WILSON, Sir Robert Thomas (1777-1849), of Charles Street, Berkeley Square, Mdx.

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



1818 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 17 Aug. 1777, 3rd s. of Benjamin Wilson (d. 1788), serjeant painter to the king, of Great Russell Street, Mdx. and Jane née Hetherington. educ. Westminster 1786-7; Winchester 1787-8; by a clergyman, Tottenham Court Road. m. 8 July 1797, at Gretna Green, and again, 10 Mar. 1798, Jemima, da. of Col. William Belford of Harbledown, Kent, 7s. (4 d.v.p.) 6da. (4 d.v.p.). kt. of order of Maria Theresa of Austria, sanctioned by George III 2 June 1801. d. 9 May 1849.

Offices Held

Cornet 15 Drag. 1794, lt. 1794, capt. 1796; a.d.c. to Gen. St. John in Ireland 1798; maj. Hompesch’s mounted riflemen 1800, lt.-col. 1802, half-pay 1802; insp. yeoman cav. Som., Devon and Cornw. 1802-4; lt.-col. 19 Drag. 1804, 20 Drag. 1805; brevet col. and a.d.c. to the king 1810; lt.-col. 22 Drag. 1812; maj.-gen. 1813, dismissed 1821, restored as lt.-gen. 1830, with effect from 1825; col. 15 Drag. 1835; gen. 1841.

Gov. and c.-in-c. Gibraltar 1842-9.


Wilson had enjoyed a distinguished and eventful military career before entering the House in 1818. His ‘incredible stories of his battles with serpents in the East’ captivated Henry Edward Fox*, who thought that ‘with a tartan and a claymore’ he would make ‘an admirable character’ for a Scott novel. Fox added that ‘there is something about him ... that makes it impossible to see and hear him without having an admiration for his high spirit and enterprise, and at the same time great contempt for his understanding and judgement’.1 For all his undoubted charm and charisma, Wilson’s political talents indeed proved to be limited. His frequent interventions in debate during his first Parliament had earned him a reputation as a bore, his attempts to effect a Whig-radical rapprochement achieved nothing, and he confessed to John Cam Hobhouse* in 1820 that he was ‘disgusted with the little figure he has made in the House’.2 Although he enjoyed the confidence of Lord Grey, the latter’s view of him as ‘one of the ablest men in Europe’ was cited as evidence of the Whig leader’s own failings by both John Croker* and Charles Greville. Lord Holland voiced the sentiment of many in 1823 when he contrasted one of Wilson’s occasional successes as a conciliator with his ‘common want of judgement and discretion’.3 At the general election of 1820 he offered again for the populous metropolitan constituency of Southwark. He ominously compared the condition of the country with that of France before the revolution and characterized the Six Acts as the commencement of tyranny. He called for a reduction in taxes, repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, inquiry into Peterloo and a measure of parliamentary reform, ‘extending the ... franchise to all who pay taxes, abolishing rotten boroughs and shortening the duration of Parliaments’. However, he was careful to avoid giving a direct pledge on Catholic relief. He finished comfortably ahead of a Tory challenger after a four-day poll.4

He continued to be an assiduous attender who voted with the Whig opposition to Lord Liverpool’s ministry on all major issues, including parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 20 Feb. 1823, 13, 27 Apr., 26 May 1826. He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. Early in May 1820 he was reportedly disgusted at Henry Brougham’s part in opposing Wood’s motion on the role of the government informer Edwards in the Cato Street conspiracy.5 He pressed for an inquiry into this matter, 9 May, when his intervention to soften a ‘sharp skirmish’ between George Canning and Sir Francis Burdett earned him a ‘very handsome’ letter of thanks from the former, who wrote that his interposition was ‘as judicious ... as it was kindly intended’. Wilson’s reply, in which he affirmed that he had acted from ‘personal as well as public feeling’, was early evidence of his warm regard for Canning.6 On 17 Oct. he inquired about the release of one Franklin, who had been charged with producing treasonable placards, implying that he was an agent provocateur. In supporting Brougham’s motion on the droits of the crown and admiralty, 5 May, he condemned the seizure of foreign vessels. He accepted that the expense of maintaining British embassies abroad did not permit of any savings, 18 May. He opposed the Newington church bill, 19, 26 May, when he joined in criticisms of the neglect of St. Paul’s Cathedral.7 He was a minority teller against Holme Sumner’s motion for a select committee on agricultural distress, 30 May. He opposed the Aliens Act as unnecessary and pointed to outrages committed in its name, 1 June. Sir James Mackintosh, who attended this debate ‘at Wilson’s desire’, regretted afterwards that ‘he would not ... let me answer Castlereagh [the leader of the Commons] but began the debate very injudiciously with the cases of the Buonopartists, which were sure to excite all the prejudices and apprehensions most favourable to the [Act]’.8 Wilson was twice a minority teller against the continuation bill, 7, 12 July, when he disapproved of modifying clauses, thinking it better that ‘the bill should pass with all its obnoxiousness about it’. He complained about the cession of the island of Parga to Turkey, 29 June 1820.

Early in 1820 Wilson had tried to convince Grey that George IV’s desire for a divorce from his wife might precipitate a political crisis of such magnitude as to drive the government from office. He expressed to Grey in May his ‘firm belief’ that ministers would resign if Queen Caroline came to England, and he protested in the House against attempts to prevent her from landing in the country, 6 June.9 In July it was reportedly his view that the queen should accept a financial settlement and retire abroad, and when her counsel Stephen Lushington* asked him to go to Italy to gather evidence in her favour, Wilson declined, citing his wife’s health and his former friendship with the king.10 However, his zeal in the queen’s cause was roused by the progress of the bill of pains and penalties, which he observed from the gallery in the Lords. His conviction that the bill would not pass was thought foolish by Thomas Creevey*, but showed uncharacteristic political foresight.11 He declared to the Commons, 18 Sept., that there was ‘no resistance, no obstacle ... which the wit of man could devise, or perseverance apply’, that he would not use to impede the proceedings against the queen, which he denounced as ‘a foul and infamous conspiracy’. Determined to defend the queen against ‘perjured witnesses and a partial tribunal’, he sought to embarrass Lord Castlereagh over the discovery of forged banknotes in the possession of a courier employed by the Milan commission. The same day he was a minority teller for Hobhouse’s motion for an address asking the king to prorogue Parliament. One government supporter suspected that Wilson was ‘about to make himself perfectly intolerable’, and he reiterated his belief in the queen’s innocence at meetings in Southwark, 24 Oct., 22 Nov., when he also called for the dismissal of ministers.12 His allies were also wary of his activities: Grey was dismayed by his participation in the queen’s ‘processionary cavalcade’ to celebrate her acquittal, 29 Nov., and early the following month entreated him, ‘as a friend, and for the sake of your family’, to do nothing ‘that public duty does not require’ and ‘not to act offensively so as to furnish those, who would be only too willing to avail themselves of it, with a pretence for depriving you of your commission’. Undeterred, Wilson replied with his thoughts on the legislative programme of the Whig administration that he expected to take office shortly. This included repeal of the Six Acts and the Aliens Act, tax cuts financed by reduced expenditure on civil and military administration in the colonies, a return to triennial parliaments and an extended franchise. He remained equivocal on Catholic relief, advising against a pledge, and acknowledged that ‘the state of agriculture and the resumption of cash payments are replete with difficulties’.13 Following Canning’s resignation from the government, Wilson congratulated himself on his prescience and wrote to John George Lambton* that

