STANHOPE, Hon. James Hamilton (1788-1825), of South Audley Street, Mdx.

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



23 June 1817 - 1818
1818 - 5 Mar. 1819
8 Apr. 1822 - 5 Mar. 1825

Family and Education

b. 7 Sept. 1788, 3rd s. of Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope, by 2nd w. Louisa, da. and h. of Hon. Henry Grenville, gov. Barbados; bro. of Philip Henry Stanhope, Visct. Mahon*. educ. privately by Rev. Jeremiah Joyce, his father’s secretary; after 1802 by Rev. John Stonard. m. 9 July 1820, Lady Frederica Louisa Murray, da. of David William, 3rd Earl of Mansfield, 1s.

Offices Held

Ensign, 1 Ft. Gds. 1804, lt. and capt. 1808, maj. 1813, capt. and lt.-col. 1814; a.d.c. to ld. lt. [I] 1807-9, to Sir John Moore 1809, to Gen. Thomas Graham* 1810-14, to Duke of York 1815-d.; dep. asst. q.m.g. 1812, asst. 1813; asst. adj. to Duke of Wellington 1815.

Commr. of alienations 1806-d.


Stanhope’s father, the radical and scientific 3rd Earl, intended to bring up his children according to his own notions; James was to have learned the shoemaker’s craft, while his elder brother Charles was to have learned the smith’s. They were all educated at home by Joyce, their father’s scientist secretary, who was arrested for Jacobinism. This eccentric upbringing was mitigated by the interest shown in the children’s welfare by their step-uncle, Pitt the prime minister, and their eldest half-sister Lady Hester Stanhope, then Pitt’s housekeeper. Lord Stanhope had fallen out with Pitt over politics and resented his son James’s being frequently at Pitt’s house, where he joined in the ‘practical fun’ of Pitt’s lighter moments. On 28 Jan. 1802 he and Charles followed their eldest brother’s example and deserted their father for Pitt, who secured James’s entry into the services. At 15 he entered the navy under another name, but a year later ‘the future admiral’ transferred to the army, being ‘too clever ... too refined’ for a sailor, as his half-sister put it. With a private tutor to remedy the inadequacy of his education, he became a popular officer in the Guards. He was never reconciled to his father, who cut him out of his will. The deficiency was supplied by his kinsman Sir Joseph Banks, though Stanhope did not live to benefit from it.1

He was present at Pitt’s deathbed, of which he left the best known account. Pitt had wished him, or his brother Charles, to enter public life. He had a turn for politics, but was embittered by Lord Grenville’s opposition to Pitt. According to Lady Hester, Grenville knew Pitt would have wished to bring Stanhope into Parliament, but did nothing about it. Meanwhile Canning saw to it that provision was made for him: ‘about £500—without Parliament’, as for his brother Charles. He obtained the place of commissioner of alienations during pleasure. All this was in tribute to Pitt’s memory, though he was not of his blood. His emolument was stated as £600.2

After acting as aide-de-camp to the Duke of Richmond as viceroy of Ireland, Stanhope served in the Peninsula, France and at Waterloo. He had volunteered for Peninsular service. Lady Hester, who took a motherly interest in his career, was dismayed in 1809 when Sir Home Popham wished to attach him to Lord Chatham’s expedition to the Scheldt. His brother Charles perished in Spain, but he came to no harm until at the siege of Saint Sebastian (1813) he was wounded in the spine: the surgeons opined that the ball should not be extracted and the wound eventually became ‘morbidly affected’, shattering his nerves. While he was abroad, Lady Hester had thought of ‘a Kentish seat’ in Parliament for him or his brother Charles. In politics he was by definition a Pittite; but he was ‘very good friends’ with the Marquess of Buckingham and, according to Creevey writing in 1818, ‘an opposition man three years ago’. He was one of many recruits to Brooks’s Club on 7 May 1816.3

In June 1817, returning from France, he was elected for Buckingham on the marquess’s interest, the vacancy occurring through Lord Ebrington’s refusal to follow the Grenville group in detaching themselves from the opposition. He informed his eldest brother:

I am sure you will be gratified in hearing that I am coming into Parliament and in the most satisfactory manner, it being approved of by the Duke of York [to whom he was a.d.c.] and it being understood distinctly by Lord Buckingham (who brings me in) that although I shall consider myself as belonging to a party equally unconnected with the government and the opposition, yet I shall vote as I choose, being of course ready to vacate my seat whenever we materially differ. The government have altered my pension during pleasure into one for life, but I have also had it clearly explained and acknowledged that such a transfer is considered as an act of justice done to Mr Pitt, ‘for it never could have been intended to shut the door of Parliament against his relatives by the very act done in consideration of his services’, and that it in no way gives them any claim on me. I have tendered the resignation of my small sinecure as it is one of those to be abolished, but I have had much advice to the contrary and I do not know how it will end.

