TYRWHITT, Thomas (1762-1833), of Tor Royal, Princetown, Devon.

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



1796 - 1802
30 Dec. 1802 - Feb. 1806
6 Mar. 1806 - June 1812

Family and Education

b. 12 Aug. 1762, 1st s. of Rev. Edmund Tyrwhitt, rector of Wickham Bishops, Essex by Margaret, da. of Thomas Gilbert of Cotton Hall, Cheadle, Cheshire. educ. Eton 1775-80; Christ Church, Oxf. 1780; L. Inn 1783. unm. suc. fa. 1788; kntd. 8 May 1812.

Offices Held

Private sec. to the Prince of Wales Mar. 1795; sec. and keeper of the Prince’s privy seal and auditor and sec. duchy of Cornwall July 1796-Dec. 1803; ld. warden of the stannaries Dec. 1803-June 1812; gentleman usher of the black rod June 1812-July 1832; keeper, Windsor Little Park 1812-15.

Capt. R. Cornw. and Devon miners 1798, 2nd maj. till 1801; lt.-col. commdt. R. Stannary artillery 1803, col. 1808-12.


Tyrwhitt’s father left him a half share in £5,150 Bank and South Sea stock,1 but it was on his uncle Thomas (1730-86), sometime clerk of the House of Commons and one of the leading literary scholars of his day, that he modelled himself. Glenbervie wrote in 1801 that he ‘affects a classical taste and knowledge, but though he does not seem to me entirely deficient in that respect, he could gain no credit for learning’, either at Eton, where he was known as ‘Clod’ Tyrwhitt, or at Oxford, where one contemporary dubbed him ‘the Squab Cupid’.2 A short, dumpy man with a smooth, ruddy complexion, he probably owed his introduction to the Prince of Wales to the dean of Christ Church, Cyril Jackson. According to Horace Walpole, their acquaintance was ‘of no ancient date’ in 1795 when the Prince appointed his ‘very disinterested little friend’ his private secretary. A notoriously fickle employer, he always remained fond of Tyrwhitt, who came to be known among the royal family as ‘the Dwarf’, the ‘twenty third [sic] of June’ or ‘the shortest night’; ‘Saint Thomas’ from ‘the shortest day’, and so to ‘the Saint’. Glenbervie was less affectionate: ‘his little chubby red smooth face and stumpy person add to the ridicule of his important manner and affected softness of voice and air’.3

Tyrwhitt, who joined the Whig Club in 1786 but seceded with Windham and company in February 1793, spent most of his first year in the Prince’s employment handling his master’s financial negotiations with government and problems arising out of his separation from Princess Caroline. With a grant from the Prince of 2,500 acres of duchy land on Dartmoor he established a position for himself in south Devon by cultivating his moorland and building a house at Tor Royal. He was primarily responsible for the establishment of Dartmoor prison, started in 1806 to house prisoners of war, and named the community which grew around it Princetown.4 At the general election of 1796 he was returned unopposed for Okehampton, where the Prince had property, and shortly afterwards was promoted to be keeper of the Prince’s privy seal and auditor of the duchy of Cornwall, which together brought him £1,000 a year.

As Tyrwhitt was in touch with Moira, Sinclair and other members of the ‘armed neutrality’ early in 1797, it seems likely that it was he who attended their meeting at Sinclair’s, 9 Mar., and voted with opposition on the Bank stoppage, 28 Feb. and 9 Mar., and the state of Ireland, 23 Mar., though it is possible that the Member concerned was Thomas Tyrwhitt Drake.5 In his first known speech, 10 Nov. 1797, he joined in the chorus pressing Sinclair to withdraw his peace amendment to the address, in order to ‘give the direct lie to the malevolent assertions of the Directory, who so insidiously represent us as a divided people’. He opposed the assessed taxes augmentation bill, 3 and 4 Jan. 1798, having been ‘generally and uniformly pressed’ to do so from ‘quarters not tainted in the smallest degree with the spirit of party’. Two months later, about to embark for Hesse on the Prince’s business, he wrote to his friend Lord Wellesley:

I hate politics, but having lately been more concerned in them than usual I must touch upon them. I have long conceived that the secession of the opposition ... did infinite mischief ... If they know themselves the spirits with which their conduct invigorates the enemy, they deserve to be hanged for persisting in it ... I really believe some of them would let in the French provided Pitt was made the sacrifice.6