I think you and Lord Grey will find yourselves in the wrong about change of ministry. I am more and more satisfied there will be a break-up. It is impossible these men can go on unsupported as they are even by their vassals when meeting to frame ultra loyal addresses. They have lingered to try their fortunes. They have drawn a blank and must now withdraw all pretensions.14

At a meeting in Southwark, 18 Jan. 1821, he accused the Austrian government of complicity in assembling evidence against the queen and identified the restoration of her name to the liturgy as ‘a point of honour’.15 In presenting the resulting petition to the Commons, 31 Jan., he railed against ministerial obstinacy. That day he indiscreetly informed the Tory patronage secretary Charles Arbuthnot* of plans to raise a subscription to sustain the campaign on the queen’s behalf, and admitted that if it failed ‘our game is gone’.16 He reopened the debate on the censure of ministers, 6 Feb., when he asserted that their intransigence ‘menaced the country with more danger than had ever yet been threatened by any subversive power’. Henry Grey Bennet* described this as ‘a long artificial speech’, and noted that Wilson ‘read several documents of evidence in favour of the queen from witnesses who might have been called or who came too late’. Brougham had ‘entreated him not to do so, but proceed he would and the result was that he let in Castlereagh in his speech to comment on the evidence of the trial.17 Wilson denied that the queen had squandered money on public demonstrations in her favour, 9 Feb. Four days later he presented a petition from Southwark mechanics which was so long that it rolled along the floor of the House: this inspired him to predict the eventual triumph of the queen’s cause. However, much to the amusement of ministerialists, he was shut out of the division in her favour that day, having been away at supper.18 He maintained that the government’s flouting of public opinion justified the refusal of a vote of supply, 14 Feb. In supporting the printing of the Nottingham petition for their impeachment, 20 Feb. 1821, he recalled the events of Peterloo.

Wilson frequently assailed the government on foreign policy issues during the 1821 session, though his often convoluted queries were generally treated with disdain by Castlereagh, who would not be drawn on ministers’ attitude to the formation of a constitutional government in Naples, 24 Jan., or their likely response to any threat of invasion by the Holy Alliance, 13 Feb.19 Yet in the debate on Mackintosh’s motion condemning the conduct of the Allies towards Naples, 21 Feb., Wilson made what Grey Bennet reckoned to be ‘the best [speech] he has ever done and was very much cheered’, as he stung Castlereagh into issuing a denial that Britain had connived in placing the Neapolitan king on trial; he was a teller for the minority.20 His own motion that day for the production of papers was defeated by 144-125, and he was induced to withdraw a similar one, 20 Mar., when he declared that ‘the knell of despotism had been rung’ by the Neapolitan patriots. His protests at Buonaparte’s confinement on St. Helena were met with a laugh, 29 Mar. (His attitude to the former French emperor had softened to the extent that he now played host to exiled Buonapartists.)21 He told ministers that they were ‘so entangled with the confederate tyrants’ that ‘it was impossible for them to follow the true policy of this country, even if it were their inclination’, 4 May. Having characterized the restored monarchical constitution of Naples as a ‘select vestry appointed’, 20 June, he denied that a policy of non-intervention in foreign conflicts was sustainable, 21 June 1821.22

With the Whig opposition in a disorganized state, Wilson was mentioned by Joseph Planta* early in 1821 as one the ‘guerillas’ who carried on ‘the warfare’ against ministers and were determined to ‘give all the trouble they can’.23 In presenting petitions from London ropemakers and leather manufacturers complaining of distress, 12 Feb., 7 May 1821, Wilson advocated the taxation of machinery.24 He opposed Scarlett’s poor relief bill, 8 May, suggesting that the burden of taxation rather than the poor rates was to blame for economic distress. He was a minority teller against the malt duties bill, 14 Feb., and opposed the prohibition on the sale of roasted grain as a coffee substitute, 21 Feb., 12 Mar., 2 July.25 While he ‘deprecated any sudden diminution of the military force of the country’, 9 Mar., he nevertheless found much to speak and vote against that session in the minutiae of the army estimates. He made various observations regarding the funding and deployment of the armed services, 14 Mar., 18 Apr., 2 May, but was obliged to modify the language of his protest that the proposed grant for army volunteer forces ‘would make rebellion a duty’, 16 Apr. On the other hand, his vote with ministers for the payment of arrears in the duke of Clarence’s grant, 18 June, led to him being called to account at the annual meeting of his supporters in Southwark four days later. He explained that ‘from personal feeling he was peculiarly bound to act with liberality towards the royal family’, but this did not satisfy many of those present, including Burdett, who thought his vote had been ‘a mistake’. Grey Bennet noted that he had ‘nearly lost all support in Southwark’ and that ‘if an election was now to take place, he would not be returned again’.26 Wilson favoured the enfranchisement of Leeds as a scot and lot borough in place of Grampound, 2 Mar., on the principle that ‘representation should be coextensive with taxation’. He attended the London Tavern meeting of the friends of reform, 4 Apr.27 He told the House that he supported a general measure of reform ‘in compliance with the wishes of 2,000 of my constituents’, 17 May. In what Grey Bennet described as ‘a long and dull speech’, he condemned as ‘utterly unjust and unwarrantable’ the proposal to create a select vestry at Newington, 5 Mar.28 He successfully moved for the standing orders committee to inquire into the proceedings on this bill, 6 Apr. He stated that if his vote for Catholic relief earlier that session did not meet with the satisfaction of his constituents, he would willingly relinquish his seat, 26 Mar., 2 Apr.29 He denounced the system of slavery in the West Indies as ‘cruel and atrocious’, 4 May, and quizzed ministers about an alleged increase in the number of slaves in Barbados, 24, 28 June.30 He defended his friend Grey Bennet for pursuing a case of breach of privilege against the John Bull newspaper, 17 May. He spoke against renewal of the Aliens Act, 3 July 1821.31

Shortly after the end of the session Wilson left for Paris, where he received a letter from Queen Caroline avowing her determination to attend the coronation; she failed to heed the advice contained in his temperate reply ‘to avoid any proceeding which may be the subject of future regrets’.32 On receiving news of her death, he returned for the funeral, 14 Aug. 1821. Afterwards, he found himself at the centre of the row over disturbances on the processional route, which had resulted in its diversion through the City of London, to the intense annoyance of the government and the king. Wilson had attended the funeral with Brougham and, from his subsequent account in the House, first made himself conspicuous at Kensington Gore, where he suggested to the commanding officer of the guard of honour that, to avoid trouble, the procession should be allowed to pass through the City. Here he also persuaded the crowd to release a kidnapped baggage wagon bound for Windsor. At Cumberland Gate his instinct for interference surfaced again, as he hastened towards the sound of gunfire and strongly remonstrated with the Life Guards for firing on an unruly crowd. He asked the commanding officer, Major Oakes, whether he had given orders to do so: Oakes replied in the negative, and subsequently confirmed this in writing.33 Calm was eventually restored, but whether this was owing to Wilson’s intervention is not impartially clear. Oakes reported Wilson’s actions to his seniors, who regarded his behaviour as a serious breach of military discipline (neither his parliamentary speeches against corporal punishment, nor his part in the rescue of Lavalette in 1816, had endeared him to the military hierarchy). The commander-in-chief, the duke of York, was ‘not sorry that he has at last given a fair opportunity of freeing the army of a person who has long been a disgrace to it’, and the duke of Wellington, the second in command, later defined Wilson’s actions as mutinous, informing Mrs. Arbuthnot that only the difficulty of obtaining witnesses had prevented his arraignment for the treasonable offence of obstructing the king’s highway. Wellington was ‘quite sure’ that Wilson had been personally responsible for the disturbances at the funeral, a reference to his supposed attendance at a meeting beforehand in Hammersmith to plan its disruption.34 This charge was demonstrably untrue, but in the fever of the times other stories were in circulation telling how Wilson had regaled the mob with beer, incited them to pull up paving stones to throw at the troops, and drunk a toast of damnation to the king.35 All the evidence indicates that these tales were fabricated by informers, but ministers needed no further encouragement to make a scapegoat of one of their most dedicated political adversaries. Sensible of royal disfavour, Liverpool fully appreciated the ‘political advantages’ of offering up Wilson’s head on a platter to the king, and resolved that his conduct at the funeral should be ‘the very first business’ laid before the monarch on his return from Ireland. Lord Sidmouth, the home secretary, gloated that ‘it seems ... impossible that Sir R. can entirely escape’.36 Wilson realized that he was ‘in a scrape and wished to be advised how to get out of it’, but Grey, while counselling him to lie low, offered the unfortunate suggestion of ‘a formal manifesto in the shape of a memorial to the king’; Wilson duly sent this via Lord Donoughmore. On reading this document, the king’s reported reaction was to ask ‘why was Sir Robert Wilson there at all?’37 The failure of this ‘most irregular and improper’ approach was welcomed by Liverpool, who, on receiving assurances from Wellington about the reliability of the soldier witnesses, sought his approval for invoking the royal prerogative to summarily dismiss Wilson from the army. Wellington concurred, warning that ‘considering who and what the man is, and the persons who will probably try him’, a general court martial would probably result in an acquittal, or else ‘some very lenient censure’.38 The matter was discussed in cabinet, 14 Sept., and the order for Wilson’s dismissal was signed by the king the next day and gazetted on 18 Sept. 1821. Wilson learned of this in Paris and wrote twice to the duke of York in tones of measured outrage, but this drew a rebuff, as did his attempts to ascertain from Sidmouth the exact nature of the charges against him.39 This denial of a hearing won him much sympathy, and a subscription was raised to compensate him for the loss of his commissions, which he accepted with some reluctance. Few subscribed from outside the circle of his Whig friends, a point noted with regret by Mackintosh but with relish by Mrs. Arbuthnot, who also rejoiced that the existence of such an indemnity fund would further irritate the king and so put an end to any chance of the Whigs kissing hands.40

Wilson brought the matter before the Commons with a motion for inquiry into his dismissal, 13 Feb. 1822. In a lengthy speech of exculpation he sought to establish that his actions at the funeral had been motivated only by a wish to prevent bloodshed and disorder, and he attempted to refute some of the more fantastic allegations about his conduct. He produced and read copies of his correspondence with Sidmouth and key witnesses, which was published in The Times two days later. The independent Member Hudson Gurney regarded his defence as ‘perfect’, and it appears that even Castlereagh (now Lord Londonderry) privately ‘expressed surprise at the good taste with which Wilson stated his case’. A Tory Member acknowledged that ‘what he said was certainly done in the most judicious manner, with great moderation and good sense, so as to leave a very favourable impression upon many who were by no means predisposed to think well of him’, and Lady Holland claimed that ‘several who went down determined to vote against him were convinced’.41 However, the crux of Wilson’s argument was a denial of the king’s prerogative right of dismissal from the army, which was unlikely to have persuaded many. Lord Palmerston replied for the government in a sarcastic vein for which he was widely reprobated, and the motion was lost by 199-97; Grey commented that the result was ‘better than I expected’.42 Turning to the privations of the radical agitator Henry Hunt*, Wilson presented several petitions for remission of his prison sentence and protested against the conditions of his incarceration at Ilchester, 1, 14 Mar.43 On 6 Mar. he asked ministers if it was intended to continue prosecutions for selling roasted wheat as a coffee substitute, a law of which Hunt had also fallen foul. He presented petitions from other individuals affected, 27 Mar., 14 June, and moved for relevant papers, 29 Mar., 25 Apr. The government obliged by introducing the vegetable powder bill, though his request that its provisions be made retrospective, 4, 28 June, were not accepted.44 He supported the Newcastle petition in Hunt’s favour, 22 Mar., and used the occasion to launch a general attack on ministers’ use of stipendiary offices to reward their friends. He recited the prayer of a Bethnal Green petition protesting at the government’s reliance on placemen in the Commons, 28 Mar., and spoke in favour of receiving the Greenhoe reform petition, 3 June, when he challenged Londonderry ‘as a man of honour’ to deny that seats were routinely bought and sold. On other issues that session, he condemned interference with Members’ mail, 25 Feb., and opposed the granting of licenses to public houses owned by brewers, 17 Apr. He called for a broad consideration of the corn laws, 6 May.45 Two days later, concerned that discontent arising from agricultural distress would lead to ‘coercive government’, he recommended a large reduction of taxation. He welcomed the remissions granted, but not the plan to finance military and naval pensions from the sinking fund, 24 May. He approved the principle of the poor removal bill, 31 May. His attendance record was praised at a meeting of his Southwark supporters, 18 June, when he expressed little sympathy for the sufferings of the landed interest, given their previous record of support for the ministry.46 He protested ‘in the most unqualified terms’ against the Irish insurrection bill, 2 July, and bore witness to the severity of distress in Ireland, 8 July, when his motion for inquiry was lost by 135-17. He considered expenditure on a Scottish national monument to be ‘most indecent in the present state of Ireland’, 16 July. In opposing renewal of the Aliens Act, 5 June, he accused Londonderry of having ‘disgraced this country by connecting us with the police establishments of the continent’. He called for repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, so that Britons could legally fight in the cause of Greek independence, 15 July, and was assured by Londonderry of Britain’s dispassionate attitude towards the newly independent South American republics, 23 July. After he had deprecated the cheers from government benches which greeted the testimony of John Hope, the Scottish judge found guilty of a breach of privilege, 17 July, Lord Binning sarcastically referred to Wilson as ‘that pattern of orderly behaviour and decorum’.47 The following month Lord Cochrane† endeavoured to persuade him to go to South America to fight for the cause of the new republics, and it took Donoughmore to persuade him that he was too old. Instead he opted to go to France to canvass support for the republics, only to be deported in October 1822. In a printed address to his constituents, he claimed to have been informed that his Napoleonic connections had made him ‘in spite of myself ... a ... rallying point for the opponents of the French government’, and he described his deportation as ‘unconstitutional’.48

He welcomed the condemnation of the Holy Alliance contained in the king’s speech, 5 Feb. 1823, but was disappointed in the profession of neutrality in the Franco-Spanish conflict, believing that early British intervention might deter French aggression. He issued a fierce denunciation of foreign despotism at a Southwark meeting on parliamentary reform, 11 Feb., and presented the resulting petition, 19 Feb.49 He raised the case of a Briton imprisoned in France, 27 Feb. He likened French aggression towards Spain to that of ‘tyrants, fanatics and bigots against the rights of free nations’, 18 Mar., and added that he hoped Britons would ‘go over in crowds’ to assist the Spanish, in spite of the Foreign Enlistment Act. He expressed the hope that ministers would repeal the Six Acts and reduce taxes, 24 Feb. He believed that corporal punishment in the army was ‘wholly unnecessary’ and ‘ought to be put an end to’, 6 Mar. He reported that a Southwark meeting had evinced no desire for reform of the law on insolvent debtors, 18 Mar. In presenting an anti-slavery petition, 27 Mar., he expatiated about the sufferings of the slaves. On 17 Apr. 1823 he intervened to defuse a row between Canning and Brougham, with what Creevey regarded as ‘a speech of very great merit’.50 That day he was one of a squad of opposition Members who left the chamber as Plunket introduced his motion on Catholic relief, in order (so he told the House, 15 Feb. 1825) to avoid exciting unrealistic expectations of concession.

Defying the Foreign Enlistment Act, Wilson sailed to fight for Spain, 22 Apr. 1823, and remained abroad until the autumn. The vote recorded in his name against the Scottish juries bill, 20 June, is clearly an error. One of his correspondents wondered if his prolonged absence might cause resentment in Southwark, but none was in evidence at the meeting of his supporters, 26 June, and constituency business was dealt with by Lambton.51 In Spain Wilson was met with garlands, but he failed to galvanize his hosts into active resistance against the French, while his efforts to recruit in England had little effect other than to annoy the king.52 A foray into Portugal in June ended in humiliation: the constitutional government had just been toppled, and after his refusal to drink a toast to absolute monarchy almost cost him his life, he was unceremoniously deported. Returning to Spain, he was wounded in the thigh at the siege of Corunna in mid-July, and withdrew to Gibraltar to recuperate. Here his ham-fisted attempts to involve Britain in mediation, after a private conversation with the British envoy Sir William A’Court†, led the latter to inform him in peremptory fashion that he had never entertained ‘the slightest intentions of making him the channel of his communication with the Spanish government’; the offended tone of Wilson’s reply suggests that he had believed otherwise.53 He was given the doomed command of the besieged city of Cadiz, where he received news of the death of his wife in August. In October 1823 he returned to England via Gibraltar, from what one biographer has termed ‘the sorriest escapade of his whole life’.54 As a result of it, he was stripped of the decorations previously conferred by the members of the Holy Alliance, including his Austrian knighthood, though a Turkish honour permitted him to continue to use the same style.55 Fears that he might be prosecuted under the Foreign Enlistment Act proved unfounded, though Wellington subsequently claimed that government would have proceeded against him but for the difficulty of securing hard evidence.56 In the Commons, 18 Mar. 1824, Wilson lamented that no show of British naval strength had been made and attested to the bravery he had encountered in Cadiz. He then thanked Canning for securing an apology from the French government for his daughters’ detention and maltreatment at Calais two months earlier. The foreign secretary chided him for the diplomatic embarrassment he had caused, but other Members were unreserved in praising his courage; the Whig Agar Ellis recorded that he ‘spoke well and modestly, in vindicating himself’.57 Wilson defended Hume’s use of the word ‘despots’ to describe Britain’s former continental allies, 2 Apr. At a meeting of his supporters in Southwark, 22 June, he gave an account of his adventures in Spain and called for recognition of the South American republics; his parliamentary conduct was eulogized. Nevertheless, one of his friends could ‘not see that there is any object for you to remain in Parliament ... You can do no good’.58 He advocated reform of the usury laws, 27 Feb., when he supported the admission of a petition complaining of the conduct of George Chetwynd* as a Staffordshire magistrate, asking: ‘were the doors of the House ... to be closed against the peoples of England?’ He spoke against flogging in the army, 5 Mar., and naval impressment, 18 Mar., 10 June. He supported the London common councilmen’s petition for parliamentary reform, 17 May, and a Yorkshire petition complaining of restrictions on freedom of speech, 3 June 1824.59 That day he inquired about the evidence concerning the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara.

Though he did not exempt the Catholic Association from criticism, Wilson opposed the Irish unlawful societies bill 15, 22 Feb. 1825, wondering why, since it was admitted to be a short-term expedient, the government did not simply enact Catholic emancipation. He expressed implacable opposition to the disfranchisement of Irish 40s. freeholders, 28 Mar., 22 Apr. He favoured repeal of the assessed taxes, 3 Mar., but next day defended the army estimates, given the international situation, and hotly disputed Hume’s assertion that the existing defences at Gibraltar were adequate. In the discussion on the quarantine laws, 13 Apr., he drew on his own experience in Egypt to support the contention that plague was not contagious, but he admitted that public apprehensions, ‘however ill grounded’, must be soothed. He successfully moved a wrecking amendment to the Southwark paving bill, over which he faced out his colleague Calvert in the lobbies, 15 Apr.60 He offered his ‘warmest thanks’ to Canning for concluding treaties of recognition with the South American republics, with whom he anticipated a fruitful trading relationship, 16 May.61 His hopes for reinstatement in the army may account for his absence from the divisions on the annuity for the duke of Cumberland. James Abercromby drew Wilson’s case to the House’s attention, 12 June, when ten other Members attested to his military achievements. From the government benches, Sir George Murray hoped that Wilson would in future ‘confine his talents and abilities within their proper channels’. No division was taken, and the discussion did not advance Wilson’s cause, as Wellington was firmly opposed to any amnesty. The duke wrote to Liverpool, 16 June, recalling the rescue of Lavalette, the queen’s funeral and the Spanish episode, and observed that while ‘I disclaim the character of enemy to Sir Robert ... I must say that as one of the king’s servants I cannot forget these transactions ... particularly the last’.62 At a meeting in Southwark, 21 June, when thanks were voted to the home secretary Peel for his ‘excellent’ juries bill, Wilson reasserted the need for parliamentary reform, ‘notwithstanding the liberal course pursued by the present ministry’.63 He asked questions during the investigation into the conduct of the Welsh magistrate William Kenrick†, 24 June. He approved the principle of the combination bill but thought the penalties too harsh, 27 June.64 On 1 July 1825 he wondered aloud if foreign pressure might explain the non-admission of a South American minister to a levee and protested against the continued French presence in Spain.65 He enquired about existing provision for the punishment of bear-baiting and dog-fighting, 21 Feb. 1826. He favoured a proposal to enforce payments in specie, on the ground that it would restore confidence in country bank notes, 27 Feb., and he supported compulsory returns on the number of notes issued, 7 Mar. Grey’s wife observed at this juncture that Wilson, with Brougham and Lord Lansdowne, sided with ministers on the issue of small notes; this portended the later schism in the opposition ranks.66 Wilson believed that the governor of Jamaica deserved censure for his acquiescence in the slave trials, 2 Mar., and he called on ministers to make effectual efforts to enforce treaties against the slave trade, 10 Mar.67 His support for swingeing cuts in the army estimates, 3, 7 Mar., represented a shift in his position from the previous session. He wondered if English regiments stationed at the Cape might become self-supporting, as their Dutch predecessors had, 6 Mar. He again spoke for the abolition of flogging in the army, 10 Mar. As an advocate of free trade he criticized those landowners who were unwilling to contemplate any revision of the corn laws, 6 Mar. He approved of Peel’s consolidation of the criminal law, 9 Mar., but wanted child stealing made a specific offence. Next day he asked Canning about the promised French evacuation of Spain. He moved for an account of the ‘enormous and illegal’ expenses of bankruptcy commissioners, 15 Mar. He claimed that provisions for the registration of aliens had been abused, 20 Apr. Having evidently been involved with the London Greek committee, he spoke on behalf of the Greek cause in the House, 19 May. However, that summer Hobhouse gave the Greek deputies a less than glowing reference for Wilson as their prospective military commander, noting that he had ‘a brave heart and a weak head’ but was ‘better than nobody’; he was not offered the post.68 He was present at the inaugural meeting of the Southwark Mechanics’ Institute, 22 May 1826, but declined to subscribe to it, recommending self-help.69 Around this time he wrote to the king, at Wellington’s suggestion, seeking the restoration of his army rank, but to no avail.70 At the general election that summer he faced a challenge from an anti-Catholic opponent. He declared his commitment to civil and religious liberty and his opposition to slavery and the corn laws. He was returned in second place, after a seven-day poll.71

