FREMANTLE, William Henry (1766-1850), of Englefield Green, Surr.

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



31 July 1806 - 1806
1806 - 19 Feb. 1807
19 Feb. 1807 - 1807
7 May 1808 - 1812
1812 - May 1827

Family and Education

b. 28 Dec. 1766, 4th s. of John Fremantle of Aston Abbots, Bucks., and bro. of Thomas Francis Fremantle* m. 21 Sept. 1797, Selina Mary, da. of Sir John Elwill, 4th Bt., of Englefield Green, wid. of Felton Lionel Hervey, s.p. GCH 1827: kntd. 31 Oct. 1827.

Offices Held

Ensign 66 Ft. 1782; lt. 105 Ft. 1783, capt. 1783; capt.-lt. 103 Ft. 1783, half-pay 1783-7; capt. 60 Ft. 1787, 58 Ft. 1788, ret. 1789.

A.d.c. and private sec. to ld. lt. [I] 1782-3; jt. resident sec. [I] and jt. solicitor in England to revenue commrs. [I] 1789-1801; dep. teller of Exchequer 1792-1806; sec. to Treasury Sept. 1806-Mar. 1807; PC 17 Jan. 1822; commr. Board of Control Feb. 1822-June 1826; treasurer of Household 1826-37; dep. ranger, Windsor Great Park 1830-d.

Lt. Bucks. yeomanry 1795, capt.-lt. 1797, capt. 1798, Mid Bucks. 1803.


Fremantle’s connexion with the Grenville family began with his apprenticeship to his father’s Buckinghamshire neighbour, Earl Temple (later 1st Marquess of Buckingham), during his first period as lord lieutenant of Ireland in the Shelburne administration, and lasted throughout his political career. In February 1789, when Buckingham was again in Dublin as viceroy, Fremantle sold his army commission and bought Robert Weston’s interest in the office of Irish secretary resident in London for 2,500 guineas. He relished the role of confidant and political valet and was prepared, if Buckingham agreed, to return to Ireland as private secretary to his successor, Lord Westmorland, with ‘the offices of black rod and first secretary, relinquishing all profits and emoluments from the latter’, but nothing came of the notion. The duties of his office were ‘trifling’ and in 1792 Buckingham added to his comforts by securing him the sinecure appointment of deputy teller of the Exchequer. In 1798 Buckingham’s brother, Lord Grenville, the Foreign secretary, seems to have considered Fremantle for employment overseas, but the marquess commented that he was ‘too fat and too rich for foreign parts’. Fremantle was dissatisfied with the compensation which he received for the abolition of his Irish office at the Union and Buckingham pressed his claims for adequate recompense on the Addington government. The outcome is not clear, but his Union pension appears to have been settled eventually at £1,027, while his wife received £722 as ‘keeper of the late parliament house’.1

By 1800 Fremantle, who lived near Windsor, had ingratiated himself with the royal family and was reputedly a particular favourite of the King, to whom he wrote in April 1802 soliciting a Household appointment in lieu of his deputy tellership, which he wished to surrender because ‘my opinions differ so widely’ from Buckingham’s ‘upon many points’. Nothing came of this bid to find a new master, which was possibly motivated by fear of being tarred with the same brush as the Grenvilles, whose hostility to Addington had angered the King. Fremantle seems to have settled his differences with Buckingham by September 1802, when he offered, unsuccessfully, to be ‘of use’ to Lord Grenville, probably as his personal secretary. At the same time, he remained in favour with the King at least until 1806.2

As soon as Pitt’s death opened the prospect of Lord Grenville’s accession to power, Fremantle offered his services as ‘a private confidential friend’, disclaiming ‘private objects or political ambition’. Grenville tried to place him at the Treasury, as either junior or assistant secretary, but found his hands tied by the claims of others. Fremantle was disappointed, and although Buckingham had strongly pressed his claims and continued to make reassuring noises, he was evidently sulky towards the marquess until he was chosen to replace the ineffectual John King as patronage secretary to the Treasury in July 1806. Grenville appointed him explicitly on a probationary basis, doubting his ability ‘to bring his mind to so much unpleasant drudgery’; and Buckingham, whose delight that his brother now had a dependable factotum at his elbow seems to have derived at least in part from a hope that, through Fremantle, he could exercise that influence on the premier which he considered his due, warned him to be ‘constantly on guard against the danger to which your situation of ease and affluence exposes you in a very laborious and very irksome situation’.3

