SPENCER, Hon. Frederick (1798-1857), of Althorp Park, Northants. and 27 St. James's Place, Mdx.

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



1831 - 1832
1832 - 1834
12 Dec. 1837 - 1841

Family and Education

b. 14 Apr. 1798, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of George John Spencer†, 2nd Earl Spencer, and Lady Lavinia Bingham, da. of Charles Bingham†, 1st earl of Lucan [I]; bro. of John Charles Spencer, Visct. Althorp.* educ. Eton 1808-11. m. (1) 23 Feb. 1830, Elizabeth Georgina (d. 7 Apr. 1851), da. and coh. of William Stephen Poyntz*, 1s. 2da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 9 Aug. 1854, Adelaide Horatia, da. of Horace Beauchamp Seymour*, 1s. 1da. CB 13 Nov. 1827; suc. bro. as 4th Earl Spencer 1 Oct. 1845; KG 23 Mar. 1849. d. 27 Dec. 1857.

Offices Held

Midshipman RN 1811, lt. 1818, cdr. 1821, capt. 1822, r.-adm. 1852, v.-adm. 1857.

Equerry to duchess of Kent 1836-46; ld. chamberlain July 1846-Sept. 1848; PC 8 July 1846; chan. of duchy of Lancaster 1847; ld. steward of household Jan. 1854-Nov. 1857.


Born at the admiralty where his father, a Portland Whig, was first lord under Pitt, 1794-1800, Spencer followed his elder brother Robert into the navy in 1811 and saw active service off the Spanish coast, most notably at the siege of Tarragon and the evacuation of St. Phillippe Fort. He was made captain of the Creole, 26 Aug. 1822, when his younger brother George commented that ‘having the command of a frigate ... at your age is a seasoning which must be of great service for your future prospects’.1 In October 1827, as captain of the Talbot in the fleet sent to safeguard Greek independence, he ‘fought with distinction’ at the battle of Navarino, for which he was mentioned in dispatches and later decorated. He retired from active service the following year.2 In 1830 he married his second cousin Elizabeth Poyntz who, according to his sister, was a ‘most charming creature ... neither very young nor pretty, but he is most deeply in love with her’.3

Spencer, who considered ‘a residence in London’ to be ‘contrary to my habits of life’, declined to serve as private secretary to his brother Lord Althorp on his appointment as chancellor of the exchequer in the Grey ministry in November 1830.4 At the 1831 general election, however, he was persuaded to come forward for Worcestershire, where the ‘reform party’ were ‘zealously exerting themselves’ and, as he informed his father, 27 Apr., had given him ‘assurances of no expense’.5 ‘You must take care that it is clearly understood that you are to be carried free of all payment’, Althorp warned, 29 Apr., adding, ‘Father will come down with a thousand or two if necessary but unless they can carry you without expense the case ... is hopeless’.6 Stating his political principles to be ‘those of my brother’, Spencer offered ‘for this Parliament only, under the unequivocal pledge of voting for that most indispensable measure of reform’. He denied being a ‘treasury candidate with the exchequer at my back’ and Tory allegations that his family were Catholic, got up on account of the recent conversion of George, on which he was ‘extremely sensitive’.7 Althorp reminded him that ‘reform is the main point but slavery is another on which you must be prepared’, and ‘on the hustings you may safely [pledge] yourself up to the ears against slavery, only saying that caution is necessary for the sake of the slaves themselves’.8 After a week’s ‘tremendous struggle’ the Tory candidate conceded defeat and Spencer was returned in second place.9

On 6 July 1831 his election was attacked by Wetherell, Tory Member for Boroughbridge, who, in a speech against the use of pledges, accused him of having impugned the ‘honour and dignity’ of the House by campaigning under the slogan ‘Spencer and no corn laws’. Spencer, however, denied ‘ever having been party to it’, claiming that he had not ‘on any public occasion alluded to the subject’; he was supported by his colleague Foley. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill that day, at least twice against adjourning the debates, 12 July, and gave steady support to its details. On 6 Sept. he suggested that in order to ‘avoid the continual expense of erecting temporary booths’, permanent structures ‘should be erected for taking the poll’, but his advice went unheeded. He voted for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He presented a petition from the procurators of Berwickshire for repeal of the duty on attorneys’ certificates, 5 Aug. At the 1831 Cambridgeshire by-election he served on the reformer Townley’s London committee.10 He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, again supported its details, and voted for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He divided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, and the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr., but was in minorities for inquiry into the glove trade, 31 Jan., 3 Apr., and colonial slavery, 24 May, and against restoration of the Irish registrar’s salary, 9 Apr. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, and the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He joined Brooks’s, sponsored by Althorp and Sir Ronald Ferguson*, 23 May 1832.

At the 1832 general election Spencer redeemed his pledge to retire from Worcestershire and accepted an invitation from the electors of Midhurst, where he was returned unopposed on the interest of his father-in-law. He retired at the dissolution of 1834, explaining that an ‘attendance in Parliament’ was ‘so irksome’, that he ‘could not be (as I fear I have not been) constantly in my place in the House, as I think your representatives ought’; but following the incapacity of his father-in-law, who replaced him, he came in again at the 1837 by-election. He was appointed equerry to the duchess of Kent in 1836, but on the advice of Althorp, who had succeeded as 3rd Earl Spencer in 1834, declined Lord Melbourne’s offer of an additional household office on the accession of Queen Victoria. Since the death of Robert off Alexandria, 4 Nov. 1830, Spencer had been next in line to the peerage, and on Althorp’s death without issue, 1 Oct. 1845, he succeeded to the family estates as 4th earl. He held senior household offices in the Russell, Aberdeen and Palmerston ministries, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Cambridge University in 1847.11

Spencer died at Althorp in December 1857. By his will, dated 17 May 1854, he disinherited the convert George in the event of his succession to the peerage by directing that the family estates be entrusted to his nephew Lord Lyttelton for the use of his daughter Lady Sarah Isabella Spencer and her heirs. By a third codicil, dated 9 Aug. 1854 and revoking all others, special provision was made for any children from his second marriage. His estates passed to his elder son and successor in the peerage, John Poyntz (1835-1910), who at the general election in April 1857 had been returned as a Liberal for Northamptonshire South.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. BL, Althorp mss, G. to F. Spencer, 28 July 1823.
  • 2. W.R. O’Byrne, Naval Biog. iii. 1103; Gent. Mag. (1858), i. 329; The Times, 14, 22 Oct., 15, 31 Nov. 1827.
  • 3. Lady Lyttelton Corresp. 256.
  • 4. E.A. Wasson, Whig Renaissance, 194; Althorp mss, address to electors, Dec. 1834.
  • 5. Worcester Herald, 30 Apr. 1831; Althorp mss.
  • 6. Althorp mss.
  • 7. Worcs. RO BA 3762 b.899:31, Foley scrapbk. vol. 4, pp. 172-8; Worcester Herald, 7 May 1831.
  • 8. Althorp mss, Althorp to Spencer, 28 Apr. 1831.
  • 9. Worcester Herald, 21, 28 May, 4 June 1831.
  • 10. Beds. RO, Russell mss R766.
  • 11. Althorp mss, address to electors, Dec. 1834; Melbourne Pprs. 366; Wasson, 339.