BECKFORD, William (1760-1844), of Fonthill, Wilts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1784 - 1790
1790 - Dec. 1794
1806 - 1820

Family and Education

b. 29 Sept. 1760, o. legit. s. of William Beckford. educ. private tutor; Grand Tour 1780-1. m. 5 May 1783, Lady Margaret Gordon, da. of Charles, 4th Earl of Aboyne [S], 2da.

Offices Held


On attaining his majority, Beckford was content to leave his parliamentary patronage in the hands of his guardian, Lord Chancellor Thurlow. He had no immediate wish to turn Lloyd Kenyon out of his Hindon seat, and so enter the Commons. ‘What use can such a being as me be of in our boisterous Parliament? ... Age will soon draw on, and the gay texture be shrivelled. Then I will mump, growl, snarl, bite, and be political’, he wrote on 30 Aug. 1781.1 The visit made by Lord Shelburne for his coming-of-age, ‘in view of fixing or drawing young Beckford into his party’, was in vain.2 He regarded politics with detachment, expressed only his loyalty to the King, and spent much of his time on the continent. In a draft letter, 19 Jan. 1784, he commented: ‘England is in a glorious uproar. I do nothing but elect and re-elect Mr. Kenyon for Hindon—but feel no vocation to lift up my own voice in the land.’3 Nevertheless, on 2 Apr. he wrote to Thurlow from Paris: ‘My health being greatly re-established, I am much inclined to sit in Parliament,’ evidently with a view to obtaining a peerage, an ‘object’ already entrusted to Thurlow.4 As arrangements had been made to return Edward Bearcroft for Hindon, Beckford came in for Wells (which his maternal grandfather had represented) in place of John Curtis nominated at Saltash, where Beckford was financing the attempt of John Buller jun. to break the Government’s hold.5

Though it has been stated that Beckford did not take his seat before 1807,6 there is evidence of earlier attendance: on 6 May 1784 he wrote to his cousin, Louisa Beckford, that he would visit her, ‘if I can spare a few days from the joys of the House of Commons’.7 Yet immediately he was elected, he pressed Thurlow about the peerage;8 and newspapers already included his name in the list of forthcoming creations,9 when in October 1784 accusations of homosexual behaviour ruined his prospects. He went abroad in July 1785, returned for two months in January 1787 after his wife’s death, and, banished by his family, made a lengthy stay in Portugal and Spain.

In June 1788 the Buller-Beckford candidate for Saltash was seated on petition. This gave control of the borough to Buller, who had agreed with Beckford to let him have the the nomination to one seat during his lifetime.10 Although Beckford was in England for the last eight months of the Parliament, there is no evidence of his having attended. No speech or vote of his is recorded before 1790. His nominees supported the Administration throughout this period.

He died 2 May 1844.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. L. Melville, Life Letters of Wm. Beckford, 119.
  • 2. Mems. Bentham, x. 107.
  • 3. G. Chapman, Beckford (2nd ed.), 326, But on p. 171 Prof. Chapman gives a different version of the passage: ‘I think it will not be long before I lift up my own voice in the land’.
  • 4. J. W. Oliver, Wm. Beckford, 194. See also a letter from Thurlow in Melville, 185-7 (dated by Melville ‘April 1784’, but clearly December 1783).
  • 5. I. R. Christie, ‘Private Patronage versus Government Influence’, EHR, 1956, pp. 249-55.
  • 6. Chapman, 280.
  • 7. Cat. Autog. Letters Coll. Alfred Morrison A-B, 189.
  • 8. Thurlow to Beckford, 14 Apr. 1784, Melville, 229.
  • 9. Morning Intelligencer, 1 Oct. 1784; Morning Chron. 9 Oct. 1784.
  • 10. Christie, 225 n.