VILLIERS, Thomas Hyde (1801-1832), of 8 Suffolk Street, Haymarket and 6 Cleveland Court, Westminster, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 27 Jan. 1801, 2nd s. of Hon. George Villiers† (d. 1827) and Hon. Theresa Parker, da. of John Parker†, 1st Bar. Boringdon. educ. at home and by Thomas Wright Hill at Kensington, Mdx.; St. John’s, Camb. 1817; L. Inn 1831. unm. d. 3 Dec. 1832.
Jun. clerk, colonial office 1822-4, sen. clerk 1824-5; sec. to bd. of control May 1831-d.
Agent, Berbice and Newfoundland ?1825.
Villiers’s courtier father, known to his family as ‘The Governor’, was appointed paymaster of marines in 1792. It emerged in 1810 that his official accounts were in chaos and that, as a result of incompetence rather than criminality, he was in default to the tune of over £200,000. He duly resigned but, as a royal favourite, suffered no worse consequences than public humiliation.1 For the last 17 years of his life he was precariously sustained by an allowance from his eldest brother Thomas, 2nd earl of Clarendon, and the proceeds of two colonial sinecures. From 1812 he and his family shared Kent House, Knightsbridge, with the family of his wife’s brother the 1st earl of Morley, Canning’s close friend. The distractions of Villiers’s financial problems and poor health limited his authority over his children, who were influenced more significantly by their forceful and intelligent mother, the ‘Queen Bee’.2 In 1819 she told Morley that her second son Hyde, who had been too delicate to follow his elder brother George to Christ’s Hospital, ‘would have been fit for nothing if he had gone to any school’.3 At Cambridge, where he became friendly with Thomas Macaulay* and other serious-minded young men, ‘Comely Villiers with his flaxen hair’, who was constantly encouraged and hectored by his mother, sought to repair the defects of his early education.4
On leaving university Villiers, whose elder brother was set up in the diplomatic service in 1820, idled for a while before entering the colonial office as a junior clerk, earning £150 a year, in October 1822. George IV, who had a soft spot for his father, was keen for provision to be made for his younger brothers Charles and Edward; and when, through Canning’s influence, a commissionership of customs was in the offing for George in 1823, his mother speculated that if she could ‘get anything better for Hyde’ she ‘should not despair of getting Edward into Hyde’s shoes’. Nothing came of this and Villiers, who was promoted to senior clerk with £600 a year in January 1824, stayed at the colonial office.5 In August 1824 he was in Corfu, whence he wrote to Canning’s secretary Stapleton of his fear that the naval force at the disposal of the Ionian authorities would not be sufficient to cow the belligerent Greeks.6 He became friendly with his junior colleague Henry Taylor, who in old age recalled him as follows:
Hyde’s face was that of a fair and distinguished looking child grown to the stature of manhood (he was very tall), with as little alteration as might be of its delicate features. He had a large forehead, large eyes, and a sensitive mouth beautifully chiselled. He was slenderly made, with a feminine roundness of the muscular fabric. His manners ... were invariably highbred, and under all ordinary circumstances expressively courteous. He was calm, self-governed, ambitious, but with a far-sighted ambition, caring little for present, unless in so far as they might conduce to ultimate results; cool and not vain, patient and resolute, enduring bodily pain with unshaken fortitude, and encountering danger and difficulty with an undisturbed mind.7
His family’s recent political tradition was Tory, but his mother was more liberal and, like her, he sympathized with Queen Caroline in 1820.8 He and his brother Charles mixed in London with Macaulay, Austin, Romilly, Strutt and other young men of progressive views, who associated with James and John Stuart Mill and subscribed to Benthamite ideas. He was a member of the debating society promoted by the younger Mill and in March 1825, according to Taylor, made a splash there with a speech on colonization, which was ‘able, orderly, and distinct; with no grace of language other than harmony and simplicity’. Yet soon afterwards Villiers reproved Taylor, with whom he shared a house in Suffolk Street, for imputing to him ‘further community’ with the ‘Utilitarians’ than he was prepared to avow.9 Certainly he was no doctrinaire, and his political opinions remained somewhat indeterminate. He left the colonial office on account of poor health in July 1825, having secured the agencies of Berbice and Newfoundland to keep his head above water.10
At the general election of 1826 he stood for the venal borough of Hedon as a supporter of the Liverpool ministry. Whether he denounced Catholicism, as was alleged, is not clear; but his brother Charles, who unsuccessfully contested neighbouring Hull at the same time, was equivocal in his pronouncements on the subject. Villiers was returned in second place and survived a petition alleging bribery.11 According to his elder brother’s biographer, Villiers had, before standing, accepted an offer to defray all his expenses by a loan of money from ‘a certain wealthy young peer’, an unsuccessful suitor of his sister Maria Theresa, ‘the pleasantest girl in London’. Evidently this benefactor, contrary to what he had led Villiers to expect, renewed his courtship of Theresa after the election. In 1827 unpleasant rumours began to circulate concerning the nature of the bargain and George Villiers, head of the family after their father’s death in March, was obliged to intervene. He demanded from the peer immediate settlement of the unpaid expenses to ‘secure Hyde from a recurrence of those distressing difficulties which have been as detrimental to his credit as the reports circulated against him have been to his honour’ and gave a personal pledge for full repayment of the debt as soon as circumstances permitted, ‘to relieve Hyde from an obligation, the contracting of which I fear he will long have cause to regret’.12
