HERBERT, Henry George, Lord Porchester (1772-1833).
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Family and Education
b. 3 June 1772, 1st s. of Henry Herbert†, 1st Earl of Carnarvon, and bro. of Hon. Charles Herbert* and Hon. William Herbert*. educ. Eton 1782-9. m. 25 Apr. 1796, Elizabeth Kitty, da. and event. h. of John Dyke Acland† of Pixton, Som., 2s. 3da. suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Carnarvon 3 June 1811.
Capt. Wilts. militia 1790; maj. W. Som. yeoman cav., lt.-col. 1798, col. 1803.
Porchester entered Parliament as soon as it was convenient, on a newly acquired family interest for Cricklade. There is scant evidence of his parliamentary activity until 1803, except that he voted against ministers on the land tax, 18 May 1798, was chosen for a delegation to the Lords, 16 May 1800, and acted as a teller for the majority on a leave of absence division, 3 Mar. 1801. On 4 Mar. 1803 he voted for Calcraft’s motion for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s debts and five days later, on hearing that the Prince was satisfied with the King’s message to Parliament on the subject, withdrew a motion of his own to restore the Prince’s dignity.1 On 3 June 1803 he was what Canning termed a ‘straggler’2 in the minority in favour of Patten’s censure motion: so was his father on his friend Fitzwilliam’s similar motion in the Lords on 6 June. He voted eight times with the opposition to Addington in the crucial divisions of March-April 1804; the motion on Indian affairs of which he gave notice on 20 Apr. was prevented by the change of ministry.
The Pittites were hopeful of him3 but he remained in opposition, voting against Pitt’s additional force bill and describing the ministry as ‘more than half the same men whom the other had vilified and despised’, 6 June 1804. In May 1805, expressing views adumbrated on 5 May 1803, he led the opposition to the stipendiary curates bill intended to guarantee parsons’ residence, describing it as ‘unprincipled, incoherent and wicked’; he was three times teller against it and his opposition continued whenever it was revived in 1806 and 1808 by Spencer Perceval. On 12 June 1805 he voted for the criminal prosecution of Melville: he was appointed one of the managers of Melville’s impeachment. In July 1805 he was listed ‘Opposition’ by the Treasury.
Porchester, whose mother-in-law was Fox’s first cousin, supported the Grenville ministry, in which his father was master of the horse, though he opposed the bill to prevent treating at elections, 21 Mar. 1806, as it tended to disfranchise many. He was reckoned a staunch friend of the abolition of the slave trade and expressed criticism of the inadequacy of elementary education in England, 24 Apr. 1807, though he thought a scheme of national education ‘chimerical’. At the election of 1806, George Rose believed Porchester would be put up by government for Hampshire, but his brother William was: he retained Cricklade then and in 1807, in coalition with Thomas Goddard against Lord Andover.4
In 1807, after he had voted for Brand’s motion following the dismissal of ministers, in which his father lost his place, he publicly denied that he was ‘a friend to Popery’—explaining that ‘the vote ... was not on the Catholic bill; nor will I ever give any vote for such a measure’. In 1808 he was again voting with opposition, on the orders in council and the mutiny bill, 3, 14 Mar. On 28 Mar. and 7 Apr. he defended Bankes’s bill to abolish offices in reversion against Perceval’s destructive amendments; on 11 Apr. he tried to oust the amendments, but his friends in opposition were divided and Perceval carried the day by 112 votes to 60. He voted for a larger grant to Maynooth College, 29 Apr., and in the debate on the same subject, 6 May, ‘attacked the "Saints" without misericorde: he called them "a set of men who were canonized by anticipation"'. On 18 Jan. 1809 he was one of the Whigs meeting to endorse Ponsonby's leadership: he deprecated Whitbread's pleas for peace, 31 Jan., and on 21 Feb. voted against the Cintra convention, as well as against the Duke of York's misconduct of army patronage, 17 Mar. On 24 Apr. he failed to get leave for a bill to abolish offices in reversion by 121 votes to 106. He supported Lord Archibald Hamilton's and Madock's motions implicating Castlereagh in corruption, 25 Apr., 11 May 1809, but was opposed to parliamentary reform, claiming in the debate on Curwen's motion, 26 May, that the constitution 'had never approached so near to perfection as at the present day'.5 He repeatedly opposed Curwen's bill and although he supported Whitbread's resolution to exclude pensioners and placemen from the House, 8 June, he exempted 'official characters'. He attempted to facilitate divorce proceedings, 18 May, and was friendly to the bill against cruelty to animals, 13 June 1809.
Writing to Lord Holland as a 'country cousin' in October and November, he deplored the divisions among opposition and the lack of authorative leadership, adding, 19 Nov.,
As for myself I have every disposition to be as turbulent in attack and as well disciplined in my ranks as any conspirator in the world, but my station in the ranks is not one which entitles me to exert authority.
