SUGDEN, Edward Burtenshaw (1781-1875), of Tilgate Forest Lodge, Slaugham, Suss. and 71 Guildford Street, Mdx.

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



20 Feb. 1828 - 1831
1831 - 1832
1837 - Sept. 1841

Family and Education

b. 12 Feb. 1781, 2nd s. of Richard Sugden, hairdresser, of Duke Street, Westminster and w. Charlotte Burtenshaw of St. George, Hanover Square. educ. privately; L. Inn 1802, called 1807. m. 23 Dec. 1808, Winifred, da. of John Knapp, 7s. (3 d.v.p.) 7da. (1 d.v.p.). kntd. 10 June 1829; cr. Bar. St. Leonards 1 Mar. 1852. d. 29 Jan. 1875.

Offices Held

KC 6 Dec. 1821; bencher, L. Inn 1822, treas. 1836; solicitor-gen. June 1829-Nov. 1830; PC [UK] 16 Dec. 1834 and [I] 15 Jan. 1835; ld. chan. [I] Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835, Oct. 1841-July 1846; ld. chan. Feb.-Dec. 1852; member, jud. cttee. of PC 1852.

High steward, Kingston-upon-Thames.


‘There are few instances in modern times of a rise equal to that of Sir Edward Sugden’, wrote Thomas Fowell Buxton* in 1836.1 His father, a well-to-do London hairdresser, married Charlotte Burtenshaw in November 1778, and their first son, John Baynes Sugden, was baptized at St. Andrew, Holborn, the following August. Sugden himself was baptized at St. Clement Dane’s.2 Far from trying to disguise his humble origins, he gloried in his rise to eminence by virtue, as he was fond of boasting, of his own abilities and determination; his ‘secret’ was his resolution to make all the legal knowledge he acquired ‘perfectly my own, and never to go to a second thing, till I had entirely accomplished the first’.3 Soon after he attained the pinnacle of his profession in 1852 it was said that ‘someone is supposed lately to have twitted him with being the son of a barber, whereupon he retorted, "Yes, but if you had been the son of a barber, you would have been a barber yourself"’.4 He was employed as a clerk with a firm of London solicitors before being taken on by the conveyancer Lewis Duval, from whom he passed to William Groome. His father was dead by the time he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in September 1802. That year he published A Brief Conversation with a Gentleman of Landed Property about to Buy or Sell Lands, in which he displayed his talent for the accurate condensation and clear exposition of complex subjects. He began independent practice as a certificated conveyancer in 1805, when he produced A Practical Treatise of the Law of Vendors and Purchasers of Estates, which had modest financial success (though the later of its many editions brought him as much as 4,000 guineas), but, more importantly, identified him as a pundit on property law and put abundant work his way. Having originally, according to his contemporary George Pryme, been ‘not anxious for the honours of the profession’ and more concerned to make a living, he decided to risk the bar, and for a few years after his call in 1807 he combined court work with his large chamber practice.5 In 1808 he published A Practical Treatise of Powers, which became a standard text and ran to several editions.

Before he entered Lincoln’s Inn Sugden had formed a liaison with Winifred (baptized, 2 Mar. 1783, as ‘Winifruite’) Knapp, his kitchen maid. They had at least four children, including Richard, the eldest son, who went to Oxford in 1820, before they married at St. Giles-in-the Fields in December 1808. They had their children Edward, Juliet and Laura baptized at St. Pancras Old Church on Christmas Day.6 The following year Sugden wrote A Series of Letters to a Man of Property, on the Sale, Purchase, Lease, Settlement, and Devise of Estates, which he followed with an annotated edition of Gilbert on Uses and Trusts (1811) and slighter works on Repealing the Annuity Act (1812), Attestation of Instruments (1814) and Redeemable Annuities (1816). Although he had a growing family, which eventually numbered 14, he had gambled by resolving to confine himself to court work, having found the burden of combining it with chamber practice too much even for his iron constitution. His rise at the chancery bar was swift and decisive, and by 1817 he held the commanding position there, with an annual income of at least £15,000. With his great erudition and forensic skill he was a formidable advocate; but his supercilious manner, sharp temper and fondness for wounding sarcasm made him unpopular with his colleagues.7 He acquired a Sussex property near Cuckfield, and at the general election of 1818 stood for the county, promising independent support for ‘the general march of government’. One of the sitting Members, Sir Godfrey Webster, announced his retirement, and his aristocratic sponsors were at a loss for a suitable candidate willing to stand a contest. Sugden was within a whisker of being formally returned when some of Webster’s more radical friends revived his candidature. Although he told Webster to his face that he was ‘not a fit person to represent the county’, he gave up when a few hours’ polling left him 50 votes adrift in third place.8

