FRENCH, Arthur (c.1764-1820), of French Park, co. Roscommon.
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Family and Education
b. c.1764, 1st surv. s. of Arthur French of French Park by Alicia, da. of Richard Magenis of Dublin. m. 8 Oct. 1784, Margaret, da. of Edmund Costello of co. Mayo, 5s. 4da. suc. fa. 1799.
MP [I] 1783-1800.
Trustee, linen board [I] 1795.
Gov. co. Roscommon 1819.
Commdt. French Park cav. vols. 1797.
French came of a well established gentry family, which had ‘an immense property’ and prospered by his father’s participation in the Dublin wine trade. He was Member for the county from 1783, usually acting with opposition, and he opposed the Union, despite the bait of a peerage.1 At Westminster he was expected to continue in opposition and in his first speech there, 18 Mar. 1801, deprecated the alarmism manifest in the continuation of martial law in Ireland. On 28 May he called for the deferment of the Irish elections bill with a view to overhauling the whole process. Nevertheless, he did not join the minority. By December 1801 he was asking the Castle for patronage for his brothers Richard and George, and in January 1802 the prime minister named him as one of the few Irish Members whose re-election interested him. In the spring of 1804 it was predicted that he would act ‘as it may be made his interest’, apart from his commitment to Catholic relief, and by 20 May he had announced that it was ‘his wish and intention to support Mr Pitt’.2 He took the government side in debate on 23 June 1804, and although, as expected, he voted for Catholic claims, 14 May 1805, he otherwise proved ‘manageable enough’, sending a ‘civil excuse’ when asked to return from Ireland a few weeks later.3
French was reported in 1806 as inclined to support the Grenville ministry, it being understood that his brother in the church should have something better than his ‘poor deanery’ of Elphin. His part in pacifying the county, which was disturbed by the ‘Threshers’ that year, doubtless kept him away. Although expected by the Whigs to desert them, he did not vote against them on 9 Apr. 1807, but transferred his support to the Portland ministry by 21 Apr., when he was described as ‘with’ them ‘but very pressing’ by Charles Long, who further reported him in May as ‘a most pressing and importunate solicitor’ for church preferment for his brother. The chief secretary advised the lord lieutenant to look to it for fear of losing French’s vote next session, 24 July 1807. Although he voted in sympathy with the Catholics, 29 Apr., 5, 25 May 1808 and 1 June 1810, he supported government in other respects. He was a critic of collective fines as a deterrent to illicit distillation in Ireland in May 1809. He thwarted Irish tithe reform the same month. He also voted against parliamentary reform, 21 May 1810. He absented himself on the Regency owing to his wife’s illness, which pleased the Castle as he would have voted against government, who were again reminded of French’s brother in the church.4 On 11 June 1811, after again voting for Catholic relief on 31 May, he came out in support of Irish tithe reform. He voted for Morpeth’s Irish motion, 4 Feb. 1812, despite the Castle’s attempt to separate it from Catholic relief, which he again supported throughout 1812 and 1813. He was also in the minorities on the bank-note bill, 10 and 13 Apr. 1812, and in a speech in favour of the Irish potato tithe bill, 7 July, painted an ‘affecting picture of the situation of the Irish peasantry’.
Unshakeable in his popularity in Roscommon, French was reported in June 1812, despite his vote with them on Stuart Wortley’s motion, which seems to have surprised the viceroy, to be one of the Irish Members who would not go into opposition with the Liverpool administration, and in September as an admirer of Canning. Nevertheless, the chief secretary invited him to dinner and afterwards to Parliament in November5 and he remained in general a government supporter. He again voted for Catholic relief 1815-19 and remained a critic of the regulation of illicit distillation in Ireland: he moved for a committee of inquiry, 22 May 1816. He further denounced collective fines on 30 Apr. and 20 May 1819, claiming that 99 of the 100 Irish Members did so.
French remained dissatisfied about patronage for his family, as Peel reported in July 1813, and it was then proposed to placate him with a living for his son in the church ‘which is as great an object to him as a better deanery for his brother’. In February 1815 Peel wrote, ‘Mr Arthur French expects of course payment for his service in coming over’, and proposed a clerkship for his kinsman John French. In February 1816 French tried to get out of attendance, first on account of family business and the assizes and then his daughter’s illness, but the chief secretary advised him that this would not do, at least not without a medical certificate. By June Peel was labelling him ‘an abominable fellow’ for his conduct over illicit distillation. In January 1817 he had three reasons for absence from Parliament:
first I am by no means well, secondly the state of the country requires my personal attention, thirdly, if I left home, I would not get in my rents, the difficulty attending which is beyond your conception. I have £14,000 due me, and I cannot command £100.6
By 1818, however, French was felt by government to have been well rewarded for his support, even if he had to be pressed for it. His brother John was still dean of Elphin, but his son had a living in the church and his brother Richard was a commissioner at the board of works, while his brother George was assistant barrister of Roscommon. French himself was a trustee of the linen board and a governor of the county. He died from excessive fox hunting, 24 Nov. 1820.7
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: P. J. Jupp
- 1. Wakefield, Account of Ireland, ii. 308; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 512; Cornwallis Corresp. iii. 50.
- 2. Add. 35781, f. 101; PRO 30/9/1, pt. 2/1, French to Abbot, 10 Dec. 1801, Addington to same, 11 Jan. 1802; PRO 30/8/327, f. 179.
- 3. Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2894;Add. 31229, f. 186; 31230, f. 41.
- 4. Grey mss, Ponsonby to Howick, Fri. [2 Apr. 1807]; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 19, 102; Wellington mss, Long to Wellesley, 11 May ; NLI, Richmond mss 58/37, 63/609.
- 5. Richmond mss 68/1060; Add. 37297, f. 171; 40280, f. 88; Leveson Gower, ii. 463.
- 6. Add. 40252, f. 226; 40262, f. 135; 40283, f. 93; 40285, f. 132; 40288, f. 76; 40290, f. 105; 40291, f. 69.
- 7. Add. 40297 (French); 40298, f. 36; Gent. Mag. (1820), ii. 571.