BURDETT, Francis (1770-1844), of Foremark, nr. Repton, Derbys. and Ramsbury, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. 25 Jan. 1770, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Francis Burdett of Castle Hill, Mdx. by Eleanor, da. and coh. of William Jones of Ramsbury. educ. Westminster 1778-86; Christ Church, Oxf. 1785. m. 5 Aug. 1793, Sophia, da. and coh. of Thomas Coutts, banker, of London, 1s. 5da. suc. fa. 1794; gdfa. Sir Robert Burdett†, 4th Bt., of Foremark as 5th Bt. 13 Feb. 1797; aunt Lady Jones to Ramsbury and took name of Jones by royal lic. 5 Apr. 1800 (but only briefly affected it).
On his return from a continental tour in 1792 Burdett embarked on a programme of intellectual self-improvement, designed to repair the deficiencies of his wasted formal education. The ‘manly sensible seriousness’ which he applied to the task favourably impressed William Bagshaw Stevens, domestic chaplain at Foremark. His marriage to the wealthy heiress Sophia Coutts, which considerably improved his already excellent prospects of a substantial inherited income, did not divert him from his studies; and the unhappiness occasioned to his wife by his reclusive habits, coldness and indifference to social trivia badly strained his relationship with his father-in-law. Though reserved and taciturn in formal company, as he remained throughout his life, he showed a taste for political debate and his views became increasingly extreme. In November 1794 he wrote to Stevens denouncing the war and domestic counter-revolution and rejoicing in the acquittal of the radicals Thomas Hardy and that ‘very valuable man’ John Horne Tooke*; but Coutts was unable to interest him in a seat in the next Parliament early in 1795. In the summer Burdett, exasperated by his wife’s incessant demands on his attention and frustrated by the restrictions of domesticity and the conventional social round, experienced an intellectual and emotional crisis. Stevens was alarmed by his despairing, sometimes suicidal tone, the doctrinaire rigidity of his views, his intolerance and lack of sensitivity. The intervention of friends and relatives produced a degree of mutual compromise and a reconciliation between Burdett and his wife in the autumn, but his relations with Coutts remained volatile for some time.1
In 1796 he accepted a seat for Boroughbridge on the Newcastle interest, procured through the agency of his father-in-law at a cost of £4,000. He told Stevens that he was bent on a course of truculent independence and, after making an unexplained visit to Ireland in October, he began to vote regularly against Pitt, for whom he had conceived a deep and enduring hatred. Prophesying that public expression of his thoughts would lead almost certainly to a rupture with his family and possibly to ‘an indictment for high treason or the guillotine’, he deferred his maiden speech until after the death of his grandfather, which guaranteed his wealth and independence and made him less reluctant ‘in speaking his Jacobinical sentiments’.2 He made his debut by seconding Fox’s motion on Ireland, 23 Mar. 1797, when he extolled the suspected traitor Arthur O’Connor and appeared to call for the impeachment of Pitt.
In 1796 Burdett had been introduced to Horne Tooke and his Wimbledon clique of upper-class and professional men of advanced views.3 Their relationship became a close one, with Horne Tooke zealously coaching Burdett for his role as a popular leader. He chaired the Crown and Anchor parliamentary reform meeting in May 1797 and on the 26th supported Grey’s reform motion, presenting himself as a tribune of the people. He committed himself to no specific proposals and voiced many sentiments which were the stock in trade of the Foxite Whigs, but he marked his essentially independent standpoint with the observation that Pitt’s replacement by the Whigs would be ineffectual ‘without an entire change of system’ to ‘a full and free representation of the people’. He was voted an honorary member of the London Corresponding Society. His early political views were wild, strongly tinged with republicanism and not yet set within a framework of constitutional pedantry. They were too extreme for most Whigs and in June 1798 he was black-balled by the Whig Club. He was closely involved with the United Irishmen and seems to have anticipated his own arrest. Ministers monitored his activities and considered proceeding against him. He did not testify at O’Connor’s trial, but participated in the ensuing riot and, according to Lady Holland, was saved from prosecution only by the interposition of Coutts’s ‘secret influence with the King’. In 1801 he may have flirted with insurrectionary elements in London.4
In the House, where the Foxite secession gave him an opportunity to make his presence felt, Burdett pursued his onslaught on repression and corruption and delineated some of the characteristic features of his radicalism. In attacks on the triple assessment, 3 Jan., and the land tax redemption bill, 30 May 1798, he argued that heavy taxes on the wealthy, levied to sustain corruption, injured the labouring poor, and revealed his essentially agrarian, traditional outlook by appealing to the country gentlemen ‘to stand forward at length in support of their country’. On the address, 20 Nov. 1798, he deplored the language of ‘eternal war’, which he consistently condemned as the instrument of counter-revolution abroad and the excuse for reaction at home. On several occasions he denounced Pitt’s treatment of Ireland and he opposed the Union.
Between 1798 and 1801 Burdett’s energies were largely devoted to his campaign on behalf of political prisoners, who included Col. Despard, detained under the suspension of habeas corpus in Coldbath Fields prison, Clerkenwell. It made him a plebeian hero and laid the foundations of his popularity as a radical leader. Late in 1798 he inspected the prison and announced his intention of moving for inquiry into it and the conduct of its governor, Thomas Aris; but in January 1799 he was barred from the prison by the Home secretary’s directive, allegedly for inciting disaffection among the inmates. Pitt produced an affidavit from Aris and a letter from the Home secretary discrediting his charges of maltreatment, and the Middlesex magistracy reported favourably on the institution. His call for inquiry was deflected by ministers, who on 6 Mar. 1799 proposed the appointment of a select committee to which Burdett agreed, not realizing that this involved his own exclusion from the investigation. On 21 May 1799 he protested and moved to recommit the committee’s report, which he described as an attempt to cover up a ‘premeditated system of torture and iniquity’, but his motion was rejected by 147 votes to 6. An adverse report on Coldbath Fields by the traverse jury of Middlesex gave Burdett, who was backed by the Whigs Richard Sheridan* and George Tierney*, the ammunition with which to return to the attack, 11 July 1800. Pitt began to concede ground and on 22 July, when Burdett moved for inquiry by a committee of the whole House, he agreed to Tierney’s alternative proposal for an address to the King, which received Burdett’s concurrence. The findings of the subsequent investigation very largely vindicated his case. Though partially satisfied, he criticized the failure to furnish the commission with power to remedy the abuses discovered, 31 Dec. 1800, and continued to raise the matter in the House in 1801.5
In speeches on the address and the high price of food, 11 and 26 Nov. 1800, Burdett linked social and economic distress with the continuance of war and the proliferation of corruption. He spoke warmly of Fox when attacking the Irish martial law bill, 16 Mar. 1801, protested violently against the suspension of habeas corpus, 14 Apr., opposed the exclusion of Horne Tooke from the House in May and denounced the indemnity bill, 27 May and 5 June. On 13 Nov. 1801 he gave notice of a motion for retrospective inquiry into Pitt’s tenure of power, which Fox and Tierney were willing to support,6 but he did not bring it on until 12 Apr. 1802, when it received little verbal backing and secured only 39 votes against 246. He supported the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 31 Mar. 1802.
At the beginning of 1802, Burdett was strongly inclined to retire at the next election and even contemplated withdrawal to the Continent; but in the event he accepted, evidently against Horne Tooke’s advice, an invitation from radical elements in Middlesex to contest the county against William Mainwaring*, the chairman of the Middlesex bench, who had sided with Aris. In his address he called for ‘a fair representation of the people in Parliament’, but the main issue of the election was that of Coldbath Fields, vigorously exploited by the slogan of ‘Burdett and No Bastille’. This cry, combined with very heavy expenditure and the last-minute production of almost 400 highly suspect votes, enabled Burdett to beat Mainwaring into third place. His concluding address portrayed his success as a censure of ‘government by secret and concealed torture’ and a gesture of defiance against the unbridled power of a hired magistracy. Ministers saw wider implications in the fact that he had been supported not merely by a number of prominent Foxites, but by several notorious extremists of the 1790s.7
While Burdett, who visited France in the summer of 1802 but refused to be presented to Buonaparte, did not stress reform during the Middlesex campaign, his speeches at Hackney and Moorfields, 8 Oct. and 17 Nov., suggest that this was the cause which he was most keen to promote. He sent £100 through his brother to Lemaitre for Despard’s defence, but was apprehensive at the thought of his name being publicized in the course of the trial. He accepted the address, 24 Nov. 1802, in so far as it promised a continuance of peace, but remonstrated against the bellicosity of the Grenvillites and the covert aggressiveness of ministers. On 9 Dec. he explained that he was averse not to intelligent and judicious interference in Europe, but to ‘involving the country wantonly and unnecessarily in an expenditure of blood and treasure, and throwing dust in the eyes of the people to prevent them from seeing the real causes of hostilities’. He scorned the Grenvillites’ call for Pitt’s return to power, criticized the expense of the peace establishment and demanded fundamental reforms to forge a united nation.
Burdett, who entertained Fox and a number of leading Whigs in March 1803, voted for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s debts, 4 Mar., against the Nottingham election bill, 3 May, and in the minority on the renewal of war, 24 May 1803. He was one of the few public figures who resisted the rising tide of loyalist sentiment. On the introduction of the defence bill, 18 July, he argued that ‘if ministers were really in earnest, and wished on this occasion to conciliate the hearts and wishes of the people, they should begin by repealing all the oppressive and unconstitutional Acts of their predecessors’. At the Crown and Anchor, 29 July, he condemned the war, called for reform, and seemed to suggest that men should not fight in defence of the country until their grievances were redressed. Even the Whig Morning Chronicle jibbed at this. Reporters were excluded from the debate on defence, 2 Aug., when Burdett replied to his critics, but Caroline Fox reckoned that he ‘defended himself very well’. He was less successful in Middlesex. Called on for an explanation at the county meeting to vote a loyal address, 3 Aug., he claimed to have been misrepresented, but his speech was badly received and when he went on to remark that the supposed prevalence of loyalty should not be taken for granted and to deplore the state of Ireland, he was shouted down. His Foxite admirers were embarrassed and disappointed by his performance. He joined in the combined attack on Addington and was reckoned a follower of Fox in the government lists of March and May 1804, but he privately had little faith in the will or ability of the Foxites to execute basic reforms, deeply distrusted Pitt and concluded that his ‘wisest way’ was to ‘remain quiet’ while other men performed futile political manoeuvres.8 He opposed the additional force bill in June 1804 and attacked the civil list debt, 2 July.
Burdett was again involved in heated political conflict, in which he was heavily dependent on the Foxites, by the decision of the committee appointed to investigate Mainwaring’s petition that the election of 1802 was void. In the ensuing contest against Mainwaring’s son in the summer of 1804 he was backed by the loyalist radicals who had turned against him in 1803 and by the Foxites, whose assistance he acknowledged with a striking, though qualified, declaration of attachment to ‘the Whig interest’:
Without being a party man ... I have on all occasions ... given that interest my unbiassed and active support ... because I believe the Whig principles are those which must save the country. I am of opinion that the creed professed by those who support that interest, is a creed calculated for freemen; but if ... the Whig interest deserted its principles, or if the Tory interest abandoned their errors ... you would find me as ardent in the ranks of their forces as I have hitherto been in those of the Whigs.
At the same time he was actively supported by Frost, Bonney and their radical associates. Although narrowly deprived of success by a technical decision of the sheriffs, he claimed the result as a moral victory for the cause of ‘independence’. A petition of the freeholders was presented, on his behalf, organized by a combination of Whigs and radicals and partially financed by a projected national subscription, and in March 1805 he was restored to the seat, to the delight of Fox and the radical journalist William Cobbett. When Mainwaring counter-petitioned, however, Burdett formally declined to resist. A group of freeholders were allowed to do so in his name, but they failed to appear before the committee in February 1806 and he was again unseated. Contemporary reports put his personal expenditure on the two elections at between £60,000 and £100,000.9
At a meeting of the Middlesex Freeholders’ Club, 7 Feb. 1806, Burdett evidently argued against the immediate exertion of pressure for reform on the new government. He was at the dinner to celebrate Fox’s re-election for Westminster, 15 Feb., and in an address to Middlesex soon afterwards asserted that it was possible to ‘look forward with confidence’ to the attainment of ‘a fair and substantial representation of the people’ under the ‘Talents’. As late as 29 July 1806 he was prepared publicly to ascribe their inactivity to the restrictive influence of the Grenvillites, but privately he became rapidly disillusioned. He declined an invitation to stand for Westminster on Fox’s death, having pledged his support to the government candidate, but at the general election of 1806 he sponsored and actively supported the candidature of the radical James Paull*. His own election address to Middlesex, 28 Oct., which denounced the shibboleths of both parties and announced his determination to spend no money, so that ‘at least the proportion of remaining integrity should be known’, marked his decisive public repudiation of the Whigs. It led to the promotion by a section of the government and the Mainwaring faction of an anti-Burdett candidate, a general desire among the Foxites to exclude him, and almost, after a sharp public exchange of views, to a duel with the Foxite Samuel Whitbread II*. Burdett attacked George Byng, the sitting Member, and his fellow ‘professing Whigs’ for their selfish coalition with the Grenvillites and their blasting of hopes of ‘great schemes of national reform’. It was in the course of this campaign that he first articulated his distinctive tory and monarchical brand of radicalism:
I am not for a king of shreds and patches ... but, for the efficient magistrate, the constitutional King of England,—the abuse of his prerogatives, by ministers, being checked, controlled, and guarded against by a fair representation of the people in Parliament.
His other main theme, an attack on the presence of ‘court pensioners and placemen’ in Parliament, was eagerly taken up by John Cartwright and Cobbett, who perceived its tactical advantages over a simple demand for franchise reform. Although Burdett finished in third place his support, in view of his methods, was quite impressive, and his performance greatly enhanced his popular standing. In his final address he claimed to have found ‘a public’, composed of independent men who would bolster his efforts to ‘stem the torrent against these venal Coalition Whigs’.10
The failure in Middlesex convinced Horne Tooke that his protégé should discountenance the existing electoral system, and Burdett, who denounced the government’s budget as a ‘sublime bubble’ at the Crown and Anchor, 5 Feb. 1807, declined an invitation to contest Grampound later in the month. At the dissolution he was urged by Paull to join him in standing for Westminster, and the outcome of a complex sequence of events was his agreement in principle, when questioned by Francis Place and William Adams, leaders of a group of prosperous radical tradesmen anxious to promote the cause of independence, to accept a seat should it be won for him by the efforts of the electors, without any participation or inducement from himself. His serious financial problems doubtless had an influence on this decision. An intensifying quarrel with Paull ended in a duel on 2 May 1807 when both were wounded, the abandonment of Paull by the leading Westminster radicals and their formation of a committee, backed by Cobbett, to promote Burdett’s election. He did not appear on the hustings during the campaign, the basic theme of which was freedom of election, with some emphasis on the exclusion of placemen and pensioners from the House, but topped the poll by over 1,300 votes, at a cost to his supporters of only £780. In his address, 25 May, he condemned ‘attempts to delude the public mind, by comparatively petty and insignificant inquiries into what is termed peculation; whilst those inquirers themselves think it not dishonourable to seize greedily every opportunity of enriching themselves out of the public spoil’. The government and the Whig press were outraged and rumours persisted that there would be official action against Burdett for breach of privilege. In the event it was decided not to martyr him, and the general establishment view appears to have been that he could do no harm and make little impression inside the House, despite what Henry Hunt later described as his status as ‘the great political idol’ outside it. His triumphal chairing, 29 June, was marked by a vast public demonstration.11
Burdett, whose nomination by Robert Myddelton Biddulph* for the finance committee was rejected, 30 June 1807, did not take his seat until 22 Jan. 1808, when he divided the House against the vote of thanks for the Copenhagen expedition. He joined in the subsequent Whig attacks on the episode and voted for Whitbread’s third peace resolution, 29 Feb. He raised the questions of economical reform and the improvement of conditions of military service, in particular the abolition of flogging, but he secured only four votes for his request for information on corporal punishment in the army, 30 June. His most impressive performance was on the reversions bill, 11 Apr., which he supported as ‘a commencement of reform’, although he considered it inadequate.12 He did not fulfil the nervous expectations of Lord Grey and Tierney by bringing parliamentary reform before the House, whose mood he judged to be too hostile, but confined himself to a stout declaration of principle at the Westminster anniversary dinner, 23 May 1808. Cobbett approved the speech, but Cartwright was disappointed by Burdett’s passivity and their relationship suffered a temporary set-back. Nor did he, as anticipated, found a motion for peace on petitions from the manufacturing districts. In the summer of 1808 he quashed plans for a Westminster meeting to link support for the Spanish revolt with the need for domestic reform. 13
In 1809 the opposition hierarchy expected Burdett to produce an amendment to the address, ‘written of course by Horne Tooke’, but he did not do so. He seconded Wardle’s motion for inquiry into the Duke of York’s alleged abuse of army patronage, 27 Jan., and condemned the government’s Spanish policy and demanded an immediate instalment of reform, 31 Jan. Tierney, who reckoned it ‘the best performance of the evening’, told Grey that he ‘spoke with more effect than I have heard anyone do for some time back’. Illness prevented him from attending the Commons for most of the Duke of York inquiry but he was believed to be active behind the scenes in promoting Wardle’s case, and on 13 Mar. he accused ministers of trying to cover up the scandal. He reacted boldly to the impetus given to the reform movement by the acquittal of the duke and found himself and a small group of ‘insurgents’ in loose and fleeting alliance with Whitbread and some of the more militant younger Whigs. At the Westminster meeting of 29 Mar. he claimed that the Commons’ decision had revealed ‘the existence of corruption to an extent so alarming’ that the need for ‘radical reform’ had become imperative; dismissed palliative half-measures; spoke of the obliteration of the ancient landmarks of the constitution, and censured great landowners who were indifferent to ‘the political interests of the country’. He stressed his desire to rescue the crown as well as the people from the influence of corruption, denounced the party system, and argued that nothing was to be gained by a mere change of administration. Thomas Grenville* pronounced him guilty of something ‘little short of treason’ and, though sure that as isolated individuals he and Cobbett were comparatively harmless, feared their possible influence on the younger members of the party. Lord Spencer merely dismissed him as ‘a half-mad enthusiast’. His speech was criticized from another standpoint by Lords Folkestone, Althorp and Milton, who felt it would introduce a contentious theoretical issue into their intended campaign for economical reform; but Burdett fully shared their disapproval of the unilateral and premature notice of a reform motion given by William Alexander Madocks*.14
To Perceval’s strictures on his extra-mural activities, 14 Apr. 1809, Burdett retorted that he was at war not with the government as such, but with the entire political system. He was not present for Folkestone’s motion for a general inquiry into abuses, 17 Apr., but spoke in support of Hamilton’s accusations against Castlereagh, 25 Apr., when he invited ministers to take the initiative on reform. From the chair of the Crown and Anchor reform meeting, 1 May, he encased his arguments in an historical and constitutional framework, tracing all contemporary ills to the emergence of a ‘borough-mongering faction’ which, by its control of a corrupt House of Commons, held the crown in thrall and oppressed the people. He emphasized the essentially restorative nature of his demands, complained of the introduction of foreign mercenary troops into the country and partially retracted his earlier criticism of the political apathy of great landowners. His Westminster colleague Lord Cochrane later recorded that when he told Burdett that he thought he was going ‘too far’, the reply was: ‘you don’t know ministers. If you wish to get anything from them, you must go for a great deal more than you want. Even then you will get little enough.’ According to Speaker Abbot, he was ‘hot and angry’ when supporting Madocks’s charges against Perceval and Castlereagh, 11 May. If he had ever really had hopes of wringing concessions from government through his own invective he had abandoned them by 26 May when, mocking the emasculated remnants of Curwen’s reform bill, he denied the claim of the House to represent the people; attacked the system in general and the Whigs in particular; invoked Magna Carta, the Act of Settlement and the Bill of Rights; and concluded that reform ‘could only be attained by a firm but temperate action of the people out of doors upon the House’. He supported Whitbread’s resolution to consider further limitations on the number of placemen and pensioners in Parliament, 8 June, but pointed out that ‘it was only palliative’. Charles Long, a political opponent, was impressed by his ‘fluency’ in this series of speeches, with the reservation that he ‘does not speak so well in reply as in those speeches which he delivers on a subject on which he had prepared himself’. On 15 June 1809 Burdett moved for early consideration of reform and outlined specific proposals agreed beforehand in concert with Cartwright, Henry Clifford, Cobbett, Wardle and Madocks. The motion, intended to refute charges that the reformers were wild theorists with no practical ideas, seems to have been deliberately timed by Burdett for a moment when he knew that Whitbread, whom he distrusted both as a half-hearted reformer and a rival for popular favour, would be unable to attend. The scheme envisaged a direct tax-payer franchise, equal electoral districts, voting by parish, all elections ending on the same day and the return of Parliaments to ‘a constitutional duration’, a compromise formula necessitated by Cartwright’s inclination to annual Parliaments as against the triennial system favoured by Burdett and the others. While the plan was quite strikingly radical, Burdett’s speech was studiously moderate and heavily stressed the conservative and restorative nature of the reformers’ objects. His tone seems to have produced a flat debate and deprived the motion, for which a motley minority of 15 voted, of any real impact. It nevertheless demonstrated that between radicals and Whigs, however advanced, there could at present be no practical co-operation on reform; and Cartwright, who now looked unquestioningly to Burdett as the leader of the movement, flattered himself that his performance had ‘obtained him great praise for moderation and constitutional knowledge’, which would dispel the remaining prejudice against him.15
Burdett divided with the Whigs against the address, 23 Jan. 1810, but two days later expressed his contempt for both parties. He voted against government on the Walcheren expedition, 26 Jan., and seconded Cochrane’s motions on his naval dispute with Lord Gambler, 29 Jan. and 6 Feb. Incensed by the action of Charles Yorke* in excluding strangers from the Walcheren debates, he supported Sheridan’s demand for inquiry, 6 Feb. 1810, and was called to order for his assertion that ‘in reputation that House had not a leg to stand on’. Burdett, who presented the Westminster reform petition, 9 Feb., and opposed Wellington’s annuity, 16 Feb., was unwell on 21 Feb. when John Gale Jones, the radical publicist, was committed to Newgate for breach of privilege in challenging the right of the House to exclude strangers. He revived the issue, 12 Mar., by moving for his release and denouncing the use of privilege as an offensive weapon, but he secured only 14, mostly reluctant votes. Cobbett’s Political Register of 24 Mar. 1810 reprinted his speech and prefaced it with an address to his constituents impugning the House for illegal exercise of its privilege. Ministers welcomed the issue as a diversion from the Walcheren question and, with their connivance, Thomas Buckler Lethbridge moved on 27 Mar. that Burdett was in breach of privilege. He stood by his address, but the debate was adjourned. On 30 Mar. he supplemented his support for the Whig resolutions on Walcheren with a further call for reform. He was found guilty of a breach of privilege, 5 Apr., and on the motion of Sir Robert Salusbury, carried by 190 votes to 152, was ordered to be sent to the Tower. On 6 Apr. he gave the serjeant-at-arms, who called with the Speaker’s warrant, the impression that he would go peaceably into custody, but when the serjeant, reprimanded by Abbot, returned later the same day to effect the arrest, Burdett told him that he had written to the Speaker to dispute the legality of the warrant and that he would submit only to force. He barricaded himself in his Piccadilly house over the weekend and serious disturbances occurred when troops clashed with the crowds which had assembled under the encouragement of Place and the Westminster radicals. He was taken by force on 9 Apr., when Lord Boringdon commented that ‘yesterday was the most anxious day London has known since 1780’.16
Burdett’s militancy lost him the sympathy of many politicians who might otherwise have sided with him and the riots created an atmosphere of alarm which was of great service to ministers in diverting attention from their own questionable handling of the episode. His case was not taken up in Parliament by opposition, most of whom were alienated by his challenge to the authority and prestige of the House.17 Support for Burdett among the politically aware lower orders was very widespread. Although government did not play completely into his hands by expelling him from the House, his martyrdom was sufficiently marked to provoke a general petitioning movement for his release, coupled with demands for reform. At the height of this campaign his popularity reached its zenith and surpassed that once enjoyed by John Wilkes†, extending far beyond London and being more closely connected with the pursuit of a definite political objective. Burdett momentarily damaged himself in popular estimation by leaving the Tower quietly on the day of his release and ignoring the mass demonstration organized to greet him. Place, who had already come to resent Burdett’s ‘frigid hauteur’ and refusal to be dictated to by the Westminster activists, was particularly incensed and never really trusted him again. But he surely exaggerated when he wrote, 17 years later, that Burdett ‘never recovered the goodwill of many thousands’. His reputation was too great to be ruined by the episode, in which he appears to have been motivated by an anxiety to prevent further bloodshed, and for at least two more years he remained the chief focus of the national radical reform movement. At the dinner to celebrate his release, 31 July, he savaged Grey’s recent declaration on reform, thereby intensifying the hostility of the Whigs towards him.18
The Regency question gave Burdett, who may have had fleeting hopes that the Prince of Wales would side with the reformers, a new platform from which to propound his constitutional theories. He forced a division against the two-week adjournment, 15 Nov. 1810, and spoke frequently on the issue in December 1810 and January 1811, arguing the Prince’s constitutional right to assume an unrestricted Regency. He unsuccessfully moved the adjournment of the debate on the address, 12 Feb., and on 25 Feb. supported Whitbread’s attack on the conduct of ministers during the King’s illness in 1804. He called for reform in Admiralty court procedure and voted against the commercial credit bill, 22 Mar., voted for Williams Wynn’s election bribery bill, 25 Mar., supported inquiry into ex officio informations, 28 Mar., strongly criticized ministerial vacillation on the currency question, 9 May, 9 and 19 July, and joined in the protest against the reinstatement of the Duke of York as commander-in-chief, 6 June. On 18 June he moved an address to the Regent for the restriction and eventual abolition of flogging in the army, which was defeated by 94 votes to 10. While such activities were less spectacular than those of the previous two years, Henry Brougham believed that the Whigs were allowing Burdett to beat them on their own traditional ground. He supported Cartwright’s attempts to effect a union between radical reformers and advanced Whigs and joined him in the formation of the Hampden Club of gentleman reformers, becoming its chairman. At the Freemasons’ Tavern reform dinner, 10 June 1811, he appealed to the reforming Whigs of 1793 to declare their continued adherence to the principles they had then espoused, argued that such piecemeal remedies as triennial Parliaments were in themselves useless without root and branch reform, but conceded that the small attendance reflected a general apathy towards the cause. He was briefly touched by the breath of public scandal in the summer of 1811 when Lady Oxford’s brother charged him with the paternity of her eldest son, born in 1800. Burdett sued him in the court of session on a bond for £5,000 of borrowed money and his reputation sustained little permanent damage.19
When the speech from the throne had been read, 7 Jan. 1812, Burdett caught the Speaker’s eye before the mover of the official address and proposed one of his own, which rehearsed a catalogue of grievances and exhorted the Regent to consider a ‘full and fair representation of the people’. Cochrane seconded the address, and the official one, moved as an amendment, was carried by 238 votes to 1, with James Ramsay Cuthbert providing Burdett’s only other supporter. He did not attend for Morpeth’s motion on the state of Ireland, 4 Feb., but he voted for consideration of Catholic claims, 24 Apr., and against government in most of the major divisions of the 1812 session, as well as appearing in the small minorities in favour of Whitbread’s motion on relations with America, 13 Feb., and against punitive legislation for frame-breakers, 14 Feb. He raised a lone voice against Wellington’s annuity and declared his hostility to the Peninsular war, 22 Feb., renewed his efforts to end military flogging, 13 and 16 Mar., and unsuccessfully moved for information on the remuneration of clerks in the navy office, with a view to improving their lot, 16 Apr. In the debate on the barrack estimates, 1 May, he was called to order for accusing ministers of outdoing Buonaparte ‘in the formation of a military despotism’. Although opposition mustered a good division, William Henry Fremantle reckoned that Burdett’s ‘most wicked and mischievous speech’ and Perceval’s crushing response to it ‘drove some of our friends away, and induced others to divide against us’. Tom Grenville was worried by ‘the silence of Ponsonby, Whitbread and Tierney’ on the outburst; and the day after Perceval’s assassination, Wordsworth advanced the notion that the speech might have been ‘the determining motive’ for Bellingham’s act. Burdett supported Brand’s motion for parliamentary reform, 8 May, as a small step in the right direction. In the confused period following Perceval’s death Grey, who noted an ‘unusual moderation’ in Burdett’s demeanour, suspected that he and his cronies were ‘watching their opportunity’; but he made no significant move beyond opposing the grant to Perceval’s family, 20 May, and proposing an amendment to Stuart Wortley’s motion, 21 May, stressing the need for reform rather than a change of men. He did not press it, and voted in the majority for a remodelling of administration. He demanded inquiry into Lincoln and Lancaster gaols, 25 June and 3 July, denounced the domestic search bill, 10 and 13 July, and failed to find a seconder for a reforming address to the Regent, 28 July, which he supported, according to Abbot, with a ‘long, dull, confused speech’.20
Burdett was returned unopposed for Westminster in 1812, but for the next two-and-a-half years the intensity of his political activity fell to its lowest pitch in this period. He protested against the Peninsular campaign and the grant of aid to Russia, 3, 7, 17 and 18 Dec. 1812, and briefly assumed a prominent role in the disputes arising from Princess Caroline’s affairs by giving notice of a motion for a bill to cater for the interruption of royal authority in the event of the Regent’s death or incapacity, which had the object of vesting power in Princess Charlotte. Tierney thought the Whigs should exercise the maximum ‘caution and reserve’, but Lord Holland liked the motion, and Grey, though unwilling to involve the party in a royal family squabble, concluded that they had little choice but to support it. In moving it, 23 Feb. 1813, Burdett emphasized the constitutional aspects of his scheme and issued an appeal to the Whigs which was answered with 78 votes. It was reported that he disapproved of the conduct of the more zealous of the Princess’s advisers and withdrew from the coterie ‘in consequence of his advice not having been followed’. He took no further part in the business beyond defending Whitbread when he was under pressure in the House, 23 and 31 Mar., and communicating by letter his approval of the objects of the Westminster meeting to vote an address in support of Caroline, 15 Apr. 1813. He voted for consideration of Catholic emancipation, 2 Mar., but not for the relief bill in May, when he took a week’s sick leave. He again attacked flogging, 15 Mar., divided the House on the Nottingham reform petition, 30 June, seconded Cochrane’s resolutions on the state of the navy, 5 July, and continued his customary practice of pleading, generally to no avail, the cases of persecuted individuals.21
At the end of 1813 Burdett wrote to his friend Henry Bickersteth:
This is not a moment when anything can be done beneficially for the public. The madness must subside, the evil designs of cheats and imposters must be made, by time, more apparent first ... to stand at such a moment free and uncommitted [is] a great advantage.
He apparently made only four minor interventions in debate between November 1813 and June 1814 and his only recorded votes were against the blockade of Norway, 12 May, and Cochrane’s expulsion, 5 July 1814, when he spoke in defence of his colleague. He initially preferred Brougham to Cartwright as the lesser of two evils in the manoeuvring for the likely vacancy at Westminster, but joined in the surge of support for Cochrane and played an important role in securing his unopposed re-election. Writing to Henry Grey Bennet on the subject, he confirmed his disillusionment and frustration:
I have no notion of growing grey in anxious, impotent, fruitless, hopeless exertion ... unless the country gentlemen and noblemen can be induced to stir no good can I fear be done, and I also fear that the corruption benefits so many of them and the majority, who are not benefited, are so supine and uninformed, that there is little chance of moving them—alarm however must have ceased to operate ... so there is a bare possibility.22
Although he was unable to attend the Westminster meeting to petition against renewal of the property tax, 29 Dec. 1814, Burdett sent a letter of support in which he condemned the impost as merely one facet of excessive taxation, which was itself rooted in corruption. His views accorded with those of Cobbett and Cartwright, to whom he wrote early in 1815 expressing enthusiasm for political activity, but he did not attend Parliament in the first weeks of the session. He opposed renewal of the tax, 19 Apr. 1815. His equivocal attitude to the corn bill provoked criticism from the rank and file of his constituents, but his popularity enabled him to emerge unscathed from the Westminster public meeting. In the House, 10 Mar. 1815, when he presented its petition and voted against the third reading, he tried to dispel the notion that he favoured the bill with a not entirely convincing claim that he was personally indifferent towards it and regarded it as a diversion from the more fundamental problem of the need for reform. He took a strong line over the renewal of war and was first to reply to Castlereagh on the address, 7 Apr., when he stated his readiness to accept defensive preparations but decried the ‘unjustifiable and ruinous enterprise’ of a war of aggression to restore the Bourbons and voted for Whitbread’s amendment. He voted against government in subsequent divisions on the issue, 28 Apr., 1, 25 and 26 May. (In August the Whig Sir Samuel Romilly recorded that Burdett had asked him whether his moving for a writ of habeas corpus would procure Buonaparte’s liberation from captivity.) He voted against the transfer of Genoa, 27 Apr., and for inquiry into the civil list, 8 May, supported Bennet’s attempt to limit corporal punishment, 21 June, and voted with opposition on the Duke of Cumberland’s marriage establishment, 28 June. In April the Hampden Club had issued circulars, which bore Burdett’s signature as chairman, calling for reform petitions, with heavy emphasis on the need for annual Parliaments, and on 25 May he voiced his disgust at ministerial indifference to public opinion when baulked in his desire to present the Westminster petition.23
Holland feared that Burdett would exploit the chaotic state of the Whigs at the opening of the 1816 session, but in the event he did no more than vote in the minority of 23 on the address, 1 Feb. In accordance with an earlier promise to Brougham, he was very active in the campaign against the renewal of the property tax, explaining to the Westminster meeting, 23 Feb., that his recent absences from the House stemmed from his conviction that its proceedings were an empty farce.24 In presenting a series of petitions he again appealed to the country gentlemen and coupled the taxation problem with the trend to military rule symbolized in the large peace establishment, on which grounds he opposed the army estimates, 28 Feb. He voted against the tax, 18 Mar., supported the Whigs’ campaign for economical reform, took their line on Bank restriction and opposed the aliens bill, 28 May. The only supporter of Cochrane’s attempt to bring charges against Lord Ellenborough for the conduct of his trial, 30 Apr., he presented reform petitions, 8, 11, 30 Apr., 8 May, and seconded Brougham’s motion for a bill to secure the liberty of the press, 8 May.
In the summer of 1816 Burdett was involved in the issue of appeals from the Hampden Club for renewed petitioning and the formation of provincial societies; later in the year he agreed to bring forward a specific reform plan in the House, after its submission to a London conference of provincial reform delegates in January 1817. Under increasing public pressure from Cobbett to fulfil his obligations as parliamentary spokesman of the reform movement, Burdett was bound to make these gestures; but it became clear that not only had he no real understanding of the industrial distress which lay behind the burgeoning provincial movement, but that he found the methods and brand of reform advocated by northern radical leaders, as well as by Hunt and the more violent metropolitan reformers, too extreme for his own notions of a reformed system involving the active co-operation of men of goodwill and property. When requested by Hunt to present the proposed Spa Fields petition to the Regent, Burdett, who was at the time in Brighton, ostensibly to be with his son during his recovery from an accident, but also enjoying the society of the Prince’s entourage, brusquely refused ‘to be made a cat’s paw of’. Hunt’s inclination to take violent reprisals was curbed by Cobbett and Cartwright, who were anxious not to forfeit Burdett’s parliamentary support. His pointed absence in the hunting field during the Hampden Club delegates’ conference, 22 Jan. 1817, when the extremists forced through a commitment to universal as opposed to household suffrage, and his failure to come to London until the day of the opening of Parliament, despite a deferential willingness to leave final settlement of the details of the proposed reform bill to him, destroyed any lingering idea that he could realistically be looked to as the leader of a national radical reform movement. He gave notice of the reform motion, 28 Jan. 1817, but further lowered his stock with Hunt and Cobbett by refusing to second Cochrane’s reforming amendment to the address the following day. He defended the action in public, 25 Feb., on the grounds that the motion had been badly timed and that he was beholden to no one, least of all Hunt, for his parliamentary conduct. Samuel Bamford, the Middleton radical, left a striking record of the impression made by Burdett at this time on men who had hitherto venerated his name:
His manner was dignified and civilly familiar; submitting to rather than seeking conversation with men of our class. He, however, discussed with us some points of the intended bill for reform candidly and freely, and concluded with promising to support universal suffrage, though he was not sanguine of much co-operation in the House. Under these circumstances we left Sir Francis; approving much that we found in and about him, and excusing much of what we could not approve. He was one of our idols, and we were loath to give him up. Still I could not help my thoughts from reverting to the simple and homely welcome we received at Lord Cochrane’s and contrasting it with the kind of dreary stateliness of this great mansion and its rich owner.25
Burdett did play his part in the bombardment of the House with reform petitions, which he brought to a farcical climax on 12 Mar. 1817, when only 13 of 600 petitions he tendered were deemed acceptable and he forced a division on the Speaker’s ruling, securing 6 votes against 58. At the same time, he sought to clarify his current attitude to reform. On 17 Feb. he expressed a desire for as much as would free the House from control of the executive; said that universal suffrage ‘could not be considered as tenable’; and, arguing that ‘such a reform as would protect property, and protect the bulk of the community from oppression, would satisfy all who had rational views on the subject’, deplored damaging squabbles among the advocates of different schemes. He spoke in the same vein at the second Freemasons’ Tavern meeting arranged by Robert Waithman* and a body of moderate metropolitan reformers, 22 Feb., when he announced his determination ‘to be all things to all men who agreed in the principle’. In the repressive legislation of that month, which he vehemently opposed, he claimed to detect an official plot to promote alarm, in order to stifle demands for redress of genuine grievances by misrepresenting ‘the efforts of a few wild enthusiasts’, notably the Spenceans, as symptomatic of the spirit of the country. At the prompting of Brougham, he made a violent speech against Canning’s appointment to the Lisbon embassy, 6 May 1817, the effect of which was to alienate support for the attack and allow Canning to fudge the issue in his reply.26 His motion of 20 May for inquiry into the state of the representation made little impact. He declined to advocate specific remedies and merely pointed out the basic evil of a House of Commons dominated by a corrupt oligarchy, supporting his case with his familiar constitutional and historical apparatus. Though the motion was seconded by Brand and supported by Tierney, Romilly and Brougham, it was defeated far more heavily than Brand’s had been in 1812. Burdett concluded the session with very active opposition to the renewed suspension of habeas corpus, the spy system and the apparent threat of military rule.
He now came under increasingly bitter attack for alleged desertion of the cause from Cobbett, who combined this personal abuse with accusations that he and his ‘rump’ of supporters were trying to reduce Westminster to a rotten borough, and sought to promote Cartwright’s superior claims to the seat. The squabble was irrelevant to the development of the industrial urban reform movement, but as a facet of the struggle for the leadership of metropolitan radicalism, of which the constituency of Westminster was one battleground, it presented Burdett with problems. While his position at this time rested largely on his appeal to an increasingly well-to-do electorate, which was unlikely to be attracted by the extremism of Cobbett and Hunt, it also depended to a degree on his status as a popular hero with command over the mob. It also clearly mattered profoundly to Burdett that he should be able to perpetuate the image in which his past had cast him. His moderation on reform in 1817 probably derived from a realization that the Whigs possessed the ultimate parliamentary veto on it, and a consequent desire to draw closer to their advanced wing; but the mounting attacks from the left restricted his freedom of movement and affected his attitude to reform in 1818.27
On most of the other major issues of the session he was under no such restraint and he attacked the suspension of habeas corpus, the spy system and the indemnity bill with his usual passion. He accepted the proposal to renew investigation of the Poor Laws, 4 Feb., but as he believed that heavy taxation rather than idleness lay at the root of distress, he anticipated no good from the inquiry without massive economies in government expenditure. He voted for economical reform at the Admiralty, 16 Mar., applauded Peel’s factory hours bill, 6 Apr., voted for Tierney’s motion on the resumption of cash payments, 1 May, participated in attacks on the aliens bill later in the month and supported Brougham’s call for inquiry into the education of the poor, 3 June 1818.
Through the mediation of Bickersteth and Place, Burdett formed an alliance with Jeremy Bentham on reform. Bentham, who privately rated him ‘far below’ the advanced intellectual Whigs in ‘real worth’, was initially reluctant to get involved, but he eventually convinced himself that Burdett possessed a power to achieve good or evil which could not be ignored and agreed to co-operate in the construction of a scheme. This development was reflected in Burdett’s remarks in the House, 10 Mar. 1818, that although the question of the validity of universal suffrage remained open, a legal and historical case could be made out to justify its adoption. He voted for the repeal of the Septennial Act, 19 May. When he presented the scheme, 2 June, he made much of the respected legal, constitutional and political authorities on which it rested. He conceded that the proper limits of the franchise were open to argument and that he had hitherto favoured its restriction to direct taxpayers, but contended that Bentham had conclusively demonstrated the safety and practicability of ‘virtually universal suffrage’. He invited the ‘step-by-step reformers’ to support his plan as a painless means of securing the basic objects of ‘free and frequent elections’ and an ‘equal and comprehensive’ suffrage at a single stroke. The motion consisted of 26 general resolutions, concluding with proposals for male householder suffrage, equal electoral districts, elections on the same day, voting in sub-districts, the ballot (on which Bentham had insisted, but which Burdett thought unnecessary) and annual Parliaments. Burdett showed no sign of having absorbed Bentham’s wider ideas and probably adopted this eminently ‘respectable’ method of embracing the full radical programme in an attempt to resolve his electoral problems. It did little to advance the reform cause and nothing to lessen his isolation in the House, for Brougham mercilessly shredded his arguments, only Cochrane supported him and the motion went down by 106 votes to 0.28
Nor did it bring any clear electoral reward. Burdett’s reputation suffered a bad dent at the Westminster election of 1818 when faction fights among the aspiring leaders of metropolitan radicalism, the intervention of government and opposition candidates and mismanagement by the organizers of his own electoral machine resulted in his coming only second, behind Romilly. This hardly clarified his position vis-à-vis the Whigs. Grey and Lord Lansdowne welcomed it as a victory over Burdett on his own ground, but the complex cross currents of the contest produced rumours of present and future cooperation between him and the advanced Whigs. Landsdowne was aware that there were members of the party ‘willing to be duped by Burdett’s patriotism’; and Lord Tavistock (Francis Russell*), for one, was keen for co-operation between ‘all the friends of freedom to resist the influence of a corrupt representation’. At a public meeting in August 1818 Burdett said that he saw no hope at present of attaining universal suffrage, however desirable, and that he would settle for a ‘general suffrage’. When Tom Moore visited him the following month he found him outwardly unconcerned about these events and full of wild schemes to impeach Castlereagh for his conduct in Ireland 20 years previously.29
Romilly’s death in November 1818 precipitated a series of events which threw Burdett back into the metropolitan political cockpit and further complicated his already involved relations with Whiggism and radicalism. His main concern was to reunite ‘respectable’ radicalism to recapture the vacant seat without provoking an intervention from the Whigs, which might make further inroads into his own position in Westminster or even end in the return of a Treasury nominee, and he did his utmost to secure the unopposed return of his friend John Cam Hobhouse†, who had a foot in both Whig and radical camps. If he did envisage a genuine alliance of advanced Whigs and ‘respectable’ reformers, he was only prepared to enter it from a position of strength. While he wrote privately to Hobhouse of the ‘meanness, shallowness, heartlessness, pusillanimity’ of the Whigs, he made a moderate speech to the Liverpool Concentric Society, 4 Dec. 1818, when he stated a belief that the opposition would ‘generally profess themselves, at no distant period, parliamentary reformers to the extent of triennial parliaments, and the suffrage of householders’, a programme which, though it did not meet the full extent of his wishes, he would support. He corresponded amicably with Holland on other electoral matters in late December, but wrote mockingly to Hobhouse of the favourable response to his Liverpool oration:
how fortunate I am to please the Whigs too!!!
In moderation placing all my glory Tories call me Whig and Whigs a Tory!!
