PRIMROSE, Archibald (1664-1723)

PRIMROSE, Archibald (1664–1723)

cr. 1 Apr. 1700 Visct. of Rosebery [S]; cr. 10 Apr. 1703 earl of ROSEBERY [S]

RP [S] 1707–15

First sat 1 Dec. 1707; last sat 7 July 1714

MP [S] Edinburgh 1696–1700

b. 18 Dec. 1664, 5th but 3rd surv. s. of Sir Archibald Primrose, bt. (d.1679) of Carrington, Midlothian (Ld. Carrington s.c.j.), being o. s. by 2nd w. Agnes, da. of Sir William Gray of Pittendrum, Sandhaven, Aberdeen., and wid. of Sir John Dundas of Newliston, Linlithgow. educ. travelled abroad 1680–7. m. lic. 3 Feb. 1691, Dorothea (d. aft. 1724), da. and h. of Everingham Cressy (d.1679) of Birkin, Yorks., 6s. (4 d.v.p.) 6da. (3 d.v.p.). d. 20 Oct. 1723; admon. 3 June 1724 to John Campbell, guardian of James Primrose, 2nd earl of Rosebery [S].1

Gent. of the bedchamber to George, of Denmark, 1688–1708; PC [S] 1701–8; commr. treasury [S] 1701–2, exch. [S] 1703–?8, union with England 1702–3, 1706.2

Commr. supply Midlothian 1690; chamberlain, Fife and Strathearn 1703-9, Fife 1709–14; provost, Inverkeithing, by 1708–1720.3

Associated with: Dalmeny, Midlothian.

Likenesses: oil on canvas by J.B. Medina, National Galleries of Scotland; line engraving by P. Vanderbank, after J. Riley, c.1680-8, BM.

Although a younger son, Primrose was evidently a favourite of his distinguished father and was left a substantial part of Lord Carrington’s fortune, including the estate at Dalmeny. He also inherited some of his father’s political skills, if not his intellectual brilliance, and was able to make a career at court and in government. After a period of foreign travel which culminated in active service in the Austrian Imperial army against the Turks in Hungary, he came home in 1687. The following year he found himself summoned before the Scottish Privy Council for opposing the religious policies of James II; proceedings were halted by the intervention of James Fitzjames, duke of Berwick, and it is said that to save himself Primrose ‘declared Popish’.4

After the 1688 Revolution Primrose received a position in the royal household (at a salary of £600 p.a.) and from 1696 served as a commissioner for Edinburghshire (Midlothian) in the Scottish Parliament.5 He attached himself to the interest of James Douglas, 2nd duke of Queensberry [S], who eventually obtained a peerage for him in 1700 and appointment to the Scottish Privy Council in the following year.6 In 1702 he was one of the Queensberryites appointed to the Scottish commission to negotiate a treaty of union with England. He attended all but three of the 28 joint sessions of commissioners between 10 Nov. 1702 and 3 Feb. 1703, and although evidently disgusted by the attitudes displayed on these occasions by some of his English counterparts he remained a believer in the necessity of union. When included among the treaty commissioners in 1706 he wrote privately to Queensberry’s lieutenant, John Erskine, 22nd earl of Mar [S], one of the two Scottish secretaries of state, that, ‘I do believe nothing will ever make this country easy but an entire, complete union with England, which since they now seem willing to agree to, we were the most unhappy people in the world if it should fail on our side.’7

He remained loyal to Queensberry throughout the shifts in Scottish politics after the accession of Anne. In 1703 he was reappointed to the Scottish Privy Council, promoted in the peerage, and granted the post of chamberlain of Fife and Strathearn (at a combined salary and pension worth £300 p.a. in total), as part of a package of preferments designed to buttress Queensberry’s position.8 Although he was one of only a handful of members of the former court party to retain office under the ‘New Party’ in 1704, he worked with Queensberry’s men to harass the administration in the Scottish parliament, and when Queensberry came back into favour he was promised the governorship of Edinburgh castle, though this never materialized.9 He voted a solid pro-Union line in the proceedings on ratification in the Scottish parliament, and was rewarded by nomination as one of the first cohort of representative peers to be sent to the united Parliament.10 According to Mar, when Queensberry and his friends were weighing up the candidates for the final place, ‘it was thought my Lord Rosebery had the most favourable pretensions ... for he had been on both treaties and ever firm to the present servants, both before and since being a peer, and was extraordinary desirous to be one of the sixteen’.11

