POWLETT, Lord Harry (1720-94).

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



26 Nov. 1751 - 1754
17 Jan. 1755 - 1761
1761 - 5 July 1765

Family and Education

b. 6 Nov. 1720, 2nd s. of Lord Harry Powlett of Edington, later 4th Duke of Bolton; bro. of Sir Charles Powlett.  educ. Winchester 1728-9; acad. in Portsmouth dockyard 1733.  m. (1) 13 May 1752, Mary Nunn (d. 31 May 1764) of Eltham, Kent, 1da.; (2) 8 Apr. 1765, Katherine, da. of Robert Lowther, M.P., sis. of Sir James Lowther, 5th Bt., 2da. His 1st da. m. 25 Apr. 1772, John Montagu, Visct. Hinchingbrooke, and his yst. da. Catherine m. 17 Sept. 1787, her cos. Harry Vane, Lord Barnard.  suc. bro. Charles as 6th Duke of Bolton 5 July 1765.

Offices Held

Lt. R.N. 1739; capt. 1740; r.-adm. 1756; v.-adm.1759; adm. of the blue 1770, of the white 1775.

P.C. 10 Dec. 1766; gov. I.o.W. 1766-70, 1782-91; v.-adm. Hants and Dorset 1767; ld. lt. Hants 1782-93.


Powlett did not stand at the general election of 1754, but when his father succeeded to the dukedom and his brother took his father’s place as knight of the shire for Hampshire, Harry Powlett succeeded his brother at Lymington; but on his brother succeeding to the dukedom in 1759, he did not stand for the county, nor did he in 1761—thus the unbroken tenure by the Powletts of one seat for the county came to an end after nearly 40 years.

On 5 June 1755 Powlett wrote to the Duke of Newcastle to enlist his help in obtaining promotion:

I am of a family entirely attached to your Grace’s interest and am particularly so myself ... I served ... as a captain in his Majesty’s sea service the whole of last war, in all climates and without respite, and I am now become one of the senior captains ... I am ... very uneasy still to remain a captain, as setting aside my service, I hope my birth is some reason for desiring to be promoted to a more honourable post.

In the summer of 1755 he went on a cruise with Hawke, and was involved in an incident which led to a court martial, but was acquitted. When at the end of the year two vacancies occurred at the Admiralty, the Duke of Bolton asked Newcastle for Powlett to succeed to one of them. On 17 Mar. 1756 Powlett renewed his application to Newcastle for a flag appointment; Newcastle replied that he had spoken to Lord Anson ‘some time ago, as your Lordship desired me. I never can interfere further in promotions in the fleet than to make application to my Lord Anson; and his Lordship must do what he thinks proper.’ This time the application was successful.1

Between December 1761 and January 1765 Harris notes Powlett intervening 14 times in debate, nearly always over matters affecting the navy—naval estimates, prize money, naval chaplains and surgeons, etc. But he seems to have been undistinguished or even awkward as a speaker. Of the debate on the German war, 10 Dec. 1761, there are nearly a dozen reports but none except Harris mentions Powlett, and even he as a mere afterthought:

I had forgot to mention that in this debate and early in it we had a speech from Lord Harry Powlett, a near relation to the great Lord William Powlett, who flourished in the beginning of this century. One morsel only I am able to record. Speaking of the various modes of opposition, he told us, there was another sort of opposition in the shape of cold water, where it ought to breathe nothing but vigour and firmness.

And next on 16 Dec., reporting Dempster’s speaking ‘of tame wild beasts’, Harris adds: ‘a bold figure—a Powlettism’. And here is Harris’s account of Powlett’s speech on 5 Dec. 1763:

Lord Harry Powlett followed with a long perplexed motion, as to the ships employed (as he phrased it) in the smuggling service, the expense of the cutters, their draught of water, complement, tone, distinction, etc. In short, ‘twas so long and so complex that one objected to one part, another to another, till at last his Lordship desired that others would move his motion for him. This made a laugh, He had formed a motion against ministry, which would not do, and then wished them to form one for him against themselves.

In Bute’s parliamentary list of December 1761 Powlett was marked as a supporter, and was included in Fox’s list of Members in favour of the peace preliminaries. He voted with the Government on 1 Dec., and spoke, and presumably voted, on their side on 10 Dec. But he was with his brother the Duke in supporting Wilkes, and voted with the Opposition on 15 Nov. 1763 and on 6 and 15 Feb. 1764, but was absent from the crucial division on 18 Feb.; he also voted with the Opposition on the motion to repeal the Cider Act, 10 Feb. 1764.

Powlett attended the Cockpit meeting of 9 Jan. 1765, but on 21 Jan. supported Dowdeswell in opposing the navy estimates, and on 23 Jan. made a violent attack on George Grenville in the debate on the dismissal of the army officers. He reminded Grenville of the dismissal of their uncles, the Duke of Bolton and Lord Cobham, in 1733, and told Grenville ‘that if Lord Cobham was to rise from the dead, he would, if he could be ashamed of anything, be ashamed of him ... Grenville rose in a rage, like a basket woman, and told Lord Harry that if he chose to use such language he knew where to find him.’2

On 5 July 1765 Powlett succeeded his brother as Duke of Bolton, and on the 13th Lord Egmont wrote to the King:

I have had lately a very long and confidential conversation with the Duke of Bolton ... He told me frankly that his brother the late Duke had attached himself to Lord Temple and Mr. Pitt entirely by his management and at his instigation; but that both his own situation, and that of the public are at this time entirely changed. That he considers himself now totally freed from all connexions, and for the future will avoid all engagements of that kind with any subject or any party whatsoever—that his attachment shall be to the Crown only—that he sees how contemptible and weak it is for a peer of England, independent as he is, and with a great estate, to be dragged along in the suite of any private man or set of men whatever, and to become the mean instrument of their views, their faction, or ambition.

Bolton supported the Rockinghams, and afterwards Chatham’s Administration, and was appointed in December 1766 governor of the Isle of Wight, which he resigned in 1770. From 1770 to 1772 he tried to regulate his conduct by that of Chatham. But on 29 Sept. 1774, on the eve of the general election, North wrote to the King:

The Duke of Bolton having declared himself a friend to Government, and being about to bring in three persons who will be favourable to us, asks it as a favour that Col. Jennings may be made a baronet. The colonel himself, who will be one of the Duke’s members, wishes for it. Lord North humbly recommends to his Majesty that it will be of service at this time to grant that favour.3

The three here mentioned were Colonel Jennings Clerke (created a baronet on 26 Oct. 1774), returned by the Duke for Totnes; the Duke’s brother-in-law Adam Drummond, returned for St. Ives; and Edward Morant, a close friend of the Duke, returned for Lymington. But by 1778 Bolton was in sharp opposition to the Government over the naval conduct of the war, strongly supporting Keppel against Palliser, and attacking Sandwich. Jennings Clerke and Morant had gone over to the Opposition, while Drummond had moved to Aberdeen Burghs and was succeeded by another friend of the Duke, Philip Dehany, who voted with the Opposition. In 1780 and 1784 Jennings Clerke was the only Member returned by the Duke, who had given up his interest in the other two boroughs.

Bolton died 25 Dec. 1794.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Add. 32855, f. 340; 32861, f. 302; 32864, ff. 30, 101.
  • 2. Walpole to the Earl of Hertford, 27 Jan. 1765.
  • 3. Fortescue, i. 158; iii. 135.