MAY, (James) Edward (?1751-1814), of Mayfield, co. Waterford.

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



1801 - 23 July 1814

Family and Education

b. ?1751, 1st s. of Sir James May, 1st Bt., MP [I], of Mayfield by Anne, da. of Thomas Moore of Marlfield, co. Tipperary. educ. by Rev. W. M. Jessop, Lismore; Trinity, Dublin 1768, M. Temple 1777, called 1789. m. (1) 1 Sept. 1773, Elizabeth née Bagg of St George, Holborn, Mdx; (2) by 1809, Elizabeth, da. of Francis Lumley of Passage, co. Waterford; 2s. 2da. illegit. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 7 Nov. 1811.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1800.

Sheriff, co. Waterford 1781-2; sovereign, Belfast 1803-6, 1809-10.


Sir Edward May’s father and grandfather had been knights of the shire for Waterford. He completed his education by being called to the bar in England. In 1795 an illegitimate daughter of his married the Marquess of Donegall and the latter returned May, who had meanwhile gone bankrupt and become manager of Donegall’s property, for Belfast in the last year of the Irish parliament. May was a ‘most active and zealous agent’ in support of the Union and was returned to the Imperial Parliament.1

In general, May supported Addington’s administration without hesitation, so he assured the House in his maiden speech, 25 Mar. 1801. But on 31 Mar. 1802 he voted for the inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s revenues and in December the chief secretary feared that Donegall, at the instigation of his ‘father-in-law’s’ family, would be the first Irish grandee to desert government, unless his patronage claims were satisfied.2 In May 1804, May who had not been attending and was reported ill, was listed a supporter of the Prince’s party, in September doubtful, but in December 1804 and July 1805 a friend of Pitt’s government. On 15 Feb. 1805 he spoke in support of the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland, as a precaution against Catholic agitation in the south. On 15 Mar. he opposed the import duties on behalf of Belfast retail importers, on 4 Apr. the Irish lunatics bill and on 9 May the Irish small debt bill. He voted against the censure on Melville, 8 Apr., and against Catholic relief, 14 May 1805, though on 4 Mar. 1807 he said a few words in favour of the Maynooth College grant.

From 1806 onwards May seems to have made his attendance and support of government conditional on favours; he hoped for a privy councillorship for himself, a place for his son Stephen and a blue ribband for Donegall. Sir Arthur Wellesley noted that he was ‘inclined to quarrel with govt. because they will not attend to Lord Donegall’s pretensions in co. Antrim’, and when in 1809 May and Donegall submitted to government a plan for an educational institution at Belfast, alleged that May ‘had taken it up solely with the view of letting to advantage some ground at Belfast of which he has a lease from Lord Donegall’.3 On 24 May 1809, in the debate on Irish distilleries, he said he was ‘a friend to the system of bounties, as he was to all long established systems; that he disliked all speculative plans, and new fangled inventions’. On 19 Mar. 1811, after not giving government a vote in the previous year, he surfaced at Westminster to deprecate party politics in the investigation of the Irish revenue proposed by Sir John Newport.4

On the eve of the election of 1812, Donegall was threatening to go into opposition and May was classed ‘very uncertain’. He was known to favour a degree of Catholic relief.5 After he had spoken in support of the gold coin bill, 11 Dec. 1812, the Duke of Richmond commented to Peel:

I agree as to Sir E. May’s vote being better than his eloquence but if ever he thinks he can gain by deserting us he will do it. He would not attend last year merely as a bully but finding that he did not succeed he now votes for us.6

This state of affairs continued until May’s death, 23 July 1814.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. The Times, 8 Jan. 1798; Cornwallis Corresp. iii. 139.
  • 2. Wickham mss 1/46/30, Wickham to Addington, 18 Dec. 1802.
  • 3. Spencer mss, Irish list, May 1806; Portland mss, Irish patronage bk.; Add. 40221, f. 17; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 89, 293, 306, 636.
  • 4. NLI, Richmond mss 62/500.
  • 5. Add. 40280, f. 35; Parl. Deb. xxii. 493.
  • 6. Add. 40185, f. 114.