LEVESON GOWER, Lord Francis (1800-1857), of 12 Albemarle Street, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 1 Jan. 1800, 2nd surv. s. of George Granville Leveson Gower†, 2nd mq. of Stafford, and Elizabeth, s.j. countess of Sutherland [S], da. and h. of William, 18th earl of Sutherland; bro. of George Granville Leveson Gower, Earl Gower†. educ. Eton 1811-14; Christ Church, Oxf. 1817. m. 18 June 1822, Harriet Catherine, da. of Charles Greville of Wilberry, Wilts., 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. suc. fa. by reversion to estates of gt.-uncle Francis Egerton, 3rd duke of Bridgwater, 1833 and took name of Egerton by royal lic. 24 Aug. 1833; cr. earl of Ellesmere 6 July 1846; KG 7 Feb. 1855. d. 18 Feb. 1857.
Cornet 10 Drag. 1821-3.
Ld. of treasury Apr.-Sept. 1827; under-sec. of state for war and colonies Feb.-May 1828; chief sec. to ld. lt. [I] June 1828-July 1830; PC 28 June 1828; PC [I] 9 Aug. 1828; sec. at war July-Nov. 1830.
Rect. King’s Coll. Aberdeen 1837-d; ld. lt. Lancs. 1856-d.
Lt. Staffs. yeomanry 1819, capt. 1819.
Leveson Gower’s father possessed valuable landed-industrial estates in Staffordshire and his mother was the largest landowner in northern Scotland. He was described at the age of 11 by his aunt, Lady Granville, as ‘quite a little heros de roman’, being ‘handsome, intelligent [with] the most perfect manners’ and having a ‘grave, unaffected sort of zeal, a look and voice of inquiry about anything that interests and a scornful smile when he does not believe or approve of what is said’; she was sure ‘he must be something wonderful in time’.1 As a young man he ‘displayed a taste for literature and the fine arts’, publishing poems, which were ‘at least respectable’, and translations of works by Goethe, Schiller and others.2 In 1822 Lady Granville noted that he was ‘very large, upright and handsome’, though unfortunately ‘he speaks ... little’. His decision to marry Harriet Greville, the daughter of Lady Charlotte Greville (and niece of the 4th duke of Portland) was resisted by his family, but they were eventually reconciled to it. Lady Granville found Harriet to be a ‘very loveable person’ and thought her nephew had ‘improved, chiefly by her ease and straightforwardness, the two things he wants’. George Agar Ellis* was less charitable, dismissing Harriet as ‘foolish in conversation and uncultivated to a degree rarely to be met with’, whereas Leveson Gower showed ‘talent in conversation’ but ‘wants character and above all common sense’.3 He had briefly embarked on an army career, but was returned at a by-election for Bletchingley in February 1822 on Portland’s interest, which had been secured through the influence of the duke’s brother-in-law George Canning.*4
He was an occasional attender who supported Lord Liverpool’s ministry. He divided against more extensive tax reductions, 21 Feb., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822. He welcomed Canning’s Catholic peers bill as ‘an act of justice’ and rejected the ‘fears of those who resisted the Catholic claims generally’ as ‘altogether chimerical’, 30 Apr. 1822. That autumn he informed Canning, now foreign secretary, that he had ‘decided upon leaving the army’ and was ‘very desirous to employ my time to ... more purpose than I have hitherto been able to do [in] politics’. His mother apparently hoped that he might become Canning’s under-secretary, but he accepted Canning’s advice that ‘his position in Parliament and chance of success as a speaker would not be improved by being connected with office’; he therefore planned to ‘shoot and hunt till the meeting of Parliament ... then ... try his powers in the ... Commons’.5 In fact, early in 1823 he accompanied Lord Fitzroy Somerset* on an ‘expedition of observation’ to Spain.6 He returned to vote against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. He drew on his first-hand knowledge in the debate on Spain, 28 Apr., when he defended the conduct of ministers, who had merely advised the Spaniards that making concessions was the only way of avoiding war with France. The Tory Henry Bankes* recorded that the speech was ‘deservedly taken notice of, as indicating facility and fluency and good judgement in selecting ... topics’. Hudson Gurney, a Whiggish independent, was less impressed, noting that ‘Lord Francis Gower’s is a very bad manner, and was an ill-judged attempt at oratory, instead of [taking] his vantage ground in a plain story’; nevertheless, ‘he may speak after a little practice’.7 He welcomed the government’s plan to raise the duty on barilla in order to assist the kelp manufacturers, 13 June 1823. He divided against the motion condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. Selected to move the address, 3 Feb. 1825, he said he was partly ‘at a loss how to proceed’, as economic distress had ‘vanished’ together with its ‘concomitants ... exasperation and sedition’. Even in Ireland, ‘tranquillity ... reigns ... to a degree ... unparalleled in our recollection’, and this had encouraged ‘British enterprise ... to exercise a salutary operation’. As a friend to Catholic relief, he expressed an ‘ardent wish for [the] speedy annihilation’ of the Catholic Association, which, with the ‘equally pernicious virulence of Orange insanity’, threatened to check Ireland’s progress. He approved of the proposed increase in military forces to protect India and other colonies, praised ministers’ efforts to promote worldwide abolition of the slave trade, welcomed the commercial treaties with the new South American states and declared that ‘our commerce is now happily in the process of being freed from many restrictions, which, bottomed upon false principles, impeded its free course’. Canning told his wife that the speech was ‘eminently good and showed very considerable powers’, and noted