PRINGLE, Alexander (1791-1857), of Whytbank and Yair, Selkirk

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



1830 - 1832
1835 - 23 Jan. 1846

Family and Education

b. 30 Jan. 1791, 1st s. of Alexander Pringle of Whytbank and Mary, da. of Sir Alexander Dick, 3rd bt., of Prestonfield, Edinburgh. educ. Selkirk; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1809. m. 12 Jan. 1830, his cos. Agnes Joanna, da. of Sir William Dick, 4th bt., of Prestonfield, 1s. suc. fa. 1827. d. 2 Sept. 1857.

Offices Held

Ld. of treasury Sept. 1841-Apr. 1845; principal kpr. of sasines [S] 1846-d.


The Pringles of Whytbank were descended from Robert Hoppringle, esquire to the 4th earl of Douglas (duke of Touraine), with whom he was killed at the battle of Verneuil in 1424. Whytbank was acquired later that century, and Yair was added to it by James Pringle (d. 1667), Member for Selkirkshire in the Scottish Parliament, 1628-33. Alexander Pringle, this Member’s father, was born in 1747, entered the Madras civil service of the East India Company as a writer in 1776 and retired as a senior merchant in 1790, soon after succeeding his soldier brother John to Whytbank. He bought back the Yair estate, which had been sold to the duke of Buccleuch, and built a new mansion there. In 1812 he secured the patent office of chamberlain of Ettrick Forest.1 His eldest son Alexander, the only one of his five sons not to enter the service of the East India Company, matriculated at Cambridge in 1809, but did not graduate. In July 1815 he accompanied Sir Walter Scott, who was sheriff of Selkirkshire and had mentioned Pringle and his father in the introduction to Canto II of Marmion in 1808, on an excursion to the field of Waterloo and Paris, along with his county neighbour and Cambridge contemporary John Scott of Gala and the advocate Robert Bruce. Pringle was described by Scott at the time as being ‘about five feet six inches [with] light hair and eyes, round face, and slightly made’; he was generally known as ‘little Pringle’ in his adult life. At the beginning of September 1815 he and Bruce travelled to Switzerland.2 He was in Florence in late 1818, and in April 1820 he served with the Midlothian yeomanry in quelling unrest in Glasgow, ‘the land of the radicals’, from where he reported to Robert Dundas of Arniston:

We lead a life of constant uncertainty and expectation, which is abundantly interesting ... Every night brings some new event, and we are kept constantly on the alert ... We never know what we have to do the next hour ... I am living in capital quarters, the guest of the lord provost.3

He had a taste and talent for genealogy, on which subject he liked to baffle Scott (a distant kinsman) at his home at Abbotsford.4 On the death of his father, who left personalty sworn under £3,000, in February 1827, he succeeded to the family estates.5

In May 1829 he informed the 5th duke of Buccleuch, who had come of age the previous year, that he intended to offer for Selkirkshire on the next vacancy and that he had three years earlier secured the approval for this plan of Buccleuch’s uncle Lord Montagu, acting head of the family during the duke’s minority. At the same time, he explained that his ultimate object was the sheriffship of a Scottish county, even though this would disqualify him from Parliament: ‘I should certainly prefer being for a time in Parliament if I might thereby hope ultimately to obtain an office of superior emolument’.6 He duly came forward for Selkirkshire in the room of the retiring sitting Member at the general election of 1830 and was returned unopposed.7 The Wellington ministry listed him among their ‘friends’, and he was in their minority in the division on the civil list which brought them down, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented petitions for the abolition of slavery, 9, 22 Nov. 1830, 28 Mar. 1831. He alleged that a Dunbartonshire reform petition had been covertly got up, 26 Feb., and complained that the Grey ministry’s Scottish reform scheme destroyed chartered rights, 19 Mar. He presented and endorsed the Selkirkshire freeholders’ petition against the ‘highly objectionable’ proposal to unite it with Peeblesshire to return one Member and imputed ‘partial and unworthy motives’ to its authors, 22 Mar., when he voted against the second reading of the English bill. On 25 Mar. he defended the signatories of the Edinburgh inhabitants’ anti-reform petition. A staunch churchman, he presented and supported a petition from the Bible Society of Edinburgh for the right to import bibles from England, 18 Apr. 1831. Next day he voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the English reform bill. At the ensuing general election he came in again unopposed for Selkirkshire, where two potential challengers, who were also anti-reformers, were persuaded to back down. A ‘blow in the eye from my horse’s head’ did not materially hamper him.8 On 15 May he wrote to Buccleuch welcoming ‘the triumphant result of the Lanarkshire election’, but deploring the violence which had marked it: ‘It is quite a new feature in Scotland to bring up the mob and excite them to canvass the election, and we have on this occasion had some notable examples’.9

