ARDEN, Sir Richard Pepper (1744-1804), of Tarporley, Cheshire.

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



17 Jan. 1783 - 1784
1784 - 1790
1790 - May 1794
3 May 1794 - 22 May 1801

Family and Education

b. 20 May 1744, 2nd s. of John Arden of Stockport by Mary, da. of Cuthbert Pepper of Pepper Hall, nr. Northallerton, Yorks., sis. and h. of Preston Pepper. educ. Manchester g.s. 1752; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1761, BA 1762, fellow 1767, MA 1769; M. Temple 1762, called 1769, L. Inn 1779. m. 9 Sept. 1784, Anne Dorothea, da. of Richard Wilbraham Bootle of Rode Hall, Cheshire, 3s. 4da. Kntd. 18 June 1788; cr. Baron Alvanley 22 May 1801.

Offices Held

Recorder, Macclesfield ?1771; dep. puisne judge, Welsh sessions 1778-82; KC 10 July 1780; bencher M. Temple 1780; solicitor-gen. July 1782-Apr. 1783 and Dec. 1783-Mar. 1784, attorney-gen. and c.j. Chester circuit Mar. 1784-June 1788; PC 18 June 1788; master of rolls June 1788-May 1801; member of Board of Trade Mar. 1790; serjt.-at-law 22 May 1801; l.c.j.c.p. May 1801-d.


‘A singularly ugly little man, with a confused distraught manner, having a sort of broken nose and goggle eyes that squinted’: this was Arden, a protégé of Pitt, to whom he owed his rapid advancement in legal office. He had, however, previously acquired a considerable practice at the bar. Wraxall, who disliked him, thought he ‘exemplified the power of ministerial friendship to supply every defect and to conduct the object of its predilection to the greatest dignities, as well as honours and employments’. A licensed jester at Pitt’s table, he had ‘a confused babbling manner of talking which made it wonderful how he had ever attained to high office in the law’. Lord Liverpool reminisced in 1826:

If I was asked whether Mr Pitt received any benefit from Sir Pepper Arden as master of the rolls, I should certainly answer in the negative. I never recollect any instance in which he was of use in the House of Commons ... his utility in his judicial situation was very much impaired and his character as a judge very much lowered by his exhibitions in the House of Commons.

If, in another estimate, he spoke with ‘spirit, wit and intelligence, rather than with commanding dignity’ in debate, it was conceded that he ‘displayed not only ardour but ability in the defence of his friends’.1

Arden continued to advocate Pitt’s measures. On 25 Nov. 1790 he proposed Addington as Speaker. He remained an opponent of the impeachment of Warren Hastings, 22 Dec. 1790, 27 May 1791. He was a critic of the form and content of the Catholic relief bill, 21 Mar., 8 Apr. 1791, and opposed the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland, 10 May. He disliked a precipitate abolition of the slave trade, although he supported it on principle: he did not vote in 1791 and was reluctant to support its termination in a year on 27 Apr. 1792, as ‘he did not believe he had a right to abolish the trade’; nor could he bring himself to support the abolition motion of 14 May 1793. It was he who proposed the address in favour of the royal proclamation against sedition, 25 May 1792. On 15 Dec. he advocated resistance to the French revolutionary regime. He opposed a petition for parliamentary reform, 21 Feb. 1793, though he had supported it in 1785. He opposed the assimilation of Scots and English law on Adam’s motions, 4 Feb., 25 Mar. 1794, and on 24 Feb. upheld the transportation of Thomas Fyshe Palmer. He also upheld the legality of voluntary loans to the government, 7 Apr. He was placed on the secret committee on sedition, 14 May, and opposed the repeal of the suspension of habeas corpus, 5 Jan. 1795. He came to Pitt’s assistance in the debates on the Prince of Wales’s debts in June. On 12 Nov. he presented his constituents’ petition calling for better security for the King and defended the ensuing safety bill, 30 Nov. He conceded that John Reeves’s ultra-royalist pamphlet defamed the House, 26 Nov., but on this, as on many other occasions, was an advocate of adjournment, delay and caution. He was an opponent of the Quaker relief bill, 10, 14 May 1796.

