CHICHESTER, George Hamilton, earl of Belfast (1797-1883), of Cowes, I.o.W. and 23 Arlington Street, Mdx.

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

Constituency

Dates

1818 - 1820
1820 - 1830
1830 - 1837
1837 - 8 Mar. 1838

Family and Education

b. 8 Feb. 1797,1 1st s. of George Augustus Chichester, 2nd mq. of Donegall [I], and Anna, illegit. da. of Sir (James) Edward May†, 2nd bt., of Mayfield, co. Waterford; bro. of Lord Arthur Chichester† and Lord John Ludford Chichester†. educ. Eton 1808; Christ Church, Oxf. 1816. m. (1) 8 Dec. 1822, Lady Harriet Anne Butler (d. 14 Sept. 1860), da. of Richard, 1st earl of Glengall [I], 2s. d.v.p. 1da.; (2) 26 Feb. 1862, Harriet, da. of Sir Bellingham Reginald Graham, 7th bt., of Norton Conyers, Ripon, Yorks., wid. of Lt.-Gen. Sir Frederick Ashworth, s.p. GCH 1831; cr. Bar. Ennishowen and Carrickfergus [UK] 18 Aug. 1841; suc. fa. as 3rd mq. of Donegall [I] 5 Oct. 1844; KP 3 Feb. 1857. d. 20 Oct. 1883.

Offices Held

PC 19 July 1830; vice-chamberlain July 1830-Dec. 1834, May 1838 Sept. 1841; capt. yeomen of guard 1848-52.

Cornet 18 Drag. 1818; cornet 7 Drag. 1819, lt. 1821; capt. 1 Drag. 1823, half-pay 1823, ret. 1825; lt.-col. co. Antrim militia, col. 1841; col. 4th batt. R.I. Rifle vols.; military a.d.c. to the queen 1847-d.

Ld. lt. co. Antrim 1841-d.

Biography

Originally springing from the Devon family of the same name, the Chichesters had established themselves in the north of Ireland from the early seventeenth century, when Sir Arthur Chichester was lord deputy. His descendant and namesake, the 5th earl of Donegall, who was Member for Malmesbury, 1768-74, was given a British peerage in 1790 and created a marquess the following year. On his death in 1799 he was succeeded as 2nd marquess of Donegall by his eldest son, who had become Member for Carrickfergus in the Irish Parliament the previous year. He, who inherited large estates in counties Antrim and Donegal, as well as in Staffordshire, and was reckoned the richest Irish landowner, was licentious and profligate in proportion to his status and fortune.2 Forced to retire to Belfast in 1802 because of his debts, he had residences at the Castle and Donegall House, but usually lived at nearby Ormeau.3 Having come of age in 1818, when he entered the army, Lord Belfast wanted to join his father in breaking the family entail. He also wished to marry one of the daughters of Lord Shaftesbury, who, however, ended the engagement when he discovered that Belfast might not be legally entitled to succeed to his father’s title. It transpired that when Donegall had married his wife, an illegitimate minor, in 1795, the permission given by her Welsh guardians was insufficient, as a legal marriage in such circumstances required the consent of the lord chancellor. This revelation staggered ‘Mr. Chichester’, as Belfast had now to be called, as much as the rest of his family, and embroiled them in legal difficulties.4 At least he was not long disappointed in love, for he soon became attached to Lord Glengall’s daughter, which, as Henry Edward Fox* noted, was

a good thing for him. If anybody can get him his old or work him out a new title, it is that little she-attorney Lady Glengall, though they say she hates her daughter so much she will try no more when once she is off her hands.5

The question of his legitimacy did not affect his standing for Parliament, to which in 1818 he was returned by his father for Carrickfergus, where he served at least once as mayor. At the general election of 1820 Belfast, who reportedly took up ‘27 conspirators in conclave at Glasgow on the same night as Thistlewood’s party was disturbed in London’, initially offered again for Carrickfergus.6 But he soon withdrew in order to stand for Antrim on the independent interest (and his father’s influence) against the Members returned by Lords Hertford and O’Neill. However, delays in canvassing, his unpopularity and the entrenched position of the patrons led him to resign his pretensions before the election, though he was careful to leave open the possibility of another attempt.7 In the meantime, having been elected to the corporation, he was brought in for Belfast, his father’s pocket borough.8 Understood to be a supporter of Lord Liverpool’s administration, he was in fact very inactive in the Commons for a few years, presumably because he was absent on military service; later he frequently presented petitions from his Belfast constituents.9 He spoke at a town meeting there to agree a congratulatory address to George IV, 7 Apr. 1820, but no trace of parliamentary activity has been found during that session. The following January he signed Belfast corporation’s loyal address, but his only known vote that year was against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr. 1821.10 He did not enter the county contest in January 1822, when Hertford’s grandson was returned unopposed. He divided against the Catholic peers bill, 30 Apr. He voted against inquiry into the conduct of the lord advocate relative to the press in Scotland, 25 June, for going into committee on the Canada bill, 18 July, and for the aliens bill, 19 July 1822.

