FANE, Sir Henry (1778-1840), of Fulbeck, nr. Grantham, Lincs. and Avon Tyrell, Hants.

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



1802 - 1818
30 Mar. 1829 - 1830
1830 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 26 Nov. 1778, 1st s. of Hon. Henry Fane† of Fulbeck and Anne, da. and h. of Edward Buckley Batson, London banker, of Avon Tyrrell and Upwood, Dorset; bro. of Vere Fane*. educ. Eton 1791. unm. 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da. illegit. suc. fa. to Fulbeck 1802; KCB 5 June 1815; GCB 24 Jan. 1826; suc. mother to mat. grandfa.’s estates 1838. d. 25 Mar. 1840.

Offices Held

Cornet 6 Drag. Gds. 1792; lt. 55 Ft. 1792, capt. 1793; a.d.c. to ld. lt. [I] 1793-4; capt. 4 Drag. Gds. 1793, maj. 1795, lt.-col. 1797; lt.-col. 1 Drag. Gds. 1804; brevet col. 1805; a.d.c. to the king 1805; brig.-gen. 1808; maj.-gen. 1810; col. 23 Drag. 1814; col. 4 Drag. Gds. 1814; inspector of cav. 1814-15; lt.-gen. [on continent] 1817; lt.-gen. 1819; col. 1 Drag. Gds. 1827-d.; c.-in-c. India 1835-9; gen. [in E. Indies] 1835; gen. 1837.

Surveyor-gen. of ordnance Mar. 1829-Jan. 1831.


Fane had a murky private life, which he concealed for many years from all his immediate family except his younger brother and confidant Vere. During his service in Ireland in 1793 he formed ‘a strong attachment’ to Isabella, daughter of Hamilton Gorges, Member for county Meath, 1801-2, and the wife since 1791 of Edward Cooke, the powerful under-secretary at Dublin Castle and later under-secretary at the colonial and foreign offices. As Fane explained to Vere in 1814, Gorges had ‘sold’ her to Cooke for £1,500, thereby condemning her to ‘the sort of miserable life that was to be expected’ in the circumstances:

As she considered it nothing less than prostitution living with a man she hated, and loving another, she told her husband so, and insisted upon separating from him. He detained her in his house above a twelvemonth, combating this resolution: but finding he could not prevail, at last a regular separation took place, and she went to England to live with some relations there. I believe the world invented a story of my having run away with her; for which there was no more foundation than what I have told you. For several years after this, although we were in the constant habit of meeting and spending weeks together, such was her strength of mind, that our intercourse continued, as it had been, perfectly innocent. At last, however, in 1801, in an unlucky hour, passion got the better of prudence; and the consequence was, in nine months a child ... Since then we have lived together as man and wife, and have had six children, four of whom are alive: three boys and a girl.

One of the boys died young. The surviving children were Henry Fane (1802-85), who became a cornet in his father’s regiment in 1822 and retired as a half-pay lieutenant-colonel in 1838; Arthur Fane (1809-72), who took holy orders, and Isabella Fane (1804-86), who died a spinster. Fane kept ‘utter silence’ about these ‘domestic affairs’ to avoid causing ‘vexation’ to his mother until ‘the interest of my children’ made it necessary to enlighten her. He was also influenced by a sense of delicacy towards Mrs. Cooke’s family (her sister was married to the son of the archbishop of Tuam and she was ‘in several ways related to all the Beresfords’) and by sympathy for ‘the unfortunate dropsical secretary’ Cooke, ‘to whom I should be sorry to add one pang more than I have already occasioned’. Although Fane praised Mrs. Cooke as ‘the best of mothers’, to whom their children were ‘more attached than I should have thought it possible’, she later became alienated from them as a result of what Arthur termed ‘incompatibility of disposition’, which ‘renders reciprocal love out of the question’. When Fane was knighted Mrs. Cooke, who since 1794 had held the patent office of housekeeper and wardrobe keeper of Dublin Castle, worth £600 a year, styled herself ‘Lady Fane’. She lived with him in a rented cottage on the Avon estate, which he managed for his mother.1

Fane, whose beautiful sister Harriet was the wife of Charles Arbuthnot* and the celebrated confidante of the duke of Wellington, had served with great distinction as a cavalry commander in the Napoleonic wars. Yet he had blotted his copybook by declining to join the army in Flanders in 1815 and so missing Waterloo.2 In 1826 Wellington successfully urged on his ministerial colleagues Fane’s claim to a vacancy in the order of the Bath, arguing that ‘his services in the field were far superior to those of many even of those, some his juniors, who have obtained the order’; that it would be unjust ‘to remember only his mistake’, and that, ‘with a view to the public interest’, it was ‘important that a man so capable of serving the public well should not feel himself disgraced, and in a manner under the necessity of keeping himself in the background’.3 One of Wellington’s first acts on becoming commander-in-chief in January 1827 was to appoint Fane to the colonelcy of the King’s Dragoon Guards, worth £987 a year.4 Two years earlier Wellington had named him as one of two generals best qualified for the command in Madras, but had doubted whether he would take it; if it was offered to him, Fane declined it.5 In 1828 he applied to the home secretary Peel for the command in Ireland:

I may explain, that I am no politician; and I hope I may add (without saying too much) that I should not be found wanting in temper, or in firmness, if placed in the situation I covet.

