The Civil List division of 1830

When George IV died in June 1830, there was a constitutional requirement for a general election to be held. This took place very soon afterwards, in the context of mounting economic hardship in the country, and a number of candidates, notably the eminent Whig lawyer Henry Brougham, campaigned on the need for parliamentary reform. Following the opening of Parliament, one of the first tasks for the duke of Wellington’s weakened Tory administration was to make financial provision for the new king, William IV.

Sensitive to the public mood for greater frugality in government expenditure, ministers proposed to reduce the civil list grant by £161,000, compared to the previous reign. However, this did not go far enough for many, and the Whig economist Sir Henry Parnell brought forward an amendment, calling for the civil list to be scrutinised by a select committee.

In the ensuing debate, Parnell was supported by the leader of the rejuvenated Whig opposition, Lord Althorp, and by Joseph Hume, the prominent Radical advocate of economy. Crucially, they were joined in the division lobby by two groups of disaffected Tories, the Canningites and the Ultras. To the surprise of Wellington, Parnell’s amendment was carried by 233-204.

Anticipating the possibility of defeat the next day on Brougham’s scheduled motion for reform, an issue on which Wellington had recently taken an uncompromisingly hostile stance in the House of Lords, the duke took the opportunity afforded by the civil list vote to resign immediately. This paved the way for the formation of Lord Grey’s ministry, which was committed to introducing a reform bill.

Author: Terry Jenkins