For Rosebery this was not enough. He was owed nearly £3,000 in arrears on his pension for the chamberlainry of Fife and Strathearn; a further £1,500 from his salary as a union commissioner in 1702–3; and in all probability another substantial sum from unpaid salary as a gentleman of the bedchamber to Prince George (the arrears of which amounted to £750 at the prince’s death in 1708).12 He had previously taken advantage of his attendance in London at joint meetings of the union commissioners to request the queen to change the terms under which he held the chamberlainry. The grant had been ‘during pleasure’, and he at first proposed that this be converted to a grant for life with an annual pension of £300. When the queen ‘scrupled’, he suggested that the grant could be for her life only, with a reduced pension of £100. She would not grant this either, but said she would think about it again when the Scottish parliamentary session had come to an end. Rosebery himself was unwilling to take the initiative and instead asked Queensberry to speak for him. The duke and Mar then made a further offer: the chamberlainry of Fife and a pension of £1,000 p.a. to be granted for life, while the other elements of the appointment would remain at pleasure. As Mar put it, ‘Rosebery has indeed served very honestly and firmly, therefore the commissioners would be very glad that the queen showed him a mark of her favour’.13 When nothing happened, Rosebery continued to press. As he told Mar, he thought he might:

reasonably now expect some other post in the government than that only of being a commissioner, for your lordship knows I ever firmly served her majesty, and her interest, in all the sessions of Parliament I have been in and have been obliged to be at some expense in attending her service, but whatever her majesty may be pleased to do in this it shall never in the least alter the zeal I have always had for her service.14

In the 1707 analysis of Patrick Hume, earl of Marchmont [S] he was described as ‘sicut [i.e. just as] Queensberry’. Although Parliament met on 23 Oct. 1707, Rosebery was the last Scottish representative peer to take his seat. He swore the oaths on 1 Dec., beginning a parliamentary career that covered seven sessions. He attended all but one of those sessions for more than half of all sittings and four sessions for more than 60 per cent. The timing of his initial attendance coincided with heated debate in the Commons on how to strengthen the Union. Two bills were sent up to the Lords during January and February 1708: the first, to abolish the Scottish Privy Council and introduce into Scotland the English system of justices of the peace; the second to settle the militia in Scotland.15 When the House went into committee of the whole on 5 Feb. on the Privy Council bill, Rosebery supported an unsuccessful attempt to delay abolition until October.16 The bill passed its third reading on 7 Feb. and Rosebery signed the protest against it as a violation of the Union. At the same time he was seeking to take advantage of the terms of the Union in a very personal matter, reviving an appeal first made in Scotland in 1695 against a legal decision given against him by the court of session, relating to fishing rights in the water of Cramond. He took his case to the Lords, the first Scot to exploit the newly acquired appellate jurisdiction of the united Parliament. The Lords considered the appeal on 6, 24 and 27 Mar. but the process was overtaken by the end of the session in April. The case did, however, give rise to the first reported instance of Rosebery’s tendency to fits of temper, when a street quarrel over the lawsuit ended in an exchange of blows.17

