ADDINGTON, Henry (1757-1844), of Woodley, nr. Reading, Berks. and White Lodge, Richmond Park, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1784 - 12 Jan. 1805

Family and Education

b. 30 May 1757, 1st s. of Anthony Addington, MD, of Fringford, Oxon, and Up Ottery, Devon by Mary, da. and h. of Rev. Haviland John Hiley, MD, of Reading; bro. of John Hiley Addington*. educ. Cheam 1762; Winchester 1769-73; privately by Dr Goodenough, Ealing 1773-4; Brasenose, Oxf. 1774; L. Inn 1771; I. Temple 1780; called L. Inn 1784. m. (1) 19 Sept. 1781, Ursula Mary (d. 23 June 1811), da. and coh. of Leonard Hammond of Cheam, Surr., 2s. 4da.; (2) 29 July 1823, Mary Anne, da. and h. of William Scott*, 1st Baron Stowell, wid. of Thomas Townshend of Hovington, Warws., s.p. suc. fa. 1790; cr. Visct. Sidmouth 12 Jan. 1805.

Offices Held

Recorder, Devizes 1784-d.; PC 23 June 1789; first ld. of Treasury and chancellor of Exchequer 14 Mar. 1801-10 May 1804; ld. pres. of Council Jan.-July 1805; ld. privy seal Feb.-Oct. 1806; ld. pres. of Council Oct. 1806-Mar. 1807, Apr.-June 1812; sec. of state for Home affairs June 1812-Jan. 1822; cabinet minister without office Jan. 1822-Nov. 1824.

Capt. commdt. Woodley vols. 1798-1806; high steward, Reading 1798; gov. Charterhouse 1802-d.; ranger, Richmond park 1806-7, 1812-15; dep. ranger 1815-d.; high steward, Westminster 1813-42; commr. for building new churches 1818.

Speaker of House of Commons 8 June 1789-10 Feb. 1801.


‘This is only the beginning of that boy’s career’, commented Addington’s father when he was Pitt’s successful nominee for the Speakership in June 1789. His ‘person was tall and well proportioned, his countenance pleasing, his features fine, and his manners mild, calm, grave, calculated to conciliate mankind’: the King maintained subsequently that the Chair had never been so ‘conspicuously’ filled. Lord Camden in October 1790 wrote of him:

He is a young man of knowledge, agreeable in his conversation, and stands as fair for advancement as any man of his age. Indeed he is sufficiently advanced already by having been chosen Speaker, which office he has executed to the satisfaction of all parties, and has won the esteem even of the opposition.1

Addington was invariably re-elected unanimously to the Chair, and to his expense-free seat for Devizes on the interest of his brother-in-law James Sutton, though had an opening occurred for Oxford University, he was expected to be the strongest contender.2 A modest politician, he resisted an opportunity to step into Henry Dundas’s shoes as Home secretary in 1793.3

His tenure of the Speakership was memorable in many respects; with firmness, fairness and tact, he restored the dignity of the office; he was the first to receive the official salary of £6,000, voted in 1790 and to take up official residence (1795) in Palace Yard, where he entertained ministers and Members in the old crypt, holding levées on Saturday rather than on Sunday, to please Wilberforce. On re-election in 1796 he did not even make the usual disqualifying excuses, which lapsed thereafter into a polite fiction. The House upheld him in his decision of 30 Nov., which when challenged he defended at length in committee, 17 Dec. 1790, that the dissolution of the preceding Parliament did not dissolve the impeachment proceedings against Warren Hastings; and in 1796 and 1797 he set useful precedents by voting, after a tie, for the real succession duty and for the further committal of the Quakers bill, on the principle that he should always vote for rather than against further discussion, though if the measure itself was at stake he must judge it by its merits. In June 1797 and again in July 1800 he ruled that ‘when a measure was to confer pecuniary advantage, or diminish pecuniary loss, no Member who intended or expected to derive any benefit from it could vote’. Carefully advised by Hatsell and Ley, clerks of the House, as to procedural precedent, he was not inflexible, but made no virtue of innovation, a quality calculated to endear him both to the King and to the country gentlemen. It was scarcely his fault that, as Edmund Burke reminded him in his rage at the failure of Hastings’s impeachment, ‘You are the first Speaker who has been dismissed from the Bar of the House of Lords with the disgrace of a total failure in an object of impeachment by the House of Commons’. Nor in the other matter where Addington met with criticism but not censure, his failure to avert, or publicly rebuke, the duel between Pitt and Tierney in May 1798, did he stand much chance against the exasperated feelings and ungovernable temper of his admired friend the prime minister.4

In other respects, as the constant recipient of confidences intended for Pitt from those who found the minister unapproachable, also as Pitt’s confidant in private life and one of his inner cabinet, particularly on financial questions, Addington’s standing was far from negligible. He later declared that in 1797 Pitt had thoughts of making way for him when in doubt as to the French government’s readiness to parley with him; the King was consulted and Addington informed that, in the event of Pitt’s resignation, he would succeed him. This was confirmed from another source, though Pitt’s friends preferred not to believe it.5

