LESLIE, David (1660-1728)

LESLIE (formerly MELVILLE), David (1660–1728)

suc. cos. 27 July 1681 as 5th earl of LEVEN [S]; suc. fa. 20 May 1707 as 2nd earl of Melville [S]

RP [S] 1707-10

First sat 23 Oct. 1707; last sat 4 Apr. 1710

b. 5 May 1660, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of George Melville, earl of Melville [S], and Catherine, da. of Alexander Leslie (d.1644), styled Ld. Balgonie [S], o. surv. s. d.v.p. of Alexander Leslie, earl of Leven [S]. educ. travelled abroad 1684-6. m. contract 3 Sept. 1691, Anna (d. 9 Jan. 1702) , da. of Sir James Wemyss of Burntisland, Fife, Ld. Burntisland [S], sis. of David Wemyss, 4th earl of Wemyss [S], 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. d.v.p. d. 6 June 1728.

PC [S] 1689-1708; commr. exchequer [S] 1689-aft. 1696, remodelling of forces [S]1689-90, pacification of Highlands [S] 1689, auditing treasury accts. [S] 1697-aft. 1698, visitation univs. [S] 1697, auditing adm. accts. [S] 1698, auditing exchequer accts. [S] 1698, justiciary for highlands [S] 1702, union with England [S] 1702-3, 1706.1

Col. of horse (service of Elector of Brandenburg) 1687; col. of 25 Ft. 1689–94; constable and capt. coy. of ft., Edinburgh Castle 1689-1702, 1704-12; brig.-gen. 1702, maj.-gen. 1704, lt.-gen. 1707; master of ordnance [S] 1705-12; c.-in-c. [S] 1706-12.

Burgess, Edinburgh 1689; commr. supply, Fife, Perth 1704; dep. steward, Strathearn 1707-aft. 1711.2

Gov. Bank of Scotland 1697-d.

Associated with: Melville House, Monimail, Fife; Suffolk St., Westminster.3

Likenesses: oil on canvas by J.B. de Medina, 1691, National Galleries of Scotland; ivory relief by D. Le Marchand, c.1696-1700 (Victoria and Albert Museum).

The Melville family were strongly identified with ‘Revolution principles’ and a Protestant succession, but in the long run family and local rivalries proved just as important in determining Leven’s political allegiances and parliamentary conduct. With the benefit of hindsight, the Jacobite George Lockhart expressed mixed feelings about him: Leven, he wrote,

in the beginning of his life was so vain and conceity [sic], that he became the jest of all sober men; but as he grew older, he overcame that folly in part, and from the proudest became the civilest man alive. He was a man of good parts and sound judgment, but master of no kind of learning… He was born and bred an enemy to the royal family, and therefore cheerfully embraced, and significantly promoted, everything against its interest. However, he was no ways severe, but very civil to all the cavaliers.4

Leven, who had inherited the title from his cousin, Catherine Leslie, suo jure countess of Leven, and taken her surname of Leslie, had accompanied his father into exile in the United Provinces, where Melville had gone to avoid arrest after the exposure of the Rye House Plot. Leven then travelled in Germany and, through the favourable recommendation of the Hanoverian court, secured a commission in the army of the Elector of Brandenburg. In this capacity he was able to assist the prince of Orange in diplomatic negotiations with the Elector.5 He raised a regiment of Scots in Germany and the United Provinces to accompany William’s expedition to England in 1688, sailing over with the prince and commanding the Orangist garrison at Plymouth, and in the following March was sent as the new king’s envoy to the Scottish convention. In Edinburgh he raised another force of troops and played a crucial role, first in pacifying the capital, and then in the campaigns against the Jacobite army, distinguishing himself at Killiecrankie. After the surrender of Edinburgh Castle he was appointed its constable.6 His father’s position in the Scottish government gave him the opportunity to advance his own military career, which he did with a single-minded egotism, manifest in the pursuit of petty quarrels with those he considered competitors.7 He was active in the Highland War and took his regiment to Flanders in 1692-3, seeing action at Steenkirk and Landen.8

