STEPHENSON, Henry Frederick (1790-1858), of 5 Arlington Street, Mdx.

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



15 July 1831 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 18 Sept. 1790, illegit. s. of Charles Howard†, 11th duke of Norfolk (d. 1815), and Elizabeth, da. of Isaac Stephenson of Whitehaven, Cumb.1 educ. Sedbergh; Trinity Hall, Camb. 1808; M. Temple 1811, called 1814. m. 27 Feb. 1826, Lady Mary Keppel, da. of William Charles, 4th earl of Albemarle, 6s. 9da. d. 30 July 1858.

Offices Held

Commr. of excise 1838-49, of stamps and taxes 1849, of inland revenue 1849-d.

Dir. Economic Life Assurance Co. 1829, chairman 1857-d.


Stephenson was the acknowledged son of the colourful and eccentric ‘Jockey’ of Norfolk, whose second wife was confined to a lunatic asylum shortly after their marriage in 1771, and Elizabeth, the daughter of Isaac Stephenson and his wife Mary, née Hodgson.2 His illegitimacy did not unduly hinder his career, and Denis Le Marchant† recalled that he was ‘as proud of his lineage as if his mother had been a duchess’.3 According to an entry in Stephenson’s diary, 28 Sept. 1812, he ‘had some negotiation about standing for the borough of Plympton [Erle] but thought the event too uncertain and the expense very great’.4 He was living with Norfolk at that time, and a few years later Lady Jerningham noted that he appeared ‘strikingly’ like his father.5 He certainly took after him in his delight in high living, and in 1813 he joined the Sublime Society of Beefsteaks, of which he became treasurer and secretary.6 Like Norfolk, he was a Protestant and an advanced Whig, and he also moved easily in the upper echelons of the Whig party.7 He joined Brooks’s, 24 Jan. 1819, sponsored by Lords Thanet and Bessborough, and was for many years a member of the Fox Club. However, reminding Lord Brougham, 23 Feb. 1831, that ‘previous to the death of my father, the late duke of Norfolk, an intimacy commenced between you and me’, he confessed that his demise, in 1815, had ‘produced an unexpected, undeserved and serious wound upon my happiness and prosperity’. Surprisingly, Norfolk made no provision for Stephenson in his will, and initial attempts by Henry Brougham* (as he then was) to find him a place were unavailing.8 In 1817 he applied to the 12th duke, claiming that he was not ‘activated by any feelings of unkindness on account of the distribution of my father’s property’, but asking for a continuance of his former allowance of £400 a year.9

Stephenson fell back on his legal education, and from 1817 he was listed as an equity draftsman at 1 Garden Court, Temple, and, from 1835, at 3 Plowden Buildings. If Le Marchant is to be believed, he did not establish much of a reputation, being ‘one of the most incompetent practitioners in chancery, as the little business he has ever done there abundantly testifies’.10 He was employed by the duke of Sussex as an auditor, and from at least 1817 acted as his equerry and personal assistant.11 Lady Jerningham described how Stephenson, when Sussex ‘moves off to bed, generally serves him for a walking stick; being about 5 foot 5, and the duke 6 foot 4 and large in proportion, he winds his arm round the secretary’s neck in a very affectionate way, and so they walk off’.12 In 1824 Sussex presented him with a silver cigar case, inscribed with the names of some of his fellow Whigs, in gratitude for his services.13 In May 1825 Lord Darlington offered to bring him into Parliament, but he declined.14 This was presumably in relation to Petersfield, over which he issued a newspaper denial, although his candidacy was again rumoured prior to the general election the following year.15 Of the duke of York’s funeral in 1827, Thomas Creevey* related that the king’s brothers were

kept waiting in the cold chapel an hour and a half before everything was ready, during which period various peers made the most marked homage to Billy [the duke of Clarence, now heir presumptive], and as Stephenson was the duke of Sussex’s train-bearer, he was privy to all that passed.16

Stephenson married into the Keppel family in 1826, but while his wife’s father was apparently content with the match, her brother-in-law, Thomas William Coke, Member for Norfolk, was ‘furious’.17 That year also saw Stephenson take up the office of auditor to John George Lambton*, who was created Baron Durham two years later. As he had with Sussex, he set about a minute examination of Lambton’s financial situation in order to advise him how to retrench. He also surveyed his estate and mining concerns, handled his legal affairs in London and acted as a parliamentary agent. Although he lived on terms of social equality with Lambton, relations were not always cordial, as was shown in August 1827, when Lambton ‘directed my auditor to wait upon Lord Lansdowne, and to make that claim which I though I had a perfect right to, of being made a peer, but Stephenson refused to execute this commission’.18