Sugden, who produced a tract on Surrender of Terms in 1819, took silk two years later. In 1825 he responded to attacks in the Commons on chancery administration by John Williams with a published Letter: he professed support for rational reform of its glaring defects, but deplored its portrayal as ‘an odious dungeon’ and opposed sweeping changes. In June 1825, when the Whig sitting Member announced his intended retirement at the next general election, Sugden declared his candidature on ‘constitutional principles’ for New Shoreham, the extended boundaries of which included his own property. In an unsuccessful bid to win the support of the duke of Norfolk he claimed to be ‘a decided friend of Catholic emancipation’; but in his address he asserted that ‘I have pledged myself, at the desire of a numerous body of you, to oppose the introduction of Catholics into Parliament’.9 On the eve of the election in 1826 his chances seemed excellent, and he reiterated his anti-Catholic pledge. To his embarrassment, however, his opponents exposed his duplicity, which was given wider publicity by The Times. He claimed that he had been persuaded to change his mind by the strength of hostility to Catholic relief among the electors of Shoreham and condemned disclosure of his approach to Norfolk as a breach of private confidence. He repeated these excuses on the hustings, where he advocated adjustment of the corn laws to secure ‘steadiness of price’, denounced slavery, but argued that immediate abolition was impractical, and bragged of his rise from obscurity through ‘his own honest, unwearied industry’. He polled respectably, but gave up after four days.10 Later that year he outlined his ideas on ‘reform of the law of real property’ in a Letter to James Humphreys. He continued to cultivate Shoreham, but early in 1828 stood on a vacancy for Weymouth, with which he had no previous connection.11 He was apparently recommended by the duke of Wellington, recently appointed prime minister, who had turned down an invitation to put up his son. He was supported by a majority of the corporation but opposed by a candidate on the Johnstone interest, who was also a friend of the new ministry. After boasting of his ‘unassisted’ rise and ‘undeviating integrity’, he declared his unabated hostility to Catholic emancipation, though he kept his options open by indicating that when they were prepared to accept adequate ‘securities’ he would ‘advise the people of England to open their arms to them’. After an expensive contest he had a majority of 120 in a poll of 524.12

He made his début by opposing as too unsettling Brougham’s motion for inquiry into the state of the law, 29 Feb. 1828, when he approved the government’s proposal to set up separate commissions on the common law and the law of real property and stated his willingness to rationalize chancery procedure. He opposed Kennedy’s bill to alter the Scottish law of entail, 6 Mar., and Davies’s borough polls bill, 31 Mar., 23 May. Defying interruptions, he opposed inquiry into chancery administration, 24 Apr., when he said he was prepared to accept ‘cautious improvement’ but would never agree to the separation of bankruptcy administration. Sugden, who presented a Horsham petition against Catholic relief, 29 Apr., and voted thus, 12 May, gave an earnest of his wish to get rid of blatant chancery ‘anomalies’ by securing leave, 6 May, for a bill to amend the laws for facilitating the payment of debts out of real estate. Introduced on 19 May, it passed the Commons, 9 June, but had only a formal first reading in the Lords. He also brought in for consideration measures to reform the laws concerning estates vested in trustees, the property of infants and lunatics and illusory appointments. When seeking leave for the first, 20 May, he again had difficulty in holding the attention of the House, where his self-satisfied demeanour, rapid and monotonous delivery and squeaky voice made him fair game for the bored and unruly. More dominant than ever in the chancery court during Lord Lyndhurst’s early days as chancellor, he sustained a formidable workload there and in the Commons by virtue of his physical toughness and prodigious powers of apprehension and application.13 Although he wanted to see the usury laws properly modified, he considered Poulett Thomson’s amendment bill half-baked, 20 May; but he was at a loss for a satisfactory solution, 19 June. He supported Spring Rice’s rights of executors bill, 21 May, and, differing from the lord advocate, pressed for its extension to Scotland, 4 June, when he also approved Fergusson’s Indian real property bill. He urged the extension of East Retford’s franchise to the hundred, 27 June, supported the additional churches bill and scorned Hume’s talk of parochial elections of ministers, 30 June, and voted with government on the ordnance estimates, 4 July, and the silk duties, 14 July 1828.

