Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 2,000


14 Aug. 1795 THOMAS RICHARD BEAUMONT vice Middleton, deceased
19 July 1802(HON.) CHARLES GREY
21 Feb. 1806 GREY re-elected after appointment to office
10 Nov. 1806(HON.) CHARLES GREY (Visct. Howick)
19 May 1807HUGH PERCY, Earl Percy
13 Apr. 1812 SIR CHARLES MILES LAMBERT MONCK, Bt., vice Percy, called to the Upper House

Main Article

At the dissolution of 1790 neither sitting Member was directly beholden to Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland, whose family had controlled one seat since the 1760s. Sir William Middleton of Belsay had been returned at three successive general elections as the candidate of the independent gentlemen; and Charles Grey, elected in 1786 on the elevation to the peerage of Northumberland’s brother, was not an Alnwick nominee as such, although the duke must have at least acquiesced in his return. On succeeding to his father’s baronetcy in November 1786 Sir John Edward Swinburne of Capheaton, who was close to the duke, had announced his intention of standing at the next vacancy, but had been accommodated by Northumberland at Launceston in 1789. During the Regency crisis Northumberland, Middleton and Grey, now a staunch Whig (although his father, Sir Charles Grey of Fallodon and his uncle, Sir Harry Grey of Howick, were inclined to ministers), sided with Fox and the Prince of Wales. Local Pittites, led by William Ord of Fenham and Rowland Burdon*, sons-in-law of Charles Brandling, sitting Member for Newcastle, contemplated raising an opposition to Grey. Sir John Trevelyan* of Wallington also hoped that ‘some commotion will take place at the next election for the county’, but Sir Matthew White Ridley, the other Newcastle Member, was averse to creating trouble in the county, for fear of reprisals in the city. In the event Middleton and Grey were returned without opposition in 1790.1

Middleton seems to have gone over to government with the Portland Whigs, and on his death in July 1795 Pitt consulted Portland on ‘the prospects for a friend of government in Northumberland’, adding that Matthew Montagu* was interested. The Greenwich Hospital estate gave government a significant interest and Portland himself possessed a substantial property at Bothal. The only serious candidate to emerge was Thomas Richard Beaumont of Hexham Abbey, a wealthy newcomer to the county, who had recently inherited the extensive Blackett estates through his wife. Northumberland wrote to Swinburne:

I have waited till now to see a little what was likely to be done, and who was to start; but I find that nobody has done so except Colonel Beaumont ... he has got the interest of Greenwich Hospital and the Grey interest and that of almost every person to whom he has as yet had no opportunity of applying. I have not the pleasure of knowing the colonel, but from his character, which is a very good one; and as that is the case and he has so large a stake in the county and is besides I believe a perfectly well thinking independent person, I shall certainly give him my interest too. In doing otherwise I should only contribute to raise a flame and disturbance in the county.

Swinburne himself was sounded, but declined; and an approach to government by the Earl of Carlisle came too late.2

The prospect of a dissolution stimulated some activity shortly after Beaumont’s return, but an offer to set up Portland’s son, Lord Titchfield*, communicated by Lord Charles Aynsley, brother of the 4th Duke of Atholl, was turned down. Though advised by his father not to agitate the county so close to an election, Grey tried to organize a county meeting to petition for peace. Northumberland gave only lukewarm support and the attempt was abandoned. Grey successfully promoted a meeting to protest against the repressive legislation of November 1795, this time with the duke’s complete concurrence, but his many local enemies made no move against him when the dissolution came.3

Grey’s secession from Parliament in 1797 created discontent among the Pittite gentry who, led by Trevelyan, considered raising the matter at a county meeting, but the scheme came to nothing. Despite rumours that Northumberland’s nephew, Lord Lovaine* was to come forward, there was no change in 1802, but the situation was potentially unstable. Beaumont’s undeviating support for successive governments disgusted the Whig and independent elements in the county and in May 1805 he narrowly escaped direct censure for his vote in support of Melville.4 Hopes of his removal were nourished by constant reports of his failing health. There were more solid grounds for anticipating a vacancy in 1805 through the death of Grey’s father, who had been ennobled in 1801. According to an account given later to Grey by Sir Charles Monck, Middleton’s son and heir:

In 1805 your lordship’s father was thought to be dying and several independent gentlemen I believe made offers of support to Sir J. Swinburne, which he declined not thinking himself at that time rich enough, upon which Bigge wrote to me in Greece. I answered ... authorizing him to propose me in the event of a vacancy, but declaring myself neither able nor willing to suffer the expense of a contest.

