DISBROWE, Edward Cromwell (1790-1851), of Walton-upon-Trent, Derbys.

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

Constituency

Dates

11 Feb. 1823 - 1826

Family and Education

bap. 26 Sept. 1790,1 1st s. of Edward Disbrowe† of Walton and Charlotte, da. of Hon. George Hobart† (afterwards 3rd earl of Buckinghamshire) of Nocton, Lincs. educ. Eton 1802-8; Christ Church, Oxf. 1808. m. 24 Oct. 1821 at Thun, Switzerland, Anne, da. of Hon. Robert Kennedy, 2s. 3da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1818; GCH 1831. d. 29 Oct. 1851.

Offices Held

Sec. of legation to Denmark 1814-20, to Switzerland 1820-3; sec. of embassy and min. plenip. ad int. to Russia 1825-8; envoy extraordinary and min. plenip. to Württemberg 1828-33, to Sweden 1834-5, to Netherlands 1836-d.

Biography

Disbrowe was descended from a sister of the Protector, whose name he was given. His mother died shortly before his eighth birthday. At about that time his father, the owner by inheritance of an estate near Burton-on-Trent and an active officer of the Staffordshire militia, established himself as a favourite of George III. He was appointed chamberlain to Queen Charlotte in 1801, took up residence at Windsor and the following year obtained from his brother-in-law Lord Hobart†, Addington’s colonial secretary and later 4th earl of Buckinghamshire, a West Indian sinecure to help him provide for his three sons and three daughters. Of Edward Cromwell Disbrowe’s brothers, who both followed him to Eton, George joined the Grenadier Guards, served in the Peninsula and at Waterloo, was made KH in 1835 and died in 1876; while Henry John went to Oxford, was a fellow of All Souls, 1816-21, and rector of Welbourne, Lincolnshire from 1820 until his death in 1867.2

Disbrowe was earmarked for the diplomatic line, and in June 1810 he was sent to Lisbon to act as secretary and factotum to the British envoy, Charles Stuart, his mother’s first cousin. On his arrival he reported to his father:

The first appearance of Lisbon and the Tagus is wonderfully fine, but the streets are narrow with high houses, and stink enough to poison you. I, from not being used to it, held my nose as I went along some of the narrower streets.

As Stuart was Wellington’s right-hand man in the Peninsula, as commissioner for managing the Spanish and Portuguese allies, Disbrowe’s duties required him to carry despatches between Lisbon and the front line, often at considerable personal risk, and to make periodic return journeys to London.3 He remained attached to the Lisbon embassy until 1813, when he was made attaché to Lord Cathcart, ambassador to Russia and military adviser to the Russian and German military leaders. After serving for a few months at Russian headquarters at Reichenbach, he moved to Frankfort in October, crossing the battlefield at Leipzig only three days after the bloody engagement there: he claimed to have seen ‘a man busily employed ... drawing teeth from the dead bodies’, which were still piled high.4 In January 1814 he made a difficult journey through deep snow to St. Petersburg, from where he wrote to his father of his dismay at the decision of the Allies to confer at Chatillon and offer terms to Buonaparte rather than press on with the war: ‘Now is the time to destroy the monster, now or never’. He joined the Allied leaders in Paris later in the year.5

In August 1814 Disbrowe, who was related through the Hobarts to Lord Castlereagh*, the foreign secretary, the husband of Buckinghamshire’s cousin, was appointed secretary of legation at Copenhagen, where he was twice chargé d’affaires. When his father, Member for Windsor on the Court interest since 1806, informed him of the suspension of habeas corpus in early 1817, he responded with the objectivity of a distant observer:

I am of opinion that no prima facie case has been made out ... Government must, and country gentlemen probably do know more of these conspiracies, and have information which they did not think proper to produce to the House ... But in such extreme cases ... I cannot think that conviction on the part of ... ministers, is a sufficient ground to legislate on ... As the matter now stands, unless government can convince the nation at large, by numerous convictions of individuals concerned in most dangerous and most secretly organized societies ... the measure must be deprecated as unfortunate and mischievous in its tendency, for Parliament will then have furnished the strongest argument to the factious promoters of parliamentary reform, whilst the deep designers of revolution will find amongst the reformers their best and strongest supporters (although possibly unwillingly in many cases) without the necessity of entering into treasonous plots to further their views, only showing themselves at the moment of the explosion ... I agree with you ... that one must adopt some system, and chalk out some line we would adopt, and even frequently to vote against one’s own convictions in particular cases, to forward a general system, which amounts in fact only to submitting one’s own opinion to that of the majority, or of others who ought to be better informed, but there are bounds to this. And in the case before us, one should not lose sight of the fact that parliamentary reform is intimately connected with the present troubles, probably as an instrument in the hands of the designing, and that by stirring them, you deprive the faction of a very powerful instrument, and see no way so effectual as that of convincing the people, that Parliament acts in all vital questions on its own conviction, and not at the beck of any ministers.6

He got leave to attend the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle as Castlereagh’s secretary in the summer of 1818. In November his father died (two weeks after the queen), and he inherited Walton, property in Northamptonshire, Staffordshire and Montgomeryshire and personal estate which was sworn under £6,000.7 In June 1820 he was transferred to Switzerland, where he resided as chargé d’affaires at Berne until the arrival of Henry Williams Wynn† as envoy in March 1822. In the autumn of 1820 he was instructed to secure the co-operation of the Swiss consul in Milan with the commissioners gathering evidence for the trial of Queen Caroline. A year later he married a granddaughter of the 11th earl of Cassillis.8

Disbrowe was back in England by the end of 1822, and the following February he replaced Sir Herbert Taylor, military secretary at the Horse Guards, who had married his sister Charlotte in 1819, as Member for Windsor on the Court interest. He made little mark in the House, where he of course supported the Liverpool ministry. He divided with them against proposals to remit taxes, 10, 13 Mar., repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823. In his only reported speech, 29 Apr., he defended British neutrality in the war between France and Spain, disclaiming ‘all interference on our part as equally useless, impolitic, and unjust’:

We had remonstrated: beyond remonstrance nothing remained for us but to menace; and if we were not prepared to back our menace by war, how could it be contended that we ought to have assumed a dictatorial tone?

He voted for the usury laws repeal bill, 17 June, and was in the ministerial minority against the Scottish juries bill, 20 June 1823. He divided against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb., and was in the government majority on the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. He was granted ten days’ leave to attend to urgent private business, presumably in connection with his appointment as secretary of embassy and acting minister plenipotentiary to Russia, 21 Feb. 1825. At this time he was reported as being likely to support a plot (which came to nothing) to unseat his Windsor colleague Ramsbottom at the next election.9 He voted for Catholic relief, which his father had opposed, 1 Mar.; but a few days later he left for St. Petersburg, where he remained in service until March 1828.10 His vote for Catholic claims did not pass unnoticed by George IV, who later in the year informed him that he would be turned out at the next dissolution. Taylor, acting as the channel of communication, told the king’s secretary that his brother-in-law had expressed ‘considerable mortification’, and was

anxious that it should be understood that if he had been aware that such vote, as being the Court Member for Windsor, could have been construed as committing His Majesty’s opinion upon so important a question, he would not have given it. He considered it as the expression of his own individual sentiments upon a question which he had understood to be open to him as to all others. He does not however presume to remonstrate, but he bows with dutiful submission to His Majesty’s pleasure, trusting that his conduct has not been in any other respect such as to subject him to His Majesty’s disapprobation ... He is indeed too deeply impressed with a sense of his obligations and those of his family and connections to His Majesty to allow any other feeling than that of gratitude and devotion to influence him, but this sense naturally adds to his regret that he should in any respect have incurred His Majesty’s displeasure ... It is his determination to devote himself zealously to the duties of his profession. Hitherto indeed it has proved more honourable than lucrative and I fear that this observation applies more particularly to the mission at St. Petersburg.11

Soon after arriving there Disbrowe, who acted as minister until the arrival of Lord Strangford in November 1825, had reflected that it would be ‘positively disadvantageous to throw away one pin to obtain the exchange for another secretaryship’:

Here I am at once minister plenipotentiary, and I retain my rank even when an ambassador is present. It is expensive, certainly, but the post is an important one, consequently more likely to lead to a good mission at least. If I am to continue in that career, that point is well worth consideration.

His wife, who went out to join him in June, thought it ‘a very honourable appointment, and a step (a long one too) in his profession’, though she was

sorry ... at giving up our snug country Darby and Joan life for all the plagues and tinsel of diplomacy. I once thought I was ambitious, but either I was mistaken in the conjecture, or the quality is worn out, or perhaps having attained my wishes I want nothing more.12

Disbrowe, who was duly replaced as Court Member for Windsor by an anti-Catholic at the 1826 general election, again became acting minister at St. Petersburg on Strangford’s departure in June that year.

He remained a serving diplomat for the rest of his life, though he never scaled the heights of the profession. He was a long-serving envoy to the Netherlands from January 1836. He survived a bid by Queen Victoria to have him removed in 1842 on account of what she considered his ‘de