how ‘he made a little reply ... to Brougham, who had been rather saucy to him, which was remarkable for spirit as well as for readiness, and was exceedingly well received by the House’. On the other hand, Agar Ellis thought he ‘spoke indifferently’, and William Fremantle* judged that the speech was ‘not first rate, though sensible and well-delivered’.8 He divided for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., and Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May. On 29 Apr. 1825 he moved a resolution to make provision from state funds for the maintenance of the secular Catholic clergy in Ireland, which he estimated would apply to about 2,000 priests and cost £250,000. He argued that this was ‘inseparably connected with the welfare and ... good government of Ireland’, as it would help to give Britain a ‘strong and unalienable hold on the affection and the duty of the Catholic priests and population’. He hoped that a ‘competent provision’ would encourage a greater ‘mixture of the higher classes of the community’ within the ranks of the Catholic clergy, as well as making them less ‘dependent upon the people’ in times of tumult, but he denied that his object was to undermine the Catholic religion. He was a teller for the resolution, which was carried by 205-162. Henry Hobhouse, the home office under-secretary, described him as ‘an intimate friend of ... Canning’ and claimed that the resolution had been ‘contrived by Lord Grenville and Lord Wellesley’s agent, Mr. Blake, as the only mode in which the question could be agitated without a breach of privilege’, since the king had not consented to the issue being raised.9 That summer Leveson Gower wrote to John Evelyn Denison*, an old school friend, expressing disillusionment with his position:
As to politics, the course of last session has entirely obliterated any taste I ever had for them. I think there was a time, now utterly gone, when there was a kind of royal road to influence, place, etc., but I do not think now that the education of a gentleman at large suffices to raise him to any distinction in this country, and I am quite sure that to attain it a regular apprenticeship either legal or scientific is absolutely necessary. This I have never had and no one hardly in my situation can have, and I am therefore perfectly contented to go on for the rest of my life reading les belles lettres ... as it is not in my power to be of use to others. I do not speak in any disgust, as in anything I have attempted in the ... Commons I consider myself to have succeeded to the full extent of my expectations.10
He voted against the motion condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., and reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr. 1826. He opposed Lord John Russell’s reform motion in a flowery and verbose speech, 27 Apr. 1826, in which he recognized that the constitution contained ‘some antique peculiarities and grotesqueness of detail’, but nevertheless ‘shuddered to approach, with the intention of repair, a composition which ... I must look at with reliance and admiration’. At the general election that summer, while he was in St. Petersburg attending the tsar of Russia’s coronation, he was returned for Sutherland, where his mother controlled the nomination.11
He criticized Hume for making the grant to the duke of Clarence a ‘matter of obloquy in the eyes of a great portion of the distressed’ population, 19 Feb. 1827. He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He presented a petition from Sutherland landholders and inhabitants against revision of the corn laws, 3 Apr.12 Later that month he deliberated as to whether to accept any offer he might receive to serve in Canning’s coalition ministry. He explained to Charles Arbuthnot* that he regretted the secession of the duke of Wellington, ‘to whose invariable kindness and condescension ... I owe more than I can ever repay’, and other anti-Catholic ministers, but felt that ‘with my general political principles and decided ... opinions on the Catholic question, I do not see how I can act otherwise than support the new government, though it contains no friend of mine’. If there was one minister ‘to whom I should wish to attach myself and whose motions I should be inclined to watch as a guide ... to my own’, that was Frederick Robinson*, whom he knew to be ‘well inclined’ towards him. He thought it unlikely that he would be offered anything more than a lordship of the treasury and was ‘very doubtful whether that would answer my purpose, which is ... to obtain practice and information ... not salary’. Wellington, on being directly approached, advised him not to allow personal considerations to influence a decision affecting his public career. Denison recorded in his diary, 21 Apr., that he and Leveson Gower went together to see Canning, who ‘saw him first and offered him a lordship of the treasury, saying that he was the first person but one for whom he wished to provide in his new administration’; this was accepted.13 In the House, 29 June, he dismissed the charges of corruption made against Lord Charles Somerset†, governor of the Cape of Good Hope, as ‘utterly groundless’. Following Canning’s death and the appointment of Robinson (now Lord Goderich) as premier, Leveson Gower resigned but pledged his ‘zealous support’ for the new government. Goderich recognized that ‘such a post as ... lord of the treasury must be as irksome to you as it is below your proved ... qualifications’, and assured him that ‘there is no person whose claims and fitness for efficient office are more cordially acknowledged’. Huskisson, the new colonial secretary, wrote that he hoped soon to be able to tempt him with ‘efficient business and full employment’ as his under-secretary, once certain other individuals had been provided