STEPNEY, John (1743-1811), of Llanelly, Carm.

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



3 Dec. 1767 - Mar. 1788

Family and Education

b. 19 Sept. 1743, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Stepney, 7th Bt., of Llanelly by Elizabeth, da. and h. of Thomas Lloyd of Danyrallt, Carm.  educ. Ch. Ch. Oxf. 1760. unm.  suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 7 Oct. 1772.

Offices Held

Envoy to Saxony 1776-82, to Prussia 1782-4.


Stepney was returned for Monmouth on the interest of the Duke of Beaufort with whom he had been a close friend at Oxford. In Parliament he voted with Opposition on Wilkes, and on the Middlesex election (2, 3 Feb. 1769 and 25 Jan. 1770). He was classed as ‘pro, present’ in Robinson’s first survey on the royal marriage bill, March 1772, though as ‘doubtful, present’ in the second; and when he voted with Opposition on the naval captains’ petition, 9 Feb. 1773 and Grenville’s Election Act, 25 Feb. 1774, he was marked in the King’s list as normally a Government supporter. Nor does he appear in any of the minority lists between 1774 and June 1776, when he took up his appointment as envoy at Dresden.

On 1 Sept. 1776 Stepney, just over two months after his arrival at Dresden, wrote to his friend Sir Robert Murray Keith, minister at Vienna:

You are very good to interest yourself about my situation here;—it is hitherto as uninteresting to myself in all the agreements of society as it is possible to be ... I do not think it will improve by the arrival of greater numbers ... But perhaps the fault is in myself and the humour I arrived here in—no man on earth is more ready to look on that side for defects than I am.

In January 1778 he returned to England for six months’ leave. Back in Dresden, he wrote to Keith, 1 Dec.:

I have no news from England but what the newspapers bring, but am very impatient for the meeting of Parliament—have you any thoughts of attending this year? I am never without hopes till the winter is further advanced, though I scarce think I shall be summoned this time, and can’t possibly ask it so soon.1

British visitors were a welcome diversion: Wraxall, who visited Dresden in 1778, noted that their visits were ‘rendered peculiarly agreeable’ by the ‘hospitality and polished manners’ of Stepney whom he described as ‘one of the finest gentlemen to have been employed on missions during the present reign’.2 In September 1779 Stepney again returned to England on leave, and during his stay, which lasted till August 1782, regularly voted in support of North’s Administration. Shortly after his return to Dresden he was transferred to Berlin, and when on 15 Apr. 1783 he wrote to Fox to express ‘sincere satisfaction’ at Fox’s re-appointment as secretary of state, he added:3

I do not know whether you are informed that I was removed to this court without any solicitation on my part, and that in some respects the removal was far from advantageous. I wrote, however, to Lord Grantham at the time, that I should not think of asking for additional appointments, unless I found after some months’ experience that it was impossible to go on without them. Still less shall I say anything on this head as yet to you. I shall delay the moment of entreating you to lay such a request before his Majesty as long as I possibly can.

If forced to do so, he would submit to Fox’s judgment in ‘disposing of me in any way you think proper’.

In 1784 Stepney seems to have thought of standing for Carmarthenshire,4 but would not risk a contest, and was again returned by Beaufort for Monmouth. In William Adam’s list drawn up in May 1784 he was classed as ‘Opposition’, but though he gave up his post and returned to England in June 1784 no vote by him is recorded during this Parliament. Nor is there any report of his having spoken, in this or any other Parliament. In March 1788, the Duke of Beaufort’s son, the Marquess of Worcester, having recently come of age, Stepney vacated his seat. On 14 Mar. Beaufort wrote to Pitt that Stepney, as envoy at Dresden and Berlin, had been ‘obliged to spend a considerable part of his own fortune to the amount of 8 or £10,000 to support the dignity of his situation’.5 He hoped that the King would ‘extend the same mark of his favour’ to Stepney ‘which persons who have served in similar employments and have retired from them have usually enjoyed’. And on 8 Aug. 1788 Anthony Storer wrote to William Eden: ‘Sir John Stepney has got a pension of £800 per annum.’6

Stepney does not seem to have attempted to re-enter Parliament. He appears to have spent his later years abroad, and was among the English imprisoned by Napoleon during the war with France. He died in Hungary 3 Oct. 1811.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Mary M. Drummond


  • 1. Add. 35510, f. 300; 35515, f. 117.
  • 2. Mems. i. 158.
  • 3. Corresp. C. J. Fox, ii. 126.
  • 4. R. Harrison, Notices of Stepney Fam. 38.
  • 5. Chatham mss.
  • 6. Auckland Corresp. ii. 226.