LEE ANTONIE, William (1764-1815), of Colworth, Beds.
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Family and Education
b. 24 Feb. 1764, o.s. of William Lee† of Totteridge Park, Herts. by Philadelphia, da. of Sir Thomas Dyke, 2nd Bt., of Lullingstone, Kent. educ. Westminster 1774. unm. suc. distant cos. Richard Antonie of Colworth and took additional name of Antonie; fa. 1778.
Maj. Bedford vol. inf. 1803.
On the death of his father Lee Antonie was entrusted to the care of his cousin, Sir William Lee of Hartwell, whose superintendence was fussily assisted by Lee Antonie’s brother-in-law, John Fiott. In 1781 the Buckinghamshire estates of Little Marlow and Medmenham were purchased on his behalf. According to a local resident the interest deriving from them, ‘with proper attention and management, would always command a seat’ for Great Marlow, but, to Fiott’s exasperation, Lee Antonie proved a reluctant and lazy politician from the outset. When Fiott was negotiating on his behalf for the acquisition of additional property in the borough in 1786, he was touring the Continent with his mistress; but two years later, when a dissolution was expected, he was cajoled into making a brief visit to Marlow to declare his intention of standing. Lee Antonie preferred his Colworth estate to Little Marlow, where he was pestered by his prospective constituents, and was beginning to establish himself in the Whig society of Bedfordshire and London. In 1789 he was encouraged to accept an invitation to stand for Bedford by the Foxite sitting Member, William Colhoun*, ‘with the knowledge and concurrence’ of the Earl of Upper Ossory (John Fitzpatrick*) and the 5th Duke of Bedford, who nominated him for election to Brooks’s the following month. He took no action, however, and in April 1789, when William Clayton confirmed his intention of retiring at the next election, put in a further appearance at Marlow, accompanied by Robert Hurst*, the Duke of Norfolk’s election agent, whose services had been placed at his disposal at the request of the Prince of Wales, ‘who interests himself for Mr Lee’s success’. Although Fiott continued to look with dismay on Lee Antonie’s flaunted and ‘unhappy connexion’ with his mistress, he was temporarily appeased; but on the eve of the general election of 1790 he wrote despairingly to Sir William Lee of Antonie’s persistent neglect of the electors, which threatened to ruin his chances, and his ‘continued want of attention towards his best friends, and disregard of what is meant for his good’.1
Lee Antonie was nevertheless returned unopposed and Fiott reported, 30 June 1790:
I believe he is sensible that with proper attention he may secure his seat for Marlow for life; and I shall hope it may soon cause a change in him for the better ... but compulsion will not avail, patience and a little more time I hope will have the desired effect.
At the end of the year Fiott observed that Lee Antonie was taking an interest in local affairs and had been ‘a very constant attendant to his parliamentary duty’, which had ‘infused a considerable degree of spirit in him’, but he soon turned his back on the constituency, and in his financial extravagance, lavished principally on his hunting establishment, supplied his brother-in-law with additional cause for complaint.2 He voted for Grey’s resolutions on the Oczakov crisis, 12 Apr. 1791, and was considered favourable to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland that month. He was one of the 50 who divided in favour of Fox’s amendment to the address, 13 Dec. 1792, but was nevertheless included on Windham’s provisional list of possible recruits for the ‘third party’ in February 1793. He so disapproved of the French war, however, that, despite having made a wasted journey to support Fox’s resolutions against it when they were put off on 7 Feb., he obeyed the injunctions of his hunting companion, William Henry Lambton* and came up again to vote for them on 18 Feb.3 He supported Grey’s proposals for parliamentary reform, 7 May 1793, and voted, albeit spasmodically, with the Foxite opposition before and after the coalition of the Portland Whigs with government.
