FITZPATRICK, Hon. Richard (1748-1813), of Sunninghill, Berks.

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

Constituency

Dates

20 Oct. 1770 - 1774
1774 - 1807
1807 - 1812
1812 - 25 Apr. 1813

Family and Education

b. 24 Jan. 1748, 2nd s. of John Fitzpatrick, 1st Earl of Upper Ossory [I], and bro. of John Fitzpatrick, 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory [I]*. educ. Westminster 1764; Caen mil. acad. 1767. unm.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1782-3.

Ensign 1 Ft. Gds. 1765, lt. and capt. 1772, capt. and lt.-col. 1778, brevet col. 1782; a.d.c. to the King 1782-93; maj.-gen. 1793, lt.-gen. 1798, gen. 1803; col. 11 Ft. 1806, 47 Ft. 1807.

Chief sec. to ld. lt. [I] Apr.-Aug. 1782; PC [I] 4 May 1782, [GB] 14 Apr. 1783; sec. at war Apr.-Dec. 1783, Feb. 1806-Mar. 1807.

Biography

In 1828 John Wilson Croker remarked to old Joseph Jekyll that he

had heard from some one ... who knew Fox, Burke, Sheridan, and Fitzpatrick intimately, that he thought Fitzpatrick the first of all of them. Jekyll replied: ‘well, and I should say so too, but his delivery in the House of Commons was so inefficient that he never made any figure there’.

Fitzpatrick’s nephew, Lord Holland, wrote:

He had as much scorn of a Court, and as much disdain of all petty objects of avarice and ambition, as Mr Fox himself; he was, too, full as inflexible, where principle or high spirit required firmness. He had, however, less ardour in his pursuits; he had perhaps less popular feeling, though not less party honour; in short, he was less susceptible of that glorious enthusiasm which stimulates genius into action, than his friend.

A founder member of the Whig Club in 1784, solo balloonist, inveterate gambler, bon viveur, wit and first rate satirical versifier, he was the man on whose friendship Fox ‘most implicitly relied in private, in whose conversation he most delighted, and on whose judgement and advice he most depended in all grave and public affairs’.1

He continued to sit for Tavistock on the interest of his second cousins, the 5th and 6th Dukes of Bedford, voted against government on the Oczakov question, 12 Apr. 1791 and 1 Mar. 1792, and was reckoned favourable to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791. He voted for Fox’s amendment to the address, 13 Dec. 1792, and against the war, 18 Feb. 1793. He was said to disapprove of ‘the system of the Friends of the People’, but he voted for receipt of the Sheffield reform petition, 2 May, and for Grey’s reform motion, 7 May 1793. He was a stalwart voter with the Foxite rump before and after the defection of the Portland Whigs, one of whom was his elder brother, and according to Holland was instrumental in persuading Fox not to retire from politics as the old opposition disintegrated.2 He was appointed a manager of Hastings’s impeachment, 14 Feb. 1791, and voted for abolition of the slave trade, 18 Apr. 1791 and 15 Mar. 1796.

His infrequent speeches were largely confined to military subjects and included an attempt, defeated by 70 votes to 34, to exclude brevet officers from the scope of martial law, 10 Mar. 1791, and advocacy of the appointment of a permanent military commander-in-chief, 28 Mar. 1791. His only venture beyond this field in the 1790 Parliament was his espousal of the cause of his friend Lafayette. His motion proposing the King’s intercession for his release from imprisonment, 17 Mar. 1794, was rejected by 155 votes to 48; and on 21 July 1794 he asked the Duchess of Devonshire to press her brother, Earl Spencer, who had just gone over to government, to seek some remission of Lafayette’s harsh treatment on his forthcoming mission to Vienna. He revived the subject on 16 Dec. 1796, when he again moved for the royal intervention, but accepted Wilberforce’s less strongly worded amendment, only to see it defeated by 132 votes to 50. Sylvester Douglas, a political opponent, found Fitzpatrick’s speech ‘very eloquent and affecting’, but Windham disparaged it as a ‘chapter of a sentimental novel’, and Burke thought ‘the whole drift of the motion is subservient to the general plan of making every power in alliance with this country odious’. He subsequently helped to organize a subscription to relieve Lafayette’s financial difficulties.3

