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Reference group
Argathelians (act. 1705–c.1765) emerged as a coherent party in Scottish politics in the period when parliamentary union was being negotiated between England and Scotland. John Campbell, second duke of Argyll, came to political prominence in 1705 as the leading agent of English attempts to secure approval of the Hanoverian succession and a parliamentary union after the failure of their attempt to employ the squadrone, or ‘new party’, of former opposition MPs, in conjunction with the customary followers of royal policy in the Scottish parliament. Such was Argyll's success (and the hatred, jealousy, and distrust he aroused in securing this success) that those following his lead began to be described as Argathelians. William Ferguson has observed that by 1715 ‘the old Court Party was headed by Argyll and, a significant comment on the trend towards personal politics [in Scotland], known usually as the “Argathelians”’ (Ferguson, 137).

As the political influence of the second duke of Argyll and his brother Archibald Campbell, earl of Ilay, increased after the union, so they attracted more adherents as their influence at court in London and with the English ministry appeared to increase. This was not always uniformly achieved between 1710 and about 1720, and at times their opponents were able to portray them as motivated only by ambition for power and office, devoid of any principle but their own glory. Indeed Ilay himself wrote to his brother-in-law James Stuart, second earl of Bute, in 1716 in terms that give the impression that there was some truth to what opponents claimed:
We always judge for ourselves without any prejudice of any side farther than honour and interest joined oblige us … Thus Politics is a continuall petty war and game, and as at all other games, we will sometimes win and sometimes loose, and he that plays best and has the best stock has the best chance … It is enough that we can maintain an interest with some of both sides without giving up anything we must and ought to maintain, and if I can save myself or my friends by being thought a Mahometan by a Turk, I'll never decline it. (Ferguson, 137–8)
The second duke of Argyll was judged by the new king, George I, to have been insufficiently zealous in pursuing the Jacobite rebels in Scotland after Argyll had, against the odds, prevented them from taking Scotland for the Stuarts in 1715. His pursuit of the rebels after reinforcements reached him in 1716 led to accusations that he was sympathetic to their cause. In fact Argyll was reluctant to root out Jacobites as traitors after they were defeated, aware as he was of the strength of continuing Jacobite support in Scotland after the union. After the revolt had begun in 1715 Argyll had written to the ministry in London that ‘beyond the Forth, the rebels have a hundred to one at least in their Interest’ (B. Lenman, The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1980, 134).

From 1715 to 1725 Scottish politics was characterized by rivalry between the Argathelians and the squadrone, both in the whig interest. The squadrone was associated with the idea of integrating Scotland more completely with England in order to secure the protestant succession in Scotland. The problem for the squadrone arose from its identification with the Scottish convention of 1689 that voted to declare the Scottish throne vacant and offer it to William of Orange. Ironically, while the Argyll inheritance from the seventeenth century was one of identification with the Scottish presbyterian covenants, by the 1720s the Argathelians became associated increasingly with creeping Erastianism in the Church of Scotland, working with clergymen such as Neil Campbell, principal of the University of Glasgow, and Patrick Cuming at the University of Edinburgh. One reason the duke of Argyll and his brother were able to pursue this policy of insisting on establishing the subordination of the church to the state was that Scottish Presbyterians found it difficult to associate the Argyll interest with anything but the covenanting legacy of the seventeenth century and the end of the Stuart regime in Scotland in 1689.

The elephant in the corner in Scottish politics was the Jacobite party, which could not openly pursue its political aims in Hanoverian Scotland but possibly drew as much support from among the political élite in the country as its whig opponents. While the whig interest was divided on the issue of integration with England, the north remained sympathetic to the idea of Jacobitism as part of Scottish national identity, as the Stuart dynasty represented the unbroken history of political independence maintained without interruption up to the time of Cromwellian conquest. From an English and squadrone perspective the Argathelians were too willing to draw on Jacobite support to ensure their political supremacy in Scotland. As late as 1761, after the death of Ilay (by then third duke of Argyll), Lord Chancellor Hardwicke wrote to the duke of Newcastle of his ‘apprehension … to keep down the Highland Influence, which has always been either Jacobite in itself, or has supported the Jacobites in order to avail itself of their strength’ (Murdoch, People Above, 99).

How far this was the case is open to debate. Undoubtedly the Argathelians attempted to win over Jacobite sympathizers to accommodation to the Hanoverian regime as consolidated by Sir Robert Walpole. The best illustration of this was the efforts by Argyll's supporter Duncan Forbes to ‘bring in’ the notorious Jacobite supporter Simon Fraser, eleventh Lord Lovat, whose actions and eventual execution after the last Jacobite rebellion did not serve to allay the suspicions of Argathelian opponents. The sons of Harry Maule of Panmure, another prominent Jacobite, including William Maule, earl of Panmure of Forth, also benefited from Argathelian patronage. On the other hand the earl of Ilay became the great patron of the nephew of the ‘father’ of the squadrone whigs, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, whose nephew, also Andrew Fletcher, was raised early to the bench of the Scottish court of session as Lord Milton and for the next forty years acted as the Argathelians' principal agent in Scotland, emerging as completely dominant after the death of Duncan Forbes in 1747. James Erskine, also known by his judicial title of Lord Grange, a supporter of Ilay until 1733, wrote to the squadrone marquess of Tweeddale in 1734 that Milton had acted on a political issue ‘en Qualité, I suppose, de sous-Ministre d'Ecoss’ (2 Sept 1734, Yester papers, NL Scot., MS 7044, fol. 101).

The Argathelian interest split after the Porteous affair of 1736, when the murder of the captain of the city guard of Edinburgh, John Porteous, by the city's mob, led to demands in parliament for reprisals against Edinburgh and Scotland. The earl of Ilay was willing to do the government's bidding, but his elder brother cast himself in the role of defender of the Scottish nation in the House of Lords. The resulting divisions led to the only electoral defeat in Scotland suffered by a ruling government in the eighteenth century, when losses in Scotland during the election of 1741 contributed to the fall of Sir Robert Walpole's ministry. In the aftermath there was an attempt to revive the squadrone interest in Scotland under the marquess of Tweeddale. Ironically for a party committed to greater integration with England, Tweeddale was given the revived office of secretary of state for Scotland in the new ministry in an effort to demonstrate his importance. Divisions in the ministry, however, meant that Argathelians could claim that the earl of Ilay, third duke of Argyll following his brother's death in 1743, ‘Governed everything relating to Scotland behind the Curtain’ (NL Scot., Yester papers, MS 7054, fol. 125). Significantly, Argyll remained aware of the importance of the highlands. ‘The political rivalry between the Squadrone and Argathelians during this period meant that the bulk of patronage in Scotland went to influential lowlanders although Ilay for his part had made some attempt to bring the Highlands within the patronage network’ (Scott, 498).

By this time Argyll seemed reluctant to push for political power, but his lieutenant Andrew Fletcher, Lord Milton, redoubled his activity. James Erskine wrote of Milton's
Incessant Labour and Contrivances, and the power of getting places and Employments to their Creatures; so that none do now expect to be Regarded but by them or at least with their concurrence and whoever is thought to apply to others in the Mi[nistr]y and not by them and their Chief Dependance, Seldom fail to be disappointed and neglected, if not worse. (Scott, 543, citing Erskine to Pelham, 22 Sept 1747, Nottingham University Library, Newcastle (Clumber) papers, NEC 1801a)
Erskine, a former judge himself, raised the issue of whether it was right to allow a serving judge to become so active in political affairs:
Should a judge be the ordinary administrator, and Manager of all the little political jobs? Is it safe as to justice? Is it decent? And must it not lessen the Confidence of the people in their judges? Can he mind all these little jobs and not Neglect the Business of the Bench? (ibid.)
With Argyll's backing, Milton remained at the centre of government in Scotland for the two decades after the last Jacobite rebellion, playing a key role in sponsoring William Robertson's emergence as the leader of the Church of Scotland, culminating in his appointment as principal of Edinburgh University in 1762.

