SOMERSET, Lord Robert Edward Henry (1776-1842), of 5 Grosvenor Square, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 19 Dec. 1776, 4th s. of Henry, 5th duke of Beaufort (d. 1803), and Elizabeth, da. of Hon. Edward Boscawen†; bro. of Lord Arthur John Henry Somerset†, Lord Charles Henry Somerset†, Lord Fitzroy James Henry Somerset*, and Henry Charles Somerset, mq. of Worcester†. educ. Westminster 1789. m. 17 Oct. 1805, Hon. Louisa Augusta Courtenay, da. of William, 2nd Visct. Courtenay, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da. KCB 2 Jan. 1815; GCB 17 Oct. 1834. d. 1 Sept. 1842.
Jt. dep. paymaster-gen. 1807-13; lt.-gen. of ordnance June 1829-Nov. 1830, surveyor-gen. Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835.
Cornet 10 Drag. 1793, lt. 1793, capt. 1794; a.d.c. to duke of York in Holland 1799; maj. 12 Drag. 1799, 28 Drag. 1800; lt.-col. 5 Ft. 1800, 4 Drag. 1801; col. 4 Drag. in Portugal 1809; a.d.c. to king with rank of col. 1810; maj.-gen. i/c Hussar brig. 1813, i/c heavy cav. brig. in Netherlands 1815, i/c 1 brig. cav. France 1815-18; col. 21 Drag. 1818; inspecting gen. cav. 1818-25; col. 17 Lancers 1822, Royals 1829, 4 Drag. 1836; lt.-gen. 1825; gen. 1841.
Somerset, who received an annuity of £600 from his father’s estate in 1803, in addition to other unspecified provision,1 was a highly decorated hero of the Peninsular campaign and Waterloo. He was returned unopposed for Gloucestershire on his brother the 6th duke of Beaufort’s interest for the sixth time in 1820, in conjunction with the Whig Sir Berkeley William Guise, after defending the Six Acts as ‘indispensably necessary ... for the maintenance of our constitution, our religion and our property’.2 He was a fairly regular attender, who continued to support Lord Liverpool’s ministry but seldom spoke. He presented a Gloucestershire woollen trade petition against restrictions on imported wool, 16 May, and two from the agriculturists for higher protective duties, 26 May 1820.3 He voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He divided against a reduction in the ordnance estimates, 16 Feb., repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., and Hume’s motion on economy and retrenchment, 27 June. He presented petitions from Gloucestershire agriculturists for relief from distress, 20 Feb., and woollen manufacturers against the wool duties, 19 Mar.4 He divided against Catholic claims, 28 Feb., and parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821. He voted against more extensive tax reductions, 11 Feb., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822. He presented petitions from Gloucestershire agriculturists for greater protection, 26 Apr., 16 May.5 He divided against removing Catholic peers’ disabilities, 30 Apr. 1822. He presented anti-slavery petitions, 16 Mar.,6 but voted against the motion condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. He was a majority teller for the second reading of the Cheltenham waterworks bill, 25 Mar. 1824. He divided for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., against Catholic claims, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, presenting several hostile petitions,7 and against the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. 1825. He presented a Gloucestershire woollen manufacturers’ petition for revision of the corn laws, 22 Apr.,8 and was a minority teller for the second reading of the Stroud and Severn railway bill, 28 Apr. He voted for the financial provision for the duke of Cumberland, 30 May, 6, 10 June. On 22 June 1825 he urged the Commons to suspend judgement on his brother Lord Charles Somerset, governor of the Cape of Good Hope, until the commissioners investigating allegations of maladministration had reported. He divided against the motion condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., and reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr. 1826. He denied that his brother was evading his accusers, 8 May, and stated that Lord Charles was anxious to meet the ‘gross and unfounded calumnies’ levelled against him before the parliamentary recess, 19 May 1826.9 At the general election that summer he was again returned unopposed for Gloucestershire after expressing confidence that the recent ‘calamitous depression’ was a temporary problem, which he attributed to the ‘extensive but unfortunate spirit of enterprise and speculation which has prevailed to so great a degree amongst many classes of the community’.10
