PULTENEY, William, Visct. Pulteney (?1731-63).

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



1754 - 1761
1761 - 11 Feb. 1763

Family and Education

bap. 9 Jan. 1731, o.s. of William, 1st Earl of Bath, by Anna Maria, da. and coh. of John Gumley of Isleworth, Mdx., commissary gen. to the army.  educ. Westminster 1740-7; Grand Tour 1748-9.  unm.

Offices Held

Ld. of the bedchamber 1760- d.

Lt.-col. 85 Ft. 1759.


Pulteney, the difficult son of difficult parents, was long kept at school. From Westminster he wrote to Charles Hotham in 1747:1

Papa, Mama, and I have quarrelled about a report of my being married to Miss Villiers and some other scrapes, and they won’t see me. I have just wrote a long letter to Papa, one part of it is full of submission, in the other I threaten him, so that how he will take it, God knows. I long to get out of this country.

And next: the quarrel lasts longer than could have been imagined; Papa’s anger continues although the report has been proved wrong; and Mama, seeing him ‘in such a passion ... prevented his coming to Westminster, but came herself with a heap of other scrapes that she had found out’. The letter concludes: ‘I leave school, you happy dog, and shall be as much a gentleman as yourself next Friday.’; Premature rejoicings—

Lady Bath is very strict upon him [wrote a common friend to Hotham, 7 Dec. 1747] and never lets him go out by himself, she ... is afraid her son should be debauched, but I am sure he is wicked enough already and wants no instructions.

At last in July 1748 Pulteney set out for Leipzig with the Rev. John Douglas (later bishop of Salisbury) for tutor; but the winter of 1749-50 he was to spend with his parents in Paris, ‘to take the benefit of the academy there instead of going to Turin’.2 When next he wanted to marry Miss Nicoll, a good-looking, rich girl,3 they intervened:

Some say [wrote Horace Walpole to George Montagu, 22 May 1753] his father told Miss Nicoll that his son was a very worthless young man; others, that the Earl could not bring himself to make settlements; and a third party say, that the Countess has blown up a quarrel in order to have her son left in her power, and at her mercy.

Thereupon Pulteney went off to Paris, leaving ‘two dutiful letters for his parents, to notify his disobedience’, and risking, if disinherited, the loss of £30,000 a year. And a member of the Paris Embassy, in a letter to a friend,4 having remarked on Bath’s ‘dirty behaviour’, added: ‘Lord Pulteney seems to be very sincere in his regard for Miss Nicoll and talks very sensibly upon the subject.’

On 15 Apr. 1754, he was still (or again) in Paris,5 but reconciled to his parents and starting for England—he was about to be returned to Parliament for Old Sarum. Through Henry Pelham, Bath obtained that seat from Thomas Pitt at the low price of £1,000. On Pelham’s death he wrote to Newcastle, 13 Mar. 1754: ‘I intended to throw my son under his protection and auspices into Parliament.’6 Simultaneously, through Lady Yarmouth, he tried to have Pulteney ‘placed about the Prince of Wales’. In the House, Pulteney, who ‘had vivacity, and did not want parts’, soon ‘attached himself to the new Opposition’,7 and on 2 Dec. 1755 introduced a bill for the better manning of the fleet, copied from one his father had moved in 1740 ‘to distress the ministry’; and on 12 Dec., as first speaker on the Opposition side, attacked Hanover over the Hessian and Russian subsidy treaties.8 None the less, when in 1756 three Lords were added to the Prince’s bedchamber, ‘My Lord Bath’, wrote Newcastle to Hardwicke, 12 June, ‘threatens in the highest degree if my Lord Pulteney is not one, but the King will not hear of that.’9 And in a plan of ministry sent to the Duke of Devonshire on 1 Nov. 1756, Fox wrote about Pulteney:10 ‘H.M. chose him [for Old Sarum] and will not reward him for voting against him.’ And Temple to Pitt, 11 Nov.: ‘Lord Pulteney cannot be carried.’ However Pulteney himself delivered them from difficulty on that head by declaring, before any offer was made to him, that he intended cordially to support the intended system,

but as he doubted of the foundations upon which this transaction was built and depended, from the state of the court, he wished rather not to take his part in it in any office at present.11

And in a letter to Douglas, on 6 Nov.:12

I wish to keep myself at bay and not take any part till I see what turn things are likely to take ... Though an increase of income would not be disagreeable I have too much at stake ... to care to be included in any patched up system.

