JOLLIFFE, William (1745-1802), of Merstham, Surr.

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



1768 - 20 Feb. 1802

Family and Education

b. 16 Apr. 1745, 1st s. of John Jolliffe of Petersfield, Hants by Mary, da. and coh. of Samuel Holden of Roehampton, Surr. educ. Winchester; Brasenose, Oxf. 1764. m. 28 Aug. 1769, Eleanor, da. and h. of Sir Richard Hylton, 5th Bt. of Hayton Castle, Cumb., 5s. 6da. suc. fa. 1771.

Offices Held

Ld. of Trade Feb. 1772-July 1779, of Admiralty Apr.-Dec. 1783.

Maj. Surr. militia 1798.


Jolliffe, who named both Members for Petersfield, had ceased to live there by 1790. Unable to get on with his neighbours, he intended to buy Gatton Park, but settled for Merstham. On 15 Mar. 1790 William Elliot* wrote from Reigate:

I seldom trouble myself with county business here, but Jolliffe, who has been driven from his house at Petersfield by his neighbours, has lately bought an estate and settled within a few miles of Reigate, and is already beginning such a gross job with respect to a turnpike, that every commission is bound in honour and justice to oppose him.

At the Michaelmas assizes in 1791 he was indicted for circulating papers calculated to prejudice the minds of the jury in a trial over the return of overseers for the parish of Chipstead, and on 24 Nov. sentenced in King’s bench to six months’ imprisonment and a fine. Having gone into opposition with Lord North, he regarded himself as a victim of political animosity and attempted to obtain redress, failing which he felt he must ‘immediately retire from Parliament from which I shall otherwise be driven’. The Duke of Portland, to whom he was now attached, advised him, as he had already applied to vacate his seat, to substitute his brother pro tem. until he had secured a less dishonourable verdict. Jolliffe’s chief anxiety was about his wife’s claim to the abeyant barony of Hilton, which he had been pressing on his political friends for over ten years and had been promised by Portland in 1784 for himself or his son when they returned to power. Portland pointed out that this claim was not affected but, apropos of the verdict, Jolliffe must realize that ‘all the titles in the world will not efface the blot it will leave, however unjustly, in the public opinion’. He did not resign his seat and his sentence was commuted to a fine of £600, of which he paid £200 before appealing to the prime minister for an interview to discuss the payment of the balance. When this was paid by the Treasury, he applied for compensation out of ‘an office called the green wax’ for the rest. He also sought reinstatement as a magistrate for six counties in which his name had been erased from the commission of the peace.1

When Portland joined Pitt’s administration in July 1794 he alleged, ‘Jolliffe, you are to be one of the peers’, and received as reply, ‘I had never doubted it on such an event, but I feared the cursed conviction’; whereupon the duke retorted, ‘That’s nothing—that’s over, but I tell you fairly, I think yours cannot be immediately. [Welbore] Ellis must be first.’ Jolliffe rejoined, ‘Why could they not both be at the same time—one election would answer both purposes’: but Pitt refused, and Jolliffe could not win him over. It was mortifying to him that Ellis, his guest as Member for Petersfield at Portland’s recommendation, had the advantage over him and could, into the bargain, ‘freely’ bestow his seat on Portland’s son-in-law for the duration of the Parliament. An Irish barony for Jolliffe was rumoured in February 1796, but he obtained no title, despite another bid to win over Pitt.2

When Jolliffe’s peerage was rumoured in 1794, Lady Spencer expostulated:

Oh! that’s monstrous! just come from the King’s bench! And do you know he actually has a note containing a promise from the person he bores daily, of a peerage? Not a late promise, it is true, but one made 12 years ago and which he now puffs and vapours about, but as he has done all sort of unjustifiable things as to voting with us since those years ago, people say such a promise is done away.3

In fact, Jolliffe, steady in opposition in the Parliament of 1784, had met with the Portland Whigs on 11 May 1790 and voted against Pitt on the Oczakov question, 12 Apr. 1791. He was also considered favourable to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland the latter month. On 3 June 1791 he was in the chair on the report of the finance committee. The Chipstead affair subsequently kept him away until the session of 1794, but he was listed a Portland Whig in December 1792 and thought of for recruitment to Windham’s ‘third party’ in 1793.

Jolliffe had no difficulty in applauding the schism between the Portland and Foxite Whigs, but was uneasy about Portland’s subordination to Pitt, whom he regarded as being, like Fox, ‘fond of speculation’ and of ‘popularity’: both were ‘for reforming the representation and abolishing the slave trade, and if a ministry could be formed to the exclusion of them both, they would unite to destroy it and the existing constitution’. He thought the manner in which Pitt carried on the war against France calculated to produce ‘eternal disgrace’, for

he neither was a friend to the King, nor friend to the jacobins, nor neutral, but he undertook the conquest of France for Great Britain and for the Emperor, and by a folly inconceivable united the whole nation against such usurpers.

