ASTLEY, John Dugdale (1778-1842), of Everley, Wilts. and 10 Langham Place, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 27 June 1778, 1st s. of Francis Dugdale Astley of Everley and 1st w. Mary, da. and coh. of William Buckler of Boreham, nr. Warminster, Wilts. educ. Oriel, Oxf. 1795. m. 27 July 1803, Sarah, da. of William Page of Gosport, Hants, 1s. 2da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1818; cr. bt. 15 Aug. 1821. d. 19 Jan. 1842.
Capt. Wilts. militia 1799, maj., res. 1831.
Sheriff, Wilts. 1836-7.
Astley’s grandfather William Francis Corbet Astley (1708-90) of Eastcote House, Barston, Warwickshire, a great-nephew of Sir Richard Astley, 1st baronet, of Patshull, Staffordshire, married Judith Bickley (whose mother Judith was coheiress of William Dugdale of Blythe Hall, Warwickshire, the grandson and namesake of the famous antiquary). In 1771 William’s elder son Francis Dugdale succeeded his cousin Sir John Astley, 2nd baronet, of Patshull, Member for Shrewsbury, 1727-34, and Shropshire, 1734-71, to Everley and settled there. He first married, 27 Dec. 1775, Mary Buckler (d. 23 Sept. 1804), who was coheiress (with her sister Dorothea, wife of Sir John Lethbridge†) of William Buckler of Boreham, and with her he had four sons and two daughters. His second wife Anne Geast (who died, childless, 5 Dec. 1813), was one of his mother’s relations and first cousin of Dugdale Stratford Dugdale, Member for Warwickshire. Francis Astley, who was sheriff of Wiltshire, 1776-7, and lieutenant-colonel of the Wiltshire yeomanry cavalry for many years, died, 26 Apr., and was buried, 4 May 1818, in the church which he had rebuilt at Everley. He was highly respected for his blameless private life and the constant attention he paid to his estates, according to a highly coloured obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine written by his third son, the Rev. Francis Bickley Astley, who had been presented by him to the rectory of Manningford Abbots, Wiltshire, in 1810.1 By his will, dated 14 May 1817, he left the bulk of his property, which included real estate in Wiltshire, Hampshire, Shropshire and Warwickshire, and personal wealth sworn under £35,000, to his eldest son, John Dugdale.2
Astley, a fat man, served in the Wiltshire militia, reaching the rank of major by the late 1810s, but did not otherwise distinguish himself in local society. At the Wiltshire contest at the general election of 1818, when his residence was given as Notton House, he was listed as a member of the committee of John Benett*, the Whig agriculturist, and voted for him and the sitting Member Paul Methuen† against the ministerialist William Long Wellesley*.3 When Methuen retired pleading poor health in July 1819, Astley precipitated another violent and prolonged contest by standing against his friend Benett, who had the better pretensions. He was criticized for this desertion of Benett’s cause, his family’s recent establishment in Wiltshire, the head start he had allegedly gained from private knowledge of Methuen’s intentions and his own limited qualifications. (In 1826 he apparently told a dinner in Devizes that ‘when first he offered himself as a candidate for the county, he laboured under peculiar disadvantages; for an absence of nearly 20 years from his country had rendered him in some degree a stranger’.)4 However, he insisted that he was concerned solely for the independence of the county, to the representation of which he had aspired for at least ten years. As he wrote in his address of 10 July:
That I had in contemplation to offer myself for the county when Mr. [Richard Godolphin] Long† first intimated his intention of withdrawing is a fact well known to many of my friends; it is equally well known to them that I declined becoming a candidate solely because my situation then was not so clearly and absolutely independent as a county Member’s ought to be.
