YORKE, Charles Philip (1764-1834), of Bonningtons, Herts.

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



1790 - Feb. 1810
27 Apr. 1810 - 1812
1812 - 1818

Family and Education

b. 12 Mar. 1764, 2nd s. of Hon. Charles Yorke of Tittenhanger by 2nd w. Agneta, da. and coh. of Henry Johnston of Great Berkhamsted; bro. of Joseph Sidney Yorke*. educ. Harrow 1776-80; St. John’s, Camb. 1781, L. Inn 1780, called M. Temple 1787; Italian tour 1788-9. m. 1 July 1790, Harriott, da. of Charles Manningham of Thorpe, Surr., s.p.

Offices Held

Sec. at war Feb. 1801-Aug. 1803; PC 20 Feb. 1801; sec. of state for Home affairs Aug. 1803-May 1804; teller of Exchequer Feb. 1810; first ld. of Admiralty May 1810-Mar. 1812; charity commr. 1818-21.

C.j. Isle of Ely 1789.

Capt. Camb. militia 1792, maj. 1794, lt.-col. 1799, col. 1806-11.


Yorke does not appear to have found a sphere of action congenial to him. He was intended for his father’s profession of the law, but developed a distaste for it as a tyro on the western circuit, where he found the superficial and competitive character of his colleagues repulsive, and little business came his way. In May 1790 the succession of his elder half-brother Philip Yorke to the earldom of Hardwicke provided him with an opening to sit for Cambridgeshire on the family interest and the alternative of a political career: a member of the Crown and Rolls debating society, he had in 1788 regretted that the vacancy in Cambridge borough could not be turned to his advantage. In any case, there were disadvantages: his fortune was less than £800 a year, which had led him to ridicule a proposal to stand for Southampton, a rich man’s borough, and he was about to marry. Hardwicke’s ‘beneficence’ and the happiness of his marriage compensated for this. But he had scruples: rather than offer for the county on a doubtful property qualification, he tried to induce Hardwicke to sell him the necessary land. The dissolution intervened and his return was delayed until the general election of 1790. His diffidence was tried by only one question on the hustings—whether he favoured parliamentary reform: he replied that he would not come into Parliament ‘upon a test’. It remained his view that the doctrine of Members being ‘guided by the instructions of their constituents’ was unconstitutional.1

Yorke made his debut in the House as a constitutional lawyer, suggesting a committee to search for precedents on the question of resuming the impeachment of Warren Hastings, 17 Dec. 1790. His prepared arguments had been anticipated and he did not give his opinion (in favour of resumption) until 22 Dec. Next day he took on the opposition leader Fox, whose criticism of the legal profession would otherwise have gone unanswered: his own private criticism of them had been quite as incisive. His brother Joseph informed Hardwicke of these two speeches:

His speech was good not only in itself but in the delivery. His action not so good as I should have imagined from remembering him at Harrow. He spoke I think about one quarter of an hour. He was heard with great attention, and Mr Fox shifted his seat in order to be nearer him. He had not a good place for speaking, being too far from the Chair, though on the floor at the conclusion of Thursday’s debate. He was heated, by the uncandid observations of Mr Fox and Burke but more particularly the former on the lawyers, and their profession, and rose immediately after him. He was then much agitated, and hesitated a good deal, not from want of words, but from too great abundance for they stuck in the way. After recovering himself he delivered what he had to say with great energy, sensibility, and warmth, in a thundering voice by which Fox was visibly hurt, and answered in a very calm manner. Whether it was prudent or not, I will not pretend to say, as Mr Fox’s speech had made a very visible impression on the House and it was a late hour. But it showed what every man must honour him for, a professional zeal not to be intimidated even by the powers of that great man, and in my opinion the rest of the lawyers at the head of their profession in that House ought to be ashamed of themselves for not making a proper defence.2

On 22 Mar. 1791 Yorke repeated the performance against Fox on the same subject. He spoke for government on 15 Apr. during the Oczakov debate. That month he was counted hostile to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. On 9 May he made his first motion, that judges should be exempt from postal charges: it was defeated by 52 votes to 38. On 31 Jan. 1792 he moved the address and henceforward, giving Pitt ‘a liberal and wise confidence’ (13 Mar.), skirmished for him against the opposition leaders, 25 May, 14 and 17 Dec. 1792 and 15 Mar. 1793. On 20 Mar. 1793 he was given leave to bring in a bill to regulate the procedure of election writs once issued to returning officers. Only once did Yorke’s scruples incline him to the opposition lobby, 14 Mar. 1794, when, as he had already indicated on 10 Feb., he could not swallow the notion that the landing of foreign allied troops in England was a matter of royal prerogative rather than of parliamentary consent. Two weeks later he reverted to his tack of doubting the patriotism of opposition, and on 17 May he defended the suspension of habeas corpus. He thought the naval pay increase should be offset by more official scrutiny and professional competence, 7 Jan. 1795, and on 26 Jan. deprecated any peace negotiations with the French republic, a subject on which he had sent ‘hints’ to Pitt through Hardwicke.3 On 28 May 1795 his application for leave to go on militia duties was rejected by a vote of the House. As it was, a bout of illness limited his attendance in the ensuing session

Yorke resumed his vendetta with Fox in the first session of the Parliament of 1796, though without any particular success, 31 Oct., 30 Dec. He stood by ministers on the imperial subsidy, 8 Dec., on the Bank stoppage, 28 Feb., and on the naval mutiny, 10 May 1797, now frequently acting as a teller for government. After asking Pitt to postpone the second reading of the assessed taxes bill, he defended it warmly on 14 Dec. 1797 and was invited to the ministerial conference on it three days later. He likewise supported the income tax a year later. In 1797 and 1798 he was a regular member of the finance committee, though embarrassed by their proposed inquiry into the courts of justice, his uncle John Yorke being a sinecurist. He made the royal dockyards his subject. In 1799 he was one of the secret committee on sedition, in 1800 of the bread bill and public records committees. On 28 Feb. 1800 he justified the continuation of war and on 8 July and 18 Nov. its conduct in Egypt. He had not fully gained Pitt’s confidence; the minister once trampled on him in an oration of 20 minutes as a guest at Yorke’s own house. It was of Yorke and of William Windham that Pitt allegedly said:

when they are my friends, I never see either of them get up, but I clap my face between my two hands frightened to death, lest their natural violence, impetuosity, and wrongheadedness should start some subject absolutely indefensible, and that is enough to ruin twenty administrations.4

Yorke was nevertheless encouraged by Pitt to take office in Addington’s ministry in February 1801. He became secretary at war and Hardwicke lord lieutenant of Ireland. The writ for his re-election had already been moved when the King’s illness delayed his formal appointment and his predecessor Windham continued to act. Re-elected ‘with one dissenting voice’ on 3 Mar., he feared that a fresh election would now be necessary, but the Speaker decided that his acceptance of office vacated the seat and the subsequent date of the instrument of appointment did not matter. Yorke’s political position was that ‘he was firmly attached to Mr Pitt, and that no consideration could have induced him to take office but the imperious necessity of the times, and being assured it would be agreeable to Mr Pitt’. He soon gained the approval of the King, who in May 1801 discovered ‘an appearance of regularity in the War Office, which was much wanted’ and hinted, with compliments to his late father and grandfather, that he had already thought of Yorke earlier as ‘the only person fit’ to succeed Addington in the Speaker’s chair. Addington treated him ‘with the greatest kindness and confidence’, so Yorke informed Hardwicke on 28 July 1801, ‘which is more than I can say of some of his colleagues’. The prime minister had just offered him the treasurership of the navy (worth £4,000 p.a., with a house, which compared favourably with his £2,400 p.a. without a house at present), if Richard Ryder died. Yorke liked the War Office and had fears about his re-election for the county, but his brother advised acceptance. Ryder recovered, but when he resigned in October 1801, Yorke declined his office, thereby, he thought, doing Addington a ‘great favour’. He assured him, 5 Nov. 1801, that he did not, in this critical period, wish for a salary rise to £3,000 either.5

Yorke was by then a regular speaker in debate on the business of his office: on 8 June 1801 he promoted the institution of the Royal Military College. He defended the peace treaty, 4 Nov., and on 9 Nov. brought up the army estimates, which he went on to justify in terms of an uneasy truce with France. He was also a spokesman and intermediary for his brother in Ireland and when the latter’s chief secretary, Abbot, became Speaker in February 1802 complimented him on his services to Hardwicke. His own name had been mentioned for the Speakership, to which he did not feel equal, and Hardwicke would have liked him as his chief secretary, but they agreed that he was better off where he was: Yorke did not regret declining the treasurership of the navy, which he meant to refuse again if offered to him. While he was carrying the augmentation of the militia through the House in April 1802, Addington startled him with the offer of the government of Madras, and the prospect of succeeding Lord Wellesley in Bengal. Yorke had no wish to play the ‘nabob behaudur’; with no family to provide for, he did not seek a fortune, though he had no objection to a peerage (had his father lived to receive it, the barony of Morden would have been his by reversion). On the whole, he and Hardwicke agreed that the offer should be refused. Yorke fought his first contest for the county at the general election of 1802: his nerve failed him in the face of criticism of him as a ministerialist and a smear campaign against his family, but Hardwicke would not let him give up and he was returned in second place, at a cost of nearly £8,000. On 9 Sept. 1802 he was again tempted by the offer of Madras with the opportunity of succeeding Wellesley in Bengal, but as the latter would not be leaving for at least a year, he eventually (on medical advice) rejected the offer: ‘my heart was in Great Britain ... the real struggle, and business would be here ... India would be fought for in Europe, and must be the prize of the conqueror’.6

On 8 Dec. 1802 Yorke proposed a larger military establishment for self-protection against France: his motion was described by Francis Burton as ‘perfect in its kind, both in matter and manner: concise, perspicuous, firm, and manly; but without a spark of irritating bravado, and steering so judiciously between extremes, as to force applause from all quarters’. In the ensuing session his business was to get through the House measures to place the militia in readiness for the resumption of hostilities: it was Yorke who moved the loyal address on the outbreak of war, 25 May 1803. For the remainder of the session he was occupied with increasing military preparedness and measures for home defence, notably an army of reserve based on selective compulsory service (a ballot of the able bodied), 20 June. He had been eager for a junction between Addington and Pitt in April, and the failure of their negotiation, which was not, in his view, Addington’s fault, ‘hurt and disgusted’ him. Following this he was offered by Addington either the Admiralty or the Home Office, with the King’s approval: he demurred, telling his brother on 5 May, ‘if we are to go out, I had rather go out as secretary at war not in the cabinet, than as an ephemeral secretary of state etc with another county election to boot’. Hardwicke thought he should accept the Home Office, welcoming the prospect of his replacing Lord Pelham there, and in June he agreed to take it at the end of the session ‘only on the grounds that it may make your government easier and pleasanter ... than it has hitherto been’, so he informed Hardwicke. He felt that Addington was not equal to the resumption of war, that his cabinet was ‘absolutely detestable’ and that only Pitt could save the country. By 12 Aug., when he took the Chiltern Hundreds, he already regretted his decision: ‘Addington has got rid of a tolerable secretary at war, to make a very indifferent secretary of state’. The King was very gracious when he kissed hands on 17 Aug., but he still had qualms. Before the next session, he saw Addington (19 Oct.) and frankly informed him that he thought Pitt, who was his ‘first and only political connection’, should replace him at the helm: his own wish was to resign as soon as practicable, as acceptance of the Home Office seals was ‘the most foolish thing I ever did in public life’. Persuaded by Addington that negotiation with Pitt would fail, he agreed to remain in office, 4 Nov., taking as his motto Candide’s ‘travaillons sans raisonner’, but still looked forward to resigning at the end of the session.7

Yorke’s sense of inadequacy at the Home Office was confirmed in the parliamentary session of December 1803. He had not only the army estimates to defend, but also his brother’s government in Ireland, as a result of the rising in July and the restriction of civil liberties there. Nor was Hardwicke satisfied with his manner of doing it. In the spring of 1804 he to some extent bore the brunt of the combined opposition onslaught, abetted by Pitt, on the ministry’s defence measures, which were challenged at every step. Yorke’s heart was not in the defence of them: he knew the game was up. On 26 Apr. he informed the viceroy, ‘I have certainly no reason whatever to imagine that I am at all in favour with Pitt or any of his myrmidons’. Rather than continue in office as ‘a sort of drudge, and subjected to all their pride and hauteur’, he expected to retire, knowing that he had in the King ‘a protector, and a kind one too’. He went on to reflect that, if ‘turned out to graze’, he would be nearly ruined, unless the King secured provision for him. Even if asked to stay, he would be compelled to eat his own words on defence questions. The King, than whom ‘no father could have been kinder’, urged him to stay (‘no other secretary for the Home department would answer so well etc etc’) and pressed him on 8 May to accept the barony of Morden, which he declined as beyond his means. On 11 May Yorke surrendered his office: the King admitted the justice of Pitt’s allegation that Yorke must feel ‘awkwardness and embarrassment’ on defence questions if he remained. Yorke offered his support to Pitt’s government, though he did not guarantee constant attendance. Hardwicke, who retained his office in Ireland, regretted his resignation and hoped that he might soon return to office. Yorke feared that differences on defence measures must weaken his goodwill towards the new ministry, but he intended to support ‘the old King and his government’ to the last.8

On 8 June 1804, Yorke duly opposed Pitt’s additional force bill by speech and vote: but he deprecated ‘factious opposition’. He avoided the later stages of the bill, hoping to be able to see eye to eye with Pitt thereafter: this ‘manly’ line was contrasted to Yorke’s advantage with Addington’s ‘shabby’ one. Office for him was still in the air: Pitt spoke well of him, Canning suggested the treasurership of the navy for him and Hardwick secretly urged Pitt to make him his chief secretary, 14 Nov. 1804. In January 1805 he was able to congratulate Addington on his reconciliation with Pitt: but they had drifted apart, and he was not among those for whom the ex-premier solicited office, Addington choosing to regard him as Pitt’s man. Pitt regarded him, however, as Addington’s, and on learning that Yorke wished for a seat in the cabinet would not consider him for the chief secretaryship. Canning forbade Pitt to employ him. ‘I am no man’s follower and belong to no man’s coterie; and therefore remain in statu quo. At this however I do not repine’, he assured Hardwicke, who was by then out of humour with Pitt. Although his attendance was now selective, Yorke remained ‘disposed to co-operate’ with government, even if, by his own admission, ‘heartily sick of political friendships and connections’. He took a quizzical view of himself as a rusticated, balding, silver-haired ex-somebody, ‘in town as little as I can help’, 14 Mar. 1805. In fact, he appeared only to offer his criticisms of Pitt’s militia enlistment bill, to improve which he carried one amendment, 28 Mar. He avoided the debates on Melville and was tipped to succeed him at the Admiralty. From the midst of his militia duties, he informed Hardwicke, 25 Apr., that to take on the Admiralty he would need a peerage and provision. The Home Office would not do, nor the Board of Control, nor the duchy of Lancaster, unless it was for life: ‘if I am needed, I must be courted, but as I presume that I am not, I certainly shall not go a-courting’. He was not offered the Admiralty:

the account given by some of his former colleagues of his want of temper and of nerves startled Pitt; and though others assured him, and probably with truth, that in both these respects he would be a different man with him from what he was with Addington, yet these circumstances ... prevented any offer being made.

Despite this, the talk was that Sir Charles Middleton was succeeding Melville at the Admiralty only as locum tenens until Yorke’s nephew Lord Royston was of age to relieve him of the county seat. Yorke, who disliked the proceedings against Melville and thought Pitt’s genius sadly decayed, resolved to attend to vote against the censure on Pitt in June; he had also done so against the Catholic petition in May. In September he rejected the offer of the embassy to Russia, a step which, as it was then the most important foreign mission, Hardwicke thought regrettable. Pitt had thoughts of tempting him next with the Board of Control.9

On Pitt’s death Yorke, who would have liked a general coalition, was resigned to the opposition takeover: ‘they are the only party and there is no other now existing thanks to Canning and co.’. To rally to the King and eschew ‘factious opposition’ was his only aim: he thought a ‘corps of observation, to watch the conduct of government and to prevent mischief’ the only honourable role for Pitt’s friends. Canning thought Yorke (or Perceval) would do ‘tolerably well’ as their leader. Of the ‘patchwork’ administration he tolerated only Lord Grenville’s band and he was none too happy at his brother’s clinging to his office in Ireland yet again. He had no objection to Ellenborough’s being in the cabinet, unlike other Pittites who made an issue of it; but was soon at loggerheads with the ministry over Windham’s military plan, which he opposed from the start, 3 Apr. 1806. On 17 Apr. his motion for copies of the general staff’s opinions on Windham’s ‘dangerous innovation’ of enlistment for a limited period was negatived without a division. He voted against the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr., and spoke against it on 13 May. On 30 May he protested against Windham’s engrafting his limited service plan on the mutiny bill. On 26 June he attempted unsuccessfully to have Scotland included in the volunteer training bill; one amendment of his was accepted, but another rejected on 4 July. He and Windham were at daggers drawn by the end of the session; and on 4 July Yorke was at the meeting at Lord Lowther’s house of Pitt’s friends and was one of those anxious to unite as a party. Fox’s death made a bid by Grenville for recruits to office likely, and Hardwicke, who had wished to press Yorke’s claims individually, was disappointed to find that he was now by his own confession associated with the ‘ci-devant Pitts’, but was not anxious to replace Yorke by Lord Royston for the county at the ensuing general election.10

On 12 Dec. 1806 Yorke was invited by the ‘ci-devant Pitts’ to their pre-sessional dinner. When Canning had private discussions with Grenville about a possible junction in March 1807, the latter agreed to offer Yorke the government of Madras, if Tierney and Bragge Bathurst rejected it; otherwise Canning thought the government of Jamaica might suit him. Yorke denied any wish for office. The collapse of the ministry over the Catholic bill made the proposal nugatory. Yorke admitted in debate, 5 Mar., that he disliked the bill, at least in its Irish context, but he also disliked the manner in which it was opposed and this preserved his bond with Hardwicke, who came over to urge the King to strengthen his ministry and make the house of Yorke a pillar of it, at the same time assuring Grenville of his own and Yorke’s support. On 24 Mar. Yorke was one of the few Members who resisted the abolition of offices in reversion.11

The Grenville ministry having fallen, he ‘in a fright’ resisted overtures from his former friends, now in office under the Duke of Portland. He thought they got off to a bad start and Hardwicke urged him to vote against them on 9 Apr., confident that the new ministry could not last; but Yorke, though prepared to help draft the critical motion, preferred to stay away. He urged Hardwicke not to commit himself to opposition, and he disliked voting against his friends now in power, especially as they were the King’s choice. On 10 Apr. Spencer Perceval, his fellow Harrovian, wrote to console him, sure that he rejoiced in their majority despite his brother’s hostility and hoping that he would not cause ‘a serious injury to the public’ by withdrawal from the political scene. On 5 May Portland, at Perceval’s instigation, offered Yorke the surveyorship of woods which ‘brings you no further into contact with ministers than you may choose and yet affords you the means of rendering very essential service to your country’. He replied that having so lately declined cabinet office, he could not accept one in the ‘rear rank’. On 29 May he agreed to propose Abbot’s resumption of the Speaker’s chair in the new Parliament. Hardwicke rebuked him for such a ‘ministerial’ gesture and was displeased to find himself being blamed for Yorke’s exclusion from office. On 7 June Yorke assured Hardwicke that his refusal of cabinet office was his own decision, though one that he knew Hardwicke would approve; but that, much as he deplored the genesis of the Portland ministry, he wished to support it as the King’s government and not, like Hardwicke, to become a partisan of Grenville in opposition. In the quarrel that ensued, Yorke further insisted that he would never have accepted office, as an individual, under Grenville and that he saw no reason for refusing to accept office, in the King’s service, under the present ministry. On 22 June he duly proposed Abbot as Speaker.12