Such were his private views.4 In the House, where he was more likely to speak on country matters than on political issues, he occasionally developed them. He opposed the bid to prevent the transportation of the radical clergyman Palmer, 24 Feb. 1794. On 30 Dec. he stated that, although he disapproved the continuation of the war, he could not support Wilberforce’s plea for peace as, if adopted, it might turn out the present administration and thereby endanger the safety of the constitution. He qualified this, 2 Jan. 1795, by adding that if any specific motion for peace were made ‘on proper grounds’, he would not oppose it. He objected to the navy manning bill, 2 Feb., because it took men away from inland navigation when there were ‘shoals’ of able-bodied men employed in ‘female’ occupations who could more readily be spared. On 15 May he set his cap at the Prince of Wales (whose nominee for Petersfield in 1791 he had not accepted)5 by protesting at the ‘illiberal’ treatment of his financial problems and calling him ‘the most accomplished prince and gentleman in Europe’. Two days later he rebuked Pitt for his disrespectful language about the Prince and advocated the immediate payment of his debts from the consolidated fund. He was nevertheless regarded by the treasury as ‘pro’ rather than ‘con’ in forecasting the election of 1796.

Jolliffe objected to the militia augmentation bill as ‘very like a French requisition’, 25 Oct. 1796, and on 13 Dec. supported Fox’s proposal to repeal it. On 23 Dec. he claimed that, together with the army and navy manning measures, it was ‘so unconstitutional’ that he would move the repeal of all of them after the recess. He did not do so. He joined opposition to the stoppage of cash payments by the Bank, 1 Mar. 1797, and described the loyalty loan bonus as ‘fraudulent’, 31 May. But there is no evidence that he gave his sanction to the ‘armed neutrality’ sponsored by his current nominee for Petersfield, Sir John Sinclair, at that time (he was a defaulter on 3 Apr.), and on 2 June he claimed that disapproval of the naval mutiny must be unanimous, calling on 5 June for stern measures against the mutineers. On 11 July he attempted to thwart the exemptions of the royal households from the tax on watches. He supported Pitt’s triple tax assessment by speech (18 Dec. 1797) and vote (4 Jan. 1798), complaining only that Pitt justified it by reference to ‘our law and religion’ being at stake, when ‘our property and existence’ took priority. He subsequently objected to the crown’s being a taxpayer’s first creditor and not his own landlord, 18 Apr. 1798. He supported the suspension of habeas corpus, 20 Apr., but steadily opposed Pitt’s land tax redemption bill during the next month, claiming (30 May) that it would withdraw capital from agricultural improvement. He also annoyed the law officers by describing the preamble to the aliens bill complaining of the conduct of some French émigrés as ‘the bawling language of a petulant fishwoman’, 24 Apr. Next day, moving for details of the cavalry estimates, he assured Pitt that he was ‘not only a positive and decided friend to good government, but to his administration’ and claimed that his occasional opposition was inspired by public and not by private motives. As if to prove it, he suggested some fiscal expedients.6 Pitt took the hint, but gave him no encouragement. Opposing the treason forfeiture bill, 25 June 1799, he said that it would ‘disgrace the code of any country under Heaven’ and to prove it pointed out that if his son in the army helped put down a conspiracy engineered by Jolliffe, his reward would be to be stripped of his inheritance. On the address, 24 Sept. 1799, he wished to give ministers, as well as the armed forces, credit for recent successes and quibbled only with haphazard enlistment of regulars from the militia by bounty. He was a warm supporter of the allied subsidies, 17 Feb. 1800, as they encouraged others to fight Britain’s battles.

On 1 Feb. he had written to Henry Dundas, who had procured him a piece of patronage:

Mr Pitt’s monstrous injustice (in restraining the Duke of Portland from the performance of a most solemn promise) has never driven me to attach myself to any opposition, for however I may feel personally towards him, I shall not forget my duty to the country and even less, that which I owe to your politeness.7

Nevertheless, he was more often in opposition than ever before in that and the ensuing session. (In October 1800 he was apparently contemplating the sale of his borough interest.) He had voted with Tierney for the call of the House, 22 Jan. 1800, and on 3 Feb. opposed the government’s refusal to negotiate with Buonaparte. On 13 and 19 Feb. he opposed the renewed suspension of habeas corpus which was in danger of becoming a constitutional fixture—as also was the income tax (24 Feb.). He opposed the restoration of the French monarchy as an aim of war, 28 Feb. On 18 Mar. he urged the secretary at war to adopt Richard Fitzpatrick’s* proposal of enlistment of regular soldiers for a term of years. He opposed the income tax bill, 17 Apr., and supported both of Grey’s motions against the Irish union and its consequences, 21 and 25 Apr. On 27 Nov. 1800, as Fox noted,8 he voted for Tierney’s censure motion, and on 1 Dec. for a separate peace with France. On 11 and 12 Dec. he renewed his opposition to the suspension of habeas corpus and on 15 Dec. supported the petition of a detainee under it; he obliged the attorney-general to swear that the suspension was necessary, 17 Dec. He was in the minority on the address, 2 Feb. 1801, and on 5 Feb. announced that he would oppose supply, while Pitt remained in office, in protest against the extravagance of his military expenditure. So he did, and on 19 Feb. expressed his hope that Addington’s ministry would be more economical. He voted steadily with opposition for the remainder of his last session in the House.

