FITZWILLIAM, see Charles William Wentworth, Charles William Wentworth, Visct. Milton (1786-1857).
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Education
b. 4 May 1786, o.s. of William, 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam, and 1st w. Lady Charlotte Ponsonby, da. of William Ponsonby†, 2nd earl of Bessborough [I]. educ. Eton 1796-1802. m. 8 July 1806, his cos. Hon. Mary Dundas, da. of Thomas Dundas†, 1st Bar. Dundas, 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 6da. suc. fa. as 3rd Earl Fitzwilliam 8 Feb. 1833; KG 4 Nov. 1851. Confirmed by royal lic. 20 Aug. 1856 name of Wentworth bef. Fitzwilliam, assumed by his fa. 7 Dec. 1807. d. 4 Oct. 1857.
Capt. S.W. Yorks. yeomanry 1803.
High steward, Cambridge 1850-d.
Milton, a cherished only son born into the grand Whig aristocracy of a 38-year-old mother after almost 16 years of marriage, was heir to his father Lord Fitzwilliam’s vast Yorkshire, Northamptonshire and Irish estates, which included extensive and expanding coal and iron mining enterprises in the area of south Yorkshire between Barnsley and Rotherham.1 The mainspring of his existence was Evangelical religion, with its imperatives of duty and service. A devoted husband with a large family, he was one of the sober-minded and morally earnest ‘Young Whigs’ who spurned the casual attitude of the older Foxite generation, espoused the doctrines of the political economists and sought to preserve the supremacy of their order by adapting it to the demands of the rapidly changing state of British society. His closest associates in the party were his contemporaries Lord Althorp*, son of the 2nd Earl Spencer, Lord Tavistock*, son of the 6th duke of Bedford, and Lord Ebrington*, son of the 1st Earl Fortescue.2 By 1820 Milton, whose ‘hard Anabaptist nature’, as Sydney Smith called it, was perfectly complemented by his thin, ‘serious’ face and dark brown fringe, which gave him the appearance of a Methodist preacher, had been a Member for over 13 years, most of them as the holder of one of the prestigious Yorkshire seats.3 He carried some weight in the House, where his clear, ‘matter-of-fact’ oratory, though marred by the ‘unpleasant monotony’ of his voice, earned him a hearing. But his eccentricity, obstinacy and haughtiness, which masked a tormenting sense of his own unworthiness, made him an awkward political colleague, though Althorp valued his judgement highly.4 With his 71-year-old father (whose dismissal from the lord lieutenancy in October 1819 for organizing a Yorkshire protest against Peterloo had boosted their county interest) in deteriorating health, Milton had assumed increasing responsibility for the family’s estate, business and electoral concerns.5
At the general election of 1820 he made a tour of the West Riding manufacturing districts, during which he blamed excessive government tax-based expenditure for the prevalent distress, condemned ministers’ recent repressive legislation, confirmed his hostility to ‘any general reform’, but expressed support for ‘a partial reform’, having specifically in mind Lord John Russell’s* scheme to disfranchise the corrupt borough of Grampound in favour of an unrepresented large town. He was returned unopposed with his Tory colleague Stuart Wortley.6 On 3 May 1820 he presented and endorsed a petition from Leeds woollen merchants and manufacturers for repeal of the duty on imported raw wool, which he said was ‘in contradiction of every principle of political economy’. He welcomed the London merchants’ free trade petition, 8 May, when he argued that the root cause of distress was high taxation. This became his familiar refrain throughout the 1820 Parliament. On 25 May he admitted that the distress being endured by the agricultural interest was serious, but declared that they would be ‘disappointed’ if they relied on enhanced protection for relief. Convinced that the interests of agriculture and industry were inextricably linked, and