SHAW LEFEVRE, Charles (1794-1888), of Heckfield Place, nr. Odiham, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. 22 Feb. 1794, 1st s. of Charles Shaw Lefevre† of Heckfield and Helena, da. of John Lefevre of Heckfield. educ. Winchester 1806; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1811; L. Inn 1815, called 1819. m. 24 June 1817, Emma Laura, da of Samuel Whitbread† of Southill, Beds., 3s. d.v.p. 2da. (1 d.v.p). suc. fa. 1823; cr. Visct. Eversley 11 Apr. 1857. d. 28 Dec. 1888.
Speaker of House of Commons 27 May 1839-11 Apr. 1857; PC 3 June 1839; bencher, L. Inn 1839; church estates commr. 1858-9; ecclesiastical commr. 1859-d.
Recorder, Basingstoke 1823-35;1 chairman, Hants q.s. 1850-79; gov. I.o.W. 1857-d.
Lt. N. Hants yeoman cav. 1821, lt.-col. commdt. 1823-7, 1831; a.d.c. to Queen Victoria 1859.
Dir. Sun Fire Office 1815-41.2
Shaw Lefevre’s paternal ancestors were from Yorkshire. His father, who was born Charles Shaw (1759-1823), sat for Newtown, Isle of Wight, 1796-1802, and Reading, 1802-20. He acquired his additional surname by his marriage to the heiress of John Lefevre (1722-90), who was of Huguenot descent and had made a fortune from banking and distilling. In about 1775 he had purchased Heckfield, an estate subsequently augmented and consolidated by the Shaw Lefevres, and described in 1859 as ‘a large and handsome mansion, in an extensive and well-wooded park, near the confluence of ... two rivulets’.3 From his own recollections, Shaw Lefevre’s initiation into politics came early. As an infant he was dandled by George III, who used Heckfield as a staging post on his way to Weymouth, and as a boy he was taken to a Commons debate, where, upon witnessing an oration from Charles Fox, he was reputed to have asked his father ‘why that gentleman was in such a passion?’4 His Winchester headmaster William Goddard deplored his continued adherence to the Whigs ‘in spite of all I can say’, but nonetheless believed him be of ‘very high stamp’ and, somewhat improbably, was alleged to have predicted his eventual ascent to the Speaker’s chair.5 At Cambridge, from his own account, his sphere of excellence was tennis, and his enthusiasm for field sports, which he retained into his dotage, led his mother to despair that he was ‘only fit to be a gamekeeper’.6 An obituary asserted that he ‘grew to be one of the tallest and handsomest men of his generation’, but a somewhat less flattering profile of 1838 described him as being of ‘about the middle height, with a slight inclination to the athletic form ... a good-looking man, with a very intellectual expression of countenance’.7 It was with a hint of fraternal jealousy that John George Shaw Lefevre (1797-1879), Member for Petersfield, 1832-3, and afterwards the holder of a succession of public offices, warned his future wife of his brother’s vanity in 1824. This did not prevent her sister, Nevil Webb Edge, from finding Charles ‘charming [and] very handsome’, or from admiring his ‘very fine figure, and the most good tempered amiable countenance I ever saw’.8
Like his father, a quondam Addingtonian who had gravitated towards opposition, Shaw Lefevre never joined Brooks’s, though he strengthened his Whig associations by marrying Emma, the daughter of Samuel Whitbread and the niece of the 2nd Earl Grey, the future premier. Their families were already close. Shaw Lefevre had made a walking tour of the Scottish Highlands in 1814 with his future brothers-in-law, William Henry Whitbread* and Samuel Charles Whitbread*. The marriage settlement furnished the couple with an annuity of about £1,250, which Shaw Lefevre supplemented with his modest legal practice, and they settled initially at Burley, near Ringwood, Hampshire, a minor family estate which was sold in 1852.9 Maria Edgeworth, who encountered them in March 1819, found them ‘very agreeable, good and happy’ with ‘little to live on now, but [they] will have a little trifle of fourteen thousand a year when old Shaw Lefevre dies’.10 If correct, this provision must have been by settlement, as his father left all his disposable property at his death in April 1823 to his widow, who survived until 1834 and made Shaw Lefevre her residuary legatee.11 He succeeded directly to Heckfield, and to his father’s local offices of recorder of Basingstoke and commandant of the yeomanry. Soon after assuming the latter responsibility, he complained to the duke of Wellington, the lord lieutenant, of the difficulties of underfunding and of enforcing attendance, and these frustrations led him to concur in the disbandment of