BOOTLE WILBRAHAM (formerly WILBRAHAM BOOTLE), Edward (1771-1853), of Lathom House, Ormskirk, Lancs. and 55 Portland Place, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 7 Mar. 1771, 4th but 1st surv. s. of Richard Wilbraham Bootle† (formerly Wilbraham) of Rode Hall, Cheshire and Mary, da. and h. of Robert Bootle of Lathom. educ. Eton 1783; Christ Church, Oxf. 1788; grand tour 1792-3. m. 19 Apr. 1796, Mary Elizabeth, da. of Rev. Edward Taylor of Bifrons, rect. of Patrixbourne, Kent, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. suc. fa. 1796; took surname of Bootle before instead of after that of Wilbraham by royal lic. 8 Dec. 1814; cr. Bar. Skelmersdale 30 Jan. 1828. d. 3 Apr. 1853.
Lt. R. Lancs. militia 1792, capt. 1794-8; capt. Loyal Ormskirk vols. 1799; lt.-col. Leyland and Ormskirk regt. Lancs. militia 1809, lt.-col. commdt. 1823.
Maria Edgeworth quipped in 1822 that Bootle Wilbraham, a ‘grand man’, had changed his name so often that ‘nobody knows how to call him to please him’.1 An alarmist in the wake of the Peterloo massacre, when he believed that there was ‘some treason going on in the country’, he was prominent in the House in the emergency session of late 1819 as a defender of the Lancashire magistrates and yeomanry.2 A week after the death of George III he professed not to be ‘anxious’ about the timing of the dissolution, ‘it being a matter of indifference to me when I visit my Dover friends’. His re-election on the interest of the lord warden of the Cinque Ports, the premier Lord Liverpool, was unopposed.3 He anticipated a busy session, with ‘ample materials for debate’ on the civil list and the case of Queen Caroline, on which he predicted that the Whigs would ‘contrive to agree’ with her champion Brougham ‘as often as they can’. He was pleased by the restoration of tranquillity to Lancashire, which he attributed in part to the way in which juries had ‘manfully’ convicted many of those prosecuted for sedition. He was aware of continued unrest in Yorkshire and Scotland, but did not believe that ‘matters will come to an open insurrection to any extent, though there may be partial disturbances in various parts of the manufacturing districts, which will require the vigilance of government, and of the officers who command the army in the disturbed parts’. If, as he thought likely, the subject of Peterloo was raised again in the House, he was (so he said) ‘not certain whether, for the sake of the magistrates and of justice, I shall not support an inquiry, however bad a tribunal the ... Commons may be’.4 He presented a calico printers’ petition for the encouragement of design and printing on linens, 4 May 1820.5 He initially supported Hobhouse’s motion to bring up an Oldham petition complaining of local ‘excesses of the military’, 12 May, but when it had been read he decided that its content was ‘not a fit subject for parliamentary inquiry’. He dismissed prisoners’ complaints of ill treatment in Lancaster gaol as ‘exaggerated’, 31 May, 5 July.6 He divided with government against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820.
He was sure in June 1820 that, whatever the outcome of the queen’s return and trial, she would ‘serve as a rallying point for the disaffected and radicals’. He feared that she would ‘probably end in carrying what she wants, for already she gains ground in the affections of the middle and lower classes’. Three months later he looked forward to ‘very rough work and coarse debates, with a mob at our doors’, if the bill of pains and penalties reached the Commons:
The mob seems determined to disbelieve the queen’s guilt ... Radicalism has taken the shape of affection for the queen, and has deserted its old form, for we are all as quiet as lambs in ... [Lancashire], and you would not imagine that this could have been a disturbed country twelve months ago.
He held himself ‘in readiness’ to attend Parliament at the opening of the 1821 session, and when he did so was surprised to find London ‘quiet’, rather than ‘full of tumult and riot’. His only qualm over the impending clash on the case of ‘our most gracious Jezebel’, who ‘has been called unsunned snow, but who, somebody said, was more like hoar frost’, was its likely effect on the health of Lord Castlereagh, the beleaguered government leader in the Commons.7 He voted against the opposition censure motion, 6 Feb., and saw no reason for the House to investigate the conduct of the sheriff of Cheshire at the recent county meeting, 9, 20 Feb., when he said that to do so would ‘afford a triumph to those tribunes of the people who had liberty in their mouths but anarchy in their hearts’. He divided, as ever, against Catholic relief, 28 Feb.; and when the bill had passed the Commons in April he complained to his fellow anti-Catholic Lord Colchester that
the opposition to it has been rather more feeble and more moderate than it ought to have been; but the opponents have been so browbeaten and stigmatised as bigots and persons devoid of Christian feelings, that they are actually cowed, and dare not say half what they might.
