HEATHCOTE, Gilbert John (1795-1867), of Stocken Hall, Rutland

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



1820 - 1830
1831 - 1832
1841 - 26 Feb. 1856

Family and Education

b. 16 Jan. 1795, 1st s. of Sir Gilbert Heathcote, 4th bt.*, and 1st w. Catherine Sophia, da. of John Manners† of Grantham Grange, Lincs. educ. Westminster 1808-12; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1814. m. 8 Oct. 1827, Hon. Clementina Elizabeth Drummond Burrell, da. of Peter Robert Drummond Burrell†, 2nd Bar. Gwydir, 1s. 2da. suc. fa. as 5th bt. 26 Mar. 1851; cr. Bar. Aveland 26 Feb. 1856. d. 6 Sept. 1867.

Offices Held

Capt. Rutland yeoman cav. 1819, maj. 1820; hon. col. R. South Lincoln militia 1857.

Ld. lt. Lincs. 1862-d.


Heathcote, whose father, probably one of the largest landowners in south Lincolnshire, sat as Whig Member for Rutland, entered Westminster school in January 1808: he was placed in the Upper 4th and ‘so I am not a fag’, he told his mother.1 He left in 1812 and according to an obituary spent some time at Edinburgh University, though no record of his admission has been found. At Cambridge he was assigned a tutor but appears neither to have matriculated nor taken a degree. He was admitted to Brooks’s, sponsored by the duke of Devonshire, 25 Feb. 1816, and two years later, according to Lady Williams Wynn, was ‘very well spoken of, and very gros parti of course’. Nothing came of a proposed marriage to Lady Catherine Osborne in 1818, even though the dowager duchess of Leeds was reported to be delighted by the prospect.2

At the 1820 general election he came forward for the venal borough of Boston, where the family’s influence had been revived, replacing his friend Peter Robert Drummond Burrell on the Blue, or Whig interest. He was too ill to canvass, but headed the poll with a record majority after a two-day contest. His universal popularity, so the Rev. Thomas Kaye Bonney informed Sir Gilbert, more than guaranteed his future return, provided he did not mind the ‘common expense attending it’. His costs, including bribes to freemen, amounted to almost £4,000 and, on the advice of the banker William Garfit, his agent and the nominal head of the Orange party, were settled unobtrusively. He was eager to make himself acquainted with Boston’s affairs and told Garfit of his willingness to be of ‘any service to the freemen’, though he was all too soon aware of their rapaciousness. In line with Sir Gilbert’s wishes, he made a concerted effort at economy, but the uncertainty surrounding the petition against the return of his absentee colleague Henry Ellis undermined his determination not to spend more money before the next election. At the declaration he declared it his first duty to be the ‘organ of his constituents’ and pledged himself to a ‘punctual attendance’ at Westminster.3

A regular attender, who took a keen interest in Boston’s commercial and local affairs, he voted with the Whig opposition to the Liverpool ministry on most major issues, including economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation.4 In July 1820 he told Garfit that although he deplored the proceedings against Queen Caroline, he wished to remain ‘entirely unpledged’, since every Member would be called on to act as a juryman. He nevertheless backed and presented Boston addresses to her at Brandenburgh House, 27 Aug., 27 Nov. 1820, and joined in the opposition campaign in her support.5 In his maiden speech, 26 Jan. 1821, he presented and endorsed a Boston petition calling for restitution of her rights, deprecated ministers’ prosecution of the divorce to the exclusion of every other ‘natural object’, and censured them for bringing the monarchy into disrepute. In line with a request from Garfit, he moved for information on bonded corn, 15 Feb., and was ‘very much amused, though but little flattered’ at being mistaken by more than one reporter for Edward Curteis, Member for Sussex, some 33 years his senior. It may have been his father who divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, for he was ill with a cold at about this time, though he told Garfit that he was ‘able to attend the House very regularly’.6 But it was certainly he who voted thus, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He voted for repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., and presented a petition from Lincolnshire for economy and reduced taxation, 6 Apr. 1821.7 When his new colleague Colonel Johnson presented and endorsed a Boston petition in support of Lambton’s anticipated reform scheme, 17 Apr., he declared himself a ‘sincere friend’ to reform, but not without reservations: he was opposed to sudden constitutional changes and warned the House that impracticable reform measures raised hopes which could not be satisfied. Yet he voted for Lambton’s measure, 18 Apr., Russell’s proposal, 9 May 1821, inquiry into the Scottish burghs, 20 Feb., parliamentary reform, 25 Apr. 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., 2 June 1823, 27 Apr. 1826, and reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb. 1824. Throughout 1821 he made a number of representations to the treasury on behalf of his constituents and was in close contact with Garfit over local issues. On one occasion, having read one or two pamphlets, he told him of his decided opposition to Brougham’s proposal for the education of the poor.8

