MACLEOD, John Norman (1788-1835), of Dunvegan Castle, Skye, Inverness and Great Cumberland Street, Mdx.

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



9 Apr. 1828 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 3 Aug. 1788, at Cawnpore, 1st. surv. s. of Norman Macleod† of Dunvegan and 2nd w. Sarah, da. of Norman Stackhouse, second member of council of Bombay. educ. Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1804. m. 16 Nov. 1809, Anne, da. of John Stephenson, banker, of Great Ormond Street, Mdx. and Mersham, Kent, 3s. 6da. suc. fa. as 23rd chief of Macleod 1801. d. 25 Mar. 1835.

Offices Held

Cornet 12 Drag. 1807, lt. 1808.


Macleod was born at Cawnpore towards the end of his father’s posting there with the East Indian army. The family returned to Scotland with an estimated £100,000 in time for Norman Macleod, the ‘laird of the Isle of Skye’, to contest Inverness-shire successfully at the 1790 election. His subsequent breach with Pitt and Dundas, defeat at Milborne Port at the general election of 1796, forced sales, drunken excesses, depression and sudden death in 1801 left Macleod heir to estates encumbered with debts of over £33,000.1 He made his early career in the army, and the family’s historian recounts that he fulfilled his obligations as a highland chief to supply a band of men to fight in the Peninsula, and permitted his bride to make extensive improvements to Dunvegan Castle.2 His burning ambition was to represent Inverness-shire. Financial constraints deterred him from standing there at the general election of 1812 and in 1818 he deferred to Charles Grant*, the namesake son of the purchaser (for £90,000) of his Glenelg estate, who in turn promised to use his influence with the Liverpool government to press Macleod’s case for ‘some mark of distinction’ commensurate with his ‘status as a highland chieftain’.3 The Macleods were claimants to the Lovat peerage.4 Writing to the premier Lord Liverpool shortly before the general election of 1820, when Macleod’s Scottish prospects remained bleak, Grant, then Irish secretary, provided the following account of him:

He is a young man and had himself entertained views to the county of Inverness, which his father represented, but at the last election he behaved in a very handsome manner towards me, withdrawing his own pretensions and proposing me to the freeholders. Afterwards he represented to me the mortifying situation in which he found himself, as the head of an old distinguished family with a considerable estate, left without a rank which many of his clan had obtained.5

Macleod was already in London in search of a parliamentary seat, but Bishop’s Castle and Boston, suggested by the government’s election managers, proved inappropriate.6 On 5 Mar. 1820 he informed his wife:

My politics I am sorry to say do not thrive. Young Charles Grant has done a great deal in the way of recommending me to the proper authorities, but I am yet in as much uncertainty as I ever was and quite as insane as Don Quixote about Dulcina. However, if I fail, I shall endeavour to bear my disappointment like a hero and do as many other people have done before me, ‘wait till the next time’.7

Combining politics with business and family visits to Edinburgh, where he was pursued at law by Captain Neil Macleod, his former tenant at Gesto, Skye,8 he waited on George IV with his clansmen at Sir Walter Scott’s request in August 1822, vainly pressed his claims to a Scottish constituency in the event of a by-election vacancy and in 1824 leased Culloden House with a view to boosting his prospects in the Inverness Burghs and Inverness-shire, where his relations with the Grants had deteriorated.9 Hampered, however, by his opposition to Catholic relief, which Melville advocated, and the duplicity of his ‘friend’ Evan Baillie† of Dochfour, he postponed his challenge and went south to seek a seat at the dissolution in 1826.10 He discovered that his brother-in-law Spencer Perceval* had failed to mention him to the treasury secretary John Herries*, ‘as Nancy said he would’, and, finding ‘these treasury folks ... very tiring’, he obtained an interview with the 5th marquess of Queensberry’s brother Keith Douglas* at the admiralty, which brought late offers of the treasury interest in ‘Coventry, Worcester or Hull, all three very undesirable with more than a fair chance of defeat’.11 Before returning to Skye, he instructed the London attorney Robert Broughton, an acquaintance of his roguish brother-in-law Rowland Stephenson*, to contact him in the event of a vacancy (Ayr Burghs, St. Ives and Sudbury were mentioned), and made it known that he would pay up to £4,000 for a safe seat.12 After failing to secure a nomination against Grant in Inverness-shire at the by-election in February 1828, he gave up Culloden House and took a town house in London, where he lobbied on behalf of the distressed kelp trade.13 His prospects of a seat were boosted in March by Stephenson, who brokered the purchase of a letter relinquishing the representation of Sudbury from the discredited rogue John Wilks II* in Bruges, to ‘use or keep back’ at his discretion’.14 Thus empowered, and assisted by Sir Lachlan Maclean and Dr. McQueen, two Skyemen resident in Sudbury, Macleod canvassed the corporation and the borough’s London freemen as a ‘No Popery’ candidate. Standing on the locally denigrated ‘Scotch Melville interest’, he defeated the young banker John Abel Smith* at the by-election in April at a cost of £5,000.15 He sent his first frank to his wife, and disclosed that when he took his seat, 17 Apr. 1828, sponsored by Perceval and Sir James Mackenzie, the Speaker remarked that ‘he hoped I should find the air of the House more pure than that of Sudbury - very fractious wasn’t it?’16 His family hurried to London to assist with entertainments commensurate with his new status. The Book of Dunvegan records that Count d’Albaine, Henry Brougham*, Robert Peel* and the composer Mendelssohn were among their early guests.17