for. However, his mother, who thought he had ‘a wish for employment in the foreign office’, regretted his decision and feared that he might ‘by this fanciful sort of unsteady way put himself out of ... consideration’.14 On the formation of Wellington’s administration in January 1828 Leveson Gower was offered the colonial under-secretaryship, at Huskisson’s request, but he initially declined it owing to objections from his father, who was politically hostile to the duke. To Arbuthnot, he expressed exasperation with his position, which obliged him ‘whenever ... difference occurs ... to give up my own opinion without discussion or defence, both of which in the state of my father’s health are impossible’; he had therefore ‘requested my father to find a successor for my seat’ and intended to ‘retire from public life’. In the event his brother, Lord Gower, at ministerial behest, persuaded Lord Stafford to relent, and Leveson Gower was allowed to join a government which, as he told Huskisson, ‘rather comes up to my notion of the greatest perfection attainable’. He believed that ‘as long as ... Wellington and yourself can honourably act together, no form of government could be deemed so well calculated to carry this country through its difficulties’.15 He of course divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., but said that ‘if the question between repeal or suspension came to a vote, he would undoubtedly vote for repeal’, 28 Feb. He introduced the passenger regulation bill, which applied to merchant ships, 6 Mar.; it gained royal assent, 23 May. He explained, 24 Mar., that while he was ‘opposed ... generally ... to questions of parliamentary reform’, he believed a case had been ‘fully and substantially made out’ for disfranchising Penryn, which should serve as ‘an example and warning to ... others’. He declared that ‘equal rights, producing equal interests, are the bond of our connection and form, at once, the safeguard and glory of our state’, 8 May, and concluded that ‘every consideration ... of safety as well as of expediency’ pointed towards Catholic relief. The power of ‘the printing press’ afforded ‘the best security against the revival and general prevalence of bigotry and superstition’, and he doubted whether ‘the absurd tenets’ of the Catholic faith could ‘bear the light of discussion and investigation’. He voted for relief, 12 May. Lord Seaford reported that on the night of the debate on the East Retford disfranchisement bill, 19 May, Leveson Gower had ‘told Huskisson ... he should have a quarrel with his father if he voted with Peel’, and been advised to ‘leave the House before the division’. It was therefore assumed that he would resign if the other Canningite ministers went out. He attempted to act as a peacemaker, sending Wellington a lengthy statement of Huskisson’s intentions in offering to resign, but without effect. He adhered to office when Huskisson and his friends departed, assuring the duke of his ‘readiness to give your government any assistance in my power, as long as ... the changes which it is to undergo and its subsequent measures authorize me to do so’, but he was subsequently obliged to resign at his father’s insistence. He wrote to James Loch* that ‘the world I know will accuse me of the despicable course of endeavouring to keep well with both parties and of watching my opportunity of joining either’, but ‘the fact is I am deliberately renouncing all claim upon both’.16 However, the following month he was allowed to accept the Irish chief secretaryship, a volte face which the cabinet minister Lord Ellenborough attributed to family ‘ambition’. Harriet Arbuthnot recorded that he was ‘in the third heaven with delight’. Lord Anglesey, the lord lieutenant, had tried to resist the appointment, arguing that he needed ‘some steady and experienced person on whom I can place implicit reliance’, but Wellington pressed it. To the Whig Lord Holland, Anglesey confided that Leveson Gower was ‘certainly not a man after my heart’, explaining that ‘he is cold, reserved, distant’. Nevertheless, the receipt of a ‘very modest yet very manly and satisfactory letter’ from him raised Anglesey’s hopes that ‘everything will go on smoothly’.17 Among the Canningites, bemusement and disgust was expressed at his ‘undecided’ and ‘ignoble’ conduct in resigning his place then ‘being [un]able to resist the offer of a better one’.18
In July 1828 Leveson Gower warned Peel, the home secretary, that if next session the opposition moved a ‘temperately and judiciously worded’ address for early consideration of Catholic claims, it was ‘at least possible that I might be called upon to support it’.19 He wrote to Loch that he hoped ‘the interest of all parties will concur in keeping Ireland from boiling over during the recess’ and that he would ‘esteem myself very fortunate if I can contribute anything to keeping it in that gentle simmer which is the utmost we can expect from such a cauldron’. He anticipated a ‘harder task with the Protestants than the [Catholic] Association’, as ‘some of the latter I know are well inclined to me individually’. For the rest, ‘I must trust to my cook and my cellar’.20 On visiting Ireland that summer he reported to Wellington his favourable impression of the Irish solicitor-general, John Doherty*, and his admiration for Anglesey’s ‘ways of business’, but observed that the lord lieutenancy ‘exposes a man more perhaps than any other [post] to ... political mistakes which arise from want of official experience’, and urged the duke to maintain an ‘unreserved communication’ with Anglesey in order to ‘prevent any ... misunderstanding’. He added that ‘I find the business here very constant, and it is necessary to pay very unrelaxing attention to it, but I leave no arrears and get through it, I hope well, at least somehow’.21 Lord Palmerston*, who visited Dublin that autumn, noted that Leveson Gower ‘appeared well pleased with his duties and relaxes his coldness and reserve as much as the most vigorous efforts to conquer nature can enable him to do’. However, Palmerston also learned that ‘Anglesey and F. Gower do not quite harmonize’, because ‘the former wants to act without check or control, and the latter considers himself as more immediately in the confidence of the duke’.22 Despite a proclamation in October banning political meetings, which Leveson Gower believed would have a beneficial effect, as ‘the check ... given to Catholic violence will cause Protestant exasperation to subside’, Wellington remained dissatisfied with what he regarded as the inaction of the Irish administration. Early in November he complained to Peel that Anglesey and Leveson Gower were increasing his difficulties with the king ‘by their unwillingness to carry into execution the measures necessary to ... preserve the peace of the country, by the partiality to everything that is connected with opposition to the government, and by the company which they keep and the society in which they live in Ireland’. Later that month, Leveson Gower wrote to assure the duke that there was ‘no systematic reluctance’ on Anglesey’s part to ‘act with decision against the agitators of this country’.23 Nevertheless, when Anglesey’s indiscreet letter to the archbishop of Armagh regarding Catholic emancipation led to his recall at the end of the year, Leveson Gower made clear his disapproval of his chief’s action and acceded to Wellington’s request that he should remain in office, observing that ‘I have seen nothing in the conduct of government ... which is not perfectly consistent with your present expressions as to the system of government which ought to be pursued in Ireland’.24 Whig opinion was unanimous in condemning his ‘shabby’ and ‘disgraceful’ behaviour.25 He responded with ‘interest and satisfaction’ to Peel’s confidential communication, 17 Jan. 1829, that the king had consented to allow ministers to consider Catholic emancipation.26 He defended the suppression of the Catholic Association as an essential ‘preliminary’ step, 6 Feb., describing it as ‘the very elixir vitae of Ireland’, an ‘act of justice ... granting to the Protestant population ... that protection and security’ to which they were entitled. He praised Wellington and Peel as ‘the saviours of their country and the regenerators of Ireland’, 12 Feb. He attended the cabinet meeting which considered the emancipation bill, 1 Mar., but ‘said nothing’.27 He viewed with ‘suspicion and distrust’ calls for more time to consider the issue, 9 Mar., and observed that those who wanted to force a dissolution seemed to ‘prefer consulting with those ... [who were] incapable of drawing the most simple deduction’ from history. He was pleased by reports that the Irish Catholics were displaying none of the ‘insolence of triumph’, 13 Mar., claimed that a hostile petition from Irish Protestants had been got up by the Brunswick clubs, 17 Mar., and opposed Moore’s amendment to exclude Catholics from being colonial governors, 24 Mar. He attended a meeting of ministers at Peel’s house which agreed to set the Irish county franchise at £10, 17 Feb., and was present at cabinet, 9 Mar., when he warned that ‘the franchise bill may lose all the support which has been promised it, if the writs are to be suspended till the new registry is completed’. He noted with satisfaction, 23 Mar., that ‘our large majorities’ on the bill were ‘useful’.28 He guided several pieces of Irish legislation through the House that session. He accepted Spring Rice’s request for a select committee on the Irish estimates, 4 Apr., and moved its appointment, 9 Apr., when he explained that the grants for Maynooth College, the Kildare Place Society and the Society for Discountenancing Vice were being postponed for further consideration, owing to their controversial nature. He hoped the House would ‘leave the government unfettered’ as to its course on education grants in the next session, 22 May, and denied having pledged himself to support the resolutions of last session’s select committee on the subject (of which he had been a member), although he had ‘felt very favourable’ to them at the time. He defended the grant for the Royal Canal Company of Ireland, even if it was ‘perhaps ... erroneous in point of law’, 7 Apr. In response to a petition criticizing the mode of appointing sub-sheriffs, 14 Apr., he stated that government was not prepared with further measures to improve the law and suggested that ‘much more good may be confidently expected ... from the improvement in the general state of society now going on in Ireland’. He moved the previous question against Villiers Stuart’s motion for the introduction of an Irish poor law, 7 May, as more information was required and it would be ‘inconvenient’ if the House pledged itself; the motion was withdrawn. He advised Wellington, 15 May, that the Irish Army Act, which was about to expire, was ‘defective and useless’, but there was insufficient time to carry an amending bill that session and the Act should be renewed for one year; this was the course taken.29 He observed to the Irish attorney-general Henry Joy, 22 May, that the recent Commons debate on Scottish judges’ salaries ‘proves ... how little chance we should have had of carrying through a measure this session for either Irish judges or assistant barristers’.30 Early in July he sent from Dublin a favourable report to Wellington about the effects of emancipation, which had ‘separated the Catholic gentry to a man from the seditious faction’. He also thought the Court of the lord lieutenant, the duke of Northumberland, was ‘doing very well’, observing that ‘it is impossible that the duchess