RIGBY, Richard (1722-88), of Mistley Hall, Essex

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



24 Oct. 1745 - 1747
1747 - 1754
1754 - 8 Apr. 1788

Family and Education

b. Feb. 1722, o.s. of Richard Rigby of Paternoster Row, London and Mistley Hall, Essex by his w. Anne Perry.  educ. Corpus Christi, Camb. 1738; M. Temple 1738; Grand Tour. unm.  suc. fa. Nov. 1730.

Offices Held

Ld. of Trade Dec. 1755-Jan. 1760; sec. to ld. lt. [I] Jan. 1757-Mar. 1761; master of the rolls [I] Nov. 1759- d.; P.C. [I] June 1760; jt. vice-treasurer [I] Dec. 1762-July 1765, Jan.-June 1768; paymaster gen. June 1768-Mar. 1782.


Rigby’s grand-father bought Mistley in 1703;1 and his father, a woollen draper appointed factor to the South Sea Company under the assiento, amassed a large fortune.2 Horace Walpole claims that Rigby in his beginnings had ‘vast obligations’ to him.3The two were certainly close friends, and Rigby became politically connected with the Walpole family. In 1747 he was returned for Sudbury as a follower of the Prince of Wales, and does not seem to have formed his connexion with the Duke of Bedford till after the Prince’s death: the first extant letter from Rigby to Bedford is dated 27 June 1751.4 Deferential, especially in the earlier years, his letters tried to please and amuse; racy in style they were spiced with pert familiarity; and their record of politics and society gossip covered also the Duke’s family referred to as Dick, Johnny, Bab, Betty, etc. Gradually Rigby gained a very marked influence over Bedford, a ‘most ungovernable and most governed man’5 who, wrote Horace Walpole in 1768, was seldom acquainted by Rigby and the Duchess ‘with the true grounds on which he acted’.6 And Rigby’s position as the ‘man of business’ of the Bedfords in the House of Commons became the pivot of his parliamentary career.

Descriptions of him by three contemporaries bear out and complement each other. Horace Walpole wrote c.1759:7

Rigby had an advantageous and manly person, recommended by a spirited jollity that was very pleasing, though sometimes roughened into brutality; of most insinuating good-breeding when he wished to be agreeable. His passions were turbulent and overbearing; his courage bold and fond of exerting itself. His parts strong and quick, but totally uncultivated; and so much had he trusted to unaffected common sense, that he could never afterwards acquire the necessary temperament of art in his public speaking. He had been a pupil of Winnington and ... grew to think it sensible to laugh at the shackles of morality; and having early encumbered his fortune by gaming, he found his patron’s maxims but too well adapted to retrieve his desperate fortunes ... He was a man who was seldom loved or hated with moderation.

Some twenty years later an anonymous journalist wrote in the English Chronicle:

Mr. Rigby is a very complicated character ... He is hospitable, sincere, convivial, and entertaining; but he is at the same time violent, despotic, insolent, and superficial ... He has two characteristic methods of displaying his habitual hauteur, either by an open undisguised neglect, or by converting the object into general ridicule. He is of singular service to the minister, as a parliamentary speaker; for in those cases where all appearance of delicacy is to be resigned ... no man applies the whip with more risible dexterity ... nor ... with so little reserve, reluctance, or decency. His severity is ... infinitely more rude and direct than that of any other individual in the House.

And here are a few additional touches from Wraxall’s Memoirs (i. 420-2):

As if he had meant to show that he acted independently of ministers and was above their control, he never sat on the Government side of the House of Commons; but he did not on that account give the less unqualified support on all occasions to Administration ... His countenance was very expressive, but not of genius; still less did it indicate timidity or modesty ... Whatever he meant he expressed indeed without circumlocution or declamation ... He seemed neither to fear nor even to respect the House ... to the members of which ... he never appeared to give credit for any portion of virtue, patriotism, or public spirit. Far from concealing these sentiments, he insinuated, or even pronounced, them without disguise; and from his lips they neither excited surprise nor even commonly awakened reprehension.

