HICKS BEACH, Michael (1760-1830), of Williamstrip Park and Beverstone, Glos. and Netheravon, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. 11 Apr. 1760, 2nd s. of Sir Howe Hicks, 6th Bt., of Whitcombe, Glos. by Martha, da. of Rev. John Browne, rector of Coberley, Glos. educ. Magdalen Coll. Oxf. 1778. m. 7 Oct. 1779, Henrietta Maria, da. and h. of William Beach of Netheravon, 2s. 2da. Took additional name of Beach, in pursuance of will of fa.-in-law, by royal lic. 23 June 1790.
Sheriff, Glos. 1791-2.
Capt. Britwell’s Barrow vols. 1803, maj. 1804.
Sir Henry Hicks, 3rd Bt., who died in 1755, disinherited his disreputable elder son Robert and left the family property at Beverstone, together with land in Essex and Norfolk, to his younger son Michael. On his death without issue in 1764 the estates passed to this Member, his second cousin once removed, who was then aged four. It was a handsome inheritance for a younger son and he added substantially to it by his marriage, at the age of 19, to the Beach heiress— a match originally intended for his brother William, who succeeded their father in the baronetcy in 1801. In the late 1780s he invested part of his ample fortune in the purchase of Williamstrip Park from the executors of Samuel Blackwell, who had sat for Cirencester, about eight miles away, from 1774 until his death in 1785.1
Hicks Beach (as he became on the death of his father-in-law in 1790) developed parliamentary ambitions. His kinsman William Earle wrote to him, probably in 1794:
If you are by any means ambitious of getting into Parliament, you make an experiment at a very reasonable rate; should you find upon trial that you have health and spirits, inclination and time, to continue in that line ... Should you find that it will not suit you, or agree with Mrs H. B., you will have made your experiment, and the dissolution will give you a very good opportunity of quitting ... You have been mentioned to the ministry, and the way is paved for you, or any one presented by Mr L. to succeed him ... The property you have makes you one of the properest persons to be in Parliament, provided you come in at the fair market price and by agreement.2
This may refer to a negotiation for a seat for Westbury, near Hicks Beach’s Wiltshire property, where Lord Abingdon sold the seats and one of the sitting Members, Ewan Law, was ready to vacate. Perhaps it was aborted by the occurrence of a vacancy at Cirencester in August 1794, when the death of the 2nd Earl Bathurst removed his son to the Lords. There was no eligible member of the Bathurst family, which generally commanded one seat, to replace him and Hicks Beach was elected unopposed, presumably with the new earl’s blessing. He was returned for Cirencester at the next five general elections, but faced sharp and expensive contests in 1796, 1802 and 1812, when he was returned with Bathurst’s son.
He is not known to have spoken in the House and was almost certainly an infrequent attender, but when present his voting behaviour was unpredictable. He was marked ‘pro’ in the ministerial survey drawn up for the 1796 election but in 1798 Sydney Smith, tutor to his sons, expressed his hope that Hicks Beach would ‘vote against our perfidious administration’,3 and he did so on the land tax, 18 May 1798, and in favour of Tierney’s motion condemning restoration of the Bourbons as a war aim, 28 Feb. 1800. He was in the minority in favour of Burton’s proposal to continue the prohibition of spirit distillation from corn, 14 Dec. 1801, but is not found in opposition to the Addington ministry again until 1804, when he voted in the divisions of 23 and 25 Apr. which sealed its fate. On 17 May 1804 he was elected to Brooks’s, under Fox’s sponsorship; but if this was an attempt to recruit him politically it did not work, for he was listed under ‘Pitt’ in September 1804 and July 1805, despite his vote for the criminal prosecution of Melville, 12 June 1805. He voted against the ‘Talents’ on their repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, and the Hampshire election scandal, 13 Feb. 1807, but was named among the ‘staunch friends’ of slave trade abolition in 1806. He voted against the Portland government on corruption charges against Castlereagh, 25 Apr. 1809, but sided with their successors on the address, 23 Jan., and the Scheldt inquiry, 30 Mar. 1810, when the Whigs labelled him ‘doubtful’. A vote against the committal of Burdett, 5 Apr. 1810,4 was followed 11 days later by one against the release of John Gale Jones; and although he deserted ministers in the division on the Regency resolutions, 31 Dec. 1810,5 he voted with them on the Household proposals the following day. He left the House before the division on the sinecure bill, 4 May 1812.6
The Liverpool ministry counted on his support, but his only known vote with them in the 1812 Parliament was on the army estimates, 6 Mar. 1816, and he went on to cast hostile votes in later divisions on the estimates on the 8th and 11th. He also voted against government on the civil list, 8 May 1815, and the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816. Hicks Beach voted against Catholic relief, 2 Mar. and 11 May 1813, and 9 May 1817. He did not seek re-election in 1818, and died 5 Jan. 1830.