MANNERS, Sir William, 1st Bt. (1766-1833), of Buckminster Park, Leics.
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Family and Education
b. 19 May 1766,1 1st s. of John Manners† of Grantham Grange, Lincs., and bro. of John Manners*. educ. Harrow 1776-80. m. 12 Jan. 1790, Catherine Rebecca, da. of Francis Grey of Lehena, co. Cork, 6s. 6da. suc. fa. 1792;cr. Bt. 12 Jan. 1793; styled Lord Huntingtower 1821-d.; took name of Talmash in lieu of Manners by royal lic. 4 Apr. 1821.
Gent. of privy chamber 1793-1816.
Sheriff, Leics. 1809-10.
Capt. Royal S. Lincs. militia 1789-93.
John Manners, who had acquired notoriety as a money-lender, left his son William the bulk of an estate ‘worth nearly half a million’ and in 1807 Sir William Manners’s income was reputedly £30,000 p.a.2 Very soon after his father’s death, he was planning to enter politics: the Duchess of Rutland wrote to Pitt on 14 Nov. 1792,
I believe my brother wrote to you some little time ago concerning Mr Manners ... who is very anxious to unite his interests to ours in politics, and I cannot help ... mentioning that I hope you will have the goodness to comply with the request my brother informed you he had made, as I think he will be a great acquisition both to you and to us, as he is extremely rich, and by that means has great interest both in Leicestershire and Lincolnshire.3
Manners himself wrote to Pitt on 26 Oct. 1793, thanking him for his trouble ‘on my account, respecting the appointment of gentlemen of the privy chamber’, as a prelude to further requests:
If any Member in the interest of government was likely to resign his seat in Parliament, I should think myself still further obliged, if I could be recommended as the purchaser, as I have been some time endeavouring to procure a seat, though hitherto without success.
He also asked for an Irish peerage for himself or his wife, on the grounds of a holograph promise to his father from the Prince of Wales. Despite a hint of blackmail in the letter, Pitt did nothing save register the application.4
On 23 Mar. 1796 the Duchess of Rutland wrote to Pitt, ‘Sir Wm. Manners contrary to the word of honour he gave me (upon his being made a Bart.) has begun a canvass against me at Grantham’. At the general election Manners unsuccessfully contested the borough, where he had inherited much property. A year later, a Whig agent thought that he might be induced to spend his money at Canterbury, supposing him ill-disposed to Pitt. A couple of years later he tried to develop an interest at Leicester, where his brother John unsuccessfully contested a seat in 1800. He acquired Ilchester in time for the 1802 general election: The Times commented, ‘The baronet who in his advertisement ... very fairly says, he has bought his electors, and entailed them on his posterity, is more to be commended for his sincerity than his good manners’. Though he was defeated, the election was voided and he was able to secure his return at the by-election. Unseated for corruption, he then brought in his brother. By 1806 he had secured control of the borough and again came in himself. On 18 Nov. 1806 he wrote to Lord Grenville asking on a friend’s behalf for the distributorship of stamps in South Lincolnshire, ‘in which my property is chiefly situated’, as patron of the boroughs of Grantham and Ilchester, ‘in which I have returned myself and two friends, in whom I can confide, to Parliament ... inclined as I am to support the present administration’. Soon after, his arrogance met a check: on 1 Dec. 1806 ‘Sir W. Manners (brother to Ly. Heathcote and the Dss. of St. A[lbans]) was committed to prison ... for cutting down a man’s trees and beating him when he complained. He is to be fined £1,500.’5 In March and April 1807 he took leave of absence from the House for reasons of ill health.
In 1807 when, after making no mark in Parliament, he was defeated at Grantham, he offered his seats to the Prince of Wales, expressing his pleasure if the Prince should nominate Sheridan. The Prince then wrote out a new promise (14 July):
The promise which I made the late John Manners Esq. on the 29th of March 1784 of granting an Irish peerage to himself or to his eldest son, whenever it should be in my power, I hereby acknowledge, and I now convert this promise to Sir Wm. Manners, Bart. into an English barony either to himself or his eldest son, or other sons in succession whenever opportunity may offer.
In September 1811 Manners offered to return the Prince’s friends at Ilchester next time, conditionally, and in March 1812, after the restrictions on the Regency had expired, he corresponded with Spencer Perceval about implementing this promise, but Perceval stated that no creation of peers was intended for the time being—and that therefore he (Perceval) need not inquire further about the promise, as would be necessary if a peerage founded on it were to be granted. Manners declined ever to reveal the circumstances of the promise.6 On 16 Apr. 1812 he wrote to McMahon, the Regent’s secretary,
Allow me to ask you two questions. Since I last had the honour of writing to you, a great change in politics has taken place. Parties being nothing to me, my parliamentary interest will always follow the politics of Carlton House. Have you any friends of the same sentiments desirous of securing seats for the next Parliament without trouble, opposition, or even attendance? If you have, and will refer them to me, or name them, I will enter into arrangements with them to their satisfaction, either for Ilchester ... or Grantham ... My second question is, whether you can form an idea at what time the promise of the peerage will be realised to me.
