NUGENT, Sir George, 1st bt. (1757-1849), of Westhorpe House, Little Marlow, Bucks.
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Family and Education
b. 10 June 1757, illegit. s. of Hon. Edmund Nugent† (d. 1771) of Gosfield, Essex.1 educ. Charterhouse; R.M.A. Woolwich. m. 15 Nov. 1797, Maria, da. of Cortlandt Skinner, att.-gen. of New Jersey, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. cr. bt. 28 Nov. 1806; KB 1 Feb. 1813; GCB 2 Jan. 1815. d. 11 Mar. 1849.
MP [I] 1800.
Ensign 39 Ft. 1773; lt. 7 Ft. 1775; capt. 57 Ft. 1778, maj. 1782; lt.-col. 97 Ft. 1783, half-pay 1783-7; lt.-col. 13 Ft. 1787; a.d.c. to ld. lt. [I] 1787-9; lt.-col. 4 Drag. Gds. 1789; capt. and lt.-col. 2 Ft. Gds. 1790; col. 85 Ft. 1794; maj.-gen. 1796; command at Belfast 1798; adj.-gen [I] 1799-1801; lt.-gov. and c.-in-c. Jamaica 1801-6; lt.-gen. 1803; col. 62 Ft. 1805; col. 6 Ft. 1806; c.-in-c. India 1811-13; gen. 1813; command Bengal 1813-14; f. m. 1846.
Capt. and kpr. St. Mawes Castle 1796-d
Nugent’s public career was effectively ended by the death of his uncle, the 1st marquess of Buckingham, in 1813, but he transferred his allegiance to the 2nd marquess, head of the Grenvillite faction, who returned him for his borough of Buckingham in 1818. The possessor of a sinecure governorship worth £109 a year, he unsuccessfully solicited the Irish command from the Liverpool ministry in 1819.2 He came in again for Buckingham at the general election of 1820. Nugent was a poor attender, whose only known vote in the first two sessions of the new Parliament was for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821. At the Buckinghamshire quarter sessions in October 1821 he voted in the Tory majority of magistrates against placing official advertisements in the ‘radical’ Buckinghamshire Chronicle.3 He was one of the 11 Members attached to the government in January 1822 by Buckingham, who was rewarded with a dukedom. He duly voted with ministers against more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb., and, at Buckingham’s behest, against abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar.;4 but he was in the protectionist minority of 24 for a 40s. duty on wheat imports, 8 May 1822. The following month he presumably supported the aliens bill, as Buckingham desired.5 His aspirations to an Irish peerage (he owned land in counties Dublin and Meath) were not favourably regarded by Buckingham, who in August 1822, when a ministerial reshuffle was in prospect after Lord Londonderry’s* suicide, pressed his confidant William Fremantle* a junior member of the government, to promote Nugent’s claims to the Irish command, which would ‘liberate me from his and his little intriguing wife’s constant worries about his impracticable and senseless peerage’. Fremantle pointed out that Nugent’s rank as a general was ‘now too high’ for this post.6 In January 1823 Buckingham complained to his friends that the prime minister had in some way slighted Nugent, but the matter was smoothed over by the duke’s representative in the cabinet, Charles Williams Wynn.*7 Nugent divided with government against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., 2 June, on the sinking fund, 3 Mar., and against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823. Buckingham and his son Lord Chandos* were anxious for him to oppose Lord Cranborne’s bid to relax the game laws in March 1823.8 On 2 Feb. 1824 he presented a Buckingham petition for the abolition of slavery.9 No recorded vote has been found for that session. His absence from the division on the opposition call for inquiry into the disturbed districts of Ireland, 11 May, which he had not considered to be ‘of importance’, irritated the duke; and Fremantle observed in the autumn that ‘he seldom attends the House’.10 He was a guest at the ‘Stowe junket’ to celebrate the baptism of Chandos’s first son in June 1824.11 His last known votes in the 1820 Parliament were for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. In February 1826 Fremantle reported that Nugent ‘has no reserve with me in speaking of the rash and foolish ... conduct’ of Buckingham and Chandos over the former’s wish to be made governor-general of India, which had alienated Lord Liverpool, and ‘seems amazingly out of temper with them’.12
