A'COURT, William (1779-1860), of Heytesbury, Wilts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



28 Dec. 1812 - Apr. 1814

Family and Education

b. 11 July 1779, 1st s. of William Pierce Ashe A’Court* of Heytesbury by 2nd w. Letitia, da. of Henry Wyndham of Salisbury. educ. Eton 1793-6. m. 3 Oct. 1808, Maria Rebecca, da. of Hon. William Henry Bouverie*, 2s. 1da. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 22 July 1817; GCB 20 Sept. 1819; cr. Baron Heytesbury 23 Jan. 1828.

Offices Held

Sec. of legation, Naples 1801-7 (chargé d’affaires 1801-2, 1803); sec. spec. mission to Vienna 1807; first commr. Malta 1812; envoy extraordinary to Barbary States Jan. 1813-14, Naples Mar. 1814-Jan. 1822; PC 30 Dec. 1817; envoy to Spain Aug. 1822-Sept. 1824; ambassador to Portugal Sept. 1824-Jan. 1828, Russia June 1828-Aug. 1832; ld. lt. [I] July 1844-July 1846.

Gov. I.o.W. 1841-57.

Lt.-col. 2 Wilts. militia 1813.


A’Court commenced his diplomatic career at Naples in 1801. Under the aegis of his father’s friend the Duke of Portland he applied for promotion in 1805 and was disappointed to be rebuffed by Lord Mulgrave: Lords Hawkesbury and Harrowby had promised him ‘an opening at one of the German courts’. His father applied to Fox on his behalf, 30 Mar. 1806, after he himself had applied to Viscount Howick from Palermo for a German post. Nothing could be done for him, nor could his father persuade Howick to appoint him to Sardinia in 1807 until it was too late, the ministry having fallen. Portland then promised to do what he could for A’Court, who had returned to England, and in April 1807 he was named secretary to Lord Pembroke’s mission to Vienna, on the understanding that on its becoming an embassy he would act as minister plenipotentiary until Pembroke was replaced. The mission was futile and A’Court’s appointment recalled in favour of Robert Adair*, his predecessor at Vienna, who was permitted to remain there. A’Court’s father indignantly complained of his having been thrown out of his profession and asked for a pension or a posting to Sardinia for him. Canning could offer neither, nor was Stockholm open to him, as his father hoped.

In May 1808 Portland received a further indignant letter from A’Court’s father because his son had not been appointed a commissioner of excise. The duke made his excuses and it was not until the end of the year that an opening came. Canning offered A’Court the interim appointment of minister to Sicily: no pension, no promise of future employment and only £600 until the end of the parliamentary session, when he would be replaced. A’Court declined. On 4 Mar. 1812 he appealed to Pembroke to nudge ministers on his behalf, as he was a stranger to them and ‘personal application therefore is out of the question’. He had contemplated a seat in Parliament on his father’s interest, but found that his father was disposing of his seats ‘to the best bidder’. He therefore sought diplomatic employment, not below the rank of minister, or at least some compensation for having been ‘turned adrift’, to help support his growing family. He obtained a mission to Malta.1

A’Court informed Lord Liverpool on his return, 10 Oct. 1812, that he now desired ‘some employment at home’, adding that Lord Shaftesbury had offered him a seat in Parliament, to which his father invariably returned friends of the government. The prime minister promised him ‘every attention’.2 He duly succeeded his brother-in-law as Member for Dorchester in December 1812 and appeared on the Treasury list of supporters, but a week later was gazetted envoy to the Barbary States. His vote against Catholic relief, 2 Mar. 1813, was his only known parliamentary gesture. He arrived in North Africa in September and, on being appointed to Palermo in the following spring, vacated his seat. In December 1817 he offered to exchange places with George Henry Rose* in Berlin, the temptation being ‘the pleasantest mission in the gift of the crown, with a heavenly climate and unrivalled influence’, as well as £6,000 p.a.3 In October 1819 he asked Castlereagh for a post nearer home;4 he at length obtained it in 1822. His diplomatic services earned him a peerage.5 He died 31 May 1860.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Portland mss PwF9; Add. 51469, f. 113; Grey mss, A’Court to Howick, 17 Mar. 1806, Sir W. A’Court to same [10 Jan.], 20 Mar., Adair to same, 10 July 1807; Malmesbury mss, Sir W. A’Court to Malmesbury, 24 Sept., 4, 11 Oct. 1807, 16, 20 May, 3 Dec. 1808; Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 383; Pembroke mss.
  • 2. Add. 38249, ff. 342, 356.
  • 3. NLS mss 3797, f. 128.
  • 4. Castlereagh Corresp. xii. 155.
  • 5. For his diplomatic papers, Add. 41511-63.