BAKER HOLROYD, John, 1st Baron Sheffield [I] (1735-1821), of Sheffield Place, Suss. and Grave Hall, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



15 Feb. 1780 - 1780
27 Feb. 1781 - 1784
1790 - 1802

Family and Education

b. 21 Dec. 1735, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Isaac Holroyd, barrister, of Dunamore and Monknewton, co. Meath by Dorothy, da. of Daniel Baker of Penn, Bucks. educ. by Dr Ford, Dublin.1 m. (1) 26 May 1767, Abigail (d. 3 Apr. 1793), da. of Lewis Way of Richmond, Surr., 1s. d.v.p. 2da.; (2) 26 Dec. 1794, Hon. Lucy Pelham (d. 18 Jan. 1797), da. of Thomas Pelham†, 2nd Baron Pelham, s.p.; (3) 20 Jan. 1798, Lady Anne North, da. of Frederick North*, 2nd Earl of Guilford, 1s. 1da. suc. mat. uncle, Rev. Jones Baker, to estates in Bucks., Mdx. and Yorks. 1768, and took name of Baker before Holroyd; fa. 1778; cr. Baron Sheffield of Dunamore [I] 9 Jan. 1781; Baron Sheffield of Roscommon [I] (with spec. rem. to his das.) 20 Sept. 1783; Baron Sheffield [UK] 29 July 1802; Earl of Sheffield [I] 22 Jan. 1816.

Offices Held

Cornet 21 Drag. 1760, capt. 1761, ret. 1763; maj. army (temp. rank) 1779; lt.-col. commdt. 22 Drag. 1779-83.

Member, board of agriculture 1793, pres. 1803-6; member of Board of Trade 1809-d.; PC 20 Dec. 1809.

Maj. Suss. militia 1778; col. N. Pevensey vols. 1803.


Sheffield is best remembered as the closest friend and literary executor of Edward Gibbon, who in 1792 noted that he ‘is still, and ever will continue, the same active being, always employed for himself, his friends, and the public, and always persuading himself that he wishes for leisure and repose’.2 His restless energy tended to find outlets in fields other than politics, where he only occasionally translated his abundant ideas into sustained action. As well as being one of the leading agriculturists of his day, he was fascinated by the theory and practice of trade and finance; and such political ambition as he possessed lay in a desire to obtain greater official recognition of his expertise in these matters, which he never undervalued.

Near the end of his life, Sheffield claimed that the cry of ‘Wilkes and liberty’ had caused him to relinquish ‘the youthful ardour vulgarly called patriotism’ and instilled in him the notion that it was ‘not only the duty but the interest of every independent man to support the government of the country whenever he consistently can’. He stayed loyal to North to the end, supported the Coalition, opposed Pitt, although he apparently had qualms over the vehemence of the Foxite opposition to the new minister, and lost his seat for Coventry in the opposition rout at the general election of 1784. Already the author of an influential pamphlet in defence of the Navigation Acts, he visited his patrimonial property in Ireland in 1784 and the following year published Observations on the manufactures, trade and present state of Ireland, another attack on Pitt’s commercial propositions, in which he argued that Irish prosperity depended on the maintenance of a close connexion with Britain.3

In September 1789 he canvassed Reading, where he remained in the field until May 1790, but by then he had his sights set primarily on Bristol. Gibbon thought the duties of a Bristol Member would provide Sheffield’s ‘activity with a constant fund of amusement’, but warned him to ‘tread softly and surely’ and chided him for his recently published tract against abolition of the slave trade, which can have done his cause at Bristol no harm. He eventually secured the backing of the Whig interest there, though his Northite past nearly dished him, and was returned after a token contest at a cost of £300 in donations to charities. A month after the election, one local observer commented that ‘even now the great body of the Whigs have their apprehensions’ of him, but ‘I have no doubt however that the lord will please them well in the end by his assiduity and attention to their business’. Immediately after his return for Bristol he went to Coventry to assist a Whig candidate in his unsuccessful contest against the two ministerialists who had beaten him there in 1784.4

Sheffield spoke against the malt tax, 16 and 23 Dec., and the additional duties on rum and spirits, 21 Dec. 1790, when in passing he denounced the ‘madness’ of the anti-slavery movement. During the recess he made extensive notes for a major speech on the pending corn bill, but on the advice of fellow-agriculturists that the result was ‘too argumentative’ for that purpose, decided to rush it into print. In Observations on the corn bill, published in February 1791, he argued that Britain, though potentially self-sufficient in corn, had become dangerously dependent on foreign supplies as a result of abandonment of the old principle of the Corn Laws for a policy of low prices and commercial speculation. To encourage tillage he advocated higher protection, increased export bounties and abolition of the warehousing of foreign corn. He boasted to Gibbon that he had ‘illuminated the Corn Laws. The subject was not understood. The pamphlet written in a few days is in great repute.’ In the House, 22 Feb. 1791, he stated his intention of opposing details of the bill in committee, where on 11 Mar., with the aid of the chairman’s casting vote, he secured the deletion of the warehousing provisions. His opposition to the confiscation of vessels illegally exporting corn, 4 Apr., the proposed method of striking the averages, 11 Apr., and the reintroduced warehousing clauses, 23 May, was unsuccessful; but he claimed to have ‘beaten Pitt three times’ on the bill and succeeded in persuading ministers to raise the price at which the ports were to be opened to corn imports from 48s. to 50s. His speech against abolition of the slave trade, 19 Apr., was, so he told Gibbon, ‘a considerable prop to good sense against nonsense’.5

He voted against government on Oczakov, 12 Apr. 1791, was listed a supporter of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland that month, and intervened in the debate on the Quebec bill, 6 May, to move that Burke’s dissertation on the French revolution was out of order. On the bill itself, 11 May, he objected to the division of the province as a pointless encouragement to colonization of a commercially useless area. He divided the House to reject Popham’s poor bill, 26 May. He failed to secure election to the finance committee, 4 Apr., but on 3 June forced Pitt to submit to the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the expenditure of the money voted for the improvement of Carlton House. Reporting as chairman, 5 June, that insufficient funds had been provided, he adopted Sheridan’s suggestion of moving that the report be printed.

Shortly before setting out with his family in June 1791 to visit Gibbon at Lausanne, Sheffield corrected his friend’s impression that he had been ‘corrupted’ by Foxite principles: ‘I am as great an anti-democrat as Mr Burke, and so are most of the party ... I hold the French proceedings in such abhorrence and dislike as an English politician, that I shall be in danger of the lantern.’ Far from suffering this fate, he was formally presented to the French Assembly ‘as a good English patriot’. After leaving Lausanne he travelled home through Germany and Belgium, whence his daughter wrote to Gibbon that ‘luckily for us, Papa has neither met with a quarter master nor a commercial man, nor a farmer here, so we have seen a great deal and been very much amused’. He was deeply disturbed by the ‘most hideous plague’ of revolutionary fervour that he saw in France.6

Sheffield voted against government on the Russian armament, 1 Mar. 1792, and four days later was elected to Brooks’s, sponsored by his Sussex neighbour and future brother-in-law, Thomas Pelham*. He joined the Whig Club on 3 Apr. After conferring with Dundas on the government’s bill to abolish the slave trade by 1800, he supported it in the House, 25 Apr. Two days later he threatened to move the repeal of the proposal to end the trade by 1796 if it was carried and on 1 May he spoke at length against it. On the bill to encourage the growth of naval timber in the New Forest, 3 May, he expressed the view that the outmoded ‘privileges’ of landowners there should be peaceably surrendered lest they be swept away in a revolution.

After moving a loyal address at a Sussex county meeting in July 1792, Sheffield wrote to Gibbon:

I have watched the origin, impression and progress of the French revolution ... and I am fully convinced that if our good old island had been drawn into the torrent of the new philosophy, Holland, Germany, Spain, etc., would have followed her, and we should have seen all Europe involved in the extravagances of irreligion, immorality, anarchy, and barbarism ... I highly approved and cordially promoted the conduct of opposition at such a crisis. They have come to the aid of government fairly and unreservedly, and many, even zealously ... except about a score who had committed themselves with Mr Grey ... The attempt at an Association has in truth had an excellent effect. It has alarmed, roused and combined men in support of the constitution and good order ... The great care should be to prevent the mass of the people being inflamed and made the tools of those who would risk anything to gain certain points or situations.

