PROBY, John, Lord Proby (1780-1855), of Elton, Northants.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 1780, 2nd s. and event. h. of John Joshua Proby, 1st Earl of Carysfort [I]*, by 1st w., and bro. of Hon. Granville Leveson Proby* and William Allen, Lord Proby*. educ. Rugby 1788. unm. Styled Lord Proby 1804-28; suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Carysfort [I] and 2nd Baron Carysfort [UK] 7 Apr. 1828.
Ensign, 10 Ft. 1794; lt. 9 Ft. 1795; sec. to Craufurd’s mission to Archduke 1795-6; capt. 81 Ft. 1798; a.d.c. to Cornwallis in Ireland 1798, to Abercromby and Hutchinson in Egypt 1800; maj. 1802; lt.-col. 1 Ft. Gds. 1803; dep. adj.-gen. Sicily 1806; dep. q.m.g. Sweden 1807; asst. q.m.g. Spain 1809; commr. garrison, Cadiz 1811; col. 1812, maj.-gen. 1814, lt.-gen. 1830, gen. 1846.
On the death of his elder brother in 1804, Proby became heir to the title and succeeded to William’s seat in Parliament on the Marquess of Buckingham’s interest, his stepmother being the latter’s sister. Her brother Lord Grenville had watched over his military career, securing him the best opportunities to forward it both with the Austrian and British armies, in the course of which he was captured by the French in August 1800 while carrying dispatches in Italy and detained at Brest, but released on parole in 1801. At this time he was described as ‘a very good and clever lad’. On his coming into Parliament Thomas Grenville wrote to Lord Grenville (21 Dec. 1804), ‘Perhaps ... considering his own attachment to the army, and the protection and favour of the Duke of York, it may not be wise in him to risk it by the chance of a few parliamentary votes which he may think it right to give against the duke’s wishes’. In fact, Proby, who took his seat 5 Feb. 1805, voted with the Grenvillites against Pitt’s measures on at least four occasions in his first session, 12, 15 Feb., 4 and 6 Mar., was listed ‘Opposition’ in July and asked Lord Grenville to secure his ‘military diplomatic’ services on a mission to the allies in September.1
To suit Lord Buckingham he vacated his seat in July 1806, on the understanding that he would come in elsewhere, perhaps at St. Mawes, as soon as possible; his father contemplated his standing for county Wicklow, where he had a substantial interest, but dropped the idea when it became clear that the county of Huntingdon, where he could obtain Earl Fitzwilliam’s support in exchange for Carysfort’s in Wicklow, offered a favourable opening ‘for the introduction of the son of a very old family in the county’. Proby came in there unopposed in his absence abroad, thanks to his father’s strenuous efforts, and would have supported the Grenville ministry had he been available. The fact that he had not been present to indicate sympathy for Catholic relief did not help him in 1807, however, when Lord Sandwich transferred his backing in the county to William Henry Fellowes*, though Carysfort, against heavy odds, spent £5,000 on his behalf. He did not promote Proby’s candidature for Huntingdonshire in 1812, when he was abroad, but in 1814 while Proby was absent in Spain he secured his return on the vacancy caused by Lord Sandwich’s death; though had Lord Aboyne’s son persisted in his candidature, according to Thomas Grenville, ‘it would be a wild project for our invalid to undertake such a canvass for his absent son’.2
Carysfort had hoped that Proby would take over the management of the family estates on his return, but he was to be disappointed; he wrote to Lord Grenville (8 Feb. 1815):
I hope and believe that in his parliamentary conduct he will act with you, but he declines all invitations from me to converse or correspond upon political subjects, and has indeed behaved so oddly since his return to England that I shrink from renewing my attempts to establish an intercourse with him, by which I have hitherto only been exposed to mortification.3
Despite this, Proby voted frequently with opposition that session and made a few forceful speeches in the House: on 14 Feb. 1815 he moved for a return of the names of any British officers now serving in the Spanish army and whether they were paid by the British government; on 23 Feb. he defended the agricultural interest in debate on the Corn Laws; on 7 Mar. he moved that a clause be inserted in the mutiny bill to prevent the dismissal of officers without inquiry by court martial (negatived); on 10 Apr. he stated why he thought the commissaries’ department required reform and on 1 May spoke in favour of better payment for subaltern officers. He voted for the reception of the London petition against the renewal of war and for retrenchment the same day. He spoke against a clause in the mutiny bill, 15 June, and voted against the Duke of Cumberland’s marriage grant, 28, 29 June, 3 July 1815. Thereafter he disappeared from the House. He did not contest the election of 1818, his mental health having deteriorated considerably—the causes of the trouble are not clear, though Thomas Grenville had written to his brother (8 Aug. 1810): ‘The Walcheren fever in the case of Proby and many others is sufficient to show how long the seeds of bodily indisposition may lie dormant before they show the mischief that belongs to them’.4 His father’s letter of 1815, quoted above, indicated further symptoms. According to a family tradition, they were the result of a blow on the head received during the Walcheren expedition or the expedition to Holland in 1813. Proby’s later years were clouded by insanity and he never took his seat in the Lords, dying 11 June 1855.5
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. HMC Fortescue, vi. 151, 193, 196, 209, 237, 294, 311; vii. 247, 305; Fortescue mss, Proby to Grenville, 15 Sept. 1805.
- 2. Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 53; HMC Fortescue, viii. 82, 95, 116, 214, 241; ix. 136; x. 387-8; NLS 12914, Grenville to Elliot, 21 Mar. 1806; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F50/63; Fitzwilliam mss, box 71, Fitzwilliam to Hinchingbrooke, 5 May, Carysfort to Fitzwilliam, 27 Apr. 1807; Fortescue mss, bp. of Lincoln to Grenville, 21 Aug. 1811.
- 3. Fortescue mss.
- 4. HMC Fortescue, x. 49.
- 5. Cat. of Pictures at Elton Hall, p. xvi; Gent. Mag. (1855), i, 313.