While he voted for Hume’s amendment to the address, 21 Nov. 1826, Wilson distanced himself from some of his cavils on expenditure. He also warned that Catholic emancipation was ‘a measure which, if long delayed, must be ultimately wrested by ... violence’, and praised Canning for having raised Britain’s international reputation from ‘a low state of obloquy to a very high degree of estimation’. He welcomed the government’s announcement of its intention to stand by Portugal in the face of Spanish aggression, 11, 12 Dec. 1826, and gratefully withdrew his planned motion on the subject, assuring Canning that he had not sought to air the issue from party motives. Though he eulogized the late duke of York for the improvements he had made in the organization and discipline of the army, 12 Feb. 1827, he recognized, in a thinly veiled reference to his own case, that the duke had been a stern taskmaster. He hoped that Wellington’s appointment as commander-in-chief might improve prospects for the abolition of corporal punishment, 12 Mar. He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., but declined to support repeal of the Test Acts as a separate measure, 23 Mar., 14 May, as he believed Dissenters should link their cause to that of the Catholics. With government approval, he introduced an amending bill to the Distresses for Rent Act, 23 Mar., to make the regulations governing seizures for unpaid rent apply to rates, tithes and taxes; it gained royal assent, 28 May (7 & 8 Geo. IV, c. 17).72 He voted to reduce the price threshold for the importation of corn to 50s., 9 Mar., but for increased protection for barley, 12 Mar. 1827.

On 21 Feb. 1827 Wilson informed Grey that Liverpool’s stroke had prompted an ‘indefinite number of speculations’, but ‘Canning’s friends feel confident that either he will be premier of a concordant cabinet or ... there will be a total break-up and [a] new combination’.73 Grey refused to deal with Canning and never forgave Wilson for the leading part he played in the negotiations, which drew a section of the Whigs into avowed support for the coalition government. Wilson’s account of what was easily his most significant contribution to politics was subsequently edited and published by his son-in-law.74 At the Whig meeting at Lansdowne House in late March, he was among those who urged opposition to the Tory Sir Thomas Lethbridge’s motion hostile to a Canning premiership.75 Behind the scenes he was the main conduit for negotiations between Canning, Brougham (absent on the circuit) and Lansdowne, who had to be persuaded not to make official adoption of Catholic emancipation a condition of his entering the cabinet. Brougham needed to be soothed into not insisting on an office as the price of his support, and Wilson tactfully suppressed the more indiscreet passages of the correspondence on this point that passed through his hands. From his own account, Wilson ‘continued to render the most zealous aid to Mr. Canning, and had a variety of occasions to be eminently useful, particularly in allaying heats and correcting misunderstandings’. To those members of his own party who had stayed on the opposition benches he was less generous, and he apparently took to referring to Grey as an ‘old woman’.76 He joined the procession of Whigs across the floor of the House, 1 May. On 31 May he maintained that he had ‘come with the colours of liberal principles flying, to support a ministry formed for the purpose of uniting the prerogative of the king with the liberty of the people’. That day he was unable to let Peel’s eulogy of Londonderry pass without comment, and he declined to support Hume’s motion for repeal of the Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act, which he regarded as rocking the ministerial boat. He persuaded Hume not to pursue a motion for repeal of the newspaper stamp duty, which had been brought forward at the behest of Francis Place, who accordingly condemned Wilson as ‘a sneaking hound’.77 He protested at the time wasted by Lethbridge’s efforts to uncover details of the formation of the ministry, 21 May.78 He voted for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, when he spoke in favour of banning election ribbons. Canning’s death in August was a devastating blow to Wilson, who ‘considered his life essential to the interests of mankind’. It was also a personal setback as Palmerston, the secretary at war, had privately admitted only a week earlier that Wilson’s exclusion from the army was ‘a political transaction continued by the arbitrary notions and obstinate character of the duke of York’. Wilson had evidently not pressed his claims on Canning, nor did he accede to Brougham’s suggestion that he should make his reinstatement a condition of his support for Lord Goderich’s administration, to which he promised ‘zealous and truly disinterested support’. He welcomed Lansdowne’s adhesion and put out a feeler to Lambton, stating his ‘too painful sense of schisms among friends’.79 In September 1827 he was confident that Goderich ‘aims only at honest objects’, and at the beginning of 1828 he informed Scarlett of his conviction that much support existed for the government amongst ‘the intellectual as well as the popular body’. He suggested that a liberal momentum should be maintained, by ‘the repeal of invidious laws, which though dead letters in the statute book, still offend’.80 Within weeks, however, Goderich had ignominiously given up his office.

