WILBRAHAM BOOTLE (afterwards BOOTLE WILBRAHAM), Edward (1771-1853), of Lathom House, Lancs.
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Family and Education
b. 7 Mar. 1771, 4th but 1st surv. s. of Richard Wilbraham Bootle† (formerly Wilbraham) of Rode Hall, Cheshire by Mary, da. and h. of Robert Bootle of Lathom House. educ. Eton 1783; Christ Church, Oxf. 1788; Grand Tour (?including Greece)1 1792-3. m. 19 Apr. 1796, Mary Elizabeth, da. of Rev. Edward Taylor of Bifrons, rector of Patrixbourne, Kent, 2s. 2da. suc. fa. 1796; took surname of Bootle before instead of after that of Wilbraham by royal lic. 8 Dec. 1814; cr. Baron Skelmersdale 30 Jan. 1828.
Lt. R. Lancs. militia 1792, capt. 1792-8; capt. Loyal Ormskirk vols. 1799; lt.-col. Leyland and Ormskirk regt. Lancs. militia 1809, lt.-col. commdt. 1823.
Bootle’s father retired in 1790 after representing Chester in five Parliaments and supporting Pitt in the last. He himself became ‘a warm supporter and even friend of Mr Pitt’. At Oxford he befriended George Canning (who dubbed him ‘Boo’) and intended to have introduced him to Pitt (who feared Canning’s politics were ‘the other way’) but was prevented by a plan to go abroad. While he was absent, Canning informed him of his political debut.2 Lord Boringdon, another of the Christ Church set, characterized Bootle thus, 23 Nov. 1809:3
Is not altogether without talent, his mind and judgment have however made but little progress. Up to the present hour he says the same sort of things and views events precisely in the same point of view as he would when at Oxford, I scarcely can recollect an instance of any man’s intellect remaining so stationary.
As heir to a ‘very considerable landed estate in the county of Lancaster’, Bootle first looked near home for a seat in Parliament. On 16 Mar. 1795 he informed Pitt:
I have been mentioning the subject of Preston to Lord Grey de Wilton who gives me encouragement. We are apprehensive that the plan will not be relished by my father upon Lord Grey’s encouragement as his [Grey’s] decided opposition to the Derby interest may make him be suspected of partiality. I should therefore be obliged to you to send me a note in which you mention the proposal as coming from yourself at the requisition of some of the people of Preston, and referring me to Lord Grey. This will at least be a means of influencing my father and I can then take my measures more openly.
Later that year he found a vacancy at Westbury on Lord Abingdon’s interest, taking his seat on 4 Dec., but only for the duration of the Parliament. He was on the Treasury list of persons in quest of a seat in 1796.4 His friendship with Lord Granville Leveson Gower* and his being brother-in-law of William Egerton, the sitting Member, doubtless facilitated his return for Newcastle-under-Lyme on the Marquess of Stafford’s interest.
Bootle made his debut in the House in dissent from the majority on the Canterbury election committee in May 1797. He ‘spoke very well’ (thought Canning), on 19 May, when he defended legislation against Jacobinism and was teller against the opposition motion for the dismissal of Pitt’s ministry. On 23 May he was teller for the minority on the Lancaster sessions bill. He was chosen to second the address, 2 Nov. 1797. He voted for Pitt’s assessed taxes, 4 Jan. 1798. That session he served on a committee on prisoners of war and on 9 May and 7 June expressed his wish that its report be publicized to counter French allegations of ill treatment. He cleared the gallery before the debate on the Irish rebellion, 22 June 1798, to spite the Whigs. He was placed on the select committee on sedition, 24 Jan. 1799, and soon afterwards on the committee to confer with the Lords on the Irish union. Prevented by his wife’s confinement from attending the debate on the peace preliminaries in November 1801, Bootle was ‘on the whole perfectly satisfied with our having kept down Jacobinical principles till they almost cease to be dangerous’. His patron’s daughter-in-law described him bluntly as ‘a friend of Addington’s’, and Canning, deciding that he would concede Bootle his wish to be a steward for Pitt’s birthday dinner in May 1802, complained that he had ‘much Doctorism to atone for. But I understand his eyes begin to open.’5
Faced with a contest in 1802, Bootle was ‘suddenly resuscitated’ and headed the poll. Canning invited him to confer with him before Parliament met
upon the present state and prospect of things, upon which, if our opinions were not far asunder at the end of last session ... I think it can hardly be that the aggravated and accumulated proofs of incapacity in some persons, and of the consequent necessity of doing all that can be done to obtain the services of others, should not have made us ... think nearly alike.