His quotation was from Lord Bathurst, to whom Stanhope had confided the alteration of the pension, Bathurst noting that Stanhope’s standpoint was

that as far as you can see into the measures lately adopted and likely to be so by the government, you fully concur in them; but that on one point, that of the Catholic question, you feel, as you believe Mr Pitt did, that of wishing to give further concessions to the Catholics, as long as it is consistent with the Protestant interests.

Stanhope had scruples about Bathurst’s assistance:

for if any circumstances should ever throw me into opposition to the measures of the [government], I should be sorry to have afforded a handle for anyone to accuse me of having entered Parliament under false colours and of having accepted that seat by an immediate act of favour from the government I was opposing.

Bathurst ‘as an old party man’ thought his quest for independence a myth and advised him not to give up his sinecure until it was abolished. In short, he was walking a tightrope. On 7 June 1817 his patron the marquess asked him to contradict a report that ‘you had expressly told Lady Spencer and others that you would not have come into Parliament had you not distinctly communicated to me your intention of supporting government’, and concede ‘the real grounds on which you come in, viz.: perfect separation both from the government and opposition, and adherence to the line of politics at present adopted by my family’. Stanhope elaborated on this as follows in his reply of the same date:

that I am attached to Mr Pitt’s principles but that I consider myself as belonging to a party equally unconnected with the government and with the opposition, that as far as I can see into the present measures of the government, I concur in them as much as I differ from the principles entertained by Lord Grey and his party—that I consider myself fully at liberty to oppose government, and equally so to differ with yourself, in which case of course [I] should consider it my duty to follow Lord Ebrington’s example.

This course was thought too nice by his future father-in-law Lord Mansfield, who warned him, 9 June:

You must be by far the best judge of the satisfaction which you will derive from a seat in the House; had you been brought in by government I should have had no hesitation in saying that I thought it most advantageous, opening prospects of future advancement ... and of continuing distinction obtained by military services in a political career of which you have had the example in your own family; but in the offer now made to you of coming in under the auspices of those who for the moment appear to have deserted opposition without absolutely joining government I think it may involve you in difficulties: as you have stipulated for independence it is not clear what portion of their opposition or of their support you will take, and their conduct as a party will be regulated as that of all parties of self interest, yours by conscientious opinion—how long will this last? Can you expect that they will not ask you to support them on some occasions when they oppose the government?

He predicted that Stanhope’s hankering after an ‘independent line’ would lead to his resigning his seat.4

This came to pass. In the House, Stanhope at once expressed his support for the suspension of habeas corpus, 27 June 1817. Brougham reported that he was ‘too horrible and probably won’t be allowed to speak again’, and Lambton that he seemed ‘a fit subject for Buckinghamian nomination! Like master, like man.’ The marquess concluded that his ‘essay’ was ‘a failure and the more so from his having formed great expectations from it. It may do him good.’ In January 1818 he took his seat with the Grenvillite group in the House, but soon afterwards he was ill. On 5 Mar. he voted for ministerial indemnification on the employment of informers against sedition, and on 9 Mar. spoke to the same effect, at some length. When, soon afterwards, his patron requested him to join the Grenvillites in opposing the leather and salt duties, he would concur only if the loss of revenue was otherwise supplied (for instance, by reviving the wartime malt duty): ‘all objections to taxes must be in the way of substitution and not of reduction’. On 6 Apr. he paired against the leather tax. On 13 Apr. he was invited with ministerialist Members by Lord Liverpool to hear the government’s proposals for the ducal marriage grants at Fife House: he made it clear that he would support the grant to the Duke of Clarence (which he did by vote two days later) but not the others, on which he would abstain. He spoke in favour of more generous pensions to the widows of army and naval officers, 28 Apr. 1818.5

A week later Stanhope and his patron took political leave of each other. He had appeared on the ministerial dinner lists and informed Liverpool ‘that he intended to resign his seat which connected him with the Grenville party, because they would not return any person to Parliament who would not follow Charles [Williams] Wynn as leader’. The marquess, hearing that his refusal to return Stanhope was construed as hostility to government, exploded. To his lieutenant Fremantle he wrote:

Perhaps you will do well to take some steps to set that proceeding upon its true footing viz. Lord Liverpool’s summoning S. to a ministerial meeting and his attending it without communication with me. When my Members do take the opinions of others, it is not too much to expect them to take mine before the ministers.

