HAY, John (1645-1713)

HAY, John (1645–1713)

styled 1653-94 Ld. (Hay of) Yester; styled 1694-97 earl of Gifford; suc. fa. 11 Aug. 1697 as 2nd mq. of TWEEDDALE [S]

RP [S] 1707–8

First sat 23 Oct. 1707; last sat 1 Apr. 1708

b. 1645, 1st s. of John Hay, 1st mq. of Tweeddale [S], and Jean (Jane), da. of Walter Scott, 1st earl of Buccleuch [S]. m. 11 Dec. 1666, Mary (d.1702), da. and coh. of John Maitland, 1st duke of Lauderdale [S] and 1st earl of Guilford, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. d. 20 May 1713; will; pr. 12 Aug. 1713.1

PC [S] 1670–88, 1689­–1702–5; commr. borders [S] 1672, 1673, adm. [S] 1695, auditing treasury accts. [S] 1695–7, adm. accts. [S] 1698; ld. treas. [S] 1695; ld. high commr. to parl. [S] 1704; ld. chan. [S] 1704–5.2

Col. militia regt. (ft.) Haddington 1668–75, 1685, Linlithgow and Peebles 1682, capt. militia (horse) Haddington and Berwickshire 1689, ind. troop 1689;3 commr. supply, Haddington, 1678, 1685, 1690, 1704, Peebles 1678, 1685, Midlothian 1690, 1704, Fifes. 1695, 1704, Berwickshire 1704; sheriff, Haddington 1694–d.

Burgess, Edinburgh 1668.

FRS 23 May 1666; dir. Co. of Scotland 1694.

Associated with: Yester House, Gifford, Haddington.

Likenesses: oil on canvas by G. Soest, Glasgow Museums Resource Centre; oil on canvas by J. F. Voet, Scot. NPG.

Although in some respects unsuited to the responsibility, Tweeddale was acknowledged as the leader of the Squadrone Volante (or Squadrone for short). By the time of the Union, however, he had become an armchair general, and in the Parliament of Great Britain he tended to watch from a distance while the next generation did the hard political work. His greatest strength was the reputation he cultivated as a man of principle, who took office reluctantly and only for the public good (even if this was not always strictly true); but he lacked an instinctive understanding of the political scene, could be indecisive, and was sometimes liable to ‘pets’ if he did not get his way.4 Gilbert Burnet, bishop of Salisbury, in a character sketch published by Spring Macky, was highly complimentary: Tweeddale was, he wrote, ‘a great encourager and promoter of trade, and the welfare of his country. He hath good sense, is very modest, much a man of honour, and hot when piqued; is highly esteemed in the country’.5 At the other end of the political spectrum, the Jacobite George Lockhart was predictably hostile, but in a patronizing way. In his view, Tweeddale

never obtained any other character than that he was a well-meaning but simple man; and I have the charity to believe, he was forced against his will by his friends and those he trusted (who made a mere tool of him) to enter into many of the bad measures he pursued: so I may safely say, he was the least ill-meaning man of his party, wither thro’ inclination or capacity.6

Tweeddale’s family background was Presbyterian, of a moderate stripe. His grandfather was an ‘Engager’, while he and his father were both active in local government under Charles II. As Lord Yester, he commanded a militia regiment against Argyll’s uprising in 1685, and supported James II’s government on the Scottish Privy Council. Having adapted to the Revolution, he and his father reinvented themselves as Williamites: the family, however, had relatively little political interest and so Yester was sent to London by his father in December 1688 to wait on the prince of Orange and cultivate contacts with English politicians. 7 He was also expected to promote an Anglo-Scottish union, a project which the 1st marquess of Tweeddale had long advocated.8 But he seems to have been out of his depth at the English court, and was soon advising his father to join him in London.9 It was not easy to secure an audience with the new king, and concerning union, Yester warned his father that ‘the changes and steps ... made here must give a quite different prospect of affairs’. He had been told ‘by several’, including William Hamilton 3rd duke of Hamilton [S], that ‘it will be expected we should follow the example of England, beginning at settling of the government in his person and, thereafter, to come to the union, relying upon his care for the effectuating thereof’. 10 Eventually, Yester admitted that, while he had initially been of the opinion that the union ‘should be the first step’, now, ‘as matters are like to go, I see no possibility for it till after there be some settlement or other, and therefore hardly know how to carry when I speak to any about it.’11 His reading of the situation was correct: William did not intend proposals for union to interfere with the settlement of Scotland, and the scheme quickly foundered. 12 When Yester left London it seemed that the family were not in particularly good odour at court, for Hamilton told his wife that the king ‘has no mind for Tweeddale, who is in great dissatisfaction, for it seems he has spoken very freely to him, but it has not taken.’13