the corps in 1828. After its reconstitution in the wake of the ‘Swing’ agricultural labourers’ riots, he still found that his own dedication was not universally shared, for ‘many persons who promised to join in the hour of danger ... proved faithless’.12 His comparatively small stake of 2,400 acres proved no bar to his taking a leading role on the Hampshire bench, nor, as was demonstrably the case with other individuals, did his opposition politics.13 He enjoyed cordial relationships with Sir William Heathcote, the Ultra Tory county Member, and Wellington, with whom he negotiated a property exchange along their mutual estate boundary in 1831, and who described him the following year as ‘the best of neighbours and friends’.14
At the 1820 general election Shaw Lefevre apprised the electors of Reading of his ailing father’s intended retirement as their Member (having initially assured them of his fitness to continue) and was active on behalf of his brother-in-law William Whitbread in Middlesex. According to an obituary, he ‘canvassed electors, organised local committees, and addressed popular meetings from the hustings at Brentford, and other strongholds of the liberal cause’.15 Other opposition contacts included Edward Ellice* and John Cam Hobhouse*, whom he vainly encouraged to come forward for Middlesex at the general election of 1830.16 There was some advance expectation that Shaw Lefevre would stand on this occasion for Reading, where the family interest had been kept up, but in the event he found a seat for Downton on the interest of the radical 3rd earl of Radnor, whose brother Philip Pleydell Bouverie* had until recently been a banking partner of Shaw Lefevre’s younger brother Henry.17 Radnor made the offer, as he informed him, 11 June, because he understood him to be indifferent to place, ‘ultra liberal’ and inclined ‘to do all you can to destroy the patronage of your patron’. With a degree of caution, Shaw Lefevre replied that his opinions were ‘decidedly liberal’ and allied to a general disposition ‘to watch with great jealously the proceedings of those in power whether Whigs or Tories’. He committed himself to support an extension of the franchise ‘to every person ... who is capable of using it independently’, election by ballot and ‘the extinction of all parliamentary patronage’, a line with which Radnor, a supporter of annual parliaments and universal suffrage, was evidently content.18 He was returned unopposed, free of expense and without a visit to the constituency.19 (Radnor had quashed a scheme to seat him instead for Cockermouth on the Lonsdale interest, as part of an arrangement involving Pleydell Bouverie, Henry Brougham* and the latter’s brother James Brougham*.) In thanking his patron, Shaw Lefevre obsequiously concurred in Radnor’s wish ‘that I should not ever nominally represent the borough of any other person’.20
Shaw Lefevre was reckoned a gain for opposition by Brougham, and, having been listed by the Wellington ministry among their ‘foes’, he voted against them in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented a Basingstoke petition for parliamentary reform, 28 Feb., and at a Hampshire county meeting, 17 Mar. 1831, declared that he ‘had always been a steady friend’ to this cause ‘and had given it his utmost support from a decided conviction of the public benefit which would ensue’.21 He duly voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. Before the ensuing general election he was invited by supporters of the bill to stand for Hampshire with Sir James Macdonald*. Their joint address of 21 Apr. presaged their entry to Winchester, 27 Apr. 1831, when Shaw Lefevre declared himself to be ‘a most uncompromising supporter of parliamentary reform’ and denounced the naked self-interest of its borough owning opponents, ‘that band of pensioners ... who swallow up all the loaves and fishes themselves’.22 He was proposed by the former county Member George Purefoy Jervoise at the nomination, when he produced figures to rebut claims that the bill would damage the parliamentary strength of the agricultural interest. He had no need of the seat held open for him at Downton, as he was returned unopposed after the withdrawal of the sitting Members.23
