SEYMOUR, Edward Adolphus, Lord Seymour (1804-1885), of 18 Spring Gardens, Mdx.

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

Constituency

Dates

1830 - 1831
17 Feb. 1834 - 15 Aug. 1855

Family and Education

b. 20 Dec. 1804, 1st s. of Edward Adolphus, 11th duke of Somerset, and 1st w. Lady Charlotte Hamilton, da. of Archibald Hamilton†, 9th duke of Hamilton [S]. educ. Eton 1817-21; Christ Church, Oxf. 1823; European tour. m. 10 June 1830, Jane Georgiana, da. of Thomas Sheridan, paymaster at Cape of Good Hope, 2s. d.v.p. 3da. suc. fa. as 12th duke of Somerset 15 Aug. 1855; KG 21 May 1862; cr. Earl Saint Maur 19 June 1863. d. 28 Nov. 1885.

Offices Held

Ld. of treasury Apr. 1835-Nov. 1839; sec. to bd. of control Sept. 1839-June 1841; under-sec. of state for home affairs June-Sept. 1841; first commr. of woods Apr. 1850-Oct. 1851, of works and public buildings Oct. 1851-Mar. 1852; PC 23 Oct. 1851; first ld. of admiralty June 1859-July 1866.

Commr. of lunacy 1836-52; gov. R. Naval Coll. Portsmouth 1859-66; ld. lt. Devon 1861-d.

Biography

Seymour’s father was a lifelong devotee of science and mathematics, a knowledgeable antiquarian and historian, and a member and patron of learned societies. Credited with ‘great amiability of temper and gentleness of manners’, he was reputedly henpecked by his Scottish wife, who carried domestic penny-pinching to ‘a very extraordinary length’. His politics were Whig, though his heart was not much in them. He made an unsuccessful bid for household office in 1796 and hankered after a blue ribbon, which he eventually obtained from Lord Melbourne’s ministry in 1837.1 Seymour’s education was carefully attended to, and he inherited his father’s intellectual curiosity, particularly for things mechanical. He was a bright but indolent boy, as his mother noted in 1815:

He has a great deal of curiosity upon every subject and delights in receiving information, but can’t bear the trouble of acquiring it from books ... He is very quick, extremely idle, and can’t bear the least trouble, but his mind is activity itself. You would be surprised at the questions he asks, and the subjects upon which he reasons, the more so as his manner is particularly childish ... His character is very downright and open, and I think too much destitute of pride and ambition. I should like a little of the former and a great deal of the latter.

Three years later Somerset expressed concern about his son’s character, observing that ‘his levity and facility are not suited to this country. An Eton education seems the most likely to make him manly ... [but] if it does not, I do not know what else to do for him’. The regime at Eton apparently did the trick. Shortly before going to Oxford in 1823 Seymour had the idea of accompanying his father’s friend Charles Babbage, the mathematical inventor, on his tour of the manufacturing districts, to examine the ‘engines and machinery’ which fascinated him, but practical difficulties put paid to the plan.2 After leaving Oxford he travelled extensively in Europe, including Russia and Germany. Henry Fox*, who met him in Rome, found him to be a ‘simple, unaffected, sensible young man; I was rather prepossessed by his manners. He seems to have a desire of improving his knowledge’.3 His amorous exploits and marital prospects created gossip. Early in 1828 Lady Holland, rejoicing that he had ‘escaped the toils’ of the dowager countess of Sandwich and the ‘brazen, hoydenish, old, rouged coquette’ Mlle. D’Este, illegitimate daughter of the duke of Sussex, wrote that ‘he is a person to be very happy with, and might with good connections become something remarkable; but it will depend upon the characters of the persons he is allied with’. In April 1830 Eleanor Fazakerley reported that he was ‘paying prodigious attention’ to one of the daughters of Cuthbert Ellison, the wealthy Member for Newcastle, but added that ‘he is such a systematic flirt, that till he proposes to some girl I shall never believe he means anything’.4 Soon afterwards he married ‘the most lovely woman in England’, Georgy Sheridan, one of the three attractive granddaughters of the dramatist (one of the others became Caroline Norton, who achieved notoriety as Melbourne’s mistress). She was ‘exquisitely beautiful’, with ‘clusters of the darkest hair and the most brilliant complexion [and] a contour of face perfectly ideal’. In 1839 she presided as ‘Queen of Beauty’ at the Eglinton Castle tournament.5