He divided against the second reading of the reintroduced English reform bill, 6 July, to the bitter end for an adjournment, 12 July (when his own motion mustered a minority of 24), for use of the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, against Chippenham’s inclusion in B, 27 July, and to preserve the voting rights of freeholders of the four sluiced boroughs, 2 Sept. On 4 Aug. he opposed the ‘revolutionary’ creation of the new metropolitan districts as ‘likely to introduce, ultimately, a division of the representation ... according to the mere rule of numbers’, which would adversely affect Scotland. He had given considerable thought to the detailed proposals of the Scottish bill,10 and said that the disfranchisement of the Anstruther Burghs was unfair, 6 Aug., and urged ministers to reconsider their treatment of the Scottish counties, 13 Aug. On the 27th he presented and endorsed a petition from Selkirk against the proposed inclusion of Falkirk in its district. He brought up another Selkirkshire petition against the merger with Peeblesshire and gave notice of a motion to oppose this, 3 Sept. He divided against the passage of the English bill, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept. He wanted Scottish freeholders to be compensated for loss of superiorities and condemned the bill as a ‘rash attempt to sweep away all our ancient laws, which will materially lessen the value of landed property in Scotland’, 27 Sept. On 3 Oct. he spoke at some length against the measure, dwelling on the danger of introducing the ‘uproar, riot, dissipation, corruption and confusion’ of ‘populous elections’ to Edinburgh and Glasgow, where most of the new voters would ‘belong to a low grade of society’. He professed willingness to accept a limited revision of the old system, but predicted that the bill as it stood would destroy the wholesome influence of the Scottish gentry. On 4 Oct. he denounced the ministerial decision to allow Selkirkshire and Peeblesshire to return a Member each by the expedient of removing the burghs of Selkirk and Peebles from the Linlithgow district and giving their qualified householders a county vote. He defended the Scottish yeomanry and damned the ‘most unwise act’ of their partial disbandment in 1827, 27 June. He was in the minorities of 11 for the Irish union of parishes bill, 19 Aug., and of 47 to terminate the Maynooth grant, 26 Sept. He voted to censure the Irish administration for interfering in the Dublin election, 23 Aug., to suspend the Liverpool writ, 5 Sept., and for inquiry into the effects of renewal of the Sugar Refinery Act on the West India interest, 12 Sept. He presented Scottish agriculturists’ petitions against the use of molasses in brewing and distilling, 27 Aug., 3 Sept. He defended the grant for the Society for the Suppression of Vice, 5 Sept., called the appointment of the Rev. Sheepshanks as a parliamentary boundary commissioner ‘a desecration of the holy office of a minister of the gospel’, 13 Sept., and on 16 Sept. asserted that sympathy for the Deacles in their complaint against William Bingham Baring* had been got up by a ‘reckless’ press keen to traduce ‘the characters of men whose virtues or public spirit have placed them in a prominent situation’. He opposed the bill to abolish the Scottish exchequer court, but was beaten by 95-31 in his bid to have the debate adjourned, 7 Oct. 1831.

