SOMERSET, Lord Charles Henry (1767-1831).

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



1796 - 1802
1802 - Nov. 1813

Family and Education

b. 12 Dec. 1767, 2nd s. of Henry, 5th Duke of Beaufort, and bro. of Lords Arthur John Henry Somerset*, Fitzroy James Henry Somerset*, Henry Charles Somerset, Mq. of Worcester*, and Robert Edward Henry Somerset*. educ. Westminster 1780-4; Trinity, Oxf. 1784-; Grand Tour 1786. m. (1) 8 June 1788 in Scotland, Hon. Elizabeth Courtenay (d. 11 Sept. 1815), da. of William, 2nd Visct. Courtenay, 3s. 3da.; (2) 9 Aug. 1821, Lady Mary Poulett, da. of John, 4th Earl Poulett, 1s. 2da.

Offices Held

Ld. of bedchamber to Prince of Wales 1791-7; comptroller of Household Apr. 1797-1804; PC 26 Apr. 1797; jt. paymaster-gen. July 1804-Feb. 1806, Apr. 1807-813; gov. Cape of Good Hope Nov. 1813-June 1827.

Cornet, 1 Drag. Gds. 1785; lt. 13 Drag. 1786; capt. 77 Ft. 1787; capt. and lt. 2 Ft. Gds. 1791, lt.-col. 1791; lt.-col. commdt. 103 Ft. 1794, col. 1795; maj.-gen. 1798; col. commdt. 4 Ft. 1799, 1 W. I. Ft. 1804; lt.-gen. 1805, gen. 1814; col. 33 Ft. 1830-d.


Lord Charles was suggested to his father the Duke of Beaufort as a suitable replacement for his elder brother Henry in the representation of Monmouth Boroughs by the duke’s friends there in 1790, when Henry was returned for Bristol; but it seems that he was ‘so much attached to opposition’ that his father, previously disgruntled by his runaway marriage, ‘could not think of offering him’.1 Soon afterwards, Lord Charles joined the Prince of Wales’s household and cut a figure as one of the ‘cropped fashionables’, as well as being a fine horseman. He was not adequately provided for and his father began to bombard Pitt with letters on his behalf in 1794, asking for some place for him (19 Apr.), which he had ‘very much at heart’ (17 July). On 19 Aug. the duke, reminding the minister of his own and his elder son Henry’s warm support of government, asked for the colonelcy of the city of Bristol regiment he had been raising for Lord Charles: this he obtained. The regiment was however disbanded, and on 14 Sept. 1795 the duke wrote that his son, who had been temporarily lamed after an accident in Ireland, was ‘out of employment and emolument’ and asked for a suitable place for him. Lord Charles himself wrote, 1 Jan. 1796, intimating that his father wished to bring him into Parliament and pressing for employment: in further letters of 16 Jan., 14 July and 17 Aug. he revealed that his situation was one of ‘anxiety’ and asked for a bedchamber appointment.2

His father brought him in for Scarborough, as one of the trustees of his late brother-in-law the Duke of Rutland’s interest, and doubtless on the implicit understanding that he should now support administration, for he was at length rumoured to be getting a Household place in December 1796, Pitt having ‘almost promised it’ to the duke. After a prompting letter from his father to Pitt in February, he obtained it in April 1797. On 4 Jan. 1798 he voted for Pitt’s assessed taxes. A born courtier, Lord Charles wrote to the King, 16, 17 Sept. 1798, informing him that his family was ‘reduced to beggary’ and asking for the reversion of his mother’s barony of Botetourt. The King mentioned him to the Duke of Portland in August 1800 for the government of Jamaica, but Portland thought him not experienced enough.3

In 1802, Lord Charles declined Scarborough ‘owing to his very feeble state of health, which renders it impossible for him to undertake the journey’. He came in instead on the family interest for Monmouth, in the place of his younger brother Robert. Having supported Pitt while in office, he now supported Addington. In September 1801 the latter was considering him for the government of St. Vincent, to be held in conjunction with his Household place until Lord Charles was sure the climate of St. Vincent agreed with him. Nothing came of this. On 4 Mar. 1803, as a friend of the Prince of Wales, he voted for Calcraft’s motion for inquiry into the Prince’s debts. He was a supporter of Pitt’s second administration and there was again talk of his having the government of Jamaica. Pitt contradicted this. Meanwhile Lord Charles wrote to the King, 23 May, asking for an appointment for which he might have the King alone to thank, to whom he already owed ‘all’. He was appointed joint-paymaster and in a grateful letter to the King, 24 June, assured him that he could ‘command’ him in the House. In January 1805 he was in some anxiety at the prospect of being displaced from the pay office and given a government in Canada, and asked the King to intercede for him to prevent this, while his brother the duke was induced to badger Pitt.4

