BROWNE FFOLKES, Sir Martin, 1st Bt. (1749-1821), of Hillington Hall, King's Lynn, Norf.

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



1790 - 11 Dec. 1821

Family and Education

b. May 1749, o.s. of William Folkes, barrister, of Hillington by 2nd w. Mary, da. and h. of Sir William Browne, MD, pres. RCP, of King’s Lynn. educ. Eton 1758-66; Emmanuel, Camb. 1766; L. Inn 1768. m. 28 Dec. 1775, Fanny, da. and coh. of Sir John Turner, 3rd Bt., of Warham, 2s. 3da. suc. fa. 1773, cr. Bt. 26 May 1774; styled himself Browne Ffolkes on d. of gdfa. Sir William Browne 1774.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Norf. 1783-4; capt. Norf. rangers 1794, maj. 1805.


Browne Ffolkes’s grandfather, an eminent lawyer, acquired Hillington by his marriage to an heiress. His uncle, Martin Folkes, sometime president of the Royal Society, contested King’s Lynn unsuccessfully in 1747.1 He himself came in for the borough unopposed in 1790, an opening being provided by the emigration of Crisp Molineux, one of the sitting Members. His marriage, apparently conditional on his obtaining a baronetcy, to a coheiress of Sir John Turner whose family had long represented the borough, together with his standing as an independent country gentleman of learned tastes made him by then an irresistible candidate. He had been interested in the seat as early as 1774, and subsequently in trying his chances at Boston, but by 1786 looked to Lynn.2 He held Lynn securely till his death, without ever spending more than £500 at an election.3

He first spoke on 16 Feb. 1791, suggesting that Popham’s Poor Laws amendment bill should be submitted to a committee of the whole House, since it gave powers to punish magistrates, but a select committee was preferred. In April 1791 he was listed hostile to the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. His first known vote with opposition, 30 Dec. 1794, was for Wilberforce’s peace amendment. He supported Grey and Wilberforce on the same question, 26 Jan., 6 Feb., 27 May 1795, and Fox’s amendment to the address calling for peace on 29 Oct. He was also in the minority on Sumner’s amendment regarding the Prince of Wales’s debts, 1 June 1795. He continued in this line in the next Parliament.4 ‘Sir R. Folkes’ was in the minority for Sheridan’s motion of 28 Feb. 1797 against the Bank stoppage; on 10 Apr. he signed the Norfolk petition for the dismissal of ministers and, after his second leave of absence that session, certainly voted for Grey’s motion on parliamentary reform, 26 May 1797, and against Pitt’s tax proposals, 18 Dec., 4 Jan. and 18 May 1798. He spoke in favour of tax relief for small farmers, 28 Dec. 1797. On 14 June 1798 he voted for Sheridan’s motion for inquiry into the state of Ireland. No further minority vote is known until 31 Mar. 1802, when he voted for Manners Sutton’s motion on the Prince of Wales’s claim to the revenues of the duchy of Cornwall: this is his only minority vote on record during Addington’s administration.

When Pitt returned to power in 1804, Browne Ffolkes was listed ‘doubtful’ and he confirmed this when he eventually voted against Pitt’s additional force bill, 15 June: he had been locked out on the 11th. On 21 Feb. 1805 he voted for Windham’s motion on defence and on 6 Mar. for Sheridan’s for the repeal of the Additional Force Act. He voted for the censure of Melville, 8 Apr., and for his criminal prosecution on 12 June; he was accordingly listed ‘Opposition’ in July.

Browne Ffolkes was reported to be a supporter of the Grenville administration. He voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, but he disliked the neglect of the volunteers in Windham’s military plan. In June he was reported dissatisfied with ministers, and in particular with the ‘levity’ of some of them. He was very critical of the proposal that Lauderdale should govern India, regarding him as a disreputable democrat.5 In March 1807 he was reported critical of involvement in South America: the occupation of territories there would benefit only the mercantile interest.