Fitzpatrick, who voted for Grey’s reform motion, 26 May 1797, was ‘strongly adverse’ to the Foxite secession, but having failed to talk Fox out of it he largely participated in it himself.4 On 20 Nov. 1797 and 3 Jan. 1798 he recommended the introduction of limited service in the army. He voted against the assessed taxes augmentation bill, 14 Dec. 1797 and 4 Jan. 1798, spoke and voted for Sheridan’s call for inquiry into the causes of the Irish rebellion, 14 June, and went with Sheridan to St. Anne’s to persuade Fox to join him in attending for Cavendish’s motion on Ireland, 22 June 1798.5 When Fox was dismissed from the Privy Council in May 1798, Fitzpatrick’s first impulse was to resign his own councillorship in protest, but on Fox’s advice he refrained.6 His only known votes and speeches in 1799 were against the Union, which he described to Lord Holland, 26 Jan., as ‘the most wanton violation of good faith I ever heard of’. His contention, 11 and 14 Feb., that the measure violated the ‘settlement’ of 1782, to which he had been a party as Irish secretary, involved him in a casuistic wrangle with Pitt, who sent him documents which, as Fitzpatrick grudgingly admitted in the House, 22 Apr. 1799, showed that he had been technically in error. A story later became current that when ‘measures tending to Union’ had been discussed in his presence in 1782, Fitzpatrick was ‘so drunk’ that he ‘might well have forgotten what passed’. His only known votes in 1800 were against the Union, 21 Apr., for inquiry into the state of the nation, 27 Nov., and for peace negotiations, 1 Dec. He claimed authorship of the pamphlet Observations upon the preface to the intercepted correspondence, which, in Lady Holland’s judgment, expressed ‘some witty and severe strictures on Canning’s highly absurd arguments contained in said preface’.7

He did not vote for the amendment to the address, 2 Feb. 1801, and on the 6th asked Lady Holland not to contradict the rumour that he was ill (he had long been a martyr to gout), ‘as it may serve me for an excuse for my non-attendance in Parliament when the opposition appears in so promising a state’.8 Shortly afterwards, however, he stiffened Fox’s wavering resolution to attend for Grey’s planned motion on the state of the nation, which he himself voted for when it eventually came on, 25 Mar. 1801, and Fox counselled his crony Denis O’Bryan not to allow ‘anything to be done for making the most of my attendance’ by their friends in London without Fitzpatrick’s approbation. He joined the Foxite exodus to Paris in 1802 and was evidently not very active in the House during the first three sessions of the Addington government: he is not known to have spoken in debate between 1799 and 1805 (on 17 Dec. 1803 Fox complained to Grey that with the exception of Whitbread and Francis, ‘not one friend whatever opens his lips in the House to support me’), and would seem to have been a laggard in his attendance, as Fox had more than once to request his presence.

Among his few recorded votes in this period were those in favour of the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 31 Mar. 1802 and 4 Mar. 1803 (he was apparently ‘indignant’ with Lord John Townshend*, another of Fox’s oldest friends, for voting against their leader on the second occasion), against the Nottingham election bill, 3 May, and against the renewal of war, 24 May 1803. He had a large say in persuading Fox not to vote on Patten’s censure motion, 3 June 1803, on the ground that it would be ‘disagreeable’ to his friends to vote with Pittites, a negative step which Fox soon regretted.9 In December 1803, when he shared both Fox’s strong predilection for raising the Catholic question as a rallying cry for opposition and his disappointment when it was vetoed by the Irish Whigs, Fitzpatrick was observed ‘sitting among the Windhamites, and encouraging both Mr Windham and Mr Elliot by his voice and gestures’, a sign, it was thought, of impending junction between Grenville and Fox. He joined in the combined attack on Addington in 1804, though as late as 27 Apr. he ‘alone’ of Fox’s coterie thought it probable that the ‘Doctor’ would survive, and opposed Pitt’s additional force bill in June 1804.10

In 1805 Fitzpatrick voted regularly against government and broke his long silence in the House by proposing in the debate on the militia bill, 28 Feb., measures designed to improve court martial procedure: oaths were to be administered to members and witnesses, only experienced officers were to serve and the presiding officer was to be over 21. With the co-operation of ministers his proposals were embodied in the bill, 12 Mar., notwithstanding the hostility of many senior army officers. He voted against the second reading of the militia enlistment bill, 26 Mar., and in committee, 28 Mar., proposed that volunteers enlisting under the bill should be able to do so for a term of five years or until six months after a peace, but withdrew the motion on the advice of Fox, who warned that defeat on this narrow issue might prejudice the general principle of limited military service. On 28 June 1805 he cited the case of Andrew Cochrane Johnstone* as an example of the unwarranted degree of arbitrary power enjoyed by the judge advocate general as the channel of communication with the King on court martial sentences, and pledged himself to introduce a regulatory measure next session.

