HEATHCOTE, Sir Gilbert, 4th bt. (1773-1851), of Normanton Park, Rutland and Durdans, nr. Epsom, Surr.
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Family and Educationb. 6 Oct. 1773,1 1st s. of Sir Gilbert Heathcote†, 3rd bt., of Normanton and 2nd w. Elizabeth, da. of Robert Hudson of Teddington, Mdx. educ. Newcome’s acad. Hackney; L. Inn 1786. m. (1) 16 Aug. 1793, Catherine Sophia (d. 28 Apr. 1825), da. of John Manners† of Grantham Grange, Lincs., 3s.; (2) 10 Aug. 1825, Charlotte Eldon of Park Crescent, Portland Place, Mdx., 1s. suc. fa. as 4th bt. 2 Nov. 1785. d. 26 Mar. 1851.
Capt. Rutland yeoman cav. 1794-1801; maj. commdt. Folkingham and Bourne vols. 1801.
Sheriff, Rutland, 1795-6.
Heathcote, a veteran reformer and a member of Brooks’s since 1804, continued to sit unchallenged for Rutland by dint of his large landed stake in the county and with the connivance of the 2nd marquess of Exeter. At the general election of 1820, when his eldest son Gilbert John was returned for Boston, he was too ill to attend the formalities, and his younger son Edward Lionel stood proxy for him.2 He continued to act, on an independent basis, with the Whig opposition to the Liverpool ministry, but he was a notably lax attender in this period. He voted against the aliens bill, 7 July, and the barrack agreement bill, 13 July 1820. He divided for restoration of Queen Caroline’s name to the liturgy, 26 Jan., 13 Feb., and to censure ministers’ conduct towards her, 6 Feb. 1821. He voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He paired for repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., was credited with presenting a Boston petition for amelioration of the criminal code, 4 May,3 and voted for barrack reductions, 31 May 1821. He attended to vote for the amendment to the address, 5 Feb., large tax reductions, 21 Feb., and admiralty economies, 1 Mar. 1822. His only known votes in the next three years were for parliamentary reform, 25 Apr. 1822, 24 Apr. 1823. He presented an Oakham anti-slavery petition, 23 Mar. 1824.4 He was a defaulter on a call of the House, 28 Feb. 1825, when he received a request from Sir Francis Burdett to attend the imminent division on Catholic relief, ‘a question I think you have much at heart’, and a warning that he would be ‘taken into custody if not in your place’.5 He attended and was excused next day, and duly voted in the majority for relief. He paired for relief, 21 Apr., 10 May. He divided for a repeal of assessed taxes, 3 Mar. 1825. No trace of activity has been found for the 1826 session.
At the general election that summer he declared his intention to pursue an independent course, ‘voting as my judgement best points out’, professed to be a ‘friend to both agriculture and commerce’ and, under questioning, denied having voted to reduce protection for domestic corn producers:
He always wished corn to be at a moderate price, but yet not so low as to withhold remuneration from the farmer. He thought corn might be too high as well as too low, as he did not wish to starve the poor ... He did not often vote with the administration, but ... when he thought they were right he would not vote against them ... He thought government the best judges of what is for the most general benefit of the country, even better than the collective body of the agriculturists.6
He presented a Perth petition in favour of agricultural protection, 26 Feb. 1827.7 He paired for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. On 30 May 1827 he was a teller for the minority of two against the second reading of the sale of game bill. He presented a petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 21 Feb., and voted accordingly, 26 Feb. 1828. On 24 Apr. Burdett wrote to advise him of the forthcoming division on Catholic relief, and he attended to vote for it, 12 May 1828.8 He divided for the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829, and on the 25th praised the home secretary Peel for his ‘noble part’ and urged the opponents of the measure to ‘adopt more moderate language towards their Roman Catholic fellow-citizens’, who would be ‘faithful and loyal subjects of the Protestant king’. He did not attend the Rutland county meeting called to petition for relief from distress and parliamentary reform, 27 Feb., but he presented and endorsed the petition, 23 Mar.1829, and urged ministers to ‘turn in their minds the possibility, at least, of affording relief’, though he was ‘not wishing to thwart the intentions of government’.
At the general election of 1830 he was criticized for his absence from the February county meeting, but he dismissed the charge that he was hostile to the agricultural interest as ‘groundless’:
On all great questions of national policy he had done his duty, but he could not consent to injure his health and waste his time for the mere purpose of swelling the ranks of any set of men actuated by motives of party. He believed the present government to be as good as we could obtain.
He added that he had refused to support one of the revived opposition’s motions for economy because it went too far, but claimed to favour judicious ‘economy and retrenchment’, though he refused to give ‘any pledges as to how he might feel it right to vote’.9 Ministers listed him among their ‘foes’, but he was absent from the division on the civil list which brought them down, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented anti-slavery petitions, 17 Nov., 15 Dec. 1830. He was granted a fortnight’s leave on account of ill health, 14 Feb., but was present to vote for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar. 1831. He paired against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He was too ill to attend the hustings at the ensuing general election. At a celebratory dinner he was described by Gilbert John as a ‘staunch and unflinching supporter of reform’.10 On 2 July 1831 Lord Grey told the patronage secretary Ellice that although there was ‘no person to ... whom I should have greater pleasure’ in obliging, he was afraid that there were ‘almost insurmountable difficulties’ in the way of fulfilling his request for army promotion for his Edward Lionel.11 Heathcote voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and for a few of its detailed provisions, 19, 27, 28, 29 July. He was in the minority for the disfranchisement of Saltash, 26 July. From early August he paired on the ministerial side, having been forced by ‘a cold’ to seek a cure at Broadstairs.12 He was absent from the division on the passage of the bill, 21 Sept., but turned up to vote for Lord Ebrington’s motion of confidence in the ministry, 10 Oct. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, its details, 20, 23 Jan., 3, 8 Feb., and its third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He was absent from the division on the address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry undiluted reform, 10 May 1832.
Heathcote continued to sit for Rutland until his retirement in 1841. A keen devotee of the Turf, he had purchased the estate of Durdans, near Epsom, in 1819, and subsequently became perpetual steward of Epsom races; his colt Amato won the Derby in 1838.13 He died in March 1851 and was succeeded in the barony and family estates by Gilbert John.