Rosebery had attended the session for the last time on 12 Mar. 1708, eight days after the House had received papers relating to an invasion attempt from France on behalf of the Pretender. He was in Edinburgh by the end of the month but was not present at a shire meeting on 5 Apr. when an address was agreed ‘asserting her Majesty’s right against the prince of Wales and all pretenders whatsoever’. His absence was hard to explain: Sir John Clerk, bt., of Penicuik, an austere Presbyterian and ‘Revolutioner’, accused those Midlothian lairds who had failed to attend of being ‘against the union either within or without doors’.18 Rosebery also refused to sign a similar address from Fife drawn up by the Squadrone lord John Leslie, 9th earl of Rothes [S], while supporting a counter-address, which was allegedly an attempt to undermine Rothes’ interest in the county. At the same time, he used his own electoral influence as provost of Inverkeithing to help one of Rothes’s party colleagues, Charles Hay, styled Lord Yester (later 3rd marquess of Tweeddale [S]), to be returned to the Commons for Stirling Burghs.19 In the peers’ election, however, he was included on the court slate, and voted a straight court line.20 In the end he seems to have owed his election to securing enough proxy votes from the court list after these had been ‘thrown for at dice at Queensberry House’, and he had enjoyed ‘great luck’.21 In consequence, he secured the highest number of votes cast in the election, a position he retained even after investigations by the House of Lords into protests had resulted in a recalculation of votes.22

In the opinion of the Scottish customs commissioner Sir Alexander Rigby, writing shortly after the election to James Ogilvy, earl of Seafield [S] (later 4th earl of Findlater [S]), Rosebery ‘hath too long neglected himself and therefore I doubt he’ll find it hard to shake off some habits; otherwise he is well worth caressing as most lords of this country, being a sensible, reserved, well bred and indefatigable gentleman’.23 In the first session of the new Parliament he supported his patron Queensberry (now duke of Dover in the British peerage) against attempts to make void Queensberry’s participation in the representative peers’ election on account of his acquisition of a Brtish title. Rosebery supported the principle of allowing the votes of Scottish peers who were also British peers, when this was put to the test on 21 Jan. 1709, and divided in the minority against a resolution declaring that no one who had been a peer of Scotland at the time of the Union could take part in the election after accepting a British peerage.24 He attended in March throughout the proceedings on the bill to extend to Scotland the English law of treason, which Scottish peers were unanimous in opposing. When the House went into committee on 18 Mar. he voted against inserting into the act the titles of the English treason laws, and ten days later, after protesting at the rejection of a rider guaranteeing that the accused be given a copy of the indictment and the names of witnesses five days before the trial, he also subscribed to a protest against the passage of the bill. 25

Before the next session Rosebery finally obtained some reward for his patient pursuit of preferment, when his grant of the chamberlainry of Fife was converted to a patent for the life of the queen, with a salary of £300. It would seem that he was no longer chamberlain of Strathearn under the new dispensation, though he did continue to collect the rents and keep back the proportion which had previously been allowed him as a pension.26 He resumed his seat in the Lords on 1 Dec. 1709, more than two weeks into the session, and attended sporadically until 1 Feb. 1710, when the Sacheverell trial engaged his attention. In common with some other Queensberryites, Rosebery was beginning to inch closer towards the Tories. When the Lords divided on the main question of the impeachment on 20 Mar., he voted Sacheverell guilty, but the next day divided against making Sacheverell ineligible for preferment while banned from preaching.27

Rosebery was re-elected a representative peer in November 1710, having been included on the list agreed in advance between Mar, James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S], and John Campbell, 2nd duke of Argyll [S].28 Richard Dongworth, the duchess of Buccleuch’s chaplain, estimated his annual income at ‘not £3,500’ and classed him as a ‘court Tory’, which presumably indicated that he was expected to follow Queensberry and Mar in supporting the ministry. However, the two leaders of the old court interest were no longer entirely seeing eye to eye. Whether because of a residual primary loyalty to Queensberry, or because of his own local interests, Rosebery proved unwilling to co-operate with Mar over the general election contest for Stirling Burghs (in which he was involved as provost of Inverkeithing).29 Mar sought to renew their electoral alliance in favour of the sitting Member, John Erskine, but privately suspected that Rosebery had other plans. In fact, there were reports that Rosebery was setting up a candidate of his own, and at the poll the Squadrone supporter Henry Cunningham was able to take advantage of his opponents’ disorganisation to secure election ahead of Erskine.30 In an analysis of the Scottish representative peers drawn up shortly after the 1710 election he was said to be ‘also good’ in relation to the succession and the Union.

By the time he came down to London in November 1710, Rosebery was back on good terms with Mar, sharing his coach on the journey: Mar found his company ‘diverting’.31 When Parliament met, Rosebery followed Mar and the remainder of Queenberry’s former court party in supporting the new Tory administration.32 He resumed his seat on 11 Dec. (two weeks after the start of the session) and was present only five times before Christmas. On Christmas Day he dined at Pontack’s, with what has been identified as an informal political ‘dining club’ that met frequently during the parliamentary sessions of 1710–12. Although it included different shades of opinion, the leading Scottish members were all peers of a strongly Tory, and in some cases Jacobite, persuasion: William Johnston, marquess of Annandale [S]; William Livingston, 3rd Viscount Kilsyth [S]; William Keith, 8th Earl Marischal [S]; and John Elphinstone, 4th Lord Balmerinoch [S].33 Rosebery attended the House for only 40 per cent of sittings in this session but was present for three consecutive days in January 1711 when the Lords were in a committee of the whole on the war in Spain, voting with the majority on 9 Jan. on an adjournment motion, and subsequently to agree to the resolutions reported from the committee which condemned the conduct of the Peninsula campaign by the previous Whig ministry. In February he supported the appeal of the Episcopalian minister James Greenshields against a sentence passed against him by the magistrates of Edinburgh for using the liturgy of the Church of England.34 Thereafter, Rosebery attended intermittently until 21 Apr., missing the last six weeks of the session entirely. He registered his proxy on 24 Apr. in favour of Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury.

Despite the renewal of his appointment as chamberlain of Fife, Rosebery still harboured insecurities about his position, principally because of a prior claim to the office being advanced by Sir John Malcolm, bt. the recently elected Tory member for Kinross-shire. Rosebery proposed to the lord treasurer (Robert Harley, earl of Oxford) that his remuneration be altered from a combination of salary and pension to salary only, in order to facilitate a compromise agreement with Malcolm, but the barons of the Scottish exchequer would not approve the arrangement.35 In consequence a certain edginess was visible in Rosebery as Parliament reopened. Having entered his proxy before the start of the new session with Archibald Campbell, earl of Ilay [S] (later 3rd earl of Argyll), he travelled down to London with Balmerinoch and the high-flying Scottish Tory member, Sir Hugh Paterson, 3rd bt., resuming his seat on 20 Dec. 1711, the very day that the Lords rejected Hamilton’s attempt to take his seat in the Lords as duke of Brandon, and thereby provoked a serious crisis in Anglo-Scottish relations. 36 Rosebery voted and protested against the decision of the House that no peer of Scotland at the time of the Union could sit by right of a subsequently conferred British peerage, and subsequently subscribed to a memorial to the queen from the Scottish peerage at large, asking her to remedy this violation not only of their own rights but of the royal prerogative.37 The creation of Oxford’s ‘dozen’ new peers over the Christmas recess took some of the wind out of Scottish sails, but although the Scots appeared in support of the Tory ministry when the Lords resumed in early January 1712, their discontents were still simmering.38 Rosebery was one of the most outspoken; surprisingly so, perhaps, given his previous commitment to the principle of union, and readiness to avail himself of its constitutional advantages in his own personal interest. At a meeting of Scottish peers at Hamilton’s house on 17 Jan. there was talk that ‘all things tend to a dissolution of the Union’, and Rosebery declared that ‘the Whigs, Tories and Scots all desire it, and yet no man will speak out and that nothing stops it but the court’. At a further meeting on 25 Jan. he ‘moved … that they should call all the Scots peers in town though not members to advise with’, only for Hamilton to cast a veto. In private Rosebery was reported as speaking ‘very freely … that there remained nothing for us but to dissolution’, yet he did not translate these bold statements into action: ‘when at our meetings he saw some folk’s faces he was very tame’.39 In the event, the Scots peers decided merely to boycott the House of Lords and on 7 and 8 Feb. Rosebery absented himself accordingly.40 Three days later, however, he was back in the House when a petition was received from Scottish Presbyterian ministers against the toleration (Episcopal communion) bill which had been read for the first time on 8 February. Rosebery’s interest in the passage of this bill was an important indicator of his evolving political allegiance. Once the bill passed its third reading on 15 Feb. he resumed his abstention, but returned on the 23rd when the bill was returned to the Lords, and gave his backing to the Commons’ amendments. He continued to attend during proceedings on the patronage bill in April, and in May supported the bill to resume grants made by William III. He also voted against a Whig proposal to address the queen to order her army to act offensively against the French.41

