TAYLOR, Sir Herbert (1775-1839), of Fan Court, Chertsey, Surr. and Little Camden House, Kensington, Mdx.

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



1820 - Feb. 1823

Family and Education

b. 29 Sept. 1775, 2nd s. of Rev. Edward Taylor (d. 1798) of Bifrons, nr. Canterbury, rect. of Patrixbourne, and Margaret, da. of Thomas Payler (formerly Turner) of Ileden, Kent. educ. privately on continent, 1780-92. m. 5 Oct. 1819, Charlotte Albinia, da. of Edward Disbrowe†, vice-chamberlain to Queen Charlotte, of Walton-upon-Trent, Derbys., 2s. d.v.p. 1da. KCH 1819; GCH 1825; GCB 16 Apr. 1834. d. 20 Mar. 1839

Offices Held

Clerk, foreign office 1792-4; asst. mil. sec. and a.d.c to c.-in-c. 1795-8; mil. and priv. sec. and a.d.c. to ld. lt. [I] 1798-9; priv. sec. and a.d.c. to duke of York 1799-1805; priv. sec. to George III 1805-12, to Queen Charlotte 1812-18; mil. sec. to c.-in-c. 1820-7; first a.d.c. to George IV 1827-30; dep. sec. war office May-Aug. 1827; surveyor-gen. of ordnance 1828-9; adj.-gen. of forces 1828-30; priv. sec. and first a.d.c. to William IV 1830-7; first a.d.c. to Queen Victoria 1837-d.

Cornet 2 Drag. Gds. Mar. 1794, lt. July 1794, capt. 1795, maj. 1801; lt.-col. 9 W.I. Regt. 1801, half-pay 1803; capt. and lt.-col. 2 Ft. Gds. 1803; brevet col. 1810; maj.-gen. 1813; col. 85 Ft. 1823-d.; lt.-gen. 1825.

Master, St. Katharine’s Hosp., London 1818-d.


Taylor was descended from a Shropshire family. His great-grandfather, John Taylor (1655-1729), bought Bifrons and other estates in Kent. His elder son, Brook Taylor (1685-1731), an eminent mathematician, left only a daughter and was succeeded at Bifrons by his brother Herbert (1698-1763), a clergyman. Herbert’s first son and namesake died unmarried in 1767, when the estate passed to the second son, Edward Taylor, the father of this Member. He entered the church, becoming rector of the parish adjoining Bifrons, but was more interested in literature and agriculture than the ministry. In 1769 he married Margaret Payler, who, as well as three daughters, bore him five sons: Edward, who was Member for Canterbury, 1807-12; Herbert; the twins Brook and William, and Bridges. In 1780 the Rev. Taylor took his wife and children to Europe, where he wished his sons to be educated. Mrs. Taylor died, aged 36, at Brussels, in April that year. In 1782 the Taylors moved on to Heidelberg, and the following year to Carlsruhe, where they stayed until they returned briefly to England in 1788. From a succession of private tutors Herbert Taylor acquired a good knowledge of French and German and the rudiments of Italian, which he was able to improve when the family went to Italy in the summer of 1789, leaving behind Bridges, who was destined for the navy. The Rev. Taylor’s house in Rome was a social centre for British residents and visitors, and it was there that Herbert, whose military ambitions were discouraged by his father, ‘laid the foundations of friendships which became and continued very valuable at various stages of my subsequent career’. He made a particularly good impression on the 1st Lord Camelford, Pitt’s cousin, who helped to obtain for him a clerkship in the foreign office, of which his kinsman (and later son-in-law) Lord Grenville was the head.1

Taylor was installed there in August 1792, after again wintering in Rome and travelling home through Switzerland and Germany. He was followed into the office by his brothers Brook, who later served as Grenville’s private secretary and went on to carve out a distinguished career in diplomacy, and William, who was drowned in a boating accident on the Thames in 1797. Herbert Taylor was befriended and guided by the under-secretary, James Bland Burges†, and was occasionally given confidential employment by Grenville, who in December 1792 made him secretary to Sir James Murray† on his special mission to Prussian military headquarters at Frankfort. When Murray left to become adjutant-general to the duke of York’s army based at Antwerp, Taylor took temporary charge in Frankfort. As he later recalled, ‘my 17 years, my knowledge of languages and music, my official employment, with a moderate share of impudence, gave me access to almost every circle’. In April 1793 Murray secured Taylor’s transfer to army headquarters as his secretary, remaining on the foreign office establishment at a salary of £300. Grenville and Bland Burges were at pains to obtain the Rev. Taylor’s permission for this move, which had the object of ‘bringing him forward in a manner which ... must infallibly advance his fortunes even beyond any expectation you may have formed’, and to allay his fears for Herbert’s physical safety. At Antwerp Taylor was presented to the duke of York. After a brief visit to London to equip himself, he returned to headquarters, now established at Bruges, and was present as a volunteer at the actions of May 1793 and the sieges of Valenciennes and Dunkirk. The awkwardness of his having nowhere officially to mess was solved by Murray’s obtaining an open invitation from the duke of York to share his table. Taylor later wrote:

Henceforth I was on velvet. But the few weeks’ probation did me good. I had been brought forward early, and made much of at Frankfort; I was a great man in my own estimation. During several weeks after I joined at headquarters I found myself a sort of outcast from its circle. I was lowered a few pegs, and found my level. Still, I had brought with me too much of foreign manners and habits, and with these, a good share of assurance, not to say impudence, which led me to put myself forward in conversation with my seniors and betters, and to sport opinions very freely. Of this I was very soon corrected by remarks made in my presence ... The check was mortifying, but it was very salutary and useful ... I became more cautious and discreet ... Otherwise I was of a happy disposition, never lacking employment, or caring for difficulties, and I very soon received the kindest treatment on all hands; perfectly ready to work hard if necessary, but very fond of ... boy’s play, amusement and every sort of fun ... and I enjoyed excellent health.

Taylor, whose linguistic skills made him particularly useful, remained with York as his assistant secretary when Murray returned to England in 1794. That year he obtained a commission in the 2nd Dragoon Guards, which terminated his connection with the foreign office, and he generally joined the regiment when it was in action. On York’s departure in 1795 Taylor stayed on as assistant secretary to two successive commanders-in-chief of the British forces, Harcourt and Dundas.2

He went back to London in September 1795 to take up his duties as aide-de-camp and assistant military secretary to York as commander-in-chief of the army, working mainly in the office at Horse Guards. In July 1798 he went to Ireland as secretary to the lord lieutenant, Lord Cornwallis, who came to rate him highly and, when York wished to recall him in November to become his own private secretary, asked for and obtained permission to retain his services until the end of January 1799: ‘Captain Taylor, with great readiness and quickness of parts, is most indefatigable in business; and in honesty, fidelity and goodness of heart he has no superior’.3 Taylor, whose father died while he was in Ireland, published anonymously in 1799 an Impartial Relation of the military operation against the French invasion of August 1798. He attended York as his aide-de-camp on the Helder expedition in September 1799, and saw action there. He continued as York’s secretary, rising through the ranks of the army, until July 1805, when Pitt secured his appointment as private secretary to George III, whose sight was rapidly failing. The king placed every confidence in Taylor, who, as Lord Holland acknowledged, performed his delicate task with great ‘discretion and judgement’.4

When the household was remodelled under the regency Taylor, who was made one of the statutory commissioners for managing the king’s estate, became private secretary to Queen Charlotte on the Windsor establishment, but only after he had scotched the initial proposal to appoint him secretary to the groom of the stole in the king’s household, which he considered a humiliation.5 Had Sir Henry Bunbury* gone as governor to the Ionian Islands in December 1812, Taylor would have replaced him as under-secretary for war. As it was, a year later he got leave to go to Holland to liaise with the new provisional government and to make arrangements for the landing of British troops. In the subsequent campaign he commanded two brigades under General Thomas Graham†, who wrote to Bunbury, 15 Jan. 1814:

He goes beyond all that I had heard of him. There is nobody I should wish more to keep. He will be a most serious loss to us ... He would make an excellent chef d’etat major to any army. His judgement and arrangement are so clear and good on all occasions, and he seems to like service as if he had always lived in a camp instead of a Court.

Taylor went to London in early March, and returned to the continent later that month on a special mission to Prince Bernadotte, commanding the Swedish army in Germany. On his arrival in London in April 1814 he learned that his youngest brother had been drowned on active service off Brindisi.6 On the death of the queen in November 1818 Taylor, who was one of her executors, was without employment for sixteen months, though he enjoyed a civil list pension of £938. He married a daughter of the late queen’s chamberlain in 1819, was knighted that year and built a new mansion on a property which he had bought near Chertsey, but which he not long afterwards sold.7

It was ‘very much against his inclination’ that he submitted to the insistence of the new king that he come in for Windsor on the Court interest at the general election of 1820. He had agreed to do so when York pressed him to become military secretary at Horse Guards. Although he anticipated difficulties in combining the two roles and, according to his sister Mary, the wife of Edward Bootle Wilbraham*, ‘would willingly have declined ... if he could have done so with propriety’, he took up the post.8 Charles Knight, editor of the Windsor and Eton Express, recalled Taylor at this period of his life:

Sir Herbert was a man not versed in the common affairs of the outer world. He had been the depository of many a political secret which he could confide to no friend. Shy, painfully cautious, I have heard him break down in the most simple address to the electors when he first stood for Windsor; and yet a man of real ability.9

Taylor made no mark in the House, where he of course supported the Liverpool ministry, and is not known to have uttered a syllable in debate. He voted against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. In June he had joined in the representations to Lord Liverpool for permanent provision to be made for certain of the late king’s servants, who would otherwise be reduced to penury.10 In September 1820 the duke of Wellington, master-general of the ordnance, who thought that the Horse Guards authorities were ‘managing the affairs of the army exceedingly ill’ by allowing soldiers to ‘form combinations among each other’ to air grievances, wrote to Taylor on the subject, ‘pointing out to him how destructive such a system must be and strongly advising that severe measures should be taken to put a stop to it’. In reply Taylor, who was in the House for the debate of 18 Sept. on Queen Caroline’s case, but was soon afterwards briefly troubled by a ‘severe indisposition’, assured Wellington that ‘the necessity of extraordinary vigilance at this period is felt, and that this feeling is acted upon’. At the same time, he suggested that

extreme caution must be used to avoid creating an impression that the fidelity of the troops is suspected, for this might produce the very evil which it is intended to avert. Nor do I believe that there is any cause to suspect their fidelity, or to apprehend that any serious effect has been or will be produced by the industrious attempts of the disaffected ... There is, however, one circumstance which has occurred to me ... that, whether from a sense of his own increased importance which the soldier has acquired during the late war, or from being influenced to a certain extent by the latitude of opinion and observation upon public questions which has been assumed by the lower classes, grievances, whether real or supposed, are brought forward and urged in a more decided tone than heretofore, and the grievance of a few individuals is discussed and taken up by the large body, and brought forward as the common interest and object of the whole ... To what this may lead in time God knows; but if I am founded in this observation the natural inference is, that there never was any period when the utmost care and vigilance of the commanding officer was more required to guard even against the necessity of explanation.

He did not, however, think the problem serious enough to warrant the issuing of a general order, as Wellington proposed.11

Taylor voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He voted against Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821, and the Catholic peers relief bill, 30 Apr. 1822. He was on the ministerial side in the divisions on repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., the army estimates, 11 Apr., parliamentary reform, 9 May, miscellaneous services, 28 May, the duke of Clarence’s grant, 18 June, economy and retrenchment, 27 June, and the alien office grant, 29 June 1821. That month he was instructed by York to let it be known that his decision not to accept the grand mastership of the Orange Lodges did not reflect any abatement of his hostility to Catholic relief.12 Communications with Sir Robert Wilson*, dismissed from the army for inciting disorder at the queen’s funeral, were made through Taylor, who privately thought he would condemn himself out of his own mouth when he protested his innocence in the House.13 He voted against more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb., mitigation of the salt duties, 28 Feb., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822. Finding the combined labour of his two positions impossible to sustain, he retired from Parliament at the start of the 1823 session, when he was replaced by his brother-in-law, Edward Disbrowe, and soon afterwards accepted the colonelcy of the 85th Foot.14

Taylor continued to ‘drudge’ at Horse Guards until the death in January 1827 of York, whose declining days he described that year in a chronicle of his Last Illness.15 Having poured cold water on the king’s scheme to take personal command of the army, with Taylor as adjutant-general, he remained in his post under Wellington, the new commander-in-chief.16 When Wellington resigned on the formation of Canning’s ministry, the king again made a bid for the command, with Taylor as the efficient secretary. This plan was thwarted, and for the four months until Wellington was reinstated after Canning’s death Taylor carried out the duties of his former post as deputy to Lord Palmerston,* the secretary at war and acting commander-in-chief. On stepping down from this ‘situation of extreme anxiety and delicacy’, as one observer characterized it, he was without employment for several months: he resisted pressure to take the military command in India, and waived his pretensions to the governorship of the Cape, which he would have preferred, in favour of Sir Lowry Cole*.17 In March 1828 he was appointed surveyor-general of the ordnance in Wellington’s ministry; and in September he was ‘delighted’ to become adjutant-general, at the pressing request of George IV, who was said to like him ‘better than anybody’ of those about him. (He had made Taylor his principal aide-de-camp, a new post, the previous year.) In 1828 he moved into the newly built lodge of St. Katharine’s Hospital in Regent’s Park, in the mastership of which he had succeeded his father-in-law in 1818.18

It was with ‘great reluctance’ that Taylor submitted to William IV’s desire to appoint him as his private secretary on his accession. He turned down an offer of the privy purse, the £3,000 salary of which was divided equally between himself and Sir Henry Wheatley. As he told his brother:

This is less by £500 than I had and I quit a situation more permanent, more satisfactory and less laborious; but this circumstance places me on high ground, and will assist me materially in maintaining the independent footing and tone which are most essential towards enabling me to overcome various difficulties that may occur.

Within a month he found ‘the fatigue ... beyond any I ever experienced, although God knows my life has not been an idle one’.19 Yet he served the king in this capacity, writing most of his letters in his own hand and being the channel for all his communications with his ministers, for the duration of his reign. He had a particularly tricky course to steer while the reform bills were before Parliament, but Lord Grey, according to his son, was entirely satisfied with the way in which Taylor ‘acquitted himself of the very difficult and delicate duties of his situation’ and felt that the influence which he undoubtedly exercised over the king was ‘only used for the purpose of allaying the feelings of irritation created at times in his ... mind, and of smoothing any difficulties that arose between him and his ministers’. Taylor, who feared above all ‘a schism and collision’ between the two Houses of Parliament, and had come to believe by June 1831 that ‘a revolutionary spirit’ was threatening the country, saw that reform had to be effected; and he played a significant role in persuading Tory peers to abandon their opposition on the reinstatement of the Grey ministry, with the king’s promise of a creation to carry the bill, in May 1832. Denis Le Marchant† commented that this intervention was

more to his honour, as he was a Tory of the old school, and had always kept up some connection with the party. He said to me at the time,’I should have opposed the bill in every stage had I remained in the House of Commons, but I see that it is for the king’s interest that it should be carried, and I have done my best to assist the ministers accordingly’.

Lord Holland, whose suggestion of a peerage for Taylor in September 1831 was not taken up, thought him ‘a laborious, distinct, discreet, and honourable man’.20 Inevitably, there was criticism of Taylor at various points during the passage of the bills from both the opponents and supporters of reform; but he was generally reckoned to have conducted himself with tact, discretion and honesty, and to have kept the king to constitutional paths. Perhaps the most serious charge that could be levelled against him was that he was ‘too fond of writing’, and ‘voluminously inclined’ in his letters to ministers.21

On the death of William IV Taylor, whose health had been impaired by his secretarial labours, retired, though he was made principal aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria. After tidying up the king’s affairs, he went with his wife and 12-year old daughter Charlotte Mary Louisa, known as ‘Chaddy’, to Cannes, where he had bought land on which a ‘most elegant and convenient’ villa was being built. (His sons, Edward Herbert and Frederick, born in 1823 and 1826 respectively, had not survived infancy; and there was no truth in the story that David Urquhart, a future Member for Stafford, was his illegitimate son.)22 In the summer of 1838 he was at Lake Como, from where he wrote Remarks on an Article in the Edinburgh Review, repudiating personal attacks by Lord Brougham on George III, Queen Charlotte and George IV.23 He wintered in Rome, but his health collapsed, and he died peacefully there, not long after saying ‘Good night, Pussy’ to his daughter, as usual, in March 1839. After temporary burial in the British cemetery, his remains were returned to England for interment in the chapel of St. Katharine’s in June 1839.24 By his brief will, a memorandum drawn up at Brighton, 30 Jan. 1834, Taylor left all his property, which consisted chiefly of insurance policies on his own life, to his wife, his sole executrix.25 An obituary acknowledged his ‘able and indefatigable administration’ of army business, and paid tribute to his ‘urbanity, kindness and attention’ in that capacity.26 Despite their differences, Brougham commended him as a royal secretary:

Sir Herbert Taylor’s exercise of such a delicate office ... was throughout marked by the most unsullied honour towards all parties with whom he came into contact ... Upon all occasions his best advice was offered according to the dictates of a scrupulous conscience, and a judgement hardly to be surpassed in clearness and calmness, although certainly biased by what we should call some very erroneous opinions - the result of early prejudices not yet thrown off ... In the exercise of a most difficult and laborious duty he was one of the ablest, indeed the most masterly men of business who ever filled any public employment.27

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Taylor Pprs. 1-16.
  • 2. Ibid. 17-51.
  • 3. Ibid. 50-57; Cornwallis Corresp. ii. 352-3, 430-1, 436, 446; iii. 40.
  • 4. Taylor Pprs. 57-58; Colchester Diary, ii. 16; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3123; Holland, Further Mems. 61.
  • 5. Taylor Pprs. 70-76; Prince of Wales Corresp. viii. 3308, 3310, 3312.
  • 6. HMC Bathurst, 222; Taylor Pprs. 86-165.
  • 7. Taylor Pprs. 172-80; Add. 62954, f. 182; E.W. Brayley and E. Walford, Hist. Surr. ii. 18.
  • 8. Taylor Pprs. 184-5; Colchester Diary, iii. 126; The Times, 24 Feb., 8 Mar. 1820.
  • 9. C. Knight, Passages of a Working Life, i. 229-30.
  • 10. Add. 38285, f. 174.
  • 11. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 38; Wellington Despatches, i. 144-8.
  • 12. Taylor Pprs. 185-6.
  • 13. HMC Bathurst, 511, 514; Add. 40344, f. 337.
  • 14. Taylor Pprs. 186.
  • 15. Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1085; Taylor Pprs. 189-94.
  • 16. Parker, Peel, i. 434-4; Hobhouse Diary, 125; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 72; HMC Bathurst, 621.
  • 17. Taylor Pprs. 194-5, 206-13; Wellington Despatches, iii. 645-6, 647-9; iv. 82-83, 100-1; Colchester Diary, iii. 485; Canning’s Ministry, 210, 283, 296; Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1355; Hobhouse Diary, 139; Arbuthnot Corresp. 83; Prince of Wales Corresp. viii. 3463.
  • 18. Wellington Despatches, iv. 302, 668, 670-2; Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1530, 1531; Greville Mems. i. 223-4; Taylor Pprs. 205, 218.
  • 19. Taylor Pprs. 319; Add. 62953, ff. 167, 171, 178, 180, 185; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 357; Croker Pprs. ii. 67.
  • 20. Grey-William IV Corresp. vol. i. pp. xiii-xiv; Add. 62953, ff. 188; 62954, ff. 70, 126; Le Marchant, Althorp, 434; Russell, Recollections, 107-8; Arbuthnot Corresp. 163; Holland House Diaries, 55, 181.
  • 21. Windsor and Eton Express, 2, 9, 16 Apr.; The Times, 9, 18 Apr. 1831; Add. 62954, f. 48; Three Diaries, pp. xvi, 174, 260, 262; Taylor Pprs. 339-58; Grey-William IV Corresp. vol. i, p. xiv; Greville Mems. ii. 387. See M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 174-5, 272, 303, 304-5; E.A. Smith, Lord Grey, 264, 267, 272, 275-7.
  • 22. Taylor Pprs. 393, 398, 411, 413-98; Holland House Diaries, 337, 382.
  • 23. Taylor Pprs. 498-504; Von Neumann Diary, ii. 88; Edinburgh Rev. lxvii (1838), 1-80; lxviii (1838-9), 191-262.
  • 24. Taylor Pprs. 505-7; Add. 62954, f. 183; The Times, 28, 30 Mar., 11 Apr. 1839.
  • 25. PROB 11/1912/399; IR26/1530/385; Gent. Mag. (1830), ii. 670.
  • 26. Gent. Mag. (1839), ii. 654.
  • 27. Edinburgh Rev. lxviii. 192.