He wanted ‘a junction of parties’ in government and thought such a scheme was feasible, despite the admittedly major problem of achieving a mutually acceptable division of responsibility between Pitt and Fox. From September 1792 he was very active in the relief of French refugees, especially the clergy, but he became increasingly despondent at the turn of events at home and abroad, thought ministers must exert themselves against ‘barbarism’, and feared that Fox would ‘still be detestable on the subject of French affairs’. ‘My political barometer never was so low’, he told Gibbon on 14 Nov. 1792, when he lamented the failure of the combined armies and criticized ministers for their ‘foolish game’, he was now glad to see abandoned, of supporting Catholics against Protestants in Ireland.7

On 7 Dec. 1792 George Rose told the former Northite Lord Auckland that his friend Sheffield was ‘now exerting himself as actively as anyone’ in support of government by his involvement in the loyalist association movement, which he took charge of in Sussex, seeking to give it a ‘right direction’. He welcomed the early summoning of Parliament and the proclamation calling out the militia. He was appalled by Fox’s language on the address, 13 Dec., when he ‘uttered the most mischievous doctrines, principles, etc., that could at this time be invented’, and incensed by his motion of 15 Dec. for negotiations with France. As soon as Grey had seconded it, Sheffield, as he told Gibbon, ‘burst, and expressed myself pretty vigorously, and I was not sorry for the opportunity, as I knew the country gentlemen were well disposed, and I was glad to show a good example’. He denounced the proposal, which made him ‘almost ashamed of the enthusiasm he had hitherto felt in favour’ of Fox, called for energetic war preparations and commended government’s ‘promptness and vigour’, although he could not approve of ‘their unjustifiable interpretation of the word insurrection’. He subsequently told the Duke of Portland (as one of whose followers he was listed at this time) and his friend Loughborough, another ex-Northite, that he could have no more truck with Fox and ‘had better remain at Sheffield Place till Parliament meets for business after Christmas’. Late in January 1793 he relished the prospect of war with France, but was bewildered by Portland’s reluctance to break with Fox who, as in the last years of the American war, seemed ‘disposed to support the enemies of the country’. He told Gibbon that

I find the country gentlemen and many others much disposed to follow the style I took up so vigorously on ... [15 Dec. 1792]. What I then said is vaunted throughout Europe far beyond what it deserves ... It was a natural effort, and probably the best of the kind I had ever made, and the friends of government said it was the best and most useful speech that will probably be made this sessions.

He attended the meeting of the ‘third party’ on 17 Feb. 1793, reported with satisfaction to Auckland that ‘much to the honour of our independent country gentlemen, a good system of support at least seems to be established’ and seceded from the Whig Club with Windham and company at the end of the month.8

Sheffield expected a short and victorious war, but took no part in the debates of 1793 on the issue. On 26 Feb. he vindicated Captain Kimber, a bête noire of the slave trade abolitionists, was a teller the same day for the minority who opposed the Gloucester and Berkeley canal bill, opposed Powys’s canal toll regulation bill, 21 Mar., and was a teller in the division. Despite his shock at the sudden death of his wife, 3 Apr. 1793, from a chill contracted while ministering to French refugees at Guy’s hospital, he went to London on hearing of Sheridan’s ‘extraordinary’ notice, 16 Apr., of a motion for Auckland’s recall from The Hague and discussed counter-measures with Pitt. Reporting the heavy defeat of the motion, 25 Apr., to Auckland, he said that he had ‘meant to utter a few sentences, but it was not possible’. He seconded Sinclair’s motion for the establishment of a board of agriculture, of which he became a founder member, 15 May, voiced ‘some doubts’ about the corn export prohibition bill, 16 May, and spoke against Wilberforce’s foreign slave trade abolition bill, 16, 22 May and 1 June. In May he accepted the chairmanship of the commission for issuing £5,000,000 in Exchequer bills, partly in response to pressure from friends anxious that he should be ‘fully employed’ as therapy for his bereavement. Gibbon, who brought forward his planned visit to England when he heard of Lady Sheffield’s death, discovered that the consequent activity seemed to have proved beneficial to his friend.9

For all this, Sheffield became increasingly depressed by military setbacks in Flanders and developed the notion that his recent support for government had not received due recognition. Loughborough, recently appointed lord chancellor, who bore the brunt of his discontent, sent unsympathetic accounts to Auckland in October 1793:

He will hardly allow there is any advantage to be expected from the acquisition of Toulon or that any measure (except the issue of Exchequer bills) has had the least merit ... and until he is more consulted things will always go wrong. I gave him very little comfort, for I really know no person who has less reason to be dissatisfied than he has ... [his] discontent ... became afterwards so absurd and unreasonable that I determined to treat him like a spoiled child ... I advised him to declare a fair and open opposition, in consequence of his having the folly to tell me, that Fox had spoken civilly of his consequence. At another time he informed me that the commercial world was very much surprised he had not been called to the Privy Council to act as Lord Hawkesbury’s deputy [at the Board of Trade] ... He wanted to persuade me that I was neglected in his person ... I could not find out how he had been neglected and thought that his consequence as Member for Bristol was acknowledged in the nomination to the commission ... He seriously thinks that his sally against Fox last December was the cause of the public zeal which appeared at that time, and that he is positively ill treated, because more attention has been shown to Windham and others. Elliot’s appointment [as civil commissioner at Toulon] he feels as an injury, and with all these imaginations he is disposed to do all the mischief he can by exaggerating every fault and detracting from every success.

Sheffield insisted to Auckland that he had had no designs on the Toulon job, but he remained sulky and despondent, blaming military disasters on the government and refusing to respond to Auckland’s attempts to shake him out of his mood. In November, Sylvester Douglas recorded that

Lord Sheffield is in a state of great irritability, both on account of his political and of certain domestic interests. He is of a very active, bustling temper and turn of mind. But I fear he has mistaken that turn for genius, and ... imagines it entitles him to be a minister of state ... He seems to think his services to the Alarmist party, or rather to the administration, and particularly to the chancellor, have been neglected, and he talked to me ... at Sheffield Place this summer, of absenting himself from Parliament, or sometimes seemed inclined to say that though he had approved of the war he might be at liberty to censure the conduct of the campaign, which he truly thinks will be [the] best ground for opposition to take this winter. I had taken the liberty to tell him that he could not do the one or the other consistently with what he had been forward in doing last year. I found him equally anxious for efficient office and for new rank. Of the two, I conceive him fittest for the last, and I advised him to make an English peerage his object.

Douglas discussed Sheffield’s discontent with Loughborough, who deprecated ‘his merits and abilities’, but ‘seemed to admit’ the justice of Douglas’s argument that, though ‘his pretentions might be too great’, he ‘had one real value not inconsiderable, that of being personally attached’ to the chancellor. On 13 Nov. Douglas

reported a good deal of this conversation to Lord Sheffield and repeated my former arguments to dissuade him from political neutrality ... and, after a great deal of discussion in which the desultory incoherent sort of understanding which belongs to him, and his overweening vanity, as well as some quickness of parts and a great deal of frankness and good nature displayed themselves very fully, I brought him to the resolution of calling on the chancellor and telling him that he considered him (since Lord ... [North’s] death ... ) as the person in high political situation to whom he was attached ... and ... that he felt that as he had supported the measure, and thought it must be continued, he could not consistently, and therefore should not support or even countenance any attack in Parliament this winter on the conduct of the last campaign. He asked me if he should not mention his wish for an English peerage. I said I believed the direct mention of it now would not succeed and therefore would injure his future pretensions.

Later the same day, however, Sheffield told Douglas that ‘he had, on reflection, changed his mind, that he was going to the chancellor to show he was in good humour, but that he had determined to say nothing of what we had talked of’. He continued to carp in private and in December 1793 Gibbon (who was to die suddenly the following month) noted that his friend was ‘nervous and rather low-spirited’ and appealed to Loughborough, as he had the previous February, to find some active employment for him. Early in 1794 Sheffield, lamenting that ‘all we have done as yet is to make all France soldiers’, told Auckland that ministers would be kicked out before the end of the session ‘if there was a suitable man to put in the place of Mr Pitt’.10

He voted for Fitzpatrick’s motion for intervention on behalf of Lafayette, a personal friend, 17 Mar. 1794. His only known speeches in this session were against the ‘senseless’ bill to prevent the export of slaves to foreign territories, 25 Feb., 14 and 17 Mar., when he divided the House against its third reading. By that summer, when he applauded the junction of the Portland Whigs with government, he had decided that ministers were not to blame for military disasters in Europe, though he thought their Irish policy ‘very silly indeed’; but he remained personally disgruntled, partly because an application for some Bristol patronage had been ignored, and told Auckland that ‘as to public affairs, I trouble myself not about them, nor do those employed in them trouble themselves in any degree or shape about me’. He was disinclined to attend the meeting of Parliament, but resigned himself to being ‘dragged up ... much against the grain, to add one more vote to a great majority’. In December he married Pelham’s sister.11

On 23 Feb. 1795 Sheffield opposed the import duty on timber and the regulation of franking, against which he divided the House next day and again on 20 Mar. He opposed relief of the poor in their homes, 5 Mar. and 27 May. On 23 Mar. he asserted that there was no danger of a grain shortage and on 11 June he secured the appointment of a select committee to investigate the claims for relief of West India planters and merchants. On 23 Nov. he presented a petition from Bristol against the pending coercive legislation, and when Sheridan accused him of trying to minimize its significance, reported that it was merely the work of ‘the people indiscriminately’. He was appointed to the select committee on the grain deficiency, 2 Nov., and when supporting the formation of an association to promote reduced consumption of wheat, argued at length that the scarcity was real and that urgent measures were necessary. He secured the exclusion of West Indian produce from the ban on the distillation of molasses, 10 Dec., but was unsuccessful in his opposition to Hussey’s proposal for an additional bounty for importation of American corn, 15 Dec., when he contended that there were adequate supplies of alternative crops. He favoured the prosecution of John Reeves for his seditious book, 14 Dec. He advocated measures to prevent the export of molasses, 18 Mar. 1796, supported the waste lands enclosure scheme, 20 Mar. and 22 Apr., but opposed the real succession tax bill, which would ‘beggar the peerage gradually’, 5 May. His motion to make occupiers of unassessed taxes liable to the dog tax, 2 May, was ruled out of order. He had voted against abolition of the slave trade, 15 Mar.

In January 1796 Sheffield began to pursue an Irish earldom but, as a non-resident Irish baron, his chances of success were not high and Portland, now Home secretary, returned only a vague promise to promote his wishes at an unspecified future date. He seems to have been in two minds as to whether to stand for Parliament at the 1796 general election and apparently tried to use his eventual decision to go to the poll at Bristol against the reformer Benjamin Hobhouse*, whom he defeated comfortably, to extort a promise of a British peerage. Portland peremptorily ruled this out, but Pelham, now Irish secretary, was authorized to make him another offer, possibly an Irish viscountcy, which Sheffield later claimed to have turned down.12

On 26 June 1796 he wrote to Auckland deploring the ‘system of denouncing as Jacobins all those who ever disapprove of any measure of the ministers, or who mark the imminence of danger, and by that means wish to avert it’. He feared a French invasion of Ireland, was critical of government’s handling of the corn problem, and never ‘more ashamed of my silence than on that point’, and of the ‘increase of land taxation’, which threatened to ruin the landed interest for the benefit of ‘moneyed men, contractors and families who accumulate office on office’ and to drive men like himself to espouse parliamentary reform. He welcomed the loyalty loan, after initial doubts, as ‘a victory over our moneyed men’, approved the answer to the Spanish declaration of war and rejoiced in the failure of the French attack on Ireland, yet thought Malmesbury’s peace mission humiliatingly ill-timed and despaired at the prospect of the continuation of an expensive, yet ‘merely defensive’ war. All these ideas remained privately expressed and he is not known to have spoken in the House in 1797. His second wife died in January, and in March he was in Ireland with her brother. His renewed application to Portland for an Irish earldom in October was unsuccessful.13

He attended the House for Pitt’s budget speech, 24 Nov. 1797, ‘merely that I might not be ranked with the seceders’, but was compelled to applaud in private the principle of the triple assessment, despite reservations over its details. ‘I felt that I could have been very eloquent and vigorous as a country gentleman in favour of the measure’, he told Auckland, ‘but I went to the House with the intention of not committing myself nor arranging myself with men who exhibit that they do not desire my assistance, and upon the whole there is nothing very captivating in their measures.’14 The land tax redemption bill was a different matter. He led the opposition to it, 2 Apr. 1798, when he condemned it out of hand and, in reply to Pitt’s comment that he was being too hasty, said that he had never yet changed his opinion of the minister’s conduct on any question on which he had opposed it. He continued to fight the bill root and branch and twice moved killing amendments against it, 18 and 30 May. On the other hand, he was a teller for the majority against Fox’s motion condemning coercion in Ireland, 22 June, and welcomed the provisional cavalry bill, 23 June. In August he had ‘so bad an opinion’ of public affairs that he ‘could almost think it desirable to be comatose; but, unfortunately, such is not my nature, and I feel great perturbation arising from inactivity’. The country could not bear further taxation and did not seem likely to get peace ‘on any terms, for which we cannot now blame ourselves or the ministers’.15

Sheffield was an old friend of John Foster*, speaker of the Irish house of commons, and his only connexion with high political circles in England. They thought alike on agricultural and economic questions, but differed over the plan for union with Ireland, which Foster bitterly opposed. Sheffield at first wanted the retention of a subsidiary Irish parliament, but by November 1798 favoured total legislative union, albeit with only 75 Irish Members at Westminster. In December he ‘attended the income tax bill one day’: he thought it went too far, but is not known to have opposed its passage. An ‘extraordinary’ letter from Foster ‘did not make any impression’ on Sheffield, but other reports from Ireland in January 1799 gave him ‘strong ground to believe that if Union is carried by a small majority and thus forced against the general opinion, a rebellion will ensue’, and induced him to ‘withdraw my opinion in favour of perseverance and substitute one in favour of suspension’. On Pelham’s advice he offered to communicate these letters to Pitt, but the minister took ‘not the slightest notice’ of his note. He had planned to speak in the forthcoming debate on the Union and asked Auckland to spread the word of his change of mind so that ‘Pitt or others may not be surprised if I should ... give a strong opinion against forcing a measure for which Ireland is so ill prepared’. Pitt told Auckland that he was powerless to prevent Sheffield from speaking in these terms, but a conversation with Portland, who argued forcefully for perseverance in the measure ‘arrested very much’ Sheffield’s ‘disposition to recant my unqualified wish to force Union at this time’, though he retained his misgivings about the timing of the measure, and he decided to stay away from the debate of 22 Jan. On 20 Feb. 1799 he supported the government’s bill reducing the militia; but two days later Pelham reported that he was ‘a little warped in his politics owing to usage which is certainly not justifiable or politic, for he has activity and zeal which might be made useful’.16

On 22 Apr. 1799 John Hatsell, clerk of the Commons, told the archbishop of Dublin that Sheffield, who had ‘never yet spoke or voted’ on the Union, was expected to speak against it that day.17 He did deliver his views, at length, but he supported the principle of Union, which was ‘absolutely necessary’ for the salvation of Ireland and would bring commercial benefits to both countries, on condition that government fulfilled their pledge to ‘look to the sense of Parliament and of the country’ before pressing through detailed proposals. Irish opposition to the measure he ascribed to its bad initial presentation, which had created understandable, though misguided alarm. Had the outline of the ‘liberal proposition’ now offered been properly communicated in the first place, its reception would have been favourable. He was a teller for the minority against the slave trade limitation bill, 23 Apr., supported Palmer’s claims on the Post Office, 31 May, and the bill against millwrights’ combinations, 10 June 1799.

After securing the production of information on the corn trade, 28 Jan. and 6 Feb. 1800, Sheffield pressed for inquiry into the grain scarcity, 28 Feb., and complained on 6 Mar. that the measures taken to restrict the consumption of corn were inadequate. He opposed a minimum wage, 14 Feb., the bill to prevent the removal of the casual poor, 31 Mar., and the prohibition of copper exports, 4 Apr. According to Pitt, he spoke in support of the union with Ireland in the debate of 21 Apr., but no other account of such a speech has been found. He planned to speak in favour of the export of wool to Ireland, 1 May, but was thwarted by the length of other speeches and impatience for a division and used his notes to produce a pamphlet, published ‘at the request’ of Pitt, in which he expressed satisfaction with the representational arrangements of the Union scheme.18 During the recess he elaborated his views on the scarcity in Remarks on the deficiency of grain, wherein he maintained, in defence of farmers and corn dealers, that the shortage was genuine, recommended as measures of immediate relief the wider use of substitutes, more scientific processing of corn and prohibition of parochial relief beyond a limited amount of bread. To ensure future plenty and self-sufficiency he advocated a general enclosure of waste lands and the commutation of tithes.

In October 1800 Sheffield pressed Portland for an answer on the question of his application for an Irish earldom, but was told that however much he and Pitt might wish to oblige him, they could not go over the head of the lord lieutenant Cornwallis, who, like his predecessor Camden, objected to Sheffield’s promotion on the ground of his non-residence in Ireland. With respect to an Irish representative peerage Portland, who was later said to have recommended Sheffield’s inclusion in the list of nominations, but to have been overruled by Cornwallis, could hold out no hope, nor could he allow Sheffield to be optimistic of attaining a United Kingdom peerage in the foreseeable future. In December Portland, ‘much hurt at the manner in which you seem determined to consider’ the disappointment, told him that Cornwallis had finally vetoed his advancement to an earldom. Sheffield later claimed that Portland had promised to raise the matter with the new lord lieutenant Hardwicke, appointed in March 1801, but did nothing before he reluctantly vacated the Home Office for Pelham in July, when Sheffield complained to his friend of Portland’s ‘neglect and conduct towards me’.19

He opposed the total repeal of the Brown Bread Act, 17 Feb., and supported the horse tax, 20 Feb. 1801. On 30 June he proposed the addition to the standing orders concerning enclosures of a provision for granting land in compensation to tithe-owners of waste to be enclosed, but failed to find a seconder. He gave the Addington ministry credit for obtaining a necessary peace, but privately thought it ‘as highly glorious and honourable to France as it is the contrary to us’ and that ‘the absence of ideas in the fabrication of peace and of knowledge in respect to the West and East Indies has lost the opportunity of great advantages to this country’. Yet when he attended Parliament for the debates on the peace in November he told Charles Abbot that the discussion ‘seemed to prove that the comparative situation of this country is better, and that the predominancy of France is not so decisive or threatening as has been imagined’.20

Shortly afterwards Sheffield embarrassed Pelham, who had recently persuaded Addington to promise him a United Kingdom peerage at the next dissolution, by applying on impulse for the vice-presidency of the Board of Trade, even though he knew that Douglas (now Lord Glenbervie), his brother-in-law since his marriage to one of North’s daughters in 1798, had already been appointed. According to Glenbervie, Addington seemed ‘to have inherited his predecessor’s impressions on the subject of Lord Sheffield’, and Pelham, who claimed that Sheffield had recently ‘pressed him to get him made an Irish earl previous to his English peerage’, said that

he sees no end to his pretensions and that he counts what is done for him as nothing, or as less than what he is entitled to, and that he is sure when he gets his English peerage, he will impute it to Addington’s sense of his merit, not to his (Pelham’s) friendship.

The following day Sheffield wrote a highly characteristic letter of explanation to Pelham:

If Lord Glenbervie had not been appointed I can conceive Lord Liverpool [the president] would not have wished to see me in that situation, as he and I differed ... on the essential subject of corn, and others of them understand I do not hold their opinions in the greatest respect ... but I wished to know ... whether I or you for me should offer my services at that Board. I know I could be of material use and it is proved that I have a turn for subjects which no industry can acquire ... If my assistance is not wished I really do not desire to be of the Board. I shall be saved much trouble and attendance. I have some reputation with the public from John O’Groats House to the Landsend on several subjects and I can distinguish myself most by publishing observations on what is wrong, which I might not do with propriety, if I were of the Board. The only result of their not making me a privy councillor (after having made all my juniors who affect any business ...) will be, that I shall maintain my resolution not to assist or attend any committee.

He subsequently recommended Foster and John Beresford* for appointment to the Board. When Pelham reproached him ‘for using vigorous expressions’, he denied that he had done so towards Addington, having ‘no reason to doubt his general commercial principles and notions except that he has not discovered the incompetency of those who attend’; asserted that there was little vanity ‘in supposing I know more of some subjects than those who happen at present to undertake them’; admitted that his bid for the vice-presidency had been ‘foolish’; but now claimed that he would not have accepted it if offered, partly because of his differences with Liverpool and partly because the Board as constituted could achieve little good.21

For all his threats to express his opinions on commercial subjects ‘without ceremony’ if ministers continued to ignore his expertise Sheffield, who voted for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s claims to duchy of Cornwall revenues, 31 Mar. 1802, is known to have spoken only twice in his last session in the Commons. On 27 Apr. he objected to the exemption of Ireland from the import and export duties bill. On 12 June, further to his notice of a motion for leave to introduce a bill directing parish officers to make a return of the sum raised in poor rates since 1799, he now merely sought information, but eventually dropped the matter, as the sense of the House was hostile. He retired from the Commons at the dissolution to take his United Kingdom peerage.

