HEATHCOTE, Sir William, 3rd Bt. (1746-1819), of Hursley, nr. Winchester, Hants.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 21 June 1746, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Heathcote, 2nd Bt., of Hursley by Elizabeth, da. of William Hinton, carpenter, of Hursley. educ. Hertford, Oxf. 1763-6. m. 21 May 1768, Frances, da. and coh. of John Thorpe of Embley, 5s. 3da. suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. 27 June 1787.
In the year 1790 at the express desire of government, and totally contrary to every wish of my own, I came forward as the only person who was thought likely to rescue the county from what was called the Constitutional Club, which was then endeavouring to establish the Duke of Bedford’s interest, an interest, which had it once prevailed, would probably never have been eradicated; I had the pleasure upon that occasion of feeling, that I had not only succeeded myself but was the means of bringing in another Member friendly to government, by which the opposition interest was entirely defeated.
This was what Heathcote wrote to Pitt on 29 May 1805, adding:
In making such a sacrifice of my whole plan of life, I could not help feeling, that when a sufficient length of time had proved the sincerity of my attachment to the cause I wished to serve, that I might presume to ask for a peerage and indeed that idea was not confined to myself.
He admitted that there was ‘only one male heir’ between him and the Macclesfield peerage, entailed on his family over 80 years before when his grandfather declined an Irish peerage, but that the reversion was unlikely to occur in his lifetime.1
Heathcote placed a ceiling of £1,000 on his expenses in the Hampshire election of 1790.2 He was an inconspicuous Member and probably not an assiduous attender. In April 1791 he was listed ‘doubtful’ on the question of the Test Act repeal in Scotland. On 23 Nov. and 2 Dec. 1795 he presented his constituents’ petitions in favour of legislation against sedition. On 1 Nov. 1797, apologizing to Pitt for his inability to muster for him, he was confident that his one vote would make no difference. On 23 Apr. 1798 he requested ecclesiastical preferment for his second son.3 He at first opposed Addington’s ministry only on the beer duty bill, 13 Apr. 1802. On 17 June he wished the bill to prevent black game shooting in the New Forest to be expedited, against the sense of the House. On 8 Mar. 1803 he took three weeks’ leave for illness. In March 1804 he was listed ‘Pitt’, but joined opposition to Addington only on the division of 25 Apr. that brought him down. He went on to support Pitt again, appearing in the government minority against the censure on Melville, 8 Apr. 1805. He and his colleague discovered that the sense of the county was against them on this question and shortly after applying to Pitt for a peerage, Heathcote (like Chute) was in the opposition majority for Melville’s criminal prosecution, 12 June.4 He remained ‘Pitt’ in the Treasury list a month later.
In August 1806 Lord Grenville’s nephew Earl Temple approached Heathcote with the suggestion that the ministry would not oppose his re-election if he dissociated himself from Chute, who had opposed them. Heathcote would give no pledge, saying merely ‘that he was more for than against [Lord Grenville] and that he would not go into opposition’. Temple assured Fremantle at the Treasury:
You are mistaken in your idea of Heathcote’s having invariably supported government. He is a very shabby dog and generally stays away. On Lord Melville’s question he voted for and against the then government; on all our pressing questions he stayed away. He is completely under the control of G[eorge] Rose and is now busily employed by him in counteracting the government in Hampshire.5
Having thus compromised himself and been obliged by Temple to disavow the version of their negotiation imposed by Rose on the County Club, Heathcote proceeded to throw up the sponge, with reference to his ill health. He made ‘a bad return to Chute’ for his alliance in 1790 by doing nothing for him in the ensuing contest, ‘having always wished it to be supposed that Chute came in by his assistance’.6 Subsequently he made over his pretensions to his eldest son, Thomas Freeman Heathcote*. Described by Viscount Palmerston as ‘a quiet country gentleman naturally of a retired disposition’ and by Earl Temple as ‘the best natured creature breathing but not the cleverest’, Heathcote died 26 June 1819.7
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne
- 1. PRO 30/8/144, f. 47.
- 2. Som. RO, Dickinson mss DD/DN 264, Sloane to Dickinson, 21 Aug. .
- 3. PRO 30/8/144, ff. 53, 55.
- 4. Pol. Reg. 25 Oct. 1806.
- 5. Fremantle mss, Temple to Fremantle, Sat. [Sept. 1806].
- 6. Malmesbury mss, Palmerston to Malmesbury, 12 Nov., Rose to same, 17 Nov. 1807.
- 7. Bulwer Lytton, Palmerston, i. 56; Add. 34461, f. 175.