STANHOPE, Walter (1749-1822), of Cannon Hall, nr. Barnsley and Horsforth, nr. Leeds, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. 4 Feb. 1749, o. surv. s. of Walter Stanhope (at one time a Leeds merchant), by his 2nd w. Ann, da. of William Spencer of Cannon Hall. educ. Bradford; Univ. Coll., Oxf. 1766-9; Grand Tour 1769-70. m. 21 Oct. 1783, Mary Winifred, da. and h. of Thomas Babington Pulleine of Carlton Hall, nr. Richmond, Yorks. 8s. 7da. suc. fa. 1759, uncle John Stanhope at Horsforth 1769, uncle John Spencer at Cannon Hall 1775; took name of Spencer before Stanhope 1776.
Stanhope’s grandmother was a daughter of Sir William Lowther, 1st Bt., M.P., of Swillington, and his uncle John Stanhope, a distinguished barrister, was legal adviser on elections to Sir James Lowther, 5th Bt. After leaving the university Stanhope went to the Continent with William Norton, who was going out to Berne as minister to the Swiss Cantons, and with Edward Norton, his contemporary at Oxford. He returned to England in January 1770, was again in France later in the year, and in 1773 visited the Low Countries.
At the end of September 1774 Stanhope, with an eye to the approaching general election, went on a visit to Sir James Lowther, who had seven seats to fill, three of them contested. By the time he reached Lowther Castle Parliament was dissolved. ‘You are come in right time’, Lowther said to him. ‘We have plenty on our hands, and we want young men.’ Lowther’s candidates won the contested elections; and as he had secured their return for safe seats, he had now three to fill. On 5 Nov. Stanhope wrote to his uncle John Spencer:
’Tis now a fortnight since Sir James’s last success at Cockermouth, and yet I am ignorant of something I want to know as I was when I left home. I hope it will come out all right; but I never can get him to declare himself, nor to let me go.
He travelled with Lowther to London, and wrote to his uncle on 5 Dec.
Who would have thought that a soberly intended visit of six days from the first of October should have grown into an absence of three months, containing at least three contested elections, rattling into every corner of two counties, a flight to London, a considerable stay there, driving again three hundred miles north at full speed, three other elections ... And then to close all—shall I not make a ridiculous figure if 1 am not returned!
On 21 Dec.:
I begin to wish it was all over and were lost, rather than continue in this state of tantalization ... How well do I know the value of independence, and what a cursed thing it must be to wear one’s life out in the manner I have fretted away these last two months!
Why then did I go?... Because a present seat in Parliament is a matter of such moment to me as, in my own opinion, to decide upon my future character both of usefulness and activity, as well as ambition.
On 29 Jan. 1775:
The lot is drawn—it is drawn a blank; and the four months of unremitting ... and very unpleasant attendance have availed me nothing ...
I know not whether it is worse to feel yourself made a fool of, or to feel that other people think so; but to feel them both is the very Devil: and Sir James seems to have taken a diabolical care that I should feel them both in their full extent ...
I am violently chagrined and embarrassed.
Others, including James Boswell, were treated in a similar way. But for Stanhope there was an unexpectedly favourable conclusion: Fletcher Norton resigned his seat at Carlisle, and Stanhope was returned in his place.1
Stanhope’s first speech, 3 Nov. 1775, was to second Lowther’s motion on the Hanoverian troops. He would not have been returned had he not agreed with his patron’s politics; and he voted steadily against North’s Administration. His uncle William Stanhope, receiver of the land tax for the West Riding, wrote to him on 3 Feb. 1776:
I beg it as a great favour you will not be so bitter against Lord North. I am told in your speech before Christmas that you was for impeaching him. Now you know it is in his power to turn me out ... and the loss of £500 the next year would be a very great loss.
The published reports of Stanhope’s speeches do not show him as a bitter opponent or offensive in his manner. ‘The awe and embarrassment which oppresses every attempt of mine to speak in the House’, he said in the debate on North’s conciliatory proposals, 2 Mar. 1778, ‘... is sufficient at all times to keep me silent.’ Still, 35 speeches are reported in his first 15 years in the House; and most of them on political questions.2
Stanhope voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783. When the Yorkshire petition for parliamentary reform was presented, 24 Feb. 1783, he
expressed his surprise at seeing an honourable gentleman [Burke] stand up the defender of a noble Lord [North], whom that very Member had more than once declared to be a fit object for impeachment, and against whom he once went so far as to say that he had an impeachment ready drawn in his pocket.
He ‘professed himself a determined advocate for a parliamentary reform’, and voted for it in 1783 and 1785. He spoke against the Coalition’s receipts tax, 5, 11 June 1783, and voted against Fox’s East India bill, 1 Dec. 1783. At the York meeting of 25 Mar. 1784 he spoke very strongly against the Coalition; canvassed for Wilberforce and Duncombe at the general election; and subscribed £500 towards their election expenses. Wilberforce, on electing to sit for Yorkshire, secured Stanhope’s return at Hull. ‘Fine weather, no opposition, cheerfulness and goodwill’ wrote Stanhope in his diary on election day.3
He supported Pitt, without acknowledging any party tie; and was strongly under Wilberforce’s influence, both in politics and religion. He took the same line as Wilberforce over Hastings’s impeachment. Sheridan’s speech on the charge respecting the Begums of Oude, 7 Feb. 1787, he declared to be ‘the finest speech I ever heard’; and he told the House it had determined him to vote for impeachment.4
Stanhope was defeated at Hull in 1790, and sat henceforth for Lowther boroughs. He died 10 Apr. 1821.