MACNAGHTEN, Edmond Alexander (1762-1832), of Beardiville, co. Antrim and Duke Street, St. James's, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1801 - 1812
1812 - 1820
23 May 1820 - 1826
1826 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 2 Aug. 1762,1 1st s. of Edmund MacNaghten of Beardiville and 2nd w. Hannah, da. of John Johnstone of Belfast. educ. Glasgow Univ. 1778; L. Inn 1781. unm. 2s. 1da. with Mary Anne Fitzsimmons. suc. fa. 1781; cr. by patent chief of Clan MacNaghten 1818. d. 15 Mar. 1832.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1797-1800.

Ld. of treasury [I] 1813-17, [UK] Mar. 1819-July 1830.

Trustee, linen board [I] 1810.

Sheriff, co. Antrim 1793-4.


An influential ally of the 2nd marquess of Hertford in county Antrim, where his father had prospered as the manager of the 5th earl of Antrim’s estates, MacNaghten had been one of the principal pro-Union speakers in the Dublin Parliament and liveliest Members of the Westminster one, and had been appointed to the consolidated treasury board in 1819 in recognition of his services to Lord Liverpool’s ministry.2 He had represented Hertford’s borough of Orford since relinquishing the representation of county Antrim in 1812 and intended trying for the county again at the general election of 1820, but he demurred to Hertford’s nephew Hugh Seymour* and came in late for Orford on their interest.3

An anti-Catholic Tory opposed to parliamentary reform, MacNaghten observed privately in 1823 that ‘Nothing annoys me so much as not being well enough to attend the Catholic question’.4 He voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and the Irish franchise bill, 9 May 1825, when, breaking his deliberate silence in the House, he criticized it as ‘unconstitutional ... absurd and unjust’. Drawn later in the debate by the Whig Lord Milton’s claim that his failure to contest county Antrim in 1812 and 1820 proved that the proposed change was necessary, he replied:

It was not the fact that he ceased to be a Member for the county of Antrim when the heir of a noble family came of age. He ceased to be a Member for county Antrim on grounds best known to himself; and which had been approved of by all his friends.

He voted against reforming the Scottish electoral system, 2 June 1823, 26 Feb. 1824, 13 Apr. 1826.

MacNaghten used his access to patronage as a treasury placeman to further the careers of his sons, Charles and Robert, and divided steadily and consistently with his colleagues in government on English and Irish issues until April 1823, when he informed Lord Liverpool that, like Colonel Barry, he would relinquish his office to ‘be at liberty to vote for Mr. Brownlow’s motion’ criticising the decision to proceed with prosecutions arising from the Dublin Orange theatre riot, on ‘information filed ex-officio after bills of indictment against them for the same offence had been thrown out by a grand jury’.5 The home secretary Peel took the matter seriously, since ‘an Irishman’s resignation of a good office is an unusual proof of sincerity’, and Liverpool summoned MacNaghten for discussions.6 In the event, Brownlow’s motion was withdrawn without a division, 15 Apr., in anticipation of Sir Francis Burdett’s for inquiry into the prosecution of the rioters, on which government were defeated, 22 Apr. 1823. MacNaghten did not vote that day, nor did he resign or cast wayward votes that Parliament. He retained his seat on the Irish linen board as a trustee of the ‘Linen and Hempen Manufactures of Connaught’, and was appointed to the select committee on laws regulating that trade, 14 Apr. 1825. Following Hugh Seymour’s death, he had been instrumental in securing the return of Lord Beauchamp for county Antrim in 1822, and was returned there unopposed as the 3rd marquess of Hertford’s candidate with the 2nd Viscount O’Neill’s brother and heir, John Bruce Richard O’Neill, at the general election of 1826.7

MacNaghten cast his customary votes against Catholic relief, 6 May 1827, 12 May 1828, and divided with government for the grant to the duke of Clarence, 16 Mar. 1827. He retained his place when the short-lived Canning and Goderich ministries succeeded Liverpool’s in 1827, and was kept on when the duke of Wellington became premier in 1828. He divided with his colleagues against Test Act repeal, 26 Feb., on the ordnance estimates, 4 July, and the silk duties, 14 July 1828. The patronage secretary Planta rightly classified him as a Protestant Irishman opposed to Catholic relief in January 1829, when Hertford, Peel and Wellington found the case for conceding emancipation overwhelming. His brother Sir Francis Workman MacNaghten (1763-1843), a lawyer who rose to prominence through service in India, now published a pro-emancipation pamphlet, A View of the Catholic Question as it Relates to Ireland.8 MacNaghten presented a 9-10,000-signature anti-Catholic petition from the barony of Kilconway, county Antrim, 12 Mar. 1829, and faced strong constituency pressure to oppose emancipation, but predictions by Lord Camden and others that he would vote against the bill at its second reading proved incorrect, and he deliberately refrained from voting on the measure.9 Hertford generally engineered the retirement of his nominees who failed to support emancipation in 1829, but doubting ‘how far MacNaghten can without blowing up our power in Antrim support any concessions’, he wrote urging him not to resign his seat unless he felt compelled to do so ‘from strong private feelings of Orangeism’ and expressed the hope, as proved to be the case, that Wellington would ‘not turn him out’.10 He explained to John Croker*:

I know out of office MacN[aghten] at his age would go out of Parl[iamen]t - he has told me so. I have nobody to put up attached to me and I had rather have an uphill race with MacN[aghten] than walk over the course with Mr. A. B. or C.11

MacNaghten voted against permitting Daniel O’Connell to take his seat for county Clare without swearing the oath of supremacy, 18 May 1829. He received a month’s leave on account of his failing health, 10 Mar. 1830, and is not known to have spoken in debate or voted personally that session. He was paired in the minority against the libel laws amendment bill, 6 July 1830. Despite a recent improvement in his health and spirits and entreaties from Hertford, who promised ‘never during the Parliament to solicit his attendance in the House for a single hour’, he resigned from the treasury and stood down at the dissolution that month.12 Hertford, whose arrangement with the O’Neills in county Antrim had lapsed, bemoaned the loss of a placeman, who, in Canning’s time, had been ‘a mighty clog on my leg’.13 MacNaghten vainly gave his dwindling interest in the county to the marquess’s nominee, the countess of Antrim’s husband Edmund McDonnell.14 Nothing came of Hertford’s plan to field Sir Francis MacNaghten for county Antrim in 1831.15

MacNaghten interrupted his retirement in 1831 to testify on the treasury’s behalf in the case of Burnell v. the duke of Wellington (alleging underpayment for work carried out at York House).16 He died in March 1832 at Beardiville, where he lived with his housekeeper Mrs. Fitzsimmons and their daughter Mary Anne.17 Hertford said he was ‘sorry for him because I loved him - as to my political loss in his interest I now feel little’.18 According to the family’s historian, Angus MacNaghten, his will, dated 15 Jan. 1827, made no reference to his sons; but Mrs. Fitzsimmons received a £500 annuity for life and he made his ‘reputed daughter, Mary Anne’ his joint residuary legatee with his brother Francis, his successor as titular head of the clan.19

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. IGI (Ireland).
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 513-14.
  • 3. Dublin Jnl. 3, 8, 24 Mar.; Dublin Weekly Reg. 4, 11 Mar.; Belfast News Letter, 25, 29 Feb., 3, 7, 10, 14, 24, 31 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. PRO NI, Perceval Maxwell mss D3244/G/1/21.
  • 5. Wellington mss WP1/824/17; 826/17; Add. 37301, f. 13A.
  • 6. Add. 40304, f. 122; 40329, f. 62; Wellington mss WP1/824/7.
  • 7. PRO NI, McGildowney mss D1375/3/38/45; The Times, 31 May 1826; Add. 60287, ff. 117, 119, 120, 190, 212.
  • 8. Add. 60288, f. 110; Wellington mss WP1/955/17; 997/13.
  • 9. Add. 60288, f. 76; Wellington mss WP1/1003/1; The Times, 1 Apr. 1829.
  • 10. Add. 60288, ff. 101, 107, 110-16, 128, 133, 139, 144-54.
  • 11. Add. 60288, f. 136.
  • 12. PRO NI, Johnson Smyth mss D2099/5/8-11; Dublin Morning Post, 8, 19, 20 July; Belfast News Letter, 9 July 1830.
  • 13. Add. 60288, ff. 161, 265, 270.
  • 14. Johnson Smyth mss 5/16, 22; McGildowney mss 3/38/52; Add. 60288, f. 282; The Times, 27 July 1830.
  • 15. Add. 60288, ff. 372-3; A.P.W. Malcomson, John Foster, 331; Croker Pprs. i. 373; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 323; Gent. Mag. (1832), i. 563.
  • 16. Wellington mss WP1/1187/7.
  • 17. Belfast News Letter, 27 Mar. 1832.
  • 18. Add. 60289, f. 36.
  • 19. A.I. Macnachtan, Chiefs of Clan Macnachtan, 85-87; Annual Biog. and Obit. (1833), 436.