PARKYNS, George Augustus Henry Anne, 2nd Bar. Rancliffe [I] (1785-1850), of Bunny Park, Notts.

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

Constituency

Dates

1806 - 1807
1812 - 1820
1826 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 10 June 1785, o. s. of Thomas Boothby Parkyns†, 1st Bar. Rancliffe [I], and Elizabeth Anne, da. and h. of Sir William James†, 1st bt., of Eltham, Kent. educ. Harrow 1799. m. 15 Oct. 1807, Lady Elizabeth Mary Theresa Forbes, da. of George, 6th earl of Granard [I] and 1st Bar. Granard [UK], s.p. legit. suc. fa. as 2nd Bar. Rancliffe [I] 17 Nov. 1800; grandfa. Sir Thomas Parkyns as 4th bt. 17 Mar. 1806. d. 1 Nov. 1850.

Offices Held

Cornet 10 Drag. 1801; lt. 15 Drag., half-pay 1803-9.

Equerry to prince of Wales.

Provincial grand master of freemasons, Leics. 1812-d

.

Biography

Rancliffe, whose family came from Nottinghamshire, was an Irish peer, the title having been awarded to his father, Member for Stockbridge and Leicester, when his chief, the 3rd duke of Portland, joined Pitt’s wartime coalition in 1794. Like the 1st baron before him, Rancliffe was an aristocratic buffoon, whose intermittent parliamentary zeal in the advanced Whig cause had to compete for attention with his life as a society drone.1 Constrained by the derangement of his financial affairs, he did not stand for Nottingham, which he had represented since 1812, at the general election of 1820, but was indefatigable in his support for his successful replacement, Thomas Denman. He exclaimed that he ‘wished to God that he possessed such talents for the purpose of advocating that gentleman’s cause’ and, although ill health prevented him from attending the celebratory dinner in honour of the Members, he basked in their triumph and claimed to have laid the foundation of the Whig ascendancy in Nottingham.2 In early 1822, as George Agar Ellis* recorded, he suddenly ‘turned his wife out of doors at Paris on account of an intrigue she has had with M. de Mossion [or Morton] - foolish enough - he should have done it sooner, if at all, as it has now been going of for some three or four years’.3 Although living a retired life in the country, Rancliffe was never far from the political stage; for instance, he was one of the Tory duke of Newcastle’s Nottinghamshire opponents who in March 1823 got themselves put on the grand jury, which he would have chaired had he not been disbarred as a peer from so doing.4 Presiding at a Nottingham dinner that September, he saluted Denman’s conduct as one of Queen Caroline’s law officers and praised the radical Sir Francis Burdett*: ‘Talk not of the duke of Wellington and his bloody achievements, but give me the man who sticks by the people, who fights their battles and who, with their assistance, will conquer’. Addressing the Nottingham festival of Oddfellows in October 1824, he toasted the sitting Members and hailed the Whig corporation as the champion of independence there.5

He came forward again for Nottingham on Denman’s retirement at the general election of 1826, declaring his political principles to be ‘unchanged as they were unchangeable’. Hostile to the slave trade and food price increases, he favoured sweeping reforms in order to abolish wasteful expenditure and sinecures; above all, he singled out frequent Parliaments and a full and ‘fair representation of the people’ as imperative measures. Finding himself hard pressed, despite receiving Denman’s support, he requested the presence of Burdett, but was instead offered his colleague John Cam Hobhouse*, to whom Lord Holland, the recorder, explained that

they are in great want of spirit and oratory at Nottingham and no way occurs to them of supplying it so well as by your appearance there. I do believe that Lord Rancliffe’s election and what I consider of more consequence, a friendly vote in the House of Commons and the future ascendancy of the good cause at Nottingham, depends on some such exertion.6

After a turbulent contest, he was returned with Joseph Birch ahead of an anti-corporation candidate. Acknowledging the support of the out-voters, he stated his opposition to the corn laws and slavery, and announced that it was his intention to endeavour to repeal the ‘abominable bill’ which allowed county magistrates to interfere in the policing of the town. At his election dinner, he declared himself a radical, deprecated the conduct of his opponent, and hailed the corporators of Nottingham as ‘staunch friends of the people’.7

