RYDER, Hon. Richard (1766-1832), of 56 Lincoln's Inn Fields, Mdx.; Great Milton, Oxon. and Westbrook Hay, Herts.

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



26 Feb. 1795 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 5 July 1766, 2nd s. of Nathaniel Ryder, 1st Baron Harrowby, and bro. of Hon. Dudley Ryder*. educ. Neasden, Mdx. by Rev. Richard Raikes; St. John’s, Camb. 1784; L. Inn 1788, called 1791. m. 1 Aug. 1799, Frederica, da. and h. of Sir John Skynner of Great Milton, ld. chief baron of Exchequer 1777-87, 1da. suc. 1st cos. once removed Thomas Ryder to Westbrook Hay 1812.

Offices Held

Dep. paymaster c.1797-1800; solicitor to Ordnance 1801-6, to Board of Control ?1804-6; second justice of S. Wales circuit 1804-7; commr. for nawab of Arcot’s debts until 1806; ld. of Treasury Sept.-Dec. 1807; PC 25 Nov 1807; judge adv.-gen. Nov. 1807-Nov. 1809; sec. of state for Home affairs Nov. 1809-June 1812.

Jt. registrar, consistory ct. of Canterbury bef. 1808, sole registrar 1813-d.; bencher, L. Inn 1811, treasurer 1819.

Capt. Staffs. supp. militia 1797; vol. London and Westminster light horse 1798.


Throughout his life Ryder, like his elder brother Dudley, was plagued by illness. He first visited Spa at the age of four and was there again, as a fledgling barrister, in the summers of 1791 and 1792, but he was never able to and himself of his ‘old tormentor’, a debilitating nervous headache. He attended the Stafford and Worcester sessions and went the Oxford circuit with moderate success, but was prevented by his unreliable health from doing full justice to his undoubted talents as a lawyer. When a vacancy occurred at the family borough of Tiverton in 1795 his father at first hesitated to nominate him, fearing that Parliament might ‘bring him into expensive habits unfit for a second son, or take him from his legal work’, but his reservations were overcome and Ryder was duly returned.1

He continued his legal practice and in the House gave unobtrusive support to Pitt’s ministry, in which his brother, a close friend of the premier, was vice-president of the Board of Trade and paymaster-general. He voted for the assessed taxes augmentation bill, 4 Jan. 1798, and was a ministerial teller in the divisions on the shipowners’ relief bill, 21 May 1798, and the suspension of habeas corpus, 18 Dec. 1800. Dudley appointed him a deputy paymaster, with a salary of £500 a year, and in 1799 he married an heiress reputed to be worth £100,000. The couple lived with her father at his house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where Ryder cemented his friendship with his neighbour Spencer Perceval*, whom he succeeded as solicitor to the Ordnance on his appointment as solicitor-general under Addington in 1801.2

Taking his cue from Pitt, Ryder, like his brother, initially supported the Addington ministry. In what seems to have been his maiden speech, 13 Nov. 1801, he seconded the address announcing the convention with Russia. He began nervously, according to one observer, but ‘happily got over it, and made an excellent speech’. He was appointed to the committee on East India judicature regulations, 9 Dec. 1801. He is not known to have addressed the House again until 6 May 1803 when, in ‘by far the best speech’ delivered in the adjournment debate, he spoke not only in defence of government but in reply to his brother, who was opposing them for the first time.3 If the incident caused any ill feeling between him and Dudley, who soon afterwards succeeded their father in the peerage, it was ephemeral.

Ryder continued to await a decisive political move by Pitt: if ministers congratulated themselves on the quiet passage of the address, 22 Nov. 1803, they were foolish, for in his view it proved ‘nothing but the impossibility of going on without Pitt to give a tone’. Early in 1804, according to Speaker Abbot, Ryder ‘declined being counsel to the East India Board, wishing not to take a new situation under the present government, though not seeing any probability of differing from it’. (He apparently took on the post later, presumably when Pitt returned to power.) At about the same time Lord Hardwicke, the lord lieutenant of Ireland, asked his half-brother to inform Addington of his preference for Ryder as the replacement for William Wickham as Irish secretary: ‘In point of abilities I conceive he is fully competent to every duty of the office; for though he has not taken a frequent part in debate, he is sufficiently in the habit of speaking to be equal to every duty of that sort’. Addington, who had already decided to appoint Sir Evan Nepean, dismissed Ryder’s pretensions, as Hardwicke’s half-brother reported, on the grounds that

with every degree of regard and esteem for ... [his] abilities and excellent qualities ... neither his health or turn of mind exactly suit the employment; that considerable inconveniences would result from his having so much to learn of the details of business in Ireland; and ... it was very much doubted whether in the present state of parties ... it would be possible to induce him to accept.