He was willing however to 'make up by exertion for the want of powers', though 'no man ... has a higher respect for an idle life or less inclination to take more trouble than is needful'. He thought that opposition should not again permit government to be outdone by them in folly and advocated 'a grand push made on the first day'.6
Porchester's desire to exert himself was rewarded at the opening of the session of January 1810, when he was given responsibility for the motion of inquiry by a committee of the whole House into the failure of the Scheldt expedition, his chief claim to parliamentary fame. On 26 Jan. he carried it by 195 votes to 186, in the face of a wavering government front bench with the help of the votes of Sidmouth's, Wilberforce's and Castlereagh's friends. The effect was less successful when Yorke moved the exclusion of strangers on 1 Feb. and next day, when Porchester endeavoured to name a secret committee of inquiry, 'at the end of the debate when half the House had gone home thinking it adjourned'. The secret committee was necessary to override the objection to Sir David Dundas, as commander-in-chief, revealing the secrets of the Privy Council. The King authorized him to do so and on 5 Feb. the secret committee was appointed, but Perceval insisted on displacing one of the 11 in favour of his own nominee to remove a bias towards opposition. Porchester called witnesses throughout February, but 'was not skilful in the examination' of them. Canning was already predicting on 8 Feb. that the inquiry would do no mischeif except to Lord Chatham and that initial defeat had been the best security for the government remaining otherwise unharmed. Porchester had no notion of asking for an impeachment and while Witbread, with Canning's assistance, carried a vote of censure against Chatham, 5 Mar., which led to his resignation from the Ordnance, Porchester's own conclusion of the business on 26 Mar. misfired. His four-hour speech was followed by what Perceval termed 'a long string of resolutions'—of fact and opinion, blaming ministers for the fiasco. They were suggested by consultation with Lord Grenville. Robert Ward* described the speech as having disappointed everyone ... the merest dull statement of evidence I ever heard, even in a court of law. Fremantle's pamphlet was the ground of it, and perhaps had it been read instead of the speech, the House would have been much the gainer. I never saw so full a House; I should think 500 Members.' There were four divisions on the two resolutions of opinion moved by Porchester and thought 'immeasurably severe and unjust' by Canning, on 30 Mar: the first two on the policy of the expedition, the last two on the retention of Walchern. The lowest government majority was 23, on the last division. Speaker Abbot commented 'it was the general opinion that the only resolution upon this business which was indisputably untrue was the unanimous vote that the failure was not imputable to any misconduct of the officers by sea or land'.7
Porchester objected to the committal of Burdett to the Tower, 5 Apr. 1810, thinking it 'vindictive', but on 10 Apr., and subsequently, he repraoched Burdett with his imprudent conduct. He was in the minorities in Irish tithes, 13 Apr., and in the droits of Admiralty, 30 May. He both spoke and voted with the majority against Brand's motion for parliamentary reform, 21 May, though on 20 June he supporrted Williams Wynn's bill to prevent bribery at elections. The Whigs had listed him one of their 'thick and thin' supporters that session. He was a member of the committee of inquiry into sinecures chosen on 31 May 1810 and renewed next session. On the Regency question he intervened three times on the side of opposition, December 1810-February 1811; on 2 Jan. his motion against limiting the Regent's powers was negatived without a division.8 That day he was reported as saying to a member of government, 'though seemingly in jest ... "we will let you have the felicity of procuring the supply, and after the budget and the mutiny acts, will exchange places"'. It was not so, but in June he succeeded to the earldom. He was said to have been disappointed that the Whigs left him out of their administration in 1830. He continued to oppose parliamentary reform.9 He died 16 Apr. 1833.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2714; Add. 47565, f. 77.
- 2. Add. 38833, f. 149.
- 3. PRO 30/8/197, f. 275.
- 4. Malmesbury mss, Malmesbury to FitzHarris, 10 Sept. 1806; Add. 51822, Porchester to Holland, 23 Oct. ; 51824, same to same [1 May 1807].
- 5. Cricklade Hist. Soc. Mus. Elwell mss, address, 4 May 1807; Geo. III Corresp. v. 3643, 3804, 3867; Add. 51549, Lady Holland to Grey [8 May 1808].
- 6. Add. 51824, Porchester to Holland [3 Oct]; 51822, same to same, 19 Nov.; 51825, same to same [c. Nov. 1809].
- 7. Geo. III Corresp. v. 4076, 4120, 4124; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 3 Feb., 27 Mar. 1810; Holland, Further Mems. Whig Party, 46; Parl. Deb. xv. xvi. appendices; xvi. 46-422; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 8 Feb., 26 Mar.; Grey mss, Grenville to Grey [7 Mar. 1810]; Colchester, ii. 243.
- 8. Geo. III Corresp. v. 4126, 4133, 4170; Colchester, ii. 193; NLW, Coedymaen mss 8, f. 505; Phipps, Plumer Ward. Mems. i. 304.
- 9. Gent Mag. (1833), i. 463.