FAWKES, Walter Ramsden (1769-1825), of Farnley Hall, Yorks.

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



1806 - 1807

Family and Education

b. 2 Mar. 1769, 1st s. of Walter Ramsden Beaumont Hawkesworth (afterwards Fawkes) of Hawksworth by Amelia, da. of James Farrer of Barnburgh Grange. educ. Westminster 1781-6; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1786; continental tour. m. (1) 28 Aug. 1794, Maria (d. 10 Dec. 1813), da. of Robert Grimston of Neswick, 4s. 7da.; (2) 4 Jan. 1816, Maria Sophia, da. of John Vernon of Clontarf Castle, co. Dublin, wid. of Rev. the Hon. Pierce Butler, s.p. suc. fa. and took name of Fawkes by royal lic. 1 Dec. 1792 (as his father had done in 1786, as heir to Francis Fawkes of Farnley Hall).

Offices Held

Col. 4 W. Yorks. militia 1797, brevet col. during service 1798; lt.-col. commdt. Wharfedale vols. 1803, col. 1804.

Sheriff, Yorks. 1823-4.


Fawkes was to have been ‘the popular candidate’ at York if the illness of Milnes, one of the sitting Members, had proved fatal in 1794. Sir William Milner, the Whig Member, would have been willing to accept his father as running partner had there been an all-out contest for the city in 1790.1 On 23 May 1796 Fawkes offered for the county on the retirement of Henry Duncombe: ‘I am connected with no party; I am equally unknown to ministry and opposition; my country’s good is my only aim; the only qualifications I can boast of, are my honest intentions and entire independence’. His candidature was directed against the ministerialist Henry Lascelles, and although at the nomination the show of hands was indecisive between them, his friends advised him that he was the weaker and could not match Lascelles’s funds; so he withdrew. Late in the day he received assurances of support from Whig grandees and he was criticized by Rev. Christopher Wyvill for not making his real political views clearer. Meanwhile, he had ‘acquitted himself remarkably well’ and staked his claim.2

Urged by Wyvill to support a county meeting for peace and reform in May 1797, he admitted that in his view only the country gentlemen (and not the aristocracy or merchant class) could take such a stand, but he was discouraged by the strength of ministerial support among them in Yorkshire.3 He joined the Whig Club, 6 Mar. 1798. Early in 1806 he informed Thomas Creevey:4

Why, my dear fellow, I have been a Whig, a Great big Whig all my life, ever since I was a reasonable being, in defiance of advice, or persecution, of hostility of every kind, I have stuck to my text—and I glory, I exult, in the reflexion—I have the honour of being one of 15 gentlemen who took ten journeys to Yorks[hire] during this last war to endeavour to persuade their countrymen of the beastly and fatal infatuation under which they groaned. Our efforts were fruitless—the spinning freeholders of the county of York thought then, as it appears their representative and my neighbours think now, that their premier was an ‘excellent statesman’, but our endeavours are upon record. Might I indulge in hope that they may one day be remembered!

Wyvill thought it to Fawkes’s credit that he ‘stood forward with great spirit in opposition to the unconstitutional measures of Mr Pitt’s administration from 1797 to 1801 etc.’.5 On 28 July 1803 he nevertheless pledged himself at a county meeting to support war against Buonaparte and raised the Wharfedale volunteers for the purpose.

Fawkes stood for the county in 1806, taking advantage of the unpopularity of Lascelles in the manufacturing districts of the West Riding. Supported by Earl Fitzwilliam and other Whig magnates who raised a subscription for him and approved by the premier Lord Grenville, he was expected to succeed from the start. He received over 9,000 promises and forced Lascelles to retreat. He was expected to make ‘an excellent Member’, being ‘a man of great abilities and information; a scholar, acquainted with arts and sciences ...’ From his carefully prepared speeches on the hustings ‘vast expectations were formed of him, that he would have equalled Pitt or Fox’. But he at once declined an invitation to move the address when Parliament met.6 On 2 Jan. 1807 he joined Brooks’s Club. Faithful to his election promise of ‘watchful jealousy over public expenditure’, he devoted his maiden speech to the support of Biddulph’s motion for a committee on sinecures, 10 Feb. 1807, and was appointed to it. He looked to ministers for ‘the plan of reformation’. On 23 Feb., again in accordance with an election pledge, he was a warm advocate of the abolition of the slave trade. His colleague Wilberforce, to whom he paid tribute, commented ‘Fawkes [showed] finish, but too much studied, and cut and dried’.7 On 12 Mar. he put in a few words for Robert Craufurd*. Uncommitted on the Catholic question, he thought it enough that the ministry had withdrawn their relief bill and was mentioned between 22 and 24 Mar. 1807 as a supporter likely to promote a vote of confidence in the ministry. It did not materialize.8 After their dismissal, he spoke and voted in their favour on Brand’s motion, claiming that he could not support their successors.

