COLYEAR, David (1657-1730)

COLYEAR, David (1657–1730)

cr. 1 June 1699 Ld. Portmore [S]; cr. 13 Apr. 1703 earl of PORTMORE [S]

RP [S] 1713

First sat 16 Feb. 1714; last sat 25 Aug. 1714

bap. 1 Apr. 1657, 1st s. of Sir Alexander Colyear, bt., of Brabant, and Jean, da. of lt.-col. Walter Murray. m. (1) Arnolda de Beyer (d. bef. 1696) of Nijmegen, s.p.; (2) Aug. 1696, Catherine (d.1717), suo jure countess of Dorchester, da. of Sir Charles Sedley, 5th bt., of Southfleet, Kent, and Bloomsbury Sq., Westminster, 2s. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 1680; KT 1713. d. 2 Jan. 1730; will 4 Oct. 1728, pr. 26 Jan. 1730.1

PC 20 Oct. 1712–1 Aug. 1714, 11 Nov. 1721–d.

Lt. 1675, maj. 1683, 3rd regt. in Scots brig. (59th in Dutch Army); lt.-col. 2nd regt. in Scots brig. (58th in Dutch Army) 1683; col. 6th regt. in Scots brig. (62nd regt. in Dutch Army) 1688-1703; 2nd Ft. 1703-10, R. North British Drags 1714-17; gov. Limerick 1691-2; brig.-gen. 1693, maj.-gen. 1696, lt.-gen. 1703; col., 2nd Ft. 1703-10; c.-in-c. Portugal 1710–12; gen. 1712; gov. Gibraltar 1713-?d.2

Associated with: no. 21 St James’s Sq., Westminster; Ham House, Weybridge, Surr. 3

Likenesses: oil on canvas by Sir John Baptiste de Medina, c.1695, National Galleries of Scotland, PG 2842; oil on canvas by Sir Godfrey Kneller, formerly in collection of Francis Howard. 4

Colyear’s father and grandfather had both served in the Scots Brigade in the United Provinces, and he naturally followed in their footsteps into the Dutch service, serving as a lieutenant in his father’s regiment upon its foundation in 1675. He later became lieutenant-colonel for another Scots regiment in the United Provinces, seeing action on the continent throughout the Dutch wars against Louis XIV. The loss of his right eye, which was visible in contemporary portraits, occurred however as a result of a duel in 1687. He sailed for England with the prince of Orange and on the last day of 1688 was given command of one of the regiments that James II had previously raised in the early part of that year with officers from the regiments of the Scots Brigade. This regiment took a prominent part in the Irish campaigns, and after the conclusion of the siege of Limerick in 1691 Portmore in April 1703 was appointed as military governor of the city. Colyear’s regimental record during the remainder of the Nine Years’ War is not entirely clear, but it included active service, and in May 1696 he was promoted major-general. Later that year he married James II’s former mistress, Catherine Sedley, suo jure countess of Dorchester. Far from respectable, and sometimes perilously indiscreet, Lady Dorchester had come under suspicion of disloyalty in the early years of William’s reign, but enjoyed a substantial pension and property in Ireland by virtue of her relationship with the late king. Gilbert Burnet, bishop of Salisbury, for one, viewed Colyear’s choice of wife cynically. While allowing that Colyear ‘is one of the best foot officers in the world, is very brave and bold, hath a great deal of wit, [is] very much a man of honour and nice that way’, he noted that ‘yet [he] married the countess of Dorchester, and had by her a good estate’.5 As Burnet suggested, Colyear’s matrimonial decision paid off for both parties: his loyalty to William III shielded his wife from criticism, and the estate he had acquired through her permitted social advancement. He was promoted major-general, was naturalized by an act of Parliament on 4 May 1699, and the following month was given a Scottish peerage and instructed by the king to take his seat in the Scottish Parliament, ‘where [his majesty] thinks you may do him service in this juncture’.6 In the general election of November 1701 he stood for New Romney, previously the constituency of his late father-in-law Sir Charles Sedley. He campaigned on the Whig interest, or at least as a court supporter, but was beaten into third place by two Tories.7