Two years passed before there was a revival in Tweeddale’s fortunes, during which time father and son intrigued against the administration of the Melvilles and flirted with radical Presbyterian critics of government.14 In December 1691 Tweeddale was appointed lord chancellor of Scotland. Three years later he was promoted in the Scottish peerage and named commissioner to the Scottish parliament. His father’s role in government enabled Yester to make important contacts with Presbyterian and Whig politicians like Secretary James Johnston, whose friendship would count for much later in his career.15 Unfortunately, Tweeddale incurred William’s displeasure by his management of Parliament–mishandling the enquiry into the massacre at Glencoe, prolonging the session beyond the time set in his instructions and allowing the passage of acts to establish the Company of Scotland–and was replaced in 1695. Tweeddale sent Yester south again to present his case to the king, but to no avail, as his son still floundered in the treacherous waters of court politics.16

On his return to Scotland Yester was chosen as one of the directors of the Company of Scotland, and in that capacity was closely involved in the ill-fated attempt to establish a Scottish colony on the Isthmus of Panama at Darien, which brought the Company into direct conflict with the interests of English chartered companies and heightened his own estrangement from William’s government.17 He succeeded as second marquess in 1697, and the following year married his own son to the widowed sister of the James Hamiliton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S], with whom he was co-operating in opposition.18 When the Scottish Parliament met in 1700, Tweeddale and Hamilton strove to pressurize the king to assist the colony at Darien, and did much to consolidate the strength of the ‘country party’, as the opposition came to be called.19

Presumably because of his recent history of opposition, Tweeddale was not named as one of the Scottish commissioners to treat for a union with England in 1702. He continued in opposition, and was one of the more obdurate of the country party leaders in refusing to have any dealings with the head of the court party, James Douglas, 2nd duke of Queensberry [S].20 But in the spring of 1704 his political allies George Baillie, John Leslie, 9th earl of Rothes [S], and John Ker, 5th earl (later duke) of Roxburghe [S], were involved in discussions with the queen and her English ministers about setting up a new ministry in Scotland. On 4 Apr. John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, wrote to Tweeddale expressing the hope that the recent promotion in the army of his younger son, Lord John Hay, would ‘be a step to incline your Lordship to come yourself into her Majesty’s service and concur in the measures she has declared for settling the Protestant succession in Scotland.’21 A month later the ministerial reconstruction was complete and Tweeddale was named commissioner to the Scottish parliament in the administration of the ‘New Party’ (later the Squadrone).22 He was said to have taken with him some 35 members of the ‘country party’, ostensibly out of a principled commitment to the Hanoverian succession.23

The experiment, though, proved a disaster. During the session which began 11 July 1704, with Queensberry standing aloof, Tweeddale was comprehensively outmanoeuvred by his former country party allies.24 His principal instruction was ‘the settling of the succession to the crown of Scotland in the Protestant line’, but he faced strong opposition, led by Hamilton.25 When he not only failed in this task but seemed unlikely to secure a vote of supply, he first blamed ‘the ferment the nation is in’ and pleaded with the English ministers to be allowed to make concessions, ‘particularly that of regulating the constitutions of parliaments’, and then asked leave to resign.26 Encouraged by the queen’s approval he tried again for a supply, abandoning conciliation and adopting a high-handed approach, characteristic of his lack of political skill, which provoked Hamilton into offering a motion to ‘nominate commissioners for a treaty and … make conditions and regulations of government for securing the independency and sovereignty of this kingdom previous to all other issues of business except a supply of two months’ cess’. The court responded with a recommendation for seven months, upon which Hamilton proposed to re-enact ‘the Act of Security as it passed the last Parliament only with the alteration of that clause about the communication of trade’.27 Tweeddale’s answer was that ‘if they would proceed to the supply he would write for powers to her Majesty concerning an act of security’. In return he managed to get a six months’ cess.28 He was then faced with the prospect of persuading the queen and lord treasurer Sidney Godolphin, Baron (later earl of) Godolphin, to make good the bargain. In relation to the Act of Security, he assured Godolphin that he would ‘be very cautious that there be nothing in it prejudicial to her interest.’29 The queen agreed, but, as Godolphin reported, ‘hopes you will think it reasonable and necessary either to leave out the clause preceding that for the communication of trade in … the last Act, or at least soften [it] … that it may give no offence in England.’ (The Act of Security, as it had passed in the previous session, included a declaration that it would not be in the power of the estates ‘to name the successor of the crown of England to be the successor to the imperial crown of this realm’ without ‘a free communication of trade, the freedom of navigation, and the liberty of the plantations be fully agreed to, and established by the parliament of the kingdom of England, to the kingdom and subjects of Scotland’. 30) Tweeddale declined to follow this instruction, on the grounds that ‘if we had endeavoured to have altered [the act] in the least they would have taken that occasion to have added clauses which would have marred all’, telling Godolphin he hoped ‘her Majesty will not think I have gone too far without a positive instruction for it, which, indeed I ought to have had, but have ventured it thinking it fit for her service, as did all I advised with, and therefore that she will approve and allow of what I have done’.31 Instead, Godolphin transmitted the queen’s order to end the session as soon as possible, ‘since there is no reason to expect the Parliament will in this session make any step that is real and sincere towards the settling of the Protestant succession.’32 Nevertheless, under threat of not receiving Scottish revenue, Godolphin in August persuaded the reluctant queen to give her assent to the act of security.

Despite their failure in managing parliament, Tweeddale’s followers were given a sheaf of places in government, he himself becoming lord chancellor. The following year he asserted that he had taken office reluctantly and only to serve the queen.33 Meanwhile Tories in the English House of Lords announced their intention to enquire into his management of the Scottish Parliament, and on 23 Nov. 1704 John Thompson, Baron Haversham, drew the attention of the House to the Scottish act of security, and questioned how the Scottish parliament had come to agree to it, given the instructions Tweeddale had received. He suggested that the rejection of the Hanoverian succession and passage of the act of security were partly owing to Tweeddale’s weakness and partly to the fact ‘that the succession itself was never sincerely and cordially intended, either by the ministry there, or by those that managed the Scots affairs here’.34 The Lords then ordered an inquiry by a committee of the whole House. The queen was present incognito when the committee sat for the first time on 29 Nov. and Godolphin spoke in Tweeddale’s defence.35 The behaviour of the Whig Junto during the debate appeared to show that they were seeking to use the episode as a means of putting pressure on Godolphin, and at the next meeting of the committee, on 6 Dec., John Somers, Baron Somers, accused the Scots of unreasonably objecting that their fortunes had declined since the union of the crowns and proposed ‘that for the bringing them to an understanding of their true interest some laws might pass here for the cutting off all their trade with England.’ Godolphin supported this proposal, to which committee and House agreed.36 Five days later, Junto lords moved that the queen issue a new commission for union, the previous attempt having been managed by ‘the … wrong hands’.37 A package of measures was agreed to force the Scots towards union by tightening up trading restrictions and denying them the privileges enjoyed by subjects in England, Ireland and the plantations, until a treaty was concluded.38