Buckingham returned him again at the 1826 general election, having told Fremantle that ‘he never attends, but I cannot break his old heart and refuse him the continuance of his seat as long as he chooses to twaddle with it’.13 He was a reluctant steward at county dinners in honour of the anti-Catholic Chandos’s re-election in August, when he was amused to find himself reported in the local press to have changed his mind on the question. He helped to promote a similar gathering at Great Marlow, which lay close to his Westhorpe home, in September 1826.14 He privately predicted that the duke of Wellington’s appointment as commander-in-chief after the death of the duke of York in January 1827 would be ‘very unpopular with the army’.15 He was present to vote for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. Having paid over £1,000 for his elder son’s army promotion and still seeking recovery of £1,222 owed him for timber by one William Norton, he was short of money, as he told his son-in-law Sir Thomas Fremantle* (William’s nephew) when he refused to pay a share of the legal costs of drawing up the marriage settlement:
Living up to my income, and denying myself a great many comforts, which a man of my age, who has served long in unpleasant situations and bad climates, generally requires at the close of his life, I cannot meet any extra and unforeseen expenses ... Having given as large a portion to my daughter as I could well afford, there the expense and diminution of my income must end, in justice to my other children, as well as Lady Nugent’s and my own comforts.16
The duke made him act as chaperone to Sir Thomas when he replaced William Fremantle as Member for Buckingham in May.17 He was asked to be prepared to ‘run up’ to Westminster to oppose a threatened oblique attack on Catholic claims in June 1827.18
That summer he went with his wife to German and Swiss spas, before wintering at Naples. He left his affairs in the hands of Sir Thomas Fremantle, who managed by means of a lawsuit to recover some of the money owed by Norton.19 Nugent was not present to vote for Catholic relief, 12 May, but he was in the Wellington ministry’s majority on the ordnance estimates, 4 July 1828. When Bernard Morland, Member for St. Mawes, fell seriously ill later that year, Buckingham, who had been abroad for 18 months, ludicrously made the 71-year-old Nugent leader of his tiny rump of personal followers in the Commons.20 On 7 Feb. 1829 he received a letter written by Buckingham in Rome on 21 Jan. in which he expressed himself ‘strongly in opposition to government’, having interpreted the sudden recall of the Irish viceroy Lord Anglesey as ‘drawing the sword ... against the Catholic claims’. Nugent, who was instructed to consult Buckingham’s uncle Lord Grenville, assumed that the ministerial decision to concede emancipation would induce the duke to direct his Members to ‘support government in every way, consistently with any line his friends took during the last session, as in the case of East Retford’. He kept Fremantle informed and, having compared notes with East, Member for Winchester, and learned that Buckingham had written favourably to Wellington, resolved that his friends must ‘all meet and understand one another ... [so] that we may act together’ in support of ministers. On 16 Feb. he called on Wellington as Buckingham’s spokesman to assure him of the duke’s support.21 While he was perturbed by Chandos’s furious opposition to emancipation and determination to promote hostile meetings in defiance of his father’s wishes, Nugent assumed that once the question had been disposed of Chandos would rally to ministers and ‘we may then go on smoothly together’. Anxious to keep out of the Grenvilles’ family squabble and looking to the long-term welfare of the Tory interest in Buckinghamshire, he, like Fremantle, declined to attend the anti-Catholic meeting promoted by Chandos at Buckingham on 21 Feb. He told the duke’s Whig brother Lord Nugent*, who wanted them to support the pro-Catholic cause, that ‘in all other respects I have constantly been of what is called Tory principles’ and that ‘in all other political questions I should probably agree with ... [Chandos] in principles (as I think his father would also)’.22 He voted silently for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., and in June 1829 asked Wellington