FITZROY, Hon. Henry (1807-1859), of 24 Chapel Street, Mdx.
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Education
b. 2 May 1807, 2nd s. of George Ferdinand, 2nd Bar. Southampton (d. 1810), and 2nd w. Frances Isabella, da. of Lord Robert Seymour†. educ. Magdalen, Oxf. 1826.1 m. 29 Apr. 1839, Hannah Meyer, da. of Nathan Meyer, Bar. de Rothschild, of London, 1s. d.v.p. 1da. d. 17 Dec. 1859.
Cornet 4 Drag. 1827, lt. 1829, ret. 1831.
Ld. of admiralty Feb. 1845-July 1846; under-sec. of state for home affairs. Dec. 1852-Feb. 1855; PC 8 Feb. 1855; chairman of cttees. Apr. 1855-June 1859; first commr. of works June 1859-d
A member of the cadet branch of the duke of Grafton’s family, Fitzroy was the younger son of the 2nd Baron Southampton, who died when he was only three years old, leaving him as the heir presumptive to his elder brother Charles. They were raised by their ‘austerely Calvinist’ mother, who regularly administered severe physical punishments. Such a childhood left an indelible imprint and produced ‘a certain timidity’ in his character, though he ‘stood well over six feet, with thick black hair, bright blue eyes and a ready smile’.2 He joined the cavalry in 1829 but did not persevere in that line. At the 1831 general election he offered for Worcester as ‘an advocate of moderate reform’ opposed to the ‘sweeping measures’ proposed by the Grey ministry, but on being ‘refused a hearing’ in the city he withdrew; according to the local press he did so after discovering that ‘the influence of the purse with which he was provided would nought avail him’.3 When the sitting Tory Members for Great Grimsby, George Harris and John Villiers Shelley, were unseated on petition, 2 Aug. 1831, they vowed to introduce two anti-reformers at the subsequent by-election. Fitzroy and Lord Loughborough duly accompanied them to the borough, where they were warmly received. At his nomination Fitzroy told the electors that he professed the same principles as their unseated Members and accused his and Loughborough’s opponents of being no more than nominees of the Whig Lord Yarborough, who had previously been able to control Great Grimsby’s elections. He pipped Loughborough by one vote to top the poll.4
Fitzroy voted against ministers on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. 1831. He divided to preserve the existing rights of freemen under the reform bill, 27 Aug., and in his maiden speech three days later argued against robbing ‘these honest and incorrupt voters’ of the franchise, citing the reduction of the electorate that would occur in Great Grimsby and the desire of freemen to pass on their rights to their children, which they valued ‘as strongly as the higher classes do, the desire of transmitting their fortunes and their titles to their posterity’. He was in the minority for preserving the rights of non-resident freemen that day. He divided against the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept. He was one of only seven Members who voted for Waldo Sibthorp’s complaint of a breach of privilege by The Times, 12 Sept., when he also voted for inquiry into how far the Sugar Refinery Act could be renewed with due regard to the interests of the West Indian producers. He voted against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831. When Great Grimsby’s place in schedule B came before the House, 23 Feb. 1832, he followed Loughborough in defending the borough and its reputation, declaring that not only had its population increased significantly since 1821, but that it was likely soon ‘to become one of the most important seaports in the kingdom’. He predicted that the bill would hand control of the borough to Yarborough, and in response to Robert Waithman, who suggested that Great Grimsby was ‘notoriously corrupt’, insisted that neither he nor his colleague had ‘ever made a single promise of money to any voter’. He voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and the second reading of the Irish measure, 25 May. He divided against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July 1832.
At the 1832 general election Fitzroy unsuccessfully contested Northampton as a Conservative. He was defeated at Lewes in 1835, but returned at a by-election in 1837 and sat until 1841, when he was beaten but seated on petition. He remained a Member until his death. Initially a Conservative and a supporter of free trade, he gravitated to the Liberal party.5 In 1838 he met Hannah Meyer Rothschild, the daughter of the Jew Nathan Rothschild, founder of the English branch of the family’s banking interest, and reputedly Europe’s richest man.6 He soon asked for her hand, but the Rothschilds objected on religious grounds and asked Fitzroy to leave the country for six months to test Hannah’s devotion to him. He went to Athens and Constantinople and on his return found her determined to marry him. Despite continued disapproval, tacit consent was given to the union, although only one family member, Hannah’s brother, attended the wedding. There was no dowry, and her change of religion caused her to be disinherited. This came as a double blow, as Fitzroy’s brother, on whom he depended for an income (his father not having provided for him), decided, at his wife’s behest, to stop Fitzroy’s allowance as he was marrying into a rich family: this led to the brothers not speaking for 14 years. Although his political career was successful and he served in administrations headed by Sir Robert Peel, Lord Aberdeen and Lord Palmerston, Fitzroy never achieved the high office he coveted. At the home office he was responsible for Acts regulating hackney cabs and for extending the jurisdiction of county courts.7 He spent four years as chairman of committees in the House, working extremely long hours. This, it was said, together with the death of his invalid son, broke his health. He failed in his bid to be elected Speaker in 1857, but returned to a ministerial post at the board of works in June 1859. Plagued by constant ill health, he tendered his resignation in September, but Palmerston rejected his offer, saying, ‘When I have got a good man in an office which requires a good man, I do not easily part with him. Therefore take your time’. He went to convalesce in Brighton, but was confined to his bed for four weeks. He again offered his resignation, but before anything was done he died in December 1859, still heir presumptive to his brother. By his will, dated 11 Nov. 1858, he bequeathed all his real and personal estate to his wife, and directed that she should do as she saw fit ‘for the benefit of herself and our daughter Blanche’.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Authors: Martin Casey / Philip Salmon
- 1. Oxford DNB continues to confuse this Member with his namesake (d. 1877), who attended Eton and Trinity Coll. Camb. (The same error in DNB is identified in Alumni Cantab. pt. 2, ii. 514.) Oxford DNB also gives a death date of 22 Dec. 1859, following Gent. Mag. (1860), i. 184. The correct date, as reported in The Times, 20 Dec. 1859 and Fitzroy’s will, is 17 Dec.
- 2. R. Henrey, A Century Between, 11.
- 3. Worcester Herald, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
- 4. Lincoln, Rutland, and Stamford Mercury, 19 Aug. 1831.
- 5. Dod’s Parl. Companion (1847), 166.
- 6. Unless otherwise indicated, the rest of this biography is based on Henrey.
- 7. Gent. Mag. (1860), i. 184.