FREMANTLE, Sir Thomas Francis, 1st bt. (1798-1890), of Swanbourne, Winslow, Bucks.

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



23 May 1827 - 3 Feb. 1846

Family and Education

b. 11 Mar. 1798, 1st s. of Adm. Thomas Francis Fremantle† , RN, of Swanbourne and Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Richard Wynne of Falkingham, Lincs. educ. Eton 1811; Oriel, Oxf. 1816; L. Inn 1819. m. 27 Nov. 1824, Louisa Elizabeth, da. of Sir George Nugent, 1st bt.*, 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 6da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1819; cr. bt. 14 Aug. 1821; Bar. Cottesloe 2 Mar. 1874; authorized by royal lic. to bear fa.’s title of baron of the Austrian Empire 4 Apr. 1822. d. 3 Dec. 1890.

Offices Held

Sec. to treasury Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835, Sept. 1841-May 1844; sec. at war May 1844-Feb. 1845; PC 23 May 1844; chief sec. to ld. lt. [I] Feb. 1845-Feb. 1846; PC [I] 26 Mar. 1845; dep. chairman, bd. of customs Feb.-June 1846, chairman 1846-73.


Fremantle’s father, a naval hero with a modest Buckinghamshire estate, died as commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean ‘of an inflammation of the bowels’, 19 Dec. 1819, at Naples, where he was buried on the 23rd. His third son Henry Hyde Fremantle, a midshipman in the Glasgow, followed him to the grave off the coast of Cephalonia three months later.1 His eldest son Thomas Francis, recently come of age and down from Oxford, where he took a first in mathematics and a second in classics, inherited the Swanbourne property and the residue of personalty sworn under £3,000. He, his surviving brothers Charles Howe and Stephen Grenville, who had naval careers, and William Robert, who entered the church, and their three sisters were entitled by their father’s will of 2 Mar. 1815 to share £10,000 on their mother’s death; but this did not occur until 1857. Admiral Fremantle had in his will enjoined Thomas to submit himself ‘entirely to be governed’ by the ‘advice and direction’ of his uncle and trustee William Henry Fremantle, Member for Buckingham and confidant of the 2nd marquess of Buckingham, of whose small parliamentary squad he was the whipper-in.2

Fremantle began to study for the bar and stuck like glue to his uncle, who, with no children of his own, treated him generously and made him a long-term interest free loan to tide him over his immediate financial difficulties.3 In the summer of 1821 he was designated for a baronetcy, in posthumous recognition of his father’s services. For a month he negotiated with the authorities in an attempt to have the patent made out with a remainder to the male heirs of his father, to have him recognized as a baron of the Austrian Empire and to be given seniority in the list of baronets in accordance with his father’s rank as a knight grand cross of the Bath (20 Feb. 1818). He secured only the first objective and considered mortgaging the Swanbourne estate for ‘another £1,000’ to pay fees and possible legal costs. He told his uncle that as well as having his father’s and his own college debts to settle, ‘besides the expense of fitting up Swanbourne last year and this’, he was still being bombarded with fresh weekly bills, but that he was prepared to ‘be content with a smaller income’ in order to secure his object. His uncle may have assisted him again. He got royal licence to assume the Austrian barony in April 1822.4 Buckingham, who was angling for a junction with the Liverpool ministry, had him in mind in June 1821, perhaps as his private secretary should he become Irish viceroy; but he thought there was little chance of his obtaining a salaried commissionership at one of the boards, as his uncle suggested.5 Buckingham pressed him through his uncle to attend the county quarter sessions, 16 Oct., to help frustrate an attempt by his Whig brother Lord Nugent* and Robert Smith, the Whig county Member, to secure the placing of official advertisements in the new ‘radical county newspaper’, the Buckinghamshire Chronicle, ‘in defiance of me’. Fremantle, who was on a tour which took him to Eaton Hall, the Cheshire home of his university friend Robert Grosvenor*, to Heaton Hall, near Manchester, owned by another of his Oxford set, Lord Wilton, and to Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire, where his friend Chandos Leigh lived, was eager to comply, though he doubted the chances of actually suppressing ‘so nefarious a publication’. He called on Buckingham at Stowe and duly attended at Aylesbury, where he was one of the majority of 33 (to 12) who vetoed putting advertisements in the Chronicle.6 When Lord Wellesley and not Buckingham was made Irish lord lieutenant at the end of the year, Fremantle drafted but did not send (probably on William’s advice) to Buckingham’s uncle Lord Grenville a letter asking him to use his influence to persuade Wellesley to take him on as private secretary.7 He then turned his attention to the place of chief clerk in the office of receipt of the exchequer, made vacant by a death, which was in Grenville’s gift as auditor. His uncle approved the application, but warned him that although the office paid £1,000 a year it required ‘constant unremitted attendance’, was ‘incompatible with Parliament’ and, once obtained, must be ‘your ultimatum’. As William expected, Grenville had already promoted the next clerk in line, but he thought no harm had been done.8 When Buckingham was created a duke on his junction with government in January 1822 (William Fremantle was made a commissioner of the India board), Fremantle wrote sycophantic letters of congratulation to him and his son Lord Chandos, the other county Member.9 In the early autumn of 1822 he devoted much time to executing ‘a plan for the employment of the poor’ in his parish, where most labourers were dependent on poor rates, by persuading initially reluctant farmers to employ them in return for a proportionate reduction in their rate assessments.10 He displeased Buckingham in December 1822 by reportedly voting, as a member of the county finance committee, chaired by Chandos, to cut the remuneration of the high constables and by subsequently questioning Chandos’s exercise of a casting vote. His uncle, passing on the rebuke, advised him to attend the next sessions to support the report, as the duke wished, but left it to him to decide whether or not to write to Buckingham. He did so, explaining that he had in fact voted against reduction and that his later conduct had been ‘misrepresented’, and avowing his undiminished zeal to play his part in the struggle ‘between us and the radicals of the county’. The duke accepted the apology, but made it clear that he must toe the line in future. Fremantle, who had meanwhile been told by his uncle not to ask to be made secretary to Lord Clanwilliam as envoy to Prussia, duly obliged at the sessions of 14 Jan. 1823, when Buckingham’s partisans carried the day. He had decided to let his chambers in Stone Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn, which he could no longer afford, to go to Paris for six weeks and possibly to return to the continent that summer. He wrote to his uncle that ‘even if I go on reading law, it is so much cheaper to live in lodgings’ and ‘I feel that I am very much behind hand with the rest of the world in travelling’, while ‘ a little change of habits and diet would finally re-establish my health and spirits’.11 In late March 1823 Buckingham told William Fremantle that if at the next general election he wished to retire from Parliament or find another seat, it was ‘very probable that in that case I shall look to your nephew Tom’.12

