CONYNGHAM, Henry, 1st Baron Mount Charles [I] (c.1705-81), of Minster, Kent; Slane, co. Meath; and Mount Charles, co. Donegal
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Family and Education
b. c.1705, 2nd s. of Maj.-Gen. Henry Conyngham of Slane and Mount Charles by Mary, da. and h. of Sir John Williams, 2nd Bt., of Minster, wid. of Charles Petty, 1st Baron Shelburne [I]. m. Dec. 1744, Ellen, da. and h. of Solomon Merrett, London merchant, s.p. suc. bro. 26 Oct. 1738; cr. Baron Mount Charles [I] 3 Oct. 1753; Visct. Conyngham [I] 20 July 1756; Earl Conyngham [I] 4 Jan. 1781.
M.P. [I] 1727-53, P.C. [I] 27 May 1748.
Lt. 4 Drag. Gds. Jan. 1725; capt. Royal Irish Drags. Nov. 1725.
On 10 May 1754 Lord Mount Charles (as he then was) sent a memorandum to Newcastle in which, after mentioning his grandfather’s and father’s services in the army, he wrote:1
Lord Mount Charles also served his present Majesty and his royal family above twenty years, but quit the service much against his inclinations on the decease of his elder brother. Since, he has spent several thousand pounds in elections, both in England and Ireland, to serve his Majesty and his ministry. He is the fifth in parliamentary interest in Ireland, and makes one Member in England.
The family were of Scottish origin, settled in Ireland; and Conyngham inherited from his mother property in Kent. In 1753 Arnold Nesbitt recommended him to Thomas Scawen for a seat at Mitchell at the forthcoming general election,2 but Conyngham was intent on establishing his interest at Sandwich, where he had been defeated in 1741.
On 18 Sept. 1753 the Duke of Dorset, lord lieutenant of Ireland, advised him against becoming a candidate at Sandwich:3
Any opposition from your Lordship to those that are supported by the Government would appear extraordinary to the King, immediately after my representing you as a person most sincerely inclined to promote his service. Under these circumstances I should hope your Lordship, both for your own sake and mine, would not without the consent of Mr. Pelham, who knows his Majesty’s intentions upon these affairs, disturb the unanimity which has lately subsisted at Sandwich.
‘If you, sir, was out of the question’, wrote Mount Charles to Pelham,4 ‘... his Grace’s letter would have determined me to do it, for I may not be treated in that manner.’ He asked Pelham to remove John Clevland, one of the sitting Members, to another constituency, and offered to contribute towards his expenses—‘my interest at Sandwich is such as I would gladly establish in my family at any expense’. Even had he secured Pelham’s consent, his success at Sandwich would have been doubtful without the support of Sir George Oxenden, who had no wish to strengthen a rival.
After Pelham’s death, Mount Charles informed Newcastle that Pelham had promised to bring him into Parliament for one of the first vacancies on condition of his declining at Sandwich.5 ‘I find nothing in my brother’s papers relating to the affair mentioned in your letter’, wrote Newcastle on 25 Mar. 1754,6 ‘and ... it is impossible for me to give any positive promise.’ However, he was persuaded into doing so. Next, came an application from Mount Charles for the place of joint vice-treasurer of Ireland.7 And on 17 Apr. 1755 he wrote to Lord Hartington, lord lieutenant of Ireland:8
I asked the Duke of Dorset for the Ordnance of Ireland ... and acquainted his Grace that the Duke of Newcastle had promised me for any favour I should request of his Majesty ... but I never received any answer from the Duke of Dorset. I also desired to be made a viscount. I lay these my pretensions and requests before your Excellency to do what you think proper in my favour.
Hartington obtained for him the Irish viscountcy; and a few months later he was returned for Sandwich.
Once elected, Conyngham behaved as if he controlled the borough, and claimed credit for having returned a Government candidate in 1754. He wrote to Newcastle on 1 Apr. 1758:9
At the last general election when I agreed to bring Mr. Amyand into Parliament at your Grace’s desire, you directed me to inform my friends at Sandwich that the Government interest and mine were to be united for the future, and that all favours they had to request of the ministry should be through me ...
I have no views but the Government interest, united with mine, and to convince your Grace of it, if you’ll order the collector ... and all others under the Government interest to unite warmly with my friends, I will undertake to choose two Members warmly attached to the Whig ministry, one of their recommending, the other of my family; and I will venture to say that if I do not interfere that the ministry, with all their power, cannot choose one Member.