The problem was also discussed at Howick, and Lord Ossulston*, son of the Earl of Tankerville, whose Chillingham estate lay adjacent to the Grey property, complained to Grey that he had been unfairly ruled out as a prospective candidate:

no one I apprehend would dispute the duke’s claim to nominate whoever he pleased ... it appears that you have had thoughts of setting up your brother or may perhaps look to some such object at a future time ... as long as I remain in a situation to be a candidate ... there is no opportunity that can offer in which I should not be determined to urge and I trust with a fair probability of success my superior claim.

Early in 1806 a false report circulated that Grey intended to step aside for Ossulston and transfer to a close borough until his father died.5

The potential for trouble was increased by Northumberland’s excessive pique at not being consulted on the formation of the ‘Talents’, in which Grey became first lord of the Admiralty, and by the coming of age of his eldest son, Earl Percy, in April 1806. On 7 Apr. Swinburne, now alienated from the duke, told Grey that if his father’s death caused a vacancy, he would not stand in Monck’s way, but:

If Beaumont’s death, and I hear he is very ill, should occasion another vacancy, I shall certainly look to that opening but not as you may suppose ruin my family by a contest against dukes and contractors.

Swinburne and Monck remained uneasily ignorant of Northumberland’s plans and an attempt by the former to draw him out was parried:

we have endeavoured in vain to ascertain whether Lord P. will come forward. I have pressed his father on the subject (as it appears the general opinion that if he did nobody would oppose him) and have received an answer that is scarce less remarkable for its meanness than its duplicity, but hints that if at a general meeting he is pressed to stand, he will consider himself bound to accept it. He little knows I think the independent spirit of the county if he expects that from them.

Monck resolved ‘to remain quiet and wait the event’ of a vacancy, in which case he would stand only if Percy was not put forward. Swinburne, though ready to back Monck, confided to Grey (now Viscount Howick) ‘doubts of his general popularity in the county’, and told him that ‘if Lord Ossulston has any thoughts of the county, he will meet with a most vigorous and determined opposition’.6

Percy was accommodated at the Grenville borough of Buckingham in August 1806, and early in October was returned with government support for Westminster as successor to Fox, a move in which Howick presumably acquiesced in the hope of removing the potential threat in Northumberland. On the sudden dissolution only two weeks later the duke withdrew Percy from Westminster in a fit of pique. After sending him on a futile reconnaissance of Cambridge University, he considered an attempt on the county, but Swinburne resisted his tentative proposals for a general meeting and reported to Howick:

As I had not an opportunity of consulting anybody and was so aware of the falseness and treachery of every measure that originates with him, and at the same time impressed with the consideration that alone kept Beaumont in his place so long, the fear of involving you in a contest, I told him nobody valued the peace of the county more than I did but that I conceived unless another candidate started, a meeting would be courting ... a contest, that I knew Monck and his friends were determined not to oppose the sitting Members and that I should be in a great measure guided by the general wish provided no measures were adopted to disturb the county or affect its independence. I since find that partly from a dislike to Lord Ossulston and a distrust of the duke, many people wish the sitting Members to remain unmolested. In fact you will not easily find anyone willing to risk a contest against so very long a purse as Beaumont’s ... could I without injustice to my family ... risk a few thousand pounds I should not fear to meet him ... but I must not think of it now.

Percy was in fact returned for Launceston and the Northumberland election was uneventful, apart from a few complaints of Beaumont’s time-serving. But Swinburne believed that for all his professions of goodwill towards Howick, the duke would have joined forces with Beaumont against him, had a contest occurred.7

The dénouement came at the election of 1807. Howick was prepared to countenance an assault on Beaumont, but his agent, Charles Bigge, had reservations:

I agree ... that a contest which would end in the defeat of Beaumont (and I cannot doubt of such a termination) is much to be preferred to that state of inaction which continues his seat and our disgrace; but is it possible that a contest can be stirred up without involving you in it? ... that alone has saved him at the last two elections ... The peace of the county ... is a mere bugbear and an excuse for that shameful indifference to public affairs which is but too prevalent.

