DOYLE, Sir John Milley (1781-1856), of Knockbrack, co. Carlow

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



1831 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 1781, 2nd s. of Rev. Nicholas Milley Doyle, rect. of Newcastle, co. Tipperary and Anne, da. of M. Bowers. m. 1 Oct. 1817, Mary, da. of Maj. Bryan of co. Kilkenny, s.p. kntd. 28 July 1814; KCB 2 Jan. 1815. d. 9 Aug. 1856.

Offices Held

Ensign 107 Ft. 1794; lt. 108 Ft. 1794; capt. 81 Ft. 1803, 87 Ft. 1804; insp.-gen. Guernsey militia 1805-9, 1814-16; maj. army 1809; lt.-col. 1811; half-pay 1816; col. 1825; ret. 1825.

Sjt.-at-arms to Queen Victoria 1853-d.


Doyle, who joined the army in 1794 aged 13 and saw service in the Irish rebellion of 1798, was nephew to the distinguished generals Welbore Ellis Doyle and Sir John Doyle, Member for Newport, Isle of Wight, 1806-7, a founder member of the Irish Whig Club, whom he served as aide-de-camp during the Egyptian campaign, 1800-1, and as inspector-general of the Guernsey militia, 1805-9. He fought with distinction in the Peninsular wars in the joint service of the English and Portuguese armies (in which he was made lieutenant-colonel in 1809), commanding the 16th Portuguese infantry regiment under the duke of Wellington and subsequently the 6th Portuguese brigade. He retired from the Portuguese service in 1814 but did not return to Ireland until 1816; it was later reported that he had spent a fortune on ‘improvements for the benefit of Portugal, by making public roads, instituting mail coaches, and establishing steam communication’.1 In 1817 he married the only daughter of one Major Bryan of county Kilkenny, but two years later sued for divorce on the ground of her adultery with George Peter Browne, the brother of Dominick Browne*. During the well-publicized trial in Dublin in 1820, Doyle’s elder brother Charles, rector of Castleblackeney, county Galway, let slip that Doyle had ‘formed a connection with a Portuguese girl, by whom he had two children’, and that she had followed him to Ireland, whereupon he ‘gave her a fortune of £500 and married her to a publican in Cork’. Attempts by the defence to prove that Doyle had ‘intrigued with the Portuguese girl since his marriage’ failed, and the jury found in his favour and awarded him damages of £5,000. The marriage was dissolved by Act of Parliament, 1 July 1822.2

On 5 June 1823 Doyle informed Wellington of his departure for Portugal in a chartered steamer, the Royal George, in which he took dispatches to Dom Pedro’s family at Cadiz. He remained in the service of Pedro until May 1828, when he was imprisoned in a dungeon in Lisbon by the de facto government of Dom Miguel. On 24 July Sir John Doyle requested Wellington’s assistance in securing his release and, following the intervention of Lord Aberdeen, the foreign secretary, and representations by English merchants in Lisbon, he was liberated and banished from Portugal.3 In 1829 Doyle published the first of many pamphlets claiming compensation from the Portuguese government.4 At the general election the following year he declined to offer for Carlow, where the Liberal club was attempting to open the borough, telling its secretary that he ‘would not spend a guinea on it’.5 During the Dublin contest he was put in nomination by the supporters of Henry Grattan II* for tactical reasons.6 In a confidential letter to Peel, the home secretary, later that year, Wellington recommended that Doyle’s sister, Mrs. Wheeler, should be placed under surveillance after reports of ‘a meeting of mischievous people’ at her Surrey home, adding, ‘the family is bad’.7

At the 1831 general election Doyle came forward for county Carlow as a ‘reformer’. A ‘victim of Dom Miguel’s tyranny’, he promised to emulate his uncle, whose pro-Catholic views he shared. A contest was averted at the last minute and he was returned unopposed.8 He attended a reform dinner with Daniel O’Connell*, 23 May 1831.9 In the House, he demanded immediate disbandment of the Irish yeomanry, 30 June, voted in favour of printing the Waterford petition for their disarmament, 11 Aug., presented a similar one from Leighlin Bridge, Carlow, 6 Sept., and claimed that he had been fired on during his canvass by yeomanry ‘who had been drinking’, 9 Sept. On 6 July Charles Fox* urged his father Lord Holland, a member of Lord Grey’s cabinet, to meet Doyle for ‘ten minutes’, explaining that he had been

abominably treated by Dom Miguel and has been a little cavalierly dealt with here at the foreign office respecting his claims on Portugal. A very little will make him turn from a zealous friend to be a bitter enemy and these things should be avoided ... He is a bore but I believe an honest fellow and has in Portugal been horridly treated.10