After a misunderstanding between Grenville and Buckingham, who refused to return Fremantle for his pocket borough of Buckingham as his brother had assumed he would, on the ground that he reserved it for relatives, Fremantle was brought in for the Enniskillen seat vacated by King and currently at the disposal of government. He worked with Buckingham’s son, Lord Temple, on an assessment of ministerial election prospects, but, for reasons which are not clear, did not take formal possession of his office until 2 Sept. 1806. At the general election of 1806 he was returned for Harwich on the Treasury interest and was also one of two ministerialists put forward, under Buckingham’s management, to contest Saltash on the freeman franchise against the then dominant burgage interest. The latter venture was unsuccessful, but a petition was lodged and when the subsequent inquiry decided in favour of the freeman franchise in February 1807, he transferred from Harwich to Saltash, under pressure from Buckingham, who wished to avoid another contested by-election at Saltash and to bind Fremantle firmly to the Grenvillite element in the ministerial coalition. There is little indication that Fremantle’s role in the management of the 1806 general election extended much beyond routine secretarial work: he was politically inexperienced, untried in efficient office and not widely known outside the Grenvillite circle. His and Temple’s obtrusive intervention in Hampshire on behalf of the successful ministerialists formed the basis of a petition by their opponents.4

Fremantle denied opposition allegations of improper interference in the Hampshire election, 13 Feb., when the motion to refer the petition to a committee of privileges was defeated by 184 votes to 57, and spoke for the Roman Catholic army and navy service bill, 5 Mar. 1807. On the fall of the ‘Talents’, he expressed relief at being ‘fairly out of the harness’ and almost three years later, according to Thomas Grenville, he indicated that he had little inclination to return to the Treasury in the event of the Whigs forming a government. He was busy counting heads and beating up support for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge in the weeks following the change of ministry; and during and after the election he made calculations of the effects of the results, compiled lists, principally for Buckingham’s benefit, helped to organize the opposition dinner and supplied the Grenvilles with news and gossip.5

Fremantle again stood for Saltash, but a double return resulted and, being ineligible to participate in parliamentary business during the interval before the case was tried, he lamented that he was unable to repel the ministerial attacks on Lord Grenville’s conduct of Treasury business and would miss the chance of being appointed to the finance committee. When the Saltash dispute was decided in favour of his opponents in February 1808, he expected Buckingham to return him for St. Mawes as he had promised, but was dismayed by the marquess’s insistence on postponing his election until after Easter, as his ‘quiet possession’ of the borough was under threat from pending litigation:

You know ... that all Lord Grenville’s communications with the Members are made through me. The very decisive and active line which I have taken since the dissolution ... the intimate and ... confidential footing upon which I stand with all the opposition, the responsible and efficient situation I held at the Treasury are all circumstances that make me feel to the very quick any appearance that may be construed as indifference on your part towards me ... As long as I had the right of sitting under the gallery [as a petitioner in a double return], so long I could continue those communications and those habits which I thought and still think essential to Lord Grenville’s interest, but if a period of six weeks is to elapse ... all this must necessarily fall to the ground.6

In the event arrangements were made for Fremantle, who was elected to Brooks’s on 19 Feb. 1808, to come in for Tain Burghs on the Sutherland interest, but it was several weeks before they were completed and his only known vote in the 1808 session was for the Irish petition, 25 May.

He attended the meeting to endorse Ponsonby’s leadership before the 1809 session, spoke in favour of the vote of thanks to Sir Arthur Wellesley for the victory of Vimeiro, 25 Jan., and voted against government on the convention of Cintra, 21 Feb. He deplored the threat to ‘the very existence and security of the monarchy and the Parliament’ posed by the Duke of York scandal, but felt unable to follow Buckingham’s line of decided hostility to the duke, having recently procured a commission for his nephew. The marquess was not inclined to admit the legitimacy of this excuse, but, under pressure from Grenville, to whom Fremantle had taken the precaution of stating his difficulties, he left him ‘master of his own conduct’ and Fremantle abstained.7 He took no part in the subsequent attacks on ministers on the ground of corruption.

