III. The Members

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer


Between the dissolution in 1754 and the dissolution in 1790, the number of men elected as Members of the House of Commons was 1,964. This includes John Kirkman, returned for London at the general election of 1780, who died six hours before the conclusion of the poll: technically, however, he was a Member of Parliament, because a writ had to be issued for a by-election. The exact dates of birth or baptism of most of these Members have been ascertained, but in some cases an approximate date of birth, correct to one or two years, has been derived from school and university registers, age at date of death, age at entry into the army or navy, and so on. The following table shows the age composition of each Parliament immediately after the general election. Members returned for more than one constituency are included only once.

General election Age on election

Age not known

Returned for

more than

1 constituency

 Under 3030-39     
Over 80    


The general age distribution is very similar from Parliament to Parliament, as might be expected in a period which did not see any violent social changes effecting the upper classes. The majority of Members, ranging from 398 in 1768 to 372 in 1780, were between the ages of 30 and 59 at the time of the general election. At each election, about 15% of the House was below 30, which again might be expected in a time when men assumed full adult responsibilities earlier than they do today. The Parliament elected in 1784 was somewhat younger than the average (253 Members were under 40) and the Parliament of 1774 somewhat older (214 Members under 40).

At each general election (except those of 1754 and 1784) there was a handful of Members returned under the age of 21: one in 1761; four in 1768; six in 1774; and two in 1780. Legally, these Members were not allowed to speak or vote in the House and their elections were automatically null and void; but no action was ever taken against any of them during this period. There was an opposition to Robert Lowther’s election for Westmorland in 1759 and threats that a petition would be brought against him because he was under age, but nothing was done. Still, in 1780 Lord Compton, who was under age, withdrew his candidature at Northampton at almost the last moment because of ‘rumours in the town’, although there was no opposition. And Lord Ailesbury in 1780 preferred to return a stop-gap at Great Bedwyn rather than his eldest son, who would not be of age until March 1783. Most of the Members returned under age sat for pocket boroughs, but two were elected for counties (Robert Lowther for Westmorland in 1759 and Thomas Charles Bunbury for Suffolk in 1761), and one for a large borough (Henry Seymour Conway for Coventry in 1766).

The average age of the Parliament elected in 1754 was 43.6 years, and the figures for the succeeding Parliaments do not vary from this by more than 2%. The average age on first entering the House, taken throughout the period, was 32.6 years. Naturally, there were wide divergences from this figure in different social classes: sons of peers or members of families with an old-established electoral interest entered the House at a much earlier age than merchants, who had first to make their way in the world and who only developed parliamentary ambitions somewhat late in life. The average tenure of a seat of the Members returned at the general election of 1754 was 22 years 7 months, and of Members returned at by-elections between 1754 and 1761, 15 years 3 months.

The numbers of new Members returned at each general election are shown in the following table.

The continuity of membership from Parliament to Parliament was considerable: at each general election except that of 1768 about 400 Members of the preceding Parliament were again elected, with around 130 new Members who had no parliamentary experience and a score or so of former Members who had not been in Parliament at the preceding dissolution. The number of new, inexperienced Members was higher in 1768 than in any other Parliament of the period, and though with this single exception it would be true to say that in general the proportion of new Members to old remained fairly constant, the tendency of the time was for the number of new Members to show a slight increase. The figures are as follows:

General Elections

New Members (i.e. returned for the first time)123127149122130132

Former Members (i.e. with parliamentary experience)

who had not been in the previous Parliament


New and former Members elected

but unseated on petition


New and former Members returned

on petition or vice Members returned

for more than one constituency



The percentage of young men was greater among the newly-elected Members than in the House as a whole, as is shown by the following table.

General Election               
% of House under 30              
% of new Members under 30



A statistical analysis of the Members of the House of Commons according to their social standing would be an almost impossible undertaking and would be unlikely to yield results commensurate with the labour involved. The very term ‘social standing’ is ambiguous; it is also misleading because it implies that English society in the second half of the eighteenth century was arranged in a rigid, hierarchical pattern. In fact social classes were remarkably fluid and their boundaries ill-defined; a family could rise or fall in social standing within a generation, and a man’s social position in the last resort depended on his own estimate. Still, it may be objected, there were ranks in society: men were either peers, baronets, knights, or commoners; and Members of Parliament could be classed according to their rank or that of their fathers. But even so such a classification would be highly misleading, if presented in statistical form without qualifications.

Throughout this period about one-fifth of the Members of the House of Commons were sons of peers or were themselves Irish peers. But the difference between British, Scottish, and Irish peerages is crucial, for these honours were not regarded as being on the same level. A British peerage, which automatically conferred upon its holder (with certain exceptions) a seat in the Upper House, and was usually granted only with remainder in direct male descent, seemed to many Members the natural conclusion of a successful career in the House of Commons, made all the more covetable by the difficulties which faced them in attaining the prize. A landed estate was an essential qualification, and previously to have had a peerage in the family was a strong recommendation. Service in the House of Commons or in office did not in itself qualify for a peerage: there were too many Members whose claims on that score would have had to be admitted, and neither George II nor George III was fond of making peers. And it was only by constantly importuning the King and his ministers that peerages were obtained. In histories of families which had remained commoners, published in the nineteenth century, one frequently meets with the story that an ancestor had been offered a peerage by the elder Pitt or Lord North and had declined it, but while dozens of examples can be given of Members who applied unsuccessfully for peerages, there is not one case of any Member being offered a peerage and declining it. All such stories must be treated very sceptically, as will be seen from an examination of one or two specimens of the peerage-hunting species.

George Pitt, M.P. 1742-1774, was a distant cousin of the elder Pitt, and under George II counted as a Tory. Soon after the accession of George III he was appointed groom of the bedchamber and envoy to Turin, and began applying for a peerage. He adhered to each successive Administration in turn, and to each he asserted that he had been promised a peerage by the King. In 1770 he refused the appointment of ambassador to Madrid because the peerage had been denied him, and in letters to Lord North he wrote of the ‘unparalleled hardships’ he had undergone in pursuit of his aim and the ‘state of anxiety and suspense’ in which he had been ‘unmercifully tossed during the long space of twelve years’. Finally, in 1776, after fifteen years’ solicitation, the King put an end to his sufferings and created him Baron Rivers.

Thomas Brand, M.P. 1741-1770, was closely connected with the Duke of Bedford, whose political lead he followed in Parliament. During the years when the Bedfords were in office Brand pressed his claims to a peerage and in 1763 Bedford obtained a promise that he should be included in the next creation. In December 1766, when Bedford was negotiating to join Chatham’s Administration, a peerage for Brand was one of his conditions, and was definitely promised by Grafton when the Bedfords took office in December 1767. In March 1769, when nothing had been done for Brand, Bedford took the matter up with Grafton, who threatened to resign rather than agree to an immediate creation. Brand died the following year, without his peerage.

George III’s habit of promising applicants for peerages that they would be included in the next creation—a way of putting them off until the Greek kalends—recoiled on his own head, for when there had to be a creation of peers he was swamped by applicants, all of whom claimed to have the King’s promise. Thus in 1776 ten peerages were created, seven of which were the result of past promises to Members of Parliament. One of them, that bestowed on Thomas Foley, M.P. for Herefordshire, throws an interesting light on the practice of peerage creations in the later eighteenth century, for Foley belonged to the Opposition and in his 28 years in the House of Commons is not known to have voted for any Administration. His claim to a peerage was based on the fact that he had inherited the estates of his cousin, the Lord Foley of the last creation; it was a mark of rank to which his estates naturally entitled him, not a reward for political services.

The Brudenell family were courtiers par excellence and were special favourites of George III. George Brudenell, 4th Earl of Cardigan, was created Duke of Montagu in 1766, and a younger brother Thomas, who had inherited from his maternal uncle the title of Lord Bruce, was created Earl of Ailesbury in 1776. Ailesbury controlled the boroughs of Great Bedwyn and Marlborough, and made a particular point of always returning Members whose fidelity to Government was absolutely dependable. Another brother, Robert, M.P. 1756-1768, entered the army and (though apparently he never saw active service), at his death in 1768 was colonel of the 16th Foot, vice-chamberlain to the Queen, and lieutenant-governor of Windsor Castle. The second brother, James, heir to the earldom of Cardigan, also held court office, but had to depend for a seat in Parliament on his younger brother, Lord Ailesbury, who patronized him with considerable hauteur. In 1780 James, revolting against his treatment as ‘a poor younger brother of no consequence whatever’, applied to North for a peerage; and North commented to the King:

The principle objection appears to be that he has no estate at present, and that he seeks for this dignity purely to avoid the trouble and fatigue of attending the House of Commons. On the other hand, Mr. Brudenell is a man of a very noble family, very polite manners, much respected, and generally beloved. His elder and his younger brethren are both peers. He will probably not have any progeny, and he will certainly succeed to a peerage, so that this creation will add to the House of Lords for a very short time.

A month later James Brudenell became a peer.

The scramble for peerages extended further in Scotland than in England, since until 1782, by a doubtful interpretation of the Act of Union, peers of Scotland could not be created peers of Great Britain. To get round this, eldest sons of Scottish peers were created peers of Great Britain in their father’s life-time. In 1766 John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, M.P. for Dover, deserted the Bedford party (who had tried in vain to obtain for him a British peerage) and by appealing direct to Chatham obtained the honour he desired. One could hardly blame him, since his father the Duke of Argyll was over seventy and could not be expected to live much longer. Another of Bedford’s Scottish followers, John Stewart, Viscount Garlies, M.P. for Ludgershall, was in a similar situation, and believing that ‘being in a constant opposition’ would weaken his chances of getting a peerage, also deserted Bedford for Chatham. But Garlies was not so fortunate as Lorne, and had to wait until 1796 for what he called his ‘omnium’, the only thing in life he wished for.

Irish peers were of two types during this period: genuine Irishmen, who sat in the Irish House of Lords; and Englishmen, who more often than not sat in the British House of Commons and hoped one day to sit in the British House of Lords. Irish peerages were given to Members of Parliament whose estates and standing did not qualify them for the British peerage and yet who had made such a nuisance of themselves that they had to be given some honour; to Members engaged in trade; and to men who had distinguished themselves in the service of their country—though distinguished service only slowly became a recommendation for entry into the House of Lords. The great Robert Clive, on his return from India after Plassey, was created an Irish peer, and henceforth it was the ambition of his life to obtain a British peerage—by virtue of the estates which he had purchased with his Indian wealth. William Eden, after having served as secretary to the conciliation commission in America, envoy to France to negotiate a commercial treaty, and ambassador to Spain, was created an Irish peer in 1789 and four years later a British peer. It was only towards the end of the century that men of merit were created British peers without having passed the intermediate stage of the Irish peerage: Rodney, victor of the battle of the Saints, in 1782; Charles Jenkinson, after nearly thirty years in the service of the state, created Baron Hawkesbury in 1786; and James Harris, perhaps the foremost diplomat of his day, created Baron Malmesbury in 1788. In the earlier part of the period, peerages were much harder to get, even by men apparently entitled to them by their offices: Dudley Ryder was lord chief justice of the King’s bench from 1754 to his death in 1756 without a peerage; and Robert Henley, appointed lord keeper in 1757, did not become a peer until March 1760 (and only then to enable him to officiate as lord high steward at the trial of Earl Ferrers for murder). Charles Yorke, when offered by Chatham the place of lord chief justice of the common pleas in 1766, claimed that the office entitled its holder to a peerage; which George III denied. Yet the King was forced to concede a similar claim made by Wedderburn in 1780, because Wedderburn was an important political figure and it would have been injudicious at that time to offend him.

Eight out of the eighteen Irish peers created in 1776 and four out of the nine created in 1783 were Members of the British House of Commons, and of these only two were Irishmen. Richard Philipps, Thomas Wynn, and William Edwardes were Welsh squires; William Mayne was a Scot, who had been engaged in the Portugal trade; Richard Pennant, the son of a Jamaica planter; and the remainder were English country gentlemen. The Irish peerage was useful in that it conferred social prestige on such Members of Parliament as required it, and did not materially increase the numbers of the Irish House of Lords, since the majority of English M.P.s with Irish titles rarely participated in the proceedings of the Irish Parliament. Promotion to the Irish peerage was often the last resource of a minister who did not know how else to meet a Member’s importunities. John Pennington, who bought himself a seat in Parliament at Milborne Port in 1781, had an old claim on the Duke of Grafton for services rendered by Pennington’s father when the Duke was first lord of the Treasury. When Grafton returned to office in March 1782 he tried to find a place for Pennington, but demand far exceeded supply, and in the end Pennington was fobbed off with an Irish peerage.

When Henry Fox was created Baron Holland in 1763 it was virtually the end of his political career: although he had been a front bench man in the House of Commons for nearly twenty years, he took no part in the debates in the Lords. The peerage was the sign of his retirement. But in 1766 the elder Pitt was created an earl to signalize his acceptance of the place of first minister: for him the peerage was not a refuge from the hurly-burly of the House of Commons, but a lofty pinnacle from which he could survey the battle and possibly direct the course of events. Few contemporaries seem to have understood the political consequences of leaving the House of Commons for the Lords. Yet while William Pitt had been a great power in politics, as Earl of Chatham he was virtually impotent. The eighteenth century House of Commons could only be led from the House of Commons, and the longest and most stable Administrations of this period were those of commoners. The Duke of Newcastle, with a majority of 200 in the House, had to resign in 1756 because he could not find a leader to put at the head of his troops; and it seems very doubtful if Shelburne would have been beaten in February 1783 had he been a commoner. The golden age of the House of Lords as a political institution (if there ever had been one) was over before this period began, and the attraction of the Upper House for M.P.s during the eighteenth century was purely social and implied a weakening of their political ambitions. The politically important peers whose names are stamped on the history of the time—Newcastle, Bute, Rockingham, Portland, and Shelburne—were like the battleships during the second world war: possessing immense fire power, they were yet useless without the air cover supplied by the aircraft carriers in the Commons. And to reach the top in the House of Commons, debating skill, the ability to attune oneself to the moods of the House and to understand its business and procedure, were of far greater importance than social standing. On the floor of the House it was every man for himself, and the devil take his pedigree and his connexions. James Harris wrote about a debate in the House on a private bill, 29 March 1762:

A bill had come to us from the Lords about certain trust lands at Tavistock, relating to the Duke of Bedford’s affairs, and which he had brought in. There was a clause in it to declare that those lands were to convey no right of voting in that borough. This got among the Commons as a breach of their privileges, and the bill had certainly been flung out had not Alderman Dickinson moved that it be withdrawn. He was mistaken in the manner of doing this, by beginning that he had authority from a noble duke, etc. We want no authority from noble dukes, nor from those greater than dukes, to empower us to do our acts.

As compared with the Crown and the Lords, the Commons had only comparatively recently become an essential element in government; and, as is shown by the case of the printers prosecuted in 1771 for publishing reports of debates, the House was sometimes excessively concerned for its dignity and its privileges.

The rank of baronet was not highly valued in the eighteenth century. It was merely the first rung of the social ladder; almost any M.P. with landed property could obtain a baronetcy, unless he were in declared opposition to Government. The Order of the Garter was almost exclusively the preserve of peers: the only Member of the House of Commons to hold it during our period was Lord North. The situation is not very different today: at the time of writing Sir Winston Churchill is the only Member of the House of Commons with the Garter. The Order of the Bath was usually reserved for men who had served the state: diplomats, soldiers, or sailors, whether or not they were Members of the House of Commons. When in 1759 Newcastle asked George II to confer the Order of the Bath on George Warren, whose only claims to the honour were that he was rich, a Member of Parliament, and had served four years as a subaltern in the Guards, the King ‘flew into a passion’. ‘What!’ he burst out to Newcastle, ‘do you think I dote? Pray don’t come to me with such proposals as these.’ Warren obtained the honour in the new reign by timely application to Bute, but that was in the days when George III refused Bute nothing.

A plain knighthood was much beneath the dignity of a Member of Parliament. Aldermen, recorders, and bearers of complimentary addresses were knighted, but not M.P.s. The attorney- and solicitor-general were not invariably knighted during the eighteenth century, nor were the judges. The honour, not being hereditary, was little sought after.

There were men in the House of Commons whose wealth and the extent of whose estates were on a level with those of any in the House of Lords; and at various times during this period the much-coveted distinction of being ‘the richest commoner in England’ was ascribed to some half-dozen M.P.s. Three were country gentlemen, whose wealth came mostly from agricultural rents: Charles Anderson Pelham of Brocklesby, Lincolnshire; John Tempest of Brancepeth Castle, Durham; and John Jolliffe Tufnell of Langleys, Essex. Anderson Pelham, alone of these three, is known to have applied for a peerage, which he eventually received when he went over to Pitt in 1794. Common estimates of what men were worth in the eighteenth century are notoriously suspect (as indeed they are today), but at least they give some idea of what was considered to be wealth. Tufnell, at his death in 1794, was estimated to have a rental of £18,000 per annum, and to have left £150,000 in cash or in the funds. Robert Child, the banker (the only ‘richest commoner’ engaged in trade) was reported to have had an income of £15,000 per annum from land and £30,000 from the profits of the bank. Probably the man who best deserved the title of the richest commoner in England was Sir James Lowther, in whose person was concentrated the wealth of three branches of the Lowther family: from his father he inherited estates in Westmorland and plantations in the West Indies; from his great-uncle Henry, 3rd Viscount Lonsdale, further property in Westmorland; and from his cousin Sir James Lowther, 4th Bt., the Whitehaven estates of his family and a sum estimated at £2,000,000.

There were other men in the House whose claims to be the richest commoner must be seriously considered: Robert Clive, who made his fortune in India; William Beckford, whose wealth was based on his West Indian plantations; and Samuel Fludyer, probably the biggest clothier in England, who died in 1768 ‘reputed worth £900,000’. There were, in addition, men in the House who had risen from very humble beginnings, and from whose lives could be compiled a hand-book on how to rise in eighteenth century society.

Here, to begin with, are some examples of self-made men who sat in Parliament during this period. Robert Darling was born of humble parentage and as a boy is said to have been employed to look after cows. He then became apprenticed to a lapidary, and ‘by great diligence and other means acquired a large fortune’. He became a merchant in London, served as sheriff in 1766 and was knighted, and in 1768 entered Parliament for Wendover. He died in 1770, leaving property in London, the home counties, and Cumberland. Of his short parliamentary career little is known: to most of these self-made men, membership of the House was coveted as a symbol of success, not as the basis of a political career. James Dickson, a native of Stitchell in Roxburghshire, of whose parentage and antecedents nothing has been discovered, made his fortune as a merchant in London and returned to Scotland to buy estates, develop local industries, and enter Parliament in 1771 as M.P. for Linlithgow Burghs. George Gipps, a younger son of a staymaker of Ashford, Kent, became an apothecary in Canterbury, but did not prosper. He left medicine for trade, became ‘an extensive and fortunate speculator in the hop trade’, and subsequently a banker; and in 1780 was returned head of the poll in a contested election for Canterbury. Of William James, M.P. for West Looe 1774-1783, Wraxall wrote in his Memoirs: ‘His origin was so obscure as almost to baffle inquiry, and he had derived no advantage from education, but he possessed strong natural abilities, aided by a knowledge of mankind.’ He was apparently the son of a miller of Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire. He entered the naval service of the East India Company; returned to England in 1759 with a fortune; and subsequently became a director of the Company, a Member of Parliament, and a baronet. James was politically connected with Lord Sandwich, as was also another self-made man, Thomas Fitzherbert, M.P. for Arundel 1780-1790. In a long notice of Fitzherbert, soon after his election to Parliament, the English Chronicle wrote:

Had any person seen Mr. Fitzherbert twenty years ago, with his coat out the elbows, or even beheld him at the shorter interval of twelve years, measuring coals to the labourers in the dockyard at Portsmouth at thirteen pence a bushel, and told him that he would be a Member of Parliament, he would certainly have concurred in the mirth of the ridicule or have expressed resentment for so insulting a prediction.

According to this newspaper, Fitzherbert first attracted Sandwich’s attention by the support he gave to the Admiralty candidate at the by-election for Portsmouth in March 1774, and through Sandwich’s influence obtained a contract for supplying the army with horses. Further Government contracts followed, and at the general election of 1780 Fitzherbert purchased a seat in Parliament for the corrupt borough of Arundel.

Probably the most remarkable self-made man to sit in the House during this period was Robert Mackreth, M.P. for Castle Rising 1774-1784 and for Ashburton 1784-1802. Mackreth began as a waiter at White’s Club, married the daughter and heiress of its owner, became himself the owner of the club, and then set up as a usurer, lending money on the security of landed estates. Ruthless, shrewd, and ego-centric, Mackreth was a hard man at a business deal and relentless in the pursuit of his own interests. He was closely connected in business with Richard Rigby, paymaster general 1768-1782, and Government money held by Rigby was put out on loan through Mackreth. Mackreth was returned to Parliament by Lord Orford, as contemporaries believed because Orford was in debt to him. His election was regarded at first as a joke on Orford’s part, but Mackreth was soon accepted in the House. His great ambition, according to Jeremy Bentham, ‘was to be considered a gentleman and to be admitted among the quality’—which was presumably the reason for his wishing to be in Parliament.

A study of the Members of Parliament in our period reveals five ways by which a man could rise from humble origins to the ‘quality’: by means of a fortunate marriage; through the law; through trade, especially if Government contracts were obtained; by participation in the profits of war; and by making a fortune in India. The last will be considered in a later section; and here only a few examples can be given of men who made their way by these different roads to wealth and a seat in the House of Commons.

In an age when mercenary considerations entered into most marriages, it is not surprising to find men who prospered in this way. Brass Crosby, M.P. for Honiton 1768-1774 and lord mayor of London 1770-1771, was apprenticed to an attorney in Sunderland but moved to London and set up in practice himself. His first wife is described as a ‘rich widow’; his second, the widow of a ‘collar-maker to the Ordnance’; his third, the widow of a wine merchant, had a jointure of £1,000 per annum, £25,000 in Government stock, and the manor of Chelsfield, Kent. George Hayley, a London merchant and M.P. for London 1774-1781, married the sister of the famous John Wilkes and was closely associated in politics with his brother-in-law. The English Chronicle wrote about him in 1780:

He was originally a clerk to the house in which he is now the principal, and by a fortunate marriage with his present amiable consort, with whom he received a dower of £15,000, and by the exertions of honest industry, has so increased his fortune as to be deemed at this time one of the wealthiest merchants in the City.

Of Andrew Robinson Bowes, M.P. for Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1780-1784, more will be said in a later section. Here it is sufficient to notice that his first wife had a fortune of over £20,000, and that after her death Bowes retained her property. His second wife was the daughter and heiress of the immensely wealthy George Bowes, M.P. for Durham County 1727-1760, and widow of the 7th Earl of Strathmore, and it was on the security of her fortune that Bowes based his candidature for Newcastle.

No survey of the matrimonial adventurers of this period would be complete without mention of Robert Nugent. Nugent came of an old established Irish Roman Catholic family, and in Horace Walpole’s words made Protestantism and rich widows the means of his success in life. He became a tutor in the family of the Earl of Fingall and married the Earl’s daughter. His second wife, though fat and ugly, brought him a country estate in Essex and control over one seat at St. Mawes. His third wife was the widow of the 4th Earl of Berkeley. But here Nugent had over-reached himself: the lady was notorious for her infidelities, Nugent refused to acknowledge paternity of her second daughter, and the marriage ended in a separation. There was a dangerous side to marrying for money.

The law was the hard way to social preferment: it required abilities, constant application, and a measure of good luck. But success at the bar made a man’s name known and pointed the way to a seat in the House, and it was a line of life where hard work could overcome the disadvantages of humble origins. Thomas Clarke was born the son of a carpenter in Holborn, and ended as a privy councillor and master of the rolls. The great John Dunning, one of the foremost advocates of his day, was the son of a west country attorney; he started his legal career in his father’s office, and died a peer of the realm. James Hewitt, later lord chancellor of Ireland, was the son of a Coventry draper; and Thomas Sewell, later master of the rolls, of a West Ham attorney. The father of John Scott, the famous lord chancellor Eldon, was a Newcastle merchant of modest means. Scott’s rise, wrote Wraxall, ‘resulted from a combination of talent, labour, and character. Neither noble birth, nor favour, nor alliances produced it.’ The same might have been written about most of the M.P.s who made their way to the top through the legal profession.

Long before the eighteenth century, participation in trade and commerce was a recognized way of rising in the world, and during this period the opportunities were many. The business of a merchant easily expanded into that of a banker, and to the big men Government contracts and a share in Government loans brought fat profits. The career of Benjamin Hammet, M.P. for Taunton 1782-1800, might have been taken as a model by an eighteenth-century Samuel Smiles. Hammet is variously stated to have been the son of a Taunton serge-maker and of a Taunton barber, to have been educated at a charity school, and to have started life as a porter in a London bookshop. He became a banker in London and Taunton, acquired considerable property in his native town, and it was largely through his efforts that the centre of Taunton was cleared of slums and re-built. His election to Parliament for Taunton in 1782 put the final seal on the classic story of the local boy who made good. Thomas Hallifax, son of a clockmaker of Barnsley and originally apprenticed to a Barnsley grocer, became a clerk in Martin’s bank and left to become one of the co-founders of the bank known today as Glyn’s. He was elected lord mayor of London in 1776, and sat for Coventry 1780-1781 and for Aylesbury from 1784 till his death in 1789. Samuel Whitbread, founder of the brewery which bears his name, was the son of a Bedfordshire yeoman, and became a large landowner in Bedfordshire and the head of the largest brewery in the country. He represented Bedford, a large and open constituency, for over twenty years, and his ‘great pride’, wrote the English Chronicle in 1781, was ‘in being deemed an independent country gentleman’.

The opportunities given by war to men of ambition and energy are obvious enough and were well recognized in the eighteenth century—Edmund Burke noticed on the eve of the American conflict that the ‘haut goût of lucrative war’ was turning the merchants of London towards the Government’s policy. The men who did the actual fighting did not have such opportunities for making their fortunes as the men responsible for victualling and paying the armies and providing the sinews of war, though there are examples in this period of men who grew rich through success in the field or at sea: Lord Albemarle, who commanded the expedition which captured Havana in 1762 is said to have received £120,000 as his share of the prize money; and Samuel Cornish, who began his career in the navy as an able seaman, grew rich through his share in the plunder of the Philippine Islands, bought himself a seat in Parliament, and obtained a baronetcy. The seven years’ war, when a British army fought in Germany and British money subsidized continental princes, was more lucrative to the commissaries and contractors than the American war. No full study of their activities yet exists, and it is by no means easy to say in individual cases whether fortunes were or were not made at the public expense. But here are some examples of men who, emerging from the war with increased fortunes and enhanced social standing, found for themselves seats in the House of Commons.

Lawrence Dundas came from an impoverished younger branch of an old Scottish family, and began his career selling stockings in his father’s shop in Edinburgh. During the ’45 he was commissary for supplying the Duke of Cumberland’s army in Scotland and afterwards a contractor for the British army in Flanders. He was already a rich man when the seven years’ war broke out, and he further increased his wealth as contractor for bread and forage to the allied armies in Germany. Nicknamed ‘the nabob of the north’, he was created a baronet in 1762, and was brought into Parliament by Lord Gower for Newcastle-under-Lyme. During the next few years his electoral interest increased considerably: he secured control of the borough of Richmond and of the constituency of Orkney and Shetland; was returned himself for three successive Parliaments for Edinburgh; and had influence in Clackmannanshire, Dunbartonshire, and Stirlingshire. His ambition was a peerage, which he would undoubtedly have achieved had he lived to see his friends the Rockinghams come to power in 1782. The honour was granted to his son in 1794 when he went over with the Duke of Portland to Pitt.

During the eighteenth century anyone appointed to an office which involved holding balances of Government money was in a position to use that money to his own advantage. Henry Fox and Richard Rigby, who each held the office of paymaster general of the forces for long periods, invested the money entrusted to them and pocketed the interest; and it was not until 1782 that Burke’s bill for regulating the pay office prevented this practice. By then the House had come to disapprove of office holders enriching themselves with Government money, and Rigby, instead of being allowed to retain his balances after he had left office, as had hitherto been the custom, was called upon to pay them in. In Henry Fox’s case it seems likely that he also had a rake-off from the various deputy paymasters who served under him with the armies in the field. Two of these men, George Durant and Peter Taylor, rose to affluence through opportunities given them by Fox during the seven years’ war, and both set the seal on their success by entering the House of Commons.

