SPENCER, Lord Francis Almeric (1779-1845), of Wychwood and Cornbury Park, Oxon.
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Family and Education
b. 26 Dec. 1779, 3rd s. of George, 4th Duke of Marlborough, by Lady Caroline Russell, da. of John, 4th Duke of Bedford; bro. of George Spencer, Mq. of Blandford* and Lord Henry John Spencer*. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1797. m. 25 Nov. 1801. Lady Frances Fitzroy, da. of Augustus Henry Fitzroy†, 3rd Duke of Grafton, 8s. 4da. cr. Baron Churchill 11 Aug. 1815.
Commr. Board of Control Nov. 1809-June 1810.
Capt. Oxf. vol. cav. 1803; lt.-col. commdt. W. Oxf. militia 1809, col. 1812; maj. commdt. 1 Oxf. yeoman cav. 1817, lt.-col. commdt. 1818-d.
Owing to the profligate habits of his eldest brother George and the early death of his next brother Henry John, Lord Francis became the 4th Duke of Marlborough’s favourite son, his indispensable companion and go-between in public affairs. His father commented in May 1800, ‘he has a great desire to be in Parliament and we shall wish him to stand somewhere where there is no chance of any contest’. To this end Charles Moore, the duke’s nominee for Woodstock, was expected to vacate when Lord Francis came of age or at the dissolution. The difficulty was removed when his uncle Lord Charles Spencer vacated the county seat to take office in February 1801 and he succeeded him unopposed.1 His father approved the suggestion of Charles Abbot, the Irish secretary, then one of his Members, that Lord Francis should succeed Henry Legge in his office, so as to acquaint himself with public business under Abbot’s auspices, but Lord Francis’s marriage later that year was a snag: the duke wondered whether ‘the attendance and business of it might not be too much for a new married man’. So nothing came of it.2
Spencer supported Addington’s ministry and Pitt’s second administration, in accordance with his father’s wishes. The Duke of Portland urged him to attend in support of Pitt’s additional force bill, 18 June 1804. His father did not wish him to have junior office at that time. He voted with the government minority on Melville’s case, 8 Apr. 1805. On 21 Jan. 1806, reluctantly, he made his maiden speech, moving the address. He is not known to have spoken in the House again. On Pitt’s death he arrived ‘just too late’ to support Lascelles’s motion, but he wished for the public payment of Pitt’s debts. Disappointed in his wish that Pitt’s friends should be included in the Grenville ministry, his father nevertheless professed support for it. When Lord Francis voted against their repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, his uncle Lord Charles claimed that he remonstrated with him in a ‘long letter’,
to which he wrote me a very good conscientious answer, but very young, not seeming to understand the necessity of voting with an administration in order to support them, but declaring he had no intention of being in opposition—he had mentioned to me an intention of his to apply to the Treasury for an office of surveyor of taxes or some such thing for some man. I said in my letter that I did not think we had any of us any right to ask the smallest favour of the first lord of the Treasury at present, my brother’s friends having voted as they have done, which entirely destroyed my brother’s consequence etc.
In September 1806 when Lord Charles was deprived of the Mint, the hostility of the duke’s Members towards government was again mentioned as a contributory factor.3
Lord Francis was absent ill throughout March 1807. His political attitude was thought ambivalent by Lord Auckland, who wrote to Lord Grenville on 4 Apr., ‘Lord Francis Spencer is very intimate with Mr Sturges Bourne, but on the other hand is much connected [by marriage] with Lord Euston (who means I presume to support us)’. But he went on to support the Portland administration, from which his father solicited a viscountcy for him. When Spencer Perceval succeeded Portland, a place at the Treasury board was rumoured for him; but he was offered one at the Board of Control. His brother-in-law the Hon. Cropley Ashley*, his ‘ambassador at the Treasury’, accepted for him, only to learn ‘that the Fitzroys had disinclined him towards government’. So he ‘did not choose to have anything to do with the place’ and was never sworn in, though his name was not removed until July following.4
Meanwhile Lord Auckland reported that Spencer was ‘visibly turning against the present government’ (26 Dec. 1809) and hoped Lord Grenville might win him and his family over: ‘I have just written to Lord Francis to recommend him to insist on the issuing of a new India commission: it is a sort of swindling proceeding to keep him under false colours’. On 27 Feb. 1810 Auckland had this to add:
George [Eden] yesterday saw Lord Francis Spencer, and found him very friendly and I think that they are likely to be on the same line of public conduct—Lord Francis has withdrawn all support from the present ministers and is of opinion that they ought not to continue.
The Whigs were accordingly ‘hopeful’ of him in March 1810. They were under a misapprehension: on 3 Mar. George Canning informed his wife, ‘I have some hopes of Lord Francis Spencer. This could be a great, great card—as he has great influence with all the Marlborough votes.’ On 6 Mar. he resumed the story:
During the debate I received a message ... from Lord Francis Spencer, the substance of which was that he wished to attach himself to me—that of all the public men in the House of Commons he thought me the fittest to form and lead a government—that he would cooperate with all those who were attached to me, in forcing me into that situation—that he wished to carry his father’s influence with him, and for that purpose intended to have a full explanation with his father, and then to speak to his father’s friends in Parliament—who are three in number—and would do this in the course of a day or two—that he had better not vote with me till this had been done—that in the meantime he should be most happy if I would speak to him—he had an awkwardness in beginning with me—that, to be quite fair and explicit, he had only to add that in professing general following he was of course to be understood liberally, and not as bound to every question that could possibly occur—though there was none but the Walcheren business on which he desired specially to reserve himself—and that his object being truly and honestly to see a good and strong govt. in the country, while he would exert his best efforts to help me to form one, and would infinitely prefer me to any other leader, yet that if from my own choice or any unforeseen circumstances I were not to form a part of a govt. otherwise unexceptionable, he should not be bound to go with me into systematic opposition.