The two Melvilles continued in office throughout William’s reign, Leven following in his father’s wake, although by 1700 their relations with James Douglas, 2nd duke of Queensberry [S], the head of the court party, were ambivalent, poisoned in part, perhaps, by the presence in Queensberry’s counsels of their enemies the Dalrymples, and also by Leven’s personal losses in the Darien fiasco (he had subscribed £2,000 to the Company of Scotland, which he could ill afford).9 Melville sniffily declared in 1700 that he and his son had been ‘so long out of the king’s service’ that they were unqualified to give advice on policy.10 After the death of the king, Leven and Melville were among those representatives of the Presbyterian and ‘Revolution’ interest dismissed from office at the behest of George Mackenzie, Viscount Tarbat [S] (later earl of Cromarty [S]) in order to accommodate the Episcopalian interest. Queensberry did nothing to keep them in, although Leven was appointed to the union commission of December 1702.11

Leven did not immediately benefit from the return to power of his erstwhile friends in the ‘Revolution interest’, Patrick Hume, earl of Marchmont [S] and John Hay, 2nd marquess of Tweeddale [S]), as part of the ‘New Party’ administration of 1704, for another key member of the New Party (or Squadrone Volante, as it became known) was John Leslie, 9th earl of Rothes [S], his deadly enemy in both family affairs and Fife politics. Rothes insisted that Leven be excluded.12 Indeed, Leven seemed to think that he was a particular target of the Squadrone during the alarms over the so-called ‘Scotch Plot’, an experience which drew him closer to Queensberry.13 He did, however, continue to give his support to a settlement of the succession in the house of Hanover, and the securing of an Anglo-Scottish union.14 Political reliability on these crucial issues, together with the personal connections he was forging with leading figures in the English ministry, resulted in his being promoted to the rank of major-general, and subsequently reinstated as constable of Edinburgh Castle in October 1704, through the intervention of the lord treasurer, Sidney Godolphin, Baron (later earl of )Godolphin.15

Queensberry’s friendship proved of further benefit to Leven after the duke recaptured control of the Scottish administration.16 In February 1705 James Johnston had noted that Leven was ‘not satisfied, but will needs have more than he has, and he’ll get it’.17 Leven became master of the ordnance in Scotland in May 1705, and when the commander-in-chief of the army in Scotland, Lieutenant-General George Ramsay, died in September 1705, Leven quickly put in for the vacancy, as ‘the eldest major-general’.18 He pledged to serve Godolphin and John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, though it was observed that at the same time he ‘makes a great interest with the Whigs’, and was quick to acknowledge the role of both Godolphin and Marlborough in procuring him the post.19 Against Queensberry’s advice, who feared that concentrating three important (and lucrative) military posts in a single person would unduly restrict opportunities for patronage, Leven (who had insisted on retaining his existing posts) was confirmed early in 1706 as commander-in-chief as well as constable of Edinburgh Castle and master-general of the ordnance.20

As a Scottish commissioner Leven took part in the negotiations to unite Scotland and England, despite military commitments, his contribution reflecting a genuine zeal for the idea of union. He also lost no opportunity to explain to English listeners that Scots Presbyterians, contrary to rumour, were equally enthusiastic, while Episcopalians were to a man against union and against providing for a Hanoverian succession.21 Leven’s links with the Kirk establishment proved helpful to the unionist cause, as he did what he could to reassure Presbyterian interests in Scotland.22 When the Scottish parliament met he duly voted to ratify the treaty, and during the session acted in his military capacity to calm the Edinburgh streets.23 During the debates he wrote often to the English secretary of state Robert Harley, later earl of Oxford, from whom he received lavish praise for ‘your lordship’s conduct, [and] the true sense your lordship has shown for the interest of your country’.24 Similarly, Leven was also cultivating, or being cultivated by, English politicians of a different stripe. The Junto lord John Somers, Baron Somers, wrote in October 1706 to thank him ‘for the honour of your letter… and yet more, for your promise to let me know, from time to time, what passes’.25 According to Johnston around the same time, Leven ‘whom they incline to is quite out of favour with them: he smelt a rat and would not meddle’.26 In January 1707 Marlborough also acknowledged the value of Leven’s correspondence, through ‘which I am heartily glad to find you have made so good a progress in the Union’.27