In 1761 George Durant was a clerk in the pay office at a salary of £250 per annum. In 1762 he went as deputy paymaster on the expedition to Havana and returned a rich man. How he obtained this sudden accession of wealth is by no means clear: men who have made money by dubious means seldom leave evidence behind them in the records of Government departments. Over £300,000 of public money passed through his hands, and in addition Durant had a share of the enormous prize money. In 1764 he purchased from the Duke of Kingston the estate of Tong in Shropshire and re-built the sixteenth century castle. In 1765 he unsuccessfully contested Southwark, and in 1768 was returned to Parliament for Evesham, paying the expenses of the other candidate, John Rushout, as a quid pro quo for receiving the support of the Rushout interest. He made no mark in Parliament, never spoke in the House, and was badly defeated at Evesham in 1774.

Peter Taylor, the son of a Wells grocer, was left an orphan at the age of thirteen. ‘I was turned into the wide world without a friend’, he wrote subsequently, ‘without learning, with a small fortune to begin with.’ By ‘honest industry and perseverance’ he made a success of his career as a silversmith and won the friendship of Henry Fox. In 1757 Fox sent him to Germany as deputy paymaster; and in the course of four years Taylor amassed a fortune estimated at £400,000, apparently by arranging the exchanges to his own advantage and by paying the army in light coin. Back in England in 1763, he bought an estate near Wells, began to build an ‘elegant mansion’ on another estate near Portsmouth, and determined to enter Parliament for his native city. He stood at the by-election of 1765, but his newly-acquired wealth had brought grossness and insensitivity in its train, and he quarrelled with his old patron because Fox (now Lord Holland) would not support him. Taylor won the election through the favour of the returning officer, was unseated on petition two months later, and was defeated for Wells at the general election of 1768. He re-entered Parliament on the Admiralty interest at Portsmouth in 1774, and died in 1777.

There were a few men in this period who began as election managers on behalf of others and ended in Parliament themselves. Among them were Arthur Holdsworth, Government manager at Dartmouth and its M.P. 1780-1787; William Masterman, election agent for Lord Edgcumbe and M.P. for Bodmin 1780-1784; and John Robinson, North’s secretary to the Treasury, who began his career as an attorney and election agent for Sir James Lowther. Most remarkable in this class was John Mortlock, the son of a Cambridge woollen draper, who became a banker in his native town. Mortlock set out to secure control of Cambridge by re-modelling the corporation and packing it with his friends; he became a sort of Tammany Hall boss, with the representation of Cambridge completely in his hands and the borough revenues used to buttress his interest. He was returned for Cambridge at the general election of 1784, but in 1788 vacated his seat in favour of a candidate nominated by the Duke of Rutland in exchange for the place of receiver-general of the Post Office.

These success stories have their counterpart in the Members who fell from affluence to poverty and who ended by clinging to their parliamentary seats as the last refuge from their creditors. Sir Charles Frederick, after over thirty years’ service as an Ordnance official, begged to be allowed to retain his seat for Queenborough in 1782: ‘he was so poor he was afraid of the Fleet or King’s Bench prison’. Sir Alexander Gilmour, M.P. for Edinburghshire 1761-1774, who had been an officer in the Guards and had held court employment for fourteen years, ended his life at Boulogne, piteously begging for a pension. General John Irwin, M.P. for East Grinstead 1762-1783, was a great favourite of George III and the very model of a fine gentleman. But he did not have the income to sustain the part, and in 1783 had to decamp to the Continent; when he died in Italy in 1788, the King sent £500 to his widow to enable her and her children to come home. John Jeffreys represented the Government borough of Dartmouth 1747-1766 and for most of this period had to be kept by Government. These are examples of men who ruined themselves through their general extravagance or disregard of Mr. Micawber’s maxim; but in addition there were three distinct ways in which a man could ruin himself during this period. ‘Wine, women, and song’ are said to be the surest paths to moral and financial degradation; in the eighteenth century speculation, building, and women led to the same end.

Sir George Colebrooke, M.P. for Arundel 1754-1774, was a leading London merchant and banker, for many years a director of the East India Company and its chairman in 1769, 1770 and 1772. He engaged in speculative activities of various kinds: in West India land, in Scottish estates, and in East India stock; but it was his attempt to corner the supply of certain raw materials (principally alum, flax, hemp, and logwood) which brought about his downfall. The financial crisis of 1772 entangled him in hopeless difficulties, his bank stopped payment, his property (including his parliamentary interest at Gatton) had to be sold, and in 1777 he was declared bankrupt. The former chairman of the East India Company had to retire to Boulogne on a pension of £,200 a year granted by the Company and was grateful for the loan of £500 from Rockingham to enable him to send his son to India. His friend Sir James Cockburn, M.P. for Linlithgow Burghs 1772-1784, who had been a commissary in Germany and a director of the East India Company, ruined himself through lending money to Indian princes and went bankrupt in 1781. Lord North helped him by giving Cockburn’s wife a secret service pension of £800 a year, which was continued by succeeding Administrations. ‘In the extremest distress’, Cockburn lost his seat in Parliament at the general election of 1784; but subsequently, largely through the efforts of his sons, overcame his financial difficulties.

Building and collecting (the two activities are psychologically connected) were the downfall of a number of M.P.s. Probably the most prominent were Joseph Gulston, M.P. 1765-1768 and 1780-1784, and Lord Verney, M.P. 1753-1784 and 1790-1791. Gulston’s father had been a merchant, but Gulston abandoned the business, built himself an Italian villa at Ealing, and began to amass the finest collection of prints in England. According to Horace Walpole, in his eagerness to build up his collection he paid extravagant prices and forced other collectors to do the same. By 1784 he was ruined; he was defeated at Poole at the general election, and was compelled to sell his collection. Over 60,000 prints were sold, but they brought only £7,000.

Lord Verney began life with the fairest prospects: he was one of the largest landowners in Buckinghamshire, controlled the borough of Wendover and had a considerable interest at Great Bedwyn, and was liked and respected by his neighbours. He set out determined to rival in magnificence and display the Grenvilles of Stowe, the leading family in the county; spent profusely on building, on pictures and works of art; and is thus described in Lipscomb’s History of Buckinghamshire:

Lavish in his personal expenses and fond of show, he was one of the last of the English nobility who, to the splendour of a gorgeous equipage attached musicians constantly attendant upon him, not only on state occasions but in his journeys and visits: a brace of tall negroes with silver French horns behind his coach and six, perpetually making a noise.

To these extravagances he added others of an even more dangerous character: in 1766 he began speculating in East India stock, but the slump of 1769 left him with large liabilities and debts which he could not collect. Verney’s political friends the Rockinghams did nothing for him when they returned to power in 1782; and, defeated for Buckinghamshire in 1784, he had to go to France to escape arrest for debt. ‘Your situation is awful and lamented by all honest men’, wrote one of his friends, and it improved little during the remainder of his life though he regained his seat for Buckinghamshire in 1790.

John Norris, M.P. for Rye 1762-1774, like his father was a faithful follower of the Duke of Newcastle, but as he did not enter Parliament until shortly before the Duke’s fall the connexion was of little financial benefit to him. He was also ‘a great dupe to the sex’, with ‘such attachment to women of no character as is extraordinary’. His first wife was the famous Kitty Fisher, Sir Joshua Reynolds’s model, a high-class society prostitute; his second wife was divorced on his account, for which he had to pay £3,000 damages. Norris sold his estates, and the loss of his seat in Parliament in 1774 forced him to flee to the Continent. He returned in 1795 to plead unsuccessfully with Newcastle’s old friend, the Duke of Portland, for a place under Government.

John Proby, 1st Baron Carysfort, M.P. 1747-1768, was another who ruined himself by what Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu called ‘an enormous expense in kept women’. ‘His credit has been so bad for a long time’, continued Mrs. Montagu, ‘that the butcher in the country would not trust him for a joint of meat nor bakers for a loaf of bread.’ On the whole, elections were a far less expensive way of diverting oneself. Only one man in this period is known to have ruined himself through elections—Hans Winthrop Mortimer, who spent a considerable fortune in cultivating an interest in the venal borough of Shaftesbury, and ended his life a prisoner for debt in the Fleet. Gambling, surprisingly enough, ruined few Members; and at least two Members lived largely by gambling: John Scott of Balconie, M.P. 1754-1775, who is said to have amassed a fortune of £500,000; and Richard Vernon, M.P. 1754-1790, who by betting and horse breeding is stated to have converted ‘a slender patrimony of £3,000 into a fortune of £100,000’.

The conventional impression of the eighteenth century social scene hovers between two extremes. On the one hand, there is a picture of silk-stockinged gentlemen and elaborately coiffured ladies dancing minuets to the tune of ‘Here’s to the maiden of bashful fifteen’; on the other hand, there are the scenes of drunkenness and debauchery depicted in Hogarth’s election cartoons. But between these two extremes there was a multitude of social gradations, faithfully reflected in the membership of the House of Commons; and no statistical analysis or selection of examples can do justice to the diversity of human life on display in the biographies accompanying this survey. The House contained Members drawn from all classes of the population, and since there were no nation-wide parties and fundamental political divisions to divide them, drew them together into a homogeneous whole.



The educational system of this period (in so far as there was anything which could be called a system at all) was not hierarchical as in popular estimation it is today, nor was education considered to be an essential requisite in the life of every child: it was a commodity, to be bought and sold like other commodities, and of which there were both cheap and expensive varieties. The eighteenth century did not know the difference between public schools and other kinds of school: a public school education was an education at school as opposed to an education at home by private tutors. Oxford and Cambridge were not the ‘older universities’: they were the only universities in England; and the Scottish universities and Trinity College Dublin drew their students mainly from their own regions.

Eton and Westminster were the only large boarding schools drawing their pupils from all parts of the kingdom; and at least one-fifth of the Members in each Parliament during this period had been educated at one or the other of these schools. At the beginning of the period Westminster was supplying the larger number of Members to the House; at the end, it was Eton. In many cases boys went to Eton or Westminster for one, two, or three years only: the formal part of their education they received at home, and they were sent to school mainly for the experience of living with other boys. The popularity of Winchester as a school for children of the upper classes is difficult to ascertain because of its defective school list. Harrow, until the last years of the period, was little more than a preparatory school for Eton. Rugby, Shrewsbury, and Felsted attracted boys only from their immediate neighbourhood; and Charterhouse was not yet a school for children of the upper classes.

About a half to three-fifths of the Members in each Parliament were either educated entirely at home or went to an old-established grammar school or a school known only by the name of its founder or proprietor. There were a number of these schools in the eighteenth century, kept by clergymen of the Church of England or by Dissenting ministers, and since few of them survived we have little information about their size or curricula. No doubt they varied in quality, but the best of them were good enough to be patronized by aristocratic parents. One of the most remarkable schools of this description was Dr. Newcome’s academy at Hackney. Newcome was a Dissenting minister and a Whig of the old stamp. Crisp Molineux, M.P., one of his former pupils, wrote about him in 1771: ‘Old Newcome so strongly rivetted the Whig principles in his boys that, the black Duke of Grafton excepted, none of us have ever deviated from them.’ Molineux was a partisan of Wilkes, which explains his reference to the Duke of Grafton; but though several eminent Whig families sent their children to Newcome’s school, it is difficult to see any common pattern in the political behaviour of those who subsequently became Members of Parliament. During our period there were in the House of Commons 26 Members who had attended the Hackney school. The first, Matthew Wyldbore, went there about 1731; the last, Lord Charles Fitzroy, about 1779. This suggests that the school lasted for at least two generations of the Newcome family. Four sons of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke attended in the late 1730’s; Lord John Cavendish, son of the 3rd Duke of Devonshire, went to the school in 1747, and twenty years later was followed by two of his nephews, sons of the 4th Duke; Lord Euston (Crisp Molineux’s ‘black Duke of Grafton’) went in 1750, and one of his younger sons in 1779. Within a period of fifteen years the school educated a future lord chancellor (Charles Yorke), a future chancellor of the Exchequer (Lord John Cavendish), and a future prime minister (Lord Euston).

There were in this period, as there are today, certain families who by tradition or preference favoured certain schools. Most of the Leveson Gower family who sat in Parliament had been educated at Westminster. Of the ten members of the Manners family who sat during this period, five went to Eton, one to Westminster, one (who became a soldier) to the military academy at Caen in France; and for three no school has been ascertained. The educational records of the Members sent to the House by two other ducal families, those of Devonshire and Grafton, show no preference for any particular school. Of the three sons of the 3rd Duke of Devonshire, one went to Hackney school, one to a school at Chesterfield, and the third (who entered the army) appears never to have attended school; the two sons of the 4th Duke both went to Hackney; and two members of collateral branches of the family went to Eton. Lord Euston, subsequently 3rd Duke of Grafton, was at Hackney school; and his brother (subsequently Lord Southampton) entered the army at the age of fifteen apparently without having been to school. Of Grafton’s two sons, the first went to Harrow, the second to Hackney; while Lord Southampton’s eldest son went to Eton. Charles Fitzroy Scudamore, an illegitimate son of the 2nd Duke of Grafton, went to Westminster.

Approximately two-fifths of the Members returned to each Parliament had received a university education. Oxford sent more Members to the House than Cambridge. At the beginning of the period, a majority of the Tories had been to Oxford and a majority of the Whigs to Cambridge; but as these distinctions died out it is hardly possible to see any preference for either university except on grounds of family tradition or propinquity. Oxford was traditionally the Tory university, but the leaders of those who in 1784 called themselves the Whig party had been educated at Oxford; while Pitt’s following, later to be dubbed by historians the Tories, had a nucleus of Cambridge men. Though Oxford remained throughout the period what would in the nineteenth century have been called High Church, while Cambridge was inclined more towards latitudinarianism, it is not clear that either university imprinted a definite religio-political pattern upon its alumni.

Trinity College Dublin catered almost exclusively for Irishmen. The Scottish universities admitted students at a much younger age than the English: fourteen or fifteen was the usual age of matriculation, while at Oxford or Cambridge it was two or three years later. Many Scottish M.P.s, especially from aristocratic families, having attended a Scottish university, passed on to Oxford or Cambridge, while only a handful of English Members ever went to a Scottish university. No clear picture of the quality of education given at the universities has emerged from our study of the Members. Oxford, no doubt largely owing to Gibbon’s reminiscences, has acquired a reputation for slackness, but it is apparent from the correspondence of Lord Fitzmaurice, the son of Shelburne, that at Christ Church in the 1780’s undergraduates were both taught and examined regularly. Doubtless the amount and quality of teaching varied from college to college, and with the inclinations of both teachers and pupils.

About 70 Members during this period, nearly half of them Scots, were educated at foreign universities or educational institutions. The most popular was the University of Leyden, attended by 33 Members, 19 of them Scots. At Leyden in about 1745 there was a remarkable group of British students, each one of them destined to become prominent later in the House of Commons: George Colebrooke, subsequently chairman of the East India Company; William Dowdeswell, leader of the Rockingham Whigs in the House; Gilbert Elliot, a close friend and adviser of Bute and one of the best debaters in the House in the early 60’s; John Glynn, Wilkes’s counsel and fellow Member for Middlesex; William Gordon, a diplomat; James Johnstone, an independent and respected Member in the Parliament of 1784; Charles Townshend, chancellor of the Exchequer, for ever associated with the Townshend duties; and the celebrated John Wilkes. But it is difficult to find any common element in the lives of these Members resulting from their having been educated at the same foreign university. Leyden in the eighteenth century was a centre for legal and medical studies, but none of these Members took up medicine and only two (one Scot and one Englishman) became lawyers. Elliot, Gordon, and Johnstone, the three Scots, belonged to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland; Glynn and Wilkes were Dissenters (and therefore excluded from the English universities); while Dowdeswell certainly, and Colebrooke probably, were members of the Church of England.

Next to Leyden came Geneva, where seven Members were educated, including John Baring, who was of foreign ancestry, Lord Barrington, a Dissenter who later conformed to the Church of England, and Lord Mahon, whose father had also been educated at Geneva. The only Scot among them was Archibald Montgomerie, M.P. for Ayrshire 1761-1768, whose education was of a most varied nature. He attended Irvine and Haddington grammar schools; went to Eton for three years and then moved to Winchester, which he left after only six months; and finished off his schooling in Berwick and London.

Three Members attended the University of Utrecht, one of whom was the elder Pitt. Robert Dundas of Arniston, M.P. for Edinburghshire and lord advocate 1754-1760, who belonged to a family of distinguished lawyers and like his father became lord president of the court of session, studied at four universities—Edinburgh, Utrecht, Frankfurt, and Paris. Only two Members went to Göttingen University in Hanover, which had been founded by George II: John Murray of Strowan, whose father was ‘out’ in both the ’15 and the ’45 and who was particularly anxious to prove his loyalty to the reigning dynasty; and Thomas Hay, who became an army officer. Other continental universities attended by Members of Parliament were Paris, Halle, Lausanne, Tübingen, and Leipzig. A handful of Members who made the army their career attended foreign military academies: Caen, Turin, and Strasbourg; and two Members, born in America, were educated at American universities: Henry Cruger at King’s College, New York (now Columbia University), and Staats Long Morris at Yale. Four Members who were brought up as Roman Catholics were educated in France: Lord Surrey, Lord Fortrose, Sir John Edward Swinburne, and Lord Molyneux (Molyneux apparently at the Jesuit academy at St. Omer); and three Members (all Scots), whose fathers were exiled for Jacobitism, were educated abroad: Lord Panmure, Sir James Steuart Denham, and James Murray of Strowan. There were probably others as well. These lists cannot be treated as exhaustive: information about the education of Members (except those who attended schools and universities which have published their registers) is not easy to obtain and often depends on the chance survival of private papers.

For the same reason it is impossible to give the precise number of Members who made the grand tour. The impression exists, largely because of the correspondence of Horace Walpole and the journals of Gibbon, that the grand tour was an integral part of eighteenth century education. But neither Walpole nor Gibbon was representative of the upper-class young men of their day: one was passionately interested in antiquities, and the other in scholarship, and neither had the tastes or adopted the pursuits of the typical country gentleman or man about town. As far as can be ascertained, only about 10% of the Members returned during this period had made the grand tour, and the majority of these were eldest sons of peers or landed families. The grand tour was an expensive undertaking even for a wealthy family, and was an indulgence rarely granted to younger sons. And few young men destined to make a career in business or a profession ever made the grand tour. Moreover, the grand tour was at the height of its popularity in the 1730’s and 1740’s; twenty years later it was by no means as fashionable. Lord North and Lord Granby, to give two examples, both made the grand tour, but their sons, who grew to manhood during the period of the American war, did not. Even in aristocratic families it was by no means customary: none of the Finches or the Townshends or the Brudenells, to mention three families who each had a number of representatives in the House during this period, ever made the grand tour.

The grand tour almost invariably included long sojourns in France and Italy, and sometimes also in Austria or Germany. The northern countries were rarely visited and Vienna usually marked the eastern limit of the young Englishman’s journey. The tour undertaken by Lord Herbert between 1775 and 1780, in which he visited practically every European country including Russia, was exceptional—the whim of an eccentric father. Lord Lansdowne was another father who sent his son on a prolonged grand tour which, with intervals in England, lasted eight years, and included a long visit to Canada and the United States. But most fathers were content if their sons came back able to speak French correctly and with an interest in painting and objets d’art—the mark of the man who had made the grand tour.



When Denys Rolle, M.P. for Barnstaple, set out in 1764 to settle 200 colonists in the newly-acquired province of East Florida, one of the aims of his settlement was ‘the cultivation of Christianity free from enthusiasm’. No one would describe the latter half of the eighteenth century as an age of religious zeal or bigotry: the ruling class valued religion as a restraining and civilizing force in social life rather than as a revelation of man’s nature and destiny, and ‘Christianity free from enthusiasm’ conferred the maximum of social benefits and demanded the minimum of inconvenient obligations. Yet the age witnessed two of the most significant developments in modern religious life: the spread of Methodism and the rise of Evangelicalism. How far were these developments reflected in the membership of the House of Commons, and what can we learn from the biographies of Members of the religious life of the period?

Information about the religious persuasions of Members is not always easy to find, and it is presumed, unless there is evidence to the contrary, that English Members belonged to the Church of England, Scottish Members to the Church of Scotland, and Irish Members to the Church of Ireland. Conformity to the established religion was a social virtue and was rewarded with social advantages. Of the religious minorities, the largest was the English Dissenters, a group which includes Baptists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians. Contemporaries used the word ‘Dissenter’ carelessly, and often it is not easy to tell to which denomination a Member belonged.

There is plenty of evidence that the Dissenters formed a considerable proportion of the voters in the English boroughs and counties, and that in certain constituencies their support was almost essential. When Thomas Sewell, a barrister, was importuning Newcastle for a seat in 1758, Lord Kinnoull wrote to the Duke: ‘If your Grace thinks proper to choose him, it may be very agreeable to ... the Dissenters, by whom Mr. Sewell is said to be much employed in law matters’; and when Sewell stood for Exeter at the general election of 1761, it was ‘in the interest chiefly of the Low Church party’. And Sir John Trevelyan, M.P. for Somerset, a county where religious divisions were acute, wrote on 1 March 1787:

I hear that the Presbyterians intend to propose in the House of Commons the repeal of the Test Act, with the object of distressing Ministry: the Opposition will adopt it to a man as a party question; and many Members are returned by a majority of such interest who will not dare to oppose it.

The Dissenters had their particular grievances and opinions which candidates and Members could not afford to ignore. Naturally, their first grievance was against the Test and Corporation Acts. John Halliday, M.P. for Taunton, wrote to John Robinson in December 1781:

It must be observed that all the principal manufacturers of Taunton are Dissenters, and much at enmity with the corporation, who will not admit any person of that description to become a magistrate of the town.

In freeman boroughs, as is shown in the first section of this introductory survey, the conflict between an Anglican-dominated corporation and an independent party led by Dissenters was endemic; and may well represent a class division between the two parties.

On general political issues, no specific Dissenting point of view is clearly discernible before the outbreak of the American war. The Dissenters as a body were strongly opposed to the policy of coercion and seem even to have sympathized with the demands of their ‘brethren across the seas’; and during the war they came out in favour of parliamentary reform. An agent of Lord Sandwich wrote to him about Nottingham on 21 November 1777:

This town is without any exception the most disloyal in the kingdom, owing in a great measure to the whole corporation ... being Dissenters [a rare exception], and of so bitter a sort that they have done and continue to do all in their power to hinder the service by preventing as much as possible the enlistment of soldiers.

When Sir Henry Peyton stood for Cambridgeshire at the by-election of 1782, he was pressed by the Dissenters to declare his support for parliamentary reform, was reluctant to do so, but finally agreed to move an address in its favour. At the county meeting on 8 June,

Mr. Hollick junior [a leading Cambridgeshire Dissenter] acquainted the freeholders that since their last meeting he with some ethers had conferred with Sir Henry on the subject of their former differences, that now he with his friends were perfectly satisfied with Sir Henry’s political principles, and therefore ... would decline any further opposition.

Peyton was returned unopposed, but the suggestion is clear that he would not have been had he not come out in favour of the policy advocated by the Dissenters. Burke subsequently claimed that at the general election of 1784 the Dissenters strongly favoured Pitt, which may well have been so, though it is difficult to prove: in 1784 Pitt was pre-eminently the champion of parliamentary reform, while it had been one of the tacit conditions of Fox’s alliance with North that parliamentary reform was to be dropped.

On the other hand, there does not appear to have been any specific Anglican attitude towards the American war or any other aspect of policy. The bishops generally voted with the Government in the House of Lords, whichever party was in power; in certain cathedral cities (e.g., Exeter, Canterbury, and Wells) the chapter was a factor in local politics, without however being identified with the opinions of any group at Westminster; but no clear-cut attitude emerges among the lower clergy. Some of the radical leaders of this period were clergymen: Horne Tooke in London and Christopher Wyvill in Yorkshire; and it seems probable that the clergy in general were attuned politically to their neighbours the country gentlemen. Only when the special position and privileges of the Church of England were threatened, did the Church show any signs of acting as a pressure group in politics. In 1787, when John George Philipps, M.P. for Carmarthen, voted for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, the bishop of St. David’s called on the Anglican clergy in the town to oppose him at the next general election. It is uncertain, to say the least, whether the clergy approved of their bishop’s attitude; in any case, Philipps retained his seat.

Nineteen Members who are known to have been Dissenters sat in the House during this period. Two Members (John Lee and James Martin) are included though it is not absolutely certain that they were Dissenters—they attended the Unitarian meeting house in Essex Street, but may have remained nominally members of the Church of England. In addition, there were eight Members who had left Dissent for the Church of England (including John Wilkes, who had best be described as a sceptic). This is a very tiny proportion indeed of the number who sat in Parliament during this period, and the question immediately arises why was not the numerical strength of the Dissenters more adequately represented in the House. No Dissenter sat for Nottingham, where they were in control of the corporation; or for Taunton, where they formed a considerable proportion of the voters and acted as a body in elections. The Dissenters were without parliamentary ambitions: they were artisans, small freeholders, or merchants, and could not spare the time or money for a parliamentary life. If they rose socially and acquired parliamentary ambitions, they joined the Church of England. Here is one example of a Dissenter who made the change: Samuel Fludyer, M.P. for Chippenham 1754-1768, the son of a Somerset clothier who had married the daughter of a Huguenot refugee. Fludyer’s father migrated to London and Fludyer so developed the business that he became the leading cloth merchant in the kingdom. Of the parentage and antecedents of his first wife nothing is known, but she may also have been a Dissenter. After Fludyer had become an M.P. and one of the richest men in England, he married, secondly, a niece of the 3rd Earl of Cardigan; and a little later was created a baronet and joined the Church of England. Conformity to the established church was part and parcel of his rise in the social scale.

Only four of the Dissenter Members belonged to old-established landed families: Sir Henry Hoghton, M.P. for Preston 1768-1795; Sir William Middleton, 3rd Bt. and his nephew Sir William, 5th Bt., who both represented Northumberland; and John White, M.P. for East Retford 1733-1768. To these might be added Thomas Brand Hollis, M.P. for Hindon 1774-1775, who belonged to the younger branch of a Hertfordshire landed family. Families, whether they were Protestant Dissenters or Roman Catholics, who had resolutely refused to conform to the established church despite the advantages conformity would have brought, were proud of their religion and regarded their nonconformity as an honoured part of their family heritage. Nor was there any longer a strong pressure towards conformity: the Hanoverian dynasty was firmly established on the throne, and nonconformity was regarded rather as a tolerable eccentricity than as a danger to the state.

The remaining fourteen Dissenters who sat in Parliament were engaged in trade or the professions. Three were barristers (James Adair, John Glynn, and John Lee); four were bankers (Richard Fuller, James Martin, Thomas Rogers, and Jacob Wilkinson); five were merchants (Frederick Bull, Thomas Lockyer, Nathaniel Newnham, William Smith, and Samuel Touchet); and two were sons of merchants, though not apparently themselves in trade (Joseph Tolson Lockyer and Richard Slater Milnes). With the exception of Martin, all these men came from families without parliamentary ancestry. Three (Adair, Bull, and Glynn) were strong radicals, and all who were in the House during the American war opposed the Government. Radicalism had a strong Nonconformist core, which may account for the radicals’ vehement opposition to any relaxation of the penal laws in favour of Roman Catholics.

Methodism was still a movement within the Church of England during this period, though towards the end it was beginning to break away. No Methodist sat in the House, unless Richard Hill, M.P. for Shropshire 1780-1806, may be classed as one. Hill wrote a pamphlet in 1768 in defence of six students expelled from Oxford as Calvinistic Methodists, and patronized Methodism. He was well known in the House for introducing into his speeches references to and quotations from the Bible and also for spoiling their effect with a rather outré and buffoon style of humour. Hill was an opponent of the American war and a supporter of parliamentary reform, an enemy of luxury and corruption, and a friend of the poor.

The Evangelical movement developed late in the eighteenth century, and the six Evangelical Members who sat in the House during this period were first returned after 1774: Walter Spencer Stanhope in 1775, William Wilberforce in 1780, Henry Thornton in 1782, Sir Charles Middleton and Samuel Thornton in 1784, and Robert Thornton in 1785. These Members were closely associated both in religion and politics, and they were all parliamentary reformers and supporters of Pitt. Middleton was a naval officer and a Scot; Stanhope came of a Yorkshire landed family and Wilberforce was the son of a Hull merchant; and the three Thorntons were the sons of John Thornton, the biggest English merchant trading to Russia. There was a middle-class business background to the early Evangelicals which formed a striking contrast to the atmosphere of Methodism, the poor man’s religion. The influence of the early Evangelicals was out of all proportion to their numbers in the House, mainly because their attitude to the problems of government merged into that of the general mood of the House after 1784. The Evangelicals stood for the reformation of manners: they were opposed to nepotism and corruption in Government appointments and adopted a moral attitude towards politics. Probably it was Wilberforce’s conviction that there was a case to answer against Hastings which determined Pitt to vote for the impeachment; and Wilberforce’s advocacy of the abolition of the slave trade crystallized the Evangelical attitude towards politics. In one other respect also, the influence of the Evangelicals was important. Their attempt to consider political questions in the light of morality and religion was incompatible with a strict party allegiance; and it was on this ground that Wilberforce welcomed Pitt’s plan of parliamentary reform:

It would tend ... to diminish the progress of party ... from which ... our greatest misfortunes arose. There were men and parties in this country which derive most of their power and influence from these burgage tenures, against which the operations of this bill were to be directed. By destroying them the freedom of opinion would be restored, and party connexions in a great measure vanish ... He wished to see the time when he could come into the House and give his vote, divested of any sentiments of attachments which should induce him to approve of measures from his connexion with men.

