STUART WORTLEY, James Archibald (1776-1845), of Wharncliffe Lodge and Wortley Hall, Yorks.

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



1802 - 1818
1818 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 6 Oct. 1776, 2nd s. and event. h. of Hon. James Archibald Stuart*, and bro. of John Stuart Wortley*. educ. Charterhouse 1789-90. m. 30 Mar. 1799 Lady Elizabeth Caroline Mary Creighton, da. of John, 1st Earl Erne [I], 3s. 1da. surv. Took additional name of Wortley (with his fa.) 17 Jan. 1795; additional name of Mackenzie 17 June 1826. suc. fa. 1818; cr. Baron Wharncliffe 12 July 1826.

Offices Held

Ensign, 48 Ft. 1790; lt. 7 Ft. 1791; capt. 98 Ft. 1794, maj. 1794, brevet lt.-col. 1796; lt.-col. 12 Ft. 1796; capt. and lt. 1 Ft. Gds. 1797, ret. 1801; lt.-col. S.W. Yorks. yeomanry 1803, commdt. militia 1810.

PC 16 Dec. 1834; ld. privy seal Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835; ld. pres. of Council Sept. 1841-d.

Ld. lt. Yorks. 1841-d.


Stuart Wortley embarked on a military career under the auspices of his uncle (Sir) Charles Stuart* and served in Canada 1792-4 and the Cape 1795-7.1 Early in 1799 he returned from Ireland and ‘a sad picture he draws of it’, reported a kinsman of his bride, Lord Hervey, who added, ‘He seems very much liked, and has certainly a good understanding’. A running commentary on his activities after marriage is provided by the letters of his wife, who possessed ‘all the charm of intelligence without the tax of esprit’, to her mother.2 He is referred to in the correspondence as ‘Zac’ or ‘The Dog’, ‘The Doge’, ‘The Dog of Dogs’ and ‘The Governor’. In October 1799 he expressed a wish to join his uncle’s staff, which meant going to Egypt, but he was ordered to Holland, only to be prevented by the convention of Alkmaar. If a general peace ensued, he planned to go abroad for two years. Nothing came of this and he led a nomadic existence in England until April 1800, when his father inherited the Mackenzie estates in Scotland and settled his Yorkshire and Cornish estates on him.3

Stuart Wortley, become a Yorkshire country gentleman, retired from the army. In 1802 he succeeded his father as family Member for Bossiney. He supported administration silently and independently at first, taking a keen interest in the proceedings: his account of the debate on 23 May 1803, when Pitt made a ‘magnificent’ defence of the resumption of war, is more circumstantial than that in Hansard. He supported Pitt on his return to power, but was sufficiently independent to deplore the breakdown in Fox’s health in 1805 (‘who are we to turn to next?’). His first known speech was on 30 Apr. 1805, when he opposed Whitbread’s bid to remodel the select committee on Melville’s censure, and on 28 June he defended the volunteer system.

He was not friendly to the Grenville ministry and, ‘without concert with anybody and most unexpectedly’, insisted on a division against Ellenborough’s having a seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar. 1806. He also voted against the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. On 9 May, on the strength of his Yorkshire connexions, he opposed the iron duty bill. He was a supporter of the Portland administration, and when Brand’s motion was defeated his wife wrote, 10 Apr. 1807, ‘The Doge did not get to bed till 7 this morning, but quite cockahoop with having had thirty majority, having gone to the House prepared to be beat’. Moreover on 26 June he clashed with his Yorkshire neighbour Lord Milton, when the latter alleged that the majority of the county were in favour of the outgoing administration: he followed this in July with a speech at Sheffield in which he ‘lashed Lord Milton severely’. It was about this time that he became enamoured of oratory and thought conversation, so his wife complained, ‘a waste of time’.4

Family affairs were preying on his mind, it being very difficult to convince his father that the estate was becoming encumbered with debt: he admitted that his own extravagance had a part in it. To make up for this and to meet an overdraft of £7,000, he proposed to his father in March 1808 that he should go out of Parliament and the seat be sold for £5,000. He further advised his father to sell the Kethrick estate in Scotland, saying that from his own point of view ‘Scotland never will be my place of residence’ and that ‘if I wished to increase the estate it would be in England and not in Scotland’. He professed himself willing to ‘conform to any plan whatsoever of economy’.5 His father was not easily persuaded to act, but allowed himself to be advised by his banker Thomas Coutts, who in turn embarrassed Stuart Wortley by asking him to support the claims on government of John Palmer*, 15 May 1808.6 The following day he told the House that he was now unfavourable to Palmer’s claims.

Apart from a speech in defence of the Copenhagen expedition, 21 Mar. 1808, which he followed up with a successful resolution of approbation, Stuart Wortley was not conspicuous in Parliament that year. He returned to the fray on 3 Feb. 1809, criticizing Colonel Wardle for his manner of proceeding against the Duke of York’s alleged abuse of army patronage. On 14 Mar. he pronounced the duke not guilty: it was ‘a foul plot’ and the House had been imposed upon. On 14 Apr. and 5 May he intervened on the affairs of Chelsea Hospital. He opposed the opposition amendment to Curwen’s reform bill, 7 June 1809. While he was coming to an agreement with his father over the estate, Lord Liverpool, to whom he was connected through his wife, kept him in touch with the political scene, sending him copies of the letters exchanged between Perceval and Lords Grenville and Grey at the formation of his administration in October 1809. Perceval wished to enlist his support, but was told that ‘one of his grievances is a delay in the fulfilment of an old promise of a peerage to Wortley [his father]’. Nevertheless, the Whigs listed him ‘against the Opposition’ in 1810 (he supported Perceval and deplored the conduct of Canning).7 He seldom spoke again in the House until 11 June 1811, when he doubted whether the majority of people wanted parliamentary reform. He had voted against it on 21 May 1810. On 24 Apr. 1812 he announced his support for Catholic claims.

It was when the Liverpool administration was formed after Perceval’s death in May 1812 that Stuart Wortley reached the limelight. There was then ‘a general feeling of the necessity of a strong government, particularly among the country gentlemen connected with the disturbed counties’. He gave notice on 20 May 1812 of a motion which he brought forward on the following day, to address the Regent for a ‘stronger and more efficient administration’. His view was that the Liverpool administration was inadequate: he had been ‘a fervent friend’ of Perceval, but felt that without drawing in more talents the new administration would let the country down. Now was the time to remedy this deficiency, even if it meant condoning Catholic relief. He claimed to be independent, though he admitted that such connexions as he had were with Lord Liverpool: his sincerity was of course doubted. The friends of the Prince of Wales regarded his action as mischievous in the extreme. The Whigs’ support carried the motion by 174 votes to 170, though Stuart Wortley had no assurance of a seconder for it: when, after a pause, Lord Milton did so, they clashed with Stuart Wortley in the course of the debate. As Wilberforce put it, the motion was ‘really made for [Canning] and Wellesley, though carried by the numbers of the old opposition’. Henry Grey Bennet*, who found the debate ‘rather dull’, described Stuart Wortley as ‘the great supporter of Mr Perceval’s administration, and the avowed enemy of all Whigs and Whiggism’. The government were loath to admit defeat and tried to sabotage the address, by rejecting its presentation either by the whole House or by the privy councillors in it: on the latter motion there was a division of 176 votes to 174. Finally it was agreed, without a division, that Stuart Wortley himself and Lord Milton should present it to the Regent, which they did on 22 May. Stuart Wortley claimed that it was ‘the proudest day of his life’. The government resigned and negotiations began for a new administration. After a week they were getting nowhere and Creevey reported that Stuart Wortley was planning a second motion ‘to bring this infatuated man [the Regent] to his senses’, 29 May. On 1 June, amid disorderly scenes but by previous consent, he questioned Ponsonby, the Whig leader, as to the outcome of their negotiations with Wellesley. Ponsonby denied any knowledge of the business: this was felt necessary ‘from the lies that were in circulation ... even in the daily papers’. On 2 June, claiming that he himself had been misreported in the newspapers, Stuart Wortley again denied that he had any party affiliation. On 5 June he pressed for a public statement by the Regent and moved for an adjournment. By then it was clear that the negotiations had failed and a secret attempt of his to bring Liverpool and Canning together by a compromise on the Catholic question also failed, 10 June. In his second motion of 11 June he deplored these failures and told the tale of the collapse of negotiations between Lords Moira and Grey and Grenville over control of the Household places (which he ridiculed), thus necessitating the return to power of Liverpool. His motion was negatived after a long debate, the Whigs being hostile and amending it, but he was satisfied that the present administration ‘stood better than at its first formation in the eyes of the country’.8

His wife, who reported that he was ‘quite bow-wow’ during this campaign, echoed this view: ‘the Government may thank the Doge for the firm seats he has placed them upon, instead of the ricketty chairs they sat upon three weeks ago’. She added, 12 June, ‘the Doge voted against the government last night, but will vote with government today’—though he did not mean to pledge himself, but would ‘always be glad to vote with them when his conscience allows it’. She hoped that he had done with active politics for a long time: he now enjoyed great credit with all parties, was ‘pointed to in the streets’, and even the Prince, with whom her husband had never been on good terms, must be satisfied, she concluded triumphantly. The Prince’s friends were not: the Duke of Northumberland pointed out that an immediate dissolution must follow the restoration of Liverpool, ‘to prevent the eternal motions which will otherwise be made in the House of Commons by Mr Wortley, Mr Tierney and their adherents, assisted and encouraged by the two great lords and their party’, 12 June.9