Having now succeeded his father, he committed himself to a wide canvass, and was supported by most of the leading peers and gentry. Lady Holland commented that ‘he was never known to express an opinion on any subject so he has nothing to retract or explain’, and ‘has £100,000 in ready money and a good landed estate’.5 At the nomination meeting at Devizes, 16 July, he denied that he was a ‘false friend’ or a religious bigot, and disowned Henry Hunt’s* surprise endorsement of his candidature. Three days later he was introduced by Duncombe Pleydell Bouverie* as ‘a man of ample fortune and of most unexceptionable character, a man who had gained the esteem of every man who knew him’; and even Benett, anxious to avoid inciting further disturbances, called him ‘certainly an honest and an independent man’. He insisted on keeping open the poll for the maximum 15 days, and repeatedly claimed that he would eventually poll a majority of legal votes. He was recognized to be a favourite with the clothiers and lower classes and was named ‘the poor man’s friend’; but he was accused of keeping ‘mum’, and The Times remarked of one of his speeches that it ‘derived its attraction more from the genuine good nature and honest feeling with which it was delivered, than from any adventitious aid of language or delivery’. In the end he came within 166 votes of Benett after 4,706 freeholders had been polled; his tens of thousands of pounds of expenses apparently forced him to sell his non-Wiltshire properties. He did not petition, but announced that he would offer at a future opportunity.6
At the general election in early 1820 he took the chance to do so, essentially as a supporter of the Liverpool administration, though he claimed to be ‘unbiased by party views, unfettered by partial engagements’ and ‘strictly independent’. He began another extensive canvass and denied collusion with any other candidate.7 However, Long Wellesley withdrew in the face of another expensive contest, leaving the seats to Benett and Astley. The latter, who was described by the Whig earl of Suffolk in a letter to Lord Holland, 9 Mar., as ‘I fancy a true Wiltshire Tory of the old stamp’, spoke in favour of the existing constitution in church and state, the combined agricultural and manufacturing interests of the county and the re-establishment of amicable feelings among the freeholders at the nomination meeting, 10 Mar., and the election, 14 Mar.8 A regular attender at county gatherings, he seconded the toast to Benett at the Wiltshire Agricultural Society dinner, 19 July 1820, when he said that he ‘trusted that the irritation excited by the heat of the contest for the county had entirely subsided and that all parties, like their representatives, were now again united in friendship’.9 Methuen wrote, in an undated letter that year to Lord Ailesbury, colonel of the Wiltshire yeomanry cavalry, that
I am happy to hear from all quarters such excellent accounts of the behaviour of your regiment while on duty. The report here is, that our friend your major was always mounted on a dandy charger not being able to find a live animal strong and steady enough for him. I am sorry to say he has given a good deal of offence in these quarters by being somewhat too lavish of his encomiums on his worthy colleague at the agricultural dinner. I have had a great many battles to fight with him on this occasion and I hope with success, but it is astonishing how angry many of his best friends have been with him.10
Astley, who frequently brought up constituency petitions, voted with opposition against the appointment of an additional baron of exchequer in Scotland, 15 May, but with ministers for a secret committee on the allegations against Queen Caroline, 26 June 1820.11 He told the Wiltshire county meeting that he would present the petition in Caroline’s favour, 17 Jan. 1821, when he stated that ‘his vote in Parliament should always be dictated by his own conscientious sense of what was best for the interests of the county’. However, John Cam Hobhouse* recorded that ‘Astley said he would promise nothing’, and he did not, in fact, give the petition his support when it was brought up by Benett, 24 Jan. He voted against inserting the queen’s name in the liturgy, 26 Jan., and censuring ministers’ conduct towards her, 6 Feb.12 He sided with opposition for repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., and against the author of an item in John Bull being imprisoned for breach of privilege, 11 May, but with ministers for the barracks grant, 28 May 1821. He was awarded a coronation baronetcy that summer. Although he voted against more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 11, 21 Feb., he went with opposition against the salt duties, 28 Feb., and for reduction of the number of junior lords of the admiralty, 1 Mar., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., 2 May 1822. He was, nonetheless, labelled by the radical John Ward as a ministerialist, ‘rarely voting for reducing estimates