COMPTON, Spencer Joshua Alwyne, Lord Compton (1790-1851), of Castle Ashby, Northants.

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



26 May 1812 - 1820

Family and Education

b. 2 Jan. 1790, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Charles Compton*, 1st Mq. of Northampton. educ. by Edward Meyrick at Ramsbury, Wilts.; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1808. m. 24 June 1815, Margaret, da. and h. of William Douglas MacLean Clephane* of Kirkness, Kinross. Styled Lord Compton 1796-1812, Earl Compton 1812-28; suc. fa. as 2nd Mq. of Northampton 24 May 1828.

Offices Held

Pres. Royal Society 1838-48.

Capt. Central Northants. militia 1810, lt.-col. 1813.


At the first vacancy after his coming of age, created by the assassination of Spencer Perceval, Lord Compton was returned for the family seat at Northampton. As heir to a marquessate soon afterwards bestowed, he was expected to support government. This he generally did, moving the address, 4 Nov. 1813, but his behaviour was at times sufficiently unpredictable to give him a reputation for independence or crotchetiness. His maiden speech, 18 May 1813, was a plea on behalf of his constituents against the leather tax, which he regularly opposed: while he denied that he was obeying instructions, he was willing to concede that his constituents were better informed on this subject than he. He generalized his opposition to the measure later on the grounds that direct taxes were preferable to indirect taxes: for which reason he courted unpopularity by being ‘rather friendly than otherwise to the property tax’, a phrase that caused some amusement in the House, 28 Feb. 1816. He accused ministers of ‘asking for popularity’ by abandoning first the property tax, then the wartime malt tax, 20 Mar. 1816, without considering that they must be replaced by more oppressive indirect taxes which operated partially and locally; and while he would not vote in opposition to the salt tax or the excise duties, as opposed to the leather tax, he explained that he would prefer to see them repealed in favour of ‘a modified property tax’.

Compton voted against Catholic relief on 22 June 1812, throughout in 1813 and in 1816. Though he consented to present a petition against the corn bill, he voted against the prayer thereof, speaking in favour of the Corn Laws, 6 June 1814, 23 Feb., 6 Mar. 1815. He voted steadily with ministers on civil list questions, but against additional newspaper duties, 8 June 1815. On 4 Apr. 1816 he charged opposition with inconsistency in accusing government of lack of economy and then taking credit for having forced it on ministers: he had ‘great confidence’ in ministers, but they needed watching. On 6 Mar. he had voted for the army estimates, but on 27 Mar. in a minority on the navy estimates. On 13 May he voted for Milton’s motion on the unconstitutional use of the military; but he approved government employment of informers, 5 Mar. 1818. On 15 Apr. 1818 he spoke in favour of the marriage grant to the Duke of Clarence and on 22 Feb. 1819 favoured the Windsor establishment bill, but in other respects he was not so accommodating. He voted for the repeal of the Irish window tax, 21 Apr. 1818, opposed extension of the forgery bill, 14 May, and supported Brougham’s amendment to the aliens bill, 22 May. Sir James Mackintosh commented, ‘Lord Compton shows propensities to Whiggery which some ascribe to his lady, though it be a little singular that a Miss Maclean from the Isle of Mull should be a Whig’.

These propensities did not immediately continue: Compton voted with government on Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May 1819, and spoke on their behalf in the debate on the navy estimates, 2 June, though he objected to the terms of cession of Parga to the Turks, 15 June. On 26 Nov. 1819 he supported the address, exonerating the Manchester magistrates of blame for the Peterloo disaster and justifying the dismissal of Fitzwilliam from his lord lieutenancy. While he had favoured the correction of election abuses at Barnstaple in May of that year, he now made it clear that he opposed any scheme of parliamentary reform. On 6 Dec. he spoke in favour of the seditious meetings prevention bill, but next day attempted to propose an amendment, which irritated Castlereagh, to enable a county meeting to be requisitioned by 20 or 30 freeholders worth £100 p.a. He explained that he was not attached to any party, but ‘if to any, rather to that of ministers’: yet even their friends could see faults in the bill. On 23 Dec. he apparently voted with opposition on the blasphemous libel bill, in a minority of 30.

Defeated at Northampton in 1820, Compton went to Italy, where he and his wife were hospitable to oppressed Liberals. He did not return to England until his wife died in 1830. A dilettante with humanitarian interests (particularly criminal law reform and the slave question), he died 17 Jan. 1851.

J. C. Cox, Recs. of Northampton, 509; Add. 52182, Mackintosh to Allen [24 May 1818]; Gent. Mag. (1851), i. 425.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne