STUART, William (1798-1874), of Tempsford, nr. Sandy, Beds.; Aldenham Abbey, nr. Watford, Herts and Hill Street, Mdx.

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



1820 - 1826
1830 - 1831
1832 - 1834

Family and Education

b. 31 Oct. 1798, 1st s. of Hon. and Rt. Rev. William Stuart, bp. of St. Davids and abp. of Armagh, and Sophia Margaret Juliana, da. of Thomas Penn of Stoke Poges, Bucks. educ. St. John’s, Camb. 1815. m (1) 9 Aug. 1821,1 Henrietta Maria Sarah, da. of Adm. Sir Charles Morice Pole†, 1st bt., of Aldenham Abbey, 3s. 3da. (2 d.v.p.); (2) 31 Aug. 1854, Georgiana Adelaide Forester, da. of Gen. Frederick Nathaniel Walker of the Manor House, Bushey, Herts., s.p. suc. fa. 1822. d. 7 July 1874.

Offices Held

Registrar, probate ct. [I] c. 1821-57.

Recorder, Banbury 1828; capt. Beds. militia 1831; sheriff, Beds. 1846-7.


Stuart’s father, who was born in 1755, was the fifth and youngest son of the 3rd earl of Bute, George III’s early favourite and prime minister, 1762-3. After leaving Cambridge he entered the church, becoming vicar of Luton, where his father’s Bedfordshire estate lay, in 1779, though he lived two miles away at Copt Hall, which Bute placed at his disposal. During an outbreak of smallpox he had almost 2,000 local people inoculated at his own expense. A shy man of commendably few words, he was introduced to Dr. Johnson, 10 Apr. 1783, by Boswell, who wrote that ‘with all the advantages of high birth, learning, travel and elegant manners’, he was ‘an exemplary parish priest in every respect’.2 As Bute’s health collapsed in the years before his death in 1792, his wife took it on herself to press the king for preferment for Stuart. A bid for the bishopric of Exeter in August 1792 was unsuccessful, but the following year he was made a canon of Windsor and in 1794 he was promoted to the see of St. Davids. Six years later the king, taking his usual stand on appointing a non-Irish bishop to the primacy of Ireland, insisted on his becoming archbishop of Armagh, dismissing his qualms over the effect of the ‘humid climate’ on his ‘infirm state of health’ and the ‘great expense of taking possession’, which would ‘utterly ruin my children’. As it turned out, he did very well financially out of his 22 years in the post.3 His primacy was not without controversy. In its first weeks he had to be nudged by the king into vetoing the Irish government’s plans to replace the anti-Catholic Member for Armagh with a supporter of relief.4 Later in 1801 he blustered and threatened to resign over the promotion of an Irish bishop of whose lax morals he disapproved; he was ignored.5 He was quick to take umbrage at perceived personal slights, and his relations with the Portland, Perceval and Liverpool administrations were sometimes strained. The bishop of Limerick, anxious to smooth Stuart’s path with the prince regent, portrayed him behind his back in 1811 as a man who ‘from his retired habits is but little known and very much misunderstood’, but was ‘a very sensible, clear-headed man of business’, with ‘very good understanding’ as well as ‘many oddities’. In 1813 Limerick described him to the regent’s secretary as

a high, proud, independent man, but with honourable principles and excellent understanding. He is a constant resident in his see of Armagh, which he has much improved, and by his attention and example, the established church in Ireland has been highly benefitted and greatly extended. Within the last seven years the number of churches has been doubled, and the resident clergy in the same proportion.6

William Stuart, the elder by six years of the primate’s two sons, spent much of his boyhood in Armagh. At the time of the general election of 1818 his father extracted from ministers, as the price of his co-operation in a desired electoral arrangement for Armagh, which he controlled as head of the church, an assurance that if after two years he wished to bring William into Parliament, a seat would be provided for him either for Armagh, by the retirement of the sitting Member, or elsewhere, at government expense. Peel, the Irish secretary, thought it ‘more than probable that the primate will never claim for his son the fulfilment of the promise’; but at the general election of 1820, when Stuart was only five months into his majority, the archbishop returned him for Armagh.7 Shortly before the new Parliament met the primate wrote to him in London:

If you represented any other borough it would be a matter of indifference, to me at least, with which party you voted; but representing Armagh you have no option, and must support the established government. Armagh does not belong to me but to the church, and, whatever may be my private opinion, I should act dishonourably were I not in this matter to consult the interest of that church, which is manifestly to support the minister for the time being. Besides, the questions which will come before the House of Commons during the session ... so personally concern the king - the revenue of the crown, the rights of the queen, etc., etc. - that a man who joins opposition must do so for the express purpose of degrading and insulting Majesty.

