PAYNE, Ralph (1739-1807).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1768 - May 1771
4 Nov. 1776 - 1780
1780 - 1784
21 Oct. 1795 - Jan. 1799

Family and Education

b. 19 Mar. 1739, 1st s. of Ralph Payne, chief justice of St. Kitts, by his 1st w. Alice, da. of Francis Carlisle, of Antigua.; half bro. of John Willett Payne.  educ. Christ’s Hosp. 1752; Grand Tour.  m.1 Sept. 1767, Frances Lambertina, da. of Baron Henry Kolbel, an Austrian general, s.p.  cr. K.B. 18 Feb. 1771; cr. Baron Lavington [I] 1 Oct. 1795.

Offices Held

Gov. Leeward 1s. 1771-5, 1799-1807; clerk of the Green Cloth 1777-82; P.C. 30 Oct. 1799.


Payne came of an old established wealthy West Indian family. Before the general election of 1768 his distant cousin William Woodley recommended him to the Duke of Grafton:1

He has a very strong attachment to Lord Chatham, and the present Administration ... but as he is willing to be at a large expense to get into Parliament, viz. as far as £2,500, he hopes to be allowed a perfect independency ... and means to act on all occasions on the best convictions of his own understanding only; on these terms he presumes to beg the favour of the Duke of Grafton’s interest at the next general election at any borough where a considerable sum of money may want to be expended, and a friend secured to Government at a private expense.

Payne was nominated for the expensive borough of Shaftesbury, and returned there after a contest. According to the Gentleman’s Magazine (1769, p. 635) he already had hopes of becoming governor of the Leeward Islands. In Parliament he voted with Administration. Horace Walpole writes about his maiden speech, 2 Feb. 1769, delivered in support of Blackstone’s motion condemning Wilkes:

Payne ... spoke for the first time with much applause: though his language was wonderfully verbose. He was connected with Lord Mansfield, and as his speech was interlarded with law anecdotes, the person in whose behalf it was uttered, was supposed to have assisted in the composition. Payne was a good figure and possessed himself well, having been accustomed to act plays in a private set: but his usual dialect being as turgid as Othello’s when he recounts his conquest of Desdemona, he became the jest of his companions and the surfeit of the House of Commons.

And on the seating of Luttrell, 15 Apr.:

Young Payne in another pompous oration abused the supporters of the bill of rights, protesting on his honour that his speech was not premeditated; but forgetting part, he inadvertently pulled it out of his pocket in writing.2

Only one other speech by Payne is reported for this or any other Parliament-seconding the Address, 9 Jan. 1770.

In 1771 he obtained the governorship of the Leeward Isles, which vacated his seat. He seems to have been a successful and popular governor, and after his resignation in 1775 the general assembly of Antigua presented an address of thanks to the King for having sent them a man of Sir Ralph’s worth, and begged for his return.3 Payne was anxious to re-enter Parliament, and obtain another appointment. In July 1776 he was considered by Lord Carlisle for a vacant seat at Morpeth, but the idea was dropped (Carlisle’s hold on this seat was not sufficiently strong to be certain of re-electing Payne should he obtain a place).4 A few months later Payne was returned as a Government candidate at Camelford, and the following year obtained a valuable office as a clerk of the Board of Green Cloth. In Parliament he naturally supported Administration, but his attendance seems to have been irregular; and in March 1779, the King, when urging North to press for better attendance, wrote: ‘I hope Sir Ralph Payne has been strongly spoke to’.5 Henceforth Payne appears on the Administration side in every extant division list till the fall of North. In June 1779 he was thought of for comptroller of the Household in a re-arrangement of offices which, however, did not take place. By this time Payne was a well established figure in society, received everywhere, and entertaining lavishly. The Public Ledger wrote of him in 1779: ‘A very pompous man, fond of sonorous expression’; and Walpole (to Lady Upper Ossory, 14 Nov. 1779) that Payne and Dr. Johnson were producing a defence of the Administration in which the words were so long that it ‘must be printed in a pamphlet as large as an atlas’.

In 1780 Payne was returned for Plympton with Administration support, but probably at considerable expense to himself.6 He did not vote on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries. Robinson, March 1783, classed him as a follower of North. His office had been abolished in 1782 under Burke’s Economical Reform Act, and he seems vainly to have hoped for a comparable office under the Coalition. In June 1783, when Portland’s resignation was rumoured, he wrote to William Eden.7

I confess that I am not easy—I mean for my friends—being myself an independent town gentleman with no office, nor even hopes of one, having for several weeks viewed the perspective which the noble lord in the blue ribband [North] had held to me in his camera obscura, with ineffable contempt. Infamously treated, however, as I feel myself to have been, I can’t afford to lose a lord lieutenant [Lord Northington], a vice-treasurer [Eden] and a first commissioner of the seals [Loughborough] at one stroke.

He had hoped to be sent as envoy to the Hague but the post was given to Sir James Harris—‘so I lay aside my Dutch grammar’. Payne voted for Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783; and in December followed Fox and North into opposition. At the general election of 1784 he seems to have considered standing at Bedford,8 and at Ashburton, but did not go to the poll at either place. Though out of Parliament he continued to take an active interest in politics. Sir Grey Cooper wrote to Eden, 5 Nov. 1785, that he had seen Payne, who

seemed to know a great deal of what had been passing on the stage and behind the scenes ... Sir Ralph is a warm friend to his party, and a sanguine politician. His hopes are always on the wing towards the object of his wishes; he turns the medal and looks at the side that is brightest, and to help things forward when they flag he is fertile in expedients and projects of negotiation.9

Payne does not appear to have attempted to reenter Parliament till 1790 when he contested Fowey.

Payne (Lord Lavington since 1795) died 3 Aug. 1807.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Mary M. Drummond


  • 1. Grafton mss.
  • 2. Mems. Geo. III, iii. 215, 238.
  • 3. Andrews, Jnl. of a Lady of Quality, 88, 89.
  • 4. Jesse, Selwyn, iii. 133; Carlisle to Gilbert Elliot, 3 Feb. 1777, Carlisle mss.
  • 5. Fortescue, iv. 299.
  • 6. I. R. Christie, End of North’s Ministry, 99-101.
  • 7. Auckland Corresp. i. 55.
  • 8. John Horne Tooke to Sir R. Bernard, 27 Mar. 1784, Manchester mss, Hunts RO.
  • 9. Add. 34420, f. 151.