WALDEGRAVE, Hon. William (1788-1859).

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



17 July 1815 - 1818

Family and Education

b. 27 Oct. 1788, 4th s. of George Waldegrave, 4th Earl Waldegrave, by his cos. Lady Elizabeth Laura Waldegrave, da. of Jones, 2nd Earl Waldegrave. educ. Eton 1796. m. (1) 10 Aug. 1812, Elizabeth (d. 1 Mar. 1843), da. of Samuel Whitbread II*, 3s. 5da.; (2) 8 Dec. 1846, Sarah, da. of Rev. William Whitear, preb. of Chichester, wid. of Edward Milward of Hastings, Suss., s.p. CB 18 Dec. 1840. suc. nephew George Edward Waldegrave as 8th Earl Waldegrave 28 Sept. 1846.

Offices Held

Entered RN 1801, midshipman 1802, lt. 1806, cdr. 1809, capt. 1811, r.-adm. 1846, v.-adm. 1858.


In March 1809, when Waldegrave was serving in the Mediterranean as a lieutenant under Lord Collingwood, his mother, niece to George III by her own mother’s second marriage, reminded the King of a promise, made in 1789 on the death of her husband, ‘that my children should never want a father while you lived’, and requested his intervention to secure her son’s advancement:

The late Lord Cornwallis ... speaks thus of him:

I have the satisfaction to assure you that William is a most promising youth, and that it is the opinion not only of his superior officers but likewise of his contemporaries, that he will make a distinguished figure in his profession.’1

He was promoted to the rank of commander at the end of the year after distinguishing himself in action in the Bay of Rosas, and later served as a captain on the Lisbon station.

He was elected to Brooks’s on 23 May 1812, and when his father-in-law, Whitbread, committed suicide in July 1815, was returned in his place for Bedford on the Whitbread family interest, ostensibly as locum until Whitbread’s elder son came of age. He had been devoted to Whitbread, had clearly been influenced by his individualism and progressive political views and consciously directed his own parliamentary conduct by reference to what he imagined Whitbread would have done in the same circumstances. He voted for the amendment criticizing the peace settlement, 20 Feb. 1816, voted regularly for economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation, supported Catholic relief and was one of the hard core of the Whig party who sustained the parliamentary struggle during their periods of division and disarray in 1817 and 1818. He voted against Lord Binning’s inclusion, as a placeman, on the finance committee which, as composed, he considered ‘an insult to the country’, 7 Feb. 1817, and was critical of the Whig leader Ponsonby for declining to serve on it. He voted against the suspension of habeas corpus in both February and June 1817 and was one of the minority of 16 who divided against the introduction of the seditious meetings bill, 24 Feb., ‘a night of disgrace to the House of Commons’, as he told his wife, and was of the minority of 46 who opposed its third reading, 14 Mar. 1817. With reference to the latter measure, he recalled to his wife how, when ‘the House was entrapped upon Buonaparte’s landing from Elba in the same way’, her father ‘saw the deception, announced it, was ridiculed but was right’. He voted for Burdett’s parliamentary reform motion, 20 May 1817, and against the domestic spy system and the indemnity bill in February and March 1818. He had told his wife a year earlier that he had been on the verge of speaking against the current repressive legislation ‘almost every day’, but his few known speeches were all on comparatively minor matters and included approval of the scheme for church extension, 16 Mar., support for Courtenay’s abortive surgery regulation bill, 10 Apr., and a call for legislation to prevent abuse of land tax assessments for electoral purposes, 1 June 1818. With Whitbread’s shade at his elbow, he was unabashed by Whig criticism of his presentation of a petition for redress of grievances from a wounded naval officer, 4 May 1818, on the ground that the man had no case, a view which Waldegrave disputed, for, as he told his wife, her father had never been deterred by such considerations. When Castlereagh deplored the growing practice of bombarding the House with personal petitions of this nature, Waldegrave objected to his doctrine as ‘an unconstitutional restraint upon the freedom and discretion of every Member’.2

Waldegrave was expected to hand over his seat to his brother-in-law in 1818, and, having no intention of standing in his way, declined an invitation from some townsmen to seek re-election. When the possibility arose that, this demur notwithstanding, he might be put in nomination in absentia, he resolved to make no personal exertion to retain the seat, but was prepared to accept it if it was secured for him at the expense of the Duke of Bedford’s nominee, on the basis of his belief that if the Russells were afraid of facing a contest, they ought in candour to acknowledge his popularity in the town and openly support him. Nothing came of this, nor of a scheme, evidently proposed by Henry Grey Bennet of the Whig ‘Mountain’ and encouraged by the Russells (as Waldegrave thought, to divert him from Bedford) to stand on the Whig interest for Essex, where his brother, the debt-ridden 6th Earl, had property but not the means to finance him in a contest. He received a late invitation from some Huntingdon outvoters to contest the borough against the Sandwich interest, but his inquiries convinced him that he would have no chance. Shortly after the election Bennet told his fellow ‘Mountaineer’, Thomas Creevey, that he was trying to negotiate Waldegrave’s return for the Peterborough seat expected to be vacated by William Elliot and that he hoped to persuade the patron, Earl Fitzwilliam, who required ‘an opposition to reform’ from his Members, to reduce his terms to mere abstention on the issue, a condition which Walegrave was willing to accept. This prospect proved as chimerical as the others and, amid the confusion created among the Bedfordshire Whigs by the unexpected loss of one county seat in 1818, the Duke of Bedford was at least sure of Waldegrave’s ‘unfitness’ as a possible future candidate.3

He was never again in the House, resumed his naval career and died 24 Oct. 1859.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Geo. III Corresp. v. 3835.
  • 2. Waldegrave mss, Waldegrave to his wife [7 July 1815], 8, 25, 27 Feb. 1817, 4 May 1818.
  • 3. Ibid. Waldegrave to his wife, 7 Apr., [May]; Fitzwilliam mss, box 92, Maltby to Milton, 19 June; Creevey mss, Bennet to Creevey, 20 July; Add. 51662, Bedford to Holland, 27 Sept. 1818.