When Bootle attended a dinner at Sir Robert Peel’s on 20 May 1803, after two months’ leave of absence from the House, Canning described him as ‘almost a convert’; but not until Pitt gave the signal, with his motion for an inquiry into naval strength, 15 Mar. 1804, did he vote against Addington. He was then listed a Pittite and voted with the minorities of 16, 23 and 25 Apr. that brought Addington down. He was listed in favour of Pitt’s second ministry and was a supporter of the great banner at Pitt’s funeral. By arrangement with Pitt’s other friends, he seconded the motion for the payment of his debts, 3 Feb. 1806, and was later a member of the Pitt Club. He opposed the Grenville ministry over Ellenborough’s cabinet seat, 3 Mar., the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr., and the American intercourse bill, 17 June 1806. Like Canning, who encouraged his hostility to the ministry, he was favourable to the abolition of the slave trade: though in 1799 Canning had noted that he had voted ‘pretty constantly’ against immediate abolition.6
Bootle was openly anti-Catholic in 1807, when it helped him to head the poll but opened a rift between him and his patron, the 2nd Marquess of Stafford. He was well disposed to the Portland ministry and promised Perceval and Ryder to assist them in rebutting the charges of corruption brought in by Lord Archibald Hamilton, 25 Apr. 1809. Two days before he begged to be excused, as he was anxious for his brother-in-law Herbert Taylor, the King’s secretary, not to be exposed by Bootle’s drawing attention to himself. He feared that the hostile newspapers would read into his visit to Windsor, three days before, a plot to cover up for the ministry. He acted as teller for government on 1 May. When Canning fell out with his colleagues in September, Bootle sympathized with his plight, but was slow to rebel. Canning did not mean him to, and wrote, 8 Jan. 1810, ‘I do not wish to urge you beyond your own line of conduct’ and was extremely cautious about an offer of Bootle’s to mediate between the estranged parties. It was Bootle who urged Canning to speak in defence of Wellington’s public reward, 17 Feb. 1810, on behalf of ‘country gentlemen and government discontented voters’. On 23 Feb., Canning reported, ‘Bootle went away’ on the division; on 5 Mar. he joined Canning’s squad of 11 in voting with the opposition majority, again on the Scheldt question. The Whigs were rightly ‘doubtful’ of him at this time. On 30 Mar. he voted with ministers. Canning knew that he could not rely on him as one of his own little senate. He opposed sinecure and parliamentary reform, 17 and 21 May 1810. On 1 Jan. 1811, voting against his patron’s son’s motion, he sided with ministers on the Regency. That session (9 Apr.) he revived a bid he had made on 15 Mar. 1802 to improve the condition of parish apprentices, but it was postponed, 7 June; as late as 1815 he was still anxious to promote a bill, and then saw it succeed, only to be thwarted in the other House. He was also on the committee to investigate the distress of the cotton manufacturers, 5 June 1811. He again opposed sinecure reform, 4 May 1812, and voted in the government minority against a stronger administration, 21 May. On 11 June he opposed a petition complaining of conditions in Lancaster gaol and on 25 June was added to the Lincoln gaol inquiry committee. On 22 June he associated himself with Canning for the last time in support of his Catholic relief motion. He would pledge himself no further: with a compliment to the English Catholics, he explained that securities must be required from the Irish. On 13 July he defended the northern magistracy and was teller for the preservation of the public peace bill. His conduct had further damaged his prospects at Newcastle-under-Lyme. Of the Stafford family, only Lord Granville Leveson Gower gave him assistance at the general election, and he was defeated. His sister Lady Alvanley, knowing how much he ‘liked parliamentary attendance’, appealed confidentially to Thomas Wallace* to find him an opening, but soon found that he had written to the Treasury and to Lord Liverpool to secure a seat.7
Bootle was at this time ambitious to represent his county and even canvassed, but had to be content with a compensatory seat for Clitheroe on Lord Brownlow’s interest. He appeared on the Treasury list of supporters. On 2 Mar. 1813 he announced his opposition to Irish Catholic relief, though he renewed his compliments to the English Catholics; and he opposed it thereafter. Even in Lancashire, he informed the Speaker, the Catholics ‘should be watched’ (25 Nov. 1816). He spoke on the Manchester justices bill, 12 May, and voted in favour of Christian missions to India, 22 June, 1 July 1813. On 23 Oct. 1814, hearing that Lord Granville Leveson Gower was promised a peerage, he wrote to Lord Liverpool on his own behalf:
I have no claims to urge, unless perhaps I may be allowed to mention my political principles and conduct, which, however, have been perfectly well known to you for many years—that my fortune is adequate to keeping up the rank; and that my father formerly had the offer of a peerage, but declined it because at that time he had no son. I must add that this is a favour which I have never before requested of any minister, and for which I should not like to be indebted to anyone but yourself, of whose unvaried friendship I have long been assured and have received many marks.