Leven was now firmly anchored in Queensberry’s inner circle, and the duke’s political lieutenant, John Erskine, 22nd earl of Mar [S], observed in relation to the selection of the first cohort of representative peers in the united Parliament, that Leven ‘could not be left out’. Similarly, he was among those members of the Scottish administration whose presence was judged to be necessary at London once the Union had been approved in Edinburgh, but he was soon obliged to return to Scotland to help maintain order there.28 Marchmont described him in 1707 as ‘for Revolution by principle’ and as able to influence Patrick Moncrieff in the Commons.

In May 1707 Leven succeeded his father in the earldom of Melville but it was as earl of Leven that he took his seat in the Lords on 23 Oct. 1707. He was present on 74 days of the session, 69 per cent of the total, and was named to 18 committees. He acted as a teller on 29 Jan. 1708, on the question of whether to agree to the resolution that the complaints had been duly proved against Captain William Kerr. On 5 Feb., in a debate on the bill to complete the Union, he supported an unsuccessful attempt to delay until October the proposed abolition of the Scottish Privy Council.29 He acted as a teller again on 7 Feb. in the committee of the whole on whether to add a proviso to the bill and following the passage of the bill later that day, he signed the protest against it as a violation of the Union. He last attended on 4 Mar., his departure from London being prompted by news of an impending French invasion of Scotland. As Adam de Cardonnel wrote on 5 Mar. ‘Leven, who commands the forces in North Britain, is sent down post’.30 Though this scare quickly petered out, his handling of the crisis gave rise to some controversy. Wemyss had to step in to defend Leven’s supposed ‘lingering upon the road’ to Scotland, and then Leven was seemingly attacked for his public criticism of the failure of Admiral Sir George Byng, the future Viscount Torrington, to pursue the French squadron.31 On 15 Apr. Leven was sent a warrant to dispatch to London those Scots suspected of involvement in the invasion plot.32 Although he treated his prisoners well, the arrests antagonized some cavaliers, who suggested, incorrectly, that Leven had been partly to blame for the order, and were encouraged to do so by malicious insinuations from the Squadrone and the English Whigs.33 Nevertheless, on a printed list of the first Parliament of Great Britain compiled in about May 1708 he was classed as a Whig.

Leven was active in the general election of June 1708, on behalf of the court party against the combined interest of James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S], and the Squadrone, against whom he was especially bitter: he opposed Squadrone candidates in Buteshire and Perthshire, as well as Fife, and worked to bring some cavalier lords to support the court list of representative peers.34 He attended the peers’ election, voting for all the candidates on the court list.35 Immediately afterwards, an objection was raised against his presenting the proxy of William Fraser, 12th Lord Saltoun [S], and in relation to Commons elections he was also accused of corrupt practices, principally intimidation.36 On 8 July 1708 he was included on the list of duly elected peers presented to the Lords. On 27 Aug. he received another warning about the Junto: ‘their spleen at you is particular, and they continue in assuring their party of their strict enquiry into our election with a very particular manner’.37

Leven was in Edinburgh on 14 Oct. 1708 when he wrote to Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland about troop movements, but by the 29th he was at Stamford en route to London, having left Newcastle on the 25th.38 Thus, he was in London for the start of the new session on 16 November. He was present on 58 days of the session, 63 per cent of the total and was named to 12 committees. Once the Lords began their inquiry into the peers’ election in January 1709 it was rumoured that ‘Leven is to be turned off’. Undeterred, he stood out against the Junto, supporting on 21 Jan. Queensberry’s right to vote in the peers’ election despite having received a British title (as duke of Dover) after the Union. When counsel was heard on the question of whether a peer of Scotland who took the oaths within Edinburgh Castle was qualified to vote in the peerage election, those appearing for the petitioners alleged that the sheriff had right to hold a court there, and therefore the votes of peers so sworn were invalid, whereas Leven intervened to say that as constable he always thought that the sheriff had jurisdiction. The House voted 56-52 on Leven’s side.39 Leven’s own return was never in danger, even after the recalculation of votes reported on 1 Feb. reduced his vote from 54 to 46. George Baillie wrote on 26 Mar. that ‘all the Scots were against’ the bill for improving the Union, which extended the English treason laws into Scotland, and Leven was present that day.40 On his last day of attendance of that day. he was said to have opposed the bill, but neither of the two protests against the bill on 28 Mar. bore his signature. By 13 Apr. he was back in Edinburgh.41