Following the death of William III, Portmore was re-commissioned as major-general, and after the outbreak of war in 1702 his regiment was involved in heavy fighting in Flanders, with considerable losses, and, more successfully, in the attack on Vigo Bay.8 John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, proposed that he be sent as governor of Jamaica but the lord treasurer Sidney Godolphin, Baron (later earl of) Godolphin, advised against this: ‘My Lord Portmore is an officer that the more he is known, the better he will be liked, so that the only apprehension I have against your thought of sending him to Jamaica, is that he may not like it. For I know he has set his heart upon being left governor of Cadiz’.9 In the event, Portmore received neither post: instead, his reward was promotion both in his military rank, to lieutenant-general, and in his rank in the Scottish peerage, where he became earl of Portmore. It is possible that Marlborough’s proposal of the Jamaica governorship was partly motivated by malice, deriving from jealousy of his own position in the light of the success of the Vigo operation, for it soon became apparent that Portmore would have difficulties put in his way. Although stating his own preference to keep his regiment in England, he was first sent to Flanders, where his troops were again involved in action, and was then dispatched to Portugal to serve under Meinhard Schomberg, 3rd duke of Schomberg. 10 His concern was that in his absence there might be moves in Parliament against the royal grants previously bestowed on his wife. As he wrote to secretary of state Robert Harley, later earl of Oxford, ‘whilst I am forward to do the best I can abroad for the service of the nation, I am distracted with the apprehension of having my family ruined by a bill of resumption at home’.11 Although these fears proved unfounded, Portmore continued to encounter frustrations. When Schomberg fell ill in 1704, the queen first considered Portmore as a replacement.12 But, seemingly through Marlborough’s intervention, Portmore lost the Portuguese command to Henry de Massue de Ruvigny, earl of Galway [I].13 When he returned to England in August 1704 and waited on the queen to press his claims for promotion, he made no progress. 14 Besides Marlborough’s ill-will, there was hostility from James Ogilvy, earl of Seafield [S] (later 4th earl of Findlater [S], who advised Godolphin ‘to think well of it’ before rushing to give Portmore a colonelcy in the Guards following the death of lieutenant-general George Ramsay.15 Portmore remained an infantry colonel, and his regiment remained under Galway’s command in the Peninsula.

Three years later there was again evidence of friction between Portmore and Seafield in the aftermath of the first election of Scottish representative peers. Portmore was not present at the election at Edinburgh on 17 June 1708, but completed a proxy vote at Westminster which he sent to Patrick Hume, earl of Marchmont [S], to present on his behalf.16 He favoured the candidates being put forward by Marchmont and the Squadrone in their tactical alliance with James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S], against the Scottish court interest of which Seafield was a member.17 The regularity of the proxy was later challenged by Seafield, on the grounds that it ‘was informal, signed in England, not sealed or on stamped vellum’.18 Marchmont dismissed this argument, observing that ‘there is no such things required by the acts of Parliament’.19 Nonetheless, the matter was referred to the House by the coalition of Hamilton and the Squadrone who were challenging the election. The committee examining complaints decided on 29 Jan. in Portmore’s favour, resolving ‘that a proxy signed at Westminster before witnesses, but not sealed, nor on stamped parchment, was a good proxy’.

It is unadvisable to read too much into this temporary alliance between Portmore and the Squadrone (and through the Squadrone to the Whig Junto). The consistent element in his political position from 1702 onwards was his alienation from Marlborough, and by 1710 this had developed so far as to encompass Godolphin as well, who had previously spoken well of Portmore. In the summer of that year, when a replacement for Galway as commander of the army in Portugal had to be found, Godolphin, who now dismissed Portmore as ‘a fop’, tried to block his promotion by suggesting Richard Savage, 4th Earl Rivers, for the post instead. Rivers, though, refused, leaving the way open for the queen to propose Portmore.20 His appointment as commander-in-chief in Portugal was thus confirmed on 27 June 1710. Godolphin, who suspected that Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury, had recommended Portmore, disapproved of the appointment, although he put on a brave face to Portmore himself. ‘I hope it is only in the command of the troops’, he wrote to Marlborough, ‘in which I hope he may do very well, because there is nothing to do. But as to any other matters, I look upon him to be entirely well finished.’21 The political significance of this announcement was clear. Charles Hay, styled Lord Yester (later 3rd marquess of Tweeddale [S]), told his father on 8 July 1710 that ‘there will certainly be a new ministry and a new Parliament … Portmore goes for Portugal immediately which is all of a piece’.22 In fact, Portmore’s departure was delayed by the ongoing political crisis and it was only on 20 Sept. that he took his leave.23

Portmore completed a proxy vote for the ensuing election of Scottish representative peers, entrusting it to Archibald Primrose, earl of Rosebery [S].24 Meanwhile he was pressing the court at Lisbon ‘to act with vigour against Spain’ to which end he would ‘view the condition and numbers of the troops in their quarters, and to get all things ready for their early taking the field in the spring’.25 Whilst Portmore busied himself in animating the Portuguese army, the House began its enquiry into the conduct of the war in Spain, prompted by the recent defeat at Brihuega. It was well for him that papers presented to the House in the winter of 1710-11 made it clear that he had not been present at the disastrous allied defeat at Almanza in 1707.26

Portmore’s wife continued to solicit further favours on his behalf. Hearing that George Hamilton, earl of Orkney [S], was to be made a general of foot, she wrote to Harley on 30 Apr. 1711, asking him to

take the first opportunity to represent to her majesty that this would be giving away my lord’s rank, who is an older lieutenant general than Lord Orkney. A thing of that nature is seldom done to the meanest officer, much less to one of my lord’s post actually in the queen’s service. 