Heathcote moved for further information on bonded grain, 13 Feb. 1822. On 28 Feb. he presented and endorsed a Louth petition for agricultural relief, observing that neither their industry nor the remission of rent could save Lincolnshire’s farmers from ‘utter ruin’ and ascribing distress to excessive taxation. He brought up a Lincolnshire petition for reduced taxation and parliamentary reform, 25 Mar., but was reported to have offended many of his constituents by not attending a county reform meeting at Lincoln in April.9 In his reply to William Tuxford, one of Boston’s leading Blues, he apologized for his unintentional absence and appealed with ‘perfect confidence’ not only to his attention to constituency affairs, but also to his voting record. He presented petitions on behalf of his father’s Rutland constituents against Ricardo’s proposed fixed duty on corn, 14 May, and the poor removal bill, 31 May, and a Gainsborough petition for repeal of the salt tax, which he endorsed, 17 June 1822.10 He brought up Boston petitions against the Insolvent Debtors Act, 19 Feb., and the General Turnpike Act, 15 Apr. 1823. He appears to have suffered from ill health towards the close of the session, but had completely recovered by late August when, according to the Boston Gazette, his constituents were ‘delighted by his urbanity’. When Charles Anderson Pelham succeeded his father as 2nd Baron Yarborough in September he was eager for Heathcote to replace him as county Member, since, as he told him, ‘your public political conduct exactly agrees with my opinion’. Yarborough, who set his face against the candidature of Sir Robert Heron*, assured Heathcote that Sir William Amcotts Ingilby, the only viable choice as far as he was concerned, would stand down in his favour. As leader of the county Whigs Yarborough was confident of success and assured Heathcote that many of the Tories would find it difficult to fault his conduct. Pressed for an immediate decision in early October, Heathcote declined to stand without a decisive answer from his father. Heron, who withdrew before the publication of Amcotts Ingilby’s first address, was angered by Yarborough’s dictation and urged Heathcote to oppose Amcotts Ingilby, 16 Oct. 1823. Heron wrote again three days later but could not prevail on him to stand, despite his assurance of an ‘easy victory’. Yarborough finally gave Amcotts Ingilby his interest in early December, telling Sir Gilbert, whom he had replaced as county Member in 1807, that nothing would have given him greater pleasure than to have endorsed his son’s candidature, since ‘from what I know and hear from all quarters so excellent a private and public character [as] he would have succeeded’.11

Heathcote pressed government to reduce the duty on excise licences, 4 Mar. 1824, and next day moved for further information on bonded corn. He presented a Boston petition for the abolition of slavery, 15 Mar. According to Lady Williams Wynn, 31 Mar., he was all set to marry Lady Emma Brudenell, a daughter of the 6th earl of Cardigan, but broke off the engagement and was immediately challenged to a duel by her quarrelsome and loose-living brother Lord Brudenell*. When they met, Brudenell, who ironically had formed an association with Elizabeth Johnstone, a married relative of Heathcote’s mother

fired first and the other of course would not return it, so there it ended, the brother only requiring him to sign a certificate that he had no reproach to make to Lady Emma, which he said he was most ready to do, never having thought of making the slightest imputation on her. The story told is, that it is all connected with Lady Emma’s ‘first fault’, or rather to go still higher, with the strong fancy which her mother took originally for Mrs. Johnson, between whom and her daughters, she formed the strictest intimacy. To the continuance of this intimacy under the existing circumstances, Heathcote vehemently objected as far as regard his fiancée, and at last got her to promise to drop it, in spite of which, however, he found that she continued a private correspondence, and taking fright at such a palpable breach of faith, he declared off.

