BLOUNT, Edward (1769-1843), of Shabbington, Bucks. and Bryanston Square, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 18 July 1769, 2nd s. of Sir Walter Blount, 6th bt. (d. 1785), of Sodington, Worcs. and Hon. Mary Aston, da. and coh. of James, 5th Lord Aston [S]. educ. Douai 1782-6. m. 20 Apr. 1803, Frances, da. and coh. of Francis Wright of London, 5s. 5da. d. 20 Mar. 1843.
Blount came from an old Catholic gentry family who, as his mother was reputedly fond of declaring, ‘had held their Worcestershire estates in lineal descent from the Conquest and had in no instance been known to abandon their religion or their king’. In the 1790s she built a house for Blount on a part of the Aston estates at Bellamour, Staffordshire, which he sold in 1824. Three years later he purchased the Buckinghamshire manor of Shabbington.1 He was active in the agitation for parliamentary reform, being a founder member of the Hampden Club in 1811, and he joined Brooks’s nine years later. He also played a conspicuous part in the campaign for Catholic emancipation: in 1821 he assisted in framing the controversial oath of allegiance proposed in Plunkett’s relief bill, the following year he became secretary of the Catholic Board and in 1823 he took the same office in the newly formed British Catholic Association, which sought to establish a wider social base of support than the aristocratic Board. In discussing the Association’s proselytising aims, he argued that ‘the Protestant press of England should be attended to ... [so] that no slander or mis-statement be allowed to remain uncontradicted ... and the papers containing such replies should be widely circulated amongst the mechanics, manufacturers and middling classes of society’. He found himself performing a delicate balancing act between the Catholic nobility and the more popular ‘democratic’ party, and he evidently felt the frustrations of an activist in dealing with dissension and apathy among those whom he sought to organize. The lack of support, especially financial, from the nobility and gentry caused him to threaten resignation on several occasions. He saw emancipation in its wider political context, informing the Association meeting in March 1827 that ‘I cannot distinguish between the liberation of the Catholic from political thraldom and the general cause of civil liberty’. In a public letter written at about the same time he declared that ‘the sour sectarian, the staunch Papist and the bigoted Protestant are all of one genus, and should be equally reprobated by the liberal professors of every creed’. Yet his advanced views were tempered with pragmatism: he opposed an ‘impolitic’ motion to commit the Association to parliamentary reform in November 1826, and later accepted that his support for church disestablishment was unlikely to gain much currency. The leading Whig James Macdonald* nevertheless believed that Blount was ‘not the wisest and most clear headed of men’.2 By 1828 distrust between the rival factions in the Association had reached crisis point, with the ‘democrats’ alleging that an aristocratic caucus was preparing to accept a conditional form of emancipation. Blount denied this at a meeting in November, but his observation that partial measures of relief, though unsought, would be welcomed, aggravated the suspicions of the democrats and their allies in the Irish Catholic Association, who threatened to sever links with the British group if his remarks were not repudiated. At a special meeting, 21 Jan. 1829, he was ‘placed on trial’, in the words of an anonymous reporter, who noted that he had ‘no pretension to popular oratory’:
His mind is not of any great originality of grasp, but has been highly cultivated and is an observant one ... He has studied men rather than books, and is much better calculated to produce an effect upon a committee than in a popular assembly.
He finally won a vote of confidence, but the Association’s aristocratic leaders, who had not been present, decided to suspend its activities to avoid further strife. Relations with the Irish were restored at a meeting between Blount, the 12th duke of Norfolk and Daniel O’Connell* the following month. The British Catholic Association was formally wound up in June, after the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill had passed; a subscription for Blount raised £2,000.3 At the general election of 1830 Norfolk, to whom Blount acted as private auditor, returned him for his pocket borough of Steyning.4
The ministry listed him among the ‘bad doubtfuls’, and he voted against them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. Presenting a petition in favour of the Galway franchise bill, 15 Dec. 1830, he voiced his ‘distrust’ of England’s conduct towards Ireland, which had been confirmed by the continuing distress there, and urged English Members to ‘attend sedulously to matters which interest Ireland’. He welcomed the bill to abolish unnecessary parliamentary oaths, 4 Feb. 1831, but regretted that it did not go further by removing all of them, ‘except such as are compatible with the present state of public opinion’. He moved the second reading of the Roman Catholic charities bill, 15 Mar., and expounded on the obstacles faced by Catholics seeking an education. He regarded the petitions which he presented from Maidstone and Glossop in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill as ‘incontrovertible proofs’ that Parliament had ‘lost the confidence of the country’, 18 Mar., and warned that if it opposed the ‘plainly expressed’ will of the people it would lose its hold on ‘public affection, which alone constitutes, or ought to constitute a free state’. He divided for the bill’s second reading, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He was returned unopposed for Steyning at the ensuing general election.
On 27 June Blount introduced a bill to relieve Catholics from double land tax assessments, which gained royal assent, 22 Sept. 1831 (1 and 2 Gul. IV, c. 21). He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 5 July, and voted or paired for its details. He vouched for the character of the boundary commissioner Bellenden Ker, 1 Sept. He voted for the bill’s third reading, 19 Sept., its passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He divided in the minority for O’Connell’s motion that 11 members of the Dublin election committee should be sworn in, 29 July, and in the majority for suspending the Liverpool election writ, 5 Sept. He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, its details, the third reading, 22 Mar., Ebrington’s motion for an address asking the king to appoint only ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired measure, 10 May, and the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May 1832. He divided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., but against them for inquiry into distress in the glove trade, 31 Jan. He denied O’Connell’s alleged assertion (which he later disclaimed) that English Catholics would have been content with the limited emancipation of being allowed to act as magistrates, 18 June 1832. At the general election later that year, with Steyning disfranchised by the Reform Act, Blount offered for Horsham on Norfolk’s interest, but was roundly defeated by a local radical candidate.5
Addressing a Catholic meeting in Birmingham, 22 Nov. 1835, Blount expressed support for reform of the Irish church and condemned England’s ‘six centuries of misrule’ over Ireland; a vote of thanks was carried praising his ‘valuable exertions at all times in the cause of civil and religious liberty’.6 He died in Brussels, where he had been residing for some time, in March 1843. He had settled the Shabbington estate on his eldest son, Walter Aston Blount (1807-94), in 1830.7
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Howard Spencer
- 1. J. Kirk, Biogs. of Eng. Catholics in 18th Cent. 29; Dict. Eng. Catholics, i. 242; F.P. Parker, Some Account of Colton, i. 242; VCH Bucks. iv. 103.
- 2. J.A. Hone, For the Cause of Truth, 210; B. Ward, Eve of Catholic Emancipation, i. 65, 116; C. Butler, Mem. Catholic Relief Bill, 31; Catholic Misc. ii (1823), 556, 558; vii (1827), 65, 294, 405; ix (1828), 192; Lansdowne mss, Macdonald to Lansdowne, 16 Sept. 1827.
- 3. Ward, 243-4, 249, 269; Catholic Misc. n.s. (1829), 142-3.
- 4. W. Albery, Parl. Hist. Horsham, 269.
- 5. Ibid. 269-86.
- 6. Report on Great Catholic Meeting at Birmingham (1835), 8, 48.
- 7. Gent. Mag. (1843), i. 558-9; VCH Bucks. iv. 103; PROB 6/221/25.