Members of the Church of England were Protestant Dissenters in Scotland. Three are known to have sat in the House during this period: Alexander and David Murray, who between them represented Peeblesshire 1783-1790, sons of a Church of England clergyman and educated in England; and William McDowall, who sat for Renfrewshire 1768-1774. It seems probable that many Scots M.P.s, especially those educated at English universities, came under Anglican influence, but that in Scotland they remained staunch Presbyterians.

Quakers, Roman Catholics, and Jews could not sit in the House of Commons without abjuring their religion. Five Members of Quaker families sat in the House during this period: Henry Beaufoy, Nathaniel Brassey, John Cator, Thomas Dimsdale, and Richard Penn. Beaufoy, who joined the Church of England in order to enter the House, was the son of a vinegar distiller; Brassey was a banker; and Cator, a friend of Dr. Johnson, was a timber merchant. Brassey represented Hertford 1734-1761, a town with a large Quaker population, and his son-in-law Dimsdale also sat for the borough 1780-1790. Dimsdale was a surgeon, who inoculated Catherine of Russia and her son against smallpox and was created a baron of the Russian Empire. Richard Penn was a grandson of the founder of Pennsylvania, and had lived in the colony before the outbreak of the American war.

There were seven Members who had abjured Roman Catholicism for the Church of England: Charles Dillon; Sir Thomas Gascoigne; Charles Howard, Earl of Surrey; Charles William Molyneux, Viscount Molyneux; Kenneth Mackenzie; Robert Nugent; and Sir John Edward Swinburne. Dillon and Nugent were Irish, and Mackenzie the son of a Scottish peer attainted for his part in the ’15. The remainder came from old English Catholic families.

Only one Jew sat in the House during this period: Sampson Gideon, the son of a great Jewish financier who during George II’s reign had been one of the Government’s principal financial advisers. Gideon was baptized into the Church of England, and while a boy at Eton was created a baronet. He inherited considerable property in Cambridgeshire, and in 1770, in the absence of a suitable candidate from the two leading families, the Yorkes and the Manners, was elected M.P. for the county. In 1780 the Duke of Rutland and Lord Hardwicke each had a candidate and joined their interests against Gideon. Gideon spent heavily, but was unpopular because of his constant support of North’s Government and also because he was a Jew. Philip Yorke, Hardwicke’s candidate, wrote on 30 April 1780:

It is rather remarkable to see how violently the common freeholders are prejudiced against Sir Sampson Gideon. I went to pay my compliments to a room full of them ... and they all declared they would choose their countrymen for their Members, and not a Jew.

Gideon withdrew at the end of the first day’s poll, having obtained 1,038 votes as against 1,455 for Yorke and 1,741 for Lord Robert Manners. He was provided with a seat by North at Midhurst, and in 1784, having gone over to Pitt, successfully contested Coventry. In 1786 Pitt recommended him to the Duke of Rutland, lord lieutenant of Ireland, for an Irish peerage—he was ‘as good and generous a Christian as any’ and Pitt was ‘extremely anxious to gratify him.’ Rutland objected, apparently on racial grounds. ‘I am afraid’, wrote Thomas Orde, his secretary, ‘that Judaism will not be admitted an obstacle to his success, for Mr. Pitt observed that he had never been a Jew, and that he had been a Member for a county, and of course a good candidate for the peerage’; and on 24 September 1789 Gideon was created Baron Eardley.

Deism, so fashionable in French intellectual circles during the eighteenth century, was not taken up on any large scale in England; and while there were undoubtedly men in the House who would be described today as agnostics (Gibbon and Wilkes are obvious examples), a decent respect for the outward forms of religion was expected from Members and freely accorded. Unitarianism was strong in English intellectual circles; and there was a movement within the Church of England itself against a too rigid application of the authority of the Church in matters of doctrine. On 6 February 1772 a petition was presented to the House from a body of the Anglican clergy, praying to be relieved from the onus of subscribing to the Thirty-Nine Articles, and was rejected by 217 votes to 71. The argument of the petitioners was summarized by Sir George Savile, M.P. for Yorkshire:

I distinguish between the Church of God and Christ and the Church of England, and whenever the Church of England differs from the Church of Christ I give the preference to the latter. The point in question is whether we shall lay aside subscription to the Articles and adopt the Scriptures in their room. The Scriptures are the only rule of the Church of Christ, and adhering to the Scriptures in opposition to human inventions and corruptions is the first principle of Protestantism.

This was an argument very similar to that of Bishop Hoadly in the earlier part of the century. The minority on the division were mostly drawn from the Opposition, but the question did not divide the House on strict party lines; and Edmund Burke was not the only Opposition Member who objected to this attempt to diminish the authority of the Church.



There were three kinds of placemen in the House during this period: those who held political office, or ‘offices of business’ as the eighteenth century described them; those who held court office; and those who held sinecure office. These did not form separate classes, and the line of division between office holders and independent Members did not necessarily correspond to that between Administration and Opposition. Moreover, some sinecures were for life, which rendered their holders independent of Administrations; while others had such a small salary attached to them as to be valued for prestige rather than financial reward.

The number of Members who held political office varied between 40 and 50 throughout the period. This number included holders of important political offices and heads of Government departments, who were appointed, as they are today, because of their standing in the House: the first lord of the Treasury (if a commoner), the chancellor of the Exchequer, almost invariably one of the secretaries of state, the secretary at war, etc. Some heads of Government departments (e.g., the Treasury, the Admiralty, the Board of Trade) could be either peers or commoners; others (e.g., the law officers or officials who held balances of Government money—the paymaster general, the treasurer of the navy) were almost invariably Members of the House of Commons. Every Administration tried to achieve a balance in the distribution of offices between Lords and Commons, and it was particularly important to ensure that the Government had first-rate debaters in the House of Commons to present its case. The Cabinet usually contained only one or two Members of the House of Commons, but the key position in the Cabinet was that of the leader of the House. This might go to the first lord of the Treasury (who, if a commoner, always combined the office with that of chancellor of the Exchequer) or a secretary of state, or the holder of some other Government office: Henry Fox, as paymaster general of the forces, from October 1762 to April 1763, and Lord North, as chancellor of the Exchequer, from January 1768 to January 1770.

To assist the minister in the House of Commons (as the leader of the House was usually styled during this period) there had to be a deputy leader, though that name was never used. Until 1780 this duty usually fell to the attorney-general, whose political standing was very much higher than it is today. In the House the attorney-general did not confine himself to the work of his own department but intervened in debates on all subjects, a logical consequence of the fact that much of the business of the House was quasi-legal in character. This can be seen particularly during the debates on Wilkes and general warrants in 1763-4 or on the Middlesex election in 1769-70; but even the Government’s policy towards America, a political issue if ever there was one, was presented in legal as much as in political terms. North’s principal assistants in the House during the American war were the successive attorney-generals, Edward Thurlow and Alexander Wedderburn; and after the departure of Wedderburn for the Lords and the appointment of a non-political attorney-general, it was Henry Dundas, the lord advocate, who became in effect deputy leader of the Commons for the remainder of North’s Administration, and he regained the post under the younger Pitt. By then Dundas had abandoned his legal business and had become a politician pure and simple, with special responsibility for the conduct of Indian and Scottish affairs. On 5 February 1784 he defended his conduct against Fox’s charge that by accepting office in a minority Administration he was flouting the dignity of the House:

Those who know what I was, and what I am, will never think that I, of all men, could ever entertain a design to lessen the dignity of this House; for whatever little consequence and distinction I have, if I have any, I derive entirely from this House; and I know that if the House of Commons was to cease to be what it is now, a branch of the legislature and a check and control upon the executive power, I must again return to the obscurity of a dull and laborious profession.

There were a number of secondary offices, occupied mainly with routine administration, which were usually held by Members of the House of Commons: the boards of Treasury, Admiralty, Trade (abolished in 1782), and Ordnance; and the deputy headships of Government departments. These were usually filled by friends or clients of ministers, and one or two places at the Admiralty Board were always held by serving naval officers. It was rare for any but Members of the House of Commons to be appointed to the boards, but it by no means followed that because a Member lost his seat in the House he would lose his office. William Sloper remained at the Board of Trade for nearly five years after resigning his seat for Great Bedwyn in 1756; and George Onslow was a lord of the Treasury for two years without a seat in Parliament. Nor was there any strict rule about Members resigning their places if they disagreed with the policy of the Government. Practice was extremely lax and a good deal of latitude was allowed to Members; which accorded with contemporary political theory, that an M.P. ought to give his vote independent of Crown or party.

Here are a few examples. Welbore Ellis, treasurer of the navy, a consistent advocate of coercive measures against the American colonies, opposed North’s conciliatory measure of February 1775. ‘Mr. Ellis’, wrote North to the King, ‘who differed from us upon a real conviction that our measure was wrong, spoke against us in the most friendly terms.’ Robert Nugent, who throughout the American war held the lucrative sinecure of joint vice-treasurer of Ireland, had at first supported North’s American policy but by 1780 had become convinced that the colonies were lost and that it was useless to prosecute the war against them any further. During the last two years of North’s Administration, though he voted with Government on motions of confidence, he spoke in favour of peace with the colonies.

Jeremiah Dyson, a member of the Board of Trade in the first Rockingham Administration, voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, the Government’s principal measure, and opposed its commercial and financial policy. Summoned by Rockingham to account for his conduct, Dyson thus reported the interview to a friend:

[Rockingham] readily acquitted me of any professions or other engagements than what must be understood to be implied by a man’s continuance in office. This I admitted as amounting to an obligation not to go into opposition without notice, but that whatever was expected beyond that must depend upon the measures and the degree in which they were communicated.

Dyson did not admit that voting against the Government was equivalent to going into opposition, and the King refused Rockingham’s request to dismiss him. An argument similar to Dyson’s was used by Henry Seymour Conway in November 1763 to excuse his voting against the Grenville Administration on Wilkes’s case, but when Conway also voted against the Government on general warrants in February 1764 George III insisted that he should be dismissed. The case of Richard Sutton, under-secretary of state to Lord Rochford 1766-1772, is extraordinary only in the length to which Sutton carried his opposition to Government. Horace Walpole described him as a young man ‘of a very singular turn, often, though in office, speaking against the court, and never speaking for them when he voted for them (but too necessary to be dismissed)’. Sutton voted with the Opposition on the Middlesex election and even on the royal marriage bill of 1772, a measure introduced at the King’s express command. Lord Rochford, alarmed by his subordinate’s conduct, advised the King to dismiss him, though he did not believe that Sutton was ‘designedly connected with Opposition’. In September 1772 Sutton succeeded his brother in the family property and resigned his place: he was given a pension of £500 per annum and was created a baronet—an almost unique case of a Member who profited despite his having opposed the Administration to which he belonged. The even more extraordinary case of Henry Seymour Conway and Charles Townshend, the two leading Members of the House of Commons in the Chatham Cabinet, who in May 1767 voted against the Government’s East India policy, may be explained by the chaos into which the Administration fell after Chatham’s illness. Still, it further illustrates one of the basic conventions of eighteenth century politics: that every Member of Parliament, whether or not he held office, was entitled to vote as his opinion dictated.

By the end of the period, when party lines had hardened, this convention was beginning to break down. Pitt did not take action against placemen who voted against his plan of parliamentary reform or the Ordnance’s plan to build fortifications at Plymouth and Portsmouth; but in 1788 when the King became insane and a regency bill was introduced, no back-sliding was excused. The restrictions on the authority of the Regent imposed by the bill gave rise to genuine controversy, but it was assumed by Pitt and his friends that Government supporters voting against it did so in order to curry favour with Fox, who was expected to succeed Pitt when the Prince of Wales became Regent. Sir John Aubrey, a member of Pitt’s Treasury Board, spoke against the bill; and his arguments met with derision from those Members who had remained faithful to Pitt. One of them, Sir William Young, wrote to Lord Buckingham:

Our rats ... all showed their tails on last night’s motion ... Sir John Aubrey, rat-major, receiving his emoluments of the Treasury for five years and declaring himself unconnected with any, afforded a subject of a general laugh.

Aubrey denied that he had any connexion with the Opposition and maintained that he had voted against Pitt on conscientious grounds, but he lost his place at the Treasury. Forty years earlier things had been different: in 1755 George Bubb Dodington had accepted office from Newcastle on the express understanding that he was free to vote against the subsidy treaties, the main plank of Newcastle’s foreign policy.

There were also a number of placemen who held their offices on a quasi-civil service tenure: chief among them under-secretaries of state, secretaries to Government departments, and diplomats. The dividing line between politicians and civil servants was unknown in an age when the term ‘the King’s servants’ was used to describe all office holders from the first lord of the Treasury downwards. The secretary of the Treasury nearly always sat in Parliament (the exceptions were in the two short Administrations of Lord Rockingham), and indeed could hardly perform his functions effectively without a seat in the House. In addition, he always retired with his principal. However much he might try to avoid it, he insensibly became a politician. In contrast, the secretary of the Admiralty, a Member of Parliament throughout this period, held his office independent of Administration and was a true civil servant in the modern sense, the permanent head of a Government department. John Clevland began his career as a clerk in the navy office, and when he was appointed secretary of the Admiralty in 1751 had had nearly thirty years’ experience of naval administration. He sat in Parliament for the Admiralty boroughs of Sandwich and Saltash, and managed the Government interest in both boroughs. When Pitt took office in 1756, the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Anson, was dismissed as allegedly responsible for the loss of Minorca, but Clevland retained his place. In 1762 Lord Halifax did not accept the Admiralty until he was assured that Clevland would remain secretary at least for the duration of the war. On Clevland’s death in 1763 he was succeeded by his deputy Philip Stephens, Member in turn for Liskeard and Sandwich, who held the secretaryship under successive Administrations until in 1795 he was promoted to the Admiralty Board. Stephens’s career at the Admiralty lasted over sixty years: he began as a clerk at the Victualling Board before Anson had made his voyage round the world, and he resigned from the Admiralty Board at the age of 83, the year after Trafalgar. He was a senior Admiralty official before Nelson was born, and he was still at the Admiralty when Nelson died. And for the greater part of this period, from 1759 to 1806, he was a Member of the House of Commons, though apparently never speaking in the House.

It was almost a rule of Government service that the man made the job, not the other way round: the status and authority of any office depended as much on the occupant at any particular time as on the powers theoretically conferred upon him. Consider, for example, the men who held the office of private secretary to the first lord of the Treasury, which was not strictly an official position since the holder enjoyed no salary and had to be provided for with sinecures. Newcastle’s private secretary, Hugh Valence Jones, a nephew of the Duke’s great friend Lord Hardwicke, was a mere amanuensis: he copied Newcastle’s letters, arranged his papers, kept the secret service accounts, but took no part in politics or in the framing of Government measures. He sat in Parliament for Dover 1756-1759, not at the recommendation of Newcastle but as the choice of the townspeople themselves, who were tired of having strangers sent down to them by the Treasury (Lord Hardwicke was a native of Dover). In every other respect, he was a nonentity.

Bute’s private secretary was Charles Jenkinson, who was already a Member of Parliament when he became connected with Bute and had served his apprenticeship as under-secretary of state. For Jenkinson this appointment with Bute was a stage on the ladder of his official career, which culminated thirty years later in his becoming a Cabinet minister and an earl. Jenkinson had the mind and outlook of a permanent official, but in an age when the civil service was not yet divorced from Parliament he had to be to some extent a politician. His successor Charles Lloyd, George Grenville’s private secretary, was never more than a clerk, did not sit in the House of Commons, and after his principal’s dismissal from office remained attached to him in a private capacity.

Lord Rockingham, who succeeded Grenville as first lord of the Treasury in July 1765, took as his secretary a man completely unknown to him except by recommendation: Edmund Burke. Six months later Burke entered the House of Commons, not through the influence of the Treasury but on the interest of his friend, Lord Verney; and soon made his mark as a debater and as a man of business. Unlike Jenkinson, he thought of himself as a politician not as a servant of the Crown, and followed Rockingham out of office and into opposition. Richard Stonehewer, Grafton’s private secretary, was a personal dependant, as was also North’s private secretary, William Brummell (father of the famous Beau Brummell); and neither Stonehewer nor Brummell sat in the House of Commons. William Bellingham, Pitt’s private secretary, represented Reigate 1784-1789, but was not important either in the House or in Government service.

Four of these seven private secretaries sat in the House, but only one (Jenkinson) was a Member of Parliament when he was appointed. Jenkinson and Burke became two of the foremost politicians of their day, but the rest remained in humble, dependent situations. An examination of the careers of the men who filled the office of under-secretary of state would reveal the same differences. Only one of them, William Eden, became a prominent politician, and most of them did not sit in the House.

The diplomatic service had not yet become professionalized during this period: appointment was by favour and no special qualifications, beyond a knowledge of French, were necessary. In the majority of diplomatic posts the work was not onerous and the responsibilities were light, and it was generally believed that it was cheaper to live abroad than in England. Hence diplomatic posts were much sought after by impecunious Members of Parliament. When James Hare, a friend of Charles James Fox, was able no longer to keep his head above water by gambling, his friends could think of no better provision for him than a diplomatic appointment at Warsaw or Munich; and Gibbon in 1783 applied for the secretaryship to the Paris embassy because he could no longer afford to live in England after losing his place at the Board of Trade. For those who aspired to a diplomatic post a seat in the House of Commons was an added qualification, and once the post had been obtained the seat was valued because of the consequence it gave to its occupant. Sir Andrew Mitchell, envoy to Berlin, resented attempts to dispossess him of his seat for Elgin Burghs in 1768, and secured Government support for his candidature. Sir Joseph Yorke, ambassador at The Hague, wanted a seat in Parliament purely for its prestige value—if he were not in Parliament, he wrote, ‘the foreign circle I live in might imagine I was in disgrace’. In 1774 he paid £2,500 for a seat at Grampound, negotiated for him by the Treasury, and apparently never attended that Parliament. In 1780, when war with Holland seemed imminent, he wrote to his brother Lord Hardwicke about a seat in the next Parliament: ‘If I continue in a public character, there is a kind of decency in being decorated with such a distinction.’ But if war broke out and he had to return to England, he did not wish to remain in Parliament: he felt himself to be too old and too out of touch with English affairs to begin a career in the House of Commons.

Court appointments were well paid and attracted those who were flattered by access to the Royal family. The ceremony attendant upon court life was enjoyed by some and found fatiguing by others. Philip Goldsworthy, M.P. for Wilton and equerry to the King, complained ironically to Fanny Burney:

After all one’s labours, riding and walking, and standing and bowing, what a life it is? Well! it’s honour! that’s one comfort; it’s all honour! royal honour! One has the honour to stand till one has not a foot left, and to ride till one’s stiff, and to walk till one’s ready to drop—and then one makes one’s lowest bow, d’ye see, and blesses oneself with joy for the honour.

But James Harris, M.P. for Christchurch, a cultured and scholarly man, thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities his post as secretary to the Queen gave him to participate in court ceremonies. After attending the christening of the King’s sixth son on 24 March 1774, when the Queen inquired after his gout, he replied in the style of a born courtier ‘such a sight was enough to cure any complaint’.

The highest court offices were reserved for peers; but the dozen or so grooms of the bedchamber (£500 per annum), the eight clerks of the Green Cloth (£1,000 per annum), the various administrative or financial offices at court (groom porter, treasurer of the chamber, treasurer and comptroller of the Household, etc.) were nearly all held by Members of the House of Commons. Their number was considerably reduced by Burke’s establishment bill of 1782, which attempted to reform the medieval system of administration at court as well as to reduce the number of places available for Members of Parliament. In addition, there were places about the Queen, the Princess Dowager, the Prince of Wales, and the royal Dukes. These, not being offices under the Crown, had the additional advantage that they did not involve a Member in the troublesome and expensive necessity of applying for re-election on his appointment. But they did compel the Member to follow the politics of his royal master. When the Duke of York, the King’s brother, went into opposition to the Chatham Administration in 1767, he took with him Charles Sloane Cadogan, M.P., his treasurer, and Henry St. John, M.P., one of the lords of his bedchamber. And the Prince of Wales had sufficient patronage at his disposal to provide the nucleus of an opposition party.

Burke in his speech on economical reform in 1780 recognized the value of sinecures in the political system of his day: they provided a comfortable retirement for those who had served the state well. Though George III and Burke would no doubt have disagreed about who had served the state well, neither wished to abolish sinecures altogether. The sinecures in the Exchequer, probably the most profitable of all (the tellerships were worth over £10,000 per annum during the American war), were out of reach of all except the most favoured Members of Parliament; but down the line there were posts which either involved no work or could be performed by deputy, and which provided decent retirement pensions for Members. Alexander Wedderburn wrote about John Dickson, M.P. for Peeblesshire, in 1761: ‘His fortune is so narrow that he will not refuse a moderate place, and after serving two Parliaments he really has some sort of right to retire upon a decent provision.’ And the Duke of Rutland thus appealed to Pitt in 1786 on behalf of one of his poor relations, George Manners Sutton: ‘I think you might give him a pension of about £300, which would make him comfortable. A decayed gentleman, and particularly if a Member of Parliament, is surely a proper object for such a provision.’

But it was not as easy for Pitt to provide for ‘decayed gentlemen’ as it had been for Newcastle thirty years earlier. The reform legislation of 1782 and the need to reduce expenditure after the war, had diminished the number of places available. ‘The source of pensions is absolutely stopped’, wrote Gibbon, himself a solicitor for a retirement pension, in 1783, ‘and a double list of candidates is impatient and clamorous for half the number of desirable places.’ And the House of Commons now looked doubtfully upon the practice of providing for Members of Parliament at the public expense. The pensions granted to Shelburne’s friends, Barré and Dunning, in 1782, though they could be defended on Burke’s principles as a means of honourable provision for men who had served the state well, were severely criticized in the House. Daniel Pulteney, a client of the Duke of Rutland, who had entered Parliament in 1784 only because he was practically bankrupt and whose sole aim in Parliament was to provide for himself, recognized the change of mood which had passed over the House. Gone were the days when the profits of a ministry were divided ‘in their several proportions down to the lowest of their adherents’. Instead—

If Mr. Pitt can long persuade a House of Commons that they are to spend their time and fortunes independently to support an independent minister ... it will certainly be better for the country and more honourable to themselves.

When no places were available, the last resource of the needy Member of Parliament was a secret service pension, or a private pension as it was sometimes called. The secret service money was entirely at the King’s disposal and he was not accountable to Parliament for its expenditure; consequently no one, except the persons immediately concerned, knew how it was spent. A proportion of it was used for genuine secret service purposes—to procure intelligence or to bribe foreign politicians; but it was also used to provide pensions for deserving objects of charity—‘decayed’ peers and men of good family, Members of Parliament, servants of the royal family, men of letters and scholarship, etc., and in the early part of the period to finance elections. The money was disbursed by the secretary to the Treasury under the supervision of the first lord, and the accounts, when made up, were usually returned to the King and apparently destroyed by him.

Some of the accounts have survived: for the period when Newcastle was head of the Treasury (March 1754-November 1756 and July 1757-May 1762); for Rockingham’s first Administration (July 1765-July 1766); and for the last three years of the North Ministry (1779-1782). There are also extant fragments of Grenville’s secret service accounts and the accounts for the general election of 1784. In addition, there is a list of secret service pensions, compiled for Shelburne in August 1782; and one or two other lists of a similar kind. Although, therefore it is not possible to make a complete list of Members of Parliament who received secret service pensions during this period, the surviving material is sufficient to enable us to discern the nature of these pensions and the type of Member who received them.

In 1762 sixteen Members were in receipt of secret service pensions, and in 1780 ten. It does not seem likely that these numbers were exceeded at any time during this period, and by August 1782 only three Members were left on the secret service list (one receiving the pension in the name of his wife). The value of these pensions was usually between £500 and £1,000 per annum; they were not paid automatically, the recipients having to apply each quarter to the first lord of the Treasury; and they were not subject to deductions for the land tax, as were other pensions. It was exceptional for a Member to be allowed to retain his pension after he had left the House, and it was understood that he would cease to apply for it if he went into opposition.

When Newcastle was at the Treasury, a secret service pension was the favourite expedient to satisfy a Member who could not be accommodated with office or had lost his office through no fault of his own. Of the 34 pensions granted during Newcastle’s time, eighteen were of that nature. During North’s period, it was more usual to reward Members who had been of service to Government: John Mayor, M.P. for Abingdon, who assisted in framing the paper duty, was given a pension of £1,000 per annum; George Augustus Selwyn, who regularly returned Government candidates at Ludgershall, had £1,500 per annum; and James Macpherson, who wrote pamphlets on behalf of the Government, had £300. The chairman of the committee of ways and means, who was not provided with a salary, always had a secret service pension of £500 per annum. A third class of Members who received pensions were those who were financially embarrassed, or who had left their families in distress. The widow of Thomas Bradshaw, M.P., Grafton’s secretary to the Treasury, was granted a pension of £500 per annum in consideration of her poverty and her husband’s services, and three of his children were also given pensions of £100 per annum each. The wife of Sir James Cockburn, M.P., was granted a pension of £800 per annum when her husband went bankrupt in 1780, which gave Cockburn an income which could not be seized to pay his debts.

It was a constant cry throughout this period that places, pensions, and contracts were used by the Government to bribe Members of Parliament; and it was part of the programme of Opposition, whether Whig or Tory, to reduce the influence of Government over the House. The Tories tried to do this in 1760 by strengthening the law which imposed a property qualification on Members. Men without independent means were excluded from the House, because it was feared they would be susceptible to bribery by Government; but in practice the law never worked and was widely evaded. Daniel Pulteney, elected for Bramber in 1784 without having the necessary qualification, estimated that one-third of the House was in the same plight. The Whigs, when they returned to office in 1782, abolished a number of sinecures and other offices deemed to be unnecessary, but it is doubtful whether this measure fulfilled its authors’ expectations.

The premise upon which the Opposition acted—that the Government owed its majority to the patronage it could distribute among Members—is disproved by the evidence of division lists, by a study of the lives of Members, and by simple common sense. Division lists show that the majority of Members voting with Government held no office and did so through honest (though possibly mistaken) conviction; while common observation of humanity tells us that Members were given office because they voted with Government, not that they voted with Government in order to obtain office. The situation in this respect was not very different from what it is today, allowing for the fact that today Members owe their seats to their party while in the eighteenth century most of them had no party and brought themselves into Parliament. There was a great deal of jobbing, as there must always be when offices are distributed through favour, but little evidence of corruption.

Government patronage, both in the House and in the constituencies, was important but never decisive; it could not save North’s ministry in 1783, when North’s policy no longer commended itself to the House, nor a weak ministry, like that of Shelburne in 1783. In quiet times, when no political issues were at stake, placemen could be relied upon to vote with Government; but on questions of principle or conscience they would follow their own convictions even if these directed them into the Opposition lobby. The point was well put by William Jolliffe, himself a placeman, in the debate on North’s conciliatory propositions, 23 February 1778:

In questions of small importance, if every man was to follow his own caprice no Government could last a day, the business of this empire would be anarchy and confusion; but when the fate of thousands is at stake, when millions may be wasted, and an empire lost, he ill deserves to sit here who can from any motive sacrifice his opinion. It is not in the power of the Crown to bribe a man of property on such occasions.


The eighteenth century knew only four professions: the law, the church, the army, and the navy. Though medicine was sometimes referred to as ‘the profession’, presumably because it involved a degree of specialized knowledge as well as a code of conduct, it was not yet organized nor was it on the same social level as the older professions. Sons of aristocratic or landed families could become barristers or clergymen or accept commissions in the army or navy or even enter trade, but they did not as yet practise medicine. Army and naval officers will be considered in later sections, while this section will deal mainly with the lawyers who sat in the House of Commons.

Of the three branches of the legal profession—barristers, attorneys and solicitors, and civil lawyers—the bar supplied most members to Parliament. It is impossible to give precise figures because of the difficulty of deciding who were or who were not barristers. The fact of having been entered at an inn of court is not evidence that a Member studied law there, nor is the fact of his having been called to the bar evidence that he ever practised. Then there were other Members, such as George Grenville or Charles Townshend, who abandoned their legal careers after having entered the House of Commons. In the figures given below Members have been counted as practising barristers only if they are known to be such from contemporary references or correspondence, from their having held judicial office, or from their having become a bencher of an inn of court or retained chambers there.

