WORSLEY, Thomas (1710-78), of Hovingham Hall, Yorks.

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



1761 - 1768
1768 - 1774

Family and Education

b. 22 Nov. 1710, 1st s. of Thomas Worsley, M.P., by Mary, da. of Sir Thomas Frankland, 2nd Bt., M.P.  educ. Eton 1725-8;1 Grand Tour (Austria, Italy, Germany, Holland) 1735-7.  m. 5 July 1757, Elizabeth, da. of James Lister, 2 surv. s.  suc. fa. 2 Mar. 1750. His sister Frances m. 1737, Thomas Robinson, subsequently 1st Baron Grantham.

Offices Held

Gent. privy chamber c.1730-48; equerry to King 1743-Dec. 1760; surveyor-gen. of Office of Works Dec. 1760- d.


Worsley was interested in breeding and training horses (a source of income to him), in architecture, and in collecting works of art and a library of classical and scientific works. The family mansion which he built at Hovingham is entered through a manège, and contains exquisite art treasures; and the two offices which he held at court well suited his tastes and abilities. He was devoted to the royal family, and especially to George III (whom he had taught to ride); he was not interested in politics. He was a very old friend of Lord Bute. The correspondence between them goes back at least to 1738; and this is how the two first letters from Worsley to Bute are summarized in the ‘Register’ of Bute’s correspondence:2

1738: 23rd June: Mr. Bothwell. London empty. Grey horse as bad as a mistress.
30th September: Regrets he did not hear from Lord Bute. Pictures and statues superior at Paris than at Versailles. Dislikes English actors. Making a collection of prints.

Some 50 further letters from him appear in the ‘Register’ during George II’s reign, all placed among ‘unimportant letters’: noted but not summarized. Among Worsley’s papers there are 13 letters from Bute falling into the early and the concluding years of 1742-77, none political in contents.

On the accession of George III Bute obviously wanted to bring his old friend into more active business, as is shown by Worsley’s postscript to a letter of 2 Nov. 1760:

I have the mortification after much reflexion not to be able to find out any one point in which in this hurry, I could be of the least use to you, and if I might, I think you know me enough to command me any service, without my offers.

On 13 Nov. Bute offered Worsley the office of works and Worsley thanked him in a most effusive letter—

My heart mistook not a moment the ray which darted upon it, the exultation sprung from being cherished where it has respected, honoured, loved nearly 40 years, for so long has it known the virtues of yours. As I would obviate the most trifling objections to your Lordship’s noble protection of me, and remembering how at my first entrance at court, some envious persons made inquiries after my family, and fortune etc. I will for once ... say, that we can produce authentic documents of our coming over with William the Conqueror, and have ever since possessed lands in Lancashire ... I have £2,100 in land, encumbered indeed at present, but not more than the timber will pay off. I would not have the most malicious vulgar say your Lordship patronized an upstart.

But next Bute wanted to have Worsley in Parliament. George Bubb Dodington wrote to Bute, 22 Dec. 1760:

Will you give me your Mr. Worsley to choose at Weymouth? If you will, tell him so when you think it proper time. It will be an easy seat, both as to the manner and the expense.3

But Worsley was not keen on Parliament, and a letter to Bute of 30 Jan. 1761 is thus summarized in the ‘Register’: ‘Recommends that Mr. Knight be brought into Parliament instead of himself. The Dukes of Newcastle and Devonshire approve of the suggestion.’ But next in an undated letter: ‘States that he is now willing to enter Parliament.’ In January 1761 Newcastle was to have discussed with Bute the selection of candidates for the general election; and his anxious mind made him expect a most formidable list of names to be foisted on him. But when at last they met on 4 Feb., Bute’s list contained three names only, of which Thomas Worsley was one. ‘I will certainly take care of them, on very easy and certain conditions’, wrote Newcastle in his ‘Memorandums’.4 Worsley was returned for Orford, an absolute Treasury borough.

In the House Worsley voted with the Bute and Grenville Governments; seems to have been on good terms with Grenville; but on one occasion was the innocent cause of a clash between the King and Grenville who did not mind if the King discussed with a secretary of state diplomatic moves which might lead to war, but was extremely sensitive to anything connected with office patronage. George III, in a memorandum drafted in the late autumn of 1765 and explaining why he had to get rid of the Grenville Administration, wrote:5

To prove the height of Mr. Grenville’s insolence it may not be improper to mention his language to Mr. Worsley on my determination of curtailing the office of painter; when the surveyor reported to him my intentions he said if people presumed to speak to me on business without his previous consent, he would not serve an hour.

In the summer of 1765 Rockingham classed Worsley as ‘pro’; but following Bute he voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act. On 7 June 1766 he wrote to William Hamilton, minister to Naples:6

I rejoice to hear from different hands that you and Mrs. Hamilton enjoy perfect health in that charming climate. I dare say among other blessings you reckon the not passing so many disagreeable hours in the H. of C. I have well-nigh sacrificed my life this last winter to my duty there, having attended four or five days every week sometimes ten and twelve hours without moving off my seat. The consequence was violent heat and colds going home, a fever and inflammation on my lungs, that I should certainly have set off for your country, was I not detained here by six children.

Under the Chatham Administration Worsley was invariably listed as a Government supporter, and even over the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, voted with them. When in May 1767 Charles Townshend told Worsley of Conway’s ‘intended resignation’, Bradshaw, writing about it to Grafton, remarked: ‘by the channel he made choice of it is easy to guess, to what place he wished this information to be conveyed’ 7 (obviously to the King).

Lady Orford, patron of Callington (whom Worsley refers to, in his letter to Hamilton, 7 June 1766, as ‘my very good friend and most agreeable acquaintance these thirty years’), wrote to him from Naples, 28 July 1767:8

Your letter which I received yesterday gives me, my ever dear friend, the greatest pleasure I am capable of feeling, by informing me that you will accept of my recommendation to the borough of Callington, and that his Majesty has had the clemency to permit you to sacrifice the honour of being chose by him to our ancient friendship, a favour that I darst never have asked, but that I shall always be proud of.

Contrary to expectations Worsley met with an opposition (‘this unexpected novelty’, Lady Orford called it);9 but was returned; and had to look after patronage claims of constituents, of which he had been free at Orford. Again he voted with the Government, over Wilkes and Middlesex, and over Brass Crosby. In Robinson’s survey on the royal marriage bill, March 1772, he was listed ‘pro, sick, present’; and he appears in no further division list, probably too ill to attend. He did not stand again. There is no record of his having ever spoken during his 13 years in Parliament. On 5 June 1777 it was thought that he could ‘scarcely outlive the day’;10 but he did not die till 13 Dec. 1778.

A pleasing glimpse of Worsley is obtained from a letter he wrote to William Hamilton, 26 May 1769. Having mentioned that the King had returned from a thirty-mile ride, he added:11

I am humble enough to be content with the adagio upon some pretty well dressed horses of my own breed, which I enjoy daily, and without fear. They are my music, and I thank God I have yet an hand and ear for them.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Worsley to Bute, 13 Nov. 1760, Bute mss.
  • 2. Add. 36796.
  • 3. Bute mss.
  • 4. Add. 32918, ff. 310-11, 362; Namier, England in Age of American Rev. 169-76.
  • 5. Fortescue, i. 170.
  • 6. Add. 41197, f. 34.
  • 7. Grafton, Autobiog. 178.
  • 8. Worsley mss at Hovingham.
  • 9. To Worsley, 3 Apr. 1768, Worsley mss.
  • 10. Fortescue, iii. 452.
  • 11. Add. 41197, f. 101.