Nor was he included in the Administration of June 1757, although on 30 May Newcastle, when compiling a list of ‘speakers or efficient men’ in the Commons, named Pulteney among them.13

Even in 1754 Bath had ‘had some thoughts’ of putting up Pulteney for Shrewsbury on the Bradford interest to which he had acquired a reversionary claim.14 When in June 1759 Robert Clive was declared a candidate, Bath immediately applied to the corporation on behalf of Pulteney. But when a considerable majority came out in favour of Clive who had Powis’s support, Bath turned to Newcastle:

I must beg leave to assure you, that if I do not meet with protection against Lord Powis in this affair, I shall resent it with that warmth that will become me on that occasion.

Most ingenious was Bath’s next move: about the middle of July he offered Pitt to raise a regiment for service in the war and to defray the expense (in the end it was only with the greatest difficulty that the money was obtained from him). Shrewsbury was to be the headquarters of the regiment; the King gave it the name of the Royal Volunteers; the Prince of Wales stood godfather to it; and Pulteney was its lieutenant-colonel. He meant

to lose no time [wrote Douglas to Bath on 21 July] in setting out for Shrewsbury; where he will arrive with some éclat, if he can carry some blank commissions to be filled up with the names of persons, whom his friends there may recommend to him.

Douglas ‘was sent to Shrewsbury with Lord Pulteney to assist his canvass for the borough’.15 Henry Bowdler, a local attorney, in whose care he next left Pulteney, reported to him on 12 Sept. that Pulteney was gaining ground ‘in the esteem of the town people’, as might ‘be reasonably expected from his Lordship’s good sense and behaviour’; but ‘though we are not by any means a mercenary people’, something more was required. Bath, however, hoped to achieve his aim by bullying Newcastle, and they both tried to frighten others ‘with the Prince of Wales’. They failed: the Shropshire Whigs were against Pulteney, while the Tories gave him little encouragement. Clive’s return from India clinched the matter, and towards the end of September 1760 Bath withdrew Pulteney’s candidature. On 16 Sept. the Prince of Wales made him a lord of his bedchamber.16

In February 1761 Pulteney embarked with his regiment on the expedition against Belle Isle (where he ‘was in great danger ... being in one of the boats that ran upon the piles ... driven into the ground, under water’.17) Meantime, on 18 Feb., Bute wrote to Bath18 that shortly before leaving Pulteney had mentioned to him the idea of standing for Westminster (where Bath owned considerable property)—

In a conversation I held with the Duke of Newcastle this morning, I found that election not yet settled, and thereupon proposed Lord Pulteney ... as one of the King’s lords, and therefore highly proper to represent this city; it seemed to me well relished.

Pulteney was returned unopposed, in his absence. In November 1761 he sailed with his regiment for Portugal, where he distinguished himself on active service.19 But when returning by way of Spain, he fell ill and died at Madrid, 11 Feb. 1763.20 His will, dated 29 Mar. 1762, was disregarded in every part ‘owing to his having died greatly in debt’.21 It was proved 1 June 1763, by a creditor, his father renouncing probate so as to avoid paying his debts.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. A. M. W. Stirling, The Hothams, ii. 33.
  • 2. Beaumont Hotham to his son Charles, 7 Sept. 1749, Hotham mss.
  • 3. Bedford Corresp. ii. 112.
  • 4. Rev. J. Jeffreys to Claudius Amyand, 29 May 1753, Claudius Amyand mss in possession of Sir William Cornewall, Bt.
  • 5. Egerton 2182, f. 15.
  • 6. Add. 32734, f. 233.
  • 7. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, ii. 79.
  • 8. Ibid. ii. 119-20; Add. 32861, f. 290; 35353, f. 183.
  • 9. Add. 32865, ff. 277-86.
  • 10. Devonshire mss.
  • 11. Chatham Corresp. i. 187, 193, 195.
  • 12. Egerton 2182, f. 18.
  • 13. Add. 32997, ff. 203-4.
  • 14. Namier, Structure, 257-68.
  • 15. Egerton 2181, f. 22.
  • 16. Pulteney to Bute, 25 Sept. 1760, Bute mss.
  • 17. Douglas to Bowdler, 21 Apr. 1761, Bodl. Top. Salop. c.3.
  • 18. Egerton 2182, f. 23.
  • 19. HMC 10th Rep. I, 343.
  • 20. Egerton 2185, f. 54.
  • 21. Egerton 2181, f. 27.