MILNES, Richard Slater (1759-1804), of Fryston Hall, Yorks.

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



1784 - 1802

Family and Education

b. Dec. 1759, o. surv. s. of Robert Milnes, merchant, of Wakefield by 1st w. Joyce, da. of Adam Slater, MD, of Chesterfield, Derbys. educ. Glasgow Univ. 1775. m. 30 May 1781, Rachel, da. and event. h. of Hans Busk of Leeds, Yorks., 2s. 7da. suc. fa. 1771; took name of Rich only by sign manual when suc. iure uxoris to estates of Great Houghton and Penistone, Yorks. 13 Jan. 1803.

Offices Held


The heir of a Presbyterian cloth merchant, Milnes retained an interest in the trade, while transforming himself into a country gentleman. In 1784 he announced his conversion to Pitt, severing his family’s connexion with the Rockingham Whigs and associating himself with Christopher Wyvill and the rump of the Yorkshire Association. He supported Pitt throughout his first Parliament. In 1789 when his Pittite colleague Lord Galway resolved not to stand again, he came to secret terms for a compromise with the York Whigs, led by Earl Fitzwilliam, which secured his unopposed return in 1790. There were already symptoms of Milnes’s tiring of his allegiance to Pitt.1 The only subject on which he agreed with the minister in the ensuing Parliament was the abolition of the slave trade, the subject of his only known speech, 19 Apr. 1791. (He again voted for it on 15 Mar. 1796.) He voted against Pitt’s foreign policy, 12 Apr. 1791, and was listed a supporter of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland that month. A year later he joined the Friends of the People and on 13 Dec. 1792 voted with Fox against the address. He did so again on 21 Jan. 1794. He opposed the suspension of habeas corpus, 16, 17 May 1794; voted against the war, 30 May 1794, 24 Mar., 27 May 1795; was in the minority on the Prince of Wales’s debts, 1 June 1795, and supported Grey’s critical motion on the cost of war, 10 Mar. 1796. This was not steady opposition, but his health may have impeded it. After taking leave of absence on 4 Mar. 1793 he left no mark that session and on 3 June 1795 he took three weeks’ sick leave. He was listed ‘con’ by the Treasury in 1795 and, in Yorkshire, concerted with Wyvill as one of ‘the principal friends of peace and constitutional liberty’ in opposing repressive measures in November.2

Milnes’s re-election in 1796 was again unopposed. In his address (19 May) he stated:

The same principle that induced me in the year 1784 to resist the measures that I then thought dangerous to the State, has lately occasioned me to oppose the system that has produced and maintained the present calamitous war ... I shall strictly adhere to the line of independent conduct I have hitherto observed ... I would not lay myself under obligations to any political men.

He also spoke at the county meeting against the nomination of Henry Lascelles, preferring ‘an independent man ... against a family which had presumed to bargain for the county’. On 7 June 1796 he wrote to Wyvill:

The present Parliament I think will do more in favour of a parliamentary reform by disgusting the people than anything that has happened for some time. The contractors, moneyjobbers and clerks in office form the greatest part of the new Members.3

In June 1797 he signed the requisition for a county meeting to call for a change of men and measures. Yet he left no trace in Parliament until 1801. The reason was doubtless provided by his brother-in-law Samuel Thornton*, who wrote, 10 Nov. 1797, ‘I fear poor Richard Milnes will hardly ever get on his legs again’. He was absent ill on the motion for parliamentary reform, 26 May 1797. All his letters to Wyvill in these years were from Fryston. On 7 Dec. 1800 he assured him that the time was not ripe for another county meeting to press for a change of men and measures: ‘The war is now unpopular, but the opposition is more so’. On 10 Feb. 1801 he suggested that such a meeting should confine itself to a plea for peace. This would attract Earl Fitzwilliam’s connexion and the rest might follow. As for prospects of reform, Pitt’s ‘artful policy in working upon the fears and bigotry of the nation’ had effectively dashed them. Disagreeing over this, he and Wyvill remained on friendly terms. Milnes reappeared at Westminster, 25 Mar. 1801, when he voted for Grey’s critical motion, and on 20 Apr. he opposed the seditious meetings bill. He retired for reasons of health in 1802, claiming never to have given a vote in Parliament ‘but from the conviction of his mind, that it was right’.4 He died 2 June 1804.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Fitzwilliam mss, X515/39, Wilson to Fitzwilliam, Mon. evening [14 June 1790].
  • 2. Wyvill Pprs. vi. 81.
  • 3. Morning Chron. 23 May 1796; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F34/204; N. Riding RO, Wyvill mss ZFW7/2/104/19.
  • 4. Sheffield City Lib. Spencer Stanhope mss, Thornton to W. Spencer Stanhope, 10 Nov. 1797; Wyvill mss 7/2/131/18; 7/2/134/18; Wyvill Pprs. vi. 167-72.