CARNEGIE, David (1675-1729)

CARNEGIE, David (1675–1729)

suc. fa. 3 Oct. 1688 (a minor) as 4th earl of NORTHESK [S]

RP [S] 1708, 1710, 1713

First sat 3 Dec. 1708; last sat 9 July 1714

b. c. Sept. 1675, 1st s. of David Carnegie, 3rd earl of Northesk [S], and Elizabeth, da. of John Lindsay, 17th earl of Crawford [S]. m. 29 Jan. 1697, Margaret (d.1763), da. of Sir James Wemyss, Ld. Burntisland [S], sis. of David Wemyss, 4th earl of Wemyss [S], 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 6da. (1 d.v.p.). d. 14 Jan. 1729.1

PC [S] 1698–1708; commr. exch. [S] 1698–?1704, chamberlain’s ct. 1702, treasury [S] 1705-8, chamberlainry and trade [S] 1711–14, police [S] 1714; adm. depute, North Britain by 1709.2

Commr. supply, Perth. 1696, justiciary for Highlands 1702; sheriff, Forfar 1702–d.3

Associated with: Ethie Castle, Forfar.

Likenesses: oil on canvas by unknown artist, c.1700, National Trust for Scotland, House of Dun, Angus; oil on canvas by circle of Sir G. Kneller, 1700, sold 2010.4

As a political figure Northesk was cautious and calculating, very much the prisoner of his straitened financial circumstances, which required him to seek, and to hold, office. He enjoyed a range of influential political connections in Scotland, including his wife’s stepfather George Mackenzie, earl of Cromarty [S], and his own brother-in-law James Graham, duke of Montrose [S]. For much of his career he was a follower and political client of James Douglas, 2nd duke of Queensberry [S], under whose wing he settled when he came of age and took his seat in the Scottish parliament in 1698. As a stalwart of Queensberry’s court party he received a sheaf of remunerative offices and appointments – privy councillor, commissioner of the Scottish exchequer and of the chamberlain’s court and justiciary of the Highlands. Although he followed Queensberry into opposition during the ‘New Party’ experiment in 1704, he was by temperament a natural supporter of administration, ‘always adhering on all occasions firmly to the interest of the crown without cash’. He was one of the few Queensberryites to retain his place on the Scottish privy council during their leader’s brief period in the wilderness.5 He returned to government with Queensberry in 1705 and in the words of a pro-Union peer ‘behaved very well’ in the parliamentary session which saw the ratification of the treaty. He had previously expressed reservations over the idea of an Union, predicting that the difficulties which ‘may arise on a national account, the jealousies of Church and Kirk, the numberless needless divisions amongst ourselves, joined with the fears of some places being hewed ... will ... prove no small impediments’.6

Northesk expected to be rewarded for his support for the Union, but although his salary of £700 a year as a treasury commissioner was continued until August 1708 he did not receive the ‘gift for life’ that he requested, because the queen herself was reluctant to confirm the grant.7 Nor was he among those selected in the first cohort of representative peers in February 1707. Queensberry’s lieutenant, John Erskine, 22nd earl of Mar [S], informed a correspondent that ‘three others who had been very serviceable in the Union pretended to be of the number’ of court candidates, including Northesk and Archibald Primrose, earl of Rosebery [S]. Mar continued: ‘there was but room for one, so two of them behoved to be left out. It was thought my Lord Roseberry had the most favourable pretensions.’8 Any lingering reservations about Northesk were challenged, however, by an appreciation of his grasp of the problems confronting government in the new state of Great Britain. His concern at Scottish financial management was particularly evident: in February 1708 he told his brother-in-law Montrose that in any enquiry the treasury would ‘make a very odd figure, and I’m sure it will be thought they have been strange sort of people for some while in it’.9

Just as Mar was coming to believe that it would be as well to have Northesk in Parliament, Northesk was convincing himself that he ought to secure a place as a representative peer. He wrote to Montrose: ‘we hear the old humour of disagreeing reigns amongst you; I did not believe … it would have begun to appear so soon’.10 Irritation at the disputes amongst his countrymen in Parliament may go a long way towards explaining his willingness to stand as a court candidate in 1708. Because Mar was ready to support him he was added to the court list laid before the peers of Scotland at Holyrood Abbey on 17 June. He himself voted for the court ticket and in turn received the votes of his fellow Queenberryites, followers of John Campbell, 2nd duke of Argyll [S], and some cavaliers, altogether enough to ensure his election.11 The court could look upon his election as a victory, but once elected Northesk did not do much to dispel the impression that he regarded parliamentary politics as an unfortunate necessity. Although the new Parliament began on 16 Nov. 1708, it was not until 3 Dec. that he first took his seat.

