NORTON, Hon. George Chapple (1800-1875), of Garden Court, Middle Temple, Mdx.
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Educationb. 31 Aug. 1800, 2nd s. of Hon. Fletcher Norton† (d. 1820), bar. of exch. [S], and Caroline Elizabeth, da. of James Balmain, commr. of excise; bro. of Hon. Charles Francis Norton*. educ. Winchester 1813-15; M. Temple 1820, called 1825. m. 30 July 1827, Caroline Elizabeth Sarah, da. of Thomas Sheridan, 3s. (2 d.v.p.). d. 24 Feb. 1875.
Commr. of bankrupts 1827-31; metropolitan police magistrate, Whitechapel 1831-44, Lambeth 1845-67.
Recorder, Guildford 1830-d.
Norton’s grandfather Sir Fletcher Norton was renowned for his success in legal practice and in collecting government appointments, which earned him the nickname of ‘Sir Bull-face Double Fee’; he was ennobled as Baron Grantley in 1782.1 Norton’s father held from 1776 the post of baron of the exchequer in Scotland, which brought him emoluments of £2,865 and led him to be lampooned as a pampered sinecurist.2 According to an obituary notice, Norton attended Edinburgh University, but his name does not appear in its roll of graduates.3 On his father’s death in 1820 he received no specific provision other than a one-seventh share of the residue (valued at £7,438) of the estate.4 In 1822 his elder brother succeeded their uncle as 3rd Baron Grantley and thus acquired an electoral interest at Guildford. Norton canvassed the borough in the autumn of 1825 and secured an unopposed return at the general election the following summer.5
In the House he generally acted in accordance with his family’s Tory traditions. He divided against Catholic relief, 6 Mar., before being granted leave to go the home circuit, 22 Mar. 1827. He opposed Canning’s ministry by voting against the bill to regulate the Coventry magistracy, 11, 18 June 1827. He divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He voted with the duke of Wellington’s ministry against inquiry into delays in chancery, 29 Apr., and reduction of the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828. In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, listed him as one who was ‘opposed to the principle’ of Catholic emancipation. When a friendly petition from Guildford was presented, 2 Mar., he stated that he anticipated a counter-petition ‘from persons of equal respectability’, and he presented a hostile one from a London Baptist chapel, 9 Mar. Nevertheless, he voted for emancipation, 6 Mar. 1829. He divided for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb., but against Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform scheme, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. He voted with ministers against Lord Palmerston’s motion condemning British interference in Portugal, 10 Mar., and for the grant for South American missions, 7 June. He presented a petition from Guildford magistrates for an amendment to the sale of beer bill to prohibit consumption on the premises, 10 May, and voted accordingly, 21 June. He divided for the abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June, and reform of the divorce laws, 3 June 1830. At the dissolution that summer he found himself opposed at Guildford by two former Members and came bottom of the poll. In October 1830 he was elected recorder of the borough and, at the general election the following spring, he solicited support for his brother Charles, who was standing as an advocate of the Grey ministry’s reform bill.6 His own return to Parliament was barred by his appointment as a stipendiary magistrate for Whitechapel, at an annual salary of £1,000.
In July 1827 Norton had contracted his fateful marriage to Caroline Sheridan, a granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan†, who won renown as a writer, wit and beauty and provided the model for the heroine of George Meredith’s Diana of the Crossways.7 He had first proposed to her some three years earlier, when she was 16 and he, according to Caroline’s biographer, was
a briefless barrister of about 25, well made, though not tall, good looking, and with a fine ruddy complexion; but rather slow and lazy, and late for everything, till he at last gained the cognomen ... of the "late George Norton".
