EDGCUMBE, Ernest Augustus, Visct. Valletort (1797-1861).

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 May 1819 - 1826
1826 - 1830
1830 - 14 Dec. 1830
20 Dec. 1830 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 23 Mar. 1797, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Richard Edgcumbe†, 2nd earl of Mount Edgcumbe, and Lady Sophia Hobart, da. of John Hobart†, 2nd earl of Buckinghamshire; bro. of Hon. George Edgcumbe*. educ. Harrow until 1811; Sandhurst. m. 6 Dec. 1831, Caroline Augusta, da. and coh. of R.-Adm. Charles Feilding, 2s. 1da. styled Visct. Valletort 1818-39. suc. fa. as 3rd earl of Mount Edgcumbe 26 Sept. 1839. d. 3 Sept. 1861.

Offices Held

Ensign and lt. 1 Ft. Gds. 1814-19; col. Cornw. militia 1821; col. and militia a.d.c. to William IV 1830-7, to Queen Victoria 1837-57.

Mayor, Lostwithiel 1823, 1830.

Biography

Valletort, whom the duke of Bedford described as ‘amiable, good-hearted, affectionate and very far from deficient in understanding’,1 had been seated on petition for Fowey, where his father had some influence, in May 1819, and was returned unopposed in 1820. He gave silent support to Lord Liverpool’s ministry, but his attendance was intermittent. He divided against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. Early in 1821 it was reported that he had ‘returned from Paris, having lost his money at the salon and his heart to Miss Fitzgerald, but, like his kind, perfectly happy without either’.2 He voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. He divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He voted against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., and Hume’s economy and retrenchment motion, 27 June 1821. He divided against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., and reform in Scotland, 2 June 1823. He voted against reduction of the sinking fund, 3 Mar., repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiries into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and delays in chancery, 5 June 1823. In January 1824 he was said to be ‘still a great cripple’, presumably after an accident, and ‘thinks he is lame for life’;3 his only recorded vote that session was against inquiry into the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June. He voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825. He was named as a defaulter, 28 Feb., but attended next day to divide for Catholic relief, one of several conversions that Edward Littleton* attributed to the influence of Plunket’s speech.4 He ‘felt proud of the triumph which his reason had enabled him to achieve over the strong and early prejudices which he had unjustly entertained’ on the subject, 21 Apr., and expressed confidence that emancipation would ‘ultimately succeed’; he voted for relief that day, and again, 10 May. He presented, without comment, an East Stonehouse petition for revision of the corn laws, 26 Apr. 1825.5 He divided against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr. 1826. At the general election that summer he abandoned Fowey, which he had allegedly neglected, and was returned unopposed for Lostwithiel on his father’s interest.6

He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828. He presented a Lostwithiel anti-slavery petition, 16 June, and voted with the duke of Wellington’s ministry against reducing the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828. In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, listed him as being ‘with government’ on Catholic emancipation; he voted accordingly, 30 Mar. 1829. He wrote to Gilbert John Heathcote, 9 Feb. 1830, that if he ‘really wish[ed] the government well’ he should attend the House on the forthcoming ‘general field day on a motion of Hume’s for retrenchment’, as ‘a vote now is worth a dozen later’. He regretted that ‘Huskisson and his party are as bitter and jesuistical in and out of the House as possible’.7 He divided against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., Lord Blandford’s reform plan, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. Amidst continued heckling, he condemned this last proposal as the ‘first approach of the advanced guard of those reformers’ who were bent on making a ‘violent and ill-directed assault ... against all the political institutions of this country’. He was convinced that ‘reform will produce no practical good’ and dismissed attempts to blame the lack of parliamentary representation for the economic ills of large industrial towns such as Birmingham, whose interests were ‘sufficiently represented by the general mass’ of Members. He considered it his duty to support Wellington’s ‘energetic and efficient administration’ and hoped to see a strong and consistent opposition in the House, rather than ‘a number of parties, all taking a different course’. In opposing O’Connell’s ‘injurious’ reform motion, 28 May, he claimed to be equally ‘attached to rational liberty’. He agreed that all men had equal rights to the protection of property and person, but ‘other constitutional rights’ were ‘defined by the law’. He rejected radical complaints about corruption, asserting that the House contained ‘as much honour ... talent and ability as ever has been congregated in any assembly’, and he trusted that the country would never fall into the hands of ‘factious demagogues’. He divided against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and paired against abolishing the death penalty for forgery, 7 June 1830. The following month he declined the post of vice chamberlain of the household, explaining to Wellington that ‘under present circumstances’ he would ‘feel greater pleasure in being permitted to give His Majesty’s government my support in the House ... as an independent man’, which he believed would be ‘in some degree more efficient’. However, he was persuaded to accept an appointment as aide-de-camp to William IV.8 At the general election that summer he was returned for Plympton Erle on his father’s interest.