Northesk attended 57 per cent of the sitting days of the session of 1708-9. He was in the House throughout early January 1709 when it considered the petitions submitted by James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S], and members of the Squadrone against the returns in the representative peers’ election. He was himself involved in these as a consequence of having held the proxy of John Lyon, earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne [S], and because of doubts raised about the list of votes he submitted from the earl of Cromarty.12 As the committee entrusted to consider the petitions reported on 17 Jan., Strathmore’s proxy to Northesk was objected to because it was ‘signed, but not sealed’, while Cromarty’s list was alleged to be defective because he only cast four votes, for those whom he called his ‘children’ (including Northesk).13 Another complaint raised by the petitioners was that Queensberry should not have been able to vote in the elections as he had recently (in May 1708) been created a peer of Great Britain, as duke of Dover. On 21 Jan. Northesk fought against the coalition of English Whigs, the Squadrone and Hamilton by voting in favour of Queensberry’s eligibility to vote for Scottish representative peers. Regarding Northesk’s own case, on 29 Jan. the House upheld the validity both of Cromarty’s list of four names and of Strathmore’s signed, but unsealed, proxy. The committee on the petitions was ordered to recalculate the votes cast in the election based upon the resolutions of the House, and when the amended totals were reported on 1 Feb. Northesk was still secure in his place despite having lost nine votes.

Northesk was again present on 11 and 16 Mar. 1709 for the first two readings of the bill ‘for improving the union of the two kingdoms’. When it was moved in the committee of the whole House on 19 Mar. that the bill should extend to Scotland the English laws against treason, Northesk, with the other Scots in the House, voted in the minority against this perceived infringement of Scottish judicial independence.14 Northesk last sat in the House for the session on 23 Mar., while the heated debates on this bill were still ensuing, and his departure did have a negative effect for the Scottish voting bloc. On 26 Mar. there was a division in the committee of the whole on a further clause to allow the accused in treason trials to be given prior to the trial a list of the witnesses against him. Charles Hay, styled Lord Yester (later 3rd marquess of Tweeddale [S]), attributed the defeat of this clause to the departure from the capital of both Northesk and David Boyle, earl of Glasgow [S], for the clause was only lost through the negative presumed by an equal vote.15

Northesk did not sit in the 1709-10 session until 17 Jan. 1710 and with this late start (the session had begun on 15 Nov. 1709), he attended only just over half of the sitting days. His only significantly notable contribution was during the trial of Henry Sacheverell. From 14 to 18 Mar. 1710 Northesk, with most of the Tories in the House, subscribed to five protests against resolutions which furthered the proceedings against Sacheverell. Lord Yester singled him out as one of six Scottish peers opposed to the motions of 14 Mar. to proceed in the consideration of precedents in the trial.16 On 20 Mar. he was one of only four Scots peers, with Hamilton, Mar, and his brother-in-law Wemyss, to vote for the doctor’s acquittal and he added his name to the protest against the guilty sentence. John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, was left baffled and nonplussed by this decision by one whom he was sure would have voted with the court. He would have thought, as he wrote to his duchess, that among the Scots peers, Northesk, Hamilton and Wemyss, ‘would have been on the other side’.17

