MANNERS SUTTON, Charles (1780-1845), of Palace Yard, Westminster, Mdx. and Mistley Hall, Manningtree, Essex

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



1806 - 1832
1832 - 10 Mar. 1835

Family and Education

b. 29 Jan. 1780, 1st s. of Most Rev. Charles Manners Sutton, abp. of Canterbury, and Mary, da. of Thomas Thoroton† of Screveton, Notts. educ. Eton 1793-6; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1798; L. Inn 1802, called 1806. m. (1) 8 July 1811, Lucy Maria Charlotte (d. 7 Dec. 1815), da. of John Denison† of Ossington, Notts., 2s. 1da.; (2) 6 Dec. 1828, Ellen, da. of Edmund Power of Curragheen and Clonea, co. Waterford, wid. of John Purves Home, 1da. suc. fa. 1828; GCB 31 Aug. 1833; cr. Visct. Canterbury 10 Mar. 1835. d. 21 July 1845.

Offices Held

Judge adv.-gen. Nov. 1809-June 1817; PC 8 Nov. 1809; bencher, L. Inn 1817; commr. for building new churches 1818; charity commr. 1818-34; registrar of ct. of faculties 1827-34; high commr. for adjusting claims of Canada 1835.

Speaker of the House of Commons 2 June 1817-29 Dec. 1834.


To what Lord Althorp* called the ‘necessary humbug’ of the Speakership, Manners Sutton, the grandson of the 3rd duke of Rutland, brought ‘a commanding presence, sonorous voice, imperturbable temper, and ... winning grace of manner’, but only a modicum of talent and no flair: he was ‘wholly deficient in that extraordinary perspicuity of diction and clearness of mind’ which had characterized his distinguished predecessor Charles Abbot. He picked Abbot’s brains and quickly mastered the forms and procedures of the House, which he supervised in a tolerant spirit.1 A ‘tall and robust’ man with a ‘very dark’ complexion and ‘a strong squint in one of his eyes’, he became generally respected and liked, although some on the left were naturally indisposed towards his strong anti-Catholic Tory politics. A personal friend of the leading Tory Protestant Robert Peel*, he usually kept his party prejudices in abeyance when in the Chair, but his impartiality (as well as his physical stamina) was severely tested during the reform crisis of 1831-2.2

According to John Croker*, Manners Sutton agreed with his father the primate that Queen Caroline’s name should be specified in prayers and did ‘not approve’ of the contrary line which the Liverpool ministry adopted.3 He was reported to be ‘well and in spirits’ a week after his unopposed return for Scarborough on the secure interest of his cousin the 5th duke of Rutland at the general election of 1820.4 On his re-election to the Chair, proposed by Sir William Scott and seconded by George Holme Sumner, 21 Apr. 1820, he referred to the recent doubling of business and ‘new embarrassments arising out of the times in which we lived’. An obituary credited him with an aptitude for the facilitation of the vast increase in private bill legislation which was one of the features of his time in the Chair; but Edward John Littleton, a frustrated aspirant to that place, reckoned that he ‘had never sat on a committee on a private bill and seemed totally thoughtless about the principles on which that important part of the House of Commons work ... should be governed’.5 This charge seems unfair, for Manners Sutton clearly addressed his mind to the subject. On 6 Apr. 1821 he observed that it was necessary to reach ‘a fair and temperate decision’ on procedure in private bill committees, which he felt ought as far as possible to follow the established practice of the House. In 1824 a standing orders committee was established, and that session and in 1825 and 1826-7 select committees were appointed to investigate means of improving the conduct of private business. Their reports exposed the many deficiencies in current practice, but few of the changes which they recommended were implemented in this period: on the initiative of Littleton, 1826-7, new county lists were ordered to be drawn up and a committee of appeals was constituted. More effective reforms were implemented under Manners Sutton’s aegis, 1833-4.6 When a number of Members raised the problem of a lack of accommodation for committees upstairs and Littleton criticized his having allowed private bill committees to use the chamber before the House convened because it had created ‘an unwholesome air’, 22 Mar. 1825, Manners Sutton explained that he had had no choice on this occasion and said that as no remedy could be implemented that session he would continue the practice for the time being. In response to Littleton’s report that the committee on the Welch Mining Company bill had twice failed to meet, 18 May 1825, he observed:

He had paid great attention to the private business, in order, if possible, to remedy the inconvenience arising from the great pressure of it this session, and that it might be better regulated. But ... if the gentlemen who constituted the committee absented themselves, and never attended ... it was quite idle to think that any regulations could remedy the present grievances ... Nothing was more degrading to the character of the House, in whose hands was vested such a mass of business, than that such a proceeding should take place.

Prompted by Littleton and others, on 15 Apr. 1829 he gave a resume of the principles of private bill committee procedure. On 8 Mar. 1830 he reported that he had ‘taken considerable pains’ to investigate the fees charged by the private bill office and committee clerks with the aim of making them ‘perspicuous’ and laid before Members a revised and simplified list for consideration. He had these made into standing orders, 22 July, when he also repealed the order which required an interval of 21 days between the first and second readings of Irish private bills, abolished the maximum scale of 5 inches to the mile for the maps required for turnpike bills and ordered the rearrangement of the standing order book for private legislation to make it easier to use. At the start of the 1830 Parliament, in conjunction with Peel, the leader of the House, he announced that in future he would take the chair at three o’clock rather than four in order to expedite private business. When Littleton raised the problem of obstructive petitions to private bills which, by alleging a failure to comply with standing orders forced the revival of the standing orders committee, he agreed that the practice was getting out of hand and urged Members to ‘look cautiously and narrowly’ at such petitions and ‘not suffer parties, by a side-wind, to impede the progress of bills’: he was keen to ‘compel parties to come forward at once to oppose a measure, and to state the grounds of their opposition, instead of allowing them to endeavour to obtain their object in an underhand manner’. In response to complaints from Members of the ‘uncertainty’ of having their names called for the presentation of private bill petitions, 20 Feb. 1832, he announced that he had directed a clerk to attend the chamber each morning at ten o’clock to take down names ‘in rotation’. He appealed for ‘a general feeling of accommodation’ when sharp practice by some Members was revealed, 23 Feb. 1832.