To make sure that the Scots responded by appointing commissioners to negotiate a union, John Campbell, 2nd duke of Argyll [S], was chosen as commissioner to the Scottish parliament that was to meet in 1705. Tweeddale, who was already disconcerted by attempts to reconstruct the ministry and had refused to switch offices to become president of the council, at first refused to pass Argyll’s patent.39 Not surprisingly, when Argyll reached Edinburgh in April he insisted that the Squadrone be turned out en masse, which was done in June, Tweeddale losing his office and his seat on the council.40 The Squadrone did not, however, go into full-scale opposition, and seem to have adjusted to the likelihood of union.

For his part, in the parliamentary session of 1705, Tweeddale was a relatively unobtrusive, though not entirely silent, presence. He was not appointed to the union commission the following year even though his support for the project had been made explicit by January 1706.41 Thereafter he became less enthusiastic about the Union as negotiated, and was in fact the last member of the Squadrone to agree to vote for the treaty in parliament.42 Possibly he was thrown off balance by the death of Lord John Hay, who perished of a fever in August 1706 while serving with his regiment in Flanders. The Squadrone were still ‘the marquess of Tweeddale’s party’, however, and as part of the political bargaining over the Union, he was chosen on 13 Feb. 1707 to be one of the 16 representative peers in the first Parliament of Great Britain.43 On a personal level, he was actively pursuing arrears of salary, and undoubtedly using his party’s support for the Union to advance his case: he was paid £1,000 in 1707 but a year later was still owed £2,500.44 In the analysis of Patrick Hume, earl of Marchmont [S], of 1707 he was listed as ‘sicut’ [as] James Graham, duke of Montrose [S].

Tweeddale did not join his Squadrone colleagues Roxburghe and Marchmont on their journey to London in April 1707, and was still in Scotland at the beginning of August, when Roxburghe informed him that the queen had ‘asked me twice about your Lordship’s coming up.’s45 In response he travelled south, and took his seat in the Lords on 23 Oct. 1707 where he attended 91 per cent of the session’s sittings.46 His only noteworthy contribution to proceedings came on 5 Feb. 1708, when he and three other Squadrone peers voted for the bill abolishing the Scottish Privy Council, although it may be an indication of his failure to make an impact at Westminster that in an account of the debate Joseph Addison was unable to identify Tweeddale. ‘I am informed’, wrote Addison, ‘that the dukes of Montrose and Roxburghe with my Lord Sutherland [John Gordon, 16th earl of Sutherland [S]], and another Scotch peer whom I have forgotten were for passing the bill.’47

Tweeddale did not stand in the 1708 election, though he attended and voted his party’s line.48 Later that year he sent his eldest son Charles Hay, styled Lord Yester (later 3rd marquess of Tweeddale [S]) to London and over the next two years was kept informed of events by Yester and other members of the Squadrone. During the 1708–9 session his friends in the Commons were mobilized to support his interest against a private bill brought in by William Morison for improving the harbour at Prestonpans in Haddingtonshire.49 Yester suggested on 20 Apr. 1710 that Tweeddale should press for the inclusion of ‘your Lordship’s family’ in a rumoured creation of British peerages for Scots. Whether Yester intended the peerage for his father or (more usefully) himself is unclear, but in any case nothing came of it.50 Along with the rest of the Squadrone he boycotted the peers’ election in November of that year, though he remained a force in elections to the Commons for his own county.51

Tweeddale died on 20 Apr. 1713 at Yester House, reportedly ‘of a fall’, and was buried at Yester.52


