BOSCAWEN, Hon. Edward (1711-61), of Hatchlands Park, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. 19 Aug. 1711, 3rd s. of Hugh, 1st Visct. Falmouth, by Charlotte, da. of Col. Charles Godfrey, master of the jewel house, by Arabella, da. of Sir Winston Churchill, sis. of John, 1st Duke of Marlborough. m. 11 Dec. 1742, Frances, da. of William Evelyn Glanville of St. Clere, Ightham, Kent, 3s. 2da.
Entered R.N. 1726; lt. 1732; capt. 1737; r.-adm. 1747; v.-adm. 1755; adm. 1758; gen. of marines 1759; ld. of Admiralty 1751- d.; P.C. 2 Feb. 1759.
Boscawen sat at Truro on his family interest, reinforced by his own distinction as sailor and his popularity with the families whose sons he took to sea with him. ‘Ready and decisive courage’ was deemed the distinguishing feature of his character.1 But the ‘damn ’em, fight ’em’ attitude of ‘Old Dreadnought’ (his nickname among his sailors) when transferred to politics was disconcerting for experts in that field, and perhaps most of all for his own allies. Horace Walpole describes him as ‘attached to nothing but his own opinion’.2 ‘Odd as he is’, writes Hardwicke about him to Newcastle in 1753;3 and again in 1760: ‘Your Grace knows he has a particular head.’4 And Newcastle to Hardwicke, 17 Oct. 1753: ‘My brother [Henry Pelham] says that Admiral Boscawen is a wild man, and he can do nothing with him.’5 And even Lord Edgcumbe, allied as he was to the Boscawens, implies as much in a letter written to a friend, 7 Oct. 1753.6
Contrary to a tacit convention which for more than forty years had left the county representation of Cornwall uncontested to the Tory country gentlemen, in October 1753 Robert Hoblyn, a Cornish squire and mineowner, since 1742 M.P. for Bristol, decided to stand against the two sitting Members, John Molesworth and James Buller. Lord Edgcumbe strongly deprecated that move—‘the Tories irritated by the opposition are very likely to endeavour at revenge in some of the boroughs’ which so far were exceptionally quiet, and this ‘for the sake only of a person, by whom there will be nothing gained [Hoblyn himself was a Tory], but the Admiral answers for his love to the ministry’.7 The point appears even more clearly in a letter from Richard Edgcumbe who had attended the nomination meeting at Bodmin on 5 Oct. He wrote to Enys:8
Many people (and I confess myself among the rest) expected that a fourth would have hoisted his flag. But I fancy he knew that if he did, he should be followed by but a weak squadron, besides very much endangering the interest of his confederate which ... is personally a strong one. All ... are ... much at a loss to see what will be gained by it ... Thomas Pitt ... urged that argument, which the Admiral answered only by saying, ‘that he liked the other better and that was reason sufficient for him to be for him.’
Apparently Boscawen was trying to make Hoblyn, the Tory, break through the traditional set-up in the county, reserving his own intervention to a future occasion. However, a week later Hoblyn withdrew his candidature.
‘But although this incident be sufficiently provoking, yet the affair of Mitchell is far more vexatious to me’, Lord Edgcumbe went on to say in his letter. Hardly in any other Cornish borough was the balance of electoral interests so complex and delicate as at Mitchell. Edgcumbe was as keen as the Boscawens to defend what he considered his due interest in the borough, but would have been satisfied with one candidate, Hussey, whom they had already nominated. But
Mr. Hussey’s counsellors have advised him rashly to propose a colleague one Mr. Lutterel, of whom I nothing know ... he owes this step to the wild advice of those heroes who set up Hoblyn.
There is a mass of conflicting evidence concerning the interplay of interests and schemes at Mitchell. But so much seems clear: that Boscawen, in his decisive manner, had with his two brothers George and John started there a canvass on 29 Aug. 1753, visiting ‘every house’,9 and this without giving the least notice to the Boscawens’ partners in the borough; and subsequently acted in a manner unconducive to compromise. He managed both the election and the subsequent petition with great energy and ability, producing one of the worst parliamentary upheavals in the comparatively peaceful years of 1754-5.
In April 1755 Boscawen, in command of a squadron sailed for America, returning in November. Next, he commanded a squadron blockading Brest. He has been criticized for his part in the trial of Byng. But while there was little sympathy between the two, it is not clear that Boscawen did more than was incumbent on him as the senior member of the Admiralty Board, and its only sailor, barring Temple West, who had been Byng’s second-in-command at Minorca. In a letter to him on 4 Oct. his wife remarks: ‘I am vastly glad you have a scheme to avoid Byng’s trial’10—which hardly bears out Walpole’s story of Boscawen having shown open partisanship against Byng.11
In June 1757 Boscawen was placed once more in command of the fleet blockading Brest, but was soon recalled; expected to be employed on the expedition against Rochefort; but Knowles went as second-in-command to Hawke. There were rumours that Boscawen was dismissed, and that he was ‘extremely angry’.