In 1828 it was rumoured that he would be Lord Fitzwilliam’s candidate at East Retford, and in early 1830 he, as Lord Holland put it, ‘in a most manly, disinterested, but gentlemanlike and conciliatory manner’, declined the offer from the marquess of Cleveland (as Darlington had become) of a seat for Winchelsea. This was because of his ‘pledge to Ld. Fitz.’ and his ‘inability to support ministers’, but nothing came of it. He was one of the counsel for the petitioners against the East Retford disfranchisement bill before the Lords between April and July.19 He was pleased when the new cabinet was settled in November 1830, and wrote that it must

steer its course by the three great principles on which it is avowedly formed - economy, reform and peace. The triumph to the Whigs and to their principles is great, and also to Lord Grey; for during the last ten years many of their principles have been reluctantly, but of necessity, adopted and carried by their political opponents, and Lord Grey is now by the voice of the country and the vote of Parliament forced into power ... I begin to feel a great interest in events and affairs as they are passing before me. The times are exciting; I am proud of my party and cannot help feeling elated that no dirty job, no intrigues of faction, has brought them into power; and that the regeneration and restoration of the country are thus committed to the judgement and abilities of those whom I have looked up to all my life.20

Having failed to gain an appointment when Canning had been premier, he doubly resented Brougham’s failure to find him a legal office, especially as he had promised him a mastership in chancery if he were appointed lord chancellor. By February 1831 Stephenson interpreted this failure as a disparaging judgement on his abilities, and he wrote a highly charged letter to Brougham, which ended: ‘you have thus for a long time sported with, and now wounded so many of my feelings so acutely, as to render it impossible for us to meet in future, except as the most perfect strangers. Farewell’. In another letter he haughtily refused the derisory offer of a commissionership of bankruptcy.21

In the last week of February 1831 Stephenson and William George Adam, a king’s counsel, were asked to correct the reform bill, probably on the advice of Durham, who chaired the committee charged with its preparation, and it is unlikely that he played any larger role than this in its composition.22 In July Sir Ralph Lopes, patron of and Member for Westbury, turned out his colleague, Henry Hanmer, because of his opposition to the bill, and replaced him with Stephenson. He voted against using the 1831 census to determine the boroughs in schedules A and B, 19 July, and thereafter divided steadily for the details of the reintroduced reform bill. Claiming ‘some local knowledge of Gateshead’ in his maiden speech, 5 Aug., he denied that it was to be enfranchised in order to increase the influence of a minister, presumably Durham, who lived nearby. He made the same point, 9, 10 Aug., when he stressed that the decision was in line with ‘one of the great principles of the bill; namely, that of equalizing the representation’. It was probably Stephenson, rather than Lopes, who (as ‘Hanmer’) was the Member for Westbury forced to justify having cheered Lord Althorp in a ‘marked manner’, 10 Aug. He voted with ministers on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug., the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and its committal, 20 Jan. 1832, when he rebutted Croker’s suggestions that he had entered the House as a dependant or had anything to do with the concoction of the bill:

I have, however, always been the steady friend of parliamentary reform, and I have come into the House at my own request to support the present measure considering that the happiness, the welfare and the comfort of the country depend on the destruction of that detestable oligarchical power which has too long existed.

He again divided regularly in favour of its details. On 20 Feb. he indicated that he would move for the first ten boroughs to be disfranchised together, ‘for it is impossible that there can be any discussion upon them’, but dropped the idea when Lord John Russell expressed his disapproval. He also spoke in defence of the formula used to draw up the list of condemned boroughs, and the following day he reiterated that

the vulgar rules of arithmetic are quite sufficient for the purposes required: and, indeed, are so accurately applied, as to place each borough as nearly as possible in its proper relative position, by adding the two sums of taxes and houses together, and dividing by a common divisor, say 100.

He voted for the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar., and Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. He divided in the minority of ten against the second reading of the Liverpool disfranchisement bill, 23 May. He voted for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against increasing the county representation of Scotland, 1 June. Although wanting it to be amended, he spoke in favour of the bill to exclude insolvent debtors from the Commons, 6 June, arguing that parliamentary privileges were ‘never intended to enable a man to defraud his creditors’. He rebutted criticisms of the general register and anatomy bills, 2, 6 Feb., and denied that he had stigmatized opposition to such measures as ‘ignorant clamour’, 8 Feb. He voted against the production of information on Portugal, 9 Feb., and military punishments, 16 Feb. He divided against an amendment to the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr., defended Sussex’s rangership of Hampton Court Park, 13 Apr., voted in the minority of 11 for requiring coroners to have medical qualifications, 20 June, and expressed his hope that the punishment of death bill would not be lost, 6 July. His only other known votes were with ministers for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 20 July 1832. By the Reform Act Westbury was deprived of one seat, which Lopes continued to occupy. Stephenson therefore left the House at the dissolution of 1832 and never sat again.

In his Letter to Lord Henley (1833), Stephenson argued in favour of church reform, stating that the

voice of the nation is demanding in every public functionary a higher degree of zeal and purity, and public virtue; that abuses are no longer deemed sacred because they are venerable, nor improvements rejected as rash because they are extensive.

