WESTENRA, Hon. Henry Robert (1792-1860), of Corstolvin Hills and Rossmore Park, co. Monaghan and The Dell, Windsor, Berks.

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

Constituency

Dates

1818 - 1830
1831 - 1832
17 May 1834 - 30 July 1834
1835 - 10 Aug. 1842

Family and Education

b. 24 Aug. 1792, 1st s. of Warner William Westenra†, 2nd Bar. Rossmore [I], and 1st w. Mary Anne, da. of Charles Walsh of Walsh Park, co. Tipperary. educ. Westminster until 1806; Trinity, Dublin 1810. m. (1) 25 Jan. 1820, Anne Douglas Hamilton (d. 20 Aug. 1844), illegit. da. of Douglas, 8th duke of Hamilton [S], s.p.; (2) 19 May 1846, his cos. Josephine Julia Helen, da. of Henry Lloyd of Farrinrory, co. Tipperary, 4s. 4da. (2 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 3rd Bar. Rossmore [I] and 2nd Bar. Rossmore [UK] 10 Aug. 1842. d. 1 Dec. 1860.

Offices Held

Ld. lt. co. Monaghan 1838-58.

Biography

The Westenras, who were Dutch in origin, settled in Ireland in the late seventeenth century and this Member’s great-grandfather and grandfather sat in the Irish Parliament in the eighteenth. Westenra’s father, who represented county Monaghan at the time of the Union, succeeded his uncle to the Irish barony of Rossmore in 1801, but, owing to a complicated inheritance, he did not come into full possession of the Monaghan estates until the 1820s and was largely an absentee. For much of this period, therefore, Rossmore Park was shared by the 2nd Baron’s two surviving aunts, the redoubtable ‘Queen Anne’ and ‘Queen Bess’, who were occasionally joined by one of their male relatives.1 Westenra, who shared a small house in Cortolvin Hills with his father on their visits to Ulster, also lived mostly in England. Although Rossmore had a significant interest in Monaghan, his son’s unopposed return in 1818 was dependent on the backing of the largest proprietor, Lord Cremorne, a Whig. Yet Westenra, who had apparently favoured Catholic claims in 1813, was understood (despite his denials) to have pledged himself to oppose them when he first entered Parliament. In addition, he generally supported Lord Liverpool’s administration, and this led him into political difficulties with Cremorne and therefore Rossmore, as is revealed in their extensive correspondence.2 In January 1820 he married the bastard daughter of the actress Harriet Esten (née Hughes) and the duke of Hamilton, who had bequeathed her the family’s alienable properties on his death in 1799.3 On the basis of his enhanced status, notably owing to the electoral influence that his wife brought him in Renfrewshire, Westenra applied to Liverpool for the promise of government support for Rossmore at the next election of an Irish representative peer. However, the prime minister evidently disregarded his threat to go into open opposition and Rossmore remained outside Parliament.4 Lord Melville, the ministerialist manager in Scotland, also refused to countenance Westenra’s attempt to link the deployment of his electoral interest to the award of a baronetcy to his relative Thomas Darby Coventry.5

Westenra was almost entirely silent in the Commons, perhaps because of a bad stammer, an unfortunate family ‘habit’ which later led him to consult a specialist.6 The surviving division lists show that he often sided with ministers, though he cast at least three wayward votes in the 1818 Parliament, during which he fulfilled his pledge to oppose Catholic relief. Cremorne was disappointed in his conduct, but at the general election of 1820 he agreed to back him, without stipulations, in order to secure their continued control of the seat; as Westenra later put it, ‘general politics had nothing to do with our engagement: county politics had’.7 Little evidence of parliamentary activity has been traced for the following session, but he evidently persisted with his independent line, as on 26 May 1820 he wrote to his father that

I will not bow to Lord Cremorne’s wish that I should oppose government upon every single measure they propose. I will not bow to anyone else’s wish that I should link myself with government so close that I must go with them through everything.8

