BUNBURY, Sir Henry Edward, 7th bt. (1778-1860), of Barton Hall, Bury St. Edmunds, Suff. and Stanney Hall, Cheshire

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1830 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 4 May 1778, 2nd but o. surv s. of Henry William Bunbury (d. 1811), caricaturist, and Catherine, da. of Capt. Kane William Horneck. educ. Mr. Priest’s acad. Bury St. Edmunds; Mildenhall sch.; Westminster 1789; High Wycombe 1800. m. (1) 4 Apr. 1807, Louisa Emilia (d. 15 Sept. 1828), da. of Gen. Henry Edward Fox, 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. d.v.p.; (2) 22 Sept. 1830, Emily Louisa Augusta, da. of Col. George Napier, s.p. KCB 2 Jan. 1815; suc. fa. 1811; uncle Sir Thomas Charles Bunbury†, 6th bt., of Barton Hall as 7th bt. 31 Mar. 1821. d. 13 Apr. 1860.

Offices Held

Ensign 2 Ft. Gds. 1795; capt. 16 Drag. 1797; brevet maj. 1800; maj. (half-pay) 9 W.I. Regt. 1802; brevet lt.-col. 1803; lt.-col. R. Newfoundland Fencible Inf. 1805; col. 1812; maj.-gen. 1814; lt.-gen. 1830; ret. 1832.

Under-sec. of state for war and colonies Nov. 1809-July 1816.

Sheriff, Suff. 1825-6.


Bunbury was the younger son of a younger son of a distinguished Whig family long established in Cheshire and Suffolk, and a godson of the portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds. His father, a highly regarded caricaturist and amateur artist, was an equerry to the duke of York; his mother was the inspiration behind Oliver Goldsmith’s Little Comedy.1 Much of his early childhood was spent on the Bunbury estate at Mildenhall in the care of his mother’s sister and her husband Colonel Francis Edward Gwyn, equerry to George III. He saw more of his parents after entering Westminster, where he and his elder brother Charles (d. 1798) formed lasting friendships with Nicholas Ridley Colborne* and the poet Robert Southey*.2 Bunbury joined the Coldstream Guards and from 1797 to 1799 served as aide-de-camp to Gwyn on a mission to purchase horses for the cavalry. His mother’s death in July that year brought him back to Oatlands, whence he accompanied the duke of York as an aide-de-camp on the Helder expedition, the failure of which he subsequently attributed to ‘deficiency of military judgement in the designers of the scheme ... faults of the generals commanding, and above all to the division of authority and ... want of harmonious co-operation between the allied commanders’.3 He remained in the duke’s service at Oatlands (a period he later described as ‘a time of idleness, unimproving and unsatisfactory’) until he entered the military college at High Wycombe to better equip himself as heir, since his brother’s death, to the Bunbury baronetcy and estates.4 He served on the quartermaster-general’s staff in the south-eastern district during the invasion alarms of 1803-4 and went to the Mediterranean as quartermaster-general of Sir James Craig’s force in March 1805.5 In 1806 he joined Sir John Stuart’s army for the descent on Calabria and distinguished himself as chief of staff at the battle of Maida, for which he was awarded a gold medal. Until 1809 he remained in Sicily, where he met and married the daughter of his commander-in-chief (and niece of Charles James Fox†).6 Robert Saunders Dundas†, as colonial secretary designate, offered him the post of under-secretary for war in Perceval’s ministry, provided he would ‘in no manner intermix in politics or be a Member of the House of Commons’, which pleased him because he was unwilling to jeopardize his chances of succeeding his uncle as Member for Suffolk by occupying a political office.7 When the arrangement fell through, he agreed, after consulting his uncles Gwyn and Sir Charles Bunbury, to serve under the colonial secretary Lord Liverpool on the same terms, 29 Oct. 1809, ensuring that ministers knew that he considered it ‘very inexpedient for me to commit myself prematurely as a party man in domestic politics’.8 He earned the respect of his Tory colleagues and maintained good relations with Holland House, remaining in office under Lord Bathurst, who entrusted him with special missions to Sweden (1812-13), to notify Napoleon of his exile (1814) and to the duke of Wellington at St. Jean de Luz in December 1815. He received a military knighthood that year, and a £750 pension when his post was abolished as superfluous in 1816.9 His father had retired to the Lake District and died intestate in 1811, leaving personal estate valued at under £2,000; and Bunbury settled with his wife and children at Sir Charles Bunbury’s manor house at Mildenhall, which he denigrated as ‘a very disagreeable country to live in, with the exception of the excellent shooting’.10 In August 1817, his sister-in-law Lady Caroline Napier found him ‘quite given up to farming, justicing as the poor people call it, and all sorts of country pursuits and I think he seems both happier and in better health than while he was in office’.11

His uncle had retired in favour of Sir William Rowley* in 1812, and there is little evidence of Bunbury’s involvement in Suffolk politics before November 1819, when he wrote to the county’s leading Whig magnate, the duke of Norfolk, concerning the Liverpool ministry’s response to the Peterloo massacre.12 This did not yield the county meeting he anticipated. On being refused one on the proceedings against Queen Caroline in August 1820, he wrote a widely publicized open letter to the freeholders criticizing ministers who ‘wantonly brought into agitation and obstinately persist in prosecuting a matter which excites the feeling of the nation to intenseness and opens to us the dreadful prospect of civil war’, instead of taking measures to relieve agricultural distress. He stressed the danger of bills of pain and penalties as ‘ready expedients for the oppression of individuals who may be obnoxious to the crown’.13 Furious to find Bunbury speaking publicly against them and that he was the moving spirit behind requests to the county Members Sir Thomas Gooch and Rowley to present radical addresses to the queen in December 1820, ministers considered having him dismissed from the army; this did not occur but he was attacked in John Bull and forfeited his official pension.14 He denounced government’s oppressive domestic policies and adherence to the Holy Alliance at the Suffolk Fox dinner, 15 Feb., and carried the resolution for parliamentary reform incorporated in the agricultural distress petition at the county meeting, 16 Mar. 1821.15 He explained to his brother-in-law Henry Stephen Fox, then anxious for promotion in the diplomatic service, 30 Aug.:

I am at present so obnoxious that any solicitation of mine would probably be worse than null, it would have a negative quality. I have been meanly thrust beyond the pale of counting as a ‘radical’; and as I am not likely to recant, I must be content to remain without interest at Court during the continuance of Lord Londonderry’s government.16

He accompanied the Whig Sir Robert Harland at his election and installation as steward of Ipswich, 8 Sept., toured the Cheshire estates which he had inherited with the baronetcy in March and addressed the inaugural meeting of the Cheshire Whig Club, 9 Oct. 1821.17 Preparatory, it was now assumed, to standing for the county at the next election, he promoted reform at the Suffolk distress meeting, 31 Jan. 1822, and chaired the Bury St. Edmunds and Suffolk reform dinners and meetings that year and in 1823.18 He leased Mildenhall to Lord Shannon (after Robert Peel* turned it down) and in 1824 occupied the family seat at Great Barton.19 In November 1824 the Hollands, whom he had assisted over Henry Fox’s* Parisian debts, were dismayed to learn that he had ‘given up all thoughts of the county’ because of his ‘bad state of health’.20 He failed to avoid becoming sheriff in 1825 on this account, and his son Charles later attributed his political inactivity between 1824 and 1829 to the sickness of his wife, which caused the family to remain abroad from October 1826 until Admiral Codrington’s visit to Barton Hall in October 1829, a period marked by his youngest son Hanmer’s loss of an arm at the battle of Navarino and Lady Louisa’s death at Genoa in September 1828.21 He was deeply moved by Canning’s death and ‘heartily applauded and admired the noble inconsistency’ with which Wellington and Peel emancipated Dissenters and Catholics.22

