BERTIE, Montagu, Lord Norreys (1808-1884).
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Family and Educationb. 19 June 1808, 1st s. of Montagu Bertie, 5th earl of Abingdon, and 1st w. Emily, da. of Gen. Hon. Thomas Gage. educ. Eton 1823; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1826. m. 7 Jan. 1835, Elizabeth Virginia, da. of George Granville Harcourt (formerly Venables Vernon*), 6s. 3da. suc. fa. as 6th earl of Abingdon 16 Oct. 1854. d. 18 Feb. 1884.
High steward, Abingdon 1854-d.; ld. lt. Berks. 1855-81.
Lt. 1 Oxon. yeomanry 1827, capt. 1830, maj. 1847-55.
Norreys was descended from the old Lancashire family, a branch of which was established in Berkshire by the mid-fifteenth century. Sir Henry Norreys, usher of the black rod, was executed and attainted in 1536 for his involvement in the downfall of Anne Boleyn. His son and namesake was restored in blood, created Baron Norris in 1572 and acquired the Oxfordshire manor of Rycote, near Thame, and, through his marriage into the Williams family, the estate of Wytham in the northern extremity of Berkshire, which lay within three miles of Oxford. His grandson was created earl of Berkshire in 1621, but the earldom became extinct on his suicide by crossbow the following year. The barony passed through the female line to Bridget Norreys, who in 1648 married as her second husband Montagu Bertie, 2nd earl of Lindsey (d. 1666). His son James Bertie (1653-99) was created earl of Abingdon in 1682. His great-grandson the 4th earl gave up residence at Rycote, where fire destroyed the old house, towards the end of the eighteenth century.1 His son Montagu Bertie, this Member’s father, succeeded to the earldom at the age of 15 in 1799, and married in 1807 a daughter of General Thomas Gage, the scapegoat of British humiliation at the hands of the American colonists. After her death in 1838 he married a daughter of Lord Mark Kerr. He was an inconspicuous politician, and in 1814 he declined an offer of unspecified office (probably in the regent’s household) from Lord Liverpool, pleading that he was ‘unequal to it’.2 Seven years later Lord Holland’s son Henry Fox* had a dull time of it at dinner in the deanery of Christ Church, Oxford with the Abingdons, but he conceded that Lord Abingdon’s singing in his ‘fine voice’ ‘relieved it a little’; he likened Lady Abingdon to ‘a respectable housekeeper’ in appearance.3 On 17 May 1827 Abingdon was one of the Tory peers who declared in the Lords their lack of confidence in Canning’s administration.4 He spoke and voted against Catholic emancipation in April 1829.
In anticipation of the general election the following year Norreys, who had just turned 22, offered for Oxfordshire as a supporter of the ‘invaluable institutions of the country’ and its ‘landed and essential interests’, who was ‘at the same time sensible of the necessity of all practicable retrenchment in the administration of the public revenue’. One of the sitting Members immediately retired, but the other stood his ground, and a contest was ensured when an Oxfordshire baronet, whose politics were virtually indistinguishable from Norreys’s, made a bid for the seat. A hostile newspaper report had it that Norreys’s agents and supporters were going on ‘very well’ with their canvass in one part of the county until ‘the boy came and spoilt it all’.5 At the nomination, he professed to be ‘a free and independent candidate with respect to political opinions’, but promised to defend the interests of agriculture, trade and industry. Pressed for a statement on slavery, he would do no more than say that he would give his ‘most earnest and serious attention’ to ‘any favourable opportunity’ to ameliorate the condition of the slaves with a view to their eventual emancipation. During the poll, in which he came a comfortable second, he promised under questioning to
vote for every reduction of taxation consistent with the interest of the crown and the rights of the public creditor. I will support the reduction of all useless expenditure, and vote for the abolishment of every useless office, and do all in my power to keep the country out of another war.6
The Wellington ministry listed him as one of their ‘friends’, but were sufficiently unsure of him to place a query against his name; while Henry Brougham*, for the Whig opposition, named him as one of those Members who, though ‘not ... entirely pledged against the government’, were ‘well prepared to oppose it’ and had been elected in the room of ‘persons who were its firm supporters’. On 9 Nov. 1830 Norreys, whom Benjamin Disraeli† later described as a ‘cantankerous’ man,7 presented a petition for the abolition of slavery and complained that ‘for three nights I have been detained for three hours’ while Daniel O’Connell had ‘excited debate’. This outburst enraged Ruthven and Hume and prompted the Speaker, who made due allowance for Norreys’s inexperience, to give him a mild rebuke. He voted in the ministerial minority in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. He was given three weeks’ leave on account of ‘the disturbed state of his county’, where he was a captain of yeomanry, 25 Nov. On 23 Dec. 1830 he expressed the hope that the Grey government would during the recess consider and ‘find some effectual means of relieving’ the current widespread distress, as ‘that would at once render any seditious writings perfectly harmless’. In the debate on the second reading of their reform bill, 21 Mar. 1831, he claimed that he had initially intended to support it, being
fully convinced that a want of confidence in public men, and a profligate expenditure of the public money, have given the country too good a reason to cry out for reform [and] knowing it to be the ... almost unanimous wish of my constituency that this bill should pass.
