SEYMOUR CONWAY, Francis Charles, Earl of Yarmouth (1777-1842).
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Family and Education
b. 11 Mar. 1777, o.s. of Francis Seymour Conway*, 2nd Mq. of Hertford, by 2nd w. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1794, St. Mary Hall, Oxf. 1796. m. 18 May 1798, Maria Emily, legal1 da. of John Baptist, Mq. Fagnani, 2s. 1da. GCH 1819; suc. fa. as 3rd Mq. of Hertford 17 June 1822; KG 22 Nov. 1822.
Minister plenip. to France June 1806; vice-chamberlain Mar.-July 1812; PC 20 Mar. 1812; warden of the stannaries Aug. 1812-d.; Garter mission to Emperor of Russia 1827.
Custos rot. co. Antrim 1822-d.; vice-adm. Suffolk 1822-d.; recorder, Coventry 1825.
Capt. Lisburn cav. 1796, Warws. militia 1803; col. commdt. R. Cornw. and Devon Miners 1814.
At the age of 16 Yarmouth was ‘a sensible unaffected young man—tall, like a Conway but red haired and plain. Great pains have been taken with his education and they say they have not been thrown away.’2 Before he came of age he was returned to Parliament for his family’s English borough in place of his cousin Castlereagh; but in 1802 he transferred to the family’s Irish borough and in 1812 to a county seat for Antrim, where the family interest prevailed.
Yarmouth was a silent supporter of Pitt’s administration in his first Parliament. On 2 Apr. 1801 he was named to the secret committee on Irish disaffection. He voted for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 31 Mar. 1802. Later that year he visited France, and on a return visit to escort his wife home was one of Buonaparte’s detainees on the resumption of hostilities in 1803. In absentia he was listed a Pittite in September 1804 and ‘nil’ in July 1805. Fox engineered his release on parole in April 1806 at ‘the express recommendation of the Prince of Wales’, who was becoming infatuated with his mother.3 Yarmouth arrived in London on 4 June with a verbal offer from Talleyrand to reopen negotiations. He returned to France as an unofficial envoy but found a changed diplomatic situation demanding full powers. The ‘political death’ of Fox in July left the direction of foreign affairs in the hands of Lord Grenville, who had little opinion of Yarmouth’s ability, despite the reassurance that he possessed ‘both the judgment and the temper requisite to succeed ... if indeed any success is to be expected’, and sent Lord Lauderdale to supervise the negotiations. Lauderdale reported that Yarmouth was rumoured to be using his position to speculate in French public funds and he was immediately recalled. He defended himself in the House with considerable vigour, 30 Dec. 1806, 5 Jan. 1807, blaming the government for not sending ‘some person of greater ability’ and complaining that he was ‘charged with violating instructions that he had never received’.4 He was listed ‘adverse’ to the abolition of the slave trade.
Yarmouth could be sure of the goodwill of the Prince of Wales, who thought him ‘very superior to all the young men of the rising generation’, as he assured Lady Hertford, to whom he also apologized for the necessity of Yarmouth’s seeking re-election for Lisburn in 1806, as there could at present be no peerage creations. In December 1807 the Prince was reported to see ‘nobody but Lord Yarmouth’.5 In the Parliament of 1807 he at first attended regularly in support of government, but he had nothing to say until the last session. He acted as his cousin Castlereagh’s second in his duel with Canning in September 1809. The Whig calculators admitted him to their list of ‘doubtfuls’ in March 1810, on hearing that he and Tyrwhitt were pressing the Prince for permission to vote: they did not get it and abstained. Thus his only real affiliation was to the Prince’s Carlton House set. He voted with opposition on the Regency, December 1810-January 1811, and, at the behest of the Prince, for the bank-note bill in July following. He was considered one of the Prince’s ‘understrappers’, or as Canning put it, one of his ‘interior conciliabule’. He left Benjamin Bloomfield* in the shade. Creevey wrote of the Prince in November 1811, ‘Yarmouth and the Duke of Cumberland are always on the spot, and no doubt are his real advisers, but in public they are mute, and there is no intercourse between the Regent and them’. A month later, before a visit abroad, he forcibly reconciled the Prince and the duke after a quarrel. Lord Holland lamented to Lord Grenville that Yarmouth’s ‘imprudence’ was ‘as great as his influence’.6