Northesk attended the peers’ election on 10 Nov. 1710, and was easily re-elected, having been included on the court list agreed in advance by Mar with Hamilton and Argyll.18 By this time he seems to have attached himself to Mar, who had sought preferment for him before the election as ‘a pretty fellow, and of a good spirit, can be very useful in the elections of both peers and commoners, and has been very ill used’.19 Richard Dongworth, the duchess of Buccleuch’s chaplain, in his analysis of the Scottish representation in the new Parliament, classed Northesk under the ambiguous category of ‘Episcopal Tory, rather court’, while estimating his annual income at ‘not £2,000’.20 In the other analysis of the representative peers drawn up shortly after the election he was classed as being ‘for the Union’. Northesk took his seat in the House on 11 Dec. 1710, a little more than two weeks into the new Parliament. In this first session of 1710-11 he corroborated Dongworth’s opinion, acting as a diligent–he was present on 80 per cent of the sitting days of the session–and loyal, if unobtrusive, supporter of the new Tory administration. He joined with the Tories in condemning the conduct of the previous Whig ministers and their favoured generals in the conduct of the war in Spain. On 9 Jan. 1711 Northesk and the other Scottish representative peers voted against a Whig motion aiming to forestall a resolution extolling the account of Charles Mordaunt, 3rd earl of Peterborough, which condemned the actions of the Whig generals before and during the Allied defeat at Almanza.21 Three days later he voted to censure the conduct of the previous secretary of state, Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland, in relation to the campaign in the Peninsula and the failed assault on the French naval base at Toulon.22 On 1 Mar. Northesk cast his vote with other Scottish Tories against adjourning consideration of the appeal of the Episcopalian minister James Greenshields against the sentence passed against him by the Edinburgh magistrates; after this vote the House agreed without a division to reverse the sentence.23

A list of those Tory ‘patriots’ who had distinguished themselves in the session, printed in the summer following the prorogation of 12 June 1711, included Northesk’s name. However, to political insiders Northesk’s allegiances were not so clear-cut. Mar still entertained doubts about him, not least because the earl’s poverty made him restive, a condition exacerbated by the belief that he was owed compensation from government for loss of office at the Union, something that could easily fester into a grievance. Mar had repeatedly asked the lord treasurer Robert Harley, earl of Oxford, to do something for him.24 The connection with Montrose was also a cause for concern. In early June, as the session was drawing to a close, Mar proposed to Oxford that he might use Northesk to approach the veteran Squadrone Member George Baillie, with a scheme for putting the lord chamberlain’s office into commission.25 As well as a temptation to Baillie, this would be a means of satisfying Northesk’s pretensions. In due course Northesk made contact with Baillie, who, when introduced to Oxford by Mar, revealed that Northesk had also spoken on this matter to Montrose. Montrose, in a letter to Baillie of 26 Oct., made light of this approach from the court, doubtless fearing that it compromised him in the eyes of Baillie and other party colleagues, and felt ‘he need not trouble himself to make any return’.26 Because he was uncertain how far he had successfully allayed the suspicions raised by the discovery of their correspondence, Montrose urged his brother-in-law to act cautiously. Northesk was appointed to the commission of chamberlainry established by the ministry in November 1711, at a salary of £1,000 a year.27

He nevertheless refused to come up to town when summoned by the ministry for the first days of the session of 1711-12 ‘till he get a letter telling him that, notwithstanding the office he lately got, his past services shall be considered’.28 His proxy with Hugh Campbell, 3rd earl of Loudoun [S], was registered from 7 Dec. 1711, the first day of the session. After the vote of 20 Dec. denying Hamilton the right to sit in the House by virtue of his British peerage as duke of Brandon, George Baillie observed to his wife that ‘there were six of the Scots peers not come up which lost the point’, which number included Northesk.29 Presumably his proxy with Loudoun, one of those Scots present that day, was not counted because proxies do not appear, surprisingly, to have been called for in the final decision in the House which saw the defeat of Hamilton’s claims. Northesk did not sit in the House to vacate his proxy until 9 Feb. 1712 and after this late start he attended only 56 per cent of the session’s sitting days. Shortly after his arrival in the capital in February, Northesk presented a letter to Oxford about arrears of money owing to Montrose. He reported to his brother-in-law the duke that ‘we being in the House, I took occasion to do it there; he [Oxford] did not open it, but said he would give me the answer.’ The exchange had been witnessed by Mar, who lost no time in cross-examining Northesk. ‘He asked me if the treasurer had been speaking of a former affair’, Northesk wrote to Montrose. He continued, ‘I told him not, but that I was giving a letter from you, and I thought best to tell him about what it was, for I know he would otherwise, and perhaps he might have other thoughts’.30 Northesk judged it prudent not to be seen in Oxford’s company too often and for the rest of February and early March only discussed this matter once with the treasurer, preferring to negotiate instead with an under-secretary.31

