LAMB, Hon. Peniston (1770-1805), of Brocket Hall, nr. Hatfield, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. 3 May 1770, 1st s. of Sir Peniston Lamb*, 2nd Bt., 1st Visct. Melbourne [I], and bro. of Hon. George Lamb* and Hon. William Lamb*. educ. by Rev. Thomas Marsham, curate of Hatfield; Eton 1781-6; abroad 1787-8. unm.
Capt. Herts. yeoman cav. 1794.
Handsome and indolent, ‘Pen’ Lamb, unlike his younger brothers, resembled his father, who indulged him with an allowance of £5,000 p.a. He accepted the public career anticipated for him by his parents, though not well prepared for it. His brother William recalled:
He had left Eton very early, I believe, before he was sixteen, had then been abroad for not quite a year, the principal part of which time he resided at the petty court of ... Montbeliard and returning home in the year 1788 with an intention of again visiting the Continent was prevented from so doing by the breaking out of the French revolution. From that time he had lived wholly amidst the amusements and dissipation of the world. He had been a good scholar at Eton and retained his knowledge of the Latin language, but never having thought of books from the time he had come from school, his stock of information was of course slight and superficial. His pursuits had been many of them idle and frivolous, but in any business, to which it was necessary he should apply or in any amusement which partook of the nature of business his understanding never failed to display its natural vigour and justness.
He was admitted to Brooks’s Club, 1 Apr. 1790. In 1793 he replaced his father, who had purchased the seat, as Member for Newport for the remainder of that Parliament. Lord Melbourne was a Whig disposed to rally to government in wartime and his heir, who made no mark in Parliament, was a silent supporter; though he was a defaulter at the first call of the House after his election, 6 Mar. 1793. Allegedly he attended only ‘whenever he had no other engagement on his hands’: in fact he was a yeomanry officer. He did not seek re-election in 1796.1
In 1802 Lamb was sprung upon the freeholders of Hertfordshire in a bid by his neighbour the Marquess of Salisbury to oust William Baker*, which succeeded. Baker denounced a combination of aristocracy and Jacobins against him, and Lamb’s critics claimed that he had neglected Parliament while in it, was fonder of racing, opera and theatricals, was ‘only known at the Pic Nic and at Boodle’s’ and once asked how many quarter sessions there were in a year. Nevertheless Lord Salisbury commended him to Addington for his ‘general popularity’. Baker wondered publicly what line Lamb, returned by such a contradictory junta and brought up in Whig society, could pursue. Sheridan was witty at his expense:
There were 13 parties in the late House of Commons. If there were to be twice as many in the new, it would puzzle one of its Members to find which he belongs to. So strange an amalgamation of Court and Club, Foxite and Ministerial, has never been dished up to Parliament from any county in England, and it will even be difficult to know whether it represents Salisbury or Hertfordshire.2
Apart from supporting an inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s financial resources, 4 Mar. 1803, Lamb was not in opposition to government. On Pitt’s return to power in 1804 he was listed a supporter and his brother William recalled that he was ‘always a warm and disinterested supporter of Mr Pitt’. He made no contribution to debate but did not ultimately shirk voting, as an undated letter to Lady Melbourne from his brother Frederick indicated:
I shall be the last person to be suspected of not wishing from my soul that Pen had voted on the other side and much more since your letters. But strong as my party feelings are, if it was not for my father’s aversion I should really be glad that he had voted. The side he has taken is only a difference of opinion, but the staying away I really think a disgrace to any man’s character. When a question is of such importance and the two sides of it so directly in opposition no man’s staying away can be attributed to anything but the most sneaking motives. I am sure I shall reckon most men who have acted so to have been moved by nothing but a desire of making a bargain without knowing how—and had Pen continued to stay away, depend upon it by everybody unacquainted with the interior he must have been so judged—for his sake I am therefore glad he has voted, though for other reasons much the contrary.
It is quite possible that the vote in question was in support of Addington’s ministry against Pitt’s defence motion, 23 Apr. 1804; two days before it, Lamb wrote to Addington:
I take the liberty of informing you, that I received from the Marquess of Salisbury your communication respecting the business of next Monday in the House of Commons; and that, (although it would be much more advantageous for me to take no part upon the present occasion, and more likely to promote the views and objects of my family), yet, feeling every wish to support an administration of which you are at the head, and being convinced that at the present moment it is a material object to you to have as large a majority as possible on Monday, and being desirous also to do what is agreeable to the Marquess of Salisbury, I shall certainly attend and give every support in my power to his Majesty’s ministers.3
Lamb’s health had shown signs of breaking down in 1802 and he made a will on 29 June 1803. On 24 Jan. 1805 he died, emaciated by consumption. Lady Melbourne invited his mistress, the celebrated equestrienne Mrs Dick Musters, to be present at his deathbed.4 His brother William had this to say of him:
He was beginning evidently and avowedly to grow tired of many of the occupations to which he had dedicated the greater part of his time; his mind was amusing itself and whether from illness or from experience he was acquiring the habit of thinking more seriously and rationally upon all subjects, than he had been accustomed to do. He was a man of high honour, and scrupulously exact in his dealings ... had he lived, he would have risen into a more extended reputation and have afforded a model of what ought to be the conduct and demeanour of an English gentleman.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Countess of Airlie, In Whig Society, 8; Lord David Cecil, The Young Melbourne, 48, 50, 102; Letters of Lady Harriet Cavendish, 48; Herts. RO, Spencer Cowper mss, box 16, William Lamb’s autobiog.; Portland mss PwF9253; Herts. RO, Baker mss 3, f. 333.
- 2. Baker mss 3, f. 653; Farington, ii. 83; Sidmouth mss, Salisbury to Addington, 11 July; The Times, 16 July, 25 Aug. 1802.
- 3. Herts. RO, Spencer Cowper mss, box 17; Sidmouth mss.
- 4. Airlie, 62; Cecil, 96; Leveson Gower, ii. 8; Gent. Mag. (1805), i. 182.