LETHBRIDGE, Thomas Buckler (1778-1849), of Sandhill Park, nr. Taunton, Som.
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Family and Education
b. 21 Feb. 1778, o.s. of Sir John Lethbridge, 1st Bt.* educ. Oriel, Oxf. 1794. m. (1) 14 May 1796, Jacintha Catherine (d. 31 Aug. 1801), da. of Thomas Hesketh of Rufford Hall, Lancs., 1s. 1da.; (2) 14 May 1803, Anne, da. of Ambrose Goddard* of Swindon, Wilts., 2s. 4da. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 15 Dec. 1815.
Capt. 2 Somerset militia 1798, maj. 1803, lt.-col commdt. 1808, col. 1819.
Lethbridge was somewhat unexpectedly returned unopposed for his county on a vacancy in June 1806. Lord Glastonbury thought him ‘an improper person’ and the premier Lord Grenville was ‘rather inclined against him’, but other contenders withdrew.1 At the general election, when his father joined him temporarily in the House, he was further spared a contest. It seems that he nevertheless incurred his father’s displeasure on this occasion. On 13 Feb. 1807 he voted against ministers on the Hampshire petition. After Canning had attacked the solicitor-general’s freehold estates bill on 18 Mar., he wrote to his wife:2
The Member ‘whose name the newspapers could not learn’ and whose speech I wish they had given, was Mr Lethbridge, our Berkeley Square purchaser—who said that the landed interest were highly indebted to me for taking up their cause—so that a man buying one’s house makes him a good politician. He voted with us on Friday.
On 24 Mar. 1807 he took two weeks’ leave, but on 22 Apr. spoke in favour of the prosecution of (Sir) Christopher Hawkins*.
Lethbridge survived a contest in 1807. Lord Sidmouth, who did not expect him to do so, wrote, ‘I rather wish we had assisted him though he has no claim whatever’.3 He gave a general support to the Portland administration, though he both spoke and voted for Cochrane’s motion on pensioners and placeholders, 7 July 1807. On 27 June 1807 and in May 1808 he advocated the claims of John Palmer* of Bath on the government for his services to the Post Office. He voted against government on the Duke of York’s conduct on Perceval’s resolution of 17 Mar. 1809. On 17 Apr. he said he would have supported Folkestone’s motion for inquiry into abuses had it been more specific. (The Speaker listed him as being against the motion.) He did not expect Perceval’s ministry to last a month after Parliament met, so he said in October 1809.4 On 23 Jan. 1810 he was in the majority for the address. On 26 Jan. he attracted the limelight by drawing the House’s attention to Sir Francis Burdett’s letter to his constituents, published in Cobbett’s Political Register. Next day, after consulting the Speaker, whom he assured that he had ‘long been desirous’ of assailing Burdett’s conduct,5 he caused the letter to be read, picked out offending passages and, assisted behind the Chair by George Rose*, brought in two resolutions, describing the letters as libellous and a violation by Burdett of parliamentary privilege. Against his wishes, the debate was adjourned. He went on to deny that his attack was ‘of Treasury manufacture’: he was ‘not a tool of administration’. Yet Robert Ward* assured Lord Lonsdale, ‘Lethbridge’s motion is in concert with the ministry, and we had a meeting upon it’.6 On 5 Apr. he had the satisfaction of seeing Burdett committed to the Tower by vote of the House, but subsequently the dissatisfaction of receiving letters threatening his life. After being followed on his way out of the House, 6 Apr., and eluding the mob, he had the windows of his town house smashed by them, whereupon he beat a hasty retreat to the country, pleading indisposition, until the recess. His outburst had interrupted the debate on the Scheldt inquiry. On that question he voted against ministers on 26 Jan. and 23 Feb., but with them on 30 Mar. The Whigs listed him ‘doubtful’. Romilly exaggerated when he maintained that Lethbridge ‘always voted with ministers’. He joined opposition again on the Regency, 1 Jan. 1811.7
On 3 Dec. 1811 Lethbridge wrote to Perceval renewing an application of two years before for a peerage for his father. He was in the government minority on McMahon’s sinecure, 24 Feb. 1812. In a further application of 9 Mar. he asked Perceval to bear in mind
the support which I have had the pride and pleasure to afford you in the country more than in Parliament, having grown out of that warm and lively admiration with which I have observed your statesmanlike and truly great qualities and attainments.
He had it in mind, if no assurances were forthcoming, to ‘withdraw from the public situation which I at present hold as well as disposing of the property which with its influence has brought so much trouble upon me’. Perceval could pledge himself to nothing.8 On 29 Apr. Lethbridge took ten days’ leave. At the dissolution he retired. The Whigs thought of it as a blow against the ministry, maintaining that his conduct towards Burdett had cost him his seat, but his bad relations with his father, who meant to disinherit him, were doubtless the efficient cause.
Out of the House, Lethbridge wrote to the Speaker to congratulate him on his anti-Catholic speech, 29 May 1813: he had written for the same purpose to Sir John Nicholl* on 11 Feb. When on 25 June 1815 his friend Francis Drake of Wells wrote to ask him his views on sitting in Parliament (possibly with an impending vacancy for Wells in mind) he replied, 29 June:
I have distinctly to say, that it is not only my wish to sit again in Parliament but my resolve to do so, whenever the circumstances which impelled me to retire, cease to operate. These circumstances only hold as to the county representation, and therefore I am free to sit for any other place now, which I should consider in other respects desirable.
Two great points, however are requisite, small expense in effecting the return, and a full free and unbiased choice as to my political line of conduct. The first because (unless it should be for the county another day) my anxiety to be in Parliament is not particularly great. The second, because control in politics to me would be insupportable, and is what for no consideration, I will ever submit to.
When the vacancy at Wells passed both of them by, he assured Drake, 24 July, ‘I can speak from experience, when I say, the various plagues which accompany the honour are a very serious drawback, and often induce men to regret its acceptance.9
Late in 1815 Lethbridge’s father died intestate. Joseph Jekyll reported, ‘Old Sir J. L. had disinherited his son. On his death bed the son told the father he knew it. The father called for his will and tore it in pieces.’ He was now free to aspire to the county seat again. An ardent protectionist, he wrote to Lord Liverpool, 23 Dec. 1816, advocating measures to support the landed interest. At the election of 1818 he assailed the politics of both his opponents and they coalesced against him and defeated him. In the following year he was engaged in rallying anti-Catholic opinion in the county in the spring, and on 1 Nov. wrote to Lord Liverpool expressing his support of government measures against radicalism.10 In 1820 he regained his seat. He died 17 Oct. 1849.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Fortescue mss, Wilson to Grenville, [12 June]; Spencer mss, Lady to Ld. Spencer, 3 Nov. 1806.
- 2. Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 19 Mar. 1807.
- 3. Sidmouth mss, Sidmouth to J. H. Addington, 20 May 1807.
- 4. Horner mss 4, f. 136.
- 5. Colchester, ii. 240-2.
- 6. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 27 Mar. 1810.
- 7. Ibid. same to same, 7, 9 Apr. 1810; Whitbread mss W1/2514; Romilly, Mems. ii. 313-16; Rose Diaries, ii. 464.
- 8. Add. 38246, f. 332; 38566, f. 113; 38571, f. 169.
- 9. PRO 30/9/16; Merthyr Mawr mss L/196/10; Som. RO, Drake mss, NE/12.
- 10. Dorset RO, Bond mss D367, Jekyll to Bond, 3, 13 Jan. 1816; Add. 38264, f. 70; 38280, f. 274; PRO 30/9/16, Lethbridge to Colchester, 15 Mar. 1819.