TAYLOR, Michael Angelo (?1757-1834), of Ledston Hall, Ferrybridge, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. ?1757, o.s. of Sir Robert Taylor, architect, of Spring Gardens, Westminster by his w. (d. 27 Dec. 1803). educ. Westminster 1766; Corpus, Oxf. 21 Oct. 1774, aged 17; I. Temple 1769; L. Inn 1770, called 1774. m. 7 Aug. 1789, Frances Anne, da. and h. of Rev. Sir Henry Vane, 1st Bt., of Long Newton, co. Dur., s.p. suc. fa. 1788.
Recorder, Poole June 1784-d.; member of council, duchy of Cornwall Apr. 1808, PC 23 Feb. 1831.
Maj. commdt. Skirack vols. 1804.
Taylor owed his introduction to Parliament to Pitt, but by the time he inherited his father’s fortune of £180,000 in 1788 he was aligned with the Whig opposition, drawn to them by the impeachment of Warren Hastings, of which he was a manager. He gave up the bar, with the self-imposed nickname of ‘the chicken of the law’, and, except for the Parliament of 1802, sat in the House for the rest of his life, representing seven different constituencies. Diminutive, unguarded, somewhat pompous, but good-humoured and generous, he was an irresistible butt: to quote Canning,
by far the most ridiculous man in the world. He is quite a treasure to his friends, the opposition, giving them dinners, and offering them diversion, without end ... and as to Michael, he had no more suspicion in fact, than [his wife] appears to have, how laughable an animal he is.1
Taylor was admitted to Brooks’s Club, sponsored by the Duke of Portland, on 7 Mar. 1790 and joined the Whig Club on 3 May 1791. Narrowly defeated at Poole in the election of 1790, he came in briefly on the A’Court interest for Heytesbury until he regained his seat for Poole on petition. He was a regular spokesman for opposition throughout that Parliament, frequently acting as their teller. ‘A well meaning little man with an important manner and a sonorous voice, Mr Pitt once said that to hear him deliver his first sentence in a debate you would suppose, if you did not know him, that he was about to make a great speech.’2 On 14 Feb. 1791 he upheld the managers’ view of the continuation of Hastings’s impeachment. He criticized the war in India, 2 Mar., and the conduct of the Bank over unclaimed dividends, 15 Mar. He was listed favourable to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in April, and he took Fox’s part against Burke in the debates on the Quebec bill, 6, 11 May, thereby fixing his future allegiance. He chaired the committee on Fox’s libel bill, 31 May 1791. On 28 Mar. 1792 he launched a campaign against raising public money by lotteries at the expense of public morals: it failed, though he secured a committee report on it, 21 May 1792, and continued to lament that war had frustrated his intentions. A Friend of the People, he announced his conversion to parliamentary reform, 30 Apr. 1792: he had voted against it in 1785. He echoed Fox’s call for negotiation with revolutionary France, 15 Dec. 1792; objected to the aliens bill, 4 Jan., and on 22 Feb. 1793 exposed the constitutional disadvantages of barracks, though his motion was lost without a division. On behalf of his constituents he pressed for an inquiry into the plight of the Newfoundland trade, 26 Apr. 1792, 26 Feb. 1793. He decried the treatment of the radicals Muir and Palmer, 27 Jan., 24 Feb. 1794, and supported Adam’s motion for reform of the Scottish courts, 25 Mar. He opposed the subsidy to Prussia, 6 Mar., 29 Apr., and, although he did not object to the augmentation of the militia at home, wished it to be on a voluntary basis, neither by conscription nor levy, 6 Mar., 7 Apr. 1794. He inveighed against sinecures, 26 Mar. 1794, and against the growth of crown patronage provoked by war, 17 Apr. 1795. He was opposed to the suspension of habeas corpus, 5 Jan. 1795. He led the opposition to the Lord’s Day observation bill, ‘a scandalous attack on the innocent relaxations of the poor’, 25, 30 Mar. He favoured the larger grant to relieve the Prince of Wales’s debts and defended the Prince as a victim of extortions, 14, 15 May. He deplored the compensation awarded Warren Hastings by the East India Company, 3 June. He was a critic of the legislation against sedition in November 1795 and on 1 Dec. presented a petition from Poole against it. His wife’s illness kept him away from the House early in 1796,3 but on 8 Apr. he joined the opposition demand for inquiry into the multiplication of barracks.
