SCOTT, Sir William (1745-1836), of Doctors' Commons and Erleigh Court, nr. Reading, Berks.

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



1790 - 13 Mar. 1801
23 Mar. 1801 - 17 July 1821

Family and Education

b. 17 Oct. 1745, 1st s. of William Scott, coal-fitter, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumb. and 2nd w. Jane, da. of Henry Atkinson of Newcastle; bro. of Sir John Scott†. educ. Newcastle g.s.; Corpus, Oxf. 1761, BA 1764; fellow, Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1765-81, tutor 1765-76, MA 1767, BCL 1772, DCL 1779; Camden reader of ancient hist. 1773-85; M. Temple 1762, called 1780. m. (1) 7 Apr. 1781, Anna Maria (d. 4 Sept. 1809), da. and h. of John Bagnall of Erleigh Court, 2s. d.v.p. 1da.; (2) 10 Apr. 1813, Lady Louisa Catherine Howe, da. and coh. of Richard Howe†, 1st Earl Howe, wid. of John Denis Browne, 1st mq. of Sligo [I], s.p. suc. fa. 1776; kntd. 3 Sept. 1788; cr. Bar. Stowell (of Stowell Park, Glos. which he bought for £165,000 in 1811 from the legatee of the 4th Bar. Chedworth) 17 July 1821. d. 28 Jan. 1836.

Offices Held

Adv. Doctors’ Commons 1779; admiralty adv. 1782-8; registrar, ct. of faculties 1783-90; king’s adv. 1788-98; judge of consistory ct. of London and vicar-gen. of province of Canterbury 1788-1821; master of faculties Apr. 1790-d.; bencher M. Temple 1794, reader 1799, treas. 1807; judge, ct. of admiralty Oct. 1798-Feb. 1828; PC 31 Oct. 1798; member, bd. of trade 1798-d.; charity commr. 1818-28; commr. for building new churches 1818.

Maj. L. Inn vols. 1799.


Scott, the elder brother of lord chancellor Eldon, had, from his entrance to the Commons in 1790, pursued a brilliant and lucrative career as an advocate specializing in civil and maritime law, alongside a fairly unremarkable course in Parliament as a supporter of successive Tory governments. Widowed for a second time in 1817, he was a witty and companionable man, who was rarely without an invitation to dinner. He was noted for his scruffy appearance and, despite his great wealth, his stinginess. George Canning* once likened the ‘waddling’ Scott to ‘a conceited Muscovy duck’.1 A fortnight after George III’s death in January 1820 he was reported to have expressed ‘apprehension’ that the Liverpool ministry might resign, to precipitate ‘a general sweep’ in government.2 Three weeks later he was again returned unopposed for his university (where he had been a distinguished academic before turning to the more lucrative profession of the law) at the age of 74. His name appears in none of the surviving ministerial division lists of this period. On 21 Apr. 1820 he proposed the re-election of Manners Sutton as Speaker. He was perturbed by the implications of Henry Brougham’s scheme of June 1820 to establish a more effective national system of education for the poor. Writing to the headmaster of Shrewsbury, Dr. Butler, whose hostile pamphlet he had admired, he deplored the possibility of ‘education ... descending into the hands of writing masters, accountants [and] excisemen ... of whose principles we know nothing, and little of their literature beyond the multiplication table’.3 On 7 July he brought in a bill designed to clarify the law relating to offences at sea. On its second reading, 10 July, he argued that ‘recent circumstances’ had shown the necessity of extending the punishment for offences committed on land to those committed at sea.4 The bill became law on 24 July 1820. At this time he was prematurely tipped for elevation to the peerage.5 He was at first alarmed at the prospect of the trial of Queen Caroline, but came to hope that ‘all may pass off tolerably quietly’, believing that the government had a strong case.6 After the abandonment of the prosecution he wrote to a friend:

I shall be very glad to hear of ... loyal addresses coming up. We want to be reinforced in our spirits by friendly declarations from respectable bodies and individuals. The Whigs appear too much disposed to a coalition with the radicals, in order to compel the king to dismiss the ministers, and that coalition is of itself a sufficient reason for a firm resistance to their admission into power; for they will be compelled to make very unpleasant concessions to their new allies, at the expense of the constitution.7

Scott paired against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821. He presented petitions against it from Oxford University, 12 Mar., and the archdeaconry of Essex, 16 Mar.8 Opposing the second reading of the relief bill later that day, he objected to the alterations which Plunket proposed to make in his original bill and insisted that the House be given further details of the revisions and sufficient time in which to consider them. In committee, 23 Mar., he condemned any tinkering with the oath of supremacy, maintaining that by unambiguously denying the pope’s authority it had effectively protected the nation from foreign influence. The anti-Catholic Member Henry Bankes wrote that ‘more was expected from ... Scott than he performed: he was out of health and feeble, and fell far short of his former exertions in the same cause’.9 The ‘Mountaineer’ Henry Grey Bennet dismissed his speech as ‘tiresome and dull’, as he did his effort when he led the opposition to the third reading (after presenting a hostile petition from the authorities of Canterbury cathedral), 2 Apr.10 On 12 Apr. 1821 he was granted a fortnight’s leave of absence because of ill health. He was made a coronation peer in July 1821, but rarely appeared in the Lords and took little part in debate.

He retired from the admiralty bench in 1828, having been handicapped for several years by failing eyesight and powers of speech. It was falsely rumoured before he stood down that he was trying to extort a pension from the tottering Goderich ministry. The Whig Sir James Mackintosh*, who aspired to replace him, commented that this was ‘a shameless proposal from a man of 82 with a fortune of near half a million’.11 He was a great civil lawyer, whose judgments laid the basis of modern admiralty law and the international law of war.12 He lapsed into senility in about 1833 and remained oblivious to the death of his only surviving son, William Scott*, to whom he had devised the bulk of his property, in November 1835. He died two months later, leaving a personal fortune of some £230,000 and real estate worth £12,000 a year. His only surviving child Mary Anne, the second wife of the 1st Viscount Sidmouth, took a life interest in the whole property. On her death in 1842 the Gloucestershire estates passed to Scott’s great-nephew John Scott*, 2nd earl of Eldon, and the personal estate was distributed among the children of his niece Mary Forster of Seaton Burn.13

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Robin Healey / David R. Fisher


See H.J. Bourgignon, Sir William Scott, Lord Stowell (1987); Oxford DNB.

  • 1. J.G. Lockhart, Life of Scott (1838), vii. 135; Hatherton diary, 17 Mar. 1836.
  • 2. Buckingham, Mems. Geo IV, i. 8.
  • 3. Add. 34585, f. 53.
  • 4. The Times, 8, 11 July 1820.
  • 5. Buckingham, i. 51.
  • 6. Add. 51659, Whishaw to Lady Holland, 4, Aug.; 51679, Lord J. Russell to same, 14 [Aug. 1820].
  • 7. Twiss, Eldon, ii. 410-11.
  • 8. The Times, 13, 17 Mar. 1821.
  • 9. Dorset RO D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 126.
  • 10. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 43, 48; The Times, 3 Apr. 1821.
  • 11. Add. 52447, f. 140.
  • 12. Oxford DNB.
  • 13. Twiss, iii. 251-2, 254-5; Gent. Mag. (1836), i. 430; PROB 11/1859/190.