FOLEY, Thomas Henry (1808-1869), of Whitley Court, Worcs. and 16 Bruton Street, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 11 Dec. 1808, 1st s. of Thomas, 3rd Bar. Foley, and Lady Cecilia Olivia Geraldine Fitzgerald, da. of William Robert, 2nd duke of Leinster [I]. m. 16 July 1849, Lady Mary Charlotte Howard, da. of Henry Charles Howard*, 13th duke of Norfolk, 2s. 1da. d.v.p. suc. fa. as 4th Bar. Foley 16 Apr. 1833. d. 20 Nov. 1869.
Capt. gent. pens. (gent.-at-arms) May 1833-Dec. 1834, May 1835-Sept. 1841, July 1846-Feb. 1852, Dec. 1852-Feb. 1858, June 1859-July 1866, Dec. 1868-d.; PC 16 May 1833.
Recorder, Droitwich 1833-6; high steward, Kidderminster 1833-69; ld. lt. Worcs. 1837-9.
The Foleys, direct descendants of the Speaker (1695-8) of that name, were one of the leading Whig families in Worcestershire, where they controlled the representation of Droitwich and one of the county seats. Foley’s grandfather the 2nd baron, an associate of Fox, was an ‘inveterate gambler’ who ‘by a most rapid course of debauchery, extravagance and gaming’ was said to have ‘rendered one of the noblest fortunes in the kingdom abortive’. He was disinherited by the 1st baron, who had obtained a revival of the title in 1776, in favour of Foley’s father, himself ‘a great sportsman’ and winner of the Derby in 1806, the One Thousand Guineas in 1815 and the Two Thousand Guineas in 1818. In 1820 the ‘foolish extravagance’ of Foley’s parents prompted an intervention by Lady Shelley and the duke of Wellington on behalf of their children, who were said to be ‘often in great distress’.1
At the 1830 general election Foley, aged 21, offered for Worcester, but finding that he had ‘not a chance’ he started for the county, where the family seat was vacated for him by his Whig kinsman Sir Edward Winnington. Responding to concerns about his ‘youth and inexperience’, he promised that ‘all public business shall have my most serious attention’. Rumours of a third candidate came to nothing and he was returned unopposed.2 He was listed by the Wellington ministry as one of their ‘foes’, and divided against them in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. His father was appointed captain of the corps of gentlemen pensioners by the incoming Grey ministry. Foley presented petitions for the abolition of slavery 18, 23 Nov., 21 Dec. 1830. Granted five days’ leave on urgent private business, 17 Mar. 1831, he spoke at a Worcestershire reform meeting the following day, promising to support the ministry’s bill ‘at every stage’ and observing that the ‘Commons should be the representatives of the people, not of the rich and wealthy few; and this bill will make it the House of the people, and not of a few boroughmongers’.3 He presented reform petitions from the electors of Droitwich, noting that ‘although the present measure will deprive them of part of their present privilege, they cordially approve of it’, 19 Mar., and Stourbridge, 20 Apr. He duly voted for the second reading, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.
At the ensuing general election Foley offered again, stressing the ‘vital importance’ of reform, which ‘was calculated to preserve’ and ‘secure the rights of the people’. ‘Very liberal subscriptions’ were raised for him and the other reform candidate, Frederick Spencer, with whom he was accused of coalescing against the Tory Lygon. After a spirited week of polling he was returned in first place with a large majority. He was guest of honour at the dinner held to celebrate the return of two reformers for the county, 16 May, and a grand reform meeting held in Birmingham, 24 May.4 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, when, denying allegations that Spencer had ‘disgraced and degraded’ the ‘honour and dignity’ of the House by making anti-corn law election pledges, he insisted that they both owed their election solely to the prevailing ‘feeling in favour of reform’, and recounted how he had been ‘drawn through every town in succession, and hailed with the warmest demonstrations of welcome, not because the interests of myself or my family were connected with those towns, but on account of the principles I profess’. He divided at least twice against adjourning the debates, 12 July, and gave steady support to the bill’s details. He voted for its passage, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He divided with ministers on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He presented a petition from the maltsters of Dudley against the use of molasses in breweries and distilleries, 5 Sept., and from Bromsgrove for placing the retailers of beer on the same footing as licensed alehouse-keepers, 28 Sept. 1831. Foley voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and again generally supported its details, although he was in the minority of 32 against the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will, 1 Feb. 1832. He divided for the third reading, 22 Mar. He presented a Worcestershire petition for exemption from the proposed division of counties, 27 Jan. He voted for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the bill unimpaired, 10 May, and presented a Kidderminster petition for supplies be withheld until it was effected, 25 May. That day he divided for the second reading of the Irish bill. He voted against increased Scottish representation, 1 June. He divided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16 July (as a pair), and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., but was in the minorities for inquiry into the glove trade, 31 Jan., 3 Apr. He presented a petition from the silk throwers of Blockley and Foleshill complaining of distress and praying for relief, 26 Mar. 1832. At the end of that year he promised to support Charles Williams Wynn, Member for Montgomeryshire, if he stood against Charles Manners Sutton for the Speakership in the new Parliament.5
At the 1832 general election Foley came forward for the new division of Worcestershire West, where he was returned unopposed without being proposed or seconded, the crowd’s cries of ‘Foley and Lygon’ being taken by the sheriff as sufficient. On the death of his father the following April he succeeded to the peerage. Although his father had insured his life for £200,000, providing ‘the most formidable blow to the insurance offices’, the legacy of both his and the 2nd baron’s extravagance was such that Foley was forced to sell Whitley Court in 1837, for which he received £900,000 from Lord Ward, and retire to the more modest setting of Ruxley Lodge, near Esher, Surrey. He succeeded his father as captain of the gentleman pensioners, in which capacity he continued to serve under successive Whig and Liberal ministries from Grey to Gladstone. He was one of five peers who protested against the Ten Hours Factory Act in 1847. Foley died at the Hotel Bristol, Paris, in November 1869. By his will, dated 7 Feb. 1854, his estates passed to his eldest son and successor in the barony, Henry Thomas (1850-1905).6
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. CP, v. 537; Shelley Diary, 96. Wellington mss WP1/973/27 and 1007/15 also show that the duke assisted with promotions and introductions for Lord Foley’s children.
- 2. Worcs. RO, Lechmere mss, Lady Gresley to Sir A. Lechmere, 11 July; Worcester Herald, 10, 17, 24, 31 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
- 3. Worcs. RO BA 3762 b. 899:31, Foley Scrapbk. iv. 172-8.
- 4. Worcester Herald, 30 Apr., 7, 14, 21 May; The Times, 28 May 1831.
- 5. NLW, Coedymaen mss 28, Williams Wynn to Phillimore [Dec. 1832].
- 6. T.C. Turberville, Worcs. in 19th Cent. 24-25; Gent. Mag. (1833), i. 464; CP, v. 537-8.