POWNEY, Peniston Portlock (?1743-94), of Maidenhead, Berks.
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Family and Education
b. ?1743, 1st s. of Peniston Powney. educ. Reading; Queen’s, Oxf. 1 Apr. 1761, aged 17. m. (1) 27 Dec. 1772, Melissa, da. of Frederick Frankland, 1da.; (2) 20 Dec. 1776, Elizabeth, da. of Peter Floyer of Worcester, 3s. 1da. suc. fa. 8 Mar. 1757.
Ranger of Windsor Little Park July 1788- d.
Powney had extensive estates near Windsor, but was never a wealthy man. ‘I estimate myself a loser of £20,000 by my father’s connexions with the late Prince of Wales, to whom he was a friend and great assistant’, he wrote in 1789. ‘The honours and emoluments promised to my family sank as well as the money with him.’1 He determined to repair these losses: ‘having strong claims on the heir of the late Prince of Wales’, he confided to Pitt’s secretary, 28 Apr. 1789, ‘I thought a seat in Parliament the best introduction I could have to renew a connexion that had dropped with my father’s life’. He therefore offered himself in 1780 to contest Windsor against Admiral Keppel. ‘Scarcely any individual could be more obnoxious to the King than was that naval officer’, wrote Wraxall;2 George III personally canvassed the Windsor tradesmen on Powney’s behalf, and he was returned by a narrow majority. It was only to be expected that the Government should share part of the expense, but North was dismayed by the amount demanded: ‘Mr. Powney stipulated at first only for £1,000’, he complained to Robinson, 13 Apr. 1781. ‘He has, I believe, had £1,500 or £2,000. What does he want now? I shall have no objection to talk with him on the subject, but really the demands on this occasion are exorbitant beyond the example of any former time.’3
Powney repaid North by supporting him in Parliament until the end. ‘I at once became a marked man by Mr. Fox’s party’, he wrote; ‘a steady adherence to my own party made me still more so, and much personal attention shown me from a high quarter created envy in the weak and anger in the powerful.’ He voted with North in opposition to Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, but left him when the Coalition was formed. On 27 Nov. 1783 he voted against Fox’s East India bill, and supported Pitt thereafter. Powney claimed afterwards that North had tried to re-enlist him: ‘if I felt myself hurt by any inattention or that my pretensions had been forgotten, he would be happy to make me any recompense ... I said, I had sought my own, but I sought it honourably, not in a manner that might disgrace me.’
At the general election of 1784 Powney exerted his influence to the full, both at Windsor and in the county, and was given £1,000 from secret service funds. At Windsor he held off ‘an attempt at a brisk opposition from Lord Penrhyn’, an opposition which Powney attributed to the ill-will of the Prince of Wales, who ‘abused me heartily and harshly to my face’; in the county he claimed credit for the sending-up of an address supporting Pitt.4
As a reward for this loyalty, the King admitted Powney in some degree into his favour, and in 1788 appointed him ranger of Windsor Little Park, at a salary of £500 p.a. Powney maintained a year later, however, that he was ‘notwithstanding all things, considerably out of pocket by elections’, and pressed for some further mark of royal favour. His desire was to hold the rangership for life:
I ask public testimony of approbation to wipe out the idea of my receiving private emolument: I ask it of both the King and Mr. Pitt. I trust I have claims on both. My existence does not depend on a seat in Parliament, nor, thank God, my personal liberty on its protection: it can not be desirable to lose a seat, in which my family have sat before my father did for this county; it would be still more vexatious to give up with it the hopes of honourably retrieving a fortune, or serving my family.
The King’s response was grudging: ‘Should Mr. Pitt think it advisable I will not object, though not fully convinced of the propriety of the application, from having too often found offices for life a ground of not supporting Administration.’5 The warrant was made out just before the general election, when Powney was returned unopposed.
Powney’s close connexion with the Crown was material for satire in The Rolliad. Wraxall maintained6that ‘neither nature nor education had set their stamp upon him as a fit companion for princes. His person, short and thick, was ignoble; his manners unrefined and rustic; his countenance, destitute of elevation or expression; and his mind by no means highly cultivated.’ In the House he was quick-tempered, and fair game for the wits on the opposite benches, who nicknamed him ‘the King’s pony’. He was a determined opponent of parliamentary reform, and on 16 June 1784, though ‘not very fond of speaking’, he rose to protest against any further postponement of Sawbridge’s motion for reform: ‘he had frequently come for no other purpose but that he might have the pleasure of giving it a hearty negative’.7
Powney was lieutenant-colonel of the Berkshire militia, and a conscientious magistrate, giving assistance to attempts to reform and strengthen the county police. He was also something of a philanthropist: he had much sympathy for the sufferings of the poor, and in 1782 introduced a bill to prevent the vexatious removal of paupers.8 The Reading Mercury, 20 Jan. 1794, remarked: ‘His public and private virtues will make him long remembered with respect.’
He died 17 Jan. 1794.