On 12 Feb. 1829 Sugden announced in the House that he would support Catholic emancipation as a matter of expediency to avert ‘a general convulsion’ in Ireland, but exhorted ministers to crack down on political subscriptions and religious meetings and to promote the country’s economic development and moral improvement. He voted for the measure, 6, 30 Mar., and opposed Inglis’s amendment to the oath, 23 Mar. His insistence that Daniel O’Connell could not sit without taking the oath of supremacy led to a petulant clash with Brougham, 15 May; but three days later, while maintaining the same line, he complimented O’Connell on his ‘talent and temper’. He reintroduced his four real property law amendment bills, 13, 15 Apr., and had them printed for further consideration, 1 May. They passed the Commons, 11 May, and were formally introduced to the Lords the following day. He objected to Baring’s plan to apply money belonging to chancery suitors to payment of the unfunded debt, 8 May. He offered constructive criticisms of Kennedy’s tailzies reform bills, 11 May, and advocated the adoption of a more ‘cautious’ approach to the problem, 22 May 1829.

Sugden, whom Greville considered ‘a great rogue’, had been mentioned as the next solicitor-general in March 1829, and he duly succeeded Tindal on his promotion to the bench in June.14 Less than a month later Lord Bathurst, lecturing Arbuthnot on the need to strengthen the ministry by a junction with the Whigs, suggested that Sugden might be made the new equity judge and be replaced by Brougham; but this was idle speculation.15 When Alexander, editor of the Ultra Morning Journal, printed an allegation that Lyndhurst had procured Sugden’s appointment in return for a loan or bribe of £30,000, he was successfully prosecuted for libel.16 At his re-election for Weymouth, where he was accompanied by John Gordon, one of the other sitting Members, Sugden was manhandled and abused for his support of Catholic relief and failure to pay all his bills of 1828. Ignoring his ‘ill state of health’ and constant barracking, he insisted that he would pay no more than the £6,000 he had already laid out, for he had not authorized the ‘ruinous expenses’ which had been incurred in his name. His attempted explanation of his support for emancipation was shouted down. His opponents nominated a prisoner in king’s bench but withdrew him after a token poll.17 On 11 Dec. 1829 Sugden had a furious altercation in the chancery court with Sir Charles Wetherell*, who accused him of interrupting him. A duel seemed likely to ensue until they were hauled before a magistrate and bound over.18 Sugden voted with his colleagues against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. Seeking leave to reintroduce his law amendment bills, 11 Feb., he outlined an additional measure to alleviate the hardships of prisoners confined for contempt of court, whose plight he had investigated at first hand. All these bills reached the statute book (11 Geo. IV and 1 Gul. IV, cc. 36, 46, 47, 60, 65). On 2 Mar. he gave guarded approval to Taylor’s bill to reduce the costs of lunacy commissions in difficult cases. He answered O’Connell’s criticisms of the administration of justice bill, 9 Mar., and opposed Harvey’s call for inquiry into crown lands revenues, 30 Mar. He introduced a bill to amend the Insolvent Debtors Act, 1 Apr., and explained and defended it, 29 Apr.; it became law, 16 July 1830 (11 Gul. IV & 1, Gul. IV, c. 38). He expressed general support for the government’s Scottish judicature bill, 1 Apr., but advised the lord advocate to try to reduce the number of Scottish appeals to the Lords. He said that Jewish emancipation would ‘sever the church from the state’, 5 Apr., was a teller for the hostile minority, and voted against it when it was rejected, 17 May. He unsuccessfully opposed Poulett Thomson’s usury laws amendment bill, 26 Apr. He defended British intervention at Terceira, 28 Apr. The following day he poured cold water on Brougham’s scheme for the establishment of local judicatures, indicating his preference for making existing institutions cheaper. He was suspicious of O’Connell’s bills dealing with Catholic charitable bequests and marriages, 4 May, and opposed his motion for papers on the Cork trials of October 1829. On 14 May he defended separate bankruptcy and insolvency jurisdictions against the attacks of Hume, whose motion for information on the four-and-a-half per cent duties, he scorned as ‘a bad precedent’, 21 May. He justified the dismissal of Barrington from the Irish admiralty court and was a teller for the majority against his being allowed to address the House, 22 May. He objected to Smith Stanley’s Irish and Scottish paupers bill, 26 May, and spoke and acted as a teller against inquiry into the divorce laws, 3 June. He had been sounded by Peel at the turn of the year on his bill to mitigate the penalties for forgery.19 On its third reading, 7 June, he opposed Buxton’s attempt to abolish capital punishment and was a teller for the minority in the division. When Wetherell questioned the need for the proposed new equity judge, 10 June, Sugden accused him of pre-empting the second reading of the bill. Having been consulted by the cabinet on provision for a regency, he opposed Grant’s motion for an address to the crown, 6 July 1830. In the course of his speech he made a disparaging remark about Fox, which elicited a telling sarcasm from Brougham, who subsequently savaged Sugden and made him, Denis Le Marchant† wrote, ‘appear so ridiculous, that the whole treasury bench seemed convulsed with laughter’.20 His appearance on the hustings at Weymouth at the general election provoked some ‘strong marks of disapprobation’, but he was returned unopposed and proclaimed that ‘if ever there was a government ... which wished to render the people happy and were desirous of reducing the expenditure, I believe it is the government you now have’.21

On 9 Nov. 1830 Sugden obtained leave to bring in a bill to amend the Statute of Frauds. Questioned by Hume and others, he declared his hostility to the idea of a ‘pocket-volume’ or ‘code’ of laws. He objected to O’Connell’s plan to repeal the Irish Subletting Act, 11 Nov., accusing him of wishing to deny cheap law to Irish landlords. He voted in the minority with his ministerial colleagues on the civil list, 15 Nov. Shortly before his removal from office he got leave, 19 Nov., to bring in a bill dealing with the attestation of instruments. He introduced it with his frauds bill, 14 Feb. 1831, but neither measure made any progress before the dissolution. He joined in attacks on the Grey ministry for dismissing Hart from the Irish chancellorship and creating pensions for him and chief baron Alexander, 9 Dec. 1830. On Hume’s demands for the abolition of sinecures, 13 Dec., he commented that while many were indefensible, it was necessary to retain some ‘as a remuneration for men who perform much useful business in the House’. As anticipated, he objected to Campbell’s scheme for a general register of deeds, 16 Dec.22 Later that day he expounded his mature ideas on chancery reform, which the late ministry’s fall had prevented him from implementing. He reiterated his antipathy to any separation of bankruptcy administration from chancery, though he conceded that the former required revision. He advocated the abolition of all patent places and reversionary incomes; putting the rolls court on the same regular footing as that of the vice-chancellor, who would become entirely independent; having the chief baron of exchequer devote all his time to equity business; promoting one of the other exchequer judges to a position of superiority; creating an equity exchequer chamber to hear appeals; streamlining procedures through technical improvements, and reforming the six clerks, report, registrars and masters offices. His hatred and jealousy of Brougham, whose professional abilities he held in low esteem, had been intensified by his appointment as lord chancellor in the Grey ministry; and he now criticized him for appointing practising solicitors to certain lucrative chancery offices and was attacked in his turn by Denman, the attorney-general.23 He retorted that Brougham was a fair target for criticism and boasted that no solicitor-general who had held office for so short a time as himself had ‘done more’. He carried his vendetta with Brougham into court, where in January 1831 he theatrically drew attention to the chancellor’s habitual inattention on the bench.24

