GRAVES, Thomas North, 2nd Bar. Graves [I] (1775-1830), of Bishop's Court, nr. Exeter, Devon and Thanckes, Cornw.
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Family and Educationb. 28 May 1775, 1st s. of Adm. Thomas Graves†, 1st Bar. Graves [I], of Thanckes and Elizabeth, da. and coh. of William Peere Williams of Cadhay, Devon. educ. Eton 1788-92; Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1794; I. Temple 1792. m. 27 June 1803, Lady Mary Paget, da. of Henry, 1st earl of Uxbridge, 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 7da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 2nd Bar. Graves [I] 9 Feb. 1802; kntd. 20 Aug. 1821. d. 7 Feb. 1830.
Comptroller of household to duke of Sussex 1804-d.; ld. of bedchamber 1813-27; commr. of excise 1827-d.
Ensign, E. Devon militia 1794, lt. 1795, capt. 1796; maj. Devon yeomanry 1802, lt.-col. 1823.
Graves, a fat and impoverished courtier, was a target for the low wit of the youngest of his five brothers-in-law, Berkeley Paget*, who reported in 1811:
Mon petit Graves is solely occupied during the morning in instructing ladies in cotillons and in the evening in dancing them. Waltzing also engages his attention. I do flatter myself we shall see him one of these days on the stage. Though in size somewhat similar one cannot well compare him to Shakespeare’s elephant in Troilus and Cressida.
"The Elephant hath joints, but none for courtesy, His legs are for necessity, not for flexure".
A year later, Paget ‘heard that the Fat Man had so seriously shaken his huge carcase that he could never hunt again’, which ‘would be a fortunate event not only for himself, but his horse’. Graves was said to have reacted furiously when Sir John Burke* mocked him after his attempt at an elegant entrechat at a ball at Almack’s deposited him on the floor, warning that ‘if you think I am too old to dance, I consider myself not too old to blow your brains out’. Another of the Paget brothers, Charles, viewed Graves with some distaste, describing him as ‘an exemplification in his own person of the sentiment, which he told me he was confident pervaded the breast of mankind in general, self-interest and self-enjoyment’. Charles later wrote:
Of his integrity I never had any opinion, if it suited his purpose to lie. I therefore never have confided him with anything, though I have always been on the best terms with him on account of his good humour and companionable qualities. But I don’t suppose the man exists, who respects or esteems him. The main support of his character has been his connection with us.1
He had sat for Okehampton on the Savile interest and New Windsor on the Castle interest, and in 1820 was returned for Milborne Port by his eldest brother-in-law Lord Anglesey.
He naturally continued to support Lord Liverpool’s ministry but, as before, he was an indifferent attender. He was granted a month’s leave for private business, 23 June 1820. He voted to defend ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He divided against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., and disfranchisement of ordnance officials, 12 Apr. In a noisy debate on the army estimates, 11 Apr., he denied William Smith’s allegation that he and his cronies ‘at the lower part of the House’ were only there to heckle Joseph Hume.2 In October 1821 he applied, though his wife, for a United Kingdom peerage, but Liverpool held out no hope of his obtaining one in the foreseeable future.3 He divided against more extensive tax reductions, 11 Feb., and dissociated himself and most people of ‘rank and fortune’ from the Devon petition on that subject, which advocated parliamentary reform, 25 Feb. 1822.4 He voted against reduction of the salt duties, 28 Feb., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. When ministers mustered votes against a civil list inquiry, 15 May, he was ‘brought down in all haste’ and in full uniform from the theatre, where he had attended the king, only to be shut out of the division.5 He divided against the removal of Catholic peers’ disabilities, 30 Apr., and inquiry into the lord advocate’s conduct towards the Scottish press, 25 June 1822. Shortly afterwards he accompanied George IV on his visit to Scotland and featured in a comical report of the levee at Edinburgh:
Lord Graves ... told all the men as they entered that they must kiss hands. Some who had had the benefit of a grammar school made violent attempts to kiss both in lettered obedience, others who were more elegant and degages in their manner, kissed their own hands to the king as they passed him bowing, and at last the king was obliged to order Graves to say "kiss the king’s hand".
That autumn Lord John Russell* heard that Graves was ‘out of favour’ with the king.6 He voted against repeal of the house tax, 10 Mar., inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., Scottish parliamentary reform, 2 June, and inquiry into delays in chancery, 5 June 1823. Later that year he sought relief from the pressing financial problems created by his large family by asking the king to intervene to secure him a ‘lucrative’ office, but George IV declined to interfere with government patronage and threw him on the mercy of ministers.7 He voted against the motion to condemn the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. He divided against Catholic relief, 21 Apr., 10 May, and defended Anglesey from criticism of his recent declaration of hostility to it in the current disturbed state of Ireland, 26 May 1825. He voted against the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. He divided for the Cumberland annuity bill, 2, 6, 10 June 1825. His name appears on Charles Tennyson’s* list of the majority against the third reading of the spring guns bill, 27 Apr. 1826.8 He was returned unopposed for Milborne Port at the general election that summer.
He divided against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, after Lord Lowther* had urged the king’s private secretary to exert royal pressure on Graves and a fellow courtier to set an example and so ‘render the loyal Protestants an effectual support.9 That June he secured an excise place, which removed him from the House. He was thought to be in line for a United Kingdom peerage at the end of the year, but the honour eluded him.10 For some time he lived apart from his wife, who was provided with a grace and favour apartment at Hampton Court, although financial necessity rather than marital breakdown may have caused their separation. In January 1830 London society gossip was dominated by a luridly publicized tale that Graves had caught his wife and the infamous duke of Cumberland in flagrante at Hampton Court and was ‘bent on a divorce’. Lady Graves, it was claimed, had been discovered ‘once before with the duke of Cambridge, though the matter was then hushed up’.11 The following month Graves created a ‘prodigious sensation’ by cutting his throat, apparently unable to live with the insinuation that he had been bribed to connive in his wife’s adultery. A hastily summoned inquest returned a verdict of suicide ‘in a sudden fit of delirium’, and in the press Cumberland was vilified as Graves’s murderer. Most observers dismissed the story of Lady Graves’s infidelity as a complete fabrication, concocted by Cumberland’s political enemies, and the duke himself vigorously protested his innocence in private. Yet there were some, including Lord Durham, who were prepared to vouch for the fact of Graves’s ‘discovery’ and to attribute his act of self-destruction to his having been forced ‘by the king’s command’ to make a ‘disgraceful and humiliating retraction’ of his allegation.12 Whatever the truth of the matter, at least one contemporary of Graves, John Douglas*, who had known him since their Oxford days, recalled him with affection: ‘a more honourable, kinder hearted man does not exist’.13