RYDER, Hon. Dudley (1762-1847), of Sandon, nr. Stone, Staffs.

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



1784 - 20 June 1803

Family and Education

b. 22 Dec. 1762, 1st s. of Nathaniel Ryder, 1st Baron Harrowby, by Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Rt. Rev. Richard Terrick, bp. of Peterborough 1757-64 and London 1764-77; bro. of Hon. Richard Ryder*. educ. by Mrs Benfield, Hampstead; privately by Rev. Grainger; Harrow 1774-9; St. John’s, Camb. 1779. m. 30 July 1795, Lady Susan Leveson Gower, da. of Granville Leveson Gower, 1st Mq. of Stafford, 3s. 5da. suc. fa. as 2nd Baron Harrowby 20 June 1803; cr. Earl of Harrowby 19 July 1809.

Offices Held

Under-sec. of state for Foreign affairs Aug. 1789-Feb. 1790; comptroller of Household Feb. 1790-Apr. 1791; PC 3 Mar. 1790; commr. Board of Control Mar. 1790-May 1791; member of Board of Trade Mar. 1790, vice-pres. Oct. 1790-Nov. 1801; jt. paymaster-gen. Mar. 1791-July 1800; treasurer of navy June 1800-Nov. 1801; sec. of state for Foreign affairs May 1804-Jan. 1805; chancellor of duchy of Lancaster July 1805-Feb. 1806; extraordinary mission to Prussia Nov. 1805-Jan. 1806; pres. Board of Control July-Nov. 1809; cabinet minister without office Nov. 1809-June 1812; ld. pres. of Council June 1812-Aug. 1827; commr. for building new churches 1818; member of judicial committee of Privy Council 1833.

Capt.-lt. Staffs militia 1795-9.


In 1785 Ryder’s sister reported that

Dudley ... has been ... fully employed with his introduction into the world. He is a super-excellent courtier, has paid many visits in his new chariot, attended the House of Commons almost constantly, and at some very late sittings, and ... has borne these many trials wonderfully well, and though he has caught colds in his head, yet they have never amounted to the least cough or feverishness.

Shortly afterwards Wilberforce met him in Geneva and, impressed by his ‘understanding’, predicted that he would ‘make a figure’.1 In the event his health, which had been poor during his childhood, and a highly strung temperament disqualified him from sustained involvement in politics at the highest level, although he lived to be the last survivor of his political generation and was out of office for a total of only six years between the ages of 26 and 64.

During his first Parliament as Member for the family borough of Tiverton, which he represented throughout his Commons career, Ryder showed promise in debate and became increasingly friendly with Pitt, whose promotion of him was, so Wraxall thought, justified by ‘his early display of talents’. Pitt gave him his first taste of office in 1789, forcing his appointment as under-secretary at the Foreign Office on a reluctant Duke of Leeds, the secretary of state, who had favourites of his own in mind. Doubts about the legality of two under-secretaries from the same department sitting in the House compelled him to resign after six months, but he was amply compensated with appointments as comptroller of the Household and commissioner of the Board of Control, and admission to the Privy Council.2 Before the 1790 Parliament met he was promoted to be vice-president of the Board of Trade, where he remained for 11 years, and to this office was added in March 1791 the joint paymastership.

Most of Ryder’s speeches were on Board of Trade business and his most arduous parliamentary undertakings occurred in the sessions of 1795-6 and 1800-1, when he was responsible for introducing and steering through measures to deal with the corn scarcities of those years. He served on numerous select committees, particularly those inquiring into financial and economic questions, and frequently acted as a ministerial teller between 1792 and 1801.

He was an able speaker, capable of defending government in issues outside his departmental brief and always ready to hit hard at opposition, as he did when vindicating the Spanish convention, 14 Dec. 1790, and the armament against Russia, 12 Apr. 1791 and 20 Feb. 1792. He was listed among opponents of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791. He spoke against parliamentary reform, 30 Apr. 1792, when he accused the Friends of the People of inciting the public to ‘resort to speculative remedies for speculative grievances’, and opposed receipt of reform petitions from Nottingham, 21 Feb., and Sheffield, 2 May 1793.3 He deplored Fox’s opposition to entry into a war forced on Britain, so he argued, by French aggression, 12 Feb., and defended the traitorous correspondence bill, 22 Mar. 1793; the Sardinian treaty, 31 Jan.; the militia augmentation bill, 6 Mar.; the volunteers bill, 7 Apr., and the foreign enlistment bill, 11 Apr. 1794. He strenuously resisted Foxite appeals for the intervention of the House on behalf of Muir and Palmer, 24 Feb., and Lafayette, 17 Mar. 1794, and spoke strongly against Grey’s peace motion, 6 Feb. 1795, accusing opposition of insidiously propagating the ‘false’ notion that the war was one of aggression.