He supported the income tax, 31 Dec. 1798, and on 8 Mar. 1799, ‘well aware that by my silence malevolence might have fancied a debt of £100,000’, stated in answer to a question from Colonel Lowther that the Prince had strictly complied with the terms of his financial settlement and maintained his daughter without incurring any debts. ‘I am not vain enough to say I did it well’, he informed the Prince, but ‘the House expressed uncommon satisfaction when I sat down and I have since been told that it was pleased as much as I was in hopes it would [be]’.7

On his return from another errand to Vienna early in 1802, Tyrwhitt was reported to be saying in private that ‘abroad, there is no confidence in the vigour or stability of the present ministry’; but in the House, 19 Jan. 1802, he ‘sat on the Treasury bench and rose, apropos of nothing, to express his perfect confidence’ in the Addington government’s ability to thwart any act of aggression by France, a gesture seen as ‘a little symptomatic of an avowed junction between the two courts of St. James’s and Carlton House’.8 He voted in support of the Prince’s claims to duchy of Cornwall revenues, 31 Mar. 1802, after stating in debate that the Prince did not regard the matter as one of personal dispute between himself and the King; gave notice of another motion on the subject, 15 Apr., but was forced to postpone it, 27 Apr., as the case had not been fully prepared. On 10 May he explained, once more as his master’s voice in the House, that the duchy claim was before the courts and that since 1795 the Prince had paid off £525,000 of his debts.

Tyrwhitt did not stand for Okehampton at the 1802 general election, the Prince having sold his property there. Callington, Enniskillen and Stockbridge were mentioned as possible berths for him. The co-patron of Stockbridge, Joseph Foster Barham, who had negotiated a seat for Portarlington for the benefit of a friend, transferred it to Tyrwhitt to gratify the Prince. In December 1802, after a visit to France, he was returned for Lord Portarlington’s borough, on the understanding that he was to relinquish the seat once the House had debated the Prince’s financial problems, which was thought to be a matter of six weeks. Subsequently Foster Barham was induced to permit him to hold on to the seat, with expectations of compensation from the Prince. (In 1806 Tyrwhitt secured Foster Barham’s return for Okehampton in acknowledgment of his services.)9

Tyrwhitt’s belief in lack of public confidence in the Addington ministry remained privately expressed10 and he continued to confine his parliamentary activity largely to matters concerning the Prince, whose surrender of the duchy claim he announced, 28 Feb. 1803. He voted for inquiry into the Prince’s debts, 4 Mar., secured the addition to the defence bill of a clause regulating the powers of lord lieutenants, 21 July, and voted for a military advisory council to accommodate the Prince’s martial ambitions, 2 Aug. 1803, having asserted in the debate that he had ‘proof’ that their repeated frustration had not been the Prince’s fault. On the death of John Willett Payne late in 1803 Tyrwhitt succeeded him as lord warden of the stannaries and his own secretarial duties were taken over by John McMahon.

On the Prince’s instructions he stayed away from the House for the crucial divisions of 23 and 25 Apr. 1804 which sealed Addington’s fate, but when the Prince shortly afterwards ‘declared openly for opposition’ and summoned him from Devon, he came to town and voted against Pitt’s additional force bill in June.11 With the rest of the Carlton House group, he remained in regular opposition to Pitt’s second ministry, voting against them on the Spanish war, 12 Feb.; national defence, 21 Feb.; the commission of naval inquiry, 1 Mar.; the Additional Force Act, 6 Mar., and the Melville affair, 8 Apr. and 12 June 1805.

Shortly after the formation of the ‘Talents’ ministry Tyrwhitt arranged the transfer of his Portarlington seat to a government supporter and his own return for Plymouth, where he had been cultivating an interest in the name of the Prince, the high steward. He voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr., and defended Lord St. Vincent (an electoral ally at Plymouth) against Jeffery’s attack on his naval administration, 14 May, but opposed the witnesses declaratory bill as unnecessary, 23 Apr. 1806. He was re-elected for Plymouth after a contest at the general election of 1806 but, like the Prince’s other acolytes, did not support the ‘Talents’ when they came to grief over Catholic relief. His prospects at Plymouth now seemed uncertain: on 9 Apr. 1807 Sir William Elford, ousted in the previous contest, told the Duke of Portland’s secretary that Tyrwhitt was ‘insinuating that he will be with the new government’; and three weeks later he trusted that, if ministers were to support Tyrwhitt’s election, he would be ‘given to understand he is to play no underhand game, which is a practice as you know, very much to his taste’.12 In the event government neither endorsed Tyrwhitt nor exerted themselves unduly against him and it was the locally unpopular Elford who went to the wall.

