HEATHCOTE, Sir Gilbert, 4th Bt. (1773-1851), of Normanton Park, Rutland.
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Family and Education
b. 6 Oct. 1773,1 1st s. of Sir Gilbert Heathcote†, 3rd Bt., by 2nd w. Elizabeth, da. of Robert Hudson of Teddington, Mdx. educ. Newcome’s acad., Hackney; L. Inn 1786. m. (1) 16 Aug. 1793, Catherine Sophia (d. 28 Apr. 1825), da. of John Manners† of Grantham Grange, Lincs., 3s.; (2) 10 Aug. 1825, Mrs Eldon of Park Crescent, Portland Place, Marylebone, Mdx. 1s. suc. fa. as 4th Bt. 2 Nov. 1785.
Sheriff, Rutland 1795-6.
Capt. Rutland yeoman cav. 1794-1801; maj. commdt. Folkingham and Bourne vols. 1801.
Heathcote showed a precocious interest in a county seat for Lincolnshire in the by-election of 1794. He postponed his pretensions, not being quite of age: apart from his youth and inexperience, as a pamphleteer pointed out, he was not even resident in the county, meant to travel abroad and was fitter for the ‘mouse hole’ of Rutland. He also lacked the requisite reputation for independence. This was so far true that in preparing the ground for the next vacancy he solicited and obtained Pitt’s support. In July 1795 a vacancy arose for Rutland by the death of his uncle and he was prepared to switch his pretensions there: but he was disqualified as high sheriff and the leading interests made this their excuse for ignoring him. He reserved his right to offer in the indefinite future. So he stood for Lincolnshire in 1796 and secured the retirement of Thorold, one of the sitting Members in opposition, who had no wish to go to the poll. He had been prepared to purchase a seat for Gatton in case of failure and transferred it to his cousin John Heathcote.2
Heathcote professed support of ‘a firm and steady government’ at his nomination and, in his address of thanks, independent support of ‘a free and vigorous constitution’.3 He was sent ministerial circulars to attend the House, 10 Sept. 1796, 26 Sept. 1797, 4 Feb. 1799. He first spoke on 19 May 1797 against Combe’s motion for the dismissal of the ministry, though he claimed to be anxious for peace. On 26 May he voted in the minority for parliamentary reform. He spoke for the landed interest, 4 Apr. 1798, in being willing to see the necessity of a new land tax: but hoped it would be ‘fairly and equally assessed’. In the event he voted against the land tax redemption bill, 23 Apr., and for Buxton’s amendment calling for a tax on all income to prevent discrimination against the landowners, 18 May. On 19 June he was in the minority critical of the enlistment of the militia to quell rebellion in Ireland. He was an opponent of and teller against the adultery bill, 26 May, 10 June 1800, complaining that it increased the power of judges over juries and was unjust in prohibiting the marriage to her seducer of a woman taken in adultery. On 24 July 1800 he opposed Tierney’s amendment, maintaining that the subsidy to the Emperor was not wasted if he had contrived to reach an armistice with France: it would facilitate an Anglo-French armistice.
Heathcote supported Addington, who, like Pitt, paid heed to his patronage applications. The Times and Morning Chronicle contradicted an assertion that he had voted on 4 Mar. 1803 for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s finances. On 19 May, when he complained that he was one of a number of Members not supplied with copies of the late negotiations with Buonaparte, Lord Hawkesbury solemnly replied that he ‘certainly believed that many of the copies had been made use of for purposes different from what had been intended’. Heathcote offered steady support to ministerial military measures, 23 June, disliking the idea of ‘the levy in mass’. On 14 Apr. 1804 Addington requested his attendance against Fox’s defence motion the following week and he promised it, with an apology for his detention in the country.4 He was listed ‘doubtful’ on Pitt’s return to power in May 1804, but on 1 June he joined Brooks’s Club, sponsored by the Duke of Devonshire. He opposed Pitt’s additional force bill, 11 June, merely on the grounds that it was the first act of an administration founded on the principle of exclusion. He was called to order when he elaborated on this point.5 In September he was listed first ‘Addington’, then ‘Addington’s friends on whom some impression might be mad’ (he seems to have applied for a peerage at this time6) and finally‘doubtful Addington’. On 6 Mar. 1805 he voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act and, although no other vote of his is known that session, he paired in favour of the criminal prosecution of Melville on 12 June and was liste ‘Opposition’ in July. Just before the election of 1806 Lord Buckinghamshire wrote of him, ‘Sir Gilbert Heathcote, who if opposed must be thrown out, is with the present administration’. He had Lord Grenville’s good wishes. There was a rumour of his withdrawal, but as he was not opposed there was no call for it. He was chairman of the Maldon election committee, securing a Whig return by his casting vote, 4 Feb. 1807. He also voted for Brand’s motion following the ministry’s dismissal, 9 Apr., and in his election address, 29 Apr., admitted ‘the late ministers had my best wishes in power and equally retain them out of office’. Faced with a contest, he withdrew his address and retired. His brother-in-law’s attempt to return him for Grantham (without his consent) failed.7
Out of the House, Heathcote was at first prepared to attach himself to the Friends of Constitutional Reform and was one of Brand’s junto when the Whigs and radicals met on 30 Mar. 1811 to concert measures, but, like Brand, he withdrew from the venture. At the election of 1812, after turning down Lady Monson’s offer to support him at Lincoln, he stood for Rutland and drove a ministerialist from the field. On 30 Nov. 1812 he seconded the amendment to the address, calling for peace negotiations before the war impoverished the rich as well as the ‘middle ranks of society’. In this plea he stood alone.8 He voted against the vice-chancellor bill, 11 Feb. 1813, and for Burdett’s motion on the Regency, 23 Feb. On 2 Mar. and 24 May 1813 he voted for Catholic relief. On 17 Nov. he was a critic of subsidies to foreign powers as an unnecessary burden and he disliked the policy of restoring the Bourbons in France. He was a critic of the war with the United States, 8 Nov., 1 Dec. 1814. On 23 Nov. 1814 he spoke up for Lovell, proprietor of The Statesman, imprisoned for libel: he thought there should be distinct places of confinement for offenders of this description. He voted with the minority against the transfer of Genoa, 21 Feb. 1815, and next day objected (in anticipation) to expenditure on the repair of Belgian forts. On 1 Mar. he was in favour of the delay of the corn bill and during the next ten days opposed it tooth and nail, describing it as a ministerial sop to the landed interest for the tax burden. He thought lower rents and government retrenchment preferable and warned that the House’s ignoring so many petitions against the bill could only encourage the reform movement. He was himself ‘an avowed reformist’ (10 Mar.). He objected to renewal of war with France on Buonaparte’s return, 17 Mar., and voted in that sense on 7 Apr. and 25 May.