In June 1823 Fremantle, recently elected to White’s Club, received a modest windfall from the will of his great-aunt Mary Preston, who left him real estate near Bristol worth about £1,800 a year. His uncle waived his own claims on him for the moment and encouraged him to spend two years getting himself ‘above the world in pecuniary circumstances’.13 By October 1823 he was in France with his Catholic mother and sisters, learning the language by mixing in ‘the secondary circles’ of society in Paris and taking formal lessons. Of his health, he reported in January 1824 that ‘I am better than I was, that is stronger (for I have no complaint in the world), yet every second night, I don’t feel equal to going out, and am obliged to go to bed instead’. He returned to England at Easter 1824.14 Keen to marry, he proposed to and was accepted by Louisa, the elder daughter of Buckingham’s illegitimate cousin Sir George Nugent, the other Member for Buckingham. There were many difficulties, not least his uncle’s ‘displeasure’ at this ‘rash’ step, which outlasted Nugent’s dropping of his initial ‘objections’ and promise to ‘give his daughter a liberal fortune’, and greatly distressed Fremantle. The marriage eventually took place in late November 1824.15 William Fremantle seems to have suspected an intrigue to have Thomas supplant him as Member for Buckingham; but the air was cleared and William observed that ‘nothing could be more easy’ than for the inactive Nugent to step aside. In June 1825 Buckingham told William Fremantle that he could not yet see ‘daylight’ in providing a seat for his nephew at the next general election, but that ‘he stands first oars’.16 The Fremantles were miffed when, in the autumn of 1825, Buckingham designated George Grenville Pigott* as his private secretary if he achieved his ambition of becoming governor-general of India; but William assured his nephew that ‘your station in the county and the promise he has held out to you must compel him to look to you on parliamentary occasions’. He doubted the sincerity of Buckingham’s ‘declaration’ to Fremantle’s wife in the spring of 1826 that he in fact planned to take him rather than Pigott.17 The duke could not find a seat for Fremantle at the 1826 general election, when his uncle and father-in-law again came in for Buckingham. A report in the Chronicle that at the dinner to celebrate Chandos’s return for the county, 19 Aug., he had commended Chandos’s recent ‘spirited opposition’ to Catholic relief (which Buckingham warmly supported) prompted him to write to the duke explaining that he had done no more than express his admiration for Chandos’s political principles and resistance to ‘new fashioned theories and speculative opinions’, having in mind free trade and reform theories. His uncle talked him out of requiring the paper to publish a corrective paragraph.18 In October 1826 Nugent’s son George was authorized by Buckingham to offer Fremantle an unspecified seat in the Commons for £2,000, on condition of supporting Catholic relief, which he had himself turned down. Fremantle, having given up thoughts of the law, and painfully aware of ‘the smallness of my income ... and the demands upon me which are daily increasing’, could not afford it. Conscious that he was ‘wasting in inactivity the best years of my life’ and aching for money, he sounded his college friend Stephen George Lushington, a commissioner of customs and son of the secretary to the treasury, on his chances of obtaining a place at one of the public boards. On his father’s advice Lushington told him that his case was ‘a very desperate one’, though Lord Grenville might be able to put in a word for him with Liverpool, and that his best hope of securing employment was ‘to come into Parliament and serve the government there for two or three years’; even so, his connection with Buckingham, who had alienated ministers with his arrogance and importunity, would not advance his cause. His uncle endorsed this. Fremantle’s desire for paid employment had been given added urgency by his inclusion at the head of a list of men nominated for the shrievalty of Buckinghamshire for 1827-8, which threatened him with ‘impending ruin’. Nothing came of a bid to evade it by securing nomination as a gentleman of the privy chamber; but a direct request to the privy council office to be excluded was successful in February 1827.19 His uncle thought the ‘compliment’ of his being placed in the chair at the January quarter sessions would enhance his prospects with Buckingham and Chandos.20 In March 1827 he had a ‘disagreeable’ correspondence with his father-in-law over a solicitor’s bill of £215 for drafting his marriage settlement, which he was obliged to pay.21

