VILLIERS STUART, Henry (1803-1874), of Dromana, co. Waterford and Bramfield, Herts.

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

Constituency

Dates

1826 - 25 June 1829
1830 - 19 Apr. 1831

Family and Education

b. 8 June 1803, 1st s. of Lord Henry Stuart and Gertrude Emilia, da. and h. of George Mason Villiers, 2nd Earl Grandison [I]. educ. Eton c.1816-19; Christ Church, Oxf. 15 Dec. 1820. m. [illegit.] 12 Jan. 1826,1 Theresia Pauline Ott of Vienna, 1s. 1da. suc. fa. 1809. Took name of Villiers before Stuart by royal lic. 17 Nov. 1822; cr. Bar. Stuart De Decies [I] 10 May 1839. d. 23 Jan. 1874.

Offices Held

Ld. lt. co. Waterford 1831-d., Waterford city 1832-d.; col. Waterford militia.

PC [I] 1837.

Biography

Villiers Stuart was orphaned in 1809 by the death of his father and shortly afterwards his mother, from whom he inherited the Dromana estates of his grandfather Earl Grandison. On coming of age in 1824 he made Dromana his main residence, began lavishly entertaining, and instructed his agents to issue new leases and attend to the neglected registration of his tenants, over 600 of whom were soon on the county Waterford rolls. By August he had been appointed to the grand jury and at the end of the year he joined the Catholic Association.2 During the rumours of a dissolution in the autumn of 1825, he started campaigning against the anti-Catholic sitting Member Lord George Beresford with the assistance of a committee of local Catholic activists led by Thomas Wyse*, who described him as ‘young’, ‘untried’, and ‘inferior indeed, in the ... possession of government patronage, in high title, and in extensive pecuniary resources, to his adversary’.3 His public proposal not to oppose Beresford if he abandoned his opposition to Catholic claims was rejected as ‘insidious and offensive’, whereupon he formed a junction with the other pro-Catholic sitting Member, Richard Power.4 On 28 Dec. 1825 he advised one of his supporters that he had yet to ‘receive a invitation to the Catholic dinner’, adding, ‘It is what I would willingly avoid attending but for the proverb "needs must", etc.’5 At the 1826 general election he came forward as a liberal Protestant supporter of Catholic emancipation, appealing to the freeholders not to be intimidated by the ‘unconstitutional’ appointment of a stipendiary magistrate and an ‘army of troops’ at the behest of the Beresfords. After an ‘astonishing’ nine-day contest, noted for its humiliation of the Beresfords and desertion of the Catholic tenantry from their Protestant landlords, he was returned in second place with the assistance of Daniel O’Connell* and other leaders of the Association, in what became celebrated as the Bliain an Stuaird (year of Stuart). At the declaration he promised to support tax reductions and ‘to oppose any administration that did not make emancipation the sine qua non of its policy’.6 A petition against his return complaining of bribery and interference by the priests came to nothing. The settlement of his election expenses, somewhat improbably estimated at £30,000 in 1829, plagued him for years. On a visit to Waterford in April 1828 he was ‘besieged’ in the ‘most violent manner’ by a mob of furious creditors, from whom he had to be ‘rescued’ by a special constable before fleeing to Dromana. That year he sold his Hertfordshire property.7

In his maiden speech, 12 Feb. 1827, he urged the necessity of emancipation, disputing claims that Catholic doctrines were ‘totally incompatible with the British constitution’ and contrasting the enlightened rule of India and Canada with the ‘persecution and oppression’ of Ireland. He was in the opposition minority against the grant to the duke of Clarence, 16 Feb. He asserted that there was no surer way to abolish the Association than to remove Catholic disabilities, 2 Mar. In what George Agar Ellis* considered an ‘admirable’ speech, 5 Mar., he defended the conduct of the Catholic priests in the Irish elections against the ‘groundless aspersion and unmerited obloquy’ of defeated anti-Catholic candidates, asking, ‘Could it be expected that in England any candidate would be elected whose interests ... were directly opposed to those of his constituents? Why should it then be expected in Ireland?’.8 He ‘manfully defend[ed] his allies the priests without offending the House, who hate them’, commented Sir James Mackintosh* that day. ‘Villiers Stuart, quite a boy in appearance ... made a very good speech’, remarked John Hobhouse*, adding, ‘Brougham said it was the best maiden speech that had been made for twenty years’. ‘The latter part ... was good’, but ‘he has the most affronting impudence’, John Robert Townshend* informed Henry Fox*.9 On 16 Mar. he presented and endorsed a constituency petition against the appointment of a stipendiary magistrate and ‘additional military’ during his campaign, condemning the Irish government’s actions as ‘unconstitutional’, ‘uncalled for’ and ‘one of the boldest attacks on the pure administration of justice’, and successfully moved for related papers. (The previous October he had signed a requisition for a county meeting on the issue.)10 Reporting his remarks to Lord Wellesley, the Irish viceroy, 19 Mar., Goulburn, the Irish secretary, complained:

He was unnecessarily violent in his expressions, both as regarded you ... and myself, but the fact is that Mr. Stuart is a vain young man who will when he grows older receive a severe rebuff if he pursues a similar line of conduct. I thought it better to treat what he said as the speech of a young man and rather to express surprise at the tone of his expression after the kindness which he had received from you ... than to express any indignation ... If it had been possible to divide the number who voted with him would have been extremely limited.11

On the 25th he joined Brooks’s, sponsored by Lords Jersey and Duncannon*. He divided for information on the Lisburn Orange procession, 29 Mar., against the supplies, 30 Mar., and for inquiry into chancery delays, 5 Apr. He welcomed the formation of the Canning ministry, which had the ‘general approbation’ of the Irish population, and presented a constituency petition for Catholic claims, 8 May.12 He divided for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May 1827.

Following the accession of the Wellington ministry, 5 Feb. 1828, he explained that although he had changed seats ‘twice’ he had ‘never changed sides’:

When I entered the House, I found the government of Lord Liverpool ... decidedly against ... Catholic claims. I was therefore opposed to it. In the governments of Mr. Canning and Lord Goderich ... there was ... a preponderance in favour of ... Catholic claims, and I felt it my duty to support them ... It is my fixed resolution to oppose the present government as being composed of as anti-liberal materials as ... could possibly have been got together.

He presented constituency petitions for relief that day and 1 May, and voted accordingly, 12 May. He presented but dissented from a petition for repeal of the Irish Subletting Act, which he believed was ‘better calculated’ than any other measure to ‘benefit and strengthen the impoverished population’, 19 Feb. He recommended a ‘well organized scheme of emigration’ to ‘alleviate’ the surplus population of Ireland that day, and denied claims that the passenger regulation bill would impede voluntary emigration, 18 Mar. He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. Commenting on the arrival in London of Madame Wyse, the estranged wife of Wyse, 29 Feb., Lady Holland informed her son that ‘the on dit, though don’t say it I beg, is that she is under the protection of Villiers Stuart’.13 He presented and endorsed a constituency petition for repeal of the ‘cruelly oppressive’ Irish Vestry Act, 20 Mar. He voted to disfranchise East Retford in favour of a large unrepresented town, 21 Mar., 27 June. He was in the minorities against chancery delays, 24 Apr., and for the more efficient recovery of customs penalties, 1 May. On 9 May he argued that the Union had failed to produce benefits for Ireland, warned of growing agitation for its repeal and demanded that England and Ireland be placed on an equal constitutional footing. ‘Young Villiers Stuart was fluent and showed some talent’, noted John Croker*.14 He voted to censure public expenditure on Buckingham House, 23 June, and for inquiry into Irish church pluralities, 24 June. He presented a petition against slavery, 3 July. He divided for ordnance reductions, 4, 7 July, but defended the grant for the survey of Ireland, asserting that ‘more litigation arises ... from a want of good a survey than from any other cause’, 7 July. He demanded a ‘quick’ implementation of the Irish butter trade bill that day and 10 July. Following the establishment of the County Waterford Brunswick Club that October, he published a letter in the press to Dr. Kelly, the Catholic bishop of Waterford, condemning the ‘formation of illiberal and bigoted clubs’, renewing his £20 subscription to the Catholic Association and asserting his ‘determination to oppose every ministry, however formed, which continued to withhold ... the rights and privileges of a free state’ from the Catholics, 3 Nov. 1828.15 He signed the Protestant declaration in support of emancipation at the end of that year.16