Sugden condemned the proposed stock transfer tax, ‘as deliberate a violation of public faith as revolutionary France ever did’, 11 Feb. 1831. He opposed the emigration bill and failed to get leave to legislate to extend the law of mortmain to Ireland, 22 Feb. On 17 Mar. he supported Davies’s motion for inquiry into secondary punishments and brushed aside Hunt’s allegations of the maltreatment of reformers gaoled under the suspension of habeas corpus in 1817. According to Lord Ellenborough, he wanted to answer Jeffrey, the lord advocate, in the debate on the ministerial reform bill, 4 Mar.; ‘but Peel having first told Croker, who was next to him, to speak, Sugden took offence and would say nothing’.25 On 21 Mar. he asserted that its ‘great object’ was to keep in power ministers ‘who have gained their places on the strength of popular ferment’ and ‘now seek, by looking to the voice of the people, to maintain that power’. He said that it must lead sooner or later to universal suffrage, the ballot and shorter parliaments. He denied the ‘moral power’ of the House to disfranchise boroughs and pointed out that the measure was riddled with ‘absurdity’ and inconsistencies, not least those consequent on the adoption of the 1821 census returns as the criterion for disfranchisement. He provoked uproar by accusing ministers of compromising the intended prosecution of O’Connell in return for his support for reform. Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, privately considered it a ‘most impudent attack’; but subsequent events vindicated Sugden. According to the duke of Newcastle, at least one vote was gained by his speech, ‘the very best and fullest of matter [we] have heard’; while the minister Francis Thornhill Baring* deemed it a ‘good performance’.26 Sugden voted against the second reading, 22 Mar. A fortnight later he was accused in The Times of having before the last election made a secret bargain with Gordon whereby he was to enjoy a free seat for Weymouth on the strength of Gordon’s position as a Johnstone trustee for as long as he wanted it, in return for allowing Gordon to sell two of the other seats and using his influence with Lords Goderich and Grantham to secure him a peerage. The case against Sugden, which had emerged in the course of a Scottish prosecution brought against Gordon by his former agent over alleged debts, seemed less than watertight; and in two letters to The Times, 7, 9 Apr., he firmly denied the substance of the charges.27 In the House, 12 Apr., he ridiculed Lord John Russell’s statement on the population figures used for framing the reform bill, but welcomed the government’s provision in their Irish justice bill of relief for those suffering under convictions for contempt. The following day, when he argued that the proposed alterations in the reform bill would set the agricultural and manufacturing interests at odds, O’Connell taunted him with the Weymouth scandal. An angry altercation ensued, in which the Speaker had to intervene. Russell observed that Sugden’s written denials had not entirely allayed the suspicion of his ‘improper conduct’ and encouraged O’Connell to instigate a full inquiry; but no more was heard of it in the House. In formally seconding Campbell’s motion for bills to amend the laws of real property, 14 Apr., Sugden, whose hostility Campbell attributed to ‘jealousy’ of his chairmanship of the commission, indicated his reservations and objections.28 He gave a silent vote for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr. 1831.

At the ensuing general election Sugden abandoned Weymouth and stood on the duke of Buckingham’s interest for St. Mawes, having made terms with the duke on the basis of their common ‘political sentiments ¼ usually called moderate Whig or liberal Tory’, which recognized that ‘some reform must be conceded in the present excited state of the country’.29 He was returned after a token contest forced by a local reformer. He reintroduced his bills on frauds and attestation of instruments, 23 June 1831, but they got nowhere that session. He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and on the 8th asserted that it was ‘not understood by the people’. He deplored ministers’ refusal to allow counsel to be heard on behalf of threatened boroughs, 12 July, when he voted for the first motion of adjournment before leaving the chamber. In what Ellenborough considered ‘a very good speech’ for postponing consideration of the disfranchisement schedules, 13 July, he contended that the new bill was ‘in almost all respects, a complete departure from the principle’ of the original.30 Irritated by tomfoolery at the bar, he observed that ‘I care little whether or not I ever enter this House again. My seat here is attended only with pain and anxiety’. With Croker and Wetherell he led the opposition attack on the details of the bill in committee. While his style tended to be tedious, he was acute and pertinacious and by no means a negligible opponent.31 Frequently barracked and mocked from the government side, he easily lost his temper, though he generally responded with studious politeness to Althorp’s habitual courtesy. He argued that for all Russell’s much vaunted concessions the bill was still founded on ‘arbitrary and capricious principles’, 2 Aug., and that ministers well knew that it could not be a final measure. Opposing the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 4 Aug., he said that the removal of freeholders with £10 houses in that and other metropolitan districts from the county would throw Middlesex into the hands of the ‘very lowest class of freeholders’. On 12 Aug. he pointed out that as it stood the borough freeholder clause virtually disfranchised those substantial landlords whose property conferred a £10 borough vote on their tenants. On 17 Aug. Althorp announced that to meet this objection ministers had decided to modify the clause so that the urban freeholder should not lose his county vote unless he qualified for a borough vote by virtue of his own occupancy of his freehold. Sugden denounced this as ‘a root and branch cutting up of the power of the aristocracy and of the influence of land on the return of county Members’.32 He supported Lord Chandos’s amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants, 18 Aug., and backed Davies’s unsuccessful attempt to exclude all borough freeholders from the counties, 24 Aug. He drew attention to the very uneven effect of the £10 borough franchise, 25 Aug. While his objection to the appointment of boundary commissioners had been removed by the intention to submit their proposals to parliamentary scrutiny, he remained uneasy at the ‘monstrous powers’ delegated to them, 1 Sept. The following day he complained that the decision to place the four sluiced boroughs on the same footing as others by enfranchising £10 householders and excluding the freeholders of their hundreds would give Worthing a commanding influence over the representation of Shoreham. Without obvious irony, he observed that his own candidacy there in 1826 had been ‘attended with a good result, for it compelled the Members to pay more attention to their constituents than they did before’. Later that day he attacked the registration provisions as ‘an innovation’ which would ‘produce a most unpleasant state of confusion and inconvenience’. He voted in the majority for suspension of the Liverpool writ, 5 Sept., deplored reformers’ attempts to intimidate the Lords, 7 Sept., and voted against the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept. On the grants for Buckingham House and Windsor Castle, 28 Sept., he protested at the radicals’ boast that ‘as soon as the people alone are represented in this House, they will take to themselves the hereditary revenues of the crown’. He fell with relish on Brougham’s bankruptcy court bill, 5 Oct., remarking that the chancellor’s professional ‘despatch’, much lauded by Williams, might prove ‘a very great evil’ and advising him to spend less rather than more time in court. He alleged that by this measure Brougham would obtain for himself more money for less labour than his predecessors but establish ‘an inferior jurisdiction in the place of one of high importance’. As a cheaper alternative he suggested a two-thirds reduction in the number of bankruptcy commissioners, who should be adequately paid and permanently in session. On 11 Oct. 1831 he opposed the general register bill, denied being a defender of abuses and called for the law commissioners’ work to be terminated.

