SEYMOUR CONWAY, Francis Charles, earl of Yarmouth (1777-1842).

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

Constituency

Dates

31 July 1797 - 1802
1802 - 1812
1812 - 1818
1820 - 17 June 1822

Family and Education

b. 11 Mar. 1777, o.s. of Francis Seymour Conway†, 2nd mq. of Hertford, and 2nd w. Hon. Isabella Anne Ingram Shepheard, da. and coh. of Charles Ingram†, 9th Visct. Irvine [S]. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1794; St. Mary Hall, Oxf. 1796. m. 18 May 1798, Maria Emily, legal1 da. of John Baptist, Mq. Fagnani, 2s. 1da. d.v.p. styled Visct. Beauchamp 1793-4, earl of Yarmouth 1794-1822; GCH 1819; suc. fa. as 3rd mq. of Hertford 17 June 1822; KG 22 Nov. 1822. d. 1 Mar. 1842.

Offices Held

Minister plenip. to France June 1806; vice-chamberlain Mar.-July 1812; PC 20 Mar. 1812; warden of the stannaries Aug. 1812-d.; Garter mission to emperor of Russia 1827.

Custos rot. co. Antrim 1822-d.; vice-adm. Suff. 1822-d.; town clerk, Bodmin 1822; recorder, Coventry 1825.

Capt. Lisburn cav. 1796, Warws. militia 1803; col. commdt. R. Cornw. and Devon Miners 1814.

Biography

Yarmouth, who had joined Brooks’s in 1795 and from 1797 had sat for three constituencies on the family interest, followed his father Lord Hertford in his support for Pitt’s and subsequent Tory administrations. His principal allegiance was to the prince of Wales, who took his mother as a mistress in about 1807, appointed his father lord chamberlain when he became regent in 1812 and showered him and other relations with lucrative sinecures. However, by the mid-1810s Yarmouth’s once considerable ascendancy over the prince had waned and, having already separated from his wife, he increasingly indulged his appetites for gambling, women and residence abroad.2

He retired from the representation of county Antrim at the dissolution in 1818, pleading ill health and personal reasons, which apparently had to do with his father’s reluctance to see him continue in Parliament as ‘his own master’.3 He had already been evincing electoral ambitions in various Cornish boroughs, notably Camelford, of which he commented in June 1819 that ‘I shall much prefer sitting for a place I find, and for myself, than for a family nomination’.4 At the general election of 1820, when he wrested a seat from Lord Darlington’s interest at Camelford, he commented to John Croker*, his factotum, that ‘I don’t care a D for the elections except [his friend Lord] Lowther’s*, now I am got back to Seymour Place’, his London house.5 He evidently attended to some of his father’s borough interests: for example, he oversaw Edmond MacNaghten’s return for Orford at a by-election in May.6 One of the silent supporters of Lord Liverpool’s government who were angry at ministerial disarray, he ‘stayed away altogether’ from the division on the appointment of an additional Scottish baron of exchequer, 15 May.7 The following month he complained of ‘a cold and something like gout’, and he was granted a week’s leave on account of illness, 27 June 1820.8 He cast no known votes that session.

In November 1820 Yarmouth, who expected the bill against Queen Caroline to be defeated in the Lords, wrote to Croker that

I am sorry but do not wonder at your anxiety to see whatever sport there may be. To me there could be none, those with whom I would cheerfully have gone into opposition totis viribus have treated me unkindly and refused me the little favour I asked; and on the other hand the pleasure I might personally feel at their removal would be damped and destroyed by seeing you and Lord Lowther* and [John] Beckett* and some other friends dislodged from what amuses and is agreeable to you. So I am as well in a turnip field as anywhere.9

Despite being lukewarm towards ministers, he voted against censuring their treatment of the queen, 6 Feb. 1821. He paired against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He divided against repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., disqualifying civil officers of the ordnance from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr., and the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May. He voted against reduction of the barracks grant, 28, 31 May, and for the arrears payment to the duke of Clarence, 8, 18 June 1821.