He was passed over for Sir John Byng*.6

In March 1829 Wellington as premier appointed Fane surveyor-general of the ordnance, at £900 a year. He was sent down to Sandwich to fill a vacancy on the government interest.7 He was accused by a local clergyman of dissembling his views on Catholic emancipation and was challenged to pledge himself to oppose it. He denied having practised any deception, and at the nomination stated:

No man living could be a more sincere and staunch Protestant than himself, but ... that question had now become ... political and not ... religious ... and the measures proposed by the government were calculated to protect the interests of the Protestant church, and to promote the welfare of all classes of society.

He was opposed at the last minute by an anti-Catholic Tory, but he easily prevailed in a truncated poll.8 Had he failed, Lord Hertford might have accommodated him at Aldeburgh.9 No trace of Fane’s parliamentary activity has been found for the remainder of the 1829 session. In October the Ultra leader Vyvyan listed him among ‘present government connections who will be hostile’ to a coalition ministry. In 1830 he voted with his colleagues against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and a reduction of judges’ salaries, 7 July. He divided against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, and the abolition of capital punishment for forgery, 7 June. On 2 Apr. 1830 he defended the employment of as many as 47 clerks in his department, which had to ‘examine a great variety of details, even those of washing, and the emptying of everything that can be named - or rather that cannot be named here’. On the eve of the general election of 1830, faced with the prospect of a contest at Sandwich, he told Wellington:

The opposition ... is such as, were I to meet it, would involve me in an expense which would be most inconvenient to me; and ... therefore I have notified to ... [Joseph] Planta* my objection to standing for that place ... I am, however, extremely desirous of continuing to serve under your administration, and shall do what I can to procure another seat, though I am not very sanguine in my expectations of success, excepting through government aid.

He was brought in on the treasury interest for Hastings.10

He was in the government minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, and left office on the change of ministry. He took a fortnight’s leave to attend to ‘public business’, 23 Nov. 1830. Two months later the Irish viceroy Lord Anglesey warned the new prime minister Lord Grey against the possibility of Wellington’s urging him to appoint Fane to the Irish command: he was ‘capable enough; but high, assuming, a complete creature of the duke of Wellington, and he would be a complete spy from the enemy’s camp’.11 Fane questioned ministers about an arms contract with France, 21 Feb., and on 13 Apr. belittled their vaunted ordnance economies. Later that day he drew attention to the decrepit state of naval gun-carriages which, ‘looking to the present state of Europe’, was ‘a matter of very deep importance’. He divided against the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He did not seek re-election at the ensuing general election.

A year later he applied to the Grey ministry for the governorship of the Cape of Good Hope:

I have no desire to place myself in competition with any officer of senior standing in the army to myself, whose services may give him an equal claim for employment; but ... I solicit to be considered, only, before my name is passed over to the advantage of a junior ... I commanded the cavalry of the British contingent in France during the greater period of our occupation of that country ... I am the only general officer, I believe, who belonged to the staff of that army who has not subsequently had the advantage of some profitable military employment; or who has not had some military employment over and above his regiment.

He was again ignored when the vacancy occurred.12 In November 1834 Fane, who privately reacted to rumours that government planned to end military flogging with the comment that ‘the army is gone if the power is taken away’, was considered by his cousin the 10th earl of Westmorland as a candidate at the next election for Lyme Regis, where the family’s traditional interest had been overturned. The notion was abandoned and soon afterwards, thanks to Wellington’s brief return to power, he landed the potentially lucrative post of commander-in-chief in India. The Melbourne ministry confirmed his appointment and he set sail in May 1835, taking with him his son Henry as his aide-de-camp and his daughter Bella.13

He made a good impression in India. Macaulay found him to be ‘a fine, spirited, soldierlike man’; and Mrs. Fanny Parks described him as ‘a magnificent looking man with a good soldierlike bearing; one of imposing presence, a most superb bow and graceful bearing’.14 In 1836 Bella reported to her aunt:

You cannot think how popular my father is as commander-in-chief. It is said of him he has the interest of the army so thoroughly at heart and that ere long it will begin to recover the great injuries done it by that plague spot of India, Lord William [Cavendish] Bentinck*.15

Fane’s nephew Henry Edward Fane, another of his aides, wrote home:

I fear that we none of us properly respected him till he came to this country, and see the good he does and is doing every day, the work he does and the interest he takes and talent he displays in even the greatest trifle that comes through his department; which is no small quantity of work in an army of three hundred thousand men.16

During 1836 and 1837 Fane personally inspected every station under his command. The following year he prepared an army to go to the relief of Herat, besieged by the Persians, but he entirely disapproved of the governor-general Lord Auckland’s aggressive policy, which precipitated the first Afghan war. He tendered his resignation, but in January 1839 the home government ordered him to remain until a suitable successor was found. He directed the offensive operations in Scind that year, but his health was breaking, and on his repeated requests to be relieved Sir Jasper Nicholls was appointed in his stead in August 1839.17

In his will of 7 Feb. 1828 Fane had left the Fulbeck estate to his son Henry, his household goods at Avon to Lady Fane and small annuities to his children Arthur and Bella. He revoked Arthur’s legacy in 1833 following his marriage to a Wiltshire heiress.18 His period in India dramatically improved his financial fortunes. Very soon he was ‘wallowing in wealth’, and he remitted some £50,000 to England between 1836 and 1839.19 On going abroad he had ‘left Lady F. with ample means for her wants’, but later in 1835 her patent place was abolished without compensation, in what he considered ‘a most rascally act of robbery and spoliation’. ‘If it had happened before I came to India’, he told Vere, ‘it would have broken our backs’; as it was, he instructed his brother to arrange for Lady Fane’s annual allowance of £200 to be increased to £500. To his annoyance Lady Fane, who would ‘go about as a beggar woman, rather than apply for anything beyond that first arranged’, refused to accept the extra money, but he insisted that it be paid into her account, which received arrears of £375 in April 1837. Later that year he withdrew his daughter’s annuity in favour of a bequest of £5,000. In a codicil to his will, dated at Bombay, 20 Dec. 1839, he directed that all his money and securities in England should be invested for the benefit of Lady Fane for her life, and that £5,000 of the proceeds should go thereafter to Bella, to make her fortune £10,000.20

Fane left India on 1 Jan. 1840, after recovering from a serious illness and applying in vain for a baronetcy for his elder son in recognition of his own public services. He cherished hopes of reaching England alive, but his health soon collapsed.21 He rallied during a short stay at Cape Town, but relapsed when the voyage was resumed and died off the Azores of ‘water on the chest’ in the small hours of 25 Mar. 1840; he was buried at sea later that day.22 His will was proved on 22 May 1840 and his personalty sworn under £30,000.23 He had inherited the Dorset and Hampshire estates from his mother in 1838, but she had entailed them, in default of his legitimate male issue, on his next brother the Rev. Edward Fane. The exchange of Fulbeck for Avon which he had been anxious for his son to make with Edward, who became head of the family, never took place.24 Immediately after his death there was a stilted reconciliation between his children and Lady Fane.25

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Miss Fane in India ed. J. Pemble, 5; Lincs. AO, Fane mss 6/3/3, 5.
  • 2. Oxford DNB.
  • 3. HMC Bathurst, 598.
  • 4. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 84.
  • 5. Wellington Despatches, ii. 425; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, ii. 214, 231-2.
  • 6. Add. 40397, ff. 17, 19; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 146.
  • 7. Wellington mss WP1/1007/14; 1035/53; 1048/39.
  • 8. Kentish Gazette, 17, 20, 24, 27, 31 Mar., 3 Apr. 1829.
  • 9. Add. 60288. f. 144.
  • 10. Wellington mss WP1/1123/24.
  • 11. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/28C, p. 40.
  • 12. Add. 40878, ff. 572, 574.
  • 13. Arbuthnot Corresp. 169; Wellington Pol. Corresp. ii. 230, 490, 491, 809; Add. 40413, f. 299.
  • 14. Macaulay Letters, iii. 155; Miss Fane in India, 28.
  • 15. Miss Fane in India, 118.
  • 16. Fane mss 6/3/17.
  • 17. Macaulay Letters, ii. 197; Miss Fane in India, 141; H. E. Fane, Five Years in India, passim; Broughton, Recollections, v. 139-40; Fane mss 6/56; Oxford DNB.
  • 18. PROB 11/1927/330.
  • 19. Miss Fane in India, 95; Fane mss 5/37/14/5; 6/5/2.
  • 20. Fane mss 6/4/3/1, 7, 9, 10, 13; PROB 11/1927/330.
  • 21. Fane mss 6/5/7-13; 6/6/3, Fane to Lord Hill, 24 Nov. 1839.
  • 22. Gent. Mag. (1840), ii. 426; Fane mss 6/5/16a.
  • 23. IR26/1546/226.
  • 24. PROB 11/1890/84; Fane mss 5/37/14/3, 7; 6/3/18.
  • 25. Fane mss 6/5/17, 18, 20.