LAW, Hon. Edward (1790-1871).

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



13 Feb. 1813 - 1818

Family and Education

b. 8 Sept. 1790, 1st s. of (Sir) Edward Law*, 1st Baron Ellenborough, by Ann, da. of George Philips Towry. educ. Eton 1800-5; St. John’s Camb. 1807-9; tour in Sicily 1810-11. m. (1) 11 Dec. 1813, Lady Octavia Stewart (d. 5 Mar. 1819), da. of Robert, 1st Mq. of Londonderry [I], sis. of Robert Stewart, Visct. Castlereagh*, s.p.; (2) 15 Sept. 1824, Jane Elizabeth (div. 8 Apr. 1830) da. of Adm. Sir Henry Digby, 1s. d.v.p. suc. fa. as 2nd Baron Ellenborough 13 Dec. 1818; cr. Earl of Ellenborough 22 Oct. 1844.

Offices Held

Jt. chief clerk of pleas, KB 1811-27, sole chief clerk 1827-38; ld. privy seal Jan. 1828-June 1829; PC 26 Jan. 1828; pres. Board of Control Sept. 1828-30, 1834-5, Sept.-Oct. 1841, Mar.-June 1858; gov.-gen. India 1841-4; first lord of Admiralty Jan.-July 1846.


Law was unimpressed by his university education and desirous of a military career, but his father intended him for public life and he submitted to this, compensating himself with the ambition of becoming a military statesman.1 Soon after he came of age he was disappointed of his hope of coming in for his university. His father induced his friend Lord Sidmouth to try to secure a seat in Parliament for him and (Sir) Mark Wood I*, the patron of Gatton, professed himself willing (2 Oct. 1812) to vacate on Law’s behalf. Understanding that Law desired his ‘political debut’ to be ‘as free and unfettered as possible’, Wood was prepared to bring him in without ‘a single farthing of expense’, as long as he felt able ‘to give his free and unbiased support to ... government’. This may not have been the first attempt to find a seat for him, since Wood referred to ‘an unforeseen and unexpected emergency such as that in which Mr Law has been placed by unavoidable events’.2

Law was not returned for Gatton, allegedly because of his opposition politics. When he came in for Mitchell early in 1813 on the interest of Lord Falmouth, prompted by Sidmouth acting through Lord de Dunstanville, the latter thought him ‘certainly a clever young man, perhaps a little conscious that he is so’.3 Though regarded as a friend of administration, he seems to have stipulated that he should be free to vote for Catholic relief, a question on which he took the opposite view from his father: he supported relief on every possible occasion, in fact to do so was his first parliamentary action. His maiden speech, 8 Mar. 1813, was in criticism of the army estimates and a week later he attacked flogging in the army, an institution which he said should be based on honour, not fear. On 23 June he alleged that a conscripted army was the only answer to the enlistment problem and advocated professional education for officers and better medical facilities for soldiers. He voted against Christian missions to India, 22 June, 1 and 12 July. Later in the year he married the Foreign secretary Lord Castlereagh’s sister and was drawn into the study of foreign affairs. On 28 June 1814 he defended the clerks of King’s bench, of whom he was one through his father’s influence, against allegations of taking increased fees (he subsequently defended the state of the King’s Bench prison against its critics, 6 Feb. 1816).

Law hoped for an advantageous peace settlement, 25 May 1815, but having visited Castlereagh at Vienna during the Congress, he came back dissatisfied with the developments there and refused to accept a place on the commission to effect the transfer of Genoa to Sardinia. Castlereagh’s half-brother Lord Stewart wrote, 21 June 1815: ‘I have no hopes of Law ever coalescing in politics. His mind is from his acquirements and undoubted ability presuming, and he will never serve and is not eminent enough to command.’4 On 14 Feb. 1816 he supported the navy estimates, speaking of the maritime threat from the USA and France, and six days later made some pointed criticisms of the peace settlement and opposed the address on it. His reason for supporting the increased army estimates, 28 Feb., was that the peace treaties provided no security: ‘the goddess of wisdom always appeared in armour’. He denied that he thought war was imminent, or that he was hostile to ministers: the situation in Europe was not their fault. On 6 and 8 Mar. he again voted for the army estimates.

Law was cried down, 9 Apr. 1816, when he was trying to defend Princess Charlotte’s establishment bill—he seems to have got his facts wrong. He went on to vote with opposition, 25 Apr., for the reduction of public expenditure. On 30 Apr. he defended his father against Lord Cochrane’s allegations of judicial partiality and accused the latter of ‘vilifying and degrading the public justice’ by his allegations. For this he was rebuked by Horner, whose motion on the Bank of England he nevertheless supported next day. On 6 May he voted for Tierney’s motion on the civil list, next day for Althorp’s motion for a committee on public offices and on 13 May for Milton’s motion criticizing the undue interference of the military in suppressing public meetings. He spoke on foreign affairs, 28 May, describing Austria’s internal difficulties. On 31 May he was in the minority on the aliens bill and on 4 June on the public revenues consolidation bill; he further appeared in the opposition majority on the latter on 17 June. On 20 June he was in the minority against the Irish vice-treasurership. No further minority vote is known: he seconded the vote of thanks to Lord Exmouth for his attack on Algiers, 3 Feb. 1817, voted with ministers on 7 and 17 Feb., and defended the suspension of habeas corpus, 25 Feb. On the same day he defended the maintenance of the junior lords of the Admiralty and advised government not to concede the superfluousness of any existing public post. On the subject of the seditious meetings bill on 3 Mar. he suggested that magistrates must be able to regulate public meetings, so as to prevent combinations to evade their vigilance. The same day he objected to a petition for parliamentary reform. He again voted for the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817, and against opposition motions critical of its consequences, 10, 11 Feb. and 5 Mar. 1818. On 11 Mar. he defended the indemnity bill, clashing with Burdett, Romilly and Brougham: he felt that those who prevented offences should be protected and not those who committed them.

Law, who would have had to find another seat, did not seek re-election in 1818: his wife’s illness had taken him to Italy from April until June and his father’s health was declining. Lord Ellenborough thought a new seat would be a bad investment for his son, in view of the King’s ‘precarious life’.5 His own proved more precarious: Law succeeded to the title in December 1818. In the Lords he gave a general support to government, except on foreign affairs. In 1822 he wrote to Lord Grey informing him that it was his marriage that had inspired his attachment to ministers, from whom he had solicited nothing over the last ten years, and that he ‘never had the least confidence in the present ministers ... the first use I make of my liberty is to select your lordship as my political leader’.6 A resolute opponent of parliamentary reform, he later held office under the Tories. He was considered an able orator, but a vain man, too fond of theatrical gestures to submit to the general rules of conduct in public life. He died 22 Dec. 1871.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. DNB. PRO 30/12/7/3, ff. 449, 460; Geo. IV Letters, i. 165.
  • 2. PRO 30/12/7/3, ff. 449, 460; Geo. IV Letters, i. 165.
  • 3. Dorset RO, Bond mss D367, Jekyll to Bond [31 Dec.]; Sidmouth mss, De Dunstanville to Sidmouth, 27 Nov., reply 7 Dec. 1812; Grey mss, Goodwin to Grey, 5 Feb. 1813.
  • 4. Camden mss C502/1.
  • 5. PRO 30/12/7/3, f. 512; Bond mss, Jekyll to Bond, 16 Aug. [1818].
  • 6. Grey mss, Ellenborough to Grey, 18 Nov. 1822.