He even managed to be late for the wedding ceremony.8 By his subsequent account, he then ‘loved her to madness’, a feeling that was never reciprocated by his wife, whose family were apparently misled as to the extent of his fortune and prospects. The couple were poles apart both in temperament and in their political views. Helped by an appointment as a bankruptcy commissioner, which may have been secured for him by his mother-in-law, Norton set up home at Storey’s Gate, Birdcage Walk, where Caroline held court to a circle of Whig admirers, including the duke of Devonshire.9 In 1830 Georgiana Ellis wrote that if Caroline ‘were not conceited and affected, she would be a very delightful as well as a very singular person’, and noted how in her conversational sallies, ‘her poor husband is constantly brought in, in a very ridiculous manner’. But observers were unaware of the fact that, according to her own later account, Caroline suffered violent mistreatment ‘from the earliest period of our marriage ... such as is brought before the police courts’. Her writing, which she began to supplement their slender income, contains much internal evidence of her unhappy plight.10 She was characteristically vituperative in describing Norton’s election defeat at Guildford to her sister:
With that mixture of sanguine hope, credulity and vanity which distinguishes him, he assures me that, although thrown out, he was the most popular candidate; that the opponents are hated, and that all those who voted against him did it with tears. I swear to you this is not exaggerated, but what he says and believes ... I am sorry, not because I ever hoped to see him an orator, but because, after all, it is something lost, one of the opportunities of life slipped through one’s fingers.11
His appointment as a stipendiary magistrate was arranged by the home secretary Lord Melbourne, at the behest of Caroline, who made the best use of her Whig connections in the expectation that bankruptcy commissioners would not survive the Grey ministry’s retrenchment plans; she later claimed that it was only with the greatest reluctance that he was persuaded to surrender the latter position. In July 1831 Melbourne had to issue a gentle admonishment, through Caroline, after an unseemly row among London magistrates, who ‘tell me ... that Norton does not go to his office early enough’.12 Melbourne later assisted in obtaining a letter patent, granted 5 Nov. 1831, which entitled Norton to the form of address of the son of a peer: thus, in his wife’s words, was he ‘made Honourable’. He evidently hoped for further preferment and appears to have entirely subjugated his own political views to this end. Frustration in this ambition, and the resulting financial difficulties, put further strain on the marriage, and Caroline briefly left him in 1833 after a fight while she was pregnant, and again in 1835. Her novel The Wife and Woman’s Reward, written that year after an excruciating trip abroad, depicted a mean, insensitive boor which was so plain in its origin as to draw a rebuke from Melbourne, now prime minister, who had become her intimate.13 In 1836 the couple finally parted and Norton, determining on divorce, rashly sued the premier for crim. con. The case naturally excited great interest and, initially, some sympathy for the supposed cuckold, but afterwards Lady Holland judged that feeling against ‘the somewhat indelicate and unguarded language and manners of Mrs. Norton’ was outstripped by ‘the disgust felt at the meanness ... spite and ... cruelty of the whole Norton family’. Melbourne was acquitted without leaving the dock, and the patent unreliability of the witnesses and flimsiness of the evidence offered aroused suspicions that Norton, egged on by Grantley, was merely a pawn in a Conservative plot to discredit the prime minister. The ludicrous construction placed on Melbourne’s notes to Caroline by the prosecution counsel inspired Dickens’s portrayal of the court case in The Pickwick Papers.14 Yet Norton had no qualms about retaining his seat on the magistrates’ bench secured for him by Melbourne, until he was able to retire with a pension. More remarkably, he exonerated his wife from all charges in a vain attempt to win her back, blaming the legal action on his advisers.15
Norton’s financial worries were eased in 1836 by his inheritance of Kettlethorpe Hall in Yorkshire, along with an income, from Margaret Vaughan, a distant relative. This later became the subject of innuendo from his wife. The couple formally separated in 1848, prior to which Caroline had successfully campaigned for a change in the law governing her access to the children. In 1853 they met in court again over a debt she had incurred owing to Norton’s refusal to pay her allowance as agreed. When the court found for him on a technicality, there followed a protracted washing of dirty linen in public as the feud continued in the columns of The Times.16 Norton died in February 1875, a few months before his childless elder brother, thus depriving Caroline of the chance of a title, as she tartly observed.17 The Kettlethorpe estate passed to his only surviving son, Thomas Brinsley Norton (1831-77), who succeeded shortly afterwards as 4th Baron Grantley.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Howard Spencer
- 1. Oxford DNB.
- 2. M.D. George, Cat. of Personal and Pol. Satires, x. 13601.
- 3. Law Times, lvii (1875), 349.
- 4. PROB 11/1646/418; IR26/877/907.
- 5. County Chron. 11 Oct. 1825.
- 6. Ibid. 12 Oct. 1830; Brighton Herald, 30 Apr. 1831.
- 7. See Oxford DNB; A. Acland, Caroline Norton; J.C. Perkins, Life of Mrs. Norton.
- 8. Perkins, 10; Chrons. Holland House ed. Lord Ilchester, 218.
- 9. Perkins, 14-19; Lady Holland to Son, 45; The Times, 24 Aug. 1853; Add. 46611, f. 50.
- 10. Howard Sisters, 178; The Times, 2 Sept. 1853; Perkins, 16, 21; Acland, 35, 42-43.
- 11. Perkins, 29-30.
- 12. Ibid. 32-38; The Times, 2 Sept. 1853; Torrens, Melbourne, i. 423-5.
- 13. Torrens, i. 424; Perkins, 40, 43, 52-55, 59-64, 71-72, 76.
- 14. Perkins, 80-96; Acland, 90; Holland House Diaries, 344; Greville Mems. iii. 290-3; Extraordinary Trial! [BL 1508/1657].
- 15. Perkins, 38, 101-2.
- 16. Ibid. 75-77, 130-47, 156, 171, 230; Acland, 195-6; The Times, 20, 24 Aug., 2, 8-10, 17, 24 Sept. 1853.
- 17. Perkins, 295.