DOYLE, Sir John, 1st Bt. (1756-1834).
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Family and Education
b. 1756, 4th s. of Charles Doyle of Bramblestown, co. Kilkenny and Claughmoney, co. Carlow by Elizabeth, da. of Rev. Nicholas Milley of Johnville, co. Kilkenny. educ. by Rev. Benjamin Hobart, Carlow; Trinity, Dublin 1768; L. Inn 1769. unm. cr. Bt. 29 Oct. 1805; KB 1 Feb. 1813; GCB 2 Jan. 1815.
MP [I] 1783-99.
Ensign 48 Ft. 1771, lt. 1773; lt. 40 Ft. 1775; capt. 105 Ft. 1778, maj. 1782, half-pay 1783-93; lt.-col. commanding 87 Ft. 1794, brevet col. 1796, brig.-gen. Gibraltar 1798, maj.-gen. 1802; lt. gov. Guernsey 1803-15; lt.-gen. (local) 1805; gov. Charlemont Castle 1818-d.; gen. 1819.
Sec. extraordinary to Prince of Wales 1791-6; military under-sec. [I] Feb.-June 1795.
Originally intended for the bar, Doyle soon transferred to the army and served in the American war where he became closely connected with Lord Rawdon (later Earl of Moira). On his return to Ireland he went on half-pay and was brought into the Irish parliament for Mullingar by the Earl of Granard, an opposition peer, who controlled four seats and whom government was naturally concerned to secure. Doyle for his part was anxious to return to active service and in 1788 the lord lieutenant pressed very strongly for military promotion for him in the hope, thereby, of winning over Granard. Although Pitt backed the application, the King would not concede it1 and Doyle threw himself fully into Irish politics. He was a founder member of the Irish Whig Club and one of the inner circle of the group which George Ponsonby* led in the Irish commons,2 where Doyle made a mark as an eloquent speaker and a zealous advocate of Catholic relief—he claimed to have been the first Member to contend for total emancipation.3 At the same time he maintained links with England and it was through Rawdon that he was appointed private secretary to the Prince of Wales in 1791, a post which he lost in 1796 on the reduction of the Prince’s household. His closeness to the Prince was emphasized when in 1794 he was appointed to raise a new regiment styled the Prince of Wales’s Irish regiment of foot, which he commanded in the Netherlands. He was barrack master general to the Duke of York, who conceded Moira’s wish that he should return to England as his quartermaster general. In June 1794 he was invalided home.
Doyle was soon drawn back into politics by the appointment of Earl Fitzwilliam as viceroy of Ireland in January 1795. Among the victims of Fitzwilliam’s purge of government offices was Edward Cooke, military under-secretary, whom Doyle replaced. This administration was short-lived, and after Fitzwilliam had been supplanted by Camden in March, Cooke was soon restored to office, although Doyle may have already resigned on his own initiative when it became clear that the new administration intended to reverse Fitzwilliam’s pro-Catholic policy.4 He was not inactive for long. In August he was put in charge of the French expedition with the temporary rank of major-general, a preferment which he very probably owed again to Moira, from whose command the expeditionary troops were raised. He occupied the base of Isle Dieu but government decided not to reinforce him. After the failure of this venture, he returned to Irish politics for a while. Nothing came of a plan of 1797 that he should make way for Gerard Lake*, but in 1799 he resigned his seat to take up a post as brigadier-general in Gibraltar. He next proceeded to Minorca and in 1800 commanded a brigade in the Egyptian campaign which won him a knighthood in the Egyptian order of the Crescent. He had captured 500 camels and 600 French soldiers.5
After the Union Doyle does not appear to have sought a seat in the Imperial Parliament. He became lieutenant-governor of Guernsey in 1803. Thence he confided to William Drummond* his wish for a red ribband, 30 Oct. 1804, being confident that Pitt ‘will scorn to set off against my honest services any former political delinquency’.6 His services in Guernsey, conducive to harmony and retrenchment, were rewarded with a baronetcy in 1805. Moira, however, was anxious to promote his political aspirations and on the formation of the Grenville ministry and the dissolution of 1806 pledged himself to secure Doyle a seat, even if he had to pay for it himself. It seems that Moira did pay Sir Henry Worsley Holmes, the proprietor of Newport, for Doyle’s seat, or if he did not, he was instrumental in arranging the business.7
At Westminster Doyle soon proved his ability in debate. In his conventional maiden speech, 22 Dec. 1806, he seconded the vote of thanks to the victors of Maida, but on 23 Jan. 1807 he obtained good-humoured attention for a speech on the army estimates delivered from the opposition bench. (He denied that he sat there as a spy, or because he was one of those Members who could not get ‘good places’ on the other side.) He gave credit to Windham’s military plans, to the disadvantage of Pitt’s, insisting on their professional superiority. But his best effort was to come: on 23 Feb. he warmed to the abolition of the slave trade. His early experience of slavery in South Carolina had made an indelible mark on him: ‘taught by that Power that pities me, I learned to pity them’. How much more excuse there was for a highwayman than for a slave dealer:
The robber may be compelled by hunger; besides, he risks his life in the attempt, and he has not the presumption to say, that he benefits those he robs; moreover, he does not ask compensation for giving up the trade.
He brushed aside the complacent reports of the average colonial governor on the humane treatment of slaves:
Everything he hears must be through an interested medium. On his visits he would see nothing but cheerfulness. Every face, whether white or black, would be dressed in holiday smiles—he would never hear the secrets of the prison house. Besides, the domestic slaves and the artisans, being under the immediate eye of the master, are free from the tyranny of the driver.
He paid tribute to the ministry for sponsoring abolition and to Wilberforce for his long campaign for it. On 12 Mar. 1807 he rose late, in an impatient House, to oppose Castlereagh’s amendment to the mutiny bill, intended to make a loophole in favour of prolonged service in the army by means of a recruitment oath. He voted for Brand’s motion following the dismissal of the ministry, 9 Apr. On 16 Apr. he hailed the capture of Montevideo, in which his own regiment had played a signal part.