Before the opening of Parliament, Shaw Lefevre led yeomanry exercises at Basingstoke, 11 May, and Odiham, 29 May 1831.24 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and against two motions for its adjournment, 12 July, and gave generally steady support to its details, though he was in the minorities for the complete disfranchisement of Saltash, over which government offered no clear lead, 26 July, and Aldborough, 14 Sept., and divided for Lord Chandos’s amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. On 16 Aug. he disputed Hunt’s assertions that the bill’s allocation of five Members to Hampshire was excessive and that the county had hitherto been ‘under the immediate influence of government’. He voted for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept. On 23 Aug. he was in two ministerial majorities on the Dublin election controversy. The Whitbread connection surely lay behind his presentation of a petition from Biggleswade, Bedfordshire against the use of molasses in brewing and distilling, 25 Aug. On 27 Sept. he seconded the unsuccessful motion for inquiry into the affair of Thomas and Caroline Deacle, the Hampshire farmers allegedly manhandled by William Bingham Baring* in the course of their arrest in the aftermath of the ‘Swing’ disturbances. His motive was to enable Baring to vindicate himself, though he objected to the implication of the court judgement that the use of handcuffs should depend on the social status of the detainee. He divided for Lord Ebrington’s motion of confidence in the ministry, 10 Oct. 1831, when he was commended for his steady conduct at a Romsey reform meeting.25
Shaw Lefevre voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, steadily supported its details, and divided for its third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He spoke warmly of proposals for a London to Southampton railway at a meeting of interested parties, 23 Jan., and was in the minority in favour of the Vestry Act amendment bill the same day.26 He presented an Alton petition for abolition of the death penalty for offences against property, 18 Apr., and one from Hampshire coroners for an increase in their allowances, 22 June. He voted with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and military punishments, 16 Feb. He divided for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment for increased county representation for Scotland, 1 June. On other issues he showed some independence. He was in minorities for a select committee on colonial slavery, 24 May, and for a reduction in the barracks grant, 2 July. He voted against Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 6 June 1832.
At the general election of 1832 Shaw Lefevre stood for the Northern division of Hampshire and topped the poll in a four-sided contest.27 All his subsequent elections for North Hampshire were unopposed. He was selected to move the address at the opening of the 1834 session, and, according to Denis Le Marchant†, produced ‘an excellent speech’.28 He chaired the 1835 committee on agricultural distress and directed his Remarks on the Present State of Agriculture (1836) to his constituents as an apologia for its inconclusive findings. In 1834 he was appointed to the royal commission on county rates. He chaired a similar body on rural policing, 1836-9, as he did the Commons select committee on procedure in 1838, when he was sketched as ‘a man of great urbanity of manner [and] ... of extensive information on most of the topics which occupy the attention of the legislature’.29 In 1837 he proposed the re-election of the Speaker, James Abercromby*, and he was nominated by the Melbourne ministry to succeed him two years later. His victory, by 317-299, at the expense of the more experienced Henry Goulburn*, was seen as an important test of party strength, but his popularity and the absence of a viable alternative persuaded Peel to retain him after his accession as premier in 1841.30 His tenure of the chair was marked by an improvement of discipline in the Commons, reform of its more arcane procedures and the almost unconscious elevation of the Speakership above the party conflict. According to a 1911 biographical profile, his steady stewardship owed much to his ‘manly bearing ... handsome features and frank and open countenance [which] commanded the ready confidence of men of his own class’. His air of effortless authority apparently defied all contradiction, in spite of his occasional indulgence in creative extemporization on precedent rulings, a volume of which, edited by Robert Bourke, was published in 1857. Its preface quoted the view of the Tory Sir Robert Inglis* that he ‘compressed into the period of his services more labour, more attention, and more successful energy than any one of his predecessors’; while Lord John Russell hailed him as ‘the best Speaker I ever knew’. As befitted one for