On 17 Mar. 1712 the commissioners of public accounts presented a report to the Commons alleging financial mismanagement in Scotland arising from the failure to appoint new treasury commissioners after the death of William III. According to the report, between the death of William III and the Union there were no acting commissioners of the Scottish treasury and ‘the whole public revenue of Scotland was … left without any legal direction or government’.32 One of the most serious incidents concerned a loan of £20,000 from the English to the Scottish treasury at the end of 1706, to cover deficiencies on the civil list. The problem was that no terms had been settled for repayment of the loan and the report questioned whether any of the money had even been applied to the civil list. Though the Scots in Parliament were preoccupied at this time with the Episcopal communion toleration bill, Northesk realized the dangerous implications of this report, and warned Montrose that it could be used maliciously against outstanding Scottish claims such as Montrose’s. ‘What sort of a reel would it make? The very starting the question, makes a great grudging, there being hardly one in Scotland, it would not effect one way or other, and subjecting men’s private rights to a review, as well as public grants ’twould be a very odd thing.’ Northesk now felt it necessary to approach Oxford directly about Montrose’s arrears. He told Montrose on 25 Mar. that ‘I made bold on Sunday at court to mind the treasurer, whose answer was much as formerly but every kind of thing is so put off, that I’m more afraid of delays in your concern as before’.33 Oxford, Northesk and Montrose continued to negotiate the details of the claim for arrears in the context of their moves to stifle the potential controversy surrounding the commissioners’ report on the Scottish treasury.34 As the danger began to subside in the spring of 1712 Northesk resumed a more active parliamentary role and on 20 May voted in favour of the bill, ultimately rejected, for the parliamentary resumption of William III’s land grants.35 Eight days later he sided, with Mar and Hamilton, against Oxford’s ministry by voting in favour of the Whig motion to address the queen against the ‘restraining orders’ issued to James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormond, ordering him not to engage in offensive military actions against the French. Perhaps this was done to force Oxford’s hand regarding his constant importunities, for during this time, Northesk expressed increasing anxiety to return to Scotland as soon as he could, because of the ruinous expense of his living in London.36 He last sat in the House on 21 June, a little more than two weeks before the end of the session.

In the autumn of 1712 Northesk was promised a payment of £1,000 besides his salary as a commissioner of chamberlainry. The money was never paid, but the prospect, and his evident necessities, were enough to sustain his discreet support for government.37 Certainly in the spring of 1713 Jonathan Swift considered Northesk a certain supporter of the ministry for the forthcoming session. Northesk was present at two of the prorogations in March of the long-postponed session to discuss the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht and was again present when that session finally met for business on 9 Apr. 1713. He attended on all but eight of the days of this session – 88 per cent. Following Swift’s forecast, Oxford himself predicted that Northesk would support the ministry by voting for the bill to confirm the eighth and ninth articles of the French commercial treaty; this bill, however, never even made it as far as appearing before the House. Once again, though, Northesk showed that he was not entirely the ministry’s servant, especially when specifically Scottish matters were concerned. On 1 June, when James Ogilvy, 4th earl of Findlater [S], moved for leave to bring in a bill to dissolve the Union, Northesk voted with the other Scottish peers and their temporary Whig allies to adjourn the debate. This attempt to delay consideration of the bill so that more votes in its favour could be mustered was unsuccessful and the ministry was able to defeat the motion for such a bill that very day. Northesk later voted on 8 June with the minority against the third reading of the bill to extend the malt tax to Scotland and subscribed to the protest that declared the bill a violation of the Treaty of Union.38 He continued to attend until the end of the session on 16 July and throughout the summer bombarded Oxford with further requests for financial assistance, especially the £1,000 the lord treasurer had promised to pay him the previous year and his salary as a commissioner for the chamberlainry. To buttress his case, Northesk claimed that continuing residence in London was expensive and at the same time prevented him from taking care of important personal business in Scotland.39