to expedite his younger son Charles’s entry to the Grenadier Guards.23 In April 1830, backed by Buckingham, he renewed his application for an Irish peerage to clear the slur of his illegitimacy, which had deprived him of his grandfather’s earldom of Nugent and a large fortune. Wellington turned him down and also refused his bid for the vacant governorship of Plymouth in June 1830.24 Nugent’s only known vote in the 1830 session was against Jewish emancipation, 17 May. He was ‘ordered to attend’ the funeral of George IV, and ‘being the senior officer was close to ... [William IV] in the procession and heard the whole of his conversation with that little chatterer Prince George’. In mid-July 1830 he expected Buckingham to be in the cabinet ‘ere long’.25
After his return for Buckingham at the subsequent general election ministers counted him among their ‘friends’, and he was in their minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. On the 17th he presented a constituency petition for the abolition of slavery. At the end of 1830 he was prominent in organizing precautions at Marlow against further outbreaks of machine breaking, swearing in ‘a great number of special constables’ and seeking to ‘assemble a mounted constabulary force of 50 men’.26 On 19 Mar. 1831 he presented and endorsed the petition of Buckingham corporation protesting against the borough’s inclusion in schedule A of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, despite having a population of over 2,000. He voted against the second reading, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., 1831, when he presented another hostile petition from Buckingham corporation. Returned for the last time for the borough at the ensuing general election, he voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, and the passage of the measure, 21 Sept. 1831. He was in the Tory opposition’s majority against issuing the Liverpool writ, 5 Sept. He was absent from the division on the second reading of the final reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, but divided against going into committee on it, 20 Jan., the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. His only other known vote was against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. 1832. He retired at the dissolution following the passage of the Reform Act.
Nugent’s wife died in 1834; her perceptive journals of her experiences in Jamaica and India were posthumously and privately published in 1839.27 Nugent boasted to the Conservative prime minister Peel in 1844, when successfully soliciting a customs place for a relative, that he had ‘contributed essentially’ to the return for Great Marlow of his tenant Hampden in 1841.28 He died, aged 91, at Westhorpe House in March 1849.29 By his will, dated 29 July 1847, he created a trust fund of £10,000 for the benefit of the younger children of his sons. He left his Irish property to Charles and his Buckinghamshire estates to his elder son and successor in the baronetcy, George Edmund (1802-92).30
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. His mo.’s surname was probably Fennings, the name with which he attended Charterhouse (Oxford DNB).
- 2. J.J. Sack, The Grenvillites, 37, 45-48; Add. 38278, f. 273; 38280, f. 53; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 680.
- 3. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/46/9/9.
- 4. Ibid. 46/10/18.
- 5. Ibid. 46/12/77.
- 6. Ibid. 51/5/16; Buckingham, Mems. Geo IV, i. 373.
- 7. Sack, 197; Buckingham, i. 416.
- 8. Fremantle mss 46/11/78.
- 9. The Times, 25 Feb. 1824.
- 10. Buckingham, ii. 73-74; Fremantle mss 138/14/2.
- 11. Williams Wynn Corresp. 317.
- 12. Fremantle mss 138/16/18.
- 13. Ibid. 46/11/118; 46/12/90.
- 14. Ibid. 138/16/2,3,5; 138/18/12.
- 15. Ibid. 138/21/1/2.
- 16. Ibid. 138/26/13, 17.
- 17. Ibid. 46/9/2.
- 18. Ibid. 46/9/2; 138/28/5.
- 19. Ibid. 139/9 passim.
- 20. Sack, 216.
- 21. Add. 59004, f. 40; Fremantle mss 139/10/13, 14, 17; Wellington mss WP1/996/18.
- 22. Fremantle mss 139/10/14, 17, 21; R.W. Davis, Political Change and Continuity, 76.
- 23. Wellington mss WP1/1027/14.
- 24. Ibid. WP1/1107/12; 1111/22; 1120/21.
- 25. Fremantle mss 139/14/29.
- 26. Ibid. 139/14/72.
- 27. Oxford DNB.
- 28. Add. 40538, f. 26.
- 29. Gent. Mag. (1849), i. 540-1.
- 30. PROB 11/2093/376; IR26/1846/259.