Next month, on the formation of Canning’s ministry, William Fremantle, treasurer of the household since May 1826, found himself so much at odds with the duke, whose application for the government of India Canning had rejected, that he offered to resign his seat as soon as Buckingham required him to oppose the administration. He urged the duke not to spurn Fremantle, whom he encouraged to take the seat if it was offered to him. Fremantle was very keen, though wary of being ‘placed on a side different from’ his uncle’s. When William informed the duke of this he was reprimanded for jumping the gun and told that ‘to fill your seat, I shall probably look out for some person whose habits will enable him to be my organ in the House’. William informed Fremantle, observing that Buckingham’s ‘intention to get rid of his engagement to you if he can’ was now clear and attributable largely to Chandos’s pernicious influence. Fremantle agreed and admitted to ‘disappointment’; but he refused to play ‘a dirty game’ with Chandos to secure the seat, though he was prepared to discuss the situation with him. His uncle recommended him to ‘soothe and court’ Chandos.22 When Fremantle met Buckingham at the quarter sessions, 24 Apr. 1827, the duke made it clear that he could not support Canning’s ministry if the Lansdowne Whigs joined it and requested him to think carefully before committing himself to taking the seat should his uncle feel obliged to resign. William advised him to accept it if he was turned out. In a further inconclusive conversation with Buckingham on the 26th, Fremantle dismissed the duke’s reservations about his entering political life at variance with his uncle and told him that ‘having once made up my mind, I should decisively take my line with him and become his zealous partisan’. Later that day Chandos informed him that while he would not ‘oppose his father’s nomination’, he would not attend the election or propose Fremantle if he intended to support Catholic relief. Fremantle said that he ‘had considerable difficulties’ on the question ‘and that if I should come in independently I should refuse to pledge myself, but I was ready to support it if the duke, as of course he would, required it’. While he still believed that Buckingham would like to ‘release himself from his engagement to me’, he believed he felt that it was ‘impossible, if I am willing to come in to his terms’.23 On 29 Apr. Buckingham told William that he wanted him to vacate his seat and next day Fremantle, who was now laid up in London with ‘a tiresome attack of illness’, assured the duke that he ‘willingly and thankfully’ accepted it as his ‘zealous partisan’, even though he would ‘rather avoid embarking in a decided line of opposition’.24 Fremantle’s continued indisposition delayed the moving of the writ until 17 May, and he was irritated by the duke’s command that he and his father-in-law, at whose Buckinghamshire house he stayed after leaving London, should present themselves at Stowe on that day. He confided to his uncle that

this is very absurd, and will create delay. If he attempts to tie me down and extort promises which I consider derogatory and unusual, I shall rebel. I am willing to follow him and do his bidding, but he must place the same confidence in me he does in his other Members and act towards me in a manner usual under similar circumstances.

He nevertheless went to Stowe, where Buckingham talked of ‘holding aloof and resting on his oars for the present, and abstaining from any strong demonstrations of opposition until we see what turn things may take’. He also learnt that the duke had forced Chandos and two other Buckingham burgesses to resign their gowns; and on visiting the borough he found that there was much hostility among the other burgesses to Buckingham’s pro-Catholic stance. He had been advised by the duke ‘not "to submit to be catechized by these fellows on the Catholic question, but to say that I should dispose of the question when it came before me"’, though it was naturally understood that ‘in accepting the seat, I was prepared to vote for the measure.’25 He was confidentially warned by his uncle, who also sent him a canting retirement letter for communication to the bailiff and burgesses, of his belief that the duke was ‘playing another game with Canning which may possibly but not probably end in his supporting him’. Confirmation of this came on 22 May, the day before the election, when Buckingham instructed Fremantle to tell his Members Carrington (St. Mawes) and East (Winchester) that it was ‘advisable to hold off for the present, and abstain altogether from voting, neither supporting the government nor opposing it, and not to sit with Lord Chandos and appear to belong to his party’. He was also ordered to ‘hint’ to his uncle that the duke would like an audience of the king in order to explain ‘his conduct, with a view to forming a juncture’ with the ministry and to inform the duke’s uncles Lord and Tom Grenville† that Canning had ‘rejected every overture’.26 The election, which was boycotted by the anti-Catholic burgesses, went smoothly, and Fremantle rejoiced to ‘find myself in Parliament, notwithstanding sundry drawbacks in the tenure of my seat’. He had ignored a demand from ‘a blackguard from the crowd’ that he should support Catholic relief. He told his uncle that in their ‘curious conversation’ the duke had been ‘full of complaints as usual’.27 Three days after his election he was requested by the local Dissenting minister Barling to support Lord John Russell’s motion next session for repeal of the Test Acts. He consulted Buckingham who, as well as urging him to go to Cheltenham or Leamington to seek a cure for his ‘bilious disorganization of stomach’, instructed him to answer by saying that he could not support the relief of Dissenters from their disabilities unless they showed ‘a reciprocal disposition to conciliation ... towards the Catholics’. On 8 June he ordered Fremantle, who had not yet taken his seat, to alert his father-in-law and his other Members to a possible motion ‘by a side wind striking at the Catholic question’, but nothing came of this.28 Fremantle was in the ministerial majority for the grant for improving Canadian water communications, 12 June 1827.

