PAYNE, Sir Ralph, 1st Baron Lavington [I] (1739-1807), of Grafton Street, Mdx.

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



1768 - May 1771
4 Nov. 1776 - 1780
1780 - 1784
21 Oct. 1795 - Jan. 1799

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.

Offices Held

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 undated letter to Pitt in 1795, Lord Loughborough stated that Payne was anxious for his application for an Irish peerage to be referred to Camden, who had replaced Fitzwilliam as lord lieutenant of Ireland. Payne had ‘no sort of connection with the administration of Lord Fitzwilliam’ which could affect his case, stood ‘very well’ with Camden and already had the King’s approbation when Fitzwilliam went over.3

On 1 Oct. 1795 Payne duly became Baron Lavington (after the Wiltshire home of his ancestors), though he had at first chosen the title of Bampton. Twenty days later he was returned to Parliament for New Woodstock by the 4th Duke of Marlborough. He had not spoken in the House since 1771 and was now a silent supporter of administration: he did not vote on the abolition of the slave trade, 15 Mar. 1796. Lady Bessborough reported a rumour that the freemen of Woodstock did ‘not like his face’ and that they would not have him at the ensuing election,4 but he retained the seat. On 4 Mar. 1798 he voted for Pitt’s assessed taxes. In February 1799 he was rewarded with the governorship of the Leeward islands again, with £2,000 a year. Writing on 27 Oct. 1799, before he set sail, to Lord Liverpool, with whom his negotiations over the latter’s invitations to dine at Addiscombe Place sometimes went on for years without overstepping the limits of decorum, Lavington referred to ‘frequent confinements of ill health and a greater hurry and perplexity of business than I ever before experienced’. With the excitement he fell ill and was still in London in September 1800. Government House, Antigua, became the scene of magnificent entertainments and excesses of etiquette which were remembered long after the governor’s maternal estate of Carlisle, on which he was buried, became a wilderness.5 He died on 3 Aug. 1807.6

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Blair Adam mss; Oldfield, Boroughs, i. 97; Broadlands mss, Ld. Palmerston diary, 19 July 1791.
  • 2. Windham Diary, 288; Add. 38472, ff. 138, 187.
  • 3. Harewood mss, Canning jnl; PRO 30/8/153, f. 94.
  • 4. Leveson Gower, i. 122.
  • 5. Add. 38472, ff. 321, 324, 342; Antigua and the Antiguans, i. 113-14, 131-7, 226-7; ii. 346-7; V. L. Oliver, Antigua, iii. 7-14.
  • 6. Gent. Mag. (1807), ii. 889, gives 1 Aug.