anxious to atone for his ‘sin’ of supporting the 1815 legislation, he had become a dedicated opponent of the corn laws, though he was not yet quite committed to their total repeal.7 His attempt to bring in a bill to repeal the duty on foreign wool was defeated by 202-128, 26 May. He spoke and voted with Brougham against the government’s restriction of the remit of the select committee on agricultural distress, 30, 31 May.8 The following day he fed the veteran Foxite Sir James Mackintosh*, who ungratefully described him in his diary as ‘an excellent young man of feeble understanding who has risen from stammering to facility of utterance and who thinks the last such a wonderful attainment that his head has been turned by it’.9 He spoke and voted against the ‘green bag’ inquiry into Queen Caroline’s private life, 26 June, but in mid-July, when he was installed at Wentworth Woodhouse for the summer, he declined to present a Wakefield address to her, claiming that he would have done so if he had been in London, ‘even if I felt that I could not make myself responsible for all its sentiments’.10 Unlike Althorp, he subsequently became an active partisan for the queen, influenced by the farce of her trial before the Lords, and he subscribed to the collection for a service of plate.11 The Whig ‘Mountaineers’ Grey Bennet and Creevey liked his speech in support of the opposition censure motion, 5 Feb. 1821.12 He said that Trench, Member for Cambridge, who had denigrated the borough’s petition for restoration of the queen’s name to the liturgy, 6 Feb., was the representative not of the inhabitants but of the ‘200 burgesses’ with the vote.13 After casting his customary vote for Catholic relief, 28 Feb., on 2 Mar. he voiced his ‘entire approbation’ of Russell’s bill to give Grampound’s seats to Leeds, but, having the previous year taken soundings among the leading Yorkshire reformers,14 argued that it would be safer to give the borough a ratepayer (‘scot and lot’) franchise than the proposed £10 householder arrangement. His amendment to that effect was rejected by 182-66. He had already confided to John Hobhouse* that ‘reform was gaining ground in his mind’;15 and on 11 Mar. 1821 he explained to the Yorkshire Whig reformer Sir George Cayley† the reasoning behind his recent conversion to the cause, which had been inspired by the Commons’ blatant disregard of public opinion on the queen’s case:
I never thought that there was any ground of complaint against the House of Commons or of suspicion that ... [it] did not fairly represent the public opinion of the nation ... This conviction of the consent between the ... Commons and the people made me an opponent of parliamentary reform, and so I should have continued if recent circumstances had not satisfied me that that consent is not as perfect as I had previously thought it ... When, as at present, there is a perfect discordance, we may be sure there is something wrong ... I am ready to admit that the state of the constituent body ... has its share in the production of ... [the problem] ... From the analysis which I have ... made of the House ... I am disposed to think that the evil originates in the numerous small boroughs, which ... are liable either to be corrupted or to be drawn within the influence of government by means of the immense patronage which ministers have at their disposal ... I am ready to support any plan for the removal of this cause which may appear to me coextensive with its share of operation and consistent with ancient principles and acknowledged rights ... The most constitutional and therefore the safest and most practicable plan would be, first, to extend the right of election to a given number of those communities known to the law and the constitution which have either lost or never enjoyed the ... franchise ... [and] second, to remove the obstacles which, as the law now stands, render the conviction of corrupt boroughs ... almost impossible.
He was trying to reach a clear and specific understanding on the issue which would enable him and his father, hitherto implacably opposed to reform, to join in the mooted county meeting. Nothing came of this, but on 30 Mar. he and Fitzwilliam attended the Huntingdonshire meeting. In deference to his father, he concentrated in his speech on the queen’s affair and high taxation and stayed clear of reform, which was not mentioned in the petition which he formally proposed.16 In the House, 17 Apr., on Lambton’s reform motion, he gave a public explanation of his conversion, but declared that he could not support this scheme, which was ‘pregnant with danger’. He was, however, listed in the minority of 43 who voted for the motion when ministers forced a premature division next day. He divided silently for Russell’s general reform motion, 9 May, and Hamilton’s for reform of the Scottish county representation, 10 May. He accused Austria and Russia of ‘making the executive government too strong for the liberties of the people’, 7 May. Grey Bennet thought that in his speech for inquiry into Peterloo, 15 May, when he urged ‘protection of the lower orders in the security of their rights and privileges’ in order to forestall revolution, he ‘made, as usual, some of the best remarks possible’, but carped that he ‘wants the power of fixing the attention of his audience’.17 Milton, whose abiding fear was that heavy taxation would destroy the middle classes, called for a reduction of the pension list, 18 May.18 He gave general approval to Scarlett’s bill to reform the settlement laws for poor relief, 24 May. On the 30th he successfully moved for acceptance of the Lords’ amendments to the Grampound bill, whereby its seats were given to Yorkshire, in order to achieve the main object, disfranchisement, although his strong personal preference was for Leeds. Next day he introduced a bill to allow polling for Yorkshire to be held in towns other than York, but it provoked considerable local opposition and he abandoned it.19 He supported the grant of £6,000 to the duke of Clarence for the education of Prince George, 18 June, but opposed the payment of arrears, 29 June. Grey Bennet dismissed his speech in support of economy and retrenchment, 27 June 1821, as ‘a feeble, indifferent effort’.20
Milton absented himself from the Commons for most of the 1822 session. Althorp, who did not press him to go up, could not agree with him in ‘wishing to see our friends in administration’, if only because the country’s problems were so intractable that ‘disgrace’ would be inevitable.21 He wanted to give ‘unreserved and full support’ to Russell’s pending reform motion, but his father was very reluctant to allow this, as he explained to Lord Grey:
I cannot bring myself to indifference, when I contemplate how much his influence and efficiency may be thrown away, when he becomes a prominent supporter of parliamentary reform, for from that instant he becomes the tool and slave of every worthless adventurer. He is born aristocrat, that is his station ... that enables him to defend the rights and liberties of the people; but ... he is impressed with the belief that these cannot be defended but by reform ... and that if his support of it does not meet with my concurrence, he must quit Parliament.
This was averted when Fitzwilliam discovered that Milton only wished to support the motion and not, as he had assumed, to second it. He waived his objections, though he still saw no sense in agitating the issue.22 Milton accordingly gave a silent vote for the motion, 25 Apr. 1822. His only other known vote that session was for repeal of the salt tax, 28 June; and on 10 July 1822 he argued that tampering with the currency would not relieve agricultural distress and that £10,000,000 in taxes could easily have been remitted if ministers had had the will to act.
When Walter Fawkes† and other Yorkshire reformers revived plans for a county meeting to promote the cause in August 1822, Milton, advised by Althorp to involve himself ‘as the reforming Member for the county’, told Fawkes that as reform was ‘the only subject’ which disturbed his father’s ‘usual calmness’ and it was essential that he should have ‘tranquillity of mind’ while undergoing operations on his failing eyes, he would keep out of it for the moment.23 He did, however, chair the preparatory reform committee meeting at York, 4 Nov. 1822, despite his father’s disapproval. Keen to ensure that the business remained in responsible hands, he attended and addressed the county meeting, 22 Jan. 1823, when he again explained his conversion and called for ‘moderation and prudence’.24 He presented and endorsed the 17,000-signature petition, 22 Apr. He spoke and voted for Russell’s motion for inquiry into the parliamentary franchise, 20 Feb., and divided silently for his reform motion, 24 Apr. He urged Brougham not to goad ministers into going to war with France for the sake of Spain, but Althorp thought he took pacifism too far.25 On 24 