He complains [wrote Jenkinson to Grenville on 4 Aug. 1757] that this is a private pique of Mr. Pitt’s, and assigns as the cause thereof his opposition to the navy bill; he talks in short like a man who has lost a good cruise, and wants to raise a disturbance.12
Walpole had a similar story to tell13—and consequently, he wrote, ‘his Boscawenhood is much more Boscawened; that is, surely in the deepest shade.’
But in October 1757 Boscawen was appointed second-in-command of the main fleet; and in February, as admiral of the Blue, sailed as naval commander of the expedition which captured Louisburg. On his return he received the thanks of the House of Commons, and was sworn a Privy Councillor. In April 1759 he sailed for the Mediterranean, and on 18 August won the victory of Lagos Bay over the French. On his return, he was appointed general of the marines, with a salary of £3,000 per annum.
At the height of his popularity and glory he now staged his second incursion into Cornish county politics. About the end of September 1760 there were rumours that he meant to stand for the county at the general election. Lord Edgcumbe, visibly disturbed, wrote to Newcastle on 28 Sept. that the admiral had not said a word to him about it although he had stayed with him two days during the past week; and while asking for the Duke’s views, reminded him of the line taken by Walpole and Pelham on similar occasions.14 The admiral had not said anything to him either, replied Newcastle on 2 Oct.; and ‘I verily remember what was the opinion both of Sir Robert Walpole and my brother as to an opposition for your county’. Still, considering the admiral’s ‘rank and merit and the zeal of his family’, he would have to be supported.15
In fact, at the county meeting at Bodmin, on 10 Oct., Boscawen declared his candidature; and the next day wrote to Newcastle asking for his support;16 as he had not communicated with Lord Falmouth on the subject, he had not spoken about it to Newcastle and Edgcumbe either; he had hoped that one of the present Members would decline, but they were now standing on a joint interest. In short, Boscawen had once more acted entirely on his own, placing a fait accompli before his brother and friends, who would undoubtedly have tried to dissuade him. And at first he seemed likely to carry it: Molesworth declined on 16 Oct., and a junction between Boscawen and Buller seemed imminent. But these proceedings displeased a good many Tory country gentlemen who felt that their candidates before acting should have taken the opinion of the county; and a second county meeting was called at Bodmin on 3 Nov., at which Sir John St. Aubyn stepped into Molesworth’s place.17 An end was put to the contest by Boscawen’s death, after a short illness, at Hatchlands on 10 Jan. 1761. A friend and supporter of Buller’s wrote to him on 17 Jan.:18
I had the honour of your letter by the last post, with an account of Adm. Boscawen’s death: an event that greatly affects this county, there being a vast number of Cornishmen whose bread, and hopes of preferment depended entirely on him. The nation indeed must feel the loss of so great, so distinguished a commander, whose capacity, as well as courage enabled him to conduct naval expeditions better perhaps than any that are left behind him.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Sir J. K. Laughton in DNB.
Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 194.
- 2. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 194.
- 3. Add. 32733, ff. 16-17, 4 Oct. 1753.
- 4. Add. 32911, f. 371.
- 5. Add. 32733, ff. 80-81.
- 6. To John Envys; in an autograph collection at the Royal Institution, Truro.
- 7. Ibid.
- 8. The first part of the letter is missing, but it was clearly enclosed in Lord Edgcumbe’s letter of 7 Oct.: the two letters refer to each other.
- 9. Thos. Clarke to Lord Hardwicke, 10 Sept. 1753, Add. 35592, ff. 143-5.
- 10. C. Aspinall-Oglander, Admiral’s Wife, 226.
- 11. Mems. Geo. II, ii. 286.
- 12. Grenville Pprs. i. 203-4.
- 13. See letters to Mann, 4 Aug. and 3 Sept. 1757.
- 14. Add. 32912, f. 195.
- 15. Ibid. ff. 297-8.
- 16. Add. 32913, ff. 63-64.
- 17. W. Stackhouse to Jas. Buller, Buller mss in the possession of Sir John Carew Pole at Antony, Cornw.
- 18. W. Stackhouse to Jas. Buller, Buller mss in the possession of Sir John Carew Pole at Antony, Cornw.