TENNYSON, Charles (1784-1861), of 4 Park Street, Mdx. and Bayons Manor, Lincs.

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



1818 - 1826
1826 - 1831
1831 - 1832
1832 - 1852

Family and Education

b. 20 July 1784, 2nd s. of George Tennyson† of Bayons Manor and Mary, da. and event. h. of John Turner of Caistor. educ. Louth g.s. 1798; St. John’s, Camb. 1801-5; I. Temple 1801, called 1806. m. 1 Jan. 1808, Frances Mary, da. of Rev. John Hutton, rect. of Lea, 5s. 3da. suc. fa. (who had disinherited his e.s. George) and took additional name of D’Eyncourt 30 July 1835. d. 21 July 1861.

Offices Held

Clerk of ordnance Dec. 1830-Feb. 1832; PC 6 Feb. 1832 (honoris causa).

Capt. 1 regt. N. Lincs. vols. 1803.


Tennyson, a tenacious and independent liberal Tory before 1820, had been returned for the notoriously venal borough of Great Grimsby in 1818 with the aid of his father, who formerly headed the Red interest, and the money of his brother-in-law Matthew Russell*. He spent the interval before the next election attempting to consolidate his position. His agent engaged in buying up property, but delays in paying the freemen threatened to nullify any advantage that he had gained over the Whig Lord Yarborough, who had previously possessed the major influence. Rumours of a liaison with Yarborough during 1819 further damaged his cause, but his opposition to the Hull dock bill and the provision of ‘Christmas boxes’ raised his stock.1 Anticipating the general election, he asked Russell, 31 Jan. 1820, what he wished him to do at Great Grimsby. Russell replied, 5 Feb., that he would pay the outstanding cost of the previous election and that henceforth Tennyson was ‘unshackled’ and could do what he pleased with the interest he had established.2 (Tennyson continued to assist Russell in his electoral affairs at Bletchingley, county Durham and Saltash until his death in May 1822. Thereafter he was largely given a free hand in running them by Russell’s son and successor William Russell*, and unashamedly used the seats at his disposal to try to gain preferment for himself.) On 5 Feb. Tennyson’s agent Joseph Daubney advised him that if he paid the election money, he ‘would get two Members easily’. However, the death of the king with the freemen still unpaid ‘raised people’s wrath and disappointment almost to fury ... They will have the money or you need not come again’.3 Assurances of payment followed, and at the dissolution Tennyson entreated the electors to reserve both their votes as he would introduce a second candidate. The freemen were duly paid, and in the expectation of further largesse, he and his colleague were returned with a large majority.4 His wife’s uncle William Hutton of Gate Burton, however, warned Tennyson that future elections would not pass so easily, as Yarborough was determined to regain his influence.5

Tennyson, who had displayed some independence in his votes and favoured a degree of electoral reform, was nominally a supporter of the Liverpool ministry, but on 22 Jan. 1820 the Tory Lord Lowther* advised Lord Lonsdale that he had gone over to opposition.6 This assessment was somewhat premature and Tennyson received the government’s request for his attendance at the opening of the new Parliament.7 He acted as Sir William Manners’s† nominee to the Grantham election committee when he petitioned against the return of James Hughes, 11 May. When Manners was confined to Newgate for failure to attend the committee, Tennyson presented his petition for release, 18 July. On 8 June he introduced a bill ‘for enabling landlords more speedily to recover possession of farms unlawfully held over by tenants’, explaining that his aim was to reduce litigation. The bill received royal assent, 25 July, when he gave notice that he would propose another measure in the next session to facilitate the recovery of illegally held small tenements. Although there is no record of his voting in this session, it appears that he initially supported ministers on the Queen Caroline affair, and he probably divided with them against Wilberforce’s compromise motion, 22 June 1820. Thereafter, however, growing disquiet in Great Grimsby prompted him to reassess his position. In a pamphlet addressed to his constituents early in 1821, he admitted that he had begun to view events with a ‘growing anxiety’ and quoted extensively from canon and constitutional law in support of the queen. In his preface he added that George Canning’s* conduct throughout the affair and his recent resignation had ‘nobly vindicated his political character’.8 Tennyson had spoken to Canning in Paris the previous October and November, and had then determined that he would withhold his support from ministers should he leave the government.9

He voted accordingly in the 1821 session, joining the Whig campaign on the queen’s behalf and presenting a constituency petition in her support, 24 Jan. On 13 Feb. he seconded and was a minority teller for a motion to restore her name to the liturgy, in which he drew on the arguments and evidence contained in his pamphlet, saying that ministers occupied a ‘supercilious position’ and that ‘the country at large considered the omission ... an insult and an injury, proceeding from the dictates of disappointed vengeance’. Thereafter he divided steadily with the opposition to the ministry on most major issues, including economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation. Ignoring a warning given in 1819 that a pro-Catholic vote would be received with much disapproval in Great Grimsby, he voted for relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He divided to make Leeds a scot and lot borough if it received Grampound’s seats, 2 Mar., and successfully moved to omit the words from the preamble declaring that when Grampound was disfranchised the number of burgesses serving in Parliament would become incomplete, arguing that no ‘fixed or immutable’ number had ever been set, 19 Mar. 1821. He voted for parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 24 Apr. 1823, and for reform of the Scottish representative system, 10 May 1821, and of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb. 1824, 13 Apr. 1826. He gave notice of a gamekeeper bill, 19 Apr., and was a majority teller to bring it in, 15 May 1821, but it came to nothing.10 He was a minority teller against the committal to Newgate for libel of the editor of John Bull, 11 May. He voted for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 23 May, 4 June. In a speech ‘inaudible in the gallery’, he apparently opposed the sale of game bill, 2 June 1821.