The ministry regarded Valletort as one of their ‘friends’, but he privately informed Wellington, 11 Nov. 1830, that he must oppose them on Sir James Graham’s motion against the appointment of the high Tory controversialist Henry Phillpotts as bishop of Exeter. He regretted the need for such action at a time when he would have preferred to help strengthen the government, but he warned that many other Members, who were well disposed to ministers and the Church of England, but who also had to serve the public, felt the same way; the duke invited him to Downing Street to hear an explanation.9 He voted with ministers in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. Next month he transferred to the vacant seat for Lostwithiel. He trusted that his ‘locality may not be taken as an indication of my sentiments’ and said he would support Lord Grey’s ministry whenever possible, 9 Dec. 1830, but he hoped that they would ‘not inflict permanent injury upon the country’ by taking their planned reduction of salaries too far. He insisted that their reform bill would be ‘productive of no benefit whatever’, 21 Mar. 1831, as it would not satisfy the majority of the people who remained excluded from the franchise. He urged that ‘this is not a time to try experiments’ and that ‘you cannot make the slightest change without producing consequences of a most lamentable description’, and he advised Members to ‘give the benefit of their doubt to that state of representation which exists’. He regretted the want of sympathy between Parliament and the people, but claimed that this was ‘mainly’ due to the language used by ministers, who ‘instead of attempting to allay excitement, do everything in their power to increase it’. He voted against the bill’s second reading next day. He feared that the redistribution of seats to large towns would ‘destroy [the] balance of interests ... in the country’ by giving ‘a more than due influence to the commercial’, 13 Apr. He divided for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., and condemned the resulting dissolution as ‘the height of criminality’ by ministers whose ‘reckless boldness’ had induced them to appeal to the country before it ‘returned to a state of calmness and quiet’, 21 Apr. 1831. He stood for Cornwall at the general election and promised to approach the reform question with ‘a mind unbiased by party ... feelings’, declaring that he would ‘no longer ... oppose all attempts to amend the representative system, provided ... they do not ... endanger the existence of those institutions upon which depend the property, the rights and the liberties of all’. However, he came bottom of the poll and was returned again for Lostwithiel.10

He sought Wellington’s approval before attending the Pitt dinner in May 1831, as he believed that ‘nothing can ... be effected but by a union of action upon all occasions and ... we must always look upon you as our guide and our leader’.11 He divided against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, when he repeated his criticism of ministers who had ‘fixed the eyes of the people on the blots of the constitution and closed them against its excellences’. He also blamed the revolution in France for inciting popular opinion in Britain. He declared himself to be ‘a reformer’, but he could ‘never give my consent to so faulty and anomalous a plan’. One Whig minister observed that ‘the roaring of Valletort’ had provided some light relief in a dull debate.12 He demanded that the House should know ‘exactly and clearly’ the principles on which the disfranchisement of boroughs was based before it considered particular cases, 15 July, and voted to use the 1831 census for scheduling purposes, 19 July. He described the disfranchisement of boroughs as ‘arbitrary and unjust’, 22 July, and used the example of Plympton Erle to show ‘the utter absurdity of the bill’. He accused ministers of being willing to ‘break through the rules laid down by themselves, if ... they can disfranchise a place’, but not if it would ‘save a borough’. He also denied that Lostwithiel, which was due to be disfranchised, was an ‘old and impotent’ borough. He denounced the resolutions by the City of London reform meeting as ‘a most presumptuous attempt to deter Members from the conscientious discharge of their duty’, 3 Aug. He voted against the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., when he admitted that the pro-reform feeling ‘appears to be firmly and permanently fixed in the public mind’ but doubted whether the majority favoured this ‘wild, extravagant and arbitrary’ measure. He looked to a ‘fearless’ Upper House to save ‘our ancient constitution’ and said ministers would be responsible for any ‘mischief’ arising from the bill’s rejection. On 13 Oct., following the bill’s defeat in the Lords, he accused ministers of ‘a dereliction of ... duty’ by ‘holding up the institutions of the country to disrespect’, and declared that it was ‘a libel on the English peerage’ to say that they had acted from self-interest. He urged the government to ‘diminish the violent character of the measure’, so that he and others could vote for it, rather than ‘risk ... the consequences which would probably follow’ from a second rejection by the Lords. He attended the Cornwall reform meeting, 26 Oct., but his speech was constantly interrupted. He condemned recent attempts to ‘influence the lower orders against the higher’ and declared that there ‘never was such a collection of deliberate and direct lies ever penned’ as those in the Black Book. He thought the ‘demand for the whole bill was most ridiculous’ and recommended a gradual approach, repeating his willingness to support a ‘more moderate measure’. He warned that the people were ‘deceived’ if they believed they could intimidate the Lords, as were those ‘whose wish it was to drive the rich from their estates’. He predicted that once the bill was passed and ‘the preponderance of power ... thrown into the hands of the manufacturer’, the ‘immediate’ result would be the repeal of the corn laws.13 In the House, 16 Aug. 1831, he sought an explanation for the government’s failure to prevent the French seizure of the Portuguese fleet on the Tagus, which had ‘compromised’ Britain’s ‘honour’, and expressed suspicion that ministers were prepared to use the British fleet on behalf of ‘the revolutionists of Belgium’.

Valletort was absent from the division on the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, presumably owing to his recent marriage, but he privately stated that he would ‘not like to put my name to anything so comprehensive and specific’ as the proposed Cornish declaration for moderate reform.14 He voted against going into committee on the bill, 20 Jan. 1832. He thought it was a ‘strange way to reward the services’ of the Helston yeoman cavalry by depriving the borough of one seat because of their exemption from assessed taxes, 23 Feb. On 20 Mar. he maintained that the supporters of reform were a motley alliance of ‘the mob ... who are influenced more by impulse than reason’, those with a ‘senseless desire of change, for the sake of change’ and those who ‘openly avow that they look upon this measure merely as a stepping stone to ulterior measures ... incompatible with monarchy’. He remained convinced that a majority in the country, some of whom were subject to intimidation or were ‘too timid ... to stem the current’, would have been ‘better pleased with a more moderate experiment upon the constitution’, and he regretted that ministerial intransigence had made it impossible for him to withdraw his opposition. His ‘deepest dread’ was that the Commons would consequently become ‘the mere organ of the excited feelings, the tool of the passing will of the democracy ... ready at its bidding to act as the instrument for annihilating the independence’ of the Lords. He divided against the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar. He voted against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 22 Jan., and paired against them, 12 July. He presented a Liskeard petition in favour of the factory bill, 27 Feb. 1832. That summer he offered for East Cornwall and called on ‘all who are real friends of the constitution’ to unite in defence of ‘those institutions on which our greatness as a nation ... depends’. He warned that repeal of the corn laws would be ‘deeply injurious to the agricultural classes, especially the small proprietor and labourer’, but said he was willing to support certain reforms ‘as may be adapted to the spirit of the age’ and advocated changes in the method of collecting tithes. However, he retired before the poll.15 He succeeded to his father’s title and estates in Devon and Cornwall in 1839. He died in September 1861 and was succeeded by his eldest son, William Henry Edgcumbe (1832-1917), Conservative Member for Plymouth, 1859-61.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Terry Jenkins

Notes

  • 1. Add. 51668, Bedford to Lady Holland, 11 Jan. 1824.
  • 2. Countess Granville Letters, i. 209.
  • 3. Add. 51668, Bedford to Lady Holland, 11 Jan. 1824.
  • 4. TNA 30/29/6/3/93.
  • 5. The Times, 27 Apr. 1825.
  • 6. Treffry mss (Aspinall transcripts), Lucy to Austen, 23 July 1824, 20 Nov. 1825; Carew Pole mss CC/N/59, Mount Edgcumbe to Pole Carew, 21 June 1826.
  • 7. Lincs. AO, Ancaster mss 3/ANC 9/10/30.
  • 8. Wellington mss WP1/1124/8.
  • 9. Ibid. 1150/20; 1154/20.
  • 10. West Briton, 29 Apr., 6, 13, 20 May 1831.
  • 11. Wellington mss WP1/1185/10.
  • 12. Add. 51573, Spring Rice to Lady Holland, 6 July 1831.
  • 13. R. Cornw. Gazette, 29 Oct. 1831.
  • 14. Carew Pole mss CC/N/64, Valletort to Pole Carew, 21 Dec. 1831.
  • 15. Ibid. CO/CC/14, election address, 3 Sept.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 26 June, 18 Aug., 3 Nov. 1832.

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