As Fox’s ‘oldest friend’ and a former incumbent, Fitzpatrick was virtually an automatic choice as secretary at war when the Whigs came to power in 1806, though Grey did tell Fox, without pressing the point, that his brother-in-law Whitbread would like the job if alternative arrangements could be made for Fitzpatrick. As a minister he spoke only on departmental business except when he moved the vote of thanks to the managers of Melville’s impeachment, 23 May 1806, being, it would seem, the reluctant ‘victim’ of Whitbread’s importunities and mischievously threatening to ‘quiz’ the brewer’s much ridiculed concluding speech at the trial. He secured the King’s agreement to his proposal to curb the judge advocate’s power by making the commander-in-chief the responsible royal adviser on matters arising out of court martial sentences.11 With Fox’s death in September 1806 political life probably lost much of its meaning for Fitzpatrick, and in the consequent ministerial re-shuffle it was eventually settled that Whitbread was to succeed him at the War Office as soon as he could be provided with a suitable military government. There was also talk of appointing him lieutenant-general of the Ordnance to expedite the change. The Times of 2 Oct. reported that he had replaced Sir Thomas Trigge in that capacity, but the move does not seem to have been implemented, and he remained at the War Office for the rest of the ministry’s life.12

Fitzpatrick was seriously ill late in 1806, when he underwent an operation for the removal of a ‘carbuncle’ on his breast, but he was able to handle military business in the House until the ministry fell in March 1807. He was one of the old stagers who, with bitter memories of 1784, ‘deprecated all immediate and direct attempts’ to drive out the Portland government ‘by parliamentary censures’, despite the opposition’s success in preventing Perceval’s holding the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster for life, 25 Mar. 1807. On the same day he was granted three weeks’ leave of absence because of ill health and he could do no more than pair in favour of Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge, 9 Apr.13

Despite his growing decrepitude, Fitzpatrick agreed to stand for Bedfordshire on the Whig interest at the general election of 1807, retaining his option on Tavistock. He was returned after a fierce contest, during which ‘all the old women of Bedford had a spite at him, calling him paleface and buttermilk, and telling him one comfort was that if he carried the election, he would not live to keep it long. He said these were too much like truisms to be pleasant.’ He took a quizzical view of his unexpected elevation to the status of county Member, writing to Holland, 30 May:

After working like a dray horse myself (though foundered and broken winded) how can you suppose I can have an ounce of exertion of any sort left in me? It was a pretty service indeed for such a veteran to be ordered upon. All my ideas of politics are now contracted to the sphere of Bedfordshire ... Instead of being a quiet prête nom, as I expected, I find I shall now have all the labour, as well as the honours of a knight of the shire, upon my shoulders ... If ever the old ministry come in again I don’t know what I shall claim for my services. As an independent country gentleman, I shall of course be offered a peerage, but I shall not be fobbed off with that, or a red ribband.

He proved an incorrigibly negligent county Member, who thought too much was expected of him in view of his poor health. He commented to Whitbread, 22 Dec. 1807, when he reluctantly agreed to subscribe towards the new Bedford bridge, that if the subscribers’ names were to be ‘affixed in golden letters upon the wall’, his own ‘would be, with far more propriety, inscribed in drops of blood’, for ‘the covenant upon which I was honoured with the representation has been violated in every instance’. ‘It requires the fortitude of an Algernon Sydney’, he went on, ‘to endure all these evils for the sake of the Good Old Cause, more especially when that Good Old Cause is in so desperate a condition.’14

He was said in 1808 to be ‘more an invalid’ than his brother and ‘more shattered by age and infirmities than ever’,15 but his membership of the 1807 Parliament was not entirely token. Although his voting record indicates that he was often an absentee, he could generally be relied on to turn up for the important divisions and he was a regular voter for Catholic relief. He opposed Burdett’s motion to prevent an army officer being dismissed except by sentence of court martial, 14 Mar., and Lyttelton’s proposals for the amendment of the constitution of courts martial, 3 June 1808, as being too far-reaching. He was unable to ‘imbibe an atom of Lord Holland’s quixotism’ and took a pessimistic view of events and prospects in the Peninsula. According to Whitbread, he approved the tenor of his amendment to the address on the Erfurt overtures, advocating peace negotiations, 31 Jan. 1809, but would have voted against it as ill-timed had the House divided on it.16