He consoled himself with the reflection that there was ‘great apathy prevailing in the public mind on this subject’; and, likewise, that ‘the queen is gone by as a topic of inflammation’.8 On 13 Mar. he introduced a bill to regulate the attendance of jurors at assizes, which became law on 8 June 1821 (1 & 2 Geo. IV, c.46). He presented petitions from the commissioners of Rye harbour against the sewers bill, 30 Mar.; from Marylebone against the metropolitan roads bill, 19 Apr., and from St. Giles’s parish for the metropolitan gas light bill, 7 May. He supported the prayer of the Rochdale petition for the prohibition of bull-baiting, 4 May.9 He voted against parliamentary reform, 9 May. Although he had insisted, 20 Feb., that the Manchester magistrates were ‘anxious for a full inquiry into their conduct’ at Peterloo, he spoke at length against Burdett’s motion to this effect, 16 May, when he defended the authorities for dispersing an ‘illegal’ meeting which had been called with ‘revolutionary intentions’. The radical Whig Henry Grey Bennet* thought his ‘tiresome speech’ had ‘little or no effect’, and even the Tory Henry Bankes* reckoned it a ‘feeble’ effort.10 Bootle Wilbraham tried to justify the Lancaster gaoler’s interference with letters to prisoners, 6 June.11 He divided with government for the duke of Clarence’s grant, 18 June, and against retrenchment, 27 June 1821. He attended the coronation as one of the canopy bearers and later assessed the death of the queen as a mixed blessing:
Though she was a dangerous engine in the hands of bad people, I think she rather kept her husband in check, and prevented him from thinking himself too popular, which he is rather inclined to do, and to act accordingly.
Yet a few weeks later, when he reported that trade and manufactures were recovering, but that ‘we who depend on agriculture are badly off’, he applauded George IV for having ‘expressed himself stoutly and properly about the Roman Catholic question’.12
Bootle Wilbraham voted against more extensive tax reductions, 11 Feb., abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., and repeal of the salt duties, 28 June 1822. He ‘fully concurred’ in Denison’s attempt to cut the cost of actions for the recovery of riot damages under the Seditious Meetings Acts by allowing them to be instituted at quarter sessions, 5 Mar. He found ‘the business of Parliament ... devoid of interest’ at the beginning of April, when he lamented that the disaffected agriculturist Members ‘literally seem to have run wild’ and thought that some of the Somerset magistrates deserved Burdett’s strictures, as they had ‘suffered great abuses to exist’ in Ilchester gaol.13 (He had no worries about Lancaster gaol, dismissing out of hand another inmate’s complaints, 19 June.)14 He told Colchester that ‘public papers and private reports’ had linked him with the vacancy expected at Liverpool when Canning went to India; but he had ‘not the slightest intention’ of involving himself there.15 He voted against Canning’s bill to relieve Catholic peers of their disabilities, 30 Apr. He backed the attorney-general’s objections to the bill to extend the jurisdiction of Salford hundred court and was a teller for the hostile majority, 13 May. He complained of the loss sustained by Dover as a result of the recent establishment of a steam packet service to France under the aegis of the post office, 21 May, and secured a return of information on the regulation of Dover boatmen, 24 May.16 He thought Canning’s amendment to the corn bill, aimed at preventing fraudulent imports, should be embodied in a separate measure, 3 June.17 On the alehouses licensing bill, 27 June 1822, he did not mind increasing the number of licensing magistrates, but objected to the notion of an appeal to quarter sessions.18 He remained a personal friend of Canning, his quondam political mentor, who confided to him his acceptance of the foreign secretaryship, 16 Sept. 1822;19 and it was to Canning that he wrote five weeks later to press him to intervene to try to reverse the treasury’s recent decision to surrender control of customs patronage to the commissioners of secretary to the treasury:
That some evil may arise from the former mode of disposing of local patronage, I do not deny, but the remedy proposed is more than commensurate to it, and will be attended with other evils, to which the fear of Mr Hume has blinded the eyes of the treasury ... You know well enough that the idea of carrying on the government in times like the present, without using that lawful influence which has always been exercised by government, and even with the assistance of which it has been found difficult to carry measures of importance, at critical periods, and to stem the torrent of popular prejudice and feeling at general elections, is quite Utopian. The commissioners of customs, being appointed for life and beyond the reach of a political struggle, can care comparatively little with what administration they act, and consequently the supporting any particular ministers will be but a secondary consideration with them in the disposal of their patronage.20
