PERCEVAL, Henry Frederick John James, Visct. Perceval (1796-1841).
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Family and Educationb. 3 Jan. 1796, o.s. of John, 4th earl of Egmont [I], and Bridget, da. of Lt.-Col. Glyn Wynn† of Glynllifon, Caern. educ. privately; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1814. m. Nov. or Dec. 1828, Louise Marie, da. of Count D’Orselet,1 1s. d.v.p. styled Visct. Perceval 1822-35; suc. fa. as 5th earl of Egmont [I] 31 Dec. 1835. d. 23 Dec. 1841.
Perceval’s great-grandfather, the 2nd earl of Egmont, had served in the Bute, Grenville and Rockingham ministries, and his grandfather, the 3rd earl, was a half-brother of Spencer Perceval, prime minister from 1809 to 1812. His father succeeded as the 4th earl in 1822 but, from the highly publicized legal case over Perceval’s will in the 1860s, it emerges that the family’s finances were already in a state of crisis. Debts of some £300,000 had accumulated on the estate at Churchtown, county Cork, and the property at Enmore, Somerset, was also heavily encumbered. The barrister engaged to defend Perceval’s will claimed that he was ‘a man of education and refinement’ whose ‘feeling of disappointment ... on account of the enormous embarrassments on his property, led him to drink, and at an early period of his life he acquired habits of dissipation’; the opposing counsel blamed this fall from grace on neglect by his mother, who was portrayed as a scheming courtesan.2 While Egmont enjoyed immunity from prosecution for debt by virtue of his seat in the Lords (as Baron Lovel in the British peerage), Perceval was ‘obliged to roam abroad’ in order to evade the family’s creditors. It may well be that his parliamentary ambitions stemmed from a desire ‘to be relieved from this vagabond kind of life’.3 In the autumn of 1824 he announced his candidature at the next election for Penryn, where his mother had canvassed on his behalf, but in the event he was returned on a vacancy at East Looe in March 1826 on the interest of James Buller Elphinstone*.4 No trace of parliamentary activity has been found, and it is not certain that he even took his seat. The nature of his regular pursuits can be inferred from a letter supposedly sent to him on 28 Apr. 1826 by Edward Tierney, the family’s Dublin solicitor and land agent, entreating him to ‘abandon his evil courses and his associates’.5 At the general election that summer he contested Penryn, despite being served during his canvass with a writ, which was almost certainly for debt. Unable to compete against the long purses of his opponents in a borough renowned for its venality, he was defeated.6
Having thus compounded his financial difficulties, Perceval was declared an outlaw at some point in 1828 and fled abroad. Later that year he married the daughter of a French count in Paris, but evidently not under the auspices of the British consulate. The son born to them about four months after the marriage was apparently living in 1835, but predeceased his father; the fate of the mother has not been discovered.7 On his father’s death in 1835 Perceval inherited all his property, but the will was not proved until 1857, when the personalty was sworn under £16,000. Enmore had been sold in 1834 for £134,000 to pay off creditors, but no takers had been found for the Cork estates, which comprised 11,250 acres, because of the burden of debt on them.8 Egmont took his seat in the Lords in February 1836, but afterwards lived under the alias of ‘Mr. Lovell’ at Burderop Park, Wiltshire. This property was purchased in the name of his companion, a Mrs. Cleese, with whom it seems he had previously resided at Hythe, Kent and whom he passed off as his sister. It was later claimed, admittedly by a lawyer with an axe to grind, that
the earl was so drunk sometimes at Burderop that Mrs. Cleese was obliged to lock him up lest visitors should see him in that state. He occasionally took runs to London, where he could seldom be traced. He there visited a place called Smith’s Hotel, at which he ... spent his time at the bar drinking with ostlers and cabdrivers, treating them, while himself in a state of wild intoxication ... On his return ... he frequently brought back his portmanteau full of brandy bottles. He drank to excess in the morning, and had acquired such a detestation of business that he signed papers without troubling himself with their contents.
On the other hand, a Wiltshire cleric considered him ‘a thorough gentleman’, whose ‘conversation [was] above par, intelligent, quick, rather’.9 An application to end his outlawry in 1838 ended in farce, when no evidence that he was still alive could be produced.10 He decamped to Portugal in 1840, but after Mrs. Cleese’s death he returned to England, where he died in December 1841.11 Tierney was made sole executor and residuary legatee of the estate, exciting some comment, but it was not until 1857 that the will was finally proved (under £20,000) by Tierney’s son-in-law and heir, the Rev. Sir William Lionel Darell.12 In 1863 the will was belatedly contested by George James Perceval (1794-1874), Egmont’s cousin and successor in the peerage. It was alleged that alcoholism had rendered Egmont completely dependent on Tierney, whose misleading valuation of the estates had induced him to draw up his will as he did. The evidence was inconclusive and an out of court settlement was reached, by which the Irish property was returned to the Egmont family on payment of £125,000 to Darell.13 It was estimated that Tierney and his heirs had realized at least £300,000 from their stewardship of the estates, which were eventually sold by the 7th earl in 1889.14 The 8th earl (1856-1910), a former sailor turned London fireman, upheld family tradition by being arrested for drunkenness in Piccadilly, 16 May 1902.15
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Howard Spencer
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1828), ii. 638.
- 2. The Times, 3, 5 Aug. 1863.
- 3. Ibid. 3 Aug. 1863.
- 4. West Briton, 5 Nov. 1824, 10 Mar. 1826.
- 5. The Times, 3 Aug. 1863.
- 6. R. Cornw. Gazette, 27 May, 3, 10, 17 June 1826.
- 7. The Times, 13 Apr. 1829, 5 Nov. 1838, 6 Aug. 1863; GL ms 10891; Gent. Mag. (1836), i. 425.
- 8. PROB 11/2251/372; IR26/2095/336; The Times, 24 Nov. 1831, 17 Apr. 1834; VCH Som. vi. 38.
- 9. The Times, 3, 4 June, 3, 4, 6 Aug. 1863.
- 10. Ibid. 5 Nov. 1838, 7 Nov. 1839.
- 11. Ibid. 27 Dec. 1841, 3, 4 Aug. 1863; Gent. Mag. (1842), i. 324.
- 12. The Times, 13, 25 Jan. 1842; PROB 11/2251/271; IR26/2095/349.
- 13. The Times, 4 June, 4-8 Aug., 17 Dec. 1863.
- 14. Ibid. 4, 8 Aug. 1863, 1 Oct. 1889.
- 15. Ibid. 17, 26 May 1902.