should not become very popular and the household appears to me to be on a very eligible footing’. On the other hand, the cabinet was informed a few days later that he ‘despairs’ of settling the poor law and education questions.31 Later that month he wrote to Wellington to refute rumours of his wish to resign, explaining that while ‘I depend less than many people on politics for excitement or amusement’, he would feel ‘disgraced in shrinking’ from his present office if his services were required. He professed satisfaction with the position he had achieved in the Commons, where ‘the peculiar course which the last session took afforded me no fair opportunity of showing that I was competent to my duties’. He also believed that ‘if people do not avail themselves of the accidental advantages of birth and station to interfere in the affairs of the country, they run the risk of losing these advantages by a revolution’. Wellington, who wanted to keep him, suspected that he was ‘tired of his office’. Northumberland testified at this time to his ‘unlimited confidence in the zeal and talents’ of his chief secretary.32 However, during the summer and autumn there were signs of doubt among senior ministers as to his capacity and judgement. His proposal to disband the yeomanry alarmed Wellington, who wrote a firm letter reminding him that this was the only loyal force available in Ireland. The duke complained about his extensive autumn tour of the south and west of the country, telling Mrs. Arbuthnot that ‘Lord Francis is doing us great mischief’ by ‘going only to the most Catholic and liberal houses, which excites great indignation’. He also told Peel that he regretted to find Leveson Gower ‘a little in dread of [Daniel] O’Connell*’, remarking that ‘I cannot bear to see a young man afraid of anybody or anything, he should work to render himself a match for him’. On being shown some of Leveson Gower’s letters to Peel, Ellenborough noted that they were ‘in an odd style, rather affected occasionally, and his ideas are almost always such as to require to be overruled’. Ellenborough concluded that ‘he is a forward boy; but I see nothing of the statesman in him’. A little later, Ellenborough added that ‘he has as yet proposed nothing worthy of adoption’ and had often been saved from ‘errors’ by Peel’s advice, as in the case of his plan to appoint stipendiary magistrates in every county, ‘the effect of which would have been to disgust all the gentleman magistrates and ... lead them to the abandonment of their duty’.33 Following a number of murders in Tipperary in October 1829, Leveson Gower observed to Arbuthnot:
Be the government what it may and its measures what they may, you will have considerable crime among the overcrowded population of this country during the winter. The currency is contracting, prices low and the rent will be hard to raise ... Remember that our crimes are part of a system which has subsisted since the English conquest and cannot be reversed in a day’.34
In the debate on Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb. 1830, Leveson Gower acknowledged the ‘universality of ... distress in Ireland’ but denied that it was ‘greater ... than it usually is’, adding that emancipation had ‘saved us from ... contending against moral distress in addition to physical distress’. The Whig Lord Howick* was ‘quite sorry to see [him] fail so egregiously’.35 He acknowledged the ‘compliment’ of being asked to present the Irish Catholic bishops’ petition for measures to educate the Irish poor, 26 Feb., but said he ‘could have wished [it] had found its way into other hands’. He ‘cordially concurred’ in Spring Rice’s motion for inquiry into the state of the Irish poor, 11 Mar., but warned against placing additional burdens on landlords and rejected the ‘fallacy’ that a poor law would stop Irish migration to Britain. He privately hoped that Davenport’s motion on the state of the nation would be ‘damaged past recovery’ by the favourable reception of the budget, 15 Mar. After three nights of debate he reported, 20 Mar., that ‘with the exception of Peel and Huskisson [it] has been wretched’.36 In his own contribution, 23 Mar., he pointed to the payment of rents, the growth of steam navigation and the ready availability of credit to prove that distress in Ireland had not increased relative to the size of its population, and he recommended that ‘we should leave Ireland to exert her own mighty energies for her own improvements’. He was confident that ‘one of the first great results’ of emancipation would be an ‘influx of British capital’. He dismissed Sadler’s motion for an Irish poor law as a ‘mere resolution’, which ignored all of the practical difficulties, 3 June, and said he would move the previous question; it was negatived. He introduced the Irish subletting bill, to clarify the existing law, 16 Feb.; it did not get beyond the committee stage. He said he would oppose any motion for immediate reduction of the Irish yeomanry corps, 22 Feb., but did not rule out supporting ‘a moderate and temperate proposition for reduction’ in future, provided it did not ‘endanger the peace of the country’. He introduced the Irish Constabulary Act amendment bill, to transfer from magistrates to the government the power of appointing constables, 30 Mar., and had ‘no doubt’ that if this had been done in the first place, ‘we should have prevented the occurrence of many evils’; it made no further progress. He opposed O’Connell’s motion for papers regarding the Cork special commission trials and was a majority teller against it, 12 May. He explained that the Irish arms bill imposed reduced penalties and that he had no objection to renewing it for just one year, 30 June, but the ‘weight of responsibility’ meant that he could not abandon it altogether; it gained royal assent, 16 