YORKE, Philip (1757-1834).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1780 - 16 May 1790

Family and Education

b. 31 May 1757, 1st s. of Hon. Charles Yorke.  educ. Harrow 1770-1; Queens’, Camb. 1775-6; Grand Tour.  m. 24 July 1782, Lady Elizabeth Lindsay, da. of James, 5th Earl of Balcarres [S], 2s. 4da.  suc. uncle as 3rd Earl of Hardwicke 16 May 1790; K.G. 25 Nov. 1803.

Offices Held

Ld. lt. Cambs. 1790- d.; P.C. 17 Mar. 1801; ld. lt. [I] Mar. 1801-Mar. 1806; high steward Camb. Univ. 1806- d.


Lord Hardwicke was determined, as head of one of the leading county families, that his nephew should stand for Cambridgeshire at the first opportunity; Yorke was nominated on 10 Apr. 1780, although the general election was not due for eighteen months. In September, four days after the sudden dissolution, Yorke rejected a suggestion that Hardwicke should return him for Reigate as a precaution, arguing that this would lessen the enthusiasm of the freeholders for his cause; and he was returned second on the poll, after an expense of some £14,000.1

Yorke voted with Administration on the election of the Speaker and on the Address. In February 1781 Robinson rated him as ‘hopeful’. On 10 Feb., with Burke’s establishment bill about to be reintroduced into the Commons, Hardwicke advised him:

You will do well to consider your own conduct in it. The taxes may be so heavy that your constituents may expect from their Member some popular complaisance, and provided it does not run to extravagant lengths there is no harm in an independent Member like yourself showing that he does not strictly set his watch by the court dial. Your predecessor, Sir Sampson [Gideon] hurt his interest in the county by following Administration too implicitly. I would at least vote for bringing the bill in and seeing what can be made of it.

Yorke wavered, feeling that he must oppose the bill on second reading:

I ... am at a loss how to separate by my vote tonight the good from the bad ... I do not see how I can ... as Member for a county ... pay some regard to popular interests, without going all the extravagant lengths of the whole plan ... If I vote for it I shall vote for some things that I think improper. If I give it a negative I shall vote against some things which I think right.

But, in the end, he voted on the 27th for the second reading:

It appeared to me rather a new sort of doctrine that was laid down last night, that because one disapproved of parts of the bill, it was proper to reject it in toto, and lose the opportunity of approving of those parts that were not exceptionable. This was my opinion, and I am sorry it was different from that of my uncle [John Yorke], who voted on the other side. Had I been Member for Helston I might perhaps for the sake of family union, have strained a point to have concurred with him in my vote, but as I came in upon the ruins of Sir Sampson’s interest, which he owed to his constant subserviency to the court doctrine, I thought it right to show [my constituents] that complaisance, particularly as it did not clash with my own feelings.

‘As a county Member’, wrote Hardwicke, ‘you have a very honest line of defence, and your constituents (I am sure) will be pleased with you for it.’ And on 2 Apr.: ‘I dare say you will never forget that you come into the House of Commons quite as an independent man, who should hear with his own ears and see with his own eyes, advising however with, and consulting his best and nearest friends.’ Soon afterwards North offered Yorke a place on the secret committee to investigate East India affairs. Yorke, after assurances that this service would not tie him in London too long nor interfere with his responsibilities in the county, decided to accept:

Lord North told me it would not last above a month or five weeks, and that the absence of a member did not stop the proceedings as is the case in election committees. Upon this I told him I should like to be of it, for the sake of getting more knowledge of the business.

In the following weeks Yorke frequently mentioned the work of the committee in letters to his uncle and referred points to him for his advice. On 8 May he voted with the ministers against the petitions for reform submitted from various counties.2

When the House reassembled in November 1781, Yorke supported the Address against the Opposition amendment which, ‘by recommending a total change of system ... seemed to pledge the House more particularly than the Address itself’. On 6 Dec. he voted for an Opposition amendment to increase the naval appropriation. On the 11th he was among those independent ministerial supporters to whom North, on the eve of the debate on the army estimates, made a prior disclosure of his intentions regarding the war in America. He felt North’s assurances were satisfactory and voted against Lowther’s motion to put an end to the war:

I own it appeared to me so necessary to keep some footing in America, were it only to give them at a peace in return for some other boon, that I could not adopt the doctrine laid down of evacuating every post in the country. The only consideration that made me doubt for a moment upon the propriety of the vote I gave, was that possibly such a declaration on the part of the House of Commons might quiet the minds of people at home on the subject of this unfortunate American contest.

On 20 Feb. 1782, Yorke was absent from the division on Sandwich’s naval administration. In the next two crucial divisions, on 22 and 27 Feb., he voted against the ministry in support of Conway’s motions against offensive warfare in America. On 23 Feb. he wrote to his uncle:

I should be sorry that it should be attended with the consequences of putting Mr. Fox in Lord North’s situation, to which I by no means wish to be an accessory, and yet I could not avoid voting for the Address.