Thus ended what Stanhope, in a conciliatory letter in which he alleged that he thought the invitation to Fife House was to a private interview, called their ‘little political excursion together’.6

Stanhope was offered an opening at Fowey through Lord Lonsdale by George Lucy*, would-be patron of the borough, in the election of 1818. He was to be brought in ‘gratis and my own master, if I would assist him with personal exertions at the canvass and contested election against the reforming interest, which however has chosen Lord Valletort and one of their own’. Valletort, like Lucy, was a friend of government, which offered Stanhope another seat, but he regarded himself as pledged to Lucy. His brother Lord Stanhope was sceptical of the prudence of this decision and he found, as warned, that Lucy ‘undertook more than he may be able to perform’. They succeeded, but were faced with a petition. His former patron the marquess commented, 5 July:

Stanhope’s independence is good when accompanied by a request to Lord Liverpool to persuade Lord Mount Edgcumbe to withdraw the petition, a request which could be made only accompanied by an engagement of support equal to that which Lord M.E. would have given had he succeeded.

On 5 Mar. 1819 Stanhope and Lucy were unseated on petition and he declined to resume the battle with Lucy ‘as they did not get on well together’. Lonsdale hoped that Liverpool would now find him a seat, but he remained out of Parliament until 1822. In the summer of 1819 he was in Belgium, where Creevey, who termed him ‘a government lick-spittle’, snubbed him: ‘no talents ... all pretension and impudence’. Later that year he tried to dissuade his brother the earl against encouraging meetings critical of the Manchester magistrates’ conduct.7

Stanhope committed suicide by hanging, in an outhouse at Ken Wood, 5 Mar. 1825, ‘under the combined influences of pain and nervous depression’.8

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Life and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope ed. Duchess of Cleveland, 21, 31, 57, 62, 67; Heber Letters, 196; N. Riding RO, Wyvill mss ZFW7/2/184/7; Gent. Mag. (1816), ii. 563; (1825), i. 465; Gronow, Reminiscences (1900), ii. 315; Horner mss 7, f. 271; Add. 51644, Lady Holland to Horner [17], 24 Dec. 1816.
  • 2. Heber Letters, 210, 231; Lady Hester Stanhope, 69, 161; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 9/65; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 26, 27 Jan. 1806; Wilberforce Pprs. 90; Rose Diaries, ii. 240.
  • 3. SRO GD51/1/201/2; Bucks. RO, Grenville mss D55, Lady H. Stanhope to Gen. Grenville, 22 Nov. [1808], 6, 12 July, Sat. [1809]; Diary of Sir John Moore ed. Maurice, ii. 192, 389; Lady Hester Stanhope, 77; Gent. Mag. (1825), i. 465; Gronow, ii. 314-15; Dacres Adams mss 9/77; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 277.
  • 4. Farington, viii. 134; Kent AO, Stanhope mss 329/6, J.H. to Earl Stanhope, Wed. [June]; Spalding Gentlemen’s Society, Stanhope mss, Bathurst to Stanhope, 2, 4 June, reply 3 June Mansfield to same, 9 June 1817.
  • 5. Add. 51565, Brougham to Lady Holland, Sat. [28 June]; Grey mss, Lambton to Grey, 30 June; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, Wed. [2 July 1817]; NLW, Coedymaen mss 20, Buckingham to Williams Wynn, 18 Mar. 1818; Buckingham, Regency, ii. 211, 218, 219, 240, 245-6, 251-7.
  • 6. Add. 38366, f. 135; 51662, Bedford to Holland, 4 May; Staffs. RO, Hatherton diary, 6 May; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 8 June, Tues. [30 June] 1818.
  • 7. HMC Fortescue, x. 437; Stanhope mss 329/6, J.H. to Earl Stanhope, Fri. [May], Wed. 7 [May], replies 31 May, 3 June; Thurs. [June], reply 8 June; 11 June, reply 30 June 1818; Thurs. [1819]; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 5 July 1818; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 6, 7 Mar. 1819; Creevey Pprs. i. 277-8.
  • 8. Gronow, ii. 314-15.