A friend and admirer of the Duke of York, to whom he thought the command in the Peninsula should have been given, Fitzpatrick took no part in the attack on his alleged abuse of military patronage in 1809, and when examined in his place as a general officer, 22 Feb., praised the duke’s achievements as commander-in-chief. Lord Buckingham accused him of standing by the duke ‘in return for the foulest army job to him’, presumably a reference to the two colonelcies which he had obtained during the ‘Talents’, but Fitzpatrick was unabashed and upbraided Lord John Townshend ‘for joining in the persecution of the Duke of York whom, he says, we so wisely preferred driving out rather than the ministry’.17 He voted for the motions charging Perceval and Castlereagh with corruption in the wake of the scandal, 25 Apr. and 11 May 1809, but otherwise showed no active interest in economical reform. He tried to dissuade Bedford from attending the Whig Club meeting of 2 May 1809, when parliamentary reform was advocated. He voted for Brand’s reform motion, 21 May 1810, but could not be rallied to an extra-parliamentary meeting to promote constitutional reform in 1811. He voted against the committal of Burdett, 5 Apr. 1810, but sided with Grey and Grenville in the subsequent dispute with Whitbread over privilege.18

Fitzpatrick joined Ponsonby and other senior Whigs in voting for a two-week adjournment in view of the King’s illness, 15 Nov. 1810, but he divided against the renewed adjournment, 29 Nov. 1810, and the Regency bill, 1 and 21 Jan. 1811. With the Whigs anticipating office, Grey was at a loss how to deal with the General, recognizing his claims to ‘the first consideration as the closest connexion and oldest friend of Fox’, but feeling it impossible to install him as secretary at war with so many younger, more active men clamouring for advancement. When Holland, to whom Grey passed the buck, broke the news, Fitzpatrick renounced all claims to office, but expressed the hope that Fox’s two other oldest surviving friends, Townshend and Lord Robert Spencer*, would not be passed over. Two subsequent audiences with the Prince convinced him that, as he wrote to his brother, he had had no choice but to retain the present ministers while his father’s recovery remained possible and that he had been motivated by ‘filial duty and affection’. Holland, who took a more cynical view of the Regent’s conduct, later commented that this letter, betraying as it did ‘a facility of belief in the professions of the great, for which in his more active days he was by no means remarkable’, proved that Fitzpatrick’s self-confessed fears of a decline in his mental powers were not groundless.19

In 1799 Lady Holland had written that Fitzpatrick had lost ‘a great portion of his ill-gotten pelf in the same way as he acquired it, viz., at the gaming table’, but his financial problems were eased in December 1810 by the death of the degenerate old Duke of Queensberry who left him £1,000 and £500 per annum by a codicil to his will revoking the original bequest of £10,000. Fitzpatrick, according to Lady Holland, was ‘mightily pleased’ with this ‘comfortable addition’ which, she went on, was ‘less likely to be gambled away than if it had been in a more tangible form’. Left to himself, he would have retired from the House at the dissolution of 1812, preferring ‘otium even sine dignitate’ to ‘a prolongation of parliamentary attendance’, but he allowed Bedford to return him again for Tavistock as locum until his youngest son came of age in August 1813. He paired in favour of Catholic relief, 2 Mar. 1813, but is not known to have voted or spoken in debate in the new Parliament before his death on 25 Apr. 1813, ‘the end’, as Creevey saw it, ‘of by far the most clever of the quiet class I have ever seen, and the most perfect judgement of any class’.20

Lady Holland wrote of Fitzpatrick in his salad days that ‘all he says shows a profound knowledge of the world, life, manners, and character; his observations are mostly just and expressed in the best and purest language, adorned with an indescribable good taste’. Her husband recalled him as

one of the dearest friends I ever had. He was, I think, the most agreeable man I ever conversed with. One or two of his contemporaries might vie with him in wit and exceed him perhaps in some mental endowments, certainly in knowledge and learning; but none united with an equal portion of such qualifications his evenness of temper and spirits, his polished manners, pure taste, sound judgement, and worldly experience.21

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. Croker Pprs. ed. Jennings, i. 409; Holland, Further Mems. Whig Party, 171.
  • 2. Add. 33629, f. 47; Holland, Mems. Whig Party, i. 85.
  • 3. Chatsworth mss; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 104; Burke Corresp. iv. 185, 188, 199; Whitbread mss W1/2332, 2333, 2337.