Ryder favoured a speedy and dignified end to the Hastings impeachment, but his amendment to this effect moved on Burke’s motion, 14 Feb. 1791, was opposed by Pitt and Dundas and defeated by 161 votes to 79. On 19 Apr. 1791 he announced his conversion, by the arguments advanced in debate, to total and immediate abolition of the slave trade, which he consistently supported in subsequent debates. His amendment to Ellis’s gradualist motion, 6 Apr. 1797, was negatived.

In 1796 Glenbervie placed Ryder a distant third in ability behind Canning and Mornington, but judged him the best long-term bet of the three for success in ‘the political race’:

His rank and fortune and the having from those advantages started higher, or at least passed so much sooner from Canning’s office than he is likely to do, make his chance much better than Canning’s. Besides he seems steadier and more business-like. Pitt seems to like him, and so does Lord Liverpool.

In fact Liverpool, Ryder’s chief at the Board of Trade, found him difficult to work with; so at least he told Lord Auckland eight years later:

He has a very sharp understanding, but a wretched mind, or a very distempered body which operates on his mind ... This last circumstance disqualifies him for business. I suffered from it when he acted under me, and it is impossible to describe in terms sufficiently strong what I endured ... I have heard that he has a bad temper; but this temper never showed itself to me, so that I know nothing of it.

Canning, for his part, did not much care for Ryder, finding him ‘pert and self-sufficient’, though admittedly ‘an able man, and a rising one’.4

In the debate on the cavalry bill, 2 Nov. 1796, Ryder forcefully condemned Fox’s ‘inflammatory’ speech as one such ‘as might have composed a manifesto for a French general after invading the country of Ireland’. A member of the secret finance committee, he defended the Bank stoppage, 27 Mar. 1797. Later in the year he prepared a report on the Treasury for the finance committee and worked closely with Pitt in assessing the implications of the committee’s findings. On 1 June 1797 he had a difference of opinion with Speaker Addington over the legality of subscribers voting on the loyalty loan, of whom he was one to the tune of £2,000 He defended the assessed taxes augmentations bill, 7 Dec. 1797, the land tax redemption bill, 4 and 16 Apr., the newspaper regulation bill, 13 June, and the decision to send the militia to Ireland, 19 June 1798. He was Pitt’s second in his duel with Tierney, 27 May 1798.

Ryder was a leading speaker on behalf of the income tax in December 1798 and indeed thought the concessions made by Pitt, 22 Dec., went too far. He defended the Union, 11 and 14 Feb. 1799 and again on 2 May 1800, after a year’s apparent silence in the House, presumably on account of illness. In April 1799 he declined the mastership of the Mint but in June 1800 he exchanged the paymastership for the treasurership of the navy.5

He remained in office under Addington only because of strong pressure from Pitt. Even so he refused to take the foreign seals and there seems to have been little justification for the Duchess of Devonshire’s suggestion that in staying in he was motivated by ‘long smothered jealousy of Canning’.6 In the House he remained largely preoccupied with measures to meet the food shortage, as he had been since November 1800, but he also spoke for the Irish master of the rolls bill, 9 Mar. 1801. The same day Glenbervie made the following judgment on Ryder:

[He] is ... a man of parts, and has certainly a good deal of information, and he is or, to state the same thing in the least favourable terms, means to be a good sort of man. But his manner is not advantageous to him. His little circular pursed-in mouth, a sort of ruddiness and smoothness of face, and a weak short kind of articulation, make him appear both in private and in public what has been called missey, and there appears to be a certain quickness in his temper which, when he fails in venting it in a species of captious smartness or repartee, renders him what by another familiar expression is called miffy. He seems devoted to Pitt.7

Shortly afterwards he fell dangerously ill and in July 1801 he was thought to be dying, having had ‘a fever which ended in an abscess in his side that is killing him’. He recovered, but not sufficiently to continue in his offices, which he gave up in October 1801, asking Addington to consider him ‘dead in law’.8

Ryder evidently remained hors de combat for a further 12 months, but he retained his seat at the general election of 1802 and made a political comeback when the new Parliament met. In November 1802 he wrote to Pitt expressing regret at his absence from London, but deprecating Canning’s warlike speech in the debate on the address, 23 Nov., and apologizing for ministers. At the same time, so Rose reported, he was ‘far from being satisfied’ with their tone and their failure to state distinctly the points on which they differed from the Foxite pacifists. He thought ‘the times must soon call Mr Pitt forth’, but wished ‘to see him march in through open doors, and not through a breach’. Canning, striving to engineer Pitt’s return to power, tentatively attributed the stronger line subsequently taken by ministers towards French aggrandisement to Ryder’s influence, exerted on instructions from Pitt, though he could not be sure that Ryder was not acting on his own initiative:

In what sense ... [Pitt] did write to Ryder, I would give much to know. Ryder’s wish to see Mr P. where he ought to be ... it is impossible to doubt; but his tenderness for A[ddington] is so great, that he supplies him beforehand with all the means he can of meeting the strong points to be brought against him; and thereby ... throws difficulties in the way of Mr P’s return, in exact proportion as the faults which it is to remedy are rendered less observable. I cannot help being of opinion that in his precise situation he might properly abstain as much as Mr P. himself does.