Although Yorke offered informed criticism of Castlereagh’s defence proposals on 22 July 1807, preferring a ballot for the army of reserve to one for the militia, he gave a general support to ministers. On 22 Jan. 1808 he declined the Speaker’s invitation to his dinner for the ministerial leaders, as it could only ‘create speculation’ and embarrass all concerned. That day, however, he stung Hardwicke by an outspoken defence of the Copenhagen expedition, which the latter threatened to disavow. Yorke lamented this prospect of family disunity and foresaw that he must resign his seat on ‘such a public disclaimer’, so he volunteered to avoid further debates on the question. Hardwicke was hurt and claimed that he sought only the same freedom of opinion for himself as Yorke had always been entitled to. Yorke then tried to convert Hardwicke to the view that what had happened at Copenhagen was analagous to previous ‘British practice’ and that Lord Grenville himself was inconsistent in condemning it. Hardwicke took this to mean that Yorke thought him fettered by Grenville, which he denied, and exacerbated matters by jumping to the conclusion that Yorke would now abandon the county seat. Yorke assured him that he would not do so without consultation and resorted to arbitration by his brother Joseph to cool the quarrel. For the rest of that session Yorke toned down his contributions to debate. He was not too critical of Castlereagh’s militia proposals in April and sent him an aide-memoire of his own ideas, but on 20 June was more critical and called for increased fortification. He also disliked the Catholic petition of that session and presented a county petition against prohibition of distillation from grain.13

Yorke was still being courted by Perceval, who in January 1809 showed him the King’s speech, and, finding that he approved it except for its handling of the convention of Cintra, paid him the compliment of amending the draft. Hardwicke reminded him that it was the composition rather than the policy of the ministry that he objected to. Yorke then plunged himself into the parliamentary advocacy of the Duke of York, whom he regarded as the victim of a ‘Jacobinical’ conspiracy: he advised Perceval on the subject unofficially, and on 10 Mar. he protested the duke’s innocence of the charges against him at length. A select committee of inquiry, in his view, would have averted the scandal; as it was he thought the duke might be suspended for six months or, failing that, must resign. On 20 Apr. he moved for more information on the armistice in Portugal, which had strained relations between ministers and the army command, though he accepted the armistice itself. A week before, ministers had decided to offer him the presidency of the Board of Control. He declined this, but had no objection to his old office of secretary at war, outside the cabinet. Lord Liverpool wrote: ‘it is an office which wants a thorough reform, and no person would be so competent to put it in order as Yorke’. On receiving the offer Yorke consulted Hardwicke, who pointed out that his coming into office singly would do nothing to reunite them politically and hinted that he could not support Yorke’s re-election for the county, if they remained political opponents, but hoped that a political junction would soon remove his objections. On 5 May Yorke was an opponent of Madocks’s allegations of ministerial corruption, which Hardwicke seems to have hoped would topple the ministry. They did not, and on 4 June Hardwicke advised him to decline the offer of office. He dutifully replied next day: ‘There is no sacrifice of my personal views and interests which I can consider as too great for me to make when put into competition with your happiness and with the perfect maintenance of our hitherto uninterrupted friendship and cordiality’. A day later he informed Portland that he was almost under ‘an interdict from public life’ and asked for a pension. To counter this, Hardwicke offered him £5,000, though he could not then raise it. Portland could only offer his regrets, and his and the King’s wishes for Yorke’s ‘restoration to his service’, 9 June. It was doubtless the King who induced Lord Ailesbury to offer Yorke a borough seat, 7 July. Yorke declined this ‘unexpected favour’, adding that, failing the county, his brother Joseph’s brother-in-law Lord Eliot had offered him a seat.14

Yorke was again pressed to accept office by Spencer Perceval when he became premier in September 1809. Hardwicke hoped that Grenville would form a junction with Perceval and recommended Yorke to Grenville for office: ‘entirely without my knowledge or wishes’ was Yorke’s comment. This merger did not take place and Hardwicke authorized him to take any offer of office ad referendum. On 4 Oct. Perceval offered him the secretaryship at war with a seat in the cabinet, but he objected to being placed under his junior, Robert Saunders Dundas. The Foreign Office or the Exchequer he would not consider. Next day Perceval offered the Mint or the Board of Trade, but he again refused. On 10 Oct. he informed Perceval that Hardwicke’s views prevented him from accepting office, but he offered ‘my best wishes and prayers; I wish I could add auguries’. Hardwicke had persuaded him that it was ill advised to join ‘a firm on the eve of bankruptcy’, whereupon Yorke had admitted that ‘nothing but a sense of public duty, and loyal feeling towards our good old King, could have induced me to make such a sacrifice, without your concurrence, at least, if not with your positive approbation and participation’.15 Yorke’s refusal of office caused a ripple of dismay among ministerialists. Henry Bankes wrote dispassionately, ‘Mr Yorke will be the best secretary at war, if he will take it: as secretary of state he failed, but he is one of the most respectable of the second rank, and while he continues in that rank’. On 24 Oct. 1809 Perceval made another, somewhat embarrassed, bid for Yorke when Saunders Dundas declined to become secretary of state for War and Colonies, which Yorke would have accepted on 4 Oct. By reference to Hardwicke’s veto, he declined, leaving Perceval to reflect on his being more blessed than Yorke in having (in Lord Arden) a brother who was ‘more like a father’ to him. The King thought it regrettable that Yorke paid such ‘implicit deference ... to the dictates of a brother’.16

Yorke approved the Scheldt expedition on principle and deplored its failure. ‘Heartily sick’ of politics, he wrote, 23 Jan. 1810, ‘were it not that I really think the country in great danger ... I could wish to make my bow to them altogether’. On 25 Jan. he took his stand in the House for the expedition and for the ministry against Burdett, whose contempt for the House and ‘systematic’ opposition he rebuked. Next day Perceval informed the King, ‘A more disinterested and manly support has not been given to your Majesty’s government at any time by any one than by him’, and a day later Yorke was able to inform Hardwicke that Perceval had unexpectedly and generously offered him the vacant tellership of the Exchequer, worth £2,700 p.a., unconditionally; though it would mean seeking reelection. Hardwicke, who felt that he had refused his brother enough, was prepared to swallow this and promised to sound county opinion. The King thought Yorke should ‘endeavour to find another seat independent of Lord Hardwicke’s interference’. His prospects of re-election were not improved by the prominent part he proceeded to play in discouraging the censure of the Scheldt expedition. On 2 Feb. he secured the exclusion of strangers from the debate on it. When Perceval nominated him for the select committee of inquiry on 5 Feb., opposition obliged him to fight for his place and Tierney sarcastically remarked that Yorke should be chairman of any secret committee. Next day he clashed with Sheridan in defence of secrecy. He had long been a critic of the licentiousness of the press and on 19 Feb. his complaint of a breach of privilege led to the sentencing to Newgate of John Gale Jones, the radical who had accused Yorke in placards of contempt for public opinion. Finding that the Whigs meant to contest Yorke’s re-election, Hardwicke on 8 Mar. advised him to withdraw from the county and let him buy him into Parliament. Yorke, who had largely approved Curwen’s reform bill in May 1809 and shuddered at the indiscretion of this offer, preferred to swap seats with his brother Joseph, who, he felt, might fairly stand for the county. On 11 Mar. he assured Hardwicke that he would in any case resign the county at the nomination on 16 Mar.; there were already rumours of his imminent appointment to the Admiralty in place of Mulgrave. His abdication of Cambridgeshire was hailed as a triumph by the Whigs and the Burdettite mob broke the windows of his house. The humiliation would have been avoided if Yorke had received a peerage, as Canning readily supposed he would.17

Yorke’s election for St. Germans was delayed until 27 Apr. 1810. There were rumours that he had been rejected at Weymouth and that he would come in for Marlborough or Westbury. Meanwhile, he had been acting as a valued intermediary between Perceval and Lord Sidmouth in the premier’s abortive bid to strengthen his administration. His acceptance of the tellership had been regarded as an omen that Sidmouth was to be courted. On 28 Apr. he reluctantly accepted the Admiralty, which Saunders Dundas had declined to exchange for his own office. Sidmouth did not envy Yorke his inclusion in the government, believing that he did not wish for office. Sidmouth’s brother-in-law Bragge Bathurst, too, was ‘vexed’ to see Yorke placed where he was:

not that he might not fill the office very well, but that at the time it is an unnecessarily unpopular appointment and if he holds it only for a short time will subject him to still more unpleasant observations when he quits it, those at least of being too disposable an instrument in the hands of an inefficient administration.

Perceval admitted that Yorke (whom he preferred to a professional like Lord Gambier at the Admiralty) might suffer from ‘a temporary feeling of unpopularity’. In other quarters, his appointment was condemned, Wellesley Pole the Irish secretary grumbling ‘we shall be laughed at’. The Duke of Northumberland could not believe government ‘mad enough’ to place Yorke at the Admiralty: ‘much too hot, and headstrong for such an office’. On the other hand, the King rejoiced at the appointment of ‘a meritorious individual whose proceedings have ever been upright, in contempt of a clamour which has been excited upon grounds which are not maintainable’. Robert Ward, too, thought Yorke would do: ‘a run would no doubt be made at him, but his character and spirit would I think get the better of all, and he has at least vivacity, of which we so much stand in need’. To counter an obvious criticism, Yorke declined the fees of his tellership as long as he held salaried office.18

Re-elected in his official capacity on 25 May 1810, Yorke characteristically resumed his vendetta with the radicals, vilifying the petition for the release of Burdett from the Tower, 6 and 13 June. He was no more at ease in office under Perceval than he had been under Addington. When in August Perceval proposed a joint offer to Canning and Castlereagh to resume office, Yorke, who thought Sidmouth should be included in the offer, was reported to have threatened resignation, though he was talked out of it. He was a prominent supporter of Perceval’s Regency proposals during the King’s illness, offering the House a historical and legal defence of them, 2 Jan. 1811. On 25 Feb. he disposed of Whitbread’s allegations of unconstitutional conduct by ministers during the King’s illness in 1804. Opposition predictably made a run at him when he moved the navy estimates, 15 Mar., and attempted to harass him on naval questions for the rest of the session. He resented it: as early as February he was said to have wished to retire when Perceval tried to get him to reduce the navy estimates, but ministers vetoed it. In October 1811 he was out of humour because the Prince Regent had foisted on him the appointment of Robert Thornton* to the marshalship of the Admiralty, a place he had at first wished to offer Perceval for his son, then to have the disposal of elsewhere. There was mutual antipathy between Yorke and the Regent. On 15 Dec. he informed Perceval of his wish to resign office when the Regency restrictions expired.19

Although Yorke had the business of the Admiralty much at heart and was particularly interested in the schemes for the Plymouth breakwater and the arsenal at Northfleet, he was unnerved at the opening of the session of 1812 by the news of naval losses in the Baltic. When he carried the estimates in February, it was already known that he meant to resign at the first opportunity. He had doubtless expected the Regent to change the government when the Regency restrictions expired: on 12 Feb. he informed John Dent that ‘no one’s place was in his opinion worth twenty-four hours’ purchase’. Perceval wrote on 31 March:

Yorke had suffered so much in his health and nerves by the perpetual anxiety, care and fatigue of the Admiralty that he was incessant in his applications to be released. He was contented, however, to stay till after the restrictions were at an end, and I prevailed upon him, though with great difficulty, to remain till the Easter recess.

