CECIL, Lord Thomas (1797-1873), of Burghley House, Northants.

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



1818 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 1 Jan. 1797, 2nd s. of Henry Cecil†, 1st mq. of Exeter (d. 1804), and 2nd w. Sarah, da. of Thomas Hoggins, farmer, of the Old Rectory, Bolas Magna, Salop. educ. Eton; St. John’s, Camb. 1815. m. 8 Aug. 1838, Lady Sophia Lennox, da. of Charles Lennox†, 4th duke of Richmond, s.p. d. 29 Nov. 1873.

Offices Held

Cornet 10 Drag. 1817, lt. 1820; capt. 76 Ft 1822; capt. 10 Drag. 1822, maj. 1827, lt.-col. 1833, half-pay 1838; col. 1846.


Cecil continued to sit for the pocket borough of Stamford on the interest of his elder brother the 2nd marquess of Exeter. At the 1820 general election he was returned unopposed in absentia, on account of ‘being out of health’.1 As a career soldier he was stationed in the United Kingdom for all of his service except for a brief period in 1827, when he went on the expedition to Portugal. The historian of the 10th Hussars noted that his parliamentary duties ‘took him away from his regiment to a certain degree’, but he evidently ‘attended very seldom’.2 He was granted a week’s leave on urgent private business, 23 June 1820. He voted in defence of the Liverpool ministry’s conduct on the Queen Caroline affair, 6 Feb. 1821. He divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., and the concomitant disfranchisement of the Irish 40s. freeholders, 9 May 1825. He voted against more extensive tax reductions, 11 Feb., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822. He cast no recorded votes in 1823 and 1824. That year Cecil, who by his father’s will had been entitled to the manor of Tinwell in Rutland or £20,000 plus interest, agreed with his brother to relinquish the former in return for the money.3 He divided for suppression of the Catholic Association, 25 Feb., and the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 10 June 1825. No trace of parliamentary activity has been found for 1826. At that year’s general election he stood again for Stamford, citing ‘his unabated attachment to the constitution in church and state’ and support for the government’s recent ‘diminution of taxes’, which had assisted ‘the general prosperity of the country’. He was again returned unopposed.4 His first recorded vote of the Parliament was against Catholic claims, 12 May 1828. In late February 1829 Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, listed him among those ‘opposed to the principle’ of Catholic emancipation. He presented hostile petitions, 4, 9 Mar., and voted accordingly, 6, 18, 23, 27, 30 Mar. 1829.5 He divided against the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr. 1830. He presented Stamford petitions against the northern roads bill and voted against its second reading, 3 June. At a meeting of the Stamford committee opposed to the bill, he was thanked for his ‘zealous opposition’, 7 June 1830.6