Sheffield continued to produce pamphlets on commercial subjects and to pursue an Irish earldom, which he eventually obtained from the Liverpool ministry in 1816.22 In 1809, at the age of 73, he at last secured admission to the Privy Council and the Board of Trade. A clue to the failure of all his previous attempts to attain this status lies in the comment of Auckland who, advising Lord Grenville not to appoint Sheffield to the Board, 11 Feb. 1806, wrote:

though he is friendly, honourable, well informed, and sedulous, you know well that those qualities alone are not sufficient to facilitate the business of a Board which is in danger of being overwhelmed by the variety of applications crowding into it. That business can only be kept down and efficiently discharged by quiet consideration and inquiry such as to authorize prompt decisions, without being exposed to eternal discussions about the navigation laws, and long reasonings (and ‘réchauffés’) from pamphlets.23

He died 30 May 1821.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Gibbon Letters ed. Norton, ii. 311.
  • 2. Ibid. iii. 266.
  • 3. Pellew, Sidmouth , iii. 279; Norton, ii. 398; iii. 4, 7.
  • 4. Gibbon Letters ed. Prothero, ii. 216-20, 224; Norton, iii. 192, 194-5; NLS mss 11143, f. 163; 11193, f. 85.
  • 5. Prothero, ii. 238-9, 241, 245.
  • 6. Ibid. ii. 253-4, 258, 267, 287; Norton, iii. 229; B. Connell, Whig Peer , 218, 220, 226.
  • 7. Add. 51845, Sheffield to Lady Webster, 21 July 1792; Auckland Jnl. ii. 426-7, 448, 457-60; Prothero, ii. 304-7, 320, 329-30, 343; Burke Corresp. vii. 207-8, 274.
  • 8. Add. 34446, f. 65; Prothero, ii. 349-53, 361-7; Add. 34448, f. 296.
  • 9. Prothero, ii. 374, 382; Auckland Jnl. iii. 37-38; Add. 51845, Sheffield to Lady Webster, 14 June 1792; Norton, iii. 337, 346.
  • 10. Auckland Jnl. iii. 117-19, 133-4, 159, 166-8; Add. 34452, ff. 113, 187, 235; 34461, f. 225; Glenbervie Jnls. 66-69; Prothero, ii. 372, 398-9; Norton, iii. 367-8.
  • 11. Auckland Jnl. iii. 223-4, 237, 246-7; Portland mss, PwF5176; Add. 34453, f. 56.
  • 12. Portland mss, PwV110, Portland to Sheffield, 25 Jan., 24 May 1796; Add. 34453, f. 518; 38247, f. 148.
  • 13. Auckland Jnl. iii. 347-9, 356-8, 364-6, 370-2; Add. 33130, f. 27; 34454, ff. 90, 122; Portland mss, PwV111, Portland to Sheffield, 9 Oct. 1797.
  • 14. Add. 34454, f. 143.
  • 15. Auckland Jnl. iv. 45-46.
  • 16. Add. 34455, ff. 32, 49, 57, 123, 126; Auckland Jnl. iv. 78; NLS mss 11195, f. 3.
  • 17. Normanton mss.
  • 18. Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2135, 2163.
  • 19. Portland mss, PwV111, Portland to Sheffield, 27 Oct., 26 Dec. 1800; Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2515; Add. 33107, f. 129; 38247, f. 149.
  • 20. Add. 33108, f. 148; Colchester , i. 381.
  • 21. Glenbervie Diaries , i. 281-3; Add. 33108, ff. 281, 286, 409.
  • 22. Spencer mss, Sheffield to Spencer, 13 Feb. 1806; Add. 38247, f. 148; Sidmouth mss, Sheffield to Sidmouth, 26 June 1813.
  • 23. HMC Fortescue , viii. 29.