Later that year he differed with Cremorne over Queen Caroline, whom he deemed ‘most maliciously guilty’, and for a while quarrelled with Rossmore, to whom he offered to resign his seat under the pressure of his constant disapproval.9

He divided in defence of ministers’ conduct towards the queen, 6 Feb., but for inquiry into the conduct of the sheriff of county Dublin on the meeting relating to the affair, 22 Feb. 1821, when (as on 3 July 1820) he was presumably in the minority against allowing the Irish master in chancery Thomas Ellis to continue as a Member.10 He paired for repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar. (although he was listed in the majority against it on 3 Apr.), and voted for Hume’s motion for economy and retrenchment, 27 June. About the attempt to abolish the death penalty for forgery, for which he divided on 4 June, he afterwards boasted that ‘I supported that bill through every stage of it, nor left the House for one moment until every clause of the bill was negatived and they began to call each other ugly names, when I instantly got up and left them to finish their dirty work together’.11 Having given Rossmore advice on how to bolster their interest in Monaghan, especially by establishing Rossmore Park as the rebuilt family headquarters,12 between 28 Nov. 1821 and 20 Jan. 1822 he composed a lengthy vindication of his independent conduct and expressed his exasperation at the risk his father and Cremorne were running in intending to disturb the county and thereby jeopardizing his seat.13 Westenra voted against more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 11 Feb., but for reducing the number of junior lords of the admiralty, 1 Mar., and to abolish one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. and (as a pair) 2 May 1822. He voted for reform of the criminal law, 4 June 1822, and, vaunting his independence despite fears of a future contest, he later related that he ‘on many other occasions was present in the House for the purpose of supporting measures brought forward by opposition, but which were not pressed to a division’.14 Anxious not to alienate his Protestant constituents or to disturb the delicate balance of interests, he angrily rebuffed his father’s apparent request for him to support Plunket on the Catholic question in the spring of 1823.15 His name appeared in both the majority and minority lists on the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., but his correspondence makes clear that he divided for its repeal (having opposed its passage in 1819).16 He voted for inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and for Buxton’s amendment to recommit the silk manufacture bill, 9 June. He expressed his displeasure at his brother Richard’s departure from Rossmore Park that year, but disliked the idea of taking up permanent residence himself and was censured for failing to attend the assizes; he did, however, voice his concerns about the importance of registering Catholic tenants in order to keep up the interest.17 Amid further observations and cross words on their declining fortunes in Monaghan politics that autumn, he accused his father of bandying about his principles so as to humour the worthless Cremorne, who simply wished to claim him as his Member. Rather, as he insisted in November 1823, he did vote sometimes with opposition:

Those some times were, I believe, nearly equal to my voting with the ministers. The public I do not care one bulrush about, whether they observed it or not. Their mind is swayed by faction, prejudice and envy. But it was observed by some of my constituents, and from those I have received as you know honourable testimony of their approbation. They treat me more justly than you do.18

Despite attempts to settle the family quarrel, his resentments continued to rankle into the new year.19

His wife’s illness kept Westenra away from the spring assizes of 1824 and may have accounted for his parliamentary inactivity that session, although he did attend the debate on colonial slavery on 16 Mar. Largely agreeing with his father’s assessment that he should stay on an ‘independent track’ for county purposes, he commented that there was little point in joining any political connection at Westminster:

Parties in the House are at so very low an ebb at the moment, government, from the liberal views they are acting on, having swallowed up all the country gentlemen of any liberal or independent notions who are not pledged to either faction, and they have stopped the mouths of every man of character on the opposite side, that people do not now so much look after making an interest to stick by them always, as they did in the days of Fox and Pitt.20