At each general election about thirty practising barristers were returned to the House, and altogether about 120 sat in Parliament during this period. Most of them came from the landed or commercial classes and only a handful from peerage families. Some were of very humble parentage. The division between King’s Counsel and junior barristers was not of great professional concern during this period. A King’s Counsel, strictly speaking, held an office of profit under the Crown, which was granted by favour and, if to a Member of Parliament, involved re-election to Parliament. Many barristers who reached the top ranks of their profession did not bother to take silk, while others reaped its advantages and avoided the nuisance of having to be re-elected by accepting a patent of precedence from the Crown.

About half the number of barristers who sat in the House went on to hold legal office. Six became lord chancellor (Robert Henley, Charles Pratt, John Scott, Edward Thurlow, Alexander Wedderburn, and Charles Yorke), and one (James Hewitt) became lord chancellor of Ireland after having been a judge of the King’s bench. A further eight became judges of the courts in Westminster Hall (King’s bench, common pleas, and Exchequer). In all, 15 Members were appointed to judicial offices which vacated their seats in the House of Commons.

When in March 1763 Henry Fox was asked to sketch the plan of a new Administration to be formed on the resignation of Bute, he suggested that the lord chancellor should be compelled to appoint judges ‘with a view to parliamentary interest where they are equally fit’. ‘If Mr. Fox is minister,’ commented the King, ‘I plainly see the very judges must be filled by wretches that are unfit to decide the properties of free men, because they can be the means of acquiring a vote in Parliament.’ It was not the practise during this period to appoint judges because of their parliamentary interest, and in fact the majority of men who were raised to the bench never sat in the House of Commons. The eleven Members of Parliament who were appointed to judicial office not tenable with a seat in the House (excluding those appointed lord chancellor without having previously sat on the bench) had all achieved distinction in their profession and were well qualified by their experience and characters for the judicial office. They were William Blackstone, author of the Commentaries on English Law; William de Grey, a former attorney-general; James Hewitt, subsequently lord chancellor of Ireland; Beaumont Hotham; Lloyd Kenyon, formerly attorney-general and subsequently lord chief justice of the King’s bench; William Murray, one of the greatest lawyers ever to preside over the King’s bench; George Nares; William Noel; Charles Pratt, formerly attorney-general and subsequently lord chancellor; Alexander Wedderburn, who was also destined to hold the Great Seal; and Edward Willes, who had been solicitor-general. In only one of these appointments was there any suspicion of jobbery, and that, ironically enough, was in the case of Beaumont Hotham, who in the House was a leading member of the Opposition.

Hotham was legal adviser to the Dukes of Portland and Devonshire, and was returned to Parliament in 1768 on Portland’s interest at Wigan. In 1775, when the place of a baron of the court of Exchequer seemed likely to become vacant, Portland did a deal on Hotham’s behalf with Government. Hotham was to become a judge, and in return for this favour to his friend, Portland was to return at Wigan John Morton, a Government supporter who had lost his seat at the general election of 1774. ‘I thoroughly approve of the arrangement’, wrote the King to North. ‘... Mr. Hotham’s character qualifies for this promotion, and Mr. Morton will prove a more agreeable attender in his room.’ The implication plainly is that had Hotham not been considered suitable, he would not have received the office; but the transaction struck outside observers as curious to say the least. It is the only example during the period of a Member in opposition being promoted to the judicial bench.

In 1754 Sir John Strange, master of the rolls, wished to retire from the House of Commons, but Newcastle informed him that the King thought it ‘extremely for his service that the master of the rolls should be in Parliament’. Strange’s successor, Sir Thomas Clarke, was provided with a seat at Lostwithiel in 1754, the Government paying all expenses except £500. In 1761 he refused to stand when he found the seat was to cost him £2,000, and never returned to the House. Clarke’s successor as master of the rolls, Thomas Sewell, was already an M.P. when appointed in 1764; he was defeated at Winchelsea in 1768, and although he retained his office until his death in 1784 he never re-entered Parliament. George III did not find it as necessary to his service to have the master of the rolls in the House of Commons as George II had done.

There were also other legal appointments tenable with a seat in the House. Eleven Members became Welsh judges; seven were solicitor- or attorney-general; a further seven held similar appointments in the service of other members of the royal family (the Queen or the Prince of Wales); five were masters in chancery; and four were commissioners of bankruptcy. Three Members were counsel to Government departments (the Boards of Ordnance and Admiralty), and one was judge advocate general. Two Members had held legal office in the colonies: William Hey as chief justice of Quebec; and John Stanley, solicitor and attorney-general of the Leeward Islands.

The same difficulties attend the compiling of a list of Members who practised at the Scottish bar as were found in listing the English barristers, and again no precise figures can be given. About twenty practising advocates sat in the Commons during this period, and the average number returned to each Parliament was six. This total excludes two Members—William Adam and Sir John Anstruther—who left the Scottish bar for the English.

Fewer places were available for advocates than for barristers, and it seems that in Scotland, even more than in England, parliamentary considerations were not the decisive factors in determining legal appointments. The solicitor-general for Scotland, for example, rarely sat in the House of Commons: Alexander Murray was the only one who did so during this period, and he had been solicitor-general for five years before he entered the House. The lord advocate, however, if not a Member when appointed, was brought into the House as soon as practicable. In the appointment of judges of the court of session, as in the appointment of English judges, parliamentary considerations played some part but were by no means predominant. Of the 28 lords of session appointed between 1754 and 1790, six sat in the House of Commons: Ilay Campbell, Robert Dundas, William Grant, Thomas Miller, Alexander Murray, and James Veitch. Campbell and Dundas were both promoted to be lord president of the court of session after having held the office of lord advocate. But the lord advocate had no automatic lien on the lord president’s place, as is shown by the appointment of Thomas Miller, an ordinary lord of session, in 1787. Five Members were appointed to be barons of the Scottish court of Exchequer, three from the Scottish bar (Cosmo Gordon, James Montgomery, and William Mure), and two from the English (Robert Ord and Fletcher Norton junior).

The distinction between an attorney (practising in the courts of common law) and a solicitor (practising in Chancery) was a real one in the eighteenth century, but in contemporary correspondence it was often ignored and the word ‘attorney’ used to describe both professions. Johnson’s remark—‘he did not speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney’—is often quoted to illustrate the low social standing of the profession in his day. Probably their social position varied a good deal, but none of the ten who sat in the House during this period came of a peerage or landed family. Five of them sat in Parliament on the interest of great landowners, to whom they acted in a professional capacity: Marshe Dickinson, John Baynes Garforth, Francis Gregg, John Paterson, and John Sharpe. For them a seat in the House represented an extension of their professional duties. There were others. Francis Eyre was a London attorney who was invited to contest Morpeth in 1774 by a group of freemen opposed to Lord Carlisle’s interest and to undertake (at his own expense) the legal disputes pending with Carlisle. Jarrit Smith was a Bristol attorney, much concerned with its politics, who represented the city 1756-1768; and John Pitt a Gloucester attorney, and the candidate of the independent party at Gloucester against the Duke of Norfolk’s interest in the great contest of 1789. William Masterman, who sat for Bodmin 1780-1784, was a west country attorney, much concerned in Cornish election affairs and at one time an agent of Lord Edgcumbe. John Smith, solicitor to the East India Company, was a mere stop-gap at New Romney in 1784, and held the seat for only three months. Dickinson and Paterson were successively (from 1761 to 1768) chairmen of the committee of ways and means, and Sharpe was solicitor to the Treasury from 1742 until his death in 1756, but otherwise none of these men rose to any consequence in the House. They were good men of business, but neither debaters nor politicians.

Only one writer to the signet sat in the House during this period: Andrew Stuart, M.P. for Lanarkshire 1774-1784. Stuart had succeeded his father as legal agent to the Duke of Hamilton, and managed the legal proceedings involved in the Duke’s claim to the Douglas estates (the famous Douglas cause). He was brought into Parliament on the Hamilton interest and through their influence was provided with sinecures, apparently as a reward for his professional services; but he was dropped in 1784 (when the Hamiltons followed Pitt) and remained loyal to Fox.

The third branch of the legal profession comprised the advocates at Doctors’ Commons who practised in the ecclesiastical and Admiralty courts. There were eight in the House during this period. James Adams and Scrope Bernard entered the House in 1784 and 1789 respectively, when they were both young men just on the threshold of their profession. William Burrell, who specialized in Admiralty cases, retired from Parliament and his profession in 1774 with a commissionership of the Excise. Philip Champion Crespigny was of little account in his profession and seems to have owed his office of King’s proctor to parliamentary considerations: he was brother-in-law of Thomas Fonnereau, patron of the borough of Aldeburgh, and succeeded to the Fonnereau interest there in 1779. Crespigny remained with North after his junction with Fox, and in 1784 lost his place of King’s proctor.

The remaining four advocates who sat in the House—George Hay, Sir George Lee, Sir James Marriott, and Edward Simpson—filled the highest offices in their profession. Members of Parliament had a preferential claim on these offices, because there were usually only two or three advocates in the House; but professional experience and knowing the right people counted for nearly as much as voting with the Government. In 1756 Edward Simpson was the senior practising advocate and although not in the House was appointed King’s advocate by Newcastle, only to lose his post to a Member of Parliament when the Pitt-Devonshire ministry was formed a few months later. In 1758 Simpson was appointed dean of the arches (an office in the gift of the archbishop of Canterbury) at Newcastle’s recommendation, and in 1759 the Duke brought him into Parliament for Dover. He remained with Newcastle in opposition, and on his death in 1764 was succeeded as dean of the arches by George Hay, M.P. for Sandwich. Hay had been appointed King’s advocate by Newcastle in 1755 but had deserted him for Pitt and afterwards had deserted Pitt for Bute and Grenville. Yet when Simpson died in 1764 Newcastle recommended Hay to the archbishop for dean of the arches, for which he was strongly criticized by his friends in opposition. Hay was also a member of the Admiralty Board, from which he was dismissed in July 1765 by the Rockingham ministry; and the Rockingham and Chatham Administrations are the only ones he is known to have opposed. He was defeated for Oxford University at the general election of 1768, but returned in November by Lord Gower at Newcastle-under-Lyme; and henceforth steadily supported Government, becoming in 1773 judge of the court of Admiralty. Hay was unquestionably an able man both in the House and in the courts-Newcastle in 1761 seriously considered him for the Chair; but he was quite unscrupulous in the pursuit of his own interests and had no political loyalties. ‘He had no opinion of any cause’, a friend wrote of him after his death, ‘but considered them all as the pretences under which men carry on their selfish schemes.’

Hay’s career as a time-server is matched by that of another ecclesiastical lawyer, Sir James Marriott, M.P. for Sudbury 1781-1784; but Marriott’s success came through servility and fawning to ministers, and he did not enter the House until he had reached the pinnacle of his career as a lawyer. He began as Newcastle’s ‘most devoted dependant’, and in return for cataloguing Newcastle’s library bullied the Duke into getting him elected a fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He deserted Newcastle for Bute in 1762 but when informed that the Duke intended to bring him into Parliament, apologized humbly for his conduct and returned to his former allegiance; only to leave Newcastle again in 1764 when he obtained through Lord Sandwich’s influence the mastership of Trinity Hall. In 1778 he became judge of the Admiralty, but no Administration would bring him into Parliament and it was not until 1781 that he came in at Sudbury on his own interest. He was a devoted follower of North, and afterwards of the Shelburne, Fox-North, and Pitt Administrations; and retired from Parliament in 1784, professedly because of his health and age. Twelve years later, when presumably his health had improved and he no longer felt his age, he re-entered the House but received no further preferment.

There were two other Members during this period who might be described as professional men. Robert Adam, the architect, M.P. for Kinross-shire 1768-1774, found his seat very useful for the furtherance of his speculative building projects in London and for winding them up after they had failed. Thomas Dimsdale, M.P. for Hertford 1780-1790, was the doctor who had inoculated the Empress Catherine of Russia, but it seems probable that he had given up his practice long before he entered the House. Another ex-doctor in the House was Lauchlin Macleane, M.P. for Arundel 1768-1771, who had practised at Philadelphia and been an army surgeon during the seven years’ war, but he gave up his profession in favour of the more lucrative trade of a speculator in East India stock and came to an untimely end.

Finally, two ordained clergymen of the Church of England sat in Parliament during this period. The first was Robert Palk, who took deacon’s orders and became a chaplain in the service of the East India Company. Soon after his arrival in India in 1749 he turned to administrative duties, became governor of Madras in 1763, and in 1767 returned to England with a fortune. He was a native of Ashburton in Devon, where he had a strong parliamentary interest, and was returned for the borough at a by-election in December 1767. Legally Palk remained a clergyman, since at that time there was no provision for the renunciation of orders, but his career was predominantly lay. The second, Edward Rushworth, was ordained deacon in 1780 and became a curate in the parish of Newport in the Isle of Wight. There he met the daughter of the Rev. Leonard Troughear Holmes, whose family had a considerable parliamentary interest in the Isle of Wight boroughs of Newport and Yarmouth. In August 1780 Rushworth married Holmes’s daughter, and at the general election a few days later his father-in-law sprung a surprise on the Administration. In order to force Lord North to provide for Rushworth, presumably in the Church, he returned him for Yarmouth instead of one of the Government candidates. North was highly indignant, but the scheme worked in so far as a few months later Rushworth vacated his seat in favour of a rich nabob, presumably for a financial consideration. Whether he continued to exercise his ecclesiastical functions is not certain. At the general election of 1784 he was elected for Newport after a contest, and his defeated opponent petitioned against him on the ground that since Rushworth was in holy orders his election was invalid. But a committee of the House of Commons decided in Rushworth’s favour, and Rushworth had by then become sufficiently interested in politics to vote with Fox throughout the Parliament.



The word ‘merchant’ had a wide meaning in the eighteenth century, including at one extreme small shopkeepers and at the other, wholesalers, exporters, bankers, and financiers. The merchants who sat in the House of Commons can best be described as business men; most of them were engaged in large-scale dealings, and their business brought them into close connexion with Government and could be vitally affected by changes in Government policy. They entered the House at a higher average age than that of the House as a whole, were not prone to form strong political attachments, and were not intent on attaining office. Membership of the House marked a stage in their business careers: it was not a duty enjoined upon them, as it was for the country gentlemen, nor did it imply strong political convictions and an urge to take part in the game of politics. Socially, the merchants ranged from self-made men of humble parentage to sons of the aristocracy, but the majority of them came from middle-class families and pursued a family calling. The average number returned at each general election was about 60, slightly lower in the earlier part of the period and slightly higher at the end. No list could be compiled of merchants in the House which would not be subject to the vagaries of individual judgment, for they were not a distinct group, clearly marked off from the professional or landed classes.

In the coal-producing areas of the north-east and south Wales it was not uncommon for country gentlemen, as they began to exploit their estates, to become business men and even industrialists without ever losing the character or distinctive outlook of a country gentleman. George Bowes, M.P. for Durham county 1727-1760, was one of the largest coal owners in the north-east and left a fortune estimated at £600,000. With the Wortleys and the Liddells, two other leading county families, he founded a cartel which dominated the north country coal trade throughout the century. Yet he remained a typical county Member, standing aloof from close connexions with Government and thoroughly independent in his political outlook. Matthew Ridley of Blagdon, Northumberland, M.P. for Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1747-1774, was another country gentleman who exploited the coal seams on his estates. Coal naturally led him to the industries which used it, and he became the owner of a glass works and a brewery, mayor of Newcastle, governor of the Company of Merchant Adventurers, and a leader of the Newcastle business community. George Warren, who represented Lancaster for 26 years during this period, was another country gentleman who engaged in industry: he tried to develop the coal mines on his Cheshire estates and promoted a scheme for a canal to link the rivers Weaver and Mersey. This clashed with another plan for a canal put forward by the Duke of Bridgwater, and Warren’s estates remained comparatively undeveloped during his lifetime. He also engaged in cotton manufacturing and tried to enclose common lands for building factories.

Capel Hanbury and his son John belonged to one of the leading landed families in south Wales and between them represented Monmouthshire from 1747 to 1784. The family had owned iron-works at Pontypool since the sixteenth century and these they considerably extended in the eighteenth century. The Mackworths of Gnoll in Glamorgan were another leading south Wales family with a strong parliamentary interest based on the ownership of land—father and son held the seat for Cardiff Boroughs from 1739 to 1790. They owned coal mines and also the Gnoll copper works at Neath, developed a local bank, and had a business address in the city of London. It would be the extreme of pedantry to try to decide whether men like these should be classified as country gentlemen or industrialists for they were in fact both—the ownership of mineral-producing land leading them by a natural and almost insensible process into becoming business men.

There was also a movement the other way, of men who had grown rich in business abandoning their trade and becoming country gentlemen. Joseph Mawbey at the age of seventeen became a partner in his uncle’s vinegar distillery at Vauxhall, and by the time he was twenty-four was sole owner. In 1761 he entered Parliament for Southwark, a constituency which always returned local business men; but in 1774, having sold his distillery and turned country gentleman, he aspired to represent the county of Surrey and did so 1775-1790. George Medley, after having made a fortune as a wine merchant in Portugal, settled as a country gentleman in Sussex and gave Newcastle a lot of trouble by challenging the Duke’s interest at Seaford. At last, in 1768, Newcastle returned him for Seaford, which he represented until 1780. He, too, had the typical country gentleman’s attitude in politics: he once said in the House that ‘he never would either ask or accept of any favour from the Crown’, and as far as is known he kept his word. John Strutt, M.P. for Maldon 1774-1790, was the son of a miller and had been apprenticed to his uncle, another miller. Strutt, after succeeding to his uncle’s estates, became a country gentleman in Essex and applied to agriculture the lessons of thrift and good management he had learnt in commerce. In politics he belonged to the Essex Tories, and he remained a Tory in outlook and principle long after the Tories had ceased to exist as a coherent group in Parliament.

Numerous examples can be given of Members who grew rich in business, bought landed estates, and became country gentlemen without abandoning their business. Here is one good example. John Major of Bridlington, Yorkshire, began life as the owner of a ship which he himself commanded. He left the sea and went into the iron trade, at the same time remaining financially interested in shipping. He was returned to Parliament for Scarborough in 1761 at the age of sixty-two, and in 1765, when his son-in-law John Henniker, M.P., applied for a baronetcy on Major’s behalf, owned estates in seven English counties with a rental of about £5,000 per annum. Though Major’s estates were larger than those of many country gentlemen who sat in the House, business remained his predominant interest and no one would have classed him as anything but a merchant.

In 1754 banking was hardly as yet a separate branch of commerce. There were a number of great houses wholly devoted to the business of banking—Child’s, Drummond’s, and Martin’s are notable examples; and representatives of these families duly found their place in the House of Commons. But a good many merchants were also bankers: the transition from granting credit to their customers to the business of banking was not a very difficult one. To give one example: Sir George Colebrooke, M.P. for Arundel 1754-1774, was a banker, a merchant trading to America, a director of the East India Company, and a speculator in land and raw materials. Country banks were often started by groups of landed gentlemen, probably as much for their neighbours’ convenience as for their own profit. The founders of the Cornish bank in 1771 included Edward Eliot, Humphrey Mackworth Praed, William Lemon, and Sir John Molesworth, all at some time Members of Parliament for Cornwall during this period and none of them could be described as a merchant. The career of Thomas Hill, M.P. for Shrewsbury 1749-1768, is a remarkable example of large scale finance carried on by a former merchant who had settled down as a country gentleman.

From a study of the Members of Parliament in this period it would appear that capitalism had developed most in three industries: clothing, brewing, and mining. The clothiers who sat in Parliament came mostly from the west country, and, having settled in London, acted as financiers and agents for the smaller manufacturers. The brewers and distillers, for example Sir William Calvert, Henry Thrale, and Samuel Whitbread, were all established in London. Those engaged in the mining industry were country gentlemen such as George Bowes, Sir James Lowther, or Sir Francis Basset, who exploited the natural wealth of their estates. But the typical English business man of this period engaged in all kinds of ventures where a profit was to be made, though he often ended by concentrating upon one. Anthony Bacon and Chauncy Townsend were two Members who did so.

Bacon, M.P. for Aylesbury 1764-1784, was a Manxman who began his business career by keeping a store in Maryland. About 1740 he began trading between England and the southern colonies as master of his own ship, and in 1748 settled as a merchant in London. He dealt in tobacco, coal, Senegal gum, slaves, and a wide range of other commodities; engaged in shipbuilding; and obtained Government contracts for victualling troops in West Africa and the West Indies, for supplying coal, slaves, and ships. In 1765 he took out a lease of land around Merthyr Tydvil, set up furnaces and forges, and became a gun founder. He was one of the first industrialists to use Wilkinson’s invention of boring cannon from the solid, and one of the largest suppliers of guns during the American war. He also held contracts for victualling troops in America and for supplying coal, but by 1782, when he retired, gun-making seems to have been the largest part of his business. Our second example, Townsend, M.P. for Westbury 1748-1768 and for Wigtown Burghs 1768-1770, was apprenticed to his uncle, a linen-draper. He began working coal mines around Swansea, engaged in mining and working copper and lead, and held contracts for provisioning troops in America. But by the time of his death his mining ventures overshadowed all his other concerns.

The majority of merchants who sat in the House during this period were in business in London. At the general election of 1754 only five provincial merchants were returned to the House (including one from Scotland); in the Parliaments of 1780 and 1784 there were nine. Only the biggest merchants aspired to a seat in the House (the smaller ones were far too occupied with their businesses), and the biggest merchants naturally gravitated to London. The five provincial merchants returned in 1754 were William Alexander of Edinburgh, Samuel Dicker of Bristol, John Hardman of Liverpool, Jonathan Rashleigh of Fowey (where the Rashleigh family controlled one seat), and Matthew Ridley of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. All, except Dicker, sat for constituencies where they carried on their business, as did the majority of provincial merchants returned to Parliament during this period. Bristol sent four merchants to the House between 1754 and 1790; Liverpool sent three; Edinburgh and Exeter two; and no other provincial town more than one. Towards the end of the period there was a tendency for smaller provincial towns to return local merchants to Parliament. George Gipps, a hop merchant, sat for Canterbury 1780-1800; Thomas Kemp, a wool stapler and an important figure in local politics, for Lewes 1780-1802 and 1806-1811; and John Mortlock, founder of the first bank in Cambridge, for Cambridge 1784-1788. These were genuine local merchants, men of substance and standing in their native towns, of a type rarely found in the earlier part of this period.

‘I see many solid advantages accruing to my family from a seat in Parliament’, wrote Abel Smith, the Nottingham banker, shortly before the general election of 1774, ‘the best of which, the article of franking, will save a very considerable expense in so very extensive a business as that I am engaged in.’ The right to frank letters gratis (which Members extended to include letters sent out by their firms as well as by their friends) was a valuable perquisite in an age when postage rates were heavy. But once in the House, Smith found that there were other perquisites to which a Member of Parliament might lay claim. His first speech, on 25 February 1782, was to attack Lord North for alleged partiality in the allotment of subscriptions to the Government loan; his second, 25 April 1783, was to complain of Lord John Cavendish, North’s successor as chancellor of the Exchequer, for the same offence. Smith’s firm had been left out of both loans, and presumably he felt that as a Government supporter and an eminent banker, he had a right to a share.

Edward Lewis, M.P. for New Radnor, held a Government contract for supplying ships for the packet service to the West Indies. In 1773 the Post Office, dissatisfied with the terms of the contract, proposed to discontinue it; and Lewis appealed to Lord North. North wrote to the postmasters general on 29 January 1774:

Mr. Lewis is a very honest, worthy man, and an excellent Member of Parliament. Nobody has more zealously and uniformly supported his Majesty’s Government, from which he receives no advantage whatsoever except the contract which he holds with the Post Office ... I do assure you that I think the King’s affairs in Parliament may suffer unless such good and steady friends as Mr. Lewis have from Government all the countenance and favour that justice and the public service will permit.

Something had to suffer, either the King’s affairs in Parliament or those of the Post Office, and Lewis was shown rather more favour than the public service permitted. Lord le Despenser, joint postmaster general, in his reply to North described Lewis’s contract as detrimental to the public; still, realizing that it was necessary ‘to show complaisancy and favour to those who are steady to Government’, he left the matter to be decided by North at his discretion. Lewis retained his contract until North left office.

It was against jobbery of this kind in the allotment of Government contracts that the Opposition complained, and the contractors bill, introduced by Sir Philip Jennings Clerke in 1778, excluded them from the House unless they held their contracts as the result of a public auction. ‘Members of Parliament would not be contractors’, said Jennings Clerke on introducing his bill, ‘if extraordinary and improper advantages were not given them ... giving these contracts to Members was an arrant job, and did create a dangerous influence in that House which must operate much to the injury of the nation.’ The bill, repeatedly rejected by the Commons or the Lords, finally became law after the Rockinghams came to power in 1782. There were then twelve Government contractors sitting in the House, all of whom chose to retain their seats and surrender their contracts.

Thus it is not easy to say whether Jennings Clerke’s allegations were correct, or the similar allegations made by George Byng and Sir George Savile in 1781 against partiality in the allotment of Government loans. Certainly Edward Lewis’s contract appears to have been an arrant job, and throughout the period merchants voting with the Government stood to gain contracts and those voting with the Opposition stood to lose them. But before the charges of wholesale jobbery and corruption could be justified, there would have to be a thorough examination of the terms of the contracts, the prices of provisions, shipping freights, commissions taken on the remittance of money, etc. If contracts were the places of merchants, as Sir Lewis Namier has said, it would be reasonable to expect a good deal of jobbery in their distribution but little downright corruption. Merchants received contracts because they voted with the Government; it is by no means certain, and would be difficult to prove, that they voted with the Government because they received contracts.

How many merchant M.P.s held Government contracts? Again, the figures cannot be exact: too much depends on the definition given to the word merchant and exactly what is meant by a contract. Sir Lewis Namier found thirty-seven Members returned to Parliament in 1761 who ‘had extensive business dealings with the Government’ (which includes also the principal subscribers to Government loans). Mr. Christie calculates that there were fifteen Government contractors elected to Parliament in 1780. My own figures for the number of contractors returned at each general election are as follows: 17 in 1754, 27 in 1761, 14 in 1768, 14 in 1774, and 17 in 1780. The principal Government contracts were for the pay, clothing, and provisioning of troops abroad; for the equipment of the army and navy; and for remitting money to foreign states. Naturally there were more and bigger contracts in time of war than in time of peace, and one would also expect the number of contractors in Parliament to be larger during the seven years’ war than during the American war. During the seven years’ war Great Britain had an army in Europe and paid large subsidies to her European allies, but during the American war there were no continental campaigns and no allies.

There were other Members who held contracts of a miscellaneous nature. Christopher Atkinson supplied wheat and malt to the Victualling Board during the American war; Anthony Bacon, among other contracts, held one for victualling and paying the troops in West Africa during the seven years’ war and during the American war supplied cannon to the Board of Ordnance; Sir Lawrence Dundas and Nicholas Linwood were the chief contractors for horses for Prince Ferdinand’s army in Germany; Brice Fisher supplied clothing to the army during the seven years’ war; John Sargent and Richard Stratton contracted for mail boats to the West Indies; and Thomas Fitzherbert held a number of contracts during the American war—for waggons, horses, arms and ammunition. Nor are these lists exhaustive: a close scrutiny of the records of the Admiralty, the Ordnance, the Victualling Office, etc., would probably provide evidence of other contracts held by Members of Parliament; but the results would not be commensurate to the work involved.

Principal Government Contractors in the Commons

For remitting Continental

subsidies, provisioning and

paying troops in Germany

[Seven years’ war only]                                                         

For provisioning and

paying troops in America                                         

For provisioning and paying

troops in Gibraltar and Minorca

George AmyandJohn AmyandGeorge Amyand
Peregrine CustRichard AtkinsonRichard Atkinson
John GoreSir William BakerJohn Bristow
Joseph MellishSir George ColebrookeMerrick Burrell
Samuel TouchetJames ColebrookePeter Burrell I
Thomas WalpoleLaurence CoxPeregrine Cust

William DevaynesThomas Fonnereau

Adam DrummondZ. P. Fonnereau

Henry DrummondRobert Jones

John DrummondEdward Lewis

John DurandThomas Walpole

Samuel FludyerGeorge Wombwell

Thomas Harley

John Henniker

Edward Lewis

John Major

Robert Mayne

John Nesbitt

Arnold Nesbitt

Christopher Potter

Abel Smith

John Stephenson

Chauncy Townsend

George Wombwell


The Government contractors who sat in the House were the leaders of the business community of their day, and most of them were merchants and bankers, exporters and importers, rather than industrialists. They had access to large amounts of capital, and were, together with the three great joint-stock companies, the principal subscribers to Government loans. But when the Government wanted money it was compelled to go to the men who had it to lend, irrespective of whether they were in Parliament or not, and to borrow on the most favourable terms. Other things being equal, Members of Parliament who supported the Government would receive priority; but there is little evidence that the Government favoured Members of Parliament at the expense of making a bad bargain for the nation. One of the most considerable subscribers to Government loans during the seven years’ war was Anthony Chamier, a broker and leading City financier, who did not enter the House until 1778, by which time he had retired from business. Robert Ladbroke, M.P., a big London banker, was a large subscriber to Government loans during the American war although he voted regularly with the Opposition. As with Government contracts, there was jobbery in the allotment of loans, but the idea that they were used by Government as an instrument to preserve its majority in the House does not bear examination.

