PLUMER, William (1736-1822), of Gilston Park and Blakesware, Herts.
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Family and Educationb. 24 May 1736, 2nd but o. surv. s. of William Plumer† of Blakesware and Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Byde of Ware Park. educ. Pembroke, Camb. 1752. m. (1) 12 July 1760, Hon. Frances Dorothy Cary (d. 3 Dec. 1761), da. of Lucius Charles, 7th Visct. Falkland [S], s.p.; (2) 9 Aug. 1791, his cos. Jane, da. and coh. of Rev. the Hon. George Hamilton, canon of Windsor, s.p. suc. fa. 1767. d. 17 Jan. 1822.
Plumer had the distinction of being the only Member of George III’s first Parliament whose Commons career extended into the reign of George IV. He was almost 84 years old and physically decrepit when Earl Fitzwilliam again agreed to return him for the pocket borough of Higham Ferrers at the 1820 general election, after he had indicated that he ‘should like to be allowed to work ... as long as the faculties of my mind continue sound and unimpaired’.1 In a letter to Lord Holland apologizing for his absence from the contest in Bedfordshire, where he had a freehold, he explained that he had ‘hesitated about offering’ again, on account of being unable to attend in person, and reported:
I have been confined by gout and some other serious evils of advanced age ever since the early part of October, and it is my own opinion, as well as that of my medical advisers (who by the bye are good politicians) that it might endanger my life, if I were to travel.2
Though reputed never to stay in the House after six o’clock,3 he continued to act with his lifelong Whig friends, largely by pairing for important divisions, as he did on the Queen Caroline affair, 22 June 1820.4 He was granted three weeks’ leave on account of ill health, 27 June 1820. He was present to vote against the omission of the queen’s name from the liturgy, 23 Jan., and for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr. 1821. He paired in the minority on the liturgy, 26 Jan., for repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., for Lord John Russell’s reform proposals, 9 May, and for inquiry into the Peterloo massacre, 16 May 1821. He is not known to have spoken in debate in this period.
Plumer spent the last six months of his life quietly at Gilston. Writing to Lord William Cavendish Bentinck*, with whom he corresponded regularly, he hoped ministers would ‘set about in earnest to economize and make retrenchments ... or we shall be actual bankrupts’, 22 July; hailed the outcome of the Oxford University by-election as ‘a complete discomfiture of the Tories’, 26 Aug.; and deplored the summary dismissal of Sir Robert Wilson* from the army, though he delayed subscribing to Wilson’s relief fund until ministers had been given a chance to justify their action, 25 Nov. 1821. On 24 Dec. 1821 he observed:
I live in the midst of bankrupt farmers, and starving poor ... There must be a crisis, and what will be the consequence no man can foresee! ... Mrs. Plumer is just come to me, after having attended the distribution of two pounds of good ox beef, and a proper portion of bread each to 400 fellow creatures ... If we live till Xmas next, shall we have it in our power to do the like?5
Three weeks later he was struck down and ‘carried to the bed’ where he died a few days later. By his will, dated 18 Oct. 1817 and proved under £45,000, 9 Feb. 1822, he left £52 10s. to his ‘much esteemed friend’ Cavendish Bentinck and the rest of his estate to his widow. After a brief marriage to a naval officer, she married in 1828 the novelist Robert Ward*, who took the additional name of Plumer.6