Addington’s political views were not much aired, inevitably; he had never shone in debate, and intervened in committee in propria persona only 16 times in 12 years.6 Moderate, in accordance with his temperament, and expressed in the solemn, unctuous manner he had acquired in the Chair, his opinions provoked no controversy, though Fox thought the application of moderation to the abolition of the slave trade, called for by Addington in April 1792, ridiculous. Opposed on principle to the trade, Addington was against precipitate abolition and voted against it, 15 Mar. 1796, though in 1792 he had successfully urged that by 1796 the time would perhaps be ripe. He was reckoned hostile to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791. He was an advocate of the higher allowance proposed in committee on the Prince of Wales’s debts, 8 June 1795. He was averse to parliamentary reform, and hostile, but not fanatically so, to radicalism, speaking in favour of the seditious meetings bill in committee in November 1795. He favoured peace negotiations in 1795 and again in 1796-7, when he offered to serve as negotiator, as a remedy to internal distress and a spur to commercial revival; but thoroughly approved the justice of the war against France; was keenly interested in the navy, and the friend of Hood and Nelson; and in 1798 raised the Woodley cavalry, reviewed by George III a year later, an event that was followed by invitations to Addington to visit the King at Frogmore. Addington subscribed £10,000 to the loyalty loan for 1797 and proposed voluntary contributions to the war effort, 4 Dec. 1797, a suggestion that raised £2,826,000; his own contribution of £2,000 was more than a fifth of his income. He supported the income tax. On 12 Feb. 1799 in his most elaborate speech to date, afterwards published, he assured the House that the Irish union was both desirable in principle and, as far as Parliament went, feasible in practice. The latter assurance, after his consultations with the Irish Speaker, must have been the chief asset to government of this contribution to the debate, but his reluctance to consider Catholic emancipation as a corollary of the union placed him among the more conservative supporters of the measure. On the other hand, the failure of tentative proposals for an armistice from France in December 1799 found him unhappy both with the language used by Lord Grenville to rebuff them and with Pitt’s optimism. In February and March 1800 he lectured the House sagely on remedies for the scarcity of bread.7 On 13 June he introduced a bill to regulate the services of officers of the House. In the autumn of 1800, while Pitt recuperated from the strain of office at Woodley, Addington had no foreboding of imminent events: to Lord Wellesley he wrote, 5 Oct., reporting his patient’s recovery and at a time when there was talk of his own promotion to the peerage:

My own health is not good, but as long as I have a tolerable portion of it remaining, and as long as the House of Commons continues to me that degree of support which they have ever shown me, I shall not think myself justified in quitting my present situation, whatever my private feelings and wishes may be.8

Unanimously elected Speaker of the United Parliament on 22 Jan. 1801, Addington made no secret of his dislike of Pitt’s anxiety to press Catholic relief for Ireland, though according to a hostile source, George Rose*, it was on 28 Jan. that Pitt ‘first had distinct and clear proof of the Speaker taking an eager and anxious part in influencing persons against the measure of Catholic emancipation’. Next day the King, after declaring open hostility to the measure, wrote to Addington desiring him, as a fellow-alarmist, to bring Pitt to his senses. Addington tried, and thought he was to some extent successful. He was closeted with the King, who wished him to take over from Pitt if the latter proved obdurate, on 30 Jan. and 1 Feb. Pitt resigned on 3 Feb. and, after the failure of one more bid by Addington to sway him, the King induced the reluctant Speaker, who had never held political office, to form an administration: ‘Lay your hand upon your heart, and ask yourself where I am to turn for support if you do not stand by me’. This, and the subsequent assurance at his audience with the King after resigning the Chair on 10 Feb. that he had thereby saved his country, were justification enough to an impeccable patriot and King’s friend to overcome such scruples as he had; he did not have time to realize that ‘all the world thinks it madness in him’, especially when reassured by Pitt’s blessing. Pitt had expected the King to turn to Addington and promised ‘the most uniform and diligent support’; he was said to be ‘romantically eager’ in inviting his friends, including his elder brother, to remain in office. To those that would not, like George Canning who promised only ‘not to laugh at the Speaker’s appointment’, and Rose, he denied ‘in the most unqualified manner’ that Addington had, as they readily supposed, used improper means to thrust himself forward. (Under this heading the more jaundiced were not averse to hinting that Addington’s control over Pitt’s drinking habits played a decisive role.) Pitt maintained that Addington stood ‘higher than ever in his good opinion’: he himself had admonished the Speaker, ‘I see nothing but ruin, Addington, if you hesitate’. When asked if he thought the new administration could last, he replied that ‘though Addington is not an orator, he thought it could, if well supported, as Mr Pelham’s had done’.9 So, it seemed, Burke’s baleful prophecy of 1789 had been fufilled: the Chair had become ‘a succession house, a hot bed for statesmen’. Addington was in fact the third Speaker to become premier. Like Pitt, he was his own chancellor of the Exchequer.

While the King was grateful to Addington for rescuing him from a dilemma he found intolerable—and nobody effectively disputed his right to turn to the docile Speaker—he was over-optimistic in his belief that ‘if we three [meaning Pitt as well] do but keep together all will do well’. As Rose put it to Pitt, in protesting at Addington’s incompetence ‘to govern the nation at the present critical moment’,

after the House of Commons had been for seventeen years accustomed to see the first minister fight his own battles, they would not be contented with seeing another person in that situation acting a second part in debate. I said that very much depended upon the manner in which Mr Addington conducted himself in the House of Commons, and that really he had so little experience in debate that no one could speak very confidently about his talents in that way.

