EDWARDS (afterwards NOEL), Gerard Noel (1759-1838), of Exton Park, Rutland.
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Family and Education
b. 17 July 1759, o.s. of Gerard Anne Edwards of Welham Grove, Leics., illegit. s. of Lord Anne Hamilton, by Lady Jane Noel, da. of Baptist, 4th Earl of Gainsborough, sis. and h. of Henry, 6th Earl of Gainsborough. educ. Eton 1770-4; St. John’s Camb. 1776. m. (1) 21 Dec. 1780, Diana (d. 12 Apr. 1823), da. and h. of Sir Charles Middleton†, 1st Bt. (afterwards 1st Baron Barham), whom she suc. as 2nd Baroness 17 June 1813, 12s. 6da.; (2) 4 May 1823, Harriet (d. 11 Aug. 1826), da. of Rev. Joseph Gill of Scraptoft, Leics., s.p.; (3) 11 Aug. 1831, Isabella, wid. of Evans Raymond of Milton, Kent, s.p. suc. fa. to Welham 1773; uncle Henry, 6th Earl of Gainsborough, to his estates 8 Apr. 1798 and took name of Noel 5 May 1798; fa.-in-law as 2nd Bt. by spec. rem. 17 June 1813.
Capt. Rutland militia 1779-94; col. Rutland fencibles 1794-9; lt.-col. commdt. Rutland vols. 1800, maj.-commdt. 1803.
High steward, Camden 1798; sheriff, Rutland 1812-13.
Edwards was heir presumptive of his cousin Henry, 6th Earl of Gainsborough, on whose interest he succeeded to the county seat in 1788. He retained it unopposed for life, except for an interval of six years during which his eldest son Charles held it. In the Parliament of 1784 he graduated from support of Pitt (and of parliamentary reform) via the ‘third party’ venture of 1788 to commitment to the Whigs during the Regency crisis. This he sealed by joining the Whig Club, 10 Nov. 1789, and Brooks’s 18 Mar. 1792. On 21 Dec. 1790 he sardonically suggested in the House a tax on coffins, to diminish ‘the empty pomp of surviving individuals’ and to encourage the substitution of elm for oak in this commodity ‘for the more important service of the country’. He then went out of town, sending a message to the Whig whip William Adam to assure him that there was no further business of note before Christmas.1 He voted for the abolition of the slave trade, 18 Apr. 1791, was listed a supporter the same month of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland, and opposed inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s expenditure on Carlton House, 3 June, becoming a member of the committee on it. In November 1792 he became a partner in the newly founded London and Middlesex Bank.2
On 13 Dec. 1792 he joined Fox’s minority on the address. He was in the chair, 22 Dec., at a meeting of Friends of the Freedom of the Press; but the outbreak of war with France caused him to waver. On 15 Mar. 1793 in the debate on subsidies he admitted that he had intended to support government, but was still swayed by Fox, who might have saved the country from its present predicament. He ceased to vote with opposition and in May 1794 offered to raise six troops of fencibles in Rutland.3 Nevertheless he voted against the further suspension of habeas corpus, 23 Jan. 1795. On 2 Dec. 1795, outraged by the receipt of a letter from Philadelphia addressed to him as ‘Citizen Edwards’, he dissociated himself from the reformers in sponsoring a county petition in favour of measures to protect the King’s person. On 9 Feb. 1796 he wrote to the secretary of the Whig Club as follows: ‘The Association for the Repeal of the Acts [against sedition] I cannot sign. I am therefore under the necessity of considering myself virtually excluded the Whig Club.’4 He approved Whitbread’s wage regulation bill, 12 Feb. 1796. On 10 Nov. 1797 he commended his county for its patriotic spirit, one of his officers George Augustus Pollen* for his conversion to it, and dissociated himself from the views of his namesake Bryan Edwards*, lest the latter be accused of inconsistency. Thereupon the Whig Morning Chronicle tartly reminded him that charity should begin at home.5
On the death of the Earl of Gainsborough in 1798, Edwards took the name of Noel on succeeding to his estates. He wished for a title to go with them, but it was not conceded him: the estates were encumbered, but he wrote to Pitt, 19 Mar. 1800, renewing his request and on 27 Mar. 1801, Pitt being out of office, again wrote asking for his future countenance for his claim.6 He also made overtures to Addington, to whom he wrote, 23 Dec. 1802, of ‘the professions of friendship which I have made towards you and which you so cordially offered to meet’. He was conscious of being a mere ‘ally’ and not admitted to the ‘citadel’ of power, but pressed Addington to consider the conclusion of a concordat with the Catholics and the amelioration of professional prospects of junior naval officers—which his experience in having ‘sailed short trips and been in many ships of war’ suggested as a necessity.7 He was in the minority in favour of inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s finances, 4 Mar., and defended the Irish militia bill, 16 Mar., but was absent in May 1803. He did not join the opposition that brought Addington down.