Encouraged by the initial opposition successes on the Walcheren question early in 1810 and anxious ‘to get our fullest attendance for the next fortnight or three weeks as the nail must be driven without intermission’, Fremantle eagerly compiled and scrutinized his lists and supplied Grenville with some optimistic calculations. When the question of Burdett’s alleged breach of privilege was intruded into the crucial debate on Walcheren, he was ‘quite disgusted with the want of judgment and courage in those who denominate themselves as belonging to the opposition’ and, like many of the Whigs, he was bitterly disappointed by their defeat in the division of 30 Mar. He voted for the release of John Gale Jones, 16 Apr., and for the reduction of sinecures, 17 May, and spoke in favour of strict control of public expenditure, 30 May. By his own account and that of his fellow Grenvillite, Charles Williams Wynn, he voted against Brand’s parliamentary reform motion, 21 May, but his name is missing from the published lists of the majority.8

With the onset of the King’s final derangement in October 1810 Fremantle busied himself as one of ‘Lord Grenville’s scouts’, going daily to Windsor to meet the Prince’s confidant, Thomas Tyrwhitt, and relaying to Grenville and Buckingham the news he gleaned. His ‘party vehemence’ during the Regency crisis amused the ministerialist Robert Ward, but privately he professed neither to anticipate nor to relish the Whigs’ immediate accession to power, given the possibility of the King’s recovery and the critical state of foreign affairs, though he expected the Prince to bring them in once he was ‘firmly fixed as Regent’. If disappointed when the Prince drew back from his initial approaches to Grey and Grenville in February 1811, he affected to consider it ‘a most fortunate release to them’ and banked on the speedy collapse of the Perceval government. On 18 Mar. 1811 he condemned British involvement in the Peninsula as ruinously expensive and doomed to failure. Ward considered the speech ‘able for him, and for the subject’, but recorded with satisfaction that it was ‘pulled to pieces’ by young Robert Peel. The House refused to give him a hearing when he tried to repeat these arguments, 28 Mar., and on 26 Apr. he conceded that the country was too deeply committed in the Peninsula to withdraw, but insisted that the cost could be reduced.9

In December 1811 Fremantle, unable to believe that the Regent would ‘abandon all his former assurances and professions to the opposition’, or that he would withhold his consent to a measure of Catholic relief once the restrictions on him expired, favoured a line of ‘decided hostility’ to ministerial policies, ‘always separating the Prince from those measures’. He objected to the creation of a new civil list revenue for the King’s household, 18 Jan. 1812, voted against McMahon’s sinecure paymastership, 21 and 24 Feb., criticized the increased subsidy for foreign troops in British pay, 23 Feb., attacked the ‘excesses’ of the Ordnance estimates, 9 Mar. (‘with so little knowledge of the subject’, wrote Ward, ‘that the answers were easy’) and opposed the barrack estimates, 13 Apr. and 1 May. His enthusiasm for economy was selective, however, for unlike Ponsonby and Whitbread he was willing to support the grant to the princesses, 23 Mar., and he did not vote for the sinecure offices bill, which he thought ‘full of absurdity and impracticability’, 4 May. His renewed attack on the ‘ruinous system’ of Peninsular involvement, 16 Mar., was ‘very ill received’ by the House, according to Ward. He was outraged by Creevey’s attack on Buckingham’s sinecure tellership, 7 May, but took no part in the debate and stayed away from the following night’s debate on Brand’s motion to extend the county franchise. His tardy realization that the Regent had abandoned the Whigs, the reforming zeal of the ‘Mountain’, the disturbed state of the provinces and his belief that ‘the strongest opposition that ever was known’ was powerless to overthrow a government, however feeble, if backed by the ‘influence of the crown and the Treasury’, filled him with despair and led him to anticipate ‘some dreadful convulsion’ as the 1807 Parliament neared its end.10

Fremantle was returned for Buckingham at the general election of 1812, the marquess evidently having decided to relax the rule on which he had insisted in 1806. On Buckingham’s death in February 1813, he transferred his allegiance to the 2nd Marquess, although, as he confided to his brother, 15 Feb., he could not have ‘the same affection and devotion to the one as to the other’, who had been ‘absolutely a father’ to them. In the debate on the address, 1 Dec. 1812, he again attacked heavy expenditure and the progress of the Peninsular campaign, but declined to support the amendment because it ‘recommended propositions for peace’. The army and Ordnance estimates and Irish barrack expenditure were his targets in the ensuing session and he voted for the amendments to the sinecure bill, 29 Mar. 1813. He supported the Catholic relief bill, 24 May, but did not regret its defeat, as ‘it would not have conciliated the Catholics’.11 After the war he called for reductions in the army and militia, 1 June and 11 July, attacked the ‘unconstitutional’ British force in the Low Countries, 8 Nov., and on 9 Nov. 1814 made, but subsequently withdrew, a motion for an address to the Regent requesting information on the subject. In 1815 he cavilled at the failure to reduce expenditure, 20 Feb., opposed the corn bill, 10 Mar., voted for civil list economies, 14 Apr. and 8 May, spoke against renewal of the property tax, 19 Apr., divided against the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment bill, 3 July, but opposed inquiry into the Regent’s expenditure, 31 May. Napoleon’s return found him ‘hot’ for a vigorous renewal of war and, with most of the other Grenvillites, he sided with government on this issue in April and May. In July he acted as go-between in Lord Buckingham’s exchanges with Lord Grenville, who refused to be a party to his nephew’s scheme to part company with the Whigs and commit himself, at a price, to supporting ministers.12

