PHIPPS, Hon. Constantine John (1744-92), of Mulgrave Castle, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. 30 May 1744, 1st. s. of Constantine, 1st Baron Mulgrave [I]; bro. of Hon. Charles and Hon. Henry Phipps. educ. Eton 1755. m. 20 June 1787, Anne Elizabeth, da. of Nathaniel Cholmley, 1da. suc. fa. as 2nd Baron Mulgrave [I] 13 Sept. 1775; cr. Baron Mulgrave [GB] 7 July 1790.
Entered R.N. 1760; lt. 1762; capt. 1765.
Ld. of Admiralty 1777-Mar. 1782; P.C. 23 Apr. 1784; member Board of Trade 1784-6, Board of Control 1784-91; jt. paymaster gen. 1784-91.
Phipps was returned for Lincoln after a contest in 1768 and soon made his mark as a speaker on the Opposition side. In November 1768 he criticized the Government’s bill for permitting the removal of colonial offenders to Britain for trial, and in April 1769 he strongly condemned the proposal to seat Luttrell for Middlesex—‘a young man’, Horace Walpole wrote, ‘whose application forced him at last into notice, and who, though a seaman, was so addicted to the study of the law, that he got the appellation of the Marine Lawyer.’1 He remained with the Opposition till about 1772. In 1773 he was sent as commander of an expedition to search for a north-west passage, and on his return became connected with Lord Sandwich, first lord of the Admiralty. Walpole wrote of the debate on the navy estimates, 21 Feb. 1774: ‘It was remarkable ... that Captain Phipps, generally an opponent, made a high panegyric on Lord Sandwich.’2
Yet at the general election of 1774 Phipps stood on the Radical interest for Newcastle-on-Tyne, but was defeated. In 1775, through the agency of Joseph Banks, Lord Sandwich made a successful bid to secure Phipps for Administration. ‘I know’, Sandwich wrote to John Robinson, 6 Sept. 1775, ‘his connexion with Opposition is entirely at an end ... I think he will be a very good acquisition to us in the House of Commons.’3 On 25 Aug. Banks wrote to Sandwich:4
I have found Captain Phipps, when I attempted to turn our conversation to the subject of politics, rather careless in his answer. He does not seem indeed very anxious to come into Parliament at all; unless (says he) I could come in upon the most agreeable terms, I had better wait. I am not without several chances which may turn up in my favour, and if I bring myself in I am sure either party will be glad of my assistance. Indeed if I was to join Government, to do it in the present time, when their affairs are not quite upon a settled footing, would be more pleasing, I should think, both to them and me, than to wait till the event justifies me or the other side. But I am easy about it ... I am under no obligation as yet to any party, and thank God upon good terms with all.
And on 1 Sept.:
I am sure he is well inclined to Government, and particularly loud in his applause of the present measures pursued in American affairs ...
In most other points also he speaks favourably of Government. I have no doubt that he might be got if it was thought any object, but he seems to expect to be trusted with his future conduct, and not too strictly catechized on his first admission. In my opinion if that was to be done, he would be as firm at least as any ties could make him. I have learned from his conversation that whatever part he takes in future he means to take the whole part, which I think is as good a sign for any man’s politics as any one could desire.
In September 1775 Phipps accepted the offer of a seat on Sandwich’s conditions—‘the thinking and acting as I do in all American points and supporting the present Administration in their whole system’;5 and on the long-expected death of Sandwich’s son, William Augustus Montagu, he was returned on 31 Jan. 1776 for Huntingdon. On 29 Feb. he spoke in support of Government, affirming that he had always approved of Grenville’s American policy, that the repeal of the Stamp Act was the cause of the present disputes, and that he favoured coercive measures.6 In July 1776 quick promotion in the navy was arranged for Phipps’s brother, Charles;7 and in December 1777 Mulgrave (as Phipps had now become) was appointed to the Admiralty Board.
In 1778 Mulgrave distinguished himself as captain of the Courageux in the action off Ushant. But his chief role during the American war was that of Admiralty spokesman in the House of Commons. The English Chronicle described him in 1781 as:
A man of excellent abilities and most extensive acquisitions ... remarkably well versed in the theory of his profession ... on all subjects prompt, argumentative and intelligent ... of great use to the first lord of the Admiralty, and has on various occasions defended him much better than he could himself. His speeches are much attended to, not only from the regard to his official situation, but from a natural respect for the indeliberate elegance of his diction, and the pointed validity of his reasoning.
Mulgrave lost office with North in March 1782 but continued his association with Sandwich. ‘I have no wish to break off my connexion with you’, he wrote on 20 June 1782,8 ‘but would not have it in the smallest degree burthensome or inconvenient to you.’ On 17 Feb. 1783 he made a long and able speech against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, and on 7 May spoke and voted against parliamentary reform. But Fox’s East India bill roused his violent hostility. On 8 Dec. he criticized the choice of commissioners for Indian affairs, and declared his complete lack of confidence in Fox.9 On the dismissal of the Coalition he was readily won over by Pitt.
He wrote to Sandwich, 23 Dec.:10
A very honourable situation with the present Government has been proposed to me; I have deferred giving my answer ’till I could communicate with your Lordship, as my acceptance must depend upon your Lordship’s concurrence in my re-election at Huntingdon. From the friendship which has so long subsisted between us I have no doubt of your Lordship’s inclination.
But Sandwich, pledged to North and the Coalition, declined to re-elect Mulgrave, and consequently his appointment could not take place.11
Between December 1783 and March 1784 Mulgrave spoke several times in support of Pitt’s Government. At the general election a seat was found for him on the Duke of Newcastle’s interest at Newark, and he was appointed joint paymaster general. Soon afterwards he was made a Privy Councillor and appointed to the Boards of Trade and Control. He declined to vote for parliamentary reform or take part in the proceedings against Warren Hastings,12 but otherwise gave steady support to Pitt’s Government, and in 1790 was created a British peer. In 1791, owing to ill-health, he resigned his ministerial appointments.
Mulgrave died 10 Oct. 1792.