Doyle voted for the second reading of the reintroduced ministerial reform bill, 6 July, and gave general support to its details, though he was in the minority for the disfranchisement of Saltash, 26 July, and absent from the division on the inclusion of Guildford in schedule B, 29 July, having protested the previous night that ‘if we are to go on, night after night, in this way’, the ‘bill will have the effect of destroying all our constitutions’. He argued that it was ‘false economy’ to withdraw the ‘paltry grant’ to Maynooth, 8 July. He contended that if ministers had heeded his advice to investigate the ‘irregularities’ of the Carlow election by appointing ‘one or more magistrates unconnected with the county and its party politics’, the atrocity at Newtownbarry in the neighbouring county of Wexford would not have occurred, 25 July. That day he voted against the grant for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels in the colonies. On 27 July he attacked the government’s ‘apathy with respect to Portugal’ and their ‘much-boasted system of non-interference’, which had been ‘anything but the order of the day’. He divided against disqualification of the Dublin election committee, 29 July. He asserted that the ‘greatest illiberality prevails among many of the Protestant clergymen in Ireland’, citing the example of a Carlow rector who had declined to distribute his money to the poor because Doyle supported reform, 5 Aug. He denounced the ‘present mode of administering justice in Ireland’, 10 Aug., and declared that nothing could be ‘so ruinous and destructive to a country as the present grand jury system’, 29 Sept. He divided against the Irish union of parishes bill, 19 Aug., and for legal provision for the Irish poor, 29 Aug., and welcomed the appointment of Lord Duncannon* as lord lieutenant of county Carlow, 6 Oct. He voted for the third reading of the reform bill, 19 Sept., its passage, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831.

Doyle contended that if the Irish reform bill was fair ‘agitations would cease’, 12 Dec. 1831. He voted for the second reading of the revised English reform bill, 17 Dec., supported its details, and divided for its third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He voted with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July (as a pair), and was in their majority against a motion for papers on Portugal, 9 Feb., when he spoke of the need for an inquiry and denounced Miguel as a ‘little petty tyrant’ whose supporters were ‘the decided enemies of everything British and liberal’. He condemned the ‘nefarious’ activities of Spain in assisting ‘the present usurper on the bloodstained throne of Portugal, notwithstanding its pledge to the contrary to France and England’, 26 Mar. On 13 Apr. Lord Palmerston, the foreign secretary, took up his claim for compensation and instructed the British consul at Lisbon to demand £6,900 from the Portuguese government.11 Doyle voted in favour of printing the Woollen Grange petition for the abolition of Irish tithes, 16 Feb., and presented a similar one from Dunleckney, 5 Mar. He divided against the Irish tithes bill, 8, 27, 30 Mar., 12, 13 July, but on 9 Apr. was one of the Members ‘usually opposing ministers’ who supported Crampton’s amendment with regard to the payment of arrears.12 He voted against the Irish registry of deeds bill that day. He was in the majority against information on military punishments, 16 Feb., and argued that although the death penalty should be abolished in peacetime, it should be continued in time of war, 2 Apr. He was in the minority of 31 for inquiry into the Peterloo massacre, 15 Mar. On 10 May he voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired. He divided for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, but having warned that he ‘was not altogether friendly’ to it, 16 Apr., was in the minorities for motions to extend the county franchise to £5 freeholders and £30 copyholders, 18 June. He argued and was a minority teller for inquiry into the cause of the disturbances in Ireland rather than the efficiency of its laws, 23 May. He divided for a tax on absentee Irish landlords to provide permanent provision for the poor, 19 June. He voted for a system of representation in New South Wales, 28 June. He defended the ‘exceedingly liberal’ corporation of Dublin, 2 July. In his last known speech, 7 Aug. 1832, he condemned the ‘barbarity’ and ‘monstrous conduct’ of Russia towards the Poles.