John William Ward remarked of Yorke, ‘the truth is that he is a very humane, good man, and with a great deal more feeling than generally belongs to politicians’. John Wilson Croker thought him ‘really a loss to the public service; he was indefatigable in his attention to his duty, and I believe acted in the most conscientious manner in the discharge of it’.20

Relieved of office, Yorke took up a cause more congenial to him when on 24 Apr. 1812 he delivered one of the leading speeches against Catholic relief. On 21 May, too, he forced Stuart Wortley to give up his motion that the address for a stronger administration just carried should be presented to the Regent by the whole House. On his return from the House he found a letter from Lord Liverpool offering him the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster with a seat in the cabinet. Before Liverpool resigned next day he received Yorke’s refusal, on grounds of ill health. The assassination of his friend Perceval had dismayed him and, assuring Liverpool that he valued him next to Perceval as a public figure and would support him in office, he had no personal ambition.21

Although he was sure of obtaining a seat for one of Lord Eliot’s boroughs at the dissolution, Yorke wrote to Hardwicke, 25 Sept. 1812, to make a bid for the family seat at Reigate, without pledge as to conduct or attendance: ‘I do not consider myself as a party man’, he explained, though he found himself generally in unison with government, who had no claim on him, nor he any obligation to them. Otherwise, he suggested, he had no wish to be in Parliament, with which he was ‘heartily disgusted’: his health needed repair, as he was unable to shake off ‘gouty or bilious symptoms of debility; attended with continual and severe rheumatic pains ... which have been creeping on more and more for the last three years’. His private affairs also required attention. Hardwicke, in reply, pointed out that Yorke was still considered a party man by others if not by himself and regretted that he could not offer him Reigate, as it was promised to Lord Pollington; but he tendered £5,000. Yorke declined it and added ‘it is probable that I shall be returned either for St. Germans or Liskeard’.22

Yorke came in for Liskeard in 1812. He attended selectively henceforward: on 25 Feb. 1813, after helping to muster the anti-Catholic Members, he replied to Plunket’s case for Catholic relief; on 11 May he voted for Hippisley’s motion calling for inquiry into safeguards, and on 24 May said that though he might be prepared to swallow the rest of the Catholic relief bill, he must oppose the admission of Catholics to Parliament. He deprecated the airing of the Princess of Wales’s grievances in Parliament, 4 and 5 Mar. 1813. He was the leading opponent of Romilly’s attempt to abrogate the barbarous aspects of the legal fate of traitors. ‘Filial piety’ was his motive: ‘the law of England was a kind of stock in trade, and Parliament ought not to allow it to be deteriorated’. He carried his point, 25 Apr. 1814.23 On 27 Feb. 1815 he spoke as an agricultural protectionist in the Corn Law debate and on 8 Mar. deplored the Corn Law riots, calling for their instant suppression. His house was attacked by the mob, as it had been by Burdettites in April 1810. He had sent Castlereagh his notions of the kind of peace he wished to see established and Liverpool evidently regarded him as a friend to be consulted behind the scenes, giving him credit for the importance of making the army of occupation in France an allied and not merely an English one.24 Yorke rallied to ministers in the spring of 1816, defending the peace establishment and voting for the renewal of the property tax. He was a firm advocate of the aliens bill, 20 May 1816. His views on Catholic relief had not changed ‘a jot’, 30 May 1815, and on 9 May 1817, in his last contribution to debate, he inveighed against ‘the foreign influence’ of the Pope and of the Catholic body in Ireland, ‘the most bigoted of any in Europe and in civilisation at least three hundred years behind those of France or Germany’. A member of the secret committee of that session, he voted for the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817, and was in the ministerial minority in favour of the Duke of Clarence’s marriage grant, 15 Apr. 1818.

