MATHEW, Hon. Montague James (1773-1819), of Thomastown, co. Tipperary.
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Family and Education
b. 18 Aug. 1773, 2nd s. of Francis, 1st Earl of Landaff [I] and bro. of Francis James, Visct. Mathew*. educ. Harrow 1785. unm.
MP [I] 1797-8 Jan. 1800.
Cornet, 18 Drag. 1792, lt. 1793; capt. Trench’s corps 1793; maj. 114 Ft. 1794, lt.-col. 1794, half-pay 1795, brevet col. 1800; maj.-gen. 1808; col. 98 Ft. 1811; lt.-gen. 1813.
When Mathew offered for his county in succession to his brother in 1806, the Grenville ministry, which they supported, was precluded from supporting him in return and the viceroy believed that he was, in any case, ‘by no means acceptable to the county’.1 Nevertheless he ousted John Bagwell I* and survived contests in 1807, 1812 and 1818, without wavering from his allegiance to the Whigs. His popularity was due to his frantic espousal of Catholic relief, on behalf of which he displayed considerable demagogic powers on the hustings and, less appropriately, in debate. As he once admitted in the House, ‘he was fond of speaking to a large audience’. No wonder, for as Sir Robert Heron* recalled, Mathew
was accustomed to deliver his violent and vulgar speeches in the House of Commons with stentorian lungs. Once, when in vain calle do order by the Speaker, the whole House exerted itself to drown his voice, but he was plainly heard above them all.2
After voting for Brand’s motion following the dismissal of the Whigs from office, 9 Apr. 1807, and in his maiden speech a week later introducing his often reiterated belief that Catholic relief was a fitting reward for the Irish military contribution to the war effort, Mathew was not again heard in the House until 21 Jan. 1808, when the chief secretary reported a ‘blackguard’ speech of Mathew’s, ‘who with the figure of an Irish giant and the voice of a Stentor charged Perceval with treason to 5 millions of Irish Catholics and with corruption at the Tipperary election’.3
Subsequently, no debate remotely involving the Catholic question took place in that Parliament without a contribution from Mathew, if he could contrive it. He was prepared to give silent votes or say a few words against the Copenhagen expedition, droits of Admiralty, the convention of Cintra, the Scheldt expedition, the government’s Regency proposals, the orders in council and sinecures, and in favour of parliamentary reform, Sir Francis Burdett and a stronger administration. He was happy to pay tribute to the military virtues of Wellington and Beresford and said nothing against the Duke of York. His vituperative language was reserved for ministers’ handling of Irish problems: the chief secretary displayed his ‘ignorance’ about Maynooth College; Dr Duigenan’s appointment to the Privy Council was an ‘unpardonable insult’ to Ireland; the Irish people wished to ‘disown’ Castlereagh and had ‘nothing to expect from the liberality or justice of the united Parliament’; Lord Camden’s Irish administration had been a ‘tyranny’. On 6 Feb. 1810 he presented a petition for Catholic relief from his county and on 13 Apr. declared in favour of Irish tithe reform. On 25 May he defended the Catholic claims at some length, with or without the security of a royal veto on episcopal appointments. After objecting to an adjournment on the King’s illness under ‘the present weak and idiotic administration’, 29 Nov. 1810, Mathew presented and defended another Catholic petition the following May, reportedly ‘very loud but nothing at all like himself last year’,4 and on 11 June was rebuked by the Speaker for an onslaught on Henry Bankes, whom he accused of anti-Irish prejudices. On 2 Mar. 1812 he presented another Catholic petition from his county and in April complained of the Speaker’s depriving him of a voice in the Catholic relief debate; but he made up for this on 22 June.
Mathew outdid all his previous demagogic utterances on the hustings in 1812, when, among other things, he declared that he should ‘most probably secede from the next Parliament’, if it proved ‘as infamous as the last’. The viceroy, in turn, was equally outraged and wished the Duke of York to deprive Mathew of his regiment. On 24 Feb. 1813 he defended his election speeches in the House when William Bagwell presented a petition from the Tipperary Protestants and replied to the charge that he had advised the Catholics to give up the idle exercise of petitioning. On 13 Apr. he clashed violently with his ‘friend’ William Fitzgerald over government subsidization of the Irish press and the Speaker bound them over to keep the peace. The viceroy commented:
There was no occasion for the Speaker’s interfering between William Fitzgerald and General Mathew. The latter would have begged pardon without the walls of the House whether he was right or wrong. There is no more pacific gentleman in Parliament than he is when faced.5
Subsequently he was a less frequent attender until 1816. He voted and spoke for Catholic relief, 2 Mar., 13, 24 May 1813, and again in defence of a Tipperary petition, 21 Apr. 1814, when he suggested Wellington for viceroy. He also opposed the Irish malt duties bill on behalf of the Irish brewers, 20 May 1813, and seconded Whitbread’s censure of the Speaker for his prorogation speech, 22 Apr. 1814, but soon afterwards went to France where John William Ward* reported that he had few superiors as a travelling companion for ‘good nature, gaiety and a gentlemanlike disposition’.6
Mathew re-emerged at Westminster in February 1816, railing against Castlereagh and ‘that iniquitous monster Ferdinand’ (the King of Spain) and acting as teller for Brougham’s motion against the latter, 15 Feb. He voted with opposition against the peace treaties and the army estimates and on 12 Mar. 1816 denounced the property tax. After his usual plea for Catholic relief, 21 May, he amused the House next day by taking up the cause of illicit distillation, which he said produced a whisky far superior to the ‘legal’ product and preferred by the Irish grandees as ‘the finest diuretic in the world’. The chief secretary consoled the Irish lord chancellor, whose name had been dragged in by Mathew,
I suppose that you will not be much annoyed by anything that such a contemptible fellow as that Mathew who is a disgrace to Ireland, and his profession, and the House of Commons, could say of you. It is really treating him with too much consequence to notice in the House anything that falls from him.7
On 27 May Mathew opposed the policing of Ireland and called for economy in the Irish establishment. On 28 Apr. 1817, seconding Parnell, Mathew assured the House that the Irish hierarchy were prepared to give due securities for the passage of Catholic relief, and on 9 May added that the Pope himself approved of the domestic nomination of bishops. He disapproved of such securities, which, as he had explained on 28 Apr. 1816, increased the power of the crown and alienated Catholic opinion. Mathew was an advocate of reform of the Irish grand jury system, 14 May 1817, but thought nothing worth while could be done until Irish sheriffs ceased to be political appointees. A friend of constitutional reform, on 20 May he presented petitions from Dublin and Cork for parliamentary reform and voted for Burdett’s motion in favour of it. He was one of the few Irish Members who spoke out against the Irish insurrection bill, 23 May and 13 June 1817, and at the same time he opposed the steps leading to the suspension of habeas corpus, though he was apparently absent after 18 June and during the next session. Although Mathew survived another contest in 1818, there were rumours of his retirement, and there is no evidence of his attendance subsequently.8 He died 20 Mar. 1819.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: P. J. Jupp
- 1. HMC Fortescue, viii. 257, 297.
- 2. Parl. Deb. xxiv. 728; Heron, Notes (1851), 107.
- 3. NLI, Richmond mss 66/835.
- 4. Ibid. 73/1734.
- 5. Surr. RO, Goulburn mss 2/13, Peel to Goulburn, 17 Nov. 1812; Add. 40185, ff. 114, 247.
- 6. Ward, Letters to Bishop of Llandaff, 27.
- 7. Add. 40291, f. 52.
- 8. Romilly, Mems. iii. 297; Add. 40295, f. 138.