In July 1821 he received the Knight Grand Cross of St. Anne of Russia. That month his father was forced into resigning from the household, where Lady Conyngham had succeeded Lady Hertford, the ‘Sultana’, as maîtresse-en-titre. Resentful of his fall from grace, Hertford renewed his application for a dukedom, which was refused by George IV, and insult was added to injury when early the following year the marquess of Buckingham was made a duke on coalescing with government with the remnant of the Grenvillite faction. As Yarmouth remarked in December 1821, ‘so the Pitt party begin their first honour by breaking Pitt’s promise to promote Lord Hertford if ever he promoted Lord Buckingham, but the latter has been an enemy, the former a firm friend’.10 Suspecting that his father, who was apparently more or less ‘out of his mind’ by this time, might create legal difficulties over the succession, Yarmouth was obliged to follow his mother’s interpretation of Hertford’s desires concerning the by-election in county Antrim in January 1822. She told him that ‘in short, you are the person who must manage all this’, and he had to insist that his reluctant elder son, Lord Beauchamp, should go to Ireland to get himself elected.11 He voted against more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 21 Feb., reduction of the salt duties, 28 Feb., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. He paired against the Catholic peers bill, 30 Apr. 1822, but, aware that Lowther, a junior minister, had ‘found fault with all the Seymours for pairing’, promised to attend in person on some unspecified occasion the following month.12

According to Countess Lieven, Yarmouth was ‘waiting with indecent impatience the death of his father, but it should be said in his defence that the poor old man has become quite childish’.13 When he succeeded as the 3rd marquess in June 1822 he inherited the bulk of personal wealth sworn under £300,000, estates in Ireland (valued at £57,000 a year), Warwickshire (£15,000), Suffolk (£10,000) and Scotland (£3,000), and the family’s London residence in Manchester Square.14 He took over his father’s office of custos rotulorum of Antrim, being recommended by Henry Goulburn*, the Irish secretary, ‘his weight being ... very great and his assistance while a Member of the House of Commons having been given very regularly and powerfully’.15 Darlington won back the electoral patronage at Camelford, but Hertford, who was already building an interest at Bodmin, immediately sought seats elsewhere.16 Lord Yarmouth, as Beauchamp was now styled, exclaimed to his mother on 18 June that Hertford ‘has already bought a borough in Parliament [Aldeburgh] and has given the Walkers 50,000 guineas for it - what do you think of that, and he is going to buy two more - what do you think of that!’17 On the death of his cousin Lord Londonderry* in August 1822 he offered his seat at Orford to government and pressed them for some signal piece of patronage, such as a dukedom, as the price of his support.18 Writing to Croker that month he told him that

whenever you see Liverpool or Peel, if either talk to you, I think mystery always bad among intimates and therefore you had better say we talked it over last night and that I said I could fear no personal objection on His Majesty’s part possessing as I do the king’s letters since 1784 to 1819 ... Since the last date the king may have ceased to like frequenting Manchester House or our society but my poor father never failed a day on the queen’s trial when he could be carried down and I after being out of Parliament got a seat to vote on her question as the king knows. I say nothing of this king’s more peculiarly associating with Lord Hertford, but in your researches look whether any old household servants ever retired, without a change of sovereign or ministers, from long service without some step of rank or splendid mark of favour bestowed on him or his.19

Londonderry’s garter was soon presented to him, and Creevey commented that Hertford owed it ‘to his having purchased four seats in Parliament since his father’s death, and to his avowed intention of dealing still more largely in the same commodity’.20 Lady Williams Wynn, who recorded that Hertford complained of having ‘£60,000 per annum more than he can find what to do with’, calculated that he controlled ten Members at the general election at 1826.21 According to Lord Kenyon’s diary, this figure had risen even higher by the dissolution in 1830, although many of his English borough interests were casualties of the Reform Act of 1832.

