CLINTON, Sir William Henry (1769-1846), of Cokenach, nr. Royston, Herts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



3 Mar. 1794 - 1796
1806 - 1818
1818 - 23 Feb. 1829

Family and Education

b. 23 Dec. 1769, in Lyons, 1st s. of Sir Henry Clinton† and Harriet, da. and coh. of Thomas Carter of Penn, Bucks.; bro. of Henry Clinton†. educ. Eton 1780-5. m. 14 Mar. 1797, Hon. Louisa Dorothea Baker Holroyd, da. of John Baker Holroyd†, 1st Bar. Sheffield [I], 2s. 4da. suc. fa. 1795; GCB 2 Jan. 1815; suc. bro. Henry to Ashley, Hants 1829. d. 16 Feb. 1846.1

Offices Held

Cornet 7 Drag. 1784, lt. 1787; capt. 45 Ft. June 1790; lt. and capt. 1 Ft. Gds. July 1790, capt. and lt.-col. 1794; a.d.c. to duke of York 1796-9; brevet col. Jan. 1801, brig.-gen. Madeira July 1801; milit. sec. to duke of York 1803; q.m.g. [I] 1804; maj.-gen. 1808; lt.-gen. Sicily 1812; lt.-gen. 1813; col. 55 Ft. 1814; gen. 1830.

Lt.-gen. of ordnance Apr. 1825-June 1829; lt.-gov. Chelsea hosp. 1842-d.


Clinton, a distinguished veteran of the French wars, who had inherited purchased property in Shropshire from his father,2 was re-elected unopposed for Newark on the interest of his kinsman the 4th duke of Newcastle in 1820, when the duke’s agent reported that he ‘improves in his health and seems much relieved by a better acquaintance with his constituents’.3 He continued to support the Liverpool ministry, but was not the most assiduous of attenders.4 He voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He divided against inquiry into the revenue, 6 Mar., repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., and reduction of the adjutant-general’s grant, 11 Apr. 1821. He voted against more extensive tax reductions, 21 Feb., and for the aliens bill, 19 July 1822. He was granted a month’s leave to attend to urgent private business, 10 Feb. 1823. He was one of the minority of 12 who opposed the grant for London Bridge, 16 June 1823. He voted against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb. 1824. In March 1825 he was appointed lieutenant-general of the ordnance under the duke of Wellington.5 In May he wrote to the home secretary Peel about the operation of the quarantine regulations.6 He was in the ministerial majorities for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity, 2 June 1825, and against inquiry into the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826. At the general election that summer he was returned in second place for Newark, where his chairing provoked a riot.7

In December 1826, to Newcastle’s pleasure, Clinton was appointed to command the British expeditionary force mobilized to guarantee Portuguese independence from Miguelist invaders; but a rumour that he was to give up his ordnance office proved unfounded.8 He was absent from Parliament for the next 17 months. Discomfited by news of Wellington’s resignation from the cabinet and the army command following the formation of Canning’s ministry in April 1827, he wrote to the duke from Lisbon, 24 May, of his reluctance to surrender his own command or office:

From the best considerations I have been able to give to the subject, it appears to me that, circumstanced as I am here, employed on a particular service ... and having to fulfill to the best of my endeavour and ability a measure of government, I cannot be supposed to take part in political questions at home, and that my resignation, therefore, while so employed, is neither called for or to be expected of me.

In reply, 20 June, Wellington endorsed this ‘correct judgement’ of the situation and said there was no immediate need for Clinton to resign

even though you should differ in politics with the king’s government. But even upon this point I understand that you have not made up your mind; and in the existing state of things ... I earnestly recommend to you not to fix your opinion till you shall return to England. Supposing ... [Canning] to allow you to postpone till that period your decision ... you might keep your office till your return if ... [Canning] should not require it on other grounds. But it appears to me that whenever you will decide you cannot give the minister that fair confidence which he has a right to expect, you ought to resign an office which has always hitherto been held by those who felt that confidence; and this whether you should be abroad and continuing to hold your command in Portugal, or at home.

