LAWSON, Marmaduke (1793-1823), of Boroughbridge Hall, Yorks.

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



1818 - Mar. 1819
30 Mar. 1819 - 7 June 1820

Family and Education

b. 1793, 1st s. of Rev. Marmaduke Lawson, rector of Sproatley by Barbara Isabella, da. of John Wilkinson of the M. Temple, h. of Rev. James Wilkinson of Boroughbridge Hall. educ. Shrewsbury; St. John’s, Camb. 1811; Pitt scholar 1814; fellow, Magdalene, Camb. 1815. unm. suc. fa. 1814.

Offices Held

Capt. N. regt. W. Riding yeomanry 1817.


Lawson’s achievement was summed up by Lord Teignmouth in his Reminiscences:

The singular career of one member of the [Cambridge] Union may deserve a brief notice. Lawson was eminent as a university scholar, and was nominated to a fellowship in Magdalene College, where he signalised himself as the professed joker of the combination-room of that small society. He subsequently obtained a seat in Parliament, by setting free, as he maintained, from powerful aristocratic domination the stronghold of Boroughbridge, where he resided, and his family still flourishes highly respected. Cock of his own dunghill, he lost no time in his endeavours to rule the roost in his new sphere, and, during the first week after his admission to the House, introduced four bills, one of which proposed the abolition of the absurd and anomalous wager of battle. So sensible was the government of its importance that the attorney-general relieved him of his task; but Lawson must be credited with a large share of the result. Characteristically enough he requested, but unsuccessfully, the same high functionary to take off his hands a bill for preventing cruelty to ferrets, ‘tame wild beasts’, as he designated these animals in his speech.

Lawson surprised us at the Mendicity Society by offering himself candidate for the vacant office of assistant manager, the duties of which were very laborious, and involved residence in the house in Red Lion Square. Aware of his eccentricities we gratefully declined his services, on the plea that salary, which he generously waived, was indispensable.1

The ‘aristocratic domination’ challenged by Lawson was that of the 4th Duke of Newcastle who had nudged Lawson’s family out of any say in his Yorkshire boroughs. The duke was taken completely by surprise.2 Lawson treated the electors to a speech ‘replete with the most good humoured sportiveness’: denied that he was a supporter of parliamentary reform; criticized indirect taxes in favour of an income tax, ‘the only fair and effectual impost ... the peristaltic motion of the body politic’, and concluded ‘Give me but a seat and I’ll move the House’. His election involved winning over and possibly bribing 12 ducal tenants, though there was not enough firm evidence for a petition. Subsequently he assured his constituents:

I do flatter myself that I could on all occasions bring somewhat of political merriment, bearing even in an argumentative manner on the question in debate and that I could contribute my mite to the conviviality of the House.

The Whigs did not ‘imagine he would be any gain to us, for he was ... an orator at Ripon at Robinson’s last election, and in his favour’.3

On 22 Jan. 1819 Edward John Littleton recorded in his diary: ‘Attended the House when Mr Lawson, a mad Member of Parliament made a laughable speech on presenting a petition for leave to bring in a turnpike bill’. It was a petition for the ‘true and radical’ reform of the Harrogate turnpike road, claimed Lawson. A speech of his three days later on the state of convict ships was considered ‘indelicate if not indecent’ after he had claimed that a crossing of the English Channel was as uncomfortable as a voyage to Botany Bay. Sydney Smith informed Lady Grey, ‘Mr Lawson, the jocular Yorkshire Member is supposed to be the most consummately impudent man that ever crossed the Humber’. The eccentricity of his speeches ‘was not relished in a young Member, though in an old one it would perhaps have enlivened many a dull debate’.4 It was on 1 Feb. 1819 that, amid laughter, he relinquished his two bills to the attorney-general. To raise a laugh was also his motive for objecting to Sir John Nicholl’s being balloted for the Bank committee, 3 Feb. The same day he was in the minority on the Westminster hustings bill, saying that he saw no reason why Members too should not be remunerated for their services. On 1 Mar., in the debate on criminal law reform, he deprecated ‘the impolitic humanity’ of constant revision and next day was coughed down when he returned to the subject. On 22 Mar. the announcement that he had taken the Chiltern Hundreds evoked ‘a burst of laughter’.

Lawson, regarding himself as a failure in the House, apparently intended to relinquish his seat to a nominee of the Duke of Newcastle, some said for a price; but his mother, unwilling to abdicate the family interest, canvassed so effectively for him, that the electors of Boroughbridge ‘as eccentric as their Member’, re-elected him.5 No ducal candidate appeared. On his return to Westminster, Lawson voted for burgh reform, 6 May, against the malt duty, 9 June, and against the cash payments, foreign enlistment and excise duty bills, 10, 14, 21, 25 June. His last reported speech, however, was in defence of the Peterloo magistrates, 30 Nov., and he was still in town voting for repressive measures on 23 Dec. 1819.

After another contest in 1820, Lawson was unseated on petition. He died 10 Mar. 1823.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Teignmouth, Reminiscences, i. 53.
  • 2. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Newcastle mss NeC 6610-13.
  • 3. The Late Elections (1818), 15-18; York Chron. 1 Apr. 1819; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. G1/21.
  • 4. Staffs RO, Hatherton diary; Sydney Smith Letters ed. N. C. Smith, i. 316; Gent. Mag. (1823), i. 571.
  • 5. Leeds Mercury, 27 Mar.; Morning Chron. 3 Apr. 1819.