HENNIKER (afterwards HENNIKER MAJOR), John (1752-1821), of Worlingworth Hall, Suff. and Stratford House, Essex.
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Family and Education
b. 19 Apr. 1752, 1st s. of John Henniker†, 1st Baron Henniker [I], by Anne, da. and coh. of Sir John Major†, 1st Bt. educ. Eton 1764-8; St. John’s Camb. 1769; L. Inn 1768, called 1777. m. 21 Apr. 1791, Emily, da. of Robert Jones of Duffryn, Glam., s.p. suc. mother to estates of his mat. gdfa. and took additional name of Major by royal lic. 10 Aug. 1792; fa. as 2nd Baron Henniker [I] 18 Apr. 1803.
Capt. Worlingworth vols. 1798.
Henniker’s parliamentary prospects were diffuse and, until 1805, nowhere secure. The same had been true of his father, one of Fox’s ‘martyrs’ in 1784. Unlike him, he supported Pitt. His father, who lived in Essex, had declined openings at his native Rochester (1754) and Maldon (1768) and sat for Sudbury (1761-8) and Dover (1774-84). Henniker, heir to his mother’s family’s estates in Suffolk, was defeated at Sudbury (1780) and first sat as a guest for the close borough of New Romney (1785-90). He was then obliged to look out for a seat. George Rose* attempted to induce John Strutt† to introduce him at Maldon as a friend of government in February 1790, but Strutt preferred to compromise his interest there. Instead he stood at Dover, only to be defeated. In 1792 his brother Brydges Henniker was nibbling at Eye, through the interest of their maternal aunt the Duchess of Chandos, but the Cornwallis interest was too strong. He found an opening on his friend Sir John Honywood’s* interest at Steyning in 1794. Faced with a last-minute opposition, he ‘conducted himself with the candour and liberality of a gentleman and left Steyning esteemed by both parties’.1 In 1796 he was at first listed as a friend of government in quest of a seat, but in the event retained Steyning.2
Henniker was a spasmodic parliamentarian who seldom contributed to debate. He opposed alteration in the privilege of franking, 20 Mar. 1795; he was forced to withdraw a motion for inquiry into the delay of a court-martial, 26 Mar. On 28 Apr. 1795 and 23 Feb. 1796 he brought in bills to empower the courts to grant costs to prosecutors in cases of misdemeanour and to witnesses and constables in cases of vagrancy. On 8 Dec. 1795 he defended Pitt’s indirect taxes, with the exception of that on farm horses, and shielded the minister against imputations of corruption. He called for a committee of the House on the Game Laws, 4 Mar. 1796. As previously, in 1789, he opposed the abolition of the slave trade, claiming (3 Apr. 1798) that African slaves were ‘conveyed from a country of barbarous superstition, to a land of civilization and humanity’. On 4 May 1801 he supported Addington the prime minister’s proposals as to proceedings against John Horne Tooke*. On 26 Feb. 1802 he asked Charles Abbot’s* advice about two bills he had been urged to promote: one to consolidate the Poor Law statutes with ‘a sweeping clause to declare the law to remain as it previously stood’; the other to secure the restoration of dilapidated churches and clergy houses.3 Nothing came of this project. He had something to say about the City of London market, 10 May 1802.
Henniker was left without a seat in 1802 when Steyning changed control. He was spoken of as a candidate for Essex, but declined.4 Instead he contested Maidstone unsuccessfully on the corporation interest. His father had received an Irish union peerage, to which he succeeded in 1803. With his antiquarian interests, he could not resist publishing the same year Some Account of the Families of Major and Henniker.5 Under the will of Henry Cecil†, 1st Marquess of Exeter, he was appointed a trustee for his young heir in 1804 and in this capacity became Member for Rutland within a year. He took his seat on 4 Feb. 1805 and was again listed a supporter of Pitt in July. He indicated this by his bid to thwart the vote of thanks to the commissioners of naval inquiry who, he said, were not infallible, 2 May 1805, and by his support of the Duke of Atholl’s claims to compensation, 19 June. On 22 Mar. 1806 he presented the Rutland maltsters’ petition for duty relief.
He sat on the fence during the Grenville ministry. He took a month’s leave for illness, 2 Mar. 1807, but ‘came from Bath to vote against the meditated concessions to the Catholics’. This was evidently on 15 Apr., for on the 17th Lord Temple complained of his voting contrary to his certificate of leave. Henniker retorted that his certificate was particular, exempting him from committee duties, and not general. There the matter rested, but at the ensuing election he felt obliged to state that he had always been hostile to Catholic relief. He supported the militia transfer bill, 27 July 1807. He had hopes of an English peerage, but had to be satisfied with the Duke of Portland’s promise of a baronetcy for his brother Brydges (granted in November 1813). On 14 Feb. 1809 he questioned a witness on the Duke of York’s conduct. Next day he acted as spokesman for the Exeter interest at Stamford when he moved the supersession of the new writ until General Bertie was duly summoned to the Lords. He did this to gain time for his protégé’s candidate there. On 4 Mar. (on the hustings at Stamford) and 10 Apr. (in a pamphlet) he was publicly attacked for his subservience to ministers and his indifference to public economy.6 The Whigs were rightly ‘doubtful’ of him in March 1810, for he voted steadily with government on the Scheldt expedition, 23 Jan.-30 Mar. On 8 Jan. 1811 he took sick leave for six weeks. He paired in favour of the orders in council, 3 Mar. 1812, but no further vote is known during that Parliament. On 24 Mar. he criticized the Admiralty secretary’s refusal to investigate Captain Tomlinson’s grievances, the latter having been such a valiant officer. He supported the London sea water baths bill, 9 Apr., although it was much criticized by the Essex landowners.
In 1812, faced with a contest for Rutland, Henniker withdrew and fell back on the Exeter borough of Stamford, inducing Charles Chaplin II† to retire in his favour. He was listed a Treasury supporter. On 2 Mar. 1813 he voted against Catholic relief, and this and a similar vote on 9 May 1817 are his only surviving votes in that Parliament. He paired in favour of the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817, and on 5 Mar. 1818, requested by the Treasury to attend in support of the ministerial indemnity bill, he replied to Arbuthnot:7 ‘I should be glad to send you 50 votes on the question of indemnity, but for want of medical permission my exertions must upon this occasion be confined to wishes only.’ At the dissolution of 1818 he retired. He died 4 Dec. 1821: ‘he always showed himself a steady and consistent friend to his King and country’.8 Their response had not met his expectations.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: M. H. Port / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Essex RO, Strutt mss micro. T/B 251, Rose to Strutt, 5, 20 Feb. 1790; PRO 30/11/276/70, Cornwallis to Brome, 8 Apr. 1792; Suss. Weekly Advertiser, 10 Feb. 1794.
- 2. PRO 30/8/197, f. 98.
- 3. PRO 30/9/1, pt. 3/2.
- 4. The Times, 3 July 1802.
- 5. DNB.
- 6. Stamford Town Hall, Phillips mss 14, A Letter to John Lord Henniker ... by Nicholas Fenton, Yeoman (14 Apr. 1809); J. Drakard, A Sequel to the Stamford Election (1809), 18; Add. 38244, ff. 173-4.
- 7. T. 64/260.
- 8. Gent. Mag. (1821), ii. 562.