Lady Williams Wynn added that Lady Derby, in conversation with Thomas Creevey*, had commented that Heathcote, after receiving Cardigan’s shot, ought to have said ‘Now, my Lord, I must beg of you to receive my shot for your conduct to my cousin!’. ‘Damned fair, I think’, was Creevey’s reply.12 Shortly afterwards Robert Wilmot Horton* informed Lord Granville that ‘Heathcote comes to the House of Commons but looks wild and conscious and I understand many people cut him. I must say that I think as he has been shot at for his jilting it is enough’.13 Apparently unperturbed, he unsuccessfully objected to the licensing clause of the game laws amendment bill on the grounds that it discriminated against the smaller landowner, 1 Apr. 1824. He presented a Boston maritime petition in favour of the St. Katharine’s Docks bill, 3 Mar., and accordingly opposed its recommitment, 24 Mar. He supported repeal of assessed taxes, 3 Mar., but cautioned Members against bowing to public pressure for abandonment of the sinking fund which, in time of war, had enabled government to ‘arm the troops, and raise the necessary supplies’. On 25 Apr. he urged the free trader William Whitmore not to press for inquiry into the corn laws, since ‘the subject was now agitating the country in an alarming degree’. In the ensuing debate, 28 Apr., he presented a petition against their revision on behalf of his father’s constituents. He took a leading part in opposition to the second reading of the cruelty to animals bill, 11 Mar., explaining that he had heard the evidence of the bill’s proponents and, in particular, of the ‘many injuries inflicted, on a bear baited at the Westminster pit’, but on investigation he had found a healthy animal ‘grown too fat for exercise’. He challenged Members, eager to hear the ‘casuistry by which the question was evaded’, whether it was more cruel to bait a bear with two dogs than to hunt a stag with a pack of hounds, and argued that if Parliament banned bear-baiting yet allowed stag-hunting and other rural sports to continue, it might well be said that they had ‘one law for the poor and another for the rich’. His wrecking amendment was carried by a majority of 18 that day. He opposed the introduction of legislation to increase the scale of fines for the ill-treatment of animals, 24 Mar., and was particularly averse to leaving punishment to the discretion of magistrates. That day he was a majority teller against amending the Cruelty to Animals Act. On the mistaken assumption that he would not stand again for Boston at the next general election George Agar Ellis, then Member for Seaford, sought to replace him during the rumours of a dissolution in the autumn of 1825.14

Heathcote spent some time at Belvoir Castle, in company with Lord and Lady Exeter, as a guest of the 5th duke of Rutland in early February 1826. Speaking in committee on the navigation laws, 14 Feb., he alleged that the commercial treaties with La Planta and Colombia had caused redundancies in the British shipping industry. On 21 Feb. he secured information on the number and tonnage of ships entering British ports. He deprecated the frequent discussions of the Scottish currency, since it undermined what little confidence remained, 6 Mar. He deplored the divisive language of recent petitions against the corn laws, 10 Mar., observing that those from the ‘lower orders’, who were suffering from the ‘pressure of distress’, were entitled to respect, but when petitioners, such as the magistrates of Arbroath, referred to the laws as the ‘bread tax, the landlords’ tax and the job of jobs’, they were sowing the seeds of discord. He presented petitions from Boston for the abolition of slavery, 21 Mar., and from Sunderland shippers against the Reciprocity of Duties Act, 17 Apr., when he argued that the relaxation of the navigation laws, which allowed British and foreign ship owners to trade on equal terms, was detrimental to British shipping. He obtained information on the tonnage of British and foreign ships entering home ports, 26 Apr. He presented a Boston corn merchants’ petition against the bonded corn bill, 5 May, when he warned that the decision to admit foreign corn would upset the market. Elaborating, 8 May, he did not oppose the release of bonded corn to relieve distress, but questioned ministers’ consistency after their defeat of a proposal to reduce agricultural protection on 18 Apr. He opposed the measure as an expedient adopted in response to ‘outrage and clamour’ and was a teller for the minority of 58 in the subsequent division, 8 May. He presented a Boston petition against revision of the corn laws, 9 May 1826.