Arden had transferred his seat from Hastings to Bath in 1794, remaining a ministerial nominee. Bath was not an easy berth because of its patronage problems: ‘I almost begin to regret that I have a seat which forces me to be so troublesome’, he assured Pitt, 13 June 1795, but he retained it.2 On 8 Dec. 1796 he opposed the attempt to censure Pitt over the imperial loan and he disclaimed the opposition plea on behalf of Lafayette, 16 Dec. He opposed opposition attempts to scrutinize the suspension of cash payments by the Bank, 1 Mar. 1797. He supported the assessed taxes bill, 4 Jan. 1798, having on 30 Dec. secured a clause to improve it, suggested by a constituent. He denied that the freedom of the press was affected by the suppression of seditious societies, 30 Apr. 1799, having again been of the secret committee on sedition that year. On 22 Jan. 1800 he opposed a call of the House as unnecessary. He championed the income tax, 17 Apr.

In 1801 Arden neither went out with Pitt nor exerted himself against the minister’s decision to quit: he thereby ‘lost his own self-approbation’, according to his friends. He lent himself to Addington’s legal arrangements, becoming lord chief justice (which was his ambition in 1799, when Sir John Scott was preferred) and (reluctantly) a peer, on the King’s recovery from his illness. His ‘pecuniary resources’ were ‘very limited’. In November 1801 it was thought that he could not stay the course and there were rumours of his becoming chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster: but he retained his office until his sudden death, 19 Mar. 1804. Pitt had evidently found nothing to forgive and by 1803 regarded him as detached from the political scene. It was to Pitt that his last letter was falteringly addressed.3

Arden was admitted to be ‘an excellent judge’ and ‘his decrees were much approved of’, though the ‘familiar and somewhat undignified conduct which he permitted’ was a source of irritation.4 He promoted administrative improvements in the court of Chancery and on 2 Apr. 1792 brought in a bill to apply Chancery assets to new buildings and the recruitment of clerks. In 1791 he was given leave for bills to regulate rewards for informers against felons and to render petty larcenists competent witnesses, and he promoted the clerks of assize bill. He opposed the bill to prevent election delays, 13 May 1794, regarding it as a trick to do away with the tests to which electors were liable. He defended the Grenville Act on elections, which he had helped to frame, 28 Nov. 1797. He complained that credit relief for shipowners undermined contract law, 17 May 1798. He was a member of Abbot’s committees on statute regulation in 1796 and 1799, seconded his motion for a select committee on the public records and was appointed to it, 18 Feb. 1800. He was the champion of the adultery punishment bill, 26, 30 May, 10 June 1800, and on 14 July he carried an executory devises bill, inspired by the problematic will of Peter Thellusson.5 Lord Eldon ‘cordially acknowledged the large measure of praise to which Sir Richard Arden was entitled as an equity lawyer’, and his biographer considered that ‘he occupied a highly respectable second place among English judges’.6

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: M. H. Port / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. W. C. Townsend, Lives of Twelve Eminent Judges, i. 141-2 (quoting Clavering); Gent. Mag. (1804), i. 384; Wraxall Mems. ed. Wheatley, iii. 204; iv. 151; v. 129; Harewood mss, Canning jnl. 22 Nov. 1793; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 72; Brydges, Autobiog. i. 299; Add. 38301, f. 173.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/108, f. 204.
  • 3. HMC Kenyon, 556-7; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 373; Ld. Eldon’s Anecdote Bk. 192; Glos. RO, Redesdale mss D2002/49, memo. 7 Jan. 1802; E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, Rose to bp. of Lincoln, 21 July 1801; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 283, 299; HMC Fortescue, vii. 150; HMC Bathurst, 33-4.
  • 4. Add. 38301, f. 173; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 374; Foss, Judges, viii. 233.
  • 5. DNB.
  • 6. Townsend, i. 156, 159.