He presented several anti-Catholic petitions, 2, 5 Mar., and voted in this sense, 6 Mar. 1827. He presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 15 June.11 He voted for the Clarence annuity bill, 16 Mar., and was granted ten days’ leave to attend the assizes, 2 Apr. He welcomed the decision to lay papers before the House regarding his brother’s case, 17 May, and secured a statement from the minister Wilmot Horton, 29 June 1827, that the accusations of corruption and tyranny had not been substantiated. He claimed that ‘the proceedings which had been adopted ... were the acts of individuals who had conspired together to effect their own private objects’. He divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and presented a hostile petition from the archdeacon and clergy of Gloucester, 18 Mar. 1828. He presented numerous anti-Catholic petitions that session and voted accordingly, 12 May. He divided with the duke of Wellington’s ministry against the motion condemning delays in chancery, 24 Apr., and reduction in the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July. He presented a Gloucestershire woollen manufacturers’ petition against further regulation of their industry, 29 Apr., three petitions in favour of the circulation of small bank notes, 30 May, 7 July, and two against a lower duty on foreign silks, 12 June 1828. He presented anti-Catholic petitions, 9, 20 Feb., but, as the patronage secretary Planta had correctly predicted, he voted for Catholic emancipation, 6 Mar., and paired for it, 30 Mar. 1829. He explained that ‘my sentiments on the subject remain in principle unchanged’ but ‘necessity ... controls me by presenting ... only a choice of evils’, 9 Mar. He had been swayed by the state of ‘discord’ in Ireland, the promise of a raised Irish county franchise and confidence in Wellington. He presented a Cheltenham petition for repeal of the house and window duties, 20 Feb., and ‘had an interview with the chancellor of the exchequer [Goulburn], who assured him that the circumstances complained of should be considered’.12 He presented a Gloucestershire woollen manufacturers’ petition against renewal of the East India Company’s charter, 1 May. His appointment as lieutenant-general of the ordnance in June 1829 was regarded as a ‘very Tory’ one, helping to balance Whig appointments; George IV was reportedly ‘well pleased’ by it.13 He divided with his ministerial colleagues against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., Lord Blandford’s reform motion, 18 Feb., the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May 1830. He refuted Lord Althorp’s assertion that the duties of the master and lieutenant-general of the ordnance were identical, 29 Mar., and made several interventions to defend the ordnance estimates from radical attack, 30 Apr. He voted against the reduction of judges’ salaries, 7 July. On 10 May 1830 he presented several petitions against the sale of beer bill and on-consumption in beerhouses, and presented and endorsed two from Gloucestershire against the truck system. He was again returned unopposed at the general election that summer.14
He of course voted with Wellington’s ministry in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830, and went out with them. He presented a ‘numerously signed’ petition from Gloucestershire woollen manufacturers and workmen against the truck system, 19 Nov., and promised to support Littleton’s bill on the subject. He presented petitions from Stroud and Northleach against slavery, Cheltenham for repeal of the house and window duties and Stow-on-the-Wold for repeal of the malt duty, 23 Dec. 1830. He divided against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., presented a favourable petition from Gloucester, with which he regretfully differed, 24 Mar., and voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He again offered for Gloucestershire at the ensuing general election but was confronted by a formidable opposition from local reformers; his prospects were judged to be poor, ‘shaken as he already is, in the house of his friends, by his vote on the ... Catholic bill’.15 In his address, he explained that he had considered it his duty to oppose a reform bill ‘pregnant with danger to the long established institutions of the country, unjust and delusive in its effects, and producing a much more sudden and extensive alteration in the constitution ... than was either necessary or expedient’. However, he professed willingness to support a measure that protected ‘all those rights that deserve protection’ and was ‘consistent with the acknowledged principles of the constitution’. He withdrew the day before the poll.16
At the general election of 1832 Somerset accepted a requisition to stand for West Gloucestershire but was narrowly beaten into third place by two Liberals.17 He was returned for Cirencester at a by-election in 1834 and held office in Peel’s first ministry, before retiring from Parliament in 1837. In January 1842 he wrote to Peel from Rome to solicit support for his appointment as governor of Gibraltar or Malta whenever a vacancy arose, adding that ‘I should infinitely prefer ... Malta ... as being likely to prove in many respects a more agreeable situation for myself and my family’; the premier’s reply was non-committal.18 He died in September 1842 and left the residue of his estate to be divided equally amongst his two sons and three unmarried daughters.19