Tyrwhitt remained largely inconspicuous in the Commons, where his attempts to establish a police force for Plymouth dockyard, 8 June 1808 and 3 Mar. 1809, were unsuccessful. A strong advocate of the Prince’s neutrality on the Duke of York scandal, he initially carried his point and was ordered ‘not to vote, but to talk against’ the duke; but when the Prince, under pressure from Windsor, changed his mind, Tyrwhitt was left free to stay away.13 In October 1809 Tierney reported that the Prince’s ‘neutrality’ was ‘to be continued, by which I presume he means that Tyrwhitt and McMahon are not to vote’. Tyrwhitt evidently did not do so, though on at least one occasion he took evasive action, as he confided to William Adam, 1 Jan. 1810:

do not betray me ... but I smell a possibility of being asked to vote for the address, which I should not like to do— against, you know I could not, after what has been written to the Great Castle. I therefore shall have my first fit of the gout towards the 19th.

According to James Loch’s report to Adam, 21 Mar. 1810, Tyrwhitt, with whom he had spent the previous night ‘making out a list for Carlton House’, was ‘pressing for permission to vote’ with opposition in the crucial division on the Walcheren expedition.14 He was accordingly marked ‘hopeful’ in the Whig list, but his vote was not forthcoming.

During the King’s illness late in 1810 Tyrwhitt supplied Lord Grenville’s emissary with daily bulletins of news at Eton. Like McMahon, he did not vote on the motion for an adjournment, 29 Nov., but divided with opposition on the question, 20 Dec. On his own initiative he suggested to Adam an alteration to the opposition amendment opposing all Regency restrictions, 31 Dec., proposing a concession over custody of the King’s person and arguing that opposition in limine would ‘lose many a vote’.15 His version was not adopted. He did not vote on the fifth Regency resolution, 1 Jan., but paired on the opposition side in the division on the Household clause of the Regency bill, 21 Jan. 1811.

Tyrwhitt was instructed by the Prince to vote with government against Whitbread’s motion in favour of Palmer’s financial claims, 30 May 1811, and was ‘actually sent for from Cornwall’ to join the rest of the Carlton House coterie in attending ‘from first to last’ to support the gold coin bill. In July 1811, when the King was thought to be dying, he was reported to be ‘very busy about the elections’ and to have secured berths for ‘six fresh thick and thin’ adherents of the Prince.16 For himself, Tyrwhitt had made it known as early as 1809 that he would not sit again for Plymouth, where importunate and fickle constituents vexed him. By early 1811 Benjamin Bloomfield, a new favourite of the Prince, had been earmarked to replace him at the next general election. St. Vincent claimed to know that Tyrwhitt had voiced ‘strong objections’ to the arrangement and he certainly had reservations, though whether they arose from secret jealousy of Bloomfield or, as seems perhaps more likely, a fear, informed by local knowledge, that Bloomfield might be unsuccessful, is not quite clear. In September 1811, having failed in a secret bid to forge an alliance which would ensure Bloomfield’s success, he confided to McMahon that he was prepared to stand again himself if necessary, though his ‘ambition to be again in the House’ was ‘very small’ and it would not be easy to reconcile Bloomfield and the Prince, both of whom remained ignorant of this development, to such a change of plan. Accordingly he began to lay the ground for his own renewed candidature, but in mid October, evidently convinced by McMahon’s reports that there would be an unholy row with Bloomfield and the Prince if the former’s hopes were disappointed, he decided to let matters stand as arranged. He professed to ‘care not a fig whether I am in Parliament or not’, being confident that ‘if matters slide on smoothly, government will take [care] of me’.17

