MILNER, Sir William Mordaunt, 3rd Bt. (1754-1811), of Nun Appleton, Yorks.

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



1790 - 9 Sept. 1811

Family and Education

b. 6 Oct. 1754, 1st surv. s. of Sir William Milner, 2nd Bt., of Nun Appleton by Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Revd. the Hon. George Mordaunt, 5th s. of John, 1st Visct. Mordaunt. educ. Eton 1766-9. m. c. Nov. 1776, Diana, da. of Humphrey Sturt of Crichel More, Dorset, 3s. 2da. suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. 8 Nov. 1774.

Offices Held

Cornet, 10 Drag. 1772-6; capt. Barkstone vols. 1798; lt.-col. commdt. York vols. 1803, militia 1808.

Ld. mayor, York 1787, 1798.


Milner, an opponent of the American war, was an original member of the Yorkshire Committee of Association, but like other followers of Wentworth Woodhouse seceded in March 1784 and, with Lord John Cavendish*, unsuccessfully contested York on the interest of Earl Fitzwilliam against the candidates supported by the Association. Replying to a letter of thanks from Fitzwilliam, he wrote on 20 Apr.:

I have always thought it a duty I owed your lordship’s family to come forward in support of your interest, and shall ever be happy in receiving your instructions. I feel so perfect a veneration for your lordship’s principles and conduct, in every line, that it will be always my wish to act under the same influence.

Having been elected to Brooks’s in 1783, he became a founder member of the Whig Club in May 1784 and continued actively to support Fitzwilliam’s interest at York, where he was elected lord mayor in 1787. When notice of Lord Galway’s intention to retire from York at the general election was given in November 1787, Fitzwilliam told his supporter Robert Sinclair that ‘as a party we are all bound to Sir William as well as to Lord John ... I shall have ten thousand pounds to support his election.’ Milner told Fitzwilliam early in December:

As to myself however willing I might be to decline a station of such responsibility as the representing this place in Parliament must unavoidably lead me, yet as I have already stood forwards and ever since have had an eye towards the means of raising the old interest to its former strength, and as my own present sentiments so fully coincide with the principles of the party, and as your lordship has honoured me with such strong declarations, and such marks of friendship and confidence, I think it my duty to assure you that at all times so often as occasion shall require I shall readily and cheerfully take my part in support and defence of the general cause that can be deemed suitable to my circumstances, my abilities, my health, and my honour, adding if any other person should be looked upon to have an equal chance of success with myself I should prefer a more quiet life and willingly resign my pretensions.1

The withdrawal of Cavendish, and Galway’s continuing reluctance to stand, allowed Milner to come in unopposed in 1790 on a compromise with the sitting Member Richard Slater Milnes.

Although he had divided with the Whigs against the Spanish convention, 14 Dec. 1790, in his maiden speech on 16 Dec. he approved government’s plans to pay the expenses of the armament, but disapproved of the proposed malt tax. Towards the end of his speech he referred to the 1784 Parliament, ‘declaring that he had been unrepresented for 18 months, but that at last that Parliament became ashamed of their proceedings’. He was called to order by the Speaker and defended by Fox. He divided with the Whigs on Oczakov, 12 Apr. 1791 and 1 Mar. 1792, and was listed favourable to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791, but on 30 Apr. 1792 opposed Grey’s intention to bring forward a motion on parliamentary reform in the next session, as he felt that ‘the political opinions that had been disseminated among the manufacturers had done an infinite deal of mischief’, and that it was imprudent to agitate ‘questions that could only tend to excite popular clamour and discontent’. He did not divide with the Foxites on the amendment to the address, 13 Dec. 1792, being listed a Portland Whig with a query at that time, and thought of by Windham for his ‘third party’, nor on Fox’s resolutions against the war, 18 Feb. 1793, but he voted for the reception of the Sheffield petition, 2 May; and on Grey’s motion for parliamentary reform, 7 May, he declared that ‘he was not now influenced by any apprehension of danger; though, the distance of three months back, he would have urged the supposed danger against any proposition for reform; he had been then, indeed, a good deal alarmed, and, as he now believed unnecessarily’. He expressed his willingness to support reform if again taken up by the Yorkshire Association and admitted the respectability of the Friends of the People, but had to vote against the motion as ‘he was satisfied that any idea of reform was, at the present moment, against the sense of the people’. On 17 June he voted for Fox’s motion against the war.

On 21 Jan. 1794 he divided with the Foxites on the amendment to the address, explaining that although he did not support the immediate recall of troops ‘he was for peace if it could be obtained on safe and honourable terms ... We seemed to be for a limited monarchy in France; our allies were for despotism; where in all this was there any beneficial object for England?’ He divided nine more times during the session with the Foxites, but on 16 Apr. when approving Sheridan’s amendment to the bill enabling French subjects to enlist in the British army he lamented that: ‘When he differed from ministers on any subject relating to the war, he differed from those from whom he had learned his political opinions, with whom he had lived, and with whom it gave him pain to differ’. His relationships with Fitzwilliam and the Portland Whigs were a source of acute embarrassment to him. Although at a meeting of Yorkshire Whigs on 7 Aug. 1794 he was reported only to have ‘differed a little’ from Fitzwilliam, he wrote to him on 14 Sept. offering to resign his seat:

when I stood for York it was against my inclination. I did it at the desire of those who wished to support the Rockingham interest, in which interest I am still bound by inclination. Still I must confess many of the inconveniences of representing York have much increased, instead of diminishing. There is also between your lordship and myself one political difference, and one only which makes me wish to retire from my present situation; I must tho’ add that every supply asked should be granted, and yet it is impossible for me to give my vote against any reasonable proposal for putting an end to this unfortunate war, it is equally impossible for me to vote against any measure supported by an administration supported by the Duke of Portland and yourself.

On hearing from Fitzwilliam he gave up all ideas of retiring from Parliament immediately and told him, ‘In almost every instance I feel I shall vote according to your opinion ... and when we differ, which ... is only in respect to this horrid war, I shall endeavour to keep out of the way’. Yet less than two months later he wrote again to Fitzwilliam:

The clamours against carrying on the war are so much increased, and our oldest and steadiest friends so uniformly averse to the continuing an offensive war, that I feel it next to obligatory to attend the ensuing meeting and to give my vote against that measure. The disunion of persons with whom I have acted, and thought, renders parliamentary business particularly unpleasant, and as I stated in a former letter it is my intention, and determination not to vote upon the different questions that may be brought forward this session, the above mentioned excepted.

I fear you still retain the same sentiments respecting the war. Every day, every hour I feel more convinced that nothing but peace can save the country, and at Leeds, and all the manufacturing towns that come at all under my eye a gloomy discontent certainly pervades the general class of people.

Accordingly he supported Wilberforce’s amendment to the address, 30 Dec. 1794, and in the committee of supply on 2 Jan. 1795, although again expressing regret at his differences with his friends, called for peace negotiations. The imperial loan he feared ‘would lessen the value of land in this country to an alarming degree; it would not only be difficult to raise money by way of mortgages on estates, but soon impossible even to sell and be paid for them’. On the same day he called on Fox to propose the holding of meetings for peace in Yorkshire and York and on 7 Jan. Portland told Fitzwilliam ‘that fool Sir W.M. is going about everywhere talking of the ruin and desolation of that country’.2

Thenceforward Milner voted regularly with the Foxites. On 31 Mar. 1795 he presented a petition for peace from York and expressed his hope that Wilberforce’s forthcoming motion for peace would unite all parties. He seconded Jekyll’s motion for inquiry into Fitzwilliam’s recall from Ireland, 19 May, and in June spoke several times sympathetically to the claims of the Prince of Wales. He spoke and voted consistently against government’s repressive measures in November and December 1795 and defended the meetings held to oppose them. The seditious meetings bill he described on 12 Nov. as ‘useless for the object to which it was directed’ and ‘an alarming invasion of the Bill of Rights, and would destroy the public spirit of the country, which had in cases of the utmost distress been its real support’; but, still troubled by his disagreements with the Portland Whigs, he went on to call himself ‘a man attached to no party, and was equally indifferent whether the executive power was administered by the gentlemen on the one or the other side of the House’.3

In 1796 Fitzwilliam abandoned his interest at York, but Milner was again elected unopposed with Milnes and at subsequent elections his committee remained separate from Fitzwilliam’s. He was also active in 1796 in the county constituency where he proposed Walter Ramsden Fawkes* to the county meeting. He enthusiastically supported Sheridan’s motion that the imperial loan should be delayed until the Bank stoppage had been investigated, 27 Feb. 1797, ‘for he had come down to the House determined to move something to the same effect’ and expressed concern at the effect of the suspension on country banks. Although he despaired of its success, he ‘followed the opinion of his constituents’ and seconded Combe’s motion for the dismissal of ministers, 19 May.4 He voted for Grey’s motion on parliamentary reform, 26 May. After the Whig secession he spoke and voted against the increase in assessed taxes, December 1797 and January 1798, opposed alterations to the land tax in April and May and supported, the motions critical of government’s Irish policy, 14 and 22 June. He is not known to have spoken or voted, except against the Irish union, 14 Feb., during the 1799 session, but in the sessions of 1800 and 1801, apart from an absence in November and December 1800, voted very regularly against government, twice acting as teller. On 19 Feb. 1800 he opposed the suspension of habeas corpus, ‘because he was instructed by his constituents so to do. These he considered himself in duty bound to obey.’ He supported the provision facilitating the payment of wages, but disapproved the other provisions of Daniel Parker Coke’s bill for regulating disputes between masters and their domestic servants, 16 June. He pressed for a government bill for poor relief, 27 June, 1 July 1800.

Speaking at the anniversary celebration of Fox’s election for Westminster in October 1801, he declared that Addington’s ministry ‘should, for having made peace, receive his cordial support and thanks, but in other cases he must be guided by a consideration of their transactions since their coming into the ministry’.5 He voted against Addington on the Prince’s claims, 31 Mar. 1802 and 4 Mar. 1803, supported Nicholls’s motion for an address of thanks to the King for removing Pitt, 7 May 1802, and divided with the Foxite minority on the Nottingham election bill, 3 May 1803. Having supported Grey’s amendment to the King’s message on the discussions with France, 24 May 1803, he felt that he could not support Patten’s motion of censure on 3 June, adding that ‘though he did not agree with his Majesty’s ministers in every instance, he approved of their conduct in many particulars’. Nevertheless he voted consistently against Addington in the divisions leading to his resignation, March-April 1804, was classed ‘Fox’ in all Rose’s lists in 1804 and went on regularly to oppose Pitt’s second administration, being listed as ‘Opposition’ in the government list of July 1805.

He naturally supported the Grenville ministry, voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, and defended the training bill, 24 June, as less expensive than had been stated, pointing out that the volunteers ‘had cost a great deal of money’. He was among the ‘staunch friends’ of the abolition of the slave trade. Subsequently he voted for Brand’s motion, 9 Apr. 1807, attended the Whig party gathering after the general election of 1807 and supported the amendment to the address and Whitbread’s motion on the state of the nation, 26 June and 6 July. He is known to have voted with the Whigs only thrice in 1808, taking six weeks leave of absence, but attended the Whig party meeting on 18 Jan. 1809 and voted regularly with opposition during the session. Summoned by Fitzwilliam, at Grey’s request, for the opening of the session in 1810,6 he supported the amendment to the address, 23 Jan., and the Whig attack on the Walcheren expedition, 26 Jan., 30 Mar., and was classed ‘present Opposition’ by the Whigs. He voted for Brand’s motion on parliamentary reform, 21 May, and was courted by the Friends of Constitutional Reform in the following year. His last recorded votes were with opposition on the Regency, 15 and 29 Nov. 1810, 1 and 21 Jan. 1811.

Milner died 9 Sept. 1811, in the estimation of Francis Horner ‘a very worthy amiable man’. His eldest son declined to succeed to his seat, as his father had expressed no wish that he should.7

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: J. M. Collinge


  • 1. Wyvill, Pol. Pprs. i. 5; ii. 320; Fitzwilliam mss, boxes 37, 38; X516/9.
  • 2. Blair Adam mss, Hill to Adam, 19 Jan. 1794; Portland mss, PwF244; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F27/30, F31/36; Fitzwilliam mss, box 46, Milner to Fitzwilliam, [25 Sept.], 18 Nov. 1794; Woodfall, v. 134; Add. 47569, f. 52.
  • 3. Senator, xiii. 206.
  • 4. N. Riding RO, Wyvill mss ZFW7/2/110/32.
  • 5. The Times, 12 Oct. 1801.
  • 6. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F32/66; Grey mss, Fitzwilliam to Grey, 12 Jan. [1810].
  • 7. Horner mss 5, f. 108; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F41/6.