AUBREY, John (1739-1826), of Boarstall and subsequently Dorton, Bucks.
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Family and Education
b. 4 June 1739, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Aubrey, 5th Bt., of Boarstall, Bucks. and Llantrithyd, Glam. by Martha, da. of Richard Carter of Chilton, Bucks. educ. Westminster 1752; Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1758. m. (1) 9 Mar. 1771, Mary (d.14 June 1781), da. of Sir James Colebrooke, 1st Bt., 1s. d.v.p.; (2) 26 May 1783, his 1st cos. Martha Catherine, da. and coh. of George Richard Carter of Chilton, s.p. suc. fa. as 6th Bt. 4 Sept. 1786.
Ld. of Admiralty July 1782-Mar. 1783; ld. of Treasury Dec. 1783-Mar. 1789.
In 1768 Aubrey successfully contested Wallingford with the support of Lord Abingdon (with whom he had been at Westminster). Aubrey was a fervent admirer of Chatham, whom he described as ‘the greatest minister this country knows’,1 and a close friend of Shelburne.2 In Parliament he consistently voted against the Grafton and North Administrations. In his maiden speech on 17 Mar. 1769 he attacked the ministerial measures against Wilkes: ‘proceedings ... so violent and unconstitutional as power may for a time support, but nothing can justify’.3 During the debate on the seating of Luttrell, 15 Apr. 1769, he pointed out the dangers of extending the privileges of the House to threaten the liberty of the constituents. On 25 Feb. 1774 he spoke in support of the motion to perpetuate the Grenville Act.
In 1774 Aubrey, having by the purchase of Dorton added considerably to his Buckinghamshire estates, decided to stand for the county at the general election;4 but finding little support he withdrew several weeks before it. Finally he successfully contested Aylesbury, thereby enraging Lord Abingdon who, though already annoyed by Aubrey’s threat to the peace of the county, had continued to support him at Wallingford. Abingdon wrote to Edmund Burke on 4 Oct.:5
Aubrey has used me most cruelly and treacherously, I had laboured through thick and thin to secure him a seat in Parliament ... and after having procured him a clear majority, he slips away to Aylesbury and declares himself a candidate for that town, and flings the voters and all my party into the greatest consternation ... He is a most designing, wavering, unsteady chap.
Aubrey strongly opposed the Administration’s American measures, and on 15 May 1775 declared that while the Government persisted in its attempts to tax America he would think himself ‘justified in taking every opportunity of voting on the side of that oppressed, perhaps I might say, devoted people’.6 During the debate of 11 Feb. 1778, supporting North’s conciliatory proposals, he ‘praised the conduct of the Americans, particularly their mode of making war, by which he showed the impossibility of success by our arms’.7 He was increasingly critical of North; on 12 Mar. 1778 said that the Americans ‘would never agree to any negotiation while the present ministers remained in power’, and on 17 Mar. he urged North to resign to make way for Chatham,
who had neither forced the Cabinet nor ever scrambled for a place ... but who had once already conducted our public affairs with the perfect unanimity of the two Houses of Parliament, as well as that of the nation at large ... his very name alone, were he in power, would more contribute to put a stop to the hostile designs of the House of Bourbon, than all the mighty preparations we had heard so much boasted of.8
Aubrey’s liberal views extended also to Ireland, and during the second reading of the Irish bill, 18 Dec. 1779, he said that he ‘wished to see not only their trade free but their constitution likewise’.9
By the summer of 1780 Aubrey had decided not to stand again for Aylesbury, and at the general election was returned once more for Wallingford, apparently unopposed and with Abingdon’s support. After the formation of the Rockingham Administration in 1782 he wrote to Isaac Barré on 31 Mar. that though he was aware that all places were disposed of, he hoped for a distinction ‘in another line’.10 On 6 May 1782 he spoke in support of Burke’s bill for abolishing various offices and sinecures, describing it as a
perpetual monument to the honour of an Administration who availed themselves of power to no other purpose than to fulfil their promises when out of power; and would be received by the people of England as pledges of a farther and more effectual reformation in the state.11
Aubrey obtained office under Shelburne, but lost it on the formation of the Coalition. In December 1783 he accepted a lordship of the Treasury from Pitt, but ‘avowed that with me office was not an object, and that an English peerage was what I wished for’.12 This ambition was to become an obsession, and during the next few years, convinced that he had obtained a definite promise of a peerage, he plied Pitt13 with increasingly querulous letters reiterating his case.