Villiers Stuart welcomed the Wellington ministry’s ‘enlightened’ concession of emancipation and declared his willingness to accede to the accompanying securities, including the suppression of the Association to which he belonged, 10 Feb. 1829. He presented favourable petitions, 20 Feb., 19 Mar., 2 Apr., and voted accordingly, 6 Mar., when he praised ‘ministers, who regardless of personal considerations, have had the magnanimity to sacrifice their bonds to party to secure the internal prosperity of the nation’, and 30 Mar. He dismissed a hostile constituency petition as ‘unrepresentative’, 9 Mar. In what Edward Smith Stanley* deemed ‘an admirable speech in the point of boldness and effect’, he regretted that the concession was accompanied by ‘so unpalatable a measure’ as the disqualification of the 40s. freeholders, which in other circumstances he would have opposed, but urged its acceptance, 19 Mar.17 On 7 May he presented a petition and argued for the introduction of a system of Irish poor laws, which would promote an ‘increased circulation of money’ and industry, but on finding little support withdrew his motion for inquiry. In his last known vote of this Parliament, he divided to allow O’Connell to take his seat unhindered, 18 May 1829.

On 6 May, in what O’Connell considered ‘a dereliction of duty’ and the Waterford Mail ridiculed as ‘a suicidal act of patriotic heroism’, Villiers Stuart had unexpectedly announced in the press his intention to resign, citing the ‘pain’ of having to acquiesce in the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders, by whom he had been ‘so proudly returned’, and his inability to continue as their representative. Declining to offer again, he explained that he could no longer ‘make an effectual registry’. ‘The opinion gains ground that Stuart will not vacate until the next meeting of Parliament’, noted a Beresford agent, 16 June, adding that ‘his friends’ had ‘asked him not to vacate until then’. To O’Connell’s ‘great annoyance’, however, on 25 June he took the Chiltern Hundreds, amidst reports that he had been ‘bought out’ by ministers in return for elevation to his grandfather’s dormant peerage or a safe borough seat, and had received ‘hard cash’ from the Beresfords to alleviate his financial difficulties. (His creditors had met earlier that month to appoint representatives.) In response, he vigorously denied having had any ‘communication ... with any party or parties whatsoever’, but refused to comment further. His retirement has ‘occasioned some perplexity’ and ‘rewards his friends by leaving them in the lurch at the mercy of the common enemy’, observed The Times, adding that if he had ‘made a secret bargain ... it would indeed be a paltry job’.18 ‘I do not think my friend Villiers Stuart’s resolution an unwise one’, Thomas Spring Rice* later remarked, noting his own disaffection with life in the Commons, but after visiting Ireland that October he returned ‘in the same ignorance ... of the motives which induced [him] to give up his county’.19 On 6 Oct. Lord Beresford reported hearing that Villiers Stuart had ‘again taken it into his head to start as a candidate for the county’, and thought ‘there is some appearance of it from his returning there, and giving notice for the registry ... though it is uncertain what he is about’.20 Speculation that he would offer again, however, came to nothing and he ‘considered it unadvisable’ to attend a meeting later that month about the ensuing 1830 by-election, in which he kept a low profile.21 It was feared by the Beresfords that he would be ‘a powerful antagonist’ against them at that year’s general election, but in the event he remained neutral.22

