. he upbraided the Scottish Members on the ministerial side of the House for maintaining that the Scottish people were satisfied with the ‘proportion of representation assigned to Scotland ... compared with ... England’. His was one of several Scottish abstentions on the third reading of the malt drawback bill, 2 Apr. He divided against the Irish reform bill at its second reading, 25 May, but no votes or speeches by him on the revised Scottish measure were reported. He divided with opposition on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., but not subsequently, and in the majority for Alexander Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 27 June. He had started for Roxburghshire as an ‘independent’ in April and issued notices, 17 June, but, with success unlikely and his father unwilling to spend, he desisted two days later and canvassed for Lord John Scott, the defeated candidate at the December 1832 general election.32

From October 1832 Scott’s major concern was his work as Sir Walter Scott’s executor, which included plans to save Abbotsford and Scott’s collections and to commemorate him with a monument.33 A ‘firm Conservative’, he did not stand for the Commons again, but, after succeeding his father in the Polwarth barony in 1841, he made his interest available to his brother Francis, Conservative Member for Roxburghshire, 1841-7, and Berwickshire, 1847-59, sat as a representative peer for almost a quarter of a century and served as a lord-in-waiting to Queen Victoria during Lord Derby’s ministries.34 He died at Mertoun House in August 1867, having been predeceased in 1859 by his wife, a sister of his brother-in-law George Baillie Hamilton, 10th earl of Haddington. He was recalled as a militia leader, county lord lieutenant, elder of the Scottish church and breeder of Leicester cattle. His elder son Walter Hugh Hepburne Scott (1838-1920) succeeded him in the barony and estates.35

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. HP Commons, 1754-90, iii. 412-13; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 522-5; M. Warrender, Marchmont and Humes of Polwarth, 101, 107; Caledonian Mercury, 28 Mar. 1822.
  • 2. Illustrated London News, 31 Aug. 1867; NAS GD224/580/3/1/43.
  • 3. NAS GD157/1735; 2354/1; 2411/1-15.
  • 4. NAS GD157/1413-15; 2961/1/8; Perthshire Courier, 11 Apr. 1823.
  • 5. Scott Jnl. i. 154-9, 166; Scott Letters, ix. 502-3, 510; x. 2, 3, 7, 63; NAS GD40/9/322/4, 5; 328/9/1; GD51/1/198/24/21-25, 28, 29; GD157/2961/1/8-11; 2967/5; 2968/1-8, 12; Berwick Advertiser, 22 Apr., 13 May 1826.
  • 6. Scott Letters, ix. 502-3.
  • 7. NAS GD157/2065/2.
  • 8. NAS GD40/9/327/1.
  • 9. NAS GD40/9/307/4; 322/6/1, 2; GD157/2962/37; 2963/4; 2964/1-3; 2965/3; 2967/2-9; 2968/9-11; Scott Letters, x. 63.
  • 10. Kelso Mail, 8, 22 June, 3 July 1826.
  • 11. Scott Letters, x. 86; NAS GD157/2967/10.
  • 12. NAS GD157/2494/1-3; 2499; 2500; 2504; 2960.
  • 13. NAS GD157/2502.
  • 14. Berwick Advertiser, 21 Aug. 1830.
  • 15. NAS GD157/2511; 2976/2-4.
  • 16. NAS GD157/2411/18/1.
  • 17. NAS GD157/2411/16, 17; 2550/9, 10.
  • 18. NAS GD157/2550/8/1-3.
  • 19. Kelso Mail, 17, 27 Jan., 3, 7 Feb. 1831; NAS GD40/9/327/2; GD157/2981/1, 2.
  • 20. Scott Jnl. ii. 134, 135, 139; Scott Letters, xi. 456, 483-4.
  • 21. NAS GD40/9/327/3.
  • 22. NAS GD157/3010; Scott Jnl. ii. 153-4.
  • 23. NAS GD157/2981/4-9; Kelso Mail, 17, 24 Mar., 11 Apr. 1831.
  • 24. NAS GD40/9/327/4.
  • 25. NAS GD40/9/318/7-18; 327/6; GD157/2411/19; 2412; 2978/1-14; 2981/1, 2, 11; 2985-8; GD224/580/3/1/3/9-11; Scott Jnl. ii. 170; Kelso Mail, 23 May 1831.
  • 26. Kelso Mail, 25 July 1831.
  • 27. NAS GD40/9/327/7-10; 345/1; GD224/580/3/1/13-24, 37-38, 54, 55; The Times, 2 Sept. 1831.
  • 28. NAS GD157/3010.
  • 29. NAS GD224/507/1/18-20; 508/3/2/1-6; Kelso Mail, 19, 22 Dec. 1831; Cockburn Letters, 377-8, 382.
  • 30. NAS GD157/2411/21.
  • 31. Kelso Chron. 30 Mar. 1832.
  • 32. NAS GD40/9/327/11-14; GD157/3002/1-3; 3010; GD224/580/3/2/7-16; The Times, 31 Dec. 1832.
  • 33. NAS GD40/9/327/16.
  • 34. NAS GD157/1417, 1418, 1473, 1477; Ann. Reg. (1841), Chron. pp. 240-1.
  • 35. Ann. Reg. (1859), Chron. p. 469; Kelso Mail, 17 Aug. 1867.