And on 1 Mar., on hearing about the annoyance of his uncle, Sir Joseph Yorke:

I am the more hurt in this case [by his displeasure], because I perfectly agree with Sir Joseph in detesting the views of some of the factious leaders in Opposition, and in wishing to support the King’s Government; but really in this case I could not oppose a question of that nature, merely because it came from the Opposition, and not from the ministry.

But he supported the Government on 8 Mar. against Cavendish’s censure motion, and would have done so again but for illness on the 15th.3

With North’s fall imminent, Hardwicke, remembering old connexions with the Opposition, was eager that Yorke should court them; but he himself found Rockingham hardly civil when he ventured a ‘trifling request’. Yorke replied:

His party zeal is now at its crisis, and I suppose he feels no inclination to assist any but his own partisans. This however does not justify uncivil behaviour to old connexions, who have not thought fit to co-operate with him in his violent opposition.

However, on 23 Mar. Rockingham visited Yorke, and on the 26th Hardwicke wrote:

Perhaps it might not be amiss to return his visit and make a common congratulatory compliment. It will give him an opportunity of opening himself, if he chooses it; if he does not, there is no harm done. His Lordship should remember past events. Everybody in this reign has been courted in their turns; the policy has been in general to gain individuals when they were wanted.

Hardwicke again pressed this advice a week later. On 3 Apr. Yorke reported that he had complied with it, but that the circumstances of the interview had precluded Rockingham from discussion of the Yorke family’s interests.4

In May, when attacks against North were threatened in the House, Yorke promised to stand by him. On 7 May he was a leading speaker against Pitt’s motion for a committee on parliamentary reform. The heads of this speech, of which no printed report is known, were summed up in Yorke’s account to Hardwicke. He argued against having a committee without specifying definite schemes to be submitted to it or seeing any likelihood that if a scheme were proposed it ‘would be satisfactory to the people’. He maintained that the country did not want reform, and that his own constituents did not feel aggrieved at the existing system of representation.5

Shelburne, on succeeding Rockingham, gave vague signs of an inclination to court the Yorkes, with offers of an efficient post. Yorke was not averse to an opening which would initiate him ‘into that sort of business’, and thought that Rutland’s friendliness towards the ministry would save him from any difficulty over a re-election. But nothing came of Shelburne’s hints, and Hardwicke, who thought a re-election risky, wrote: ‘One in your situation can be of more use to those he wishes to support by remaining independent, than by taking a subordinate place.’ Grantham’s acceptance of the secretaryship of state gave the Yorkes a direct family connexion with the ministry; but his refusal to discuss public business with Hardwicke so annoyed Hardwicke that he tried to dissuade Yorke from moving the Address at the opening of Parliament. Yorke however agreed to do this.6

In February 1783 Yorke presented a petition for parliamentary reform from Cambridge borough, but declined to speak in support of it. On 18 Feb. he voted with Government for the peace preliminaries. He had gone to the House quite undecided and had made up his mind during the course of the debate. He wrote to Hardwicke: ‘I have, moreover, some satisfaction in not lending my vote a second time for the purpose of bringing in Mr. Fox.’ This conduct ran counter to Hardwicke’s opinion of the peace, his sense of his family’s importance, and resentment at ministerial neglect. Having himself voted against the preliminaries in the Lords, he rebuked Yorke: ‘I can’t now flatter myself that my ideas will have much weight with you on public points. You have shown great complaisance to Mr. Secretary Townshend by attending all his meetings, though he had never shown the least attention, or made any communication whatever to your friends or family.’7

Their estrangement did not last long, and Yorke, in deference to Hardwicke’s wishes, called to compliment Portland after the formation of the Coalition ministry. In May he voted once more against parliamentary reform:

I was rather disposed at first to be for the motion; but ... so many of those who supported it thought that it did not go far enough, and considered it so much as a leading step to further and greater innovations, that I decided against it.

In the autumn Hardwicke, always anxious to court the men in power, again urged Yorke to show attention to Portland, to whom he himself had entrusted his proxy. Yorke replied:

I paid my respects to his Grace when he first came into office last spring, and if your Lordship wishes it will visit him again when I come to town. The deference which it is my duty and inclination to pay to your opinion would undoubtedly have the greatest weight in biassing and directing mine; but I must take the liberty of saying that there are some Members of the Administration whose principles (avowed at least if not real) I so much disapprove, that if I were induced to give them my individual support, it would be entirely from a strict deference to your Lordship’s sentiments and immediate wish, and for what I hitherto know of them from no favourable idea of the Administration itself.