Leven resumed his seat at the start of business on 15 Nov. 1709, attending on 74 days, almost two-thirds of the total and being named to 15 committees. Both Rothes and Hamilton courted his interest in the by-election for Dysart Burghs, the writ for which was issued after a long delay on 17 December. Hamilton eventually secured Leven’s interest and his candidate was returned in January 1710.42 On 20 Mar. Leven voted Dr Sacheverell guilty of high crimes and misdemeanour. He was present for the last time on 4 April. Soon after his return to Scotland he wrote to inform Godolphin that ‘all the Jacobites in Scotland expect the Pretender in the month of May’.43

Leven’s candidate had defeated Rothes’s nominee in Fifeshire in 1708, but in the changed circumstances of 1710, both men sought agreement. However, George Hay, styled Viscount Dupplin (later Baron Hay and 8th earl of Kinnoull [S]) confidently asserted to Harley that ‘both of them will be disappointed for the [Lord] Lyon [Sir Alexander Areskine‡, 2nd bt] will carry it’, and he proved correct.44 In the peerage elections, there were again rumours that devotees of the old court party, like Leven, would combine with the Squadrone, but in the event Leven joined the new ministry.45 Certainly, Baillie on 28 Oct. 1710 seems to have suspected that Leven was making court to the new ministry.46 If this was a ploy to secure a place on the court list, Leven was disappointed; as Mar wrote on 7 Nov. it was ‘impracticable’ to place Leven, John Dalrymple, 2nd earl of] Stair [S], David Boyle, earl of Glasgow [S], or Henry Scott, earl of Deloraine on the court list list ‘without eminently hazarding some of those coming in upon us’, and so he was excluded from the pro-government slate for the peers’ election in November, which was settled by Mar with Hamilton and John Campbell, 2nd duke of Argyll [S]. Evidently Leven was one of several ‘old party’ men whom neither the Scottish Tories nor Argyll could stomach, as it was rumoured that ‘orders’ had been ‘sent down’ to include Leven, Glasgow, Stair and James Ogilvy, earl of Seafield [S] (later 4th earl of Findlater [S]), but that Argyll and Archibald Campbell, earl of Ilay [S], ‘would not hear of it’.47 Nevertheless, Mar had predicted on 9 Nov. that Leven, like most of the disappointed, ‘will come into our voting list’, and indeed he duly attended the election on 10 Nov. and voted a court line.48 Richard Dongworth noted that ‘it was wondered that’ Leven ‘deserted’ his ‘old friends and appeared and personally voted for’ the court slate, while Defoe, writing to Harley on 18 Nov., attributed the success of the election to the ‘cowardice not goodwill’ of Leven and others in not closing with a proposal from Stair.49

Leven was still in office, but a target for Tory place-hunters. On 14 Dec. 1710 Ilay noted to Harley that Leven, Glasgow and Seafield were ‘all in town, making their court; the first two are supported by Queensberry’.50 Leven remained in London, William Nicolson, bishop of Carlisle, paying him a visit on 27 Dec. to discuss the case of the Scottish Episcopalian minister James Greenshields, who had appealed to the Lords against the judgment against him by the Edinburgh magistrates for using the Church of England liturgy. Leven also visited Nicolson on 10 Jan. 1711, with Nicolson returning the visit on the 17th, again probably with reference to Greenshields’s’ case. On 16 Mar. Nicolson recorded that, while walking in St James’s Park, ‘Lord Leven seized me and told me of prayers in the Jacobite meeting-houses at Edinburgh on Sunday sennight “for a person going on a dangerous voyage”’, which was understood to be a reference to the Pretender.51