As previously, Rancliffe voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He sided with opposition against the duke of Clarence’s grant, 2, 16 Mar., and on the 22nd spoke against the bill’s third reading, although he finally decided not to divide the House or to do anything that might be ‘considered ungracious’. He denied that his Protestant constituents opposed Catholic relief and boasted of his popular support as an advocate of civil and religious liberty, 23 Mar. He divided in the minorities to relax the corn laws, 9, 12, 27 Mar., and to prohibit the use of spring guns, 23 Mar. He confirmed that the practice of electing honorary freemen had prevailed to some extent at Nottingham, 15 Mar., but, disapproving of this, he voted in the minority for inquiry into the conduct of the corporation of Leicester. Having served on an election committee, he was granted three weeks’ leave to attend to urgent business, 29 Mar., and was given another week’s furlough, 2 May. On 22 May he divided for ending chancery jurisdiction in bankruptcy cases, and, possibly because he objected to the new prime minister’s antipathy to parliamentary reform, he registered several hostile votes against the Canning ministry that session. He spoke and voted for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, and presented and endorsed Leicester and Nottingham petitions, for reform and repeal of the Test Acts respectively, 6 June.8 He condemned the Coventry magistracy bill as an ‘invasion of the rights of corporations’, 7 June, and voted in the minority against it, 18 June. He was one of the 11 who opposed the grant to improve Canadian water communications, 12 June. He alleged that many Nottingham electors had been deterred from voting for fear of losing their places, 14 June. His friend, the Irish poet Tom Moore, who liked his repartee and thought him ‘a good fellow’, was horrified by the ‘bad company’ he kept, on visiting him at Bunny in October 1827.9

He brought up a Nottingham Dissenters’ petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828, when he voted accordingly. He was listed in the minority for absolving William Leadbeater of culpability in giving false evidence before the East Retford disfranchisement committee, 7 Mar. In seconding the motion for inquiry into chancery administration, 24 Apr., he spoke of his wish to see the reform of those ‘heavy abuses by which the court is at present unhappily distinguished’. He voted to loosen protection for corn producers, 29 Apr. On 19 May he denied that, as a landowner, he would favour the transfer of East Retford’s seats to the hundred of Bassetlaw: ‘I take an independent view of the subject, for, instead of wishing that the franchise be transferred to any part of the county of Nottingham, where I might perhaps have some interest, I shall vote that it be given to Birmingham’. On 2 June 1828 he deferred his motion for repeal of the Nottingham Peace Act and reiterated that it was his intention to vote for the disfranchisement of East Retford, irrespective of ‘whether the franchise goes into the hundred or not’. He voted for Catholic emancipation, 12 May 1828, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. He brought up the favourable Nottingham petition, 9 Mar., when he denied that a hostile petition (presented a month earlier) was representative of his constituents’ opinions. He repeated his zealous support for reform, but questioned the necessity of the Irish franchise bill, 20 Mar. 1829. He again divided to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar., and for parliamentary reform, 28 May 1830, when he was also in the minority for O’Connell’s radical resolutions. He urged relief for distressed manufacturing districts, including his own, 15 Mar., and paired against the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar. Declaring his support for ‘any motion by which the public expenditure may be diminished’, 3 May, when he voted to reduce the public buildings grant, he divided to decrease the salary of the assistant secretary of the treasury, 10 May, to abolish the viceregal court in Ireland, 11 May, and to lower consular expenditure, 7, 11 June. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and against the death penalty for forgery, 7 June 1830.

Ostensibly disillusioned with politics, but in reality fearing another expensive contest, Rancliffe wrote to apprise Denman of his decision not to stand at the general election that summer. He offered his backing to Denman, whom Brougham deemed a ‘good attender’ by comparison, and proposed his eventual colleague Sir Ronald Ferguson on the hustings.10 Disregarding assurances of support, he informed his constituents, 3 July 1830, that

I am not so sanguine as to suppose that, in the event of another contest, perfect political purity will be found to exist - it does not in the majority of persons returned to Parliament ... I am disgusted with the House of Commons, God knows.

Stressing the importance of electoral independence, he continued:

In times like these it becomes the duty, as it always is of every man, to vote for those who will act perfectly independent and, by their endeavours, bring back the House of Commons to what it ought to be, the real representation of the people, which it now is not. Let everyone keep this in mind. The time is fast approaching when your suffrages (I wish they were universal) will be called forth. Use what you have with discretion.11

Unable to attend the Nottingham meeting to celebrate the revolution in France, 23 Aug., he trusted that the French example would teach the people of England to ‘prevent further inroads being made on our constitution’, but appealed for clemency and an end to bloodshed. On 9 Nov. 1830 he presided at the Nottingham radical reform celebration and, reiterating his belief in the aristocratic domination of the Commons, advocated a ‘full, fair and free representation of the people’, as well as the ballot and a free press. The following evening he chaired a dinner at Wymeswould, Leicestershire, and urged the freeholders there to persist in the cause of independence. As a peer, he could not be supposed to wish for revolution, but he argued that the influence of the nobility deprived the people of a voice in Parliament.12