He mentioned the great proportion of commercial men who have now obtained seats in the House of Commons, who with all their wealth, pay little of taxes, in comparison with what falls upon country gentlemen. He said they who had £4,000 or £5,000 a year, and who formerly experienced the comfort of independence and ease now go on with difficulty. Upon such the burden really falls.6

He was reckoned friendly to the abolition of the slave trade. He did not vote on Brand’s and Lyttelton’s motions following the dismissal of ministers in April 1807 and there was some doubt as to his future conduct, but the Marquess of Buckingham was sure that Browne Ffolkes ‘ought to be counted with us’.7

He later admitted that he had ‘no predilection for the ex-ministers who have been called "the Talents of the country" as, while they were ministers they did nothing.8 Moreover, he did not appear in the minority again until 11 May 1808, against Patrick Duigenan's* appointment. On 2 Feb. 1809 he voted against the convention of Cintra. In 1810, however, the Whigs reckoned him a steady supporter; he had voted with opposition on the Duke of York's misconduct, 17 Mar. 1809, thinking this matter so serious as to deserve precedence over all other public affairs; he was also in the minority on the charge of ministerial corruption, 25 Apr. 1809; on the address, 23 Jan. 1810; on the Scheldt expedition 23 Feb., 5 and 30 Mar.; against Burdett's imprisonment 5 Apr., and during the Regency debates in January 1811, when the Whigs requested his attendance.9 He further voted for the abolition of McMahon's sinecure, 24 Feb. 1812, and for inquiry into the orders in council, 3 Mar.

Browne Ffolkes voted for Grattan's motion for a committee to consider Catholic relief, 24 Apr. 1812, but admitted privately that he would not vote for emancipation, 'unless the veto should be granted or some restriction equivalent to it'. He was at this time critical of Perceval's conduct in conceding a separate establishment for the Princess of Wales at the Regent's request, and in 'erecting at a vast expense barracks in these difficult times'10 On 21 May he voted for Stuart Wortley's motion in favour of a stronger adminstration. His opposition was less marked after 1812. He voted for the consideration of Catholic relief on 2 Mar. and (after a month's illness) on 24 May 1813, as also on 30 May 1815, but against it on 21 May 1816 and on 9 May 1817. He voted against the Duke of Cumberland's establishment bill, 3 July 1815, and with the majority against the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816. On 28 Mar. 1816 after nearly 20 years' apparent silence debate, he presented a petition from Norfolk complaining of agricultural distress and appealed for a reduction of military establishment. He voted against the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817, and against the increasing cost of mantaining the royal family, 15 Apr. 1818 and (by pair) 22 Feb. 1819. No vote of his survives in the Parliament of 1818, during which he twice took leave of absence for illness. In December 1819 he was suffering from gout.11] Not being a party man, he did not sign the requisition to Tierney to lean the opposition.

Browne Ffolkes died 11 Dec. 1821. His son William unsuccessfully contested Lynn in 1822, 1824 and 1826, but eventually sat for Norwich and West Norfolk.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. DNB (Folkes, Martin).
  • 2. Norf. RO, Folkes mss, Rolfe to Folkes, 23 May 1774, Sheath to same, 27 Mar. 1782, Cony to same, 5 Sept. 1786, Coldham to same, 16 Apr. 1787, Forster to same, 2 Nov. 1789.
  • 3. Between 1790 and 1818 inclusive, Browne Ffolkes spent £2,000 at Lynn; see B. D. Hayes, ‘Norf. Pol. 1750-1832’ (Camb. Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1957), 435, citing Folkes mss.
  • 4. The Times, 2 Mar. 1797; Norf. RO, Colman Lib. mss 27.
  • 5. Farington, iii. 246.
  • 6. Ibid. iv. 90.
  • 7. Morning Chron. 22 June 1807; Fremantle mss D/FR, box 46, Buckingham to Fremantle, 16 June [1807].
  • 8. Farington Diary (Yale ed.), xi. 4121.
  • 9. Farington, v. 119; Blair Adam mss, list for circular, 19 Jan. 1811.
  • 10. Farington diary, 3 May 1812.
  • 11. Parl. Deb. xli. 889.