COWPER, George Augustus Frederick, Visct. Fordwich (1806-1856), of Panshanger, Hertingfordbury, Herts.
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Family and Educationb. 26 June 1806, 1st s. of Peter Leopold Louis Francis Nassau, 5th Earl Cowper, and Hon. Emily Mary Lamb, da. of Peniston Lamb†, 1st Visct. Melbourne [I]. educ. Mitcham; Eton 1820; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1824. m. 7 Oct. 1833, Lady Anne Florence De Grey, da. of Thomas Philip, 2nd Earl De Grey, 2s. 4da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 6th Earl Cowper 21 July 1837. d. 15 Apr. 1856.
Cornet Horse Gds. 1827, lt. 1830; lt. (half-pay) N.S.W. Veteran Cos. 1831; lt. 31 Ft. 1835.
Under-sec. of state for foreign affairs 13-17 Nov. 1834.
Ld. lt. Kent 1846-d.
Fordwich came from a family with established interests in Hertfordshire and Kent, and was a grandson of the celebrated 3rd Earl Cowper, who spent most of his life in Italy and was a prince of the Holy Roman Empire. His father, often stigmatized as a dull man, married William Lamb’s* vivacious sister, who was freed by Cowper’s death to marry Lord Palmerston*, her lover for almost 30 years, in 1839.1 At the prospect of a children’s ball in 1819, Fordwich’s mother recorded that ‘he is combated between his wish for gaiety and his fear of meeting strangers and being put in any situation for exertion’.2 Although well liked for his personal charm, and the ‘dawdling, gentlemanlike manner’ which even awed his mother-in-law, this early diffidence persisted throughout his life, and even after he had come of age Lady Cowper still wished that he could be more self-confident.3 He was educated at a preparatory school in Mitcham, before progressing to Eton and, for a short spell, Trinity College, Cambridge.4 He travelled in France and Switzerland in June and July 1825, and might have attended the coronation of Tsar Nicholas I in 1826, but instead visited his uncle Frederick Lamb, envoy to Madrid. He fell ill with fever and had to recuperate at Panshanger, before being given a large 21st birthday party at Wingham Lodge, Ramsgate, in June 1827. He went out with Lamb when he took up his new position as ambassador at Lisbon in early 1828, and subsequently travelled with George Hervey in Portugal in the same year; he visited Italy in 1830.5 He had joined the Royal Horse Guards in 1827 and was enchanted with the bustling life of the army, although his ambition for a lieutenancy was not fulfilled until February 1830.6
Fordwich began to consider a career in Parliament on the rumour that Thomas Byron would retire from the representation of Hertford, where his uncle Edward Spencer Cowper had sat, 1802-17, and the family retained a residual interest. He speculatively attended a dinner there, 3 July 1829, made a surprise declaration that he would stand on a future occasion and received promises of support, possibly from some of the disaffected independent Whigs. He recorded in his journal that he was ‘very well received by the canaille of the town, and should probably have come in, but the report turned out not to be true, so I must wait’.7 Lord Althorp* briefly considered him as a possible candidate at St. Albans, but nothing came of it.8 The family were still looking around for a vacancy as the general election approached in early July 1830 and Canterbury was initially ruled out on the grounds that Richard Watson* had already entered on the Whig interest.9 The sitting Whig Member Lord Clifton looked set to continue, but when his position became untenable, he withdrew in favour of Fordwich and was active in canvassing on his behalf. In his address, Fordwich admitted he was unknown to the freemen, but hoped that his local connections were a sufficient recommendation and promised to prove himself by unremitting attention to his parliamentary duties. His popularity soon became clear, despite a somewhat lukewarm declaration that
he was a friend to reform, as far as was consistent with the dignity of the crown and the safety of the state and the constitution. He was willing that complete reform should be attempted, but it must be done with due consideration.10
Having apparently offered to coalesce with Watson, to the disgust of their Tory opponent Henry Bingham Baring*, he advocated retrenchment and reform, criticized ministers’ foreign policy as weak and unworthy, and claimed that ‘if he opposed the present government, it would be from conscientious disapproval, and not from any factious opposition’.11 He eventually finished second, 370 votes ahead of Baring and, although he was also 233 votes behind Watson, The Times commented that ‘Fordwich is acknowledged as the popular candidate. He has polled more votes in the Blue interest than has ever been known in this city’.12 Despite the claims of one of his friends that he was returned entirely on the independent interest against treasury corruption, his account book reveals expenses of £5,500, while a later estimate put the figure at £9,000 or £10,000, much of it undischarged.13 The Tory Kentish Gazette thought that his agents had prejudiced his chances of re-election by ‘screwing down’ all the outstanding bills.14
