MARSHAM, Hon. Charles (1744-1811), of Maidstone, Kent
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Family and Education
b. 28 Sept. 1744, o. surv. s. of Robert, 2nd Baron Romney, by Priscilla, da. and h. of Charles Pym of St. Kitts. educ. Eton 1753-63; Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1763. m. 30 Aug. 1776, Lady Frances Wyndham, da. of Charles, 2nd Earl of Egremont, 1s. 3da. suc. fa. 16 Nov. 1793; cr. Earl of Romney 22 June 1801.
Ld. lt. Kent 1797-1808.
In 1768 Charles Marsham originally intended to stand for Kent; and Lord North wrote to the Duke of Grafton, 6 Sept. 1767:1 ‘Mr. Marsham, with the support of Government, can scarce fail of being elected.’ But Lord Romney, wishing to revive his family interest at Maidstone, preferred his son to stand for the borough, where he was returned after a contest. In Parliament he voted consistently with the Opposition, but at first seldom spoke in the House.
In 1774 he was returned unopposed for Kent. He voted against the American war, and between 1774 and 1780 ten speeches by him are reported. In 1779 he was described in the Public Ledger as ‘a most honest, upright, and independent Member of Parliament, of Whig principles, [who] votes occasionally on each side, but most frequently in opposition’. On 6 Apr. 1780, on presenting the Kent petition,2
he assured the House that he had taken no public or private part in the business; that the petition which he had in his hands, nevertheless, contained his sentiments; and though he cautiously abstained from any interference as a representative, nevertheless, as both a petitioner and a Member of the House, he approved of committees and associations.
In 1780 he was again returned without a contest. On 28 May 1781 he opposed an attempt to relax the regulations on the importation of foreign sugars. ‘The West Indian colonies’, he said, ‘had thriven under the present colonial laws, which it would be very impolitic hastily to abrogate.’ On 15 Mar. 1782, on the vote of confidence against Lord North, he said about the ministers:
He had no objection to them as men; measures were his object; and if those who were out should pursue the measures of those who were in, he would be as great an enemy to them as he was now to the present ministers. But those who were out stood pledged to diminish the influence of the Crown, to banish prodigality from the Treasury, and to introduce a system of economy in its room: and if, when they should come to office, they should swerve from those measures to which they had so solemnly and so repeatedly pledged themselves, he would look upon them as the worst of traitors to this country.3
Marsham voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783; for parliamentary reform, 7 May 1783; and against Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783.
Between the dismissal of the Fox-North Coalition and the general election of 1784 he played an important part as joint chairman, with Thomas Powys, of the St. Alban’s Tavern group of country gentlemen who sought to bring about a coalition between Pitt and Fox. Between January and March 1784 Marsham is known to have made twelve speeches in the Commons, as against fifteen between 1768 and 1784. Union between Pitt and Fox, he said, must be genuine: ‘a union which was not founded in principle would be fallacious and injurious to the interest of the public.’ And on 11 Feb.: ‘This was the Government in which the wishes, he trusted, of the whole House, the whole nation, and everyone who entertained any regard for the constitution must be undoubtedly centred.’ But first Pitt must resign: ‘as matters now stood, it appeared to him impossible that he should remain minister any longer under the present circumstances’.4 Pitt’s refusal gradually forced Marsham into support of Fox. On 18 Feb. he voted for postponing the committee of supply, and on 20 Feb. seconded Fox’s motion for an address to dismiss the ministers.
At the general election of 1784 he was again returned unopposed for Kent. On 16 Apr. George III wrote to Pitt:5
From what I had heard of the county of Kent I had hoped new Members would have been named at this meeting, for Mr. Marsham is so candid that under the letter of the declaration, not the spirit, he will soon find the means of distressing Government as an half friend, which would not be the case if he avowed being an enemy.
Sir Edward Dering subsequently declared that Marsham and Filmer Honywood would not have been returned ‘if they had not distinctly declared, three or four times, they would direct their conduct in Parliament to measures and not men’.6
In the Parliament of 1784 Marsham voted with Opposition, but in his speeches was more concerned with non-party issues. On 31 Jan. 1785 he introduced a bill on the militia, which was to be a recurring theme with him. On 15 Apr. 1785 he voted for parliamentary reform, and on 16 Mar. 1787 declared against stinting the navy:7
There was no honourable Member more desirous of preventing a profuse expenditure of the public money. But with regard to the navy, there was no one would oppose more a parsimony either in the grants, or the application to those purposes. The navy was, of all subjects of public expenditure, the most improper object for the observance of state economy.
Although he voted against Pitt on the Regency, he declared in a speech of 9 Feb. 1789 that he was prepared to accept a restriction on the Regent’s power to create peerages. As a West Indian planter he naturally opposed the abolition of the slave trade; and on 23 June described as ‘singular and groundless’ Fox’s declaration that ‘the question of the abolition of the slave trade was a question of humanity on the one hand, and of interest on the other’.8 In 1790 he stood again for Kent, but was defeated.
Wraxall9 described Marsham as ‘an ordinary man ... of good intentions and plain sense, without ornament or decoration of any kind’. He died 1 Mar. 1811, and on 8 Apr. the bishop of Lichfield and Coventry wrote to Admiral Cornwallis:10
Lord Romney had been breaking for some time, but he died of an apoplexy. His affairs were, some years previous to his death, in a very deranged state, and he was forced to retire altogether from public life with a very insufficient income for his rank; partly play, partly the failure of West Indian estates, but I believe most of all, building distressed him.