Harley was obviously keen to help, for he marked this letter as having been answered ‘immediately’. 27 Significantly, though, it was only after Marlborough’s replacement as captain-general in 1712 that Portmore was transferred to Flanders, to serve under Marlborough’s successor, James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormond.28 Further distinctions followed for Portmore: nomination to the Privy Council, admission into the Order of the Thistle, and in 1713 the governorship of Gibraltar.

Portmore’s connection with Oxford (as Harley became in May 1711) also opened the way for his entry into the House of Lords. In July 1713 Oxford’s son-in-law, George Hay, styled Lord Dupplin (later Baron Hay [S]), included Portmore’s name in a list headed ‘peers pretending next elections’.29 Many Scots peers were opposed to his candidacy, as they thought he was ‘not of their ancient race, and that he was born in Holland and never naturalized’, the latter of which was true as his act of naturalization had been passed by the English Parliament before the Union.30 Nevertheless, probably because of his backing from Oxford and the court, he was successfully returned as a representative peer on 8 Oct. 1713, and a contemporary analysis of the views towards the succession of the incoming 16 marked him as a Hanoverian.

He first sat on 16 Feb. 1714, the first day of the new Parliament, and he went on to attend 72 per cent of the sitting days of this first session of Feb.-July 1714. His proxy with John Erskine, 22nd earl of Mar [S], was registered on 17 Apr. 1714, only for Portmore to resume attendance, thus vacating the proxy, three days later. Although he was absent on only three occasions between the first meeting of Parliament and the end of April 1714, Portmore was during this time more concerned with negotiating the purchase of the regiment of John Dalrymple, 2nd earl of Stair [S]. The agent and middleman involved in these transactions assured Oxford that he should ‘applaud the earl of Portmore’s forwardness to part with such a sum in this juncture to show his zeal to her majesty’.31 Portmore eventually secured command of the Royal North British Dragoons at a cost of £6,000 in early April 1714. This provoked an outcry but Oxford observed, regarding this and other changes in the military officer corps of the time, that ‘no one is put in but who is undoubtedly zealous for the House of Hanover’. 32

Once the purchase had been concluded Portmore continued to attend diligently and missed only five sittings in May. In early June Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, forecast that Portmore would support the schism bill brought up from the Commons on 2 June 1714. The Journal’s attendance register suggests that he attended throughout proceedings on this bill. In a committee of the whole on 9 June two amendments were proposed to the bill, one in favour of exempting schoolmistresses from the scope of the bill and the other of allowing appeals to the justices of the peace. Reporting on these debates, George Baillie told his wife that Portmore was in favour of both of these amendments, against the wishes of Oxford and the ministry. Baillie further suggested that yet again there was a difference between Portmore and the 4th earl of Findlater [S] (as Seafield had become), as the latter ‘left’ Portmore and two other Scots peers by voting against the second amendment, after having voted with them on the first. 33 On about 11 June a petition from Dissenting ministers to be heard against the bill was brought before the House, but was ultimately rejected by a majority of 14. Robert Wodrow noted that Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, had been able to convince ten of the 16 representative peers to vote against the petition, while Portmore and his fellow military commander Orkney left the House before the division.34 In the latter stages of the bill the Whigs tried to alter a clause in order to allow the Dissenting academies to teach Latin and Greek and Portmore was one of four Scots peers – again joined by Orkney - who voted, ultimately fruitlessly, in favour of this amendment.35 Despite these indications of opposition to aspects of the bill, Portmore apparently did not feel the need to subscribe to the protest against the eventual passage of the schism bill on 15 June. After the death of the queen on 1 Aug. Portmore attended the House for its hurriedly convened session to oversee the accession of the elector of Hanover. He attended only five more sittings during the rest of the session of August 1714 – 40 per cent of the total sitting days – and sat in the House for the last time on 25 August. He was not elected as a representative peer in 1715 or subsequently.

