CLAYTON, Robert (?1740-99), of Marden, Surr.
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Family and Education
In Parliament Clayton was closely associated with the Rockinghams, and consistently voted against the Grafton and North Administrations. His only reported speeches during his first Parliament were on the printers’ case in March 1771, when he strongly criticized the proceedings,2 and attacked George Onslow.
Besides controlling both seats at Bletchingley, Clayton inherited large estates in Surrey and Buckinghamshire which gave him considerable influence in both counties. Nevertheless, by 1778 he seems to have been seriously embarrassed financially, and, having realized the timber on his estates, was forced to find other means of raising money. According to his cousin John Kenrick,3 Clayton refused to sell any of his estates ‘because he would not diminish his weight and influence arising from his great landed property’, and instead contracted with Kenrick to sell for £10,000 the reversion at his death of the estate and borough of Bletchingley, the intrinsic value of which was about £100 p.a. Kenrick, in his account of the transaction drawn up ten years later,4 concluded that an additional motive for selling the reversion was the fear that parliamentary reform might deprive Clayton of the value of the borough.
Before the general election of 1780 Clayton wrote to the Duke of Portland, 31 Aug.:
Now if this Parliament is no more I will say it was the most profligate that ever was, has lost you thirteen fine colonies in America, ruined every branch of trade, shook public and private credit to his [sic] last breath. But I have no hopes for the next, because all people are ruined, and have no money to spend in elections so that the ministry will spend their money and have their elections, by that means the next will be as bad as this.5
Still, at the general election Clayton himself played an active part in supporting Keppel’s candidature for Surrey, and on the strength of this, begged Keppel on 31 Mar. 1782 to recommend him to Rockingham for a place, putting forward the incredible claim that ‘keeping the county free from ministerial power ... at least has cost me £10,000’. His letter ended with characteristic exaggeration:
If you would apply to Lord Rockingham for a place for me, I do not know how I would return it to you. The only way I could do would be to lay down my life for to serve you, that I would do with pleasure, and at any time he subject to your calls; and any place given me I would lay down when you and the Marquis went out.6
To Rockingham the same day he wrote that having borne ‘the whole weight’ of keeping Surrey out of ministerial hands, he was much distressed financially: ‘The favour I have to ask your Lordship is if you will grant me some place; it would not be right to dictate to your Lordship, what is vacant I believe is a vice-treasurer of Ireland, cofferer of his Majesty’s Household, and master of the Household, as well as Board of Green Cloth.’7 ‘His conduct has been good’, wrote Keppel on 1 April, ‘and he is I believe honest and steadily devoted to me and your cause.’8 But no office was forthcoming.
Clayton voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783. When in November 1783 one of the Surrey county seats became vacant he vacated his seat at Bletchingley and was returned unopposed for Surrey. He voted for Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783, and was counted as a Foxite in Robinson’s list of January 1784, and Stockdale’s of 19 Mar.
On 12 Mar. 1784, during the debate on Sawbridge’s motion for parliamentary reform, Clayton told the House that
the motion should have his most hearty concurrence. He had voted indeed last year against a reform, but understanding that the sense of the county he had the honour to represent was friendly to it, he was ready to sacrifice not only his opinion, but his borough interest, to the wishes of his constituents.9
At the general election Clayton unsuccessfully contested Surrey. In June 1785 Clayton, urged on by his brother-in-law, Sir John Gresham, and, according to John Kenrick, influenced by the defeat of Pitt’s proposals for parliamentary reform, attempted on very flimsy grounds to recover possession of the reversion of Bletchingley; but finally, in 1788, lost his Chancery suit against Kenrick.
In December 1787 John Nicholls, one of the Members for Bletchingley, vacated his seat in favour of Clayton, who voted with the Opposition on the impeachment of Impey, 9 May 1788, and over the Regency, 1788-9. His only reported speech during this Parliament was to oppose the bill to prevent the export of wool. Clayton continued in Opposition after the outbreak of the French war.
He died 10 May 1799.