BROUGHAM, James (1780-1833), of 9 King’s Bench Walk, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1826 - 1830
1830 - July 1831
15 July 1831 - 1832
1832 - 22 Dec. 1833

Family and Education

b. 16 Jan. 1780,1 2nd s. of Henry Brougham (d. 1810) of Brougham Hall, Westmld. and Eleanor, da. of Rev. James Syme, minister of Alloa, Clackmannan; bro. of Henry Peter Brougham* and William Brougham*. educ. Edinburgh h.s.; Edinburgh Univ.; L. Inn 1807, called 1816. unm. d. 22 Dec. 1833.

Offices Held

Clerk of patents and registrar of affidavits in chancery July 1832-Aug.1833.


Brougham was the second son of a Westmorland squire of ‘small fortune very much burdened’, who had married a niece of the Scottish historian William Robertson. He was raised and educated in Edinburgh, where he took Hume’s course in Scottish Cuo law in 1798 and joined the Speculative Society with his maverick brother Henry, 16 months his senior. Eschewing early ambitions to become an army agent or serve in the East or West Indies, he attended the court of session as a trainee advocate, before accompanying his friends Francis Horner† and William Murray to London in 1803, where he studied English law. He acted as agent for his father’s Brougham Hall estate near Penrith and devoted himself to furthering Henry’s political and legal career, with which his own was inextricably mixed.2 Following his father’s death, he persuaded his mother to move to Brougham Hall and liaised with the Cumberland and Westmorland Blues to create the opportunity for Henry’s highly publicized challenges to the Tory Lowthers in Westmorland at the general elections of 1818, 1820 and 1826. He attended to all local arrangements, including freeholder creations, and acquired a formidable reputation as an electioneer.3

As Queen Caroline’s attorney-general, Henry employed him to monitor the activities of the 1819 Milan commission, and his confidential report that she and Bergami were ‘to all appearance man and wife’ and likely to agree to remain abroad in return for an annuity and her legal separation from the prince regent (George IV) was fundamental to the abortive negotiations on her behalf in 1819 and 1820. He returned to Pesaro in July 1820 to prepare witnesses in her defence when the Lords prosecuted her by means of a bill of pains and penalties.4 The treasury afterwards disputed his claims for 3,000 guineas in counsel’s fees and £1,875 expenses.5 Recommending him in August 1821 for appointment as the Whig Lord Grosvenor’s auditor in recompense, Henry observed:

He has been much injured by my politics and especially by election matters in these northern parts ... He is a barrister and well acquainted with business generally having been formerly a solicitor, but his particular skill has of late years been in farming and all country matters, in which I certainly never yet knew his equal.6

The application failed and Brougham suffered a fresh blow in 1822 when he was implicated through prior knowledge in the fatal duel in Fife, 27 Mar., between the Tory Sir Alexander Boswell* and the Whig James Stuart, which had been provoked by political libels in the Sentinel and the Beacon. Brougham had suggested that Stuart should make the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed the venue to avoid prosecution.7 When the Whig Sir James Mackintosh* described him in August 1823 as ‘a plain sensible young man who has been much abroad’ and whose ‘manner is more Scottish than his brother’s’, Henry was intriguing to bring him into Parliament, where he had recently been employed drafting legislation.8 He was elected to Brooks’s Club, 2 Mar. 1824; and as the Whig 10th earl of Thanet had turned him down for Appleby, he contested his brother’s patron Lord Darlington’s borough of Tregony at the general election of 1826. Election committees ruled in favour of his return, 29 Nov. 1826, 23 Mar. 1827.9

Brougham was essentially a silent Member, valued by few besides Henry, whom he briefed on ‘mischief’-making among the Whigs. He divided in their minorities on the Clarence grant, 16 Feb., the Barrackpoor mutiny, 22 Mar., and the spring guns bill, 23 Mar., and voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar 1827. He divided for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May. Financed by the Canning ministry, to which Henry had pledged support, he assisted the Blues in Carlisle at the August 1827 by-election, when his younger brother William was mooted as a candidate, but they failed to take a second seat.10 He corresponded with Grey’s brother-in-law Edward Ellice* during the political turmoil following Canning’s death, and was turned down for minor legal office and criticized ‘without reserve’ by his patron’s wife Lady Cleveland when Henry conducted negotiations with the Goderich ministry that autumn.11 He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and presented a favourable Westmorland petition, 18 Mar. 1828. He voted against sluicing the franchise at East Retford, 21 Mar., divided for Catholic relief, 12 May, and was directed to prepare and introduce a voter registration bill, 22 May. He also voted against regulating the assessment of Irish lessors, 12 June, the archbishop of Canterbury’s bill, 16 June, and the Wellington ministry’s expenditure proposals, 23 June, 4, 7 July 1828. A by-election in Carlisle delayed his return for the 1829 session.12 He divided for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., and voted to permit Daniel O’Connell to sit without swearing the oaths, 18 May. He voted for Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform scheme, 2 June. The death in Boulogne that summer of his brother John, an Edinburgh wine merchant who was evading his creditors, challenged Brougham as his guarantor and joint-bondholder and strained his finances.13 Henry vacated at Winchelsea in January 1830 to sit unhampered following Cleveland’s defection to the Wellington ministry, and James’s only known votes that session were for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and abolition of the navy treasurer’s salary, 10 May, and the Irish lord lieutenancy, 11 May. He received two weeks’ leave on urgent private business, 8 Mar. Before the general election in August 1830 he negotiated a pact between Henry, Lord Lonsdale and Thanet, to which Lords Lauderdale and Radnor were party, whereby Carlisle, Cumberland and Westmorland were uncontested and his own return for Radnor’s borough of Downton assured. 14