He gave Stuart permission to second any motion by Newport for having the Irish parochial reports printed, but no more, and promised to send him further coaching and instruction in the defence of the church. He advised Stuart, who was suffering from a swelling in his face, to decline any request from ministers that he should move the address.8

It was surely Stuart who voted in defence of their conduct of the Queen Caroline affair, 6 Feb.; but it is not clear whether it was he or William Stewart, Member for Tyrone, who divided against Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821. The ‘few words’ which he uttered on the relief bill, 2 Apr., were ‘perfectly inaudible in the gallery’.9 He voted with government against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr.,10 and Hume’s attempt to disfranchise ordnance officials, 12 Apr. He introduced, 9 Mar., and steered through a bill to regulate public notaries in Ireland, which became law on 28 May 1821 (1 & 2 Geo. IV, c. 36).11 Two months later he married the daughter and heiress of Sir Charles Pole, former Member for Newark and Plymouth and groom of the bedchamber to the duke of Clarence, whose death in 1830 was to bring him his Hertfordshire property at Aldenham Abbey. His marriage settlement was a very generous one, which gave him an annual income of £1,000 and his wife a jointure of £2,000, together with a trust fund of £40,000.12 Stuart divided against more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 21 Feb., but was credited with a vote in support of Hume’s call for information on navy victualling, 22 Feb. 1822, which may have been the work of William Stewart. He voted against the bill to relieve Catholic peers of their disabilities, 30 Apr. Six days later his sickly father died tragically at his London house in Hill Street, where, as a result of blunders by a servant and his wife, who were probably flustered by his own impatience and bad temper, he took a fatal dose of embrocation, containing laudanum and camphorated spirit, in mistake for medicine just prescribed for him by his doctor. Mrs. Stuart was reported to have rushed into the street ‘in a state of speechless distraction’, while one of his daughters was said a week later to have ‘never spoken since’.13 By his father’s will, dated 1 May 1822, Stuart, who was given a month’s compassionate leave, 5 June, became entitled to an invested £20,000 on the death of his mother (though she lived for another 31 years). He received the Hill Street house and the residue of his father’s real and personal property, which included an estate at Sutton Cheney, near Market Bosworth, Leicestershire. The primate’s personalty was sworn under £250,000 in the province of Canterbury, and the residue calculated for duty at £141,078.14

Stuart voted with government against inquiry into the parliamentary franchise, 20 Feb., for the national debt reduction bill, 3, 13 Mar., and against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr. 1823. On 4 Mar. he ‘expressed his strong disapprobation’ of Hume’s motion for inquiry into the Irish church establishment and repudiated as ‘totally unfounded’ his attack on his late father on the issue of clerical non-residence. However, he seems to have supported Hume’s attempt to halve the grant for the Irish yeomanry, which he thought would ‘do good’, 10 Mar.15 He voted for inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and may have been in Hume’s minority of 32 on naval promotions, 19 June 1823. He voted against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb., the abolition of army flogging, 5 Mar., and inquiry into the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June, and for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 14 June 1824; but he was listed in the minority of 33 for an advance of capital to Ireland, 4 May. In 1825, when he was reckoned to have ‘attended occasionally, and voted with ministers’,16 he divided again for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15, 25 Feb., and against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. He was improbably credited with a vote for the abolition of army flogging, 10 Mar. 1826. He presented an Armagh petition for the abolition of slavery, 9 May 1826.17

In 1825 Stuart bought for £64,000 the Payne estate at Tempsford, about seven miles from Bedford in the east of the county.18 He apparently sought the support of his cousin, the 2nd marquess of Bute, for an attempt on the county at the next general election in January 1826, but Bute was unable to oblige him on this occasion, preferring to back the candidature of Sir Robert Inglis* (which came to nothing) as ‘the best way of keeping my interest altogether’.19 Bute, who had installed him as nominal recorder of Banbury, where he had inherited a dominant electoral interest, in 1828, did support Stuart when he offered for Bedfordshire at the 1830 general election, when he was seen as ‘one of the new party, called Wellington Tories’. The disaffected Tory sitting Member gave up, and Stuart was returned unopposed with the Whig Lord Tavistock, son of the duke of Bedford. At the nomination he applauded the fact that ‘the terms Whig and Tory, which have so long been the watchword of party feuds and political animosities, have become almost obsolete’. Expressing his admiration for the duke of Wellington, he said that ‘the bias of my mind may incline me in general to the support of his administration, but I will bind myself to no party’. In his victory address, he wrote that

although I cannot concur in the wild and visionary theories of those who, erroneously attributing the consequences of individual corruption to defects in the form and fabric of the state, would introduce dangerous and unnecessary innovations, I shall be ever ready to promote those moderate and rational improvements which the diffusion of knowledge, and the consequent advancement of human intellect, may render expedient.