In these years the Argathelian interest became less identified with naked ambition and more with promoting economic and social modernization in Scotland. The church and universities became more tolerant, and were at the centre of cultural achievements that have retrospectively been termed the Scottish Enlightenment. Adam Smith's father had been an Argathelian who owed his customs post at Kirkcaldy to their influence. Smith himself owed his first academic post to the third duke of Argyll, who responded positively to the publication of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759. It was Milton and Argyll who promoted the linen industry to encourage exports of Scottish linen in the 1750s. Confiscated Jacobite estates were administered as models of agrarian improvement under legislation promoted by Argyll and passed by parliament in 1752, supervised by a commission meeting in Edinburgh led by Milton. The first legislation encouraging the physical development of Edinburgh was obtained by the Argathelians from parliament in the 1750s, and income from the confiscated Jacobite estates was used eventually to fund the construction of a purpose-built archive for the national records of Scotland as part of the promotion of the New Town of Edinburgh.

After the third duke of Argyll died in 1761 the title passed to his cousin, John Campbell of Mamore (c.1693–1770), whose two sons played some role in public life but never acquired the stature of their predecessors. In 1761, however, it was the nephew of the second and third dukes of Argyll, John Stuart, third earl of Bute, who was expected to adopt their legacy. His influence with George III had made him prime minister, becoming first lord of the treasury in 1762. Milton continued to act for Bute as he had for his uncle. Bute turned to his younger brother James Stuart Mackenzie to administer Scottish affairs, including Robertson's appointment at Edinburgh, and other influential university, ecclesiastical, and judicial appointments. When Bute resigned in 1763 Milton and Mackenzie continued to administer Scottish affairs under George Grenville.

When Grenville wanted to impose his authority by appointing his own Scottish minister in 1765 he adhered to the idea that the Argathelian interest represented the whig interest in Scotland by sending for John Campbell, Lord Lorne (1723–1806), the fourth duke of Argyll's eldest son. Though Lorne refused to become involved (as fifth duke of Argyll from 1770, he concentrated on promoting agricultural improvement on his estate), he persuaded Grenville to appoint his younger brother, Lord Frederick Campbell. The only reason that this arrangement never came into effect was that the king was successful in persuading the marquess of Rockingham to undertake the formation of a ministry to replace Grenville and his associates in June 1765. By that time Milton had become senile. He died in 1766, and no one like him was prominent in the Scottish legal system until the Dundas family emerged in the aftermath of the end of the American war in 1783 to take the lead in Scottish public life, with the support of such members of the Scottish nobility as the fifth duke of Argyll and his brother Lord Frederick Campbell. The Argathelians ceased to be a coherent interest after the death of Milton and the retirement of James Stuart Mackenzie from Scottish administration. Their lasting legacy was twofold: first, their association with the eventual triumph of Scottish unionism over Jacobitism; and second, the promotion of a secular public culture and economic development after the last of the Jacobite risings. Both developments were at the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Alexander Murdoch


A. Murdoch, The people above: politics and administration in mid-eighteenth-century Scotland (1980); repr. (2003) · R. Scott, ‘The politics and administration of Scotland, 1725–48’, PhD diss., U. Edin., 1982 · J. S. Shaw, The management of Scottish society, 1707–1764 (1983) · R. B. Sher, Church and university in the Scottish Enlightenment: the moderate literati of Edinburgh (1985) · NL Scot., Yester papers · NL Scot., Saltoun papers · A. M. Smith, Jacobite estates of the Forty-Five (1982) · A. Murdoch, ‘The importance of being Edinburgh: management and opposition in Edinburgh politics, 1746–1784’, SHR, 62 (1983), 1–16 · W. Ferguson, Scotland: 1689 to the present (1969) · A. Murdoch, ‘Lord Bute, James Stuart Mackenzie and the government of Scotland’, Lord Bute: essays in re-interpretation, ed. K. Schweizer (1988), 117–46 · P. W. J. Riley, The English ministers and Scotland, 1707–1727 (1964)