Fremantle participated energetically in the postwar campaign for economy and retrenchment in the 1816 session, making a speciality of demands for reductions in military expenditure, but he approved of the grant to Princess Charlotte, 15 Mar. After voting against government on the address, 29 Jan., Binning’s inclusion on the finance committee, 7 Feb., and Croker’s salary as Admiralty secretary, 17 Feb. 1817, he joined most of his fellow Grenvillites in separating from opposition on the suspension of habeas corpus, for which he voted on 26 Feb. He voted for receipt of the Lymington reform petition, 11 Feb., because its language was not too offensive, but later in the debate denounced parliamentary reform. His political views were in complete accord with those of Buckingham, who was now, with Grenville retreating from politics, the active leader of the Grenvillite group, and he was encouraged by the marquess to keep open the line of communications with Harrison of the Treasury, who approached Fremantle in April to ascertain their attitude towards a junction with government. His only other known votes with the main body of opposition in the 1817 session were on the Catholic question, 9 May, and Williams Wynn’s bid for the Speakership, 2 June, the two exceptions permitted by Buckingham to his injunction on his followers to avoid dividing with the Whigs. On 5 May he made yet another nonsense of his previous ardour for economical reform by objecting to the proposed abolition of Exchequer sinecures, one of which was held by Lord Grenville. As Buckingham’s chief instrument of communication with the Grenvillite rank and file he was instructed to advise Phillimore and Bernard Morland to abstain on the proposal to limit the duration of the suspension of habeas corpus, ‘in order to keep steadily to our line of complete separation from both’ government and opposition.13

With Williams Wynn, the nominal leader of the Grenvillites in the Commons, and a few others, Fremantle took his seat on a separate bench at the opening of the 1818 session. His only known votes against government were on the censure of the lord advocate, 10 Feb., and the reduction of the Duke of Clarence’s marriage allowance, 15 Apr.: both had Buckingham’s blessing. He spoke in favour of the indemnity bill, 9 Mar. 1818. Like Buckingham, but unlike Williams Wynn, who considered him ‘much more impatient for a junction with administration than I should think desirable’, he was of the view that Lord Grenville’s formal retirement from politics had scotched any chance of forming ‘a great neutral party’ and was entrusted by the marquess with the task of ensuring that as many members of the connexion as possible followed his line of avoiding commitment by doing ‘as little as possible’.14

After the 1818 general election he remained of the opinion that ‘the continuance of neutrality’ was their best line and that involvement with the Whigs, ‘a certain bar to all connection with the existing government’, must be avoided at all costs. In the new Parliament he continued obediently to follow Buckingham’s instructions, voting for inquiry into Bank restriction, 2 Feb. 1819, but abstaining on the motion to add Brougham to the select committee, 8 Feb., which he deemed ‘a Party question’. On this issue and on that of the Duke of York’s allowance in the Windsor establishment, which he supported in debate, 25 Feb., by prior arrangement with Buckingham, he was at odds with Williams Wynn, whom he considered ‘too much inclined to the opposition’ and incapable of ‘conducting a fair and candid neutrality’. When sounded by James Macdonald* early in February 1819 on the possibility of a union between the Lansdowne Whigs and the Grenvillites to counteract the ‘Mountain’, he expressed agreement in principle, but raised the ‘insurmountable difficulties’ created by the Lansdownes’ commitment to a measure of reform and argued that ‘such an union could only cordially take place by a separation from the Burdettites’. This response and his view that ‘we are in the best of all positions, having no connection with either party, being avowedly hostile to the reformers, and ready to throw our weight where and when you please’, were endorsed by Buckingham. who instructed him to try to nullify the effects of Williams Wynn’s oppositionist inclinations. Under orders from the marquess, he voted against government on the salt duties, 29 Apr., inquiry into Scottish burgh reform, 6 May, and Tierney’s finance resolutions, 7 June, but abstained on Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May 1819.15