Fawkes’s decision not to stand for Yorkshire at the election of 1807 took Earl Fitzwilliam by surprise. It was based on ‘a variety of circumstances (one motive in particular)’, which he confided to Fitzwilliam. He disliked the clamour against the outgoing ministry and was relieved to let Fitzwilliam’s heir do battle with Lascelles, exerting himself on his behalf. Publicly, he referred to his duty to his family. There were other considerations. He had remarked on seeing Wilberforce’s bulging in-tray in 1806, ‘If this is to be Member for Yorkshire the sooner I am rid of it the better’. He admitted that he was disillusioned by his friends’ political setback; and, as subsequent events showed, was about to take a new direction in which his Yorkshire sponsors would not follow him. He had evaded Wyvill’s catechism on parliamentary reform in 1806: it now became his panacea for all the country’s ills. At Lord Milton’s victory dinner, he hinted that he might again offer for Yorkshire.9

By 1808 Fawkes had associated himself with his old schoolfellow Burdett and the radical reformers. He was being mentioned as a potential candidate for Westminster if Lord Cochrane vacated, and was a hero of Wyvill’s in Yorkshire. John Cartwright named him as a steward at a meeting of the Friends of Parliamentary Reform in March 1809. He was subsequently committed to Burdett’s reform proposals and attended the meeting of 30 Mar. 1811 (but absented himself from the dinner of 10 June) intended to bridge the gap between Burdettites and Whigs. On 20 Apr. 1812 he was in the chair at the inauguration of the Hampden Club for reform, and a committee member of the Union for Parliamentary Reform. At the ensuing election he was preferred to Lord Cochrane by a meeting of Westminster friends of reform as their candidate, but was not sufficiently known or supported and, despite Burdett’s encouragement, did not stand. When Cochrane persevered, Francis Place recalled that Fawkes was as ‘a scholar, a man of weight and character, and a sturdy parliamentary reformer, much more likely to co-operate with Sir Francis Burdett, and in some respects, a man likely to cause Sir Francis to attend his parliamentary duties with more than his usual diligence’. He publicly rebuked Lord Milton for his indifference to reform in the Yorkshire election campaign, publishing this Speech on parliamentary reform. He refused to support a county petition for reform, 12 Mar. 1816, because ‘he never could consent to petition an assembly which he was satisfied in his own mind to be unconstitutionally and with reference to the liberty and property of the subject, most dangerously constructed’.10 In 1817 he published The Englishman’s Manual; or, a Dialogue between a Tory and a Reformer.

In May 1818 Burdett again attempted to persuade him to stand for Westminster, but Douglas Kinnaird was better supported. The Lancashire reformers nominated him, but the show of hands went against him and he declined a poll. A vacancy arising at Westminster in November 1818, he was again named as Burdett’s favourite, but demurred. He refused to help John Cam Hobhouse: ‘I will never help to place another man in a situation which I despise myself’. Douglas Kinnaird, visiting him in October 1819, informed Hobhouse: ‘I like him much. He is whimsical. But he is honest. Burdett’s bust larger than life adorns his drawing room. Inscription—Sacred to Public Principle and Private Friendship.’ His speech at the Yorkshire meeting to protest against the proceedings at Peterloo was sufficiently inflammatory to be quoted in the House by Castlereagh. In 1820 he informed Cartwright that he would only patronize meetings involving reform and objected to taking up Queen Caroline’s cause: ‘There are Cromwells in all lands, and in all ages’. (His obsession with the civil war was one in which he involved the artist Turner, of whom he was one of the leading patrons.) In October 1822 he was still trying to rally the Yorkshire reformers. He died 24 Oct. 1825. Apart from his political pamphlets, he was the author of The Chronology of the History of Modern Europe (1810). He was also a noted breeder of shorthorn cattle and a co-founder of the Otley Agricultural Society.11

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Fitzwilliam mss, box 46, Milner to Fitzwilliam, 18 Nov. 1794 (cf. same to same, 23 June 1790).
  • 2. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F34/199, 203, 204, 206; E. Riding RO, Sykes mss DDSY/101/67, Broadley to Sykes, 4 June [1796]; N. Riding RO, Wyvill mss ZFW7/2/102/5, 8-10.
  • 3. Wyvill mss 7/2/110/12, 23, 28.
  • 4. Creevey mss, Fawkes to Creevey, Mon. evening [?Feb. 1806].
  • 5. Wyvill mss 7/2/190/13.
  • 6. Lonsdale mss, Muncaster to Lowther, 26 Oct. 1806; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. E209 passim, G12; HMC Fortescue, viii. 392, 406, 412; Farington, iv. 41, 108; Grey mss, Fitzwilliam to Howick, 23 Nov., Howick to Holland, Tues. [Nov. 1806].
  • 7. Life of Wilberforce (1838), iii. 296.
  • 8. Grey mss, Erskine to Howick, 22 Mar., Howick to Auckland, 22 Mar., to Grenville, 24 Mar. 1807; Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 376.
  • 9. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F41/35; Fitzwilliam mss, box 72, Fitzwilliam to Wentworth [4 May 1807]; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 173; Fortescue mss, Grenville to Fawkes, 7 June; Leeds Mercury, 9, 16 May 1807; Life of Wilberforce, v. 232; Wyvill mss 7/2/190/14, 25, 28; 7/2/191/8; Add. 52178, Brougham to Allen, Sunday [14 June 1807].
  • 10. Wakes Museum, Selborne, Holt White mss 358;Cartwright Corresp. i. 382; ii. 24; Sidmouth mss, Cartwright to St. Vincent, 9 Feb. 1809; Wyvill mss 7/2/219/12; Morning Chron. 11 June 1811, 12 May; Add. 27840, ff. 4, 57; 27850, f. 255; Fitzwilliam mss, box 80, Fawkes to Milton, 5 Nov. 1812; Wyvill, Pprs. and Letters on Parl. Reform (1816), 3-6, 31.
  • 11. The Late Elections (1818), 162; Add. 27842, ff. 38, 44; 36457, f. 165; 47224, f. 9; 47235, f. 20; Parl. Deb. xli. 104; Cartwright Corresp. ii. 200, 222; Broughton, Recollections, iii. 28; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, ii. 55; Gent. Mag. (1825), ii. 468; DNB.