He blamed the distress of agricultural labourers on defects in the poor laws, and that of the farmers on the ‘erroneous principles and calculations’ on which the corn laws were based, and declared his support for ‘every prudent measure’ to ameliorate the condition of slaves in the West Indian colonies and so lead eventually to abolition. According to Bedford, Bute ‘left him in the lurch ... as to expense, and Mr. S. had to pay the whole, which he did not much like’.20 Ministers listed him among their ‘friends’, but he voted against them on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, though his name was initially omitted from the hostile majority.21 He voted against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He stood again for Bedfordshire at the ensuing general election, professing support for any ‘moderate plan of reform’, but condemning the bill as ‘a rash experiment, introducing extensive innovations in the state’. On the hustings, he said that he was willing to give the vote to leaseholders and copyholders and to enfranchise large industrial towns, but admitted that he now repented of having helped to vote the Wellington ministry out of office, as their successors were ‘endangering the constitution’. He was always up against it, with the tide of enthusiasm for reform running strongly against him, and he finished a poor third behind a second reformer. The election cost him about £4,000.22

He kept up his interest in the county and was considered a likely starter in October 1831 if Tavistock was called to the Lords.23 From at least 1821, possibly earlier, Stuart seems to have been the joint holder with the Rev. Sir John Robinson, the nephew of a previous archbishop of Armagh, of the sinecure place of registrar of the Irish probate court, the duties of which were executed by deputies. On Robinson’s death in May 1832 he evidently became the sole incumbent of the post, which was reckoned to be worth over £1,000 a year. He held it until the Irish probate system was rationalized by statute in 1857.24 He stood again for Bedfordshire as a Conservative at the general election of 1832, and was successful after a contest which relieved him of over £11,000.25 Soon afterwards he mortgaged the Tempsford estate to Bute and others for £40,000.26 He retired from Parliament at the dissolution in December 1834 because of ill health, but he saw his brother Henry sit for Bedford, 1837-8 and 1841-54, and his eldest son William Stuart (1825-93), a barrister and colonel of militia, do likewise, 1854-7 and 1859-68.27 In 1857 Stuart, who lived mostly at Aldenham for the last 40 years of his life, having made over Tempsford to his eldest son, privately published 22 copies of Stuartiana, a collection of family and personal anecdotes, verses and correspondence.28 He died in July 1874. By his brief will, dated 4 Sept. 1854 at St. Leonards, he left £5,000 to his second wife (who later married the 9th earl of Seafield) and all the rest of his property, apart from a few trifling legacies, to his eldest son.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1821), ii. 176.
  • 2. Oxford DNB; Admissions to St. John’s, Camb. iv. 499; Prime Minister and his Son ed. E. Stuart Wortley, 215; Edgeworth Letters, 87, 319; Boswell’s Life of Johnson ed. G.B. Hill and L.F. Powell, iv. 199, 517.
  • 3. Geo. III Corresp. i. 733, 775, 780; iii. 2091, 2098, 2191, 2194-7, 2267, 2271-2, 2275.
  • 4. Ibid. iii. 2329, 2333, 2336, 2338; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 394-5.
  • 5. M. MacDonagh, Viceroy’s Post-Bag, 97-119; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2592.
  • 6. Prince of Wales Corresp. viii. 3093, 3273; Geo. IV Letters, i. 358.
  • 7. Add. 41295, ff. 131, 136, 146, 149, 155.
  • 8. Beds. RO, Wynne mss WY 997/1.
  • 9. The Times, 3 Apr. 1821.
  • 10. PRO NI, Rossmore mss T.2929/3/14.
  • 11. Ibid. 16 Mar. 1821.
  • 12. VCH Herts. ii. 427; Wynne mss 990/46; 997/2, 3, 67, 10, 1219, 24, 26.
  • 13. Oxford DNB; Gent. Mag. (1822), i. 469-70; Edgeworth Letters, 399, 400; Wynne mss 997/33-34, 39.
  • 14. PROB 11/1656/236; IR26/892/409; Wynne mss 937; 997/ 35, 36, 40.
  • 15. The Times, 11 Mar. 1823.
  • 16. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 486.
  • 17. The Times, 10 May 1826.
  • 18. Wynne mss 279, 300-1; 998/5, 6, 8, 9, 13, 14, 19, 23, 26-29, 33.
  • 19. Ibid. 999/1.
  • 20. Ibid. 1009/2; Russell Letters, i. 141; Herts Mercury, 10, 17, 24, 31 July, 7, 14 Aug. 1830; Add. 51663, Bedford to Holland [25 Apr. 1831].
  • 21. The Times, 26 Nov.; Herts Mercury, 27 Nov. 1830.
  • 22. Hatfield House mss 2M/Gen., Bute to Salisbury, 3 Apr.; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 30 Apr., 7, 14 May; Fitzwilliam mss, C. Hill to Milton, 29 Apr. [1831]; Wynne mss 1009/4.
  • 23. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 1 Oct.; Wellington mss WP1/1199/19.
  • 24. Wynne mss 997/11, 13; 999/16, 18, 20, 23; Gent. Mag. (1832), i. 462.
  • 25. Wynne mss 999/19, 20, 22, 24, 25, 28, 29;1009/6, 7; Russell Letters, iii. 25.
  • 26. Wynne mss 307-8.
  • 27. Ibid. 1009/8; J. Davies, Cardiff and marquess of Bute, 107.
  • 28. The copy in BL 9918. aa. 7. is inscribed by Stuart himself to his youngest son, Clarence Esme Stuart (1827-1903), who became a Plymouth Brother. His second son, Charles Pole Stuart (1826-96), was a lawyer.