He voted for Maberly’s motion for an advance of capital to Ireland, 4 May, and favoured the proposed general measure to facilitate local improvements, especially as it could have been advantageously applied to Monaghan borough. Anxious for his father to come to some understanding with Cremorne, he prepared for the latter an abstract of his anti-government votes and in September he declined to join the committee of the Grand Orange Lodge, of which his uncle Colonel Henry Westenra was a member.21 That autumn, when it looked as if Cremorne would withdraw his backing, he insisted that Rossmore should remind his patron that he had accepted that Westenra would oppose Catholic claims and was worthy of respect for his independent conduct. He also made strenuous efforts to deny that his statement in 1818 really amounted to a firm pledge against relief, explaining privately that he was ‘no exclusionist’, quite the reverse in fact, but could only support a measure which would guarantee that Protestants remained in control of the senior executive offices of state. By December 1824 his and Rossmore’s approaches to Cremorne had evidently removed the immediate threat to their interest.22

One contemporary source described Westenra as having divided sometimes with and sometimes against ministers in the 1825 session.23 However, he seems to have been taken up with his Irish concerns, which ranged from research on ancient burial customs to involvement in the establishment of the Ulster Canal, and his only known votes that year were for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15, 25 Feb., and (as on 28 Feb. 1821 and 30 Apr. 1822) against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 10 May.24 His father, who signed the public declaration in favour of the Catholics, informed Cremorne in June 1825 that ‘my eldest son had voted against Catholic claims, on his own conviction, founded (as he declares) on the arguments he heard in the House of Commons (I know the veto sticks in his throat)’, and noted that his other sons Richard, an Orangeman, and John Westenra†, a pro-Catholic, had been suggested as candidates for Dublin and King’s County, respectively.25 Neither stood at the general election the following year, but Westenra, who voted against the emergency admission of foreign corn, 8, 11 May 1826, was early in the field in Monaghan and clearly counted on a mixture of support from Protestants and Catholics.26 Although, as one of the sitting Members, he secured many promises, his position among the former was weakened by his public denial that he had ever been pledged to uphold the Protestant ascendancy indefinitely. However, despite his hostile voting record, his father’s reputation, Daniel O’Connell’s* endorsement and Cremorne’s partial backing gave him a significant popularity among the Catholics, whose cause he thereafter agreed to advocate. Since his Orange colleague Leslie had allied himself to a powerful new candidate, Evelyn Shirley, ostensibly an advocate of emancipation, he also received widespread encouragement as the upholder of a nascent independent interest.27 Silent on the hustings, 24 June 1826, when a mob attacked his opponents, he overtook Leslie to be elected with Shirley, in a signal success for the Catholics, and he defended his conduct in his subsequent address.28 Following an altercation in the grand jury room between him and Colonel John Madden, Leslie’s proposer, over the cause of the election riot, they fought a duel at Ardgonnell Bridge, on the border with Armagh, on 10 July 1826. His adversary was grazed on the shoulder, while, as Westenra light-heartedly related to Peel, Madden’s

ball struck the ground a little before and a little to the right of me and off that cushion (do you play billiards?) made a beautiful losing hazard into my ankle, and after a pleasing tour round the bone of the leg, between it and the tendon, was taken out on the opposite side, leaving behind it (as travellers generally do) marks of where it had been - gravel, etc. - which however has all come out since.29

The brouhaha did not end there, for Rossmore sued the Dublin Evening Mail for libel and Colonel Westenra was himself forced to fight a duel to vindicate his nephew’s honour.30

Westenra divided for the first time for Catholic claims, 6 Mar. 1827; his only other known vote that year was against the Coventry magistracy bill, 18 June. His notes on the proceedings attest to his presence on the Ludlow election committee in early May, and on 6 June he was appointed to the select committee on Irish grand jury presentments, about which, in an attempt to revive the old practice of Members sending communications to their constituents, he informed the magistrates of county Monaghan by letter, 26 July 1827.31 At a local dinner in April 1828 for Rossmore, now one of the leading pro-Catholic Whig peers in Ireland, a message was read explaining that his son had missed the division on the repeal of the Test Acts because of illness.32 He did, however, vote again for Catholic relief, 12 May, and sided with opposition for ordnance reductions, 4 July. In October 1828 he declined to play any part in the formation of the county’s Brunswick Club, whose activities he condemned as belligerent and divisive.33 Listed by Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, as ‘opposed to securities’, he voted for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., and brought up local petitions in its favour, 16 Mar. 1829. Yet, mindful of their role in his return at the previous election, he dedicated to the Monaghan 40s. freeholders a pamphlet in their defence, and on 19 and 20 Mar. he divided against the Irish franchise bill, by which they were to lose their voting rights.34 He was listed in the minority for allowing O’Connell to take his seat unimpeded, 18 May. He took an interest in the question of the non-representative peers of Ireland and Scotland, about which Rossmore issued a circular letter in August 1829. He was also credited, probably wrongly, with the authorship of Queries for the Consideration of the Government and the People of Great Britain and Ireland (1830), a reply to his father’s pamphlet on the subject.35

