BRETT, Charles (c.1715-99), of Greenwich, Kent

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



1768 - Nov. 1776
25 Nov. 1776 - 1780
16 Apr. 1782 - 1784
1784 - 1790

Family and Education

b. c.1715, prob. s. of Capt Timothy Brett, R.N. m. 1753, Elizabeth Hooker of Greenwich, gd.-da. and h. of Sir William Hooker, s.p.

Offices Held

Paymaster of the navy July 1766-Jan. 1770; ld. of Admiralty Mar. 1782-Apr. 1783, Dec. 1783-July 1788.


Brett came of a naval family: both he and his brother, John, were naval officers, and another brother, Timothy, was comptroller of accounts in the Navy office. The stages of Charles Brett’s naval promotions have not been ascertained. In 1747 he was flag lieutenant to Admiral Boscawen in the East Indies, and in 1755 was in charge of Portsmouth dockyard.1 He probably left the navy soon after his marriage, by which he inherited property in London and Middlesex.

In his will2, dated 24 Feb. 1795, he refers to Boscawen as ‘my late worthy friend and patron’. After Boscawen’s death he became connected with Lord Howe, was appointed paymaster of the navy when Howe became its treasurer, and left office with him in January 1770. Possibly he also owed to Howe his seat at Lostwithiel, where he sat on Lord Edgcumbe’s interest. During his first three years in the House no vote or speech by him is recorded; but later he became a frequent speaker, and his name appears in most division lists for the period. Nearly all his speeches were short and on points of business; he rarely spoke on political questions.

In Robinson’s first survey on the royal marriage bill, March 1772, Brett was classed as ‘doubtful, present’; in the second as ‘pro, present’. For the remainder of this Parliament he was a Government supporter, although he voted against them on the naval captains’ petition, 9 Feb. 1773, which Howe sponsored, and on Grenville’s Act, 25 Feb. 1774. The first sign of his turning against Administration was on 11 Dec. 1775, when he spoke against extending the American prohibitory bill to Georgia.3 In November 1776 he vacated his seat at Lostwithiel, and was returned on the Government interest for Sandwich—at that time the Howes were high in Government favour. But on 18 Apr. 1777 Brett voted with the Opposition on the civil list, as he did henceforth in every recorded division of this Parliament with one doubtful exception: in Robinson’s list of the division on the contractors bill, 12 Feb. 1779, he is listed as ‘pro, absent’—almost certainly a mistake. Brett did not speak on the inquiry into the conduct of the Howes in America, nor on any question concerning military or naval operations. At the general election of 1780 he stood at Sandwich against two Government candidates, and was defeated.

Brett was appointed to the Admiralty Board under the second Rockingham Administration, and brought into Parliament for Dartmouth at Howe’s recommendation. He voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, left office with Shelburne, and voted against Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783. In Pitt’s Administration he was again at the Admiralty Board under Howe, and became one of its principal spokesmen in the Commons. He left office with Howe in 1788, but voted with Pitt on the Regency.

He died, ‘far advanced in years’,4 on 10 Feb. 1799. He left his property to his nephew John, son of his brother John Brett; and in default of his heirs to the son of John Leveson Gower, formerly his colleague at the Admiralty Board, who had married Boscawen’s daughter.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. C. Aspinall-Oglander, Admiral’s Wife, 57, 158.
  • 2. PCC 94 Howe.
  • 3. Almon, iii. 282.
  • 4. Gent. Mag. 1799, p. 173.