Pringle voted against the second reading of the revised English reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He divided against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July. A motion to add him to the committee on the Scottish exchequer court bill was defeated, 2 Feb.; he said on 10 Apr. that it would ‘do more to effect a change in the institutions of Scotland than anything ... since the Union’. He voted against the malt drawback bill, 2 Apr., and for the Liverpool disfranchisement bill, 23 May. He supported the prayer of Scottish petitions against the proposed system of interdenominational education for Ireland, 16 Apr., and criticized it from his staunch Protestant standpoint, 19 June, 5 July. He denounced the Scottish reform bill as ‘an entire subversion of the ancient constitution’, 21 May; protested against the arrangement for Peebles and Selkirk and called for an increase in the county representation, 1 June, and moved unsuccessfully to have the plan for the revamped burgh districts referred to a select committee, 15 June, when he asserted that ministers had engineered it ‘to augment the power and influence of their own supporters’. On the third reading, 27 June, he accused them of truckling to the political unions and, while admitting the existence of defects in the old system, declared that ‘the risk of ruin was greater than the prospect of effecting improvement’. He divided against the third reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and to preserve freemen’s rights, 2 July. He may have voted against the Irish party processions bill, 25 June. He supported the appointment of a select committee on infringements of the Sabbath and was named to it, 3 July. On the 13th he said that for the first time ‘scenes of dissipation’, produced by large scale treating, were occurring in the Scottish counties. He was given a month’s leave to attend to urgent business, 20 July 1832.

Pringle stood for Selkirkshire at the general election in December, but lost to a Liberal by nine votes in a poll of 267. He blamed ‘intimidation’ and his opponent’s influence over the householders of Selkirk and Galashiels, ‘bound together by a reform club or political union’, and anticipated, as he told Sir Robert Peel, ‘much jobbing, combined with many reckless experiments ... and ... a serious check to the prosperity of Scotland’. He regained the seat in 1835, retained it in 1837 and came in unopposed in 1841.11 He was described in 1838 as ‘a man of some consideration among the Scotch Conservatives, though comparatively little known in the House’, where his ‘very respectable talents’ as ‘a calm and quiet speaker’ usually gained him a hearing.12 He was made a lord of the treasury in Peel’s second ministry, but resigned in 1845 in protest at the decision to enhance the Maynooth grant.13 He retired from Parliament in February 1846 after replacing the late William Dundas* as keeper of sasines. He died at Yair in September 1857 and was succeeded by his only child Alexander Pringle (1837-98).

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. A. Pringle, Recs. Pringles, 229, 241-2.
  • 2. Ibid. 242-4; J. Scott, Jnl. of a Tour to Waterloo and Paris (1842), 1, 11, 16, 44, 77, 193; Lockhart, Scott, 315, 321; Cockburn Letters, 419.
  • 3. Arniston Mems. 99, 310-11.
  • 4. Scott Jnl. 508.
  • 5. PROB 11/1726/320; IR26/1139/527.
  • 6. NAS GD224/581/4, Pringle to Buccleuch, 23 May 1829.
  • 7. Pringle mss box 16, Pringle to J. Pringle, 16 June; NAS GD224/581/4, Pringle to Buccleuch, 10 June, 2 Aug.; Caledonian Mercury, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 8. NAS GD157/2978/14; 2981/10; GD224/581/4, Buccleuch to A. Eliott Lockhart, 26 Apr., reply, 29 Apr., Pringle to Buccleuch, 2 May; Caledonian Mercury, 30 Apr., 21 May 1831; Scott Jnl. 650.
  • 9. NAS GD224/581/4.
  • 10. Ibid. Pringle to Buccleuch, 17 June 1831.
  • 11. Add. 40403, f. 174; 40410, f. 269; 40424, f. 125.
  • 12. [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Lords and Commons (1838), ii. 226-9.
  • 13. Parker, Peel, ii. 495; iii. 86, 425.