As the Regency approached, Yarmouth redoubled his attentions at Carlton House. On 21 Jan. 1812 Henry Brougham pointedly attacked his secret influence as a ‘minion’, in the House. He voted against sinecure reform on 7, 24 Feb. (having been shut out on 21 Feb.), as also on 4 May. In March, when his father was made chamberlain of the Household, he was made vice-chamberlain. He was locked out of the division on Stuart Wortley’s motion, 21 May. He had evidently decided that a Wellesley ministry would not suit him. In the subsequent ministerial negotiations, in which the retention of the Household was ostensibly the chief obstacle to the coalition of the Earl of Moira with the Whigs, Yarmouth assured Sheridan (who had long been jealous of his hold over the Prince) that he and his family would resign to ‘save the Prince Regent from that humiliation which he must have experienced from their being turned out of office’. Sheridan did not inform the Whig leaders of this and the negotiations foundered. In the debates on the subject, 11 and 15 June, Yarmouth justified himself, challenging Sheridan to contradict him on 15 June. He was unable to attend Sheridan’s rejoinder, 19 June, though the latter insisted that there was now no misunderstanding between them. After this pinprick to the Whigs, Yarmouth annoyed them still further by an unauthorized publication relating to his negotiation in France in 1806, which showed his lasting resentment of their treatment of him.7
In August 1812 Yarmouth ceased to be vice-chamberlain and became warden of the stannaries. There was a subtle change in his stance in the ensuing Parliament, in which he was an Irish county Member. His being labelled a Carlton House informer by Stuart Wortley in the House, 6 Mar. 1813, must have rankled. The relative decline of his influence over the Regent made matters worse. He attempted to use the press to defend the Regent against his critics, but was also suspected of divulging court secrets to both the Courier and the Morning Chronicle and was reported to be temporarily out of favour in August 1813. He was becoming a heavy gambler and went abroad whenever he could. Nor did he think well of Lord Liverpool’s administration, though he was on their list of supporters after the election. He had encouraged the Regent to reconcile Canning with Liverpool in 1812. He surprised Romilly by voting in the minority against the attainting of traitors in April 1813 and by announcing that he would have voted for his bill to remove capital punishment for shoplifting. He voted steadily in opposition to Catholic relief and on 12 July 1813 in opposition to Christian missions in India. He spoke only on civil list questions. Even then he met with a hostile reception: on 27 May 1813 Castlereagh came to the rescue when Whitbread asked him by what authority he spoke on the Regent’s affairs when the latter had ministers in the House to do so. The following session he said only a few words on his subject, 14 July 1814. At that time he was encouraging Sheridan to stand for Westminster and dissociating himself from De Berenger, an acquaintance implicated in the Stock Exchange fraud. In December 1814 he was reported as telling the editor of the Morning Chronicle, ‘These men cannot remain. There must be a change. I have voted with them but it is impossible to continue support.’ On 3 Feb. 1815 Charles Arbuthnot of the Treasury informed the Regent, ‘if it should depend on me he shall again be cordial with government. I have no guess why he should not be cordial ... Government is cordially disposed towards him.’ That session, too, he was heard only on the civil list, 25 Apr. and 8 May, and was very reserved on that subject; but Henry Grey Bennet reported, 3 Apr., that he objected to the resumption of hostilities with Buonaparte and that he ‘preaches peace at the corners of all the streets, and is in open war with papa and mama upon that subject. Prinny, of course, is for war.’ His unsatisfactory relations with his father also drove him to gambling, to obtain ‘the large sums of money required for his pleasures which his father had no inclination to give him and the son had none to ask for’.8
By 1816 the best that could be said for Yarmouth by the government was that he did not vote against them. Peel, who regarded him as one of ‘a domestic party at Carlton House, that has separate interests from those of the government’, added
Lord Yarmouth has not voted this year on a single question except those in which the Prince Regent is involved as an individual—civil list etc—on the express ground that he is dissatisfied with the government.
He might have added that Yarmouth was silent. He is not known to have uttered in the House again until 3 June 1818, when he denied that he had influenced the Regent to withdraw a theatre licence. But he voted with ministers on a question involving his friend John Wilson Croker, 17 Feb. 1817. Croker served as his whip and he informed him in March 1816 of a pair he had made with William Elliot, but also that he would not vote for the excise and customs augmentations. He promised in 1817 to support Manners Sutton for Speaker, paired with ministers on the ducal marriage grant, 15 Apr. 1818, and opposed inquiry into popular education, 3 June 1818.9
At the election of 1818 Yarmouth acquired some notoriety by his efforts to assert the Regent’s duchy of Cornwall interests, to the indignation of ministerial patrons of boroughs. He failed to snatch Truro from Lord Falmouth, and as Henry Bankes*, reporting this, added, ‘Lord Yarmouth has failed also in all his other Cornish attempts, in some of which he had more reason to calculate upon success’. He himself was not returned to Parliament. On 15 Dec. 1817 Croker noted:
Yarmouth seems out of favour with papa and mama—they are certainly so with him—he is more sensible to attentions than I thought him, and they do not spoil him by too much fondness. From several expressions he has used, I begin to think Lord Hertford would not permit him to continue in Parliament his own master.
It appears that he blamed his father for his not being returned for Orford. In 1819 he contemplated contesting Camelford and found a seat there in 1820. In July 1818 he told Croker that ‘we must have Peel minister. Everybody wishes for him, everybody would support him’.10 On succeeding to the marquessate in 1822, with over £85,000 p.a., he expanded his parliamentary interest, requiring the garter as the price of his supporting government. (His father had been refused a dukedom.) In later years he was best known for his ‘undisguised debauchery’, but Croker, who knew him well, thought him ‘one of the highest minded, most generous of men’ and Peel declared ‘I like him. He is a gentleman and not an everyday one.’11 He died 1 Mar. 1842.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Her paternity was in dispute between the 4th Duke of Queensberry and George Augustus Selwyn*, both of whom left her fortunes. In his ravings in 1804 the King alleged that she had refused to become his mistress. (Princess of Wales Corresp. v. 1958). She and Yarmouth parted company and in 1810 he contemplated divorce (Add. 51549, Lady Holland to Grey, Sat. [31 Dec. 1810]).
- 2. Glenbervie Diaries, i. 25.
- 3. Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3235; Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2167A; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 355.
- 4. HMC Fortescue, viii. 195, 217, 236, 242-50, 271-5; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3265, 3277, 3559; Holland, Further Mems. Whig Party, ii. 73-76; Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 163, 194.
- 5. Prince of Wales Corresp. vi. 2297, 2328; Leveson Gower, ii. 316.
- 6. English Hist. Docs. xi. 269; Blair Adam mss, Loch to Adam,21 Mar. 1810; Creevey Pprs. ed Maxwell, i. 97, 149; Rose Diaries, ii. 464; Romilly, Mems. ii. 411; Leveson Gower, ii. 429; Fortescue mss, Holland to Grenville, 8 Aug. 1811.
- 7. Letters of Princess Charlotte, 25; Creevey mss, Brougham to Creevey, 22 Jan. 1812; Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 428; Romilly, iii. 39; Wellington Supp. Despatches, vii. 271; Geo. IV Letters, i. 119; Creevey Pprs. i. 146; Colchester, ii. 387-8; Grey mss, Grenville to Grey, 23 Aug., 3 Sept. 1812.
- 8. Creevey’s Life and Times, 67; Romilly, iii. 91, 99; Leveson Gower, ii. 473; Letters of Princess Charlotte, 49, 69; Add. 30120, f. 110; 38738, f. 303, 305; Geo. IV Letters, i. 410, 469; ii. 525; Creevey Pprs. i. 214; Greville Mems. ed. Strachey and Fulford, v. 19.
- 9. Add. 40291, f. 39; 60286, ff. 51, 67.
- 10. Colchester, iii. 52; Croker Pprs. ed. Jennings, i. 115, 128; Rutland mss, Douglas to Rutland, 16 June [?1826]; Add. 60286, ff. 82, 85.
- 11. Add. 40304, f. 77; 40319, ff. 69, 73; Greville Mems. v. 20; Croker Pprs. i. 235, 240, 241.