FRERE, John (1740-1807), of Roydon Hall, Norf. and Finningham, Suff.

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



27 May 1799 - 1802

Family and Education

b. 10 Aug. 1740, 1st s. of Sheppard Frere of Roydon by Susanna, da. of John Hatley of St. Paul’s, London and Kirby Hall, Essex. educ. Wyverstone sch.; Caius, Camb. 1758, BA 1763, MA 1766, fellow 1766-8; M. Temple 1761. m. 12 July 1768, Jane, da. and h. of John Hookham, Lisbon merchant, of Old Broad Street, London and Beddington, Surr., 8s. 2da. suc. fa. 1780.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Suff. 1776-7; vice-pres. Marine Soc. 1785.

Capt. Diss vols. 1798.


Frere, the scion of an East Anglian landed family seated at Roydon from 1766, had scholarly and antiquarian, rather than political, interests. Nevertheless he was active in the Suffolk county elections of 1790 and 1796 and ambitious for his eldest son John Hookham Frere*, a friend of Canning, to obtain employment under government and a seat in Parliament. On the subject of the Norfolk county meeting requisitioned by the Whigs in April 1797 Frere, who did not care to attend, wrote to his wife that he hated ‘candour and Whig principles’. When a vacancy arose at Norwich in 1799 he was put up, largely at William Windham’s instigation, on the ministerial interest, which he had supported there in 1796. He was put to the unwelcome expense of a contest which he had not anticipated against a Whig candidate, but succeeded.1

Frere was a silent supporter of Pitt’s administration, attending regularly, if at times reluctantly, when the Norwich merchants required his attention to their interests. Thus on 1 May 1800 he voted ‘according to conscience ... and what my constituents consider as their interest—against Mr Pitt’ on the clause in the Act of Union affecting the wool trade. On 19 Apr. he had supported his colleague Windham in opposition to the bill to abolish bull baiting. He was also a supporter of the divorce bill which was lost in June. On 5 July 1800 his vote for the millers bill was disallowed by the House, which decided that he was an interested party. Like Windham he opposed the peace terms, and in November 1801 asked Canning’s advice as to whether he should stand again for Norwich. Canning informed his son ‘I protest I know not how to advise him’, continuing, cryptically:

His opinions I can pretty well guess, and I should think them very little likely to be unknown, or, when known, to be so palatable to his constituents as to ensure his reelection without much difficulty.

Frere was chary of further expense which he could ill afford and hoped ‘to escape being re-elected’; he would have probably yielded to another candidate, but for Windham’s insistence on supporting him and bearing the brunt of the expense.2 In April 1802 it was reported that Frere had ‘taken so little pains to improve or even to strengthen his interest there, that people feel rather indifferent about him’. On 10 May he spoke and was a teller against the committal of the London petition against the Grand Canal Company. He thought only Anglican clergy should be allowed to inspect factories, though he gave no reason for it, 18 May. On 2 June he approved £1,000 as a suitable reward for Greathead, the promoter of lifeboats. Frere was ‘next to indifferent’ about his and Windham’s defeat and ‘very indifferent’ to a scrutiny after the election of 1802. Canning thought the sacrifice of Frere might have saved Windham, but George Rose lamented the loss of one so ‘zealously attached to Mr Pitt’.3

Frere made no attempt to return to Parliament and died 12 July 1807:

as a magistrate and in the various important branches of public service which ... are gratuitously discharged by country gentlemen, he was an active and able supporter of the government. In the country also as a landlord, as a neighbour, and in all the private relations of life he was amiable, just and liberal.4

He was a patron of the club of ‘Nobody’s Friends’ founded in 1800.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: Arthur Aspinall


  • 1. DNB; J. H. Frere, Works, i (memo of his father); Frere mss, Frere to his wife, 20 July 1790, 10 Nov. 1792, 2 June 1796, 16 [Apr. 1797], 14, 15 May 1799; Canning to Rose (copy), 5 June 1796; Norf. RO, Colman Lib. mss 632, f. 17.
  • 2. Frere mss, Frere to his wife, 3 Feb., 19 Apr., 2, 27 May 1800, 11, 13 Nov. 1801, 28 June 1802; Colman Lib. mss 632, f. 31; Bucks. RO, Hobart mss H97; Add. 37885, ff. 8-10; 38833, f. 53a.
  • 3. Hobart mss H95; Frere mss, to his wife 4 July, 12 Aug.; PRO 30/29/8/3, f. 245; E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, Rose to bp. of Lincoln, 11 July 1802.
  • 4. Frere mss, obit. in J. H. Frere’s hand.