PAYNE, Sir Ralph, 1st Baron Lavington [I] (1739-1807), of Grafton Street, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 19 Mar. 1739 at St. Kitts, 1st s. of Ralph Payne, c.j. and gov. St. Kitts, by 1st w. Alice, da. of Francis Carlisle of Antigua; half-bro. of John Willett Payne*. educ. Christ’s Hosp. 1752; Grand Tour 1762. m. 1 Sept. 1767, Frances Lambertina Christiana Charlotte Harriet Theresa, da. of Baron Heinrich Kolbel of Saxony, general in the imperial service, s.p. suc. fa. 1763; KB 18 Feb. 1771; cr. Baron Lavington [I] 1 Oct. 1795.
Gov. Leeward Islands 1771-5, Feb. 1799-1807; clerk of the Green Cloth June 1777-82; PC 30 Oct. 1799.
Payne, a West India grandee, never cut the figure in Parliament he had hoped to, but his pompous demeanour and sonority of expression, combined with the hospitality he and his attractive wife lavished on the Whig leaders, made him one of the best known figures in London society. He was left without a seat in the Whig débâcle of 1784, which deprived him of the prospect of some office in which he could make himself conspicuous and recoup his diminishing fortune. He joined Brooks’s Club, sponsored by Fox, 2 Aug. 1784, and the Whig Club on 16 Jan. 1787, but opposition did not become him, and after a close scrutiny of the scene had convinced him that Pitt’s administration was firmly in the saddle, he embarked on an extended continental tour (1788). The Whigs listed him as one of their supporters looking for a seat in 1789 and as willing to pay £3,500 for one. In 1790 he contested Fowey, evidently with ‘the good wishes’ of the Prince of Wales, but was involved in a double return, the decision going against him (7 Mar. 1791). That summer he was in Paris, consorting with the liberal revolutionaries.1
By 1793 Payne could no longer hunt with the Whigs; on 28 Feb. he seceded from the Whig Club. He was on dining terms with members of administration and on 15 Aug. 1793 sealed his political conversion by inviting Pitt to a considerable dinner at his house: but discreetly, for William Windham*, who did not accept the invitation, did not know Pitt was to be there.2 Thereafter, Payne’s rise to favour with his new patron was rapid and his hospitality extended to members of the royal family. George Canning paid tribute to the Paynes (6 Dec. 1794):
Lady Payne is a woman of fashion, more completely answering in every point (except folly and vice) to that description than almost any woman I know. She is a foreigner by birth (a Pole) but married very young, and has ever since (perhaps these 25 or 30 years) lived in England, in the very best company, knowing everybody and universally liked. Sir Ralph has his ridicules, particularly that of his fondness for his star—but except in that point—unless the love of good eating himself, and of giving it to others be a fault—I know none that he has. He has lived long in the world—was many years in Parliament, and in his younger days during Lord North’s administration was governor of the Leeward Islands in which station he acquitted himself very creditably. He knows everything, therefore, and everybody that has had anything to do in public or in fashionable life for these many years and is one of the most friendly and useful persons in the world. It was at his table that Dundas and Lord Loughborough met to concert the junction which has since taken place between the Duke of Portland and Pitt: if there was any one question in the world that I wanted to have asked of anybody, I should go to Sir Ralph—and he would get the answer for me. If there was any man great or small, public or private, with whom I wanted half an hour’s conversation, but did not like to seek it—whom I wanted to see, or hear talk, but did not wish him to know that I wanted it—I should go to Sir Ralph—and in a week’s time I should be asked to dinner as if by accident, and the man whom I wished to meet would be asked by accident too.
I hear Sir Ralph is going to be made an Irish peer—and I wish he may with all my heart—not so much for the worth of the thing itself, as because it is probable that such an accession of title might decide an old relation of his [Ralph Willett], who is immensely rich, and just dying, to leave Sir Ralph his fortune—and there are few men who would know better how to make use of a fortune. [Willett left him only £1,500.]
In an unda