In mid-July Buckingham, who was about to go abroad for an extended period in an attempt to reduce his expenditure, assured George IV that he would ‘support the king’s government as long as the king supported it, meaning thereby that he had no connection with Canning’, and that this was to ‘regulate his votes in the House of Commons’, with the exception of Chandos. ‘You will see you are now to support the government’, Fremantle was told by his uncle, who would not hear of his apparent offer to hand the seat back to him if he wished. Anxious to know how he was to steer his potentially tricky course, he consulted William, who was rather at a loss, having ‘no confidence whatever’ in Buckingham’s ‘acting up to his present declaration’ and sure that as soon as Parliament met Chandos would ‘assume the command over you all’. He thought a direct request to the duke for clarification might answer, but feared involving Fremantle with Chandos and was inclined to ‘leaving the matter as is stands’ in order to enable him to ‘act the same part that Carrington does’, which was tantamount to ‘almost unconditional support of Chandos’. Fremantle evidently took this course, but his uncle warned him to be on his guard against Buckingham’s ‘continued system of ... double dealing’.29

In late November 1827 he accepted his uncle’s offer to use his influence to have him named to the proposed finance committee, which would ‘make you known and advance you’. John Herries*, chancellor of the exchequer in the crumbling Goderich ministry, said he would bear Fremantle in mind, but he was not included when the committee was appointed under the aegis of the new Wellington administration in February 1828. William Fremantle was told that Sir Thomas had spoken ‘extremely well and with great clearness and self command’ on ‘the poor laws’; but he ‘did not know you had ever opened your lips’ in debate, and no record of any such speech in 1827 has been found.30 With Chandos and two other county magistrates Fremantle had promoted a scheme to invite Wellington and Peel to Buckingham in order to present the duke with an address commemorating his military glories. Fremantle was not invited by Chandos to the shooting party at Wotton which was to precede it, but his uncle advised him to swallow the insult, to remain silent, if, as seemed possible, Chandos used the occasion to air anti-Catholic views and to try to make Wellington’s acquaintance. When Lord Nugent intervened to tell him that Buckingham had notified him of his wish to support the Goderich ministry unconditionally and that he could not therefore decently sit on the fence, having been returned by the duke as a supporter of relief, and so allow Chandos to undermine his father’s interest in the borough, Fremantle put him down with a flat refusal to be bound by a second hand report of Buckingham’s views and an assurance that the affair had always been intended to be strictly non-political. His uncle, reminding him that ‘your only line is to keep well with Lord Chandos’ and that ‘as to what the duke writes or says or does, it ever proceeds from the momentary impression’, and ‘therefore you are only to look to what he may think on his return’, entirely approved this line. The ceremony went off without controversy and Wiliam Fremantle was satisfied that his nephew had ‘nothing more to complain of than an evident display ... of Lord Chandos’s determination to keep you in the background’, which would do him no harm with the duke when he returned: above all, ‘you have not quarrelled with Chandos’.31

Fremantle agreed to present the petition from Barling’s congregation for repeal of the Test Acts, which he did on 22 Feb. 1828, but he would not ‘promise to support’ Russell’s motion and duly abstained on the 26th.32 Eager to make a mark as a committee man, he was added to those on parochial settlements, 26 Feb., and Irish vagrants, 14 Mar., and named to those on the police of the metropolis, 28 Feb. (and again, 15 Apr. 1829), the Catholic land tax, 1 May, the Scottish gaols bill, 15 May, and the poor laws, 22 May 1828. He voted to sluice the corrupt borough of East Retford with freeholders of the hundred, 21 Mar., and with government against inquiry into chancery delays, 24 Apr., and reduction of the ordnance estimates, 4 July. He divided silently for Catholic relief, 12 May. On Slaney’s labourers’ wages bill, 23 May, he said that in Buckinghamshire wages were so low that they had often to be supplemented out of parish rates. He insisted that allegations against the conduct of St. Marylebone vestry stemmed from ‘a most unjust prejudice ... raised in the public mind’, 6 June 1828. The following month, after Parliament had risen, he received from Buckingham in Naples a letter directing him and his other Members, whom he was to contact, to take ‘no decided step either in the support of the present government or of any opposition which may be formed against it’. In reply, 26 July 1828, he explained that Buckingham’s ‘friends’ had ‘endeavoured ... to adopt a moderate but consistent line’, had ‘given a general support to government, without surrendering our independence, or relinquishing our right to judge for ourselves’ and had ‘uniformly acted together’. He added that party conflict had largely been in abeyance, but that the Catholic question was approaching a critical point, ‘when some measure must be taken either to grant the concession or to repress the rising spirit and power of the Catholic interest in Ireland’. Fremantle, who had lately bought the old manor house in Swanbourne village, said that he had

been in London without intermission from the opening of the session. I found the business of the House very interesting, and was constantly employed nearly every day on committees. I ... have I hope derived some benefit from a close attention to the forms and proceedings of parliamentary business.33

Towards the end of the year his uncle warned him to strive to avoid ‘ a participation in the feuds of Lords Chandos and Nugent, for neither party will let you be neuter, and you ... are really between two stools’.34

Fremantle evidently did not receive direct orders from Buckingham, but in mid-January 1829 he was shown by Bernard Morland, Member for St. Mawes, the duke’s letter of 29 Dec. 1828 requiring his Members to do all they could do to secure Catholic relief and otherwise to ‘give general support’ to the government, reserving the right to exercise independent judgement, especially on foreign policy. At the same time he was ‘trying to make terms’ with the ministry and ‘offering himself for office’. William Fremantle, seeing that the duke was playing ‘his old game’, advised Sir Thomas to ‘vote for the Catholic question and on all other matters take Lord Chandos’s wishes, for he is in fact the chief’. A letter of 21 Jan. from the duke to Fremantle’s father-in-law expressing strong hostility to the government on the mistaken assumption that the recall of the Irish viceroy Lord Anglesey signified ‘drawing the sword ... against the Catholic claims’ was rendered irrelevant by the ministry’s decision to concede them. Sir George Nugent thought Fremantle took ‘a gloomy view of the situation of the [Grenvillite] party, as it is impossible the duke could have been ever on the point of abandoning those who were faithful to him in politics, or the Catholic question’. After consulting his father-in-law Fremantle, anxious to keep clear of the Grenville family squabble, was confirmed in his resolution to stay away from the anti-Catholic meeting promoted by Chandos at Buckingham, 21 Feb., when Lord Nugent clashed with his nephew.35 Fremantle voted silently for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. In the Easter recess he wrote to Buckingham in Rome to complain of Chandos’s recent conduct and the duke’s unhelpful silence:

My situation and that of all your friends has been one of pain and embarrassment ever since your departure - treated with slight and neglect ... as if we belonged to a hostile party, by those whom we wished to serve and oblige ... My residence in the county has been rendered so different from what it was a few years since that I can hardly believe so great a change should be effected without any fault of mine ... During your absence and with all your influence placed in other hands and used for other purposes ... not conducive to your real interests, I have always felt that resistance would not only be useless, but that it would be positively injurious ... I shall hope soon to learn your sentiments from your own lips ... If you are disposed to find fault with my conduct ... make allowances for the difficulties with which I have been surrounded ... I have make some sacrifices as your friend, and am ready to make more.

His uncle was ‘not quite sure’ that he had ‘done right in writing to the duke’, for ‘if he is in a petulant humour and wants to discharge his bile he will answer you by some gross and unfounded and false assertions’. In fact Buckingham replied, 9 May 1829, unequivocally condemning Chandos’s conduct on the Catholic question and disowning him as his spokesman or the leader of ‘my political friends’, and stating his wish to ‘give general support to the government, but not to pledge ourselves further’.36 In the House Fremantle, who was appointed to the select committees on vestries, 28 Apr. (and again, 10 Feb. 1830), and life annuities, 20 May, said transportation would be too harsh a sentence for a juvenile offending for a second time, 12 Mar. 1829. He presented petitions for local canal bills, 2 Apr., and one on behalf of Tyne and Wear colliery owners against using the duties on coal imports to defray the cost of the new London bridge approaches, 8 Apr. He spoke in this sense, 6, 8 May. On 10 Apr. he defended the archbishop of Canterbury’s estate bill against radical attacks, which he said were ‘more levelled against the church than against this bill’. He applauded Slaney’s attempt to re-establish the principle of able-bodied employment by the parish, as the agricultural interest was ‘in a state of pauperism’, 4 May. He opposed the Smithfield Market bill, 11, 15 May. He approved of Byng’s measure to make turnpike trusts rather than the parish responsible for the upkeep of bridge approach roads and was a teller for the minority of five, 12 May. He was forced to withdraw his opposition to the compulsory spending clause of the friendly societies bill, 15 May 1829.

Fremantle was apparently treated with more civility by Chandos, who was now embroiled with the disaffected Ultras, in the summer of 1829, when his uncle reckoned that ‘it would be well for you to try and place yourself in the same boat with him’, and he was ‘sure to lead his father’. After a meeting with Chandos in late October, when Buckingham’s return was imminent, William Fremantle warned Sir Thomas of Chandos’s notion of having him put up for Aylesbury to aggravate Lord Nugent.37 In reply to Fremantle’s welcoming letter Buckingham wrote enigmatically of how ‘many’ of his ‘old friends’ had ‘forgotten’ him or ‘proved ... how anxious they were to forget me’. William Fremantle advised him to ignore this ‘insinuation’, which was probably aimed at others; and he was warmly received at Stowe in December 1829 and was invited to a ministerial junket there. His uncle, while warning him that if the duke immediately importuned ministers for a place he would get nothing, thought it was ‘better to be on good and equal terms with him, than on confidential, which is so apt with him to lead to differences’.38 Fremantle conceived the idea of volunteering his services to Peel, the home secretary, to move or second the address. His uncle approved but, aware that there would be trouble if he went behind Buckingham’s back, made him consult the duke first. Buckingham vetoed ‘so very decided a measure’, which would ‘commit him too much’ to support the government unconditionally and so impede, as William Fremantle saw it, ‘the same vacillating game he has always played’; but he felt that the answer as far as his nephew was concerned was ‘perfectly satisfactory, as he talks of us and we which is all you can wish for, that is to be identified in his views and objects’.39

On the eve of the 1830 session Buckingham confirmed to Fremantle that ‘my line must be steady downright support and instructed him to ‘be upon the watch not to let any quirks or crotchets’ of Chandos on ‘currency, malt tax, etc. be considered as mine. Having twice voted for the principle of transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham on 5 May 1829, he abstained, with Buckingham’s blessing, from the division of 11 Feb. 1830.40 He divided with ministers against Lord Blandford’s reform scheme, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He dismissed Hume’s plan for a tax to replace tithes, 8 Feb., and approved the notion of paying clerks of the peace by salary rather than fees, 17 Feb.; he was named to the select committee on this, 23 Feb. He asked to be placed on the East India select committee, but Peel, while claiming that it had been his ‘particular wish’ to do so, could not find room for him.41 He was named to those on the sale of beer, 4 Mar., sheriffs’ expenses, 9 Mar., the coal trade, 11 Mar., and superannuations, 26 Apr., and to the committee on the truck bill, 3 May. He assisted Chandos with his revised bill to reform the game laws, but after backing the motion for leave to introduce it, 22 Feb., had nothing to say on it in the House.42 He supported the second reading of Lord John Russell’s bill to reform St. Giles vestry, 2 Mar., and had Russell added to the committee on it, 17 Mar. He was in a vestry committee minority of two against Hobhouse’s resolutions ‘recommending a legislative measure founded on an elective principle’, 31 Mar.43 In the House next day he nevertheless supported the St. Giles bill as a matter of urgent need, but on 2 Apr. he opposed Hobhouse’s attempt to lower the voting qualification from £30 to £25 and was a teller for the minority against it. Joining in the successful opposition to the Avon and Gloucestershire railway bill, 12 Mar., he said that the interest of ‘the landed proprietors deserved as much consideration as that of any other party concerned’.44 He agreed with Portman that subsidized emigration offered a solution to the problems of poverty and high poor rates, 23 Mar., and he approved Slaney’s poor law amendment bill, 26 Apr. He presented licensed victuallers’ petitions against the sale of beer bill and voted in the minority of 28 against its second reading, 4 May. He voiced objections to details of the measure, 3, 4 June, when he was a minority teller for his proposed clause for notice of licensing applications to be displayed on church doors, which was rejected by 72-42. He divided for attempts to restrict the scope of the measure, 21 June, 1 July. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and, with Peel, against the Galway franchise bill, 25 May. He defended the Millbank penitentiary experiment (of which he was one of the managing committee), 21 May, and demanded inquiry into the cost for counties such as Buckinghamshire of moving on Irish and Scottish vagrants, 26 May. He thought the beneficiaries of turnpike legislation should pay the customary parliamentary fees, 11 June, when, in the absence of its sponsor Littleton, he had the truck bill committed. On 23 June 1830 he was a majority teller with Littleton for its report stage.

He came in again for Buckingham at the general election of 1830. At a dinner celebrating Chandos’s return for the county he praised his ‘independent’ conduct, while admitting their occasional differences of opinion.45 Ministers listed him as one of their ‘friends’, and he was in their minority in the division on the civil list which brought them down, 15 Nov. 1830. In late January 1831 Buckingham informed him of his rooted hostility to the Birmingham and London railway bill; but his uncle, commenting that the duke was bound to change his mind, told him:

As to keeping up any political connection with the present heads of the Grenville family with any view of either honour or advantage, it is past hope; all I should recommend is to take ample time in forming your decisions and this not till you see before you some other tangible station, etc. In the meantime the being in Parliament gives you the sort of intercourse and communication with current matters that must be an advantage.