Addington could count on Pitt, to whom he owed his ‘political existence’, but he could not count on all Pitt’s colleagues and friends; he lost Pitt’s ‘great guns’, Henry Dundas, Lords Spencer and Grenville and William Windham, who resigned on principle; and he lost Pitt’s zealous friends Canning, Rose, Charles Long and Lord Granville Leveson Gower, who encouraged the belief that ‘the dregs of government cannot make a respectable administration’ and chose to regard it as a mere interlude to Pitt’s return to power. They also, under Canning’s remorseless leadership, fostered ridicule of Addington, the first British premier to emerge from the professional middle classes, who not being armigerous had emblazoned the Speaker’s coach with his wife’s arms. Labelling him ‘the Doctor’, they would soon have ousted this somewhat humourless man if wit alone could have destroyed his government. Dundas, a spokesman for aristocratic prejudice, hinted that the Duke of Portland should be premier and Addington secretary of state. The new government was thought to lack ‘brains, blood and gold’.10

Yet Addington had, apart from the backing of his two heroes the King and Pitt, the esteem of the independent country gentlemen to whom he knew how to be civil; and, with a rump of six of Pitt’s friends who chose to remain in office, he had his personal phalanx of relatives and old school and university friends to fall back on, namely his brother Hiley and brothers-in-law Charles Bragge and James Adams; John Mitford, Nicholas Vansittart, Charles Yorke, Nathaniel Bond, Reginald Pole Carew, Lawrence Palk, Charles Abbot and Benjamin Hobhouse. He was disappointed in his efforts to woo Pitt’s outgoing friends: that he did so was an indication of the lack of weight of his administration; but puny as it was, he expected them to concur in the opinion that ‘now was not the time’ for Catholic relief. Neither this nor his anti-Jacobin views, nor his conciliatory approach to controversial issues, guaranteed loyalty to him, as he discovered in the cases of Lords Pelham and Eldon, who took office at the King’s behest or Pitt’s concurrence; as well as in the doubts of his own friends as to how long they could go on. The outstanding deficiency of this patchwork administration was its lack of debating talent: against its inarticulate majorities opposition orators could console themselves by claiming verbal victories and heaping ridicule on it, particularly on its leader’s dull, pedantic, inconclusive speeches, which filled his own troops with dismay.11

Before the arrangement of the new administration was complete, the King was incapacitated by frenzy; whereupon Addington prescribed a pillow of hops to enable him to sleep, and Pitt placated him on his recovery by his pledge against Catholic relief. Pitt resisted his friends’ overtures to Addington through Lord Camden to make way for him, as Addington had expressed his willingness to do on succeeding him if a favourable opportunity arrived, consoling himself with a secretaryship or a peerage. As far as Addington, who was ‘artful, supple and ready enough to slip out of anything not full defined’, was concerned, Pitt had no mandate now. Pitt in any case was no longer fond enough of office to risk the consequences of admitting that he wanted it back, unless the King and Addington turned to him spontaneously: so he was interested in defending Addington against all comers and to this end tried to curb the antagonism of his more critical friends.12

In his first speech as minister, 25 Mar. 1801, Addington, having received the Exchequer seals on 14 Mar., promised that he would bid for peace and set about doing so at once; in this he was backed by Pitt, who had failed to win over his bellicose colleagues while minister. Lord Grenville’s aggressive proposals, while they reached his ear, carried no weight with Addington, the most pacific in his cabinet, nor did the Prince of Wales’s misplaced confidence in him as mediator with the King to secure a military command for him. The conclusion of peace preliminaries between the French and Lord Hawkesbury in October 1801 was a personal triumph for Addington, who regarded it as the keystone of his ministry, particularly as a sop to public opinion in a war-weary country. The terms were the best Addington could get, but involved ceding all conquests except Ceylon and Trinidad, and there was an outcry from the ‘outs’ of 1801, led by Grenville and Windham, not from the old opposition. Pitt and George III, who at first jibbed, upheld Addington, whom the King regarded as ‘his chancellor of the Exchequer’. As a mark of royal favour he received the tenancy of White Lodge, Richmond, so much more convenient to him now than Woodley, for life. He also obtained virtual sole access to the King among the ministers: his cabinet, with the exception of Pelham, was docile and his chief consultant, Pitt, whose ‘mere nominee’ he still appeared to be, not in it. His brother Hiley managed the press, making The Times a government organ.13

The possibility of recruiting Whigs for the government was mooted by Addington with Tierney (Fox being unwilling to parley) towards the end of 1801, but although he had the concurrence of Pitt, on whom ‘he seemed to lean with all his weight’, the refusal of the Whig aristocrats to parley ensured the failure of the project. Only Thomas Erskine was won over as an isolated convert. The flirtation with Tierney did have unfortunate consequences for Addington, however, when in the debate of 8 Feb. 1802, Tierney sought to contrast the virtues of the new ministry with the vices of Pitt’s: his personal attack on the latter, which included the accusation of bequeathing budgetary difficulties to his successor, was rebuked in only a few words by Addington: Pitt complained of this and alarmed Addington by the prickly investigation which he found necessary to exonerate the minister, at length, from all blame. As a pledge of reconciliation, although Pitt himself would not consider office, Rose and Long consented to become privy councillors, while Wickham became Irish secretary in place of Abbot, who, as Addington had nothing to offer Ireland but a purge of the establishment, had been over-zealous in pruning it away. In July 1802 Addington awarded the sinecure clerkship of the pells to his son Harry, citing Sir Robert Walpole as his precedent. He felt justified in this, as he had first offered it to four others, including Pitt, and had refused a pension on his retirement from the Chair, which he continued to do until 1822; indeed the only biting criticism came from his brother, who had already plagued him for promotion in the government and wrung it out of him.14

After protracted negotiations involving more concessions to the French, the treaty of Amiens was agreed on 25 Mar. 1802. Addington was handicapped by his own reservations about it, as the debates in May, in which he cut a poor figure against Windham’s attacks, illustrated, but his majorities were overwhelming. Only 20 voted against the peace in the Commons—the bellicose Grenville and Windham group; Lords Pelham and Auckland in the government dissented, but not to the point of resignation. A mellower Windham in the last year of his life was to recant and inform the peacemaker: ‘I have for some time wished to tell you that I am thoroughly convinced, if it had not been for the Peace of Amiens this country could never have maintained the struggle to the present period’. This was supremely gratifying to Addington who had no hopes of lasting peace in 1802, but thought the time not ripe for foreign alliances and insisted on the need for national recovery before war was resumed.15

In April 1802 Addington’s postponed first budget abolished the unpopular wartime income tax and defrayed the mortgage on it by a massive loan to meet outstanding wartime expenses, providing for the payment of the interest on it by new taxes, direct and indirect. The budget was Addington’s own work, though said to have Pitt’s concurrence, and its presentation, starting with a general statement of the country’s economic condition and the principles proposed to maintain its financial balance, was to become budgetary orthodoxy. The measure was well received and Addington followed it up by the overhaul of the lottery, the consolidation of the two sinking funds and of indirect taxes, and tackled two vexed problems by exposing the civil list to scrutiny so as to relieve the crown of responsibility for public works, public service salaries and the expense of the foreign service, and by providing for the payment of arrears both on the civil list and of the Prince of Wales’s debts.16

As peace relaxed internal tension, Addington was able to dispense with the suspension of habeas corpus, which he did not renew when war was resumed. Prodded by Wilberforce and Pitt to press France for an agreement to abolish the slave trade, 27 May 1802, he remained a gradualist and averted a clash with the two men, machinated by Canning, over the future abolition of slavery in Trinidad. The army establishment was reduced and the navy more considerably, Addington having given St Vincent a free hand. Both St Vincent and Wellesley in India threatened resignation and Addington felt obliged to placate them. In July 1802 he strengthened himself in debate by the addition of Castlereagh to the government at the head of the Board of Control.17

The election of 1802, as Addington put it, ‘had little or no effect as far as party strength was concerned’: in fact he held his own, though in Scotland he fell foul of Dundas. Government intervention was reduced, though Addington’s friends were active for him in the west of England.18 The contest that worried him most henceforward was that for Pitt’s support: Addington’s increasing self-confidence and willingness to assume that Pitt was pledged to his support, sans phrase, was interpreted by Pitt as sheer vanity, while Pitt’s friends in opposition boosted him as ‘the pilot who weathered the storm’ and made it clear that they looked forward to his resumption of the helm. Pitt’s suspicion that Addington was prepared to ignore him was fanned by the bestowal of a peerage on Dundas in December 1802, which could be seen as an effort to detach his friends from him.

It was the threat of renewed hostilities that brought matters to a head. Addington publicly rebuffed Buonaparte’s protests at being abused in the British press, while privately warning editors and threatening action against them. He was helpless in the face of Buonaparte’s occupation of Switzerland, but he assumed a defiant posture.19 In his budget proposals in December 1802 he raised a loan of £10 million, but no new taxes, in preparation for war: this pleased the commercial world, but Pitt, who objected and stayed away, took further offence at Addington’s budget speech, which ignored his counsel and, by miscalculation, implicitly discredited his own administration.20 St. Vincent’s insistence on a commission of inquiry into Admiralty administration under Dundas was a source of further rancour. Addington could console himself with the conditional benevolence of the Whigs: Fox shielded him from the Grenvilles and Canning, and Sheridan in particular was his champion, though too severe on Pitt to be a comfortable ally. Pitt nevertheless refused, preferring ‘character’ to ‘office’, to desert Addington without the latter’s concurrence and would not countenance Canning’s scheme late in 1802 to present an ultimatum to the minister. At the same time he satisfied his friends that his advice would no longer be available to a government that snubbed him. Canning pitied Pitt:

Addington has managed him with masterly cunning. He has taken enough of his assistance to pledge him, and neglected it just enough to show that he can do without him. He has adopted his suggestions in substance, so that Pitt must support them in public, and altered them in mode and form and bearing, so that he must disown them in private ... which he cannot resent, without setting Addington still more free, and giving him a character of still more self-dependence and sufficiency than he is by degrees assuming to himself ... Addington has squeezed him like an orange.21

