LYTTELTON, William Henry (1724-1808), of Hagley Hall, Worcs.
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Family and Education
b. 24 Dec. 1724, 6th s. of Sir Thomas Lyttelton, 4th Bt., M.P., and bro. of Sir George Lyttelton, 5th Bt. and Sir Richard Lyttelton. educ. Eton c.1740; St. Mary Hall, Oxf. 1742; Grand Tour with Henry Thrale; M. Temple 1743, called 1748. m. (1) 2 June 1761, Mary (d .28 May 1765), da. and coh. of James Macartney of Longford, Ireland, 2s. 1da.; (2) 19 Feb. 1774, Caroline, da. of John Bristow, 5s. 1da. cr. Baron Westcote [I] 29 July 1776; suc. his nephew Thomas as 7th Bt. 27 Nov. 1779; cr. Baron Lyttelton [GB] 13 Aug. 1794.
Sub-cofferer of the Household 1754-5; gov. S. Carolina 1755-60, of Jamaica 1760-6; envoy to Lisbon 1766-71; ld. of Treasury 1777-82.
Lyttelton sat for Bewdley on his family’s interest. In 1754 he was made sub-cofferer by his brother George, newly appointed cofferer, and a few months later with Pitt’s support was appointed governor of South Carolina (which vacated his seat in the House). He sailed soon after the outbreak of unofficial hostilities with France in a ship which was taken by a French squadron and sent to Nantes. Commenting on Lyttelton’s plight Horace Walpole wrote:1
He is a very worthy young man, but so stiffened with Sir George’s old fustian, that I am persuaded he is at this minute in the citadel of Nantes comparing himself to Regulus.
Thanks to the prompt release of the ship by the French Government Lyttelton arrived back in England in time to ‘give his vote and turn the scale’ in the election of a bailiff for Bewdley, which would otherwise have gone against his family and led to the loss of the borough.2 He reached South Carolina in 1756 and remained there till 1760, when he returned to England for a year before going to Jamaica as governor. Lyttelton was an admirer of Grenville, and approved of his American policy.3 He wrote on 20 Oct. 1765 to his friend William Knox:
If the doctrine openly asserted by the Virginian assembly that that colony ought not to be bound by the British Act of Parliament for imposing the stamp duty, and the sedition of the people of Boston ... be not animadverted upon in an exemplary manner, I do not see how the mother country can hope for the future that her laws will be obeyed in such distant dominions.
And on 20 Mar. 1766, commenting on the proposed repeal of the Stamp Act, he wrote that the Act had been ‘fully carried into execution’ in Jamaica, and added: ‘I suppose that no reasonable man can doubt that the mother country has force sufficient to compel the obedience due to it upon the continent.’4
In 1774 Lyttelton was returned unopposed for Bewdley. In Parliament he vigorously supported North’s American measures, and consistently voted with Administration. On 26 Oct. 1775, seconding the Address,
he expatiated on the necessity of strengthening the hands of the Government if coercive measures were intended to be pursued ... He was against any conciliatory offers being made ... and thought at all events the honour of the nation required coercive measures; that the colonies ought to be conquered and then to have mercy shewn them.5
In 1777 Westcote, as he had now become, was made a lord of the Treasury, and in North’s minutes for possible changes compiled in June 1779 is mentioned as comptroller of the Household; but North told the King, 24 Sept. 1780, that though he had again thought of Westcote for comptroller, he did not believe he would accept ‘as the difference of income would be too great to be approved by him’.6
A dozen speeches of his are reported, more than half on American affairs. On Fox’s intimating, 12 June 1781, that he would move that Administration immediately seek peace with America, Westcote declared that he would oppose the motion, as
it clearly appeared to him, that it would be a violation of the constitution in the first instance, because it would infringe on the inherent right of the sovereign and divest the Crown of the exercise of the executive power.
He was of opinion ... it was a holy war. The motives which gave it birth were generous and noble; it being, in the first instance, from an intention to maintain the inalienable and indubitable rights of the sovereign power of the King, the Parliament, and the nation; the unity of the British Empire, and the dominion which was necessary to be preserved over all the respective parts of which it was constituted.7
After Rockingham’s death Westcote wrote to William Knox on 14 July 1782,8 that he was glad that power was now in Shelburne’s hands ‘rather than in those of any other man who was in opposition to Lord North, for I have always had a very high opinion of Lord Shelburne’s talents’. He did not vote on the peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, was classed by Robinson in March 1783 as a follower of North, but did not vote on Fox’s East India bill. He seems to have been in opposition till 1787. Sir Gilbert Elliot wrote to his wife, 15 Dec.:9
The last entertainment of the political world here has been a letter written by Lord Westcote to Lord North, in which, after repeating his assurances of regard and devotion to Lord North, he informs his honour, that as his Lordship (Lord North) is now in so deplorable a situation, he cannot take it amiss if he (Lord Westcote) should avail himself of his opportunities to carry some very desirable points for himself by attaching himself to his friend Mr. Pitt.
Westcote voted with Pitt over the Regency, 1788-9.
Johnson is reported to have observed about him that he had ‘more chaff than grain in him; as everything indeed, says he, which grows up to so prodigious a length, has’.10 He died 14 Sept. 1808.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Mary M. Drummond
- 1. To Bentley, 28 Aug. 1755.
- 2. Wyndham, Chrons. of 18th Cent. ii. 200.
- 3. Debrett, iii. 523.
- 4. HMC Var. vi. 91, 99.
- 5. Almon, iii. 7.
- 6. Fortescue, iv. 353; v. 133.
- 7. Debrett, iii. 519-24.
- 8. HMC Var. vi. 187.
- 9. Life Letters, i. 182. See also Walpole to Lady Upper Ossory, 16 Dec. 1787.
- 10. Thraliana, i. 200.