Heathcote opposed the address, 1 Feb. 1816, protesting at a peace ‘hostile to public liberty’ and objecting to interference in the affairs of France at a time when there was so much distress at home. His ‘obstinacy’ or ‘folly’ in dividing a depleted House when the amendment had been abandoned by the Whig leaders damaged his reputation. He had exclaimed that ‘he would be damned to Hell if there should not be a division’. He was defeated by 90 votes to 23. He again threatened to divide the House on the size of the peace establishment, 7 Feb., but desisted. He was a supporter of Brougham’s motions against the ‘holy alliance’, 9 Feb., and one of his coadjutors in the meeting at Lambton’s house nine days later to concert a protest against interference in French internal affairs. He opposed the continuation of the property tax, 18 Mar., after presenting a local petition against it on 6 Mar.; he opposed the army estimates throughout. He was lampooned by the ministerialists in their New Whig Guide at that time because of a hint in debate that the Regent might have recourse to a new ‘third party’ government: they placed him at the head of it.9 On 18 Mar. he alleged that ‘the possession of the mines of Peru should not induce him to connect himself with administration’. He was in the minorities of 2, 8 and 25 Apr. and 20 June 1816. After voting against the address, 29 Jan. 1817, he defended reform petitions two days later (again on 12 Mar.). He voted with opposition on Admiralty salaries, 17 and 25 Feb. He was an opponent of the suspension of habeas corpus, 25-28 Feb., deploring ministerial alarmism and coming to the defence of Burdett. He voted against Canning’s Lisbon embassy, 6 May. On 20 May he voted for Burdett’s motion for reform. He resumed opposition to the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June, and voted against indemnifying ministers for their actions, 9 Mar. 1818. On 9 Feb. 1818, objecting to the subsidy to Spain to abolish her slave trade, he complained that Britain had become ‘the general paymasters of Europe’. He spoke and voted against the ducal marriage grants, 13 and 15 Apr. 1818, and voted for the repeal of the Septennial Act, 19 May, on the motion of Sir Robert Heron who, however, complained that Heathcote was a supine supporter of the Whig cause in Lincolnshire at the ensuing election.10
Heathcote did not sign the requisition to Tierney to lead the Whigs in 1818, though he had subscribed to a Whig evening paper the year before. His attendance was selective in the Parliament of 1818. He voted for the committee on the Bank, 2 Feb. 1819, and for adding Brougham to it, 8 Feb. After obtaining leave of absence on 18 May, he was in the minority on the budget proposals, 7 June. He voted against the address, 24 Nov. 1819, and for Althorp’s motion on the state of the country, 30 Nov.: but no other votes and no speeches are known. Fox hunting and the Turf were his abiding enthusiasms: though he never laid a bet. By the same token he never contested an election.11 He died 26 Mar. 1851.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. PRO 30/8/136, f. 220 suggests 5 Oct.
- 2. Thoughts of a Lincs. freeholder on the late address of Sir Gilbert Heathcote (1795); Lincs. AO, Ancaster mss, 3 Anc 9/4/2, 10-18; PRO 30/8/144, ff. 43, 45.
- 3. True Briton, 23 May, 13 June 1796.
- 4. Add. 35708, f. 195; The Times, 8 Mar.; Morning Chron. 9 Mar. 1803; Ancaster mss, 3 Anc.
- 5. Sidmouth mss, Henry to J. H. Addington, 12 June 1804, suggested that Heathcote did not vote until 11 June, though the Morning Chron. 11 June 1804 listed him in the minority of the 8th.
- 6. PRO 30/8/199, f. 40.
- 7. Add. 34457, f. 98; Fortescue mss, Grenville to St. John, 21 Oct. 1806; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 350.
- 8. M. Roberts, The Whig Party 1807-12, p. 287; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F108/20, 22; Colchester, ii. 412.
- 9. Add. 35394, f. 213; 40184, f. 262; 40290, f. 56; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 2 Feb., Rosslyn to Grey, 2 Feb., Monck to Grey, 19 Feb.; Creevey mss, Bennet to Creevey, 2 Feb. 1816.
- 10. Heron, Notes (1851), 88, 97.
- 11. E. D. Heathcote, Acct. of ... Heathcote, 91; Gent. Mag. (1851), i. 549.