BEAUMONT, Sir George, 4th Bt. (c.1664-1737), of Stoughton Grange, nr. Leicester
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Family and Education
b. c.1664, 2nd s. of Sir Henry Beaumont, 2nd Bt.†, of Stoughton Grange by Elizabeth, da. of George Farmer of Holbeach, Lincs., prothonotary of c.p. educ. New Coll. Oxf. matric. 9 Feb. 1683, aged 18, BCL 1690, fellow, DCL (by diploma) 1714. unm. suc. bro. as 4th Bt. 5 Dec. 1690; to the estates of his cos. Thomas, 3rd Visct. Beaumont of Swords [I] at Cole Orton, Leics. 1702.1
Commr. privy seal 1711–13; ld. of Admiralty Apr.–Oct. 1714.
Trustee, Radcliffe Lib. 1714–d.2
‘Disinterested, just, steady, intrepid, he possessed every virtue that adorns a public station.’ So runs the epitaph for Beaumont reputedly composed by his friend Swift. A second son, and not in expectation of title and estates, he obtained a fellowship at New College, Oxford, though he may have been one of the non-resident fellows of which the college had an exceptional number. At first Beaumont, a thoroughbred Tory, stirred reluctantly at the prospect of entering the Commons for Leicester, a short journey from his seat. John Verney* informed Lord Rutland (John Manners†): ‘Sir George Beaumont has often writ me word that he has totally declined all thoughts of standing for burgess at Leicester, for which I am very sorry . . . and have used all the arguments I could to dissuade him from that resolution’. By 1701 his attitude had changed. In the January election he allowed himself to be put up for Oxford University by a group of younger dons who wished to challenge the pre-eminence of Christ Church in choosing the candidates, but soon afterwards withdrew. A by-election arising shortly afterwards in March, Beaumont was re-adopted by the discontented element, this time to stand against William Bromley II*. He saw the contest through to a finish, and though defeated he succeeded in attracting a respectable following. In the second 1701 election Beaumont campaigned with a fellow Tory, John Verney*, for the Leicestershire seats against two Whigs, but he and Verney stood down before the contest was brought to a poll. He was finally chosen for the borough of Leicester in 1702 which he represented for the rest of his life.3
During the next three parliaments Beaumont was largely inactive, though behind the scenes he was assiduous in cultivating and maintaining the political contacts in the midlands which later helped to single him out as one of his party’s leading activists. Apart from members of the gentry, his expanding network of friendships included figures such as Dean Swift, whose mother lived at Leicester, while Swift also spent time with Beaumont at Stoughton Grange. On 13 Feb. 1703 he voted against agreement with the Whig Lords’ amendments to the abjuration bill. His sole undertaking next session was a bill for selling off the Cheshire estate of a Leicestershire gentleman, the first of a series of similar measures he supervised for gentry, mainly of his home county. In October 1704 he was noted as a ‘probable supporter’ of the Tack, and despite Robert Harley’s* noting him to be lobbied against the measure, he duly voted for it on 28 Nov. 1704. On 19 Dec. he was teller in favour of adding a clause for qualifying justices of the peace to the recruiting bill. Shortly after the 1705 election Beaumont was noted as ‘True Church’ in a published list of the new Parliament, and on the first day of the session voted against the Court candidate for the Speakership. He spoke on 19 Dec. 1705 in the debate on the second reading of the regency bill which he presumably opposed. On 13 Feb. 1706 he told for the losing Tory side on an amendment to the recruiting bill. In the meantime, between November and February, he took charge of a bill authorizing a Leicestershire land sale, though it failed to pass the Upper House. A more successful second version was managed by him in March–April 1707. The corporation of Leicester’s intention early in 1708 to establish a workhouse in the town forced Beaumont to arbitrate in a local squabble. On presentation of the corporation’s petition on 6 Feb., he and his co-Member, James Winstanley*, were immediately ordered to prepare a bill. Amendments to the bill in committee became the subject of dispute and Beaumont, reporting this development on 8 Mar., had to seek permission for a recommittal. Even so, once his further report was made on 16 Mar., followed by an order for engrossment, the project was pushed no further.4
Beaumont’s Tory colours were noted in two published lists of early 1708. It was perhaps not surprising given his Tory zeal that the final, most Whiggish phase of Lord Godolphin’s (Sidney†) ministry saw a complete lapse in Beaumont’s recorded activity in the House: all that is known is his opposition to the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in the early part of 1710. Following the Tory victory in the autumn of 1710, Beaumont immediately became more prominent among the rank and file of Tory MPs. Besides an increasing workload of party business he nevertheless found time to supervise the passage of an estate bill for a Leicestershire colleague, Geoffrey Palmer*. In the disputed return for Cockermouth on 7 Apr. he was teller for hearing evidence against General James Stanhope*, currently a prisoner-of-war in Spain. As one of the ‘Tory patriots’ who voted for the peace in April, he was classed a little later as a ‘worthy patriot’ who had in the first session assisted in detecting the mismanagements of the outgoing administration, and was also a member of the October Club. On 18 Apr. he told for adjourning debate on the general post office bill, and on 7 May against agreeing with Lords’ amendments to the game bill, the effect of which was to make existing penalties harsher. He was then put on a committee to state the grounds of disagreement to the Upper House.5
By now Beaumont was an important cog in ministerial political organization. Collaborating with Speaker Bromley, another High Churchman, he kept in touch with Tories of the midland counties of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire and occasionally Derbyshire, securing their attendance in the Commons. Not only did he operate by letter, he also toured these shires in person, thereby earning the nickname, ‘the Sergeant’. He soon proved he was not one of the more full-blooded members of the October Club. In June it was publicly declared that he was to be one of four ‘excellent’ new lords commissioners of trade, although he was not in fact ambitious for office. On being sounded by Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley) through Bromley’s agency, he was found to be pliable: ‘I have had an opportunity also of speaking to Sir G. Beaumont’, wrote Bromley,
but cannot fix anything upon him, he does not care to take a sinecure, and had rather have an employment of some business, but professes himself to be very easy to wait till others more impatient for employment are provided for, and whether he has anything or nothing he will behave himself with all duty to her Majesty and with all due regards to those at the head of her affairs.