As early as May 1711 Oxford had been made aware that Portmore had Jacobite connections, when it was reported that he had secured the rehabilitation of the exiled Jacobite laird of Strowan.36 During the summer of 1715 Bolingbroke was emboldened to write to Portmore directly on the Pretender’s behalf and observed to James Francis Edward that Portmore ‘is an officer and worth securing’.37 Portmore took no part in the 1715 Rebellion, yet he continued to flirt with Jacobitism, letting it be known to the Jacobite court (through third parties) that he was sympathetic, though without any firm commitment. In the spring of 1716 Mar was told that

Lord Portmore has at several times declared his resolution … that, if any attempt be made in England, he will cheerfully come into it and bring a considerable sum into the field with him, and he maintained his having 30,000 l. ready for that purpose … Lord Portmore’s opinion was that 10,000 men in England would effectually do the work.38

Despite these assurances Portmore continued to avoid a decisive commitment, a reluctance which Mar attributed to the influence of Lady Dorchester, who ‘was consulted in all such matters by him’.39 After her death in 1717 Portmore was reported as having decided to ‘come abroad to try his fortune’, possibly fearing that his dealings with the Jacobites would come to light.40 The following year he did travel to Holland, where he made direct contact with a Jacobite emissary, to whom he spoke of his ‘discontents’, expressing ‘great contempt of both the Elector [George I] and his son’.41 By 1721, when he was reappointed to the Privy Council, he was clearly back in favour with the Hanoverians and he remained as governor of Gibraltar until his death, although from 1720 his duties there were largely exercised by the able lieutenant-governor Richard Kane. Portmore did return to Gibraltar himself for a time in 1727–8, to assume command of the garrison in order to resist a threatened Spanish siege.42

Portmore died at his house in Weybridge on 2 Jan. 1730, and was buried in St James’s church beside his wife, whose remains had been removed there the previous September from Bath, where she had died in 1717.43 He reportedly left an estate of £50,000.44


  • 1 TNA, PROB 11/635.
  • 2 Scots Brigade Pprs. i. (Scot. Hist. Soc. xxxiii), 478, 479, 505, 507, 516; CSP Dom. 1703–4, p. 266.
  • 3 Dasent, Hist. of St James’s Square, App. A; Add. 61451, f. 148.
  • 4 M.K. Talley, Portrait Painting in Eng., 480; repro. in J.W. Buchan, Hist. Peeblesshire, ii. 502.
  • 5 Macky Mems. 105.
  • 6 CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 127.
  • 7 HP Commons, 1690-1715, ii. 765.
  • 8 F.J.G. ten Raa and F. de Bas, Het Staatsche Leger, viii. 686, 691; Jnl. of Sir George Rooke ed. Browning (Navy Rec. Soc. ix), 174, 189, 193, 198, 212, 216, 223, 230.
  • 9 Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. i. 106–7; Add. 70075, newsletter of 14 Jan. 1703.
  • 10 Add. 70075, newsletters of 19 Jan., 24 July 1703; Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. i. 153–4; Post Man, 8–11 May 1703.
  • 11 Add. 70218, Portmore to Harley, 30 Jan. 1704.
  • 12 Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 377.
  • 13 Add. 28056, f. 145; Add. 70327, Harley to Marlborough, 27 June 1704; Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. i. 340.
  • 14 Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 464; HMC Portland, iv. 114.
  • 15 HMC Laing, ii. 122.
  • 16 NAS, GD158/1174/7.
  • 17 NLS, ms 1026, f. 34.
  • 18 Herts. ALS, DE/P/F127.
  • 19 NLS, ms 1026, f. 58; ms 14415, ff. 176–7.
  • 20 Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. iii. 1520.
  • 21 Ibid. 1540, 1547; HMC Portland, ii. 211.
  • 22 NLS, ms 7021, f. 225.
  • 23 Add. 70218, Portmore to Harley, 19 Aug. 1710; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 634.
  • 24 NLS, ms 1026, f. 62.
  • 25 Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 658.
  • 26 HMC Lords, n.s. ix. 44.
  • 27 HMC Portland, iv. 681; Add. 70282, Countess of Dorchester to Oxford, 28 May 1711.
  • 28 Add. 61462, ff. 120-1.
  • 29 HMC Portland, v. 313.
  • 30 HMC Dartmouth, i. 318; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto, 7, ff. 181–2.
  • 31 Add. 70299, unknown to Oxford, 14 Mar. 1714.
  • 32 HMC Portland, v. 417, 430; NLS, Wodrow letters Quarto, 8, f. 81.
  • 33 Haddington mss, Mellerstain Letters, 6, George Baillie to his wife, 10 June 1714; HMC Lords, n.s. xii. 344; Cobbett, Parl. Hist. vi. 1355.
  • 34 NLS, Wodrow letters Quarto, 8, f. 131.
  • 35 Ibid. f. 133.
  • 36 HMC Portland, x. 371.
  • 37 HMC Stuart, i. 409.
  • 38 Ibid. ii. 69.
  • 39 Ibid. ii. 462.
  • 40 Ibid. iv. 497-8.
  • 41 Ibid. vii. 113.
  • 42 CTBP, i. 156, 217, 229.
  • 43 Brayley, Surr. ii. 394.
  • 44 Add. 61477, ff. 12–13.