CUFFE, John Otway, 2nd Earl of Desart [I] (1788-1820), of Desart Court, co. Kilkenny.

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



13 Dec. 1808 - May 1817

Family and Education

b. 20 Feb. 1788, o.s. of Otway Cuffe, 3rd Baron and 1st Earl of Desart [I], by Anne, da. of Peter Browne, 2nd Earl of Altamont [I]. educ. Eton 1802; Christ Church, Oxf. 1805; Edinburgh Univ. 1807. m. 7 Oct. 1817, Catherine, da. and coh. of Maurice Nugent O’Connor of Mount Pleasant, King’s Co., 1s. Styled Visct. Castle Cuffe 1793-1804; suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Desart [I] 9 Aug. 1804.

Offices Held

Ld. of Treasury Dec. 1809-June 1810.

Mayor, Kilkenny 1809-10.


Desart was not quite of age when he was returned for Bossiney on Lord Mount Edgcumbe’s interest, as a friend of administration. His father had been an Irish representative peer from the Union until his death in 1804 and was a government supporter with an important interest in county Kilkenny.1

In October 1809 Spencer Perceval, wishing to bring forward ‘the young men who from their character and respectability had created expectation’, offered him a place at the English Treasury board. The Duke of Richmond had also recommended him for the Irish treasury board, as ‘a sensible young man and a good scholar’, besides being ‘very steady with us’ and ‘first cousin to Lord Sligo’. Desart at first declined Perceval’s offer, wishing to support government out of office, but during an interview with the duke agreed to change his mind, if Perceval still thought his services would be useful. Perceval, who had kept the place open for him, readily appointed him to it. Charles Long reported that Desart had ‘a very high reputation, and if he succeeds as a speaker, may be of great service’.2 He does not appear to have succeeded. He first spoke in defence of Wellington’s pension, 16 Feb. 1810, and on 9 Mar. defended the subsidy to Portugal. He voted with ministers on the Scheldt question, 23 Feb., 5 and 30 Mar., against the release of the radical Gale Jones, 16 Apr., and against sinecure and parliamentary reform, 17 and 21 May 1810. On 9 June he supported the increase in salary for the Irish viceroy. That month he surrendered his seat at the Treasury board. He rallied to ministers in the Regency debates, defending Pitt’s memory on 1 Jan. 1811; and reappeared in February 1812 when he was placed on the civil list committee, again voted against sinecure reform and criticized Turton’s censure motion. On 19 May he spoke in favour of a monument to Perceval’s memory. Next day there were rumours that he would support his colleague Stuart Wortley’s motion for a stronger administration,3 but he voted against it, 21 May. On 7 July he opposed the Irish potato tithe bill.

Once out of office, Desart had begun to see himself in an Irish context. In April 1811 he unsuccessfully applied to be an Irish privy councillor and a governor of Kilkenny. The Regent’s friend Lord Ormonde being sole governor, such pretensions were embarrassing to government but in February 1812, when Ormonde was thought to be dying, Desart asked for the county honours, including the militia. Ormonde’s recovery made a compromise solution devised by the viceroy unnecessary, but did not improve relations between the two.4

Desart was placed in a predicament at the dissolution in 1812. His patron Mount Edgcumbe wished to bring a friend into Parliament, while Desart, who had hoped to retain his seat, discovered that he was unable to find another for the patron’s friend’s benefit: from September to November 1812 he was in constant correspondence with Peel the Irish secretary, whom he counted as his friend, and Lord Liverpool on this subject. He had expected to have the nomination to Kilkenny borough but Lord Ormonde disputed this and would only agree to a year’s tenure if Desart nominated to the seat—this reduced Desart’s bargaining power. He asked Peel to find another Irish seat for Mount Edgcumbe’s friend, but Peel could not, nor could Arbuthnot in England. Desart’s mistake in not being sure of the nomination to Kilkenny for the duration was the reason for his dilemma. Liverpool informed Peel on 20 Oct. that if a seat could be found in Ireland for Newman, Mount Edgcumbe’s friend, Desart might continue to sit for Bossiney—otherwise he must vacate it. Desart told Peel, 21 Oct., that he would prefer to retain Bossiney and offered to come over to England to look for a seat for Newman. Peel hinted at an opening at Malmesbury, 23 Oct., and Desart was eager to pursue it; he also made inquiries about Sligo, 1 Nov. He would not leave Ireland unless there was a strong probability of a seat. Eventually, after Peel had found one for him at Bletchingley on the Kenrick interest, he was able to retain Bossiney after all, Newman coming in for Bletchingley.5

Desart appeared as a government supporter on the Treasury list in 1812, in which year he was a founder member of Grillion’s Club. He experimentally supported Catholic relief throughout in 1813, though he insisted on securities for the protestant establishment, 9 Mar., having signed and defended a petition of Kilkenny Protestants to that effect, and on 11 May he was teller for Hippisley’s motion for an inquiry into safeguards. Following a breakdown in health his main interest was perforce in Irish affairs, especially in asserting his influence in Kilkenny against Ormonde, in which his record of support of administration would have commended him better to them than the wavering support of the Butlers, had not the latter come to terms with the government.6 In January 1815 there was talk of his obtaining Irish office (the post office) but ‘it would put him out of Parliament’, so the notion was discarded. He informed Peel, 18 Feb. 1815, that he was eager to attend the debate on the corn bill, but made no intervention. (He had been on the select committee of 1813.) On 14 May 1817 he appeared in defence of the Irish grand jury bill. On 18 May, for health reasons, he authorized Peel to accept the Chiltern Hundreds for him and to arrange the return of Peel’s brother or any other friend of government for the remainder of the Parliament.7

On the previous day he had written to Lord Liverpool asking for a British peerage to enable him to remain in Parliament and summarizing his career as follows:8

Immediately on my coming of age I entered into Parliament ... and supported the government of which you were one of the principal members as my father and my relatives had done before me. Subsequently when Mr Perceval endeavoured to maintain the government, weakened as