In September 1832 Doyle accepted an invitation to join the army of Dom Pedro as his aide-de-camp and announced his retirement from his seat; he was gazetted a major-general at Oporto, 9 Nov.13 Later that year Colonel Hodges told Palmerston that ‘he did not like the company of his fellow countrymen in Portugal, deserters and NCOs masquerading as captains, and blackmailers and bankrupts, like Harriette Wilson’s "husband" and Sir John Milley Doyle, as commanders’.14 On 2 Apr. 1833 Thomas Raikes recorded that there had been a mutiny in Dom Pedro’s fleet and that Admiral Sartorius had refused to act until the arrears due to his crew were settled, whereupon Doyle had been ‘sent on board to place him under arrest, and Sartorius immediately ordered him to be detained as a prisoner till the grievances are paid’.15 At the end of the war in May 1834 The Times reported that Doyle, ‘with his cursed fatality of blundering’, had ‘unluckily involved himself in a quarrel’ with Colonel Bacon, with whom he had agreed to serve on Portuguese pay until the capture of Lisbon, adding that Doyle ‘is himself as gallant a fellow as ever drew a sword, but his judgement is weak and, with the best intentions and kindest nature, he is constantly giving offence even to those whom he most means to serve’.16 Owed substantial arrears of pay, Doyle applied to the new Portuguese government, who compelled him to resign his commission and issued a sum ‘far short of the amount due’. He was the principal promoter of a mixed commission appointed to investigate the similar claims of other officers, all of whom received payment, while he alone was excluded.17 In 1839, following a series of unsuccessful lawsuits, he petitioned the Commons for the outstanding compensation that had been demanded by Palmerston, who agreed to look into the matter. In 1841 his carriage was seized at Newry for non-payment of a hotel bill, and on 18 June 1843 he was declared insolvent in the debtors’ court, which determined that he owed a ‘rather voluminous’ £37,908, most of which was attributed to the money due to him for ‘services rendered’ and ‘heavy law expenses’. He was denied bail.18 Further pamphlets in support of his claims on Portugal appeared that year and in 1845 and 1846.19 A petition against the rejection of his claim by the mixed commission was presented and endorsed by the duke of Richmond in the Lords, 5 Mar. 1846, but went no further.20 Thereafter Doyle appears to have abandoned his campaign. He was appointed a military knight of Windsor and serjeant-at-arms to Queen Victoria in 1853. He died intestate in the lower ward, Windsor Castle, in August 1856 and was buried on the green, on the south side of St. George’s Chapel.21

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. Oxford DNB; The Times, 9 Oct. 1828, 11 Aug. 1856.
  • 2. Speech in Court of Common Pleas, Dublin, 22 May 1820 by Holwell Walshe, 2-39; The Times, 27, 29 May 1820; LJ, lv. 32-33, 83-85, 183, 217, 225, 274, 276, 282; CJ, lxxvii. 330, 346, 381, 389.
  • 3. Wellington mss WP1/764/5; 953/17, 18; 957/25; Gent. Mag. (1856), ii. 383; The Times, 11 Aug., 9 Sept., 9 Oct. 1828, 25 July 1839.
  • 4. Memo. of Sir J. M. Doyle to Lord Aberdeen (1829).
  • 5. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1681.
  • 6. Dublin Evening Post, 7, 10, 12 Aug. 1830.
  • 7. Wellington mss WP1/1154/6.
  • 8. Kilkenny Moderator, 30 Apr., 2, 5, 9, 12, 14 May 1831.
  • 9. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1810.
  • 10. Add. 51786.
  • 11. The Times, 25, 31 July 1839.
  • 12. Ibid. 10 Apr. 1832.
  • 13. Ibid. 12 Oct. 1832; The Claim of Sir John Milley Doyle (1843), 5.
  • 14. K. Bourne, Palmerston, 394.
  • 15. Raikes Jnl. i. 174.
  • 16. The Times, 16 May 1834.
  • 17. Ibid. 14 Mar. 1846; Gent. Mag. (1856), ii. 384.
  • 18. The Times, 25, 31 July 1839, 20 June 1842; Claim, 5-10.
  • 19. J.S. Moore, Case of Sir J. M. Doyle and the Government of the Queen of Portugal(1845); Sir J. M. Doyle and the Portuguese Government. Sketch of the Case (1846).
  • 20. LJ, lxxviii. 122-4; The Times, 12 Mar. 1846.
  • 21. Gent. Mag. (1856), ii. 384.