Villiers, who seems to have been somewhat loosely associated with Canning, did not immediately draw attention to himself in the House. One observer had noted that as he had his agencies, ‘if he fails as a speaker he is only where he was’.13 He was probably the ‘very clever and agreeable’ Mr. Villiers encountered by Mrs. Arbuthnot at a gathering of ministerialists at Hatfield House in January 1827.14 He voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He spoke in favour of the sale of game bill, 7 June, and voted in the minority against the Coventry magistracy bill, 18 June 1827.15 Immediately after Canning’s death, when it was falsely rumoured that Wilmot Horton was to resign as under-secretary for war and colonies, Stapleton observed to Huskisson that Villiers had acquired ‘a great reputation for understanding the business of that office’.16 Early in 1828 he travelled in Ireland with George, who was engaged there on the work of unifying the two excise boards, concluded that ‘Catholic emancipation must be granted, or a convulsion ensue’ and marvelled that the Wellington ministry ‘stands still, looking on, and doing nothing’.17 He spoke and voted for relief, 8, 12 May 1828. His attempts to amend Gordon’s pauper lunatics bill, 27 Mar., and the government’s offences against the person bill, 23 May, were unsuccessful; in the latter case, ministers thought his proposal to transport offenders found guilty of wounding in cases where, had death ensued, the charge would have been manslaughter, was too dangerous an extension of the present law. He divided with government against inquiry into chancery delays, 24 Apr., and ordnance reductions, 4 July; but he voted for Otway Cave’s corporate funds bill, 10 July, and was in the minority on the silk duties, 14 July. He voted for the usury laws amendment bill, 19 June 1828. Lord Colchester listed him among ‘the rump of the Canning party’, but Lord Palmerston did not include him in his own similar list.
A letter of early 1829 from Villiers to George in Ireland, which indicated the government’s sentiments on Catholic relief, came to the attention of Richard Sheil*, who used it to hasten the voluntary dissolution of the Catholic Association.18 Villiers voted for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829, when he declared that ‘there never was a period when the country had more reason to be satisfied with its House of Commons’. He voted against the continued exclusion of O’Connell, 18 May. On 12 Mar., as a member of the select committee which had recommended a bill to regulate the supply of corpses for anatomical research, he advocated such a measure. After it had been dropped he was named to the revived committee, 7 Apr., and helped to steer the new bill through the House. On the Newfoundland fisheries bill, 7 Apr. 1829, he deplored ministers’ failure to promise an inquiry into ‘the whole condition of the colony’. The following year he protested to the colonial office against the French assumption of sovereign fishing rights along the Newfoundland coast, but could not persuade the government to intervene.19 He voted against Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform scheme, 18 Feb., but for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. He was in the opposition minority for a revision of taxation, 25 Mar., and voted to end capital punishment for forgery, 24 May. In June 1830 he sent to the home secretary Peel, at the request of the author, a copy of the second edition of his friend Professor John McCulloch’s Principles of Political Economy.20 On the 15th he moved for information on the state of Britain’s commercial relations with Portugal, having been twice frustrated earlier in the session and so prevented from now calling for an inquiry, as he had originally intended. He condemned the Methuen treaty of 1703, which gave Portuguese wines an unfair advantage over superior French products, and stressed ‘the immense importance to this country of our continuing to extend our markets’ and ‘unlocking the trade with France’. The speech made a considerable impact, as Monckton Milnes noted: ‘They are talking much of a Mr. Hyde Villiers, who seems to have made a great impression on the House. He has been four years in Parliament, and never had an opportunity of making himself heard’.21
At the general election of 1830 Villiers abandoned Hedon and came in for Wootton Bassett, where his uncle John, 3rd earl of Clarendon since 1824, had a strong interest.22 In his calculation of gains and losses Brougham reckoned Villiers as a ministerialist, but government listed him as one of the ‘doubtful doubtfuls’. He was absent from the division on the civil list which brought them down, 15 Nov. 1830. On 14 Dec. 1830, speaking from the Grey ministry’s benches, he expressed reservations about Littleton’s proposed bill to increase the penalties on employers who paid wages in truck. He voted for the second reading of the ministerial reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election Clarendon denied him backing at Wootton Bassett for supporting reform. He went to the poll, but was defeated..23 His hopes of a seat for St. Ives came to nothing and an offer of one for Saltash, subsidized by government, was rejected by his brother for reasons ‘connected with family feelings and arrangements’.24
Immediately after the elections he was chosen by Lord Grey ‘on the grounds of his parliamentary reputation’ to become secretary to the board of control in the room of Lord Sandon*, who resigned because he could not support reform. Lord Holland noted that he was ‘reported as clever, and entitled to reward from the reformers, having lost his seat in support of that cause’; while Greville wrote:
Hyde Villiers has been appointed to succeed Sandon ... as a Whig and a reformer. He was in a hundred minds what line he should take, and had written a pamphlet to prove the necessity of giving ministers seats in both Houses as in France, which he has probably put in the fire. I am very glad he has got the place; and though his opinions were not very decided before, he has always been anti-Tory, and has done nothing discreditable to get it, and it was offered to him in a very flattering manner.25
There was talk of his being put up for Liverpool, where a seat was surplus to requirements, but there were, as Grey noted, ‘great objections on account of his situation at the India board’. In the event government secured and financed his return for Bletchingley on the Russell interest.26
On 25 July 1831 Villiers was attacked in the House by George Richard Robinson as a sinecurist who, as agent for Newfoundland, had ‘not been of the slightest service’ to the colony. The under-secretary Lord Howick repeated a previous statement that since his appointment to the board of control Villiers, whose services to Newfoundland he praised, had ceased to draw his £300 salary as agent; the agency for Berbice, it seems, had been abolished earlier. Villiers then spoke in his own defence and the matter was dropped. Next day he was added to the select committee on the East India Company. On 22 Aug. he appealed for support for the government’s bill to equalize, in accordance with his own suggestion of the previous year, the duties on French and Portuguese wines. He voted steadily with his colleagues for the reform bills throughout the sessions of 1831 and 1832 and was present for all the other divisions on party issues for which full lists have been found. He voted in favour of public inquests, 20 June, and opening the inns of court to merit, 17 July 1832.
Villiers was one of only two Members to whom Mill thought ‘there would be the least use’ in Gustave D’Eichthal sending a copy of the Saint-Simonian journal Le Globe.27 Although he spoke only occasionally on Indian matters in 1832, he was immensely busy. Possibly prompted by his friend Nassau Senior, in January 1832 he suggested the appointment of a royal commission on the poor laws, which the government put in place two months later.28 In addition to the demands of parliamentary attendance and the dispatch of routine official business, his time was consumed by the organization and supervision of the work of the East India committee, renewed on 28 Jan. 1832.29 His chief, Charles Grant*, was notoriously feckless and Villiers, as Taylor wrote, had the ‘perpetual toil’ of forcing him to make decisions, ‘a waste of time and spirits which those only can estimate who have known what it is to act under the inactive and decide for the indecisive’. Taylor continued:
These burthens he bore with a steady and invariably tranquil outward demeanour, never complaining of them as oppressive, partly perhaps from a feeling that it was injurious to a man’s reputation to have it supposed that he felt his business to be too much for him. But in point of fact, whilst there was an excess of energy in his mind, there was too little elasticity. He became more and more deeply involved in intellectual labours, from which he could not or did not withdraw himself for intervals of relaxation.30
He had problems with Robert Gordon*, a new commissioner of the board, who, according to Macaulay, was trying to reduce him to the status of ‘a mere copying clerk’.31 He also had the vexation of securing a seat in the first reformed Parliament. He declined an invitation to stand for Perth because he had hopes of Lymington, but these were dashed.32 He was unwell with ‘a stomach complaint’ at the end of July and ‘very ill’ two months later, when Macaulay was ‘seriously alarmed about him’. Despite suffering agonies from an abscess in his head he travelled to Cornwall in mid-November to canvass Penryn. He seemed to have every chance of success but, broken down by his exertions, he fell into a coma and died, unmarried and intestate, at Carclew, the seat of Sir Charles Lemon*, 3 Dec. 1832.33 His effects were sworn under a meagre £800, 6 May 1833.34 Villiers, who was reckoned to have ‘fallen a victim to his zealous and indefatigable discharge of his public duties’, was considered ‘a great loss, not only to his friends, but to the public service’.35 Raikes described him as ‘a young man of very superior talents’ and Denis Le Marchant† as one ‘of great promise’, whose ‘industry and clear understanding, set off, as they were, by a most pleasing address and considerable powers of speaking, had already marked him for political eminence’.36 Mill wrote to Carlyle:
One of the most likely doers among the young men, the only one among the official young men, has departed from us ... He was an earnest workman, who would have plied his trade of politics honestly, and if not with first rate talents, yet with such as well used had been sufficient to do much. Take him for all in all we shall not soon find his equal among that class of men.37
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 452-4.