At the general election he was returned unopposed for Banbury as the nominee of his first cousin, the 2nd marquess of Bute.23 He presented constituency petitions against slavery, 4, 10 Nov. 1830. Next day, when he was appointed to the select committee on the Irish poor, he defended the Irish Subletting Act as the ‘poor man’s best and only security ... against injustice and extortion’ by landlords, and urged its amendment rather than repeal. He had been listed by Henry Brougham* as one of the incoming Members likely to oppose ministers but by the Wellington ministry one of the ‘good doubtfuls’, and he voted in their minority in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. He was granted a month’s leave on account of ill health, 22 Nov. 1830. On 10 Feb. 1831 he presented a Carrickfergus petition complaining of forged names on a petition against the return of Lord George Augusta Hill. He pressed O’Connell about whether it was his intention to bring forward the repeal question, 4 Mar. In his last known speech, 21 Mar., he explained that in order to defend his ‘constituents’ on the corporation of Banbury, he would vote against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, but that he ‘would be worse than a hypocrite ... to deny’ that he personally approved of the measure and would relinquish his seat as soon as practical. He divided accordingly next day. That month Wyse suggested that he come forward for county Waterford as a ‘champion of the popular cause’ against Beresford at the next election, but he declined, 3 Apr., explaining that a ‘constant attendance in the House’ was ‘altogether incompatible with the preservation of my health, suffering as it still does ... from the ... cramp by which I was attacked last year in Paris’.24 On 19 Apr. 1831, three days before the dissolution, he took the Chiltern Hundreds.

He was appointed the first lord lieutenant of county Waterford, 17 Oct. 1831, and Waterford city, 2 May 1832.25 Defending his selection on non-partisan grounds in the House, 6 Oct. 1831, Sir John Newport explained that he had ‘only been a temporary Member ... in consequence of the expense he had incurred in a contested election’ and that he was the ‘proprietor of a very large and valuable estate’ in the county, where he would now ‘take up ... permanent residence’. In July 1832 he successfully quashed mass anti-tithes rallies in the county, urging the necessity of ‘less intimidating meetings’.26 Responding to applications from his uncle Lord James Stuart and Lord Lansdowne for him to be given a peerage that year, Lord Grey explained that nothing would him ‘greater pleasure’ than to assist ‘a person so strongly recommended’, but he was ‘beset with applications’ and could only add his name to the list.27 At a Dublin dinner held in his honour in 1836 he spoke with ‘extreme violence of language’ against Lord Lyndhurst and the Conservative dominated Lords for pursuing a ‘campaign of hatred’ against Ireland.28 Two years later a well-wisher informed him of a private dinner at which O’Connell had spoken ‘most warmly as to the generous and noble part you had acted in emancipating your country’, observing that ‘when the history of the struggles’ came to be recorded, it would ‘not be forgotten that you, in taking your stand against the oppressors ... had to cast away the prepossessions and prejudices of "your order", upon whom you waged war’.29

Villiers Stuart, whose younger brother William sat as a Liberal for county Waterford, 1835-47, was given an Irish barony by the Melbourne administration in 1839.30 On his death in January 1874 his estates passed to his eldest son Henry Windsor Villiers Stuart (1827-95), Liberal Member for county Waterford, 1873-4, 1880-5, who, finding no proof of his parents’ marriage, was unable to succeed to the barony, which became extinct.31

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon

Notes

  • 1. No records survive of the marriages that allegedly took place at the Roman Catholic chapel of St. James’s, Spanish Place, and in Scotland under Scottish law (CP, xii, pt. 1, pp. 408-9).
  • 2. NLI, Villiers Stuart mss 24682, 24685, 24686, 24691; F. O’Ferrall, Catholic Emancipation, 121.
  • 3. T. Wyse, Hist. Catholic Association, i. 267.
  • 4. Add. 40381, f. 208; Villiers Stuart mss 24682, Facthlegg House agreement, 25 Aug. 1825.
  • 5. Villiers Stuart mss 24682, Stuart to Sir William Homan.
  • 6. Dublin Evening Post, 15, 22 June, 1 July; Waterford Chron. 29 June, 1 July 1826; M. Kiely and W. Nolan, ‘Politics, land and rural conflict in county Waterford, c.1830-1845’, in Waterford Hist. and Society ed. W. Nolan and T. Power, 460.
  • 7. Waterford Chron. 28 Nov. 1826; The Times, 12 Apr. 1828, 20 July 1829.
  • 8. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 5 Mar. 1827; The Times, 3, 6 Mar. 1827.
  • 9. Add. 52447, f. 51; 52017, Townshend to Fox, 5 Mar. 1827; Broughton, Recollections, iii. 173.
  • 10. Villiers Stuart mss 24690, requisition to Henry Bush, 28 Oct. 1826.
  • 11. Add. 37305, f. 53.
  • 12. The Times, 9 May 1827.
  • 13. Lady Holland to Son, 77.