or establishments’.13 He divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, and the Catholic peers bill, 30 Apr. 1822. He voted against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr. 1823, and later that month was confined by gout to his house in Upper Grosvenor Street.14 He divided for abolishing the death penalty for larceny, 21 May, and against repeal of the usury laws, 27 June. He voted against reform of the Scottish representative system, 2 June, and criticism of chancery delays, 5 June 1823. He divided against the production of information on Catholic office-holders, 19 Feb., and reform of the representation of Edinburgh, 26 Feb. 1824. However, he voted in condemnation of the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June. Following the alarming illness of his only surviving twin daughter that summer, he lost his wife, ‘a most amiable woman’, 31 Aug. 1824.15
He voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., and against Catholic relief, 1 Mar. 1825. By the middle of March he was said to be recuperating at Everley, having been ‘severely indisposed, owing, in a great measure, to a too close attendance at the House of Commons’.16 He voted against the Catholic relief bill, 21 Apr., 10 May, and the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. He voted in the minority for repeal of the window tax, 17 May, but divided for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 10 June. In July 1825 Ailesbury persuaded him not to leave the militia, which he had wished to do because Parliament obliged him to reside in London for six months of the year; he resigned six years later.17 Having lived in a number of London houses, in early 1826 he purchased 10 Langham Place, which, according to one visitor, had ‘fine rooms but too low, and the great room has no windows and is lighted from the end room which has both a window and a skylight’.18 He voted against receiving the report on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr., which, as the Devizes Gazette remarked on the 13th, ‘clearly shows that Sir John is not so completely at the "beck and call" of the minister, as some of his constituents would wish to make it appear’. He divided against empowering ministers to admit foreign corn, 8 May. In his address at the general election that summer, he claimed that ‘I have endeavoured by my vote to maintain our civil and religious institutions entire and unchanged, and, divesting myself of all party feeling, I have pursued a line of conduct strictly independent’. He repeated this claim on the hustings, 16 June, when he professed support for moderate parliamentary reform, but added that ‘as to cutting out the rotten parts, the difficulty would be to ascertain what were the sound parts and where to stop’. As expected, he was returned unopposed with Benett.19 William Cobbett†, who rode past Everley in August that year, commented that
they say he is good to the labouring people; and he ought to be good for something, being a Member of Parliament of the Lethbridge and Dickinson stamp. However he has got a thumping estate; though, be it borne in mind, the working people and the fund-holders and the dead-weight have each their separate mortgage upon it; of which the baronet has, I dare say, too much justice to complain [being a Tory].20
Astley’s only son Francis Dugdale, having come of age earlier in the same month, married, 18 Nov. 1826, Emma Dorothea, daughter of Astley’s first cousin, Sir Thomas Lethbridge*.21
Astley presented anti-Catholic petitions from Salisbury, 26 Feb., and Warminster, 5 Mar., and voted in this sense, 6 Mar. 1827.22 He was appointed to the Dublin election committee, 21 Mar., but was excused further attendance on it, 29 Mar. 1827, on the ground of ill health. He voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He presented the Corton enclosure bill, 22 Feb. 1828, overseeing its passage that session. That summer he undertook a tour of the continent, from which he reportedly returned in perfect health.23 In January 1829 he was considered by Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, as a possible choice for moving or seconding the address, but the following month he was listed as likely to be ‘opposed to the principle’ of the Catholic emancipation bill.24 He signed the Wiltshire anti-Catholic declaration and helped to prepare the hostile county petition, which he presented and endorsed, 9 Mar.25 On this occasion, in one of his rare speeches, he stated that
I have given all possible consideration to the question, and I do not think the step proposed at all safe; I, therefore, object to it upon principle. I feel persuaded that this measure need never have been proposed, but for what I must call the culpable negligence of His Majesty’s ministers; they ought to have suppressed the Catholic Association long ago, and then Ireland would not have been placed in its present condition. There has been a want of energy in the government, and that has brought us to the present crisis.