Lord Belfast failed in his efforts to sort out his legal position in the consistory court and in chancery, where, on 10 Feb. 1821, the lord chancellor advised the parties to take the case to the House of Lords.11 Accordingly, his petition was presented there, 5 Mar. 1821, and other items were produced, including a petition from his cousin Arthur Chichester II*, but the cause was not heard that session.12 The following year, however, saw the passage of a Marriage Act amendment bill, which retrospectively legalized past formal breaches of the marriage laws. This was enough to resolve the issue of Belfast’s legitimacy,13 and, as Fox recorded, was ‘a great triumph and must delight every one with any feeling’.14 Celebratory dinners were held in Belfast and elsewhere in August and September, when Lord Belfast clashed with the radical John Lawless, who accused him of deliberately suppressing a petition with which he had been entrusted.15 A marriage settlement was agreed on 6 Dec. 1822,16 and two days later he married Lady Harriet Butler, who had been partly brought up by the Empress Josephine in France and was later described as having ‘all the discernment and finesse of a clever Frenchwoman’. She also had a fiery temper and the couple were known as ‘Bel and the Dragon’.17 With the entail broken, he came to a new, but ultimately disastrous, financial arrangement with his father, whereby properties in Belfast were sold in a vain attempt to ward off their mounting debts.18

Lord Belfast appears to have been almost entirely inactive in politics for the rest of that Parliament, as his only other known votes were against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 10 May 1825. At the general election of 1826 he judged that he again had insufficient support on the registers to enable him to contest the county and he was therefore returned for Belfast as an Orangeman.19 He divided against Catholic claims, 6 Mar. 1827. He failed to gain support for preventing the extension to Ireland of the spring guns bill, 27 Mar., and moved and was a teller for the minority for the wrecking amendment against the third reading, 30 Mar.20 He voted against the Penryn election bill, 7 June 1827. On the formation of the duke of Wellington’s ministry in January 1828, he wrote to Peel, the home secretary, asking to be included as a lord of the treasury or the admiralty, and stating that

I have myself supported the government (of which you formed a part) for ten years, my family from time immemorial, and I have never received the smallest favour at their hands. On the contrary, whatever little requests I have made, have without exception been refused.21

The premier held out no hopes.22 Lord Belfast voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and, having presented the hostile petition from the Protestant inhabitants of Belfast, 28 Mar., again divided against Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. That autumn he became one of the vice-presidents of the Ulster Brunswick Club.23 In January 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, considered him as a possible mover or seconder of the address, which was to include a commitment to Catholic emancipation, but the following month listed him among those ‘opposed to the principle of the bill’.24 He divided against emancipation, 6 Mar., when the minority fell 40 short of his estimate of 200, and throughout that month (sometimes pairing).25 On 17 Mar. he clashed with Peel about the state of opinion among the inhabitants of Belfast, from whom he presented another hostile petition, 30 Mar.26 He divided for preventing Daniel O’Connell from taking his seat without swearing the oaths, 18 May 1829.

He voted against the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. Having assured his constituents that, although he had missed the London meeting of Irish Members on the subject, he was opposed to the increases in Irish stamp duties, he presented their petitions on this, 13, 17 May.27 He divided against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and paired against abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. The following month he was made a privy councillor and vice-chamberlain (with a salary of £600) to William IV, the new king, whom he accompanied on one of his incognito promenades.28 At the dissolution, O’Neill decided to break with Hertford and instead to coalesce with Belfast, who, he wrote, ‘had proved himself to be a steady Protestant’.29 Ministers sought confirmation that Belfast did not mean to join O’Neill in opposing them and, evidently reassured, Wellington gave him government assistance.30 He duly offered for the county on the basis of his family connections and Tory principles, and received extensive support, especially in Belfast, despite being delayed in London. He was successful in the ensuing contest, coming second behind the long-serving Member John O’Neill; they celebrated at dinners in Belfast and elsewhere.31

According to a contemporary radical source, Lord Belfast’s ‘chief use in Parliament has been to keep a better man out. When he has attended and voted, it has been on the wrong side’.32 He was listed by ministers among their ‘friends’ but was absent from the division on the civil list that led to their resignation, 15 Nov. 1830. Despite having begged Wellington to ‘retain him in the event of his returning to the head of affairs’, he told the new prime minister, Lord Grey, that he would vote for him if allowed to stay in office. This was refused until Lady Belfast persuaded the duke of Devonshire, the new chamberlain, to insist on it. According to Von Neumann, Grey ‘could not refuse so powerful an advocate; and now they call Lord Belfast "Lord Stickfast".’33 He informed the Belfast reformers by letter, 14 Dec. 1830, that he could not approve of triennial parliaments and the ballot, and in February 1831 he signed the requisition for the county Antrim meeting to address the lord lieutenant against agitation for repeal of the Union.34 However, the following month he came round to the cause of parliamentary reform, supporting Belfast petitions on the subject,35 and he voted for the second reading of the ministerial reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.