Rancliffe attended the meeting of Nottinghamshire freeholders in Mansfield, 17 Mar. 1831, approving their petition in support of the Grey administration. Having read the Commons debates, which he considered devoid of argument, he ‘thanked God he was not there to hear them’, but implored the voters to stand firm in their support for the reform bill.13 When Parliament was dissolved that spring, he warned the Nottingham electors not to be ‘deceived by the promises of moderate reform’ and warmly anticipated the end of the boroughmongering system, providing they held fast to the king and his ministers.14 Addressing the Nottingham meeting in the midst of the reform bill riots, 10 Oct. 1831, he seconded the motion attesting to the people’s zeal for reform, but deprecated violence and called for calm, deeming the ‘righteousness of their cause’ their best weapon.15 At the general election the following year, he proposed the Whig minister Lord Duncannon* and he endorsed the candidature of Hobhouse at the by-election in July 1834. Boasting of his early triumph in the cause of reform, he was proud to have been branded a republican and confident that he had laid the foundation of the Whig triumph in Nottingham. This was already a familiar refrain and, along with his views on the necessity of church reform, was one which he never tired of repeating.16 He remained an active figure in Nottingham politics and as late as 1839 was badgering Hobhouse, president of the board of trade, for patronage on behalf of the editor of the Nottingham Mercury, whose services in the Whig cause he deemed worthy of recognition.17 He was accused of interfering by ‘thumbing’ (intimidation), an allegation he strenuously denied, at the Nottingham election of 1841, and was observed by Newcastle regaling his friends, in his usual voluble style, after the successful visit of Queen Victoria to Nottingham in December 1843.18 At the election of 1847 he supposedly voted for the Chartist Feargus O’Connor†, and in June of the following year he made his last public appearance, when he presided at a meeting to establish a branch of the people’s league to advocate universal suffrage in Nottingham; only over the repeal of the corn laws did he abandon his life-long espousal of the liberal cause.19 On Rancliffe’s death in November 1850 the Nottingham Review reported that

without professing eloquence, he had a happy talent of catching as it were the very thoughts of his hearers and blending them in his speech with admirable point and humour, so as to preserve amongst his audience good temper and discretion, though at the same time convincing them of the justice of their cause.20

Recognized as ‘a Whig, and something more’, as well as a ‘good party man’, the press paid tribute to his sound views, but considered him ‘neither fitted by natural endowments, nor acquired attainments, nor yet by the habits he cultivated, for the post of a leader’.21 According to Thomas Macaulay*, he was ‘popularly and well known as a gentleman of considerable gifts, as convivial, witty, and as a giver of amusements of various sorts’.22 His Irish peerage became extinct, but although the baronetcy devolved on his cousin, Thomas George Augustus Parkyns (1820-95), Rancliffe devised his life interest in the family estate to Mrs. Harriett Burtt (later Forteath), his mistress for over 35 years, whom he had established at Bunny ‘in the teeth of the county and to the confusion of all decorum’ in 1834. According to his nephew, Sir Horace Rumbold (1829-1913), a diplomat, Rancliffe had long been under her influence and ‘very pardonably felt that a good income and an old family estate at his free disposal, made him a veritable oncle d’Amérique’. An attempt in 1861 to contest the will collapsed in court, and the estate remained alienated until 1910, when it was immediately divided and sold.23

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Simon Harratt / Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 721-3; M.I. Thomis, Politics and Society in Nottingham, 157-8; A.C. Wood, ‘George, Lord Rancliffe’, Thoroton Soc. lviii (1954), 65-68, 78.
  • 2. Wood, 76; Nottingham Rev. 10 Mar., 11 Aug. 1820.
  • 3. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 23 Mar. 1822; Fox Jnl. 107; Moore Jnl. ii. 549.
  • 4. Unhappy Reactionary ed. R.A. Gaunt (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xliii), 42.
  • 5. Nottingham Rev. 26 Sept. 1823, 1 Oct. 1824.
  • 6. Add. 36462, ff. 271, 275.
  • 7. Nottingham Rev. 9, 23 June, 7 July 1826.
  • 8. The Times, 7 June 1827.
  • 9. Moore Jnl. ii. 431; iii. 1062-3.
  • 10. T. Bailey, Annals Notts. iv. 368; Add. 51813, Rancliffe to Denman, 28 June; 51835, Ferguson to Holland, 30 July; Brougham mss, Brougham to Denman [?3 Sept. 1830].
  • 11. Nottingham Jnl. 10 July 1830.
  • 12. Notting