Naturally counted among the Wellington ministry’s ‘foes’, he assisted his brother to host a Whig dinner, 7 Nov. 1830, briefed their Commons leader Lord Althorp on Henry’s proposed parliamentary reform motion, 12 Nov., and went to hear it announced to their friends.15 He voted to bring down the government on the civil list, 15 Nov., and cautioned Henry against refusing the lord chancellorship and a peerage under Lord Grey, lest it should jeopardize the formation of a reform ministry.16 He presented petitions for the abolition of colonial slavery from Downton, 10 Nov., and Kelso, 20 Dec. 1830, and moved to Henry’s town house in Hill Street that month as his personal secretary, entrusted with overseeing the party’s election strategy.17 Summoned by Althorp, he divided for their reform bill at its second reading, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.18 On 23 Mar. he presented petitions from Kendal and several places in Scotland for reform and tithe limitation and against the vestries bill. He was named as a putative candidate for Westmorland at the general election in May and was peeved not to be requisitioned.19 Although returned for Downton, he was obliged to make way there for Philip Pleydell Bouverie and, to Henry’s consternation, Ellice as patronage secretary had difficulty finding him a seat; he was refused Bletchingley, Higham Ferrers and Malton before being accommodated at Winchelsea by Cleveland, who had declared for reform. 20

Brougham paired for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, and generally divided for its details with his brother William, who sat for Southwark, but his votes for the disfranchisement of Saltash, which ministers no longer pressed, 26 July, and the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. 1831, were wayward ones. Drawing on his local knowledge, he defended the proposed disfranchisement of Appleby and disputed the anti-reformers’ claims that its boundaries had been misrepresented, 19 July. He divided for the reform bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He voted for the revised reform bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, consistently for its details, and for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He voted for the address requesting the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. ‘Being too unwell to remain all night in the House’, he only paired for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May. He voted against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June.21 He divided with administration on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. 1831, the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, Portugal, 9 Feb., and the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. 1832. He defended the decision to impose a 12-year limit on the Highbury Place road bill, in which Henry, as counsel, had a vested interest, 3 Apr. He voted to make coroners’ inquests public, 20 June 1832. His appointment by Henry to chancery sinecures worth £2,450 a year on the death of William Henry John Scott*, Lord Eldon’s son, was attacked in both Houses, 27-29 July 1832, and the attendant pension rights were waived.22 His re-election for Winchelsea that month was a formality.

Preparations for his return for the newly enfranchised borough of Kendal had been in train since June 1831, and his election in December 1832, when he made slavery, church rates, the East India Company’s monopoly, retrenchment and a fixed duty on foreign grains his political priorities, was uncontested.23 By August 1833, when he engaged in a high profile tithe dispute with Lonsdale, his health had collapsed, his sinecure had been abolished and he was being pursued for debts of over £6,000.24 His death on 22 Dec. 1833, unmarried and intestate, prompted fears for Henry’s sanity and caused Thomas Creevey* to comment caustically:

His ... influence over ... [Lord Brougham] was as unbounded as it was miraculous, for no one ever discovered the slightest particle of talent in James of any kind. That he was his secret instrument, spy or anything else upon every occasion, I am quite sure.25

To attack Lord Brougham, some of James’s early obituarists shared this view.26 Disagreeing, the lord chancellor’s biographers have highlighted James’s successful role as a ‘contact, correspondent, and copyist with politicians, the press and clients’ and the support he gave his brother.27 He was buried in the family vault in Skelton, Cumberland. William as ‘executor qua nearest in kin’ administered his estate and debts comprising £7,680 in joint bonds (with his brothers) and a similar sum accumulated in 1825 through trusteeships and speculation in the Edinburgh Gas and Oil Company and joint-stock concerns. These Henry repaid to avoid the embarrassment of a gazetted bankruptcy.28