At the general election of 1784 Aubrey successfully contested Buckinghamshire, his return undoubtedly being assisted by the absence of Lord Verney, his Coalition opponent, who was then living as a bankrupt in France. It was an expensive election; according to Aubrey himself, ‘the expenses ... were such, that they could have been endured by very few fortunes’.14 During this Parliament Aubrey seems to have been frequently absent through illness— his only reported votes were in favour of Pitt’s parliamentary reform proposals, 18 Apr. 1785, and of Richmond’s fortifications plan, 27 Feb. 1786. Continued disappointment over his peerage embittered his relations with Pitt, though he denied15 that this influenced him when in December 1788 he announced that he could not concur with the Administration in admitting the legality of a Parliament not summoned by the King or his proxy, in this case the Prince of Wales.
Till this chasm in Parliament shall be filled [he declared on 22 Dec.16] I cannot assent to joining in any vote, or any other business of the House, beyond voting for a previous question, or some other question tending to prevent our further acting as a House. When this chasm shall be properly filled up, when the Parliament shall be full by a representation of the King, I shall cheerfully and heartily concur in the seemingly general sentiment of making the heir apparent sole Regent.
And though denying any connexion with the Opposition, he further declared that ‘the argument for restriction of the Prince as a Regent seems more to favour of prejudice against a particular party in the state, than to concern the general and public welfare’.17 An Administration supporter, Sir William Young, commented to the Marquess of Buckingham the following day:18
Our rats ... all showed their tails on last night’s motion. ... Sir John Aubrey, rat-major, receiving his emoluments of the Treasury for five years, and declaring himself unconnected with any, afforded a subject of a general laugh.
Aubrey himself professed surprise at the Administration’s reaction to his defection, and when no longer summoned to meetings of the Treasury Board, wrote to Pitt on 3 March:19
For this I can no otherwise account than by supposing that the explanation of my sentiments on the equally important and distressful Regency business, first to yourself in private, and afterwards to the House of Commons, was offensive to you. ... But ... neither the degree and kind of difference in sentiments between you and me, nor any circumstances attending that difference, were such, as according to my view of the case could justify the least suspicion of my being influenced in my conduct by any bias towards the party in opposition to your Administration.
He then repeated at great length his arguments in the House, and denied that he had ‘in any degree mixed the affair of the peerage with a consideration so entirely foreign’. Since his speech on the Regency he had adhered to his vow not to vote. He had refrained from resigning during the crisis, but the situation having now been restored by the King’s recovery, he, though still unconnected with the Opposition, offered his resignation, which could ‘be no longer delayed without seeming to acquiesce in the justice of your slight to me’. No further vote or speech by Aubrey is reported before 1790, but soon afterwards he went into opposition and voted with Fox during the French war.
He died 14 Mar. 1826.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Mary M. Drummond
- 1. Almon, i. 471.
- 2. Draft of letter from Shelburne to Temple, 18 Sept. 1779, refers to his ‘particular regard and more than political friendship’ for Aubrey, Lansdowne mss.
- 3. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 219, pp. 110-12.
- 4. Burke to Rockingham, 18 Sept. 1774.
- 5. Sheffield City Lib., Burke mss.
- 6. Almon, i. 470-1.
- 7. Ibid. viii. 369.
- 8. Stockdale, viii. 131, 159.
- 9. Almon xvi. 222.
- 10. Lansdowne mss.
- 11. Debrett, vii. 117-19.
- 12. Aubrey to Pitt, 9 June 1787, Chatham mss.
- 13. There are in the Chatham papers nine letters from Aubrey to Pitt about his peerage. Most are long; all are tedious.
- 14. Aubrey to Pitt, 8 Apr. 1787, Chatham mss.
- 15. Aubrey to Pitt, 3 Mar. 1789, Chatham mss.
- 16. Stockdale, xvi. 146-8.
- 17. Ibid.
- 18. Buckingham, Courts Cabinets Geo. III, ii. 72.
- 19. Chatham mss.