Since 1794 Taylor’s interest at Poole had been undermined by his own agent John Jeffery*, who insisted that Taylor was so unpopular there as to stand no chance at the next election, and enlisted the Duke of Portland's support against his former protégé. Taylor complained loudly to the duke and in the House, 1 Dec. 1795, but was privately resigned to looking elsewhere for a seat, which he hoped his friends would find for him. In December 1795 he was expected to contest Southwark,4 but in 1796 came in on the Crespigny interest for Aldeburgh. He seconded Fox’s amendment to the militia augmentation bill, 13 Dec. 1796, and three days later drew the House’s attention to a misrepresentation of his speech in the Sun newspaper. He next surfaced in May 1797, supporting Fox’s call for the dismissal of the ministry, 19 May, and voting for parliamentary reform, 26 May. He was against dividing the House on the naval mutiny, 5 June, but called for an inquiry into its causes. On 22 June he objected to price regulation in the cattle market: prices should find their own level. (He excepted from this principle the coal trade, in which his wife’s family were concerned.) With other seceding Foxites, he did not again attend until June 1798 when he opposed ministers on the Irish rebellion. On 5 Dec. 1798 he moved for papers to show the increase in the military establishment in a year. On 14 Dec. he was a critic of the income tax bill, as he had been of the assessed taxes, and on 21 Dec. opposed the suspension of habeas corpus. He again attended in June 1799, opposing the enlistment of the militia unless voluntary, seconding Tierney’s resolutions on finance and censuring the treatment of the nawab of Oudh by the Board of Control. On 10 Feb. 1800 he deplored the failure of the Helder expedition, which showed that ministers ‘had no talents for carrying on a war’: he had voted against their refusal to negotiate for peace a week before.
Taylor succeeded his brother-in-law Sir Henry Vane Tempest as Member for Durham City in March 1800 after an expensive contest. In the House he exposed the inequalities of the income tax, 19 May 1800, voting for its curtailment on 5 June, and opposed the adultery bill, 10 June. Although previously earmarked by his friends for the Speaker’s chair, he was not in the running when Addington vacated it in February 1801, or a year later, though the Whig joke was that he and Charles Abbot were small enough to share it.5 He painted an alarming picture of the misery of the poor in wartime, 19 Feb. 1801, and on 16 Mar. brought up the report of the poor relief bill, which he subsequently supported. He was a critic of martial law in Ireland and of the Irish master of the rolls bill in March 1801. He also opposed the revival of the suspension of habeas corpus, 14 Apr. On 17 Apr. he secured exemption for curates from the horse tax and, while he deplored non-residence among the clergy, he thought the evil could only be combated by extra provision for them, 11 May 1801, 31 May 1802. He disliked the spread of dissent and had previously urged the government to curb the granting of preaching licences. On 31 Mar. 1802 he voted for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s finances. On 26 Apr. he obtained leave for a bill to regulate balloting for committees on contested elections, the passage of which was described by the Speaker as ‘useful’.6
Taylor was narrowly defeated at Durham in 1802, despite his alliance with another Whig, Lambton, who headed the poll. In his farewell address, 26 July, he emphasized that he had opposed the war and spoken up for peace and liberty. He was without a seat until 1806, when he declined to stand for Durham, as his terms were not agreed to. At the same time he ignored openings at Beverley and Hull. His coolness was attributed to his having been offered a seat by the Prince of Wales, whom he was then entertaining at Ledston. In fact he came in on the Treasury interest for Rye. His friends in office did nothing else for him, nor he for them. Illness was his excuse, but he promised attendance on the slave trade abolition.7 On 2 Mar. 1807 he was ordered to attend. On 18 Mar. he discredited the petition against the Westminster election in the House and on 9 Apr. supported Brand’s motion following the dismissal of the ministry.
In 1807 Taylor was returned for Ilchester, which its patron placed at the Prince of Wales’s disposal: it seems he could call on party funds to subsidize his seat.8 In the ensuing session he mustered with opposition. On 22 Jan. 1808 he condemned the Copenhagen expedition and admitted that he had advised the Yorkshire county meeting to petition for removal of ministers who protracted war and damaged trade (he voted against the orders in council, 3 Mar.). On 29 Feb. 1808, as the Prince’s man, he defended the annuity to Lord Lake’s family. It was Lake whom he succeeded as a member of the Prince’s council, which was to his mocking friends, ‘the acme of Michael’s immediate ambition’.9 He criticized the Jesuits’ bark (quinine) bill as inhumane, 16 Mar., and opposed the East India Company petition for relief, 26 Apr. He voted with opposition on Irish questions that session. He voted against the convention of Cintra, 21 Feb. 1809. He took no part against the Duke of York in March at the Prince’s request,10 but voted against alleged ministerial corruption, 25 Apr., and against the conduct of the Dutch commissioners, 1 May. He resumed regular opposition in January 1810, voting with them throughout on the Scheldt inquiry; against sending Burdett to the Tower, 5 Apr., and for the release of Gale Jones, 16 Apr. On 18 Apr. he gave an eye-witness account of the disturbances in London. He supported criminal law reform, I May, parliamentary reform, 21 May, and the regulation of droits of Admiralty, 30 May. On 25 May he moved for a committee of inquiry into delays in Chancery and in Lords appeals, which he withdrew until next session but promised never to abandon. He voted with opposition on the Regency question, 29 Nov. 1810, 1 and 21 Jan. 1811.
