SPEED, Henry alias DE VIRY, François Joseph Marie Henri, Baron de la Perrière (1766-1820).
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Family and Education
b. 25 July 1766, 1st s. of Joseph Marie François Justin, Comte de Viry (Savoy), by 1st w. Henrietta Jane, da. of Samuel Speed of Southampton. m. 24 Oct. 1789, Augusta Montagu, illegit. da. of John Montagu*, 4th Earl of Sandwich, by Martha Ray, 4s. 1da. suc. fa. 1813.
Cornette surnuméraire des chevaux légers (Savoy) 1776; equerry to Duke of Gloucester 1789-92; lt. Isle of Man vols. 1798, capt. 1803.
Speed used his English alias on marrying Lord Sandwich’s natural daughter at Brampton in 1789 and again when he came in for Huntingdon on the Sandwich interest on a vacancy a year later. It was ‘perhaps almost a unique proceeding for an alien’, for though born in London, he was a subject of the King of Sardinia, whose house his family had long served. His grandfather was that Comte de Viry who dabbled in English cabinet politics as ambassador in London (1755-63); his father had played a similar role in Paris with less success and was redeemed from disgrace by his first wife’s appeal to George III. She was the Miss Speed whom the poet Gray idolized as Melissa and who inherited £30,000 from her guardian Hester, Countess Temple: it was her name that the young Baron de la Perrière (so styled until 1813) adopted for English purposes. His father, who had disliked his going to England as equerry to the Duke of Gloucester, practically disowned him on his marriage, despite Lord Sandwich’s debonair plea, 14 Dec. 1789:
I am aware that had your consent to the marriage been asked either by your son or by me your answer could not have been such as was wished for by us, as the circumstances of my daughter’s birth must, to a person at a distance, have made the first impression disadvantageous to her alliance with a man of your rank and situation in another kingdom, but in this country disparity of rank is not so much considered as elsewhere, and we have before our eyes many examples of persons of the highest classes among us who have thought that they did not degrade themselves by marriage with a woman of merit though she was not legitimately born.1
Just before Speed came into Parliament, his father-in-law was anxious to have him made a magistrate in Huntingdonshire. Any possible embarrassment was avoided by a decision to make none at that time. ‘Had there been any addition’, commented Sandwich, ‘the leaving out Mr S[peed] ... would have been very unpleasant.’2 He was admitted to Brooks’s, 31 May 1791, sponsored by Richard Smith*. In the House, where he was silent, he followed Sandwich’s current line of acting with opposition. He voted with them on the Oczakov question, 12 Apr. 1791, and was listed favourable to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland that month, but not again while Sandwich lived, or until the session of 1794. He then voted with Fox on the address, 21 Jan., and on convoy protection, 18 Feb.; for indemnification of the landing of foreign troops in England, 14 Mar.; on behalf of Lafayette, 17 Mar.; against benevolences to the government, 28 Mar.; for taxation of placemen and pensioners, 8 Apr.; for inquiry into the campaign against France, 10 Apr., and against the committal of the bill to enable French subjects to enlist, 14 Apr. 1794.
Speed did not appear in the House again. He was a defaulter in January 1795 and again in November. The fact was that he was in trouble. In July he absconded when he and one King were tried in King’s bench for defrauding a coal merchant named Stephen Phillips, who on the strength of a false statement of Speed’s assets made by him, 8 Jan. 1792, had purchased annuities on Speed’s security. It transpired that his assets in Huntingdonshire were a mere £2 5s. per annum and that £3,600 had been advanced to him. Nevertheless the defendants were found not guilty. On 7 Dec. Speed appealed from the Isle of Man for privilege of Parliament after being arrested at the instigation of a Liverpool merchant for a debt which he denied.3 His credit did not survive this blow. His father’s adherence to Buonaparte preserved the family’s heritage in Savoy and he succeeded to it in 1813, dying at Tours in 1820.4 Two of his sons married Englishwomen, the younger into the Sandwich family.