CONYNGHAM, Henry Joseph, earl of Mount Charles (1795-1824).

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 - 26 Dec. 1824

Family and Education

b. 5 Apr. 1795, 1st s. of Henry, 1st Mq. Conyngham [I] and 1st Bar. Minster [UK] (d. 1832), and Elizabeth, da. of Joseph Denison, banker, of St. Mary Axe, London; bro. of Lord Albert Denison Conyngham† and Francis Nathaniel Conyngham, earl of Mount Charles*. educ. Westminster till 1807; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1813; continental tour 1814. unm. d.v.p. 26 Dec. 1824.

Offices Held

Biography

Mount Charles, whose father Lord Conyngham’s Mount Charles Hall estate gave him control of Killybegs, the now disfranchised family borough, and an electoral interest in Donegal, had first been brought in for that county in 1818.1 He travelled back from the continent to be again returned unopposed for Donegal at the general election of 1820, when he claimed to have worked hard on behalf of Irish interests.2 He continued to support the Liverpool government, when present in the House, though his basic attachment was to the Court.3 He had no official status there, but his celebrated mother had recently supplanted Lady Hertford as George IV’s mistress; his father became lord steward of the household in 1821; and his younger brother Francis (his mother’s favourite) was master of the robes.4 Noted for his boisterousness, he was observed ‘yelling for joy like a young bull-dog’ at the theatre with the king and Lady Conyngham early in 1821.5 Yet his parliamentary career was not entirely ornamental. He supported mitigation of the laws for the suppression of illicit distillation, 7 June 1820, when he stated that ministers were ‘called upon to relieve Ireland from so great a burthen as was imposed upon her by the present excise laws’, with their obnoxious features of a ‘military police’ and district fines. He moved for relevant papers, 30 June, questioned ministers as to their intentions, 7 July, and cautioned them not to act precipitately, 17 July 1820. He argued that the bonâ fide encouragement of small stills would materially benefit Ireland, 6 Mar., and obtained further information, 27 Mar. 1821.6

On 2 Feb. 1821 Mrs. Arbuthnot recorded that the foreign secretary

Lord Castlereagh* told me that ... [on 31 Jan.] there had been a proposal to allow the queen only £30,000 a year [as opposed to £50,000], and that the king had sent Lord Mount Charles up from Brighton to vote for the smaller sum ... However Lord Castlereagh prevented Lord Mount Charles from voting, and the proposal was negatived.7

According to Madame Lieven, Mount Charles, confronted by the foreign secretary, had grown angry and had hinted at a challenge, to which Castlereagh

replied coldly that he could do what he liked, but that, as he belonged to the king’s intimate circle, his vote would look as if it were dictated by the wish of the king, and that he would leave him to consider to what extent that might compromise him [at which] Lord Mount Charles calmed down.8

The advanced Whig Henry Grey Bennet* noted that Mount Charles had ‘got up to speak, but unfortunately the Speaker called for someone else (his discretion must be great)’; he also observed that Mount Charles left just before the division.9 Mount Charles voted with ministers in defence of their conduct towards the queen, 6 Feb., on the state of the revenue, 6 Mar., and against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr. He voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He paired against criminal law reform, 23 May. In April 1821 the king tried to appoint Mount Charles’s former tutor Charles Sumner a canon of Windsor. Lord Liverpool and his colleagues would have none of it, and the dispute briefly threatened the existence of the ministry, until a compromise was reached whereby Sumner was made librarian and private chaplain at Windsor.10 Five months later Mount Charles was with the king on his visit to Ireland.11 On 7 Feb. 1822 he spoke on the introduction of the Irish insurrection bill, which he saw as a necessary, if belated, precaution against rebellion and preferable to an increase in military strength. At the same time, he urged the government, ‘to the utmost extent that their resources would afford’, to relieve the severe distress among the peasantry, which he had himself tried to alleviate in Clare. Hudson Gurney* thought his speech was ‘dead against the ministry’, though he ‘voted with them’.12 He divided against more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 11, 21 Feb. His last known vote was against the removal of Catholic peers’ disabilities, 30 Apr. 1822, but he was present to dissent from the prayer of a Donegal petition, presented by his colleague Hart, for commuting tithes, 18 Apr. 1823.13