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. P. Brougham Wyly, A Gathering of Broughams, ii. 22-23.
  • 2. Brougham and his Early Friends, i. 325-30; ii. 44; iii. 207; Brougham mss, J. Brougham to fa. 13 Dec. 1804-12 Dec. 1809.
  • 3. Westmld. Advertiser, 28 Dec. 1833; W.A. Hay, The Whig Revival, 1808-1830, pp. 67-90, 113.
  • 4. Brougham mss, J. Brougham to Lord Stewart, 7, 16 Oct., 7 Nov. 1820; F. Hawes, Henry Brougham, 123-4, 141-2, 157.
  • 5. Brougham mss, J. Brougham to Vizard, Mar.-Aug. 1821, draft memos. ‘employment in the queen’s affairs - suggested remuneration’.
  • 6. Bessborough mss, H. Brougham to Duncannon [31 Aug. 1821].
  • 7. Brougham mss, ‘J. Brougham’s account of his knowledge of the Boswell-Stewart duel’; The Times, 1-5, 30 Apr., 14, 15, 19 June 1822.
  • 8. Add. 52445, f. 137; Bessborough mss, H. Brougham to Duncannon [4 Mar. 1823]; NLW, Vivian mss 1025-1026, 1028.
  • 9. Brougham mss, Sir J.R.G. Graham to Brougham, 25 July 1825, Darlington to same, 3 Dec. 1826; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 6 Sept. 1825; The Times, 27 May, 6 June; Lonsdale mss, Beckett to Lowther, 7 June 1826; Hopetoun mss 167, f. 18.
  • 10. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 23, 26, 30 July, 6, 14, 27 Aug.; Brougham mss, J. Brougham to Atkinson, 1, 11-16 Aug. 1827.
  • 11. NLS mss 24748, f. 58; Brougham mss, Ellice to J. Brougham, 9 Sept.; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 6 Oct. 1827.
  • 12. Cumb. Pacquet, 23, 30 Dec.; Brougham mss, Sir W. Scott to J. Brougham, 28 Dec. and [Dec.] 1828; The Times, 17, 21 Feb. 1829.
  • 13. Brougham mss, ‘J. Brougham’s memo. of 30 Nov. 1829’.
  • 14. Creevey mss, Sefton to Creevey, 30 Jan.; Lonsdale mss, bdle. on 1830 election; Wilts. RO, Radnor mss 490/1374, Radnor’s memo. 9 July, Shaw Lefevre to Radnor, 10 July, Pleydell Bouverie to same, 10 July 1830.
  • 15. Add. 56555, ff. 42-44; Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 12 Nov. 1830.
  • 16. Brougham mss, W. Brougham, ‘Notes of what took place at No. 5 Hill Street, Nov. 1830’.
  • 17. Brougham mss, J. Brougham to Atkinson [Jan.] and corresp. with Abercromby, Ellice, Ord and Sugden, Feb. 1831-May 1832.
  • 18. Ibid. Althorp to J. Brougham, 7 Apr. 1831.
  • 19. Westmld. Advertiser, 2 Apr.; Brougham mss, J. Brougham to Brougham, 4 May, to Atkinson, 12 May 1831.
  • 20. Brougham mss, Radnor to Brougham, 28 Apr., 19 July, Ellice to same 26 July and undated [1831]; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, ?29 Apr., 2, 4, 6, 16 May; Add. 51562, Brougham to Holland [?4 June 1831]; A. Aspinall, Lord Brougham and the Whig Party, 192-3.
  • 21. The Times, 30 May 1832.
  • 22. Brougham mss, Horne to Sugden [27 July], J. Brougham to Atkinson, 1 Aug. 1832; Greville Mems. ii. 313-15; C.P. Cooper, Refutation of ... the calumnies against the lord chancellor (1833); The Times, 13 Jan. 1834.
  • 23. Brougham mss, corresp. of J. Brougham with J. Atkinson and the Wakefields, 1831-2; Westmld. Advertiser, 9, 16 June, 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 24. The Times, 27 Sept. 1832; Brougham mss, J. to W. Brougham, 19, 22 Aug. [Aug.] 1833.
  • 25. Three Diaries, 377; Creevey Pprs. 613; Life of Campbell, i. 423.
  • 26. The Times, 25, 27, 31 Dec.; Morning Chron. 23 Dec. 1833.
  • 27. T.H. Ford, Chancellor Brougham and his World, 227-8; Hawes, 250.
  • 28. Perry’s Bankrupt and Insolvent Gazette (1833), 12; Brougham mss, ‘Memo. regarding the affairs in Scotland of the late James Brougham’.