KING, John (1759-1830).

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



14 Mar. - July 1806

Family and Education

b. 1759, 5th s. of Rev. James King, curate of Clitheroe, Lancs., later chaplain to House of Commons and dean of Raphoe, by Anne, da. and coh. of John Walker of Hungrill, Yorks. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1777; L. Inn 1781, G. Inn 1790, called 1790. m. 9 Apr. 1792, Harriot Margaret, da. of Rt. Rev. Charles Moss, bp. of Bath and Wells, 4s. 1da.

Offices Held

Law clerk, Home Office Jan. 1791-Mar. 1806; under-sec. Home Office Dec. 1791-Feb. 1806; sec. to Treasury Feb.-Sept. 1806; comptroller of army accts. 1806-d.

High bailiff, Westminster 1796.

Naval officer, Jamaica 1796-1818.

Bencher, G. Inn 1813, treasurer 1815.


King, a protégé of Lord Grenville, on becoming one of the under-secretaries at the Home Office under Henry Dundas with a salary of £1,500 p.a. in December 1791, stipulated ‘a pension equal to what he might have made at the bar’. There was some surprise that he did not go to the Foreign Office, but in Evan Nepean’s absence a third under-secretary was needed pro tem. at the Home Office where King was already law clerk with £300 a year. In August 1792 his post was confirmed on the resignation of Scrope Bernard. King’s family came from Hungrill, Bolton-by-Bowland, Yorkshire; his clerical brother Walker had been private secretary to the Marquess of Rockingham at the Home Office in 1782 and was Edmund Burke’s friend, while his brother Thomas was tutor to Burke’s son Richard*. Many are the references to John King in Burke’s correspondence: they suggest that he was at that time an amiable factotum, importuned with errands by the great, with scarcely a notion of his own and best kept on a leash.1

On 5 Dec. 1793, Canning noted in his journal, ‘I dined with King—one of the under-secretaries of state for the Home department, and one of the worthiest and friendliest and best sort of men in the world’. King became under-secretary in chief when the Duke of Portland became Home secretary in 1794 and, though his official capacity did not dictate it, eventually aspired to a seat in Parliament. On 5 Aug. 1800 he informed Pitt that he had been offered an opening at Andover, as ‘the family Member’ on Lord Portsmouth’s interest, if he could obtain about £400 p.a. compensation for their sitting Member who was ‘little better than an idiot’. He was prepared to make ‘some personal sacrifice according to my means’ to achieve this, but offered to be governed by Pitt. Nothing came of this project. Evidently disappointed at Lord Grenville’s going into opposition late in 1801, King remained at his post, though he would have preferred the Duke of Portland to retain the Home Office. When Pitt returned to power in 1804, Portland evidently applied to him to make King a joint secretary to the Treasury with Sturges Bourne, but Huskisson was preferred. He remained at the Home Office, but exasperated Canning by his notion of how to prevent the authority of the Irish government from being undermined by John Foster*, that is by restoring Home Office control over the Irish chief secretary ‘compelling the Irish secretary to a more intimate and constant correspondence with him [King] ... thus arming [the chief secretary] with power to combat Foster and all his host in Lord Hawkesbury’s name’. Canning could not stomach this and noted that it was quite different from King’s former ‘fine plans’ for Ireland. In November 1805 it was ‘whispered’ that he was to replace Long as Irish secretary.2

When Lord Grenville became prime minister in 1806, King was appointed by him joint secretary to the Treasury. Grenville’s brother Lord Buckingham urged the claims of William Henry Fremantle* but Grenville, under pressure from the Prince of Wales to choose a friend of his, wrote on 4 Feb.:

This persecution obliges me to adhere to the arrangement for putting King there. I had almost settled it so as to make room for Fremantle, but I must now close it as soon as I can. Possibly some means may arise hereafter of giving King his retreat, and putting the other there, which I believe would be the better arrangement, but which I cannot hazard now.

Huskisson makes it clear that King was patronage secretary, for he wrote to Lord Melville on 9 Feb. 1806:

Does [Lord Grenville] think that John King (as confidential secretary to the Treasury) can answer to him for the House of Commons and supply all that is wanting to his government in that quarter?

He needed a seat in Parliament: Thomas Grenville offered his seat for Buckingham, while Lord Buckingham was prepared to bring him in for St. Mawes if Sir William Young* were provided for, but it was for the Irish borough of Enniskillen that he was returned, the vacating Member having offered the seat to Lord Wellesley, who placed it at government disposal. He did not vacate an office he held in Jamaica on taking his seat.3

King made no mark in Parliament and soon found his duties uncongenial: a political opponent, Lord Lowther, maintained that he was ‘very unfit for his office’. On 3 July 1806 Lord Grenville informed the Irish secretary Elliot: ‘An opportunity has occurred which John King seems disposed to embrace of exchanging his present situation ... for one of a different description’. Grenville thought King would be difficult to replace and wondered whether Marsden, the Irish under-secretary, would fit the bill, but it was Fremantle who succeeded to King’s office and seat in Parliament. King’s brother-in-law Charles Moss, Bishop of Oxford, commented:

Finding his health suffer very much from his attendance at the House of Commons King signified to Lord Grenville some time ago that it was his wish to give up his office as soon as his services could be dispensed with and as he preferred a place which would give him some occupation to a pension to which his long services fairly entitled him, it was determined that he should be one of the comptrollers of army accounts. Nothing can have been more friendly than the whole of Lord Grenville’s conduct towards him, and his disposition to promote his views with respect to his future establishment.

Lord Buckingham, who had pressed Lord Grenville through their brother Thomas to replace King by Fremantle, as the latter would be on more confidential terms with him, alleged to Fremantle that he now hoped to see

the fair influence of the crown fairly used to the support of government and not indirectly turned, as it was in repeated cases by King’s mismanagement, against us, a fact which Lord Grenville never would credit, though Lord Melville and George Rose, who were the principal agents upon King’s mind, could not keep their secret.4

King remained comptroller of army accounts, having attended his office the day before he was found dead in his bed in March 1830.5

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Morning Chron. 9 Dec. 1791; Morning Post, 9 Jan.; Public Advertiser, 12 Jan. 1792; Burke Corresp. ix. 98, 182, 218; Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2222.
  • 2. Harewood mss, Canning jnl.; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 3/58; HMC Fortescue, vii. 21, 90, 318; Rose Diaries, ii. 132; Add. 35702, f. 294; PRO 30/8/120, f. 217; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, ii. 456.
  • 3. Buckingham, iv. 17-18; HMC Fortescue, viii. 13, 16, 21-22, 42; SRO GD51/1/90/3; Add. 34457, f. 98; 37883, ff. 62, 82.
  • 4. NLS mss 3795, f. 153; 12914; E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss T99/6, bp. of Oxford to bp. of Lincoln, n.d. [1806]; Buckingham, iv. 49-50; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 4 Sept. [1806].
  • 5. Gent. Mag. (1830), i. 282.