- 2. Maxwell, Clarendon, i. 8-30; G. Villiers, A Vanished Victorian, 28-30, 35-38.
- 3. Add. 48232, f. 236.
- 4. Oxford DNB; Maxwell, i. 17-21; Three Diaries, 283.
- 5. Prince of Wales Corresp. viii. 3425; Maxwell, i. 46.
- 6. Canning Official Corresp. i. 222-4.
- 7. Taylor Autobiog. i. 74-75.
- 8. Maxwell, i. 12; Villiers, 46.
- 9. Taylor Autobiog. i. 75-77, 86; J.S. Mill, Autobiog. (1924), 54-56, 88; Taylor Corresp. 4-5.
- 10. Gent. Mag. (1833), i. 84.
- 11. Hull Advertiser, 9, 16, 23 June 1826; M.T. Craven, New Hist. Hedon, 136, 141, 146-8.
- 12. Maxwell, i. 57-59; Fox Jnl. 112.
- 13. Northumb. RO, Middleton mss ZMI/5/76/52/8.
- 14. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 73.
- 15. The Times, 8 June 1827.
- 16. Add. 38750, f. 36.
- 17. Villiers, 63.
- 18. W. T. McCullagh, Mems. Sheil, ii. 57.
- 19. A.H. McLintock, Establishment of Constitutional Government in Newfoundland, 118-19.
- 20. Add. 40400, ff. 196, 198.
- 21. Reid, Monckton Milnes, i. 100.
- 22. Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C318/2, Mahon to Lady Stanhope, 5 July .
- 23. Devizes and Wilts. Gazette, 28 Apr. 1831.
- 24. R. Cornw. Gazette, 30 Apr.; Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Arbuthnot mss 3029/3/1/1; Brougham mss, Ellice to Brougham [2 May 1831].
- 25. Gent. Mag.(1833), i. 84; TNA, Granville mss, Holland to Granville [?13 May 1831]; Greville Mems. ii. 147-8. Greville’s reference to Villiers’s pamphlet may be the basis for the statement in M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 181 that Villiers ‘saw the defects of the bill, and indeed wrote a pamphlet about them’. Brock, who mistakenly describes Lord Clarendon as Villiers’s father, suggests that as ‘an aspirant for office’ his support for reform ‘may not have been wholly disinterested’.
- 26. Grey mss, Stanley to Grey, 22 May, reply, 27 May, Ellice to Grey [7 Nov.]; St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 198, T. to J. Gladstone, 29 May; Brougham mss, Ellice to Brougham [17 May 1831]; Macaulay Letters, ii. 31.
- 27. Mill Works, xii. 90.
- 28. P. Mandler, Aristocratic Government in Age of Reform, 135; Grey mss, Villiers to Howick, 19 Jan. 1832.
- 29. NLW, Harpton Court mss C/571, Villiers to Lewis, 21 Dec. 1831; Grey mss, same to Howick, 4 Feb. 1832.
- 30. Taylor Autobiog. i. 147-50.
- 31. Macaulay Letters, ii. 139-40.
- 32. Corresp. of Southey with Caroline Bowles ed. E. Dowden, 243-4, 248; The Times, 15 Dec. 1832.
- 33. Macaulay Letters, ii. 157, 158, 179, 196, 208-9; The Times, 24 Nov., 4, 6 Dec. 1832.
- 34. PROB 6/209/294.
- 35. The Times, 8 Dec. 1832.
- 36. Raikes Jnl.i. 117; Le Marchant, Althorp, 467; Three Diaries, 282-3.