HEATHCOTE, George (1700-68), of Walcot, Som.
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Family and Education
b. 7 Dec. 1700, in Jamaica, o.s. of Josiah Heathcote, a yr. bro. of Sir Gilbert Heathcote, West India merchant, of St. Swithin’s Lane, London by Catherine, wid. of Thomas Barrett, merchant, of Jamaica. educ. Clare, Camb. 1720; L. Inn 1721. m. c. 1725, Maria, da. of John Eyles, M.P., of South Broom House, Wilts., 2s. 2da. suc. fa. 1706.
Director, S. Sea Co. 1730-3; master, Salters’ Co. 1737; alderman of Walbrook ward 1739-49; sheriff of London 1739-40, ld. mayor 1742.
A wealthy West India merchant, Heathcote stood successfully as a Whig for Hindon in 1727, against Henry Fox. On petition ‘the whole power of the ministry was exerted to give him admittance in the House to the exclusion of Mr. Fox’. At first he supported the Administration, but when the retention of the Hessian troops came before the House on 4 Feb. 1730, he made what Hervey described as
a flaming speech against the Court, which he had collected from a common-place book on tyranny and arbitrary power and extracts of treatises on a free government; and which would have served just as well for any debate that ever was or ever will be in Parliament as that to which it was applied. I took opportunity to wish Sir Robert (with whom I dined) joy of his new friend, and asked him, if he did not think his pains well bestowed.
Thereafter, Heathcote was one of the most frequent and violent speakers for the Opposition. On 4 Mar. 1731 the 1st Lord Egmont reports:
Mr. Heathcote made a motion for a bill to prevent the translation of bishops. His character is that of a republican Whig ... [He] raised the indignation of the House by prefacing his motion that the bishops clung all together to advance any proposition that had a court air, and were united in all measures that were destructive to their country.
And again on the excise bill in 1733:
Mr. Heathcote spoke violently against the bill ... [concluding] that if it passed into a law, the people would not submit to it but forcibly repeal it. This was a hot expression and breathed rebellion.
On the other hand, he was one of the opposition Whigs who supported the motion for the Princess Royal’s marriage portion, taking the opportunity ‘to express their zeal for the royal family’. He supported the new colony of Georgia, serving as a common councillor and treasurer of the Society till he resigned in 1738, on the ground that some of the trustees were too subservient to Walpole.1
Returned for Southwark in 1734, Heathcote moved in March 1736 that his opponent’s petition be heard at the bar of the House, to give himself an opportunity of clearing himself publicly of the charges levelled against him. In the same month he spoke in favour of the repeal of the Test Act. In March 1737 he supported Walpole’s financial proposals, and opposed Sir John Barnard’s scheme for reducing the interest on the national debt. In November 1739 he supported an opposition motion for papers relating to the war with Spain. Next winter he declined an invitation to stand for the lord mayoralty because
he was just out of an expensive office (that of sheriff) and which had taken up so much of his time that he had not been able to attend to his own affairs and to involve him immediately in those of the mayoralty which would take up more of his time was a step to ruin him and he was resolved not to serve.
Returned for London at the general election of 1741, he voted with the Government on the Bossiney election petition out of friendship for one of the ministerial candidates but two days later, having, it was supposed, ‘been schooled on his return into the city’ for his vote, ‘not only changed sides, but spoke on the contrary side with fury’.
After Walpole’s fall, Heathcote’s opposition turned to Jacobitism. On 15 Nov. 1745 a report to the Pretender states:
Alderman Heathcote ... has been long a vigorous and bold opposer of the measures of the Hanoverian court, by which means he has been reckoned, especially since the base defection of Pulteney, the chief leader of the Patriot Whigs, not in the city of London only but in the nation; he opened himself above two years ago to Sir John Hynde Cotton, and did what he could without formally despising the established laws, to force the court to persecute him by which he hoped to drive things to the utmost extremity, but the ministers knew both his abilities and his influence so well that they durst not meddle with him. At the time of the embarkation at Dunkirk [February 1744] he allowed Sir John Cotton to answer for him to Sir Watkin Williams Wynn and Lord Barrymore and has been ever since in their counsels and confidence.2
He was the only one of the London Members who opposed a loyal address upon the threatened French invasion. In February 1745 he warmly supported a bill to abolish the traditional veto of the aldermen of London over the decisions of the common council, which had been confirmed by the London Election Act. In March following he spoke against a grant of £40,000 for the cost of 6,000 Dutch troops sent for during the invasion scare.3 He opposed the voluntary subscriptions for raising troops and the loyal address of the city on the rebellion,4 during which the Pretender was informed that
as many of the King’s friends in England as possible would join the Prince when he gave them an opportunity ... Alderman Heathcote and several more have been with Sir Watkin to assure him that they will rise in the city of London at the same time.
In 1747 a message was sent to the Young Pretender that
Mr. Alderman Heathcote ... whose indefatigable zeal and labours in the interest of your royal family, have given a bias to the spirit of that noble metropolis in favour of your royal cause ... charged me to assure your Royal Highness of his most dutiful attachment, ardent zeal and devotion and that if at any time he has a hint or previous notice of your Royal Highness’s designs in attempting anything for the good of the nation, he’ll exert himself in conjunction with several others of your faithful subjects to raise a considerable sum of money, which had not been wanting to your Royal Highness in the time you was in Scotland, if his proposals, the most practical of any, had been agreed by the rest of the party.5
Heathcote resigned his aldermanic gown in January 1749, giving as his reason ‘the frequent detestable instances of apostacy from every principle of honour, integrity and public spirit’ of many of his countrymen. He declared his determination to return no more to London but to live in retirement, there to seek ‘that small share of happiness, which is to be acquired in this venal country’. He received the thanks of the common council on 26 Jan. 1749
for his uniform, active and disinterested conduct in every station of public trust, for the many and great services he has done this metropolis, as magistrate and representative in Parliament. For his zealous and laudable endeavours to promote the trade and prosperity of his fellow citizens. For his exemplary public spirit and independence, in making the preservation of the laws and liberties of his country the constant and invariable rule of all his actions.6
In 1752 he was ‘a principal manager’ in a plot to restore the Stuarts with Prussian help.7 His last public act was the publication of a letter dated 6 Oct. 1762 to the city of London, opposing the proposed peace with France. He died 7 June 1768.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 27, 153, 274 and passim, 350, 372; ii. 468-9; iii. 20; Ilchester, Ld. Hervey and his Friends, 47.
- 2. Stuart mss 227/155, 271/3; Coxe, Walpole, iii. 582.
- 3. Yorke's parl. jnl. Parl. Hist. xiii. 649, 1247-8.
- 4. Yorke, Hardwicke, i. 478; Marchmont Pprs. ii. 341-8.
- 5. Stuart mss 269/191, 288/172.
- 6. E. D. Heathcote, Heathcote Fam. 71; Jnl. vol. 59.
- 7. Andrew Lang, Pickle the Spy, 178.