MITFORD, William (1744-1827), of Exbury, Hants.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 10 Feb. 1744, 1st s. of John Mitford, and bro. of John Mitford*. educ. Cheam; Queen’s, Oxf. 1761; M. Temple 1763. m. 18 May 1766, Frances, da. of James Molloy of Dublin, 5s. 1da. suc. fa. uncle Henry Reveley of Newby Wiske, Yorks. 1800.
Lt.-col. S. Hants militia 1779, col. 1805-6.
Verderer, New Forest 1778.
Mitford, returned in 1785 by his cousin the 1st Duke of Northumberland, who died the following year, was not given a seat by the 2nd Duke in 1790. In 1791 he wrote a tract on the Corn Laws in which he argued that domestic corn production, and not the corn trade, should be improved, and expressed fears that ‘the landed will become a sacrifice to the trading interest’. His brother John told Pitt, 21 Nov. 1791, that William’s situation was ‘in many respects singularly unfortunate’ and asked that he be considered for preferment; but Pitt, unable either to provide for William ‘at present’ or to make any promises for the future, could only give an assurance that his claims would be borne in mind.1 On 6 Nov. 1793 William himself applied to Pitt for an appointment as a commissioner for stamp duties, but nothing came of this.2
He was provided with a seat in 1796 by the late duke’s second son, the 1st Earl of Beverley, who returned him for Bere Alston with John, solicitor-general since 1793. He gave general support to Pitt, voting for the assessed taxes augmentation bill, 4 Jan. 1798, after acting as teller for the majority in favour of the militia pay bill, 20 Mar. 1797, but criticized Dundas’s proposals for militia reform, 30 Apr. 1798, objecting to any deviation from earlier militia laws and the introduction of unqualified persons into the ranks of the militia, though he disclaimed any lack of general confidence in the ministry. He supported Addington, an old personal friend, but cavilled at the ministry’s militia reform plans, 18 and 22 Mar. 1803, on the same grounds as those on which he had deplored Dundas’s. Similar considerations led him to speak against Pitt’s additional force bill, 8 and 18 June 1804, ‘as doing away the militia of the country’. He expressed his intention of voting against the bill on 8 June, but was not listed among those who did so. He was included in the consolidated list of the bill’s opponents in the Morning Chronicle of 21 June. Classed ‘doubtful Addington’ in the ministerial list of September 1804, he voted against the motion of censure on Melville, 8 Apr. 1805, and was listed under ‘Pitt’ in the analysis of July 1805. His brother, now Lord Redesdale, was dismissed as Irish chancellor by the ‘Talents’ in 1806 and William, though evidently not in systematic opposition to the new ministry, did not vote for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr., and spoke briefly against the militia officers bill, 14 July. He was teller for the minority who divided against its third reading two days later. At the dissolution of 1806 he made way at Bere Alston for one of Beverley’s younger sons.
Mitford reappeared in the House in 1812 as the nominee of Beverley’s brother, the 2nd Duke of Northumberland, who had recently been politically reconciled to government after a period of sulky independence. The duke originally planned to pay £5,000 to seat him for Aldeburgh on the Crespigny interest, but when the negotiation fell through was referred by the Treasury to Cholmeley Dering*, patron of New Romney, who brought Mitford in, presumably at a price. Ministers naturally counted on his support, but he appears on their side in only three of the divisions of the 1812 Parliament for which full lists have been found, those on the civil list, 6 and 24 May 1816, and the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817. One unexplained minority vote, against the East India ships registry bill, 6 June 1815, is attributed to him: he was an East India Company stockholder, like his brother. He voted consistently against Roman Catholic relief, of which his brother was a rabid opponent, and against Brougham’s motion for inquiry into the education of the poor, 3 June 1818.
Mitford is chiefly remembered as the author of a popular History of Greece (1785-1810), originally undertaken on the advice of Gibbon, who was commanding officer of the Hampshire militia when Mitford obtained a company in 1769. He eventually succeeded Gibbon as colonel of the regiment and, in 1818 when he retired from Parliament, became, like him, Professor of Ancient History at the Royal Academy. Lord Holland commented on Mitford’s work:
The first volume, in point of labour, ingenuity, and critical acumen, does credit to the advice, and may vie with the works of the adviser himself. But before the second was published the French revolution had intervened. Mitford, though a retired man, was virulent in his politics. His detestation of the republicans and reformers of his own day, combining with a propensity to paradox inherent in his nature, induced him to extol the tyrants whom the orators and historians of Greece have consigned to the execration of mankind, and to detract from the acts of heroism and models of oratory which the world has been taught for ages to regard as the most signal triumphs of patriotism and genius.3
He died 8 Feb. 1827.