He showed disrespect even to the Speaker. On 26 Jan. 1762 he lectured Cust on his duty to enforce the orders of the House—‘permit me to say you are but young in the Chair: ... I have been long enough in the House to know what is, and what is not obedience to orders’.8 And on 9 May 1777, he vehemently ‘arraigned the conduct’ of Speaker Norton, and insisted on the right to animadvert ‘on his conduct, within or without that House, if he thought it improper’.9

Still, the three contemporary accounts, correct as far as they go, do not tell the whole story: how was it that in a parliamentary career of 43 years, Rigby, in spite of a dominant personality, great ability, and ruthless courage, never attained front rank in Government? The posts he held were lucrative but not politically effective. Lack of humanity and subtlety made of him a blind driving force; sadistically destructive, he would attack in cold fury, often without purpose and regardless of circumstances, a bravo rather than a statesman. He also was greedy for money. But money-grabbing and aggressiveness often stem from deep-seated anxiety, and, like so many bullies, Rigby could be silenced if met or baited in his own way (e.g. by Barré). Knowing how to hurt and vulnerable himself, when chance of responsible office came his way, he appeared halfhearted about it. And when toward the end of the American war, and during the years that followed, he was called upon to refund the vast sums of money he held as paymaster, Rigby temporized and shuffled to obtain a respite, and faded out politically.

In 1754 Bedford was the one great Whig peer in declared opposition to the Pelhams. Rigby stood again for Sudbury, with a good deal of bravado but conscious that against the long purses of his opponents backed by the Government, he was fighting a losing battle. Next he went to contest Newport in Cornwall (where the election came on a week later) standing on Bedford’s interest against that of Humphry Morice and the Government; and lost after ‘the hottest poll this town ever saw’.10 But this, too, was to be expected, and Bedford had reserved for him a seat in his pocket borough of Tavistock where Rigby was returned the day after his defeat at Newport; and this seat, never contested, was left to him by the Bedford family till his death, 34 years later. Although a leading figure in Essex politics, with some influence at Colchester and sometimes views to Harwich, Rigby never actually stood for an Essex constituency.

In September 1755 Fox, appointed secretary of state, tried through Rigby (too sensible ‘to amuse himself ... with politics that had no solid views’)11 to concert Bedford’s accession to the Government;12 and although the Duke would not himself join, he let his followers do so, Rigby being placed at the Board of Trade. Again, when in the crisis of November 1756 Fox tried to persuade Bedford to take office, Rigby pulled wires. On 2 Nov., Bedford wrote to the Duchess about a meeting with Devonshire, Marlborough, and Fox:13‘When ... Mr. Rigby had retired ... we began to talk of the business of our meeting.’ But on 28 Nov. Rigby, asking Fox to meet the Duke:14

His Grace ... approves of my house, where there can be no interruption, and is extremely disposed to take the part we wish him to do: indeed I make no doubt but he has concluded upon it.

On 3 Jan. 1757 Bedford was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland, and Rigby his secretary. Emphatically he assured the Duke on 20 Jan.: ‘I shall [not15] insert in the Gazette, nor give any directions in a more private way, without your express orders.’ 25 Jan.: ‘I ... shall never presume to proceed upon any business till I know your pleasure.’ 7 Feb.: ‘That my conduct has satisfied your Grace, gives me most infinite pleasure; that it may always do so, shall be my chief study.’16 The next three years, spent by Rigby mainly on Irish business in Dublin or as the lord lieutenant’s representative in London, left him with the office of master of the rolls in Ireland (so complete a sinecure that no knowledge of the law was required), and with an interest in Irish affairs. Harris remarks, reporting the debate of 13 Mar. 1763: ‘Rigby answered for Ireland (for whom he always appears as an advocate, though they were once about to hang him.)’

At the end of 1759 Rigby resigned his place at the Board of Trade as incompatible with frequent residence in Ireland.17 After their return to England, Bedford named Rigby, in the reshuffle of October 1761, for Speaker (which Rigby himself thought would not suit him); Rigby wished for a seat at the Treasury; and when offered by Newcastle the Admiralty, told him ‘I was near forty years old, and it was too late to come in at the tail of that Board’.18 Talks and letters (including one from Bedford to Bute19) ended in ‘great promises’ for the future.20

In the House Rigby now became the foremost spokesman of the Bedfords. The Duke being a sincere pacifist, Rigby, on 9 Dec. 1761, inveighed against the German war—why ‘run such lengths for a little power like the elector of Brandenburg ... If the King of Prussia receives our money, he is to serve us, not we him’;21 and on 26 Jan. 1762 ‘ridiculed all our conquests with a trifling levity’.22

Fox, informed by Shelburne on 20 May that ‘Rigby will be provided for’,23 replied:24

I have known Rigby these twenty years. He can feel an obligation, and when obliged may be entirely confided in. He has spirit, is ready, and will soon if I don’t mistake, be the most popular speaker in the House of Commons.

The office envisaged was another sinecure: of joint vice-treasurer of Ireland. But in September Rigby was much talked of for secretary at war, and ‘the London Evening Post’, wrote Rigby to Bedford, ‘already abuses me as such. I prefer the quiet and the income of what I am to have much before the other.’25 And on 16 Dec.:26

I believe I may venture to tell you without much vanity, I might have been secretary at war, but I preferred ease to ambition ... surely to have the principal hand in reducing a large army and attending to their various grievances is a most irksome and unpleasant task.

While Bedford was negotiating the peace treaty in Paris, Rigby served as link between him and the Bute Administration. In the House he closely collaborated with Fox, and defended him, when deserted by many on the Government side, over the committee of accounts and the Newfoundland petition (4 and 23 Mar. 1763). But next, during the negotiations for a new Government on Bute’s retirement (Mar.-Apr. 1763), occurred a sudden break between Fox and his closest associates, Calcraft, Rigby, and Shelburne: they pressed him to relinquish the pay office on receiving his peerage, which he, with equal heat, refused to do. When Fox complained to Rigby of Shelburne, he was treated with studied insult and an anger which suggests a personal interest of Rigby’s in the matter: possibly he already expected to succeed Fox at the pay office. ‘I loved him’, wrote Fox at the time.27 And to Selwyn on 2 Dec. 1769:28

If Rigby chiefly, and some others, had pleased, I should have walked down the vale of years more easily; but it is weak in me to think so often as I do of Rigby.

Under the Grenville Administration Rigby was prominent in defending unpopular measures with maximum provocation to opponents (Wilkes and general warrants, the Cider Act, dismissal of officers for votes in Parliament), adding, as pastime of his own, gross abuse of the City of London whenever occasion offered. He kept silent during the Regency crisis and during the division on Morton’s motion to reinstate the Princess Dowager in the Regency bill, 10 May 1765, retired to the Speaker’s chamber ‘and did not vote with the majority, though he had declared nothing should make him vote against the Princess’.29

Under the Rockinghams Rigby took a foremost part in opposing the repeal of the Stamp Act; moved for American papers, 18 Dec. 1765; for printing them, 14 Jan. 1766; ‘was rough’ when Dowdeswell moved to rescind the resolution, 17 Jan.; asserting all along the need to enforce Great Britain’s superiority: he ‘set Ireland above the Colonies—yet she subject’, 4 Mar.30

Bradshaw wrote to Jenkinson, 9 Sept. 1766:31 ‘if Rigby is hearty the great Duke will not long remain in opposition [to the Chatham Administration]’. But when, on 31 Oct., Bedford named Gower, Weymouth, and Rigby for ‘employments of magnitude’, Chatham was distinctly cool about Rigby; similarly in further negotiations.32 ‘I have not the smallest expectation of a place’, wrote Rigby on 14 Nov.;33 but the Duke disapproving ‘of mere factious opposition ... I have been at the House only the first day, nor do I know when I shall go again. I cannot stomach giving my silent approbation to Conway’s measures, be they good or bad.’ On 25 Nov. he voted against the Government on an East India question; and felt relieved34 when negotiations with Chatham broke down (1 Dec.)—largely because ‘Rigby did not see that office within his reach’ which might answer his wants and ambition.35 He now took an active part in opposition; spoke repeatedly in the East India debates; on the New York petition, 16 Feb.; supported Grenville’s motion for withdrawing the troops in America from the frontiers to the interior of the provinces, 18 Feb.; and again, 6 May, on Grenville’s motion on the indemnity bill passed by the Massachusetts assembly36 (there is no indication how their case was argued, but Dowdeswell for once spoke on the same side). And next, in the crucial debate of 13 May on punishing the delinquency of New York with regard to the Mutiny Act, ‘Rigby dropped the question to satirize the court’ and our ‘annual ministries’.37 What he had been working for since the Government defeat over the land tax, 27 Feb., was a united Opposition, to which the divergencies over America between Rockingham and Grenville were a serious obstacle. As sole intermediary between the two (who would not make direct contact), he played, during the July negotiations for a new Government, a difficult and tortuous game; urged Rockingham to break with Conway and join wholeheartedly with Bedford and Grenville, and by toning down Grenville’s declarations on America tried to make him more acceptable to Rockingham.38 To each in turn he professed friendship at the expense of the other. He told Albemarle on 10 July that the Treasury was now ‘indisputably’ Rockingham’s; that he hoped never to see Grenville in that office; and that if Grenville ‘was wrong headed ... they could, and would treat without him’. But writing to Grenville on 21 July39 about the negotiations with the Rockinghams: ‘I hear I am accused of showing too much partiality to you and your opinions, which I think does me infinite honour.’

When the tripartite negotiations broke down at the end of July, and each party was ‘at full liberty to take what part they pleased’, the Bedfords continued to hold a pivotal position: they alone were able to join up with either of the other two parties, or with the Government; and after a good deal of manœuvrinig and some sharp practice on Rigby's part, a sudden approach by the Bedfords to Grafton on 29 Nov. resulted in their taking office. Rigby was re-appointed joint vice-treasurer of Ireland with a promise of the entire pay office; which was redeemed half a year later. From now till the fall of North, Rigby regularly voted with the Government, present at every division for which the list of Government supporters is extant. Yet he was  not quite as frequent a speaker as his attendance and prominence in the House might lead one to expect; and his speeches were usually brief and blunt and took with gusto the unpopular side. On 3 Feb. 1769 he seconded the motion to expel Wilkes; on 17 Mar. moved that his third election was void, and a new writ be issued. With much ingenuity he would defend abuses and ridicule proposals for reform: whether it was a question of continuing the American tax, 8 Nov. 1768, or of the use of troops in riots, 23 Nov. 1768; of punishing a corrupt borough like New Shoreham, February 1771, of disfranchising revenue officers, 12 Feb. 1770, or of Grenville's bill for securing a fairer trial of election petitions by the House, March 1770; of civil list debts, 2 Mar. 1769, or of pensions and reversionary grants, 5 Apr. 1770.

The Duke of Bedford died on 14 Jan. 1771 (cancelling in his will Rigby's debt to him of £5,000). Politically the Bedford group now disintegrated, though personal connexions survived; but as there are no papers at Woburn for that period, and Rigby's own have not been traced, it is difficult to see le dessous des cartes. In October 1773, Horace Walpole, charging the ‘Bedfords’ with intrigues against North, wrote:

Even Rigby, though possessed of the most lucrative post in England, in which he was rapidly raising a fortune, had the vanity of sometimes wishing to be first minister, though, being a very timid politician, however insolent when his circumstances were desperate, he trembled to gaze steadily on the object he coveted.

But Rigby himself repeatedly disclaimed ministerial status or ambitions. On 2 May 1774: ‘When gentlemen had a mind to have a fling at him, they called him a minister; but he never was nor ever should be one.’ And on 28 May 1778: he was ‘totally unacquainted with the real motives’ of the Government's American policy—‘neither his situation nor habits of life, furnished him with any means of information, but what he heard within those walls’.40

He himself urged coercive measures: supported the bill for restraining the trade of Pennsylvania—the Stamp Act was ‘the work of a great minister’,  and all the present confusions were due to its repeal; ‘Americans would not fight’, 5 Apr. 1775. ‘America must be conquered, and ... the present rebellion must be crushed’, 27 Oct. Britain should not agree to conditions ‘till the people of America threw down their arms’, 24 Apr. 1776. He gloried in having from the outset supported ‘hostile measures’, 10 may 1776, and having been ‘invariably consistent’ in asserting Britain's supremacy over all her dominions, 3 Dec. 1777. On 6 Feb. 1778 he defended the employment of Indians in the American war. 26 Nov. 1778: ‘France and America should be considered as one enemy.’41

In his view it was not the policy, only its execution that was at fault. When Burgoyne returned on parole after Saratoga, Rigby repeatedly attacked him with the utmost virulence;42 and when in the autumn of 1779 Gower and Weymouth, despairing of North's conduct of the war, were about to resign and a reconstruction of Government seemed imminent, Rigby played an ambiguous part: solely concerned to retain his office, he kept in with the Government while courting the Opposition. After ‘a long and very confidential conversation’ with him, Sandwich wrote to the King on 9 Oct.:

Nothing that fell from Mr. Rigby conveyed the most distant idea that he wished administration should be at an end; on the contrary, he lamented the probability that it would be so, and that he himself should be included in the disaster.

And the next day, after a talk with Robinson:

He agreed with me in opinion about Rigby's disposition that he would go on acting with Lord North for his own interest, though he wished for coalitions that might strengthen our hands.

On 29 Oct. Robinson wrote to Jenkinson:43

Rigby really expressed himself pretty anxiously about his ideas of losing his place, and will I think give active and vigorous support, if we can but form a system for carrying on the business of the House of Commons.44

But when pressed by Robinson on 19 Nov. ‘to be explicit as to his support of Government’, Rigby thought that ‘it would not avail’ and ‘we should be left in a minority is some question or another’: he disliked saying so, for clearly ‘he could not with pleasure or satisfaction think of quitting so good a place as he held, and in which he had nothing to do’ [presumably of a political character].45

In the session which opened on 25 Nov. 1779 no speech by Rigby is recorded before 29 Feb. 1780; and on 26 Mar. a letter from him to Lady Spencer,46 mother-in-law of the Duke of Devonshire and herself prominent in Opposition circles, gave an illuminating account of his political conduct during the preceding half year. In the autumn, he wrote, she had found him ‘discontented with the King's ministers, thinking meanly of their talents,... and eagerly wishing for a change of Administration’. When Gower and Weymouth quitted the service, he rejoiced, and pressed the lord chancellor to do likewise, offering his own ‘office and political situation ... to bring about what I so much desired’. But the chancellor refused, and his quitting alone would not have brought down the Government—

What was to be my motive for such a step? ... I had been in no secrets of Government, in no state of responsibility, literally and bona fide without communication of any sort, almost without acquaintance. Was I called upon by ministers to act any part different from what I had for years supported? Was I personally neglected or slighted? ... To all this I am bound in honest truth to answer in the negative.

To resign, ‘alone, insignificant, and for no end’, would have made him the laughing stock of all parties.

The sessions of parliament opened ... I took no part, unwilling to support and determined, whilst in office, not to oppose. After Christmas Mr. Burke produced his plan of reformation ... I think the adoption of Mr. Burke's plan to the extent proposed, would be a subversion of this constitution ... without influence and what is called undue influence too, this Government could not subsist.

The pay office and the balances he held (£5–900,000) were no doubt foremost in Rigby's mind when over economical reform he re-entered the fray. Yet, brazen champion of a system which was rapidly falling into disrepute, he fought the to him odious ideas of reform on the widest front. He ridiculed ‘new converts’ to shorter Parliaments, 8 May 1780; did not believe such was the sense of the people—‘to judge by petitions was a farce’, 7 June 1782; called Pitt's proposals of parliamentary reform chimerical, 7 May 1782; ‘would sooner see another Member added for Old Sarum ... than ... to the City of London’, 7 May 1783; and ridiculed ‘the idea of any Member being concerned for the character of his constituents’, 20 Nov. 1780.47

He opposed attempts to control expenditure of civil list revenue—as much the King's ‘as any estate enjoyed by any person present’, 8 Mar. 1780; defended sinecures, pensions and jobbery whomsoever they might benefit (6 Mar. and 4 July 1783): grants were as good a title as freehold, and ‘the emoluments of various offices ... the legal rights of the persons in possession’, 7 July 1783;48 and in 1783 defended Sir Thomas Rumbold against the bill of pains and penalties directed against him for his conduct while governor of Fort St. George.

He voted with North, yet dissociated himself from him. Thus on 8 Mar. 1780 he spoke of North's predicament: ‘day after day coming down to the House, in majorities which hardly deserved the name; for his own part he never would consent ... to carry on the business of Government, unless he could be sure of a proper and respectable support’. North should ‘speak out, and declare, what he was determined to grant; and what ... to refuse’.49 When on 5 May Conway brought in a bill ‘for quieting the troubles in America’—‘Mr. Rigby’, wrote Lord Frederick Cavendish to Lady Spencer,50 ‘went away and told me afterwards he had had a vast mind to speak in support of Mr. Conway's motion, that he approved of it very much.’ A year later, over Fox's motion for peace with America, 12 June 1781, Rigby admitted that success in America ‘began every day to appear more and more doubtful’. He disliked the continuance of the ruinously expensive war.

But its justice he had supported throughout, ‘and never gave a single vote which ... in a similar situation, he would not repeat’. If the war was wicked they all shared responsibility for it—vide the Declaratory Act, the Townshend duties; and when the Boston port bill was brought in ‘from which law the present war directly originated, the very gentlemen, who were now most violent in their disapprobation, remained silent and inactive. There was not a division, not a single debate on the subject.’ The American war was just, but it would be madness to persevere in it; it had become impracticable (27 Nov., 14 Dec. 1781, 22 Feb. 1782).51 Detaching himself from the Government, he was prepared to accept their defeat:52 after the crucial division on 15 Mar.—‘I ... saw Rigby’, wrote Sandwich to Robinson on the 19th, ‘who desponds totally and thinks that further resistance is in vain.’53 The next day in the House he delivered an elogé on North; stated that he himself had advised North to retire; and wished success to the new Administration—‘they were welcome to his vote which was all he had to give them’. This he henceforth offered to successive Administrations. Dismissed from the pay office, he faded out as a political figure.

Even before North's fall, Rigby had come in for severe personal attacks—as one ‘who profited more by the war than any four men in the House’ (William Pitt, 4 Mar.); and who having ‘had the fingering of upwards of £50 million of money ... certainly ought to apply the interest gained ... to the service of the public’ (Fletcher Norton, 8 Mar.).54 This question was raised officially on 18 June, over reports of the commissioners of public accounts who pronounced Rigby's balances to have been excessive. The chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord John Cavendish, having moved that in future the paymaster-general be paid a fixed salary and be precluded from using the balances in his hands to his own advantage, the attorney-general, Lloyd Kenyon, reserved his right to have it discussed in a court of justice whether public servants in such positions might be called upon ‘to account for the great emoluments ... made by means of the public money’. And Barré argued that unless Rigby repaid the balances ‘in three or four months’, he should ‘be made to pay interest for them’.

Rigby turned to his Whig friends: in two letters to Lady Spencer, 21 and 24 June,55 begged for support from his friends in the House; he had successfully canvassed the Duke of Marlborough, and written direct to the Duke of Devonshire; Fox had been friendly—

he will do everything I can ask, consistent with his present situation. Jack Lee came of his own accord, abusing his colleague the attorney-general sufficiently. But he will be directed by none from the quarter I mention, he takes he clue elsewhere [Shelburne] ...

All I ask is a little time, it is highly improper that large balances should remain for much space of time in the hands of public accountants; but to insist upon our paying interest from the day we quitted office, was never before thought of by anybody.

The outstanding balances made him now court anyone in power. After Rockingham's death he adhered to Shelburne, and pleaded with North the need of ‘supporting the King's administration’—‘Rigby is clear and explicit on this’, wrote Robinson to Jenkinson on 17 Sept., ‘and means to support strongly in everything but innovations upon the constitution.’ Meantime Robinson was helping him to arrange with Orde, Shelburne's secretary to the Treasury, repayment of balances.56 Rigby voted for Shelburne's peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, and tried to influence others to do so.57 But after Shelburne's defeat he declared in the House, on 6 Mar., that ‘although he did not approve of the late Coalition’, he wished for an Administration which ‘would rescue us from the derision of the world’, and he would support it ‘whether formed on a broad or narrow basis’.58 By the end of October, Rigby was, according to Lord Mountstuart, ‘a decided friend of the present Government’ (especially of Fox);59 ‘intercourse and great civility’ passed between him and the ministers; and a visit by the Prince of Wales was planned to Mistley.60 ‘Lord Mountstuart ... was right, when he said that Rigby was gained’, wrote Jenkinson to Robinson, 4 Nov.61 ‘I cannot say that I am at all surprised at this; you know what has always been my opinion of him.’ Robinson replied that Rigby, ‘considering his peculiar situation ... must be allowed to temporize; he is damnably plagued to get in his money, lent out too liberally.’62 He voted for Fox's East India bill; went into opposition with him; and on 12 Jan. and 3 Feb. 1784 attacked Pitt in the House, calling for his resignation.63 On 17 Feb. Rigby wrote to John Lee:64

Fox and Sheridan have been with me here this evening to consider what is the most proper conduct for me to hold on the attack that Kenyon meditates against me, and we have rather agreed that it will be best, if a fair opportunity should offer, for me to mention to the House the present situation of my balance due to the public. Some discreet management is necessary upon this delicate subject.

—whereupon he was also seeking Lee's advice.

When on 23 Feb. the attorney-general, Pepper Arden, moved for accounts of Rigby's balances and pressed for their repayment, Rigby argued that for some time past money could not be got by sale of securities ‘but to the greatest disadvantage’ nor raised ‘without a heavy loss’; but he himself now offered to pay interest on outstanding balances. On this basis an agreement was reached in the summer of 1784.65 Yet in March 1791, three years after Rigby's death, the balance due to the public still amounted to £150,000.

When on the dismissal of the Coalition a dissolution of Parliament was expected, Rigby found himself ‘adrift for a seat’.66 In 1780 the four Members sitting on the Bedford interest were re-elected, although in 1775 the two Fitzpatricks (and the Duchess of Bedford) had joined the Opposition, while Rigby, Richard Vernon and the Duke of Marlborough, husband of the other Bedford trustee, continued with the Government. Yet although in December 1783 the Duchess and Rigby were on the same side, she apparently, for a reason unascertained, meant to turn him out of the seat at Tavistock which he had held for 30 years. Rigby now planned to ‘try the good-will of my neighbours at Harwich to represent them’ (it was assumed that with the revenue officers disfranchised, the Treasury hold on Harwich was ‘rendered hazardous’), and he embarrassed his friend Robinson, M.P. and Treasury manager for the borough, by suggesting that they should stand together at the general election. In the end Rigby was re-elected at Tavistock.67

Although listed by parliamentary managers as ‘Opposition’, Rigby does not appear to have been active on their side; only two (non-committal) speeches by him are reported in the new Parliament, 18 Mar., 12 May 1785,68 both on Pitt's Irish propositions; while his last recorded votes, on the same question, were with Government. ‘We have Rigby ... certain’, wrote Daniel Pulteney to the Duke of Rutland, lord lieutenant of Ireland, on 7 Apr. 1785; and on 11 May: ‘Lord Ossory and Rigby were the only two of their party who voted with us today.’69

During the next three years Rigby sank into insignificance, and died on 8 Apr. 1788. ‘The recollection of a Rigby’, wrote his friend Henry Dundas in 1789, ‘ ... [is] never out of my mind as a warning to leave the bustle of politics, and the House of Commons, before the vigour of your body and the activity of your mind leave you.’70