Turning now to some of the most interesting episodes of Manners Sutton’s Speakership in this period, he required Canning and Burdett to explain after their exchange of ‘coarse and harsh words’, 9 May 1820, but took no notice of Burdett’s observation that Canning ‘appeared drunk with insolence’.7 He was involved in the discussions which ended in the ministerial decision to proceed against the queen by a bill in the Lords, 25 June.8 When he checked Hobhouse for alluding to the divisions there, 18 Sept., Hobhouse, considering that he was within his rights, ‘appeared to yield, but continued my topics’.9 Manners Sutton told Mrs. Arbuthnot in October that his father was ‘decidedly for’ the royal divorce and that he himself thought ‘it would be more difficult to pass’ the bill of pains and penalties through the Commons ‘without the [divorce] clause than with it’; but she did not ‘pay much attention to what the Speaker says as he is very apt to take up wrong notions’.10 On 2 Nov. 1820 there was an unseemly outburst in the House when he was ‘hooted’ by opposition Members as he left the chamber to obey Black Rod’s summons to the Lords for the prorogation, so denying Denman the opportunity to deliver a communication from the queen. The Whig Commons leader Tierney noted that this was ‘not well thought of’ even by some ministerialists, and told Lord Grey that ‘if you ever saw a pickpocket on his way to be ducked you may have a tolerable idea of the Speaker’s walk from the Chair to the door’. He did not return to the House.11 Tierney did not think that his being ‘a great deal’ with Peel in the first week of January 1821 necessarily meant that the latter was in negotiation for a return to office, as the two had always been ‘great friends’.12 The Tory independent Member Henry Bankes privately blamed his ‘inadvertence and mismanagement’ for giving rise to an unexpected debate and division on the queen’s affair, 23 Jan; and two months later Joseph Jekyll† observed that the House ‘disgraces itself by perpetual vulgar tumult’, for ‘the Speaker is no disciplinarian’.13 On 26 Mar. he availed himself of the Speaker’s privilege of speaking in committee of the whole House to oppose the clause of the Catholic relief bill which allowed Catholics to sit in Parliament as a threat to ‘the safety of the constitution’. He congratulated Julia Peel on her husband’s ‘most powerful’ speech against the third reading, 2 Apr.14 Next day he gave his casting vote against the second reading of the Blackfriars bridge repair bill without giving a reason.15 In June 1821 Croker found him ‘vexed that, in consequence of the prorogation’, he could not take his place in the coronation procession as the first commoner and ‘more vexed that he must walk, as he says five degrees below his rank as a privy councillor’. The following month he was still out of sorts at the state of affairs.16 When Hume proposed to lop £1,000 off the vote for the judge advocate’s office, 20 Mar. 1822, Manners Sutton, who had held that post for over seven years before becoming Speaker, defended it as one of ‘great difficulty’ and ‘extensive practice’, claiming that during his first two years in the place he had ‘not been absent from his office for the space of five weeks altogether, and at no one period for a single fortnight’. He privately assured Peel (now home secretary) that there was no modern precedent for the House’s addressing the crown for a remission of Henry Hunt’s* gaol sentence and that Burdett’s motion to that effect (24 Apr. 1822) could be confidently opposed.17

At the end of August 1822 he asked Peel (as a matter of personal interest) if he was willing to accept Canning as a cabinet colleague and leader of the House after Lord Londonderry’s suicide. Peel indicated that he was.18 After taking the foreign secretaryship, Canning schemed to have Manners Sutton sent to India as governor-general, to be replaced in the Chair (in which he considered him to be below par) by Charles Williams Wynn, whose cabinet office as president of the board of control would go to Canning’s acolyte William Huskisson. Manners Sutton got wind of this and told friends that while he hoped no such offer would be made to him, he felt that if it was he would be obliged to accept it on account of the financial ‘duty he owes to his family’. Williams Wynn thought that he was unequal to a ‘post of so much importance’ and that ‘a man naturally indolent would in so indolent a climate be wholly inefficient’. Peel advised him not to take India if it was offered, and in the event he was not required to make a decision, for Canning’s plan foundered in the first week of October. He was reported by Peel’s brother-in-law George Dawson* to have been in a state of ‘anxiety and fidget’ and to be ‘hurt’ and ‘very sore’ at the appointment of Lord Amherst ‘without any communication with him’, though at bottom not ‘disappointed’ at being passed over.19 Later in the month a vacancy arose for Cambridge University. Among others, the attorney-general John Singleton Copley* was interested, but he told Dawson that he would only start if Manners Sutton, whose credentials as an anti-Catholic Trinity man, related to Rutland, who had a commanding electoral interest in Cambridge, were strong, did not do so. At Copley’s request Dawson reported this to Manners Sutton, who was tempted but initially demurred on account of supposed legal obstacles to his re-election as Speaker if he vacated his seat during a Parliament.20 Copley duly declared himself, but on 26 Oct. Manners Sutton told Lord Liverpool that having been ‘strongly urged’ to follow suit by several friends and having decided that ‘the difficulties as to any public inconvenience in vacating the Chair at this time’ were ‘so much less ... than I had at first conceived them’, he was inclined to stand provided this would not embarrass the government or impede his re-election as Speaker. Liverpool, who was committed to support his nephew Lord Hervey*, gave him no encouragement and advised him to consult Lord Sidmouth and Lord Colchester (Abbot) as the authorities ‘most competent to form a correct judgement’ on the supposed legal obstacles.21 To Liverpool’s vexation he ignored this advice and declared his candidature on 29 Oct., whereupon Copley withdrew and his supporters rallied to Manners Sutton, who seemed almost certain to succeed. However, Williams Wynn, astonished and cross that Manners Sutton, in an ‘extraordinary’ act of disrespect towards ‘those ministers who are in the House of Commons’, should ‘commit himself as a candidate ... without ever learning their opinion on a question of so much delicacy and difficulty’, alerted Canning and Liverpool to the possible ramifications. He cited a precedent of 1801, which seemed to establish the ‘inability of any Member to be chosen Speaker at the meeting of Parliament, who had not already taken the oaths in the House’. Neither Manners Sutton nor Colchester was entirely convinced that it held water, but ‘after requiring a day to consider’, he withdrew his candidature on 2 Nov. 1822.22 Manners Sutton, whose ‘absurd’ conduct caused considerable annoyance in some ministerial circles, remained a candidate for the University at the next general election; but in late August 1825 he abandoned the notion and settled for his Scarborough berth for the rest of this period.23

