DOUGLAS, Hon. Frederick Sylvester North (1791-1819), of The Pheasantry, Bushey, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 8 Feb. 1791, o.s. of Sylvester Douglas*, 1st Baron Glenbervie, by Lady Katherine Anne North, da. of Frederick North*, 2nd Earl of Guilford. educ. Sunbury; Westminster 1801-5; Christ Church, Oxf. 1806; L. Inn 1807. m. 19 July 1819, Harriet, da. of William Wrightson† of Cusworth, Yorks., s.p.
Maj. 1 Surr. militia 1813; capt. Oxfordshire yeoman cav. 1817.
Douglas was delicate and precocious as a child; his father remarked on his ‘ardour of mind which will, I am satisfied, as he advances, require check and regulation rather than excitement’. When he went to Westminster school in 1801, he was thought to have ‘advanced too fast’ and was ‘facile princeps’ of the Lower School. At Oxford he took a first in classics in 1809 and was placed at the head of the second class in mathematics: but he professed himself dissatisfied with his examination performance and went off to Edinburgh to hear lectures there—a plan which was characteristically undermined by a sudden severe illness. At this time he was described as ‘very pleasant and very ugly, and, in short, very Northish, but ... a very tender shoot indeed and does not seem likely to grow stronger’.1 In July 1810 he set out for a two-year tour of Greece and the near east, during the course of which he joined his uncle the philhellene Frederick North* whom, according to George III, he was ‘very like’. On his return he wrote an Essay on certain points of resemblance between the ancient and modern Greeks, which went into a second edition in June 1813. In the same year he was Madame de Staël’s cicerone at Oxford and became deputy-secretary of Grillion’s Club.2
During his absence, his father had been negotiating with his brother-in-law the 4th Earl of Guilford for Douglas to be returned to Parliament for Banbury, and this was brought about, not without inconvenience and expense, in 1812. He appears to have been committed, as his parents were, to his succeeding in public life, but he had differences with his father as to how this might best be achieved; Glenbervie wrote in his journals, eventually intended for his son’s eyes (which never beheld them) of ‘his difference in opinion with me on some essential points of parliamentary duty’. From the start there were doubts as to his supporting administration, though George Rose thought he might be ‘friendly without reference to his father’s situation’. After voting thrice for Catholic relief in his first session, he made a maiden speech (22 June 1813) in favour of tolerating rather than encouraging the propagation of Christianity in India, ‘with great and general approbation and cheering’, his father was told. The Speaker sent his congratulations to the latter, who reported: ‘when I carried it to Lady Glenbervie she burst into tears and sunk on her knees with fervent expressions of gratitude and thankfulness to God’. He added:
What a blessing to have lived to see the son of my dearest wife, the only male descendant in the second degree of such a father-in-law as Lord Guilford, launched in the world (a Member of the House of Commons for the hereditary borough of the North family), one of the most popular young men in the best society of London, of acknowledged principles of religion and honour and already at the age of little more than 22, distinguished as an elegant writer and a promising public speaker.3
Douglas, who must have been put to some expense by out-voters for fear of a contest at Banbury in 1812, introduced on 29 Mar. 1814 an elections expense bill to prevent candidates having to defray non-resident voters’ expenses, but ‘in a tone of voice scarcely audible in the gallery’. He denied that he was an advocate of parliamentary reform: he merely wanted an improvement. When he, Tierney and Rose were given leave to bring in the bill, ‘the nomination of the latter to assist in a reform in Parliament excited a general laugh’.4 Despite his efforts on its behalf, the bill was lost, 16 May. On 22 Apr. 1814, but ‘in so low a tone of voice, that it was not possible to hear him except at intervals’, he defended the Speaker against Morpeth’s critical motion. He voted for Romilly’s motion to abolish corruption of the blood in treason cases, 25 Apr.: he was in favour of criminal law reform. On 12 May he was in the minority on Williams Wynn’s motion against the blockade of Norway. He opposed Bankes’s motion for a select committee on the corn trade, 20 May. On 14 June he praised Holford’s London prisons bill, which he had approved in committee.
