FORTESCUE, Hugh, Visct. Ebrington (1783-1861), of Castle Hill, nr. Barnstaple, Devon.
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Family and Education
b. 13 Feb. 1783, 1st s. of Hugh Fortescue†, 1st Earl Fortescue, by Hester, da. of George Grenville† of Wotton, Bucks. educ. Eton 1793; Brasenose, Oxf. 1800. m. (1) 4 July 1817, Lady Susan Ryder (d. 30 July 1827), da. of Dudley Ryder*, 1st Earl of Harrowby, 3s.; (2) 26 July 1841, Elizabeth, da. of Piers Geale of Clonsilla, co. Dublin, wid. of Sir Marcus Somerville, 4th Bt.*, s.p. summ. to Lords in his fa.’s barony as Lord Fortescue 1 Mar. 1839; suc. fa. as 2nd Earl Fortescue 16 June 1841; KG 12 July 1856.
Ensign 9 Ft. 1808.
PC 1 Mar. 1839; ld. lt. [I] Apr. 1839-Sept. 1841; ld. steward of Household July 1846-Mar. 1850.
Ld. lt. Devon 1839-d.; high steward, Barnstaple and South Molton.
Col. E. Devon militia 1816.
Ebrington’s father, one of the largest landowners in Devon, owed his earldom to Pitt, but after 1801 acted politically with his brother-in-law, Lord Grenville. Ebrington was considered as a candidate for Aylesbury by his uncle, the 1st Marquess of Buckingham, in July 1804, but it was for Barnstaple, where his father’s local property gave him a stake, that he was returned unopposed at a by-election the following month.
With the other Grenvillites he cast regular votes against Pitt’s second ministry, including two against Melville, 8 Apr. and 12 June 1805. Elected to Brooks’s on 25 Apr. 1805, he supported his relatives in power, voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr., but was believed to have avoided the division on the limited service clause of the mutiny bill, 30 May 1806.1 He had ministerial backing at Barnstaple at the 1806 general election and topped the poll. On the fall of the ‘Talents’, he followed his father and uncles into opposition to their successors, voting against Perceval’s life appointment to the duchy of Lancaster, 25 Mar., and for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge, 9 Apr. 1807. When he sought re-election at Barnstaple at the ensuing general election, he denounced the new ministers as a selfish, reactionary ‘faction’ and deplored their resort to a dissolution and a ‘No Popery’ cry.2 Ministerial hostility, anti-Catholic feeling and inadequate financial resources contributed to his defeat.
He was provided with a seat for St. Mawes by Lord Buckingham and continued to act inconspicuously with the Grenvillite Whig opposition. Reported to be ‘very ill’ and ‘in very bad spirits’ by the end of the 1808 session, he decided to go to the Peninsula to follow the military campaign, hoping to be taken on as a supernumerary aide-de-camp by Sir Arthur Wellesley. He took a half-pay commission, 18 Aug. 1808, which vacated his seat, was in Portugal by the end of the year, at the battle of Almonacid, 11 Aug. 1809, and early in 1810 was sailing in the Mediterranean. Nothing came of a proposal to put him up for Callington on Lord Clinton’s interest at the next election.3
Ebrington was back in England by 1812, when his uncle returned him for his pocket borough of Buckingham. No sooner was the election over than he shocked and vexed the marquess by serving belated notice that he felt bound to support any attack on his sinecure tellership and would have to vacate the seat if the question came on. The business was smoothed over, but Lord Fortescue was ‘quite shocked and surprised at this new evidence of his son’s political opinions’, and Thomas Grenville, who suspected that ‘some of the democrates have got an entire possession’ of his nephew, observed to Lord Grenville, who shared his fears:
Ebrington has betrayed on this subject so much weakness and infirmity of mind, and such a discouraging state of political feeling, that I have hardly courage to look at his passing through a Parliament like this, so full of unsteady mischief, and so little under any reasonable influence or control.4
Lord Buckingham’s death, 11 Feb. 1813, removed the tellership difficulty and Ebrington managed to negotiate the first two sessions of the 1812 Parliament without a serious clash with the Grenvilles. He voted for Burdett’s motion on the Regency, 23 Feb., for the sinecure bill, 29 Mar., against extension of the East India Company’s monopoly, 14 June for Morpeth’s censure of the Speaker, 22 Apr., and his cousin Williams Wynn’s motion on the blockade of Norway, 12 May 1814. In his first recorded speech, 27 June 1814, he supported Wilberforce’s plea for international action to end the slave trade. After voting against the expulsion of Lord Cochrane, 5 July, he moved the remission of his sentence to the pillory, 19 July 1814, but withdrew the motion, which Cochrane himself deplored as implying his guilt, on receiving assurances that the prerogative of mercy would be exercised.
