BYDE, Thomas Plumer (?1720-89), of Ware Park, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. ?1720, 1st s. of Thomas Byde of Ware Park, Herts. by his 2nd w. Catherine, da. of John Plumer of Blakesware, Herts., sis. of William Plumer sen. who m. a da. of Thomas Byde by his 1st w. educ. Westminster Apr. 1735, aged 14; Pembroke, Camb. 30 Jan. 1738 aged 17; L. Inn 1740; G. Inn 1747. m. c.1750, Eleanor Hope, 2s. 1 da. suc. fa. 1732.
In the representation of Hertfordshire Byde was preceded by his cousin and brother-in-law William Plumer senior, and followed by his nephew William Plumer junior who sat for the county 1768-1807. How he came to intervene between them is not clear; but they both voted against him in the election.1 Byde had the support of the Dissenters, and there seems to have been an element of popular support on his side. Almost one-third of his voters were plumpers, and he came out top of the poll although much fewer of the gentry voted for him than for the other two candidates.
Byde seems at no time to have been in direct touch with Newcastle, whose parliamentary whip was to be sent to him in October 1761 through James West (M.P. for St. Albans) and the Duke of Devonshire (a friend of the Plumers); and similarly in September 1762—even in November Newcastle still classed him as ‘pro’. But in December he was included by Fox among Members favourable to the peace preliminaries. In Bute’s list Byde is marked as primarily connected with Lord Harcourt, who wrote to Charles Jenkinson on 21 Nov. 1762:2
I have cultivated an acquaintance with Mr. Byde because he is a worthy man, and because I wished to see him act with Lord Bute. There was something so singularly honourable in the manner of his election, that I thought him worth attending to. I brought him to Lord Bute’s levee, the only one he was ever at, without being absolutely listed on any side. His general principle seems to be the support of the Crown, and as far as I can judge he is well disposed towards Lord Bute.
Byde was classed by Jenkinson in the autumn of 1763 as an Administration supporter, but he probably voted with the Opposition in the division of 6 Feb. 1764 on general warrants; and definitely did so on 15 Feb.3 On 16 Feb. Harcourt wrote to George Grenville:4
If I can think of any method to prevent Mr. Byde’s attendance tomorrow in Parliament, I shall most readily make use of my good offices, though I doubt of the success.
Rightly so—Byde once more voted against the Government.5
In July 1765 Rockingham classed him as ‘doubtful’; and though Byde did not vote against the repeal of the Stamp Act, Rockingham in November 1766 classed him as a ‘Tory’, whereas Newcastle in 1767 counted him among the ‘Friends of the late [Rockingham] Administration.’ In short, no one knew exactly where to place him, and he had best be considered an independent. On 27 Feb. 1767, over the land tax, Byde voted against the Government.
The reasons for Byde’s withdrawal from the representation of Hertfordshire in 1768 have not been ascertained: but William Plumer junior, writing to Newcastle on 10 Oct. 1767 about the ‘want of gentlemen here to be candidates’,6 does not even mention him as a possibility. In 1774 he contested Cambridge with the support of the ‘New Party’ whose nucleus was formed by the Dissenters, and on a joint interest with Samuel Meeke; and they both pledged themselves to oppose the Administration’s American policy, and to support enlarged toleration of the Protestant Dissenters and parliamentary reform; and in a turbulent election described by their opponents as ‘mob politics’, obtained a majority of the votes of the resident freemen, and two-fifths of the total. Byde stood again for Cambridge at the by-election of November 1776, but was badly beaten, partly owing to dissensions between him and Meeke, who had also thought of standing at the by-election.7
He seems to have retained throughout a connexion with the business community: his younger brother John had been a merchant in Lisbon and ‘a considerable sufferer’ in the earthquake of 1755, after which he returned to England, settled as a merchant in the City, and became a director of the South Sea Company.8 Byde himself never appears in the London commercial directories, but when in May 1779 he went bankrupt, he was described in the Gentleman’s Magazine (p. 272) as a banker. William Baker wrote to his mother-in-law Lady Juliana Penn on 13 Nov. 1778:9
By the folly, extravagance and knavery of my neighbour Mr. Byde our whole county, and particularly his own district, is involved in the utmost confusion and distress—indeed I suffer nothing personally, but trouble enough I shall have with others in our endeavours to retrieve the credit of our navigation trust, which, principally through his mismanagement has fallen in arrear to the amount of £2,800 annually. Hardly a farmer in his neighbourhood, but has suffered by placing money in his hands. In short it is easier to conceive than describe all the distress which this impudent and wicked man has occasioned.
Byde died at Naples 26 May 1789, ‘reduced to the most abject condition, after all the visionary speculations in his own country, and the unjustified means he pursued to realize them.’10
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Herts. poll bk. 1761.
- 2. Jucker, Jenkinson Pprs. 93.
- 3. Add. 32955, ff. 370-3 and 483-5.
- 4. Grenville mss (JM).
- 5. Add. 38337, f. 193: Jenkinson’s ‘List of Persons who voted with the minority on the 17 Feb. 1764 who are friends or nearly so’.
- 6. Add. 32986, ff. 48-49.
- 7. See D. Cook, ‘Rep. Hist. County, Town and University of Cambridge’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1935), p. 151.
- 8. About him see Jucker, 87-88, 93-94; also his letter to Bute, 21 Aug. 1762, Add. 5726, B. f. 14, C. f. 109.
- 9. See Namier, England in the Age of the American Revolution, 13, n. 2. Sir Lewis Namier saw that letter among the manuscripts then in the possession of Mr. H. Clinton-Baker, of Bayfordbury, Herts.; the letters from William Baker to Lady Juliana Penn are not among the Baker mss on deposit in the Herts. RO.
- 10. Gent. Mag. 1789, p. 669.