By his intimates, who included Croker and the strait-laced Peel, Hertford was well respected, and George Agar Ellis* commented on 29 Nov. 1822 that ‘his faults make chiefly against himself - his qualities are many, though the world with its usual good nature dwells always upon the former and drops the latter’.22 He played no further prominent part in politics; for instance, he declined William IV’s offer of the lord chamberlainship in 1830 on the plea of poor health.23 Instead he lapsed into a life of eccentricity and depravity, much of it spent in a secret love nest just off Park Lane. As Harriette Wilson described it:

He directed our attention to the convenience of opening the door, himself, to any fine lady who would honour him with a visit incognita, after his servants should have prepared a most delicious supper and retired to rest. He told us many curious anecdotes of the advantage he derived from his character for discretion: ‘I never tell of any woman. No power on earth should induce me to name a single female, worthy to be called a woman, by whom I have been favoured. In the first place, because I am not tired of variety, and wish to succeed again: in the second, I think it dishonourable’.24

He died, having enjoyed a final debauch despite feeling unwell, in March 1842, when he was said to be worth over £2,000,000. By his extraordinary will, dated 25 Feb. 1823 with 29 codicils, he made (and unmade) numerous bequests, including one of over £20,000 and his wine cellar to Croker, and left several annuities to his lady friends, including a ‘Mrs. Spencer’. A fraud case brought against Nicholas Suisse, a former servant and legatee, soon brought Hertford’s private life into public notoriety. The bulk of the estates descended to his elder son, Richard Seymour Conway, 4th marquess of Hertford.25 Greville’s harsh verdict on the 3rd marquess was that

no man ever lived more despised nor died less regretted. His life and his death were equally disgusting and revolting to every good and moral feeling. As Lord Yarmouth he was known as a sharp, cunning, luxurious, avaricious man of the world, with some talent ... He was a bon vivant, and when young and gay his parties were agreeable, and he contributed his share to their hilarity. But after he became Lord Hertford and the possessor of an enormous property he was puffed up with a vulgar pride, very unlike the real scion of a noble race ... After a great deal of coarse and vulgar gallantry, generally purchased at a high rate, he formed a connection with Lady Strachan [wife of Admiral Sir Richard Strachan], which thenceforward determined all the habits of his life ... There has been, as far as I know, no example of undisguised debauchery exhibited to the world like that of Lord Hertford, and his age and infirmities rendered it at once the more remarkable and the more shocking. Between 60 and 70 years old, broken with infirmities and almost unintelligible from a paralysis of the tongue, he has been in the habit of travelling about with a company of prostitutes, who formed his principal society.26

As well as other literary depictions, he appeared as Lord Monmouth in Benjamin Disraeli’s† Coningsby (1844) and as the marquess of Steyne in William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847-8).27

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. Her paternity was in dispute between the 4th duke of Queensberry and George Augustus Selwyn†.
  • 2. Add. 40296, ff. 29-30; Peep at the Commons (1820), 13; HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 125-7.
  • 3. Belfast News Letter, 16 June 1818; Croker Pprs. i. 128.
  • 4. Add. 60286, f. 162.
  • 5. Ibid. f. 191; R. Cornw. Gazette, 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. Add. 60286, f. 201.
  • 7. Add. 30123, f. 157.
  • 8. Add. 60286, f. 205.
  • 9. Ibid. ff. 209, 210, 215.
  • 10. Ibid. f. 232; Eg. 3261, f. 69.
  • 11. Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, 151; Eg. 3261, f. 65; 3263, f. 130.
  • 12. Add. 60286, f. 249.
  • 13. B. Falk, ‘Old Q’s Daughter’, 117.
  • 14. Add. 52471, f. 40; PROB 11/1659/372; IR26/911/705; The Times, 23 July, 16 Sept. 1822; Gent. Mag. (1822), 561; Croker Pprs. i. 239-40.
  • 15. Add. 37299, ff. 228, 271.
  • 16. R. Cornw. Gazette, 22, 29 June 1822; Add. 60286, ff. 238, 247, 250, 253, 256.
  • 17. Eg. 3263, f. 142.
  • 18. Add. 40350, f. 28.
  • 19. Add. 60286, f. 261.
  • 20. Eg. 3261, f. 90; Add. 38195, f. 116; 40304, f. 77; Creevey Pprs. ii. 56.
  • 21. Williams Wynn Corresp. 308, 347.
  • 22. HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 127; Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary.
  • 23. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 367-9.
  • 24. Harriette Wilson Mems. (1929), 275-6.
  • 25. The Times, 3, 12, 14, 26, 29 Mar., 10 Aug. 1842; Gent. Mag. (1842), i. 545-7; PROB