At the 1826 general election he offered again for Boston and topped the poll after a two-day contest. Before the campaign he drew up a budget to curb expenses, but at the same time told Garfit ‘not to do less than the Pinks’. On the hustings he boasted that during the last six years he had voted on all the ‘great political questions’. He had been returned unpledged in 1820, but trusted that henceforward ‘I shall be known by my zealous exertions to secure the rights and privileges of the freemen’. Alluding to the remarks of his ministerialist colleague Neill Malcolm, he accepted that government had done ‘much for the good of the people’, but he wished them to do more, and called on Malcolm to support the campaign for reduced taxation. He ended by urging those freemen with county votes to support Amcotts Ingilby.15 Heathcote presented a Boston petition for inquiry into the corn laws, 12 Feb., and voted for Catholic claims, 6 Mar. 1827. On 14 Mar. he endorsed a Hull petition for relief for the shipping industry, arguing that the merchant navy was the ‘keystone’ of the nation’s prosperity and observing that Boston’s trade in British vessels had decreased by a third, while foreign shipping had nearly trebled.16 He sought clarification of Sweden’s monopoly restricting the import of salt and hemp to her own merchantmen, 23 Mar., obtained information on the strength of the merchant navy, 27 Mar., and presented petitions for protection of the shipping industry, 2, 3 May.17 He voted for information on the Lisburn Orange procession, 29 Mar., and chancery delays, 5 Apr., and for inquiry into the Irish estimates that day. That month his industry on behalf of his constituents was applauded by the Gazette.18 He was added to the select committee on borough polls, 3 May. He despaired at an intervention challenging Canning over vacancies in his new administration during the debate on the shipping interest, 4 May, and, aware of the impossibility of securing a fair hearing while the composition of the new ministry remained in doubt, called for an adjournment, as ‘there never was a time when the spirit of party was so high, [but] there never was a question brought before the House which required more temperate and less of party feeling’. On the introduction of the bill for the recovery of small debts, 23 May, he called for the abolition of ‘unjust’ acquittal fees in magistrates’ courts and trusted that Peel, though out of office, would continue his programme of legal reforms which had ‘gained him so much credit’. He voted for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May. He was a minority teller against going into committee on the game laws, 8 June. He presented petitions from Rutland and Boston for repeal of the Test Acts, 11, 12 June.19 He obtained information on British maritime trade with Scandinavia and the Baltic, 15 June 1827. In early autumn news of his engagement to the eldest daughter of Drummond Burrell, now 2nd Baron Gwydir, was all over London. Lady Williams Wynn, anxious to see him settled and ‘off our shoulders’, told Fanny Williams Wynn, 5 Sept., that he was once more on the ‘brink of matrimony’. The Gwydirs, she added

will not lose sight of him till the knot is actually tied fast. It has been for sometime the height of their ambition to catch him, having to them, the particular merit of near neighbourhood in addition to all other general ones, so that I think he will hardly slip away.20

Under the terms of the marriage settlement, 25 Sept. 1827, lands in Lincolnshire and Rutland, worth over £7,480 a year, were set aside to provide him with an annual rent charge of £4,000, as well as a jointure of between £2,000 and £3,000 for his wife, then still a minor. They were married at Drummond Castle, Perthshire, and the celebrations at Boston, according to the Gazette, were marked by scenes of ‘drunkenness and depravity’.21

Heathcote presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 22 Feb., but did not vote for it, 26 Feb. 1828. He secured an account of the preceding year’s maritime trade, 24 Mar. He endorsed a petition on the depressed state of the wool trade, citing the ‘extreme anxiety’ that prevailed among farmers and landowners and stating that in some instances the price of wool had fallen by 30 per cent, 17 Apr., and presented petitions for an import duty on wool next day and 28 Apr. He presented petitions against the revised corn duties, 17, 22 Apr., when he declined to explain his objections to the existing scale because of the late hour, and for greater agricultural protection, 24, 25 Apr. Speaking at length in defence of the agricultural interest, 28 Apr., he argued that the agriculturists were the ‘best judges of their own interests’ and vilified those political economists and advocates of the manufacturing interest who professed to know better. That day he complained that the price of freight had not been sufficiently considered in determining British and foreign corn averages. He presented a Boston petition against Catholic claims, 30 Apr., but voted for relief, 12 May. He divided against provision for Canning’s family next day. On 23 May he opposed a call for information on Millbank penitentiary as the relevant statistics were already before the House. He presented but declined to endorse the prayer of the Lincolnshire wool growers’ petition, 3 June, on the ground that their call for protection was too extreme, but he stressed the need for inquiry and hoped that the Wellington ministry would pay more attention to the wool trade. He voted to restrict the circulation of small notes in Scotland and Ireland, 5 June, and presented a petition from Welsh lead miners against the import of foreign ore, 9 June. He presented additional petitions from wool growers, 17, 23 June, and took the opportunity of presenting another, 4 July, to argue the case for further protection. He deprecated the desultory discussion of the usury laws, 15 May, and on 19 June refuted the argument that they had had a ‘ruinous effect on trade’. He sneered at the political economists’ devotion to the open market which, ‘according to the strictest and best approved rules of the art’, would ruin the agricultural interest. On 24 June he protested that the question of financial reform had often been improperly introduced into debate and pledged himself against further opposition to currency reforms during the present session. As a spokesman for the shipping interest, however, he reiterated their grievances in the face of competition from cheaply freighted foreigners. He appreciated the impossibility of effecting a remedy at this late stage, but accepted the assurance of ministers that the maritime interest would be investigated during the recess. He presented petitions for the abolition of slavery, 30 June, and the cessation of £1 notes, 1 July. On 4 July he presented a petition from the coroner of Bury St. Edmunds for increased travel expenses and, later in the same sitting, denounced the practice of introducing important bills at ‘one or two o’clock in the morning’. He voted to abolish the governorship of Dartmouth garrison, 20 June, and to reduce the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828.

In late February 1829 he was listed by Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, among Whigs ‘opposed to securities’ to accompany the concession of Catholic emancipation, for which he voted, 6 Mar. 1829. He rejected the claims of Colonel Sibthorp, the Tory Member for Lincoln, that the county was hostile to the measure, 9 Mar., when he brought up two favourable petitions, and 20 Mar., when he condemned the practice of smuggling covert and unrepresentative petitions into the House and expressed his belief that the majority of freeholders were content to leave the issue to government. On 25 Mar. he urged Byng to withdraw his proposal to indemnify counties against the expense of repairs to roads adjoining public bridges, since it would be lost during the present session. He secured information on the volume of exported and imported wool, 25 Mar. He was in the minority for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, justifying his vote not only on the account of Birmingham’s economic importance, but also from a wish to extend the ‘rights of the people’, 7 May. He spoke against the issue of a new writ that day, though he was aware that many of his Whig friends still wished to save the old constituency, saying that he preferred the respectable freeholders of Bassetlaw to the ‘corrupt and degraded’ voters of East Retford and that it was ridiculous to suppose that the former were under the thumb of the Ultra Tory duke of Newcastle, whose influence there was no more than that which ‘ought fairly to belong to property’. He endorsed a Cumberland petition for agricultural relief and, referring to the dramatic fall in the price of long wool, argued for inquiry, 11 May. Certain that ministers would not revise the corn laws, 14 May, he declared his opposition to Hume’s proposal for inquiry, largely because any discussion would pose a threat to public order, especially in the aftermath of the disturbances in Cheshire and Lancashire. Expanding on this theme, 19 May, he declared that the operation of the existing regulations had proved ‘adequate’ in the face of high prices and repudiated the claim that the laws were responsible for manufacturing distress. On 15 May he presented and endorsed a Lincolnshire petition in support of the Smithfield market bill and urged Members not to disregard the evidence of ‘practical men’. Reiterating his opposition to reform of the usury laws, 25 Mar., he called on the friends of the landed interest to back government in opposing the proposal. He supported a call to permit tobacco cultivation in England as a means of relieving rural unemployment, 1 June 1829.

Heathcote was absent for much of the 1830 session on account of his wife’s serious illness and was described as an ‘idle Member’ in a subsequent radical commentary.22 On 15 Feb. Lord Valletort* urged him to attend the division on Hume’s proposal for retrenchment ‘if you really wish the government well’, but he did not appear more regularly until after the Easter recess, though his friend Lord Exeter kept him abreast of proceedings.23 He presented a Boston petition for relief from agricultural and commercial distress, 16 Mar., when he told the House that graziers were the class of agriculturists most badly affected by the fall in land prices. Speaking in support of reduced taxation, 17 Mar., he endorsed the proposal to increase Irish taxes to offset the shortfall, as in the aftermath of emancipation it was ‘not unreasonable’ that Ireland should bear her ‘fair share’ of the burdens of the United Kingdom. On 19 Mar. he spoke against repeal of the malt tax because it would increase the profits of the ‘great brewers’, and applauded ministers’ attack on the ‘evil folly’ of the brewers’ monopoly, endorsing their proposal to abolish the beer tax: ‘It is by cheap prices alone, that the great mass of the people can be relieved’. He spoke accordingly in support of the second reading of the sale of beer bill, 4 May, but objected to its discussion in committee, 3 June, as many Members had left the chamber on the understanding that it would not be debated at such a late hour. He presented and verified the respectability of a Boston petition for reform of the criminal code, 26 Apr. That day, reaffirming his opposition to the usury laws amendment bill, he declared that in the present state of the economy, which favoured the moneyed interest, it was unjust to allow financiers to charge ‘unlimited interest’, and was a teller for the minority against the second reading. He was assiduous in his subsequent opposition to the bill and spoke against it at length, 6 May, 15 June. He sneered at the petition for relief from the aldermen and livery of London, 17 May, reminding Members that City retailers maintained prices at an ‘abominable’ level, irrespective of the reduction in wholesale prices. He voted to abolish the sugar duties, 21 May. Echoing his father’s objections to the Northern roads bill, he declared his opposition to its public subsidy and presented a petition and voted against it, 3 June. He argued that the labourers’ wages bill was ‘dangerous and injurious’, 11 June. On 7 July he acknowledged that he had not been ‘sufficiently active’ in supporting the revived opposition’s campaign for economy and retrenchment, but vowed to demand ‘efficient reforms’ from ministers in the event of his re-election, and spoke and was in the minority of 11 for the reduction of puisne judges’ salaries. He voted against increased recognizances in cases of blasphemy, 9 July 1830.

At the 1830 general election Heathcote offered again for Boston, where the local reformers had persuaded the radical reformer John Wilks I* to stand. Addressing the freemen, 30 June, Heathcote repudiated criticisms of his lax attendance, saying he had regularly attended to his parliamentary duties for over ten years with the exception of the last four months, in consequence of the dangerous illness of his wife, and even then he had gone up to present petitions and ‘since the Easter recess I have attended more regularly and voted on at least 30 important questions’. Questioned over his absence from Graham’s proposal to reduce privy councillors’ emoluments, 14 May, he pleaded ill health, assuring the freemen that otherwise he would have voted for it. Perceiving his position to be untenable, he withdrew, 13 July, and made strenuous efforts to find a seat elsewhere.24 Brougham had no regrets about his retirement in view of his poor record of attendance.25 He declined Protheroe’s invitation to replace him at Evesham, 15 July, because ‘I did not think it would succeed, and the event proved I was right’. Charles Tennyson* encouraged him to come forward for Lincoln following his own decision not to stand, 14 July, saying, ‘Your name would be all-sufficient’. After consultation with Sir Gilbert among others, however, he decided not to try his hand, 27 July. Grantham, where his father was supposed to have some influence, was another possibility, but he declined to pursue this, 19 July, since ‘I should have turned out my uncle Lord Huntingtower†’. William Denison* was sorry that he might be out of Parliament, for ‘independent of losing a friend, the country wants ... men of your firm principles, and upright conduct’, and urged him to consider either Beverley or Hull, but only as a third man. He communicated with Denison’s attorney at Beverley as well as with Sykes, the sitting Member for Hull, but Beverley was ruled out following the freemen’s requisition to Sykes, and he had little enthusiasm for the expense and inconvenience of Hull. Almost as a last resort Charles Western* encouraged him to consider standing for Ipswich, but this he also rejected on the ground of expense. In early November the 2nd Earl Grosvenor, aware of his ambition to return to Parliament, informed him of the possibility of obtaining a seat at Wells, but no vacancy occurred.26

On 20 Mar. 1831 Tennyson once more recommended him as a candidate for Lincoln in the event of the passage of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, saying he had no ulterior motive but merely wished to assist ‘such a man as yourself’ to find a seat. Heathcote was formally asked by the freemen to stand as a reformer, 26 Mar., but was warned by Garfit that any association with them would prejudice his chances at Boston. He was mentioned by the Boston Gazette, 5 Apr., as a likely candidate for the southern division of Lincolnshire in a reformed Parliament, and was encouraged by Heron to declare himself as such. In reply to Heron, 2 Apr., he explained:

My first wish is that there may be no dissolution, the second is that if there is, some man may be found to come forward to support reform. I have no money to spare nor any wish to be the other man, but I would put myself to inconvenience and stand by the cause if no one else will do so. It is on these terms only that I asked your help. I know my political opinions are not popular, but still I think the county at large would not like the return of one opposed to reform. Be assured I will make no offer of myself till the last moment, but will invite others to come.

Rumours of his candidature for the reformed county were well received, but Sir Gilbert was adverse to his ‘coming in’ to the short Parliament which would ensue in the event of the reform bill being rejected, though it was quite possible that an opportunity might present itself, but this was quite different from actively ‘seeking’ one. He accordingly refused to have any truck with negotiations over an unspecified borough, 3 Apr., but agreed to speak privately with Lord Saye and Sele whenever the chance occurred. He was opposed to any public declaration over the southern division, but suggested that an anonymous advertisement might be placed in the local papers, requesting the freeholders to reserve their votes. Heron persistently urged him to declare himself in order to ward off Chaplin, one of the county Members, as a refusal at this stage would ‘weaken a future claim’. At the same time the revival of the Orange interest at Boston and his growing popularity there, not least because he had always paid bribes, gave rise to speculation about his real intentions. He was certainly interested in the possibility of standing there and keen to improve his chances. To add to the mystery he told Johnson, who had declared for the southern division, 16 Apr., that he had long considered doing so himself, and that the almost unanimous offers of support ‘confirm me in this intention’. The defeat of the bill, however, made this aspiration academic. Yarborough’s eldest son requested his support at the nomination for the county, in recognition of his considerable influence in south Lincolnshire. Shortly after the dissolution, 22 Apr., he was invited to canvass Grantham, as a successor to Sir Montague Cholmeley, but was almost immediately advised not to appear once Colonel Hughes, unseated on petition in 1820, had declared himself. On 25 Apr. he offered as a reformer for Boston, where it was reported that the freemen had determined to secure his return. At the nomination he affirmed his loyalty to the king and respect for the privileges of peers, but said his first duty was to the people, the ‘source of all legitimate power’, and argued that reform would give ‘stability to the throne, happiness to the people, and knit together all classes’. Pressed for his views on retrenchment, he promised to strive to reduce the ‘shameful profligacy’ which had crept into the revenue. After a violent two-day contest he was returned with Wilks. Shortly afterwards he defended Sir Gilbert’s reputation as a reformer and stood in for him at the Rutland election and subsequent celebratory dinner.27

Heathcote, in company with other Lincolnshire Members, took some interest in the progress of the Fordingham drainage bill in June and July 1831.28 On 29 June Lord Durham promised to acquaint his ministerial colleagues with his communication on county polling districts. He secured returns of the number of brigs and frigates in the navy, 20 July. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and gave generally steady support to its details, though he was in the minorities against the disfranchisement of Appleby, 19 July, and the partial disfranchisement of Guildford, 29 July. In the debate on the proposed division of Lincolnshire, 20 July, he sneered at Sibthorp’s ‘impudent assertion’ that it would thereby become a ‘nomination county’ and, with obvious impatience, explained to Sadler, the duke of Newcastle’s nominee for Aldborough, the circumstances which safeguarded the county’s independence. He voted for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and next day was granted a fortnight’s leave on account of family illness. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, again supported its details, and voted for its third reading, 22 Mar. Like Sir Gilbert, he was absent from the division on Lord Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. He divided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. He obtained information on convictions under the game laws, 20 Mar. He presented petitions against the Nocton and Branston drainage bill, 11, 21 May. On 23 July 1832 he warned that reduced woad duties would inflict ‘considerable injury’ on the Wiltshire growers. Having privately represented their case to the board of trade he pressed Poulett Thomson, the vice-president, for an explanation but the reply failed to placate him and, much to the annoyance of a number of Members, he asserted that growers would be ruined for the ‘sake of conformity’.

Heathcote’s future at Boston was by now uncertain. Garfit told him candidly, 19 June 1832, that his prospects were not good, that he could count on the old freemen, but otherwise could not calculate with ‘anything like certainty’, and there had been ‘much more dissatisfaction’ with his failure to vote in the second half of the session, particularly as he was known to be in London. ‘Both the Pink [Tory] and Blue [Whig] party do not fail to talk of it and we do not know what to say in reply’, Garfit reported. As to his qualms over election expenses, ‘the large fortunes of both your families are so magnified here that the people consider the expense to you a mere trifle and I fear there is no means of making them think otherwise’. He was already under threat. Benjamin Handley†, deputy recorder until 1826 and a ‘most violent radical’, according to a prominent Newark election agent, had given notice of his ambition to replace him in late May 1831, when it was supposed that he would opt for the county. Out of step with the aspirations of the Boston Political Union and criticized for not being ‘sufficiently industrious and decided’, he readily accepted a requisition from the freeholders of South Lincolnshire, 26 June 1832. He had previously tested the ground and began his canvass almost at once.29 At the 1832 general election he was returned unopposed. He sat unchallenged as a moderate reformer until 1841, when opposition from both parties forced him to abandon the seat and he replaced Sir Gilbert as Member for Rutland.30 He succeeded his father in 1851 and was created a peer in 1856, when the vacancy was filled by his only son Gilbert Henry Heathcote (1830-1910), Liberal Member for Boston since 1852. Heathcote died in September 1867. By his will, dated 10 Aug. 1863, he made provision for his daughters in addition to their entitlement under any marriage settlement, and to his wife bequeathed £20,000 and a life interest in his leasehold house at 10 Belgrave Square. She became suo jure Baroness Willoughby d’Eresby when the abeyance of that barony was terminated in her favour, 13 Nov. 1871, and took the name of Heathcote Drummond Willoughby by royal licence, 4 May 1872. The residue of his estate was entailed on his son, who in 1888 became 22nd Lord Willoughby d’Eresby and joint-hereditary great-chamberlain as a descendant of the extinct dukedom of Ancaster. He was created 1st earl of Ancaster in 1892, when he was one of the few remaining noblemen who possessed over 100,000 acres in the United Kingdom.31

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Philip Salmon / Simon Harratt


  • 1. Lincs. AO, Ancaster mss 3ANC9/7/39.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1867), ii. 534; Williams Wynn Corresp. 227.
  • 3. Boston Gazette, 7, 14 Mar. 1820; Ancaster mss XIII/B/10r, v.
  • 4. Black Bk. (1823), 163; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 467; Ancaster mss XIII/B/10h, j, l, v.
  • 5. Ancaster mss XIII/B/10aa, bb, jj; Boston Gazette, 29 Aug., 3 Dec. 1820.
  • 6. Ancaster mss XIII/B/10b, o.
  • 7. The Times, 7 Apr. 1821.
  • 8. Ancaster mss XIII/B/10n.
  • 9. The Times, 14 Feb., 1, 26 Mar. 1822.
  • 10. Ibid. 15 May, 1, 18 June 1822.
  • 11. Ibid. 20 Feb., 16 Apr., 7 June; Boston Gazette, 2 Sept. 1823; Ancaster mss XIII/B/4c-f; B/10t.
  • 12. The Times, 5, 6, 16 Mar., 2 Apr. 1824; Williams Wynn Corresp. 309; J. Wake, Brudenells of Deene, 429.
  • 13. TNA 30/29/9/6/2.
  • 14. The Times, 4, 25 Mar., 29 Apr. 1825; Ancaster mss 3ANC9/10/9, 10.
  • 15. The Times, 22 Feb., 7, 11, 18, 22 Mar., 18, 27 Apr., 10 May; Boston Gazette, 16 May, 13, 20 June 1826; Ancaster mss 3ANC9/10/27; 14/58, 129.
  • 16. The Times, 13 Feb., 15 Mar. 1827.
  • 17. Ibid. 3, 4, May 1827.
  • 18. Boston Gazette, 3 Apr. 1827.
  • 19. The Times, 13, 16 June 1827.
  • 20. Williams Wynn Corresp. 363.
  • 21. Ancaster mss 5ANC2/B/1-2; Boston Gazette, 16 Oct. 1827.
  • 22. [W. Carpenter], People’s Book (1831), 277.
  • 23. Ancaster mss 3ANC9/10/29, 30.
  • 24. Boston Gazette, 29 June, 6, 13, 20 July 1830.
  • 25. Brougham mss, Brougham to Denman [Sept. 1830].
  • 26. Ancaster mss 3ANC9/10/38-40; 14/168, 170-71; XIII/B/5a, c-h, j-l, q-v, x, y, aa-cc.
  • 27. Ancaster mss XIII/B/a-g, i, j, l-r; Boston Gazette, 5, 26 Apr., 3, 31 May; Stamford Champion, 10 May; Drakard’s Stamford News, 3 June 1831.
  • 28. Ancaster mss 3ANC9/13/3, 7.
  • 29. Ancaster mss 3ANC9/10/43; 13/63; 14/193, 194, 205; Boston Gazette, 26 June, 3 July 1832.
  • 30. P. Salmon, Electoral Reform at Work, 156-62.
  • 31. Gent. Mag. (1867), ii. 534; IR26/2502/1117; Sir F. Hill, Victorian Lincoln, 66.