The three great joint stock companies, incorporated by royal charter, were the Bank of England, the South Sea Company, and the East India Company. The affairs of the East India Company were the subject of prolonged political controversy during this period, and the Members of Parliament concerned in them are dealt with in a later section. The Bank of England and the South Sea Company were the chief sources of credit in the City of London and their relations with Government were necessarily close. Throughout this period there was always a number of directors of each company in the House.

Ten directors of the Bank of England sat in the Commons between 1754 and 1790, including three who held the post of governor of the Bank while they were in the House. Merrick Burrell (governor 1758-60), Bartholomew Burton (governor 1760-2), and Martyn Fonnereau, were London merchants principally engaged in the American trade. Burrell and Burton were two of Newcastle’s financial advisers while he was at the Treasury; and Burton had been brought into Parliament by the Treasury in 1759 at a time of acute financial crisis when Newcastle wanted a leading City man in the House. The other Bank directors in Parliament were William Ewer (governor 1782-3), wholesale grocer and Turkey merchant; Samuel Fludyer, clothier; Benjamin Hopkins, underwriter and a leading Government supporter in City politics; John Sargent, draper and American merchant, and a close friend of Benjamin Franklin; Richard Stratton, Turkey merchant; Samuel Thornton, Russia merchant; and Brook Watson, underwriter and member of Lloyds. Five of these men—Burrell, Burton, Fludyer, Sargent, and Stratton—held Government contracts for some part of their time in Parliament; and with the exception of Sargent, who remained loyal to Grenville after his dismissal in 1765, none was in declared opposition for more than a few months.

Sixteen directors of the South Sea Company sat in the House during this period, including three who held the office of sub-governor (the King was the governor). The number of directors in the House decreased as the period advanced, possibly a reflection of the diminishing importance of the Company. Nine were returned at the general election of 1754, seven in 1761, four in 1768, three in 1774, two in 1780, and one in 1784. Nor was the direction wholly mercantile, as was that of the Bank of England. Nine of these sixteen directors were merchants (John Bristow, Peter Burrell, Brice Fisher, John Gore, Joseph Gulston, Abraham Hume, Thomas Lucas, John Major, and Nathaniel Newnham). Three (Bristow, Burrell, and Gulston) were principally in the Portuguese trade; and six (Bristow, Burrell, Fisher, Gore, Hume, and Major) held Government contracts while they were in the House. Three of the remaining directors were barristers: Thomas Coventry (who became sub-governor in 1769), Samuel Salt, and Benjamin Way. William Burrell, a son of Peter Burrell, was an advocate at Doctors’ Commons; Francis Gashry and John Phillipson were Government officials; and Thomas Edwards Freeman was a country gentleman.

The aldermen of London claimed to represent the business interests of the City. Of the 31 aldermen who sat in the House during this period, 26 were merchants or bankers, two (Richard and William Beckford) were Jamaican planters, and one (Marshe Dickinson) was a City attorney. Only John Wilkes and James Townsend, leaders of the City radicals, were unconnected with the business world. The number of aldermen returned at each general election is as follows: 9 in 1754, 8 in 1761, 8 in 1768, 6 in 1774, 8 in 1780, and 13 in 1784. Twenty of the aldermen who sat in the House became lord mayor of London, and fifteen represented the City in Parliament (every Member for the City during this period was an alderman). In addition, Sir William Calvert, who had represented London since 1742 and been defeated at the general election in 1754, was returned by the Treasury for Old Sarum; John Wilkes, defeated for London in 1768, was returned for Middlesex; while Paul le Mesurier and Sir Barnard Turner represented Southwark.

The City of London, in eighteenth-century parlance, had both a political and commercial implication, and from a study of the voting records of the aldermen who were returned to Parliament it seems that they were representative of political rather than of commercial opinion in the City. In the Parliament of 1780, six of them voted with the Opposition and only two with the Government; in that of 1784, ten with Pitt and three with Fox. Most big business men preferred to come into Parliament for a pocket borough rather than engage in the hurly-burly of City politics, at the best an uncertain way of getting into the House and one involving the expenditure of considerable time and effort.

The period 1754 to 1790 witnessed technical changes in industry which were to affect profoundly the nation’s economic life. These changes are not visible in the composition of the House of Commons: no Lancashire cotton spinner, no Yorkshire woollen manufacturer, no Black Country industrialist sat in Parliament during this period. The first generation of families who made their fortunes as a result of the Industrial Revolution were too occupied with their businesses to think of entering the House of Commons. For the merchant and business man, membership of the House was a status symbol, a sign that he had arrived at the top, not a means of getting there.



During this period 208 army officers sat in the House of Commons. This figure does not include militia officers nor those who served as volunteers in time of war, but only regular army officers whose names appear in the semi-official army lists. Roughly speaking, one out of every ten Members of Parliament held a commission in the regular army at some period during his service in the House, which seems a very high proportion for a nation which had no tradition of militarism and had for a long time withstood the creation of a standing army. Perhaps it can partly be explained by the fact that the army was still in the eighteenth century a very amateurish service. Once commissioned, an officer remained on the army list unless he resigned or was dismissed for misconduct, though in fact he may have been a soldier in name only, seeing no service and receiving no military employment. For men of good family, promotion in the junior grades was quick, facilitated by the purchase system; and a young man with good connections who entered the army at the age of eighteen might look forward to being a lieutenant-colonel before he was thirty. Thereafter promotion would be much slower, dependent mainly on seniority, and once an officer had passed beyond the stage of regimental duty his chance of employment lessened. With no elaborate staff organization, there were few posts available for senior officers; and many a major-general or lieutenant-general held nothing but his rank.

Here is the military career of one officer who sat in the House of Commons: Charles Moore, 6th Earl of Drogheda in the Irish peerage, M.P. for Horsham 1776-1780. Drogheda was given his first commission in the 12th Dragoons at the age of fourteen, and at twenty-five was lieutenant-colonel of the 1st Horse. During the seven years’ war he raised a regiment of light dragoons at his own expense, and in 1762 was promoted colonel and appointed colonel of the 18th Light Dragoons. From 1770 to 1797 he was master-general of the Ordnance in Ireland, an office which he owed as much to his being an Irish peer as to anything else. His promotion in the army followed regularly as a matter of seniority, until in 1821, shortly after his ninety-first birthday, he became a field-marshal. He had been in the army for more than seventy years and had seen no active service.

Drogheda’s military career was exceptional only because he lived to such a great age, and it will hardly be contended that the four years he spent in the House of Commons helped to gain him promotion. In fact, it would have made no difference if he had never sat in Parliament; the most important factors in his military career were his wealth and social position, not his membership of the House of Commons. He reached the top because he came from the class which expected to fill the highest positions in the army. Yet the belief persisted that Parliament was the quickest road to military promotion. ‘If your inclinations are to push forward in the army’, a friend wrote to James Mure Campbell in 1751, ‘undoubtedly being in Parliament is the only way.’ Campbell duly entered the House as M.P. for Ayrshire in 1754, when he was a major in the 11th Dragoons, and his seat in Parliament undoubtedly helped to obtain for him a company in the 3rd Foot Guards in 1756. Among the mass of junior officers struggling for promotion, those who were Members of Parliament stood out and might expect speedier promotion than the average. But both George II and George III held a tight control over service appointments, and Members of Parliament who expected to jump over the heads of officers senior to themselves were more often than not disappointed. And above lieutenant-colonel, the Member of Parliament had no advantage as far as mere rank was concerned.

Amongst junior officers, the most coveted appointments were to the command of a company or a battalion in the Foot Guards and their equivalents in the Household cavalry. Rank in the Guards carried with it correspondingly higher rank in the army: thus a lieutenant in the Guards was a captain in the army, a captain in the Guards a lieutenant-colonel in the army, etc. For senior officers, the plum appointments were colonelcies of regiments and governorships of forts. These were strictly military appointments, but as far as Members of Parliament were concerned political considerations entered into them. A Member of Parliament in opposition could not expect a regiment or a governorship, or promotion to a more lucrative appointment. On the other hand, demotion or loss of rank in the army, or worse, was usually independent of politics and resulted from military misconduct leading to conviction by court-martial. The outstanding example is provided by Lieutenant-General Lord George Sackville, a Member of the House from 1741 to 1782, who disobeyed orders to bring up the cavalry at the battle of Minden, 1 August 1759, was dismissed the service and declared by court-martial unfit to hold any military command whatsoever. How he escaped the death penalty is not clear: certainly the King expected no lesser sentence. In the new reign, Sackville was given office in the first Rockingham Administration; regained his position as a front-rank debater in the House of Commons; and disastrously for his own reputation, became secretary of state for the colonies with responsibility for the American war. He ended his career in the House of Lords. The only soldier whose military career was broken for political reasons in this period was Sir Henry Erskine, M.P. for Anstruther Easter Burghs, who was dismissed the army by order of the King in 1756 for voting with Pitt and the Prince of Wales’s friends against the subsidy treaties. Erskine’s harsh treatment was prompted by the King’s jealousy of the Prince of Wales and by the fact that the subsidy treaties had been concluded by the King himself to ensure the defence of Hanover.

In the earlier part of the period appointments in the army, as distinct from rank, were considered by the Government almost as the military equivalent of political office, and were liable to be forfeited by Members who went into opposition. In November 1763 Major-General William Ashe A’Court, M.P. for Heytesbury, was deprived of his appointment as lieutenant-colonel of the 2nd Foot Guards for voting with the Opposition on the Wilkes case, and Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Barré, M.P. for Chipping Wycombe, was dismissed from the place of adjutant-general and the governorship of Stirling castle for the same offence. In 1764 a parliamentary controversy was aroused by the dismissal of Lieutenant-General Henry Seymour Conway, M.P. for Thetford, from the colonelcy of the 1st Dragoons for voting against the Government over general warrants. The Opposition contended that the colonelcy of a regiment was a military appointment which could be lost only for military misconduct, and was not to be considered in the same category as a political office or a place at court. Though the King never explicitly acknowledged this, the practice of dismissing officers for their votes in Parliament ceased. Lieutenant-General John Burgoyne, M.P. for Preston, though he greatly offended the King by precipitately going into opposition in 1778 and censuring the Government’s conduct of the war, was allowed to retain his regiment and his governorship. The Government took its revenge upon him in another way by ordering him back to America (he was a prisoner-of-war on parole), upon which Burgoyne promptly resigned his military appointments.

By the end of the period it was tacitly understood that an officer who voted against the Government would not be dismissed from strictly military appointments. But it by no means followed that he would not thereby lose promotion in the army. Colonel Alexander Stewart, M.P. for Kirkcudbright Stewartry, having failed to secure a regiment from the younger Pitt, voted against him over the Regency. When, after the King’s recovery, Stewart again applied for promotion, Henry Dundas sharply reminded him that his political conduct had not been satisfactory. ‘If political support is to be any foundation for military preferment’, Dundas wrote on 18 June 1789, ‘these occurrences must of necessity have produced other pretensions not inferior to yours.’ The implication plainly is that the Government intended to distribute army appointments, as they did civil appointments, to those officers who supported them in the House of Commons. It could hardly be otherwise, when the distinction between military and political appointments was by no means clear.

General Burgoyne, who had been appointed commander-in-chief in Ireland by the Rockingham Administration in March 1782, was advised by his political friends not to resign with them when Shelburne became minister. The office of commander-in-chief in Ireland, wrote Portland to Burgoyne, was purely military, and he continued: ‘I could see no objection to your retaining it, and in carrying on the most violent opposition to the court at the same time in a political line.’ But in January 1784, after Fox’s dismissal and Pitt’s accession to office, Burgoyne resigned what he now professed to believe was a political office. ‘The trust of commander-in-chief’, he wrote to Lord Sydney, Home secretary, required ‘the most confidential connexion with his Majesty’s ministers on both sides of the water.’ Similarly, General Conway, commander-in-chief in England, held that his post was a purely military one, and did not resign when Shelburne took office. Under the Fox-North coalition he withdrew from the Cabinet, thus dissociating himself from responsibility for the Government’s political decisions. But in December 1783, believing that Pitt’s assumption of office was unconstitutional, he resigned what he had hitherto regarded as a purely military office.

Parliament’s authority over the army was based on its control over finance and did not extend to military promotions and appointments. The secretary at war, who generally answered for the army in the House of Commons, was the King’s military secretary, never sat in the Cabinet, and in the House was mainly concerned with finance. Lord Barrington, secretary at war 1755-1761 and 1765-1778, probably the most conscientious man to hold the office during this period, said in the Commons on 9 December 1770:

A secretary at war must obey the King’s orders signified by a secretary of state or resign. The secretary at war is not a Cabinet Councillor. He is only a ministerial officer. He is not a proper judge of the propriety of a measure.

Nor did he see fit to resign his office when, in 1776, he disagreed with the strategy of trying to reduce the rebellion in America by offensive warfare.

The effective head of the army in 1754 was the Duke of Cumberland, the King’s second son, who held the appointment of captain-general. Cumberland’s political adviser, Henry Fox, was secretary at war, and between them Cumberland and Fox directed a group in the House of Commons composed mainly of army officers. In Lord Dupplin’s list of 1754 the Cumberland-Fox group comprises 26 Members, while there were also 20 other army officers in the House who looked to Cumberland as the source of professional favours. After Cumberland’s resignation in 1757 this group disintegrated, and henceforth the army officers were so many individuals in the House, without any political direction from the head of their profession.

Field Marshal Lord Ligonier, M.P. 1748-1763, and commander-in-chief of the army 1757-1766, was insignificant in the House of Commons. His successor, Lord Granby, M.P. 1741-1770, was politically connected with Chatham, and resigned in January 1770 when Chatham went into opposition. From 1770 to 1778 the post of commander-in-chief was vacant; when it became necessary to fill it during the American war, the office was given to Lord Amherst, a distinguished soldier who never sat in the House. Henry Seymour Conway, M.P., was commander-in-chief from March 1782 to December 1783, when the office was again allowed to become vacant and it was not until war broke out with France in 1793 that a fresh appointment was made. Clearly it was felt that there was no necessity to have a commander-in-chief in time of peace, nor, when there was one, for him to be in the House of Commons.

Three times during this period the House of Commons took it upon itself to inquire into the failure of military operations: in April 1757, on the loss of Minorca; in April 1779, on the conduct of the Howe brothers in America; and in May 1779, on the failure of Burgoyne’s expedition. The Minorca inquiry was a political move, led by Charles and George Townshend, supported by the Tories, encouraged by Pitt, and aimed at Henry Fox and the Duke of Newcastle. The Howe and Burgoyne inquiries were granted at the request of those officers, all three Members of Parliament, who had served without success in America, had returned home disgruntled with Administration, and wished to justify their conduct. A mass of documents was laid before the House and a great deal of information elicited from witnesses, but, inevitably, no conclusions were arrived at. The debates tended to take a political turn, for, in fact, the House of Commons was not a suitable body to inquire into the conduct of military operations.

Of the 208 army officers who sat in the House during this period 56 (more than one quarter) were Scots. The Scots formed a much higher percentage of army Members than they did of the House as a whole or of any other group. Here are the numbers of army officers returned at each general election:

including 13 Scots


The general election of 1768, when the highest number of army officers entered the House, was a peace-time general election; the two general elections held in time of war, 1761 and 1780, produced a comparatively low number of army officers.

The following table shows the ranks held by army Members when they first entered the House during this period, the Scots being again differentiated. Army officers who entered Parliament before 1754 are omitted.


English, Welsh,

and Irish                 

Lieutenant or below16218


50% of the English officers were below the rank of lieutenant-colonel when they first entered Parliament, but only 30% of the Scots. Again the figures suggest that the army was more of a profession in Scotland than in the remainder of Great Britain. The number of Members who became colonels of regiments also bears out this conclusion: 74 of the 152 English officers (43%), and 39 of the 56 Scottish officers (69%).

66 of the English, Welsh, and Irish officers served in the Foot Guards (43%); only 12 of the Scots (21%); and of all the Members who served as officers in the Guards 51% eventually obtained regiments (the figures are no different for the Scots than for the others). It is clear, however, that in this respect the Guards were not specially favoured. A slightly higher proportion, 54%, of those who did not serve in the Guards obtained regiments.

The army Members were overwhelmingly upper class. 38% of the English Members and 30% of the Scottish Members came from aristocratic families, and most of the remainder from old-established landed gentry. Heirs to peerages and great estates went into the army, but not into the navy, the law, or the church; and the upper ranks of the army were chockful of peers. There was a higher percentage of aristocratic Members in the army group than in any other occupational group, and only one out of these 208 Members can be described as a self-made man. This was Major-General William Phillips, M.P. for Boroughbridge 1775-1780, born of humble parents, who made a distinguished career in the Royal Artillery. Through a brother officer Henry Clinton, later commander-in-chief in America during the revolutionary war, Phillips became friendly with the 2nd Duke of Newcastle, electioneered on behalf of the Duke’s son at Westminster in 1774, and was returned on Newcastle’s interest at Boroughbridge. He spent but a few months in the House of Commons before going on service in America, where he died in 1781.

There were only two specialized corps in the eighteenth-century army, the artillery and the engineers, and these were not officered from the classes which aspired to a seat in Parliament. Phillips is the only artillery officer known to have sat in the House during this period, but there was also one ex-artillery officer: Harry Burrard, M.P. for Lymington 1780-1788, who had left the artillery for the more fashionable 60th Foot four years before he entered Parliament. The only engineer officer was Archibald Campbell, M.P. for Stirling Burghs 1774-1780 and 1789-1791, who became chief engineer at Bengal in the service of the East India Company and afterwards transferred to the infantry.



The navy as compared with the army was very much a professional service. Army officers received no formal training before being commissioned, and learnt their trade after having joined their regiments. But the potential naval officer underwent a rigorous training in seamanship and navigation before taking up his commission. An army officer only needed to know how to ride a horse; a naval officer had to sail a ship. Those who made the navy their career (even if they came of the most aristocratic families) went to sea as boys, generally before they were fourteen. If a boy came of a good family or had relatives with influence at the Admiralty, he could expect his lieutenant’s commission by the time he was twenty. At about twenty-five he would be promoted captain; and then would follow a long wait, of perhaps twenty years, before he achieved flag rank. Further promotion would depend upon seniority.

There were few places available for naval officers: a few semi-sinecures, such as the governorship of Greenwich or Chelsea hospitals; the senior ranks in the marines; and, at the very top, seats on the Board of Admiralty. Five naval officers (Lord Anson, Sir Charles Saunders, Sir Edward Hawke, Lord Keppel, and Lord Howe) held the post of first lord of the Admiralty during this period; and at least one, and usually two, of the junior lords were naval officers (two of them without being in Parliament). There were no appointments in the navy equivalent to of colonelcies of regiments and governorships of forts in the army. The naval officer’s most lucrative opportunities came in time of war, through the capture of enemy ships and a share in the prize money. These, though comparatively infrequent, brought expectations of gain far beyond the reach of the officer in the army.

In time of peace the naval estimates were reduced, ships were laid up, seamen were discharged, and most naval officers (those, at least, who had reached the rank of captain) went into what amounted to retirement. There were a few guard ships in harbour, but no fleet was brought together until war threatened again. Yet officers continued to be promoted according to their seniority, and when war came those who had been captains would now be admirals, and instead of commanding ships would be destined to command fleets. They emerged from retirement, rusty and ill equipped for service like the ships they sailed. Thus, Rear-Admiral Lord Howe, in 1775 appointed naval commander-in-chief in American waters, had not been to sea since 1763. Vice-Admiral Augustus Keppel, who had reached flag rank at the end of the seven years’ war, had not been to sea for fifteen years when in 1778 he was appointed to the command of the Channel fleet and charged with the task of preventing a Franco-Spanish invasion. When Keppel struck his flag in 1779, having lost all confidence in Lord Sandwich, first lord of the Admiralty, Sir Charles Hardy, M.P. for Plymouth, was named to the command of the Channel fleet. The appointment was severely criticized by the Duke of Richmond in the House of Lords: ‘Sir Charles Hardy had not been at sea for almost twenty years. He was arrived at a period of life little calculated for active service [he was sixty-five].’ And Richard Kempenfelt, one of Hardy’s captains, wrote about him: ‘There is a fund of good nature in the man, but not one grain of the commander-in-chief ... My God! what have your great people done by such an appointment?’

The presence of so many naval officers in the House of Commons was detrimental to the service in time of war. Service rivalries were fought out on the floor of the House, and political quarrels originating in Parliament were carried over into the fleet. Lord Sandwich, first lord of the Admiralty during the American war, had a reputation for jobbery which was not ill founded. It was felt that under him naval appointments were determined less by merit than by political considerations, and that he did not ask whether an officer could handle a fleet well but whether he voted on the right side in the House of Commons. Those who did not, such as Howe and Keppel, went to sea suspicious of Sandwich’s intentions and uneasy lest he betray them behind their backs. Controversy raged high both in the navy and in Parliament when in 1779, after the indecisive battle off Ushant, Keppel, the commander-in-chief, was court-martialled at the request of his second-in-command Sir Hugh Palliser, Sandwich’s leading assistant at the Admiralty Board. Since Keppel was a leading member of the Opposition and of very high standing in the navy, it was no wonder that feeling amongst naval Members was aroused. Palliser’s ill-judged demand for a court-martial on his superior officer was believed to have been backed by Sandwich for political reasons, and Keppel’s acquittal was hailed as a triumph by the Opposition.

The only naval officer in the House to be tried by court-martial and found guilty of misconduct on active service was Admiral John Byng, M.P. for Rochester, who was sentenced to death for negligence in the defence of Minorca and shot on the quarter-deck of the Monarque in Portsmouth harbour, 14 March 1757. Byng’s condemnation has been represented as an attempt by Henry Fox and the Duke of Newcastle to shift from their own shoulders the blame for the loss of Minorca. There was a strong movement in the House of Commons in favour of commuting the death penalty, and a bill was introduced to allow the officers who had tried Byng to explain their reasons for condemning him. It seems probable that the failure of the bill was due to pressure exerted by the King and the Duke of Cumberland, both of whom were hostile to Byng.

A total of 79 serving naval officers sat in the House during this period, and the number entering Parliament at each general election is as follows: 16 in 1754, 22 in 1761, 19 in 1768, 16 in 1774,14 in 1780, and 23 in 1784. These figures seem to be purely adventitious. The general election which returned the highest number of naval officers, 1784, was in peace time; but the general election of 1761, which returned 22 naval officers, only one less than the figure for 1784, was in war time, as was also the general election of 1780, which returned the lowest number of naval officers.

The ranks held by naval officers on their first entry into the House during this period are shown below (officers who sat before 1754 are not included):



The two naval officers who entered as lieutenants were James Luttrell (for Stockbridge in 1775) and Eliab Harvey (for Maldon in 1780). Both owed their seats to their family connexions. The four officers who entered at the rank of admiral were George Clinton, Henry Osborn, Sir William Rowley, and Isaac Townsend. Two were brought in by Government for Admiralty boroughs: Clinton at Saltash in 1754, and Townsend at Portsmouth in 1757. In all, eighteen out of these 79 officers sat for Admiralty boroughs.

The navy was much less popular in Scotland than in England: only 9 of the 79 naval officers were Scots. The aristocratic representation was high, about 25%, but much less than among the army officers. But without exception all the naval officers who came from noble families were younger sons: the navy was a hard life, even for the officers, and it did not attract those who expected to inherit great estates. A good many officers came from families which had a naval tradition, and some had quite a humble origin. Samuel Cornish entered the navy as an able seaman and rose to be vice-admiral and a baronet; Robert Kingsmill, an Irishman, was the son of a captain in the army; John Macbride, another Irishman, was the son of a Presbyterian minister; and so on. Most revealing for the educational background to a naval officer’s life is a letter of Admiral Thomas Pye (who came of good gentry family) to Lord Sandwich, 28 April 1773:

Give me leave my Lord to make one observation more and I have don—and that is when you peruse Admiral Pyes letters you will please not too scrutinise too close either to the speling or the grammatical part as I allow my self to be no proficient in either, I had the mortification to be neglected in my education, went to sea at fourteen without any, and a man of war was my university ... I therefore attempt to state facts only and value myself upon nothing but my integrity and zeal ... ever makeing my own interest a secondary consideration, have therefore only to brag though poor am honest.


In theory every Member of the House of Commons in this period was a country gentleman, since all had to swear to the possession of landed property before they could take their seats in the House. In practice the expression had both a social and a political meaning. In the list of the newly-elected Parliament drawn up by Lord Dupplin for Newcastle after the general election of 1754, the Members were classified according to political and professional groups: followers of the Prince of Wales, for instance, in the first category, and in the second, army officers, naval officers, lawyers, placemen, etc. Those who could not be placed in one of these groups were called country gentlemen, or, if they were in opposition to the Government, Tories. They followed no profession, they belonged to no party, they were independent in the sense that they brought themselves into Parliament and did not acknowledge the leadership of any political patron.

The ownership of land did not by itself qualify for the description of country gentleman. No one would have dreamed of calling Edmund Burke a country gentleman, though he owned an estate in Buckinghamshire and engaged in farming as a means of supporting his family. Burke was obviously a politician, and one who was closely attached to a party leader. George Augustus Selwyn, though he owned estates in the country, was too much a man about town to be styled a country gentleman, and in any case the sinecures he held would have disqualified him for the appellation. Irish peers, such as Lord Verney or Lord Upper Ossory, sitting in Parliament on their own interest and holding no office, had moved beyond the country gentlemen and were half-way to the aristocracy. What, then, did the eighteenth century mean by the term country gentleman? What were his distinguishing characteristics, and what his peculiar role in politics?

A country gentleman was first and foremost a landowner who was not a member of a peerage family. Second, and just as essentially, he sat in Parliament on his own interest, either for a county, a considerable borough, or for his own pocket borough. Since he was obliged to no one for his seat in the House, neither to the Crown nor to a political patron, it followed that he was independent in his political attachments. This was the distinguishing mark of the country gentleman: he had no personal ambitions or close political affiliations, and could approach every political problem with an independent judgment. For in theory, the House of Commons was composed of men of property (and therefore immune from pecuniary influence), neither biased in favour of the Crown nor against it, who considered every question brought before them on its merits and gave an honest vote according to the dictates of their consciences. In practice, this was a visionary state which had never existed or could possibly exist; and already by 1754 the influence of the Crown and the growth of parties had gone some way towards bringing about the situation with which we are familiar today, of a number of Members voting regularly with the Government and a number voting regularly in opposition. But there still remained throughout this period a large group of Members—roughly about 200 strong—who were uncommitted to either side, and who held the real balance of power in the House. They were the country gentlemen, the floating voters of the eighteenth century House of Commons. As a political phenomenon, they are extinct today and have been for some years.

Richard Polwhele in his History of Cornwall, published early in the nineteenth century, wrote about Sir William Lemon, M.P. for Penryn 1770-1774 and for Cornwall 1774-1824: ‘In him we justly admire the old country gentleman, faithful to his King without servility, attached to the people without democracy.’ No country gentleman could have asked for a nobler epitaph, and the very term country gentleman was one to be proud of. Richard Hippisley Coxe, M.P. for Somerset 1768-1784, spoke of himself in the House on 12 February 1770 as one who desired ‘the character of a plain, honest country gentleman’. The phrase gave added weight to what a Member had to say. On 27 February 1784 William Hussey, M.P. for Salisbury, when urging Pitt and Fox to unite, described himself as ‘one of those independent country gentlemen who had never attached themselves to any party’. His plea for union was strengthened by his standing as an independent Member, uninfluenced by considerations of political advantage.

During the debate on the Yorkshire petition for parliamentary reform, 8 May 1781, Viscount Feilding, M.P. for Bere Alston, a supporter of North’s Administration, described how in recent years a new third party had emerged in the House, independent of the Government and of the Opposition.

The balance of power in that House [Feilding continued] was taken out of the hands of the minister, and placed in those of the country gentlemen ... men neither to be frowned into servility nor hussaed into faction. By the support of these men, and not as had been asserted, by the low arts of corruption, did the present minister stand.