Jolliffe was a frequent speaker on questions of interest to a country gentleman and magistrate. He opposed the tax on attorneys, 6, 13 Feb., and the liability of paupers to contribute to highway repair, 8 Apr. 1794. Having fallen out with the inhabitants of Petersfield on his leading in hay on Sunday, he was an opponent of Sunday observance bills, 6 Mar., 15 Apr. 1794, 19 Mar. 1795. He regularly opposed proposals to reform the Poor Laws (5 Mar. 1795, 22 Dec. 1796, 28 Feb. 1797, 17 Mar. 1800, 5 Mar. 1801) and the Game Laws (4 Mar., 2 May 1796). He objected to regulation of wages by magistrates, 9 Dec. 1795. He opposed the tax on dogs, 27 Apr. 1796. He objected to fathers of large families joining the militia, lest their children be thrown on the parish, 2 Nov. 1796. He preferred jury decision to the judges’ discretion in the matter of sentencing deserters to transportation, 2 June 1797, but approved increases in judicial salaries and pensions, 13 June 1799. He tried to secure the proprietors’ right to shoot partridge in the first two weeks of September, 15 June 1797. He suggested a cattle market in the west end of London to prevent abuses at Smithfield, 29 June 1797. He thought that the poorer classes could well afford the salt tax, 26 Apr. 1798. He opposed the Middlesex and Surrey militia bill on behalf of its Surrey critics, 24 June 1799. He favoured potato growing on fallow ground (not on pasture) as a good preparation for wheat, 19 Feb., and had his own views on the cultivation of waste land, 14 Mar. 1800. He objected to amendment of the Highway Act, 26 Mar. He opposed taxing farmers according to their rents, and not their income, 20 May, adding that he had lost £1,500 p.a. on his home farm for the last three years. He opposed adding to the number of felonies by the passage of the mines security bill, 20 May. He secured the defeat of a bill to submit disputes between masters and servants to a magistrate’s arbitration, 11, 13 June. He objected to an inquiry into the coal trade, 20 Nov., having been himself an unsuccessful investor in a colliery on his property in Chester-le-Street.9 He objected to magistrates taking over any of the vestry powers in matters of poor relief, as they knew least about poverty, 4 Dec. 1800. He strongly opposed the duty on farm horses, 19, 21 Feb., 4 Mar. 1801, despite the fact that he had approved it on 30 June 1797, as a means of encouraging the use of oxen. (He now conceded that ox ploughs reduced the harvest in heavy soils.) He blamed the interference of the government and ridiculed the role of the board of agriculture in the debate on the rise in bread prices, 4 Mar. 1801.

Jolliffe’s last contributions to debate were in favour of the right of clergy to sit in the House of Commons, a view in which he admitted that he was perhaps singular (6, 13, 19 May 1801), and against a divorce bill, which, like the adultery punishment bill of 26 May 1800, seemed to him iniquitous (28 May-15 June 1801). He died 20 Feb. 1802, ‘the victim of a casualty, awful as unforeseen’: two days before, he had fallen headlong through the open trap door of his wine cellar and broken his neck. His family had to contradict rumours that there were some extraordinary legacies in his will, maintaining that there was ‘nothing unusual’ in it.10

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. H. G. H. Jolliffe, Jolliffes of Staffs . 57-58, 60-61, 63; NLS, mss 11138, ff. 5-7; Blair Adam mss, Jolliffe to Adam, 30 Apr., 1 May; Hylton mss, Jolliffe to Portland, n.d. and 2 Apr., replies 3 Apr., 8 May [1792]; PRO 30/8/148, ff. 224, 226.
  • 2. Jolliffe, 63, 66; Portland mss PwF3580; PwV108, Portland to Jolliffe, 15 Jan. 1795; Morning Chron. 26 Feb. 1796.
  • 3. Spencer mss, Lady to Ld. Spencer, 3 Aug. 1794.
  • 4. Hylton mss, Jolliffe to Portland, undated draft; Jolliffe, 64-5.
  • 5. Prince of Wales Corresp. ii. 576.
  • 6. PRO 30/8/267, f. 203.
  • 7. SRO GD 51/6/1394/2.
  • 8. Add. 47565, f. 31.
  • 9. Jolliffe, 59.
  • 10. Ibid. 69, 71; The Times, 11, 25 June 1802.