TURNER, Charles (?1727-83), of Kirk Leatham, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. ?1727, o.s. of William Turner by Jane, da. of Charles Bathurst of Clintz and Skutterskelfe, Yorks. educ. Beverley; I. Temple 1744; Trinity, Camb. 5 Nov. 1745 aged 18. m. (1) Elizabeth (d. June 1768), da. and coh. of William Wombwell of Wombwell, Yorks., s.p.; (2) 1 Oct. 1771, Mary, da. of James Shuttlesworth of Gawthorp, Lancs., 1s. 2da. suc. fa. 1774; cr. Bt. 8 May 1782.
In 1758 Turner offered himself as candidate for Yorkshire, but withdrew in face of strong support for Sir George Savile. In December 1760, on the death of Lord Downe, he prepared to oppose Edwin Lascelles, and accused Rockingham (who supported Lascelles) of ‘desiring to dictate to the county’.1 When Savile declared for Lascelles, Turner withdrew and did not stand at the general election.
In 1767 Rockingham wished Turner to stand on his interest at York. But Turner refused to join the Rockingham Club (the society of York Whigs), arguing that its name sanctioned the interference of a peer in elections, and did not wish Rockingham to share the election expenses. He wrote to Rockingham on 1 Mar. 1768:2
Surely, my Lord, there is a very material difference as well in argument as fact between a club retaining its general name, let who will be its president, and a club adopting the name of its president. In the first case the principles of the club determine the choice of its president, in the last the partiality to the president influences the principles of the club.
Rockingham ‘indulged’ Turner’s ‘punctilio of not being an absolute member of the club’, because ‘he had no proper friend of his own to propose’; he was accepted as a candidate ‘upon Whig principles’ and returned without a contest.3 ‘Charles Turner must be delighted with being at last in Parliament’, wrote Lord Fitzwilliam to his mother on 9 Apr. 1768, ‘it has long been the object of all his wishes, and he esteems it a greater honour to be a Member of a British Parliament than to be the Grand Monarque.’4
Turner described himself as ‘a country gentleman, who meant to act entirely for the service of his constituents’; he was ‘no party man’ but ‘an old-fashioned Whig’. ‘He considered it as the duty of Members of Parliament, not to lead, but to follow their constituents.’5 He regularly attended the House, spoke frequently, and voted with the Rockinghams. Yet he remained independent and suspicious of aristocratic influence; and in 1772 Rockingham wrote him a long letter arguing that ‘there neither is, nor has been danger to this constitution from an aristocratical power for many years’.6 In 1774 Turner was faced with an opposition at York and ‘the personal disinclination of the populace’. He objected to treating, and ‘wanted to give all his money to some public work’; and offended the Rockingham Club by a speech ‘explaining that by drinking the toast [to Savile and Lascelles, the candidates for the county] he did not mean to bar himself from voting for a man he liked better, if such a one should offer’. Rockingham seems not to have regarded Turner as standing on his interest: Turner’s defeat, he wrote to Lord John Cavendish, the other candidate, ‘would not be a downright attack on my interest at York’.7 Yet he supported Turner, who had a comfortable majority.
Wraxall describes Turner as ‘one of the most eccentric men who ever sat in Parliament’.8 He was a bitter and irreconcilable opponent of the American war: in 1777 he told his constituents he would resign his seat if they wished him to support the war. On 16 June 1779 he demanded North’s impeachment, and declared on 3 Dec. that ‘a French or Spanish government was infinitely preferable’ to the British. He hated the militia, opposed pressing, and declaimed against a standing army. He attacked the influence of the clergy in politics; described the universities as ‘a public evil’; and supported religious toleration (his house was attacked during the Gordon riots). On 11 May 1781 he spoke against a bill to compel Sabbath observance, and read to the House I Corinthians chapter 13; and on 20 June 1781 he denounced Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, and spoke in favour of ‘free, unrestrained marriages’. He advocated shorter Parliaments and electoral reform, and helped to promote the Westminster petition.9
At the general election of 1780 Turner intended to pledge himself to support the aims of the Yorkshire Association; but was persuaded by Lord John Cavendish, who was opposed to the Association’s policy, to stand nevertheless on a joint interest.10 He accepted a baronetcy from the Rockingham Administration, ‘to commemorate, as he said, the era of a virtuous Minister and Administration ... and not from any impulse of personal vanity or desire of title’.11 He did not vote on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries. Though an admirer of Fox, he disliked the Coalition; and held that North should have been expelled the House.12 On 31 Mar. 1783 he
reprobated in strong terms the coalition between the noble Lord and his new made proselyte. He said in this day’s idea of that party, they wished to take from the sovereign even the assistance of a private friend. The King was not to have any man to whom he could unbosom himself in private, or on whose advice he was to rely in case of need. The common rights of a subject were to be denied to him by the new doctrine of the new coalition. This was going beyond the constitutional limits.
Turner died 26 Oct. 1783.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: John Brooke
- 1. Add. 32918, f. 47.
- 2. Rockingham mss.
- 3. Lady Rockingham to Portland [22 Mar. 1768], ibid.; Add. 32989, ff. 191-2.
- 4. Fitzwilliam mss, Northants. RO.
- 5. Almon, viii. 29; xvi. 158-9; xvii. 79-80.
- 6. Rockingham mss.
- 7. Ld. John Cavendish to Rockingham [5 Oct. 1774]; Rockingham to Cavendish, 6 Oct. 1774.
- 8. Mems. ii. 267.
- 9. Almon, iii. 91, 427; viii. 29; xi. 221-2; xiii. 369-70, 420; xvi. 85-86; xvii. 227; Debrett, iii. 161-2, 297, 429, 643; vii. 135.
- 10. Letters from Cavendish to Rockingham, September 1780, Rockingham mss.
- 11. Wraxall, Mems. ii. 267.
- 12. Debrett, ix. 531-2, 580.