He was sure that he stood well with the royal family, and as for Canning: ‘I have for near two years ceased to have any intimacy and almost any intercourse with him on account of the difference which has subsisted in our political sentiments and attachments’. Liverpool had to refuse the application as tactfully as he could. Bootle nevertheless changed his name—to Wilbraham.8
Wilbraham voted with ministers on the civil list question, 14 Apr. and 31 May 1815, but steadily opposed the Duke of Cumberland’s marriage grant. He claimed that the marriage was disapproved by ‘the female part of the royal family’, 30 June, and suggested instead an increased allowance for the Duke of York, whose services in wartime were worthy of public gratitude, 4 July. Next session he voted only with ministers—on the army estimates, 6 and 8 Mar.; for the property tax, 18 Mar.; on the civil list, 24 May, and on the public revenue bill, 17 and 20 June. On 7 Feb. 1817 he was in the majority on the composition of the finance committee, to which he was named for that and the next session. He threw cold water on an attempt to discredit opponents of parliamentary reform at Warrington over a petition, 4, 13 Feb., and on 3 Mar. presented a Blackburn petition complaining about a seditious meeting at Preston. A member of the secret committee of that session, he voted for the suspension of habeas corpus on 23 June. He was invited by Liverpool to hear the proposals for the ducal marriage grants in April 1818 and reported the ominous silence in which they were received. He apparently stayed away on the subject, though he paired with the majority on 21 Apr. on the Irish window tax. He supported the cotton factories bill, 27 Apr., claiming to have been long attentive to the subject. He voted against inquiry into popular education, 3 June: curiously, he had denied a report at Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1812 that he was hostile to charity schools.9
Wilbraham was found a seat in 1818 by Lord Liverpool, who recommended him to his friends at Dover as ‘a person of long parliamentary experience and independent character and in no way personally connected with myself’, and ‘as much respected as any country gentleman in the House of Commons’; adding that Wilbraham had once been quartered at Dover and was connected with the Kentish gentry by marriage. After an alarm and a contest, Wilbraham succeeded. On 8 Feb. 1819 he was renamed to the finance committee and he reported to his friend Lord Colchester the debates on the Windsor establishment that month. He took part in the debates on Wyndham Quin* and on 29 Mar. acted as teller for ministers when he proposed and carried mild resolutions of censure on Quin. He saw no grounds for delaying the Camelford writ, as allegations of corruption there were not proved, 8 Apr. He was in the majorities against Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, and for the foreign enlistment bill, 10 June. The Peterloo business frightened him. In 1816 he had already forwarded to Lord Sidmouth a report on sedition in Manchester, and in October 1817 he was alarmed. He explained to Liverpool, who quizzed him privately about the grand jury’s report on it, that the New Cross district of Manchester was inhabited by lawless Irish immigrants. He noted the rapid growth of disaffection and thought extraordinary measures were called for, but feared that, as the Lancashire Members were inadequate to the task, he was ‘the only one who would be expected to take an active part in a debate’. On the address, he stated the views of the Lancashire magistrates, 23, 26, 29 Nov. 1819, though he admitted, 24 Nov., that he had not been in Manchester that year. ‘I was obliged to take the part which [John] Blackburne* should have done, and to defend the magistrates and yeomanry from the unfounded attacks made upon them’, he complained to Colchester. On 9 Dec. he criticized the doctrine of a minimum wage, and defended the principles on which the Lancashire magistracy were selected. He brought in a petition of William Salisbury, who had a plan for the better employment of the poor, 15 Dec., but agreed not to press for a committee to examine it. On 21 Dec. he obtained official denial of a ‘ridiculous’ report circulated in Lancashire that government meant to seize the funds of the friendly societies and savings bank to meet the national debt. Not surprisingly, he remained in town as late as 23 Dec. to support measures against sedition. By February 1820 he was gratified by the restoration of tranquillity.10
Wilbraham could no longer be denied a peerage in 1828. He died 3 Apr. 1853.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: M. H. Port / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Canning and his Friends, i. 46.
- 2. Add. 38458, f. 246; Harewood mss, Canning to Bootle (copy), 12 Dec. 1792, note by Ld. Stanley; Canning and his Friends, i. 29-46 (original mss in BL, Add. 46841).
- 3. Add. 48244, f. 125.
- 4. Add. 38458, f. 246; Oracle, 5 Dec. 1795; PRO 30/8/114, f. 168; 197, ff. 247, 248.
- 5. Add. 48219, f. 57; PRO 30/9/1, pt. 1/2, Bootle to Abbot, 30 Oct. 1801; 30/29/5/4, f. 851; 30/29/8/2, f. 222.
- 6. Canning and his Friends, i. 150, 197, 230; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 21 May 1803; PRO 30/70/4/265; 30/29/8/3, f. 245; Rose Diaries, ii. 239, 244-5; Add. 46841, f. 29.
- 7. Fortescue mss, Stafford to Grenville, 11 May 1807; Perceval (Holland) mss D7; Canning and his Friends, i. 344; Add. 46841, f. 42; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 17, 23 Feb., 6, 12 Mar. 1810; Romilly, Mems. ii. 399; Northumb. RO, Wallace (Belsay) mss S76/3/2, 22, 24.
- 8. Colchester, ii. 582; Add. 38260, ff. 1, 95.
- 9. Colchester, iii. 43.
- 10. Add. 38272, ff. 83, 97; 38280, f. 19; 38458, ff. 246, 257, 259; 38578, f. 74; 38741, f. 128; Colchester, iii. 70-71, 92-93, 112; Pellew, Sidmouth, iii. 165.