At the ensuing general election he offered again for the county as a reformer and, receiving popular support in his former constituency, he was returned unopposed, despite being absent because of illness.36 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against adjourning the proceedings on it, 12 July, and steadily for its details. He divided for the passage of the bill, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He voted for the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831, to go into committee on it, 20 Jan. 1832, and again for its details. He voted for the third reading, 22 Mar., but on the 24th brought up a Belfast petition for the carrying of as extensive a measure for Ireland as for England. He temporarily resigned his household office on the dismissal of Grey, and apparently moved the call of the House for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the bill unimpaired, 10 May, when he voted in the majority.37 He divided for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against increasing the county representation of Scotland, 1 June. On 2 June he was elected to Brooks’s Club, sponsored by Lords Sefton* and Duncannon*. He declared that he was one of the few Irish Members who had the courage to give overt support to the government’s Irish tithes bill, 10 July. His only other known votes that session were with ministers against the production of information on Portugal, 9 Feb., and for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16 July.

At the general election of 1832 he was returned as a Liberal for Antrim with O’Neill, after a contest against two other Conservatives. In 1837 he retreated to Belfast, but was unseated on petition the following year and, having unsuccessfully contested the seat again in 1841, was granted a consolation peerage. By the time he succeeded to the marquessate in 1844, his and his father’s debts amounted to over £400,000 and, having already lost control of almost all the property and influence in Belfast, he was obliged to suffer the indignity of seeing the town sold off under the aegis of the encumbered estates court in 1850.38 A household official and military officer under Victoria, he died in October 1883. As both his sons had predeceased him, he left his estate and Irish title to his brother Lord Edward Chichester (1799-1889), dean of Raphoe.39

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1797), i. 163; Belfast Guardian, 11 Feb. 1831. Not 10 Feb. 1797, as given in HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 437, and most sources.
  • 2. Hist. Irish Parl. iii. 410-11; W.A. Maguire, Living like a Lord: 2nd Marquess of Donegall, 9-60.
  • 3. Maguire, 26, 34.
  • 4. Ibid. 60-64; CP, iv. 392-3.
  • 5. Fox Jnl. 52-53.
  • 6. PRO NI, Ker mss D2651/3/28; Belfast News Letter, 25 Feb., 3 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. Ker mss 3/29; Belfast News Letter, 3, 7, 24 Mar. 1820.
  • 8. Belfast News Letter, 15 Feb., 17 Mar. 1820.
  • 9. Add. 40298, f. 5; Black Bk. (1823), 139; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 450.
  • 10. Belfast News Letter, 11 Apr. 1820, 19 Jan. 1821.
  • 11. The Times, 12 Feb. 1821.
  • 12. LJ, liv. 81, 94, 104, 154, 368, 398.
  • 13. Lord Belfast’s petition withdrawing his appeal was not presented to the Lords until 15 Mar. 1824 (ibid. lvi. 79-80).
  • 14. Maguire, 64-75; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 166-7; Fox Jnl. 130-1.
  • 15. Belfast News Letter, 30 Aug., 23 Sept.; The Times, 4, 5, 17 Sept. 1822.
  • 16. PRO NI, Donegall mss D3402/1/1/2A.
  • 17. CP, iv. 393; Raikes Jnl. iv. 433.
  • 18. Maguire, 75-86; Maguire ‘1822 Settlement of Donegall Estates’, Irish Econ. and Social Hist. iii (1976), 17-32.
  • 19. Belfast Commercial Chron. 12, 17, 19 June 1826.
  • 20. The Times, 31 Mar. 1827.
  • 21. Add. 40395, ff. 68, 70, 119, 121.
  • 22. Wellington mss WP1/915/40.
  • 23. Belfast Guardian, 30 Sept. 1828.
  • 24. Add. 40398, f. 87.
  • 25. Ellenborough Diary, i. 384.
  • 26. The Times, 31 Mar. 1829.
  • 27. Belfast News Letter, 18 May 1830.
  • 28. Greville Mems. ii. 9.
  • 29. PRO NI, Johnson Smyth mss D2099/5/13, 20.
  • 30. NAI, Leveson Gower letterbks. Leveson Gower to Singleton, 15 July 1830; Wellington mss WP1/1130/54.