Taylor had hopes that the Regent would make him judge advocate, though at first the Irish secretaryship had been mentioned. It was while acting as the Regent’s amanuensis (nothing more) for his address of acceptance, 11 Jan. 1811, that he realized that the Whigs were to be dished. It was a bitter blow, as he had rejected all thought of a peerage or a place (unless it was an efficient one) for the label of ‘the Prince’s friend’. He voted against the Irish secretary’s anti-Catholic circular, 22 Feb. 1811, and for freedom of conscience for Catholic soldiers, 11 Mar. He also voted against ex officio informations for libel, 28 Mar. His bid to prevent delays in the courts was again foiled after a division on 7 Mar. 1811, and postponed on 17 May. On 5 June, when he tried again, he secured a committee, through the Speaker’s casting vote, to inquire into the delays in appeals, and another to inquire into Chancery fees. The committee was reappointed on 26 Feb. 1812, to investigate delays in Chancery. It was foiled on 16 Apr. by division, when Taylor, as chairman, did not give his casting vote for proceeding, and on 16 May he failed to carry a new committee.11
The Regent’s separation from the Whigs placed Taylor in a ‘doleful plight’ between them. On 4 Jan. 1812 he informed Lord Grey that by refusing the Regent’s request to attend in support of government, he forfeited his present seat and the promise of a future one.12 On 27 Feb. 1812 he voted with opposition on the state of the nation and on 3 Mar. against the orders in council: this was burning his boats. On 4 May he supported sinecure reform, and on 7 May the attack on the Exchequer tellerships and, to cap it all, he voted for a stronger administration, 21 May. On 22 June, the day of Canning’s Catholic relief motion, he took a month’s leave of absence: he had doubted if he would be permitted to vote for it. At this point he appears to have capitulated. He offered at Poole again at the ensuing election and Tierney reported that he would probably succeed ‘by having promised the Prince to support government’. Lord Malmesbury described him as ‘a convert and now strongly attached to Lord Liverpool’. A Whig agent alleged that Taylor would ‘not vote against us when he gets into the House, if some of our friends will but flatter his vanity’.13 He appeared on the Treasury list of supporters after the election.
The Treasury were soon disappointed. Taylor criticized the vice-chancellor bill, 11 Feb. 1813, and on 22 Feb. and 11 Mar. returned to his own scheme for reducing the chancellor’s duties by taking away the jurisdiction of bankruptcies from him. Though he did not divide the House on it, he asked his supporters to vote against the vice-chancellor bill. He voted for Catholic relief throughout in 1813. On the other hand, he advised the House not to discuss the Princess of Wales’s grievances unless the Regent requested it, 31 Mar. 1813. He then stayed out of trouble. On 6 June 1814 he presented and defended a Poole petition against altering the Corn Laws. On 28 June he obtained an inquiry into the paving and lighting of metropolitan streets. Next day he approved the office of works bill. He favoured investigation of the state of London prisons, 4 July. He opposed parliamentary intervention in the case of Lord Cochrane*, 19 July. In February 1815 he was said to be ‘steady with Prinny for the season’.14 On 6 Mar. he promised ‘utmost opposition’ to the revised Corn Laws, and gave it; but on 10 Mar. rebuked Burdett for his inflammatory speech. He obtained leave for a bill to abolish the pillory, 6 Apr. (again on 22 Feb. 1816), and agreed to postpone his London paving bill, 25 Apr., 11 July 1815: both measures eventually succeeded. He secured an extra £200 p.a. for Lady Rosebery, the guilty party in a divorce bill, 14 June 1815. With his silent votes against the renewal of resistance to Buonaparte, 28 Apr. and 25 May 1815, he cast down the gauntlet. For the next year Taylor was torn between the Regent and Mrs Taylor, the former snubbing the latter because of her hospitality to his Whig enemies, who were endeavouring to seduce Taylor from his allegiance: it was a see-saw. On 8 May 1815 he had voted with ministers for the civil list and on 31 May against inquiry into the Regent’s expenditure. On 15 Feb. 1816 he voted with Brougham on Spain. He next emerged as voting against the property tax, 18 Mar., but did not otherwise rebel, defending the Regent’s conduct in the exercise of pardon to convicts, 22 Mar. On 20 June he paired on the ministerial side. He supported the slave registry bill, 22 May 1816. When the Prince omitted to give him Sheridan’s duchy of Cornwall office, he reacted: on 7 July 1816 he penned a remonstrance, which led to a stormy interview. The Regent accused Mrs Taylor of harbouring his chief critic Brougham, and referred Taylor’s reminder of his promise of a privy councillorship to ministerial arbitration. With this, Taylor could not quarrel and his rebellion had come too late to bring him political credit, but he did not forgive the Regent. In October 1816 he was offered a quiet seat for £4,000, which encouraged his defiant attitude, though he did not accept the offer.15
Taylor informed Lord Liverpool, 22 Feb. 1817, that he was prepared to support the suppression of disorderly meetings, but not the suspension of habeas corpus. He said as much in the House, 28 Feb., and voted likewise. He also hinted, to the laughter of the House, that he was ‘a small reformer’. Jekyll commented ‘Mr Michael Angelo has at last made a downright opposition speech, so probably is driven to total despair as to Carlton House’. On 9 May 1817 he voted for Catholic relief and on 11 and 23 June he again voted his hostility to the suspension of habeas corpus. A month later he was reported to be threatening to ‘expose the Regent’s private life in a book’ and to ‘demolish the jurisdiction of the Chancery-cum-multis aliis of nonsense’. His failure to secure relief for the Newfoundland trade, 3 July 1817, closed the chapter of his relations with Poole. In January 1818 he became a candidate for Durham again: he had been offered an opening there on a vacancy in 1813 but had postponed his candidature until the next election. Sir Charles Monck commented: ‘He has voted the right way more often lately than some time ago and I believe never wrong from any base motive’.16 In the last session of that Parliament he opposed the message of confidence to the Regent, 28 Jan., spoke and voted against the royal dukes’ marriage grants, 13, 15 Apr., and on 1 May paired in favour of resumption of cash payments by the Bank. He had to postpone a bid begun on 5 Feb. 1818 to prevent the prolonged detention of prisoners on the northern circuit until next session (he gained his point on 4 Feb. 1819).
Taylor secured a seat for Durham in 1818 and in the ensuing Parliament acted steadily with the opposition from the start, without signing the requisition to Tierney to lead them. He voted for criminal law reform, 2 Mar., and paired in favour of burgh reform, 1 Apr. He supported Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May 1819. He made another unsuccessful bid to prevent delays in Chancery, 20 May, but secured a committee of inquiry into the nuisance caused by steam-engine smoke, 8 June. In November and December he both voted and spoke against repressive measures, which he described as changing the constitution in three weeks. His course was now fixed: in 1827 he boasted, ‘I have supported the Whigs for eight and thirty years at an expense of above £30,000’.17 He died 16 July 1834.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1788), ii. 930; Parl. Portraits (1795), i. 61; Harewood mss, Canning jnl. 4 May 1794.
- 2. Twiss, Eldon, ii. 169.
- 3. Morning Chron. 14 Mar. 1796.
- 4. Blair Adam mss, Taylor to Adam, 9 Oct. 1794; see POOLE; Oracle, 9 Dec. 1795.
- 5. The Times, 22 Mar. 1798.
- 6. Life of Wilberforce (1838), ii. 362; Lansdowne mss, Holland to Petty  Feb. ; Colchester, i. 413.
- 7. The Times, 28 July, 2 Aug. 1802; Fortescue mss, Taylor to Grenville, 23 Oct., to Wickham, 28 Oct.; Lonsdale mss, Ingram to Lowther, 31 Oct. 1806; Wickham mss 5/62, Taylor to Wickham, 20 Jan., 8 Feb. 1807.
- 8. Fortescue mss, Tierney to Grey, 19 May, reply 20 May 1807 in Hants RO, Tierney mss 32a.
- 9. Dorset RO, Bond mss D367, Jekyll to Bond, 23 Apr., 9 May 1808.
- 10. Spencer mss, Essex to Spencer, 11 Mar. 1809.
- 11. Grey mss, Grenville to Grey, 18 Jan. 1811; Moore Mems. ed. Russell, iv. 288; Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 326; Romilly, Mems. iii. 31; Twiss, ii. 168, 200.
- 12. Brougham, Life and Times, i. 529; Grey mss.
- 13. Phipps, i. 450; Buckingham, Regency, i. 379; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 3 Oct.; Malmesbury mss, Malmesbury to FitzHarris, 18 Oct.; Grey mss, Goodwin to Grey, 24 Dec. 1812.
- 14. Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 211.
- 15. Bond mss D367, Jekyll to Bond, 18 Oct. 1815, 2 Apr., [July], 24 July; Spencer mss, Grenville to Spencer, 21 July; Grey mss, Taylor to Grey, 13 July, 17 Oct. 1816.
- 16. Add. 38364, f. 292; Bond mss D367, Jekyll to Bond, 8 Mar., 29 July ; Durham Election Addresses (1813). 5-7, 12; Grey mss, Monck to Grey, 18 Jan. 1818.
- 17. Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, ii. 116.