On 8 Dec. 1802 Ryder strongly supported the increased military estimates and ‘touched Fox severely on his French tendencies’. Canning thought the speech ‘excellent’ in many respects, ‘in point of tone particularly’, being ‘just such as Pitt himself might have made’; but he still believed that ‘out of the House’ Ryder had ‘done more harm to our game for Pitt than any other individual, and that too with knowledge enough of the state of Pitt’s mind to have entitled us to expect another conduct from him’.9

Ryder is not known to have spoken again in the House before May 1803 and he took no part in the discussions of March on the Prince of Wales’s financial affairs. As he explained to his father:

I cannot vote for a bill which grants £60,000 a year for no public purpose whatever ... Exclusive of my dislike to vote against Addington, or in a manner which might look like currying favour with the Prince, I do not approve of a committee to inquire into his debts, as the probable result of that would be declining to pay them. In this state I can only say that I did not vote at all, because I did not know on which side I could vote with the least dissatisfaction.10

Had Pitt and Addington reached an accommodation in April 1803 Ryder would have been one of the former’s recommendations for office.11 He spoke and voted against Addington for the first time in the adjournment debate of 6 May 1803. Wickham, the Irish secretary, thought Ryder’s ‘defection’ a ‘very serious evil’ which was ‘felt as such’ and ‘by no means compensated by the extraordinary circumstance’ of his brother’s making a fine speech in defence of government. Lord Redesdale was not unduly surprised, ‘considering him as rather ill treated’, although he had not thought he ‘would have shown his resentment in this way’; and The Times, a ministerial organ, attacked Ryder for deserting the minister who had bestowed on his brother Henry ‘the first valuable living’ which had fallen to his gift.12 Six weeks later the death of Ryder’s father removed him from the Commons.

As a peer he attained cabinet rank under Pitt, Portland, Perceval and Liverpool but, as Wraxall wrote, his ‘delicate constitution, precarious health, and an irritable frame of mind’ ensured that his tenure of ‘those laborious offices of government which demand severe or unremitting exertion’, were brief. He declined the premiership in 1827, as he later claimed to have done on two other occasions.13 He supported Catholic emancipation and made his last significant political exertion as joint leader of the ‘waverer’ peers during the reform bill crisis.

Ryder commanded respect but little affection. His sister-in-law, Lady Harriet Leveson Gower, found him ‘agreeable and well informed, and disposed to communicate his knowledge in the most pleasant manner, without any pretension or display’, but thought ‘it would improve him to go a great deal into a warm bath’, in that he would emerge ‘relaxed and upon a more enlarged scale, which would be an unspeakable improvement both to body and mind’. Henry Edward Fox echoed the same theme in his judgment of Ryder, who

would be a more agreeable man, if nature had benevolently given him a larger mouth. His knowledge is great, his quickness lively, and his opinions just and moderate. His articulation is too rapid and precise, and his temper is peevish.

Greville, who placed him ‘at the top of the second-rate men’, judged him to be well informed, ‘honourable and conscientious’ and ‘acute’, but flawed by ‘indecision’ and a ‘tart, short, provoking manner, with manners at once pert and rigid’.14 He died 26 Dec. 1847.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Letters between Elizabeth Ryder and her Brothers, 15; Life of Wilberforce (1838), i. 82.
  • 2. Wraxall Mems. ed. Wheatley, v. 46; Geo. III Corresp. i. 544; PRO 30/8/151, f. 51; Add. 28065, f. 413.
  • 3. Senator, vii. 725.
  • 4. Glenbervie Diaries, i. 72; Auckland Jnl. iv. 226; Harewood mss, Canning jnl. 23 Jan. 1794, Canning to Mrs Leigh, 25 May [1795].
  • 5. Wellesley Pprs. i. 90.
  • 6. Colchester, i. 224; PRO 30/8/157, f. 286; Wellesley Pprs. i. 136; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 179; Leveson Gower, i. 291, 294; Chatsworth mss, jnl. [12 Feb. 1801].
  • 7. Glenbervie Diaries, i. 193.
  • 8. Wellesley Pprs. i. 141; Rose Diaries, i. 414, 419; Pellew, Sidmouth, i. 468-9.
  • 9. Rose Diaries, i. 459, 466-7, 501-3; Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 145, 150; Add. 35737, f. 136.
  • 10. Harrowby mss, Ryder to Harrowby, 4 or 7 Mar. 1803.
  • 11. Add. 35702, f. 169.
  • 12. Add. 35714, f. 81; 35717, f. 90; 41854, f. 204; The Times, 10 May 1803.
  • 13. Wraxall Mems. v. 46; Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1443-5; Autobiog. of 1st Earl of Harrowby, 24.
  • 14. Leveson Gower, ii. 361; Jnl. of Hon. H. E. Fox, 198; Greville Mems. ed. Strachey and Fulford, iii. 7; vi. 1.