VERNEY, Ralph, 2nd Earl Verney [I] (1714-91), of Claydon House, Bucks.
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Family and Education
b. 1 Feb. 1714, o. surv. s. of Ralph, 1st Earl Verney [I], M.P., by Catherine, da. and coh. of Henry Paschall of Baddow Hall, Essex. educ. Brentford; Christ’s, Camb. 1733; M. Temple 1729. m. 11 Sept. 1740, Mary, da. and h. of Henry Herring, merchant and director of the Bank of England, of Egham, Surr., s.p. suc. fa. 4 Oct. 1752.
P.C. 22 Nov. 1765.
In 1754 Lord Verney was one of the largest landowners in Buckinghamshire; controlled two seats at Wendover; owned burgages at Great Bedwyn. He went on to acquire a considerable interest at Carmarthen. Through folly and extravagance he wasted his fortune, and finally had to sell or surrender his parliamentary interest.
Under George II and in the early years of George III he was a regular Government supporter, and in 1754 and 1761 placed one seat at Wendover at Newcastle’s disposal. But in 1761 Lord Fitzmaurice wrote that Verney was ‘much offended with the Duke of Newcastle’,1 and Verney himself in 1763 stated that he had never received ‘the smallest obligation’ from the Pelhams.2 In 1761 or 1762 he became acquainted with William Burke, about whom Fox wrote in 1763:3 ‘He has as great a sway with Lord Verney as I ever knew one man have with another.’ In November 1762, when Fox was engaged in securing a majority for the peace preliminaries, Verney was ‘the very man he knew not how to come round’; and was won over by William Burke.4 On 9 Dec. Verney seconded the Address on the peace preliminaries, and, according to Fox, was ‘never absent’ that session.
On 9 Apr. 1763 he applied to Fox for a British peerage:5 ‘My fortune is above £10,000 per annum’, he wrote, ‘... my own personal attachment to Government has been sincere, constant, and uniform ... and ... I have expended very large sums in several elections without obtaining, or indeed asking to this time, any favour whatever.’ And to Grenville, 29 Apr. 1763:6 ‘My whole life has shown how much I have been inclined to forward the business of the Crown.’
He was hurt and disappointed that nothing had been done for him, and Grenville could make no promises. Nor did he help towards vacating the seat at Wendover which Verney wanted for William Burke. On 12 Nov. 1763 Holland wrote to Sandwich:7 ‘Lord Temple has courted Lord Verney extremely, and he thinks Mr. Grenville has neglected him.’ Certainly Grenville and Verney seem to have had no liking for each other; yet Verney, although he spoke for the repeal of the cider duty, 31 Jan. 1764, did not vote against Grenville’s Administration in any of the divisions over general warrants nor was he ever claimed by the Opposition as one of their adherents.
William Burke was given a place by the Rockingham Administration, and Verney was made a P.C.—an unusual distinction for one who held no office. He followed the Burkes into opposition and voted consistently with the Rockinghams, but was never in the party’s inner circle: he did not, for example, attend the Opposition dinner of 9 May 1769, and in 1774 so prominent a figure as Richmond did not know him.8 After 1764 only one speech by him is recorded—5 June 1780, on presenting the Buckinghamshire petition.
He spent profusely on building at Claydon, where he designed a new wing himself; collected books, pictures, and works of art; and aspired to be a patron of literature. Lipscomb9 thus describes him in the days of his greatness:
Lavish in his personal expenses, and fond of show, he was one of the last of the English nobility who, to the splendour of a gorgeous equipage, attached musicians constantly attendant upon him, not only on state occasions but in his journeys and visits: a brace of tall negroes with silver French horns behind his coach and six, perpetually making a noise.
He also spent heavily on the boroughs in which he was concerned, with no very good results: he was defeated at Great Bedwyn in 1761, and in 1766 sold his estate there to Lord Bruce; after the defeat of his candidate at Carmarthen in 1768 he ceased to concern himself with the borough; and even at Wendover, where his interest was very strong, he lost one seat in 1768 by what Edmund Burke called ‘our egregious neglects’.10 But his heart was set on representing Buckinghamshire: in 1768 he began his canvass a fortnight before the county meeting and was returned unopposed, as also in 1774 and 1780.
To Edmund and William Burke he was most absurdly generous. Twice at his own expense he returned Edmund for Wendover, and William, by arrangement with Lord Bruce, for Great Bedwyn. In 1766 he financed William’s speculations in East India stock, for which the Burkes lauded him to the skies: it was, according to Edmund,11 ‘marvellous in the conduct, marvellous in the motives of action’; and William wrote12 of Verney’s ‘wonderful goodness and friendship’. In 1768 he lent £6,000 towards the purchase of Gregories, though it is not clear that the loan was in fact used for this purpose.13
Verney was more enterprising than judicious. He made speculative purchases in West Indian lands,14 was concerned in an unsuccessful venture for the manufacture of French cambrics at Winchelsea,15 and 1766-9 engaged in speculations in East India stock and interventions in the Company’s internal affairs with Lauchlin Macleane, Laurence Sulivan, William Burke and others, which ended in disaster. Most serious was his speculative venture in partnership with William Burke with an Amsterdam merchant Volkert van Jever, which left them with a liability of £47,000, the whole of which fell on Verney.16
At the general election of 1774 he was compelled to sell his seats at Wendover, where, according to Edmund Burke, his position was by no means secure.