His failure to maintain his interest at Marlow enabled his colleague to advance his plans to gain control of both seats and he thankfully abandoned the borough in 1796. At the request of some of his supporters he permitted Fiott to contest it on his interest, but after Fiott’s heavy defeat he concerned himself no further with Marlow, and he sold his Buckinghamshire estates in 1810.
Lee Antonie’s friendship with his Bedfordshire neighbour, the younger Samuel Whitbread*, was strengthened by their formation in 1798, with the 5th Duke of Bedford, of the Oakley Hunt, of which Lee Antonie was the first master. It was Whitbread who recommended Lee Antonie to the 6th Duke when he was casting round for a candidate for Bedford in 1802. Bedford explained to William Adam, 27 Nov. 1806:
from the knowledge I had of his character and his attachment to the principles upon which I have always acted I had no hesitation in acceding to Whitbread’s wishes and immediately wrote to Lee Antonie to offer the seat to him. He answered me that he had previously determined never to come into Parliament again, but the respect he bore to the memory of my late brother as well as his desire to evince his regard for me would influence him to accept the offer.
Considerable blandishment from Whitbread was necessary, however, before Lee Antonie consented to become his colleague. Bedford told Lord Holland, 1 Mar. 1810, that Whitbread ‘generally takes care of’ Lee Antonie, and he trailed somewhat half-heartedly in his friend’s political wake for the rest of his parliamentary career.4
He voted with the Foxite opposition to Addington in the division of 24 May 1803 on the King’s message concerning the renewal of hostilities, but was not among those who opposed the third reading of the Nottingham election bill, 3 May, or supported Fox’s amendment for a council of general officers, 2 Aug. 1803. He ignored Whitbread’s request that he come up to support the attack on the government’s management of Ireland, 7 Mar. 1804; and though pressed by Adair, in Fox’s name, to participate in the planned assault on the government after Easter, he voted only in the final two divisions of its climax in late April. He voted against the additional force bill in June 1804, but in none of the divisions against Pitt’s second ministry in February and March 1805; and his failure to respond to Whitbread’s request that he attend for Sheridan’s motion for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 6 Mar., earned him the rebuke that ‘we are taunted with the apparent coolness of our sturdiest friends’.5 He did, however, vote for his friend’s attacks on Melville, 8 Apr. and 12 June.
Lee Antonie supported the ‘Talents’ and voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, but Bedford told Adam, 7 Oct., that he was ‘a very inefficient Member, seldom ever attending’.6 Whitbread had frequently to apologize to Lee Antonie for the heavy and unforeseen expenses, chiefly arising from the demands of municipal beneficence, which the representation of Bedford imposed on him. He met them reluctantly and admitted that ‘the estimate of their weight has not of course been lessened by my indifference (to say the least of it) respecting a seat in the House of Commons’. It was purely to please Whitbread that he came forward in 1806, and Bedford, who wished to discard him, was irritated at not being consulted.7 Whitbread told Lord Howick, 12 Dec. 1806, that if a full attendance was required on the address he could get Lee Antonie to come up, but that ‘if there is no particular wish on the subject he had rather not be troubled’. He was among Members ordered to attend, 2 Mar. 1807, and, notified by Whitbread, he evidently did so.8 He voted for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge, 9 Apr., and, after his unopposed return for Bedford at the general election, was present at the opposition dinner, and voted against the address, 26 June, and for Whitbread’s motion on the state of the nation, 6 July 1807.
Lee Antonie remained a loyal Whig in opposition and supplied his vote in most of the major confrontations with government during the 1807 Parliament, but showed no more enthusiasm than previously for regular attendance. His appearances for the divisions on the Copenhagen incident, 3 Feb. 1808, and the orders in council, 3 Mar. 1812, were in response to appeals from Whitbread;9 and the influence of his friend is discernible behind his votes, with the more radical elements in the party, for Whitbread’s own peace resolutions, 29 Feb.; the attack on Lord Wellesley, 15 Mar. 1808; inquiry into abuses, 17 Apr.; corruption c