Bunbury neither signed the Tories’ requisition nor attended the Suffolk county meeting on distress, 6 Feb. 1830.23 However, he sent a letter to be read out and, when this was not done, circulated it to the local press. He attributed distress to high taxation, exacerbated by too swift a return to the gold standard, stated that a reversion to paper currency and protectionism were ‘unattainable even if they are desirable’ and argued that lower taxes and parliamentary reform were the only remedies.24 He expressed cautious support for the Whig Lord Belgrave* in Cheshire at the general election that summer;25 and, on being invited to stand for Suffolk, where Rowley retired, he allowed his name to go forward only after securing the support of the duke of Grafton and the marquess of Bristol, the leaders of the Whig and Tory interests in west Suffolk.26 Instead of leaving for France as planned to remarry (his fiancée was the daughter by her second marriage of Lady Sarah Lennox, the divorced wife of his late uncle Sir Charles Bunbury), he found himself fighting an election, of which he wrote to his future brother-in-law Sir William Napier, 25 July:

It seems pretty certain that I shall be returned; and that it will not cost me more than three or four hundred pounds. It has however been very inconvenient to me ... The thing took me by surprise, and I regret having said yes to the solicitations of the yeomen; but so it is. I am pledged, and I must go through with it as well as I can.27

Assisted by the East Anglian Whigs, he topped the poll despite allegations, which he countered on the hustings and in the press, that he had colluded to secure an unopposed return and was party with the other successful candidate, Charles Tyrell, to an anti-Gooch coalition.28 He set out for Pau, 22 Aug. 1830. His son Edward Herbert reported to his tutor Frederick Matthews that day:

Nothing could be more satisfactory than the feeling displayed in his favour throughout the county and the manner in which the whole matter was carried on; but I am still apprehensive that he will find a constant attendance on parliamentary duty and the late hours they now keep more than his health will be able to stand.29

Writing to Lady Holland shortly after their return, Bunbury welcomed the opportunity to be in London society after so many years, and his bride shared her stepson’s apprehension about his health.30 The Wellington ministry counted him among their ‘foes’ in the new Parliament.

Bunbury, who attended the House assiduously to the detriment of his health and took a keen interest in debates, described his early days as a Member as a time when he was ‘hurried to death’, ‘bothered and bewildered’.31 He voted with O’Connell, whose speeches impressed him, for repeal of the Irish Subletting Act, 11 Nov., declared firmly for abolition on presenting several Suffolk anti-slavery petitions that day, and voted to reduce the tariff on American wheat imports to the West Indies, 12 Nov. 1830. Writing next day to his son Charles, he said that he had ‘not yet found the heat of the House injurious to my health, though the lights, etc., make my head ache for the time being’, and that he intended voting against the Wellington ministry on reform and the civil list; he did so when they were brought down, 15 Nov.32 He presented further Suffolk anti-slavery petitions, 18 Nov., 7 Dec. On 6 Dec. he endorsed the Armagh petition for ‘entire parliamentary reform’ in order to explain, as at county meetings previously, that he looked to reform and retrenchment to alleviate distress and was prepared to sanction the ballot. He presented and endorsed a similar petition, 26 Feb. 1831. Writing to his wife, who had been gravely ill, he criticized the chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the House Lord Althorp’s performance in the debate on the civil list, 4 Feb., and he then thought that ‘it will be necessary for us independents to give ministers hints that they must keep up to the mark if they desire to have our continued support’; but his confidence in them was revived by their proposals for retrenchment and their reform bill.33 He doubted whether the latter could be passed by the ‘present House’, and described early March as a period when, ‘until this debate shall be terminated, it is impossible for me to take any step, or to do any one thing except get out of bed, breakfast, go to the House of Commons, return and go to bed’. A succession of late sittings, during which he tried repeatedly but failed to ‘get a hearing’, ‘the great heat, the crowd, and the prolonged attention’ took their toll, and he obtained ten days’ leave on account of ill health, 9 Mar. When, on 18 Mar., Lord Grey offered him the vacant post of secretary at war, he declined it on health grounds.34 He presented favourable petitions from Ipswich and the Woodbridge division of Suffolk, 21 Mar., and voted for the reform bill at its second reading, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, which he criticized as ‘an insidious manoeuvre’.35 Rumours that he would stand down at the ensuing general election were quickly quashed and he was returned unopposed as a reformer committed to seeking an extension of the proposed county leaseholder vote.36 He predicted that ‘it will be thanks to Ireland not England if the question is carried, for ... the boroughmongering interest is still the strongest in England’. Unlike his brother-in-law Sir Charles Napier, he believed ‘the alteration’ achieved by reform would be ‘gradual and gentle’.37 His wife observed:

I am not quite so sanguine as he is, for I think he does not give credit to as mischievous a spirit as I am afraid exists, and though I believe him to be thoroughly well informed as to the agricultural half of the country, he certainly is not as to the manufacturing population, and the question is which will prevail.38

He complained to her when Parliament assembled that ‘fate takes so much pains to prevent my trying my strength in the House, that I begin to fancy I must be a very dangerous orator’; but he found when he did speak that Members ‘are so bored with the subject of reform that they will hardly listen to anybody’.39 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and divided steadily for it in committee, though he was in the minority for the disfranchisement of Saltash which ministers no longer pressed, 26 July 1831. He spoke effectively against their patron the 3rd marquess of Hertford’s man of business Croker’s proposal to amalgamate ‘the miserable decayed fishing towns’ of Aldeburgh and Orford as a single Member constituency, 22 July.40 Always vulnerable at times of stress, by August he was ‘quite ill with an attack of fever and common cholera morbus’, and received ten days’ leave on the 2nd, and again on the 16th.41 The Bury and Norwich Post reported that he had been busy trying to persuade ministers not to disqualify borough freeholders from voting at county elections, an important local issue in Bury.42 He was ‘named as one of the stewards’ for the dinner for Althorp and the bill’s architect Lord John Russell ‘fixed for the 24th’, but wished to avoid dining with them: ‘I could not stand the heat and bustle’.43 Speaking for the bill at its third reading, 19 Sept., he portrayed it as ‘a great means of conciliation ... of wisdom and of justice’ that would ‘re-establish confidence, content and good order throughout the land ... give stability to the throne ... redeem for the two Houses of Parliament the affection of the people’ and give ‘political weight to property and political voting rights to every man of independent circumstances and presumed education’. He divided for its passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. Addressing the county reform meeting, 11 Nov. 1831, he referred to the ‘high office’ he had refused, the strain that Parliament placed on his health, his commitment to carrying the reform bill at key divisions and far from indiscriminate support for its details. He claimed that just as he had opposed ministers over Saltash, had not illness intervened he would have divided against the proposed division of counties and for the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will. He also expressed regret that protracted opposition to reform had led to ‘obstruction of public business in general’ and ‘prevented the introduction of measures tending to improve the condition of the labouring people’.44 He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, steadily for its details and for its third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He heard it debated in the Lords, voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May, and notified the local press accordingly.45 He divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 20 July 1832, but was in the minorities for printing the radical Woollen Grange petition for the abolition of Irish tithes, 16 Feb., and for taxing absentee landlords to provide for the Irish poor, 19 June. He was appointed to select committees on the East India Company, 27 Jan., and the factories regulation bill, 17 Mar. 1832. From Suffolk, where his critics complained that he looked ‘more to his political interests’ than to those of his constituents’, he presented and endorsed petitions against the newspaper stamp duty, 8 Feb., the use of molasses in brewing and distilling, 20 July 1831, and the Little Yarmouth road bill, 29 Feb., and for the abolition of capital punishment for non-violent crimes, 15 June 1832.46

