FITZPATRICK, Hon. Richard (1748-1813).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



20 Oct. 1770 - 1774
1774 - 1807
1807 - 1812
1812 - 25 Apr. 1813

Family and Education

b. 24 Jan. 1748, 2nd s. of John, 1st Earl of Upper Ossory [I], and bro. of John, 2nd Earl. educ. Westminster c.1764; Caen military acad. 1767. unm.

Offices Held

Ensign I Ft. Gds. 1765, lt. and capt. 1772, served in America 1777-8, capt. and lt.-col. 1778; col. 1782; maj.-gen. 1793; lt.-gen. 1798; gen. 1803; col. 11 Ft. 1806-7, 47 Ft. 1807- d.

Sec. to ld. lt. [I] Mar.-July 1782; M.P. [I] 1782-3; P.C. 14 Apr. 1783; sec. at war Apr.-Dec. 1783, Feb. 1806-Mar. 1807; lt.-gen. of the Ordnance Feb. 1806-Mar. 1807.


Celebrated for his wit and charm, Fitzpatrick was an intimate friend of Fox and a notable figure, in the fashionable world. He was, writes Wraxall, ‘tall, manly, and distinguished ... No man’s society was more eagerly courted among the highest orders by persons of both sexes. He possessed no mean poetic talents, peculiarly for compositions of wit, fancy, and satire.’1

In 1770 he was returned for Okehampton on the interest of his uncle, the 4th Duke of Bedford, and subsequently represented the Bedford borough of Tavistock. Like the rest of the Bedford group he voted with Administration for the remainder of the 1768 Parliament. But gambling rather than politics was his main preoccupation. Horace Walpole, who found Fitzpatrick ‘an agreeable young man of parts’, noted that in November 1772 he was already ‘overwhelmed with gaming debts’ and reports that in moving the Address (26 Nov.), his criticism of the East India Company was ‘not well taken from a young man of so light a character’.2 In March 1775, on the Duchess of Bedford’s applying for a place at court for Fitzpatrick, the King replied: ‘I do not choose to fill my family with professed gamesters.’3

Though a boon companion of Fox, Fitzpatrick did not follow him into opposition till after the outbreak of the American war. During the debate of 16 Nov. 1775 on Burke’s conciliatory proposals, having ‘declared his good opinion of the gentlemen in Administration with whom he had acted till that day’, he said ‘that he now must differ from them, because he was convinced their measures were ruinous and the object impracticable’. And on 20 Feb. 1776, supporting Fox’s motion for an inquiry into British defeats in America, he

insisted that the whole of the American business from the very beginning had been planned in absurdity, accompanied by negligence, and executed in a manner which evinced the very excess of ignorance, incapacity, and misconduct.4

Fitzpatrick does not seem to have spoken again during this Parliament, nor is any vote by him recorded.

During the winter of 1776-7 on a visit to Paris with Fox, his gambling activities were severely censured by Madame du Deffand, who nevertheless commented to Walpole, 19 Jan. 1777: ‘Le Fitzpatrick est silencieux, mais je crois qu’il a plus de bon sens que le Fox, et que sans ce dernier il serait raisonable.’

Shortly after this Fitzpatrick, who, according to Selwyn, had by then accumulated debts amounting to £40,000,5 was ordered to America with his regiment. He was absent from March 1777 till June 1778. During that time Fitzpatrick, according to Walpole, ‘distinguished himself by his gallant behaviour’ and was ‘mentioned with praise by General Howe to the King’. But his experience reinforced his opposition to the war, and Walpole reports that he had written to his brother ‘saying he was far more rooted in his principles from admiration of the noble behaviour of the Americans, and their love of freedom; and was disgusted with the army, who were grown to abhor the name of Whigs and had lost all attachment to liberty’.6 Fitzpatrick seems to have written in a similar vein to Fox, who replied on 3 Feb. 1778:7 ‘What a scene of folly it has been. But it has not yet had all the effect here that you at a distance imagine it would have. I think you are too violent in some of your ideas.’ Fox was nevertheless eagerly awaiting Fitzpatrick’s return: ‘I really want you at present to a great degree ... it would be a great satisfaction to have you here, who I know would be of my opinion.’ Fitzpatrick returned to England on 1 June, and attended the House on the 2nd when, writes Walpole, he

rose and gave a strong account of the extreme dissatisfaction the conciliatory plan had occasioned in the royal army, and contempt in the Americans. He complained that the army had been promised 20,000 recruits and had been deceived, commended General Howe, and complained bitterly how ill that General, Burgoyne and Carleton had been treated by the Administration.8

During the summer of 1779, when an attempt was made to bring Fox into the Administration, Fitzpatrick was considered by North for a place, possibly at the Board of Green Cloth.9 Fitzpatrick now seems to have attended the House more frequently, and was one of the leading figures in the Westminster Committee of Association. Though he still rarely spoke in the House, he supported an Opposition amendment to the Address, 6 Nov. 1780, and ‘after a good deal of strong irony’ about the Administration’s methods of obtaining a majority in the new Parliament, ‘represented the impolicy of the present war in America and recommended the withdrawing our troops from thence and concentrating our force ... against the House of Bourbon’. On 5 Mar. 1781 he seconded Sheridan’s motion for an inquiry into the use of the military during the Gordon riots, and referring to his own distasteful experience of this as a soldier, hoped that ‘some mode would be established to put the police of this great city on so respectable a footing as to render the intervention of the military in the cases of riot, unnecessary’.10 ‘As a Member of the House of Commons’, writes Wraxall,11 ‘he obtained no distinction for eloquence, though he never betrayed any want of ideas, language or ability.’