It is past all description, past all conception [wrote Burke to Rockingham on 9 Oct. 1774] the supineness, neglect, and blind security of my friend in that and everything that concerns him. He suspects nothing; he fears nothing; he takes no precautions; he imagines all mankind to be his friends. As to any rational means of disposing of it he will neither give nor sell it; he will be cheated, if he is not robbed.
He was both cheated and robbed, and not only at Wendover.
In 1780 he had again to sell his seats there. But the advent of the Rockinghams to office in 1782 seemed the salvation of his finances: Edmund Burke was appointed paymaster general, Richard Burke secretary of the Treasury, Edmund’s son deputy to his father, and William was given a lucrative job in India for the express purpose of making his fortune. Nothing however was done either by Rockingham or the Coalition for Verney: the three Members he had brought into Parliament ‘without any sort of trouble to the party’,17 and a record of sixteen years consistent voting with Rockingham, were apparently forgotten. Nor did the Burkes at this time find it possible to pay off their debts to him. In 1783 he sued Edmund for the £6,000 which had been borrowed in 1769, but had no written acknowledgment of the debt and was non-suited.18 In 1784 he estimated that the Burkes owed him over £30,000,19 against which all he could set was a bond for over £10,000 given him in 1780 by William Burke.
Verney did not vote on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, but was classed by Robinson as a follower of Shelburne. On 7 May 1783 he voted for parliamentary reform; 27 Nov. 1783, for Fox’s East India bill; and opposed Pitt. At the general election of 1784 he suffered a double blow: he was himself defeated (by only 24 votes) for Buckinghamshire, and he lost both seats at Wendover.
Immediately after the election he hurried over to France to escape arrest for debt, and was compelled to sell some of the furniture and objets d’art at Claydon. A group of friends now formed a committee to regulate his affairs. Much depended on William Burke, and hopes were high. ‘I have much satisfaction in informing your Lordship’, wrote Michael Bourke to Verney, 27 Aug. 1784, ‘that the bankers in the City have had all their demands on William Burke paid them, and that I verily believe your money has also arrived in bills or cash ... Your situation is awful and lamented by all honest men.’ This last was true, but not the part about William Burke. And on 22 Mar. 1786: ‘William Burke has lost his employment and ... he is coming home. I hope so for your sake. I am sure he has money in London.’ But William Burke, though prolific of schemes to make his fortune, remained in India until 1793 and never fully repaid Verney.
It was proposed to sell Wendover. ‘£30,000 will not be given for it, I fear’, wrote Rev. Luke Heslop, archdeacon of Buckingham to Verney, 6 Apr. 1787; and on 22 Apr. 1787: ‘Lord Hampden ... talks of £10,000.’ It was sold in 1788 to J. B. Church at a price not known.20
Verney came back to England in 1790, and despite his insolvency and his six years’ absence was returned unopposed for Buckinghamshire—a tribute to his standing in the county.
He died 31 Mar. 1791.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: John Brooke
- 1. Fitzmaurice to Bute, 2 Mar. 1761, Bute mss.
- 2. Verney to Fox, 9 Apr. 1763, ibid.
- 3. To Sandwich, 12 Nov. 1763, Sandwich mss.
- 4. Wm. Burke to Chas. O’Hara, 20 Nov. 1762.
- 5. Bute mss.
- 6. Grenville Pprs. ii. 49-50.
- 7. Sandwich mss.
- 8. Richmond to Burke, 26 Sept. 1774.
- 9. Hist. Bucks. i. 183-4.
- 10. To Chas. O’Hara, 9 Aug. 1770.
- 11. To same, 21 Oct. 1766.
- 12. To same, 4 Oct. 1766.
- 13. Corresp. Edm. Burke ed. Sutherland, ii. 547.
- 14. India Office, Orme mss 222, 159, p. 138.
- 15. 4 Geo. III c. 37.
- 16. Corresp. Edm. Burke, ii. pp. xvi-xvii.
- 17. Burke to Rockingham, post 26 Sept. 1774.
- 18. Wecter, Edm. Burke and his Kinsmen, 36-42.
- 19. Lady Verney, Verney Letters of 18th Cent. ii. 277-8.
- 20. Ibid. ii. 284, 286, 289; Verney mss at Claydon.