PERCEVAL, John, Visct. Perceval (1711-70).
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 24 Feb. 1711, o.surv. s. of John Perceval, 1st Earl of Egmont [I]. m. (1) 15 Feb. 1737, Lady Catherine Cecil (d. 16 Aug. 1752), da. of James Cecil, 5th Earl of Salisbury, 2s. 1da.; (2) 26 Jan. 1756, Catherine, da. of Hon. Charles Compton, 4th s. of George, 4th Earl of Northampton, 4s. 4da. suc. fa. as 2nd Earl 1 May 1748; cr. Baron Lovel and Holland 7 May 1762.
M.P. [I] 1731-48.
Lord of the bedchamber to the Prince of Wales 1748-51; P.C. 9 Jan. 1755; jt. postmaster gen. 1762-3; first ld. of Admiralty 1763-6.
Perceval’s strength, according to Horace Walpole, was ‘indefatigable application’. By the age of twenty he had published several anonymous political pamphlets and acquired a seat in the Irish Parliament, where his attacks on local abuses gave offense in government circles.1 On coming of age he was put up as a government candidate for his father’s seat at Harwich, promising Walpole ‘that if he would be his friend he would be his’, though he had recently published an anonymous attack on the excise bill. Defeated at Harwich in 1734 he went over to the Opposition, offering his house in Pall Mall to the Prince of Wales on his expulsion from St. James’s in 1737.2 The offer was refused, but led to an invitation from the Prince in 1740 to stand at the forthcoming general election for a Cornish seat, which at the last moment proved to have been allocated to someone else.3 Perceval then joined Daniel Boone in standing for Haslemere but gave up on payment of their expenses by their opponents.4 He next intrigued his way into a committee formed by ‘a body of the lower kind of tradesmen’ at Westminster to organize a petition against the return of two government candidates, at once finding himself ‘master of the committee and consequently of the whole opposition in the city of Westminster’.5 On the annulment of the election, he was unanimously adopted as one of the opposition candidates. Returned unopposed, three days after taking his seat he made his maiden speech on Pulteney’s motion for a secret committee on the conduct of the war. In his speech he ‘blundered out what they had been cloaking with so much art, by declaring that he should vote for it as a committee of accusation’ against Walpole, who paid him the compliment of immediately rising to reply.6 After Walpole’s fall he spoke and voted with the Government, also publishing an able defence of Pulteney’s political conduct which made him very unpopular with the Opposition and his constituents. He also incurred much ridicule by producing, it was said at a cost of £3,000, a genealogical history of his family, ‘deducing the Percevals from ancient houses with which they were in fact unconnected’.7
In 1747 Perceval, ‘rejected by Westminster and countenanced nowhere’, stood for Weobley, having obtained an assurance from Pelham that he would be ‘taken care of and assisted’,8 with the result that though defeated at the poll he was returned on petition. No sooner had he secured his seat than he went over to the Opposition, attaching himself to the Prince of Wales, who appointed him to his bedchamber. At the opening of the next session he published a pamphlet attacking the Pelhams as ‘treacherous servants, who have taken [their Sovereign] captive in his closet and still detain him prisoner on his throne’. In the House he took the lead in the Opposition, making, according to Horace Walpole, who was at that time connected with Leicester House,
as great a figure as perhaps was ever made in so short a time. He is very bold and resolved, master of vast knowledge, and speaks at once with fire and method. His words are not picked and chosen like Pitt’s, but his language is useful, clear and strong. He has already by his parts and resolution mastered his great unpopularity, so far as to be heard with the utmost attention, though I believe nobody had ever more various difficulties to combat. All the old corps hate him, on my father’s and Mr. Pelham’s account; the new part of the ministry on their own. The Tories have not quite forgiven his having left them in the last Parliament ... and besides all this, there is a faction in the Prince’s family ... who are for moderate measures.9
During the remaining two years of Frederick’s life Egmont, as he had become on the death of his father, was the Prince’s chief political adviser, drawing up for him detailed plans for the opening fortnight of the next reign, including drafts of the new King’s speeches to the Privy Council and Parliament, an analysis of the composition of the sitting House of Commons, with a view to the choice of its successor, and lists of dismissals and appointments, in the latter of which he himself figures as a future secretary of state. It was to him that Frederick wrote:
Let us remember both Henry IV and Sully, in all times these are our models, let us follow ’em in most all, except in their extravagances.10
On the night of Frederick’s death the Princess sent Egmont to Carlton House to collect the Prince’s political papers, those relating to his accession plans being burnt in her presence at Leicester House by George Lee and Egmont, who, however, kept his own copies. Next morning he held a meeting of twenty-three members of the Opposition at his house, urging them ‘to remain united, to listen to no applications, not to discover any opinions of what was best to be done till we could see further; but determine to wait to see events [and] to stand by the Princess and her children’. He learned that his action was not approved by the Princess who, when told that he was ‘keeping our friends together for her as much as I could’, only said ‘if the Prince could not keep them together how shall I’, and suspected him of ‘making a faction’. She repeatedly excused herself from seeing him, though she had long conferences with Lee, who was in favour ‘of throwing ourselves disinterestedly into the hands of the Pelhams without conditions if the Princess was made Regent’. It became plain to him that she ‘thought it necessary for her own purpose to abandon all the Prince’s friends’, which he recognized was ‘not impolitic in her circumstances’.11 The bulk of the party followed the Princess and Lee, but Egmont himself continued in opposition till the end of the Parliament.
Egmont died 20 Dec. 1770, having, in the words of the 2nd Lord Hardwicke, ‘made very little of his ambition. He did not draw well with others and could not abide Mr. Pitt’,12 whose career he attacked in an unpublished pamphlet, preserved in his papers, along with a mass of valuable information on Leicester House in the last years of Frederick, Prince of Wales.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Romney R. Sedgwick
- 1. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 35; HMC Egmont Diary, i. 92, 172, 447; ii. 117.
- 2. Ibid. i. 259, 376-8, 327; ii. 51, 435.
- 3. Add. 47091, p. 3.
- 4. HMC Egmont Diary, iii. 188, 219, 244.
- 5. Add. 47091, pp. 5-9.
- 6. Walpole to Mann, 22 Jan. 1742.
- 7. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 36-38; Walpole to Mann, 4 Mar. 1749; A. R. Wagner, English Genealogy, 350.
- 8. Mems. Geo. II, i. 37-38; Cary to Egmont, undated, Add. 46977.
- 9. To Mann, 4 Mar. 1749.
- 10. Add. 46977.
- 11. Add. 47097-8, passim.
- 12. Add. 3514, f. 237.