BOUVERIE, Hon. William Henry (1752-1806), of Betchworth House, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. 30 Oct. 1752, 2nd s. of William Bouverie†, 1st Earl of Radnor, and bro. of Hons. Bartholomew Bouverie* and Edward Bouverie II*. educ. Harrow c.1765; Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1771. m. 16 Aug. 1777, Lady Bridget Douglas, da. of James, 14th Earl of Morton [S], 1s. 3da.
Maj. Wilts. supp. mil. 1797; maj. commdt. Betchworth vols. 1803-4.
Bouverie spent most of his parliamentary career in opposition, first to the ministry of Lord North then to that of the younger Pitt. ‘As a politician’, wrote the Gentleman’s Magazine in his obituary, ‘he was firmly and honestly attached to the Whig interest, not from the selfish view of personal aggrandisement or advantage, but on the sound, liberal, and consistent principles of integrity and conviction.’1 In this respect he resembled his uncle Edward, the Member for Northampton. He was presumably the ‘Mr Bouverie junior’ admitted to Brooks’s Club, 13 May 1791. The month before, however, there were doubts as to his and his younger brother Bartholomew’s voting intention regarding repeal of the Test Act in Scotland.
It is difficult to distinguish Bouverie’s speeches, and occasionally his votes, from those of his uncle Edward, though one contrast is clear: he was less committed to regular opposition, but was more likely to have been the ‘Mr Bouverie’ who contributed to debate. He had done so before 1790. Accordingly, most speeches attributed to ‘Mr Bouverie’ are reported in this article, though some may be his uncle’s. On 7 Mar. 1792 he objected to the income proposed for the Duke of York. He was a critic of stipendiary magistracy in Westminster, 3 May 1792. He was a stickler for order in the House, 14 May 1792, 2 Mar. 1793. According to George Rose, it was he and not his uncle who voted against war with France, 18 Feb. 1793.2 He was for accepting the Sheffield petition for parliamentary reform, 1 May 1793, and so voted next day. On 6 Mar. 1794 he poured scorn on the fear of a French invasion and denied that the ministry’s arrangements for home defence were inadequately supported. He voted for Adam’s motion against the transportation of the radicals Muir and Palmer, 10 Mar. 1794. On 14 Mar. he criticized the landing of foreign troops in England. He voted for Wilberforce’s amendment in favour of peace, 30 Dec. 1794; for Grey’s on 26 Jan. 1795; for Fox’s censure motion, 24 Mar., and again for Wilberforce’s plea for peace, 27 May 1795. He spoke in favour of investigation of the abuse of franking, 13 Apr. 1795. Since his uncle voted in the minority of 1 June 1795 on the Prince of Wales’s debts, perhaps it was he rather than Bouverie who withdrew an amendment to prevent the future payment of debts of any branch of the royal family. He did not oppose the introduction of the bill against seditious meetings, but promised to oppose its progress. He was prepared to swallow the bill for the safety of the King and his government, as a temporary expedient, 10 Dec. 1795. He voted for Grey’s motions for peace negotiations and inquiry into the country’s financial plight, 15 Feb., 10 Mar. 1796. He favoured the abolition of the slave trade, 7 Mar. He took an interest in the mode of compensating civil servants, 26 Apr., and on 2 May objected to the expulsion of John Fenton Cawthorne from the House on the evidence of a court-martial alone.
Bouverie voted against the loan advanced to the Emperor of Austria, 14 Dec. 1796, and claimed that it was unjustified, 19 Dec. He was a critic of the stamp tax, 19 June 1797, and on 11 July opposed the exemption of the royal family from direct taxation. Unless he was the Bouverie who voted against the assessed taxes on 4 Dec. 1797, he may have seceded from the House until the session of 1800, but he afterwards described himself as a supporter of the Irish union. He voted against the refusal to negotiate with France, 3 Feb. 1800. On 10 Feb. he favoured inquiry into the failure of the expedition to Holland. Objecting to the continental subsidy, 17 Feb., he said peace overtures should have been heeded. He supported Tierney’s motion critical of the restoration of the Bourbons in France as a war aim, 28 Feb. He supported Grey’s motion critical of the effect of the Irish union on the independence of Parliament, 25 Apr., and on 5 May was a teller for the recommittal of the sixth article of union. He objected to a clause in the directives to tax commissioners, 27 May. He voted for the call of the House, 12 Nov. On 18 Nov. he deprecated Thomas Jones’s motion on Egypt, but voted for it. He supported Tierney’s censure motion on 27 Nov. and Sheridan’s motion for a separate peace, 1 Dec.
He opposed martial law in Ireland, 12 Mar. 1801, and on 19 Mar. opposed the Irish master of the rolls bill as the most objectionable he had encountered in 24 years in the House. He voted for Grey’s censure motion, 25 Mar.; opposed the suspension of habeas corpus, 14 Apr., and supported Tierney’s motion of 22 Apr. On 9 Dec. he became a commissioner for the East Indian judicature. He voted against the discharge of the civil list arrears, 29 Mar. 1802, and not, apparently, for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s finances two days later.3 On 12 Apr. he supported Burdett’s motion for inquiry into the conduct of Pitt’s administration and on 7 May voted thanks for its dismissal. On 14 May he moved, unsuccessfully, an amendment to the terms of the peace treaty.
Bouverie, whose health was deteriorating, retired in 1802 in favour of his nephew and was thanked at Salisbury for his ‘upright and judicious conduct’ during 26 years in the House. Acknowledged to be one of the most cultivated men in England, he died 23 Aug. 1806.