FONBLANQUE, John (1759-1837), of Harrow, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1802 - 1806

Family and Education

b. 1759, 2nd s. of John (Jean) de Grenier Fonblanque, naturalized Huguenot merchant, of Water Lane, Great Tower Street, London by Eleanor, da. of Thomas Bagshaw. educ. Harrow 1774-6; St. John’s Oxf. 18 Nov. 1780, aged 21; M. Temple 1777, called 1783. m. 30 May 1786, Frances Caroline, da. of Col. John Fitzgerald, 3s. 1da. surv. Took name of de Grenier before Fonblanque, 14 May 1828.

Offices Held

KC 28 Apr. 1804; patent of precedence 24 June 1804; bencher, M. Temple 1804, reader 1808, treasurer 1815.


Fonblanque was descended, according to a member of the family, from the Greniers of Languedoc, a Huguenot family ennobled by Henri IV. In 1740 Abel de Grenier, Comte de Fonblanque, sent his two sons to England to be educated as Protestants; one of them, John, who succeeded his father and disposed of the French estates, settled in London as a merchant in partnership with his brother Anthony and was naturalized. After his death in 1760 his business fell into the hands of Peter Thellusson his bookkeeper, who secured it for himself.1

John Fonblanque, the second of several sons to survive, became an equity lawyer. His revision of Ballow’s Treatise on Equity (1793) went into a fifth edition in 1820. He took an early interest in politics and joined the Whig Club on 2 Jan. 1786, though in his pamphlet A serious exhortation to the electors of Great Britain (1790) he claimed to be ‘wholly unconnected with party’. It was somewhat lofty and abstract in tone, calling for the purification of the constitution in the interests of liberty and against ‘the monarch’s nod’, and defending the notion that Members of Parliament should be delegates of the electors. At the same time, Fonblanque ‘distinguished himself as leading counsel at the bar of the House ... on behalf of the merchants of London in opposition to the Quebec bill’ (1790-1).2

His association with Whig ideas continued and brought him to the attention of Fox, who urged the Duke of Bedford to abide by a compromise with Charles Carpenter, his agent, who had employed Fonblanque in an election petition there in 1796, and permit his return for Camelford in 1802. He was one of the Prince of Wales’s ‘friends’ in Parliament, being thus listed twice in 1804. He was often credited with having penned the Prince’s letters to his father protesting at his exclusion from the army.3 He first spoke in the House, 17 and 27 Dec. 1802, against the naval inquiry bill: he compared the commission set up by it to the court of Star Chamber in its arbitrariness. On 4 Mar. 1803 he voted in favour of Calcraft’s motion for inquiry into the Prince’s debts: he had stated on 24 Feb. that he thought the grant proposed to the Prince to permit him to recover his public dignity was inadequate. On 3 June, however, he criticized Patten’s motion against the government’s foreign policy and said he thought the government had been firm and justified in not hastening to resume war with France. On 2 Aug. he voted for Fox’s motion for a council of general officers and on 2 Feb. 1804 supported Fox on the Middlesex petition. On 14 Mar. 1804 he supported Creevey’s motion against the war in Ceylon, and next day, without prejudice to St. Vincent, justified (without voting for) the naval inquiry moved for by Pitt. He also put in a few words on the volunteer consolidation bill, 20 Mar.

Fonblanque opposed Pitt’s additional force bill on the latter’s return to power, June 1804, objected to the additional stamp duties bill, 9-17 July, and voted with the minority on Giles’s motion for the continuation of the naval commissioners, 1 Mar. 1805. On 8 Apr. he was with the majority in censuring Melville, and on 25 Apr. advised the House to discuss the tenth naval report itself before handing its contents over to the decision of a court of equity; on 12 June he was in the majority for the criminal prosecution of Melville. Creevey, in his memoirs of halcyon days at Brighton Pavilion in 1805, recalled that the Prince of Wales only once became intoxicated in his company and

poor Fonblanque, a dolorous fop of a lawyer and a Member of Parliament too, was one of the guests. After drinking some wine, I could not resist having some jokes at Fonblanque’s expense, which the Prince encouraged greatly. I went on and invented stories about speeches Fonblanque had made in Parliament, which were so pathetic as to have affected his audience to tears, all of which inventions of mine Fonblanque denied to be true with such overpowering gravity that the Prince said he should die of it if I did not stop.

Even six years later, apparently, the Prince said ‘it was the merriest day he ever spent’. Later Creevey met and ‘took to’ Fonblanque’s son Albany, ‘a writer of one of the cleverest Sunday papers’.4

Fonblanque supported the Grenville administration, though he voted with the minority on Hamilton’s motion for papers on Indian affairs, 21 Apr. 1806. He was in the majority for the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act on 30 Apr. His only speech was on 3 July, in support of the training bill. He had to give up his seat at the dissolution of 1806, the Duke of Bedford alleging, 19 Oct., ‘Fonblanque has sufficiently disgusted me of money transactions’. He had evidently been prepared to vacate his seat in March 1805 but ‘on condition of being succeeded by a particular person with whom he had made an arrangement’, which the duke would not allow.5

He was never again in Parliament. About April 1809 he wrote to William Adam for an interview ‘to talk over my views as to India’, explaining:

In my present difficult or rather desperate situation I must forget every consideration but that which is due to creditors and if I could by going to India even as a counsel acquire the means of answering their claims I shall not hesitate as I plainly perceive that I have not the faculties which are necessary to success here.

He added:

I am quite disgusted with the popular or Wardle mania ... Lord Folkestone must be a little surprised to find that his patriotic exertions have convinced the many that Downton and the other aristocratic boroughs ought to be disfranchised and if it has not already been done I should like to see an analysis of the minority upon the occasion with reference to aristocratic influence. I would wish H.R.H. to be assured that I was one of his well wishers upon principle as well as in practice.6

On 29 June 1809 Joseph Jekyll wrote: ‘I hear Fonblanque’s ruin is accomplished and that the poor fellow is in the rules of the King’s Bench, a victim of vanity.’ In 1810 he wrote a pamphlet, Doubts as to the expediency of adopting the recommendation of the bullion committee, but there was no more talk, as there had been, of his being a future Whig lord chancellor. On 31 Jan. 1812 Jekyll reported: ‘Poor Fonblanque who cannot show his head keeps a little whore at Kingston’.7 As an equity lawyer, however, he ‘stood high’: Lord Lyndhurst, writing to his son after Fonblanque’s death, said ‘I have known jurists as profound as your father but I have known no one who was so perfect a master of the philosophy of the law’. He was also ‘esteemed for his accomplished mind and urbane qualities’.8 He died 4 Jan. 1837 and was buried in the Temple church.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. E. B. de Fonblanque, Life and Labours of Albany Fonblanque (1874), intro.; Farington, ii. 127; Univ. Coll. London, Frenchhosp. coll., Wagner mss.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1837), i. 325.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Creevey Pprs. ed Maxwell, i. 49; ii. 312.
  • 5. Blair Adam mss; Fitzwilliam mss, X516/31, Fox to Fitzwilliam [c. Mar. 1805].
  • 6. Blair Adam mss.
  • 7. Dorset RO, Bond mss D367.
  • 8. Gent. Mag. loc. cit.