In A Letter to James Abercromby (1833) he advocated extensive reforms of municipal corporations. According to Sir Robert Heron*, after Durham had resigned from the government in 1833, Stephenson

said, in a large company at dinner, ‘That Lord Durham would return to the cabinet before the end of June, in a place of greater importance, though of inferior precedence’. This could not be said without design. It has not been realized.23

As an ‘active member of the party at the bar’, Stephenson seems to have retained his status in Whig circles for some years. However, either because his strictures against reckless expenditure proved too much, or because Sussex felt him in some way to blame for his failure to receive a larger grant from Lord Melbourne’s administration, Stephenson left the duke’s service in 1838.24 In December 1838 he failed in his attempt to effect a reconciliation between ministers and Durham over the latter’s report on Canada.25 He continued to be employed as agent for the Lambton estates after Durham’s death in 1840, but retired in 1853. He undertook similar work for other employers, such as Lord Bute, Fitzwilliam and Cleveland.26 He nevertheless had to accept the offer of a commissionership of excise, in addition to one he already held for arbitration over compensation paid after the emancipation of the slaves. This plurality was noticed, for instance by Charles Greville, who wrote, 29 Feb. 1840, that there was

another job (or rather jobbing) coming forward, that of Stephenson, which though small in amount is very discreditable, and shows the laxity and system of favour which prevails with reference to individuals and party hangers-on.

Lord Granville Somerset* raised the matter in the House, 5 Mar. 1840.27 Stephenson also held the offices of deputy ranger of Hyde Park and falcon herald extraordinary.28 ‘Booty’, as he was sometimes known, died suddenly, of an aneurysm of the heart, in July 1858. His contemporaries

wherever the remnants of the old Whig society still met, long missed the well known and well loved figure in the old-fashioned Hessian boots of the man who had been the friend and secretary of the royal duke of Sussex, the brother-in-law of Coke of Norfolk and the life and soul of all their gatherings.29

He was survived by his wife, who in 1868 married Samuel Charles Whitbread of Southill, Bedfordshire, Member for Middlesex, 1820-30, who had loved her since his youth.30 Stephenson’s eldest son, Augustus Frederick William Keppel (1827-1904), one of ten surviving children, became solicitor to the treasury and was awarded the KCB in 1885.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Stephenson mss, ex. inf. M.G. Stephenson of Edgecliff, New South Wales, Australia, whose assistance is gratefully acknowledged.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Three Diaries, 14.
  • 4. Stephenson mss.
  • 5. Holland, Further Mems. 146; Jerningham Letters, ii. 284.
  • 6. Boase, Modern Eng. Biog. iii. 734.
  • 7. H.F. Stephenson, Letter to Lord Henley (1833), 11; Le Marchant, Althorp, 296.
  • 8. Brougham mss; Stephenson mss, Symonds to Stephenson, 10 Nov. 1817; PROB 11/1577/93.
  • 9. Arundel Castle mss C314.
  • 10. Three Diaries, 14.
  • 11. Ann. Reg. (1817), Chron. p. 113; Brougham mss, Stephenson to Brougham, 1 May 1820, 1 Jan. 1823, 29 Dec. 1836; Creevey Pprs. ii. 6, 47, 155, 329; Wellington mss WP1/1100/5; 1149/8.
  • 12. Jerningham Letters, ii. 145.
  • 13. Sir H. Keppel, Sailor’s Life under Four Sovereigns, 97.
  • 14. Stephenson mss.
  • 15. Hants Telegraph, 4 Apr. 1825; Grosvenor mss 9/9/26.
  • 16. Creevey’s Life and Times, 234.
  • 17. Creevey Pprs. ii. 97.
  • 18. Ibid. ii. 126; D. Spring, ‘Agents to Earls of Durham in 19th Cent.’, Durham Univ. Jnl. liv. 3 (1962), 104-6.
  • 19. Fitzwilliam mss, Crompton to Milton, 21 May; Stephenson mss, Dundas to Stephenson, 6 June 1828; Add. 51785, Holland to Fox, 7 Feb.; Grey mss, Durham to Grey [8 Feb. 1830]; Lords Sess. Pprs. cclxxx. 3.
  • 20. Stirling, Coke of Norf. 543-4.
  • 21. Brougham mss, Stephenson to Brougham, 23 Feb., to unknown [n.d.] 1831.
  • 22. Three Diaries, 14; Le Marchant, 296.
  • 23. Heron, Notes, 207.
  • 24. Stirling, 407; M. Gillen, Royal Duke, 215-16.
  • 25. Melbourne Pprs., 443; C.L. New, Lord Durham, 486-7.
  • 26. Spring, 106; Lady Charlotte Guest ed. Lord Bessborough, 135, 145, 149-50, 152-3; Stephenson mss.
  • 27. Greville Mems. iv. 251.
  • 28. The Times, 4 Aug. 1858; Burke’s Fam. Recs. (1897), 552.
  • 29. A Royal Corresp. ed. J. Stephenson, 9; Spencer Stanhope Letter-Bag, ii. 126; Keppel, i. 96; ii. 219; iii. 27; Gent. Mag. (1858), ii. 316.
  • 30. Spencer Stanhope Letter-Bag, ii. 151.