POYNTZ, William Stephen (1770-1840), of Cowdray Lodge, nr. Midhurst, Suss. and Midgham, Berks.

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



23 June 1800 - 1807
16 Apr. 1810 - 1818
18 Feb. 1823 - 1830
25 Feb. 1831 - 1834
1835 - 5 Dec. 1837

Family and Education

b. 20 Jan. 1770,1 1st s. of William Poyntz, insp. of prosecutions in the exch., of Midgham and Isabella, da. and coh. of Kelland Courtenay† of Poundesford, Devon. educ. ?Eton 1780-6; Christ Church, Oxf. 1787; European tour 1789-90. m. 1 Sept. 1794, Hon. Elizabeth Mary Browne, da. of Anthony, 7th Visct. Montagu (who suc. her bro. George Samuel, 8th Visct., to the Cowdray estate 1793), 2s. d.v.p. 3da. suc. fa. 1809. d. 8 Apr. 1840.

Offices Held

Capt. Midhurst vol. cav. 1794, Suss. militia 1795; lt.-col. commdt. W. Suss. militia 1812.


Poyntz, whose marriage had brought him a substantial estate in Sussex centred on the ruined mansion of Cowdray, was described by the local historian as ‘a remarkably handsome man, very tall, and with a clear and bright complexion’.2 He had acted with the Grenvillite connection and was a cousin of the 2nd Earl Spencer, but he temporarily withdrew from public life in 1818. Three years earlier he had tragically lost his two sons in a boating accident. Henry Edward Fox*, who encountered the Poyntz family in 1825, found them ‘dull but worthy, all of them devotionally mad and quite enthusiasts about religion’, though Poyntz himself was ‘a most amiable man, and it is impossible not to admire him for his benevolence and fortitude’.3 In 1820 he declined an invitation to stand for Chichester and that November he decided not to offer again for the venal borough of St. Albans, where a by-election was pending. The following month George Tierney* regretted to learn that he had expressed a ‘strong opinion’ against organizing a county meeting in Sussex on agricultural distress.4 He resumed his parliamentary career in February 1823 when he was returned for Chichester on the independent interest as an advocate of ‘moderate reform ... toleration to all religions’ and ‘rigid economy in the public expenditure’.5

He voted with the Whig opposition to Lord Liverpool’s ministry on all major issues, including parliamentary reform, 24 Apr., 2 June 1823. He divided for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He decried the ‘unconstitutional severity’ of the game laws and ascribed the prevalence of poaching to the ‘miserable pittance’ paid to labourers, 2 June 1823. He sympathized with a publican who had petitioned the Commons on being refused a licence by Chichester magistrates, 31 May 1825, but denied the inference of corruption.6 It was said of him at this time that he ‘attended frequently and voted with the opposition’.7 He spoke in support of a Chichester anti-slavery petition, 16 Feb. 1826.8 At the dissolution that summer it was whispered that he would contest Berkshire, but he came forward again for Chichester pledged to a ‘moderate’ measure of parliamentary reform, including triennial parliaments, Catholic relief, free trade and mitigation of the criminal law. He faced criticism of his failure to agitate locally for reform and denied an accusation that he had been at Newmarket when Lord John Russell’s recent resolutions on this subject had come on, explaining that he had been visiting a sick relative and had travelled 60 miles to attend the division, only to miss it by ten minutes. He was returned in second place behind the Tory Lord John George Lennox, but ahead of a radical candidate.9

He divided against the grant to the duke of Clarence, 16 Feb., and for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He voted against increased protection for barley, 12 Mar., and for the spring guns bill, 23 Mar. On 9 May he warned that the bill to transfer Sussex elections from Chichester to Lewes would give excessive power to the voters of Brighton, who though ‘respectable persons’ had ‘no claim to choose a Member for the agricultural county of Sussex’.10 He divided against Canning’s ministry for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May 1827. He shed few tears at the demise of Lord Goderich’s ministry, writing to Lord Tavistock*, 11 Jan. 1828:

And so they are all out. Heaven be praised; an Ultra Tory administration excepted, anything must be better ... than going on as we have since March, deluding the country by an imaginary government, and letting the k[ing] run riot in the manner he has. As our friends have seen that vacillation and want of firmness do not succeed, I hope they will now try the other extreme. I hear the duke of Wellington will if possible include Peel in the new arrangement, but I cannot think he can form a Tory administration.

In passing this letter to Lord Holland, Tavistock observed that it contained ‘precisely the sentiments which I hear amongst all classes’, though he claimed that at an earlier stage Poyntz had been well disposed towards the coalition ministries.11 He divided for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He opposed Wellington’s ministry by voting against the extension of the East Retford franchise to Bassetlaw freeholders, 21 Mar. He similarly divided for further relaxation of the corn laws, 22 Apr., against restrictions on the circulation of Irish and Scottish small notes, 5 June, to condemn the misapplication of public money for building work at Buckingham House, 23 June, and against the additional churches bill, 30 June 1828. In presenting petitions in favour of Catholic emancipation, 9 Mar. 1829, he clashed with Lennox over the division of opinion on the subject in Chichester and the alleged use of scare-mongering tactics by anti-Catholic petitioners. He voted for the government’s emancipation bill, 30 Mar. 1829. He divided for Lord Blandford’s reform motion, 18 Feb., the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar., and Russell’s reform resolutions, 28 May 1830. He sided with the revived Whig opposition on all major issues that session. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and paired for the abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June 1830. Prior to the dissolution that summer he announced his retirement from Chichester’s representation on account of his age, although an earlier letter to Spencer suggests that financial constraints may have influenced his decision.12

He was soon returned to the Commons on a vacancy at Ashburton, engineered by his son-in-law Lord Clinton, in February 1831.13 He divided for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He topped the poll at Ashburton at the ensuing general election, helping to oust the Tory joint-patron Sir Lawrence Palk.14 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, and steadily for its details. He divided against the total disfranchisement of Saltash, on which ministers had failed to provide a clear lead, 26 July. Next day he declared that Ashburton, which was set to lose one Member, possessed the strongest case of all the schedule B boroughs for a reprieve, but he did not force a division. He defended the proposed division of counties, with specific reference to the Isle of Wight, 16 Aug. He divided for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He voted to punish only those guilty of bribery at the Dublin election, 23 Aug. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, steadily for its details, and for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He voted for Ebrington’s motion for an address asking the king to appoint only ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired measure, 10 May, the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against increased county representation for Scotland, 1 June. He divided with ministers on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., flogging in the army, 16 Feb., the Irish registry of deeds bill, 9 Apr., and the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July 1832.

Poyntz was returned unopposed for Ashburton at the general election of 1832 and later sat for Midhurst, where the Cowdray estate gave him an interest. While out hunting in 1836 he fell and damaged his spinal cord, which rendered him subject to fainting fits. He died in April 1840, after ‘four years in constant suffering’, and his daughters sold the Cowdray estate to the 6th earl of Egmont.15

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Terry Jenkins / Howard Spencer


  • 1. Sir J. Maclean, Hist. Fam. Poyntz, 226.
  • 2. S. Roundell, Cowdray, 106.
  • 3. Fox Jnl. 179.
  • 4. Add. 76033, Harrison to Spencer, 11 Nov.; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 13 Dec. 1820.
  • 5. Brighton Gazette, 13 Feb. 1823; I am, my dear Sir ed. F.W. Steer, 35.
  • 6. The Times, 1 June 1825.
  • 7. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 481.
  • 8. The Times, 17 Feb. 1826.
  • 9. Brighton Gazette, 15 June 1826.
  • 10. The Times, 10 May 1827.
  • 11. Add. 51675, ff. 20-25.
  • 12. W. Suss. RO ms. 22266; Add. 75991, Poyntz to Spencer, 5 Feb. 1830; I am, my dear Sir, 81.
  • 13. Arbuthnot Corresp. 136.
  • 14. The Times, 12 May 1831.
  • 15. Maclean, 224-5; VCH Suss. iv. 77.