At the end of April Howick called on Northumberland in London and informed him of his intention of seeking re-election:

I added that it was particularly my interest to preserve the peace of the county, and that I never would spend any money, which I could not afford, in a contest; but that I thought it a disgrace to the county to choose such a man as Beaumont. His answer was that it was better to be quiet and to let things remain as they are.

But the same day instructions were sent to Alnwick, and soon afterwards Northumberland’s agents went to Shields and began ‘to profess a wish on the part of the duke to preserve the peace of the county, to hint the expediency of calling a county meeting for a nomination, and to intimate that Lord Percy, if called upon by the county, would stand’. The immediate response was an invitation to Percy, but on the duke’s insistence a requisition for a county meeting was promoted by William Burrell of Broome Park and signed by a number of the duke’s other acolytes. A meeting was called for 14 May. The duke’s manoeuvre may have been encouraged by the vigorous ‘No Popery’ cry which had arisen against Howick; but Swinburne, pressing him to hurry north, stated that ‘it is in truth the Pitt faction that are rising again’. When soliciting support for Percy, who was in Cornwall for his re-election at Launceston, the duke professed ignorance of the origins of the move to put him up and attributed it to a spontaneous desire to oust Beaumont, but there can be no doubt that his object was to hit at Howick, who had played into his hands.8

When Howick arrived he found not only that his rivals had a head start on the canvass and that the ‘No Popery’ cry was strong against him, but that he had lost much of his support at his former stronghold of Shields, where the shipping interest had been alienated by the late government’s American intercourse bill. Though initially pessimistic, and determined not to squander money to save a seat which his father’s health made not worth the purchase, he decided to continue his canvass and to proceed at least to the nomination. On the eve of the county meeting, he offered to stand down for Monck if he was willing to open his purse, but Monck declined to do so. He became convinced that but for his lack of resources he would be able to beat Beaumont at least and claimed a moral victory at the meeting, when he and Percy had the overwhelming show of hands. Although a subscription was opened and realized £4,000 (Monck and William Ord* promised £1,000 each, Swinburne £500), Howick saw that his cause was hopeless without the full means and inclination to engage in an expensive struggle:

The chancellor, Redesdale, Sir William Scott and Lord Lovaine have all written to their friends in favour of Percy and Beaumont jointly—the Greenwich Hospital interest, the Duke of Portland’s ... Onslow’s and Lord Strathmore’s are all given the same way. The corporation of Newcastle ditto.

Of Northumberland’s conduct he wrote that ‘such an instance of duplicity, treachery, and meanness was never before known’. Howick had intended to go to a poll for form’s sake, with the stipulation that no money would be spent, but at the last moment decided to retire gracefully on the day of nomination. Percy (in absentia) and Beaumont were returned, but Howick and his supporters remained certain that with adequate preparation and resources they would have carried the day.9

On 24 May 1807 Bigge wrote to Howick:

I am very anxious that we should raise a fund by annual subscription secretly among those friends to independence who can be trusted in order to try our strength at another election. If ... we have £6,000 ready ... we cannot fail of beating Beaumont, but we must have the money at a moment’s notice. In the course of this summer our plans must be arranged and the subscription commenced.10

It is unlikely that the plan was executed. At the end of September, when Beaumont was reported to be dying, Monck sounded Howick as to his intentions. Howick, whose father had only six weeks to live, decided to unite ‘cordially with the independent interest’ behind Monck, and obtained from Ossulston a provisional concurrence in the argument that his best chance of success would come with the duke’s death, which was also thought to be imminent. Swinburne was of like mind:

nothing ... would at this moment be so prejudicial to the independent interest ... as Lord O’s coming forward, it would inevitably produce the most unpleasant division of interests, the union of which constitutes our principal strength, and it would afford a great opening to the exertion of the aristocratical as well as the government influence in this county.

