DUNCOMBE, Henry (1728-1818), of Copgrove, nr. Knaresborough, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. 1728, 3rd s. of Thomas Duncombe of Duncombe Park by Sarah, da. of Sir Thomas Slingsby, 4th Bt., of Scriven. educ. Westminster 1737-45; Lincoln, Oxf. 1745; M. Temple 1747. unm.
Henry Duncombe was one of the Yorkshire gentlemen who in September 1770 called a meeting to consider what further measures should be taken about petitioning the Crown on the Middlesex election. ‘At our meeting I had the misfortune to differ from my associates’, he wrote to Christopher Wyvill in December 1779, ‘as things seemed then to me to carry too much the air of a party spirit which I totally disclaimed.’1In 1779 he made this his excuse for at first withholding his name from Wyvill’s campaign for economical reform, though he wrote to Wyvill:
I wish with you that there may be spirit enough yet found in the county to express a proper resentment and sense of the insanity of Administration and to lead the first steps to the amendment of an almost ruined constitution.
In spite of his initial hesitation, he soon became a member of the Yorkshire committee of association, and on 28 Mar. 1780, at a county meeting seconded Wyvill’s proposals for shorter Parliaments and an increase in the number of county Members.2 Later that year Duncombe became a candidate for Yorkshire, standing jointly with Sir George Savile, with the support of both the association and Rockingham. Their opponent, Edwin Lascelles, withdrew before the poll and they were returned unopposed.
In the House Duncombe naturally voted with Opposition. His first reported speech, 15 Feb. 1781, was to second Burke’s bill for regulating the civil list revenue. On 2 Apr. 1781 he presented the petition for economy fom delegates of the associated counties, and on 19 May wrote to Wyvill: ‘I am more than ever convinced that the only hopes of security to our liberties and of redress of our grievances, are to be derived from the integrity of Parliaments and a juster representation of the people.’3 Duncombe voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783.
Presenting a petition from the Yorkshire association, 24 Feb. 1783, he delivered a panegyric on Pitt and censured North for opposing reform, declaring that he never would support any Administration in which North held office.4 He spoke and voted in support of Pitt’s parliamentary reform proposals of 7 May 1783. ‘The true source whence our calamities are derived’, he wrote to Wyvill, 20 Oct. 1783, ‘is the very inadequate state of the representation of the people, by which the salutary restraints originally interposed against the errors, the weakness, and the wickedness of ministers have been baffled and defeated.’5
Duncombe voted against Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783, which, he declared, was ‘accompanied with a wanton violation of charters ... with what would have totally destroyed the liberties of this country, the patronage of 100 millions’.6 In the debate of 1 Dec. 1783 he said of Fox that the ‘confidence without which no minister in this country could ever be successful, was in respect to him no more. The people, whose rights he had so ably, so faithfully, and so effectually defended were sorry to be convinced of his desertion.’7 Henceforth he was an ardent supporter of Pitt. At the general election of 1784, in company with William Wilberforce, Duncombe stood as a Pittite candidate, and was returned unopposed, their opponents having withdrawn in face of a canvass showing an overwhelming majority for Duncombe and Wilberforce.
A letter of 14 Dec. 17848 from Wyvill suggests that Duncombe was now advocating a more cautious approach to reform, but in February 1785 he supported a further Yorkshire petition, and on 14 Apr. seconded Pitt’s reform proposals. During the rest of the Parliament his speeches were infrequent and mainly on matters of local interest, but on 4 Mar. 1790 he complimented Henry Flood on his proposed bill for parliamentary reform, ‘assuring him that at a more proper period he would vote in its favour’.9
Wyvill described Duncombe as ‘in his temper mild and benevolent, in his principles firm and steady, in his political friendships warm and confidential’.10
He died 10 Apr. 1818.