Macleod, as a Presbyterian, had agonized over entrusting his daughters to a Catholic governess, and being too late to vote in the Commons, he listened intently to debates in the Lords on repeal of the Test Acts.18 He voted with the Wellington ministry on the corn laws, 22 Apr. 1828,19 and chancery delays, 24 Apr., but cast wayward votes on the ordnance estimates, 4 July, and the silk bill, in which, as he explained on presenting their petitions, Sudbury and the merchant Alexander Macduff had vested interests, 14 July. Making his main contribution on Scottish issues, he praised the salmon fisheries bill, 19 June, and seconded O’Neill’s abortive motion for protection for the kelp industry, 15 July. He voted against Catholic relief, 12 May 1828, and as the patronage secretary Planta predicted, he remained a committed opponent of emancipation in 1829. He presented and endorsed hostile petitions from Sudbury, 16 Feb., and Tain, 6 Mar., divided against the measure, 6, 18, 23, 30 Mar., and presented anti-Catholic petitions from Inverness, 25 Mar.20 He ordered returns on kelp imports, 16 Feb., and was appointed to the committee on Scottish entails, 2 Mar. He testified to the desperate state of the silk trade in Sudbury, Long Melford and Glemsford on bringing up their protectionist petitions, 6 Apr. Macleod’s only parliamentary action that attracted widespread publicity arose in consequence of a summons he received on 10 June 1829 to attend the court of common pleas as a juror. Believing that Members were exempt from service, he had refused to attend, and he raised the matter as a breach of privilege motion, 12 June, which he withdrew on hearing that the summons had been issued when the House was not in session and was consequently valid. He voted against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform scheme, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He voted against Robert Grant’s Jewish emancipation bill, 5 Apr., 17 May, making forgery a non-capital offence, 7 June, and reduction of the grant for South American missions, 7 June 1830. He toyed with attempting Sudbury at the general election that summer, but the ministry agreed before the dissolution to endorse his candidature against the Huskissonite Charles Grant in Inverness-shire.21 They had denied him the ‘weight ... attached to office’ which he had told Melville and Peel were essential to his success, and his prospects were further blighted by the refusal of the duke of Gordon and others to oppose Grant, whom they predicted Wellington would soon re-appoint to office. After trailing by 34-25, he did ‘not press the election committee to a vote’.22 Reporting on 3 Sept. 1830 to Melville, he concluded:

I am a considerable sufferer by my bad fortune. I lose my seat for Sudbury, where I might have been returned at a moderate expense; I have spent a great deal of money without effect; I have been obliged to take upon myself other men’s debts to some amount, and I have entailed on myself the vexation of three lawsuits to make good my rejected votes. It will be no little consolation to me in all my trouble to be assured that I retain the good opinion of your Lordship and that you are satisfied that no exertion has been wanting on my part to strengthen the hands of an administration the principles of which I most cordially approve.23