Leven remained useful to the ministry because of his contacts with the Presbyterian clergy, and was praised by John Murray, duke of Atholl [S], for his contribution, as an elder, in the General Assembly in April 1712.52 In June 1712 William Kerr, 2nd marquess of Lothian [S] noted that ‘the duke of Argyll is to succeed the earl of Leven in his command here’, and in due course he was dismissed from his posts, although not long after he had voted, at the request of the lord treasurer Oxford as Harley had become, for the 4th earl of Findlater (the former Seafield) in a by-election for a vacancy in the representative peers.53 Leven appealed to the treasurer for protection from further indignities, such as the loss of his command of Edinburgh Castle, but received only vague promises. At the same time his financial troubles multiplied: in July 1713 he was pleading privately to Oxford for assistance in staving off creditors, and he formally petitioned for reimbursement for money he had been obliged to spend as governor of Edinburgh Castle, including £2,000 for ‘procuring intelligence’, and for a further £1,500, as an ‘allowance’ of £300 previously promised by the queen to be added to his salary as master of the ordnance.54 He was also one of the creditors on the Equivalent, and in January 1714 was pressing his claims there as well.55 Perception of his vulnerability encouraged Presbyterian suspicions that he might be adopted again as a court candidate in the peers’ election of 1713, he ‘being entirely brought over to the Court’, but this was never a plausible prospect.56

After the death of Queen Anne Leven was anxious to re-emphasize his Hanoverian credentials: he participated in the proclamation of George I in Edinburgh and hurried south to greet the new king. He was favourably received as the king remembered encountering him at the Brandenburg Court.57 But he was not elected again. In 1715 he unsuccessfully sought ‘a mark of royal favour’, and without such financial help faced such severe hardship, with debts of over £400,000 Scots, that in 1716 he made all his estates over to his elder son.58 In 1717 he came under suspicion of Jacobitism, which he vigorously denied, although his material needs were so acute that he may occasionally have been tempted to dabble in correspondence with Jacobite agents.59 In 1722 he was canvassed by Scottish Tories in advance of the peerage election.60

Leven died on 6 June 1728.