He voted for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb. 1830. He divided for transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5 Mar., the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and parliamentary reform, 28 May. He sided with opposition to condemn the filling of the vacancy of treasurer of the navy, 12 Mar., to reduce the grant for public buildings, 3 May, and to make Irish first fruits revenues no longer nominal, 18 May. He voted for the abolition of capital punishment for forgery, 24 May, and against going into committee on the administration of justice bill, 18 June. He presented his county’s petition against the increased Irish spirit and stamp duties, 7 July 1830, and in the run-up to the dissolution was praised in a local address as ‘one of the few Irish Members that was always found at his post, when any question relating to his country was under discussion’.36 Aware of the Protestant anger at the general election that summer, Westenra sought an alliance with Cadwallader Blayney, whose Tory father Lord Blayney usually acted with the family. Yet Blayney switched his allegiance to Shirley, who had opposed Catholic emancipation, and Westenra, whose recent conduct was defended on the hustings by his uncle Henry, was humiliatingly defeated after a week-long poll.37 The introduction of his brother John Westenra of Sharavogue, King’s County, and the family’s agent was evidently with a view to a petition, but none was forthcoming, perhaps because Westenra intended to offer on the vacancy to be caused by Lord Blayney’s expected death that winter.38

Westenra, who gave no pledge on reform, came forward at the general election of 1831, when his brother was defeated in King’s County. The family were optimistic, and Shirley withdrew in the face of his combined opponents, so allowing him and Blayney to be returned without a contest.39 He voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July, and steadily for its details. Although he cast a wayward vote for the disfranchisement of Aldborough, 14 Sept., he divided for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the bill, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He sided with O’Connell for swearing in the original Dublin committee, 29 July, and postponing the issuing of a new writ, 8 Aug., but was listed in the two government majorities on the corrupt electoral proceedings there, 23 Aug. Stressing his support for government, he added to his father’s requests to ministers for a United Kingdom peerage by stressing that ‘we have stood three contested elections and turned out two contumacious Tories, but at an expense to ourselves of £20,000’. Rossmore was rewarded with the lord lieutenancy of Monaghan that autumn, but had to wait until 1838 to take his place in the Lords.40

Westenra voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, paired for its committal, 20 Jan., again usually divided for its details and voted for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He sided with ministers for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16 July, and against producing information on Portugal, 9 Feb., but against them for printing the Woollen Grange petition urging the abolition of Irish tithes, 16 Feb. He divided for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May, the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and maintaining the size of the Scottish county representation, 1 June. He presented petitions from Monaghan parish against the plan for Irish national education and for a more extensive Irish reform bill, 3 July, and was in the minority for Sheil’s amendment to the Irish tithes bill for wider reform, 24 July. He told O’Connell that ‘I am proud to say I do think our family deserve Irish confidence’, but his father’s failure to appease the Monaghan Independent Club accounted for his defeat at the general election of 1832.41 He blamed the ungrateful Catholic freeholders, but declined the offer of a seat for an English borough and (in addition to a brief spell in 1834) sat for the county as a Liberal from 1835, as did John Westenra for King’s County.42 He succeeded Rossmore as lord lieutenant of Monaghan in 1838 and inherited his father’s titles and estates in August 1842.43 Remembered by one of his sons as a charming, handsome man, whose pastimes included yachting, shooting, fishing and playing the bagpipes, he died in December 1860. He was buried in Monaghan churchyard, but his remains were moved to the family mausoleum which was consecrated in the grounds of Rossmore Park in 1874. He left his estates to his eldest son Henry Cairnes (‘Rosie’) Westenra (1851-74), who became the 4th Baron Rossmore and was succeeded as 5th Baron by his brother and fellow army officer, Derrick Warner William (1853-1921).44