Tennyson’s elder brother George Clayton Tennyson (father of the poet Alfred) had been mentally unstable for a number of years, as a result, so he claimed, of his rejection by his parents in favour of Charles. Tennyson cared for him and in 1822 and 1823 spent periods with him at Cheltenham, where he was seeking a cure, to the detriment of his attendance in the House.11 He continued to vote regularly when present, but he made no reported speech in these two sessions. On 15 Apr. 1822 he informed his father, ‘I have reason to think that Canning has thought of offering me a situation with him in India’, which he thought he would have to decline as he ‘could not consent to leave those whom I might never again see’.12 After Lord Londonderry’s* suicide that summer, John Croker*, assessing the potential support Canning would have in the House if he did not go to India but went into opposition, included Tennyson among those ‘inclined to him’.13 News of his likely return to government prompted Tennyson to write to him, 11 Sept. 1822, pledging to support ministers if he occupied a ‘very prominent position’, for although he had recently acted with opposition, he had managed not to identify himself with them, and Londonderry had been ‘the chief promoter of those measures which rendered me inimical to the administration’. He thought it ‘indispensable’ that Canning should have the foreign office, adding that if he needed to bolster his claim by a demonstration of his numerical support, he could depend on the two seats for Great Grimsby and those controlled by William Russell.14 On returning from France the following year, however, he informed Canning, 24 Apr. 1823, that although he was still attached to him personally, he had been alienated by what he perceived as his failure to direct foreign affairs and to have a wider influence on the general tenor of government policy, and could neither support ministers as he had intended, nor go over to opposition. His nephew Russell, he said, felt the same, and perceiving that there were others of a similar mind in the House, he thought they might form ‘a body ... actuated by liberal but moderate political feelings’ which would ‘steer a middle course between the two parties’.15 Tennyson duly drew up a set of rules for a ‘third party’, whose general principle should be to ‘express the mixed and moderate tone of both [other parties] and thus more effectually represent the average public feeling of the country’. More specifically it would stand for

a rational economy of the public money, Catholic emancipation, and parliamentary reform to be effected by a series of measures consistent with the ancient frame and existing spirit of the constitution ... It shall promote a foreign policy which shall tend to advance the cause of rational liberty, civil and religious, in other countries ... while it shall at the same time be consistent with the honour and interests of this country.16

This manifesto was in practice little more than a statement of Tennyson’s own views. His party never materialized and although Russell was content to follow him, he was an infrequent attender. Tennyson voted to abolish the death penalty for larceny, 21 May, against the Irish tithes composition bill, 16 June, and for the usury laws repeal bill next day. On 1 July he informed his father that he had been asked to go to Paris to help ‘settle some claims on the French government in conjunction with our ambassador’, but in the event ill health had forced him to decline.17 He divided against the use of flogging in prisons, 7 July 1823.

Tennyson voted for information on Catholic burials, 6 Feb. 1824. He belatedly joined Brooks’s, sponsored by Lords Tankerville and Kensington†, 23 Feb. On 1 Mar. 1824 he ‘animadverted in strong terms on the incongruous absurdities that were manifested in the modern additions of mongrel architecture evinced in the new entrance to the House of Lords’. During discussion of the game laws amendment bill, 17 Feb. 1825, he argued for more gradual reform but hoped that ‘the illegality of traps to catch the unwary as well as the guilty would be put beyond all doubt’. He successfully moved an amendment to the bill repealing the indemnity of gamekeepers to kill trespassers, 28 Mar., and was a majority teller for its third reading, 29 Apr., when he stated that although he still entertained objections to several of its provisions (which he had failed to reverse in committee), he approved of its general character.18 Moving the second reading of his own measure to outlaw the use of spring guns, 21 June, he claimed that they were so repugnant that ‘the inhabitant of another planet would suppose men to be a species of destructive vermin’. He argued that in normal circumstances homicide could only be justified in order to prevent a crime which was punishable by a death sentence, or in self-defence. As trespass was not even a criminal offence, and spring guns could not be used in self-defence, he entreated the House to sanction his measure ‘for putting an end to this anomalous barbarity’. He was a majority teller that day and for the third reading, 29 June, but spoke and voted against its passage that day after an amendment to allow the use of spring guns in gardens and orchards was approved, following which the bill was lost by 32-31. He was a minority teller for the cattle bill, 21 June, and divided against the clause in the combination bill which excluded factory masters from being chosen as justices, 27 June 1825. He again introduced a bill to outlaw spring guns, 14 Apr., and was a minority teller for its third reading, 27 Apr. 1826, when it was rejected by 25-24. He divided to allow defence by counsel for persons charged with a felony, 25 Apr. 1826.

At the 1826 general election Tennyson retired from Great Grimsby, where, despite spending £12,000 since 1818, his pro-Catholic votes had made him unpopular with the Reds and Yarborough’s nominees had been canvassing since March. (To his alarm, these included his friend George Heneage*, prompting rumours of a coalition between his family and Yarmouth which he was keen to dispel.) Lord Grey promised to help him, but he did not wish to be ‘under obligation to a party from which I am now at liberty if I please’.19 Instead, he accepted William Russell’s offer of a seat for Bletchingley, where he was returned unopposed, having passed up a requisition from Boston, 22 May.20 He retained an influence at Great Grimsby for the rest of this period, although he did not directly intervene in any of the elections. He voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and for inquiry into Leicester corporation, 15 Mar. 1827. He divided to go into committee on the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 16 Mar., explaining that it was the country’s duty to establish some fixed scale of provision and that until it did he could not conscientiously vote against this grant. He voted for information on the Barrackpoor mutiny, 22 Mar. He reintroduced his spring guns bill, 8 Mar., and in moving to go into committee on it, 23 Mar., stated that since the last time he had brought the measure forward ‘a multitude of dreadful incidents had occurred ... [all of which] had fallen to the lot of innocent individuals’. He was a majority teller on his motion that day, and for the third reading, 30 Mar. When the bill returned from the Lords, 17 May, Nicolson Calvert moved that spring guns be allowed in houses, gardens and hothouses, to which Tennyson replied that a number of ‘commensurate’ improvements had been made in the Lords, where a similar motion had been ‘ineffectually proposed’. He was a majority teller to accept the Lords’ amendments and reject Calvert’s that day, and the bill received royal assent, 28 May.21 On 18 May he brought in a game laws amendment bill which passed its third reading, 21 June, but was lost in the Lords, 26 June. He voted against the corn bill, 2 Apr., and for the election expenses bill, 28 May. During May he arranged with Canning, now prime minister, for William Lamb, the new Irish secretary, to come in for Bletchingley in the room of Russell, who had gone abroad.22 He presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 7 June, and voted with government for the grant to improve water communications in Canada, 12 June 1827.

