PHILLIMORE, Joseph (1775-1855), of Whitehall, Mdx. and Shiplake House, Oxon.

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



17 Mar. 1817 - 1826
1826 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 14 Sept. 1775, 1st s. of Rev. Joseph Phillimore of Kensington, vicar of Orton-on-the-Hill, Leics., by Mary, da. and coh. of John Machin of Kensington. educ. Westminster 1789; Christ Church, Oxf. 1793, BCL 1800, DCL 1804. m. 19 Mar. 1807, Elizabeth, da. of Rev. Walter Bagot, rector of Blithfield and Leigh, Staffs., bro. of William Bagot, 1st Baron Bagot, 7s. 2da. suc. fa. 1831.

Offices Held

Adv. Doctors’ Commons 1804; commr. for disposal of Prussian ships 1806, Danish ships 1807; judge of Cinque ports 1809; regius professor of civil law, Oxf. Univ. Oct. 1809-d.; chancellor, diocese of Oxford 1809; member, Board of Control Feb. 1822-Jan. 1828; principal commr. French claims (under treaties of 1815 and 1818) 1833; King’s adv., ct. of Admiralty Oct. 1834-d.; pres. registration commission Sept. 1836; chancellor, diocese of Worcester 1834; commissary St. Paul’s 1834; chancellor, diocese of Bristol 1842; judge, consistory ct. of Gloucester 1846.

Ensign, R. Marylebone vol. inf. 1803, lt. 1805, maj., lt.-col. 1807.


The Phillimores came to London in the late 17th century from Cam, Gloucestershire. Joseph’s great grandfather was a merchant, his grandfather an attorney and father a clergyman who was described as ‘an Israelite indeed in whom was no guile’.1 Joseph carried off prize after prize at Oxford and, ‘after some residence in foreign parts’,2 became a civilian, practising in the ecclesiastical and admiralty courts before Sir William Scott*, Sir Christopher Robinson* and Sir John Nicholl*. He was a supporter of Lord Grenville and appointed by him a commissioner for the sale of captured enemy ships, 1806-7. Francis Horner* reported, 29 Dec. 1806, that ‘that little, inconstant fluttering Philander Phillimore is to be married’. Through his marriage he formed connexions with the ensuing administration and in 1809 received no less than three appointments in the wake of French Laurence. As regius professor of civil law, he assisted Lord Grenville in his successful candidature for the chancellorship of Oxford University: ‘it was as nervous and anxious an interval as ever I remember to have passed through’, he reported.3 His Latin oration at Grenville’s installation established his reputation for eloquence.

In the autumn of 1810, Phillimore, a contributor to the Edinburgh Review, wrote a pamphlet attributing the abuses of the licence trade by neutral ships, really under French domination, to the orders in council: it was published in January 1811 anonymously (the second edition, prefixed by his name, appeared in July).4 It argued that the only remedy for the mischiefs described was the repeal of the orders. (He followed it up in February 1812 with another pamphlet, describing the orders as ‘unwise and unpolitic’.)5 In the meantime, in anticipation of Lord Grenville’s recall to power, he was regarded as a strong candidate for the office of King’s advocate. His disgruntled friend William Herbert* wrote to Grenville, 28 Jan. 1811, claiming to have been ‘in the most confidential habits’ with Phillimore for over 15 years and hoping he would be preferred to Phillimore, because

his own friendship with Lord Liverpool [who had secured his nomination as judge of the Cinque ports in 1809] and his wife’s connexion with Lord Dartmouth and Lord Bagot render it most probable that at some future time when I might be displaced by the return of the opposite party to administration, he would be appointed to succeed me. His natural connexions are with the other party and sooner or later he will undoubtedly hold the situation of King’s advocate under that administration, because there is no other person in the court [of Admiralty] who has equal connexions in that interest: but being personally attached to no party, being bound by no political tie or public declaration of his sentiments, he has the facility of asking everything and receiving everything from persons of all parties and he now holds no less than seven places of more or less value which have been obtained for him by friends on both sides.

Grenville did not return to power and Phillimore did not become King’s advocate until 1834, having been three times frustrated by then.6

In 1814 Phillimore dazzled the allied sovereigns with his Latin oratory on their visit to Oxford. He undertook to edit, at the suggestion of his friend Horner, the decisions of the ecclesiastical courts from 1809 onwards, of which he eventually produced three volumes.7 He was being talked of as a prospective candidate for Oxford University, but on Horner’s death he succeeded to his seat in Parliament on the Marquess of Buckingham’s interest, March 1817.8 Taking his cue from Charles Williams Wynn*, and acting as an intermediary between his patron and Lord Grenville, he at once began to vote with the minority: on lotteries, the salt duties and against the multiplication of offices by administration. On 9 May 1817 he supported Catholic relief. In his maiden speech, he objected to the London tithes bill, 5 May 1817, and secured its postponement. He voted against parliamentary reform, 20 May. After reconsidering his attitude to the suspension of habeas corpus, on which his patron had advocated abstention,9 he declared in favour of it, 27 June. For this, Horner’s ghost was invoked against him by James Macdonald in debate.