Failing health forced him to go abroad in 1824. In July he went to the sulphur springs of Barèges, accompanied by the physician Sir William Knighton, the king’s private secretary. He intended to move on to Italy, and his plight inspired Lady Conyngham and George IV to hatch, with Knighton’s connivance, a scheme to winter together there: she on the pretext of maternal anxiety, he on that of concern over his own health. The duke of Wellington persuaded them of the folly of this plan and instead the hapless Knighton, who had only been home for a week, was sent back to the Pyrenees to escort Mount Charles to Florence.14 He left him at Nice early in November, ‘in a very barbarous manner’, as it seemed to Lord John Russell*, who was there, though he reported that Mount Charles was ‘now better’, after being ‘in great danger’.15 No sooner had Knighton reached England than, as he told Wellington with some asperity, he was

ordered to the continent again ... H.M. wishes to have it as little known as practicable. The impression is that the death of Lord Mount Charles is near at hand and therefore I am sent! Under all the circumstances of my agreeable situation, I of course can only look to the word, obey.

He reached Nice in time to witness Mount Charles’s death there in late December 1824.16 Sumner, who administered the last rites, told Lord Teignmouth that

his sufferings during his lingering illness were increased by the perpetual jingling of conventual bells, which could not be stopped but by the circuitous, and then tedious, process of eliciting the intercession of the British government, addressed to that of Turin. He ended his days in Christian peace and hope.17

A ‘curious story’ subsequently circulated that Mount Charles had

married in S[witzerland], and had a child, who is consequently the rightful heir to ... [Lord Conyngham’s] titles and estates; but that Lady Conyngham wishes her second son to inherit these, and therefore has bribed the relations of the infant to conceal his birth.

It was alleged that Sumner had acted as her agent in this transaction, spurred by the promise of a bishopric.18 He certainly obtained one in 1826, but this story may be a variant of an older and probably unfounded one: that Sumner had earned the Conynghams’ gratitude by saving Mount Charles, whom he had accompanied to Switzerland in 1814, from an unsuitable marriage to Jennie Maunoir of Geneva by marrying her himself.19 More pointedly, Thomas Creevey* was told early in 1825 by Mount Charles’s kinsman Henry Clements† that

he has no doubt of Lord Mount Charles having been married (as was reported) to a daughter of one of the king’s coachmen. He (Clements) knows of three children he had by her, but they were born before the marriage, and the doubt is whether there are any born since. If there are it would be a result of the Conyngham connection with the crown that the most enthusiastic admirer of mischief could never have dared to hope for. Lady Conyngham, they say, quite hated Mount Charles, and yet they add he was decidedly the best of the sons in disposition and a very good natured man.20

There was no mention of a wife or children in Mount Charles’s will, dictated ten days before his death, in which he distributed his personal possessions among his relatives and friends.21 Yet in November 1823 he had written an enigmatic letter to Knighton from Malvern Wells, where he had been living for six months, evidently with a ‘Mrs. C’. He sent effusive thanks to the king for his ‘most gracious conduct towards me’ and went on:

We have had a most distressing scene since you were here, our dear mare [?Lady Conyngham] proves to have the glanders and was obliged to be returned as unsound. This difficulty is therefore removed ... Our plans at present are that she [Mrs. C.] should go up on Monday week, and I follow on Friday. She will by that time be comfortably settled in a house, to which I shall go immediately, without first going to [Denison’s house in] Pall Mall. I perfectly agree about Brighton; after what you know, would it not be better for Mrs. C. to arrange to stay in town ... and I should then propose to you, that if the king’s pleasure was that I should pay my respects at the Pavilion at any time, my stay should not exceed the usual visiting time of others, and thus avoid any unpleasant annoyance which I should have to endure.22

Whatever the truth, no impediment occurred to the succession of his brother Francis, who took over his courtesy title and county seat, to the marquessate in 1832.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: David R. Fisher / Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 215-16; iii. 482-4; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 461-2; iii. 494-5.
  • 2. Belfast News Letter, 18 Feb.; Dublin Evening Post, 4, 30 Mar.; Enniskillen Chron. 6 Apr. 1820.
  • 3. Black Bk. (1823), 178.
  • 4. See Oxford DNB sub Elizabeth Conyngham and T. Ambrose, The King and the Vice-Queen (2005).
  • 5. Lord Teignmouth, Reminiscences, i. 39; Countess Granville Letters, i. 207.