PLUMER, William (1736-1822), of Blakesware and Gilston Park, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. 24 May 1736, o. surv. s. of William Plumer. educ. Pembroke, Camb. 1752. m. (1) 12 July 1760, Frances Dorothy (d. Dec. 1761), da. of Lucius Charles Carey, 7th Visct. Falkland [S], s.p.; (2) 9 Aug. 1791, Jane, da. of Hon. and Rev. George Hamilton, gd.-da. of James, 7th Earl of Abercorn [S], s.p. suc. fa. 12 Dec. 1767.
Plumer was ‘an entire stranger’ to Newcastle in 1763, but was recommended by Devonshire as one ‘who would stick at no expense to save the borough’ of Lewes, then threatened by Henry Fox.1 In the event he was returned without opposition, and joined the Newcastle-Rockingham group in Parliament. In December 1766 Newcastle invited him to stand for Lewes at the following general election. Plumer replied on 16 Dec.:
Not having heard at any time before from your Grace, what were your intentions as to the Members for the town of Lewes at the next general election, I had lately entered into a negotiation to secure myself a seat in Parliament in which I should have succeeded as a dernière resort, if the county of Hertford had failed me.
He accepted Newcastle’s offer, however, and on 18 Aug. 1767 was approved as candidate by a general meeting at Lewes. But on 10 Oct. he informed Newcastle that canvassing had begun in Hertfordshire, and that ‘there seems to be a want of gentlemen here to be candidates’. He continued: ‘Your Grace has recommended me to Lewes, so that it seems as if this county will go by default.’ He obviously wished Newcastle to release him from his engagement, which Newcastle, who had no other candidate available, was unwilling to do. Then in January 1768 Plumer asked Newcastle for a letter to show to his friends in Hertfordshire, explaining that because of Newcastle’s illness and inability to find another candidate, Plumer had agreed to stand for Lewes. Newcastle saw Plumer on 6 Feb.; he found him ‘in such agonies ... about it, that it was impossible to insist upon his remaining there’; and released him from his engagement. He was returned for Hertfordshire without opposition.2
Plumer was well liked in Hertfordshire, and his position there was strong. There were contested elections in 1774 and 1784, and each time he headed the poll by a large majority. He was proud of being a county Member, and unduly concerned at the possibility of defeat.3 In Parliament he was a regular supporter of Rockingham and afterwards of Fox;4 and voted for parliamentary reform both in 1783 and 1785. The English Chronicle wrote about him in 1781:
William Plumer is one of the most opulent country gentlemen in the kingdom. Beside possessing the most extensive property of any gentleman in this county, his additional estates in Essex, Middlesex, and Suffolk, make up a clear income of fifteen thousand pounds per annum ... In his parliamentary character he has been uniform in his opposition to all the measures of the present Administration; and though no speaker, is one of the most constant attendants upon his legislative duty, and suffers no question to pass without that substantial indication of his political talents, a direct negative to the minister. His activity out of the House is not less conspicuous than his honest zeal within it ... His character, as a private individual, is of that kind that totally exempts him from the smallest imputation of being under the direction of any improper motive in the enthusiasm of his public exertions. His fortune raises him above the influence of pecuniary temptation, and the pitiful ambition of titular importance constitutes no part of his foibles. Having little to wish, therefore, and nothing to fear, he is governed by no consideration but his own conviction, and without any pretensions to the estimation of one of the first politicians