Feb., deprecating Grey Bennet’s diatribe against the sinking fund and welcoming the ‘spirit of enlarged policy’ outlined by Robinson, the new chancellor of the exchequer, he remarked that ‘it was so long since he had attended the House, that he hardly knew by whom he was supported, or to whom he was opposed’. Yet he complained that while ministers had at last admitted that ‘the diminution of taxation was the ... only relief for the pressing distress of the people’, Robinson’s proposals were inadequate. Milton, who had now given up thick and thin attendance, described the divided Irish administration as ‘a power capable of creating much mischief, but incapable of doing any good’, 15 Apr. He spoke and voted for inquiry into their prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and on 12 May, deploring calls for renewal of the Insurrection Act, said that the Irish lower orders were ‘a people to be governed by love and not fear’; he voted for inquiry into the current disturbances. He gave ‘warm support’ to Hamilton’s motion for reform of the county representation of Scotland, whose unenfranchised ‘middle class’ were ‘the most moral and virtuous in Europe’, 2 June. Milton, whose mother had died in May 1822, was put out by his father’s decision to marry, at the age of 75, the 73-year-old widow Lady Ponsonby in July 1823; but she lived only until September 1824.26
He voted for reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb. 1824. Calling for ‘some modification’ of the wool duties, 24 Feb., he approved Robinson’s budget statement, but demanded more tax remissions and said that relaxation of the coastal coal duties unfairly favoured London. He supported motions for repeal of the window tax, 2 Mar., and the assessed taxes, 10 May, on the principle that ‘the only chance there was of driving ministers to a general repeal of taxes was by voting for the repeal of every particular tax’; he would have preferred reduction of the beer and malt taxes. On 26 Mar. he said that the Halifax woollen merchants’ and manufacturers’ fear of foreign competition was ‘unfounded’: ‘it was the duty of Members who held that their constituents were mistaken to endeavour to undeceive them’. He welcomed the government’s liberal wool trade bill as ‘one of the wisest measures that could be adopted’, 21 May. He demanded full inquiry into the state of Ireland, lamenting ‘the disregard of the upper orders ... for the opinion of the lower’, 11 May; he was named to the select committee. His observations as a member of the select committee on the Combination Acts ‘completely confirmed’ his view that they should be repealed, while ‘providing at the same time for the punishment of all acts of violence or intimidation’.27 He disliked Stuart Wortley’s game bill, as it was ‘not the duty of Parliament to provide for the amusements of country gentlemen, but to legislate for the preservation of the morals of the country’, 31 May 1824.
Milton, to the chagrin of Tierney, who was surprised that Fitzwilliam ‘did not drive him up’, missed the division on allowing the Catholic Association’s lawyers to be heard at the bar, 19 Feb. 1825;28 but he was present to vote against the bill to suppress the association, 21, 25 Feb. He voted for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, though on 19 Apr. he admitted that he was ‘not blind to the corruptions of the Catholic church’. He disliked the bill to disfranchise Irish 40s. freeholders, but accepted it, 26 Apr., to secure emancipation and because it ‘struck a blow at the oligarchy, of which he was a component part’ and which was ‘one of the great curses of Ireland’.29 He condemned and was in Hume’s minority of eight against an increase in the standing army, 7 Mar. He divided for relaxation of the corn laws, 28 Apr. 1825. He thought the government’s promissory notes bill was unnecessary, but that Hume’s wish to prosecute bankers who refused to pay in specie would make it pernicious, 27 Feb. 1826. He again damned the ‘extravagant’ army estimates, 3 Mar. Supporting a renewed attack on the corn laws, 18 Apr., he confessed to having transgressed by voting for them in 1815 but, repentant, contended that their unacceptable object was to secure ‘high rents and large profits’ for landowners. The protectionist Henry Bankes* considered his speech ‘arrogant and offensive’.30 He said that the emergency admission of bonded wheat would not help the distressed manufacturing workers, 2 May: ‘the people of Lancashire might be considered the poor of England’. To the annoyance of Canning, the leader of the House, he carried by 109-60 a delaying amendment. He spoke and was a minority teller against the proposals, 8 May, when he said that they proved that the corn laws were ‘only fit for the fair-weather state of the country’. His repeated calls for a grant of capital to relieve distress fell on deaf ministerial ears. He voted for Russell’s reform motion, 27 Apr., and spoke and voted for his condemnation of electoral bribery, 26 May 1826.
Since 1823 Milton had been involved in the Yorkshire Whigs’ discussions of their tactics for the next general election, when the county was to return two additional Members. He had acquiesced in the selection of his kinsman Lord Morpeth*, son of the earl of Carlisle, as his colleague, but the Tories’ adoption in late 1825 of two anti-Catholics, at the expense of the pro-Catholic Stuart Wortley and Richard Bethell*, complicated matters and raised the spectre of a ruinous contest. In December 1825 Milton initially advocated dropping Morpeth, whose father had no money, but the West Riding Whigs persuaded him to change his mind and aim for a joint subscription of £70,000, of which he was prepared to provide £30,000. Reports that Carlisle would force Morpeth to withdraw prompted Milton, who thought this would wreck the entire Whig interest, to consider doing the same, as he could come in at no cost for Fitzwilliam’s borough of Higham Ferrers. However, he confirmed his intention of standing on 30 Dec. 1825.31 Morpeth retired the following month, but Milton persevered, though he still disliked the notion of being the only Whig Member, as attempts to put up the Leeds manufacturer John Marshalb seemed to be failing. In late May, with the dissolution imminent, he was persuaded to stand firm, and Marshall was at last got into the field for a joint campaign. At the Leeds Cloth Halls, 6 June 1826, Milton condemned slavery, advocated revision of the corn laws and supported the entitlement of West Riding manufacturers to a share in the county representation. Stuart Wortley’s elevation to the peerage and Bethell’s late retirement allowed Milton and Marshall to come in with the two anti-Catholic Tories, but their joint costs nevertheless exceeded £54,000. On the hustings, Milton asserted that ‘the energies of this great people cannot be fully called into action until complete freedom be given both to opinion and industry’.32
He was heckled at a Doncaster farmers’ meeting in August 1826, but persisted in his attack on the corn laws, which was now his political obsession, even though it set him at odds with his father and most Whig grandees.33 Presenting petitions for their relaxation, 21 Feb. 1827, he said that they were ‘founded in error’ and advocated free trade, ‘subject to a reasonable protection by a duty on importation proportioned to the exclusive taxation borne by the agriculturist’. He welcomed the government’s corn bill as ‘a great improvement’, 1 Mar., but on the 9th complained that it did not go far enough and voted in the minority of 50 for a lower pivot price; he divided against increased protection for barley, 12 Mar. Grey privately deplored the ‘language which Milton thinks it proper to hold’ against the landed interest.34 He supported Althorp’s motion for the establishment of a permanent select committee to deal with election petitions alleging bribery, 26 Feb., when his amendments to Williams Wynn’s alternative scheme were negatived.35 He thought Althorp’s proposed inquiry into county polls would be ‘advantageous’ and spoke and voted for investigation into Leicester corporation’s alleged electoral malpractice, 15 Mar. He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. When Scarlett, Whig Member for Peterborough on the Fitzwilliam interest, asked him if he should accept the new premier Canning’s offer of the attorney-generalship, Milton advised him against it but left the decision to him:
Your postscript ... intimates that the negotiations with Lord Lansdowne are resumed ... I think his acceptance of office would be a sufficient pledge for the agitation if not for the accomplishment of the Catholic question; but it appears to me that without some pledge to that effect ... the advocates of that measure ... cannot either hold office or accept favours from the new government ... [Canning’s] sincerity ... I have never doubted, but ... it appears to me that ... [he] will ... acquiesce in the perpetuation, at least in the prolongation of a system of balance in the government from which no good can come. I regret this extremely, because I was in hopes that recent events would have brought the system to an end, and have disencumbered the nation, not only from Tory men, but from Tory principles. This, however, it seems is not to be the case, and the state of the royal mind is once more destined to mar the hopes of Catholics and to defer the tranquillization of Ireland.36
With Althorp and Tavistock, he refused to become actively involved in the Whig coalition with Canning, but in the House he declared his ‘confidence’ in the government, 2, 7 May, when he ‘strongly opposed’ inquiry into the grievances of the shipping interest as a retrograde step from reciprocity in trade. He had an open mind on the fate of the venal borough of Penryn, 8 May, but on the 28th, satisfied that ‘gross corruption’ had been proved, declared himself in favour of transferring its seats to a large manufacturing town in order to increase ‘the influence of the inferior orders in the House’, although his instincts were to ‘proceed according to the wisdom of ancient times’ by sluicing the borough. He supported repeal of the Blasphemy Act, 31 May, and next day, in view of the prevailing economic circumstances, gave ministers the benefit of the doubt on their cautious budget. Mackintosh was shocked by the ‘severity’ of his harsh comments on the Lords’ emasculation of the corn bill, 18 June, which was ‘increased in appearance by the emphase of his utterance as well as by the loud cheers of some of our zealots, but to be regretted on account of so good and kind a father who voted wrong’.37 In mid-July Milton wrote to Lansdowne, now a member of Canning’s cabinet, endorsing his decision to enter it, but warning him that
to counterbalance the hatred and pertinacious activity of the Tories ... you must excite and draw into corresponding activity the zeal of those who, during the last session, have formed the only efficient support of government in the ... Commons, and ... this will be impossible unless they see a determination ... in acts to carry into effect the measures which they have so much at heart.