Ryder, along with the rest of Pitt’s ‘more immediate friends’, was not expected to vote against government on the Irish rebellion, 7 Mar. 1804, nor did he; but he eventually followed Pitt’s lead and voted against ministers in the crucial divisions of 16, 23 and 25 Apr. 1804.4

Hardwicke and Pitt offered him the succession to Nepean as Irish secretary, but after several days’ deliberation he declined it and could not subsequently be prevailed on to change his mind. Hardwicke’s half-brother shared the viceroy’s regret, having ‘a high opinion’ of Ryder, ‘higher in many essential points’ than of Dudley, though he had never thought him likely to take the job, as he was ‘too diffident of himself, and too retired’.5 Ryder, who was appointed a Welsh judge at his brother’s solicitation in July 1804, still made little showing in debate. He defended the additional force bill, 11 and 15 June, but was not much ‘in the way of politics’ in February 1805 and evidently did not speak again until 2 May, when he put in a good word for Melville: he had not been present to vote against Whitbread’s censure motion, 8 Apr., but he opposed impeachment, 12 June, as ‘contrary to all the principles and the analogy of the law of England’. He was a member of the committees appointed to consider the disclosures of the 10th and 11th naval reports, 25 Apr. and 25 June 1805.

In the debate on Pitt’s funeral honours, 27 Jan. 1806, Ryder made a spirited reply to Windham’s attack on the late premier. On the change of government he surrendered his place as solicitor to the Board of Control and, under protest, that of solicitor to the Ordnance. He attended a tactical meeting of leading Pittites, 19 Feb. 1806, and subsequently opposed the ‘Talents’, voting against them on the question of Ellenborough’s seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar., the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr., and the American intercourse bill, 17 June. He still spoke only rarely: he criticized the army estimates, 21 May, the West Indian accounts bill, 16 June, and the training bill, 21 June and 3 July, and on 11 July 1806, in his last known speech for almost a year, moved but subsequently withdrew an amendment designed to make the appointed commissioners rather than the House the final arbiters on claims against the nawab of Arcot. Like Perceval, he saw no virtue in Lord Lowther’s proposal for a formal meeting of opposition leaders to agree not to accept any individual offers from Lord Grenville during the recess.6

In January 1807 he was surprised to learn that Canning, when telling Perceval that he considered opposition no longer bound to act in concert, had expressed a wish for ‘a longer and more intimate acquaintance with me to have made the communication to Perceval through me if I had been in town’. ‘Though we have been good friends again’, Ryder told his brother, ‘I was not aware that we were intimate.’ Canning claimed to regard Ryder as ‘the nearest to a personal friend’ he had among his leading political associates, though he seems to have thought his presence desirable chiefly because he hoped it would help to loosen Perceval’s tongue. Talks with Canning confirmed Ryder’s belief that he put power above principle, and he continued to feel that ‘weak as we are in numbers’, it would be impossible for the government as constituted to go on for long without seeking reinforcements, if only Canning ‘would wait quietly for events and unite cordially with his present friends’. He voted against the government on the Hampshire election affair, 13 Feb. 1807, which he regarded as ‘the best handle that ever has been given to the reforming system’. He professed shock at Grenville’s connivance in the ‘delicate investigation’ and was privy to the contents of Perceval’s written defence of the Princess of Wales, which he thought would have to be published sooner or later.7

Harrowby hoped that the Portland ministry would be able to make his brother ‘useful’. ‘If you mean officially useful’, replied Perceval, ‘pray lose no time in telling me how and where you think he would consent to be used.’ Nothing came of the notion and Ryder, who was in Wales on his judicial business when power changed hands, had little confidence in the government’s prospects of survival.8 He was too ill to commit himself in advance to second Abbot’s re-election as Speaker at the opening of the 1807 Parliament,9 but in the debate on the address, 26 June, he vigorously attacked the ‘Talents’ for promising much but delivering nothing, except the abolition of the slave trade and the new plan of finance, of which they could be proud. Four days later he was appointed to the reconstituted finance committee.

In September 1807 he took the seat at the Treasury board vacated by Portland’s son, but found its meetings an unbearable strain on his health and was soon seeking permission for ‘another week’s leave for the waters’. Shortly afterwards Perceval prodded him into accepting the vacant post of judge advocate-general, which involved frequent personal contact with the King. Within days he told Hardwicke that

the business of my new office ... is more than I can well do. I had originally declined it upon that ground, but was at last induced to accept it from circumstances highly flattering to me, but which hardly left me a choice whether I ought or ought not to make the trial.10

He is known to have spoken in the House only twice during the next two years. He defended the Duke of York, 15 Mar. 1809, arguing that ‘all the revengeful malice’ of the discredited Mrs Clarke had proved nothing against him but ‘indiscretion’, and supported the judges salaries bill, 12 June 1809.