The country gentlemen as a group were disposed to give any minister appointed by the Crown a fair trial (which partially accounts for the fact that only one Administration during this period—that of Shelburne in 1783—resigned as the result of a defeat in the House of Commons), and yet to watch Administration with a critical eye. They would not allow themselves to be used by Opposition leaders for what the country gentlemen regarded as factious ends; nor would they vote for a policy which they disapproved, out of regard for a minister. Sir Roger Newdigate, M.P. for Oxford University, in many ways the pattern of a country gentleman, wrote shortly after the accession of George III: ‘I like the King and shall be with his ministers as long as I think an honest man ought, and believe it best not to lose the country gentleman in the courtier.’ And though Newdigate in general supported Administration, he never hesitated to vote against them when he thought they were wrong.

This disposition to give Administration a fair trial, to put the best possible interpretation upon their conduct, helps to account for the ineffectiveness of the country gentlemen as a political group. For ineffective they were: though they held the balance of power in the House, they never became the third force Lord Feilding had described them as being in 1781. To have been a force in politics they would have needed a leader and a degree of organization—to have become in other words a political party—which was clearly impossible for independent country gentlemen. Thus by the very nature of things these Members could never be anything but an adjunct to one party or the other, able to tip the balance in critical times. Moreover, the country gentlemen were at best but amateur politicians, irregular in their attendance at the House, and few of them making much impression in debate.

Thus, on the majority of political questions the country gentlemen did not vote as a group and their votes cancelled each other out. On general warrants in 1764, on the Middlesex election in 1769, on the American war, the country gentlemen were divided, which left the advantage with the Government. They sympathized with the Opposition’s programme of economical reform, which accounts for North’s defeats on Burke’s bill and Dunning’s motion in the spring of 1780; but on the American war the majority of them supported the Government. It was only after Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, when North admitted in the House that the Government no longer intended to prosecute the war in America, that the country gentlemen deserted him. On 18 March 1782, Thomas Grosvenor, M.P. for Chester, one of the most upright and independent country gentlemen in Parliament and hitherto a firm supporter of the Government’s American policy, told North ‘in his own name and in those of some other country gentlemen’,

That, being now convinced that the present Administration cannot continue any longer, they are of opinion that vain and ineffectual struggles tend only to public mischief and confusion, and that they shall think it their duty henceforward to desist from opposing what appears to be clearly the sense of the House of Commons.

The floating voters had turned against North, and his Administration was doomed.

The most important attempt of the country gentlemen to act as a group during this period was in January 1784, shortly after Pitt had taken office. A group of 78 Members met at the St. Alban’s Tavern ‘with a view to conciliate differences and to forward a union of the contending parties in Parliament’. All but five sat for English or Welsh constituencies, nineteen for English counties, and practically all had held themselves aloof from close party connexions. Fear of a premature dissolution of Parliament was one factor in urging them to promote a union between Pitt and Fox, but more important was the old belief that the King’s Administration should be formed of the best men of all parties and that party differences were a source of weakness to the nation. Thomas Grosvenor took the chair at the first meeting, but the two leading men in the movement were Charles Marsham, M.P. for Kent, and Thomas Powys, M.P. for Northamptonshire. On 26 January 1784 the meeting passed a resolution ‘to support the party who should in the present distracted moment manifest a disposition to union’. The St. Alban’s Tavern group, wrote the Morning Chronicle on 28 January, ‘assert in the finest manner the supreme importance of the landed interest. Their characters, personally speaking, will be looked up to as the political saviours of their country.’

Of course nothing came of the St. Alban’s Tavern resolution. Pitt and the Duke of Portland (the titular leader of Fox’s party) professed all respect and concern for the country gentlemen and promised to do all they could to promote a union of the parties. But Pitt said it must be done ‘with principle and honour’, and Portland said that Pitt having obtained office unconstitutionally must first resign; and so the two politicians engaged in a sparring match, neither probably having the least belief in a successful outcome to the negotiations but each manœuvring to put the other in the wrong. At this moment, the St. Alban’s Tavern group, had they been united, could have turned the scale. But they were not united. When the negotiations finally broke down, 45 of the group went with Pitt and 30 with Fox. The independent country gentlemen preserved their right to vote according to their own judgment, with the result that they lost all the weight which their apparent union had given them.

John Strutt, M.P. for Maldon 1774-1790, an Essex country gentleman of decided opinions and obstinate temperament, was the only Member of Parliament to oppose the vote of thanks to Admiral Keppel on 12 February 1779. The English Chronicle, an Opposition newspaper, commenting in 1780 on this ‘singular dissent from the united voice of the British legislature’, attributed it to ‘the hereditary characteristics of a country squire—considerable ignorance, under the guidance and direction of strong prejudice, without any mixture of deliberate malignity whatever’. The picture here hinted at of the typical country squire, though unflattering, has some tincture of the truth about it. The country gentleman claimed to be the eighteenth-century equivalent of the ordinary ‘man in the street’—without expert knowledge of the problems of government and judging them by political prejudices rather than by a political faith—yet whose co-operation and support was essential if government was to be carried on at all. And what the country gentlemen primarily demanded from government was that it should be cheap and leave them a free hand to manage local affairs themselves. ‘The chief business of a Government’, wrote Soame Jenyns, M.P. 1741-1780, in his Reflections on Several Subjects, ‘is to hinder those who are under its care from doing mischief to themselves.’ Socially and politically conservative, the country gentleman was opposed to fundamental changes in the constitution. To be acceptable to him, reform must appear in a conservative guise. The success during this period of the movement for economical reform and the failure of that for parliamentary reform, were due to the fact that one appeared as a purification of the constitution, a return to its original state, while the other was plainly an attempt to alter the constitution. The favourite minister of the country gentlemen was one like George Grenville, careful of the nation’s expenditure, prepared to reform abuses, yet opposed to fundamental changes.

Two examples conclude this survey of the country gentlemen, one sitting for a pocket borough and the other for a county. George Hunt succeeded to the Cornish estates of his uncle Henry, 3rd Earl of Radnor, and to the control of one seat at Bodmin; which he held in Parliament from 1753 to 1784, when he was succeeded by his brother. The English Chronicle wrote about him in 1780:

George Hunt Esq. is a gentleman of independent fortune, and resides in the neighbourhood of this borough. ... He has had the honour of representing it above thirty years during which period he has never condescended to accept any favour nor to become the creature of any Administration. He is attached to no set of political tenets in particular, but following the dictates of an independent and upright mind has uniformly voted for or against such a system as he thought any way advantageous or inimical to the real interests of his country. ... He can neither be said to possess the shining qualities necessary for constituting a public orator, nor the systematic solidity requisite in a great statesman, but is nevertheless eminently qualified for the important trust he holds, viz. the honest representative of a free people.

Hunt’s parliamentary record fully bears out this character of him. In Bute’s list of the Parliament elected in 1761 he was marked: ‘without connexion of Government otherwise than inclination’; and though he voted steadily against North’s Administration he received no office when the Opposition came to power in 1782. He attended the House regularly but is not known to have spoken, and his name hardly ever occurs in the correspondence of the party leaders.

Sir George Savile, M.P. for Yorkshire 1759-1783, was one of the most respected Members to sit in the House during this period—the John Hampden of the eighteenth century. A close friend of Lord Rockingham, he refused to stand on Rockingham’s interest at York or Higham Ferrers; nor would he accept office from Rockingham in 1765 or 1782. Though he acted with the Rockinghams in politics, he never belonged to the party; and on certain questions (for example, East India affairs and parliamentary reform) he took his own line, greatly to Rockingham’s embarrassment. Savile had a moral attitude towards politics, and was revolted by Fox’s alliance with North in 1783. Burke, though he admired and respected Savile, was too good a party man to sympathize with Savile’s independent attitude; and in November 1783 he refused to sign the letter from the Yorkshire Members requesting Savile not to vacate his seat in the House. Indeed, there was good sense behind Burke’s refusal, for although Savile was almost the ideal of what the eighteenth century thought a Member of Parliament should be, had the House been composed entirely of men of his independence parliamentary government would have been almost impossible.



In 1754 the East India Company was a business organization trading to India and China, and enjoying monopoly rights under a charter from the Crown. By 1790, in addition to its commercial interests, it had acquired sovereignty over a large part of India, which it exercised under the direction of the British Government. The story of how this change was brought about does not belong to this survey, but many of the men who helped to shape the destiny of India during these years sat in the House of Commons and the affairs of the Company became increasingly the concern of Parliament. As a political problem India ranked second only to America. Clive’s victories, in alliance with native rulers, against the French during the seven years’ war ensured that Britain would be the dominant European power in India; and his assumption of the financial administration of Bengal in 1764 gave the Company its first territorial responsibilities. The boom in East India stock which followed and the reports of maladministration in India, led to a parliamentary inquiry in the winter of 1766-7 and the Government’s first intervention in the Company’s affairs: for a limited period the Company was forbidden to increase its dividend and compelled to pay an annual sum to the state. This agreement was reached after acute political controversy both within the Company and in the House of Commons; and controversy broke out afresh when, following the collapse of East India stock in 1772, Lord North’s Administration drew up a new plan for the government of Bengal. Henceforth the Company would administer its territories on lines laid down by the state.

In the later part of the period there were many points of controversy in the Indian problem. There was the straightforward clash between the Government, compelled to assume some of the responsibility for India, and the Whig Opposition, concerned to prevent any increase in the influence and authority of the Crown. There were disagreements between the Company’s servants in India (the cases of Warren Hastings and Lord Pigot are obvious examples), which led to the formation of factions at East India House and to attempts to find support in the House of Commons. Officials in India took sides in disputes between Indian native rulers, and the repercussions of these disputes were felt in the House and influenced the policy of both the Government and the Opposition. Men went out to India to make their fortunes and returned intent on a seat in Parliament, either as a symbol of their newly-acquired wealth or as a safeguard against official inquiries into their conduct. So many men with so many different purposes makes it impossible in this period to talk of an East India interest as if it were a pressure group with a clearly defined aim.

Members connected with the East India Company can be roughly classified into five groups. First, the directors of the Company, generally big London merchants and bankers, interested in it from a commercial and financial point of view, and who did not go out to India. Next, former members of the East India Company’s naval service and officers of the Royal Navy who had served in Indian waters; then, officers of the Bengal army, together with regular army officers who had served in India. The fourth group comprises Members who had been in the Company’s civil service in India; and the fifth group, Members who held large amounts of stock and whose interest in the Company was usually purely financial. These groups overlap a good deal: the Company’s civil and military services, for example, were not exclusive; and Company servants returning from India sought and obtained seats on the board of directors.

At the general election of 1754 only two Company directors were returned to Parliament: Henry Crabb Boulton, who had been a Company official for nearly thirty years and was now interested in East India shipping; and Robert Jones, a London merchant. There were three former directors: Sir William Baker, Zachary Philip Fonnereau, and Thomas Walpole, all London merchants; and at least two Members, both large proprietors of stock, who were shortly to join the direction: George Amyand and Sir George Colebrooke. The only two Members returned in 1754 who had been to India were Robert Clive, elected for Mitchell, but unseated on petition the following year, and Gabriel Hanger, who had been a factor in the Company’s service in India, had resigned in 1725 on succeeding to the family estates and had taken no further part in the Company’s affairs.

At the general election of 1761 three directors were returned: George Amyand, Henry Crabb Boulton, and Robert Jones; and four Members who were shortly to become directors: Sir George Colebrooke, Peregrine Cust, George Dempster, and John Stephenson. Clive himself, now a very rich man, was returned for Shrewsbury; and during this period began to build up a following in the House composed of men whose fortunes he had helped to make. John Walsh, his henchman in India and a cousin of Lady Clive, was elected for Worcester at the general election; and in 1763 George Clive, Robert Clive’s cousin, who had been with him in India, was elected for Bishop’s Castle, shortly to become a Clive borough. Three other men who had been in India (or ‘nabobs’, as the eighteenth century called them) entered the House during this Parliament: Robert Palk, governor of Madras 1763-1767, elected for Ashburton in December 1767; Sir George Pigot, Palk’s predecessor at Madras, for Wallingford in January 1765; and Laurence Sulivan, who was to head the opposition to Clive at East India House and for the next twenty years to be one of the leading men in the Company. There were also a number of Members during this Parliament who were, or were shortly to become, large proprietors of East India stock: William Burke, Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh, Alexander Hume, William Hussey, Sir Edward Turner, Lord Verney, Thomas Walpole, to name only the most considerable. When Company affairs came before Parliament in 1766 there was a nucleus of Members who in different ways and for different purposes had an interest in the Company; and Chatham’s inquiry, though it did little to determine Government policy, gave the House an insight into the Company’s problems and helped to create parliamentary opinion on India.

The Parliament of 1768 saw a significant increase in the number of East Indians in the House. Thirteen directors of the Company sat in this Parliament, including seven who had been in India; while a further twelve Members, former military or civil servants of the Company, had also been in India. How did these men get into the House, and what type of constituency did they represent?

Twelve of these nineteen nabobs first entered the House during the Parliament of 1761, only four of them for constituencies with which their families had long been connected: Henry Fletcher for Cumberland (the only nabob before 1784 to sit for an English county), William Frankland for Thirsk, Hector Munro for Inverness Burghs, and Henry Vansittart for Reading. Robert Gregory had been recommended by Lord Rockingham to Lord Aylesford and sat on Aylesford’s interest at Maidstone; and Eyre Coote fought a hard contest at Leicester, where he was a stranger, on a joint interest with the brother of Lord Stamford, a leading Leicestershire magnate. The remaining nabobs came in for venal boroughs, and their intrusion into this type of constituency is an interesting social and political phenomenon.

In November 1770 there was a by-election at New Shoreham, a venal borough which put itself up for sale to the highest bidder. All three candidates were nabobs: William James and John Purling were former naval commanders in the Company’s service and now directors, and Thomas Rumbold had been a member of the council of Bengal. Richard Smith, who had recently retired from the Bengal army, was also a candidate for a time, but his offer of £3,000 for the seat was considered by the group which ran the borough to be too low, and Smith withdrew from the contest. Purling was returned but unseated on petition in favour of Rumbold, but the scandal attending this election was so great that the House of Commons instituted an inquiry. As a result New Shoreham was reformed by extending its franchise to include the neighbouring freeholders, which effectively barred the nabobs for the future.

Cricklade, the second borough to be reformed during this period, also suffered from the attentions of the nabobs. Sir Robert Fletcher, a contumacious officer of the Bengal army who had been cashiered by Clive in 1766, was the first East Indian to be returned for Cricklade (in 1768). At the general election of 1780 Paul Benfield and John Macpherson, both of whom had been concerned in the deposition of Lord Pigot, governor of Madras. and to whom a seat in Parliament was a matter of urgency, secured their election for Cricklade by bribery so flagrant and notorious that the House of Commons intervened and reformed the borough on the lines of New Shoreham. Hindon, another venal Wiltshire borough, narrowly escaped reformation in 1775 after Richard Smith, the nabob who had tried for a seat at New Shoreham in 1770, had been convicted of bribery: Smith lost his seat and suffered a term of imprisonment, but the bill to reform Hindon was dropped. Hindon was saved because there were two old-established interests in the borough, although both were somewhat in eclipse. At this stage, until about 1774, the nabobs generally sought out boroughs which were amenable to the influence of money; they had not as yet threatened any well-nurtured interest based on the ownership of property.

Before 1774 other boroughs in which the nabobs tried to establish a permanent influence were Shaftesbury and Worcester. Both were expensive and difficult constituencies, and though each had patrons the patrons had no strong hold on their boroughs. Francis Sykes, a close friend of Clive, was first returned for Shaftesbury in 1771 on the interest of Lord Shaftesbury, who together with Lord Ilchester had hitherto controlled the borough. Sykes then built up his own interest, secured control of the corporation, and in 1774 stood jointly with the nabob who had been seated for New Shoreham in 1770, Thomas Rumbold, against Hans Winthrop Mortimer. Lords Ilchester and Shaftesbury now began to find the borough too hot for them (it had never been easy to control, but with the nabobs in the field it had become more uncertain than ever); and a tremendous struggle developed between Sykes and Mortimer. Finally Sykes, after having been convicted for bribery and fined £11,000, sold his property at Shaftesbury to Paul Benfield, while Mortimer ended his days a prisoner for debt.

Worcester, a large freeman borough with an electorate of about 2,000, had from the beginning of this period a strong East Indian element in its representation. Henry Crabb Boulton, director of the East India Company, whose family seems to have had a Worcestershire origin, sat for Worcester 1754-1773; and John Walsh, Clive’s henchman, 1761-1780. The border country between England and Wales was preeminently Clive’s territory, which may account for Walsh’s introduction to Worcester and also for that of another nabob, Thomas Bates Rous, on the death of Boulton. Rous was a former officer in the Company’s naval service and a director of the Company, and stood professedly on Clive’s interest. He was successful in 1773, was unseated on petition for bribery the following year, and regained the seat at the general election of 1774. Worcester politics were dominated by the conflict between the corporation and the independent party, and the nabobs made common cause with the corporation; but it was also a venal borough, which must have favoured the nabobs against the local gentry.

In the last three Parliaments of this period the number of East Indians in the House increased, as is shown by the following table (the figures include those returned at by-elections as well as the general election but do not include army and naval officers not in the service of the East India Company who visited India in the course of their duty):

East Indians in the Commons


Directors who had

not been in India          

Directors who

had been India         



Even these figures fall short of the actual number of Members who were directly concerned with East India affairs, for leading proprietors are not included nor politicians such as Edmund Burke and Henry Dundas who were particularly interested in the Indian problem. But they are sufficient to show that the House which passed Pitt’s India Act and which voted the impeachment of Warren Hastings had a much higher percentage of Members with experience of the problems of India than the House which first inquired into the state of the Company in 1766.

From 1768 to 1784 more directors who had seen service in India were returned to Parliament than those who had not. In the Parliament of 1784 there is an important change, and the number of directors who had not been in India far exceeds those who had. Old India hands, such as Henry Fletcher, Robert Gregory, John Purling, and Thomas Rumbold, drop out of the direction, and the leading men in the East India Company after 1784 more closely resemble the prominent London merchants who had composed the majority of the direction before 1768. But there is a difference: the men of 1784 were far more aware of their responsibilities, both commercial and political, and were of a more sober cast of mind. They included Francis Baring, head of the great house of Baring Brothers, a recognized authority on trade and finance; Samuel Smith, of the firm of Nottingham bankers; and John Thornton, leading Evangelical, friend of Wilberforce, and disciple of Adam Smith. Gone were the days when the chairman of the East India Company would conceal from the shareholders the real state of its affairs in order to job the stock, as Sir George Colebrooke had done in the crisis of 1772.

Until about 1774 the chief reasons for the nabobs’ entering the House seem to have been social. They were mostly self-made men, who without performing Clive’s services had emulated him in one particular and returned from ‘India’s plundered land’ with sizeable fortunes, intent on enjoying the prestige and social standing their wealth would give them. A seat in Parliament, like an estate in the country, was a symbol of success. They more or less followed the prototype of Clive, who hoped to make a great figure in Parliament and to achieve a British peerage. (Some nabobs obtained baronetcies, but Clive and Pigot alone secured peerages—Irish peerages.) They gravitated towards the venal boroughs: it required time and patience to build up a parliamentary interest in a non-venal borough, and the nabobs had plenty of money and were in a hurry. Few of them reached the front rank in the House: even Clive, though he acquired a parliamentary following of about a dozen Members, played a defensive role in Parliament, concerned mainly to defend his reputation and his Indian wealth.

In the second half of the period the nabobs began to intervene in the non-venal boroughs and attempted to oust old-established interests or to revive with new wealth and energy the dormant influence of their own families. James Amyatt, who had been in the Company’s naval service and subsequently a free merchant in India, came of a family long prominent at Totnes and was returned there at the general election of 1774. John Call, of a Cornish family, after thinking of buying Humphry Morice’s interest at Launceston and Newport, finally settled on Callington, near his estate, and in 1784 wrested one seat from the Orford interest. Robert Palk bought burgages at Ashburton and secured control over one seat; Sir George Pigot settled in Staffordshire and cultivated the neighbouring borough of Bridgnorth; and George Vansittart successfully contested Berkshire in 1784, which his father had represented 1757-1774. Richard Barwell, Hastings’s ally on the supreme council of Bengal, on his return home had to depend on the Treasury for a seat in Parliament; but in 1790 he went into the electoral market and purchased the boroughs of Winchelsea and Tregony.

One method of making a fortune in India was by lending money to native princes on the security of their territorial revenues. This resulted in Englishmen becoming involved in Indian quarrels, and the disputes and feuds arising therefrom being taken to the House of Commons. The dispute between the Nawab of Arcot and the Raja of Tanjore bedevilled East India Company politics during the latter part of this period and even affected party divisions in Parliament, for as Lord Pigot and William Burke were supporters of the Raja, their friends in the Opposition felt bound to espouse his cause. In 1775 Pigot, M.P. for Bridgnorth, finally obtained the governorship of Madras, which he had been soliciting for years. In India he took the part of the Raja against the Nawab, and in 1777 was deposed from his governorship by a majority of his council, who were creditors of the Nawab and who stood to lose financially by Pigot’s action.

The leader of the group who opposed Pigot, George Stratton, was recalled to England and immediately sought a seat in Parliament. He found a powerful patron in Lord Sandwich, first lord of the Admiralty, and in December 1778, at Sandwich’s recommendation, was returned on the Orford interest at Callington. Stratton’s main reason for being in Parliament was to try and prevent an inquiry into his conduct in India, and his only two speeches in the House were in reply to attacks made against him. But Stratton’s membership of the Commons did not save him from punishment, and in February 1780 he was tried in the King’s bench and fined £1,000. In October 1782, when Stratton was reported to be selling his estate in Oxfordshire and about to go abroad, John Call expected him to vacate his seat in the House ‘since the object of his being in Parliament is partly if not wholly at an end’. But in fact Stratton remained a Member of Parliament until the dissolution of 1784.

Another creditor of the Nawab of Arcot, deeply implicated in the conspiracy against Lord Pigot, was the notorious Paul Benfield, who had made a fortune by moneylending and had twice been dismissed the service of the East India Company for disobedience. After an inquiry into the events in Madras, Benfield was again suspended and ordered home; and in 1780 he began his campaign for reinstatement by bribing the electors of Cricklade to return him to Parliament. Naturally he voted with Administration, and so successfully did he win their favour that in October 1781 he was reinstated in the Company’s service and returned to India. Lord Cornwallis, appointed governor-general of Bengal in 1786, found much to censure in Benfield’s conduct; and in 1789 Benfield was again back in England and a candidate for a seat in Parliament—which he obtained in February 1790 at Malmesbury.

For Indian governors a charge of maladministration was an occupational hazard; they sought seats in the House of Commons to defend themselves. Thomas Rumbold, who had succeeded the unfortunate Pigot as governor of Madras, at the height of the American conflict involved the East India Company in war with the powerful native ruler Hyder Ali. On his return to England in January 1781 he faced a storm of criticism and the demand for a parliamentary inquiry, so in April he bought a seat in the Isle of Wight borough of Yarmouth. The committee which investigated the causes of the war in the Carnatic recommended his prosecution, and a bill of pains and penalties against him was introduced. But the difficulties of obtaining evidence for such a prosecution were immense and the case was eventually dropped. The story that Rumbold bribed Henry Dundas, the chairman of the parliamentary committee, obviously cannot be proved and perhaps ought not to be taken seriously; but there were other ways in which Rumbold could soften the hearts of his prosecutors. ‘If a judgment were to be formed from yesterday’, wrote Charles James Fox to the King on 10 May 1782, ‘it must be that there was real tenderness for the person accused, which if it be the real temper of the House at large must make it impossible to carry on the prosecution with effect.’ A seat in Parliament was of inestimable advantage to Rumbold in that it gave him the opportunity to state his case himself: perhaps unconsciously, the House was loth to entertain accusations brought against one of its own Members unless there was overwhelming evidence.

Indeed, it may even be doubted whether Warren Hastings would ever have been impeached had he been a Member of the House of Commons. Certainly Hastings realized the importance of a seat in the House, in view of the accusations likely to be brought against him, if not for himself at least for a friend who would speak for him. At the general election of 1784 he bought for £4,000 a seat at West Looe for his former aide-de-camp John Scott, and throughout the Parliament Scott’s role was that of Hastings’s defender. But he greatly over-played his part, so much so that the House grew weary of his long speeches and his excessive zeal in defence of his master; and it might almost be said that Hastings was impeached because he picked the wrong man to defend him in the House of Commons. Philip Francis, Hastings’s great adversary in the Bengal council, also obtained a seat at the general election of 1784, with a view to gratifying his animosity against his old enemy. But just as Scott was too much the professional advocate for Hastings, so Francis was too much the advocatus diaboli; and though the House voted Hastings’s impeachment it refused to name Francis one of the managers. James Adams, M.P. for West Looe, was voicing the opinion of many when he said on 11 December 1787: ‘It was not becoming the honour and dignity of their proceedings for that House to appoint for one of their managers ... the only one of its Members who had ... had a personal quarrel with Mr. Hastings.’ At all times the House of Commons had a strong sense of justice and fair dealing to an accused.

One other group of East Indians deserves special mention: those who acted as agents in Britain for Indian princes. In 1775 Lauchlin Macleane, M.P. for Arundel 1768-1771, who had ruined himself (and a good many others) in East India speculations, and had been sent out to India to try and retrieve his and his creditors’ fortunes, became agent in England for the Nawab of Arcot; and in 1778 William Burke, Edmund Burke’s friend and self-styled cousin, who had also been involved in East India speculations, became agent for the Raja of Tanjore. Thus both these Indian princes, at odds with each other, had their agents to press their case with the East India Company and the British Government. On Macleane’s death in 1777 he was succeeded as the Nawab’s agent by John Macpherson, who had been involved in the intrigue which resulted in the deposition of Lord Pigot. Macpherson also undertook to act as agent for Warren Hastings, and on his return to England in 1779 purchased a seat at Cricklade in order to promote the interests of his two masters. Since Lord Rockingham’s party supported Pigot and the Raja of Tanjore, Macpherson naturally cultivated the North Administration and in 1781 succeeded in getting himself appointed to the Bengal council.

There were also in the House two of the Nawab’s principal creditors. Richard Smith, whose debut at New Shoreham and imprisonment for bribery at Hindon have already been mentioned, was one. At the general election of 1780 he bought two seats at Wendover from Lord Verney, one for himself and the other for his son. In the House Smith attached himself to the Rockingham party, and in 1781 was chairman of the Opposition-controlled select committee on East India affairs. The other of the Nawab’s creditors was Sir Samuel Hannay, M.P. for Camelford 1784-1790, a London merchant with large East India shipping interests and closely associated with John Macpherson.

Much has been made, and rightly, of the extortion and corruption which marked Company rule in India. It was difficult for the Company to control their servants, and an official dismissed for misconduct, as was John Johnstone in 1763, could make a party matter of it at East India House and secure his reinstatement by a vote of the court of proprietors. ‘Few fortunes acquired in the East will bear a very minute investigation’, wrote George Dempster in 1778; but the remedy for misconduct and corruption in India—strengthening the powers of the governor-general in Bengal and making him responsible to the Government in London—was adopted in 1784.



Economically, the West Indies were the most valued part of the British empire in the eighteenth century. Sugar, cultivated at low cost by slave labour and marketed in Europe, was a great source of wealth; and the provisioning of the islands with slaves and almost every necessity of life, an important branch of British commerce. Many of the West Indian planters, including some of the biggest, were absentee landlords, at least for a large part of their lives. They left their estates in the hands of managers, content if their revenues did not decrease, and lived as country gentlemen in Britain. Even if they resided in the islands, they invariably sent their children to be educated in Britain. They formed no attachments with the West Indies which could not be broken. Britain was not to them the mother country, as it was to the North Americans; it was their home, and if business forced them to return to the islands they did so unwillingly. For these reasons it is to be expected that the number of West Indians sitting in the British Parliament will be higher than the number of North Americans.

In calculating the number of West Indians in the House a distinction must be drawn between those who were born in the islands or had resided there, and those who owned large plantations in the islands but never visited them. The Lascelles family of Harewood, Yorkshire, ancestors of the Earls of Harewood, owned large estates in Barbados, and had an interest in the firm of Lascelles and Maxwell, sugar factors, of Mark Lane, London. Three members of the family sat in the House during this period: Edwin Lascelles, his brother Daniel, and his cousin and eventual heir Edward. In addition to controlling one seat at Northallerton, Edwin Lascelles was of sufficient standing to represent Yorkshire for nearly twenty years. Neither he nor his kinsmen seem ever to have visited the West Indies or to have been more than sleeping partners in the family business. They were country gentlemen, ambitious of the honours of the peerage, and their West Indian estates were merely one of the sources of their wealth. To take another example: William Fitzherbert, the friend of Dr. Johnson, prided himself on being an independent country gentleman, though he admitted in the House that he depended ‘in a great measure’ on the income from his plantations in Barbados. These men were much concerned when West Indian affairs came into the House of Commons, as were many others whose stake in the islands was by no means as great, but socially they do not form part of the group known as the West Indians.

That group was never as large as contemporaries seem to have imagined. On an average there were never more than about a dozen West Indians in the House at any time, as the following table shows:

West Indians in the Commons


West Indians returned

at general election              

West Indians returned

at by-election                      



The most considerable West Indian proprietor to be returned at the general election of 1754 was William Beckford, alderman of London, twice lord mayor, and from 1754 until his death in 1770 one of its representatives in Parliament. Beckford owned large estates in Jamaica and is sometimes described by contemporaries as a West Indian merchant, but he seems to have been no more than a planter: he was representative of the popular party in the City of London, not of its business community. He owned an estate in Wiltshire and cultivated a parliamentary interest at Salisbury, where his brother Julines Beckford was returned in 1754. Another brother, Richard Beckford, was invited to contest Bristol by the local Tories. He was absent in Jamaica at the time of the election, and William Beckford successfully conducted his campaign.

A certain group arrangement is to be found among the West Indians sitting in the House, based on family ties and connexions with particular boroughs. One such group connected the families of Dawkins, Morant, and Pennant, all of whom had estates in Jamaica, and involved the boroughs of Hindon, Chippenham, and Southampton. James Dawkins was returned for Hindon in 1754 on the interest of William Beckford; his brother, Henry Dawkins, came in at a by-election for Southampton in 1760, succeeding another Jamaican, Anthony Langley Swymmer. Henry Dawkins bought an estate in Wiltshire, and in 1768 he contested Salisbury, which Julines Beckford, another West Indian, had represented 1754-1764; defeated at Salisbury, Dawkins next tried Chippenham, and built up such an interest in the borough that in 1784 he was able to retire in favour of his son. Dawkins had two cousins in the House: Edward Morant, a former member of the Jamaica assembly, who was first returned for Parliament in 1761 on the Beckford interest at Hindon; and Richard Pennant, son of a Liverpool merchant and grandson of a chief justice of Jamaica, who was returned in 1761 for Petersfield, where William Jolliffe, the patron of the borough, had placed one seat at the disposal of William Beckford.

The relationship between these West Indian families was social rather than political. The three West Indians who owed their entry into the House to Beckford did not follow him in politics, and once in Parliament began to cultivate separate and independent electoral interests. James Dawkins was an active Jacobite before he entered Parliament, and his brother Henry was an independent with no close political connexions. Edward Morant became a friend of the Duke of Bolton, whom he followed politically and upon whom he depended for a seat in the House. Richard Pennant became connected with Sir William Meredith, M.P. for Liverpool and a leading member of the Rockingham group; with Meredith’s support, he successfully contested Liverpool in 1767, and, joining the Rockinghams in the House of Commons, remained faithful to them even after Meredith had left them.

The West Indians, in fact, did not form a separate and distinguishable group in the House of Commons: they were part of English society, both politically and socially. Mostly rich men, they could afford to take an independent line in politics; and, unlike the East Indians, they kept clear of the venal boroughs and preferred to cultivate constituencies near their estates, using the traditional means. When questions came into the House of Commons affecting the economic interests of the West Indies, there was a tendency for the West Indian Members to act together, and they would be joined by other Members with West Indian interests. In 1788, when the slave trade was debated by the House, it is not surprising to find Richard Pennant and Bamber Gascoyne junior speaking against abolition, one a West Indian proprietor and both Members for Liverpool, one of the principal centres of the trade in England.

George Grenville’s Stamp Act concerned the West Indies as much as it did the mainland colonies, but it was from those Members interested in North America that the opposition to the stamp tax came in the House of Commons. On the division on the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 February 1766, three of the ten West Indians in the House are known to have voted against the repeal (no list survives of those who voted for the repeal). Two of these Members were politically connected with Grenville (William Mathew Burt and James Edward Colleton) and the third (Samuel Martin) was a follower of Bute: all three voted according to their party inclinations, irrespective of their interests as West Indian proprietors. Those who are known to have voted for the repeal include Rose Fuller, at this time politically connected with Newcastle and Rockingham and a leader of the movement for repeal; William Beckford, an ally of Pitt, who had opposed the Stamp Act and denied the right of Great Britain to tax the colonies; and Charles Barrow, a close friend of William Dowdeswell, chancellor of the Exchequer. On this question, of special concern to the West Indians but also of general constitutional significance, the West Indians divided according to their particular allegiances and connexions, exactly as did other Members of Parliament.

In December 1775, after fighting had broken out in America, Lord North introduced a bill prohibiting trade with the colonies in rebellion. Nathaniel Bayly, M.P. for Westbury, a Jamaica planter, denounced the measure as ruinous to the West Indies:

He was well informed, nay he was fully convinced, that the inhabitants of those islands must be starved; and though they should not, their crops must be left, as they had not nearly lumber enough to save the present; that such being the case, the proprietors must be ruined, and the consequences would in the end reach the merchants, so as, he feared, to bring on a general bankruptcy among those in any manner concerned or interested in the West India trade.

Bayly was answered by John St. Leger Douglas, M.P. for Hindon, who ‘though he had a considerable estate in the West Indies’ yet thought the bill ‘a wise and salutary measure’—‘It was better to suffer temporary inconveniences than sacrifice the British empire in America to the local interests of any of its constituent parts.’ But the majority of West Indians in Parliament opposed the Government on the American war: of those who sat in the Parliament of 1774-1780, eight voted regularly with the Opposition and only four with the Government, while the attitude of two others is doubtful. Still, none of those who had been in Parliament before war broke out changed their political attitude when war came. The West Indian interest was primarily an economic, not a political, one.

The British reply to the American slogan of ‘no taxation without representation’ was the theory of virtual representation and the idea (held by Government and Opposition alike) that there was no part of the British dominions which was not under the authority of Parliament. The suggestion that America should be allowed to send Members to the House of Commons never reached the realm of practical politics. There were not merely the difficulties resulting from slow communications and a separation of three thousand miles, but political and psychological objections of even greater weight: the Americans regarded Great Britain as their mother country but not as their homeland, and accepted the authority of the House of Commons in the abstract rather than in the concrete. Over thirty men, born and nurtured in the West Indies, gained seats in the House of Commons during these years, but only four, or possibly five, from North America. These were Daniel Moore, John Huske, Henry Cruger, and Staats Long Morris; while Barlow Trecothick, though he spent a good part of his life in America and is sometimes described in contemporary correspondence as an American, was probably born in England or at sea.

Daniel Moore, who represented Great Marlow 1754-1761, was the son of John Moore, attorney-general of Pennsylvania, and settled as a merchant in Barbados. Little is known about him, and he was not prominent during the short time he sat in the House of Commons. John Huske, M.P. for Maldon 1763-1773, who came from New Hampshire, was a far more prominent figure, though of very doubtful reputation. He came over to England about 1748 and attached himself to the family of Lord Townshend. An energetic and ruthless man, Huske contested the populous borough of Maldon in 1763, and after a storming campaign gained a runaway victory. In the House he was a frequent speaker on American problems, and though popularly credited in America with being a supporter of the Stamp Act, seems in fact to have opposed it. He certainly voted for its repeal in 1766. In 1767 he was consulted by his friend Charles Townshend, chancellor of the Exchequer, on the duties to be laid on American trade; and though the exact part Huske played cannot be traced, it is clear that he, an American, did not object to the principle of the Townshend duties. After an absence of twenty years from America, he was hardly able to appreciate the strength and degree of opposition to parliamentary taxation in his native land, yet Huske responded to that feeling once it had materialized. In December 1768 he presented to the House the petition from the Pennsylvania assembly against being taxed by the British Parliament, and urged the House to accept it. And he collaborated with the colonial agents on American affairs, until in 1769 he was compelled to flee to France to escape prosecution for deficiencies in his accounts as deputy treasurer of the chamber. He died there in 1773.

Henry Cruger, born in New York of a merchant family long prominent in provincial politics, illustrates in his career the tragedy of the American revolution. Cruger came to England in about 1757, settled as a merchant in Bristol, married the daughter of a Bristol merchant, and engaged as a radical in local politics. In 1766 he was one of the deputation of Bristol merchants who came to London to press for the repeal of the Stamp Act, and in 1774, after a visit to America, was elected for Bristol together with Edmund Burke. Cruger sympathized with American grievances, thought the policy of the British Government unwise and even unjust, but was not prepared to deny that Great Britain had a case or that the Americans had not been provoking. His theory of empire was similar to that of his colleague Burke (with whom, incidentally, Cruger was on bad terms). Cruger said in his first speech in the House, 16 December 1774:

I acknowledge that there must exist a power somewhere to superintend and regulate the movements of the whole for the attainment and preservation of our common happiness; this supreme power can be justly and adequately exercised only by the legislature of Great Britain.

And his approach to the problem of taxation was that of a practical man, concerned with consequences rather than abstract principles:

When Great Britain derives from her colonies the most ample supplies of wealth by her commerce, is it not absurd to close up those channels for the sake of imposing taxes, which ... never have and probably never will defray the expense of collecting them?

He held on as long as he could to the belief that the Americans could be persuaded by concessions from Great Britain to revoke the Declaration of Independence, and when that illusion was shattered urged that Britain should treat with America as an independent state. Defeated at Bristol at the general election of 1780, Cruger returned to America for a visit after the conclusion of peace and was elected in absentia for Bristol in 1784. In March 1790, while still a Member of the British Parliament, he went to live in America permanently, in 1792 was elected to the senate of New York, and died at New York in 1827.

Staats Long Morris, the fourth American to sit in the House during this period, was a different type of man altogether. Like Cruger he was a New Yorker, a half-brother of Gouverneur Morris, the revolutionary leader; but unlike Cruger, having settled in Britain, he identified himself completely with his adopted country. An army officer, he came over to England in 1755 with despatches, and had the good fortune to captivate the dowager Duchess of Gordon, more than ten years his senior, whom he married in 1756. She promoted his career in the British army, and in 1774 had him brought into Parliament on the Gordon interest for Elgin Burghs. Morris was a careerist pure and simple, and in Parliament was a steady supporter of North’s American policy. His only speech in the House, on 7 December 1775, was to defend the conduct of the British troops at the battle of Bunker Hill.

Barlow Trecothick, M.P. for London 1768-1774, spent his youth and early manhood in America, settled in London as a merchant in about 1750, and in 1766 became colonial agent for the New Hampshire assembly. In 1766 he gave evidence before the House of Commons in favour of the repeal of the Stamp Act, and after he had entered Parliament attached himself to the Rockingham party and took a pro-American line. Paul Wentworth, who represented Saltash for a few weeks in 1780, belonged to the Wentworth family of New Hampshire, but it is uncertain whether or not he was born in America. He spent most of the American war as a British intelligence agent in Paris, highly esteemed by Lord North; and his seat at Saltash was part of the Government’s reward for his services. There were also three other Members who had lived for a long time in North America: Charles Ogilvie, M.P. for West Looe 1774-1775, a Scot who emigrated to South Carolina after the ’45 and lost his property there during the revolution; Richard Penn, M.P. for Appleby 1784-1790, one of the proprietors of Pennsylvania, who in 1775 presented the petition from the Continental Congress to the King; and Denys Rolle, M.P. for Barnstaple 1761-1774, who went to found a settlement in East Florida.

This survey has taken no account of the numerous army and navy officers who visited America in the course of their service, or of those who went as colonial governors. It is difficult to summarize the impressions they brought back of America or to estimate for how much these counted in determining their conduct in the House of Commons. Naturally, they saw the American problem from the British point of view; and even with those who were sympathetic to America, British party connexions and attitudes counted for more than a sober appreciation of American realities. Isaac Barré, Lord Shelburne’s chief follower in the House of Commons, who had served under Wolfe during the seven years’ war, spoke out on behalf of the Americans during the debate on Grenville’s stamp tax, 6 February 1765. ‘There are gentlemen in this House from the West Indies’, Barré said, ‘but there are very few who know the circumstances of North America’; and he continued, with reference to the proposed tax: ‘The people, I believe, are as truly loyal as any subjects the King has, but a people jealous of their liberties and who will vindicate them if ever they should be violated.’ Barreé was recognized in America as a good friend to the colonies, but even he came out in favour of the Boston port bill. ‘Now is your time to try in a civilized manner your power over the Americans’, he said in the debate of 14 March 1774; but at the same time he asked for a conciliatory gesture towards the colonies, and pressed for the repeal of the duty on tea.

Army officers who had seen service in America had a low opinion of the fighting qualities of the Americans. This was partly the professional soldier’s disdain for the volunteer, but it also reflected an inability to comprehend the spiritual strength of the American cause, which was not confined to the professional soldiers. James Grant, M.P. for Tain Burghs, who had served in America during the seven years’ war and afterwards had been governor of East Florida, boasted in the House on 2 February 1775 that with 5,000 regulars he could march from one end of America to the other. Even Barré thought little of American troops. ‘If it is necessary’, he said on 23 March 1774, ‘I have no doubt but that a small part of our force would reduce the Americans.’ Grant, after having fought against the Americans in the war of independence, recanted his contemptuous views—‘He never saw better troops than some of the rebel regiments were’, he said in the House on 8 December 1779. Understanding came too late. Hence the constant British under-valuation during the war of the authority of Congress and the undue reliance on the strength of the Loyalists, which made it impossible for the British Government to devise a military strategy or political policy conformable to reality.

What emerges most clearly of all from a study of the parliamentary debates on America is the extent of Parliament’s ignorance of the people over whom it claimed to exercise supreme authority. The North Americans who sat in the House were too few to present the American case effectively, and their long residence in Britain had isolated them to some extent from American opinion. The service officers and colonial governors who had been in America saw matters from the point of view of British authority, and the merchants trading with America were concerned mainly for their trade. The only men who could speak authoritatively for the Americans were the colonial agents, and they did not carry sufficient weight to impress the British Government and Parliament.

Nine colonial agents sat in the House of Commons during this period. John Sharpe and Lovell Stanhope were agents for West Indian islands, and Brook Watson for New Brunswick 1786-1793; the remainder were agents for North American mainland colonies. James Abercromby by the time he entered Parliament in 1761 had relinquished all of his agencies except that for the council and governor of Virginia. The following five Members held agencies during the period when the American problem was dominant: Edmund Burke, for the New York assembly 1771-1775; Charles Garth, for the South Carolina assembly 1762-1775, and for the Maryland assembly 1766-1775; John Sargent, special agent for the New York assembly 1765-1766; John Thomlinson and Barlow Trecothick, joint agents for the New Hampshire assembly, Thomlinson 1763-1767, Trecothick 1766-1774.

The main work of the colonial agents was to represent the views of the provincial assemblies to the British Government and its departments. Charles Garth described himself to the South Carolina assembly as the ‘minister of the province’ in Britain—a kind of eighteenth-century high commissioner. But to whom was Garth responsible for his conduct in Parliament: to the South Carolina assembly or to the electors of Devizes, the borough he represented? That was a question to which there was no clear-cut answer, and posed a dilemma which each agent solved according to his convictions. Garth, for example, voted against the Stamp Act on 6 February 1765, and on almost every issue of American policy during the next few years his vote was given in accordance with the wishes of the assembly of South Carolina. But when in 1774, after the Boston tea party, North introduced punitive legislation against the colonies, Garth voted with Administration and continued to do so until he left Parliament in 1780. At the critical moment, he supported the authority of Great Britain against his American ‘constituents’.

John Sargent, a close friend of Benjamin Franklin, though thanked by the New York assembly for his services over the repeal of the Stamp Act, counted himself a follower of George Grenville, the author of the Stamp Act. And Edmund Burke, who worked hard and loyally on behalf of the New York assembly, spoke on American affairs in the House as a member of the Rockingham party not as a representative of New York. Indeed, it could hardly be otherwise. The Member of Parliament who acted as a colonial agent could perform many services for his American ‘constituents’, but at the height of the dispute between Great Britain and the colonies he could not speak for the American people. There were in the British House of Commons men who knew America and loved her people, representatives of her assemblies and even men born and educated in America, but there were few who called themselves Americans and none who had been sent there by the American people.



About 80 Irishmen or Anglo-Irishmen (it is not easy to distinguish between them) sat in the House of Commons between 1754 and 1790. The following table indicates the numbers in each Parliament:


Returned at the

general election           

Returned at




The Irish sat for almost every type of constituency. Two represented English counties: Lord Ludlow, M.P. for Huntingdonshire 1768-1796, and Henry Lawes Luttrell, M.P. for Middlesex 1769-1774; while several sat for the larger English boroughs (Lord Lucan for Northampton, Andrew Robinson Bowes for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, John Baker Holroyd for Coventry, Robert Nugent for Bristol, etc.) Only one sat for a Scottish constituency: Sir George Macartney, M.P. for Ayr Burghs 1774-1776, who was a son-in-law of the Earl of Bute, joint patron of the constituency; and only one for a Welsh constituency: Whitshed Keene, M.P. for Montgomery 1774-1818.

The Irish who sat in the British House of Commons can be fairly evenly divided into two groups: the upper-class Irish, with interests in both countries, and those who may be called ‘adventurers’: men who came to England to seek their fortunes, and who won in their adopted country a status they had not enjoyed in their native land.

The upper-class Irish were mostly landowners in both countries, either Irish peers or commoners who also sat in the Irish House of Commons. Among them were such great Anglo-Irish families as the Fitzmaurices, Earls of Shelburne and the Ponsonbys, Earls of Bessborough; and others, not so great, whose political interests were concentrated mainly in one or the other of the two countries. Wills Hill, Earl of Hillsborough in the Irish peerage and a large Irish landowner, sat for Warwick from 1741 to 1756, when he was created a peer of Great Britain. He had no electoral interest in England, but controlled nine seats in the Irish Parliament; yet his political career was spent almost entirely in England where he twice held the office of secretary of state. On the other hand, Thomas Conolly, M.P. for Malmesbury 1759-1768 and for Chichester 1768-1780, said to have been the richest commoner in Ireland, was of little note in the British Parliament but of considerable importance in the Irish. It was almost impossible for a man to become a leading figure in both Parliaments, simply because he could not be in two places at once. A man with a seat in both Parliaments could be but a nominal member of one of them, and in almost all cases he chose to concentrate on the British House of Commons.

Only one man entered the British House of Commons after having made a considerable reputation in the Irish: Henry Flood, after a distinguished career of over thirty years in Irish politics, who was returned for Winchester in 1783 on the interest of the Duke of Chandos. But Flood’s first speech was a failure, his style of oratory was unsuited to the British House of Commons, and he formed no close connexions with British politicians. He had made his reputation in Ireland as a champion of Irish rights against England, but he never tried to play the part of the Irish patriot at Westminster. Though there was a strong nationalist movement in Ireland, which culminated in 1782 in the repeal of Poynings’s Law and the emancipation of the Irish Parliament from the control of the British, there was no such thing as an Irish party in the British House of Commons. The Irish Members were completely assimilated; they were to be found on both sides of the House and in all parties, but they never appear as a group even when Irish affairs were under discussion.

Moreover, the Irish Members who sat in the British House of Commons were far more concerned to help Ireland economically than to promote the cause of Irish nationalism. Some of these Members possessed property in both countries; others, who had achieved success and honour in Britain, still had close ties with Ireland. They regarded themselves as a bridge linking the two countries. ‘Ireland cannot be separated one moment from England without losing every source of her present prosperity and even hope of her future’, wrote Edmund Burke, and in this he was speaking for almost all the Irish Members in the House of Commons. For Irish constitutional demands, Burke had little sympathy; yet he felt deeply the misery of the Roman Catholics, and the economic grievances of a people whose trade and commerce were crippled in the interests of England. Despite the opposition of his constituents at Bristol, he supported North’s policy of commercial concessions to Ireland, and was libelled in the English press as a disguised Catholic, a pupil of St. Omer, and one who preferred the interests of Ireland to those of the city he represented in Parliament.

Another Irishman who advocated commercial concessions to Ireland, and one who has never received his due from historians, was Robert Nugent, Burke’s predecessor as Member for Bristol. The common people of Ireland, Nugent said in the House on 16 December 1778, were suffering ‘every species of misery and distress human nature was capable of bearing’. ‘The Irish ... were now ripe for any revolution’, he said on 29 April 1779, ‘as they could not possibly change their masters to a disadvantage.’ Nugent, like Burke, saw the prosperity of the two countries inseparably intertwined and had no wish to separate them. ‘Give Ireland everything she can ask’, he argued in the House on 6 December 1779, ‘which may promise to produce substantial benefit to that country, but which will not touch or materially affect the interest of this.’ Among the few English Members to take up the grievances of Ireland was Viscount Beauchamp, who sat fifteen years in the Irish House of Commons and had served as chief secretary to his father Lord Hertford, lord lieutenant of Ireland 1765-1766. Beauchamp advocated the repeal of the penal laws and the removal of Irish commercial restrictions; as the heir to great estates in Ireland, he had an interest in Irish prosperity and quiet, and direct personal experience of the facts of Irish life. Still, the usual attitude of the English Members towards the Irish was of contempt for the Catholics and fear of the Protestants; there was little feeling of community between the two peoples, and concessions to Ireland by the British Parliament were never made willingly.

There were about 40 Members during this period who may be labelled Irish ‘adventurers’, and among them some of the most remarkable personalities in the House. The word ‘adventurers’ is not used to imply anything unworthy or reprehensible in their conduct. They were adventurers in the sense that they set forth from their native land, with few advantages of birth or wealth, to seek fame and fortune in England. Two of them—Edmund Burke, son of a Dublin attorney, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, son of an Irish actor and teacher of rhetoric—became outstanding figures in the House of Commons, and their names are known today wherever the English language is spoken. Among other Irishmen who achieved distinction in both politics and literature were John Courtenay, the poetical biographer of Dr. Johnson, esteemed in his day as one of the wittiest men in the House; John Baker Holroyd, the devoted friend of Gibbon and first editor of his autobiography; Robert Nugent, poetaster and patron of Goldsmith; and Robert Wood, under-secretary of state and one of the leading Homeric scholars of his age. The men of letters form a much higher proportion of the Irish Members in the House than they do of any other national group.

An adventurer in the pejorative sense was Andrew Robinson Bowes, M.P. for Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1780-1784, who speculated in the marriage market. His first wife had a fortune of over £20,000, which Bowes retained after her death; his second, whose family name he took, was the daughter and heiress of George Bowes, M.P. for County Durham 1727-1760, and widow of John Lyon, 7th Earl of Strathmore. She was one of the richest heiresses of her day and one of the most scatter-brained, but fortunately for her and her children she had the wit to convey her property into the hands of trustees. Bowes, after bullying and tormenting her so that she was forced to leave him, finally had her kidnapped in Oxford Street; but she was rescued and took divorce proceedings against her husband. Bowes ended in the Fleet prison.

Five Irish Members were prominent in the East India Company. In the first rank were Laurence Sulivan, a director for more than twenty years and probably the greatest administrator the Company had during this period, and Sir Eyre Coote, second only to Clive in the Company’s military service. John Carnac, of mixed Irish and Huguenot extraction, had served with Clive in India and subsequently sat on the council of Bombay; Robert Gregory, after having been in India as a free merchant, became a director and eventually chairman of the Company; and Lauchlin Macleane busied himself in the underworld of speculation and intrigue.

Few of the Irish had any electoral interest of their own. The Earl of Shelburne commanded two seats at Calne and one at Chipping Wycombe, but then Shelburne was a great English landowner and hardly thought of himself as an Irishman. Other Anglo-Irish families had a certain fleeting interest in English boroughs: the Damers had large estates in Dorset and throughout this period held one seat for Dorchester; Arnold Nesbitt, a London merchant, had an uncertain interest at Winchelsea; and Lord Egmont had some influence at Bridgwater. Robert Nugent acquired from his second wife control over one seat at St. Mawes. But the only Irish family who deliberately set about cultivating a parliamentary interest in England during this period were the Luttrells of Luttrellstown.

Simon Luttrell of Luttrellstown, co. Dublin, came of a family which had been settled in Ireland since the fifteenth century, but claimed kinship with the old English family of the Luttrells of Dunster and when raised to the Irish peerage took his titles from estates of the Dunster family. About 1757 Luttrell bought the estate of Four Oaks in Warwickshire, and began to foster a parliamentary interest at Tamworth and Wigan. At Tamworth he faced formidable opposition from Lord Weymouth and Lord Townshend, and in 1765 gave up his attempt on the borough; at Wigan, which he represented 1761-1768, he was finally driven out by the Duke of Portland. In 1774 he set up his standard at Stockbridge, a venal borough, and by lavish expenditure secured both seats and held them, though not without trouble, for the remainder of this period.

The Luttrell family made a great noise in politics. Four of Simon Luttrell’s sons sat in the House of Commons, and his daughter Anne married the Duke of Cumberland, George III’s younger brother. Henry Lawes Luttrell, the eldest son, a regular supporter of whatever Administration happened to be in power, volunteered to stand against John Wilkes as the Government candidate for Middlesex in 1769. Luttrell had no property in the county and stood no chance of defeating Wilkes on the poll, but no one else was prepared to become a candidate and the Government regarded it as essential that Wilkes should be turned out of his seat. Luttrell was duly defeated at the election and then seated by a vote of the House of Commons (thus becoming the second Irishman during this period to sit for an English county). For many years he was one of the most unpopular men in the House: the Opposition despised him, even Government supporters thought little of him, his father quarrelled with him, and his younger brothers took the opposite side in politics.

One of those younger brothers, Temple Simon Luttrell, returned for Milborne Port in 1775 on the interest of Thomas Hutchings Medlycott, became notorious in the House for his violent abuse of Lord North and Lord Sandwich. There was something about the Luttrells which made them unpalatable to the parties in the House of Commons, and Temple Simon Luttrell was very much a lone wolf in opposition. In 1780 Lord North, determined to be rid of him, offered Medlycott £3,000 if he would drop Luttrell at the forthcoming general election and return a Government candidate instead. Luttrell got wind of the transaction and charged North in the House of Commons with corruption, which North blandly denied; the Opposition, who had listened for five years to Luttrell’s wild charges and abusive threats against North, thought it was just another of his stories and refused to support him, and even the Opposition press, usually so ready to take up a scandal against a minister, would not believe it coming from Luttrell. The House voted nem. con. that the accusations against North were ‘ill founded and injurious’. At the general election of 1780 Luttrell stood at both Milborne Port and Reading and was defeated at both places.

Simon Luttrell’s younger sons in general followed their father in politics, went with him into opposition in 1775 and returned to the Government fold in 1780. The family were constantly at odds with each other and the course of their politics was often unpredictable. But what chiefly emerges from a study of the Luttrells is the amazing number of constituencies they contested. Old Simon Luttrell had influence at Tamworth and Wigan, and sat in the House for Mitchell, Wigan, Weobley, and Stockbridge; while Henry Lawes Luttrell depended entirely on the Treasury for a seat in Parliament. The younger sons at various times sat for or contested Stockbridge, Milborne Port, Reading, Petersfield, and Dover, and in 1768 were reported to be nibbling at Colchester. And in 1774 James Luttrell backed his brother-in-law Lord Waltham’s attempts at Maldon and in Essex. So many and such a range of constituencies, and the only one in which they took root was Stockbridge, where money counted for more than anything.



The 45 seats allotted to Scotland by the Act of Union were insufficient during this period for the number of Scots who wished to enter the House of Commons. In point of population, Scotland, which sent only about one-twelfth of the Members to the House of Commons, was under-represented. The Scottish constituencies were almost entirely the preserve of Scotsmen (only five Englishmen and one Irishman represented a Scottish constituency during this period), and in addition more than sixty Scots sat for English or Welsh constituencies. But the under-representation of Scotland is not sufficient by itself to account for this overspill of Scots into England and Wales. To begin with, eldest sons of Scottish peers were debarred from sitting for Scottish constituencies; and if a Member for a Scottish constituency became, as he would if his elder brother died, the eldest son of a Scottish peer, his seat in Parliament was vacated. A curious case occurred in 1787 when Francis Charteris, M.P. for Haddington Burghs, became the eldest son of a Scottish peer whose peerage had been forfeited by attainder in 1746. Charteris’s father, on the death of his elder brother, assumed the title of Earl of Wemyss (though the attainder had never been reversed), and Charteris was held to have become the eldest son of a Scottish peer and therefore incapable of sitting for a Scottish constituency.