Wilson divided for repeal of the Test Acts, 22 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He thought the House should insist on answers from witnesses in the inquiry into electoral corruption at East Retford, 3, 4 Mar., and opposed the extension of its franchise to the neighbouring hundred, 21 Mar. He called for an immediate prohibition on the flogging of female slaves, 5 Mar. He quizzed Wellington’s ministry on details of its policy towards Greece, 7, 24 Mar., 9 Apr., 19 May, and Portugal, 26 June. On 28 Apr. Lord Strangford reported that Wilson had informed him of his intention to ‘make a furious attack on me this evening in the House ... for my libellous assertions respecting the South American republics’; evidently nothing came of this.81 He voted for a 15s. corn duty, 29 Apr. With a tribute to Canning, he voted to make financial provision for his family, 13 May, having reportedly spent ‘all evening going about conciliating the ultra Whigs to support the motion’.82 He favoured the opening of select vestries, as they ‘sanction the principle of taxation without representation and without responsibility, which is contrary to the principle of all free government’, 9 June. He damned the voters’ registration bill as one of ‘disfranchisement’, 19 June. He voted that day for reform of the usury laws, and for inquiry into the Irish church, 24 June. Though sensible of its imperfections, he supported the sale of game bill faute de mieux, 24, 27 June. He spoke and voted against the introduction of excise licenses for cider vendors, 26 June, and described the chancellor of the exchequer Goulburn’s attempt to present it as a measure of moral reform as ‘cant ... of the very worst species’. He opposed the additional churches bill by speech and vote, 30 June. In renewing his attack on the Foreign Enlistment Act he clashed angrily with Charles Williams Wynn, 3 July. Next day he was upbraided by Mackintosh for his failure to pay attention during a debate on trade. He opposed the retrospective provision in the superannuation allowances bill, 14 July. With an anecdote about a military corps drawn from the indigenous peoples of the Cape, he supported Fowell Buxton’s attempt to secure their release from slavery, 15 July 1828. That day he helpfully suggested that holders of bonds issued by the deposed Spanish government should address their claims to France. Early in February 1829 Lambton, now Lord Durham, reported to Grey that Wilson had been in ‘high excitement’ at the possibility of his reinstatement in the army, but that Wellington had ‘thrown him over, as I suspected, saying "why did not his friend Mr. Canning do it"’.83 In the House, Wilson joined in the discussion arising from Bristol petitions for and against Catholic emancipation, 26 Feb., and voted for the government’s bill, 6, 30 Mar. Observing that ‘some price must be paid for every political boon’, he reluctantly accepted the disfranchisement of Irish 40s. freeholders, 20 Mar; he made copious notes on this debate, the purpose of which is unclear.84 While he agreed in principle with the clauses of the emancipation bill dealing with the Jesuits, he thought them too inflexible, 24 Mar. He divided in the minority against obliging Daniel O’Connell to swear the oath of supremacy, 18 May. He was unsympathetic towards petitioners against the London Bridge bill, 8 Apr., 8 May. He suggested that a remonstrance from the chancellor of the exchequer might persuade the Spanish government to honour its commitments to holders of bonds issued by its predecessor, 15 Apr., 19 June. He divided for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, and Lord Blandford’s reform resolutions, 2 June. He voted in the minority for a fixed duty on corn imports, 19 May, when he scorned provincial opponents of the metropolis police bill and spoke in favour of an extension to the grounds of the Zoological Society in Regent’s Park. He was impatient with tardy objections to opening the vestry of St. James, Westminster, 21 May, and voted for Hume’s proposed additional clause to the ecclesiastical courts bill, 5 June. He suggested that commissioners sent to report on the condition of slaves in the colonies should be allowed to continue their work, 25 May. His claim to be an oracle on international affairs suffered as a result of his failure to foretell Russia’s defeat of the Turks in September; Hobhouse relished being ‘able to laugh at Bob Wilson’, but he was unabashed. Greville recorded in December 1829 that Wilson had ‘written to the sultan a letter full of advice and ... says the Turks will be more powerful than ever’, adding that he ‘is always full of opinions and facts; the former are wild and extravagant, the latter generally false’.85

Wilson divided for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb. 1830. He acted with the revived Whig opposition on most major issues that session. He voted for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., but favoured extending the franchise to Bassetlaw freeholders on the principle that ‘half a loaf is better than no bread’, 15 Mar. He was a majority teller against O’Connell’s proposal to institute vote by ballot in the enlarged borough, explaining that ‘there is something in the privacy, in the concealment of vote by ballot ... that is ... contrary to the feelings of Englishmen’. He voted for Lord Blandford’s reform plan, 18 Feb., but emphasized that he ‘never was authorized by my constituents to vote for any measure which could affect the security of property’. He divided for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and Russell’s reform resolutions, 28 May. He expressed suitable outrage at the duke of Newcastle’s treatment of recalcitrant tenants in Newark and supported referral of their petition to a select committee, 1 Mar. He asserted that Canning’s failure to repeal the Test Acts had arisen from a desire to carry the measure in conjunction with Catholic emancipation, 8 Feb. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, when he declared that he ‘should be glad to see the Jew, the Christian and the Unitarian all sitting together in the House’. He divided for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, and, despite the Lords’ amendments, criticized the ‘neck or nothing’ approach of those opposition Members who opposed the bill, 20 July. He called for the East India Company to contribute to the funding of home-based Indian regiments, 19 Feb. Though he was generally supportive of economy motions, he apparently ‘voted with ministers’ against delaying the army estimates, 19 Feb.,86 avowed his intention of voting with them against a reduction in the size of the navy, 1 Mar., and hoped there were no plans to close the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, 30 Apr. He reportedly voted with government on the sugar duties, 21 June.87 He cited commercial interests as a reason for British intervention in the conflict between Spain and her former colonies of Mexico and Colombia, 1 Mar., 20, 24 May. He supported the right of Barrington, the judge of the Irish court of admiralty accused of embezzlement, to be heard at the bar of the House, 22 May, and recommended that leniency be shown to a stranger who had thrown papers into the chamber. He spoke against the charitable institutions bill, which would have exempted Bethlehem Hospital from paying poor rates, 24 May. He regarded Sadler’s attempt to ameliorate the condition of the labouring poor as ‘most desirable’, 3 June, and called for the withdrawal of the Scottish and Irish paupers removal bill the next day. He supported the labourers’ wages bill, which aimed to abolish the truck system, 5 July. He thought the sale of beer bill did the government ‘the highest credit’, 3 June. For reasons of military discipline he did not believe that British troops serving abroad could expect to be excused from participation in Catholic ceremonial, 17 June. Following the death of George IV Wilson renewed his plea for reinstatement in the army, and William IV gratified his wish at a levee on 28 July; his lieutenant-general’s commission was dated 1 Dec. 1830 (backdated to 27 May 1825). Lord Ellenborough, the president of the board of control, wrote that this ‘pleases everybody’, although Mrs. Arbuthnot claimed that Wellington had still been ‘violent against it’ earlier in the year.88 Prior to the dissolution that summer it was suggested that Grey’s son, Lord Howick*, might be invited to offer for Southwark, as Wilson’s former supporters were ‘very much disgusted with him ... and are anxious to have some one for a candidate who had voted regularly and well’. But Grey advised against such a move and ‘seemed averse to being the person directly to oppose Wilson, however much he may have deserved it’.89 At the general election Wilson faced a challenge from a local candidate apparently put up by the licensed victuallers, who were angered by his support for the sale of beer bill. He answered criticism of his inattention to local interests and defended his stance on the bill, exclaiming that ‘he thanked God ... it was sometimes possible to support ministers’. He spoke out forcefully against universal suffrage, the ballot and annual parliaments. Recovering from a poor start, he was returned in second place behind the newcomer, ousting Calvert. At a celebration dinner he anticipated that the force of public opinion would ensure the triumph of reform.90