Addington persuaded Pitt, who had first declined, to meet him in January 1803 and, as he thought, put matters right; especially as Pitt thought he could not be party to a coalition government without the King’s encouragement; but, while Addington had in mind a coalition with a third person at the head, Pitt intended that he should head such an administration. This became clear when Addington sent Lord Melville, who was thought not to be averse to office, to Pitt at Walmer in March 1803 to propose that they should both serve under Pitt’s elder brother Chatham. Pitt refused to swallow this proposal and persisted in his neutrality towards government, which he warned might ripen into hostility. A week later Addington sent Charles Long with the proposal that Pitt should be premier but not at present dissolve the existing administration, making it clear that he could not stomach the immediate inclusion of the Grenville connexion. Pitt was advised by Lord Grenville, who was trying to convince him of Addington’s perfidy towards him, that this was intolerable: he should have a free hand and refuse Addington and his clan cabinet office, or ‘any efficient offices of real business’: Addington might console himself with the putative office of Speaker of the House of Lords. These terms were suggested to Addington by Pitt when they met at Long’s house subsequently: Addington objected to the putative office suggested for him, preferring to be a secretary of state with a peerage, but swallowed his pride and asked for time to consult his cabinet. He had no intention of being negotiated out of his place. Pitt, who was in full consultation with Grenville, refused to reconsider the terms and the cabinet rejected them as a bid to ‘new-model’ the government. As Sir William Scott put it, ‘There was not pasture enough for all’. After a frosty correspondence Addington undertook to reveal the negotiation to the King, who, not having been consulted, grumbled of the crown being put in commission and refused to peruse the dossier.22 Addington had shown how far he was prepared to go to avert Pitt’s hostility, but having been rejected out of hand, and in the face of rumours of his resignation, he had no scruples in turning to the Whigs. Although he refused to come to terms with Fox, he recruited Tierney for the government in May 1803. Hawkesbury was sent up to the Lords to strengthen government there.23

In February 1803 Addington had refused Buonaparte’s demand that the British should evacuate Malta and in May sent an ultimatum which led to the resumption of hostilities. In debate his initial equivocation on and subsequent defence of the resumption, in military attire, did not impress; Pitt, who omitted to call Addington his friend, shone; and their breach was publicly exposed on 3 June, when Addington insisted on a negative to Patten’s motion censuring the conduct of the recent negotiations with France, and Pitt, who had decided not to support Patten, proposed the orders of the day against it. Nevertheless Patten, with Grenvillite backing, had only 36 supporters and Pitt only 58, against 335. The Foxites abstained on Patten’s motion. In all it seemed to be a triumph for Addington, thanks to Pitt’s scruples and the disunity of opposition: but his apparent security appalled Fox, who disapproved the resumption of war and began overtures to the Grenvillites for a united opposition. The latter rebuffed them at first and Fox temporarily fell back on an attempt to make the government pacific.24

Addington’s war budget of 13 June 1803 reintroduced a revised version of Pitt’s income tax, the property tax, on the principle of taxation of income at source to prevent evasion. Although its presentation was unsatisfactory, there was no opposition then. Pitt, who was present, said nothing, but in July he attacked it, particularly the exemption from tax of the first £150 of earned as opposed to unearned income. Addington carried the day by 150 votes to 50, but next day extended the exemption to unearned income and also conceded that the Bank should not be allowed to deduct fundholders’ tax at source. Pitt also objected to the fivefold assessment of sources of income, but on this Addington would not yield. In fact, his plan was successful; Pitt was to adopt his principle of taxation at source as the basis of his own budget in 1805 and it was to remain the basis of the income tax.25

After his open demonstration of no confidence in the budget, Pitt retired to Walmer, disgruntled, which satisfied nobody. In September 1803 a pamphlet by ‘A Near Observer’ (T. R. Bentley) praised Addington at Pitt’s expense and the latter was mortified: a pamphlet warfare ensued. Addington disclaimed responsibility. His war policy, a waiting game, anticipated a French invasion and eschewed continental alliances as premature, while promoting the seizure of colonies in the West Indies; home defence was therefore given priority and the militia and volunteers were the main preoccupation. The raising of an army of reserve for the emergency was promulgated on 20 June 1803, and the volunteers provided for by the military service bill in July. Pitt concurred, though in fact the army of reserve raised only three-fifths of the expected number of men and the volunteers proved unmanageably many (300,000); moreover, the regular army was neglected. The disappointed reaction to this, coupled with Emmet’s rising in Dublin, brought Addington’s stock down, and his appointment of his brother Hiley as secretary at war so that Charles Yorke could replace Pelham at the Home Office did not help matters. Yorke and his half-brother Lord Hardwicke tried to convince Addington that a broad-bottomed administration was now essential. While Addington paid lip-service to the idea, he did not feel sufficiently threatened: in debate, opposition was muffled before Christmas 1803, but their growing resentment at ministers’ feebleness in the face of French invasion, now daily expected, spurred them into action. They felt that Addington had too long profited by their disunity, with what Robert Ward described as

a timid vanity, which will not allow him to attempt anything that would ruin of itself; or to retire until fairly shoved with violence from the stage. He thus trusts to the dissensions or rather non-agreement of others, and the silent operation of the King’s favour, and all will perhaps again be acquiescence and contempt, the first of which will be turned into approbation, by the same quality which prevents him from feeling the last.26