The East India bill increased Yorke’s dislike of the Coalition. After the first reading he wrote to Hardwicke:

There was much debate upon the principle of the bill, which appears a strong measure calculated to throw an unbounded patronage (as Mr. Fox imprudently called it) into the hands of a party for five years ... I could not help saying a few words against the indecent manner in which the bill is hurried through the House, and thought the delay of four days might as well be granted as it could not pass the other House before Christmas. Mr. Fox afterwards said he saw no reason to suppose that it would not go through the House of Lords before Christmas ... I must also add another word of what I said in the House ... that really in a matter so new, so important as this, and so contrary to the accustomed professions of those who supported it, I thought it necessary the House should have time to decide, and that every Member summoned by the call might have an opportunity of giving his opinion upon the question. Mr. Fox made a very ingenious speech, applying popular topics to support a daring and violent measure. If Lord North had proposed this bill, Fox would have called a meeting of his constituents and mounted the rostrum in Westminster Hall next day.

And on 27 Nov.:

Nobody denies that the Company is in a miserable situation, but it does not follow that ... so violent an assault is necessary for their re-establishment ... At the head of the new commission I understand they mean to place Lord Fitzwilliam, in order to cover by his independent fortune and character the dirty jobs which the want of both in the other commissioners will probably occasion.8

On 17 Dec., after the dismissal of the Coalition, Yorke wrote to Hardwicke: ‘[Sir Joseph] thinks that Mr. Fox will stick at nothing to reduce the King to be a greater cipher than he is at present, and I am sorry to say that everything I see bears very much that appearance.’ And he voted against William Baker’s motion of 17 Dec. condemning the King’s interference against the East India bill. His letters henceforth reflected more and more his deep dislike of Fox. On 23 Dec. he wrote that it seemed likely to end ‘in the establishment of Mr. Fox’s power, and the overthrow of the very little consequence which the King had in his government’. If Parliament were not dissolved, ‘a seat in the House will be a perfect sinecure for the rest of Mr. Fox’s life. Indeed there is no use in going down to the House now, for whenever anyone rises to speak who is not of the right party, he is clamoured down, and for the last three or four days the House has been a greater scene of confusion than I ever expected to see it.’ On 12 Jan. 1784 he spoke in defence of Pitt:

I was on the side of ministry, as I really think they were making a virtuous effort to rescue the King and the nation from the hands of the party, who will bind both the one and the other with any shackles they may choose in their mercy to make use of.

At the end of January he wrote: ‘I heartily wish the country gentlemen would unite and keep out Mr. Fox for good.’ By the end of February he was so far identified with the ministry’s cause, that he could bank on having ‘previous intelligence about the dissolution’, and he had some hint of it at least a week in advance.9 He was re-elected unopposed.

During the remainder of his service in the Commons he was an independent supporter of Pitt’s ministry. On 18 Apr. 1785, in deference to Hardwicke, he voted once more against Pitt’s proposals for parliamentary reform, though he had doubts whether it might not have been better to concede some limited change and feared the consequences if Pitt decided he must resign:

These were the only reasons I had for being at all favourable to it, not being a reformer and wishing the question had never been agitated, and to see things remain as they are, which I fear they will not though the question of today should be lost.

In February 1787 he was much concerned how to act on the Protestant Dissenters’ petition for relief from the Test and Corporation Acts:

I confess I think their demands reasonable, and that no harm can arise but from an intemperate opposition. That might raise a flame, increase their numbers, and render them more disaffected to the establishments of Church and State ... I wish I may see no reason upon further consideration to alter my opinion, as we have many Dissenters in Cambridgeshire, who would be much pleased if my opinion should coincide with their wishes.

In the end he supported the petition. A letter of 2 May 1787 from Pitt, the first to be found in his papers, addressed to him as ‘Dear Yorke’ and asking for his support in a division, indicates that he was now entering into Pitt’s circle of friends and associates. On 10 Mar. 1789, at Pitt’s request, he seconded the address of congratulation to the King on his recovery.10

He died 18 Nov. 1834.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: I. R. Christie


  • 1. Murray Keith Corresp. ii. 94; Add. 35379, ff. 197-8; 35520, f. 141.
  • 2. Add. 35379, ff. 244, 256, 301, 322-3, 324-5, 341, 367, 372.
  • 3. Add. 35380, ff. 114, 124, 130, 132-3, 188, 194.
  • 4. Ibid. ff. 215, 228, 232, 236, 238.
  • 5. Ibid. ff. 248, 258, 262-3; Fortescue, vi. 12.
  • 6. Add. 35380, ff. 348, 350, 386, 388-9, 394-5; Debrett, ix. 1-4.
  • 7. Add. 35381, ff. 32, 34, 42.
  • 8. Ibid. ff. 87-88, 151, 152, 155, 162-3, 168-9, 174, 178.
  • 9. Ibid. ff. 189, 192, 198, 215-16, 268, 276; 35382, f. 27; Debrett, xii. 562, 564-5.
  • 10. Add. 35383, ff. 7, 11, 215-16, 323; 35641, ff. 142, 203; Stockdale, xvi. 477-8.