The ministry listed Wilson as one of the ‘bad doubtfuls’, and he was an unexplained absentee from the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He lost no time in pressing his claims for preferment on Lord Grey’s new government, bemoaning to lord chancellor Brougham the financial loss caused by the enforced break in his army career.91 He presented a Surrey petition against the metropolitan police force, 18 Nov., but did not share the petitioners’ fear that it might become the tool of a despotic government. He was a majority teller against the reintroduced charitable institutions bill, 7 Dec. He endeavoured to demonstrate the inefficacy of the ballot in countries where it had been adopted, 9, 21 Dec., and dramatically warned that its introduction to Britain would lead to the ‘overthrow [of] the monarchy’, to which he would be ‘no party’. He painted a grim picture of the condition of Ireland before the Act of Union and opposed O’Connell’s call for its repeal, 11 Dec. 1830. He opined that the introduction of a poor law to Ireland was both desirable and inevitable, 30 Mar. 1831. He declared himself willing to support a property tax in lieu of existing assessed taxes, which pressed ‘too heavily on the industrious classes’, 14 Dec. 1830. Evidently he spent January 1831 in Paris, where he was informed by the leader of the Commons, Lord Althorp, of the date of Parliament’s reassembly.92 He presented a Southwark petition for reform and repeal of the window tax, 10 Feb., and supported another in favour of the ministry’s reform bill, which had his ‘most cordial approbation and shall have my warmest support’, 14 Mar. He duly divided for the bill’s second reading, 22 Mar. The House had therefore no inkling of the bombshell he was to drop on 19 Apr., when he rose ‘under the most painful circumstances of embarrassment’ to announce his concurrence in Gascoyne’s amendment to retain the existing number of English Members. In a contorted argument, he claimed to have been given assurances that the amendment was not a wrecking device, and maintained that ministers had previously told him the question was not ‘vital or essential’. Yet it was with apparent recognition of the threat to the whole measure that he said he would abstain from the division. He concluded with a valedictory statement of the purity of his motives, and indicated his willingness to give up his seat. The next speaker, the Irish secretary Smith Stanley, expressed ‘pain’ and ‘surprise’ at what he had heard, and reckoned that the electors of Southwark would be ‘astonished at the course which he has taken’ and ‘will not be disposed to forgive him’. Wilson must have anticipated this reaction, and in an undated note to Brougham he made the hopeful suggestion that ‘if you were to make me quartermaster general ... I should have an honourable political retreat from the borough and your brother [William Brougham*] would be my successor infallibly’.93 A meeting of his constituents summoned for 22 Apr. 1831 was postponed until the following day at his request, but even then he sent only a letter signifying his intention of retiring. Words like ‘hypocrite’ and ‘imposter’ were freely used, and there was criticism of his abstention on the civil list vote. Some detected early signs of his ratting in his arguments against the ballot, and there were demands for the return of subscription monies.94 A mob smashed his windows, and government supporters queued up to denounce him: ‘a puffed up bubble burst and gone to nothing’, was Lady Bute’s verdict, while Hobhouse described his final Commons speech as ‘the most disgraceful exposure that ever closed a life of pretended patriotism’.95

Wilson’s subsequent reflections on the affair, published posthumously, centred on the importance of preserving the number of English Members, and showed that his self-satisfaction knew no bounds:

I did not let my personal interests prevail over my sense of duty to the country, and ... I contributed to save 60 Members to the English representation. If every Member of the ministerial side had acted as fearlessly and honestly, the bill would never have passed the Commons in the state that it did ... There never was such venal and servile voting as in this Parliament on this measure.

But it is plain that his objection to the bill was general, not specific: as early as 3 Mar. 1831 he had recorded in his private journal that he considered it ‘an initiatory measure of republican government’. The clear shift in his politics can be measured in the Tory language he employed to explain himself to the poetess Sibella Elizabeth Hatfield, a recently acquired confidante:

I have ever been too proud of our exemplified history, too sensible of the blessings we enjoy, and too well acquainted with the generous envy we have excited in all the nations of the earth, to promote any subversive change and democratic novelties.96

Shortly after his departure from the Commons, he abandoned Brooks’s Club for White’s, where he consorted with such Tories as Croker and Arbuthnot, who helped him to establish friendly relations with Wellington. This created a new audience for his endless prognostications: in December 1832, for example, he pontificated in typical fashion about the conflict in Belgium.97 He continued to press the Grey government for some domestic recognition of his military services, and in June 1831 complained to Brougham, his remaining friend in office, of the promotion of officers inferior to him in precedence. Grey assured Brougham of his ‘kind disposition’ towards Wilson, ‘notwithstanding our political separation’, and recalled that on entering office he had expressed an ‘anxiety to see a regiment given to him’. Nothing had happened by February 1833, when Wilson admitted to Brougham that in the prevailing political climate he was ‘worse than a fish out of water’; discounting any prospect of a return to the Commons, he expressed a desire to go abroad. Nearly four years were to pass before he was given command of a regiment. In 1841 his foreign military honours were restored, and his wish for a posting abroad was gratified the following year by his appointment as governor of Gibraltar. The prime minister Peel’s assessment of him at this time indicated that nothing but his politics had changed: ‘he is one of those who live on ... speculations, and are never easy unless they can make you believe you are on the eve of some miraculous explosion’.98

Wilson died on a visit to England in May 1849 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. He had made provision for his five surviving children in his marriage settlement and his will; property in Kent acquired through his marriage passed to his daughter Rosabella Stanhope Randolph. Of his sons, only Belford Hinton Wilson (1804-58) achieved any prominence, serving as a senior diplomat in Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela. With an eye to posterity, he instructed that ‘the publication of all private letters, many of which are of great interest, must ... undergo ... careful revision’, and he enjoined ‘the decorous observation of social propriety’.99 His son-in-law, the Rev. Herbert Randolph, obliged with an hagiographical Life of Sir Robert Wilson, covering his early career, which was published in 1862. Since then, Wilson’s quixotic heroism as a soldier has attracted the interest of three biographers, but none has ventured to portray him as a successful politician.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Howard Spencer


This article draws on three biographies of Wilson: G. Costigan, Sir Robert Wilson: A Soldier of Fortune in the Napoleonic Wars (1932) gives the most detailed coverage of his political career; M. Glover, A Very Slippery Fellow (1978) is predominantly a military study; I. Samuel, An Astonishing Fellow (1985) takes a more sympathetic view of Wilson.