In the recess Douglas interviewed the exiled French emperor who ‘showed an unaccountable knowledge of the difference of Scotch and English law, and a most unaccountable ignorance of the most important parts of the British constitution’. On his return, the report was that ‘Buonaparte has converted Douglas’. He voted against the transfer of Genoa, 21 Feb. 1815 and again on 27 Apr., but spoke against Romilly’s motion for discontinuing the militia in peacetime, 28 Feb. On 8 Mar. he agreed with the corn bill in principle, though he thought 80s. a quarter too high a price. He was in the minority next day on the duration of the Bank restriction bill. On 13 Mar. he claimed that the ‘clamour of a mob’ (against the corn bill) was not ‘the voice of the people’; on the same day he opposed further taxes, thinking that demilitarization was now called for. On 7 Apr., influenced by events in France, he said Buonaparte’s army must be extirpated and on 20 Apr. claimed that there was no treating with him. Buonaparte, then 45 years old, was reported to have said of Douglas that he liked him best ‘of the English he had seen’, adding ‘though he is only 25, he looks like a man of 45’.5 He had supported Tierney’s motion on the civil list on 14 Apr., but opposed him on the same subject on 8 May. He opposed the slave trade in every form, 14 July 1813, 28 June 1814, 5 May, 13 June 1815. He defended the subsidies to the allies, 26 May, for the extermination of Buonaparte. He also defended and was teller for the East India ships registry bill, 6 June. He supported Catholic relief on 30 May 1815 (as also in 1817). He spoke in favour of the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment bill, 30 June 1815.
Douglas defended the peace settlement, which he considered fair to France, 20 Feb. 1816. He seems to have been anxious to improve his debating style, for on 23 Feb. he consulted the Speaker on the subject.6 He voted for reduction of the Household troops estimates on 11 Mar. and on 18 Mar. against continuing the property tax. On 27 Mar. he was in the minority on the navy estimates. On 8 Apr. he harassed Castlereagh by moving successfully for papers on the French financial contribution to the British government of £880,000. He advocated abandoning the martello towers, 8 Apr., and voted for retrenchment in the ensuing two months. He was in the minority on the Bank restriction bill, 1, 3 and 8 May. He supported inquiry into the state of Ireland, 26 Apr., and opposed the aliens bill, 10 May. He joined Brooks’s Club on 7 May 1816.
Glenbervie was out of sympathy with his son’s parliamentary activities: as early as March 1814 it was supposed that they might be an excuse for depriving him of his place, though other considerations were brought to bear when he resigned it that year. He noted in his journal (June 1816) after they had met at Florence:
I perceive however that Fred’s reports and opinions of men as well as things have a considerable tinge of opposition, a circumstance by me much lamented. He avoids, notwithstanding his late correspondence, all conversation with me on his own conduct past and to come, partly I fancy from unwillingness to give me pain. But what then are his intentions or prospects as a member of opposition? He is approaching to 26 ... There has been never anything but forced intercourse and discussions between us on what has been for years the dearest wish of my heart and the grand subject of my thoughts and wishes.
Soon afterwards Glenbervie maundered on, in the same vein:
Fred has not as yet acquired any solid footing with either of the political parties in the country ... [contrasting him with his contemporary Charles Grant] Fred indeed has deservedly acquired a most enviable character for amiability in manners and agreeableness in what is considered justly to be the best society, as well as for the more essential qualities of the heart and understanding. But I fear he took the water too deep (according to an expressive Scotch phrase) first, on his coming from Oxford, where he and others of his companions of the One o’clock set at Christ Church were all to be first lords of the Treasury or chancellor of the Exchequer because Mr Pitt had been so at 24 ... and afterwards on his coming into Parliament I remember he said to me when Charles Grant was made a lord of the Treasury, that he thought he had let himself down by taking such an unimportant office.7
On 18 Jan. 1817, his father found him ‘still attached to opposition’.8 As if to prove it, he voted against the address on 29 Jan. He paired against the third secretaryship of state, 29 Apr., and voted for the reduction of the Irish military establishment, 13 May. He voted for the opposition candidate for the Speaker’s chair, 2 June. He remained critical of schemes for parliamentary reform, 10 Mar., and voted against it on 20 May, but he opposed the secret committee on sedition, 5 June, and voiced his opposition to the habeas corpus suspension bill, 24 June. He failed to secure the exemption of Scotland from it, 26 June. After an autumn tour of the Continent with his father, he returned even more committed to opposition and, it seems, ‘greatly improved in speaking’ in the ensuing session. He criticized the packing of committees by ministers, 5 Feb. 1818, objected to and was teller against their use of spies and informers, 5 Mar., and deplored their mismanagement of the question of the royal dukes’ establishments on marriage, 16 Apr. While his father, who felt, according to Sydney Smith, ‘like a hen that has hatched ducks’, was pleased to learn that these speeches were well thought of, he was also informed that ‘Fred’s love of company and his popularity and success in society ... prevented his studying much or systernatically’.9 On 6 Apr. 1818 he was given leave to bring in a bill to diminish the fees (£110) for a pardon under the great seal, the exorbitance of which had been drawn to his attention by a case in his constituency, where he interested himself in local affairs, such as the militia and education. He was, like his uncle Frederick, an advocate of the cause of the Ionian isles, now under British protection, 27 Apr., 1 June, and defended his father’s reputation as surveyor of crown lands against Brougham’s aspersions, 8 May. On 15 May he attacked the aliens bill in uncompromising terms which Viscount Althorp noted that ministers did not attempt to answer and which, his father wrote,
had vast success in establishing him as a most, perhaps the most, promising young speaker in the opposition or in either party. Poor fellow, his head is less turned than his father’s would have been by such success at his age.