Fremantle was by now mixing familiarly with the leaders and organizers of the Tory opposition.46 He refused to support the Grey ministry’s game bill because Chandos’s measure had been unfairly superseded, 15 Feb., and was not prepared to swallow Hobhouse’s bill to open select vestries unless St. Giles was exempted, 21 Feb. He again defended Millbank penitentiary and claimed that two-thirds of its inmates became ‘useful and honest members of society’ on release, 17 Mar. On the 19th he said that a Northampton reform petition had not been unanimously adopted and, endorsing Buckingham corporation’s petition against the reform bill, which unaccountably scheduled the borough for disfranchisement, contended that its actual population entitled it to retain one seat. He had privately raised this problem with Russell, who promised to look into it. (The borough was subsequently put in schedule B.) He voted against the second reading, 22 Mar., but next day presented a favourable petition from Kirkcudbright, while noting that the measure would destroy the privileges of the local authorities there. Buckingham, who believed ‘ministers to be safely seated until the Birmingham [Political] Union is prepared to declare the republic’, asked him to keep him furnished with ‘the talk of the day’.47 On 25 Mar. he called on the government to insist on Queen Adelaide taking a £50,000 outfit despite her husband’s having turned it down. Raising the issue again, 28 Mar., Fremantle, who was told by his uncle for his ‘private satisfaction’ that this intervention had ‘succeeded’ at Windsor, denied that he had been ‘set on by some other party’, observed that Hume and his other detractors were ‘not very friendly to a monarchical form of government’ and warned William IV to beware of a reformed Parliament.48 He divided for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr. 1831.

Fremantle was again returned for Buckingham at the ensuing general election. His uncle, who judged in late July that he had managed ‘extremely well’ in staking his claim to Buckingham’s interest there after reform was enacted, observed that

so long as the duke is stout you are safe ... Though I despair of any advantage to you from the connection, yet on the whole it is the only line you can adopt, and the connection of the family is of such long standing and so well known that one cannot bear the feel of altogether breaking it up. Besides which I think your residence and station in Buckinghamshire give you the best possible claim and offer an advantage to the Grenville family, which must sooner or later tell.49

Fremantle voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831. On the 11th he backed Chandos’s endorsement of the Northampton electors’ petition complaining of the use of the town barracks to accommodate out-voters in the reform interest, adding that at the general election ‘influence of the most extraordinary kind has been exercised wherever the reform candidates have been opposed’. He voted at least twice for the adjournment, 12 July, demanded a clear statement of the criterion on which schedule A was based, 15 July, voted for use of the 1831 census as a basis for disfranchisement, 19 July, and suggested giving the schedule B boroughs two Members in order to ‘protect them in a reformed Parliament’, 27 July, when he divided against the inclusion of Chippenham. His uncle thought this speech was ‘very good’.50 He said that petitioners from the Manchester Political Union, ‘so far from being satisfied with the [reform] bill, talk of correcting its anomalies in a reformed Parliament’, 8 Aug. He did not see why me qualified to become Members should be exempted from serving as returning officers, 19 Aug. He expressed ‘very strong objections’ to the appointment of boundary commissioners, with dangerously extensive powers, and the inclusion among them of the Members Littleton and Gilbert, 1 Sept. Next day he moved to preserve the voting rights of freeholders of the sluiced boroughs of Aylesbury, Cricklade, East Retford and New Shoreham who lived more than seven miles away, and was a teller for the minority of 29. He objected to the grant for the salaries of Oxford and Cambridge professors, and as one of the derided ‘amateurs’ overseeing Millbank, once more defended the institution, 8 July. He was not happy with the introduction so late in the session of Hobhouse’s vestry bill, 25 July. He suggested improvements to the game bill, 8 Aug., but failed in his bid to stop coach drivers and publicans selling game, 8 Aug. He protested at the ‘levity’ with which government supporters seemed to treat the Dublin election controversy, 20 Aug. He was named to the select committees on secondary punishments, 15 July (and again, 2 Feb. 1832) and ridding the House of its noisome atmosphere, 8 Aug. 1831. He was ‘in good spirits as to the future’ in mid-September, but Buckingham, disgusted with the ‘sickening candour’ with which the opposition leaders were ‘now suffering the [reform] bill to pass unresisted’, did not share his optimism. He signed the requisition of 13 Members urging Henry Bankes* to stand in the Dorset by-election.51 He divided against the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept. 1831. At this time he happily ‘discovered’ a financial windfall ‘overlooked’ by his father; his uncle declined his offer to use it to repay him.52

Fremantle’s wife gave birth to their second son on 12 Dec. 1831, but at the duke’s request he went up to vote against the second reading of the ‘iniquitous’ revised reform bill, by which Buckingham was entirely reprieved, on the 17th.53 He joined in opposition mockery of ministerial uncertainty as to whether the bill, once enacted, would become operative before the boundary bill reached the statute book, 23 Jan. 1832. He voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., said that the freeholders of Birmingham would be able to return one Member for Warwickshire as well as having £10 votes in their borough, 9 Mar., and divided against the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar. He was in the majority against the vestry bill, 23 Jan., and was a teller for the majority against printing a petition for the abolition of Irish tithes, 16 Feb. He divided against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July. He predicted difficulties in raising local funds to implement cholera prevention, 14 Feb. He presented a Southwark petition against the London bridge approaches bill, 20 Feb. He saw no need to refer petitions against the general register bill to a select committee, 22 Feb., but he was added to this, 27 Mar. He was on the committees on the sheriffs’ expenses bill, 7 Mar., and the highways bill, 11 May. He yet again defended Millbank against Hume, 13 Apr. On 20 June 1832 he presented a petition from the churchwardens and overseers of Winslow calling for the adoption of some means of setting unemployed paupers to work. He was mentioned as a possible member of the poor law commission, but nothing came of this.54