He duly voted against emancipation, 6, 18, 23, 30 Mar., and the Maynooth grant, 22 May 1829. Early in 1830 he advocated the forwarding of Wiltshire petitions for relief to the Commons, and he presented one from the inhabitants of the county, 19 Feb., commenting that ‘I cannot but lament that so little attention has been paid to the distress of a starving population’.26 He voted against parliamentary reform, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He sided with opposition against filling the treasurership of the navy, 12 Mar., and for abolition of the Irish lord lieutenancy, 11 May. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and was in the minority against abolishing the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. He voted for prohibiting the sale of beer for on-consumption, 21 June, 1 July. He chaired the annual meeting of the Wiltshire Society at the Albion tavern, 19 May, when he said that he should always devote his ‘feeble abilities’ to the service of his constituents.27 There was no challenge to him at the general election that summer. In his address, he acknowledged that he had voted against Catholic emancipation because it would ‘break in’ on the constitution, but, that measure having passed, he rejoiced ‘to learn that the expectations and promises of its supporters have been abundantly fulfilled’. At the election, 7 Aug. 1830, he declared that he was the ‘decided advocate of the most rigid economy; for I ask you if it is possible to contemplate the present state of our national debt, without expressing the strongest anxiety for its annihilation’.28
Astley was listed by ministers among their ‘friends’, but his inclusion there was queried, and he did in fact vote in the majority against them on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He was given three weeks’ leave because of the disturbed state of his county, 23 Nov. 1830. He declined to sign the requisition for a Wiltshire county meeting on reform, but attended it, 25 Feb. 1831, when he quarrelled angrily with the radical James Thomas Mayne and denied his allegations about why he had refused to sign his reform petition or to voice his support for it in the House (on 10 Feb.).29 However, he spoke in favour of the Wiltshire reform petitions brought up by Benett, 18 Mar., and voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. His equivocation on reform made him intensely unpopular in Wiltshire, and at the general election there were rumours of several possible opponents, including Methuen, who commented that ‘Astley is quite despised’.30 Clearly aware of the need to salvage his position, he admitted in his address that public opinion had come to favour reform and insisted that ‘when I frankly avow that I have participated in that change, I am not aware that it is necessary for me to offer any further apology’. He explained that as it would leave
perfect security to our constitutional authorities ... I thought it my duty to vote in favour of the reform bill; and though my wish was to see some of its clauses differently modified, yet I had determined to give no vote which would endanger the final passage of the bill.
This was enough to secure his unopposed re-election, 10 May 1831, with Benett, whose statements in favour of reform and economies he (as was his usual practice) merely echoed.31
Astley voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least once against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July 1831, and usually for its details. However, he divided against the total disfranchisement of Downton, 21 July, and Saltash (which ministers allowed to be transferred to schedule B), 26 July, and spoke and voted against the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July; he was also in the majority for Lord Chandos’s clause to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. He voted for swearing the original committee on the Dublin election, 29 July, but against censuring the Irish government for using undue influence at it, 23 Aug. He divided in the majority for Benett’s amendment stating that there had been gross bribery at the Liverpool election, 5 Sept. He presented and endorsed a petition from the archdeacon and clergy of the diocese of Sarum against the sale of beer for on-consumption, 6 Sept., and provided further evidence in favour of amending the Beer Act, 22 Sept. He voted for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He signed the requisitions for both the Wiltshire county meetings that autumn, urging the Lords to pass the bill, 30 Sept., and condemning their rejection of it, 28 Oct. He also spoke in favour of reform at the public dinner for Lord Lansdowne at Devizes, 16 Nov.32 He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, its committal, 20 Jan., 20 Feb. 1832, and again for its details. He divided for the third reading, 22 Mar., and Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. He voted with government for the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr., and against inquiry into colonial slavery, 24 May. His only other known votes that session were with opposition against the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July.
