METHUEN, Paul (1779-1849), of Ashcombe and Corsham House, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. 21 June 1779, 1st s. of Paul Cobb Methuen† of Corsham House by Matilda, da. of Sir Thomas Gooch, 3rd Bt. of Benacre, Suff. educ. Eton 1787-96; Christ Church, Oxf. 1797. m. 31 July 1810, Jane Dorothea, da. of Sir Henry Paulet St. John Mildmay, 3rd Bt.*, 3s. 1da. suc. fa. 1816; cr. Baron Methuen 13 July 1838.
Sheriff, Wilts. 1831-2.
Cornet, Wilts. yeomanry 1800, lt. 1802; capt. 2 Wilts. militia 1803; maj. commdt. Corsham vols. 1803, lt.-col.1804.
Methuen came of an established parliamentary family, but was the first of them to represent the county, and though both his grandfather and father were ambitious of a peerage1 it was he who obtained it. He was a sportsman, fond of White’s Club, practical jokes and wagers, and a writer of occasional verse.2 His part in the Middlesex election in 1804, when he espoused the cause of Burdett, though excusable as a ‘mere frolic’, was thought by his friends best forgotten. After he had unsuccessfully contested Shaftesbury in 1807, where the patron was a friend to government, his parents were ambitious of his coming in for Wiltshire at the next general election, a vacancy being expected on ‘Pen’ Wyndham’s retirement. In January 1812, by which time his candidature had been rumoured for months, he was advised to become a magistrate, so as to gain experience of business and be ‘more known in the county’. In his address, 28 Feb., he insisted that he stood ‘unconnected with any political party—an enemy both to faction and corruption— and a friend to liberty without licentiousness, the first and most essential characteristic of which is freedom of election’. This ‘coup de main’ against club rule worked and Methuen, who had come to an understanding with Long, the other sitting Member, came in unopposed.3
There was some uncertainty as to how he would behave in Parliament: George Rose, when it was suggested to him by Arbuthnot in November 1812, that Methuen was friendly to ministers, commented ‘he may be friendly now, but his language was decidedly hostile till lately’. He was accordingly listed ‘doubtful’ by the Treasury. He voted with opposition on the vice-chancellor bill, 11 Feb. 1813, and on the salary of the paymaster general, 8 Mar.; he was in the majority favourable to the sinecure bill, 29 Mar., but he twice voted against the Catholic claims, 2 Mar., 24 May 1813, though on the latter occasion Peel described him as one of those who voted for the second reading [13 May] but now ‘voted with us’.4 (He again voted against relief on 21 May 1816.) He supported Christian missions to India, 22 June, 1 July 1813.
He sprang into prominence as an advocate of the cause of the Princess of Wales. On 1 June 1814 in a House made thin by a ministerial picket against attendance he asked why she had been excluded from the royal drawing room and, on being given no satisfaction, on 3 June moved an address to the Regent on her behalf, after having her correspondence with the royal family read out. Strangers were excluded and in the debate that ensued opposition opinion was divided: in the end, Methuen was persuaded to withdraw the motion, so that it could be reintroduced in a more acceptable form. The government’s reply had been that it was not a matter for House of Commons interference. After a postponement, Methuen reintroduced his motion on 23 June, but withdrew it on the understanding that government was offering an additional grant of income to the Princess, though he denied that any concession of the Princess’s right was thereby made and also that he had had any communication whatever with the Princess, which statement was confirmed on her side in a message to Whitbread. Some Whigs even affected to believe that Methuen was ‘set on by the Court to make his motion’.5
On 6 Mar. 1815 Methuen was one of the Members who presented petitions against the corn bill and two days later announced that he would oppose it in any case, since the voice of the people was unanimous against it. He accordingly voted for its postponement on 10 Mar., though on this occasion he made it clear that he had no sympathy with Burdett’s extreme views. Although he gave a conditional support to the continuation of the property tax, 19 Apr., until the war was over, and on 21 Apr. praised Castlereagh’s diplomatic achievements at Vienna, it was ‘without any particular partiality for ministers’, and he voted with opposition on the civil list, 14 Apr. and 8 May, against the Regent’s expenditure, 31 May, and opposed throughout the proposed grant to the Duke of Cumberland, 28 June-3 July, or any additional grant to the Duke of York, 4 July 181 5.
