STANHOPE, Philip Henry, Visct. Mahon (1781-1855).

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



1806 - 1807
21 Dec. 1812 - 15 Dec. 1816

Family and Education

b. 7 Dec. 1781, 1st s. of Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope, by 2nd w., and bro. of Hon. James Hamilton Stanhope*. educ. privately by Rev. Jeremiah Joyce; Erlangen Univ. 1801-2. m. 19 Nov. 1803, Hon. Catherine Lucy Smith, da. of Robert Smith*, 1st Baron Carrington, 2s. 1da. suc. fa. as 4th Earl 15 Dec. 1816.

Offices Held

Lt.-gov. Dover Castle 1802-16; keeper of recs. in the Birmingham tower, Dublin Castle 1805-d.; surveyor of the green-wax in the Exchequer 1806-17.

Lt.-col. 1 batt. Cinque Port vols. 1803.


Mahon reacted violently against the strictly radical education imposed on him by his eccentric father. On 4 Apr. 1800 he informed his half-sister Lady Hester Stanhope that he must throw himself on her uncle the prime minister Pitt’s protection, for ‘as long as I continue to exist ... so long will I continue in steady and determined opposition to Jacobin principles’. He wondered whether his father might be certified insane. His wish then was for a military career, but when Lady Hester engineered his escape from home in 1801, it was to a German university. On his return Pitt took up his cause against his father’s exploitation of his entailed estates and granted him a place worth £500 p.a., in his gift as warden of the Cinque Ports. Under Pitt’s aegis he further improved his prospects by marrying Lord Carrington’s daughter, with £20,000, in 1803.1

On Pitt’s return to power in 1804, the exclusion of his father-in-law’s friend Lord Grenville tested his loyalties; and he was reported to have told Lady Fortescue, Grenville’s sister, that ‘he should not act with Mr Pitt but with Lord Grenville’. Her reply was that ‘he would do well to adhere to Mr Pitt, for that they had hangers on enough, like him, already’. Wilberforce, meeting him at this time noted, ‘Mahon seems well disposed and independent in mind and ways of thinking. I am mistaken if he keeps in the beaten track, and gives up his free agency to the degree it is done, alas, by the men of the world.’ Lady Hester Stanhope, as Pitt’s housekeeper, continued to obtain for Mahon her uncle’s favour. On 8 Mar. 1805 she applied for him to be appointed governor of Fort Charles, Jamaica, not so much for his own sake, as Pitt had already acted handsomely by him, as for his two younger brothers’. A place in Ireland fell into his lap instead. Lady Hester never forgave him for deserting Pitt’s friends at his death and adhering, with Lord Carrington, to Lord Grenville, who gave him another place.

On the day of Mr Pitt’s death, Lord Carrington ... went to Mr Rose and desired to know when the first payment would become due of a place given by Mr Pitt to Lord Mahon. Rose disgusted at this want of feeling for such a friend as Mr Pitt had been to him (Lord Carrington) ... told his servant to direct his lordship to a person more fit to give an answer to such a question than he was.2

Mahon entered Parliament for Carrington’s borough of Wendover at the election of 1806. Lady Hester commented to Lord Melville:

Mahon ... is brought in by his shabby father-in-law, to expose himself in public as much as he has disgraced himself in private by his political opinions. I am quite ashamed of him, and do not allow him to come near me.3

On 10 Feb. 1807 he was named to the select committee on finance. A staunch supporter of the abolition of the slave trade, he advocated it in his maiden speech, 23 Feb. 1807, in which he eulogized Pitt and suggested that the abolition might bring the country into greater favour with ‘that Supreme Disposer of events in whose hands victory is placed’. On 4 Mar. he went on to support the maintenance of Maynooth, the Catholic seminary, as ‘a great act of national policy’. He voted for Brand’s motion following the dismissal of the ministry, 9 Apr. 1807.

Mahon was returned both for Wendover and Hull in 1807, his father-in-law investing £3,000 in his return for the latter, which was uncontested.4 He voted with opposition in their critical divisions of 26 June and 6 July 1807 and also for Cochrane’s motion for inquiry into places and pensions, 7 July. He voted against the Copenhagen expedition, 3 Feb. 1808, and on 29 Feb. both spoke in favour of and was teller for Whitbread’s motion for a mediated armistice. He was in the minority against the orders in council, 3 Mar., and on Irish questions, 3 Mar., 25 May 1808. He opposed the convention of Cintra, 21 Feb. 1809, and was in the minorities against the Duke of York, 15-17 Mar. He opposed the address, 23 Jan. 1810, and supported the Scheldt inquiry, 26 Jan.; although he opposed censure of the Earl of Chatham, Pitt’s brother, 23 Feb., he rejoined opposition on 30 Mar. The Whigs listed him one of their ‘thick and thin’ adherents. He opposed parliamentary reform, 21 May, though on 28 May he presented a Hull petition for economy and reform. He had also spoken three times that session: on 29 Jan. he called for inquiry into the apparently inadequate proportion contributed by Scotland in taxation and on 16 Feb. seconded the lord advocate’s explanatory motion for evidence. Then on 26 Feb. he ridiculed complaints about the employment of foreign troops, ‘calculated to produce as much delusion as another question, upon which much clamour was excited, he meant parliamentary reform’: as to appeals to the practices of ancestors, he was ‘inclined to wish that we had had no ancestors at all.’

Mahon’s subsequent conduct bore out this suggestion of disillusionment. In the session of 1811 only one vote, for Catholic relief on 31 May, is known. In September report had it that ‘Lord Mahon has made a promise to Lord Carrington not to go abroad, which is the only circumstance that would have led to his not wishing to be in Parliament’.5 But he went abroad to Malta and Sicily in 1812 and there is no evidence of parliamentary attendance that session.

Mahon was put up in absentia for Hull in the election of 1812 at Lord Carrington’s instigation, but defeated. Carrington returned him on a vacancy for Midhurst before the year was out. It seems, however, that he preferred life abroad, for only one vote—again for Catholic relief, 30 May 1815—attests to his attendance in that Parliament before he succeeded to the title. At the time he was in Vienna. Francis Horner wrote of him, 10 Jan. 1817:

Mahon is of an affectionate temper, and his character is not without softness naturally; but he has no head, and I am told is lately become suspicious. That had not come upon him, when I knew him, but I should have said at that time that though one never could make any way with his understanding against an opinion he had once taken, he was equally susceptible of benevolent impressions as of the contrary and where he liked, was confiding and sanguine. I do not know of late years what the circumstances of his life have been, probably not so favourable for the blood he was born with, as the situation in which I used to see him.

Except on the Catholic question and not inconsistently with the line taken by his connexions, he became staunchly conservative as a peer.6 He died 2 Mar. 1855.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. PRO, Dacres Adams mss 9/92-5; Life and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope ed. Cleveland, 12, 14, 39; Stanhope, Pitt, iv. 10, 12; The Times, 14 Oct. 1802; Farington, ii. 269.
  • 2. Life of Wilberforce (1838), iii. 186; Dacres Adams mss 9/65; Lady Hester Stanhope, 352; Farington, v. 72.
  • 3. SRO GD51/1/201/1.
  • 4. Lansdowne mss, Abercromby to Lansdowne, 20 Sept. 1811.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. G. P. Gooch and G. Stanhope, Life of Charles 3rd Earl Stanhope, 266; Horner mss 7, f. 273; Add. 38366, f. 133; Lieven-Palmerston Corresp. 1828-56 ed. Sudeley, 229.