Reports in January 1812 that Tyrwhitt had been ‘employed in going over the Treasury lists with Arbuthnot’ convinced Lord Grey that the Regent intended to desert the Whigs when the restrictions expired, though Richard Ryder, the Home secretary, did not know what to make of Tyrwhitt’s circular to the Prince’s friends requesting attendance on the first day.18 On the Regent’s instructions, he attended the House to support the vote of thanks to Minto for his services in India, 11 Jan., and to divide with government against Morpeth’s motion on Ireland, 4 Feb. 1812. A few days earlier, according to Robert Ward, Tyrwhitt had hinted strongly where his own and the Regent’s sympathies lay:

[he] agreed ... [opposition] played their cards ill, and particularly the Grenvilles, in pushing the question of Ireland. And yet, I said, they give out that they are to come in as soon as the restrictions are off. All I know, said he, is that they shall never give me a place, they did not do it before, and they should not now! He agreed that Ireland was much discontented, and great management required, but the way opposition took was not the right one.19

Once the Regent had opted for the status quo, Tyrwhitt voted regularly with ministers, received a knighthood early in May and was in the minority who divided against the call for a stronger administration, 21 May 1812. When the ensuing period of uncertainty was over and Liverpool’s ministry confirmed in power, his confident expectations of reward were confirmed by his appointment as gentleman usher of the black rod, which necessitated the vacation of his seat.

It was said of him in 1813 that ‘the rays of royalty have not infused an atom of humbug into him, and he appears to be as anxious to please the whole world as he would be to please his master’.20 Whether the scandal which caused him to go to ground in 1819 concerned cheating at cards or some sexual transgression is not clear,21 but he survived it and went on to complete 20 years’ satisfactory service as black rod. He was commended by a select committee of the House of Lords in 1824 for his refusal to profit from the customary shady practice of selling subordinate offices, which could have brought him £9,000. He died at Calais, a comparatively poor man, 24 Feb. 1833.22

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. PCC 44 Calvert.
  • 2. Glenbervie Jnls. i. 191-2.
  • 3. Horace Walpole Corresp. (Yale ed.), xii. 149; Prince of Wales Corresp. iii. 979; Glenbervie Jnls. i. 191.
  • 4. Prince of Wales Corresp. iii. 1002, 1092, 1125, 1126, 1132; Trans. Devon Assoc. xxxvii (1905), 465-81.
  • 5. Prince of Wales Corresp. iii. 1243, 1253.
  • 6. Add. 37308, f. 106.
  • 7. Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1429.
  • 8. Glenbervie Jnls. i. 310-11; Fitzwilliam mss, Laurence to Fitzwilliam, 25 Jan. 1802.
  • 9. Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1654; The Times, 8 July 1802; Wickham mss 1/46/25; Bodl. Clarendon dep. C.431, bdle. 5, Tyrwhitt to Foster Barham, 3 July-4 Dec. 1802, Foster Barham to Tyrwhitt, draft n.d.
  • 10. Mems. Sir John Sinclair, ii. 149-50.
  • 11. Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 1866; Colchester, i. 499.
  • 12. PRO, Dacres Adams mss 10/3, 8.
  • 13. Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 325; NLI, Richmond mss 70/1358; Colchester, ii. 169; Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville [9 Mar. 1809].
  • 14. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 4 Oct. 1809; Blair Adam mss.
  • 15. HMC Bathurst, 151-2; Add. 41853, f. 206; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, [17], 18, 22 Dec. 1810; Glenbervie Jnls. ii. 114; Blair Adam mss, Tyrwhitt to Adam, 30 Dec., Adam to McMahon, 31 Dec. 1810.
  • 16. Add. 51585, Tierney to Lady Holland [1 June]; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 20 July; Richmond mss 63/578; Lansdowne mss, Lady Holland to Lansdowne [July 1811].
  • 17. Blair Adam mss, Tyrwhitt to Adam, 15 Apr. 1809; NMM, WYN/102, St. Vincent to Pole, 20 Jan. 1811; Add. 41372, ff. 92, 93; Prince of Wales Corresp. viii. 3188, 3210, 3215, 3219.
  • 18. Blair Adam mss, Grey to Adam, 6 Jan. 1812; Richmond mss 60/276.
  • 19. Buckingham, Regency, i. 180, 229; Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 412.
  • 20. Bath Archives ed. Lady Jackson, ii. 349.
  • 21. Add. 60286, ff. 94, 95; Fitzwilliam mss, box 99, Thanet to Fitzwilliam, 20 Oct. 1819.
  • 22. R. P. Tyrwhitt, Tyrwhitt Fam. 72; PCC 410 Farquhar.