After this Phillimore was involved in the speculations about the Grenvillite Members joining administration: a correspondent of Lord Colchester reported, 5 Feb. 1818, ‘At the beginning of the winter, Phillimore laughed at the report that Lord Grenville will join the administration: but I have not seen him since he returned from Dropmore, where he may perhaps have heard a different story’. Phillimore’s patron’s line was in fact to form a ‘third party’ connected neither with government nor opposition, and at the opening of the session, 27 Jan. 1818, he and Charles Williams Wynn took their seats below Henry Bankes to rally support for this line. They attended regularly, to show that they had not changed their places ‘accidentally’, but had no early opportunity of voting or speaking distinctly; recruits were few outside their patron’s nominees. Buckingham soon found that Phillimore played second fiddle to Williams Wynn and was therefore not the man he wanted to lead his squad in the House.10 He could not restrain himself like Buckingham’s favourite nominee William Henry Fremantle, but involved himself in a variety of debates. Metropolitan prisons, the building of new churches, the amendment of the Marriage Act (which he eventually secured on 21 May 1819) and the claims of ‘Spanish subjects’ seeking restitution of their ‘property’ in the courts after it had been seized by anti-slave trade patrols occupied him: on the latter subject he clashed with Wilberforce, 18 Mar. 1818, and again on 28 May, when he tried to stop the Portugal slave trade bill.

Phillimore’s anxiety lest he be dropped by his patron in favour of William Conyngham Plunket* at the election of 1818 was allayed. Charles Williams Wynn had put in a word for him to Lord Grenville:

Since he has sat, he has been the only efficient Member that Lord Buckingham has had and ... he seems to have made himself very acceptable to many of those who are most disposed to assist us ... and ... from his constant attendance in the House, many are in the habit of consulting him on subjects connected with his own pursuits.11

Phillimore desired not only to remain in Parliament, but also professional honours. He wished to succeed Sir Thomas Bernard as chancellor of Durham (worth £500-£600 p.a.). He did not obtain this, though he later held the position in three other dioceses. On 19 Feb. 1819 he informed the House that civilians did not covet appointment as commissioners for the suppression of the slave trade because the salaries were inadequate.

Phillimore’s continuing to follow Charles Williams Wynn’s line in the House remained a source of displeasure to his patron, who had wished him to go away rather than vote for Brougham’s membership of the Bank committee, which like Williams Wynn he did, 8 Feb. 1819. On 22 Feb., at Buckingham’s request, he did not oppose the grant to the Duke of York for the care of his royal father, though he admitted to his patron that he would have liked to do so; and Williams Wynn did so. He spoke ably in favour of Catholic relief on 4 Mar., and opposed the salt tax, 18 Mar., trying in vain to secure its repeal or reduction on 29 Apr. Like Williams Wynn he was supposed to have voted with the majority on the case of Wyndham Quin*, 29 Mar., though the Morning Chronicle denied it. They both abstained on Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, and voted against ministers on public expenditure, 7 June, but with them for the foreign enlistment bill, 10 June. For the latter he provided a legal justification that was decidedly helpful to government, 21 June. In December 1819 he further came to their assistance against Brougham in defence of repressive legislation and remained in town to vote it through.12

Phillimore took office with the Grenvillites in 1822, and although he forfeited the patronage of the Marquess of Buckingham at the dissolution, found another seat. He continued to accumulate offices and professional prestige, but was unable to find a seat in 1830. He died 24 Jan. 1855. Sydney Smith, who knew him well, described him as ‘an excellent man but not intended by nature for a giver of opinions’.13

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. W. P. W. Phillimore, Genealogy of the Fam. of Phillimore, 182, 224-31.
  • 2. DNB; Gent. Mag. (1855), i. 319. He had returned by Feb. 1803 when he gave up the Bloomsbury volunteers for another corps. Phillimore, 229.
  • 3. Horner mss 3, f. 136; HMC Fortescue, ix. 422, 428.
  • 4. Reflections on the Nature and Extent of the Licence Trade (publication was postponed owing to the royal illness, according to his preface). See HMC Fortescue, x. 115, 120, 222.
  • 5. Letter addressed to a Member of the House of Commons respecting the orders in council and the licence trade, 8.
  • 6. Fortescue mss; Phillimore, 227.
  • 7. Reports of Cases at Doctors’ Commons 1809-21 ; later he edited Reports of Cases in the Arches and the PCC (3 vols. 1832-3).
  • 8. Creevey’s Life and Times, 105. Phillimore had been in France in the preceding autumn, Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 192.
  • 9. Fremantle mss, box 55, Buckingham to Fremantle, 25 June 1817.
  • 10. Colchester, ii. 38; Buckingham, Regency, ii. 212; Fremantle mss, box 55, Buckingham to Fremantle, 9 Mar. 1818.
  • 11. HMC Fortescue, x. 441; NLW, Coedymaen mss 8, f. 555.
  • 12. Fremantle mss, box 46, Buckingham to Fremantle, 10 Feb. 1819; Buckingham, ii. 315, 323; NLW, Coedymaen mss 8, f. 574; 12, f. 934; Morning Chron. 13 Jan. 1820.
  • 13. Diary of Henry Hobhouse ed. Aspinall, 121; Add. 51830, Phillimore to Holland, 14 July 1830; Sydney Smith Letters ed. N. C. Smith, ii. 874.