Lord Charles lost his place at Pitt’s death and was considerably embarrassed by the advent to power of his former Whig friends, who were however not unmindful of him. At first Fox, with an eye to the support of the Duke of Beaufort, thought of the constableship of the Tower for him, and Lord Grenville wondered, in April 1806, whether he was ‘of sufficient calibre for the Cape’. He voted against ministers on the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, but against his own wishes and at his brother’s behest: he informed the Prince of Wales that he had warned the duke that if this occurred again he would resign his seat. He badly needed an emolument and his friend Lord John Townshend* recommended him to Earl Fitzwilliam’s protection as ‘a hard and cruel case’; Fitzwilliam approached Lord Grenville, stating Lord Charles’s ambition to be ‘second gold stick’ with an appointment on the staff, but he was informed that this could carry no emolument. He was also disappointed in his hope of succeeding General Simcoe as commander in the west of England, despite ‘an absolute and unqualified promise’ by the Duke of York to recommend him. Lord Grenville’s relative General Nugent having obtained the post, it was thought that a further appeal might be made and on 1 Sept. 1806 the Duke of Bedford begged Grenville to consider his plight:

I am perfectly aware that Lord Charles has no immediate claims on the present government, but when I recollect the decided approbation he gave to the formation of the administration, and the warm anxiety he manifested to induce his family to give it their full and cordial support; and when I am informed that his brother’s favour and protection are withdrawn from him, because he refused to oppose in Parliament through the last sessions, measures which his conscience and his judgment approved, I feel persuaded that the justice of your lordship’s mind will acknowledge that some consideration may in fairness be due to him.

As the duke repeated Lord Charles’s wish for a gold stick, Grenville could not oblige.5

The King came to his rescue in May 1807, when Portland took office, expressing his desire ’that Lord Charles should be taken care of’. Lord Malmesbury commented: ‘This last a singular person for the King to be anxious about, but he had a command at Weymouth, and his wife, a Miss Courtenay, who talks the western dialect like Parson Trulliber, is a favourite with the Princesses’. Lord Charles was also well thought of by the royal ladies: the Queen, on making his acquaintance in 1798, described him as

a civil, well bred man, full of respect to the King and attentive to me, indefatigable in his duty, and trying to make himself agreeable as much as possible, and above all I admire in him his good manners in society, for he will go on in a conversation without stopping one with a short Yes or No.

At any rate, Lord Charles was restored to the pay office and became general in command of the Brighton district. He spoke in debate in defence of flogging in the army, 26 Feb. 1811 and 19 Mar. 1812, and was in other respects a reliable supporter of government. He was suspected, however, of being a military jobber and the Prince of Wales in 1811 pronounced him unfit for the command of the 67th Foot. On 8 Mar. 1813, in the debate on the army estimates, Thomas Creevey called his place (worth £2,000 p.a.)

a complete sinecure, which the finance committee had very properly recommended to be abolished. His lordship was, besides being paymaster, one of the generals of districts, whom he was himself to pay. His district, too, was something like a sinecure.

In anticipation of the abolition of the sinecure (which did not materialize), Creevey’s subsequent motion on the subject was withdrawn on 6 Apr. Lord Charles voted against Catholic relief, 2 Mar. and 24 May 1813. In August he was appointed to the Cape: his brother the duke wrote to Lord Liverpool, 10 Aug., when there was some doubt if a vacancy could be made for him there, asking in that case for some other situation, ‘so as to relieve government from embarrassment, which you seemed to think Mr Creevey’s attack caused to it’, though he added that apart from this, Lord Charles was perfectly satisfied with the pay office.6

Lord Charles went to the Cape, with a salary of £10,000 p.a. and remained there, an energetic if somewhat autocratic governor, until 1826, when he returned home to confront his critics. The change of government in 1827 led to his resignation without imputation of blame. Outside his own circle he was regarded as a court favourite, ‘a horse jockey who had gone to the Cape to make money’, to quote Lady Holland, and ‘a haughty, disagreeable man’, according to Mrs Nicolson Calvert.7 He died 20 Feb. 1831.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. PRO 30/8/107, f. 137; NLS mss 11143, f. 167.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/112, f. 189; 179, ff. 241, 243, 247.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/112, ff. 217, 223; Leveson Gower, i. 128; Geo. III Corresp. iii. 1829, 1831, 2219, 2220.
  • 4. Rutland mss, Rutland to bailiffs of Scarborough, 28 June 1802; Sidmouth mss, Addington to Somerset, 2 Sept. 1801; Camden mss C255/2, 258/1; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2865, 2898, 3011; PRO 30/8/112, f. 239.
  • 5. HMC Fortescue, viii. 10, 120, 298, 329; Add. 47569, f. 275; Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2125, 2170, 2194; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F64/3, 5-7, 9.
  • 6. Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 373; Prince of Wales Corresp. iii. 1385; Grey mss, Rosslyn to Grey, 12 Feb. 1811; Add. 38254, f. 57.
  • 7. A. K. Millar, Plantagenet in S. Africa (1965); HMC Bathurst, 311, 520; Warrenne Blake, Irish Beauty, 85.