Seymour had joined Brooks’s Club, 28 Feb. 1827. He attended the Devon county meeting called to petition Parliament against Catholic emancipation, 16 Jan. 1829, when he seconded a pro-Catholic amendment and made what Lady Holland described as ‘a good speech’ on ‘the liberal side’, although he was eventually shouted down. He told a subsequent dinner meeting that no one was ‘more zealous’ than he in support of the principle of emancipation.6 At the general election of 1830 he was returned for Okehampton on the Savile interest, which had been arranged for some time. Lady Seymour noted that he was ‘very anxious to get into Parliament’ and that ‘his whole soul is in politics’; though he was ‘very shy, he does not mind, but rather likes, speaking’.7 The duke of Wellington’s ministry listed him as one of their ‘foes’, and he duly voted against them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. However, he was a conspicuous absentee from the Devon meetings on parliamentary reform in November 1830 and March 1831.8 On 4 Mar. he caused a stir by speaking ‘fantastically against’ the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which he condemned as the product of ‘the law of popularity’. He announced that he had ‘left the side of the House on which I have usually sat, and taken my place among those who, looking to the preservation of the constitution, the security of the throne, and the permanent good of the people, reject rash and revolutionary measures’. While Greville thought his ‘defection’ was ‘unexpected’, the duke of Bedford was not surprised by it.9 Seymour divided against the bill’s second reading, 22 Mar., and presented an Okehampton petition against disfranchisement, 13 Apr., but he voted with the government against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He did not stand at the ensuing general election, when two firm anti-reformers came in for Okehampton.10

His father supported the reform bills in the Lords, and in the summer of 1832 Lord Grey considered Lord Ebrington’s* suggestion that Seymour might be a suitable candidate for elevation to that House, acknowledging that ‘the duke of Somerset is entitled to every consideration from us, and it must also be my wish, as it is my interest, to conciliate Lord Seymour’.11 Nothing came of this, and in 1834 he was returned for Totnes, which lay near his father’s Berry Pomeroy estate. He was soon a junior minister and subsequently held cabinet office in the Liberal administrations of Russell and Palmerston. He succeeded to his father’s dukedom in 1855. Benjamin Disraeli† credited him with ‘great talent, which develops itself in a domestic circle’, though he was ‘otherwise shy’ and had ‘bad manners’. His friend John Cam Hobhouse* considered him to be ‘a much more clever man than his look and manners would induce anyone to believe’, and Lady Holland maintained that ‘there cannot be a more estimable and agreeable man’.12 He died in November 1885 and was succeeded in turn by his brothers Archibald Henry Algernon (1810-91), and Algernon Percy Banks (1813-94).

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: David R. Fisher / Terry Jenkins

Notes

See Letters, Remains and Mems. of 12th duke of Somerset ed. W.H. Mallock and Lady G. Ramsden, which prints correspondence now in Bucks. RO, Bulstrode mss D/RA/A.

  • 1. Based on Gent. Mag. (1855), ii. 425-6; H. St. Maur, Annals of Seymours, 338-40; Farington Diary, x. 3572; xiv. 4911; Faraday Corresp. ed. F. James, i. 327, 347, 473; Later Corresp. Geo. III, ii. 1470; iv. 2837; v. 3966; Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1469; Add. 37183-6, passim.
  • 2. Somerset Letters, 6-10; St. Maur, 342; Two Brothers, 207, 210, 220, 261; Add. 37183, ff. 66, 68.
  • 3. Broughton, Recollections, iii. 260; Fox Jnl. 244.
  • 4. Lady Holland to Son, 128; Add. 52011, Mrs. Fazakerley to Fox, 14 Apr. 1830.
  • 5. Broughton, Recollections, iv. 27; v. 82; Von Neumann Diary, i. 211; Disraeli Letters, i. 234; iii. 992; Howard Sisters, 160-2, 173.
  • 6. Western Times, 17 Jan. 1829; Lady Holland to Son, 94.
  • 7. Western Times, 7 Aug. 1830; Somerset Letters, 24, 28.
  • 8. Western Times, 27 Nov. 1830, 19 Mar. 1831.
  • 9. Greville Mems. ii. 127; Add. 51576, Fazakerley to Holland [4 Mar.]; 51670, Bedford to Lady Holland [6 Mar. 1831].
  • 10. Western Times, 7 May 1831.
  • 11. Devon RO, Earl Fortescue mss 1262M/FC88, Grey to Ebrington, 19 Aug.