In February 1823 some Whigs believed that to boost Peel, who was supposed to be at loggerheads with Canning, Manners Sutton had ‘spread ... a report in the House, that Canning was going to form an administration with Lords Holland and Lansdowne ... and [Henry] Brougham*’.24 He was ‘haunted’ by the prospect of Brownlow’s motion condemning the Irish attorney-general William Plunket’s* ex-officio prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 15 Apr., which he urged Peel to meet with a ‘direct negative’ as ‘a direct unqualified charge against the first law officer of the crown in Ireland’.25 Two days later, he broke the ‘perfect silence’ which followed Canning’s retort that Brougham’s charge against him of ‘political tergiversation’ was ‘false’ with a request, delivered in ‘a low tone’, for Canning to ‘retract the expression he had used ... [which was] a complete violation of the customs and of the orders of the House’. Canning refused, forcing Manners Sutton to appeal twice to the House for support for the ‘authority’ of the Chair. He interpreted Frederick Robinson’s assertion that Brougham had provoked Canning and should be called on to apologize as an insinuation that he had been guilty of ‘inattention’ and was partly to blame for the incident. In the end he seized on Sir Robert Wilson’s suggestion of a semantic way out of the impasse. On 12 Aug. 1823, at the request of the king, he laid the first stone of the new buildings of Trinity.26 In the House, 22 Apr. 1825, asked to rule on a dispute over one Member’s reference to the words of another in an earlier debate on the Irish franchise bill, he stated that while it was strictly disorderly to mention the ‘express words of a debate’, it was usual to ‘allow great latitude’ to references to the ‘subject matter’:

In his opinion ... nothing could be so inconvenient to the progress of business ... as for the Speaker strictly to watch every violation of the letter of their orders. He therefore commonly left such subjects to be regulated by the general sense of the House, taking from them the hint, and declining himself to interfere, unless under circumstances likely to obstruct the public business.

He prefaced his brief speech in committee of the whole House against the Catholic relief bill, 6 May 1825, with an apology for intruding his personal opinion.27 Later that month he informed Peel of his ‘wish to bring in a bill’ to abolish the sale of Commons offices and empower the Speaker to tax ‘the costs on private sales, if applied to’; he had, after talking to the chancellor of the exchequer, abandoned his idea of a provision to pay his trainbearer’s salary ‘out of the House of Commons fund instead of out of the Speaker’s pocket’.28 The measure became law as 6 Geo. IV, c. 123 on 5 July 1825. He was unwell in early February 1826, but fears that his life was in danger proved to be groundless.29 In the first week of May he warned Peel that ‘the country gentlemen’ were ‘all roused again and more hostile than ever’ to the government’s plans for the emergency admission of bonded corn; and a fortnight later he sent Peel a communication from a constituent about a possible opening for a ministerialist at Beverley at the impending general election.30 When the House divided 62-62 on Lord John Russell’s resolution condemning electoral bribery, 26 May 1826, Manners Sutton gave his casting vote for it on the ground that it was ‘merely declaratory of what are the powers and ... duty of the House’. He calculated that the general election had reduced the number of pro-Catholic Members by nine.31 The king gave him permission to ‘remain in Palace Yard till the meeting of the new Parliament’.32

On 21 Nov. 1826 he was proposed for re-election to the Chair by William Sturges Bourne and Edward Berkeley Portman II. The Whig Member George Agar Ellis commented that ‘they were both rather embarrassed what to say, because he is notoriously a very bad Speaker, though a good natured and popular man’; but Henry Goulburn* reported that he ‘seemed very well satisfied to be again in the Chair’.33 The Whig James Abercromby*, who had a low opinion of Manner’s Sutton’s abilities, told Lord Carlisle in December 1826 that the committee on the Arigna Mining Company scandal was ‘in all sorts of difficulties as to their procedure’ and had ‘referred to the Speaker, that is a slender reed, in some respects, that is in essentials’, for ‘we never had a worse, and never stood more in need of a good one’.34 His indisposition, 22 Feb. 1827, ‘occasioned the breaking up of the House’ at an early hour.35 A fortnight later he told Wilson that he ‘thought changes had become imperatively necessary’ following Liverpool’s incapacitating stroke. When Canning was forming his ministry in April he offered Manners Sutton the home secretaryship (vacated by Peel, in a move of which the Speaker approved), possibly with the promise of a peerage for himself or his father, but, though tempted, he declined it for fear of losing the pension for himself and his elder son of which he was virtually guaranteed on his retirement from the Chair.36 In June he amused dinner parties with comments on Hume’s struggles with the English language, including his ‘use of the word "liable" as if it meant telling a lie’, and the anecdote of how, in that wet summer, he had been dressing one ‘morning, in a bright sunshine and perfect white-trousers weather’, when he ‘heard a noise of music on the river, and on inquiry from his servant found that the corporation [of London] were going on the water for a day’s pleasuring’. He immediately asked for ‘a pair of cloth pantaloons’, and before long the heavens duly opened. He was brought down to earth by a fall from his horse, which left ‘his face much bruised and disfigured’ and ‘covered with black patches’: he looked ‘as if he had been a [prize fight] performer at Moulsey Hurst’.37 He interrupted his seaside holiday at Worthing to attend, ‘by invitation’, Canning’s funeral, 16 Aug. 1827, but gleaned no political news for Peel. He thought the Goderich ministry would ‘stand if they don’t blow themselves up by internal explosives’, which they did in January 1828, when he and his father wrote to the duke of Wellington to express their confidence in his new administration.38 There had been recent talk of Littleton as his successor in the Chair, whenever he chose to retire, but when he mentioned this in conversation Littleton disingenuously ‘ridiculed the idea’, but reflected that ‘it would not have been difficult to have rivaled him in anything except the extraordinary amenity of his temper and manners’.39

Manners Sutton prepared ‘a speech to usher in his vote’ in case the House divided equally on the Catholic question, 12 May 1828, but the majority of six for relief spared him.40 He was mentioned as a possible recruit for the ministerial front bench after the resignation of the Huskissonites in May, but nothing came of this.41 On 17 July he was obliged five times to ‘name’ the truculent Robert Otway Cave for refusing to retract his accusation of lying against Peel - the only occasion on which he had to resort to this sanction in this period. Next day, when Hume quibbled at the proposed grant for an index to the 14 reports of the charity commissioners, Manners Sutton, an unpaid member, explained its importance. Three days later his father died. It was reported that he would ‘have a good reversion in cash’ as a result, and by the archbishop’s will of 11 July 1826, which he proved under £180,000, Manners Sutton stood to inherit the principal of £50,000 in three per cent consols after his mother’s death, as well as his share in the residue of the estate, which realized £92,000.42 In September there was renewed speculation of his leaving the Chair, perhaps for cabinet office, but Wellington had ‘heard nothing upon the subject since his father’s death’, though Manners Sutton had previously ‘more than once complained ... that his office was ruining him’ financially. Wellington thought it ‘very possible that having now an income as I understand he has, besides that of Speaker [about £6,000 a year], he may not choose to sacrifice it in the public service or to pass his time in the Chair’, but could not ‘think that he can have determined to give up the Chair and the claims which he has arising out of several years service in it without communicating with any of us’. Althorp could not see him resigning ‘unless they will give him his pension’, which Wellington was supposed to be reluctant to endorse. Yet his case for reward did not appear to have been strengthened by his second marriage on 6 Dec. 1828, at the age of 48, to the ‘very beautiful’ widow Mrs. Purves, sister of the notorious Lady Blesington: she had lived before her first marriage with William Stewart* of Killymoon, with whom she had three illegitimate children, and had cohabited with Manners Sutton during her husband’s lifetime, but, as Greville recalled, ‘they managed their matter with great skill or else good luck, for she had no children by him till after they were married’. She was a hearty hostess at the Speaker’s official functions, but she remained for the time an outcast from the Court, though according to an outraged Mrs. Arbuthnot, George IV received her in September 1829.43 On 23 Feb. 1829 Manners Sutton proposed that proceedings in committee of the whole House should be entered in the journals. He coined a bon mot in observing that in the disheveled Wetherell’s drunken rant against Catholic emancipation, 18 Mar., ‘the only lucid interval he had was that between his waistcoat and his breeches’.44 He held his peace on the measure (of which Peel was one of the authors), but confided to Hobhouse his hope that ‘the bill in the Lords would be carried not by a large majority as it would lower that House too much considering the past votes of the peers’.45 He was obliged to dismiss Daniel O’Connell from the chamber when he refused to swear the oath of supremacy in order to take his seat for Clare, 15, 19 May. On 28 May, prompted yet again by Littleton, he deplored the increasing activity of ‘parliamentary agents’ masquerading as ‘officers of the House’ for the purpose of promoting private bills and urged Members ‘to consider whether some means ought not to be adopted to bring them within its control, without having recourse to the dernier resort of calling them to the bar and visiting on them that punishment which is the result of a distinct breach of privilege’. There was ‘a strong report’ in June 1829 that he was to be made a peer and replaced by Goulburn, but it had no substance. In the second week of November 1829, however, he reminded Wellington of what he had stated in June 1828, that he would like to resign the Chair in the not too distant future, partly on account of its effect on his health, and hinting at what he considered his due, but he promised that he would not leave the government and the House in the lurch. Wellington’s reply was, as Manners Sutton told Peel, ‘discouraging’, and seemed to set ‘the question ... at rest for the present’.46 Abercromby was told in February 1830 that at one of his regular Sunday dinners for Members Manners Sutton had ‘held language ... very hostile to the ministers’; and in May Hobhouse heard that Mrs. Manners Sutton was predicting that when the duke of Clarence succeeded his dying brother George on the throne he would ‘turn out the duke of Wellington, that is Mr. Speaker wishes it I suppose’.47 The cabinet concluded in March that Manners Sutton would ‘not resign now, as he would not get a good pension in the present temper of the House’; and two months later Croker could detect ‘no symptoms of a change in the Chair’: ‘the Speaker looks, and what is more important, says he is, tolerably well, and with the present jealousy of pensions, I do not think that he or ... the government would be mad enough to risk a new embarrassment of that nature’. In mid-July 1830, on the eve of the general election, Manners Sutton saw Wellington and confirmed his intention of remaining Speaker in the next Parliament.48

He asked Sir John Nicholl to propose him for re-election, as he had in 1817, but Nicholl could not oblige, and in the event, 26 Oct. 1830, his sponsors were Sir Edward Hyde East and Nicolson Calvert.49 A ‘most severe and painful return of my old attack’ of the ‘gravel’ restricted his attendance at the House in the last week of November 1830. This prompted more speculation about his impending retirement, and Williams Wynn and Littleton vied for the support of the new Grey ministry as his successor; but the premier assured Littleton that there was no immediate likelihood of Manners Sutton’s departure.50 Croker told Peel in the first week of January 1831 that he was ‘in great force and very Tory’.51 He had his hands full with the O’Gorman Mahon, a preposterous and intemperate new Irish Member, 8, 11 Feb., and required the support of ‘the whole House’ to bring him under control. He was unseated on petition, 4 Mar., but even then Manners Sutton had to order him to leave the chamber.52 In collusion with Althorp, the leader of the House, he agreed to take the chair at noon on Saturday, 26 Feb. in an attempt to reduce the backlog of reform petitions. He reiterated his willingness to do the same if necessary, 15 Mar., but when Hume proposed on 18 Mar. that the House should convene next day, a Saturday, for the same purpose, Manners Sutton replied that the previous experiment had failed because the effect of fixing on only one type of business had been to keep many Members away and prompt the immediate departure of those present as soon as they had presented their petitions. He suggested meeting for the dispatch of general business, including reform petitions, and this course was adopted. In response to a complaint of the continued difficulty of getting names on the Speaker’s list for the presentation of petitions before the normal start of general business at seven in the evening, he said that he was always willing to receive petitions in the small hours after the end of routine business. Immediately before Russell unveiled the government’s reform scheme to a packed House, 1 Mar., Manners Sutton remarked on ‘a most unusual occurrence’, namely that when he had come down to the House that afternoon he had found it ‘unusually full’, but ‘after prayers had been said, and before the ballots were made’, the slips of paper with Members’ names fixed ‘on the backs of the seats were more numerous than the Members in them’. The scale and scope of the plan must have horrified him. The Tory ex-minister Lord Ellenborough noted in mid-March that he thought ministers ‘would not gain by a dissolution’.53 According to the Whig Denis Le Marchant†, as the numbers for the division on the second reading of the English reform bill were being told, with every appearance of a close call, 22 Mar., Manners Sutton was ‘frightened exceedingly at the prospect of having to give the casting vote’. He was spared this ordeal by the majority of one for the measure. Eleven months later he told a government dinner party that he would have ‘voted for the bill on the principle of giving the House a opportunity of deciding the question itself’; but few present believed him, for, according to Littleton, it had been ‘well known that he meant to have voted against it, on the fanciful ground that it was a courtesy due to Members not to vote for the extinction of the privileges of any of their body’.54 In committee on the bill, 15 Apr., he endorsed Russell’s view that the disfranchisement schedules must be worked through borough by borough before a division could be taken on the clause itself, which promised a protracted deliberation. Hobhouse felt he was ‘manifestly partial to the anti-reformers’; and next day the backbencher Hudson Gurney noted that he ‘appears to wish everybody to vote for Gascoyne’s motion to keep up the numbers of the English Members’, arguing that 590 men will get on no better nor faster than 658.55 Manners Sutton for once lost his temper in the chaotic and rowdy scene which marked the dissolution of Parliament after the defeat of the reform bill, 22 Apr. 1831. He protected Sir Richard Vyvyan in his rant against reform, disputing cries of ‘order’ and expressing his ‘hope that ... Members will be good enough to compute the laws of order in the House as I have laid them down’. Vyvyan gave up at the sound of the guns signaling the king’s approach, and Manners Sutton, ‘not quite fairly’, as Hobhouse thought, called Peel in preference to Burdett, and, in response to the outraged clamour of ministerialists, observed that when Members asked him to decide on questions of order and he had ‘endeavoured to give my opinion impartially and satisfactorily, it is not perfectly consistent with the respect which is due to the Chair to proceed further with the matter’. When Black Rod curtailed Peel’s apoplectic speech, Manners Sutton, ‘with a face equally red and quivering with rage, rose, and, followed by many Members, went to the Lords’. He returned to read the king’s speech at the table of the Commons. Seven months later, according to Littleton, the ministers Graham and Smith Stanley laughed about Manners Sutton’s ‘rage’ and his vexation at not having received an advance copy of the king’s speech, which had only been dashed off at the last minute.56

This episode encouraged speculation that some on the government side would like to oppose Manners Sutton’s re-election as Speaker in the next Parliament, though it was also rumoured that senior ministers were willing to grant him a pension and a peerage if he would retire. Peel, enraged by the dissolution, told Wellington that the Speaker must be protected.57 Manners Sutton consulted Peel and, aware of conflicting reports about the likelihood of his being opposed for ‘undisguised partiality in the Chair’, drafted and sent to Althorp a letter asking him to declare the intentions of the government. At the same time, he encouraged Tory efforts to muster support for himself in case of a contest. After laying the matter before the cabinet, Althorp told Manners Sutton that they wished him to continue as Speaker. He persuaded Williams Wynn (who had recently resigned from the cabinet because he could not support the reform bills) and Sir Matthew White Ridley (who had seconded Williams Wynn’s nomination against him in 1817) to sponsor him, which they duly did on 14 June. Manners Sutton, who was at a Tory dinner of ‘political and party men’, 3 June, felt that he owed his ‘security more to the staunchness of my friends than to the good inclination, or even fair dealing of the government side’, and detected the hand of Littleton in the ‘stirring and striving’ which had taken place.58 The Whig John Campbell II was tempted to disturb the ostensible harmony of proceedings by making ‘a speech against him, for his conduct in the last session was anything but impartial’; but the radical Hunt, whose ignorance and impertinence tried Manners Sutton’s patience on several occasions, thought ‘it would have been a great loss if he had not been elected again. He is firm, courteous, and truly impartial [and] for this the Whigs hate him’.59