Shortly before the election, in which the folly of Place and Hobhouse provoked the Whigs into starting George Lamb, who was successful, Hobhouse recorded that Burdett, replying to the argument of his younger friends that ‘reform was everything’, ‘was for paring the lion’s nails and drawing his teeth and taking away the military force which protected the abuses. When we had a true peace establishment the voice of the people must be heard.’ His pronouncements on the hustings varied between reiteration of his willingness to back any worthwhile reform plan, semantic juggling with the distinction between universal and general suffrage, attacks on the extremists and abuse of the Whigs as false friends of the people and sham reformers. The immediate effect of the episode was to put him more than ever beyond the pale in the eyes of the Whig hierarchy, who were said to be ‘staring mad’ at his speeches and ‘resolved on war to the knife’ with him. In the debate on electoral corruption at Penryn, 8 Mar. 1819, when the Whig Lambton reported that he ‘made a sorry figure’ and ‘seemed the object of general contempt’, Burdett scorned piecemeal tinkering with specific instances of malpractice; and at the meeting of Hobhouse’s supporters, 16 Mar., he said it was ‘impossible’ to give the Whigs ‘honest support as a party’. Yet he admitted the existence of worthy Whigs within the moribund structure and appealed to them:
He was so little hostile to the Whigs, that he only wished them to present some claim for public confidence; he was only anxious to fight under the Whig banners, provided the liberties of the country were inscribed upon them.30
Burdett, who voted for criminal law reform, 2 Mar., was a defaulter ordered to attend, 30 Mar., and on 21 Apr. he was granted two weeks’ sick leave. He supported Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, when he argued that a mere change of ministers would be futile without a system of ‘economy, coupled with rational reform’, but contended that the existing government had subverted the constitution. His remark that Tierney’s correction of the impression that he had ‘disclaimed all notions of reform’ made him the more willing to support the motion, seemed to be a further invitation to the Whigs to mend their ways and their humiliating defeat put him in ‘high spirits’. At the Westminster anniversary dinner, 23 May, he again tried to strike a balance, praising Lamb (to Place’s displeasure) for his unexceptionable conduct since his election, but expressing his despair of the Whigs as a party; stating both his preference for the widest possible suffrage and his willingness to endorse any meaningful reform plan, and denouncing the palliatives of piecemeal adjustment at one extreme and Cobbett’s currency reform at the other. When he moved for inquiry into the state of the representation, 1 July 1819, he declined to urge specific proposals, but tried to persuade the Whigs that a measure of effective reform was vital to the success of their schemes of retrenchment and economy. He proclaimed that ‘the principles of those who were called Tories in the reign of Queen Anne, form the substance of my political creed’, included a liberal dose of constitutional nonsense and added a bitter arraignment of individual ministers. Lamb seconded the motion, and although Lord John Russell spoke against it, there were a surprising number of Whigs in the minority of 58. Burdett was more than happy with his performance. Soon afterwards Hobhouse wrote of him:
Burdett’s views seem to me generally very striking, but not the less very correct. There is an originality savouring at first sight of paradox in what he says, but a little examination seldom fails to show that his criticism is just ... He is by no means assentative, and yet no man’s mouth was so seldom opened for offence. He differs without asperity, and although pertinacious about principles, has more candour with respect to persons than was ever found in a political disputant. This air of kindness to individuals and accommodation to their peculiarities has permitted some unfair and indiscriminating party men to accuse him of inconsistency and ... of not differing with them in private.31
When news of the Peterloo massacre reached him in the country, 22 Aug. 1819, Burdett wrote a public letter to his constituents branding the authorities as ‘bloody Neros’ and calling a Westminster meeting on 2 Sept. to initiate a national protest movement. There was some awkwardness when he refused the request of Bickersteth, prompted by Place, to come to London immediately and treated their emissary with ‘a studied, formal coldness’; but the letter had the desired effect of restoring his credit with all shades of metropolitan radicalism. The maladroitness of ministers in forcing him to own brazenly to his authorship and then filing an ex officio information against him additionally strengthened his hand. Although Burdett was personally opposed to the introduction of the reform issue into the proceedings of the meeting, he submitted to the insistence of Hobhouse and others that it be included; but in his own speech he made no mention of it, merely reducing the issue to a choice ‘between a government of law, and one of arbitrary violence’. Having thus recaptured the initiative on his home ground, he felt able to co-operate cordially with the Whigs over the planned Middlesex protest meeting. Late in October 1819 Hobhouse commented:
His great political maxim is, no freedom without arms. The country is lost. It is useless to prompt people to resistance when they have no arms. All that can be done is to wait. Never move except when government makes a blunder, then take advantage of it. Time and accident the great chance to popular favour.32
Burdett maintained his conciliatory line towards the Whigs with a speech in support of their amendment to the address, 24 Nov. 1819, of which the ‘universal’ opinion, so Grey said, was that it was ‘one of the best speeches that ever was heard, and in an excellent spirit’. He voted for inquiry into the state of the nation, 30 Nov., and against the seditious meetings bill, 2 Dec., went to the country and returned on 8 Dec. for the Westminster meeting, whose petition against the repressive legislation he presented the following day. He deplored the motion to proceed against Hobhouse for breach of privilege, 10 Dec., and three days later, when he again voted against the seditious meetings bill, raised the only dissentient voice against the decision to commit him to Newgate. He threatened to bring on a motion on the subject, but did not do so in this session, when his only other recorded vote was against the stamp duty bill, 20 Dec. 1819. Sir Robert Heron* thought that Burdett, who narrowly escaped parliamentary retribution for signing the Westminster address in support of Hobhouse but remained under threat of prosecution for his outburst on Peterloo, had acquired ‘very great credit’ through his recent demeanour in the House.33
Burdett was clearly a considerable orator. His friend Byron wrote that he was
sweet and silvery as Belial himself, and I think the greatest favourite in Pandemonium; at least I always heard the country gentlemen and the ministerial devilry praise his speeches upstairs, and run down from Bellamy’s when he was upon his legs.
Heron described his parliamentary manner as ‘generally solemn, equable, and rather artificially laboured, in a sort of tenor voice; but now and then, when it was animated, it approached for a little while to powerful oratory’. Most contemporary assessments of Burdett, such as Hazlitt’s in The Spirit of the Age, owed little to objectivity, but two men who made an effort at detachment reached broadly similar conclusions. Lord Aberdeen thought him ‘plausible, mild and gentlemanlike but, when pushed ... profoundly ignorant’; and Tom Moore judged him to be
a most amiable man, [with] something particularly attaching in his manner; his gentleness, and almost bashfulness, forming such a contrast to the violence of his public career. He is, however, but a boy in wisdom, and though he speaks plausibly, he is neither very sensible, nor deeply informed upon any subject.34
Burdett’s career is of central importance in the history of radicalism in the early 19th century and the movement which he inspired during the war years was one of considerable strength and scale. He remained the leading advocate of reform in the Commons in the post-war period, but working-class radicals from the industrial areas turned to other leaders. For most of this period he was virtually isolated in the House, but the complexity of his relations with individuals, factions, parties and currents of opinion after 1816 does not conceal his gradual shift towards a more moderate position, with the aim of forming an alliance with those elements of the political establishment whose cooperation offered some hope of reforming the system from within. By 1820, his essentially agrarian, patrician brand of radicalism was largely outmoded and he was to end his days as a Conservative county Member. On the day of his death, 23 Jan. 1844, Lady Holland wrote that ‘with all his blemishes there were high, reclaiming qualities ... great good nature and a generous feeling of indignation against oppression in every form’.35
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Jnl. of William Bagshaw Stevens, 20, 53, 66, 75, 80, 87, 107, 146, 168-70, 209-11, 274-6, 279-82, 284, 289, 315, 341, 345, 350; Patterson, i. 4-38.
- 2. Patterson, i. 38-39; Stevens Jnl. 374, 377, 393, 395-9, 405, 410-12, 414-15, 417.
- 3. J. Ann Hone, For the Cause of Truth, 23-24.
- 4. Farington, i. 232; Stevens Jnl. 450, 455, 457-8, 460, 463; Geo. III Corresp. iii. 1691, 1701; Windham Diary, 390; Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 251; Dinwiddy, 31; Hone, 24, 54-55, 113.
- 5. See Patterson, i. 67-77; and Hone, 121-3.
- 6. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 19 Dec. 1801.
- 7. See Patterson, i. 132-44; Hone, 128-36; and MIDDLESEX.
- 8. Patterson, i. 154-69; Morning Chron. 8 Oct., 18 Nov. 1802, 29, 30 July; The Times, 10 Mar., 30 July, 1, 4 Aug.; Grey mss, Ld. R. Spencer to Grey [4 Aug.]; Add. 51736, Caroline Fox to Holland, 15 Aug. 1803.
- 9. Morning Chron. 9 Aug. 1804; H. Hunt, Mems. ii. 139-41; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 3-4; Add. 37906, f. 176; Windham Pprs. ii. 234; L. Melville, Cobbett, i. 225-7; Pol. Reg. 10, 17, 24, 31 July, 1, 15, 22 Sept. 1804, 9 Mar. 1805; Leveson Gower, ii. 35-36; Farington, iii. 163.
- 10. Independent Whig, 9, 16, 23 Feb.; The Times, 30 July 1806; Patterson, i. 182-91; Hone, 154-6; Whitbread mss W1/897, 1959, 1962, 1964, 1966; Hist. Westminster and Mdx. Elections of 1806 (1807), 9, 24, 309, 333, 361-3, 390, 394-6, 430-2, 439-43; Pol. Reg. 8 Nov. 1806, 14 Feb. 1807; Wakes Mus. Selborne, Holt White mss, Paull to White, 17 Dec. 1806, White to Burdett, 17 Jan. 1807.
- 11. Pol. Reg. 14 Feb.; Hants RO, Wickham mss, Taylor to Wickham, 8 Feb. 1807; Patterson, i. 194-215; Hone, 159-61; NLI, Richmond mss 70/1320; Leveson Gower, ii. 250; Farington, iv. 140; Hunt, ii. 274; see WESTMINSTER.
- 12. Horner mss 3, f. 234; Add. 51549, Lady Holland to Grey [14 Apr.] 1808.
- 13. Grey mss, Ponsonby to Grey, 21 May, Tierney to same, 24 May, 8 June, 12 July; Pol. Reg. 28 May; Independent Whig, 29 May 1808; Cartwright Corresp. i. 355-6; Whitbread mss W1/4200; Add. 27838, ff. 325-32; 41852, f. 356.
- 14. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 19 Jan., 1 Feb. 1809; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 300; Prince of Wales Corresp. vi. 2545; Geo. III Corresp, v. 3827; Procs. Westminster Electors, 29 Mar. 1809, pp. 10-25; Spencer mss, Grenville to Spencer, 30 Mar., 1, 5 Apr. 1809; Add. 41854, ff. 243, 245; Berks. RO, Pleydell Bouverie mss 025/64, 68, 69; HMC Fortescue, ix. 289.
- 15. Geo. III Corresp. v. 3857, 3890, 3904; Procs. Crown and Anchor, 1 May 1809, pp. 5-17; Dundonald, Autobiog. (1860), ii. 132; Colchester, ii. 186; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 27 May 1809; Farington, v. 188-9; Burdett, Plan of Reform (1809), 5-21; Pol. Reg. 24 June; Hants RO, Tierney mss 72d; Holt White mss, Cartwright to White, 24 June 1809; Cartwright Corresp. i. 390.
- 16. Geo. III Corresp. v. 4074; Patterson, i. 240-94; Add. 48228, f. 69.
- 17. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 7 Apr., Long to same, 12 Apr. 1810; HMC Hastings, iii. 279; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 10, 11 Apr. 1810; Brougham mss 36660; Sheridan Letters ed. Price, iii. 75; Bath Archives, i. 107; Waldegrave mss, Grenville to Whitbread, 23 Apr., 1 May, Bedford to same [8 May] 1810; Creevey’s Life and Times, 47.
- 18. Hunt, ii. 420-6; Add. 27850, ff. 87, 228, 239-41; Dinwiddy, 20-23; Hone, 191-4; Burdett, Speech at Crown and Anchor, 31 July 1810.
- 19. Dinwiddy, 27; Prince of Wales Corresp. vii. 2761; Add. 52178, Brougham to J. Allen, 21 June 1811; Cartwright Corresp. ii. 1-2, 5-6; Morning Chron. 11 June 1811; Adultery and Patriotism (1811); Mrs Jordan and her Fam. 194-5; HMC Fortescue, x. 158, 181.
- 20. Horner mss 5, f. 162; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 22 Feb.; Malmesbury mss, Palmerston to Malmesbury, 14 Mar. 1812; Richmond mss 68/1080; Buckingham, Regency, i. 285; HMC Fortescue, x. 242, 254; Crabb Robinson Diary ed. Sadler, i. 384; Colchester, ii. 400.
- 21. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, Wed. [Jan.], 11 Feb. 1813; HMC Fortescue, x. 331, 333; Letters of Princess Charlotte, 56, 60; Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 26 Feb. 1813; Bath Archives, ii. 17; Pol. Reg. 24 Apr. 1813; CJ, lxviii, 516.
- 22. T. D. Hardy, Mems. Ld. Langdale, i. 288-9; Creevey Pprs. i. 202-4; Grey mss, Piggott to Grey, 19 July ; Brougham mss 35902.
- 23. Pol. Reg. 31 Dec. 1814; Cartwright Corresp. ii. 97-98; Hunt, iii. 235; Heron, Notes (1851), 50; Romilly, Mems. iii. 192; Hampden Club Circular (1815).
- 24. Grey mss, Holland to Grey [1 Feb.]; Add. 35152, f. 166; Pol. Reg. 2 Mar. 1816.
- 25. Hampden Club Procs. 15 June 1816, pp. 28-33; Pol. Reg. 10, 17 Aug., 21, 28 Sept., 5, 12, 19 Oct. 1816; Hunt, ii. 75-78; iii. 354-5, 423-4; Patterson, ii. 412-20; Bamford, Passages in Life of a Radical ed. Dunckley, ii. 24.
- 26. HMC Fortescue, x. 422; Morning Chron. 24 Feb.; Carlisle mss, Abercromby to Morpeth [c.7 May 1817]; Heron, 83-84.
- 27. Pol. Reg. 2 Aug., 6, 13 Sept., 11 Oct., 20 Dec. 1817, 17, 24 Jan. 1818. See W. Thomas, The Philosophic Radicals, 57-62.
- 28. Hardy, i. 329; Bentham Works ed. Bowring, x. 491-5; Brougham mss J23; Thomas, 41-44, 59-60; Dinwiddy, 24, 26.
- 29. See WESTMINSTER: Add. 36457, ff. 73, 88; 51686, Lansdowne to Holland, 6 July; Grey mss, Grey to Sir R. T. Wilson, 29 July 1818; Dinwiddy, 24; Moore Mems. ed. Russell, ii. 157-8.
- 30. See WESTMINSTER; Add. 47222, ff. 3, 5, 7; 51569. Burdett to Holland, 26, 29 Dec. 1818; 56540, Hobhouse diary, 16, 24 Jan., 27 Feb., 23 Mar. 1819; Speech to Liverpool Concentric Soc. 4 Dec. 1818; Authentic Narrative of Westminster Election (1819), 109-13, 149-53, 165, 186-8, 196-8, 226-9, 265-71, 333-7; Grey mss, Grey to Wilson, 19 Feb., 3 Mar., Lambton to Grey, 9 Mar. 1819.
- 31. CJ, lxxiv. 284, 330; Authentic Narrative, 361-7; Add. 56540, Hobhouse diary, 19, 22 May, 22, 30 June, 2, 12, 13 July 1819.
- 32. Patterson, ii. 490-1; Brougham mss 78, 10164, 48093; Cartwright Corresp. ii. 170; Statesman, 3 Sept.; Grey mss, Rosslyn to Grey, 25 Aug., Tierney to same, 6, 25 Sept.; Add. 27837, f. 185; 51584, Tierney to Holland, 14 Sept.; 56540, Hobhouse diary, 31 Aug., 2 Sept., 28 Oct. 1819.
- 33. Grey mss, Grey to Lady Grey, 25 Nov.; Add. 36457, f. 378; 56540, Hobhouse diary, 26 Nov., 8, 12, 13, 17, 22, 31 Dec. 1819; Heron, 110.
- 34. Byron: A Self-Portrait ed. Quennell, ii. 610; Norf. RO, Gurney mss RQG 334, Aberdeen to Gurney, 21 Oct. 1812; Moore Mems. ii. 158.
- 35. Lady Holland to her Son, 213.