At the 1830 general election he offered again for Stamford, where his brother’s control was challenged by Charles Tennyson, the independently minded former Member for Bletchingley. On the hustings, 30 July, he told an incredulous crowd, ‘I offer myself free and independent of party’, before pledging his support for the ministry. Under cross-examination, he denied that he had ‘acted injuriously to the poor’ and demanded that his opponents prove it. Challenged about his failure to support the beer bill, he claimed to have given it his backing. He repudiated the charge that unfair means were being used to secure his return, retorting that it was his opponents who were employing underhand tactics. He headed the poll throughout and at his victory dinner, 12 Aug., contended that ‘the electors of Stamford had been humbugged’ by Tennyson.7 Ministers of course listed him among their ‘friends’, and he duly voted with them on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He voted against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he stood again, saying he was ‘hostile to all innovations of the constitution’.8 Faced with another challenge by Tennyson, at the nomination he explained that although he was ‘a decided enemy to the reform bill’, he was ‘not an enemy to that reform which is requisite for the increased population of this country’, and warned that the expectations which people had of the bill would ‘never be realized’. He added that the existing constitution had prevented Britain from suffering a ‘dreadful insurrection’ and that Britain had never been more prosperous, and condemned the bill’s proposed reduction of the number of English Members when the population of the country was increasing. Only Tennyson’s intervention secured him a tolerable hearing, but on declaring that ‘it was an incorrect assertion that I and my colleague are returned to Parliament by the marquess of Exeter’, uproar ensued, and he was forced to abandon his speech. He led the poll throughout, but despite Tennyson’s return in second place, at the declaration insisted that most electors were opposed to this ‘monstrous reform bill’ and warned that if it passed it would result in destructive revolution. His words provoked a tumult, from which he was forced to retreat. In his published address, he promised to oppose reform unless it ‘could be obtained with a due consideration to vested rights [and] will improve, and not subvert, the happy constitution under which we dwell’.9 On 3 June 1831 he wrote to Tennyson accusing him of using the words ‘an execrable man’ and ‘tyrant’ to describe his brother during the campaign, and to demand a public retraction.10 Tennyson denied using the words ‘execrable man’, but admitted that in the heat of the moment he might have used the word ‘tyrant’, though only in relation to Exeter’s electoral interference, which he did not consider personally disrespectful. Cecil reluctantly accepted this apology, but on 6 June was enraged by reports of Tennyson’s speech at Oakham, 31 May, in which he had accused Exeter of ‘invading the rights of the people’.11 Cecil again demanded an apology, which Tennyson refused, saying that the eviction of tenants on account of their votes was an invasion of their rights. Cecil then demanded that Tennyson send a representative to see his friend Colonel Standen, ‘who will arrange the only alternative left me’. Tennyson’s emissary William Leader Maberly*, however, refused to sanction a duel on the grounds that Tennyson had ‘a constitutional right’ to use the words he did. At his victory dinner in Stamford, 14 June, Cecil alleged that since Tennyson had come to Stamford, ‘a system of hostility to my family, expressed for the most part in terms of the grossest nature, has been carried on’.12 This prompted Tennyson to demand a retraction from Cecil, who refused until their former dispute was settled. Tennyson therefore agreed to meet and on 18 June 1831 they exchanged shots at Wormwood Scrubs. Neither was injured and both professed themselves satisfied. They were taken into custody, but the matter was dropped ‘as the parties were reconciled’.13

Cecil voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and its passage, 21 Sept. 1831. He divided against the third reading of the revised bill, 22 Mar., and paired against the second reading of the Irish measure, 25 May 1832.14 He voted against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July. At the 1832 dissolution he stood down, having made no known contribution to debate in 14 years as a Member. He became lieutenant-colonel of his regiment in 1833, a position he held until he retired on half-pay in 1838. On the day he was promoted to full colonel in 1846 he sold out of the army. The regimental historian observed in 1891:

Besides his excellent qualities, a good drill and a strict disciplinarian, he was a fine horseman, and a most forward rider in the hunting field. He rode in the first Grand Military steeplechase in Ireland when major of the regiment, and won the race, carrying the well-known Exeter colours.15

Cecil died in November 1873. By his will, dated 19 Oct. 1871, he bequeathed to his wife all his personal property, £12,000 and the income derived from the residue of his estate. When his wife died in 1902, his great-great-nephew, William, 5th marquess of Exeter, inherited £62,614, the capital of his residuary estate.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Martin Casey / Philip Salmon


  • 1. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 10 Mar. 1820.
  • 2. R.S. Liddell, 10th R. Hussars, 218; Black Bk. (1823), 19; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 455.
  • 3. Exeter mss Ex44/2.
  • 4. Drakard’s Stamford News, 16 June 1826.
  • 5. Ibid. 13 Mar. 1829.
  • 6. Ibid. 11 June 1830.
  • 7. Ibid. 8, 13 Aug. 1830.
  • 8. Stamford Herald, 29 Apr. 1831.
  • 9. Drakard’s Stamford News, 6 May 1831.
  • 10. Unless otherwise stated, this section is based on Lincs. AO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H22, the ‘Duel corresp.’
  • 11. Drakard’s Stamford News, 3 June 1831.
  • 12. Stamford Herald, 17 June 1831.
  • 13. Drakard’s Stamford News, 24 June 1831.
  • 14. The Times, 29 May 1832.
  • 15. Liddell, 218.