Canning, who ‘liked the frankness and particularity of this profession better than if it had been more general and unqualified’, accosted Spencer and had a ‘very satisfactory’ interview with him at Marlborough House a day later, of which he reported, 6 Mar.: ‘He says he is sure of his father’s sentiments. I think however he will be a leetle difficult to manage now and then—but it is a great card.’ On 12 Mar. Canning wrote that Spencer, left to his own volition, would vote against ministers. ‘If I am involved in all [the divisions on the ‘Walcheren business’] he will stay away. He could not bring himself to do more than stay away on Friday—and had a great difficulty in getting his followers—or at least one of them, Sir Francis Dashwood—to do that.’ On 23 Mar. George Eden informed his father that Spencer had received a message from Lord Auckland
and that he should not go up to the debate but that if he had attended he would have voted entirely with opposition excepting as far as any questions would personally attach upon Lord Chatham. He is however still, I fear, rather inclined to Mr Canning than Lord Grenville. I think his real wish is that ministers may be beaten without his family’s appearing to assist in beating them, yet rather than they should not be beaten he would almost attend himself and would certainly wish his friends to attend.5
Between then and the dissolution no actual vote of Spencer’s is known. In June 1810 he was ‘not well’, in October ‘still in an alarming state’, and on 22 Dec. took a month’s sick leave, though two days later was said to be ‘very much improved in health and appearance’ and still well inclined to Canning in politics. Soon afterwards, still a defaulter, George Eden reported that Spencer ‘does not like majorities in general’. His parents’ conflicting advice may have paralysed him. On 5 Oct. 1811 Eden reported from Blenheim, ‘We do not talk much politics but Lord Francis seems to expect a change of ministers and appears in many things not quite pleased with the present government’. Attempts by Lord Auckland and his son to get him to attend seem to have been futile.6
After his mother’s death late in 1811, Spencer became the vizier of Blenheim. He had left no concrete evidence of rebellion against administration, just as he never openly opposed his father’s wishes. On 23 Feb. 1812 the duke approached the Prince Regent:
Some years ago, I made a family arrangement, such as to secure an ample property to my successor for the due support of the dukedom, and at the same time to give to my second son estates [Cornbury] which would be fully adequate to the dignity of the peerage. In pursuing this line, from motives of well-founded affection to those who have so long devoted their whole existence to my happiness, and now to my comfort, I had formed a wish at the time to obtain the title of Viscount Churchill to accompany the estates so set apart.
Now the duke asked merely for a barony, but he wished for an immediate creation. The plan epitomized the split in the family caused by his quarrel with his eldest son, and Lord Robert Spencer*, the duke’s brother, condemned it as divisive of the family interest. The Regent in reply enclosed Spencer Perceval’s letter advising against the creation, as it would encourage other peerage applications. On 27 Apr. 1812 Lord Francis took three weeks’ leave of the House for militia duties. The duke renewed his request to Lord Liverpool, 14 June and 26 Sept. 1812, explaining that he was prepared to bring in his brother Charles instead of his son for the county at the general election. But Lord Francis was kept waiting for the barony and resumed his seat. He appeared on the Treasury list of supporters after the election, at which he had prevented George Eden, who was in opposition, from coming in for Woodstock. Having made his views clear at a county meeting soon after the election, he voted for Catholic relief, 13 and 24 May, and was in the minority of the civil list, 27 May 1813. In the session of 1815 he voted with ministers on the plight of the Spanish Liberals at Gibraltar, 1 Mar., for the civil list, 8 May, and for the Duke of Cumberland’s marriage grant, 3 July. A month later he was created Baron Churchill. Thomas Grenville wrote to his brother, 27 Aug. 1815:
I really fell no small indignation at seeing the second son of that family plundering the family inheritance and carving out of it a subordinate peerage and estate for himself, while he seems to have abandoned all concern for the country seat which he derived from that family, and which he gives them back in a condition hardly promising enough to invite them to try to renew the tenure of it. All this has in it so much of self, and so little of what is generous or praiseworthy.7
He died 10 Mar. 1845: ‘his immediate dissolution was unexpected’.8
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. A. L. Rowse, The Later Churchills, 198; 30/8/180, f. 34; PRO 30/9/32/567, 568, Marlborough to Burton, 1 May, 18 Nov. 1800; Sidmouth mss, Portland to Addington, 11 Feb. 1801; Rose Diaries, ii 226.
- 2. PRO 30/9/33, Marlborough to Abbot, Fri.; 30/9/1 pt. 3/4, same to same, 28 Oct. 1801.
- 3. PRO 30/8/168, f. 160; 180, f. 40; Add. 34456, ff. 108, 353, 364, 534; Colchester, ii. 27; Spencer mss, Spencer to his mother, 26 Sept. 1806.
- 4. Fortescue mss; Portland mss PwV114; Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 281; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 8 Nov., Ward to same, 24, Nov.., 5 Dec. 1809; Geo III Corresp. v. p. xv.
- 5. HMC Fortescue, ix. 435; x. 16; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 3, 6, 12 Mar. 1810; Add. 34458, f. 58.
- 6. HMC Fortescue, x. 47, 53; Add. 34458, ff. 181, 235, 276, 302; 34460, f. 298.
- 7. Geo. IV Letters, i. 14; V. J. Watney, Cornbury and the Forest of Wychwood (1910); Add. 34458, ff. 276, 326, 331, 419; 38191, f. 214; 38248, f. 61; 38249, f. 221; HMC Fortescue, x. 404.
- 8. Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 540, 668.