Edward John Littleton noted in his diary, 22 Feb. 1819:
Douglas, although on his first coming into Parliament, he threw away his character by vacillating between the Whigs and Tories—and offering himself to all parties—seems at present steadily attached to his party, and during the last session no man in the House made such rapid improvement in the art of debate. His mind is exceedingly well cultivated—very quick—and his turn of humour—and his mode of employing it is admirable.10
When Douglas was returned unopposed at Banbury in 1818, his father wrote ‘if he keeps his health, spirits and the sort of political popularity or fame [gained by] his late ... speech ... he will have a good chance of having a seat given him at the next general election’. He signed the requisition to Tierney to lead the opposition in the House of Commons. He was critical of the state of convict ships, 25 Jan. 1819, and of the seizure of General Gorgaud under the Aliens Act, 1 Feb., 2 Apr. He was a member of the Poor Law committee of that session. He was opposition teller on the case of Wyndham Quin*, 29 Mar. He defended the piecemeal reform of corrupt boroughs and of the Scottish burghs, in preference to systematic reform, 8, 23 Mar. He opposed state lotteries, 4 May, and the Game Laws, 14 May. He voted for Tierney’s censure motion, May, and found the navy estimates too high, 2 June. Attacking the foreign enlistment bill, 3 June, he made a speech in favour of South American independence, which he ‘thought Britain was bound to support’. On 23 June, in his last speech, he advocated educational reform. On 19 July, after several unsuccessful courtships, he married into a Whig family and on 21 Oct. 1819 he died, delirious after a jaundice.11
Indefatigable in his attention to public business, he brought to the consideration of every subject a clear, vigorous and active understanding, a copious fund of information, the spirit and the tact of a man of business. He had devoted, at an early age, all his faculties to public life, and in the opinion of the most judicious among his contemporaries he would have obtained the highest distinctions of Parliament and of the State. As a classical and a general scholar, greatly accomplished in languages and letters, few were his superiors ... Inheriting with the name, the humour of Lord North, the characteristic humour of his family, which appeared to be rather the effusion of playful spirits and of social enjoyments, than the effort of wit, and being free from spleen or vanity was incapable of inflicting pain, he enlivened every society by his presence.12
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Glenbervie Jnls. 50; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 40-41, 71, 106, 131, 139, 189, 243; ii. 14, 26, 34, 53; NLS mss 11087, f. 172.
- 2. Glenbervie Jnls. 124, 150, 156; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 388; ii. 68, 75, 101; Letters of Princess Charlotte, 77.
- 3. Glenbervie Jnls. 150, 156, 162-3; T.64/261, Rose to Arbuthnot, 8 Nov. 1812.
- 4. Parl. Deb. xxvii. 377.
- 5. Pope of Holland House ed. Lady Seymour, 80-81, 84; Broughton, Recollections, i. 186.
- 6. PRO 30/9/35, Abbot diary.
- 7. Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 158, 176; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 21 Mar. .
- 8. Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 214.
- 9. NLW mss 2792, Lady C. to H. Williams Wynn, 4 June 1817; Diary of Lady Shelley, ii. 32; Heron, Notes (1851), 92; Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 288.
- 10. Fitzwilliam mss, box 92, Althorp to Milton, 17 May 1818; Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 307; Staffs RO, Hatherton diary.
- 11. Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 256, 267, 309, 333; PRO 30/9/16, Legge to Colchester, 31 Oct. 1819.
- 12. Gent. Mag. (1819), ii. 468.