Stuart Wortley was now pressed to stand for Yorkshire where the bulk of his property lay, and on 3 Oct. addressed the Leeds clothiers. He told them, in answer to their questions, that he was an independent country gentleman who did not know any scheme for parliamentary reform which was not open to objection and would not convert the House into a ‘mere popular ass’. He was prepared to countenance an inquiry into Catholic claims, under the right circumstances. He would be prepared to present a manufacturers’ petition for peace, too, if the time was ripe: he would have been for rescinding the orders in council had there been a division. He admitted that he had been an admirer of Pitt and had generally voted with administration. He regarded himself as likely to replace Lascelles, who was expected to decline a contest, but when the latter made more progress with a subscription than he did, he withdrew and fell back on Bossiney. Lascelles noted in his commonplace book: ‘Wortley very handsomely agreed to retire’. His brother-in-law Corbet reported that he had harangued a crowd of thousands at Sheffield ‘with a degree of impudence and composure’ that surprised him and in a ‘distinct thundering voice’. He had staked his claim to a Yorkshire seat at the next election.10

In the debate on the Regent’s speech, 1 Dec. 1812, Stuart Wortley said he was opposed to the notion of peace at any cost. On 2 Mar. and 24 May 1813, and again in 1816 and 1817, he supported Catholic claims. On 5 Mar. 1813 he made a very forthright speech on the subject of the Regent’s treatment of his wife: ‘all such proceedings contributed to pull royalty down’. He was ‘very sorry we had a royal family who did not take warning from what was said and thought concerning them’. Fremantle, writing to Lord Grenville next day, called it a ‘most violent speech’ and Creevey wrote to his wife:

Was not honest Wortley’s speech quite invaluable, one sentence that he spoke is omitted in the report, viz. that he was glad he was saying what he did in the presence of one (looking at Lord Yarmouth) who no doubt would speedily convey it to Carlton House’.

Francis Horner thought ‘Wortley’s strong speech ought to be a sign of the times to the royal family ... Wortley however is bolder and hotter than most of his set, and would probably have declared for the Prince of Orange before his landing. Will the Regent be thrown upon the Whigs at last, for personal protection?’11 Stuart Wortley appeared as ‘doubtful’ on the Treasury list, though he more often spoke than voted against administration. On 21 June 1813 he unsuccessfully, and in defiance of government’s wishes, moved a reduction of John Palmer’s compensation: it had remained a sore point ever since Coutts tried to get his support for it during the family’s financial crisis. On the same day he was for reforming the borough of Helston by throwing the franchise open to the hundred, but not in favour of prosecuting the patron, the Duke of Leeds, for corruption. On the question of Catholic agitation in Ireland he condemned extremists on both sides, the Orange lodges as well as the Catholic committee, 29 June 1813. He deplored as cruel the idea of any proceedings against the Princess of Wales, 3 June 1814, and blamed the Regent for dragging the matter into the public eye, 23 June. On 20 June he said he had approved of the war against Buonaparte and he now approved the peace treaty. He voted against Lord Cochrane’s expulsion for fraud for lack of evidence, 5 July 1814.

In the autumn of 1814 Stuart Wortley and his family proceeded to Spa and to Paris. On 8 Mar. 1815 he indicated his approval of the revised Corn Laws, saying he thought they would lead to reduced rents. On Buonaparte’s return from Elba, he supported the allied subsidies, 29 May, though he had been willing to accept the London petition against the ministry, 1 May. In the debate on the army estimates, 28 Feb. 1816, he advocated economy, at the same time rebuking Brougham for his uncalled for habit of giving lessons to other Members on procedure. On 6 Mar. he moved a reduction of the army by 10,000 men, which was defeated by 202 votes to 130. Two days later he supported Williams Wynn’s motion on the subject, acting as teller. On 20 Mar. he defended the freedom of action of Members vis-à-vis their constituents in votes on taxation. He had either voted or paired in favour of the property tax, although he feared it would be defeated. He opposed the creation of new offices in the interests of economy, 14 June, and voted with opposition on this principle, 24 May, 14 and 17 June 1816. In December, as a colonel of yeomanry, he dispersed a mob meeting at Sheffield, and in February 1817 led the opposition to agitation for parliamentary reform in Yorkshire. On 5 June 1817 he voted for an amendment to the seditious meetings bill, but appears to have supported the suspension of habeas corpus, and certainly deplored a ‘trumped up’ petition of 2 July against it. In the autumn of 1817 he took his family to Paris, a reluctant tourist ‘grown quite deaf, stupid and gouty’, he reported on 11 Nov. They were at Rome when his father died in March 1818.12