However, he had subsequently decided that the measure, which would give ‘undue weight and preponderating influence to the manufacturing over the agricultural’ interest, was too sweeping, even though he approved of its proposed extension of the franchise to ‘the middling classes’. Refusing to ‘barter my opinions, to compromise my principles, to sacrifice the real and true interests of my country, for any temporary popularity, any personal gratification in the retention of my seat’, he condemned the bill and endorsed Vyvyan’s alternative measure of moderate reform.8 He voted in the hostile minority the following day, after presenting petitions in favour of the bill from Bicester and Henley. He explained his conduct to his election agents at an Oxford dinner, 9 Apr.9 He joined the city Member Hughes in unsuccessfully opposing the Wolvercot enclosure bill, 28 Mar., 13, 20 Apr. He voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr. 1831, and on the 22nd, admitting that he had done so to destroy it, condemned ministers, whose previous ‘vain and fanciful projects’ on the currency and free trade had ‘brought ruin and distress upon the country’.
Norreys stood again for Oxfordshire at the ensuing general election as a ‘sincere friend to a modified reform’, but was opposed by two new candidates, both unreserved supporters of the bill. While he was popular with the Tory undergraduates of Oxford University, the tide of county opinion was strongly against him, and he always trailed in the poll. On the hustings he denied having broken a pledge by voting against inquiry into the civil list and played the `No Popery’ card by arguing that the reform bill would give ‘a preponderating influence’ to Irish Catholic Members and be ‘prejudicial to the Protestant interests of this country’. He gave up after three days, when he was in an obviously hopeless position.10
He regained a county seat without opposition at the general election of 1832 and held it until his defeat at the polls in 1852, when he successfully contested a vacancy for Abingdon. He voted against repeal of the corn laws and the Irish coercion bill in 1846, but by 1852 was considered to be a Peelite.11 In 1835 he married the daughter of one of his Oxfordshire colleagues; according to Lady Granville, she ‘affronts the women’ and made men ‘first elated, then angry’.12 Norreys had nine children with her and succeeded his father, whose personalty was sworn under £10,000, in the peerage and the settled estates in 1854.13 A widower for 26 years, he died at his London house at 18 Grosvenor Street in February 1884. By his will, dated 10 Feb. 1876, he provided generously for his children through trust funds created by his marriage settlement.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. VCH Berks. iv. 429; VCH Oxon. vii. 171.
- 2. Add. 38265, f. 17.
- 3. Fox Jnl. 87-88.
- 4. Colchester Diary, iii. 508.
- 5. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 19, 26 June, 3, 10, 17 July; Oxford University and City Herald, 24 July 1830.
- 6. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 7, 14 Aug.; Oxford University and City Herald, 7 Aug. 1830.
- 7. Disraeli Letters, iii. 791.
- 8. Three Diaries, 70.
- 9. Oxford University, City and County Herald, 16 Apr. 1831.
- 10. Morley, Gladstone, i. 71-72; Three Diaries, 90; The Times, 27 Apr., 12, 13 May; Oxford University, City, and County Herald, 30 Apr., 7, 14 May 1831.
- 11. Dod’s Parl. Companion (1847), 213; (1850), 223; W.E. Gladstone. III: Autobiog. Memoranda, 1845-1866 (Prime Ministers’ Pprs. ser.), 114.
- 12. Countess Granville Letters, ii. 257.
- 13. PROB 11/2211/376; IR26/2020/382.