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Morant, Essex, i. 462.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. 1788, p. 369.
  • 3. Mems. Geo. II, ii. 255.
  • 4. Bedford Corresp. ii. 94-98.
  • 5. H. Fox to C. Hanbury Williams, 4 Dec. 1751, Add. 9191.
  • 6. In a passage of his Mems. Geo. III, omitted by the editor, Waldegrave mss at Chewton.
  • 7. Mems. Geo. II, iii. 66-67.
  • 8. Report by Sir James Caldwell, Cavendish’s Debates, i. 566.
  • 9. Almon, vii. 166, 169.
  • 10. Rigby to Bedford, 21 Apr., Bedford mss 30, f. 36.
  • 11. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, ii. 255.
  • 12. Rigby to Bedford, 27 Sept., Bedford mss 31, f. 74.
  • 13. Bedford Corresp. ii. 207-8.
  • 14. Ilchester, Letters to H. Fox, 96-97.
  • 15. The word is significantly missing in the original, Bedford mss 33, f. 35, but inserted by the editor in Bedford Corresp. ii. 225.
  • 16. Bedford Corresp. ii. 225, 234.
  • 17. Add. 32898, ff. 364-5.
  • 18. Bedford Corresp. iii. 56-59; Sir R. Wilmot to the Duke of Devonshire, 13 Oct., Devonshire mss.
  • 19. Bedford mss 44, f. 220.
  • 20. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, i. 78.
  • 21. Add. 38334, ff. 25-26; Add. 32932, ff. 74-77; Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, i. 80.
  • 22. Cavendish’s Debates, i. 566.
  • 23. Hen. Fox. mss.
  • 24. 23 May, Lansdowne mss.
  • 25. Bedford Corresp. iii. 124.
  • 26. Bedford mss 46, f. 148.
  • 27. Ilchester, H. Fox, ii. 256. For accounts of the quarrel see Ilchester, 238-58; Fitzmaurice, Shelburne, i. 149-77; Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, 207-8.
  • 28. Jesse, Selwyn, ii. 372.
  • 29. Walpole to Lord Hertford, 10 May; Mems. Geo. III, ii. 106.
  • 30. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
  • 31. Jenkinson Pprs. 429.
  • 32. Bedford’s ‘Journal’, Cavendish’s Debates, 592-3; Brooke, Chatham Admin. 63-64.
  • 33. To Robert Fitzgerald, N. & Q. (ser. 1), vii. 350.
  • 34. Add. 42084, f. 217.
  • 35. Grafton, Autobiog. 102.
  • 36. Fortescue, i. 471.
  • 37. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, iii. 27-28.
  • 38. Brooke, 182-7.
  • 39. Grenville Pprs. iv. 85.
  • 40. Last Jnls. i. 255, 342; Almon, xi. 61-64.
  • 41. Almon, i. 416; iii. 69, 486-7; iv. 110; viii. 104, 347; ix. 61-64.
  • 42. Ibid. iv. 348; xii. 395-7; xiii. 108.
  • 43. Fortescue, iv. 452-4.
  • 44. Add. 38212, ff. 201-2.
  • 45. Add. 38212, ff. 225-32.
  • 46. Spencer mss at Althorp.
  • 47. Almon, xvii. 681; Debrett, i. 103; vii. 140, 220; ix. 732-4.
  • 48. Almon, xvii. 238; Debrett, ix. 424-5; x. 307.
  • 49. Almon, xvii. 238; HMC Rutland, iii. 26-27.
  • 50. 6 May, Spencer mss.
  • 51. Debrett, iii. 529-34; v. 44-45, 177-9; vi. 280.
  • 52. HMC Carlisle, 560-1.
  • 53. Laprade, 41.
  • 54. Debrett, vi. 357-9, 407.
  • 55. Spencer mss.
  • 56. Add. 38567, ff. 107-12.
  • 57. See BRAMSTON, Thomas Berney.
  • 58. Debrett, ix. 424-5.
  • 59. Jenkinson to Robinson, 31 Oct. 1783, Abergavenny mss.
  • 60. Add. 38567, ff. 158-60.
  • 61. Abergavenny mss.
  • 62. Add. 38567, ff. 162-3.
  • 63. Debrett, xii. 521-2; xiii. 70.
  • 64. Lee mss, Clements Lib. Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • 65. Rigby's pay office pprs., Essex RO, D/DHw 047, 48.
  • 66. Rigby to Robinson, 17 Dec., HMC Abergavenny, 62-63.
  • 67. Laprade, 73; Rigby to Robinson, 18 Dec., Abergavenny mss.
  • 68. Stockdale, v. 223; vi. 166.
  • 69. HMC Rutland, ii. 198, 205.
  • 70. HMC Fortescue, i. 535.