DOWNING, George (c.1685-1749), of Gamlingay Park, Cambs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

1710 - 1715
1722 - 10 June 1749

Family and Education

bap. 24 Oct. 1685, o. s. of Sir George Downing, 2nd Bt., of East Hatley, Cambs. by Lady Catherine (d. 1688), da. of James Cecil†, 3rd Earl of Salisbury.  educ. travelled abroad (inc. Holland, Germany, Denmark, Italy) 1700–4.  m. 1700, Mary (d. 1734), da. of Sir William Forester*, s.p.; 1da. (b. c.1726) illegit. by Mary Townsend.  suc. fa. June 1711; KB 12 Jan. 1732.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Dunwich 1709, common councilman 1710, alderman 1712, bailiff 1712–13.2

Biography

Downing was the grandson of Sir George Downing, 1st Bt.†, the Restoration bureaucrat who gave his name to Downing Street. His father, the 2nd Bt., was by contrast ‘not accounted of sound judgment’, and after his mother’s death Downing was brought up in the family of his maternal aunt, the wife of Sir William Forester*. When he was 15, ‘by the procurement and persuasion of those in whose keeping he was’, he married his 13-year-old cousin, Mary Forester. He left her almost immediately to begin a long foreign tour, adjuring her not to go to court, where her noted beauty would be too much admired. Her acceptance in 1703 of the post of maid of honour, therefore, while he was still in Italy, ‘filled me with surprise and pain, and shattered the loveliest image man ever cherished in his heart’, and on his return to England in the following year he kept apart from her.3

Downing’s electoral interest at Dunwich was probably established in 1709, when it was reported that he had ‘bought most of the houses’ there. He was returned unopposed at the next election, having failed to become knight of the shire for Cambridgeshire, where Dyer described him as a ‘Whig candidate’. In a list of the new Parliament he was, however, marked as a Tory. He seconded Edward Wortley Montagu’s* motion of 6 Dec. 1710 for a place bill, and was named to the committee to prepare the bill. He told on 25 Jan. 1711 against Henry Vernon I* in a disputed election for Stafford. Listed among the ‘worthy patriots’ who exposed the mismanagements of the previous ministry, and as a member of the October Club, he broke from the Court on 7 Dec. 1711 over the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion, and was described as a Whig both at the time of the 1713 election, in the Post Boy, and subsequently, in the Worsley list.4

Downing endorsed his wife’s unsuccessful petition to the Lords in 1715 for a divorce bill, in which it was alleged that the marriage had not been consummated, that they had never lived together, and that now ‘such disgusts and aversions have arisen and continue between the two that there is no possibility of mutual agreement’. Defeated in the 1715 election, where he seems to have stood as a Tory, he was removed from the Bedfordshire commission of the peace in the following year. However, regaining his seat in 1722, he was granted soon afterwards a 99-year lease of Dunwich in fee farm, which put the borough in his pocket, and thereafter became a loyal supporter of government. Despite the fact that he was wealthy enough to give his natural daughter a dowry of some £20,000, ‘for the latter part of his life he led a most miserable, covetous and sordid existence’.