July. He promised to give his ‘best consideration’ to the Galway franchise bill, 4 Mar., as he believed that ‘no civil disabilities ought to be allowed to remain on account of religious opinions’. In the debate that day on Newport’s Irish church motion he observed that the ‘operation of time and events has been most salutary’ in bringing about the removal of abuses, and he proposed an amended motion for inquiry by a royal commission in order to ‘judge more accurately ... the real state of the church’; this was agreed. He reported afterwards that ‘we got satisfactorily out of Newport’s motion ... by granting him his commission and refusing his other demands’, and added that ‘the debate was languid and innoxious’.37 He successfully resisted O’Connell’s Irish vestries regulation bill, to introduce a ratepayer franchise, 27 Apr., observing that the existing law ‘rather admits than urgently requires amendment’ and that it was not ‘a case of remarkable failure and grievance’. He felt that ‘the tone of feeling in Ireland’ on this subject made it undesirable to act ‘at ... present’. He reserved judgement on O’Connell’s Catholic marriages bill, 4 May. He opposed Newport’s resolutions on Irish first fruits, 18 May, as he was not prepared to concede that the church was ‘established for the benefit of the clergy and not for that of the country’, and declared that ‘burdened as it is with the crimes, errors and follies of preceding generations’, the church ‘may yet be considered in a state of probation’. He moved the previous question, which was carried by 94-69. He resisted O’Connell’s parish vestries bill, 10 June, on the ground that ‘if an established church is to be maintained ... the existing law must be upheld’, but he indicated that the government would legislate on the matter in the next session; he was a majority teller. In moving the second reading of the Irish deserted children bill, 26 Apr., he stated that the question of provision for illegitimate children had been omitted; it did not get beyond the committee stage. That day he advised Wellington that the proceedings in a Commons committee against Sir Jonah Barrington, judge in the Irish admiralty court, for alleged defalcation was too advanced to be stopped, and that such action would cause more embarrassment than any disclosures Barrington might make about the Act of Union.38 He carried resolutions declaring that Barrington was guilty and unfit to hold office, 6 May, and a motion for an address to the king to remove him, 22 May. He deplored Hume’s motion for inquiry into the lord lieutenancy so soon after emancipation, 11 May, and denied that the Irish people regarded themselves as subjects of a ‘colonial government’; he was a teller for the majority. That day he opposed Lord Tullamore’s motion for inquiry into the grant for the Royal Canal Company and rejected claims that ‘jobbery’ had been involved. He maintained that the Irish administration no longer exercised control over the press through expenditure on the printing of proclamations, 2 July, and expressed his opinion that it was ‘absolutely necessary’ to establish an Irish office in London, which should be placed under the home secretary’s control. He hoped that the Ellenborough divorce case would prompt ‘some amendment of the law’, which was ‘highly disgraceful and prejudicial to the interests of society’, 6 Apr. He defended the policy of neutrality adopted by the government in the incident at Terceira, 28 Apr., and carried the previous question against a hostile motion by 191-78. He reported later that the ‘strong division’ was attributable to the ‘hostility of the Whigs and Brunswickers to Huskisson’s party, and to a decided waiting on providence on the part of the former, in the present state of the king’s health’. He added that ‘the question was a pinching one, and I had some reason to regret having undertaken to take part in it, as I made a speech very defective in argument and very disproportioned in all respects to the place I took in the debate’. However, ‘my opponents behaved with singular forbearance towards me, which is a proof of the general inclination of the House’.39 After attending the privy council meeting, 28 June, he was satisfied that William IV’s ‘confidence ... is cordially and substantially given to the duke’ and that rumours of a ‘sudden change’ in the ministry were ‘unfounded’. On 2 July he reported that ‘we had a very pleasant night in the ... Commons’, with ‘Hume and the Mountain assisting us against the Whigs to get through our vote of credit’. He attributed this to the fact that ‘Hume with a view to the county of Middlesex is anxious that Parliament should be up as soon as possible’.40 In late March he had informed Wellington that, from ‘considerations purely of a personal and domestic nature’, he was ready to leave ‘this office’ at a convenient time, and in late May it was agreed that he should switch places with the secretary at war, Sir Henry Hardinge*; the change took place in July. Ellenborough thought that ‘there cannot be a better thing ... for the government and for Ireland’, as Leveson Gower was ‘quite unequal to the situation’ of chief secretary.41 At the general election in August 1830 he was returned unopposed for Sutherland.42
In September 1830 he intimated to Arbuthnot that he would ‘with pleasure resign’ if this would help facilitate a reconstruction of the government, although he emphasized that ‘he liked his office’ and only made the offer so that ‘additional strength [might] be obtained’; his sacrifice was not required.43 Responding to Whig criticism of the absence of any mention of parliamentary reform in the king’s speech, 3 Nov., he felt impelled to declare that his own views were ‘unchanged ... at present’ and that any future change would arise not from ‘any jingling of the cabinet key’ but from ‘sincere and honest conviction that circumstances or events rendered a change necessary’. He expressed ‘admiration not unmingled with regret’ at the revolution in France, admitting that the French people were ‘justified in the resistance ... they made’ to a ‘bigoted’ monarch. He hoped that his successor would reintroduce the Irish subletting bill, 11 Nov. Two days later Sir John Walsh* noted that he ‘breathed nothing but war against the incendiaries’ responsible for the agricultural disturbances in southern England.44 He of course voted in the government minority in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov., and resigned with his colleagues. He supported the Grey ministry’s motion to adjourn the House as a ‘matter of common justice’, 23 Dec. 1830, but could not ‘pledge myself to support them’. Presenting a county Galway magistrates’ petition against reduction of the barilla duties, 17 Feb. 1831, he said that he had advised them not to expect this, but he hoped ministers might find some alternative means of assisting the kelp manufacturers. He saw ‘no ground of objection’ to the army estimates, 21 Feb. In the debate on the ministerial reform bill, 1 Mar., he spoke ‘in defence of the existing institutions of the country’ and condemned the ‘dangerous delusion’ that economic distress was a product of the representative system. He declared that ‘this country possesses all that share of liberty which it could possibly wish to possess’ and that ‘every principle of liberty has been introduced into our constitution, which is consistent with the permanency and stability of our government and the security of the peace and happiness of society’. He maintained that the Scottish representative system was ‘much more efficient than is generally supposed’ and that under its auspices ‘the country has rapidly advanced in prosperity’; he dreaded the reintroduction of religious strife into that country if the clergy again became involved in politics. He also deplored the ‘language of dictation ... assumed ... by the advocates of reform’ and the ‘reiterated display ... of the tricoloured flag’, and trusted that the House would not bend to popular pressure. According to Thomas Gladstone*, he ‘rose far above what I had any conception of his being capable of ... he was occasionally too poetic, but often extremely eloquent and forcible, and proved himself a decidedly able man’.45 He divided against the second reading, 22 Mar., when he expressed ‘astonishment’ that the Irish bill had not been laid before the House and complained that ‘the whole measure is the most ... sweeping ... since the revolution of 1688’. He voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. He warned that a dissolution would be ‘pregnant with future evils’ in Ireland, where the ‘measure of reform is inapplicable’, 21 Apr., and said he feared ‘for the welfare of the Protestant interests’. He observed that the ‘suicidal’ English bill ‘unites among its advocates the majority of those who wish ill to our best institutions, and who are seeking for the subversion of the monarchy’. His opposition to reform caused a political breach with his family and he did not offer for Sutherland at the general election in May 1831. The Gladstones held him in reserve as a possible second Tory candidate for Liverpool, but nothing came of this.46
In November 1831 Leveson Gower cautioned against the plan to form a loyal association in Berkshire, fearing that this would be ‘too near a preparation for civil war’.47 That month his wife, presumably at his instigation, tried to elicit information from Wellington about the progress of the negotiations between ministers and the Tory ‘Waverers’. Two months later, Ellenborough listed him as a likely member of a Harrowby-Wharncliffe administration.48 In fact, he did not return to the Commons until 1835, when he was elected for South Lancashire as a Conservative, and he never held office again, although Peel, on forming his government in 1841, professed to have ‘the highest opinion’ of him and thought he ‘would have filled the office of chancellor of the duchy [of Lancaster] with great eclat’.49 On his father’s death in 1833 a substantial part of the fabulously wealthy estates of his great-uncle, the 3rd duke of Bridgwater, reverted to him, comprising land in Shropshire, Lancashire and Northamptonshire, yielding an annual income of £90,000, and an art collection valued at £150,000; he thereupon assumed the surname of Egerton.50 He was raised to an earldom in 1846. He continued to pursue his literary interests and remained an active figure in public life. His death in February 1857 prompted a glowing tribute from his brother-in-law, the diarist Charles Greville, who noted:
He was most estimable in every relation of life, and as such enjoyed universal respect and regard ... He had no taste for the turmoil of political life, and his temper was too serene and his love of repose too great to allow him to plunge deeply into political warfare. His abilities were not of a very high order, but he had a good understanding, a cultivated mind, and an inquisitive disposition ... Though not profound in any branch of literature or science, he loved to wander over the vast fields of knowledge ... His taste was good both in literature and art; he was an elegant poet, and a fair writer of his own tongue ... In political opinions he was the very type and model of a Liberal Conservative, and the statesman to whom he gave all his allegiance ... was ... Wellington ... He was sincerely religious, without intolerance [or] austerity.51
He was succeeded by his eldest son, George Egerton (1823-62), Liberal-Conservative Member for North Staffordshire, 1847-51.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Terry Jenkins
- 1. Countess Granville Letters, i. 19.
- 2. Gent. Mag. (1857), i. 358-9.
- 3. Countess Granville Letters, i. 220, 225; Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 5, 11, 18 May, 28 Nov. 1822.
- 4. TNA 30/29/8/6/285.
- 5. Harewood mss WYL 250/8, Leveson Gower to Canning, 28 Oct., Granville to same, 10, 14 Nov. 1822.
- 6. Nottingham Univ. Lib., Portland mss PwH 128, Lord G. Cavendish Bentinck to Portland, 30 Dec. 1822; Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/46/10/46.
- 7. Dorset RO D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 144 (28 Apr.); Gurney diary, 30 Apr. 1823.
- 8. Harewood mss 250/8, Canning to wife, 3 Feb.; Agar Ellis diary, 3 Feb. 1825, Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, ii. 217.
- 9. Hobhouse Diary, 113-14.
- 10. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ossington mss OsC 17, Leveson Gower to Denison, 14 Aug. 1825.
- 11. Inverness Courier, 10 May, 5 July 1826.
- 12. The Times, 4 Apr. 1827.
- 13. Canning’s Ministry, 148, 183; Wellington mss WP1/887/31; 888/13; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Denison diary, 21 Apr. 1827.
- 14. Add. 38750, ff. 22, 34, 229, 231, 235, 264, 270; 38751, ff. 71, 84.
- 15. Add. 38754, ff. 215, 300, 313, 317, 325, 327; Wellington mss WP1/914/35, 37; Arbuthnot Corresp. 104.
- 16. TNA 30/29/9/5/69; Wellington mss WP1/933/4; 934/1, 9, 10; 935/35, 50; NAS GD268/346/1; Ellenborough Diary, i. 118-19, 122, 124; A. Aspinall, ‘Canningite Party’, TRHS (ser. 4), xvii. (1934), 224-5.
- 17. Wellington mss WP1/936/22; 937/25; 939/14; Add. 51567, Anglesey to Holland, 20, 21, 23 June 1828; Ellenborough Diary, i. 145-6; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 193.
- 18. Agar Ellis diary, 14 June 1828; Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, 202; Add. 38757, f. 91.
- 19. Parker, Peel, ii. 52-53.
- 20. NAS GD268/240/16.
- 21. Wellington mss WP1/948/28; 952/20.
- 22. Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, 216-17.
- 23. Wellington mss WP1/953/3; 959/5; 960/6; 961/12; 967/20; Parker, ii. 73-4.
- 24. Wellington mss WP1/973/26; 975/30; 988/1; Arbuthnot Corresp. 115; Colchester Diary, iii. 589, 593-4.
- 25. Add. 51574, Abercromby to Holland, 4 Jan.; 51599B, Lady Cowper to same, 28 Jan.; Agar Ellis diary, 6 Jan. 1829.
- 26. Parker, ii. 82-4.
- 27. Ellenborough Diary, i. 370.
- 28. Ibid. i. 348-9, 385; NAI, Leveson Gower letterbks. M. 736, Leveson Gower to Singleton, 23 Mar. 1829.
- 29. Wellington mss WP1/1018/2.
- 30. Leveson Gower letterbks. M. 736, Leveson Gower to Joy, 22 May 1829.
- 31. Wellington mss WP1/1030/16; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 68.
- 32. Wellington mss WP1/1032/13, 17; 1035/65; 1037/11.
- 33. Ibid. WP1/1040/4; 1048/1; 1054/64; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 301, 308; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 79-80, 134-5, 160.
- 34. Arbuthnot Corresp. 126.
- 35. Grey mss, Howick jnl., 4 Feb. 1830.
- 36. Leveson Gower letterbks. Leveson Gower to Singleton, 16, 20 Mar. 1830.
- 37. Ibid. same to same, 5 Mar. 1830.
- 38. Wellington mss WP1/1109/16.
- 39. Leveson Gower letterbks. Leveson Gower to Singleton, 29 Apr. 1830.
- 40. Ibid. M. 738, same to same, 29 June, 3 July 1830.
- 41. Wellington mss WP1/1103/16; 1114/19; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 260.
- 42. Inverness Courier, 18 Aug. 1830.
- 43. Add. 40340, f. 230.
- 44. NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG/1/5, p. 132.
- 45. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne Gladstone mss 197, T. to J. Gladstone, 2 Mar. 1831.
- 46. Staffs. RO, Sutherland mss D593/K/1/5/27, Loch to Gunn, 16 Mar.; Brougham mss, Shepherd to Brougham, 2 May 1831.
- 47. Ormathwaite mss FG/1/5, p. 223.
- 48. Wellington mss WP1/1200/1; 1203/19; Three Diaries, 177.
- 49. Arbuthnot Corresp. 226.
- 50. CP, v. 54-55; his father’s will was proved under £350,000 (PROB 11/1823/659; IR26/1337/571).
- 51. Greville Mems. vii. 269-72.