FREMANTLE, Thomas Francis (1765-1819), of Swanbourne, Bucks.
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Family and Education
b. 20 Nov. 1765, 3rd s. of John Fremantle of Aston Abbots by Frances, da. and coh. of John Edwards of Bristol, Glos.; bro. of William Henry Fremantle*. m. 12 Jan. 1797, Elizabeth da. and coh. of Richard Wynne of Falkingham, Lincs., 3s. 3da. with other issue. KCB 2 Jan. 1815; Knight of Maria Theresa and a baron of the Austrian Empire 29 Nov. 1816; GCB 20 Feb. 1818; GCH 1818; GCMG 26 Oct. 1819.
Entered RN 1778, lt. 1782, cdr. 1790, capt. 1793, r.-adm. 1810; c.-in-c. Mediterranean 1818-d.
Ld. of Admiralty Oct. 1806-Mar. 1807.
The only one of four sons to pursue a career in the navy rather than the army, Fremantle gained experience on various stations before being attached to the Mediterranean fleet in 1793. There he became one of Nelson’s most distinguished captains, and after being wounded at Santa Cruz in 1797 he returned to serve under Nelson at Copenhagen and Trafalgar.1
Like his brother William he entered politics under the aegis of their neighbour, the 1st Marquess of Buckingham. At the general election of 1802 he ‘volunteered his services to stand for Aylesbury’, where Buckingham’s interest faced defeat, ‘in the hopes of succeeding by petition’. His brother John wrote to William, 12 July:
I think he may stand some chance, but at present, there is no assurance of his success ... I am sure your ideas respecting Tom’s throwing away so much money for the mere gratification and vanity of being in Parliament, will meet mine, for should he be returned as the sitting Member, the expense will be nearly £1,000, and being obliged to vote entirely with Lord Buckingham, there is nothing he can get or ask, to balance the flinging away so much money.2
As a result of the petition lodged 18 months later in Fremantle’s name, the election of the interloper was declared void, but Buckingham looked elsewhere for a candidate to fight the by-election in 1804.
By 1806, when his brother Lord Grenville was in power, Buckingham had Fremantle in mind for Saltash, where he was cultivating an interest. Although his initial optimism that the seat would be ‘permanent’ diminished, he assured William Fremantle that in the event of difficulty he would ‘bring him in elsewhere’.3 When it was thought that Spencer would succeed Howick at the Admiralty, Buckingham pressed on him Fremantle’s claims to a junior lordship, 18 Sept. 1806:
I know his talents of all sorts to be very great; he is the dearest friend of Sir Charles Pole (if you should keep that gentleman at your board) and being post captain of the same day with Sir H. Neale and Garlies is as eligible from naval rank as they are; and as it is my intention to bring him into Parliament ... you would be relieved from any difficulty on that subject.4
Fremantle’s chances were increased when it was not Spencer but Buckingham’s brother, Thomas Grenville, who took the Admiralty. After much hesitation over his senior appointments, he was able to inform Buckingham, 14 Oct., that he would offer the lordship vacated by Pole to Fremantle, who was still at sea, ‘as soon as he comes here, which I hope may be soon expected’. Buckingham still wished Fremantle to contest Saltash, but felt that if his commission was not sealed before the election, he must return him for a safe seat at St. Mawes rather than risk the danger of a re-election at Saltash. His difficulties were removed when Grenville chose Fremantle as the most suitable Admiralty candidate to replace Sir Philip Stephens at Sandwich, where he was returned in absentia and without opposition.5
By the end of November Fremantle, who was initially reckoned ‘friendly’ to slave trade abolition but was subsequently transferred to the ‘doubtful’, was back in England, but he had little opportunity of demonstrating his abilities in office before the ministry fell and is not known to have spoken in debate. He was a defaulter taken into custody, 20 Mar. 1807.6 A keen disciplinarian, he wrote to Buckingham, 4 Apr.:
I hope the new board will not relax in the discipline of the navy. They are steady men but I doubt whether there is sufficient decision or energy in their characters to constitute an efficient board—they certainly will not enjoy a bed of roses.
He voted for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge, 9 Apr., and attended a ‘meeting of all the opposition Members’ at Lord Howick’s, 14 Apr. 1807.7
At the general election Buckingham, concerned to provide for his many nephews, could only bring Fremantle forward with his brother for Saltash, which was slipping from his control. He was involved in a double return and wrote to his brother, 24 May 1807, of a recent conversation with Buckingham:
I am afraid I was not as communicative to him as I have always been in the habit of, but I certainly then felt, what I still do, that under all the circumstances of electioneering business, and his express promise to me in writing, before I came home, that he had secured me a seat in Parliament, without its costing me a shilling, I have reason to be dissatisfied. This is not a subject on which it would be prudent to quarrel with one who has always been so much my friend, but it shows how much he appreciates the zeal with which I have always attended to him, and his preference of those, who to my judgement ought not to have it. I am beginning to enjoy my place and my farm, and hope I shall not have occasion to leave home these six months.8
As he anticipated, Fremantle was not seated by the House. His appointment to the command of the yacht William and Mary shortly before leaving office allowed him to live in semi-retirement for three years. In February 1809 he was Buckingham’s reserve choice for a vacancy at St. Mawes, but the man offered first refusal accepted the seat.9 Promoted to flag rank in 1810, he returned to active service, at first in the Mediterranean, and from 1812 until 1814 as commander of a squadron in the Adriatic, where his services were rewarded with honours. His appointment to the Mediterranean command in 1818 was attributed by one observer to the ‘utmost effort’ of the 2nd Marquess of Buckingham’s ‘rat-tailed influence’.10
He died 19 Dec. 1819. In posthumous recognition of his services, his eldest son was created a baronet in 1821.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: J. M. Collinge
- 1. Nicolas, Nelson Dispatches and Letters, passim.
- 2. Fremantle mss.
- 3. Ibid. Buckingham to Fremantle, 22 July, 8 Aug., 4 Sept. 1806.
- 4. Spencer mss.
- 5. Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 83, 86; HMC Fortescue, viii. 385-6; Fortescue mss, Ld. to T. Grenville, 17 Oct. 1806.
- 6. CJ, lxii. 265.
- 7. Buckingham, iv. 158-9.
- 8. Fremantle mss.
- 9. Spencer Bernard mss PFE4/9a.
- 10. Bagot mss, Lyttelton to Bagot, 31 Mar. 1818.