On the cessation of hostilities Ebrington went to Paris, where he renewed an earlier acquaintance with Harriette Wilson, who soon tired of his ‘freezing reserve’ and ‘disposition to be severe and satirical’. In December 1814 he had two audiences in Elba with Buonaparte, of whom he was a great admirer. Writing to Lord Grenville after Napoleon’s return to France Ebrington, who remained in Italy during the 1815 session, deplored the renewal of a ‘crusade for the maintenance of a government which cannot maintain itself and with a tone of hostility which precludes the possibility of peace except as an act of humiliation to the man whom we have so gone out of our way to outrage’.5
He was therefore poles apart from the Grenvilles on the question of the peace settlement and when he attended an opposition party meeting, 31 Jan. 1816, Tierney found him ‘entirely with us in opinion’.6 He was one of the minority of 23 who divided for the amendment to the address, 1 Feb., voted for Brougham’s motion on the Spanish Liberals, 15 Feb., and for the opposition amendment to the address concerning the peace settlement, 20 Feb. Joining in the campaign for economy and retrenchment, he encouraged the expression of popular protest against the property tax, 27 Feb. When a vacancy occurred in Devon in April, Ebrington stood as an advocate of reduced expenditure and economical and tithe reform but, badly prepared and short of money, he was defeated at the poll by the nephew of the late Member. He annoyed his cousin, the 2nd Marquess of Buckingham, by failing to inform him of his plans, which necessitated the vacation of his seat for Buckingham, until the eleventh hour, and was in danger of being refused a renewal of his tenure until the marquess relented. He remained in contention for the Devon seat and, with the aid of local Whigs and other opponents of the cabal of country gentlemen who had controlled Devon elections for years, built up an elaborate and effective electoral organization over the next two years.7
Ebrington made the final political break from his relatives in 1817, when he voted against the first and third readings of the habeas corpus suspension bill, 26 and 28 Feb., and, by voting against Canning’s embassy to Lisbon on 6 May, he finally prompted Lord Buckingham to ‘reclaim’ his seat. Ebrington anticipated him, and the day after condemning government’s repressive regime, 13 May, offered to vacate at his cousin’s convenience. The parting was amicable. Buckingham delayed his reply to allow Ebrington to give an unhampered vote for Burdett’s parliamentary reform motion, 20 May, and Ebrington took the Chiltern Hundreds, by choice, before the renewed suspension of habeas corpus came before the House. He had time to vote for Williams Wynn’s pretensions to the Speakership, 2 June, but Lady Williams Wynn thought his resignation, by encouraging rumours of coalition between the government and Grenvillites, had cost her Charles some Whig votes. To Lord Grey, who fully approved his decision, Ebrington expressed ‘satisfaction at finding myself more and more united in opinion with those who look to you as their political leader’. His marriage to the daughter of a cabinet minister created a stir, but made no difference to his politics.8
By October 1817 his prospects in Devon were good, and lack of money his only serious worry. After careful thought he made it clear to his supporters, who included many of the lesser yeomanry from distant parts, that he would pay only for dinners and stabling in Exeter and nothing towards the cost of conveying voters to the poll. It seems to have been a well kept secret that he had in any case the promise of an alternative seat, presumably from a Whig borough patron, to fall back on in the event of failure. He stood in 1818 as an advocate of civil liberty and economical reform and the champion of electoral freedom, and came top of the poll. His victory was regarded in opposition circles as a triumph and his ‘decided adherence’ to the Whigs, symbolized by his approval of the plan to install Tierney as leader in the Commons, was considered important by the party grandees.9
Ebrington acted consistently with the more progressive section of the Whig opposition in the 1818 Parliament. He voted for inquiry into Scottish burgh reform, 1 Apr. and 6 May, attacked the Combination Laws and pressed for the transfer of the franchise from Penryn to a large manufacturing town, 22 June, voted for Burdett’s reform motion, 1 July, and demanded further investigation of electoral corruption at Camelford, 7 July 1819. He repudiated the sentiments of protectionist and anti-Catholic petitions from Devon, 25 Feb. and 3 May, but supported the repeal of the salt duties, to assist Devon fisheries, 29 Apr., and of the coal duties, to help local industry, 20 May 1819.
He wished the Whigs to take the lead in a campaign for inquiry into the Peterloo incident, with the issue of reform excluded, ‘as the surest pledge that in contending for the rights of the people to petition, we hold no communion whatever with the radicals’, and secured the passage of temperate resolutions at the County Club.10 He was one of the die-hard opponents of government’s repressive legislation in the emergency session of 1819 and explained, when leading the attack on the blasphemous libels bill, 21 Dec., that while he conceded the local and temporary necessity of some of the measures, he regarded them, as a whole, as ‘the most alarming attack ever made by Parliament upon the liberties and constitution of the country’. He died 14 Sept. 1861.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Harrowby mss, Bathurst to Harrowby, 2 June 1806.
- 2. Devon RO, Earl Fortescue mss, Ebrington’s address, 2 May 1807.
- 3. NLW mss 2790, his sister to H. Williams Wynn [Aug. 1808]; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 237-40, 283, 301, 303; Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 80; Som. RO, Drake mss 15/3, Glastonbury to Drake, 10 Feb., 15 Mar. 1810.
- 4. HMC Fortescue, x. 300-4, 308; Add. 41853, ff. 285, 294; 41858, f. 175.
- 5. Mems. Harriette Wilson (1825), 244, 251-9, 261-5; Conversations between Napoleon and Ebrington (1823); Fortescue mss, Ebrington to Grenville, 2 Apr.; Add. 51571, same to Holland, 1 June 1815.
- 6. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 1 Feb. 1816.
- 7. Earl Fortescue mss, Ebrington’s address, 25 Apr.; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle , [7 May 1816]; NLW, Coedymaen mss 8, f. 535.
- 8. Fremantle mss Buckingham to Fremantle, 7 May; Coedymaen mss 20, same to Williams Wynn, 9 May; Earl Fortescue mss FC 75, Ebrington to Buckingham, 14, 24 May, Buckingham to Ebrington, 22, 25 May, Grey to same, 13 June; NLW mss 2792, Lady to H. Williams Wynn, 4 June; Grey mss, Ebrington to Grey, 14 June 1817; Letters of Countess Granville, i. 107.
- 9. Earl Fortescue mss FC 75, Ebrington to his wife, 15, 16 Oct., reply 17 Oct. 1817; FC 76, Holland to Ebrington [July]; Add. 51571, Ebrington to Holland, 14 July; 51829, Sefton to same [17 July 1818].
- 10. Add. 51571, Ebrington to Holland, 24 Sept., 1 Oct.; 52194, same to Allen, 25 Oct. 1819.