On 21 Dec. 1822 Bootle Wilbraham asked Canning (now leader of the Commons) whether he might safely take a pair for the early part of the 1823 session. Canning replied that ‘I think your pair will answer for the first ten days ... but I would not have you say so to anyone else’.21 He was still at Lathom on 9 Feb. 1823, when he told Colchester that ‘the proceedings of Parliament will be very interesting and important’. He thought it possible that ministers might be forced into war against France over the invasion of Spain by the bellicose ‘language of our former pacific opposition’, for ‘consistency ... is not to be imputed to the Whigs of the present day’.22 He divided with government against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., Scottish parliamentary reform, 2 June, and inquiries into chancery delays, 5 June, and the currency 12 June. On a Liverpool petition for improving the procedure for selecting grand juries, 12 June, he commented that the House ought not to trench on the powers of sheriffs. He voted against the usury laws amendment bill, 27 June 1823. The following September he expressed at length to Liverpool his concern over the ‘uncalled for injury and loss to the town of Dover’ and ‘to the patronage of the government there’ which he feared from proposed rearrangements in the packet establishment.23
Bootle Wilbraham presented a petition for repeal of the coal duties, 8 Mar. 1824.24 He was a teller for the majority for the Lancaster judges’ lodgings bill, 2 Apr. He agreed that it was desirable to stamp out the practice of fixing false signatures to petitions on private bills, but thought it impossible to accomplish, especially in populous areas, 8 Apr. He persuaded Hume to drop his motion to prohibit Members with vested interests in private bills from voting on them in committees and to move instead for inquiry into private bill procedure, 27 May. He was added to the select committee the next day, and subsequently conferred with Colchester on the subject.25 He presented petitions from Dover tanners against the hides and skins bill, 3 May, and from Dover butchers in favour of it, 11 May.26 He presented a Dover petition for inquiry into the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 26 May, and divided against ministers on this case, 11 June;27 but he mustered to vote for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824. His only known votes in the last two sessions of the 1820 Parliament were against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825, when he objected to attempts to tar all Manchester magistrates with the same brush as those who wished to establish Orange lodges in the county: ‘they were all satisfied that concession at that moment would be dangerous’. He presented petitions from Lords Wilton and Derby (whose Whig grandson Edward Smith Stanley* married his elder daughter that year) against the Liverpool and Manchester railway bill, 10 Mar. 1825. He objected to a detail of the Margate improvement bill, which adversely affected Dover, and was a teller for the hostile minority, 23 Mar. The following day he spoke and was a teller against recommittal of the St. Katharine’s docks bill.28 Late in 1825 he was caused further vexation by the problem of the Dover packets, but Liverpool’s intervention appears eventually to have settled the matter.29 On 9 May 1826 he presented a Lancashire magistrates’ petition for reform of the game laws and defended his son-in-law against criticism of some earlier comments on the subject. At the 1826 general election he stood again for Dover with the blessing of Liverpool and the ministry. Despite a division among his leading supporters, he easily topped the poll.30
Bootle Wilbraham voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and presented a hostile petition from Dover, 6 June 1827.31 He brought up a Lancashire factory workers’ petition for a statutory minimum wage, 10 Apr.32 After Canning’s death in August he was afraid that his successor Lord Goderich had ‘not got firmness enough to resist’ the machinations of his Whig allies, whom he suspected of trying to strengthen their position within the ministry in order to
dissolve Parliament before their motive for doing so can be guessed at by the country and suspicion excited. They may thus hope to fill the treasury boroughs and to make a selection of the sixteen peers from Scotland more favourable to the Catholics. All these things, I sincerely hope, may be averted if the king stands true to himself and to his own declarations.