whom appearances were so important, he was an enthusiast for the ritual trappings which invested the Speakership with much of its latter day constitutional mystique, such as elaborate, formal dinners, and the custom of using dray horses to draw the state coach, which he originated. On his retirement in 1857, having served longer than any previous holder of the post except Arthur Onslow, he took the title of Viscount Eversley, a pension of £4,000 and the unsalaried position of governor of the Isle of Wight.31 He declined the governor-generalship of Canada in 1861 and was considered for the Irish lord lieutenancy in 1864, when Delane, editor of The Times, made the waspish remark that he would ‘look the part well enough, and as looks are most part of the duties there would be no occasion to complain’.32 Benjamin Disraeli† appointed him to chair the boundary commission of 1867. It was a mark of his increasing conservatism that he privately disapproved of the associated measure of parliamentary reform. He chaired the Hampshire quarter sessions from 1850 until 1879.33
Shaw Lefevre died at Heckfield in December 1888, one obituarist attributing his longevity to ‘field sports and gardening’.34 Latterly he had derived a handsome income from his partnership in the Whitbread brewery, but his personal life was blighted by misfortune.35 The only one of his three sons to survive infancy died of measles in 1837, and his relationship with his wife, who had at first seemed an ideal match, deteriorated to the point where a formal separation was forestalled only by her death in 1857.36 His younger daughters Helena and Elizabeth both married into the neighbouring family of St. John Mildmay of Dogmersfield. The eldest, Emma, remained at home, and according to a chronicler of her eccentricities, was ‘very stout and moved with a sort of waddle ... and generally fell asleep at dinner, waking up at dessert in time to say ‘Crown Derby’, when the guests would all turn their plates upside down and examine the mark.’37 By the terms of Shaw Lefevre’s will, she inherited Heckfield and his London house in Eaton Square, while the Hackney and Bow estates of the Shaw family were earmarked for sale.38 The same fate befell Heckfield in 1895, but the Eversley peerage was reconferred in 1906 on Shaw Lefevre’s nephew George John Shaw Lefevre (1831-1928).39
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Authors: Philip Salmon / Howard Spencer
This biography draws on F.M.G. Willson, A Strong Supporting Cast: the Shaw Lefevres, 1789-1936 (1993).
- 1. F. Baigent and J. Millard, Hist. Basingstoke, 474-5.
- 2. Willson, 50.
- 3. Ibid. 5, 21-31; White’s Hants Dir. (1859), 523; VCH Hants, iv. 46-47.
- 4. V. Martineau, John Martineau (1921), 121-2.
- 5. H.C. Adams, Wykehamica, 164-5.
- 6. Willson, 49, 363; The Times, 29 Dec. 1888.
- 7. [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Lords and Commons (1838), ii. 181.
- 8. Willson, 63.
- 9. Ibid. 49-50, 59; VCH Hants, iv. 611.
- 10. Edgeworth Letters, 182.
- 11. PROB 11/1670/299; 1836/521; IR26/964/523; 1361/431.
- 12. Willson, 58; Wellington mss WP1/771/11; 934/34; WP4/3/2/1.
- 13. R. Foster, Politics of County Power, 12, 30-31, 44, 47.
- 14. F. Awdry, A Country Gentleman of 19th Cent. (1906), 91; Wellington mss WP4/3/4/12, 13; 4/1/15.
- 15. Reading Mercury, 21, 28 Feb. 1820; The Times, 29 Dec. 1888.
- 16. Add. 36464, f. 474; 36466, f. 161.
- 17. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 159, f. 47; Willson, 67-68, 72-73.
- 18. Wilts. RO, Radnor mss 490/1374, Radnor to Shaw Lefevre, 11 June; reply [11 June 1830], cited in Willson, 73-4 and R. K. Huch, The Radical Lord Radnor, 112-13.
- 19. Martineau, 122.
- 20. Radnor mss 490/1374, memo. of Radnor, 9 July, Shaw Lefevre to Radnor, 6 Aug. 1830.
- 21. Hants Chron. 21 Mar. 1831.
- 22. Wellington mss WP4/3/4/3/17; Hants Chron. 2 May 1831.
- 23. Hants Chron. 9 May 1831; Willson, 77-8; Radnor mss 490/1375, Boucher to Radnor, 24 Apr. 1831.
- 24. Wellington mss WP4/4/2/21, 22, 26; 5/2/12, 16.
- 25. Hants Chron. 17 Oct. 1831.
- 26. Ibid. 30 Jan. 1832.
- 27. Ibid. 17 Dec. 1832.
- 28. Three Diaries, 378.
- 29. Willson, 90-96; Grant, ii. 180.
- 30. Willson, 96-102; A.I. Dasent, Speakers of the House of Commons, 320-1.
- 31. Willson, 115-128, 152; Dasent, 321-5; J.A. Manning, Lives of the Speakers, 494-6; P. Laundy, Office of Speaker, 9, 24, 32, 294.
- 32. Willson 120, 233; Dasent, John Delane, ii. 123.
- 33. Willson 220-1, 230-36; Foster, 164; The Times, 29 Dec. 1888.
- 34. Hants RO 38M49/7/125/1.
- 35. Willson, 151-2; The Times, 6 May 1889.