When seconding the killing amendment to the second reading of the revised reform bill, 16 Dec. 1831, Sugden said it had been framed to ensure ‘the entire elevation of the democratic over the landed interest’ and ‘for the purpose of bestowing on the political unions the masterdom of the country’. The reformers Ord and Spring Rice dismissed his speech as ‘feeble’ and ‘a lawyer’s rechauffé of many bygone arguments’.33 Sugden presented a Gloucester solicitors’ petition against the general register bill, 20 Jan.; pressed ministers to condemn and punish those in Ireland who blatantly evaded payment of tithes, 23 Jan.; said that there was no justification for increasing Scottish judicial salaries given the cost of implementing Brougham’s bankruptcy reforms, 24 Jan.; spoke and voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and expressed support for restriction of children’s factory hours, 1 Feb. 1832. He again took a leading share in the detailed criticism of the reform bill in committee: he was particularly harsh on the registration and rating provisions, which would create ‘a regular annual election from one end of the kingdom to the other’, 1 Feb., and would ‘fall in so nicely with your political unions, that they will be able to carry everything with a high hand at the poll’, 8 Feb. He accepted Russell’s invitation to draw up an amendment to the clause dealing with voters’ oaths, 11 Feb. He hinted at political chicanery in the treatment of some boroughs, but had to admit that he had no proof, 9 Mar. On the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar. 1832, he again predicted that it would lead to repeal of the corn laws, disestablishment of the church, universal suffrage and the ballot.

