VANE (afterwards POWLETT), Hon. William John Frederick (1792-1864), of Langton Grange, co. Dur. and Somerby, Leics.

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



1812 - July 1815
1 Aug. 1815 - 1831
21 July 1846 - 1852
1852 - 1857

Family and Education

b. 3 Apr. 1792, 2nd s. of William Harry Vane*, 3rd Earl of Darlington, by 1st w., and bro. of Henry Vane, Visct. Barnard*. educ. Brasenose, Oxf. 1809. m. 3 July 1815, Lady Grace Caroline Lowther, da. of William Lowther*, 1st Earl of Lonsdale, s.p. Styled Lord William John Frederick Powlett 1827-64; took name of Powlett by royal lic. 20 Apr. 1813 in compliance with will of mat. gdmo. Katherine, Dowager Duchess of Bolton (d. 21 Mar. 1809); suc. bro. as 3rd Duke of Cleveland 18 Jan. 1864 and resumed name of Vane by royal lic. 4 Mar. 1864.

Offices Held


This Member was six months under age when he was returned for his father’s pocket borough in 1812. Granted six weeks’ leave because of illness, 23 Feb. 1813,1 he was listed among pro-Catholic absentees for the division of 2 Mar. On coming into his inheritance of considerable property in Devon and elsewhere from his grandmother in April, he took the name of Powlett. He followed his father’s Whig line in the House, where he made little mark, and was elected to Brooks’s on 1 June 1813.

Powlett voted for Catholic relief, 13 and 24 May 1813, as he did again on 30 May 1815, 21 May 1816 and 9 May 1817; against the extension of the East India Company’s monopoly, 14 and 16 June 1813, and in opposition minorities on the Speaker’s anti-Catholic prorogation speech, 22 Apr., and the blockade of Norway, 12 May 1814. He voted against government on the Bank restriction bill, 9 Mar.; the corn bill (which his elder brother may have supported), 10 Mar.; the civil list, 14 Apr.; the property tax, 20 Apr. and 1 May; the transfer of Genoa, 27 Apr.; the Irish master of the rolls salary increase, 19 June, and the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment, 30 June 1815. He voted against the resumption of a war of extermination against Buonaparte, 28 Apr. and 25 May 1815. In August he transferred from Winchelsea to the Durham county seat vacated by his brother. He voted against the peace terms, 9, 15 and 20 Feb. 1816, and divided regularly in support of the subsequent Whig campaign for economy, retrenchment and low taxation, but was less active in this respect in 1817. After being sent up by his father to vote against the address, 29 Jan.,2 he paired against the suspension of habeas corpus, 26 and 28 Feb. On 20 May he voted against Burdett’s motion for parliamentary reform, to which Darlington was hostile, but he opposed ministers on the secret committee of inquiry into sedition, 5 June, and the renewed suspension of habeas corpus, 23 and 27 June 1817. In the debate on the first reading of the indemnity bill, 9 Mar. 1818, he declared that ‘he was sorry to differ from those with whom he had so often been happy to concur, but he felt it his duty’ to support the measure. It seems that he abstained from voting and persuaded his brother to do likewise, as his father explained to Brougham, 15 Mar.:

I was somewhat alarmed ... when I ... found neither of my sons’ names in the minority ... [but] somewhat relieved ... by a letter from William stating to me his reasons for approving the bill as a distinct measure from the suspension act, although arising from it, to which reasons I could only agree to a very small extent, namely if an indemnity bill to magistrates in great cases of tumult and emergency could have been framed (and not to have extended to whitewash ministers and to indemnify all persons for acts done in arresting and imprisoning our fellow subjects), then I might have been induced to approve of such a bill ... If they [his sons] had voted for government, they never would be brought in again by me, which I have told them, but I am sure that they are both desirous of consulting and supporting my wishes, therefore I expect you will have them upon any divisions that will take place after the recess.3

As it happened, Powlett’s only recorded votes after Easter were on the ducal marriage grants, 13 and 15 Apr., Bank restriction, 1 May, and bank-note forgeries, 14 May 1818.

The other Durham county Member, John Lambton, a reformer, reported that Powlett was ‘hissed’ at the 1818 election, but there was no opposition.4 He signed the requisition calling on Tierney to take the Whig leadership in the Commons and voted against government on most major issues in 1819, including Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May. He voted for inquiry into Scottish burgh reform, 1 Apr. and 6 May, but not for Burdett’s parliamentary reform motion, 1 July. Although Darlington disapproved of county meetings to protest against the Peterloo incident, he promised Tierney his Members’ attendance for the emergency session, and Powlett duly voted against ministers on the address, 24 Nov., and the state of the nation, 30 Nov. 1819. Soon afterwards, Darlington directed his Members to support the government’s repressive legislation.5 Powlett’s only recorded votes against it were in motions to limit the duration of the seditious meetings bill, 6 Dec., to exclude Ireland from its provisions, 13 Dec., and on its newspaper reporters clause the same day. He was credited with a speech on the first of these motions.6 When Lambton proposed the exemption of Durham from the seizure of arms bill, 14 Dec., Powlett contradicted his assertion that the county was tranquil. The following day he claimed that while it was necessary to apply the bill to the north of the county, there was no call for it in the south west (where, as Lambton tartly pointed out, the Vanes’ seat and sphere of influence lay), and unsuccessfully requested exemption for that area. Vane died 6 Sept. 1864.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. CJ, lxviii. 209.
  • 2. Grey mss, Darlington to Grey, 22 Jan. 1817.
  • 3. Brougham mss 16396.
  • 4. Grey mss, Lambton to Grey [25 June 1818].
  • 5. Ibid. Darlington to Grey, 12 Nov.; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 6 Dec. 1819.
  • 6. The Times, 9 Dec. 1819.