In January 1804 Lord Grenville, after a final unsuccessful attempt to gain Pitt’s co-operation, leagued with Fox, who had no patience with Addington’s continued flirtation with the Whigs via Sheridan, against administration. Operations were suspended by the King’s bout of insanity, but before he recovered, Pitt, to whom Lord Chancellor Eldon secretly revealed on 20 Mar. the dissatisfaction of the leading lights of Addington’s government with their plight, had come out into open opposition. His motion on the state of the navy on 15 Mar., though well answered by Pellew, was supported by some Members of the Fox and Grenville parties and government’s majority reduced to 71. Yet when Pitt refused to criticize the volunteer consolidation bill a few days later, opposition mustered only 56 votes: this last act of neutrality only confirmed Pitt’s strength. When in April he announced total opposition, the government was doomed. On 16 Apr., on the Irish militia bill, Addington’s majority in a thinner House was only 21. Both sides mustered for Fox’s defence motion of the 23rd, and although Hiley Addington thought his brother’s ‘the best speech he ever made’ in reply to Fox, there were ‘many rats about’ and the government had a majority of only 52. In the division on the Army of Reserve Act, 25 Apr., it was down to 37. The Prince of Wales’s friends were the most notable rats and no longer amenable to office, but the corrosion of the support of the independent country gentlemen was what Addington, resolved to stick it out, had most to fear. On 16 Apr. he had made a last overture to Pitt, who, knowing the minister was on his last legs, rejected it and penned a justificatory letter to the King with Eldon as his postman and without Addington’s knowledge. Addington had already persuaded a reluctant monarch that he could not go on. His last act of government on 30 Apr. 1804 was to present an unexceptionable budget, and he resigned the Exchequer seals on 10 May. He had refused the King’s offer of a dissolution, as it would ‘throw the country into confusion’. His sense of being deserted on all sides left him with no wish to continue and he was relieved to escape the strain of office. The King, on hearing Pitt’s proposals for a comprehensive administration, protested at Addington’s omission from it; but Pitt was adamant and it was the royal veto on Fox that in the long run necessitated a rapprochement between Pitt and Addington. Addington believed that by yielding to an unwieldy opposition he had contributed to the royal peace of mind by preventing the storming of the closet. It was also his final admission that he had been sadly miscast as prime minister and though, as Wilberforce put it ‘a better man than most of them [he was] not well fitted for the warfare of St. Stephens’. This was a suspicion which he had at first felt compelled to brush aside, subsequently perhaps dismissed, but which, after reducing a temperate man to drinking ‘perhaps twenty glasses of wine at dinner to invigorate himself for debate’, still gnawed him to the core.27

Addington had no wish to return to office; but he was equally embarrassed by George III’s offer on 9 May 1804 of the earldom of Banbury and a pension of £4,000 for his wife. He declined these and other offers. ‘Why is Mr Addington too proud to accept a proof of friendship from the King?’ wrote the monarch to ‘the best friend he has in the world’. All that Addington, who shunned such a label, would agree to accept was the tenancy of White Lodge and the gift of a copy of the royal portrait. There were reports of the King’s willingness to admit his best friend’s want of calibre as minister, but George III’s continued cordiality to Addington was noted with apprehension by Pitt’s friends and the King certainly set himself the task of reconciling Addington and Pitt—their estrangement was undoubtedly the greatest private loss Addington had incurred in obeying the royal command in 1801.28

Out of office, Addington’s character rose in public esteem in proportion to his freedom of action; his disinterestedness was admitted and his conduct admired. Pitt’s friends saw that he was a force to be reckoned with: Rose gave him 68 votes in the House, which could hold the balance. When Pitt tried to lure Nicholas Vansittart into office in July 1804, the latter refused for Addington’s sake. As Pitt had failed to recruit the Grenvillites, he had had to fall back on several of Addington’s ministers, and the result was not formidable. Addington resolved, saving his adherence to the King, ‘to keep clear of all parties’ and to take his own line in the House. So he did: his conspicuous opposition to Pitt’s additional force bill in June embarrassed the King and irritated the government, particularly as Fox made a point of commending it. Addington was playing the same game as Pitt had played against him. He also maintained his preference for gradualism in the debate on the abolition of the slave trade, to the great indignation of Wilberforce.29

Despite reports of a flirtation with Fox and the Prince of Wales, Addington refused to be ‘the stalking-horse or cat’s paw of opposition’ and rejected overtures from them: he had no wish to help overthrow Pitt’s administration and, at heart, reconciliation with Pitt was what he wanted, but considering himself as the injured party, and the more so as Pitt was trying to lure his friends from him, he expected Pitt to make the first move.30 It came about on 12 Dec. 1804 when Pitt, much in need of Addington’s votes, which might be used against him on the defence arrangements or the war with Spain, sent Hawkesbury, with the royal blessing, to negotiate a rapprochement. Addington, on being informed that he and four of his friends, Bragge Bathurst, Bond, Vansittart and his brother Hiley, were to take office under the proposal, first required assurance that it was not merely ‘a sense of the difficulties of government’, but a change of heart by Pitt that inspired the proposal. Given this, and in order to protect the royal prerogative, he made no difficulties about policy and proceeded to bargain for the inclusion of his friends in the arrangement. St. Vincent demurred, but all the others were promised office, either at once or at the first opportunity. Addington even secured the point of greatest difficulty, the admission of Lord Buckinghamshire into the cabinet. For himself he desired nothing; but this would not do. Pitt wished him to accept a peerage; Addington was averse to it and claimed that with about £6,000 p.a. he could not afford one; he had already declined the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster for life. Pitt rejoined that it would prevent unpleasantness in the Commons. Addington wished to remain there, to help Pitt; so a cabinet seat without portfolio would be enough for him. The King joined Pitt in insisting, and Addington gave way. On 5 Jan., eschewing an earldom, he became Viscount Sidmouth, and on 14 Jan. lord president of the Council. The King was delighted and Addington had the satisfaction of regaining Pitt’s friendship, but it was an expedient that did not last.31 Those of Pitt’s colleagues who had opposed Addington in power denounced the union as at best ‘a necessary evil’. Opposition sneered, and in January 1805 Sheridan publicly questioned Pitt’s sincerity in the light of his conduct since 1801. Erskine’s interpretation was: ‘Addington is appointed principal keeper of the madhouse, and Pitt made the first move because the lunatic could not be governed without him’. It was observed that Pitt now communicated with the King through Sidmouth.32