After the elections, Lord Liverpool wrote to Robert Peel that he could have had three seats from Manners, had he promised to make him a peer on the first creation. Manners ‘goes about openly talking of having sold three seats for £18,000, so that nothing is easier than to bring an action against him’, reported Brougham to Lord Grey on 24 Oct. 1812.7
Manners renewed annually through McMahon his importunities for a peerage. On 19 July 1815 he addressed himself directly to the Prince; Liverpool, Sidmouth and the Regent consulted on the answer to be sent. On 30 July Sidmouth sent McMahon the text of an agreed reply, pointing out, as Perceval had done, that the sovereign could act only through his ministers and that the Regent could not press upon his government, against their expressed advice, ‘the claims of an individual gentleman, who by the support he had given to persons, at the time of their election, hostile to that government, had manifested no favourable disposition towards them’. Manners immediately threatened to make of it ‘a second Mrs Clarke’s business’, though he was willing to compromise on an English peerage for his wife and a commission in the Grenadiers for his third son. McMahon stated on 22 Aug. 1815 that the same obstacles stood in the way of a peerage for his wife, though the commission could be seen to:
Whatever pecuniary claims [he concluded] you may justly conceive yourself to have upon the Prince Regent, will I have no doubt upon being stated meet with pleasure all the consideration from his Royal Highness which may be due to them.
Upon this, Manners completely lost patience:
Colonel McMahon [he replied] will be troubled no further. Money being no object, none will ever be received in the way of compensation as offered. The promise of a Prince ought to be performed, and unless it is performed within a reasonable period, copies of the letter will be sent to every peer and Member of Parliament, some of whom would be glad to bring forward such a transaction.
On 4 Sept. he wrote to Liverpool with a similar warning, adding,
As your lordship ... supposes me hostile to the ministry, I take this opportunity of declaring, that I am far from being so, that I should have supported ministerial Members at the last general election, had the promise in question, given in 1807, been performed at that time, and that I shall support Members, friendly to ministry at the next election, if this promise be performed before that period.
Liverpool declined to be blackmailed, and wrote to McMahon, ‘I think we must be prepared, considering the character of the man, for the publication which he threatens, though no possible benefit can result to him from it’. He suggested that Sheridan, as ‘the person who profited by this ill-advised measure’, should be informed of what was happening. Sheridan denied previous knowledge of the Prince’s promise, but suggested that the obvious solution was a peerage for Lady Manners, a woman of ‘admirable conduct, character and accomplishments’.
Manners wrote to McMahon on 1 Feb. 1816 enclosing one of the 500 copies he had had made of the Prince’s promises. He remarked, with some justice,
To talk of the ministry’s consent being implied is an absurdity. The promise is either a valid one or a deception, for such consent ought to have been stated at the time, and mentioned in the promise. To offer me a compensation in money I consider as an insult, and its acceptance is out of the question entirely, for I could not presume to fix a value on the Regent’s honour, which ought to be sacred.
Nothing further was heard of the business. According to family tradition Manners, ‘who lived at No. 1 Oxford Street, corner of Edgware Road, had stopped the Regent’s horses when running away ... and the Regent created him a baronet then and promised him a peerage when he became King and ... afterwards repented his promise and asked what sum of money Sir William would accept to release him from it’. Sir William then replied, ‘Sir, I can place no price on the honour of a Prince’.8
In 1818 Manners’s parliamentary patronage was extinguished by a revolt at Ilchester (caused by his ‘brutal, or rather insane, intolerance’9) and the defeat of his candidates for Grantham; but in subsequent elections he continued to exert his influence. His obituary referred to ‘his kind and indulgent qualities as a master’ and remarked,
Although very notorious for his occasional eccentricities, Lord Huntingtower is stated to have possessed unusual shrewdness in the ordinary affairs of life, and he was accustomed to employ so large a number of servants and workmen that his large income was expended much to the benefit of his poor neighbours. In the severe winters of 1828 and 1829 he gave employment to ... 528 labourers in the vicinity of Buckminster. His lordship received no visitors; but the long periods of time which the whole of his household has passed in his service afford a sufficient attestation to his kind and indulgent qualities as a master. His memory was retentive, and he had stored it with considerable knowledge in genealogy and heraldry.10
He died v.m. 11 Mar. 1833, the oldest heir apparent to a peerage in the country.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: M. H. Port / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Information from Maj.-Gen. Sir Humphrey Tollemache, Bt.
- 2. Gent. Mag. (1792), 870; Farington, v. 216.
- 3. PRO 30/8/174, f. 251.
- 4. PRO 30/8/155, f. 227; 195, f. 113; HMC Rutland, iii. 138.
- 5. PRO 30/8/174, f. 267; E. Turnor, Grantham ; Blair Adam mss, Shove to Adam, 30 May 1797; The Times, 3 July 1802; see ILCHESTER; Fortescue mss; Leveson Gower, ii. 230.
- 6. Geo. IV Letters, ii. 596, 609; Prince of Wales Corresp. viii. 3165; Add. 38191, ff. 220-32; Perceval (Holland) mss G.14, 22, 24.
- 7. Geo. IV Letters, i. 244-5; Add. 40181, f. 15; Brougham, Life and Times, ii. 71; cf. Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 31 [sic] Sept. 1812, which gives £21,000.
- 8. Geo. IV Letters, i. 280, 447; ii. 580, 592, 596, 601, 609, 610, 642; Add. 38262, ff. 25, 27, 59; Heron, Notes (1851), 206; information from Maj.-Gen. Sir H. Tollemache, Bt.
- 9. Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 305.
- 10. Gent. Mag. (1833), i. 370.