Rosebery sought to capitalize on his value to the ministry in the summer of 1712 by urging again a resolution of his insecurities over the Fife chamberlainry and the payment of the arrears due to him. He renewed the request that his existing pension be converted into a salary, and secured for a period of 32 years, and also for the payment of £1,000 arrears.42 Mar gave the petition his strong endorsement, and Oxford responded by directing a warrant for the immediate payment of £1,500, the equivalent of two and a half years’ of his annual salary of £600, to be paid at £300 a week.43 This was enough to fix Rosebery’s support for the ministry and in the following session he was forecast as likely to support the court over the bill confirming the eighth and ninth articles of the French commercial treaty.

Naturally, the crisis over the extension of the malt tax to Scotland put him into a difficult position. Just before the Scots peers were to meet on 27 May 1713 to discuss their response to the malt bill, Rosebery dined at his lodgings with Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, and Alexander Montgomerie, 9th earl of Eglinton [S].44 He and Eglinton then went on to meet their compatriots, where it was agreed that next day a motion would be made in the Lords for a bill to dissolve the Union. Rosebery is not known to have spoken in the debate on the 28th but voted with his compatriots in the minority in the division that effectively terminated the motion. He attended when the malt bill came up to the Lords and on 5 June voted in favour of an unsuccessful attempt to delay the second reading. When the Lords went into committee on 8 June, Rosebery joined the other Scots present in claiming that 6d. a bushel on malt was too heavy a burden, and that imposing this tax when the country was still at war violated the Union treaty, but the committee agreed to accept the bill as sent up from the Commons.45 When it passed its third reading Rosebery signed the protest which reiterated that the tax was a violation of the Union, and that Scotland was being obliged to help make up a deficiency for which she was not responsible.

Before the 1713 election Oxford was reminded yet again of Rosebery’s ongoing ‘pretensions’: the monetary arrangements of the chamberlainry were still not adjusted to his satisfaction, and arrears of salary from his household office were still outstanding.46 This time nothing was done before the election, and he travelled up to London in February 1714 in a dark mood, and in the company of avowed Jacobites: Balmerinoch, Kilsyth, and Lord James Murray.47 In March he attended at the treasury in person to make the case over his various ‘cravings’, and obtained £450 of his household arrears. He was present in the Lords in the 1714 session for 63 per cent of sittings and was considered as a probable supporter of the Tory schism bill. In June a warrant was issued to pay him a further £1,500 as royal bounty, in lieu of all his financial claims arising from the chamberlainry.48 He attended the House for the last time on 7 July and registered his proxy the same day in favour of Samuel Masham, Baron Masham.

Rosebery did not sit in the Lords again after 1714. He steered well clear of Jacobite intrigues, but remained a Tory in his political leanings. He signed the petition against the peerage bill in 1719 and supported Tory candidates in the 1722 peerage election.49 He died on 20 Oct. 1723.