Having offered for Wiltshire North, though his estates were in the southern division of the county, he remained unpopular and, as one address put it, although he
was principally elected for the liberal party, his conduct in Parliament has been ungrateful in the extreme; for, with but one exception, he has been the supporter of every illiberal measure brought forward in the House of Commons, previous to the passing of the reform bill; and even a short time before that, when asked to sign a requisition, to call a county meeting in favour of reform, he refused, and I believe there is not a man in the county of Wiltshire who is not of my opinion, that he voted in favour of our modern magna charta, as a matter of policy, and not from any desire to advance the cause of liberty.
He issued an address in favour of retrenchment and the abolition of slavery, but against further reform or the ballot, and was elected, as a Liberal, behind Methuen against a Radical at the general election in December 1832.33 He left the House at the dissolution two years later and died in January 1842: ‘his end was resigned, peaceful and happy, trusting, as he frequently and earnestly expressed himself, "in the merits of his Saviour alone".’ He was succeeded by Francis (1805-73), whose eldest son John Dugdale (1828-94), the 3rd baronet, was Conservative Member for Lincolnshire North, 1874-80.34
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. Sir R. C. Hoare, Wilts. Everley, 9-10; Add. 69411, descent of Sir John Dugdale Astley; Gent. Mag. (1776), 46; (1813), ii. 629; (1818), i. 465.
- 2. PROB 11/1605/259; IR26/732/577; VCH Wilts. viii. 7, 66, 103; x. 107, 207.
- 3. Kaleidoscopiana Wiltoniensia (1818), 274; Wilts. Pollbook (1818), 30.
- 4. Devizes Gazette, 15 June 1826.
- 5. Add. 52172, Lady Holland to Allen, Wed. , [23 July 1819].
- 6. Salisbury Jnl. 5, 12, 19, 26 July, 2, 9, 16 Aug.; The Times, 31 July, 2, 4-6 Aug. 1819; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 412-13; R. Moody, Mr. Benett of Wiltshire, 95-118.
- 7. Devizes Gazette, 17 Feb., 2 Mar.; Wilts. RO, Benett mss 413/485, Waylen to Benett, 5 Feb., Montgomery to same, 6 Feb., Cobb to same, 9 Feb., Penruddocke to same, 10 Feb., Tayler to same, 19 Feb. 1820.
- 8. Add. 51830; Devizes Gazette, 16, 23 Mar. 1820; Moody, 119-26.
- 9. Salisbury Jnl. 24 July 1820.
- 10. Wilts. RO, Ailesbury mss 9/35/100.
- 11. Devizes Gazette, 29 June 1820.
- 12. Ibid. 18 Jan., 1 Feb. 1821; Add. 56541, f. 133.
- 13. Black Bk. (1823), 136; R. Stewart, Foundation of Conservative Party, 19.
- 14. Devizes Gazette, 1 May 1823.
- 15. Ibid. 22 July, 19 Aug., 2 Sept. 1824.
- 16. Ibid. 17 Mar. 1825.
- 17. Ibid. 14 July 1825.
- 18. Ibid. 23 Feb. 1826; Spencer-Stanhope Letter-Bag, 106.
- 19. Devizes Gazette, 1, 22 June 1826.
- 20. Cobbett’s Rural Rides ed. G.D.H. and M. Cole, ii. 359.
- 21. Devizes Gazette, 9 Nov. 1826; Gent. Mag. (1826), ii. 556.
- 22. The Times, 27 Feb., 6 Mar. 1827.
- 23. Devizes Gazette, 26 June, 9 Oct. 1828.
- 24. Add. 40398, f. 86.
- 25. Glos. RO, Sotheron Estcourt mss D1571 X114, Long to T.H.S. Bucknall Estcourt [?11 Feb.], T.G. Bucknall Estcourt to same, 3 Mar. 1829.