When this failed to bring a favourable reply, he wrote again (22 Apr.):10 ‘It would give me great concern to be forced into another scene of acting for the rest of my life.’ Newcastle did not comply—yet there is no evidence that Conyngham fulfilled his threat.
In the new reign he transferred his allegiance to Bute, and afterwards to Grenville. Grenville wrote to him on 31 Oct. 1763, in reply to a request for preferment for his nephew:11
I am very sorry to see by your letter ... that your Lordship thinks you have so many subjects of complaint from former ministers and lords lieutenant of Ireland, but however that may be it is utterly impossible for me to enter into it and to redress all the disappointments and causes of uneasiness that may have been given by my predecessors.
To which Conyngham replied (1 Nov.):12
I received the favour of your very ministerial letter, but as I have not the disposition either of a minister or a courtier, when you canvass your friends in the House of Commons put me down in opposition to the present ministry, for I am determined not to be maltreated any longer.
Grenville’s reaction is unknown, but Conyngham did not vote with the Opposition over Wilkes and general warrants. ‘As I never gave a vote against Administration either in England or Ireland’, he wrote to Grenville on 12 Feb. 1765, ‘I should not think of it now if I was properly treated by the present ministry.’ But on 3 May:
I have been greatly indisposed these two months with a violent disorder on my nerves, which prevented my attendance in Parliament, but if you’ll give me notice when anything material is to come before Parliament I will attend if possible.
On 17 June 1765 he applied for the place of master-general of the Ordnance in Ireland, and when Grenville referred him to Weymouth, newly-appointed lord lieutenant, wrote again (25 June):
It is believed that a change of ministry will take place in a few days. If that should happen it is more than probable that Lord Weymouth will not go to Ireland. I therefore beg to know in the strictest confidence who will be our lord lieutenant in your opinion, that I may apply to him in time about the Ordnance, if not disposed of, as it is one of the few employments that would suit me.13
‘In the present situation of things’, replied Grenville on 30 June,14 ‘I can only assure your Lordship that I do not know for whom the lieutenancy of Ireland is destined ...’ The Grenville Administration was on its last legs when Conyngham wrote again (2 July):15
I hope you will excuse my giving you so much trouble as there is at present no visible minister but you to apply to, and no time to be lost in my request of his Majesty, beside I am growing old and this is the critical time for me to expect success, and I should be sorry at the latter end of my life to be forced into opposition both in England and Ireland, which I can justify to the world if I do not succeed in my request.
Rockingham in July 1765 classed Conyngham as ‘contra’; but he did not vote against the repeal of the Stamp Act—in spite of his frequent threats of opposition he is not known to have voted against any Administration. In November 1766 Rocking-ham classed him as ‘absent’, Townshend in January 1767 as ‘doubtful’, and Newcastle in March as ‘doubtful or absent’. In the Parliament of 1768-74 two votes by him are recorded (both with Administration): on Brass Crosby’s case, 27 Mar. 1771, and on the renewal of the Middlesex question, 26 Apr. 1773.
‘The corporation of Sandwich ... do me the honour to elect me and any friend of mine without expense’, wrote Conyngham to Granby on 9 Apr. 1769.16 This, like so much else in him, was all blague. At the general election of 1774 Government put up two candidates at Sandwich (hitherto they had been content with one seat). Conyngham received 68 votes, against 516 for Philip Stephens and 455 for William Hey.
Conyngham is not known to have spoken in the House.
He died 3 Apr. 1781.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: John Brooke
- 1. Add. 32735, ff. 252-3.
- 2. Thos. Clarke to Hardwicke, 13 Sept. 1753, Add. 35423, ff. 150-2.
- 3. Copy in Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
- 4. Enclosure to above.
- 5. Add. 32734, f. 330.
- 6. Ibid. f. 336.
- 7. Add. 32735, f. 248.
- 8. Devonshire mss.
- 9. Add. 32879, ff. 13-14.
- 10. Ibid. f. 267.
- 11. Grenville letter bk.
- 12. Grenville mss (Bodl.)
- 13. Grenville mss (JM).
- 14. Grenville letter bk.
- 15. Grenville mss (JM).
- 16. Rutland mss.