  • 1 TNA, PROB 6/100, f. 85.
  • 2 CSP Dom. 1702–3, p. 573; Lockhart Letters, 6.
  • 3 NLS, ms 7021, f. 126; HP Commons 1715–54, i. 597-98.
  • 4 Douglas, Scots Peerage, vii. 221.
  • 5 CTB, xxiii. 297.
  • 6 P. W. J. Riley, K. Wm and Scot. Politicians, 128, 168.
  • 7 C.A. Whatley, Scots and Union, 238, 248; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 254.
  • 8 CSP Dom. 1703–4, p. 401; A. I. Macinnes, Union and Empire, 261.
  • 9 Lockhart Letters, 6; Boyer, Anne Annals, iii. App. 41; P. W. J. Riley, Union, 93; CSP Dom. 1704–5, p. 227.
  • 10 Riley, Union, 330.
  • 11 HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 374.
  • 12 CTB, xxii. 57, 119; CTB, xxiii. 21.
  • 13 HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 369, 394.
  • 14 NAS, GD124/15/581/1-2.
  • 15 LJ, xviii. 438, 455–57.
  • 16 NAS, GD124/15754/6.
  • 17 The Decisions of the Lords of Council and Session, from June 6th, 1678, to July 30th, 1712 … (1759–61), ii. 438–9; HMC Lords, n.s. vii. 554; Seafield Corresp. 471-72, 446–48;
  • 18 NAS, GD18/2092/2.
  • 19 NLS, ms 7021, f. 130; HP Commons 1690–1715, ii. 932.
  • 20 NLS, ms 1026, ff. 23, 31.
  • 21 Seafield Letters, 186; HMC Mar and Kellie, i. 451.
  • 22 NLS, ms 1026, ff. 7–8, 23–26, 28–35, 39–40, 60; LJ, xviii. 625.
  • 23 Seafield Letters, 186–7.
  • 24 SHR, lviii. 173.
  • 25 Haddington MSS, Mellerstain letters, 3, G. Baillie to his wife, 19 Mar. 1709.
  • 26 CTB, xxiii. 185–86, 282; CTP, 1708–14, p. 411.
  • 27 G. Holmes, Trial of Dr Sacheverell, 284, 286.
  • 28 HMC Portland, x. 351; NLS, ms 1026, f. 62.
  • 29 NAS, GD 124/15/986/3; GD 124/15/997.
  • 30 HP Commons 1690–1715, ii. 932; iii. 810.
  • 31 HMC Portland, x. 346.
  • 32 Scottish Cath. Archs., Blairs Coll. Mss, BL2/168/4; Lockhart Pprs. i. 320.
  • 33 SHR, lxxi. 116, 124.
  • 34 BLJ, xix. 156; Haddington MSS, Mellerstain letters, 3, Baillie to his wife,13 Jan. 1711; Mellerstain letters, 4, Baillie to his wife, 3 Mar. 1711.
  • 35 HMC Portland, x. 196, 452-54.
  • 36 Blair Atholl, Atholl mss, 45/9/194.
  • 37 NAS, GD 220/5/256/24; LJ, xix. 346–47; HMC Laing, ii, 167.
  • 38 Haddington MSS, Mellerstain letters, 4, Baillie to his wife, 3 Jan. 1712.
  • 39 Scot. Hist. Soc. Misc. xii. 141, 148, 149.
  • 40 BLJ, xix. 161.
  • 41 Haddington MSS, Mellerstain letters, 5, Baillie to Montrose, 28 Feb. 1711; Baillie to Roxburgh, 22 May 1712; Baillie to Roxburgh, [?24], 29 May 1712.
  • 42 CTB, xxvi. 343; CTP, 1708–14, p. 411; HMC Portland, x.196, 270–71.
  • 43 HMC Portland, x. 265; CTB, xxvii. 335.
  • 44 Scot. Hist. Soc. Misc. xii. 154.
  • 45 BLJ, xix. 168.
  • 46 HMC Portland, v. 314.
  • 47 Atholl mss, 25/2/14.
  • 48 CTP, 1708–14, p. 589; CTB, xxviii. 30, 216, 298.
  • 49 Add. 70269, ‘A list of the Lords who signed the petitions against the Peerage Bill’, 17 Mar. 1719; Scot. Hist. Soc. Misc. xii. 168.