Speculation that Bunbury would stand down at the 1832 dissolution began in earnest in May, and he announced his retirement officially, 9 Oct., in a letter from Leamington Spa, where he had gone in an ‘experiment to repair his health and strength’.47 According to his family, it was a decision he came to regret.48 He endorsed Sir William Hyde Parker† as a joint reform candidate with Tyrell for the Western division of the county, chaired their election committee, and seconded Tyrell’s nomination. There was ‘some talk and negotiation’ that his son Charles would stand for Bury or East Suffolk, ‘but in both cases he declined’.49 He spent some time at Ty Gwyn, Abergwynant, a small estate at the foot of Cader Idris in Merioneth which he purchased in December 1832, and put his family papers and extensive library in order, publishing an edited collection of poetry by his late cousin Frederick Soame in 1833.50 He decided against contesting West Suffolk, where he chaired the Liberal John Turner Hales’s committee at the 1835 election, and was defeated there in 1837, when problems facing the Mildenhall Savings Bank, of which he was a trustee, and his past support for O’Connell’s Catholic rents went against him. (His son Charles lost also, at Bury St. Edmunds.)51 In 1838 he published his edition of the correspondence of his ancestor Speaker Hanmer and thought that

if I would ask for a peerage, I might have it at the coronation; but ask for it I will not; if I did I should be expected to vote with ministers on every question whatever my own opinion might be. If they made the offer to me, I should have felt myself sufficiently independent and I would have accepted.52

Although still nominally a Liberal, he favoured Peel’s free trade and foreign policies in 1846. His health improved in retirement, which left him free to pursue his interests in agriculture, art and geology and to produce two highly acclaimed campaign histories of the war against Buonaparte: A Narrative of the Campaign in North Holland (1849) and A Narrative of Certain Passages in the Late War with France (1852).53 He sold the Cheshire estates in 1858 and died in April 1860 at Barton Hall, survived by his second wife (d. 1863) and three of his four sons (his two daughters died in infancy). The baronetcy and Suffolk and Merioneth estates passed in turn to his eldest son Charles James Fox Bunbury (1809-86), his second son Edward Herbert Bunbury (1811-95), Liberal Member for Bury St. Edmunds, 1847-52, and his grandson Henry Charles John Bunbury (1855-1930), son of his third son Henry William St. Pierre Bunbury (1812-75).54