Commenting on Macleod’s request for continued government support, Planta observed to Peel that he was ‘sure no good inclination or exertion was wanting on his part to obtain success. What I doubt in him is his judgement, and of any mention of that I steer clear’.24

Macleod’s attempts to return to the Commons failed. He vainly tested his strength in Inverness-shire in November 1830, when Grant’s appointment as the Grey’s ministry’s president of the board of control produced a by-election,25 and went to Sudbury at the dissolution in April 1831, but desisted there after the sitting anti-reformer Sir John Benn Walsh, who privately dismissed him as a ‘slow, cautious, pottering man [who] wants decision and is much afraid of expense’, refused to agree to a coalition.26 Walsh informed their party’s election managers in Charles Street that Macleod’s refusal to engage the ‘Goody or low party’ had risked sacrificing a seat to the reformers.27 He was narrowly defeated in Cromartyshire the following month, and in Inverness-shire in 1832 and December 1834, when he finished only seven votes behind Grant.28 Grant had previously rejected a plea that both parties should absent themselves from the election on account of Macleod’s illness. Macleod attended, his health deteriorated and he died less than three months later. His eldest son Norman Macleod (1812-95), who inherited Dunvegan with debts of £64,161, succeeded him as clan chief. He refused an offer from Grant, on his elevation to the Lords as Baron Glenelg in May 1835, of an uncontested return for Inverness-shire.29

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. R.C. Macleod, Macleods, the Hist. and Traditions (1929), 97, 99, 105, 110-11; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 543-4; iv. 504-8; Oxford DNB sub Norman Macleod.
  • 2. Macleod, 110-11.
  • 3. Macleod mss 1019/1-3; Add. 38272, ff. 105-7.
  • 4. Macleod mss 1189/1-52; The Times, 11 May 1885.
  • 5. NAS GD23/6/745/125; Add. 38282, ff. 107-8.
  • 6. Macleod mss 1055/1, 2.
  • 7. Ibid. 1055/3.
  • 8. Ibid. 286/1-6; NAS CS271/975, 58306, 65180, 66177, 66188, 73733.
  • 9. NAS GD23/6/583/3; 600/1; 746/87; Macleod mss 909; 932/1; 933/1; 1056/1-9; 1059/1-5.
  • 10. NAS GD23/6/583/4, 8; 601/2; 612; 746/85; Macleod mss 1061/1.
  • 11. Macleod mss 1061/2, 3, 5.
  • 12. Ibid. 936-8; 1061/6-9.
  • 13. Ibid. 1062/2, 3, 5, 13.
  • 14. Ibid. 1062/7, 9, 10; The Times, 8 Apr. 1828.
  • 15. The Times, 27, 28 Mar., 12 Apr.; Suff. Chron. 12 Apr; Suff. Herald, 16 Apr. 1828; NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, p. 76; G36, f. 17; Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), handbill P581/5; ‘Sudbury Borough’ (ms penes A.T. Copsey in 1991).
  • 16. Macleod mss 1062/9-13.
  • 17. Ibid. 1062/14, 15; Macleod, 108; Bk. of Dunvegan ed. R.C. Macleod, ii. 26-30.
  • 18. Macleod mss 1061/4; 1062/13.
  • 19. Ibid. 1062/13.
  • 20. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Sudbury borough recs. EE 501/2/16b.
  • 21. Ormathwaite mss G35, f. 98; G37, f.8; Macpherson Grant mss 690; Wellington mss WP1/1130/49; NAS GD23/6/613/3/1; 659/1.
  • 22. Macleod mss 1066/1-4; NLS mss 2, ff. 153-66; Wellington mss WP1/1134/11; 1135/21; 1138/9; 1139/19; The Times, 1, 2 Sept. 1830.
  • 23. NLS mss 2, f. 168.
  • 24. Add. 40401, f. 169.
  • 25. NAS GD23/6/583/27; 614/5/1, 2; 746/131/1, 2.
  • 26. Ormathwaite mss FG/1/5, pp. 177-8; Ipswich Jnl. 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 27. Ormathwaite mss G39, f. 45.
  • 28. NAS GD23/6/683; The Times, 7 June 1831, 4 Dec. 1834.
  • 29. Macleod, 108, 111-13; The Times, 7 Feb. 1895.