PARSONS, Sir Lawrence, 5th Bt. (1758-1841), of Parsonstown, King's Co.
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Family and Education
b. 21 May 1758, 1st s. of Sir William Parsons, 4th Bt., MP [I], of Birr Castle, King’s Co., and bro. of John Clere Parsons*. educ. Trinity, Dublin 1777, BA 1780, LLB 1783, LLD 1790; L. Inn 1782. m. lic. 1 May 1797 Alice, da. of John Lloyd, MP [I], of Gloster, King’s Co., 3s. 2da. suc. fa. as 5th Bt. 1 May 1791; fa.’s half-bro. as 2nd Earl of Rosse [I] 20 Apr. 1807.
MP [I] 1782-90, 1791-1800; rep. peer [I] 1809-41.
Commr. of treasury [I] Mar. 1805-Nov. 1809; PC [I] 9 May 1805; jt. postmaster-gen. [I] 1809-31.
Gov. King’s Co. 1792; custos rot. 1828.
Col. King’s Co. militia 1791-Mar. 1798.
Parsons was first returned to the Irish parliament for his university by the ‘popular party’, but on his father’s death succeeded him as Member for King’s County. He had acquired a reputation, as a protégé of Henry Flood, for independence and forthright speaking, and although by 1795 he was prepared to support the war against France, he deprecated the severity of government in 1798 and was a prominent opponent of the Act of Union. He at once took his seat at Westminster in 1801 and voted with ministers on the address, 2 Feb., but on 6 Mar. sought to obstruct the Irish martial law continuation bill and on 12 and 16 Mar. was its leading Irish critic, disclaiming animosity towards ministers, but explaining that he had opposed it in Dublin and could not see Ireland left no better off than Botany Bay. On 19 Mar. he was in the minority against the Irish master of the rolls bill.1
Parsons was regarded by government as a country gentleman whom they could win over, and after supporting the peace preliminaries at the prime minister’s request, he made it clear in December 1801 that he wished for an official situation. The prospect of being Irish chancellor of the exchequer or chief secretary was apparently held out to him and Addington promised to recommend him to the viceroy, but neglected to do so. By September 1802 the viceroy concluded that Parsons, who might be a ‘useful friend’ and ‘a troublesome enemy’, would be well satisfied with a seat at the Irish treasury board, though he also pressed for advancement for his brothers in the church and the law, and for a promotion in the peerage for his uncle, Viscount Oxmantown, to whose title he was by remainder to succeed. In November the chief secretary wrote with tongue in cheek of Parsons as one of the Irish Members he had ‘purposely kept back’ from Westminster, ‘because I did not think it safe that they should be left wandering about London streets at such a moment without anyone to take care of them’.2 On 4 Mar. 1803 Parsons voted with ministers against an inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s financial affairs, and on 15 and 16 Mar. gave a warm support to the Irish militia bill. On 10 May he recommended that Members be summoned to attend the House by the Speaker’s circular, as had been the practice in Dublin. He spoke on the government side on the resumption of hostilities with France, 19, 24 May 1803. He remained loyal to Addington’s government, defending the payment of Irish civil officers at par, 12 Apr. 1804, and the Irish militia offer bill next day, when he maintained that Ireland had never been better cared for. Addington’s last official request before his resignation in May 1804 was some ‘mark of attention’ to Parsons, ‘who has supported me in the most steady and honourable manner’.3
Parsons contrived to ‘come forward very handsomely’ in support of Pitt’s succeeding administration, defending the additional force bill, 8 June 1804. He was one of the few Irish Members disposed to criticize the immediate abolition of the slave trade, advocating gradual abolition, 7 June 1804, for the sake of the mercantile interest, and calling for the evidence to be printed. On 18 June Lord Hawkesbury informed the viceroy that Parsons was to be given a seat at the Irish treasury board, and added: ‘He would undertake to manage the Irish Members who come over to attend Parliament’.4 The appointment was delayed, much to the surprise and indignation of Parsons’s uncle Oxmantown; yet Pitt was reported in January 1805 to be convinced of its propriety, Parsons being ‘a county Member and a supporter of government’, but also ‘sufficiently a man of business to be useful at the board and in the House of Commons’. The appointment was made in March 1805 and Parsons’s re-election was unopposed. He resumed his seat on 6 June and was (accurately) reported a month later as wishing to succeed John Foster as Irish chancellor of the exchequer.5
He retained his office under the Grenville ministry which also promoted his uncle to the earldom of Rosse. (Under repeated pressure from Parsons, Oxmantown had agreed to this step by 7 Dec. 1805). This goodwill was perhaps prompted by Lady Downshire’s anxiety to obtain Parsons’s support for a friend of the Prince of Wales at the next election for Longford. But in May 1806 Parsons persisted in remaining in Ireland on account of his wife’s illness when his attendance was required, and was, quite wrongly, suspected of bad faith. Lord Grenville commented: ‘it will never do to have our lords of the Treasury holding off from us in difficulties’. Nevertheless the Castle discouraged an opposition to Parsons at the ensuing general election and he succeeded to his uncle’s title, 20 Apr. 1807, without having committed himself to the outgoing ministers and at a time when he was tipped to become Irish chancellor of the exchequer if Foster declined it. In fact, the Portland ministry confirmed him in office and listened sympathetically and with an eye to his three Members in the Commons, to his plea for a representative peerage, which he obtained in 1809, together with a sinecure office. The viceroy described him as ‘a man of character, known to the public, with a large fortune, and great influence in the country. He resides in Ireland, and is much respected.’6 His correspondence with his family confirms that estimate. He died 24 Feb. 1841.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: Arthur Aspinall
- 1. Procs. R. Irish Acad., lvi. sec. C, no. 3 (1954), 246; The Times, 4 Feb.; Grey mss, Grey to his wife [3 Feb.], 13 Mar. 1801; Colchester, i. 257.
- 2. PRO NI, Rosse mss E/33/2; PRO 30/9/1, pt. 3/3, Lee to Abbot [2 Nov. 1801]; Dacres Adams mss 5/71; 30/9/15, Wickham to Abbot, 20 Nov. 1802; Add. 35713, f. 182; 35781, f. 100; 35782, ff. 65, 122; 35784, f. 56; 35785, f. 112; Wickham mss 1/46/21, 23; 5/10.
- 3. Add. 35709, f. 31.
- 4. Ibid. f. 71.
- 5. Add. 31230, f. 93; 35709, f. 222.
- 6. HMC Fortescue, viii. 147, 157, 164, 175, 411; NLS mss 12911, Elliot to Trail, 17 Apr. 1807; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 477, 515; Add. 38568, ff. 175, 196.