  • 1 CSP Dom. 1689-90, pp. 109, 350, 361, 394; CSP Dom. 1691–2, pp. 166, 167; CSP Dom. 1696, pp. 168, 195; CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 480, 538; CSP Dom. 1698, pp. 321, 405, 407, 431, 432; CSP Dom. 1702-3, pp. 353, 571; Boyer, Anne Annals, i. 156.
  • 2 Scot. Rec. Soc. lix. 307; HMC Portland, iv. 467; x. 368.
  • 3 NAS, RHP 35813; HMC Stuart, iii. 551; London Jnl. xviii. 27.
  • 4 Lockhart Pprs. i. 90-91.
  • 5 W. Fraser, Melvilles and Leslies, i. 247-8; ii. 56, 253-4.
  • 6 Douglas, Scots Peerage, vi. 110-11; N. Japikse, Correspondentie (ser. 1), i. 55; ii. 622, 636; CSP Dom. 1689-90, pp. 16, 176.
  • 7 P.W.J. Riley, K. Wm. and Scottish Politicians, 56-57, 61.
  • 8 CSP Dom. 1689-90, p. 183.
  • 9 Carstares SP, 430; Riley, K. Wm. and Scottish Politicians, 126-7; NAS, GD 26/9/378; C.A. Whatley, Scots and Union, 170.
  • 10 NAS, GD 26/13/114.
  • 11 Riley, Union, 45; Lockhart Mems. 17.
  • 12 Riley, Union, 81.
  • 13 Seafield Letters, 152; HMC Portland, iv. 94-95, 99-100; HMC Bath, i. 58; Crossrig Diary, 152; Riley, Union, 92-93.
  • 14 Carstares SP, 717-18; HMC Laing, ii. 17, 69, 71, 80; HMC Portland, iv. 100; viii. 130-1; Baillie Corresp. 107; Riley, Union, 98.
  • 15 Riley, Union, 87.
  • 16 Seafield Letters, 30, 157; Crossrig Diary, 162.
  • 17 Baillie Corresp. 49.
  • 18 HMC Laing, ii. 123; Seafield Letters, 182; Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. 504.
  • 19 Add. 61136, ff. 27-28, 31-32, 41; 28055, f. 404; NLS, ms 1033, f. 10; Seafield Letters, 158.
  • 20 Fraser, Melvilles and Leslies, ii. 193; Riley, Union, 255.
  • 21 NAS, GD 26/13/122, 134.
  • 22 Carstares SP, 751-4.
  • 23 Riley, Union, 330; HMC Portland, iv. 345-6.
  • 24 HMC Portland, iv. 346, 381; Add. 70277, Harley to Leven, 21 Nov. 1706.
  • 25 Fraser, Melvilles and Leslies, ii. 204.
  • 26 Baillie Corresp. 157.
  • 27 Fraser, Melvilles and Leslies, ii. 212.
  • 28 HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 371, 374, 381.
  • 29 HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 427.
  • 30 Add. 61399, f. 96.
  • 31 W. Fraser, Mems. Fam. of Wemyss, iii. 170-4.
  • 32 Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scot. 103-4.
  • 33 HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 460-1, 476.
  • 34 Add. 61628, ff. 80-89, 135-7, 154-6; Add. 61631, f. 54; NAS, GD 26/13/149/1; GD 26/13/150; GD 26/13/151/3; HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 852, 876; Priv. Corr. D.M., ii. 258, 263-4.
  • 35 NLS, ms 1026, ff. 24, 29, 39, 56.
  • 36 NLS, ms 1026, ff. 7-8, 56, 59, 60; Add. 61628, ff. 164-5; NAS, GD 220/5/159/5; Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scot. 109.
  • 37 Fraser, Melvilles and Leslies, ii. 248.
  • 38 Add. 61629, ff. 20, 22.
  • 39 HMC Lords, n.s. viii. 2-5.
  • 40 Haddington mss at Mellerstain, 3, Baillie to wife, 26 Mar. 1709.
  • 41 Add. 61629, f. 26.
  • 42 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 909-10; NLS, ms 14415, ff. 194-5,196; ms 7021, f. 198.
  • 43 Marlborough-Godolphin Corresp. 1477.
  • 44 NLS, ms 7021, ff. 233, 237; HMC Portland, iv. 558; HP Commons, 1690-1715, ii. 852-3.
  • 45 NLS, ms 7021, ff. 233, 240.
  • 46 NAS, GD 158/1257/4.
  • 47 HMC Portland, x. 349; Wodrow, Analecta, i. 307-8.
  • 48 HMC Portland, x. 350; NLS, ms 1026, ff. 62-63.
  • 49 Christ Church, Oxf. Wake mss 17, ff. 268-9; HMC Portland, iv. 630.
  • 50 HMC Portland, iv. 645.
  • 51 Nicolson, London Diaries, 525-6, 532, 534, 560.
  • 52 HMC Portland, v. 175.
  • 53 Add. 70245, Lothian to Oxford, 28 June 1712; HMC Portland, x. 199.
  • 54 HMC Portland, x. 200, 209, 479–80, 495; CTP, 1708-14, p. 497.
  • 55 Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scot. 223.
  • 56 Wodrow, Analecta, ii. 237.
  • 57 Fraser, Melvilles and Leslies, i. 307; ii. 256-7.
  • 58 Herts. ALS, Cowper (Panshanger) mss, DE/P/F55, Leven to Cowper, 15 Mar. 1715; Douglas, vi. 112.
  • 59 HMC 3rd Rep. 378; HMC Stuart, iii. 550.
  • 60 HMC Hamilton, ii. 171.