Fordwich, whose connections were Huskissonite, was initially listed by ministers among the ‘bad doubtfuls’, but was subsequently labelled ‘opposition’. He was elected to Brooks’s, 6 Nov., and confirmed his Whig credentials by voting against government on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. In the new ministry headed by Lord Grey, his uncle William (now Lord Melbourne) was home secretary, and his mother’s lover Palmerston was foreign secretary. He presented Canterbury reform petitions, 16 Nov. 1830, 4 Feb., 18 Mar., and raised the objections of a large number of local residents to the London Bridge approaches bill, 23 Feb. 1831.15 He voted for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. Partly in view of his high election expenses, Cowper briefly considered Fordwich’s candidacy for Hertford at the ensuing general election, but the idea came to nothing.16 Anticipating a contest at Canterbury, the London freemen pledged their support for Fordwich against a possible attempt by Baring, who in fact had no wish for another expensive contest. He had resigned from the army in March 1831 in order to ward off any criticism that might arise about the possibility of his being posted abroad.17 He stressed how he had kept to his principles on retrenchment, peace and reform, and promised to continue to support the last, so long as it did not infringe individual property rights. Of the reform bill, he added that ‘I look upon it as destructive to rotten boroughs, giving Members to large towns and extending the elective franchise - paramount recommendations’. He and Watson were returned unopposed, though the partisan press disputed who was the more popular candidate.18
He voted for the second reading of the re-introduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July 1831, and usually for its details (at least once by pairing). However, he missed several divisions in committee because of illness and voted against government on an attempt to postpone consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July.19 He divided for the passage of the bill, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish reform bill, 23 Sept. He and Watson were thanked for their services in the cause of reform by a meeting of Canterbury freemen, 23 Sept.20 He sided with ministers for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, again generally for its details, and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He divided for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May, and the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May. His only other known votes were with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He was one of the stewards for the east Kent dinner to celebrate the passage of the Reform Act, 26 July 1832, but was absent through illness.21
Fordwich was returned for Canterbury as a Liberal after a token contest at the general election of 1832, but left the Commons at the dissolution two years later. Despite his reputation as a libertine, he was appointed parliamentary under-secretary at the foreign office by Palmerston three days before the fall of the first Melbourne ministry, but he probably continued to exercise his functions in an unofficial capacity for some weeks.22 In 1833 he made a good match with the melancholy and sensitive Lady Anne Florence De Grey (later suo jure Baroness Lucas of Crudwell), who earned the nickname ‘the queen of paradox’ for her extraordinary conversational sallies.23 In 1837 he succeeded his father as 6th Earl Cowper and in 1839 considered claiming the Scottish barony of Dingwall as the sole heir general of the 4th duke of Ormond.24 The house at Panshanger became renowned for the hospitality and religiousness of its inhabitants, and was graced by a visit from Victoria and Albert in 1841.25 He died suddenly in April 1856, of spasms of the heart, while sitting at the Maidstone sessions.26 The bulk of the estate was given in trust to his eldest son, Francis Thomas De Grey Cowper (1834-1905), on whose death the earldom became extinct; his second son, Henry Frederick (1836-87), was Liberal Member for Hertfordshire, 1865-85.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. Broughton, Recollections, iii. 107.
- 2. Lady Palmerston Letters, 24.
- 3. Ibid. 143; Lieven-Palmerston Corresp. 307; Maxwell, Clarendon, i. 81; Add. 51600, Lady Cowper to Lady Holland, 6 Nov. .
- 4. M.L. Boyle, Biog. Cat. of Portraits at Panshanger, 303-5; Lady Palmerston Letters, 143.
- 5. Beds. RO, Wrest Park mss L31/418, 419; Lady Palmerston Letters, 147, 150, 153-4, 157; Add. 51600, Lady Cowper to Lady Holland, 20 Nov.; Herts Mercury, 25 Nov., 18 Dec. 1826; Kentish Chron. 29 June 1827; Greville Mems. i. 403.
- 6. Wrest Park mss L31/419; Lady Palmerston Letters, 169.
- 7. Wrest Park mss L31/419; Herts Mercury, 4 July; Hatfield House mss 2M, Nicholson to Salisbury, 7 July, 7 Aug., 12 Oct. 1829, 29 Apr. 1830.
- 8. Althorp Letters, 150-1.
- 9. Add. 51600, Lady Cowper to Lady Holland [5 July 1830].
- 10. Kentish Chron. 6, 13, 20, 27 July; Kentish Gazette, 6, 13, 20, 27 July 1830.
- 11. Kentish Chron. 3 Aug.; Kentish Gazette, 30 July; The Times, 30 July 1830; Add. 51599A, Lady Cowper to Holland, Thursday, Saturday, Thursday [July 1830].
- 12. Add. 51600, Lady Cowper to Lady Holland [29 July]; Canterbury Pollbook (1830), 32; The Times, 5 Aug. 1830.
- 13. Herts. Archives, Panshanger mss 40, Fordwich’s expenses at Canterbury election; Grey mss, Ellice to Grey [?Aug. 1830]; Spectator, 1 Jan.; The Times, 8 Jan.; Hatfield House mss 2M, Nicholson to Salisbury, 26 Mar. 1831.
- 14. Kentish Gazette, 24 Aug. 1830.
- 15. Ibid. 19 Nov. 1830, 4 Feb., 11, 18 Mar.; Kentish Chron. 8 Feb., 15, 22 Mar. 1831.
- 16. Hatfield House mss 2M, Nicholson to Salisbury, 26, 28 Mar. 1831.
- 17. Kentish Chron. 15 Mar.; Kentish Gazette, 8, 11, 22, 25 Mar. 1831.
- 18. Kentish Chron. 26 Apr., 3 May; Kentish Gazette, 26 Apr., 3, 7 May 1831.
- 19. Kentish Chron. 9 Aug.; Kentish Gazette, 12 Aug. 1831.
- 20. Kentish Chron. 27 Sept. 1831.
- 21. Ibid. 24, 31 Aug.; Kentish Gazette, 24, 27 Aug. 1832.
- 22. Wellington Pol. Corresp. ii. 26; Lieven-Palmerston Corresp. 62; Boyle, 303-5.
- 23. Panshanger mss, Anne Florence Robinson jnl.; Baroness Mount-Temple, Mems. 11; Boyle, 307-8; K. Bourne, Palmerston, 220, 411.
- 24. Panshanger mss 40, Cowper’s claim to Scotch peerage, 3 Jan. 1839.
- 25. Greville Mems. ii. 231-2; vi. 266; Lady Palmerston Letters, 253-4.
- 26. Lady Palmerston Letters, 348; Gent. Mag. i. 641.