Ryder regretted the failure of the overture to Grey and Grenville in September 1809, the more so ‘from the expression in the answer of the latter, that the Catholic question is at the bottom of his refusal’, for in his view ‘each party might have retained their opinion upon that question, without any pledge but upon the understanding to waive all discussion upon it during the King’s life’. When Perceval was called on to form a government he offered his services if required, but ‘expressly stipulated against the cabinet, as a situation the duties of which in the House of Commons my powers of mind and body are utterly unequal to discharge’. The dearth of suitable material forced Perceval to disregard his friend’s caveat and with reluctance he agreed to become Home secretary, though nothing could persuade him to take the secretaryship for war and colonies, as Perceval and the King would have preferred. He told Hardwicke’s brother that

they have gone to such a length, as to make it almost compulsory upon me to accept ... Whatever of character I may have had the good fortune to obtain in the House of Commons must I know full well be ... [sacrificed] as must always happen where a man is placed in a situation beyond his calibre ... I have however insisted that if any opening should occur at any period which may afford the chance of strengthening government by placing someone else in the situation, I am to be allowed to retire.

Whether he continued to draw his reputed annual ‘douceur’ of £2,000 as estate auditor for his brother’s father-in-law, Lord Stafford, is not known.11

Ryder was soon seen to be out of his depth. He defended government on the Walcheren fiasco, 19 and 23 Feb., having sat on the select committee of inquiry, and unsuccessfully opposed the revival of Bankes’s reversions bill, 6 Mar. 1810, but his performances were of little assistance to Perceval. Canning thought him ‘worse than if he were [dumb]’ and even the sympathetic Robert Ward had to admit that

With excellent talents, much eloquence (but of a peculiar kind) and integrity ... [Ryder] has failed as a leader. His sentiments, manner and language are all too grave and too much judicious, and he is altogether too slow to lead the shock of parties ... he gives no sort of relief to our very flat exhibition.12

His indecisiveness and proneness to collapse under pressure were badly exposed during the Burdett riots of early April 1810. By the 7th he had lost control of the situation and Perceval had to move into the Home Office to rescue him. He was too ill to report Burdett’s arrest to the King, 9 Apr., but according to Lord Liverpool, who substituted for him, his vindicatory speech in the House later the same day betrayed no sign of his illness and was ‘very spirited and good’.13

He led the opposition to Romilly’s motion for the release of John Gale Jones, 16 Apr., again defended government’s handling of the Burdett affair, 18 Apr. and 7 May, and opposed reception of reform petitions, 8, 14 May, 6 June, when Brougham mockingly called him ‘a kind of depository of the wisdom of the House’, and 13 June. On 25 May he spoke at length against Catholic relief, arguing that it was pointless to agitate the question while the Irish bishops refused to concede the royal veto. On Romilly’s motion for an address advocating the erection of penitentiary houses as a remedial alternative to transportation, the hulks and common gaols, 9 May, Ryder, who had opposed his criminal law reform bill on 1 May, persuaded him to postpone it until he had had time to investigate the problem. When the motion was renewed, 5 June, he again requested postponement, promising ministerial support for an inquiry next session, but this time he had to divide the House to carry his point.14

Ryder’s place was already on offer, with his full blessing, to potential recruits to government. In April 1810 Perceval wondered if the need to replace Lord Chatham at the Ordnance could be made subservient to a wider rearrangement, to promote which Ryder would ‘readily’ resign, and when he sounded Canning in August, Ryder authorized him to say that his office would be available if agreement were reached.15 He was still in harness when the Regency crisis broke and, having sat on the committee appointed to examine the royal physicians in December 1810, defended the ministerial proposals at length, 2 and 18 Jan. 1811. He was too ill to do business early in February, but later in the month he had a series of gruelling audiences with the Regent to discuss the problem of the forthcoming meeting of the Irish Catholic Committee. Ward’s estimate of him remained unchanged: ‘Ryder is always full of rectitude, good sense, and honourable conduct; he is also eloquent, but his eloquence and manner too heavy for a popular assembly; it would have weight on the bench’.16 On 4 Mar. 1811 Ryder moved the appointment of the inquiry into penitentiaries and agreed to Romilly’s request that its scope be widened to include transportation and hulks, though he personally thought the latter were remedial. He opposed the third reading of Romilly’s bill abolishing capital punishment for dwelling-house robbery, 3 Apr., but it was carried on a division. In May he handled the militia interchange bill and on 6 June defended the reinstatement of the Duke of York as commander-in-chief.

Ryder, correctly predicting that the Regent would not bring in the opposition when the restrictions expired, told the Duke of Richmond, 1 Jan. 1812:

Much as I have long wished for a partial change ... which would enable me to quit a situation my miserable health makes very irksome, I should deprecate a total change as one of the greatest misfortunes that could happen to the country.17

He defended the sinecure paymastership, 9 Jan., and secured the appointment of a committee of inquiry, much criticized for the narrowness of its scope, into the London night watch, 18 Jan., and the renewal of the inquiry into penitentiaries and transportation, 4 Feb., though on appeal from Romilly he agreed to exclude the latter subject to enable him to raise it independently. He opposed Morpeth’s motion in the state of Ireland later the same day. He buckled under the pressure of trying to deal with the Luddite disturbances and again had to be propped up by Perceval. One observer deemed his long speech introducing the punitive frame-breaking bill, 14 Feb., ‘very much under the calibre of a secretary of state’.18 It was widely believed that Ryder was about to retire and only failure to find a suitable replacement prevented him from doing so. As it was, he agreed to remain in office until the end of the session and then make way for one of Lord Sidmouth’s friends.19

When opposing an increase in the grant to Maynooth College, 9 Mar. 1812, Ryder declared his fundamental antipathy to the subsidy, which afforded a ‘hostile religion the power of making proselytes’. On 23 Mar. Sir John Newport challenged him to substantiate this claim with documentary evidence. He declined to do so, but stood by his assertion that the seminary had promoted the spread of Catholicism in protestant areas. He opposed Williams Wynn’s attack on McMahon’s appointment as private secretary to the Regent, 14 Apr., defended the princesses annuity bill, 17 Apr., and introduced the unlawful oaths bill, 5 May 1812.

Perceval’s assassination completely shattered Ryder and he was too overwhelmed to carry out his intention of moving the address concerning provision for his friend’s family, 12 May. It was cruelly whispered that he was in fact ‘highly blameable’ for the tragedy in that he had failed to arrange adequate security precautions, despite repeated warnings that ‘something dreadful’ was in the offing.20 He remained in office during the ensuing period of uncertainty and on 21 May spoke against Stuart Wortley’s call for the formation of a stronger administration, clashing with Canning over the rights and wrongs of the recent ministerial approach to him. On the formation of the Liverpool ministry he thankfully retired and took to his bed. On 13 June he wrote to Richmond:

the absolute impossibility from the present state of my health to be of any use except by a vote to the common cause would have justified me to myself in declining all office at this crisis. If I can be, which I doubt, able to attend debates, I can do more out of office than in it.21

He was fit enough to speak and vote against Canning’s Catholic relief motion, 22 June, and to support the preservation of the peace bill, 10 July, when he argued that ‘revolutionary principles’ rather than transient economic distress were at the bottom of the disturbances.

In 1813 Ryder voiced reservations about Romilly’s proposals for criminal law reform, 17 Feb., spoke against the Princess of Wales’s claims, 17 Mar., and opposed the sinecure regulation bill, 29 Mar. He was one of the most active opponents of Catholic relief. He spoke against it at length, 1 Mar., successfully moved, at Abbot’s instigation, for the production of a copy of the Maynooth curriculum, 13 Apr., and at the same time secured a call of the House for 11 May, when the second reading of the relief bill was due, wishing to ‘lose no opportunity of enforcing as far as we can, the attendance of all good Protestants after Easter’. He seconded Hippisley’s motion for inquiry into safeguards, 11 May, spoke against the relief bill, 13 and 19 May, and helped to kill it with his vote on 24 May. In his last known speech in this period, 8 Nov. 1813, he came to the defence of Abbot for his anti-Catholic prorogation speech and reprobated the ‘delays and ambiguous explanations’ of the Speaker’s persecutors.22

Bad health kept Ryder away from Parliament for the following two years. He resumed attendance in 1816 and voted with government on the army estimates, 8 Mar., and the property tax, 18 Mar., but his eyesight subsequently deteriorated and his appearances in the House became rare enough to prompt Charles Williams Wynn to remark that government’s ‘bringing down even Ryder’, as they did to vote against repeal of the leather tax, 12 Mar. 1818, was ‘always a sign of their being hard pressed’. His only other recorded votes in this period were against Catholic relief, 9 May 1817, and with ministers on the conduct of the Scottish law officers, 10 Feb., the employment of agents, 11 Feb., the Duke of Clarence’s allowance, 15 Apr. 1818, Tierney’s ‘ill advised’ censure motion, 11 May, and the foreign enlistment bill, 10 June 1819. The failure of the Catholic cause to make ground in the House pleased him mightily and he had few fears that he would live to see it triumph.23