  • 1 Douglas, Scots Peerage, viii. 456–7.
  • 2 CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 109; CSP Dom. 1694–5, pp. 428, 445; CSP Dom. 1696, pp. 120, 168; CSP Dom. 1697, p. 480; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 321; CSP Dom. 1704–5, p. 227.
  • 3 CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 85.
  • 4 Baillie Corresp. 108–9.
  • 5 Macky Mems. 186.
  • 6 Lockhart Pprs. i. 97.
  • 7 P.W.J. Riley, K. Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 55; NLS, ms 7031, f. 158.
  • 8 NLS, ms 7026, f. 94a; ms mic. 192, Yester to Tweeddale, 8 Jan. 1689.
  • 9 NLS, ms 14404, f. 5; Riley, K. Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 49–54.
  • 10 NLS, ms mic. 192, Yester to Tweeddale, 21, 23 Feb. 1689.
  • 11 NLS, Yester to Tweeddale, 2 Mar. 1689.
  • 12 Leven and Melville Pprs. (Bannatyne Club), 2–3; APS, ix. 9.
  • 13 NAS, GD 406/1/6341.
  • 14 Riley, K. Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 56–5.
  • 15 Ibid. 83.
  • 16 NLS, ms 7029, f. 145; ms 14404, ff. 323, 325, 337, 343, 359, 365.
  • 17 Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 530; NLS, ms 7020, f. 147.
  • 18 NAS, GD 406/1/6986; NLS, ms 7021, ff. 5–6; Royal Bank of Scotland, D/1/2, 29 Apr. 1700; Riley, K. Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 125–38.
  • 19 NLS, ms 14414, ff. 116, 137–8.
  • 20 NAS, GD 406/4836, 6571; HMC Portland, iv. 37; HMC Laing, ii. 16; Boyer, Anne Annals, ii. 27-28; P.W.J. Riley, Union, 44, 56, 60.
  • 21 NLS, ms 7104, f. 77.
  • 22 NAS, GD 406/1/7987, 8022; NLS, ms 7121, ff. 20, 22; ms 7104, f. 79; Riley, Union, 75–81.
  • 23 HMC Laing, ii. 68.
  • 24 Riley, Union, 96–102.
  • 25 NLS, ms 7102, item 17; ms 7121, f. 28; Edinburgh UL, Laing mss, La.I. 180.2b.
  • 26 NLS, ms 7121, ff. 30–31, 33.
  • 27 NAS, GD 406/1/7946.
  • 28 Edinburgh UL, Laing mss, La.I. 180. 8a–8b.
  • 29 NLS, ms 7121, ff. 34, 36.
  • 30 NLS, ms 7104, f. 94; P.H. Scott, Andrew Fletcher and the Union, p. 23.
  • 31 NLS, ms 7121, f. 42.
  • 32 NLS, ms 7104, f. 88.
  • 33 HMC Laing, ii. 124.
  • 34 Cobbett, Parl. Hist. vi. 373–4.
  • 35 Baillie Corresp. 15.
  • 36 Burnet, v. 179; Baillie Corresp. 15; LJ, xvii. 592.
  • 37 Nicolson, London Diaries, 249.
  • 38 LJ, xvii. 602.
  • 39 Riley, Union, 126, 131; NAS, GD 406/1/5275; HMC Hamilton, ii. 165; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 253.
  • 40 Seafield Letters, 178; NAS, GD 406/1/7871, 7877, GD 220/5/90/2.
  • 41 Seafield Letters, 87, 90; C. A. Whatley, Scots and Union, 249.
  • 42 Riley, Union, 264–5.
  • 43 Riley, Union, 334; Seafield Letters, 97, 173; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 286, 372.
  • 44 HMC Laing, ii. 124–5; Whatley, 267; Riley, Union, 265–6; CTB xxii. 112.
  • 45 NLS, ms 14413, f. 156.
  • 46 Nicolson, London Diaries, 442, 453.
  • 47 HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 427; Addison Letters, ed. Graham, 90.
  • 48 NLS, ms 1026, f. 28.
  • 49 NLS, ms 7022, ff. 155, 159; HP Commons 1690–1715, iv. 940–1.
  • 50 NLS, ms 7021, Yester to Tweeddale, 20 Apr. 1710.
  • 51 NLS, ms 14413, f. 111.
  • 52 Evening Post, 28–30 Apr. 1713.