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. Oxford DNB sub Sir (Thomas) Charles Bunbury, Henry William Bunbury, Sir Edward Henry Bunbury; J.L. Smith Dampier, E. Anglian Worthies (1949), 33.
  • 2. Mem. and Literary Remains of Sir Henry Edward Bunbury ed. C.J.F. Bunbury, 1-11.
  • 3. Bunbury, Narrative of the Campaign in North Holland, 1799 (1849); Bunbury Mem. 15.
  • 4. Bunbury Mem. 14, 17-20.
  • 5. Ibid. 21-27.
  • 6. Ibid. 29-40, 247-89.
  • 7. Ibid. 44-48.
  • 8. Ibid. 49-52; Add. 38244, ff. 63, 205.
  • 9. Bunbury Mem. 63, 73-76; Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Bunbury mss [E18/] 740/2 (2); 4 (1,2); 7 (1-4); Bodl. Napier mss, ms Eng. lett. c. 234, ff. 50-57, 79; Nottingham Univ. Lib., Portland mss PwJe 172; Countess Granville Letters, ii. 395.
  • 10. PROB 6/187/319; Napier mss c. 234, f. 50.
  • 11. Napier mss c. 234, ff. 81-83.
  • 12. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 366-7; Bunbury Mem. 85-86.
  • 13. Bunbury Mem. 94-10l; Bury and Norwich Post, 15 Aug.; Suff. Chron. 26 Aug.; The Times, 4 Sept.; Ann. Reg. (1820), 369.
  • 14. Add. 38574, f. 232; HMC Bathurst, 490, 493-4; Bury and Norwich Post, 3, 10 Jan., 7 Feb.; John Bull, 3 Feb. 1821; Wellington mss WP1/680/4, 5.
  • 15. The Times, 19 Feb.; Suff. Chron. 10, 17 Mar. 1821.
  • 16. Napier mss c. 234, f. 77.
  • 17. The Times, 9 Sept., 13 Oct. 1821; PROB 11/1644/318; IR26/850/436.
  • 18. The Times, 31 Jan., 23 Aug. 1822, 7 Apr. 1823; Ipswich Jnl. 9 Feb., Bury and Norwich Post, 24 Apr., 1 May 1822, 9 Apr. 1823.
  • 19. Add. 20233, f. 231; 40358, f. 143; Napier mss c. 234, f. 84.
  • 20. Add. 51542, Bunbury to Holland, 8 May 1822; 51569, Whishaw to Lady Holland, 20 Nov. 1824.
  • 21. Add. 40372, ff. 73, 75; 51542, Bunbury to Holland, 21 Dec. 1827, 27 Sept. 1828; 70948, ff. 158-61; The Times, 16 Nov., 6 Dec. 1827; Duke Univ. Lib. Fazakerley mss, Macdonald to Fazakerley [10 Nov.]; Bury and Norwich Post, 8 Oct. 1828; Bunbury mss 750/4/2 (1); Bunbury Mem. 117, 120-137.
  • 22. Bunbury Mem. 118.
  • 23. Bury and Norwich Post, 27 Jan., 3, 10 Feb. 1830.
  • 24. Ibid. 17 Feb. 1830.
  • 25. Grosvenor mss 12/2, Bunbury to Belgrave 5 July 1830.
  • 26. Ipswich Jnl. 10, 17 July; Bury and Norwich Post, 14 July; Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Grafton mss Acc. 941/56/59; Bunbury mss 750/4/1(7); Bunbury Mem. 148-50.
  • 27. Napier mss d. 236, f. 38.
  • 28. The Globe, 20 July; Bury and Norwich Post, 21, 28 July, 11, 18 Aug.; The Times, 12 Aug. 1830; Bunbury mss 750/4/2 (6); Norf. RO NRS8741, Browne-Ffolkes mss, J. Hales to Browne Ffolkes, 8 Aug. 1830.
  • 29. Bunbury mss 750/4/1(10).
  • 30. Add. 51542, Bunbury and w. to Lady Holland, 29 Oct.; 54530, ff. 4, 6.
  • 31. Napier mss d. 234, f. 176.
  • 32. Bunbury Mem. 154-6.
  • 33. Ibid. 157-8; Life of Gen. Sir William Napier ed. H.A. Bruce, i. 334.
  • 34. Bunbury Mem. 158-61.
  • 35. Ibid. 160.
  • 36. Add. 54530, f. 12-14; Bury and Norwich Post, 27 Apr., 4 May; The Times, 5 May; Ipswich Jnl. 7, 14 May 1831.
  • 37. Add. 54530, f. 18.
  • 38. Ibid. ff. 22, 23.
  • 39. Bunbury Mem. 162-3.
  • 40. The Times, 23 July; Bury and Norwich Post, 27 July 1831.
  • 41. Add. 54530, f. 30.
  • 42. Bury and Norwich Post, 27 July 1831.
  • 43. Bunbury Mem. 164.
  • 44. The Times, 12 Nov.; Bury and Norwich Post, 16 Nov. 1831.
  • 45. Add. 54530, f. 46; Bury and Norwich Post, 16, 23 May 1832.
  • 46. Ipswich Jnl. 12 Mar. 1831, 5 July, 3 Nov. 1832.
  • 47. Bury and Norwich Post, 16, 23, 30 May; Suff. Chron. 30 May, 17 Oct.; Bury and Suff. Press, 17, 31 Oct. 1832.
  • 48. Bunbury Mem. 164.
  • 49. Bury and Norwich Post, 21 Nov., 5, 19, 26 Dec.; The Times, 17 Dec. 1832; Bunbury mss 750/4/1(17).
  • 50. Bunbury Mem. 166-7.
  • 51. The Times, 10 May 1827, 4 Dec. 1830 (Bunbury v. Forster), 12 Aug. 1837; Suff. Chron. 13, 27 Dec. 1834; W. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Acc. 2396/58, 74; Bury and Norwich Post, 19, 26 July, 2, 9 Aug. 1837.
  • 52. Bunbury Mem. 172-3.
  • 53. Ibid. 176-315; Bunbury mss 410, 740.
  • 54. Bury Free Press, 7, 14, 21 Apr.; Illustrated London News, xxxvi (1860), 411; Oxford DNB sub Sir Charles James Fox Bunbury, Sir Edward Herbert Bunbury.