It was easy for such mediocrities as the 2nd Duke of Northumberland and William Henry Fremantle to dismiss Ryder as the most pathetically inadequate Home secretary in living memory. As he was the first to admit, he was neither physically nor temperamentally equipped to cope with the administrative and political pressures which went with office at that level. At the same time, it must be said that it was loyalty to Perceval and not ambition which betrayed him into overreaching himself and that Perceval derived considerable moral support from his comradeship in office. Others close to Ryder recognized in him talents and virtues which were not apparent to sneering observers. Ward wrote that ‘His ill health renders his abilities inefficient and those abilities are far more forensic, or rather judicial, than are calculated for the gladiatorial struggle in which his inferiors beat him’. Henry Goulburn, who began his ministerial career under Ryder in 1810, remembered him with affection:

I was associated with one whom to know was to respect and love. He had not indeed the extent of ability or information which distinguished his brother ... but he had a clear judgement and had attained a proficiency in general knowledge beyond that unusually possessed by a well educated gentleman ... But the superiority of his moral qualities was indisputable and he was endeared to all by honesty of purpose, by an utter absence of selfishness and a constant consideration for the feelings of all with whom he was ... brought into contact.24

He died 18 Sept. 1832.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Autobiog. of 1st Earl of Harrowby, 17-18; Letters between Elizabeth Ryder and her Brothers, 17, 19; N. and Q., clxx (1936), 189.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1799), ii. 716; Harrowby Autobiog. 19.
  • 3. Colchester, i. 379; Add. 35714, f. 81.
  • 4. Harrowby mss, Ryder to Harrowby, 23 Nov. 1803; PRO 30/9/33, Abbot diary, 8 Jan. 1804; Add. 35704, ff. 250, 276, 286; 35747, f. 41.
  • 5. Add. 35706, f. 25, 55, 63; 35725, f. 62; 35752, f. 347; PRO 30/8/328, ff. 97, 103, 117; Geo. III. Corresp. iv. 2914.
  • 6. Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 20 Feb.; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lowther, 20 Feb.; Harrowby mss, Ryder to Harrowby, 30 June, 5 July 1806.
  • 7. Harrowby mss, Ryder to Harrowby, 3, 7, 9, 25 Jan. 14 Feb., 9 Mar.; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 4 Feb. 1807.
  • 8. Harrowby mss, Perceval to Harrowby, 21 Mar., Ryder to same, 25 Mar. 1807.
  • 9. PRO 30/9/15, Ryder to Abbot, 4 June [1807].
  • 10. D. Gray, Perceval, 319; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3559; Add. 35647, f. 70.
  • 11. Merthyr Mawr mss L/194/2; Add. 45038, f. 124; Geo. III Corresp. v. 4007, 4010, 4014-15; Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 86.
  • 12. Geo. III Corresp. v. 4113; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 15 Mar. 1810.
  • 13. Gray, 293-7; NLI, Richmond mss 73/1693; Geo. III Corresp. v. 4129-30.
  • 14. Romilly, Mems. ii. 324, 326, 338.
  • 15. Richmond mss 66/886; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 28 Aug. 1810.
  • 16. Richmond mss 64/702; Colchester, ii. 322; Prince of Wales Corresp. vii. 2874-5, 2880, 2882, 2898, 2905; Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 306.
  • 17. Richmond mss 60/276.
  • 18. Gray, 452; Malmesbury mss, FitzHarris to Malmesbury, 15 Feb. 1812.
  • 19. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 8 Feb.; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 21 Feb.; NLW mss 2791, C. to H. Williams Wynn, 24 Feb. 1812; Richmond mss 67/1038; 74/1909; Phipps, i. 420.
  • 20. Malmesbury Letters, ii. 276-7.
  • 21. Richmond mss 60/297.
  • 22. Colchester, ii. 443-5, 458; Merthyr Mawr mss L/194/9.
  • 23. PRO 30/9/16, Ryder to Abbot, 19 Jan. 1816, 13 Mar. 1818; Buckingham, Regency, ii. 237; Colchester, ii. 567; iii. 73, 78.
  • 24. Alnwick mss 67, f. 38; Buckingham, i. 298; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 8 Feb. 1812; Surr. RO, Goulburn mss 4/6, mss memoir.