Again, there were Scotsmen who sat for English constituencies in right of property held by their families. John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, George III’s minister, married the daughter of Edward Wortley Montagu, who inherited from her father control over one seat at Bossiney; and two of Bute’s sons represented Bossiney during this period. In this case it is rather absurd to speak of Bute’s sons as Scots representing an English constituency: on their mother’s side they were English, and it was their mother’s family borough which they represented in Parliament. Similarly, John Campbell of Calder inherited considerable property in Wales, through his mother, the heiress of the Lort family of Stackpole Court, Pembrokeshire. Campbell himself represented Pembrokeshire 1727-1747; his son, Pryse Campbell, Cardigan Boroughs from March to December 1768; and his grandson, John Campbell, Cardigan Boroughs 1780-1796. The Campbells of Calder were Scots in Scotland and Welsh in Wales; and old John Campbell felt obliged to remind his family not to forget their ancestral home. ‘If my grandson sees with my eyes’, he wrote, ‘nothing done here [Stackpole Court] will make him insensible to the natural beauties of Calder, or slight that ancient, honourable, and agreeable seat of the family.’ To take another example: should Lord Archibald Hamilton, M.P. for Lancashire 1768-1772, be described as Scots or English? He was the son of a Scottish duke and eventually succeeded to the dukedom of Hamilton in 1799. Yet he owned estates in Lancashire and made his home there, and to sit in Parliament for an English county was in the eighteenth century the absolute and certain mark of an Englishman. In short, there was so much intermarriage between English and Scottish families as to make national distinctions almost meaningless.

The Scot who wished to enter Parliament and could not find a seat in his native country took his chance in England just as the English did. If he were a Government supporter, he might be brought in for some borough at the disposal of Government as was Lord Lorne at Dover in 1765, Francis Holburne at Plymouth in 1768, or Thomas Erskine at Portsmouth in 1783. If he had money, he could try his luck at a venal borough, as did Sir Patrick Craufurd at Arundel and Alexander Macleod at Honiton in 1780 (unfortunately both disbursed their money with more zeal than discretion and were unseated for bribery), or he could buy a seat from a borough-monger, as Henry Drummond did at Wendover in 1774. Scotsmen closely connected with English politicians were returned to Parliament by their patrons: Alexander Forrester, rejected by Edinburgh in 1761 as being too anglicized (he had spent most of his life in England) was brought in by the Duke of Bedford at Okehampton; William Gordon sat for Woodstock and Heytesbury on the interest of the Duke of Marlborough; Alexander Wedderburn for Bishop’s Castle and Okehampton on the interest of Lord Clive; etc. And even some of the larger English boroughs welcomed Scots for their representatives, provided they were men of substance, since the choice of an outsider was a good way of letting the local landowners know that the borough was determined to be independent of their influence. When in 1761 William Mayne contested Canterbury, a very dignified and independent constituency, he was met with the cry ‘No Scotch, no foreigner’, and came bottom of the poll; but Mayne did not give up the borough and in 1774 he was returned. And two English pocket boroughs were purchased by Scots during this period: Richmond by Sir Lawrence Dundas in 1762, and Gatton by William Mayne in 1774.

In 1754 the Act of Union between England and Scotland was less than fifty years old. That union had been essentially one of two legislatures, and had not affected the Scottish legal system or ecclesiastical establishment. Nor had it removed the long-standing national animosities of the two peoples. Dr. Johnson’s prejudice against the Scots was not characteristic of the Tories alone, but was shared by the leaders of the Whigs. In 1755, when Newcastle was searching for a chancellor of the Exchequer, he thought of appointing John Campbell of Calder. ‘He is an old corps man’, wrote the Duke to Lord Hardwicke, ‘but he is a Scotchman and a Campbell. The King will be uneasy.’ And in 1760, when Pitt suggested James St. Clair, M.P. for Fife, for the post of commander-in-chief, Newcastle again objected. ‘I declared my opinion against St. Clair and nothing shall make me alter it’, he wrote to Hardwicke. ‘Certainly no great general, certainly a Scotchman who would fill the army with all Scotch, a low Scotchman ... Lady Yarmouth assures me positively that the King [George II] will not have St. Clair.’

Perhaps nothing contributed so much to Bute’s unpopularity as the fact that he was a Scot. Certainly this was so in the metropolitan area, where so-called public opinion was often nothing more than the rationalization of partially avowed and dimly realized prejudices. Even when Bute was all powerful with the King, the dislike of having Scotsmen in office was as prevalent as ever in parliamentary and official circles. Sir Henry Erskine, M.P. for Anstruther Easter Burghs, who had been dismissed from the army by George II for having voted with Pitt against the subsidy treaties, hoped for employment in a civil capacity in the new reign but found his having been born in Scotland an obstacle to his success. In March 1763, when Bute was on the point of resigning, Henry Fox suggested that James Oswald, M.P. for Dysart Burghs, should be appointed chancellor of the Exchequer in the new Administration—‘His abilities are so great’, wrote Fox, ‘... that nobody will think he was made because he is a Scotchman.’ Bute and the King concurred in the opinion that Oswald was eminently fitted for the office (as indeed he was), but feared that ‘his being born on the other side of the Tweed might cause some more abuse’, and Oswald was not appointed. Nor was the prejudice against Scots limited to the time when Bute was in office, or confined to Government appointments. In 1777 the directors of the East India Company turned down the Government’s recommendation of Alexander Mackay to be commander-in-chief in India because they ‘objected to gentlemen of North Britain for commands-in-chief’. And here is another example of anti-Scottish prejudice from a quarter where one would not expect to find it. On 20 August 1780 Edward Eliot, having offered the Opposition the nomination to three vacant seats in his Cornish boroughs, wrote to the Duke of Portland on receiving the names of the candidates: ‘I have not the least objection to either of the three names you mention, unless the baronet is a North Briton.’ The Opposition had been complaining for years that the Scots Members were but tools and hirelings of the minister, yet even when they took the right side in politics they were not welcome.

Anti-Scottish feeling in England was the eighteenth-century equivalent of anti-Semitism. It was widespread, though sometimes only half-avowed, and the impression remains that those who professed it were secretly ashamed of it. Superficially at least, reasons could be given for it, but these reasons were not the cause of anti-Scottish feeling any more than a dislike of hooked noses is a cause of anti-Semitism today. But anti-Scottish feeling had no deep psychological roots and was bound to pass away in time, as the more thoughtful Scots recognized. Gilbert Elliot, M.P. for Selkirkshire, one of the ablest Scottish Members in the House, wrote to his friend David Hume, the historian and philosopher, on 22 September 1764:

We are both Englishmen; that is true British subjects. Am I not a Member of Parliament with as much liberty to abuse ministers ... as if I had been born in Wapping? ... Had it not been for the clamour of ‘a Scot’, perhaps indeed I might have been in some more active but not more honourable or lucrative situation. This clamour ... will in time give way to some other equally absurd.

There is no doubt that had Eliot been an Englishman he would have achieved a much higher position in Administration. Yet by the end of the period Scotsmen were beginning to take their natural place in politics and Scottish birth was no longer the handicap it once had been. Henry Dundas, in effect deputy leader of the House of Commons and minister for Indian affairs, wrote to Sir Archibald Campbell, governor of Madras, in March 1787:

I need not tell you that the powers with which you are invested and the feelings of disappointed men will create in them those little jealousies and malevolencies which are the concomitants of little minds. I am a little involved in the kind of attacks that are whispered about. It is said with a Scotchman at the head of the Board of Control [for India] and a Scotchman at the government of Madras, all India will soon be in their hands and that the county of Argyll will be depopulated by the emigration of Campbells to be provided for by you at Madras. These kind of whispers are to be neither noticed nor regarded when they come in competition with any matter of the smallest importance. At the same time, when I recollect that Mr. Wilkes by such nonsense almost created an insurrection in this country, I do not think that even nonsense is at all times to be disregarded.

Dundas recognized the essentially emotional and irrational nature of anti-Scottish feeling. Yet some rational basis for it could be found, at least by the Opposition, in the belief that Scottish Members went to Westminster primarily to provide for themselves, their families, relations, and constituents, and that they would therefore support any Administration, without regard to its politics, so long as it provided for them. A superficial glance at the division lists during the last years of North’s Administration, when the Scottish Members voted overwhelmingly with the Government, appears to confirm that view. Nor are there wanting other signs of confirmation.

Before the Industrial Revolution, Scotland was economically a poor country compared to England, as was recognized by Robert Rickart Hepburn, M.P. for Kincardineshire 1768-1774, in a letter of 29 March 1783 to Sir Robert Murray Keith, M.P. for Peeblesshire 1775-1780:

It is natural for people who can afford it to get near the seat of Government; in England ... you feel you are in a better country ... amongst a richer and happier people ... All this strikes one with a damp whenever you cross the Tweed, and everything relating to the Government here seem things ... that we have little concern in. The only objects of the common people is to be free of patronage ... and of the gentlemen a good or bad crop ... We are only fit to supply England with inhabitants, and very few of those that can help it will ever return except for a visit.

In fact the Scots did return, after having made their fortunes in England, in the army or the navy, in India or the colonies, and re-established their families with new wealth. Then so did the English: for every Scot who came back rich from India or the colonies, there were at least two Englishmen; but to many of the English it seemed that the Scots were interlopers. ‘The noblest prospect a Scotchman sees’, said Johnson, ‘is the high road that leads him into England’; though by the end of this period the time was fast approaching when the ‘noble prospects’ in Scotland would lead the Englishman to migrate northwards.

About 1754, when real political issues were few and politics appeared little more than a struggle for power, the Scots Members naturally took the side of the Government. There was no sense in belonging to the Opposition unless the Opposition symbolized a cause for which it was worth fighting. Gilbert Elliot, who first attracted the attention of the House by a brilliant speech against a Government bill to perpetuate the practice of appointing Scottish sheriffs-depute at pleasure, wrote to his wife on 22 February 1755: ‘I impute the notice I have met with very much to its being a thing a little uncommon, from Scotland, for a young man, supported by none of the great, to take up a point of the constitution upon as high a key as any English Member of Parliament.’ Clearly the implication is that only English Members could afford the luxury of opposing the Government even on a political issue. But during the next two years, when the system of foreign policy and the competency of Newcastle’s Administration to wage war were the real issues of politics, there were proportionally quite as many Scots in opposition as English.

When Bute became first lord of the Treasury in the new reign it was only natural that the Scottish Members should rally to him: Bute was, after all, the first Scot to become head of Administration since the Union. So, too, the Scots could not be expected to support the cause of John Wilkes, who had blackguarded their nation in the London gutter press. The harm Wilkes did in sowing discord between the two peoples can be seen from an incident soon after his arrest. At Michaelmas 1763 the freeholders of Elginshire, under their praeses Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, affirmed their support of Administration on the Wilkes issue and their approbation of the conduct of Bute and his brother James Stuart Mackenzie. These resolutions were reprinted in the London press and increased anti-Scottish feeling to such an extent that Stuart Mackenzie was compelled to inform the Elginshire freeholders of the ‘immense impropriety’ of such well meant, but embarrassing, actions. The good Wilkes did, he did accidentally and without meaning it; but the evil he did deliberately.

On Wilkes’s case (both over general warrants in 1764 and over the Middlesex election in 1769) and on the issue of American policy, there was a disposition in most Scottish Members to be on the side of Government. The Scots were more authoritarian than the English (probably because their ecclesiastical discipline was more rigorous than that of the Church of England) and less ready to see the significance of constitutional issues. This was recognized by the more far-seeing Scottish Members. Thus William Strahan, the printer, later M.P. for Malmesbury and Wootton Bassett, wrote about the Government’s position on 26 June 1770, soon after North had taken office:

In Scotland they make a national cause of it and are quite unanimous in favour of Government: and their union upon this occasion is easily accounted for, as the Jacobite party, now their old cause is extinguished, from the very nature of their principles remain firm friends of monarchy, in opposition equally to anarchy and republicanism.

And George Dempster, M.P. for Perth Burghs and a prominent member of the Rockingham party, wrote on the eve of the American war:

In Scotland, myself and a very few more excepted, the whole body of the gentry and of the independent and enlightened class of people are to a man on the side of Administration ... There is a principle against America as well as for her, insomuch that it would not be easy for a ministry more favourable to her to bring the bulk of the House over to their opinion.

John Hope, M.P. for Linlithgowshire 1768-1770, who during the short time he sat in the House of Commons had taken a very independent part, wrote of Scotland in 1780 as ‘a country where it is regarded as a kind of treason to speak of the measures of Government with the smallest contempt’.

The following table compares the percentage of Members for Scottish constituencies voting with the Opposition, on certain specific issues throughout the period, with the percentage of the House as a whole.


Percentage of Scottish

Members with Opposition

Percentage of whole

House with Opposition

1754 (March)Newcastle’s Administration2%26%
1764General warrants13%42%
1769Middlesex election11%32%
1780Economical reform13%45%
1782 (March)North’s Administration15%44%
1783 (February)Shelburne’s peace preliminaries40%40%
1783 (November)Fox’s East India bill15%25%
1784 (March)Pitt’s Administration38%46%
1788Pitt’s Regency bill31%40%


When Lord Dupplin drew up his classification of the Parliament elected in 1754, John Mackye was the only Member from Scotland whom he listed as with the Opposition—and even about Mackye it is by no means certain that Dupplin was correct. Scotland was practically unanimous in support of the Government. On most issues during the next thirty years there was always a small body of Scots, not more than 15% (that is, not more than nine Members) who voted with the Opposition, while in the House as a whole between 32% and 45% voted with Opposition. But after the downfall of North’s Administration, the percentage of Scottish Members voting with the Opposition does not vary very much from that of the House as a whole. This confirms the conclusion reached after a study of the general election of 1784 (in section II of this survey), that after 1782 party had come to stay and affected Scotland to the same extent as it did England. In regard to the administrations of Shelburne, Portland, and the younger Pitt, the Scottish Members divided in the same way and in roughly the same proportions as the English Members. Paradoxically, therefore, the advent of party, which the eighteenth century always feared would disrupt national unity, had a unifying effect. Members began to think of themselves less as Englishmen or Scotsmen, and more as followers of Pitt or Fox: party replaced national allegiance as the bond between Members. England and Scotland were becoming one nation.

Because the electorates in the Scottish constituencies were small, the Treasury, the only electoral machine in existence during the eighteenth century, had proportionally more influence in Scotland than it had in England or Wales. Yet it does not appear that that influence was a predominant factor in deciding the political allegiance of Scottish Members. If party feeling was sufficiently strong, it was possible to defy the Treasury; and there were in Scotland, as in England, Members who brought themselves into Parliament and were independent of both Government and party. George Dempster, M.P. for Perth Burghs 1761-1768 and 1769-1790, described by Wraxall as ‘one of the most conscientious men who ever sat in Parliament’, wrote to his friend Sir Adam Fergusson on 26 January 1775:

I have long thought ... that unless one preserves a little freedom and independency in Parliament to act in every question and to vote agreably to ... one’s own mind, a seat in Parliament is a seat of thorns and rusty nails. That this cannot be attained without some ease in your affairs ... either you must be very rich or very frugal.

Here was a factor which counted for more than the influence of the Treasury in deciding the political allegiance of Scottish Members. Independence was a political luxury reserved for the more wealthy Members: the independent Member had to be able to afford to bring himself into Parliament, and to maintain himself there without office or the prospect of office. If there were more independent Englishmen than Scotsmen in the House, it was because England was the richer country and the English Members could better afford it. The independent Scots, like the independent English, were wealthy men, but there were more of them in England than in Scotland.

Here are a few of the independent Scottish Members. James Duff, Earl Fife, M.P. for Banffshire 1754-1784 and for Elginshire 1784-1790, had been a follower of George Grenville, but after Grenville’s death connected himself with no party. ‘I wish to God party were at an end’, he wrote after the fall of Shelburne’s Administration, ‘and that they would care for the country. I care not twopence for either of them.’ And a little later: ‘Thank God I am connected with no faction or party.’ Alexander Garden of Troup, M.P. for Aberdeenshire 1768-1785, was described in 1781 by the English Chronicle, an Opposition newspaper by no means well disposed towards the Scots, as ‘the only Scotch Member who never asked a favour’, and by his brother as ‘a truly independent country gentleman’. Sir James Johnstone of Westerhall, M.P. for Dumfries Burghs 1784-1790, was one of the most independent Members to sit in the House during this period. ‘He had never been at St. James’s since 1761 nor at Carlton House in his life’, he said at the time of the Regency crisis. ‘A man might be a good Member of Parliament ... without cringing at court or sacrificing to the rising sun.’ On all questions Johnstone followed his own judgment, and a bare recital of the causes he espoused confirms his individuality and independence: while generally supporting Pitt, he voted against his plan to increase fortifications; supported universal toleration and the abolition of the slave trade; advocated complete uniformity between English and Scottish law; and though he voted for parliamentary reform, opposed the reform of the Scottish burghs. He came out strongly in favour of the impeachment of Warren Hastings and Sir Elijah Impey, and was indeed particularly prone to take up an indictment against anyone in authority. ‘He would suspect whom he pleased’, he said on one occasion. ‘He would suspect the Speaker, the bishops, every man in the House. He was sent there to suspect them and he dared to do his duty.’ Suspicion of authority, by whomever it was exercised, was the true mark of the independent Member.

There was also a third factor which worked against the independence of the Scottish Member. The spirit of the clans was still vigorously alive in Scotland, and the Scottish M.P., to a much higher degree than the English, regarded himself in the House more as a representative of his family than of his constituency. There were no popular constituencies in Scotland, and every Scottish Member, who had not won his seat by bribery, was chosen because of the strength of his family interest. John Hope, who belonged to a junior branch of the family of the Earl of Hopetoun, was elected for Linlithgowshire in 1768 after a bitter contest with James Dundas of Dundas. Hope, who had spent a good deal of his life in Holland, had a different view of politics from that of most Scottish Members. He followed the Opposition line over the Middlesex election, which greatly disturbed his family: Dundas of Dundas had brought a petition against Hope’s election, and if Hope voted with the Opposition the Government might throw its weight behind Dundas. But Lord Hopetoun was less concerned about whether Wilkes or Luttrell was the legally elected Member for Middlesex, as about whether the Hopes or the Dundases should control Linlithgowshire. Eventually Hope himself realized this:

As to my acting against the inclinations of Lord Hopetoun [he wrote] ... I was sensible that in Parliament I was but a creature of his making, but still I considered myself as a free agent and one of the representatives of the commons and not of the peers of Great Britain.

The argument would have been sound had his constituents had much share in his election: but in fact there were less than forty freeholders on the Linlithgowshire roll in 1768, and some of these held fictitious qualifications. Hope had stood as a representative of the Hopetoun interest, and without the support of that interest he would never have been elected. ‘The honour of the family interest in the county was the chief purpose of giving me the seat in Parliament’, he wrote, shortly before Dundas’s petition came up for decision. ‘ ... I ought therefore to have done nothing without their advice and approbation.’ On 27 March 1770 Hope was unseated, a blow to the family interest which Lord Hopetoun never forgot and for which he never forgave his nephew.

At various times in the eighteenth century there existed a ‘minister for Scotland’, who was charged with the distribution of Scottish patronage and was responsible for the attendance of Scottish Members in the House and for ensuring that they voted with the Government. In 1754 this office was held by Archibald, 3rd Duke of Argyll, popularly known as ‘the viceroy’ or ‘the uncrowned King of Scotland’, who had enjoyed his power ever since Sir Robert Walpole’s day.

Patronage in England was the responsibility of the first lord of the Treasury, and the ‘viceroy’ system in Scotland worked well when the first lord of the Treasury and the minister for Scotland were close political allies. But when their aims diverged, the system did not work at all; and there was always a minority in Scotland, jealous of the viceroy’s power, and ready to instigate the ‘English ministry’ against him. Thus in March 1754 General Bland, commander-in-chief in Scotland, urged Newcastle and Hardwicke to appoint Robert Dundas, M.P. for Edinburghshire, lord advocate and minister for Scotland. ‘The business of the Crown suffers’, Bland wrote, ‘by not having an able man ... who is solely attached to the King and owes his preferment purely to the English ministers and not to any of the leading men here.’ The Duke of Argyll, a great Scottish peer, co-survivor with Newcastle and Hardwicke from Sir Robert Walpole’s Administration, was able to play an independent part in politics, to intrigue against Newcastle and if need be to break with him; but Robert Dundas would owe everything to Newcastle and his loyalty could be depended upon.

Newcastle agreed to the appointment of Dundas as lord advocate but not as minister for Scotland: Argyll had given no sign of any disposition to oppose the English ministers, and his authority in Scotland was too deep-rooted for him to be replaced without a political crisis of the first order. In 1756, when Newcastle was hoping to reconstruct his ministry to take in Pitt, he played with the idea of leaving out Argyll, who was considered to be too close to Henry Fox, and drew up lists of Scottish Members who would or would not follow Argyll if he were out of office. But the real threat to Argyll’s position came not from Newcastle but from another quarter. In 1756 both George II and Argyll himself were over seventy, and politicians in England and Scotland were anticipating who would have the disposal of affairs when the King and his viceroy died. The answer was obvious: on the death of the King, the Earl of Bute, Argyll’s nephew and the Prince of Wales’s favourite, would take over in both countries.

In England Bute bided his time and waited as patiently as he could until the death of the King should herald his assumption of power: he could do nothing in England, after Newcastle and Pitt had come together, while George II was alive. In Scotland, however, as preparations began for the forthcoming general election, Bute tried to supplant his uncle. It was part of the viceroy’s responsibilities to ensure that Scotland sent Members to Parliament favourably disposed towards the Government, and in addition to his authority as viceroy, Argyll was a great territorial magnate. In 1759 Argyll, who controlled two of the five burghs in the constituency of Ayr Burghs, endorsed the candidature of his cousin Lord Frederick Campbell for the general election; Bute, who controlled one burgh, and whose ally Lord Eglintoun controlled another, put forward Patrick Craufurd. The ensuing quarrel dominated Scottish politics during the next twelve months, but after the death of George II in October 1760, Argyll, realizing his position had weakened, accepted a compromise. In April 1761, in the middle of the general election, Argyll himself died.

Bute now took over the position of minister in Scotland, as he was shortly to do in England, and delegated his authority to his brother James Stuart Mackenzie. In April 1763, when Bute resigned the Treasury, he took steps to ensure that Stuart Mackenzie should remain minister for Scotland; and the King insisted that Grenville, the new head of the Treasury, should in Scottish affairs take ‘all recommendations from Mr. Mackenzie’. There were now two patronage ministers, George Grenville for England and James Stuart Mackenzie for Scotland.

It seems unlikely that such a system could ever have worked: certainly Bute, in recommending it, showed no appreciation of the realities of power in the House of Commons. Grenville, as leader of the House, could well have delegated Scottish affairs to a deputy, provided that the deputy was a man of his own creation, upon whom he could rely. But Stuart Mackenzie, as minister for Scotland, was responsible directly to the King, and Grenville, though charged with the conduct of the House of Commons, had no authority to deal with Scottish Members. Grenville’s jealousy of Bute’s influence over the King increased after Bute’s attempt in August 1763 to replace the Grenville Administration. Meanwhile, Stuart Mackenzie continued to consult Bute on Scottish appointments; honest and conscientious and no party man, he tried to distribute patronage according to merit while Grenville wanted it to be used to strengthen his ministry’s position in Parliament. In the clashes between Grenville and Stuart Mackenzie, the King invariably supported Mackenzie. He wrote to Bute after one such clash:

I am glad there has been this struggle of the ministers, for I will show them who recommends Scotch offices. I have ever declared Mr. Mackenzie for that department; I will settle that matter instantly and if they have not understood my orders on this occasion it is not for want of explaining the thing clearly.

There could be but one end to this dispute. In May 1765 Grenville forced Stuart Mackenzie’s dismissal, abolished the post of minister for Scottish affairs, and concentrated all authority in the House of Commons into his own hands. For almost twenty years there was no minister for Scotland. The Rockingham Administration considered reviving the post, and offered it first to Lord Kinnoull, and next to Robert Dundas, lord president of the court of session, but neither would accept it. It was not until Henry Dundas joined Pitt in 1783 that there was again a minister for Scotland. But the post held by Dundas was very different from that of Stuart Mackenzie. He was professedly Pitt’s deputy, linked to him by close personal and political ties, not possessed of an independent authority as Stuart Mackenzie and the Duke of Argyll had been. Dundas was closely allied in electoral affairs with the Duke of Buccleuch, while William Adam and Sir Thomas Dundas of Aske managed Scotland for the Opposition. Thus by 1784 not only were Scottish Members divided in the House along party lines, but there were in Scotland itself rudimentary party organizations.



There is little to be said about the Welshmen who sat in Parliament during these years. The twenty-four Welsh constituencies seem to have been sufficient for the number of Welshmen who wished to enter the House of Commons: few of them contested constituencies outside Wales, and on at least six occasions during the period Englishmen or Irishmen found seats in Welsh boroughs. Only four Welsh Members ever held political office which was not of a strictly local nature; and in the list of merchants, professional men, and service officers the Welsh Members form proportionally the lowest of the national groups. Most of them were country squires whose political horizon did not extend much farther than their own locality. They did not form close party connexions at Westminster, and the development of party in Wales lagged behind that in England and Scotland. Politically speaking, Wales was backward; and though the country had been linked to England for hundreds of years, and ever since the sixteenth century had sent Members to Parliament, the Welsh had retained their distinctive characteristics and were less integrated into the general community of the kingdom than the Scots.

Here is one example of Welsh exclusiveness and their absorption in local affairs. The Owen family of Orielton had considerable electoral influence in Pembrokeshire and Pembroke Boroughs, and between 1722 and 1774 Sir William Owen, 4th Bt., represented one or the other constituency. Practically every one of his many letters to the Duke of Newcastle and Lord Hardwicke is concerned with local patronage, and there is hardly any mention of national affairs or wider political issues. He apparently never spoke in the House (at least not during this period), and his vote on the land tax division of 27 February 1767 is the only one recorded in the twenty years between 1754 and 1774.

A second example is provided by the Morgan family of Tredegar, referred to in section I of this survey, who controlled three seats in the House of Commons, and who went over to Lord North in 1770 in return for the lord lieutenancies of Breconshire and Monmouthshire. But more striking is the behaviour of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 4th Bt., M.P. for Shropshire 1772-1774 and for Denbighshire 1774-1789, the son of the great Tory leader of the early half of the century. During his first few years in the House Wynn voted with the Opposition. Then, in 1775, the lord lieutenancy of Merioneth became vacant, and Wynn applied for the office. The King replied to Lord North’s recommendation: ‘I consent to Sir Watkin Williams being lieutenant of Merioneth if he means to be grateful, otherwise favours granted to persons in opposition is not very political.’ Wynn was appointed, and showed his gratitude by changing to the Government side in the House of Commons. But in 1778 the Treasury’s plan to inquire into the encroachments on Crown lands in Wales, which was bitterly resented by Welsh landowners, led him to desert the Government and rejoin the Opposition. These years were dominated by the greatest problem the British Parliament was called upon to solve during this period, yet the American war seems to have counted for less in Wynn’s political thought than his attempt to re-establish his family interest in Merioneth or his contest with Lord Powis in Montgomeryshire.



During this period the King, George III, suffered at least once from an attack of insanity, and one of his ministers, the Earl of Chatham, appears also to have been a victim of the same illness. It may be well therefore to end this survey of the Members of the House of Commons by briefly stating the facts regarding mental instability and suicide in the House, without venturing upon sociological deductions which lie outside the province of the parliamentary historian. Eight men, all Members of Parliament at the time, are known to have committed suicide during this period: Sir John Bland; Robert, Lord Clive; John Damer; William Fitzherbert; George Hay; Robert Mayne; Jenison Shafto; and Hans Stanley. Hay and Shafto were certainly insane at the time of their deaths, while there was a strain of mental instability in Stanley’s family (his father also had committed suicide). Bland killed himself after having incurred heavy gambling debts, while Mayne, a banker, had become bankrupt and had apparently been defrauding his clients. Various reasons were ascribed by contemporaries to account for the other suicides, none of which can be held to be certain.

In addition to these eight, five other Members who sat during this period committed suicide. One was John Calcraft junior, whose death took place in 1831; the other four, all of whom died before 1790, were not Members of Parliament at the time of their deaths. These were Herbert Lloyd; John Murray, 3rd Duke of Atholl; Charles Powlett, 5th Duke of Bolton; and William Shrine. A further three Members (Thomas Bradshaw, Charles Yorke, and Samuel Touchet) are reported by contemporaries to have committed suicide. Bradshaw almost certainly did so, and Yorke with equal probability did not; in Touchet’s case it is difficult to know what degree of credence to give to the report of his suicide. Thus, of the 1,964 men who sat in the House of Commons between 1754 and 1790, thirteen certainly committed suicide and three may have done so.

Ten Members are known to have been insane at some period of their adult lives (including two who committed suicide): Thomas Alston; James Coutts; Richard Hippisley Coxe; Estcourt Cresswell; William Finch; Sir Charles Hanbury Williams; George Hay (a suicide); Thomas Scrope; Jenison Shafto (a suicide); and Charles Wilkinson. Hardly anyone who reads the biography of Lord George Gordon will doubt that he too was insane, and it also appears probable that Robert Paris Taylor was. About another Member who is said to have been insane, Charles Whitworth, the evidence is inconclusive.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke

End Notes