Pitt could not count on his support on his return to office, although his father-in-law hoped to secure him, and he opposed the additional force bill in June 1804. He was listed ‘Pitt’ in September 1804 but threw this in doubt again by July 1805 by his vote for the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. He voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806. The Grenville ministry were surprised at his benevolence towards them as he was Lord Barham’s son-in-law, and defended his conduct at the Admiralty in the House.8 But he was ‘friendly’ to the abolition of the slave trade and on 4 Jan. 1807, apologizing to Viscount Howick for his absence in the country, he wrote, ‘Your lordship may class me as I have already decidedly declared myself’.9 He took a month’s leave on 23 Mar. but went on to vote for Brand’s motion of 9 Apr. and was supposed ‘decidedly hostile’ to the Portland ministry, rather than ‘doubtful’, in June.10 Nevertheless he wrote to Samuel Whitbread, 2 Apr. 1809, that their conduct towards his father-in-law apart,
I was myself absolutely driven from all the Talents by their sad mismanagement. They certainly wanted practice.
I am singular perhaps in my opinion, but I really think that if they come in again, they will do much better without Mr Fox than with him, great as he was.11
Noel voted only once with opposition in the first session of the Parliament of 1807, for Sheridan’s Irish motion on 13 Aug.; he vacated his seat in his son’s favour before the session was out. The Duke of Portland did nothing to gratify his wish for a peerage.12 He wrote to Whitbread of his ‘independent character in the House’ and as such admired Whitbread’s stand against the Duke of York, ‘who I trust will not be reinstated’. He added, ‘You have my thanks as a private individual, my son has voted with you and you will have my support’.13 Meanwhile, on 1 Mar. 1809, he had offered himself at Stamford for the next general election, resolved to combat the custom of bull running there. This placed a barrier between him and Oddy, who was already in the field to challenge the Marquess of Exeter’s interest; and, according to Noel’s address after his withdrawal in April 1809, he had intended to be a friend to the Exeter interest by discrediting Oddy ‘and the Bullards’. Finding, however, that the Exeter interest ignored his compliment, he turned against it and wished Oddy success against ‘the system of control’ at Stamford where the marquess’s party were ‘the clandestine supporters of bull running’.14 When Oddy disgraced himself, Noel replaced him as candidate in 1812, but was defeated. On the failure of his petition, he gave up Stamford.
In May 1814 Noel resumed the county seat. He spoke in the House on 24 June. He supported the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment bill, 3 July 1815, and the same day presented a petition in favour of a remedy for scrofula (‘the King’s evil’). He voted with ministers for the army estimates, 6 Mar. 1816. The same day, apropos of the Rutland petition against the property tax, he said the tax was not so bad, if modified, but he did not vote on 18 Mar. He sided with ministers on the civil list, 6 and 24 May 1816, and objected to Romilly’s reports of debates in the French chamber of deputies, 22 May. His pride was lowered by the disarray of his affairs. His bank partnership (since 1805 with Davison & Co. of 34 Pall Mall) lapsed. In August 1816 his life interest in his estates (nearly 15,000 acres, worth £20,800 p.a.) was advertised for sale. The Duke of Wellington’s lawyer offered to buy the fee simple of the estates at 30 years’ purchase, as well as the Exton demesne (over 3,000 acres), but this was repudiated by Noel: ‘my distress shall not involve my family in disgrace’. Nevertheless, negotiations commenced for the purchase of the life interest only, to be followed by the purchase from Noel’s heir of his reversion. In November 1816 they were frustrated by Noel’s attorney William Leake*, who suggested a plan of economy in the form of a trust to obviate even the sale of the life interest. This was welcomed by Noel, who appointed Leake receiver of his estates.15
Thus humoured, he returned to the House, supporting government on the report of the finance committee, 7 Feb., and voting against Catholic relief, 9 May 1817. On 9 June he took a month’s leave for illness and no vote of his survives from the next session. In his election address he thanked the freeholders for being satisfied ‘with a man without his trappings’.16 On 22 Jan. 1819 he presented, but dissociated himself from, the Rutland petition favourable to agricultural protection. He again took leave of absence on 1 Mar., but was back by 25 Mar. when he complained of the exclusion from parish relief of members of Friendly Societies. On 8 Apr. he voted for Sumner’s amendment against the issue of a new writ for Camelford and on 5 May for the repeal of the Irish window tax. He was in the majority against Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, and for the foreign enlistment bill, 10 June. In February 1820 he favoured martial law to suppress popular agitation.17
He died 25 Feb. 1838, having in his old age transferred his claim to a peerage to his heir, already Baron Barham in his mother’s right, who subsequently obtained the revival of the earldom of Gainsborough.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Blair Adam mss, Edwards to Adam, Wed. morning [Dec. 1790].
- 2. Somerset RO, Dickinson mss DN264, Templer to Dickinson, 1 Oct. 1792.
- 3. PRO 30/8/132, f. 63.
- 4. True Briton, 10 Feb. 1796.
- 5. Morning Chron. 13 Nov. 1797.
- 6. PRO 30/8/163, ff. 236, 238.
- 7. Sidmouth mss.
- 8. PRO, Dacres Adams mss 5/22; Fortescue mss, Buckingham to Grenville, 28 Oct. .
- 9. Grey mss.
- 10. Fremantle mss D/FR box 46, Buckingham to Fremantle, 16 June .
- 11. Whitbread mss W1/2461.
- 12. Portland mss PwV114.
- 13. Whitbread mss W1/2433.
- 14. The Sequel of the Stamford Election (Supp. 1, p. 7; 2, p. 8); Stamford Town Hall, Phillips mss 35.
- 15. Hilton Price, London Bankers, 51; Add. 38263, f. 202; 38366, ff. 185-194, 209-11.
- 16. Morning Chron. 19 June 1818.
- 17. Add. 38283, f. 147.