HARBORD, Hon. Edward (1781-1835), of 4 Stone Buildings, Lincoln's Inn, Mdx.

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



1806 - 1812
1820 - 1 Aug. 1821

Family and Education

b. 10 Nov. 1781, 2nd surv. s. of Sir Edward Harbord, 2nd Bt., of Gunton Hall, Norf. (cr. Baron Suffield 1786) by Mary, da. and coh. of Sir Ralph Assheton, 3rd Bt., of Middleton, Lancs.; bro. of Hon. William Assheton Harbord*. educ. Aylsham, Norf. 1787; Neasden; Eton 1793; Christ Church, Oxf. 1799; Northern tour (Denmark, Russia, Prussia) 1800; L. Inn 1802. m. (1) 19 Sept. 1809, Hon. Georgiana Venables Vernon (d. 30 Sept. 1824), da. and h. of George Venables Vernon, 2nd Baron Vernon, 2s. 1da.; (2) 12 Sept. 1826, Emily Harriott, da. of Evelyn Shirley of Eatington, Warws., 7s. 1da. suc. bro. as 3rd Baron Suffield 1 Aug. 1821.

Offices Held

Military sec. Gen. Decken’s mission to Portugal Aug.-Sept. 1808.

Capt. Blickling rifle vols. 1803; lt.-col., 1 regt. E. Norf. militia 1808.


Harbord’s education was ‘imperfectly conducted’ and ‘unfinished’, his intellect sound, but not ‘very quick nor acutely penetrating’. He never took up the law as was intended for him. In dress he was a ‘little recherché and fantastic, giving a false impression of effeminacy’: as an athlete he was outstanding. His ‘name was scarcely known’ at Yarmouth in 1806, when he was introduced by Sir Edmund Lacon and had a friend as his colleague. The ministerial candidate did not go to a poll, but his father later complained of the ‘expenditure of so many thousands’ for a seat for only a few months. At first Harbord’s parliamentary attendance was ‘neither serious nor frequent’; nor was he ever a distinguished speaker. In December 1806 Windham, a friend of Lord Suffield, believed that ‘one, if not both’ of the Yarmouth Members would support the Grenville government and said Harbord was ‘a person to whom personally I wish extremely well’.1 He was a staunch friend of the abolition of the slave trade.

Most of the men of ability, Harbord said in 1807, ‘and all the rising genius of the age’, inclined to the Grenville administration and so did his contemporaries and friends; of the then opposition he knew only Castlereagh. He had no doubt which party was ‘best calculated by talents to promote the interests of this country ... it is that side which I would support upon general and public principles’; but his father, one of Pitt’s peers, inclined to opposition and his brother was a brother-in-law of Castlereagh and Mount Edgcumbe, so Harbord felt obliged to vote ‘in deference to his connexions, rather perhaps than from conviction’. Except in their opposition to Catholic relief the brothers thought differently, but would certainly act together, for their ‘own credit, and for (most of all) the family importance’ which voting on different sides would destroy. On 13 Mar. 1807 Harbord informed his father:

I voted last night with my brother and with those who appeared to me very little entitled to my support. I voted completely in opposition. First, in opposition to my own sentiments; secondly, in opposition to plain sense and reasoning; and thirdly in opposition to government.

Filial duty required that he should support his father’s opinions and he signed himself a ‘rank oppositionist unless you give me permission to be the contrary’. It was already clear the ministry would fall when his father replied (19 Mar.):

I have little doubt of what it is prudent and necessary for you to do: a general though not a blindfold support of ... ministers, or the interest at Yarmouth is not of long duration ... Yet I have known strong constitutional measures voted for and against by Members for that place ... A general support of ministers I believe will content them; but a systematic opposition would not, I think, be long or twice endured.2

Again with Lacon’s support, Harbord headed the poll in 1807. For a while it seemed possible he would be unseated for treating and Lacon asked him to recommend two friends ‘in the interest of the present administration, and of similar principles to yourself’. In 1808 he ‘usually’ supported government and went as General Decken’s military secretary to Portugal, where he spent much time with the Whig Lord Ebrington. On returning he was offered the post of Castlereagh’s private secretary, but before he had obtained his father’s permission it was given elsewhere. His brother did not join Castlereagh in his quarrel with government in 1809, but he ‘stayed away’ on 30 Mar. 1810 on the Scheldt expedition, having been listed ‘doubtful’ by the opposition.3

Harbord inherited little by his father’s death in February 1810, though his mother gave him £1,000 in four per cents.4 That year he decided not to stand again at Yarmouth, probably because of ‘the growing differences of his opinion from those of his constituents’. His brother believed there would be ‘no difficulty and little expense’ in Harbord’s re-election and asked if he felt ‘justified in thus abandoning the interests of [his] family’ which no one else could support so well and after so much had been spent to bring him in. Harbord believed the money had been well spent:

Your lord lieutenancy and Petre’s receiver generalship have been the consequence. In point of pecuniary advantage to the family, the receiver generalship pays more than the interest of the capital sunk, and I am sure you will not rate your desire of being lord lieutenant of the county so low, as to say the attainment of that object was worth nothing ... there is no longer a family to draw upon for Yarmouth expenses, nor am I bound in duty to take any trouble which I do not like. As to withdrawing from Parliament, time will prove whether I shall do so, but I do not choose to entail upon myself any further trouble respecting Yarmouth; and if I should take my seat for any other place, I shall do so upon terms which will not render me amenable to any one for my political conduct.

Deferring to his brother’s wishes he withheld publication of his intended resignation until January 1811 and informed his colleague Giffin Wilson, though retiring in favour of Edmund Knowles Lacon*.5 He supported government on the Regency, 1 Jan. 1811, and voted against abolition of the paymastership of widows’ pensions, 14 Feb. 1812. Then on 14 Apr. 1812 he voted against McMahon’s appointment as the Regent’s secretary: it was his parting shot.

Harbord’s first wife was ultimately worth £90,000, ‘a great heiress ... and Vernon House, the family plate and jewels went with her’. In June 1813 his father-in-law in his will dated 23 Aug. 1812 left him a ‘sum not exceeding five thousand pounds towards the purchase of a seat in Parliament’, which, being an ‘illegal bequest’ was not carried out. In February 1814 he declined to contest Grimsby being ‘not at present anxious for a seat’, and having one ‘should vote as I thought proper, which it appears ... would not be a satisfactory line of conduct to the ... electors’. On 3 June 1816 he joined Brooks’s Club. In 1818 he wrote a pamphlet in support of savings banks.6

At the election of 1818 Harbord was invited to stand as a ministerialist at Norwich, where the family had an hereditary interest (and where there had been a rumour that he would stand in 1812); his brother was eager that he should accept. When asked to put up £2,000, Harbord refused to pay any expenses but agreed to stand if no parliamentary pledges were asked of him; a proviso which alarmed his brother, who feared he was deserting their political friends. At the poll he disowned any dependence on Castlereagh or the ministers (‘he was free from all party feelings’) and was defeated. He was proposed for Norfolk, but his brother declined for him. Soon after, he wrote of the need for Members to be independent of party, of his disapproval of ministers and of his wish to be remembered as the initiator of some measure like abolition of the slave trade. ‘He was already a friend to public improvement, especially adverse to all kinds of warfare, opposed to capital punishment, and zealous for the administration of prison discipline.’7 Having no desire to be in Parliament and no large fortune, he declined any further contest at Norwich, though maintaining his connexions there until 1819.

In August 1819 Harbord finally broke with government, over the Peterloo incident. He asked his brother, ‘if two thirds of a family are swayed by court favour, and the other is to be deterred from avowing his unbiased opinion on that very account, or because the political opponents of his family happen to coincide with him in a particular instance how is the truth to be spoken?’. His brother quarrelled with him and declared his intention of excluding him from whatever property remained in his power.8 As a peer he remained unrepentant.

He died on 6 July 1835, after being thrown from his horse.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: P. A. Symonds


  • 1. R. M. Bacon, Mem. of Baron Suffield, 42, 509, 511; C. J. Palmer, Hist. Gt. Yarmouth, 230, 231n, 232; Gent. Mag. (1835), ii. 320; Add. 37885, f. 19.
  • 2. Bacon, 25, 27, 29-31.
  • 3. Ibid. 33; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 672; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 24 Nov. 1809; NLI, Richmond mss 73/1697.
  • 4. Bacon, 44.
  • 5. Ibid, 45-7; Palmer, 232.
  • 6. W. W. Vernon, Recollections, 137; PCC 392 Heathfield, quoted in Eng. Hist. Docs. xi. 241 and, indignantly, by Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iv. 391; Bacon, 43, 48, 51, 130.
  • 7. Bacon, 53-68, 81-2; British Press, 1 Oct. 1812; J. J. Gurney, Mems. i. 151.
  • 8. Bacon, 85, 88, 91-94, 100.