Yet on 1 Feb. 1816, Methuen seconded the address ‘very well’, emphasizing his respect for government’s foreign achievements and hoping that they would facilitate recovery from distress at home by promoting economy. Perhaps it was at this time that he was described, in an undated letter, as one of ‘a sort of committee of supporters of ministry’ pressing for retrenchment. Then, but not without warning to ministers, on 27 Feb. he announced that he objected to the renewal of the property tax (he voted against it on 18 Mar.).6 On 4 Mar. he pointed out that in seconding the address he had insisted on retrenchment, and as he thought the army estimates should be reduced, he voted against them two days later, and on 8 Mar. and 11 Mar. against the Household estimates. On 20 Mar., after advice from Tierney as to form, he moved against any increase of official salaries in peacetime, with particular reference to those of the Admiralty secretaries; he claimed he was ‘perfectly uninfluenced by anything like party feelings’. He was defeated by 159 votes to 130 and Peel commented:
His motion not merely implied the curtailment of Croker’s salary, but a censure on government for having proposed it. The salary must be reduced, for we should infallibly be beaten if we attempted to carry it.7
This was realized, to Methuen’s satisfaction, on 22 Mar. On 27 Mar. he clashed with Castlereagh in opposition to the navy estimates and on 3 Apr. supported Tierney’s motion on the secretaries of state, stating that he was glad to see there was more support for measures of economy. On 28 Mar. he presented a loyal Wiltshire petition complaining of agricultural distress and on 8 Apr. sought to discredit Burdett’s reform petition from the county, presenting a counter-petition on 26 Apr. In the interests of retrenchment, he supported Brougham’s amendment to the proposed establishment for Princess Charlotte, 9 Apr.; the motion for the reduction of public expenditure, 25 Apr.; the inquiry into the civil list, 6 May; the committee on public offices, 7 May, and opposed the leather tax, 9 May. He proceeded to oppose the civil list bill, 24 May, the horse tax, 14 June, and the public revenues bill, 14, 17, 20 June 1816. On 7, 17 and 25 Feb. 1817, he supported opposition to the composition of the finance committee and the cost of the Admiralty establishment. He voted for the reception of the Lymington petition in favour of reform, 11 Feb. 1817. In February and June he six times voted against the suspension of habeas corpus and in February-March 1818 four times against its effects. On 16 Mar. 1818 he was a teller for Ridley’s motion against Admiralty board salaries and on 6 Apr. called for the repeal of the leather tax. He opposed any additional grant to the Dukes of Cumberland and Kent on their marriages, after moving for a return of their incomes, April-May 1818. He was credited in Wiltshire with having ‘flung the bill ... out of the House’.8
Methuen headed the poll in the county contest of 1818, refusing to coalesce and overcoming criticism of his independent line and opposition to the Corn Laws. He was considered a popular speaker at county meetings.9 On 2 Feb. 1819 he opposed ministers apropos of the committee on the Bank and subsequently voted for Brougham’s inclusion on it. He described Poor Law reform as a lost cause until taxation and official expenditure were reduced, 9 Feb. He voted against the Windsor establishment, 22, 25 Feb., against the salt duties, 29 Apr., in favour of burgh reform, 6 May, and joined the minority in support of Tierney’s censure motion of 18 May. In July he suddenly resigned his seat, claiming that ‘want of health’, which had made him ‘so bad an attendant this session’, was his motive. He was subsequently accused of ‘the sale of the county’; if he intended to facilitate the return of John Dugdale Astley against John Benett, the manoeuvre failed. Certainly, with respect to nonattendance at election dinners the year before he had written ‘I thought illness a good excuse, too good an one, not to embrace it at once’.10 On 2 Nov. 1819, after he had refused to sign a requisition for a county meeting, John Cam Hobhouse†, a radical Whig, went to Corsham: ‘I told him what I thought of his conduct in Wiltshire, and the poor fellow’s eyes were filled with tears’.11 Methuen resumed a county seat in 1832 and in 1838 received a coronation barony. He died 14 Sept. 1849.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Geo. III Corresp. i. 60; PRO 30/8/158, ff. 96-102; 195, f. 131; Perceval (Holland) mss D19, Methuen to Perceval, 27 Oct. 1809.
- 2. The Times, 22 Aug. 1804; Moore Mems. ed. Russell, viii. 89.
- 3. Methuen mss, Methuen Poore to Methuen, 3, 7, 20 Jan., address, 28 Feb. 1812.
- 4. T.64/261, Rose to Arbuthnot, 8 Nov. 1812; Add. 40283, f. 70.
- 5. Brougham mss 10355, 39156; Add. 52172, Lady Holland to Allen [June], Fri. [1 July 1814]; Paget Brothers, 263; NLW, Coedymaen mss 8, ff. 510-12; Colchester, ii. 499, 500, 501, 504.
- 6. Add. 35394, f. 213; Fitzwilliam mss, Fitzwilliam to ?, Thurs. [n.d.]; Grey mss, Ossulston to Grey, Sat. [24 Feb. 1816].
- 7. Add. 40290, f. 160.
- 8. Moore Mems. ii. 219.
- 9. Berks. RO, Pleydell Bouverie mss 028/151; Add. 51574, Abercromby to Holland [16 Nov. 1816]; 51686, Lansdowne to same, 6 July .
- 10. Add. 51828, Methuen to Holland, 2 July 1819; Wilts. RO, Benett mss, 413/484, ‘The sale of the county’; Pleydell Bouverie mss 028/169.
- 11. Add. 56540, f. 108.