LEYCESTER, Hugh (1748-1836), of 3 Lincoln's Inn New Square and New Street, Spring Gardens, Mdx.
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Family and Education
bap. 2 Oct. 1748, 4th s. of Ralph Leycester of Toft Hall, Cheshire by Katherine, da. and h. of Edward Norris of Speke, Lancs. educ. Eton 1756-66; King’s, Camb. 1767, BA 1771, MA 1774, LLD 1782, lay fellow 1770-1801; M. Temple 1769, called 1775. unm.
Counsel to Camb. Univ. until 1814; commr. of bankrupts 1780-90, King’s attorney, Chester circuit Feb. 1785-1802; KC 2 Mar. 1795; bencher, M. Temple 1795, reader 1800, treasurer 1809, recorder, Chester 1795-1814; c.j. N. Wales circuit May 1802-Mar. 1823; vice-chamberlain, co. pal. of Chester 1803-24; charity commr. 1818-21.
Leycester, a lawyer with ‘the reputation of being a man of business, as well as a man of talents’ was returned for Milborne Port in conjunction with Lord Paget, the patron’s son, in 1802. This was soon after his appointment as a Welsh judge, which, according to Lord Eldon, was much to his satisfaction.1 He was selected as one of the commissioners on abuses in the naval department in his first session, 16 Dec. 1802; subsequently, however, he resigned and when the matter was raised in the House, 4 May 1803, and the delay of the commissioners’ report deplored, Leycester disclaimed responsibility. While no vote of his against Addington’s administration is known, he was one of those who regretted Pitt’s resignation in 1801 and, despite being listed ‘doubtful’ in 1804, an adherent of Pitt’s second administration. It was he who, as chairman, reported from the committee of inquiry into the tenth report of the naval commissioners, 27 May 1805. On 12 June he led the opposition to Whitbread’s motion for the impeachment of Melville, since ‘from his professional habits he was not disposed to think a man guilty, till he should be proved to be so’ and he thought Melville had not been so proved; moreover, as civil proceedings had been started, criminal prosecution seemed to him unnecessary: ‘the ends of justice were satisfied’. Wilberforce, on the other side, praised the ‘candour and moderation’ of this speech. On 25 June when Nathaniel Bond had given notice that he would move for a criminal prosecution of Melville, Leycester got in first with a counter-motion that he should rather be impeached, since a criminal prosecution would amount to ‘a second trial’. He won this clash with Bond by 166 votes to 143 and Melville was subsequently acquitted by the Lords of malversation.2
Leycester opposed the Grenville administration, voting against them on the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, and on the American intercourse bill, 17 June, though his only contributions to debate that year were to ‘put the House right’ on a legal point, 21 Mar., and a brush with Whitbread over Melville’s case in retrospect, 11 July. He was listed adverse to the abolition of the slave trade. He subsequently gave a general support to administration; he was a friend of Perceval and the Whigs listed him as being ‘against the Opposition’ in 1810. He persuaded the solicitor-general not to resist Romilly’s criminal law amendment bill, 18 May 1808. In November 1807 the Duke of Portland had suggested he should become judge advocate-general, but discovered that Leycester was better off as a Welsh judge.3
A member of the finance committee from 30 June 1807, when he was chosen after a division, until he lost his place by vote of the House to an opposition man, 31 Jan. 1810, he defended its amended report against its chairman Henry Bankes when the latter alleged, 29 June 1808, that he could not agree with all of it: he was regarded as ‘a tower of strength’ by the ministerialists.4 On 15 Mar. 1809 he defended the Duke of York against his critics on his alleged misconduct of army patronage, particularly deprecating the form of the motion against him: ‘Resolve at once that he is guilty, and he may have an opportunity of defending himself by a legal trial, whereas, by acquitting him of the guilt, but adding you suspect him of it, he can have no trial ... you inflict the wound and wrest from him the remedy’. On 25 Apr. he was in the minority in favour of Hamilton’s motion on corruption, and on 1 May of Ward’s motion on the Dutch commissioners. Perceval proposed him for the Walcheren committee, 5 Feb. 1810, and he voted steadily with ministers until mid March when his annual circuit took him away. He opposed criminal law reform and parliamentary reform, 1 and 21 May. He voted with ministers on the Regency, 1 Jan. 1811, and was named to the committee to confer with the Lords. He opposed sinecure reform, 24 Feb., 4 May 1812, and paired against the repeal of the orders in council, 3 Mar. He had deplored Whitbread’s motion and defended the government’s conduct in relations with the United States, 13 Feb.
The sudden death of Perceval was ‘a great grief’ to him. He voted against the reconstruction of the ministry, 21 May 1812, and against Catholic relief, 22 June. He presented the report of the committee on disturbances in the north of England, 8 July. He retired from Parliament at the dissolution, and from legal office in 1823. As early as 1811 he was afflicted with deafness, according to Lord Glenbervie, who also described him as ‘a man of very gentle and very engaging manners and conversation’.5 His niece alleged that ‘The only fault which people could find in him was his violent political zeal and Tory partisanship, which made him intolerant of any opposition on these subjects’.6 In later years he kept up a ‘witty daily correspondence’ with his former next door neighbour Joseph Jekyll*. Leycester died 2 Jan. 1836, aged 87.7
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1806), 346; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2628.
- 2. Colchester, ii. 12; HMC Kenyon, 556, 559.
- 3. Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3559; Rose Diaries, ii. 428.
- 4. Romilly, Mems. ii. 211; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 126; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3487; Perceval (Holland) mss C.3.
- 5. Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 129.
- 6. Colchester, iii. 87; A. Hare, Memorials of a Quiet Life (1874), i. 9.
- 7. Gent. Mag. (1836), i. 323.