Tennyson embarked on a personal crusade to enfranchise Birmingham, 11 June 1827, when he moved the special report of the election committee (of which he was a member) on East Retford. He detailed the evidence of corruption there and argued the case for disfranchising the borough and transferring its seats to a larger and more populous place, citing the apparent overrepresentation of Nottinghamshire in comparison to Warwickshire, and the lack of effectual representation for Birmingham. The resolution for the House to give the matter its attention was agreed and Tennyson immediately moved for leave to introduce a bill to disfranchise East Retford and transfer its seats to Birmingham, which was given its first reading that day. He was a majority teller for its second reading, which he sought ‘as an assurance that the House would support him in the next session, and would not in the meantime issue the writ to Retford’, and successfully moved that the House should not issue a new writ before the expiration of 14 days of the next session, 29 June 1827. When he heard that John Evelyn Denison* would be vacating his place in the lord high admiral’s council that September, he applied to the new premier Lord Goderich for the appointment, reminding Goderich of his attachment to Canning and of having provided Lamb with a seat. He bolstered his request by pointing out that he had been trained for the bar and was ‘accustomed to business’. Goderich acknowledged his support of Canning and his promises of backing for his administration, but turned down his request in general, and for that post in particular, because Denison had not vacated it. When the latter did so in December, Tennyson again sought the office, but without success.23 On 14 Dec. 1827 he advised Lamb that Russell wished to resume his seat at Bletchingley, but when Russell eventually returned from the continent an opening for county Durham proved more attractive.24 Grey told Edward Ellice* in early February 1828 that ‘Tennyson is gone down to the north with £10,000 to see if he can bring his nephew in’, while Tennyson assured John Cam Hobhouse*, 6 Feb. 1828, that ‘all is going smoothly’. Russell was returned unopposed the following week.25

Tennyson visited Birmingham during January 1828, telling his father on the 14th: ‘I was treated in the handsomest manner. They will have it I am to be [their] Member when they get the right, but I fear the change of ministry will extinguish our hopes’.26 (The accession of the duke of Wellington as premier that month created difficulties for Tennyson, as the Canningite Lamb remained in office. On 27 Feb. he informed his father, ‘Lamb still occupies William’s seat at Bletchingley. We are somewhat delicately situated. We do not profess to oppose the administration and I am trying to settle matters satisfactory to all parties’.) He was given leave to reintroduce his disfranchisement bill, 31 Jan., and headed a deputation to Wellington and Peel, the home secretary, 22 Feb., but reported to his father that they had given ‘no definite answer’.27 In seeking the second reading of the disfranchisement bill, 25 Feb., Tennyson declared that his ‘sole object’ was to ‘go into committee and hear evidence in support of the allegation of the bill’; it was committed that day. He concluded his questioning of witnesses, 4 Mar., but he was forced to defend the role of the Whig Lord Fitzwilliam at the last East Retford election, 10 Mar., when he made the amazing claim that although Fitzwilliam had paid money towards the expenses, his conduct had ‘no bearing on the case’. Ministers had decided that they would appease the reformers by supporting the transfer of Penryn’s seats to Manchester, but that East Retford must be sluiced into the hundred of Bassetlaw. Therefore, after Tennyson had moved his bill’s recommittal, 21 Mar., Calvert, who was aware of the cabinet’s decision, moved an amendment that East Retford be thrown into its hundred. Tennyson reiterated the proofs of corruption, argued Birmingham’s case and dismissed comparisons with other boroughs that had had their franchises extended into the hundred as a result of corruption. He concluded:

I trust, therefore, that the House will not, by acquiescing [in Calvert’s motion], take a course at once useless, anomalous, and obsolete ... [and] leave me under the painful feeling that I have being doing worse than wasting my time, by deciding this question with reference to a bundle of precedents, faulty in principle, futile in practice, and totally inapplicable to the case of this borough ... I trust the House will not confer on the freeholders of the hundred any privilege which they do not seek for or desire to possess; while on the other hand, in so doing, the House will disappoint the flourishing and populous town named in the bill, and defeat its just hopes and expectations.

He was a minority teller against Calvert’s amendment, after which he confessed that he was unsure how to proceed, adding that much would depend on what happened to the Penryn bill. Peel denied any ministerial collusion with Calvert, 24 Mar., but it was with their concurrence that he had carried his amendment. Tennyson was a majority teller on the Penryn bill, 28 Mar., and while that measure was in the Lords he secured a number of postponements of the East Retford bill to await the outcome. However, when the Penryn bill was withdrawn, he sought to revive his original bill, 19 May. Again Calvert successfully substituted the hundred for Birmingham, but despite continued government backing for Calvert’s plan, the ministers Huskisson and Palmerston, partly through a misunderstanding, voted with Tennyson. This resulted in the Huskissonites’ departure from office. During the committee stage, 2 June, Tennyson said he could not allow the substitution of Bassetlaw for Birmingham and proposed an adjournment, which was negatived by 221-24. That day, after a heated exchange with Peel, he urged the postponement of the bill and, when the report was brought up, flippantly suggested that it be thrown out, which earned him a rebuke from the Speaker. In obtaining a further postponement, 9 June, he said that if he failed to carry his point on enfranchising Birmingham next time he would hand his bill over to Calvert, but warned that he would ‘wage all manner of war against a measure the character of which will be opposite to that which I originally introduced’. Calvert obtained permission to bring in a separate bill to disqualify certain freemen, 24 June. Seeking the disfranchisement bill’s recommittal, Tennyson called on Peel to act on his previous assertion that ‘if Penryn were opened to the hundred’ then ‘this forfeited franchise should be transferred to a great town’, 27 June. In an attempt to force the issue he proposed a postponement until the next session, but his suggestion, for which he was a minority teller, failed by 55 votes. He then acted as a minority teller for Lord Howick’s attempt to transfer the Members to Yorkshire and supported Russell’s unsuccessful proposal for absolute disfranchisement. Calvert now had control of the bill and Tennyson delivered a scathing attack on the ‘unfair, unjust, uncandid, impolitic, and grossly unconstitutional’ actions of the government that day. He presented an East Retford petition against the freemen’s disqualification bill, 30 June. He welcomed Calvert’s decision to postpone his bills until the next session, 11 July, and gave notice of his own intention to bring in two measures, one for the absolute disfranchisement of East Retford and the other to enable Birmingham to return Members, 25 July 1828.

He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., opposed the Llanelly railway bill, 26 Mar., and promised to bring forward proposals to deal with some outstanding problems associated with landlords and tenants if the solicitor-general failed to resolve the matter, 2 Apr. 1828. He divided for Catholic claims, 12 May. Three days later he was a majority teller for the recommittal of the borough polls bill. He voted for inquiry into pluralities in the Irish church, 24 June, and against the additional churches bill, 30 June. On 10 July he proposed an amendment to the game bill to mitigate the penalty for trespass where it was clear that it was accidental, but it was negatived without a division. Writing to Huskisson, 19 Dec., he explained that he was reluctant to raise the East Retford question ‘precisely in the way in which it has now been repeatedly discussed’, and, believing the borough ‘irretrievably transferred from the monied to the agricultural interest’, thought it ‘expedient’ to devise some other plan. He outlined a scheme which proposed to overcome one common objection to reform by maintaining the proportion of representation allotted to each country in the Union, via an absolute addition of 13 Members (two to Ireland, one to Scotland, the rest to England). To counter objections that giving the additional Members to commercial towns would unbalance the constitution he planned to give seven to the great towns (two each to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, and one to Glasgow), four to English counties and one to an Irish county. Thus the manufacturing and commercial interest would gain seven, the agriculturists would obtain the same (he included the Bassetlaw seats in this calculation) and one would be neutral. Huskisson replied, 25 Dec. 1828, that ‘however ingenious your scheme, I feel upon full consideration, great doubt respecting it, viewed either practically or theoretically’. He recommended the total disfranchisement of East Retford, but no redistribution of the seats until another borough had been similarly disfranchised for corruption, when two seats could be given to a large town, and two to the agricultural interest. In reply, Tennyson suggested giving one seat to a great town and one to the agriculturists immediately, with each to be given a second when another borough was convicted, 8 Jan. 1829.28 He gave notice that he would bring forward his bills, 5 Feb. 1829, but repeatedly delayed their introduction in deference to the proceedings connected with the Wellington ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation. He questioned the legitimacy of a Bristol petition against relief, 26 Feb., and to the suggestion that the proposed concessions would infringe the constitution of 1688, referred the staunch Protestant Sir Robert Inglis to its text and challenged him to find ‘any reference whatever to Catholics, except the provision that excludes them from the throne’, 4 Mar. He voted for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., when he brought up a favourable petition, and insisted that majority opinion in Lincolnshire favoured it, 20 Mar. He spoke against George Lamb’s attempts to have a new writ issued for East Retford, 10 Apr., 5 May, when he introduced his bills to disfranchise the borough and transfer its seats to Birmingham. He was a minority teller for his proposals and against Calvert’s successful motion for a bribery prevention bill. He joined forces with Calvert as a majority teller against the issuing of a new writ, 2 June, when it was agreed to postpone the matter until the next session. That October Tennyson declined attending the low bailiff’s dinner in Birmingham on the advice of Joseph Parkes, one of the leading campaigners to enfranchise the town. This was simply to avoid too close an association with the town’s Whigs, but a generous toast was drunk in his honour, and Parkes paid a handsome tribute to his efforts on Birmingham’s behalf.29 Tennyson was a strenuous opponent of the London Bridge approaches bill, by which the corporation of London proposed to continue the collection of the orphans’ fund to pay its costs. It was, he said, 23 Mar. 1829, ‘a monstrous imposition of tax on the poor’, and he claimed that the fund would soon be paid off, thereby ‘setting at liberty £30,000 or £40,000’, which would help cover the expenses. He opposed the proposed charges for the carriage of coal, 8 Apr., and secured a select committee to investigate the orphans’ fund, to which he was appointed, 7 May. On the report stage of the bridge bill next day he objected to the coal duties, which he claimed would raise £25,000 over the sum needed to pay off the loan. Herries, master of the mint, informed Colonel James Wood, 15 June, that Tennyson had recommended ‘the expediency of continuing the wine duty ... with the concurrence of the City authorities’, as a possible solution.30 Tennyson supported the archbishop of Canterbury’s estate bill, 10 Apr., and suggested deferring the second reading of the West India docks bill, 14 Apr. 1829.

He voted for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address, 4 Feb. 1830, when he gave notice that he would reintroduce his proposal for East Retford. When Calvert brought on his bribery prevention bill, 11 Feb., Tennyson, admitting that he was ‘pertinacious of my own view upon this question’, stressed the economic distress of the country, especially in those places that were unrepresented, and claimed that the people ‘ascribe that distress to the misconduct and corruption of Parliament, and these to the imperfect state of the representation’. The result, he said, was a rising demand for parliamentary reform which had ‘already had the effect of reducing my proposal ... to comparative insignificance’. He was a minority teller for his amendment to transfer the seats to Birmingham, which was lost by 27 votes. He voted for Russell’s motion to enfranchise Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., repeated his objections to Calvert’s bill, 26 Feb., and failed by 33 votes to substitute Birmingham for Bassetlaw, 5 Mar. This marked the end of his campaign and he merely spoke to register his objection to the disfranchisement bill, 8, 15 Mar., when he divided against the third reading. He voted for parliamentary reform, 28 May 1830.

He asked ministers to divulge the amount of reductions they proposed to make, 15 Feb., and divided in favour of preventing Members from voting in committee on issues in which they had a personal stake, 26 Feb. 1830. He voted for information on the interference of British troops in the affairs of Portugal, 10 Mar., and for the critical motion on the intervention of British forces at Terceira, 28 Apr. He was a member of a delegation to Wellington to lobby for revision of the banking laws, 20 Mar., and paired to deduct the salary of the lieutenant-general from the ordnance estimates, 29 Mar.31 He insisted that it was essential that evidence be printed to allow the House to make a fair decision on Lord Ellenborough’s divorce bill, 1 Apr. On the London Bridge and Fleet bill, 29 Apr., he welcomed Knatchbull’s amendment to remit half the duty on coals for Gravesend, and asked Herries what the government intended to do about the surplus on the orphans’ fund once it had been paid off. He reminded him that his committee had recommended its ‘liberation, extinction or other appropriation’, and said that he had a clause ready. Although government concurred in the report, Herries asked Tennyson to delay his motion until the next session, which he did, 13 July. He voted for abolition of the Irish viceroyalty, 11 May, and repeal of the Irish coal duties, 13 May. He paired for Jewish emancipation, 17 May. He voted to abolish the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June, when he also voted to reduce the grant for South American missions, and to reform the divorce laws, 3 June. Referring to the king’s poor health, he informed his father, 7 June, ‘The scene must shortly close. In the meantime all goes on as usual, but there are rumours of a strong league against the duke of Wellington. We keep aloof from all party at present’.32 On 7 July he apprised Huskisson that he had had a conversation with the duke of Sussex, who had expressed his hope that Huskisson and Grey could be united in an administration.33 On 8 July 1830 he presented and endorsed a Birmingham petition for compensation for losses suffered at Copenhagen in 1807.

Anticipating the general election, Tennyson began to make preparations in May 1830, telling his father on the 15th, ‘I am to be again returned for Bletchingley or Saltash. There are some reasons why Saltash may be fixed on, but the other seats will be reserved for the present’. He added, 24 May, that the seat was gratuitous ‘of course’ and that ‘I do not fear any extraordinary expenses at Saltash except the journey in case I should have to go down, which will probably not be deemed necessary’.34 By 5 July it was decided that he should be returned for Bletchingley, but soon afterwards he received a requisition to stand for Lincoln.35 However, as he explained to Gilbert John Heathcote*, 14 July:

I have now made up my mind most reluctantly to give up all further thought of contesting Lincoln. It is most vexatious, since [I am] confident of success on every ground but the absurd prejudice which I told you yesterday has arisen against me on the part of several of the inferior class of voters, on account of my vote in favour of Lord Althorp’s bill against staffmen and cockades in 1827.

He recommended Heathcote to the freemen, but retained thoughts of Lincoln should Heathcote decline, or one of the others give up.36 On 19 July he told his father that while he was at Newark he had received a deputation from Stamford.37 He presumably gave them a positive answer before proceeding to Durham, where he co-ordinated Russell’s campaign.38 He took the precaution of having himself returned for Bletchlingley and duly offered for Stamford, asserting that his sole object was to release the electors from their subjugation to the Tory marquess of Exeter, whose family had controlled the borough for nearly a century. His political opinions, he declared, were well known, and though his ‘opinions on reform of Parliament and some other public matters by no means keep pace with those entertained by some of the warm supporters’, he believed his ‘general tone ... harmonizes tolerably well with the average political feeling now existing throughout the country’.39 After a violent four-day contest, in which he repeatedly complained of intimidation by his opponents, he was defeated in third place. He donated 500 guineas to the newly established Purity of Election Society and all his voters received a small portrait of him.40 On 3 Aug. he advised his father that the expenses were £600-£700, which Russell had promised to settle, but that ‘the town propose to pay, them having sent for me’. He had decided not to petition because of the expense, but reported that ‘the town make it their own cause, and I have already disclaimed it as mine’.41 He left for Durham to complete work for Russell’s campaign and returned to Stamford to host a dinner, 30 Aug. He gave a ball two days later, and on 2 Sept. 1830 a dinner was held in his honour, at which he was presented with a silver cup.42

On 7 Sept. Lord Durham, Grey’s son-in-law, who believed that Tennyson ‘inclines towards the Huskisson connection’, told Henry Brougham* that he had pointed out the necessity of filling Russell’s seats with ‘efficient persons’, but that Tennyson had been content to leave the stopgaps in place and wait to see how ‘the cat jumps’.43 Ministers, of course, listed Tennyson among their ‘foes’. Criticizing the king’s speech for not mentioning parliamentary reform, 3 Nov., he explained that although he sat for a rotten borough, he considered himself ‘a representative of the whole people of England’ and would not be ‘base enough to contend for the continuation of that degraded and degrading system’. In a warning to Wellington, he added that ‘public opinion has determined in favour of reform, and that opinion must ere long prevail’. He argued that the country was entitled to know what reductions ministers planned before supply was granted, 5 Nov., defended the presentation of petitions as one of the most important duties of a Member, 9 Nov., and urged an early decision on the local jurisdiction bill, 10 Nov. He voted against government in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. Next day he notified his father:

I intended to have spoken but had no opportunity ... What the result may be no one can tell. The duke may make a discreditable struggle, but he will sink at last. He might have made a minister 50 years ago but the age has moved past him. The folly of the cabinet is beyond anything which could have been conceived of schoolboys.44

Informing his father of the latest rumours on the composition of the incoming Grey ministry, 17 Nov., he commented, ‘I see my name in the Chronicle as likely to have office, but I know not upon what foundation’.45 When he was not offered a place he complained to Durham, the new privy seal, that he felt ‘unkindly overlooked’, 27 Nov. Had he been given something, he explained, he would have ‘contributed to the cause by endeavouring to obtain the admission into the House of Commons of any gentleman equally pledged to our views whose presence the government might require’. It appears that he was offered the chairmanship of ways and means at an early stage in the new arrangements, but vacillated on the advice of Brougham, now lord chancellor, who tried to get the clerkship of the ordnance for him. On 20 Dec. 1830 he was offered it by Grey and accepted.46 The seats that he controlled were quickly pressed into government service, with Palmerston, Thomas Hyde Villiers and Sir William Horne being accommodated.

Tennyson unsuccessfully sought extra time for the recognizances on the Stamford election petition, 30 Nov. 1830. According to Thomas Gladstone*, he had planned to introduce a bill, based on his proposed franchise for Birmingham, to enfranchise all those who had ‘three years unremitted payment of rates’ prior to an election. Gladstone feared that his idea would ‘not give sufficient influence to property and too much to those who have nothing at stake’, but conceded that ‘he is a very agreeable man’.47 Tennyson appears to have dropped his proposal after his appointment to office. He urged very careful consideration of the regency bill before it was agreed, 10 Dec., and viewed ‘with some degree of suspicion’ the request by Lord Chandos to delay the new writ for Evesham, 16 Dec. He challenged Warrender’s assertion that there was no evidence that a majority favoured parliamentary reform, insisting that opinion for it was ‘diffused throughout the mass of the population’, 21 Dec. 1830. On 3 Jan. 1831 he informed Edward Littleton that it was his ‘earnest and anxious desire’ to see him elected as Speaker, but confessed that, since others had told him he would be a suitable candidate, he harboured thoughts of the post himself.48 He returned himself for Bletchingley after his appointment to office, 10 Jan. 1831. When Waldo Sibthorp, Tory Member for Lincoln, expressed his surprise that Tennyson should support the ministerial reform bill, as it would disfranchise his constituents and deprive his relation of a valuable possession, 7 Mar., Tennyson declared that ‘the vote which my seat has given me’ had been ‘uniformly exercised for the benefit of the people’ and stated that Russell was happy to sacrifice his boroughs for the good of the country. He voted for the second reading of the bill, 22 Mar., telling his father, ‘we should I think do better if we dissolved now’ and that after reform he would be ‘secure of either of Stamford or Birmingham free of cost’, 28 Mar.49 On 13 Apr., after presenting a petition against slavery, he introduced his ordnance estimates, explaining that they represented a saving of £270,627 over the previous year. Although he ascribed some of that to the previous ministry and some to the balance in hand, he claimed credit for a saving of over £100,000. He was a teller for the government majority on the civil list next day and divided against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr. When the Ultra Vyvyan made a furious attack on the government for dissolving Parliament, 24 Apr. 1831, Tennyson interrupted by making points of order, and when the Speaker permitted Vyvyan to continue, ‘Tennyson disputed his opinion, which enraged the Speaker’.50

At the ensuing general election he offered again for Stamford as a reformer, having rejected an invitation to start for Lincoln and abandoned thoughts of contesting the county on the advice of his land agent, who believed that the defeat of Exeter in Stamford would ‘secure’ the Kesteven division after reform. After a three-day contest he was returned in second place, the first Member elected in opposition to the Cecil family for nearly 100 years.51 He immediately left to vote for Palmerston at Cambridge University, warning his father, 3 May, ‘there will be a petition’.52 He was chaired a second time on his return, 6 May, and then went to Lincoln to support Sir William Amcotts Ingilby* for the county. He provided dinner for the freemen, 17 May, and later hosted a ball. A reform dinner was given to him and Amcotts Ingilby, 24 May, and he attended one at Oakham, 30 May.53 He had again taken the precaution of returning himself for Bletchingley, but, opting to sit for Stamford, placed the seat at government’s disposal in July. On 3 June Tennyson had received a letter from his colleague Lord Thomas Cecil charging him with calling Exeter ‘an execrable man’ and ‘a tyrant’ on the hustings and demanding a public retraction.54 In reply, Tennyson denied using the words ‘execrable man’, admitted that he might have used the word ‘tyrant’, though only in relation to Exeter’s electoral interference, but put it down to ‘excited feelings’ and said that he had meant nothing personally disrespectful. Cecil accepted this explanation, but was incensed three days later by a report of the Oakham election dinner, at which Tennyson accused his family of ‘invading the rights of the people’, and demanded another apology. Tennyson refused, saying the eviction of tenants on account of their votes was an invasion of their rights according to ‘the declaration of the House of Commons’. Cecil therefore asked Tennyson to send a representative to see his friend Colonel Standen, ‘who will arrange the only alternative left me’. Tennyson engaged William Maberly* and gave him full authority to act for him. Maberly maintained that Tennyson had ‘a constitutional right’ to use the words he did, and as he had made clear that he meant no personal offence, he refused to accede to a duel. Cecil denounced Tennyson and Maberly in a speech at Stamford, 14 June, and they both demanded an apology the following day. Cecil informed Maberly that he meant him no offence, but refused to give any assurance until their former dispute was settled. Tennyson therefore agreed to the duel, 18 June. Maberly declined to be Tennyson’s second as he was implicated in the proceedings, and so Amcotts Ingilby accompanied him to Wormwood Scrubs that afternoon. He and Cecil exchanged shots, neither was injured and both professed themselves satisfied. They were all taken into custody, but ‘as the parties were reconciled ... the matter was dismissed’.55 Tennyson informed his father, 21 June 1831:

The course I have pursued is unanimously approved and even the opposition party speak well of me and think Cecil was wrong ... It is said that this is only number one of a series of reform duels, and it is thought a very proper thing that the clerk of the ordnance should commence the shooting season ... Lord Durham acted in the most kindly manner and was on the point of acting as my second if he had not been advised that as a cabinet minister ... it would be improper’.56

On 27 June Tennyson brought forward ‘almost precisely similar’ ordnance estimates to those he had introduced before the dissolution. He of course voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, was a steady supporter of its details, and acted as a teller for the government majority against using the 1831 census, 19 July. He divided with his colleagues on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug., for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s motion of confidence in ministers, 10 Oct. He expressed his hope that the boundary commissioners would take local influences into account when determining the new limits, 1 Sept., and cited the example of St. Martin’s parish adjacent to Stamford, which if it was included in an enlarged borough would restore Exeter’s electoral control. He voted for the Irish union of parishes bill, 19 Aug., and the same day, when Sir George Clerk moved to bring the Great Grimsby returning officer before the House to explain his actions at the last election, said that he was ‘at a loss to know how withholding the return for three or four days’ could have helped Yarborough. He was a teller for the government majorities for the oaths before lord stewards bill, 20 July 1831.

Tennyson had suffered from poor health for some time and his ordnance office was never to his liking. He coveted a less demanding place, but thought it unlikely that he would get one. Government wanted his office for Thomas Kennedy*, but had no alternative to offer him. He had hoped for the post of secretary at war, but found that had been promised to Hobhouse, and therefore Grey offered to make him a member of the privy council if he left office. As part of the deal Tennyson was to allow government to continue using the Bletchingley seats. He accepted the terms, resigned, 2 Feb., and was sworn of the privy council, 6 Feb. 1832. On 1 Feb. he advised his father:

The rank is that nearest to the peerage, and giving the title of ‘Right Honourable’, it is a distinction for life ... I might have toiled in here for three or four or five years as [Sir Henry] Hardinge* did without attaining any office which would give this rank as an appendage, and it is deemed more personally favourable when given to a man out of office which is in fact very rare.57

Writing that day to his wife, James Stewart Mackenzie* reported:

Tennyson has resigned and what will much amuse you is that he did so because it was infra dig to be called a clerk of the ordnance ... His daughter had an excellent offer of marriage which depended on his not being called clerk, for the parents made it an objection to the match. Can you believe this? Yet ‘tis true.58

He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and again supported its details. On 19 Mar., however, he presented and endorsed a petition for the franchise in scot and lot boroughs not in schedule A to be preserved, rather than limited to the existing holders, and, in response to questioning, indicated that he had pressed for this while he was in office.59 He gave notice that he would move an amendment to this effect after the third reading, for which he voted, 22 Mar., but he withdrew it because of the late hour and short notice he had given. He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May. He remained critical of the boundary bill, telling his father, 23 Feb., ‘What folly to embarrass the reform bill by all this unnecessary matter. They have as I suspected let in Lord Exeter to sluice Stamford’.60 He presented a Stamford petition against the bill, 19 Mar., when he said that his constituents would rather forego representation than again be subjugated to Exeter. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, but concurred in the king’s decision to seek alternatives before consenting to create peers, 15 May. Reporting that some Whigs were annoyed with him, 18 May, he explained to his father:

I do not feel that it is necessary for me to join in a cry against the king because I am a reformer ... I trust ... we shall temper the measure of reform as attempted in the boundary bill, although it is now possible that the reform bill itself may pass without much or any change.61

On 22 May he denied rumours that he had used a recent audience with the king to influence him into inviting Wellington to form an administration, in which he had been promised a position, insisting that it had always been his opinion that only a ministry headed by Grey could carry a satisfactory measure of reform. His stance on the king’s actions, however, upset his supporters in Birmingham, who told him in June that he would no longer be welcomed as a candidate.62 The Blues in Stamford supported his efforts on the boundary bill, and suggested that if he could not expunge the addition of St. Martin’s, he should try to secure the addition of The Deepings, the only locality where Exeter had no influence.63 His amendment against the inclusion of St. Martin’s, for which he was a teller, was defeated by 172-19, 22 June. That day he was in the minority against Whitehaven’s proposed boundaries. He presented a petition from Stamford complaining of the partisanship of its corporation, 16 July, and one from chemists and drug dealers against the customs duty bill, 18 July. He divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and to postpone inquiry into the abolition of slavery, 24 May. He was one of only 15 who divided to end flogging in the army, 19 June 1832, and next day voted to make coroners’ inquests public.

