BAKER HOLROYD, John (1735-1821), of Sheffield Place, Suss.
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Family and Education
b. 21 Dec. 1735, 1st surv. s. of Isaac Holroyd, of Dunamore, co. Meath by Dorothy, da. of Daniel Baker of Penn, Bucks. m. (1) 26 May 1767, Abigail (d.3 Apr. 1793), da. of Lewis Way of Richmond, sis. of Benjamin Way, 1s. 2da.; (2) 26 Dec. 1794, Hon. Lucy Pelham (d.18 Jan. 1797), da. of Thomas, 2nd Baron Pelham, 1s.; (3) 20 Jan. 1798, Lady Anne North, da. of Frederick, 2nd Earl of Guilford, 1s. 1da. suc. to estates of his uncle, Rev. Jones Baker 1768, and took name of Baker before Holroyd; fa. 1778; cr. Baron Sheffield [I] of Dunamore 9 Jan. 1781, Baron Sheffield [I] of Roscommon (with sp. rem. to his das.) 20 Sept. 1783; Baron Sheffield [GB] 20 July 1802; Earl of Sheffield [I] 22 Jan. 1816.
Cornet 21 Drag. 21 Apr. 1760, capt. 24 Dec. 1761; ret. 1763.
On the disbandment of his regiment in 1763 Holroyd travelled on the Continent, and at Lausanne met Gibbon, with whom he formed a life-long friendship. In 1769 he purchased Sheffield Place and settled down as a country gentleman. He considered standing for Sussex in 1774, but was advised by Gibbon against it. ‘I cannot yet think you ripe for a county Member’, Gibbon wrote on 20 Aug. 1774. ‘Five years are very little to remove the obvious objection of a novus homo, and of all objections it is perhaps the most formidable.’ In 1779 Holroyd raised a regiment (the 22nd Dragoons) of which he became lieutenant-colonel. It was stationed at Coventry; his stay there familiarized him with the politics of the borough, and he offered himself as candidate at the by-election of 1780. Gibbon wrote to him, 7 Feb.:
On this vacancy the celerity of your motions may probably prevent opposition; but at the general election, your enemy, the corporation, will not be asleep, and I wish, if it be not too late, to warn you against any promises or engagements which may terminate in a defeat, or at least a contest of ten thousand pounds.
Holroyd was returned unopposed.
But this caution was wise and necessary. At the general election of 1780 Holroyd and Edward Roe Yeo were opposed by Sir Thomas Hallifax and Thomas Rogers, who were backed by the corporation. A riotous, prolonged and expensive contest followed, involving two polls and a petition. Sheffield, as he had now become, was supported by Government who paid £2,000 towards his expenses.1
Sheffield supported North’s Administration to the end. He spoke against Conway’s motion to end the war, 22 Feb. 1782; voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783; supported the Fox-North Coalition; and opposed Pitt. At Coventry in 1784 he was opposed by both the corporation and Government, and after another expensive contest was defeated.
Sheffield’s speeches in Parliament were frequent, well-informed and authoritative; though the work of Government interested him, he seems not to have aimed at office. He was particularly concerned with questions of trade and finance,—‘I went last Thursday to my first play ...’, wrote his daughter Maria Josepha, on 1 Mar. 1786. ‘Papa was too busy importing and exporting to think of such things’—and defended in speeches and pamphlets the commercial privileges of Britain.2 Yet his title to fame rests on his friendship with Gibbon. Gibbon enjoyed his society, respected his knowledge, and felt at ease in his family circle. Sheffield placed himself at Gibbon’s service: made himself responsible in Gibbon’s lifetime for the disposal of his estates, and preserved and edited his papers after his death.
Sheffield died 30 May 1821.