Clinton agreed not to make a decision until he returned.9 He told Canning’s successor Lord Goderich that he would like the governorship of the Cape, but found that first refusal had been promised to Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole*. In early November 1827 the king approved his being offered Cole’s place as governor of Mauritius at no less than £10,000 as soon as his Portuguese command ended; but, evidently piqued, he declined it on the pretext of antipathy to further foreign service. Wellington would not intercede for him as Newcastle wished, but suggested to him taking the command of the army in India. Clinton showed no interest in this and sought Wellington’s approval of his rejection of Mauritius, acknowledging that this had not ensured his retention of the ordnance office.10 He remained in Portugal until the troops embarked for England in April 1828. He voted against Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. Soon afterwards he applied unsuccessfully to Wellington, now prime minister, for a peerage.11 He presented a Newark petition against Catholic emancipation, 6 Feb. 1829, but, compromised by his conflicting loyalties to Wellington and Newcastle, he offered the latter, who was outraged by the ministerial concession, the resignation of his seat, which was readily accepted. Informing Wellington, 21 Feb., two days before he took the Chiltern Hundreds, he expressed his hope that he would be allowed to keep his place, but left himself in the duke’s hands.12 In late May he was removed from the ordnance to accommodate Lord Robert Edward Somerset*. Newcastle observed privately:

I expected it and I cannot feel that Sir William is ill served although I am sorry for it on his account. Had he adhered to me he would have been better off. The reason given is that Sir William is not in Parliament, a hard reason to give when he resigned his seat in order to keep his place.13

Clinton was mortified and again requested a peerage to rescue him from the public ‘disgrace’ which he feared, but Wellington would have none of it and insisted that he had needed Clinton’s place to strengthen his beleaguered ministry. Clinton persisted for a few months, applying again in September 1829 for a peerage or a mark of favour for his wife, but Wellington refused to ‘enter upon this painful case’ further.14 A false report of Lord Chatham’s death in March 1831 prompted Clinton, who of course recurred to his grievance of 1829, to ask Wellington to back his claim to the governorship of Jersey.15 He was appointed lieutenant-governor of Chelsea Hospital in 1842. He died at his Hertfordshire residence in February 1846.16 By his will, dated 5 Aug. 1844 and proved under £25,000, he secured his wife a life-interest in his funded and landed property. He devised the Cokenach property, which he had substantially improved since becoming its owner in 1827, and a house in Foley Place, Marylebone, to his eldest son Henry and left to his younger son Frederick the Hampshire estates which he had inherited from his brother.17

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Simon Harratt


See M. Stern, Thorns and Briars (1991); Oxford DNB.

  • 1. The Times, 18 Feb. 1846. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 453 erroneously gives 15th.
  • 2. PROB 11/1271/63.
  • 3. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Newcastle mss NeC 6275.
  • 4. Black Bk. (1823), 146; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 456.
  • 5. Newcastle mss NeC 5290, 5332a.
  • 6. Add. 40377, f. 334.
  • 7. Nottingham Jnl. 10, 17 June 1826; Newcastle mss Ne2 F2/2/142-3.
  • 8. Newcastle mss Ne2 F2/1/177; Add. 40391, ff. 137, 139.
  • 9. Wellington Despatches, iv. 37-38, 41-42; Wellington mss WP1/893/11.
  • 10. Add. 38751, ff. 192, 240; 38752, ff. 1, 80; Wellington mss WP1/901/20; 913/32.
  • 11. Wellington mss WP1/935/39.
  • 12. Newcastle mss Ne2 F3/1/100, 110; Wellington mss WP1/998/2; Ellenborough Diary, i. 355; Grey mss, Howick jnl. 10 Mar. 1829.
  • 13. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 269, 277-8; Newcastle mss Ne2 F3/1/145.
  • 14. Wellington mss WP1/1021/10; 1024/31; 1044/29; 1046/5; 1048/40; Wellington Despatches, vi. 165.
  • 15. Wellington mss WP1/11768/26.
  • 16. Gent. Mag. (1846), i. 424-5.
  • 17. PROB 11/2034/255; IR26/1732/193; Gent. Mag. (1846), i. 660.