It was the censure of Melville’s Admiralty administration in April 1805 that provoked a fresh breach, which ended in Sidmouth’s resignation, 5 July 1805. On Pitt’s death in January 1806, Sidmouth neither wished nor was wished by the King to replace him; he had in fact lost his political compass. In the Grenville administration Sidmouth accepted office for himself and four friends, knowing full well that it was his votes and his supposed influence with the King that were coveted: he had become ‘a Swiss ... an ally of any party’.33 The Whigs were subsequently ready enough to blame Sidmouth for the King’s declaration against Catholic relief which led first to his, then to their resignation. Thereafter Sidmouth followed his own line until he accepted office under Perceval in April 1812, on the best terms he had ever obtained for his friends. In Liverpool’s administration he accepted the Home Office, which he had thought of as a desirable office for himself in April 1805. He was a firm advocate of stern measures against popular discontent. He wished to be remembered as ‘the country gentleman’s secretary of state’.34 He died 15 Feb. 1844.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


Addington by Philip Ziegler (1965) is the only biography since Pellew’s Life of Lord Sidmouth (1847). This latter tampers with the text of letters in the Sidmouth mss, now at Devon RO.

  • 1. Pellew, i. 75; Wraxall Mems. ed. Wheatley, iv. 238-9; Camden mss C3/14.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1844), i. 319; Sidmouth mss, Prosser to Addington, 9 Jan. 1793; Add. 37879, f. 200; Pellew, i. 166.
  • 3. Pellew, i. 108; Sidmouth mss, Mitford to Addington, 5 Nov. 1793.
  • 4. D. A. Schofield, ‘Henry Addington as Speaker of the House of Commons’ (Southampton Univ. M.A. thesis, 1959); Pellew, i. 81, cf. Minto, i. 373; Burke Corresp. viii. 404; Colchester, i. 71, 85-86.
  • 5. Pellew, i. 183; Kent AO, Stanhope mss 735/10, Mrs Tomline’s memo [Oct.-Nov. 1801].
  • 6. Ziegler, 65.
  • 7. Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1333; Sidmouth mss, Addington to J. H. Addington, 7 Oct. 1795; Camden mss C224/2; Life of Wilberforce (1838), ii. 170; Ziegler, 51; Rose Diaries, i. 281.
  • 8. Add. 34716, f. 68; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 196.
  • 9. Rose Diaries, i. 286; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 152, 160; Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2331, 2334, 2337, 2341; Ashbourne, Pitt, 311; Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 5; Pellew, i. 288; Rose Diaries, i. 291-2, 317-18; Harewood mss, Canning to Rev. Leigh, 16 Feb., 20 Mar.; Chatsworth mss, Duchess of Devonshire jnl. 7, 11 Feb. 1801; Add. 37416, f. 74.
  • 10. Pellew, i. 331; E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, Rose to his wife, 25 Feb. 1801; Rose Diaries, i. 292; Stanhope mss 729/1, Canning to Pitt, 8 Mar. 1801; Leveson Gower, i. 290; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 171, 177, 191; M. D. George, Cat. Pol. and Personal Satires, vol. viii. passim; The Times, 14 Oct. 1936; PRO 30/8/157, f. 286.
  • 11. The Times, 24 Mar. 1801; Farington, ii. 259; Ziegler, 19, 23, 51, 75; J. G. Rogers, ‘Addington and the Addingtonian interest in Parliament 1801-12’ (Oxf. Univ. B. Litt. thesis, 1951), 4, 6, 31, 32 and app.; Bodl. Eng. Lett. c. 60, C. P. Yorke to his mother, 11 Feb.; Sidmouth mss, Addington to Canning, 12 Feb., reply 13 Feb., Montrose to Addington, 16 Feb., Temple to Addington, 18 Feb. 1801; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 212, 332; Rose Diaries, i. 464; Colchester, i. 240; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 4.
  • 12. Glenbervie Diaries, i. 195, 196, 279; Rose Diaries, i. 322-3, 329, 335; Castlereagh Corresp. iv. 78; Colchester, i. 258; PRO 30/9/33, Abbot diary, 15 Mar. 1801; Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 38.
  • 13. Add. 48222, f. 130; Tomline mss. Rose to bp. of Lincoln, 28 May; Sidmouth mss, Grenville to Addington, 8 May; PRO 30/9/33, Abbot diary, 1 Mar. 1801; Add. 37308, f. 344; Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1608; Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2373; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 220, 267, 281; Minto, iii. 227; A. Aspinall, Politics and the Press 1780-1850, pp. 75-77; Rogers, 97, 140.
  • 14. Fox Corresp. iii. 354-6; Add. 38833, f. 61; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 270; Hants RO, Tierney mss 52g; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey [Oct.] [15] Oct., 17, 19 Dec., Erskine to same [Dec. 1801], Whitbread to same, 28 Jan. 1802; Whitbread mss W1/2408; Bucks. RO, Grenville mss D54/13, Buckingham to his brother, 15 Dec.; Tomline mss, Rose to bp. of Lincoln, 18, 22, 27 Nov., 10 Dec. 1801; Sidmouth mss, Pitt to Addington, 9, 12, 17 Feb., 29 July 1802; Stanhope, Pitt, iii. 375; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2653; The Times, 3, 4 Aug. 1801.