  • 1. Fox Jnl. 50-51.
  • 2. Costigan, 224-6; Broughton, Recollections, ii. 118-19.
  • 3. Greville Mems. ii. 81; Croker Pprs. ii. 104; Lord Ilchester, Chrons. Holland House, 33.
  • 4. The Times, 8, 9, 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. Broughton, ii. 127.
  • 6. Add. 30115, ff. 17, 19; 30213, f. 153.
  • 7. The Times, 20, 27 May 1820.
  • 8. Add. 52444, f. 125.
  • 9. Add. 30123, ff. 123, 151.
  • 10. Hobhouse Diary, 30-31; Add. 30103, ff. 24-28, 30, 109, 120.
  • 11. Creevey Pprs. i. 315.
  • 12. Sheffield Archives, Wharncliffe mss, Seymour Bathurst to Lady Stuart Wortley, 20 Sept.; The Times, 25 Oct., 23 Nov. 1820.
  • 13. Add. 30109, ff. 140-2; 30123, ff. 219-22, 227.
  • 14. Add. 30123, f. 232; Lambton mss, Wilson to Lambton, 29 Dec. 1820.
  • 15. The Times, 20 Jan. 1821.
  • 16. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 67-68.
  • 17. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 14.
  • 18. The Times, 14 Feb. 1821; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 122; Grey Bennet diary, 19.
  • 19. The Times, 14 Feb. 1821.
  • 20. Grey Bennet diary, 26.
  • 21. Creevey Pprs. ii. 26.
  • 22. The Times, 21, 22 June 1821.
  • 23. TNA FO352/8/4, Planta to Stratford Canning, 15 Mar. 1821.
  • 24. The Times, 8 May 1821.
  • 25. Ibid. 22 Feb., 13 Mar., 3 July 1821.
  • 26. Ibid. 23 June 1821; Grey Bennet diary, 113.
  • 27. Grey Bennet diary, 50.
  • 28. Ibid. 82; The Times, 6 Mar. 1821.
  • 29. The Times, 27 Mar., 3 Apr. 1821.
  • 30. Ibid. 25, 29 June 1821.
  • 31. Ibid. 4 July 1821.
  • 32. Add. 30103, ff. 19-23; 30109, f. 199.
  • 33. Add. 30109, f. 240.
  • 34. HMC Bathurst, 514; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 119; Wellington mss WP1/822/13.
  • 35. Add. 30109, ff. 260, 296, 300; Wellington mss WP1/1076/27.
  • 36. Wellington mss WP1/679/3; HMC Bathurst, 514-15.
  • 37. Colchester Diary, iii. 236; Add. 30125, ff. 102-6.
  • 38. HMC Bathurst, 515-16; Wellington mss WP1/679/3; 680/4, 6.
  • 39. Hobhouse Diary, 74; Add. 30109, ff. 223-4, 278, 284, 296, 307; 30113, ff. 145, 148, 150.
  • 40. Add. 51654, Mackintosh to Holland, 21 Dec. 1821; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 122.
  • 41. Gurney diary, 13 Feb.; Add. 52445, f. 43; Dorset RO D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 133 (13 Feb. 1822); Lady Holland to Son, 1.
  • 42. Add. 30110, f. 20.
  • 43. The Times, 5, 14, 15 Mar. 1822.
  • 44. Ibid. 7, 30 Mar., 26 Apr., 5, 15, 29 June 1822; J. Belchem, ’Orator’ Hunt, 139-40.
  • 45. The Times, 7 May 1822.
  • 46. Ibid. 19 June 1822.
  • 47. NLS mss 3895, f. 28.
  • 48. Add. 30110, ff. 56, 70, 74, 97; 30125, f. 35; The Times, 28 Oct. 1822.
  • 49. The Times, 12, 20 Feb. 1823.
  • 50. Creevey Pprs. ii. 68; C. New, Brougham, 220.
  • 51. Add. 30110, f. 120; The Times, 27 June 1823.
  • 52. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 247.
  • 53. Add. 30111, ff. 62, 72-73.
  • 54. Costigan, 217; Add. 30103, ff. 64-214 and 30137, passim give Wilson’s own account of this episode.
  • 55. The Times, 6, 9 Sept., 7 Dec. 1823; Glover, 185.
  • 56. Wellington mss WP1/784/18; 786/13; 822/13.
  • 57. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 18 Mar. 1824.
  • 58. The Times, 23 June 1824; Add. 30126, f. 10.
  • 59. The Times, 18 May, 4 June 1824.
  • 60. Ibid. 16 Apr. 1825.
  • 61. Ibid. 17 May 1825.
  • 62. Wellington mss WP1/822/13.
  • 63. The Times, 22 June 1825.
  • 64. Ibid. 28 June 1825.
  • 65. Ibid. 2 July 1825.
  • 66. Creevey Pprs. ii. 95.
  • 67. The Times, 11 Mar. 1826.
  • 68. Add. 30110, f. 148; Broughton, iii. 115.
  • 69. The Times, 23 May 1826.
  • 70. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 25.
  • 71. The Times, 7, 8, 15, 27 June 1826.
  • 72. Ibid. 24 Mar. 1827.
  • 73. Add. 30124, f. 252.
  • 74. Canning’s Administration: Narrative of Formation, with Correspondence ed. Rev. H. Randolph (1872), on which the following account is based.
  • 75. Castle Howard mss, Holland to Carlisle [Mar. 1827].
  • 76. Broughton, iii. 195.
  • 77. D. Miles, Francis Place, 175-6.
  • 78. The Times, 22 May 1827.
  • 79. Canning’s Administration, pp. vi, 33-35; Lambton mss, Wilson to Lambton, 12 Aug. 1827.
  • 80. Add. 30111, f. 314; 51617, Wilson to Holland, 15 Sept. 1827.
  • 81. Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C138/1, Strangford to Stanhope, 28 Apr. 1828.
  • 82. Harewood mss, Lord George Cavendish Bentinck to Lady Canning, 13 May 1828.
  • 83. Grey mss, Durham to Grey, 4 Feb. 1829.
  • 84. Add. 30142, ff. 91-121.
  • 85. Add. 51569, Hobhouse to Holland, 25 Sept. 1829; Greville Mems. i. 336-7.
  • 86. Add. 56554, f. 66.
  • 87. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 21 June 1830.
  • 88. Add. 30128, f. 27; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 273, 324; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 339-40.
  • 89. Howick jnl. 26-27 June 1830.
  • 90. The Times, 31 July, 13 Aug. 1830.
  • 91. Brougham mss, Wilson to Brougham, 22 Nov. 1830.
  • 92. Add. 30112, ff. 133, 142.
  • 93. Brougham mss, Wilson to Brougham n.d. [Apr. 1831].
  • 94. The Times, 23, 25 Apr. 1831; G. Gleig, Personal Rems. of Duke of Wellington, 258.
  • 95. Buckingham, Mems. William IV, i. 294; Harrowby mss 22, f. 212; Broughton, iii. 102.
  • 96. Canning’s Administration, pp. vii-x.
  • 97. Costigan, 260-2; Lonsdale mss, Beckett to Lowther, 4 Dec. 1832.
  • 98. Brougham mss, Wilson to Brougham, 20 June 1831, Feb. 1833, Grey to same, 24 June 1831; Parker, Peel, ii. 449.
  • 99. PROB 11/2094/407; IR26/1854/250.