Northesk was re-elected as a representative peer in October 1713 but was again slow to take his seat, appearing in Parliament only on 31 Mar. 1714, well over a month into the session.40 He still managed to attend close to three-quarters of the sittings of this session. He was still awaiting the £1,000 he had been promised, and reappointment to the commission of chamberlainry in the autumn of 1713 was inadequate to purchase his active support for government in this session. Nevertheless, Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, considered him a supporter of the schism bill, and he was certainly present in the House during the proceedings on this bill, while his name does not appear in the protest against its passage on 15 June. He remained in the House until the prorogation on 9 July. That was his last ever attendance on the House, for Northesk did not sit for the session following the death of Anne which convened to proclaim the Hanoverian Succession and he was not elected a representative for any of the Hanoverians’ Parliaments. He certainly showed no enthusiasm for welcoming the new dynasty, writing to Montrose on 21 Aug. 1714 that he preferred to stay at home rather than endure a troublesome and costly journey to London. Although, as he conceded, it would have been advisable ‘to have made my compliments to the king at his first coming, and however insignificant one is, there may be somebody ready enough to misconstruct what they do, however I’m less concerned since your Grace knows my reasons.’41 He showed no sympathy for the exiled Stuarts either, steering well clear of active Jacobite involvement despite his former closeness to Mar, and during the ’Fifteen his house, including the wine cellar, and estates were pillaged at a cost of over £2,500.42 The ensuing debts lay heavily on him in his last years and ill health also contributed to his deteriorating circumstances. By 1722 he was associated with the Tories in Scottish politics but played only a minor role in the elections of that year.43 Northesk died at Ethie Castle 14 Jan. 1729.44


  • 1 Douglas, Scots Peerage, vi. 499–500.
  • 2 CSP Dom. 1698, pp. 405, 407; CSP Dom. 1702–3, pp. 571, 572; Lockhart Letters, 6; CTB 1709, p. 162; xxviii. 264; HMC Laing, ii. 46.
  • 3 CSP Dom. 1702–3, pp. 353, 467.
  • 4 Miles Barton, Langston Gallery, London.
  • 5 P.W.J. Riley, Union, 12, 93, 109; HMC Laing, ii. 46, 54.
  • 6 Boyer, Anne Annals, iv. 48; Edinburgh UL, Laing mss, La.I. 179.1, 3a, 8a; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 338, 374; Riley, Union, 330; W. Fraser, Hist. Carnegies, ii. 377.
  • 7 CTB 1708, p. 175, 369; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 347–8.
  • 8 HMC Mar and Kellie, i, 374.
  • 9 NAS, GD 220/5/153/5.
  • 10 NAS, GD 220/5/140/2.
  • 11 P.W.J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 109; NLS, ms 1026, ff. 23, 30, 39–40.
  • 12 NLS, ms 1026, ff. 7v, 34.
  • 13 Ibid. ff. 34, 57; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 453.
  • 14 Haddington mss, Mellerstain Letters, 3, George Baillie to his wife, 19 Mar. 1709.
  • 15 NLS, ms 7021, ff. 165-166; Haddington mss, Mellerstain Letters, 3, Baillie to his wife, 26 Mar. 1709.
  • 16 NLS, ms 7021, ff. 209-210.
  • 17 Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. iii. 1445.
  • 18 NLS, ms 1026, ff. 64-65.
  • 19 HMC Portland, x. 329, 334; Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 154.
  • 20 SHR, lx. 62-63.
  • 21 Haddington mss, Mellerstain Letters, 3, Baillie to his wife, 11 Jan. 1710/11.
  • 22 NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto, 5, f. 102.
  • 23 Haddington mss, Mellerstain Letters, 4, Baillie to his wife, 3 Mar. 1710/11; NLS, Wodrow letters Quarto, 5, ff. 153-5.
  • 24 HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 490; Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scotland, 172, 178.
  • 25 HMC Mar and Kellie, i, 489–90.
  • 26 NAS, GD 220/5/256/10.
  • 27 CTB 1714, p. 264.
  • 28 HMC Portland, x. 228.
  • 29 Ibid. v. 122; Haddington mss, Mellerstain Letters, 4, Baillie to his wife, 20 Dec.1711.
  • 30 NAS, GD 220/5/273/1.
  • 31 NAS, GD 220/5/273/2–4.
  • 32 Cobbett, Parl. Hist. vi. 1111.
  • 33 NAS, GD 220/5/273/6.
  • 34 NAS, GD 220/5/273/7, 8.
  • 35 Haddington mss, Mellerstain Letters, 5, Baillie to Montrose, 20 May 1712.
  • 36 HMC Portland, x. 264.
  • 37 Ibid. v. 314.
  • 38 BLJ, xix. 167-8.
  • 39 HMC Portland, v. 314; x. 204-6.
  • 40 HMC Portland, v. 380.
  • 41 NAS, GD 220/5/353/1.
  • 42 Douglas, Scots Peerage, vi. 501; D. Szechi, 1715, pp. 41, 135, 254.
  • 43 Scot. Hist. Soc. Misc. xii. 166.
  • 44 Douglas, Scots Peerage, vi. 501.