Disconsolate at the news that he would be unwelcome at Birmingham, he advised his father, 14 June, that although he expected that there would be a dissolution in November, he was undecided as to whether or not he would seek re-election.64 Estimates by the Blues showed that he would still have a fair chance of success at Stamford, despite the addition of St. Martin’s, although they expected that Exeter would soon be able to reassert his full control of the borough.65 Towards the end of June he was invited to stand for the new metropolitan district of Lambeth.66 On 30 June he reported:

I know you hate the thought of Grimsby, and that you would perhaps prefer that I should go out of Parliament. Stamford after all is far from hopeless ... However, I have ... sent to Stamford my farewell address, and in the papers you will see my acceptance of the undeniable offer from Lambeth.67

He was returned there after a contest at the 1832 general election and continued to represent the constituency until he retired from the House at the 1852 dissolution. His views became increasingly progressive: he introduced motions to shorten the duration of parliaments in 1833, 1834 and 1837, and advocated household suffrage, election by ballot and religious liberty, although he was a supporter of the established church.68

His father, who tenuously claimed a descent from the Norman family of D’Eyncourt, had bought the original family lands in Lincolnshire in 1783, but despite Tennyson’s best efforts he refused to revert to the ancient family name. Tennyson applied to use it in 1832, but Lord Melbourne, the home secretary, refused permission.69 However, Tennyson managed to persuade his father to include the change of name as a condition in his will, which disinherited his insane elder brother, and on succeeding him in 1835, he added the name to his own.70 He also undertook a grandiose rebuilding programme at Bayons Manor, turning the house into an extravagant Gothic castle based on his own design. The poet Tennyson mocked his uncle in 1836:

See his geegaw castle shine

New as his title, built last year.

Tennyson never attained the high office or peerage he coveted. Although he retained political credibility he became a figure of ridicule in Lincolnshire. After the death of his favourite son Eustace in 1851 he became morose, and composed an elegy in his memory. He later regretted the conversion of Bayons, exclaiming late in life, ‘I must have been mad’.71 He died in July 1861. By his will, dated 8 Dec. 1848, he left his wife £1,000 and an annuity of £600. He bequeathed his surviving sons and daughters varying amounts and small annuities. The residue and his real estates passed to his eldest son George Hildeyard Tennyson D’Eyncourt (1809-71). Writing a year after his death, Granville Fletcher remarked that ‘his efforts over East Retford gained for him the familiar soubriquet of the "modern father of reform"’.72

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Philip Salmon / Martin Casey


  • 1. S. Humberside AO (SHAO), Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss box 1, passim.
  • 2. Durham CRO Brancepeth mss D/BR/F 294; Lincs. AO (LAO), Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss TdE H108/24.
  • 3. SHAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss, box 1.
  • 4. Grimsby Pollbook (Squire, 1820); Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 3 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2Td’E H103/4.
  • 6. Lonsdale mss.
  • 7. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H33/11; Black Bk. (1823), 197; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 487.
  • 8. C. Tennyson, Observations on Proceedings against the Queen (1821).
  • 9. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H1/87.
  • 10. The Times, 20 Apr. 1821.
  • 11. A. Wheatcroft, Tennyson Album, 31.
  • 12. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H88/18.
  • 13. Add. 40319, f. 57.
  • 14. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H1/87.
  • 15. Ibid. 93-95.
  • 16. Ibid. 91.
  • 17. Ibid. H89/14.
  • 18. The Times, 29 Mar. 1825.
  • 19. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H98/6, 14.
  • 20. Ibid. 2Td’E H17/30.
  • 21. CJ, lxxxii. 494.
  • 22. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H1/103-105.
  • 23. Ibid. 108-111.
  • 24. Add. 38753, ff. 3, 4.
  • 25. NLS mss 15012, ff. 39-41; Add 36464, f. 213.
  • 26. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2Td’E H85/3.
  • 27. Ibid. 9.
  • 28. Add. 38757, ff. 147, 155, 184.
  • 29. J. Buckley, Joseph Parkes of Birmingham, 40.
  • 30. Wellington mss WP1/1025/27.
  • 31. Add. 38758, f. 138.
  • 32. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2Td’E H85/28.
  • 33. Add. 38758, f. 193.
  • 34. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2Td’E H88/18, 22.
  • 35. Ibid. 35.
  • 36. LAO, Ancaster mss xiii/B/5bb, 5ee.
  • 37. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2Td’E H88/44.
  • 38. Ibid. 47.
  • 39. Drakard’s Stamford News, 16, 30 July 1830.
  • 40. Ibid. 6 Aug. 1830.
  • 41. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2Td’E H89/2.
  • 42. Drakard’s Stamford News, 27 Aug., 10 Sept. 1830.
  • 43. Brougham mss.
  • 44. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2Td’E H89/47.
  • 45. Ibid. 50.
  • 46. Ibid. Td’E H33/5; 2Td’E H89/53, 60, 67, 70.
  • 47. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 196, T. to J. Gladstone, 6, 8 Dec. 1830.
  • 48. Hatherton mss.
  • 49. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2Td’E H91/53.
  • 50. Greville Mems. ii. 137.
  • 51. Ancaster mss xiii/B/6d, Tennyson to G.J. Heathcote, 28 Mar. 1831; LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H27/11-15; H36/6, 13-16; The Times, 3, 4, 5 May 1830.
  • 52. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2Td’E H92/2.
  • 53. Drakard’s Stamford News, 13, 20, 27 May 1830.
  • 54. Unless otherwise stated this section is based on LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H22, the ‘duel corresp.’
  • 55. Drakard’s Stamford News, 24 June 1831.
  • 56. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2Td’E H92/22.
  • 57. Ibid. Td’E H111/3; K. Bourne, Palmerston, 534.
  • 58. NAS GD46/13/42/1.
  • 59. For more details see P. Salmon, Electoral Reform at Work, 187-8.
  • 60. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H111/11.
  • 61. Ibid. 36.
  • 62. Ibid. 38.
  • 63. Ibid. Td’E H36/36.
  • 64. Ibid. Td’E H111/38.
  • 65. Ibid. Td’E H36/41.
  • 66. Ibid. Td’E H111/41, 42.
  • 67. Ibid. 46.
  • 68. Dod’s Parl. Companion (1847), 155-6.
  • 69. LAO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H33/10.
  • 70. Wheatcroft, 46.
  • 71. Ibid. 16.
  • 72. G. Fletcher, Parl. Portraits, iv. 214.