CECIL, see James Brownlow William (afterwards GASCOYNE CECIL), James Brownlow William, Visct. Cranborne (1791-1868).

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



9 June 1813 - 1 Feb. 1817
6 Feb. 1817 - 13 June 1823

Family and Education

b. 17 Apr. 1791, o.s. of James Cecil†, 1st mq. of Salisbury, and Lady Mary Amelia Hill, da. of Wills Hill†, 1st mq. of Downshire [I]. educ. Eton c.1801-5; Christ Church, Oxf. 1811. m (1) 2 Feb. 1821, Frances Mary (d. 15 Oct. 1839), da. and h. of Bamber Gascoyne† of Childwall, Lancs., 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da.; (2) 29 Apr. 1847, Lady Mary Catherine Sackville West, da. of George John, 5th Earl De La Warr, 3s. 2da. Took name of Gascoyne bef. Cecil by royal lic. 27 Mar. 1821; suc. fa. as 2nd mq. of Salisbury 13 June 1823; KG 11 Apr. 1842. d. 12 Apr. 1868.

Offices Held

Commr. bd. of control June 1818-June 1827; PC 1 June 1826; ld. privy seal Feb.-Dec. 1852; ld. pres. of council Feb. 1858-June 1859.

High steward, Hertford 1823-d.; ld. lt. Mdx. 1842-d.

Col. Herts. militia 1815; maj. S. Herts. yeoman cav. 1831, lt.-col. 1833.


Cranborne told the duke of Wellington in 1841 that ‘the object I have sighed after all my life ... has been employment’, but he found no fully satisfying outlet for his energies in politics.[footnote] A competent, obstinate, hot-tempered man, known to some as ‘the Matador’, he was given minor office by Lord Liverpool in 1818 at the behest of his redoubtable mother ‘Old Sarum’, the leading Tory social and political hostess of her day.[footnote] He retained his seat for Hertford on the family interest without opposition in 1820. On 1 June 1820 he took a month’s leave to attend to his militia duties, which throughout his life compensated him for the thwarted military ambitions of his youth. He beat three other aristocratic suitors for the coveted hand of the Gascoyne heiress, who brought him a substantial income from estates in Essex and Lancashire.[footnote] Princess Lieven visited Hatfield when Cranborne had become master of it and reported to Metternich:

We are a large party - there are diplomats, ministers, pretty women, jealous husbands, perfumed dandies, long dark corridors, chapels, towers, bats in the bed curtains - everything you need for a romance, or, at any rate, for an affair. The owner of the place has the largest house, the largest chin, and the smallest stature you could possibly imagine. His wife has plenty of money, big languishing eyes, and big teeth. She is lucky enough to fancy she is beautiful, and unlucky enough not to be. She is not without intelligence, but entirely without charm.[footnote]

Cranborne, who interrupted his honeymoon to vote with his colleagues in defence of their conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821, naturally appears on the ministerial side in most of the major divisions for which full lists have been found. He voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821. He took more leave for militia business, 18 May 1821. An infrequent speaker, he supported a reduction in the compensation offered to General Desfourneaux, 28 June 1821.[footnote] At the Hertfordshire county meeting called to petition for relief from agricultural distress, 1 Feb. 1822, he had this to say:

He ... should ... disclaim any participation in the sentiments of a petition which went to dictate the mode of relief to Parliament; let the remedy be considered by Parliament. He thought a reform was quite unconnected with the object of the present meeting. Did any man believe that corn would rise a shilling a bushel if there were new elections filled up by men whom he would select for the purpose? He hoped that no man present would recommend a breach of faith with the public creditor ... As to retrenchment and economy, he was of opinion that although a few thousands might be taken from the duke of York’s establishment, from the admiralty, or from some other public office, such reductions would be so trifling as to amount to nothing of general importance to the public. He repeated, that for the sake of unanimity, it would be better to petition Parliament to take the distress of agriculture into consideration in general terms, and not to come to specifics, which could only be productive of disunion.[footnote]

He was a member of the 1822 select committee of inquiry into agricultural distress and as such tried to secure an increase in its recommended scale of duties for the protection of domestic corn producers. He explained in the House, 9 May, that having failed in that endeavour he felt obliged to accept their proposals, now adopted by government, in order to ‘get the best bargain he could for the agriculturist’. Yet he was credited with an unexplained vote for Wolryche Whitmore’s motion to relax the corn laws, 26 Feb. 1823. He divided the House, without success, against the third reading of Bennet’s alehouses licensing bill, 27 June 1822. He was considered as a possible mover or seconder of the address in 1823, ‘as he wants to be brought forward’, but nothing came of it and he made little mark in the House.[footnote]

He devoted most of his energies as a Member to his efforts to reform the game laws. He secured a return of recent prosecutions under them, 12 May 1820, and on 5 Apr. 1821 moved for the appointment of a select committee of inquiry into laws which were ‘in many respects absurd and inconsistent’. He lost the division by 86-52, but obtained more information, 3 July 1821, 4 June 1822, and renewed his proposal for an inquiry, 13 Mar. 1823, when he argued that the existing laws tended to ‘deteriorate the morals and deprave the habits of the lower classes’.[footnote] The motion, now endorsed by government, was carried, and a week after presenting the committee’s report, 18 Apr., Cranborne introduced a bill to legalize the sale of game.[footnote] On 23 May he threatened to divide the House on his amendment to proceed with its second reading, which he had already postponed once, rather than go into committee to continue the inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters. Accused by John Calcraft of trying to ‘make game with the House’ and admonished by the home secretary Peel, he backed down.[footnote] He had to give way, with a bad grace, to a debate on Scottish parliamentary reform and then defeat a motion for an adjournment before he was able to move the second reading, 2 June, when he explained that the bill aimed to remove the vast amount of game disposed of in the London markets from the hands of poachers to those of licensed dealers. Its critics said it would give a monopoly to large landholders, but Peel backed it as a partial corrective of existing abuses and it was carried by 82-60.[footnote] Soon afterwards Cranborne was removed from the Commons by his father’s death and his bill foundered at the report stage, 30 June 1823.[footnote]

As a peer he remained a diehard Tory, who earned the contempt of Edward Littleton* in 1831 for his remark that

the moment the [reform] bill passed he would remove Lady Salisbury and his children, sell as much of his property as he could, invest it in foreign funds, and would stay in England to fight for the remainder.[footnote]

Wellington, of whom his wife was an intimate friend, considered him as a possible lord lieutenant of Ireland in 1834, but Peel had no confidence in his ‘judgement and temper’. He rejected the subsequent offer of the mastership of the horse because he wanted an efficient office.[footnote] Thereafter he largely devoted himself to his local duties and to the rebuilding of the west wing of Hatfield House after the fire in which his mother perished in 1835.[footnote] He held sinecure offices in Lord Derby’s first two ministries, having broken with Wellington and Peel over corn law repeal in 1846. In 1838 General Dyott found him physically unprepossessing, but ‘gentlemanlike and good-humoured’. He was devastated by his wife’s early death the following year and became increasingly morose and irascible.[footnote] His second wife, another accomplished woman, outshone and long outlived him and later married the 15th earl of Derby.[footnote] He died in April 1868, by which time his third but eldest surviving son, Robert Arthur Cecil† (1830-1903), was well advanced in the political career which culminated in his becoming three times prime minister.[footnote]

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher