MORICE, Humphry (?1723-85), of Werrington, Devon
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Family and Education
b. ?1723, 1st s. of Humphry Morice, M.P., London merchant, by his 2nd w. Catherine, da. of Peter Paggen of Wandsworth, Surr., wid. of William Hale, and mother of Paggen Hale. unm. suc. fa. 16 Nov. 1731; 2nd cos. Sir William Morice, 3rd Bt., in Werrington estates 24 Jan. 1750.
Clerk comptroller of Green Cloth May 1757-61; comptroller of the Household Dec. 1762-Apr. 1763; P.C. 10 Jan. 1763; warden of the stannaries June 1763-Aug. 1783.
Recorder, Launceston 1771-82.
Humphry Morice’s father was a merchant, a director of the Bank of England, and its governor 1727-9; but at his death he left few assets. From Sir William Morice, however, Humphry inherited very considerable wealth and the patronage of the twin boroughs of Launceston and Newport, adjoining his Werrington estate. Yet his 30 years in the House, the four seats at his disposal, and his steady adherence to successive Governments—he is not known ever to have voted against any—were of little avail. Puny and precious, and often absent for reasons of health, he cut no ice, and finally gave up in disgust. Rigby thus described him during the Newport election of 1754: ‘Little Morice prattles very prettily in his own behalf, and is as peevishly well bred at an election as he is at a whist table when he loses a rubber.’1 When in October 1755 Newcastle proposed to send Morice his parliamentary whip through a secretary, he was warned that Morice was ‘looked upon to be high and a little touchy’;2 and the Duke wrote to him direct. And Fox to Bute, during the distribution of offices, 23 Nov. 1762:3
I can with difficulty digest the giving the comptroller’s staff to Mr. Morice. His character has a ridicule, to say nothing more, belonging to it; it will certainly lower the dignity of the place and H.M. will not for that reason approve of it, when it will be too late to alter it ... As to his taking no other place it is a piece of affectation, he took the Green Cloth, which he may perhaps have again.
Whereas Sir William Morice had been a Tory, Humphry Morice adhered to the Pelhams. At the general election of 1754 he accepted Government candidates for the three available seats in his boroughs (he himself filling the fourth); but when he applied for office, was told by Newcastle that, sensible of the support Morice was giving to the Government interest, he would, when opportunity offered, convince Morice of his regard in a satisfying manner.4 In April 1757 he obtained a long promised place at the Board of Green Cloth, and assured Newcastle that he had delayed kissing hands for it till the Minorca inquiry was finished, remembering that it was Newcastle who proposed him for the post to the King.5
At the time of George II’s death Morice was abroad, having gone to Naples ‘for his health’;6 and Peter Burrell, one of Morice’s Members, begged Newcastle to guard against Morice being displaced in the new appointments.7 But this apparently did happen. When next Newcastle offered a secret service pension to Richard Bull, another of Morice’s Members, Bull replied, 17 Mar. 1761:8 ‘all Mr. Morice’s friends have protested against my screening disgrace such as his, under any private advantage of my own’; moreover Morice had written to him: ‘if you find me particularly neglected, I charge you to accept of nothing from the Duke, except what will give me an honourable reason for saying I am contented.’ And on 9 Sept. 1761 Morice wrote to Bull from Naples to let Newcastle know that on an expected vacancy at Newport he would not accept his candidate but ‘desired the King will please to nominate who shall be chose’—‘the Duke knows very well I look upon his treatment of me as extremely unkind, not to give it a worse name’.9 In June 1761 Morice was still abroad,10 but returned for the parliamentary autumn session; naturally adhered to Bute; and in the distribution of offices was, apparently through a misunderstanding, offered the post of comptroller of the Household.11 Morice had some connexion with James Stuart Mackenzie, Bute’s brother—possibly it was based on mere companionship in Italy; and Bute wrote to Fox on 16 Dec.:12
My brother is to try every method to-morrow to prevail on Morice to change distinctions with Lord Charles [Spencer]. I doubt if we shall succeed, but ’tis well worth making the trial.
‘The trial with Morice is I fear too late’, Fox replied the next day. It was not till on the formation of the Grenville Administration that Morice exchanged his office against that of warden of the stannaries.13 And in that office he remained till after the end of his parliamentary career.
He supported the Grenville Administration; was listed as ‘pro’ by Rockingham in July 1765, and as ‘Government’ by Newcastle and Townshend in 1767; and voted with them on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767. In the Parliament of 1768-74 only two votes of his are recorded: on Brass Crosby’s case, 27 Mar. 1771, and the Middlesex election, 26 Apr. 1773; and he was listed as ‘pro, present’ on the royal marriage bill, March 1772. In his last Parliament, 1774-80, he appears in one division list only, against Keppel, 3 Mar. 1779; over the contractors bill, 12 Feb. 1779, he was listed ‘pro, absent’; and during the critical months February-April 1780 as ‘out of the kingdom’. Altogether his name appears in only four out of 16 division lists giving the Government side during the period 1761-80, and not a single speech of his is reported in his 30 years in Parliament.
The Public Ledger wrote about Morice in 1779: ‘He affects to hate the House of Commons’; and as early as 1770 there were rumours that he intended to sell Werrington and his boroughs. After having stood in 1774 a contested election at Launceston in which he lost one seat, he informed Lord North, early in 1775, of ‘the sale of the boroughs of Launceston and Newport in Cornwall, that is to say, Mr. Morice’s interest therein, to the Duke of Northumberland, with an estate of about £1,200 a year’. North, having for some time forgotten to communicate the matter to the King—‘the whole of the business went out of his head’—did so in a letter dated 27 April.,14 enclosing the paper wherein Morice stated his reasons:
An estate of twelve hundred pounds per annum in a manner given up to the supporting the boroughs, and three thousand pounds besides annually expended for that purpose and keeping up the house etc.
The trouble of it, not to say anything of the expense, is more than Mr. M. can bear with a constitution much impaired by the gout.
The air of that country never agreed with him, and he always finds the winter after the effects of having passed some months there.
He lost a Member last year after all the trouble and expense he had been at, and notwithstanding the established interest he seems to have he may be worse off next time.
In order to keep up his interest he has been obliged to let a steward, who naturally is not any economist, act without control. By this means occasional expenses have been sometimes enormous, and he has done what he pleased in regard of the rest of Mr. Morice’s estates under his care, so that upon this account there is not any calculation to be made of the expense.
Henceforth Morice resided mainly at Naples, and the question of removing him from the wardenship of the stannaries seems to have been considered on the formation of the Rockingham Government.15 It was done in the summer of 1783, possibly when false news reached this country of Morice having died. He died at Naples 18 Oct. 1785.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Bedford mss 30, f. 36.
- 2. Dupplin to Newcastle, 21 Oct. 1755, Add. 32860, f. 116.
- 3. Bute mss.
- 4. Add. 32735, f. 60.
- 5. Add. 32870, f. 457; 32871, f. 23.
- 6. Walpole to Mann, 20 Apr.; Mann to Walpole, 20 Oct. 1760.
- 7. Add. 32914, f. 37.
- 8. Add. 32920, f. 308.
- 9. Add. 32930, f. 72.
- 10. P. Burrell to Bute, 7 June 1762, Bute mss.
- 11. Two letters from H. Fox to Bute, 23 Nov, ibid.
- 12. Henry Fox mss.
- 13. G. Grenville to Thos. Pitt, 13 Apr. 1763, Grenville letter bk.
- 14. Fortescue, v. 55.
- 15. Ibid. 431.