At the election of 1818 Stuart Wortley offered for Yorkshire and was returned unopposed, though he had taken the precaution of being returned for Bossiney first. He professed support for Catholic relief and hostility to parliamentary reform. On 1 and 2 Feb. 1819 he presented petitions from Leeds and Halifax in favour of the Bank Restriction Act continuing, from merchants as well as bankers. He was placed on the Bank and Windsor establishment committees. He defended the cutlery trade bill, 12 Feb., and was against any change in the coal duties, 26 Feb. He opposed the ribbon and silk weavers regulation bill, 13 May, on the ground that fixing minimum wages would lead to excessive demands and the customer would pay. On 9 June he presented a Bradford petition against the proposed tax on imported wool and criticized the tax along with other Yorkshire Members, but it was carried. On 23 Nov. 1819, with reference to events at Manchester, he expressed sympathy for the suffering of the poor, but, in ‘a bold and manly declaration of principles which it was impossible to beat down’, deplored the itinerant agitators who inflamed them; a week later he described how at a radical meeting there had been a suggestion of partitioning Earl Fitzwilliam’s estate. He defended the government’s ‘Gag Acts’ and was not in favour of Althorp’s motion for a select committee on the state of the nation, 30 Nov.

Stuart Wortley’s own part in dispersing the riotous assemblies in Yorkshire, which he achieved without bloodshed, inspired admiration in the Prince Regent, who whispered in his ear, 26 Nov. 1819, ‘Wortley you are a fine gallant fellow’: the Dukes of Clarence and York also saluted him. He was obliged to defend his conduct against Brougham and Lord Milton, November-December 1819, when they criticized his handling of the county meeting. On 7 Dec. he admitted the need for reporters to be present at meetings of the politically disaffected. In defence of the training prevention bill, he alleged that unauthorized military training was going on around Barnsley. On 9 Dec., opposing Bennet’s motion for an inquiry into the state of the manufacturing districts, he said that it would encourage the dangerous demand for parliamentary reform. He was at this time a firm supporter of administration, though he declined to take the lead in prosecuting John Cam Hobhouse the radical pamphleteer.13

In 1818 Stuart Wortley, who relied on his uncle Sir William Cunynghame to manage his encumbered estate, leased a house in Curzon Street for £12,000, a symptom of his deeper involvement in public life, though he never became a committed politician. He was, in Greville the diarist’s words, ‘a spirited, sensible, zealous, honourable, consistent country gentleman’.14 He died 19 Dec. 1845.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1846), i. 202; W. Suff. RO, Hervey mss, Hervey to Bristol, 11, 18 Mar. 1799; C. Grosvenor, The First Lady Wharncliffe and her Family; Letters of Countess Granville, i. 317.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1846), i. 202; W. Suff. RO, Hervey mss, Hervey to Bristol, 11, 18 Mar. 1799; C. Grosvenor, The First Lady Wharncliffe and her Family; Letters of Countess Granville, i. 317.
  • 3. Grosvenor, 43, 45, 48, 49, 55, 59.
  • 4. Ibid. 88, 124, 137, 139; Add. 35716, f. 197.
  • 5. Sheffield City Lib. Wharncliffe mss, n.d.
  • 6. Ibid. Coutts to Stuart Wortley, 24 Mar. and 15 May 1808.
  • 7. Grossvenor, 169; Perceval (Holland) mss 2, f. 18; Sir W. Fraser, Memorials of Earls of Haddington, ii. 313.
  • 8. Horner mss 5, f. 181; Grosvenor, 185-6; Geo. IV Letters, i. 81, 110, 114; HMC Fortescue, x. 258-9, 264, 266, 288; Life of Wilberforce (1838), iv. 31; Romilly, Mems. iii. 39; P. H. Fitzgerald, Life of George IV, ii. 93, 98; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 160.
  • 9. Wharncliffe mss, Lady C. Stuart Wortley to Lady Erne, 11, 12 June 1812; Grosvenor, 187; Geo. IV Letters, i. 116.
  • 10. Leeds Mercury, 3, 12 Oct. 1812; Grosvenor 189; Add. 38739, f. 80.
  • 11. Fortescue mss; Creevey’s Life and Times, 67; Horner mss 5, f. 282.
  • 12. Fitzwilliam mss, box 88, Stuart Wortley to Milton, 5 Feb. 1817; Grosvenor, 222, 249.
  • 13. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. ii. 34; Grosvenor, 258-62.
  • 14. Grosvenor, 256; Greville Mems. ed. Strachey and Fulford, ii. 215.