CALVERT, Nicolson (?1724-93), of Hunsdon, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. ?1724, 1st surv. s. of Felix Calvert of Furneaux Pelham, Herts. by Christian, da. and coh. of Josiah Nicolson, brewer, of Clapham, Surr. educ. Bury St. Edmunds g.s. 1735; Trinity, Camb. 27 Apr. 1743, aged 18. m. Rebecca, da. of Rev. John Goodwin, rector of Clapham, Surr., s.p. suc. fa. 1755.
Calvert was elected for Tewkesbury in 1754 after a contest, and was classed by Dupplin as a country gentleman supporting the court. ‘With very great expense and trouble’1 he established an interest in the borough, and was returned unopposed in 1761 and 1768.
It is my duty to acquaint your Grace that Mr. Nicolson Calvert took me aside in the House of Commons today, and desired that I would take the first opportunity of assuring you in his name that he was steadily attached to your service, and that you might reckon upon him as a firm adherent to your interest upon all occasions, which declaration he had been induced now to make, as it was rumoured that your Grace was made uneasy at this time in your Administration, and might possibly stand in need of all those who professed themselves to be your well-wishers.
He regularly opposed Bute and Grenville and was a frequent speaker in the House.
Contemporaries were agreed about Nicolson Calvert: Walpole called him ‘a mad volunteer, who always spoke what he thought’;3 Rigby, ‘crazy Mr. Nicolson Calvert’;4 Burke, ‘a mad Member’;5 and James Harris writes of his ‘wild and odd way’ of speaking.6 His absurdity and eccentricity deprived him of all weight with the Opposition; and what would have been offensive in another man was only ludicrous in him. Walpole describes ‘a very bold and extraordinary speech’ pointed at Bute and the Princess Dowager, 1 Feb. 1763:7
[Calvert] drew a picture of a fictitious family in Surrey, whom he called the Steadys, describing two old Steadys and a young one; with a very particular account of young Steady’s mother, and of her improper intimacy with a Scotch gardener—he hoped the true friends of young Steady would advise him to recall his old friends, and turn away the Scotch gardener.
Here is another example, reported by Harris—a speech on the Regency bill, 7 May 1765:
Calvert—wild—talked of Lord Chancellor and Lady Charlotte Finch8 by name, taking down the young Prince (if he was to become King) in a post chaise to Edinburgh and then dissolving the Parliament—(Bedlam).
In July 1765 Newcastle recommended Calvert to Rockingham for an employment,9 but no offer seems to have been made. In a debate of 14 Jan. 1766 on the Address, Calvert declared that since the previous year, when he had voted in favour of the Stamp Act as a reasonable way to make the Americans pay for their own defence, he had completely changed his opinion:
To lay any tax upon a numerous people, situated as the Americans are, without consent is impossible ... Can this be done, but by force? The thought of putting it to the trial, Sir, strikes me with horror! Let us not, Sir, drive them to despair ... Notwithstanding the right is now so indubitably asserted by the legislature of this country, notwithstanding you were certain by force of arms to carry that resolution into execution, yet I for one should be of opinion that right, and that ability to exercise that right, is, at this time, neither proper nor expedient to be carried into execution.10
Calvert defined his attitude to the Rockingham ministry in a speech against the window tax, 18 Apr. 1766:11
Calvert ... said he had a budget of his own to open with debtor and creditor as to ministry. He had given them credit for cider, privilege, Canada bills, Manilla ransom, family compact, impeachment of the late ministry, and the never forsaking Mr. Pitt. Now as the per contra cider tax was gone, but that was totally balanced by the black attempt to annihilate the militia, privilege was not yet asserted, Canada bills not paid, Manilla ransom not settled, family compact had had nothing done to meet it, late ministers were very merry and under no apprehensions, Mr. Pitt was not in but kept out by his friends for the sake of his health—to which might be added no land tax reduced, as chancellor of Exchequer talked of last year, but on the contrary a new and perpetual land tax laid on.
This was delivered with some humour, and received with great laughter and applause.
He supported Chatham’s ministry, spoke for it on the Address, 11 Nov. 1766, and the East India inquiry, 9 Mar. 1767, and even voted with the court on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767.
Calvert regularly voted against the Grafton and North Administrations, but only nine speeches by him are recorded 1768-74. During the debate of 13 Feb. 1771 on the Falkland Islands convention, Calvert declared that he had his own opinion of the dispute, different from both sides:12
I look upon the whole of this affair that Great Britain is the aggressor ... No sooner was your peace concluded, what did you do? You sent ships to take possession of the island ... The islands were taken possibly for no other purpose but to annoy the Spaniards ... When men vote for the liberties of their country, and things of that sort, I would go as far as any man: but when I come to run this country into a disorder of this sort, I declare I can’t do it ... I stand a free man. No man shall ever lead me.
He would heartily vote for Administration because there would be no war, but urged that the islands should be given up. He did not stand in 1774.
Calvert died 4 May 1793, aged 68.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: John Brooke
- 1. Calvert to Newcastle, 31 May 1760, Add. 32906, f. 399.
- 2. Add. 32938, f. 276.
- 3. Mems. Geo. III, i. 174
- 4. Rigby to Bedford, 26 Nov. 1762, Bedford Corresp. iii. 161.
- 5. Burke to Chas. O’Hara, 25 Nov. 1762.
- 6. Harris’s ‘Debates’, 25 Nov. 1762.
- 7. Mems. Geo. III, i. 191.
- 8. Governess to the King’s children.
- 9. Newcastle to Rockingham, 12 July 1765, Add. 32967, f. 349.
- 10. Parly. Hist. xvi. 108.
- 11. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
- 12. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 219, f. 110.