Sugden wanted the general register bill to be considered in committee of the whole House rather than by select committee, 22 Feb. 1832. He thought there were grounds for investigating Lord Plunket’s alleged misdemeanours as Irish chancellor, 6 Mar. He deplored Irish Members’ encouragement of resistance to tithes collection, 25 Mar., and objected to the presentation of an anti-tithes petition which Grattan admitted he had not read, 13 Apr. In the debate on the ministerial crisis, 14 May, he defended Wellington against Russell’s attack, though he personally disclaimed ‘any idea of accepting office’, of which there was ‘not the shadow of a shade of a probability’. Le Marchant thought he spoke ‘in the style of a pettifogging attorney, and only plunged the cause deeper into the mire’.34 He accused Hume and his like of seeking to ‘inflame large multitudes’ against the bishops and peers who had opposed the bill, 15 May. On the Lords’ amendments, 5 June, he denounced the means by which it had been forced through and attacked Lord Milton* and the chancellor’s brother William Brougham* for withholding payment of their taxes, trusted to ‘the good sense, the moderation and the conservative principles of the great body of the people’ to avert calamity and called for the unions to be suppressed. On 20 June he drew attention to the fact that Campbell’s four ‘most important’ real property law bills had been passed almost unnoticed; he was one of the seven leading Commons lawyers who sent a written protest to Brougham.35 He objected to the addition of Corfe Castle to Wareham and forced a division against it, 22 June. He voted against the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and described as ‘astonishing’ O’Connell’s complaints of its shortcomings, 2 July, observing that it gave Catholics ‘a power which was never contemplated when the relief bill was passed’. He thought the decision to dispense with Members’ property qualification under the Scottish bill was another sop to the unions, 27 June. When attacking the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July, he provoked derision with his remark that as a Member for ‘a nomination borough’ he felt ‘a greater responsibility than if I had the largest constituency, for I have felt myself not answerable to only a class of persons, but that I was responsible to the country at large’. He sought to establish that ministers were not pledged to the abolition of Irish tithes, 22 July, and divided the House unsuccessfully against Hume’s motion for a bill to disqualify the recorder of Dublin from Parliament, 24 July. The following day he disingenuously mentioned the recent appointment of Brougham’s brother James Brougham* to the chancery office of clerk of patents, vacated by the death of Lord Eldon’s son. In court on 23 July he had notified Horne, the solicitor-general, that he planned to ask a question on the subject, but he claimed that a riding accident on his way to the House had prevented him from doing so that day. In the ensuing tetchy discussion Horne admitted that he had not had a chance to apprise Brougham of Sugden’s intentions, while most speakers, including Althorp and Peel, suggested that the appointment was meant to be a temporary one until Brougham’s bill to abolish chancery sinecures became law. Brougham was enraged, and in the Lords, 26 July, made what was generally reckoned to be an ‘indecent’ attack on Sugden, to whom he gave credit for being motivated by the thirst for knowledge which distinguished men ‘not only from the insect that crawls and stings ... but from that more powerful, because more offensive creature, the bug, which, powerful and offensive as it is, is still but vermin’. Even Lord Eldon and Wellington rallied to Brougham’s defence; and in the Commons Sugden, who became involved in a quarrel with William Brougham, complained that ‘there is evidently an effort, on the part of certain persons, to run me down’. When he drew attention to Brougham’s remarks, 27 July, Smith Stanley had him called to order; but he insisted that he had been ‘personally insulted and abused in the grossest manner’. Greville thought that Brougham came out worse from the episode, while on 2 Aug. Sugden gave notice of a motion, intended to expose Brougham’s inadequacies, for inquiry into chancery administration next session and declared his intention of trying to have Brougham’s Bankruptcy Act referred to a select committee. He and Brougham were eventually reconciled and became friends.36 Sugden accepted the salary increase for Scottish judges and the proposed retirement pension of £5,000 for the chancellor, 30 July, but wanted full details of the latter’s fees to be furnished before the salary of £14,000 was ratified. He was anxious that the dead fund should not be used to finance Brougham’s chancery reforms and that impediments to suitors getting hold of small sums due should be removed. He bowed to the ‘strong public feeling’ in favour of the forgery punishment bill, 31 July, but lamented that ‘we are travelling fast towards the abolition of all capital punishment’; he applauded the Lords’ restoration of the death penalty for certain offences, 15 Aug. He questioned the necessity of the emergency bill to extend the time allowed for the payment of rates to qualify for a borough vote, 7 Aug., condemned the Clitheroe affray as ‘premeditated’, 10 Aug., and said that the difficulties over registration merely proved his case against the Reform Act’s ‘anomalies’, 15 Aug. 1832.

St. Mawes was disfranchised by the Reform Act, and at the 1832 general election Sugden, having declined an invitation to stand for New Shoreham, unsuccessfully contested Cambridge. He failed again there in June 1834.37 Peel made him Irish lord chancellor in his first ministry, but within weeks he resigned because his wife was refused reception at court in Dublin. He was talked out of it, but the government fell soon afterwards.38 The ‘flippant and conceited’ Sugden, who acquired a property at Boyle Farm, on the Thames opposite Hampton Court, was returned for Ripon in 1837 and 1841, but vacated his seat to become Irish chancellor in Peel’s second administration. He was lord chancellor in Lord Derby’s first ministry, but turned down the office in 1858 on account of his age.39 Roundell Palmer, who knew him only after he had left the bar, recalled him as

a very clever man, profound in conveyancing and case-law; waspish, overbearing, and impatient of contradiction. In Ireland, where everybody did homage to his superiority, he made a good judge; but in England, both as chancellor and in the House of Lords, the quality of his judgments suffered from his inability to endure a brother near the throne.40