Fremantle became involved in but won a dispute with the duke of Buckingham over the expenses of his successful candidature for Buckingham at the 1832 general election, when he came second to a Liberal.55 In August 1833 he became one of the trustees appointed to take responsibility for the duke’s estates and personalty and satisfy his creditors. It was not a happy experience and he got out of it in 1835.56 Peel made him financial secretary to the treasury on the formation of his first ministry in December 1834, and after the 1837 general election, as a man ‘universally liked’ and noted for ‘discretion and straightforwardness’, he was made Conservative chief whip.57 He served briefly as secretary at war and Irish secretary in Peel’s second administration but, obliged to vacate his seat by the hostility of the 2nd duke of Buckingham (as Chandos had become in 1839) to repeal of the corn laws in February 1846, he was made deputy chairman and then chairman of the board of customs, where he worked for 27 years before retiring at the age of 75. He was created a peer in 1874. He died at Swanbourne in December 1890. His eldest son and namesake (1830-1918) was Conservative Member for Buckinghamshire, 1876-85.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Oxford DNB; Gent. Mag. (1820), i. 87, 568; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 834-5.
  • 2. PROB 11/1630/349; IR26/822/535.
  • 3. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/138/5/5, 6.
  • 4. Ibid. 49/1/1, 3, 29; 85/1A (vi) passim; London Gazette, 28 July 1821, 6 Apr. 1822.
  • 5. Fremantle mss 51/5/11.
  • 6. Ibid. 46/9/5, 9; 49/1/2.
  • 7. Ibid. 138/2.
  • 8. Ibid. 138/2/2-4, 6.
  • 9. Ibid. 86/1/1-3.
  • 10. Ibid. 46/10/43.
  • 11. Ibid. 46/10/38, 46, 49; 86/1/8-10.
  • 12. Ibid. 51/5/17.
  • 13. Gent. Mag. (1823), i. 573; PROB 11/1672/374; Fremantle mss 138/5/5, 6.
  • 14. Fremantle mss 49/1/26, 28; 138/14/9, 10.
  • 15. Ibid. 46/11/103; 49/1/4.
  • 16. Ibid. 46/11/118; 138/14/2; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, ii. 152.
  • 17. Fremantle mss 138/12/8, 9; 138/16/15.
  • 18. Bucks. Chron. 26 Aug. 1824; Fremantle mss 138/18/6, 7, 9, 12, 13.
  • 19. Fremantle mss 138/126/1-6, 8, 9, 16, 17.
  • 20. Ibid. 138/21/1/2, 3.
  • 21. Ibid. 138/26/11, 13, 14.
  • 22. Ibid. 49/1/15, 16; 138/21/2/1-5, 7.
  • 23. Ibid. 46/11/154; 49/12/13, 14, 17; 138/21/2/8.
  • 24. Ibid. 46/12/109; 138/28/1.
  • 25. Ibid. 46/9/2, 8; 49/1/8; 138/28/2.
  • 26. Ibid. 46/10/48, 50; 138/21/2/9; 138/28/3.
  • 27. Ibid. 46/10/40, 47; 138/21/2/10.
  • 28. Ibid. 138/18/4, 5; 138/28/5.
  • 29. Ibid. 138/21/2/12-14.
  • 30. Ibid. 138/21/2/21; 138/22/1/2.
  • 31. Ibid. 138/21/2/21-24; 138/22/2-6, 8.
  • 32. Ibid. 138/18/1.
  • 33. Ibid. 139/8/6, 7.
  • 34. Ibid. 139/2/2-4.
  • 35. Ibid. 139/10/4, 5, 7, 13, 14, 17, 21.
  • 36. Ibid. 139/10/31, 33, 36.
  • 37. Ibid. 139/10/47, 49, 55.
  • 38. Ibid. 139/10/56, 57, 62, 64.
  • 39. Ibid. 139/10/65, 66, 68, 69, 73.
  • 40. Ibid. 139/14/9, 10; 139/20/21; The Times, 2, 4 May 1831.
  • 41. Fremantle mss 139/14/11.
  • 42. Ibid. 139/14/3.
  • 43. Broughton, Recollections, iv. 14.
  • 44. Fremantle mss 139/14/19.
  • 45. Bucks Gazette, 28 Aug. 1830.
  • 46. Fremantle mss 139/20/1, 5, 6, 8; Three Diaries, 54.
  • 47. Fremantle mss 139/20/9.
  • 48. Ibid. 139/20/11, 12.
  • 49. Ibid. 139/20/29.
  • 50. Ibid. 139/20/30.
  • 51. Ibid. 139/20/31; Dorset RO D/BKL.
  • 52. Fremantle mss 139/20/32.
  • 53. Ibid. 130/5/9, 10.
  • 54. Brougham mss, Slaney to Brougham, 28 June [1832].
  • 55. J.J. Sack, The Grenvillites, 23.
  • 56. J. Beckett, Rise and Fall of the Grenvilles, 164, 171, 173-4, 175-6.
  • 57. Add. 40405, ff. 47, 295; 40424, f. 37; Wellington Pol. Corresp. ii. 401; R. Stewart, Foundation of the Conservative Party, 120-1.