Yorke retired at the dissolution in 1818. Liverpool assured him that his loss would be ‘severely felt and greatly deplored’ and regretted that he could not comply with his wish for a peerage. That autumn the Marquess of Buckingham, anxious for a rapprochement with the government, tried to use Yorke as an intermediary. Yorke thought that Buckingham would find common ground with government if he agreed on resistance to the reformers, a solid plan of finance and every practicable economy consistent with public safety, which were his own ideals, but had no intention of emerging from retirement to promote a united party of Pitt’s former friends.25 He died 13 Mar. 1834, eight months before Hardwicke, whose heir presumptive he had been since 1810.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Arthur Aspinall / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Add. 35392, ff. 53, 57, 74, 76, 113, 136, 166, 174, 178; Debrett (ser. 3), iv. 412.
  • 2. Add. 35395, f. 184.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/142, f. 77.
  • 4. PRO 30/9/32, f. 322; Colchester, i. 141, 144, 151, 197; Jnl. of Hon. H. E. Fox, 242; Essex RO, Sperling mss DSE/3, Northumberland to Brogden, 4 Mar. 1810; cf. Prince of Wales Corresp. viii. 3352.
  • 5. Rose Diaries, i. 298; Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2397, 2399; Add. 35701, ff. 55, 60, 145, 148; 35751, f. 288; 45036, f. 3.
  • 6. Add. 35701, ff. 226, 231, 286, 298, 305; 35702, ff. 5, 8; Bodl. Eng. Lett. c.60, Yorke to Castlereagh, 17 Sept.; Sidmouth mss, H. to J. H. Addington, 7 Oct.; PRO 30/9/15, Yorke to Abbot, 24 Oct. 1802.
  • 7. Add. 35702, ff. 67, 169, 176, 185, 203, 281, 326, 339; 35704, ff. 34, 37, 48, 73, 77, 127, 223; 35772, ff. 160, 181.
  • 8. Add. 35704, f. 223; 35705, ff. 172, 268, 276; 35706, ff. 5, 13, 21, 25, 32; 45030, ff. 68, 72.
  • 9. Add. 35706, ff. 63, 130, 141, 146, 155, 168, 185, 206, 243, 253, 292; 35715, f. 84; 35727, ff. 1; 45038, f. 90; Glos. RO, Redesdale mss C9, Long to Redesdale, 11 Aug. 1804; J. Holland Rose, Pitt and Napoleon, 326; PRO 30/8/368, f. 117; Sidmouth mss, Addington to Bragge Bathurst, 3 Jan. 1805; Horner Mems. i. 282; PRO NI, Caledon (Hardwicke) mss D2433/5/81; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 30 Oct.; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lowther, 8 Jan. 1805; HMC Bathurst, 46; Leveson Gower, ii. 53, 54, 59, 63.
  • 10. Add. 35393, ff. 156, 162; 35706, ff. 311, 318, 347; 45034, f. 3; 45041, f. 135; Bodl. Eng. Lett. c. 60, C. P. to J. S. Yorke, 3 Mar. 1806; Rose Diaries, ii. 262; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 5 July 1806; Parl. Deb. vii. 1137.
  • 11. Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 27 Feb., 6, 7 Mar.; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lowther, 24 Feb.; PRO 30/9/15, Yorke to Abbot, 15 Mar. 1807; NMM, YOR/7/35, 14/58; Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 224-5; Add. 45034, f. 11.
  • 12. Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 22 Mar. 1807; Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 374; Add. 35393, ff. 172, 179, 185, 207; 35424, f. 82; 45034, ff. 19, 23, 25, 31; 45036, ff. 38, 41, 42; 45042, ff. 5, 6.
  • 13. Add. 35393, f. 200; 45034, ff. 35, 39, 41, 44, 46, 48, 51, 52, 53, 55; 45037, ff. 10, 11.
  • 14. PRO 30/8/368, f. 149; Add. 35393, f. 226; 35394, ff. 31, 33; 45036, ff. 48, 50, 52; 45042, ff. 74, 77, 83; Geo. III Corresp. v. 3861; NLI, Richmond mss 71/1390; Bodl. Eng. Lett. c.60; Geo. III Corresp. v. 3906.
  • 15. Add. 35394, f. 55; 45034, ff. 59, 61, 65, 67, 68, 69; 45036, ff. 53, 56, 57, 58; 45042, f. 86.
  • 16. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 6 Oct., Long to same, 11 Oct., Mulgrave to same, 15 Oct. 1809; Camden mss C86/5/5; Add. 35394, f. 57; 45036, ff. 61, 63, 65; 49188, f. 55; Geo. III Corresp. v. 4010.
  • 17. Perceval (Holland) mss D29; Add. 35394, ff. 64, 66, 68, 69, 76, 78, 86; 35648, f. 297; 45036, f. 139; Geo. III Corresp. v. 4076, 4126; Colchester, ii. 187; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 8 Mar. 1810.
  • 18. Bath Archives ed. Lady Jackson, i. 94; Add. 45036, ff. 74, 75, 77; Richmond mss 66/886, 73/1690; Sidmouth mss, Sidmouth to Bragge Bathurst, 29 Apr., reply 5 May 1810; Geo. III Corresp. v. 4142; Sperling mss DSE/3, Northumberland to Brogden, 4 Mar.; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 19 Mar. 1810; Farington, vi. 60.
  • 19. Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 28 Aug. 1810; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 10 Feb., 13 Oct. 1811; Sir J. Barrow, Autobiog. Mem. (1847), 311; Perceval (Holland) mss, bound letters, f. 22; Prince of Wales Corresp. viii. 3168, 3176; HMC Fortescue, x. 180.
  • 20. Blair Adam mss, Adam’s memo, 23 Jan.; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 8, 13 Feb., Perceval to same, 31 Mar. 1812; Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 150; Croker Pprs. ed Jennings, i. 39.
  • 21. NMM, YOR/10/5.
  • 22. Add. 35394, ff. 135, 139; 45034, f. 71.
  • 23. Romilly, Mems. iii. 98, 132, 134.
  • 24. Add. 45036, ff. 161-172, 173, 179; Castlereagh Corresp. xi. 56.
  • 25. Bodl. Eng. lett. c.60, Liverpool to Yorke, 11 June 1818; Add. 45046, ff. 1, 5, 8, 9.