In conjunction with two other prominent midland Tories, Sir Thomas Cave, 3rd Bt.*, and Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, Beaumont may well have had some part in the reconstitution of the commission of the peace for Leicestershire.6
On 6 Dec. 1711, the eve of the new session, Beaumont was summoned by Henry St. John II* to a meeting at the Speaker’s house, presumably to finalize tactics for the Address debate and other vital business; and at the commencement of proceedings next day he was duly named to the committee to draft the Address. In late December he accepted office as one of the three commissioners of the privy seal acting for John Robinson, bishop of Bristol, during Robinson’s mission as envoy at Utrecht, and was sworn on the 23rd. By January 1713, Beaumont was intensively involved in setting up the Tory campaign in the midlands for the forthcoming election. Before the dissolution he managed a bill for Sir William Langhorne relating to the exchange of a parsonage house in Kent (April); and was twice teller: agreeing to grant leave for a bill to implement articles 8 and 9 of the commercial treaty with France (14 May); and against the addition of a clause to the bill for freeing the Africa trade (2 June). All the while, Beaumont was active in his capacity as a regional ‘whip’, herding in Tories to support the administration’s peace measures. He wrote to Sir Justinian Isham on 30 May: ‘Mr Speaker desired I would tell you he hopes to see you in the House as soon as possible’, and went on to stress the certainty of a revolt by the Scots Members. Predictably, he supported the commercial treaty with France in the crucial division on 18 June 1713, but not without losing some face at Leicester, where wool-growing interests inevitably regarded him as favouring the shipment of unwrought wool from France. Despite opposition to him on these grounds, he retained his seat.7
Beaumont’s employment was terminated when the privy seal was taken out of commission in August 1713. The 1714 session was a period of intense activity for him on behalf of the ministry and began on 2 Mar. with him seconding the motion for the Address and his inclusion on its drafting committee. Many other committee appointments followed during the course of the session. He returned to the ministerial benches on 5 Apr. when he was appointed an Admiralty lord, in place of John Aislabie*, though at the time of his appointment he was actually ‘taking his tour to fetch up the midland Members’. Beaumont’s governmental and parliamentary commitments were now such as to prompt Sir Thomas Cave, still idling in Leicestershire, to remark early in June that he had ‘not received my usual summons from Sir George, who never fails on all urgent occasions’. In the Commons he played a leading part in supervising the bill for reviving the commission of accounts. On moving for the bill on the 3rd, he was also teller for the ministerial majority approving a motion to empower the commissioners to scrutinize debts due to the army, transport service and the sick and wounded incurred under the previous administration. Beaumont introduced the bill on 11 June, and three days later moved that the forthcoming committee of the whole be instructed to introduce a clause reappointing the previous set of commissioners, with the exception of Francis Annesley*, and in the ensuing division told for the minority in favour. He went on to chair the committee (23 June), make its report (26 June), and convey the bill to the Lords on the 30th. On 11 June he was one of a team of MPs ordered to prepare the bill for settling a reward on the discoverer of a means of calculating longitude with greater precision. In the final weeks of the collapsing Oxford ministry Beaumont was one of the key players with other leading Church Tories in diverting their followers away from Bolingbroke (Henry St John II).8
A signatory to the proclamation of George I, Beaumont quickly set about summoning Tory MPs urgently to London. On the death of Dr John Radcliffe* in November, Beaumont and William Bromley were named in the doctor’s will as trustees to administer his £80,000 bequest to Oxford University. At a ceremony on 7 Dec., at which Radcliffe’s name was entered among the university’s public benefactors, a doctorate of civil laws was conferred on Beaumont by diploma. His role in the Leicestershire election of April 1715 was described by Sir Thomas Cave as ‘indefatigably active’, providing an opportunity for one opposition lampoonist to mock ‘Sir George Bombast’ and his authority over the midland Tories: ‘they [Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Sir Thomas Cave] are both very quick sighted, and can take a sign from Sir George presently, so that there is no danger of their giving a wrong vote when Sir George is in the House’.