DENMAN, Thomas (1779-1854), of 50 Russell Square, Mdx. and Stony Middleton, Derbys.
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Family and Education
b. 23 Feb. 1779, o.s. of Thomas Denman, MD, accoucheur to the Middlesex hosp.,1 of Queen Street, Golden Square, Mdx. by Elizabeth, da. of Alexander Brodie,2 army accoutrement maker, of Brewer Street, Golden Square. educ. Mrs Barbauld’s sch., Palgrave, Norf. 1782; Dr Thompson’s, Kensington 1786; Eton 1788-95; St. John’s Camb. 1796-1800; L. Inn 1800, called 1806. m. 18 Oct. 1804, Theodosia Anne, da. of Rev. Richard Vevers (formerly Wilkinson), rector of Saxby, Melton Mowbray, Leics., 5s. 6da. surv. suc. pat. uncle Joseph Denman, MD, of Buxton to Derbys. and Norf. estates 1812; fa. 1815; kntd. 24 Nov. 1830; cr. Baron Denman 28 Mar. 1834.
Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1801-4.
Dep. recorder, Nottingham Mar. 1816-Apr. 1820; solicitor-gen. to the Queen 1820-1; bencher, L. Inn 1820, treasurer 1832; common serjt. of London 1822-30; patent of precedence 24 July 1828; attorney-gen. Nov. 1830-Nov. 1832; serjt.-at-law Nov. 1832; l.c.j. KB Nov. 1832-Feb. 1850; PC 6 Nov. 1832; Speaker of House of Lords 1835.
After a very careful upbringing by perfectionist parents, Denman was educated for the law, became a special pleader in 1803, married and was allowed £400 a year by his father, the eminent physician.3 Called to the bar, he practised on the midland circuit and at Lincoln sessions, but his practice was never a substantial one and he supplemented his income by contributing to the Whig Monthly Review and later to the Critical Review. In 1807 he acted for Lord Cochrane at the Westminster election (he also participated in his trial in 1814). In 1812 he inherited property, but his fondness for Whig society and his large family rendered his circumstances insecure. After a visit to France in 1815, he unsuccessfully defended Brandreth the Luddite at Derby in October 1816,4 thereby establishing his reputation as an advanced Whig: he had been brought up by his father and his uncle, Rev. Peter Brodie, to admire Fox and his principles. The Marquess of Buckingham thought of making him a political protégé, if he was amenable, in March 1818, but he was informed that Denman was ‘very mountainous in his politics, and a good deal connected with Romilly and Lord Holland’.5
Appointed, by Lord Holland’s influence, deputy-recorder of Nottingham, a position he had first applied for in 1809, he was proposed for that borough in 1818, but withdrew on Holland’s advice, ‘rather than incur the risk of sacrificing a Whig Member for the town’. He was returned instead for Wareham on the Calcraft interest, at no expense to himself: the Duke of Devonshire and Lord Lansdowne jointly purchased the seat for him, for £4,000. Their partiality to Denman irked Henry Brougham, who complained that the claims on the party of himself, Romilly and Scarlett were ignored in favour of ‘this new favourite’.6
In Parliament, Denman was a firm adherent of the opposition. He signed the requisition to Tierney to be their leader. From the start he was a spokesman on their behalf, though he never cut a great figure in the House, for all his imposing appearance and magnificent voice; nor, apparently, did he wish to do so: ‘Do not suffer anyone to suppose’, he informed his mother, ‘that I am sacrificing my profession to politics’.7 His maiden speech was in defence of an Oxford petition alleging undue interference by the Duke of Marlborough in the city election, 29 Jan. 1819; his manner was described as ‘very gentlemanlike, free and unembarrassed’;8 he subsequently withdrew it, as being an election petition, on the advice of the House, 1 Feb., though he defended another from the same source on 7 Apr. On 1 Feb. he spoke in favour of delaying the Westminster hustings bill, since so few Members understood it. He defended the reform of the northern circuit, 4 Feb., deploring the number of prisoners awaiting trial; he also supported the abolition of trial by battle, 10 Feb. He found the chimney sweepers regulation bill too interfering, 7 Feb., as it gave the magistrate summary jurisdiction and infringed on parents’ guardianship of their children.
Denman’s first major speech was against the additional grant of £10,000 to the Windsor establishment, which he regarded as a violation of the principle of economy, 25 Feb. 1819. He obtained leave of absence on 1 Mar. to go the midland circuit. Tierney confided in Lord Grey that Denman would not succeed as a speaker.9 He voted for burgh reform, 6 May, and for parliamentary reform, 1 July. He attacked the foreign enlistment bill as contrary to the liberty of the subject and to the cause of freedom in general, 3, 11, 21 June. He was interested in legal reform, obtaining leave for a bill to facilitate the dispatch of King’s bench business, 28 Apr., and he demanded revision of the laws of custom and excise, 22 June.
On 26 Nov. 1819, in the debate on the address, he defended the legality of the radical meeting at Manchester and on 30 Nov. added that its dispersal by the magistrates was uncalled for and not lawful; he sat down ‘amidst loud and general cheering’. All the repressive legislation that ensued found in him a keen critic, particularly the seditious meetings prevention bill, 7, 8, 13 Dec., the newspaper stamp duties bill, 20, 22 Dec., and the blasphemous libel bill, 23 Dec.; he regarded them as serious encroachments on English liberty. In April 1820, at Brougham’s instigation, he became solicitor-general to Queen Caroline and achieved public notoriety as her advocate, a step which hindered his advancement to legal distinction. The King made great difficulties about his being granted precedence at the bar in 1827 owing to a passage he quoted from an ancient historian during the Queen’s case which George IV regarded as ‘an odious personal charge’ against himself.10 He died 22 Sept. 1854.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. He wrote several essays on obstetrics, one of which he prefaced by an autobiographical memoir (in BL). His wife lived by 46 rules of conduct.
- 2. One of the Brodies ‘of Brodie in Morayshire’.
- 3. Sir J. Arnould, Mem. of Ld. Denman (1873).
- 4. State Trials , xxxii.
- 5. Arnould, 57; Fremantle mss, box 55, Buckingham to Fremantle, 9 Mar. 1818; Buckingham, Regency , ii. 230.
- 6. Arnould, 118; Carlisle mss, Lady to Ld. Morpeth [16, 18 June]; Creevey mss, Thanet to Creevey, 26 June 1818; Add. 51813, Denman to Holland, 22 Nov. 1809, 25, 29 Mar. 1818.
- 7. Arnould, 121; Grey mss, Spencer to Grey [28 Feb. 1819]; Diary of Lady Shelley , ii. 29.
- 8. Grey mss, Lambton to Grey, 30 Jan. 1819.
- 9. Ibid. Tierney to Grey  Mar. 1819.
- 10. Add. 51813, Denman to Holland, 23 May 1827 to 1 Dec. 1828.