SUTTON, Richard (1733-1802), of Norwood Park, Notts.

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



1768 - 1780
1780 - 1784
1784 - 1796

Family and Education

b. 31 July 1733, and surv. s. of Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Sutton, K.B., M.P. (gd.-s. of Henry Sutton, yr. bro. of Robert, 1st Baron Lexinton), by Judith, da. and coh. of Benjamin Tichborne, wid. of Charles, 3rd Earl of Sunderland.  educ. Westminster 1744; Trinity, Camb 1749; M. Temple 1754; I. Temple 1759, called 1759.  m. (1) 28 June 1765, Susanna (d. 12 June 1766), da. of Philip Champion de Crespigny, sis. of Philip Champion Crespigny, s.p.; (2) 7 Feb. 1770, Anne (d. 2 Dec. 1787), da. and coh. of William Peere Williams of Cadhay, Devon, 2s. 2da.; (3) 8 Apr. 1793, Anne, da. and coh. of John Porter of Wandsworth, Surr.  suc. bro. John at Norwood 9 Sept. 1772; cr. Bt. 14 Oct. 1772.

Offices Held

Under-sec. of state July 1766-Oct. 1772; £500 p.a. pension for life granted 9 Jan. 1769 to start on his leaving office;1 ld. of Treasury Sept. 1780-Mar. 1782.

Recorder of St. Albans from 24 Nov. 1763.


Richard Sutton’s father was the well-known ambassador. In 1750 William Warburton, later bishop of Gloucester, described Sutton as ‘the most extraordinary young boy I ever knew’—‘he speaks and writes Spanish and French with great exactness, understands Italian, and is now learning High Dutch’.2 He was not, however, destined for a diplomatic but for a legal career, which he pursued till appointed by Shelburne under-secretary of state in the southern department in July 1766; he was continued in office by Rochford, first in the northern (October 1768-December 1770), and then again in the southern department. Sutton’s connexion with Shelburne may have been through Lord Spencer, grandson of the 3rd Earl of Sunderland by his second wife. It was Spencer who made him recorder of St. Albans, and its representative in two Parliaments. In the Parliament of 1768-74 Cavendish records 123 interventions in debate by Sutton (some, however, may have been by James Sutton), most of them factual statements on matters concerning his department, but also a good many on social and economic matters, and some political speeches showing remarkable independence. Horace Walpole described him in 1772 as ‘a young man of parts ... and of a very singular turn, often, though in office, speaking against the court, and never speaking for them when he voted for them (but too necessary to be dismissed)’.3 In fact four votes by him are recorded on the Opposition side over Wilkes and the Middlesex election 1769-70, and not one with the Government. Similarly he spoke on the Opposition side on the nullum tempus bill.4 Perhaps Sutton’s most remarkable performance was in March 1772 over the royal marriage bill: he spoke on it 17 times; moved important amendments; and voted repeatedly with the Opposition. Lord Rochford wrote to the King, 29 Mar. 1772,5 that he had

for some time past wished for an opportunity to see your Majesty alone in order to mention the uneasiness he is under with regards to Mr. Sutton’s late conduct ... there was a violence in his behaviour, that makes it necessary he should not remain in the situation he is in.

He did not think that a person should be kept ‘in employment, who when he is most wanted, is determined to go against Government, and what is worse, against a bill in which your Majesty is principally concerned’; although he did not believe Sutton to be ‘designedly connected with Opposition’. Sutton was not dismissed but resigned on 1 Oct. 1772, having on the death of his brother ‘fallen into a fortune of £4,000 p.a.’6 His pension of £500 p.a. now started, and on 14 Oct., in recognition of his services, he was created a baronet. The transition from Rochford’s call for a ‘striking example’ to such distinction remains unexplained. But on 9 Feb. 1773 Sutton voted with the Government over the petition of the naval captains, when some 70 Members, as a rule Government supporters, voted against them; and when on as Feb. 1774 Sutton voted for making Grenville’s Election Act permanent, he was placed in North’s list for the King among those who ‘generally vote with and are friends’.

The subject which seems to have preoccupied Sutton most in 1773 was East India affairs, and when in April the leaders at India House were in search of suitable persons to send out to investigate and reform abuses, he was asked, but refused. With both the Government and the Opposition divided over Clive, Sutton was among the ‘ordinary private Members’ whose votes exonerated him.7

Sutton was a convinced adherent of the Government’s American policy, and this made him, now a wealthy and independent country gentleman, into their steady supporter: he had already in the previous Parliament, on 26 Apr. 1774, spoken in favour of the bill regulating the government of Massachusetts, deprecating the ‘levelling principle’ that prevailed in New England. In the new Parliament he supported the bill to restrain the fisheries and trade of several American colonies, and on 7 Dec. 1775 described the American prohibitory bill as ‘the most effectual means to restore the people of that country to their senses’. Even on 11 Feb. 1778 he declared against measures of accommodation with ‘our rebellious subjects in America’.8 He took an active part in inquiries into the conduct of the war, siding with the Government. He took the lead at the meeting at Nottingham, 22 July 1779, for raising volunteer companies, and himself subscribed £500.9

In June 1779, when re-arrangements in offices were under consideration, North put down Sutton for a lord of the Treasury; and John Robinson wrote to Charles Jenkinson, 7 July 1780: ‘Lord North ... is fixed to have Sir Richard Sutton at his Board’; which was arranged on 5 Sept. As, however, Lord Spencer went with the Opposition, a seat had to be found for Sutton, and Robinson in his electoral survey of July 1780 wrote against Sandwich that Sutton proposed ‘to offer himself, and it is hoped will succeed’. With Government support he was returned after a stiff contest. At the opening of the new Parliament, seconding the Address, he ‘presaged the future success of our affairs in America; ... and was now as confident as ever’; but anyhow ‘what measure but the prosecution of hostilities would now be advisable?’10 He again spoke frequently on Indian affairs, on finance, and on the conduct of the war; and voted with North until the end. He adhered to North also after the fall of his Administration; voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries; and for Fox’s East India bill.

At the general election of 1784, Sutton, siding with the Opposition, did not contest Sandwich where his chances without Government support would have been poor, but was returned by the Duke of Newcastle for Boroughbridge. He still voted with Opposition on Pitt’s Irish proposals, 13 May 1785, but soon afterwards joined the Government side, speaking frequently in the Indian debates of 1787-8, especially in defence of Sir Elijah Impey. He steadily adhered to Pitt during the Regency crisis, 1788-9.

Sutton, himself an active magistrate, showed interest in the condition of the poor. On 2 Feb. 1774, in the debate on a bill to prevent ‘vexatious removals of the poor’, he spoke against lodging discretion in justices: ‘the only sensible principle is for all England to be one parish, but I would have this law made as good as I can at once’; and on 5 Feb. 1782 again supported similar proposals, and protested against the wrong of ‘industrious families’ being driven from a parish for fear that they might become burdensome.11

He died 10 Jan. 1802.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Cal. Home Office Pprs. 1770-2, no. 1480; Fortescue, ii. 333
  • 2. Nichols, Lit. Anecs, v. 547-8.
  • 3. Last Jnls. i. 49.
  • 4. Fortescue, ii. 221; Cavendish’s Debates, ii. 332.
  • 5. Fortescue, ii. 333.
  • 6. HMC Var. vi. 107.
  • 7. Add. 29133, f. 533; L. S. Sutherland, E.I. Co. in 18th Cent. Politics, 257.
  • 8. Fortescue, iii. 96; Walpole, Last Jnls. i. 337; Almon, i. 422; iii. 274; viii. 367.
  • 9. Portland to Rockingham, 29 July 1779, Rockingham mss.
  • 10. Fortescue, iv. 352; Abergavenny mss; Debrett, i. 27.
  • 11. J. D. Chambers, Notts. in 18th Cent. 264; Brickdale’s ‘Debates’; Debrett, v. 406.