He was ‘glad’ of Smith Stanley’s appointment to junior office, though ‘more on private grounds than public ones’, in that it would ‘break the habit of ... eternal shooting’.33 On the subject of a proposed creation of peers, the king recommended Goderich, 23 Nov., to consider honouring Bootle Wilbraham as ‘a Protestant’ and an ‘old Tory, of the Pitt school’, to counterbalance the Whig John Lambton*. Goderich accordingly made the offer to Bootle Wilbraham, who on 29 Dec. 1827 signified his ‘unqualified acceptance’.34 Two weeks later, however, believing reports that the impending ministerial changes would ‘tend to the Whig party taking the lead in the administration, as well as to the predominance of those principles which I have uniformly resisted and am unable to support’, he declined the offer. Although Goderich relinquished the premiership in January 1828, he was anxious that the proposed creations should be implemented, for the sake of his own ‘honour and character’. His successor, the duke of Wellington, was agreeable to this and reopened negotiations with Bootle Wilbraham who, his fears of a Whig ministry now dispelled, had no difficulty in accepting the peerage, although, curiously, it was seen by some as ‘a compliment to Canning’.35 The Whig George Tierney* thought it had been ‘conferred in a manner quite new’, being gazetted under the auspices of a different ministry from that which had originally recommended it, but he saw no point in remonstrating publicly post facto.36 Thomas Wallace I*, who mocked Bootle Wilbraham’s chosen title of Skelmersdale (an ancient Viking settlement a mile from Lathom) as ‘a fantastical appellation that no one has ever heard of’, reckoned that it was ‘a peerage no one dreamt of till it appeared, nor can anyone now find a reason for it except it had been promised as a manoeuvre of the late government to secure young [Smith] Stanley’.37 The metropolitan snob Lord Holland also made fun of ‘Bootle’s unpronounceable peerage’.38
Skelmersdale opposed Catholic emancipation, which he regarded as a threat to the Irish church and the Union.39 He remained active in the Conservative cause and played some part in persuading Smith Stanley to unite with Peel in 1835, despite his initial fear that he was ‘too notorious a Tory to have any weight with him’.40 In 1840 he sent General Dyott ‘a Scotch ear to assist my deafness’, which was ‘made of copper, in shape like an oyster shell, and to hang on the ear’; it proved to be perfectly useless, but his ‘kindness’ was appreciated.41 Skelmersdale died in April 1853 and was succeeded in the peerage and the settled Lathom estate by his grandson Edward Bootle Wilbraham (1837-98), whose father Richard, Conservative Member for South Lancashire since 1835, had died of influenza, aged 42, in 1844. Edward was created earl of Lathom in 1880. By his will of 11 June 1844, which was proved under £51,000, Skelmersdale devised his estate at Westhoughton, near Bolton, with its mines and mineral rights, and his London leasehold house to his only surviving son Edward (1807-82). He created a trust fund of £10,000, charged on the Lathom estate, to provide for Edward, his unmarried daughter and his late son’s widow, whose four daughters received £6,000 each.42
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Edgeworth Letters, 380.
- 2. Colchester Diary, iii. 83-84, 92-93, 102-3; Add. 38280, ff. 8, 19, 168, 246.
- 3. Colchester Diary, iii. 112-13; Kentish Chron. 22 Feb., 7 Mar. 1820.
- 4. Colchester Diary, iii. 125-7.
- 5. The Times, 5 May 1820.
- 6. Ibid. 6 July 1820.
- 7. Colchester Diary, iii. 141-3, 163-4, 179-80, 201-2.
- 8. Ibid. iii. 218-19.
- 9. The Times, 31 Mar., 20 Apr., 5, 8 May 1821.
- 10. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 82; Dorset RO D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 128.
- 11. The Times, 7 June 1821.
- 12. Colchester Diary, iii. 233-4, 236-7.
- 13. Ibid. iii. 250-2.
- 14. The Times, 20 June 1822.
- 15. Colchester Diary, iii. 251.
- 16. The Times, 22, 25 May 1822.
- 17. Ibid. 4 June 1822.
- 18. Ibid. 28 June 1822.
- 19. Add. 46841, f. 50.
- 20. Add. 38291, f. 141.
- 21. Add. 46841, f. 52.
- 22. Colchester Diary, iii. 273.
- 23. Add. 38096, ff. 252-6, 287, 370.
- 24. The Times, 9 Mar. 1824.
- 25. Colchester Diary, iii. 328.
- 26. The Times, 4, 12 May 1824.
- 27. Ibid. 27 May 1824.
- 28. Ibid. 11, 24, 25 Mar. 1825.
- 29. Add. 38301, ff. 3-9, 20, 33, 35, 41.
- 30. Kentish Chron. 23 May, 2, 9 June 1826.
- 31. The Times, 7 June 1827.
- 32. Ibid. 11 Apr. 1827.
- 33. Colchester Diary, iii. 524, 526.
- 34. Bucks. RO, Buckinghamshire mss, George IV to Goderich, 23 Nov., 2 Dec. 1827; Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1448, 1453; Salop RO, Weld Forester mss 1224/37/226.
- 35. Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1453; Wellington Despatches, iv. 185-6, 188-90, 196-7; Colchester Diary, iii. 533; Bagot, Canning and Friends, ii. 433.
- 36. Add. 51586, Tierney to Lady Holland [19 Jan. 1828].
- 37. Northumb. RO, Middleton mss ZMI/577/1/2.
- 38. Add. 51784, Holland to C.R. Fox, 19 Jan. 1828.
- 39. Colchester Diary, iii. 589-90, 613-14.
- 40. Three Diaries, 88; Wellington Pol. Corresp. ii. 62, 177, 271, 305; Parker, Peel, ii. 277.
- 41. Dyott’s Diary, ii. 314-15.
- 42. PROB 11/2174/500; IR26/1979/501.