On 24 June 1831, dressed in ‘a gown flowered with gold and a long lace ruff’ and riding in a gilded coach, he led the procession of the Commons to St. James’s to present the address to the king.60 When Hume asked for a ruling after having his designated seat stolen, 4 July, Manners Sutton explained that the essential rule was that places could only be reserved by Members who were present at prayers and condemned the recent practice of men entering the House before it opened at ten in the morning to fix their names to the back of seats. He again appealed for ‘general complaisance and good feeling’ to avoid abuse. He was in the Chair for ‘13 hours and a half without quitting and seemed to suffer greatly’ as the Tory opposition forced a succession of divisions for the adjournment throughout the night, 12 July; he was ‘almost fainting’ by eight the next morning.61 He was clear in his mind that William Long Pole Wellesley could not claim breach of privilege to annul his committal to prison for contempt of court.62 On 5 Aug., when the House was in committee on the reform bill, he entered the chamber and, ‘sitting on the treasury bench, put on his hat, and gave his opinion’ on the dispute which had arisen over the right of Members arriving after the question had been put to divide on it.63 Ellenborough did not share his belief that if the Lords rejected the reform bill Lord Grey would ‘propose terms’ to Wellington.64 He was hard pressed to maintain order during the bad tempered debates which followed the bill’s defeat, 12, 13 Oct. 1831. He listened in astonishment as Hume stated that after strangers had been cleared from the gallery before Spencer Perceval began his rant for a general fast, 26 Jan. 1832, he had made notes of the performance and handed them to a man outside the House, whence they had found their way into the report of parliamentary proceedings in The Times. Hume was unabashed by his assertion that every step of this constituted a flagrant breach of privilege, but Manners Sutton gave him a ‘lecture’.65 On 29 Feb., after consultation with Littleton, who had placed a motion on the order book, he decided, rather than enter a resolution in the journal concerning the priority of names to be called for the presentation of petitions on public business, to continue the attendance of a clerk from ten o’clock to take names, but to introduce a ballot to determine the order; Hunt sarcastically applauded this sudden enthusiasm for the ballot, a striking omission from the reform bills. He defended the overworked Commons printer against insinuations of dilatoriness in the production of the tithes committee report, 1 Mar. His mother’s death, 10 Mar. 1832, by which he profited financially, meant that there was no House on the 12th. According to John Heywood Hawkins*, on 23 Mar. 1832 Manners Sutton ‘stood for five minutes before his chair laughing, before he could summon a sufficient command of countenance to call ... to order’ John Hodson Kearsley, the uncouth Member for Wigan, whose uproarious denunciation of the reform bill reduced the House to hysterics.66

Manners Sutton was centrally involved in the abortive attempt to form a Conservative ministry to carry a measure of reform after the resignation of the Grey administration, 9 May 1832. As the only ostensibly uncommitted man in the House and therefore, unlike Wellington, not tainted by previous hostility to all reform, he had some credentials for taking a leading role, as Peel, who refused to serve in any such ministry, realized and pointed out. Lord Lyndhurst, whom the king charged with the task of brokering an arrangement, seems to have confused the issue by giving both Wellington and Manners Sutton the impression that they were to be prime minister. In an audience on 12 May the king made it clear to an embarrassed Manners Sutton, who had been linked with the home office and the Commons lead and a report that his reward for acceptance would be the ‘bitter pill’ (as the queen put it) of his wife’s acceptance at Court, that he would have only the duke as first minister. Manners Sutton, like Alexander Baring*, declined to serve under him on the ground that he was hopelessly compromised on reform. On the afternoon of 13 May Wellington, unable to find enough men of sufficient calibre to occupy the Commons front bench, asked Manners Sutton to become premier, promising his own support and that of Baring. Manners Sutton showed ‘much weakness and uncertainty’ and rambled at such inordinate length about his feelings and misgivings that he exasperated Lyndhurst, who later declared that he would have nothing to do ‘with such a damned tiresome old bitch’ and observed to the duke that ‘this man can never get on - he is nothing but a verbose ninny’. Wellington was said to have been ‘quite astonished at the poverty of abilities he displayed’, but agreed to his request for further time to make up his mind.67 On the morning of 14 May Manners Sutton consulted Peel and William Vesey Fitzgerald*, who advised him to accept the premiership, and he informed Wellington by note that he would do so, subject to final confirmation at a meeting that night after the House had risen. He took the Chair as usual, and when Hume questioned him as to why no answer had been received from the king to the address of 10 May asking him to appoint only a ministry which would carry undiluted reform, he disingenuously replied that perhaps William, ‘not having any responsible minister or confidential adviser, thinks it better to delay sending an answer till he has such a minister’. The debate of that evening finally dashed all hope of the formation of a viable Conservative reform ministry, and at a midnight meeting of party leaders at Apsley House, which Manners Sutton attended, the notion of his ‘intended administration was dropped in silence’.68 When Littleton heard from Grey that Manners Sutton had been ‘seriously proposed’ as prime minister, he was predictably scathing: ‘If there is a public man whose mind is utterly incapable of conducting a department, it is the Speaker. A perfect old woman!’69

When the leaking of the draft report of the Irish tithes committee to the Dublin Evening Post was considered, 1 June 1832, Manners Sutton directed that in future committee clerks should notify the Members concerned as soon as any confidential papers were ready to be put into their hands. On 27 June he ‘majestically’ led the Commons procession to St. James’s with the address to the king after the stone throwing incident at Ascot, but he ‘made a mistake on entering’ the Palace by going into the ‘general levee room’ rather than the ‘entrée room’.70 That day in the House he interfered ‘dexterously’, as Greville thought, to allow Sugden to continue his technically invalid rejoinder to lord chancellor Brougham’s personal insult to him in the Lords.71 His intention to retire from the Chair at the dissolution of the 1831 Parliament had been long anticipated, and on 30 July 1832 he announced this to the House. Althorp, Goulburn, Littleton, Burdett, Murray, Russell and Wetherell paid tribute to him, and the House unanimously carried a vote of thanks and a resolution to address the king to confer on him ‘some signal mark of his royal favour’. Hobhouse, who noted that he ‘could be partial at a pinch’, but was ‘a gentleman, and we shall not like his successor as well, let him be who he will’, thought he was ‘somewhat moved’ by these compliments. Yet on speaking to him afterwards he was surprised to be told that ‘he did not consider his adieu as definitive’, as he had ‘had two or three communications with Lord Grey, and not being certain of his return to the new Parliament, had thought it right to take leave; but the House might choose him again’. Next day, having reported the king’s favourable response to the address, Althorp recommended a committee of the whole House to consider the most appropriate action. On 1 Aug. he proposed to give Manners Sutton a pension of £4,000 a year (to be reduced by half if he later took an office of equivalent value) and his eldest male heir, Charles John Manners Sutton (1812-69), one of £3,000, which was to cease when he came into his reversion to the ‘valuable sinecure office’ of registrar of wills (worth an estimated £10,000 a year), currently held by the Moores. Hume quibbled but acquiesced, and Hunt, as ‘the only avowed radical’, praised Manners Sutton and said he had ‘taken for his maxim that the House should be rode with a snaffle-bridle, and not with a curb’. The pensions were enshrined in a bill, which became law on 15 Aug. It was common knowledge, however, that Grey, who wanted Manners Sutton to remain in the Chair of the first reformed Commons, would not sanction the customary granting of a peerage, considering that he had behaved ‘very infamously to the government’ during the May crisis.72 Grey confirmed this to Manners Sutton’s face in late August 1832, claiming to be ‘embarrassed about peerages’ and frankly admitting that he did not want him in the Lords as a ‘formidable opponent to government’.73 It was thought that the king wished to reward him at the first opportunity, but, having declared his candidature for Cambridge University at the impending general election, he followed Peel’s advice and decided not to be ‘a supplicant’ and to ‘remain quite quiet’ and await events.74 The Conservatives prepared to put up Williams Wynn as their candidate for the Chair against the government nominee, thought to be Littleton or perhaps Abercromby, but there were also rumours that they would back Manners Sutton. After his unopposed return for the University, 12 Dec., ministers asked him to stand for the Chair, with their support, in the new Parliament, and he agreed. Althorp explained to Lord Ebrington*, 30 Dec. 1832:

The question of the Speakership was one of great difficulty. I believe we are now relieved from it in rather a comical way after what happened last session. It appeared not impossible ... that the Tories would put forward Sutton again ... if this had been done it would have been impossible for us after our language on his resignation to have objected ... [for] it would have been said that for the purpose of giving a good place to one of our own friends we were saddling the country with Sutton’s pension unnecessarily ... The best course for us to take was to ‘propose’ it to him ourselves; if he refused it the Tory manoeuvre was defeated; if he accepted it we get a good Speaker, and we are relieved from the difficulty of a contest between Abercromby and Littleton.75

Manners Sutton was elected for the seventh successive time by 241-31 over Littleton, who was put up as a token gesture of protest by some disgruntled radicals. The king gave him a knighthood of the Bath in August 1833. Suspicions (which were largely unfounded) of his involvement in the events leading to the king’s dismissal of the Melbourne ministry and the formation of Peel’s Conservative government in late 1834 prompted the Liberals in opposition to oppose his re-election to the Chair in the 1835 Parliament, and he was defeated by Abercromby by only ten votes in a division of 622 Members. Peel secured him a viscountcy (one step up from the normal rank for a retiring Speaker) before he was turned out of office, but he seldom spoke in the Lords. He died in July 1845, three days after suffering a stroke on a Paddington-bound train just east of Slough. He was succeeded in the peerage by his son Charles, whose ‘prodigality’ as well as Manners Sutton’s own ‘carelessness’ were thought by Littleton to have been responsible for his financial embarrassments; his personal estate was sworn under a meagre £3,000.76 Littleton, who had an axe to grind, recorded a harsh verdict on his Speakership:

[He] had been lifted by the influence of his connections in the unreformed Tory times into the Chair ... for which he was never well qualified ... He was very gentlemanlike, but lengthy and prosing, and let down the discipline of the House by his love of ease ... He was strongly addicted to party, and lost the Chair by it. His honourable character and very open and courteous manner made him generally beloved.77

A more dispassionate observer was much kinder in his assessment, emphasizing the positive qualities which Manners Sutton brought to his onerous position:

He was a great favourite with men of all parties ... A man of more conciliating, bland, and gentlemanly manners never crossed the threshold of St. Stephen’s. He was at all times accessible, and to every Member ... He never suffered his political prejudices, strong as they were, to interfere with the amenities of gentlemanly intercourse. The perfect gentleman was visible in everything he said and did.78

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


See J.A. Manning, Lives of Speakers of House of Commons, 484-8; A.I. Dasent, Speakers of House of Commons, 303-17; Oxford DNB.

