MOLYNEUX, William Philip, 2nd Earl of Sefton [I] (1772-1838), of Croxteth Hall, nr. Liverpool, Lancs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



2 Apr. 1816 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 18 Sept. 1772, o.s. of Charles William Molyneux, 1st Earl of Sefton [I], by Lady Isabella Stanhope, da. of William Stanhope, 2nd Earl of Harrington. educ. Dr Glass’s sch. Greenford 1783; Christ Church, Oxf. 1789. Styled Visct. Molyneux until 1795. m. 1 Jan. 1792, Hon. Maria Margaretta Craven, da. of William, 6th Baron Craven, 4s. 6da. suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Sefton [I] 31 Jan. 1795; cr. Baron Sefton [UK] 20 June 1831.

Offices Held

Master of the Quorn 1800-5.

Maj. commdt. Croxteth vols. 1803.


Lord Glenbervie, inevitably, doubted Sefton’s legitimacy:

Lord Sefton ... had been a Roman Catholic. She [Lady Sefton] had a very assiduous lover in Hugo Meynell, then one of the fashionable men of bonnes fortunes. When Lady Sefton was with child of the present lord, Lord North said he supposed the child would be a Hugonot.1

If this were true, Sefton could not have been a half-brother of Thomas Creevey*, as has been supposed. Like Meynell, whom he succeeded as master of the Quorn, he was a mighty hunter, and Greville the diarist, in the striking obituary he devoted to him, claimed that ‘his father had stamped upon him his hideous form, but, with it, his sharp and caustic wit ...’2 He went on:

Having successively sought for amusement in hunting, shooting, racing, gaming, ... he plunged with ardour into politics, and though he had no opinions or principles but such as resulted from personal predilections, and had none of that judgment which can only be generated by the combination of knowledge with severe mental discipline, he was enabled by the force of circumstances and an energetic will to acquire political intimacies, to a certain degree to play a political part: of this his friendship with Brougham was the primary cause. Brougham had been his counsel in some important cause at Liverpool, and that professional connexion subsequently ripened into a close alliance, Sefton being naturally delighted with his brilliant conversation, while Brougham was always highly diverted with the peculiar humour and drollery of Sefton. His addiction to politics had, however, very little influence on his habits, except to extend and diversify the sphere of his occupations and amusements.

Sefton, whose father was a Whig, had joined Brooks’s Club on 27 May 1791. In 1806 there was a report of his going to Lancaster to oppose Lord Douglas and John Dent, after refusing an opening at Liverpool, where he had a natural interest. Earl Fitzwilliam was informed, ‘if he leaves Liverpool to go there, he will be out of the frying pan into the fire with a vengeance’. Yet in 1811 it was said of him that he did ‘not care a straw for either party, but likes fun ...’. It was in 1812 that he espoused Brougham’s cause in his candidature for Liverpool; he had also helped promote Creevey as Brougham’s second string, a step that led to the defeat of both.3

When Sefton himself entered Parliament for his cousin Lord Foley’s close borough in April 1816, it was supposed that he did so ‘to back Brougham’. From 3 Apr. 1816 he voted steadily with opposition for retrenchment and against repressive measures. On 12 Mar. 1817 in his only speech before 1820, he presented a Liverpool petition for ‘radical but constitutional reform’ and he voted for Burdett’s reform motion of 20 May. He subscribed £200 towards a Whig evening paper that year. He had six successive relapses after an inflammation of the bladder in January 1818, but reappeared in the House by 16 Mar.4 On 19 May he voted for the repeal of the Septennial Act.

Sefton had been regarded as a prominent advocate of Brougham’s leadership of the Whigs in the House after the death of George Ponsonby, though he concurred with Brougham’s view that no leader would be better still.5 After signing and encouraging others to sign the requisition to Tierney to take the lead, he informed John George Lambton* in August 1818 that as he deplored Tierney’s ‘wavering, milk and water policy’, it was only as ‘a device of difficulties’ that he swallowed the requisition: ‘Now though I look upon Tierney to be as much inferior to Brougham in every requisite as the Regent is to Buonaparte, yet I am sure that at the present moment union under [Brougham] could not be accomplished’. At the general election, when Creevey refused to contest Liverpool, Sefton had allowed himself to be adopted as Whig candidate in absentia, making his son Viscount Molyneux his proxy: he was defeated, and fell back on Droitwich, the object being to promote his son’s candidature at the next opportunity.6

In January 1819 Sefton came to town ‘as active and willing as usual’ and ‘in excellent looks and spirits’. He again voted steadily with opposition until 18 May and from 3-10 June and opposed repressive measures 24 Nov.-22 Dec. 1819. He had been loath to support a Liverpool meeting to deplore the Peterloo affray, but Brougham induced him to do so conditionally and his moderate resolutions were unanimously carried. His championship of Hone the atheist and of the Princess of Wales had made him persona non grata with the Prince Regent, but he was restored to favour by William IV, a great admirer of Lady Sefton. He died 20 Nov. 1838. ‘Want of early cultivation’ marred him, but ‘never was there so great a master of what is called persiflage’.7

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Glenbervie Jnls. 157.
  • 2. Greville Mems. ed. Strachey and Fulford, iv. 100.
  • 3. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. E209, Heywood to Fitzwilliam, 26 Oct. 1806; NLI, Richmond mss 63/579; Brougham mss 15298, 24240; Brougham to Grey, 9, 25 Sept., Sunday [4 Oct.] 1812.
  • 4. Paget Brothers, 290; Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey [?21 Mar. 1817], Tues. [13 Jan.]; Lambton mss, Wilson to Lambton, 9 Jan. 1818, [Feb. 1818].
  • 5. Holland, Further Mems. Whig Party, 265; Brougham mss, Brougham to Lambton [10 July 1817].
  • 6. Lambton mss, Sefton to Lambton [3 Aug. 1818]; Brougham mss 15299.
  • 7. Grey mss, Lambton to Grey [15, 16 Jan.]; Brougham mss 15300; Add. 51561, Brougham to Holland, Fri. [1819]; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, ii. 299; Greville Mems. loc. cit.