In 1808 and 1809 there were renewed expectations of Beaumont’s death and Monck poised himself to move, with the constant proviso that he was not prepared to sustain a contest. In the autumn of 1811 it was Northumberland who was believed to be dying and Swinburne was asked to stand in that event by Monck and Bigge, who promised support if he kept the poll open for four days. Swinburne fought shy and it was decided that Monck would make a bid on the first vacancy, however it occurred.11

It did so in February 1812, through Percy’s elevation to the Lords by the Regent. Monck noted with puzzlement that his brother, Lord Algernon, was not yet of age, and uncertainty plagued the leaders of the Whig-independent interest as they awaited a move from Alnwick. Monck was determined to go as far as a show of hands against any candidate produced by the duke, other than a member of his family, in which case he would not start, but was ready to stand down in favour of any other acceptable independent who was willing to go to a poll. The duke refused to be drawn when Monck made a direct inquiry, but he does not seem to have exerted himself to procure a nominee beyond making an unsuccessful proposition to Col. Reed of Chipchase, so Monck walked over the course. Bigge wrote to Grey:

It is impossible upon any rational grounds to calculate upon the duke’s movements; but from what appears at present it is improbable that any contest will take place at the general election if it should occur this year. Beaumont will therefore be secure, for I fear we are not sufficiently strong to attempt to start another candidate. Our independence as far as one Member I think is quite complete.

He was correct, and there was no disturbance at the general election of 1812, when the duke made it known that he favoured Beaumont.12

After a running battle with Lord Liverpool over his claim to a more substantial share in the disposal of county patronage, Northumberland was more or less satisfied by the summer of 1816, when Algernon Percy was created Baron Prudhoe. Monck noted the removal of this potential threat with satisfaction.13 The duke died in July 1817, and in the autumn manoeuvres began in readiness for the dissolution. Beaumont’s son had been cultivating the county for some time and it was now confirmed that he would stand in his father’s place. Monck took ‘such measures as prudence suggests to make myself as secure as I can’, and Swinburne observed that ‘to ensure Monck a quiet seat, we must I fear submit to this most galling and humiliating transfer’. William Orde of Nunnykirk was also expected to make a bid, but he soon dropped out. A third man did emerge in the shape of Henry Thomas Liddell, son of Sir Thomas Henry Liddell*, whose main property lay in Durham. Liddell, who had connexions with Carlton House, was believed to have the 3rd Duke of Northumberland’s good wishes, but no promise of his financial backing. There was thought to be little danger to Monck, but the elder Beaumont asked Liverpool to put the government interest behind his son, who was disappointed by the response, which was evidently dictated by an anxiety to ascertain and fall in with Northumberland’s disposition:

Should it be the resolution of ... ministers to allow the influence of government to remain neutral, there would be no doubt of my being involved in a contest. I could not on the other hand accept the support of government jointly with any other candidate and consistently with the assurance, that I have not hesitated to give to the gentlemen of the county, that I will not act with any party that has for its object to return two Members.

Beaumont’s refusal to join forces with Liddell for a government backed attack on Monck considerably raised his stock with the Whig and independent elements in Northumberland, and softened their objections to his return.14 Liddell, overawed by the threat of the Beaumont money, withdrew three weeks before the election was due and Monck commented to Grey:

He has talked of standing for six months and stood for about six days. Was I the duke I should be both disappointed and displeased with him. If to frighten young Beaumont or me off the ground was the only experiment he intended to make, the time for that was when first it was clearly shown that the Beaumonts intended to withdraw the father and attempt to substitute the son.

Suspicion of possible intrigues at Alnwick died hard, but when Monck put the question direct, the duke replied that ‘it is not my wish to interefere in the representation of the county’. Monck and young Beaumont were elected unopposed, the latter with the endorsement of government.15 By the dissolution of 1820 Beaumont had gravitated to the Whigs, and Tory elements in Northumberland, backed by the duke and government, were preparing a counter-attack.

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Northumb. RO, Swinburne mss 530/1, H. to Sir J. E. Swinburne, 7 Dec.; Blackett mss 244, E. to W. Blackett, 2 Dec. 1786; 229/38, Trevelyan to J. E. Blackett, 16 Feb., Ridley to same, 6 Feb. 1789.
  • 2. Portland mss PwF7713, 8522; Swinburne mss 613/17, Northumberland to Swinburne, 22 July; 614/32, Grey to same, 8 Aug. 1795; Alnwick mss 57, f. 101.
  • 3. Portland mss PwV109; Grey mss, Grey to Bigge, 20 Aug., 1, 3, 14 Sept., 11, 28 Nov. 1795, 16 May 1796; Swinburne mss 614/32, Grey to Swinburne, 8 Aug.; 614/26, Northumberland to same, 21 Nov. 1795; Alnwick mss 57, f. 103.
  • 4. Whitbread mss W1/869-70; The Times, 25 Apr. 1800, 31 May 1802; Newcastle Chron. 11, 18, 25 May, 1 June 1805.
  • 5. Grey mss, Monck to Grey, 15 Nov. 1809, Ossulston to same, 29 Aug. 1805; Alnwick mss 63, ff. 8, 25.
  • 6. Grey mss, Swinburne to Grey, 7 Apr., 21 June, 10 July, 7 Aug., Monck to same, 25 June 1806.
  • 7. Grey mss, Swinburne to Howick, 26 Oct., 4, 10 Nov.; Sheffield City Lib. Spencer Stanhope mss 60556, Rev. Smith to Spencer Stanhope, 13 Nov.; Newcastle Chron. 8 Nov. 1806.
  • 8. Grey mss, Bigge to Howick, 28 Apr., Wardell to same, 30 Apr., 5 May, Swinburne to same, 29 Apr., 7, 11 May, Tankerville to same, 9 May, Carlisle to same, 10 May; Northumberland to Tankerville, 8 May, Howick to same, 11 May; Fortescue mss, Howick to Grenville, 17 May; Newcastle Chron. 9 May 1807; N. Riding RO, Wyvill mss ZFW7/2/196/20, Swinburne to Wyvill, 22 May 1807.
  • 9. Grey mss, Howick to his wife, 8-23 May, Swinburne to Howick, 12 May, Ord to Lady Howick, 14, 19 May; Fortescue mss, Howick to Lauderdale, 15 May; Newcastle Chron. 16, 23 May 1807.
  • 10. Grey mss.
  • 11. Ibid. Monck to Howick, 20 Sept. 1807, 27 Mar., 26 Apr., 17 May 1808, 15 Nov. 1809, 10 Nov. 1811, Howick to Ossulston, 30 Sept., reply [2 Oct.], Swinburne to Howick, 11 Oct. 1807, 27 Apr. 1808, 16 Sept. 1811 (Howick suc. his fa. as 2nd Earl Grey 14 Nov. 1807).
  • 12. Ibid. Monck to Grey, 24 Feb., 9, 15, 20 [22], 29 Mar., 28 Sept., 3 Oct., Bigge to same, 26 Feb., 20, 23 Mar., 2 Apr., Ridley to same, 2 Oct.; Northumb. RO, Middleton mss B16/I passim; Blackett mss 245, Bates to Sir W. Blackett, 15 Oct. 1812; Lincs. AO, Tennyson d’Eyncourt mss 2 Td’E H4/24, 25.
  • 13. Essex RO, Sperling mss D/DSE/3, Northumberland to Brogden, 3 Dec. 1813-26 July 1816; Tennyson d’Eyncourt mss 4 Td’E H10, Monck to Tennyson, 23 Aug. 1816.
  • 14. Grey mss, Monck to Grey, 22 Dec. 1815, 28 Nov. 1817, 20 Mar., 16 June 1818, Swinburne to same, 29 Nov., 17 Dec. 1817, Bigge to same, 14 June 1818; Middleton mss B16/III, Ord to Monck, 12 Oct., reply 23 Oct. 1817; Add. 38458, ff. 236, 266; Middleton mss B16/IV, M. Bell to Monck, 30 May; B16/III(b), Ridley to Monck, 2 June, Grey of Backworth to Monck, 3 June 1818.
  • 15. Grey mss, Monck to Grey, 6 June, Bigge to same, 4 June; Middleton mss B16/111(b) passim; Chatsworth mss, Duncannon to Devonshire, 4 June; Add. 51848, Monck to Lady Holland, 21 June; Grimsby Pub. Lib. Tennyson mss, Monck to Tennyson, 23 June 1818.