Early in 1781, hoping to repair their disordered finances, Fitzpatrick and Fox set up a faro bank at Brooks’s. ‘The play ... is exorbitant as I hear’, wrote Selwyn to Carlisle on 24 Mar. ‘Richard is high in cash.’ And on 21 May he reported that on visiting Brooks’s he had ‘found Richard in his faro pulpit where he had been alternately with Charles since the evening before ... The bank ceased a few minutes after I was in the room; it was a little after 12 at noon, and it had won 3,400 or 3,500g ... But ... Richard’s horses were taken the other day with his coach.’ The bank was still going in December, and on Christmas day Selwyn wrote to Carlisle:

Charles, or Richard if he is there, never fail; and at their own bank they will lose a thousand in one deal, and win them back in the other; but Richard, as I was told, lost tout de bon 7,000 the other night to this bank. The whole manoeuvre, added to their patriotism, their politics etc. etc. are incredible.

On 29 Dec. James Hare, who also owned a share in the bank, wrote to Carlisle: ‘You will be surprised when I tell you that Richard is our most valuable punter, and has lost this year full as much as his share of the winnings ... Last night he lost £13,000.’ During the weeks before the fall of North Fitzpatrick’s open jubilation was a sore trial to Selwyn who, foreseeing the loss of his place, wrote angrily to Carlisle, 27 Mar.: ‘Richard has provoked me beyond measure by his insolence and unfeelingness about everybody and everything.’12

On 9 Apr. 1782 Fitzpatrick, then on the point of leaving for Ireland to take up his duties as secretary to the Duke of Portland, the lord lieutenant, told the House that

he had been prevailed upon to accept of that office in the firm persuasion and confidence that his Majesty’s present ministers were sincere in their professions, and that they were earnestly disposed to make such concessions to Ireland as should quiet their jealousies and give satisfaction to their minds. If he had not had this opinion of the King’s ministers, no circumstances upon earth should have induced him to take a situation, which at any time he would not have coveted, and which only such opinion and confidence would have made him endure.13

But while his experiences in Ireland confirmed his belief in the necessity for concessions, Fitzpatrick’s relations with his brother-in-law and political superior, Lord Shelburne, became increasingly strained: Fitzpatrick found Shelburne’s attitude to Ireland ambiguous, while Shelburne believed that Fitzpatrick was far too willing to give way to Irish demands. Still, on 22 June 1782, having talked to Fitzpatrick who had just come over ‘to answer questions or give any information which may be required’, Shelburne informed the King that Fitzpatrick had talked ‘so sensibly and with so much good humour upon both men and things in Ireland that it’s impossible to remember that he has been a principal actor in all the absurdities which have been passing there’. To which the King replied: ‘The account Lord Shelburne gives of Lt. Col. Fitzpatrick’s language on Ireland shows what indeed but too often appears in life—that men may be able to discuss points with apparent judiciousness, and when called into action, be totally void of good conduct.’14 And on 1 July, considering the changes on the death of Rockingham, the King wrote to Shelburne: ‘From the language of Mr. Fitzpatrick it would seem that Lord Shelburne has no chance of being able to coalesce with Fox.’15 Fitzpatrick was an active opponent of Shelburne’s Administration and according to the subsequent account of Lord John Townshend, during the negotiations for the Coalition, ‘Fitzpatrick’s aid was invaluable, his excellent judgment mainly contributing to the success of the measure and removing unexpected difficulties that occasionally arose. No one’s opinions ... had half so much weight with Mr. Fox.’16 Of Fitzpatrick’s appointment as secretary at war, Wraxall writes:17

Though his talents always appeared to me to be of a description more elegant than solid, more adapted to entertain and delight than fitted for the desk or cabinet, yet I have been assured that he gave great as well as general satisfaction while he held that employment.

After the dismissal of the Coalition Fitzpatrick was active in his opposition to Pitt; he was one of the principal authors of the Rolliad; spoke against the Westminster scrutiny, 18 and 21 Feb. 1785; criticized Pitt’s Irish commercial propositions, 23 May 1785; and in several speeches on military affairs condemned Administration policy.

After Fitzpatrick’s death on 25 Apr. 1813, the Gentleman’s Magazine wrote of him (1813, i. 672):

Instructed by observation that the proper world of a rational being is his own circle, Fitzpatrick had formed perhaps the truest estimation of popular acclaim; and to the ‘crowd below’ his philosophy made him almost indifferent ... With a temper divested of everything abrupt and inflammable, his quiescent nature peculiarly qualified General Fitzpatrick to survey with clearness and judge without passion ... His liberal knowledge extended to everything but he pretended to nothing. There was not an atom of foppery in his whole character. Natural, easy, unaffected, supremely well-bred, Fitzpatrick ... neither sought nor shunned any particular subject ... He laboured at nothing except where labour was wholly invisible—his poetry.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Mary M. Drummond


  • 1. Mems. iii. 57.
  • 2. Last Jnls. i. 160.
  • 3. Fortescue, iii. 190.
  • 4. Almon, iii. 187, 331.
  • 5. Selwyn to Carlisle [Feb. 1777], HMC Carlisle, 320.
  • 6. Last Jnls. ii. 148.
  • 7. Corresp. C. J. Fox, i. 167.
  • 8. Last Jnls. ii. 185.
  • 9. Fortescue, iv. 352.
  • 10. Debrett, i. 29-31; ii. 106.
  • 11. Mems. iii. 57.
  • 12. HMC Carlisle, 475, 484, 552, 554, 608.
  • 13. Debrett, vii. 27.
  • 14. Fortescue, vi. 63, 64.
  • 15. Fitzmaurice, Life of Shelburne, ii. 149.
  • 16. Corresp. i. 448.
  • 17. Mems. iii. 57.