Fremantle was delighted by Lord Grenville’s offer to mediate in negotiations for a junction with government in the wake of Peterloo and thought ‘it is not now a question whether we are to hold off, and merely to strengthen certain points, but it is general and determined resistance to those newfangled doctrines of the Whigs’. With almost all the other Grenvillites, he supported the repressive legislation of late 1819, but he was angered by the government’s decision to make the seditious meetings bill a temporary measure, which he saw as a betrayal of Lord Grenville’s good faith, an encouragement to the propagation of ‘these horrible opinions’, a surrender to the Whig argument that the unrest was transient and further evidence of ministerial feebleness.16 The junction with government which Fremantle had craved for so long took place in December 1821 and his share of the spoils was a place at the Board of Control under Williams Wynn. He died 19 Oct. 1850.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. J. C. Sainty, Procs. R. Irish Acad. lxxvii, sec. C, no. 1 (1977), 11-12, 23, 32; Fremantle mss, Bernard to Fremantle, 10 Jan., 23 Feb., Fremantle to Bernard [Feb.], 4 July, 9 Dec. 1789; HMC Fortescue, iii. 267; Add. 35731, f. 92; Extraordinary Red Bk. (1816), 118.
  • 2. Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iii. 88, 171-4, 207-8, 326, 367, 376, 384, 386, 388-91; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2622, 2922; Prince of Wales Corresp. vi. 2319.
  • 3. Fremantle mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 26 Jan., to Buckingham, 21 July, Buckingham to Fremantle, 27 Jan., 22 July 1806; HMC Fortescue, vii. 341-3; viii. 14-16, 20-23; Buckingham, iv. 17, 49-50.
  • 4. HMC Fortescue, viii. 240; Buckingham, iv. 53; Add. 41852, f. 263; 41854, f. 31; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 22 July, 8 Aug., 4 Sept. 1806, 20, 25 Feb., 1 Mar. 1807, Temple to Fremantle, 24, 25 July; Sidmouth mss, Sidmouth to J. H. Addington, 26 July 1806.
  • 5. Buckingham, iv. 155, 166, 187-91; Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 18, 30 May; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle [15 Apr.], 17 [31 May], Fremantle to Buckingham, 22 June 1807.
  • 6. Buckingham, iv. 185-6, 192-3; Fremantle mss, Fremantle to Buckingham [Feb.], Buckingham to Fremantle [23 Feb. 1808].
  • 7. Buckingham, iv. 315-21; HMC Fortescue, ix. 280-1; Fortescue mss, Femantle to Grenville, 21 Feb. 1809.
  • 8. Buckingham iv. 420; Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville [28, 29, 30 Mar.], 22 May 1810; NLW, Coedymaen mss 8, f. 505.
  • 9. Buckingham, iv. 459-69, 476; HMC Bathurst, 151-2; HMC Fortescue, x. 84; Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 327, 406-7; Fremantle mss, W. H. to T. F. Fremantle, 18 Dec. 1810, 4 Feb. 1811.
  • 10. Fremantle mss, W. H. to T. F. Fremantle, 1 Dec. 1811, 22 Mar., 23 June 1812; Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 29 Dec. 1811, 15 Apr., 8, 12 May 1812; Phipps, i. 456, 465; Buckingham, Regency, i. 284-9.
  • 11. Fremantle mss; Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 25 May 1813.
  • 12. Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 214, 217; Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 30 Mar., 16 July; Fremantle mss, memo 17 July, Buckingham to Fremantle, 20 July; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 22 July 1815.
  • 13. Coedymaen mss 12, f. 925; Fremantle mss, Fremantle to Buckingham, 2 Apr., Buckingham to Fremantle, 4, 13, 21, 25 Apr., 1, 7, 15, 28 May, 25 June 1817.
  • 14. Creevey Pprs. i. 272; Regency, ii. 227, 233, 236, 242-4, 264; Coedymaen mss 20, Buckingham to Williams Wynn [8 Mar.], 5 Apr., Thurs. [Apr.]; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 15 Feb., 3, 4 Mar., 5 Apr. 1818.
  • 15. Regency, ii. 279-81, 290-2, 300-1, 305-9, 318-21; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 24, 27 Jan., 10, 14 Feb. 1819.
  • 16. Regency, ii. 373-4, 382.