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. E.P. Shirley, Hist. Co. Monaghan, 214-15; Hist. Irish Parl. vi. 528-31; Co. Monaghan Sources, 122-3.
  • 2. PRO NI, Rossmore mss T2929/3/1, 2, 79, 86, 120; Co. Monaghan Sources, 130-1.
  • 3. Lord Rossmore, Things I Can Tell (1912), 6-8; CP, vi. 272-3; xi. 182.
  • 4. Add. 38283, f. 75; 38574, f. 161; 40296, f. 65; HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 518.
  • 5. NLS mss 2, ff. 27, 34.
  • 6. Rossmore, 2-3; Rossmore mss 3/14, 91, 92, 94, 98.
  • 7. Rossmore mss 3/87.
  • 8. Ibid. 3/3.
  • 9. Ibid. 3/4, 7, 9.
  • 10. Ibid. 3/8.
  • 11. Ibid. 3/14, 56.
  • 12. Ibid. 3/10-13.
  • 13. Ibid. 3/14; Co. Monaghan Sources, 130.
  • 14. Black Bk. (1823), 201; Rossmore mss 3/15-20, 24, 56.
  • 15. Rossmore mss 3/25, 27, 29.
  • 16. Ibid. 3/56.
  • 17. Ibid. 3/25, 27-29, 31-33, 43; Co. Monaghan Sources, 131-2.
  • 18. Rossmore mss 3/36-42.
  • 19. Ibid. 3/44-46.
  • 20. Ibid. 3/47-50.
  • 21. Ibid. 3/54-56, 59, 64-65; PRO NI, Leslie mss MIC606/3/J/7/21/4.
  • 22. Rossmore mss 3/69-71, 73-76, 78, 82, 84, 86-87, 90-91, 107, 121.
  • 23. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 489.
  • 24. Rossmore mss 3/110, 114.
  • 25. Ibid. 9/8.
  • 26. Leslie mss 3/J/7/14/35-36, 37-39, 41, 53-54.
  • 27. Ibid. 3/J/7/14/81-82, 87-89, 104, 108-9, 111-12, 117-21, 130-1; PRO NI, Clogher Diocesan mss DIO (RC)1/6/2; Rossmore mss 10B/13-20; Dublin Evening Post, 8, 24, 29 June 1826.
  • 28. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 30 June, 4 July; Dublin Evening Post, 11 July 1826; Rossmore mss 10B/14.
  • 29. The Times, 15 July 1826; Add. 40388, f. 320.
  • 30. Enniskillen Chron. 24 Aug., 16 Nov. 1826.
  • 31. Rossmore mss 4/17; Impartial Reporter, 9 Aug. 1827.
  • 32. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1367-9; viii. 3410; Enniskillen Chron. 24 Apr., 1 May 1828.
  • 33. Rossmore mss 9/17-19; 10B/5A; PRO NI, Barrett Lennard mss MIC170/3, handbill, 19 Oct., Westenra to Barrett Lennard, 2 Nov. 1828.
  • 34. H.R. Westenra, Case of Forty Shilling Freeholders of Ireland (1829).
  • 35. Rossmore mss 5/1, 70, 77; Lord Rossmore, Appeal in Cause of Ex-Parliamentary Peers of Ireland and Scotland (1830).
  • 36. Clogher Diocesan mss 1/6/13.
  • 37. Leslie mss 3/J/7/17/6-7, 9-10, 15-18, 20-21, 31-33, 35-36, 49-50, 55-56, 58-60; Barrett Lennard mss 3, Westenra to Barrett Lennard, 7, 9 July, 17 Aug., Ellis to same, 3, 28 Aug.; Newry Commercial Telegraph<