POTTER, Thomas (?1718-59), of Ridgmont, Beds.
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Family and Education
b. ?1718, 2nd s. of Rt. Rev. John Potter, bp. of Oxford (abp. of Canterbury 1737-47), by a da. of one Venner. educ. Ch. Ch. Oxf. 18 Nov. 1731, aged 13; M. Temple 1736, called 1740. m. (1) 17 Feb. 1740, Anne (d. 4 Jan. 1744), da. of Rev. Thomas Manningham, rector of Slinfold, Suss., 1s.; (2) 14 July 1747, Ann, da. of Francis Lowe of Brightwell, Oxon., 2da. suc. fa. 1747.
Principal registrar of the province of Canterbury; sec. to Princess of Wales 1748-51; jt. paymaster gen. 1756-7; jt. vice-treasurer [I] 1757-d.
A handsome, clever youth, Thomas Potter, while still under his father’s roof at Lambeth Palace, started on a life of dissipation. His letters to Charles Lyttelton (later dean of Exeter and bishop of Carlisle) cannot all ‘be printed as they stand’; but what can suffices. On 19 Feb. 1740:
Oh, my dear Charles, ... I am no more what I was no more the careless, the cheerful, the happy man thou knowest, but unhappy, miserable beyond remedy. In short I am—married, and married to a woman I despise and detest. My story you shall know in a few words. In Westminster Abbey cloisters you remember Miss Manningham ... The friends when the matter came to a crisis refused to do anything except I would marry her.
Potter denied having made any promises; they appealed to his father who ‘absolutely laid his commands’ on him: he would never do anything for Thomas till he married her.
What could I do? ... On Sunday the ceremony was read over me ... I never can nor will live with her ... Dear Charles, do not hear me abused. Tell me what the world says and thinks of me, and tell me truly. I think they cannot blame me for any thing but marrying.
But he was again prepared to obey and live with his wife if his rich father made a settlement on him. He wrote a letter to his brother-in-law, to be shown to the Archbishop, ‘seemingly without my knowledge’:
... many of the world condemn me as having carried my obedience further than duty required. But I am far from being concerned at having incurred any censure of that sort. It was not a self-interest and a servile obedience that I ever paid to my father’s commands; it proceeded from principle, and if I may use such an expression, from affection.
And to Lyttelton, on 10 June 1740:
... if I found he [the Archbishop] would not enable me to live in the condition I might reasonably expect, I would rather have chose to bear the censure of the world for not living with my wife, than have let such a proof of the only failing his Grace has in his character be known.
When she died in January 1744, he felt ‘deprived of what was most dear to him in the world’, and hardly knew how to lament her as she deserved.1
The Archbishop died in October 1747, leaving to Potter his fortune of nearly £100,000, his eldest son having incurred his displeasure ‘by marrying below his dignity’.2
Meanwhile Potter had joined the Prince of Wales’s party. In a list compiled in June 1747 by Ayscough, the Prince’s election manager and Charles Lyttelton’s brother-in-law, ‘of persons to be brought into Parliament by his Royal Highness, who are not able to bring in themselves’, Potter appears among those ‘not fixed’ as yet.3 ‘Pray send me the names of the gentlemen His Royal Highness honours with his recommendation to me’,4 wrote Richard Eliot to Ayscough on 15 June; and on 2 July Potter was returned for St. Germans. He also stood for Callington but came out bottom of the poll. The House met on 10 Nov., and on the 20th Potter delivered his maiden speech.
The Prince [Horace Walpole wrote to Mann on 24 Nov.] has got some new and very able speakers; particularly a young Mr. Potter ... who promises very greatly; the world is already matching him against Mr. Pitt.
In another account Walpole describes him as ‘a young man of the greatest good nature, though he had set out with two of the severest speeches that ever were made against the ministry and the Grenvilles’. His violence against the ministry was attributed to his father’s ‘not being able to get him to be a teller of the Exchequer.’5 At the end of 1748 he was appointed secretary to the Princess of Wales. In 1749 Horace Walpole refers to him as making ‘some figure in the rising opposition’ headed by the Prince, though owing to a bad constitution he was seldom able to be in town. At a meeting between the Prince’s party and the Tories that year
Potter with great humour, and to the great amazement of the Jacobites, said he was very glad to see this union, and from thence hoped that if another attack like the last rebellion should be made on the royal family, they would all stand by them. No reply was made to this.6
In 1751 he spoke against the Government on the Address, 17 Jan., the navy estimates, 22 Jan., and the army, 11 Feb. In the ways and means committee, 20 Mar., ‘he opened in an able manner’ a ‘scheme for an additional duty of two shillings on spirits’, in support of which he had
produced several physicians and masters of workhouses to prove the fatal consequences of spirituous liquors which laid waste the meaner parts of the town and were now spreading into the country.
Pelham however opposed the proposal on the ground that ‘imposing new duties would greatly diminish the revenue’. Resigning his appointment after the Prince’s death, he spoke for the Government on the subsidy treaty with Saxony, 22 Jan. 1752.7 On 30 Mar. 1753 he introduced a bill for a national census, which passed the Commons but was rejected by the Lords. In the same year, 26 Nov., he opposed the repeal of the Jewish Naturalization Act in a speech declaring himself unconnected with parties. Subsequently attaching himself to Pitt, he died 17 June 1759.