  • 1. P. Laundy, The Office of Speaker, 298; The Times, 22 July 1845; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 538-9.
  • 2. [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Commons (1837), 84-87; Oxford DNB.
  • 3. Croker Pprs. i. 160.
  • 4. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ossington mss OsC 7, J. to J.E. Denison, 17 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. The Times, 22 July 1845; Hatherton mss, memo. 25 July 1845.
  • 6. O.C. Williams, Private Bill Procedure, i. 47-57.
  • 7. Dorset RO D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 117.
  • 8. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 25.
  • 9. Add. 56541, f. 73.
  • 10. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 39.
  • 11. Hobhouse Diary, 41; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 79; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 54; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 24 Nov. 1820.
  • 12. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 10 Jan. 1821.
  • 13. Bankes jnl. 122 (23 Jan.); Dorset RO, Bond mss D/BoH C16, Jekyll to Bond, 20 Mar. 1821.
  • 14. Add. 40344, f. 102.
  • 15. Laundy, 90; CJ, lxxvi. 229.
  • 16. Croker Pprs. i. 194, 198.
  • 17. Add. 40345, f. 324.
  • 18. Add. 40350, f. 248; Parker, Peel, i. 332-3.
  • 19. Harewood mss, Canning to wife, 8 Sept., to Liverpool, 14 Sept., reply, 14 Sept.; Add. 38743, f. 236; 40351, ff. 138, 160, 167, 199; 40352, ff. 26, 30; NLW, Coedymaen mss 377; TNA 30/29/9/5/17; Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/46/11/64; Buckingham, i. 381-2, 384, 386; Greville Mems. i. 136.
  • 20. Add. 40352, ff. 109, 111; 40353, f. 92; 51653, Mackintosh to Holland, 27 Oct.; 51659, Whishaw to Lady Holland, 25 Oct. 1822.
  • 21. Add. 38291, ff. 149, 150.
  • 22. Coedymaen mss 653; Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Hervey mss Acc 941/11a, Liverpool to Bristol, 1, 2 Nov, A. Baring to same, 1 Nov.; Colchester Diary, iii. 260-1; Buckingham, i. 392-4; Add. 38291, ff. 158, 160; 40328, f. 184; 40352, f. 162.
  • 23. Buckingham, 392, 393; Add. 40328, f. 194; 40331, f. 143; 51659, Whishaw to Lady Holland [8 Nov. 1822]; HMC Var. ii. 346.
  • 24. Grey mss, Lambton to Grey, 13 Feb. 1823.
  • 25. Add. 40355, ff. 287, 289, 290.
  • 26. Add. 38295, ff. 251, 253; 38296, f. 118.
  • 27. Laundy, 295.
  • 28. Add. 40378, f. 127.
  • 29. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Acc 636, Denison diary, 5 Feb. [1826].
  • 30. Add. 40386, f. 26; 40387, f. 1.
  • 31. Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 9 July 1826.
  • 32. Add. 40387, f. 48.
  • 33. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 14 Nov.; Surr. Hist. Cent. Goulburn mss Acc 304/67A, Goulburn to wife, 20 Nov. 1826.
  • 34. Castle Howard mss.
  • 35. Canning’s Ministry, 27.
  • 36. Ibid. 47, 98, 182, 192, 226; Raikes Jnl. i. 89-90; Add. 36463, f. 378; 40394, f. 35; Creevey’s Life and Times, 241.
  • 37. Broughton, Recollections, iii. 204; Croker Pprs. i. 377-8; Agar Ellis diary, 29 June 1827.
  • 38. Add. 40394, ff. 179, 222; Hatherton mss, Manners Sutton to Littleton, 13 Sept. 1827; Wellington mss WP1/914/6, 26.
  • 39. Hatherton diary, 7 Feb. 1828.
  • 40. Life of Campbell, i. 456.
  • 41. Ellenborough Diary, i. 111.
  • 42. Gent.Mag. (1828), ii. 173-5, 194; PROB 11/1744/459; IR26/1158/538; Hatherton mss, Warrender to Littleton, 31 Aug. 1828.
  • 43. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 6 [Sept.]; Hatherton mss, Fazakerley to Littleton, 20 Sept. 1828; Cockburn Letters, 204; Wellington mss WP1/958/50; Von Neumann Diary, i. 194; Greville Mems. iii. 178; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 306.
  • 44. Greville Mems. i. 278.
  • 45. Colchester Diary, iii. 609; Add. 56553, f. 155.
  • 46. Greville Mems. i. 298; Wellington mss WP1/1056/5; 1059/37; Add. 40399, ff. 397, 399.
  • 47. Bessborough mss, Abercromby to Duncannon, 16 Feb. [1830]; Add. 56554, f. 91.
  • 48. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 208, 315; Croker Pprs. ii. 59; Wellington mss WP1/1130/39.
  • 49. Merthyr Mawr mss L/206/12.
  • 50. Ibid. L/209, Manners Sutton to Nicholl, 6 Dec. 1830; Coedymaen mss 758; Hatherton mss, Palmerston to Littleton, Sunday [Dec.], Littleton to Grey, 6 Dec., reply, 8 Dec. 1830.
  • 51. Add. 40320, f. 173.
  • 52. Three Diaries, 48; Macaulay Letters, ii. 6.
  • 53. Three Diaries, 66.
  • 54. Ibid. 17; Goulburn mss 304/67B, Goulburn to wife [23 Mar. 1831]; Greville Mems. ii. 135; Baring Jnls. i. 84; Hatherton diary, 11 Feb. [1832].
  • 55. Three Diaries, 78; Add. 56555, f. 123; Gurney diary, 16 Apr. [1831].
  • 56. Broughton, iv. 104; Greville Mems. ii. 137; Baring Jnls. i. 86; Hatherton diary, 1 Dec. 1831.
  • 57. Wellington mss WP1/1184/22; Fremantle mss 139/20/25, 26.
  • 58. Add. 40402, ff. 53, 61, 73, 75, 78, 79, 80, 92; NLI, Farnham mss 18612 (11), Somerset to Farnham, 24, 28 May; NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG 1/5, p. 183 (3 June 1831); Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 426.
  • 59. Life of Campbell, i. 516; Lancs. RO DDX 113/28, Hunt to Foster, 17 June 1831.
  • 60. Macaulay Letters, ii. 52-53.
  • 61. Hatherton diary, 13 July [1831]; Macaulay Letters, ii. 70.
  • 62. Hatherton diary, 23 July [1831].
  • 63. Ibid. 5 Aug. [1831].
  • 64. Three Diaries, 128.
  • 65. Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC17/68.
  • 66. Cornw. RO, Hawkins mss 10/2190.
  • 67. Croker Pprs. ii. 156, 161-4, 167; Three Diaries, 247-8, 249-50, 252, 254; Greville Mems. ii. 294; Hatherton diary, 12 May [1832]; Wellington mss WP1/1224/2-4; Wellington Despatches, viii. 306, 312, 314, 316; Add. 75941, Althorp to Spencer, 19 May; Hatfield House mss, memo. of conversation with Wellington, 24 May 1832.
  • 68. Wellington mss WP1/1224/5, 8; Wellington Despatches, viii. 315-16, 325; Three Diaries, 253-5; Holland House Diaries, 178-9; Croker Pprs. ii. 164-7; Baring Jnls. i. 98; Greville Mems. ii. 298-9; N. Gash, Sir Robert Peel, 31-32; M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 294, 300-2.
  • 69. Three Diaries, 266.
  • 70. Macaulay Letters, ii. 142; Hatherton diary, 27 June [1832].
  • 71. Greville Mems. ii. 313.
  • 72. Hatherton diary, 17 Nov. [1831], 29 May; Broughton, iv. 249; Lonsdale mss, Beckett to Lowther, 31 July; Coedymaen mss 228; CJ, lxxxvii. 534-5, 550, 555, 560, 565, 57, 586; The Times, 31 July 1832.
  • 73. Croker Pprs. ii. 186-7; The Times, 13 Sept. 1832; Add. 40403, f. 70.
  • 74. Add. 40403, ff. 79, 91, 117, 126.
  • 75. Devon RO, Earl Fortescue mss 1262M/FC 88; Coedymaen mss 234, 236; Raikes Jnl. i. 135; Greville Mems. ii. 342.
  • 76. The Times, 21-23 July; Hatherton mss, memo. 25 July 1845; IR26/1765/132.
  • 77. Hatherton mss, memo. 25 July 1845.
  • 78. Grant, 82-83.