While he resisted sweeping legal reforms, he instituted legislation to improve the lot of the indigent insane and penurious debtors.41 He died at Boyle Farm in January 1875; ‘for the full term allotted to man’, wrote an obituarist, ‘his name has been on men’s lips’.42

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


See Oxford DNB and J.B. Atlay, Victorian Chancellors, ii. 1-52.

  • 1. Buxton Mems. 406.
  • 2. Reg. St. George, Hanover Square, i. 293; IGI (London).
  • 3. Buxton Mems. 46.
  • 4. Life of Campbell, ii. 305.
  • 5. Pryme, Autobiog. Recollections, 67.
  • 6. IGI (London); Greville Mems. iii. 177.
  • 7. T.A. Nash, Lord Westbury, i. 55-56.
  • 8. Suss. Weekly Advertiser, 22, 29 June 1818; Late Elections (1818), 342-3.
  • 9. Brighton Gazette, 23, 30 June, 7, 14 July 1825, 8 June 1826.
  • 10. Ibid. 6 Apr., 18, 25 May, 1, 8, 15, 22 June; The Times, 13 June 1826; W.D. Cooper, Parl. Hist. Suss. 32; G.I.T. Machin, Catholic Question in English Politics, 73.
  • 11. Brighton Gazette, 6, 20 July 1826; Brighton Herald, 1 Sept. 1827; Dorset Co. Chron. 7 Feb. 1828.
  • 12. The Times, 31 Jan. 4-6, 11, 12, 14-16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 26 Feb. 1828.
  • 13. Atlay, ii. 9-10, 12.
  • 14. Greville Mems. i. 280; Add. 40399, f. 336; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 49.
  • 15. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 293.
  • 16. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 53; Atlay, ii. 13-14; M. D. George, Cat. of Pol. and Personal Satires, xi. 15910, 16009.
  • 17. Dorset Co. Chron. 11, 18 June 1829.
  • 18. The Times, 12, 15 Dec. 1829; George, xi. 16020.
  • 19. Add. 40399, f. 417.
  • 20. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 232, 283; Greville Mems. ii. 407; Le Marchant, Althorp, 248.
  • 21. Dorset Co. Chron. 5 Aug. 1830.
  • 22. Life of Campbell, i. 478.
  • 23. Wellington Pol. Corresp. i. 377; Arnould, Denman, i. 327-8.
  • 24. Greville Mems. ii. 108.
  • 25. Three Diaries, 63.
  • 26. Surr. Hist. Cent. Goulburn mss Acc. 304/67B, Goulburn to wife [22 Mar.]; PRO NI, Anglesey mss, Smith Stanley to Anglesey, 22 Mar; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Newcastle mss. Ne2 F4/1/5; Baring Jnls. 84.
  • 27. The Times, 5-9, 11-13 Apr. 1831.
  • 28. Life of Campbell, i. 478.
  • 29. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/139/20/14; West Briton, 6 May 1831.
  • 30. Three Diaries, 105.
  • 31. Le Marchant, 335, 339; M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 219.
  • 32. See Brock, 226-9.
  • 33. Add. 51569, Ord to Lady Holland; 51573, Rice to same [16 Dec. 1831].
  • 34. Three Diaries, 255; Le Marchant, 431-2.
  • 35. Brougham mss, memo. [c. June 1832].
  • 36. Atlay, ii. 20-24; Arnould, 382-3; Greville Mems. ii. 312-16.
  • 37. Add. 40617, f. 8; Cambridge Chron. 2, 30 Nov., 14 Dec. 1832; The Times, 9-14 June 1834.
  • 38. Greville Mems. iii. 124, 177-8, 180; Smith Letters, ii. 610.
  • 39. Life of Campbell, ii. 301, 305-6; VCH Surr. iii. 463.
  • 40. Lord Selborne, Mems. pt. I, vol. ii, p. 333.
  • 41. Oxford DNB.
  • 42. The Times, 30 Jan. 1875.