  • 15. Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 74; Pellew, ii. 52.
  • 16. Pellew, ii. 61.
  • 17. Life of Wilberforce, iii. 28; Stanhope mss 731/13, Wilberforce to Pitt, 29 May; Harewood mss, Canning to Leigh, 1 June 1801; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 333.
  • 18. Sidmouth mss, Dundas to Addington, 5 Sept. 1801, 19 Oct., Castlereagh to Addington, 27 July, Addington to Pole Carew, 1 Aug. 1802; SRO GD51/1/67; Add. 35708, f. 33.
  • 19. Sidmouth mss. Addington to Heriot, 12 Aug. 1802; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 331, 333; Rose Diaries, i. 517.
  • 20. Sidmouth mss, Liverpool to Addington, 15 Dec. 1802; Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 163-5; Stanhope, iii. 425; Rose Diaries, i. 512; ii. 23.
  • 21. Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 102, 123, 129, 163, 167; Rose Diaries, i. 490; Tomline mss, Rose’s memo of his meeting with Pitt at Bath, Nov.-Dec. 1802; Alnwick mss 61, f. 47; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 354; Sidmouth mss, Pitt to Addington, 10 Nov. 1802; Minto, iii. 263; Leveson Gower, i. 338.
  • 22. Minto, iii. 281; Sidmouth mss, Melville to Addington, 22 Mar., Pitt to same, 13, 15, 21, 24 Apr., Addington to Pitt, 14, 18, 21, 24 Apr.; W. L. Clements Lib. Pitt letters, Pitt to Melville, 12, 13 Apr.; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 18, 26 Apr.; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 4/93, 97; Grey mss, Grey to his wife, [19], 20 Apr. 1803; HMC Fortescue, vii. 158-61; Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 171, 177-87; Rose Diaries, ii. 31-40; Stanhope, iv. 22-36; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iii. 282-90; Colchester, i. 413-16, 418, 430; Pellew, ii. 131.
  • 23. Sidmouth mss, Miss Gore to Addington, 2 May; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 31 May 1803; PRO 30/8/185, f. 265; Add. 38236, f. 258.
  • 24. Grey mss, Grey to his wife, 3, 7 May; Add. 51736, Caroline Fox to Holland, 31 May; Landsdowne mss, Petty to Landsdowne, 7 May; Add. 35714, f. 93; Grey mss, Whitbread to Grey, 3 June 1803; Minto, iii. 289; Buckingham, iii, 333.
  • 25. Grey mss, Whitbread to Grey, 13, 22 June; Add. 51736, Caroline Fox to Holland, 27 June 1803; Colchester, i. 428; Ziegler, 193.
  • 26. Buckingham, iii. 321; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lowther, 6 Oct., Camden to same [31 Oct.], Ward to same, 11 Nov.; SRO GD51/1/74; Add. 35703, f. 262; 35704, ff. 34, 77, 145; 38833, f. 151; 51570, Hamilton to Lady Holland [16 Dec. 1803].
  • 27. Alnwick mss 61, f. 217; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lowther, 8, 16 Mar.; Add. 37415, f. 193; Stanhope, iv. 145; SRO GD51/1/76; Sidmouth mss, J. H. Addington to his sister, 24 Apr. 1804; Minto, iii. 317-21; HMC Bathurst, 34; Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 296, 297, 302; Colchester, i. 501; Farington, ii. 100; Life of Wilberforce, iii. 148.
  • 28. Pellew, ii. 295; Colchester, i. 503, 505, 513; Chatsworth mss, Duchess of Devonshire to her mother [29 Apr.], [3 May] 1804; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 389; Rose Diaries, ii. 156, 162; Stanhope, iv. 194; Tomline mss, bp. of Lincoln to his wife, 10 Jan. 1804.
  • 29. Colchester, i. 517, 527; Jerningham Letters, i. 240; Pellew, ii. 315; Sidmouth mss, Addington to J. H. Addington, 12, 13 June, 7 July, 24 Oct., 1, 5 Nov. 1804; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2907; Life of Wilberforce, iii. 178.
  • 30. Add. 35715, ff. 82, 84; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 383; Glos. RO, Redesdale mss C9, Long to Redesdale, 11 Aug.; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lowther, 12 Nov., Essex to same, 29 Nov.; Sidmouth mss, Addington to J. H. Addington, 6 Oct. 1804; Colchester, i. 530; Farington, iii. 290.
  • 31. Sidmouth mss, Bond to Addington, 12 Sept., Addington to Bragge Bathurst, 12 Dec., to J. H. Addington, 22, 24, 31 Dec., Pitt to Addington, 25, 30 Dec. 1804, Addington to Hawkesbury, 2 Jan., to Bragge Bathurst, 3 Jan., to Pitt, 28 Jan. 1805; memo of 15 Feb. 1831; Life of Wilberforce, iii. 210-11; PRO 30/8/143, ff. 64-66; Add. 38241, ff. 97, 102; NLW, Coedymaen mss 20, Buckingham to Williams Wynn, 27 Dec. 1804; Sheridan Letters ed. Price, ii. 234; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lowther 1 Jan. 1805; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2983-93; Colchester, i. 508, 532, 537-40.
  • 32. Lonsdale mss, Camden to Lowther, 29 Dec. 1804, Ward to same, 3, 8, 31 Jan.; PRO 30/29/8/3, f. 339; Grey mss, Erskine to Grey, 7 Jan. 1805; Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2025.
  • 33. Leveson Gower, ii. 177; Lonsdale mss, Mulgrave to Lowther, 11 Mar. 1807.
  • 34. Colchester, i. 552; Powis mss, Sidmouth to Powis, 2 Nov. 1817.