He specified the collective endorsement of Catholic relief by the cabinet and ‘large scale’ reductions in expenditure and taxation. Lansdowne pleaded for restraint and time.38 With Althorp and Tavistock, Milton was ‘furious’ at the instalment of the feeble Lord Goderich as Canning’s successor and the appointment of the anti-Catholic Herries to the exchequer, which he attributed to the king’s malign influence, and would have no part in supporting the ministry. They at length resolved on a line of ‘strict neutrality’.39 He was slightly mollified by the proposal to appoint Althorp to the chair of the planned finance committee, but remained determined to maintain an independent line.40
Milton was ‘furious against’ the duke of Wellington’s ministry in January 1828 and told Scarlett, who wondered whether to stay in place, that
no man, with even a tinge of Whig principles, can accept office without the ruin of his reputation ... It appears to me the very worst government I ever remember ... There is no vice belonging to a government which is not to be found in it; Tory principle, Court intrigue, tergiversations and coalitions of all sorts and sizes, a military commander at its head.41
Ministers considered him for the finance committee, but he was not appointed.42 In the House, 18 Feb. 1828, he welcomed the inclusion of the Huskissonites in the government, but wished they had obtained ‘more substantial guarantees’ of liberal policies, hinted that they had sold themselves for power and attacked Wellington as an anti-Catholic. He presented numerous Dissenters’ petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 20, 22, 25 Feb., and spoke and voted for that measure on the 26th. Two days later he goaded Peel, the home secretary, into losing his temper and leaving the chamber in a huff with pointed remarks on the ‘idle false pretences’ which he was adopting in a bid to thwart repeal. He felt himself to be entirely in the right.43 He presented and endorsed pro-Catholic petitions, 28 Apr., 8, 9 May, and divided for relief, 12 May. He said that concession of the agriculturists’ demands for protection against foreign wool would ‘rebarbarize the country’, 28 Apr. Next day he condemned the new corn bill as ‘a decided compromise’ and voted in the minority of 27 for Hume’s radical amendment. His speech in support of the provision for Canning’s family in recognition of the beneficial liberalism of his last five years, 13 May 1828, pleased Canning’s relatives and friends.44
Delighted by the government’s concession of Catholic emancipation, Milton, who, with Fitzwilliam, was sent ‘to try their influence’ in persuading O’Connell to ‘submit’ to the suppression of the Catholic Association,45 praised them for achieving ‘a victory over their own prejudices’, 5, 10 Feb., 5 Mar 1829. He presented favourable petitions, including large ones from Sheffield (27 Feb.) and Leeds (16 Mar.), voted for the measure, 6, 30 Mar., and spoke for it, 18 Mar. He disliked the bill to disfranchise Irish 40s. freeholders, and on 20 Mar., arguing that it would enhance the power of great landowners, voted in the minority of 20 for Lord Duncannon’s instruction concerning registration. Yet he made it clear that securing emancipation overrode his objections to details of its corollaries. Brougham was ‘quite prepared’ for this vote by Milton’s advance warning, and thought the ‘most conciliatory tone’ of his speech tended to ‘make his vote as little hurtful as was possible’.46 Milton spoke and voted in favour of allowing O’Connell to take his seat without hindrance, 15, 18 May. He said the introduction of poor laws to Ireland would be disastrous, 7 May. He opposed any increase in the wool duty, 11 May, supported inquiry into the malt and beer taxes, 12 May, and on the 19th spoke and voted in a minority of 12 for Hume’s motion for a fixed duty on corn imports and a bounty on exports. His only other known vote that session was against the grant for the marble arch, 25 May. Disgusted by the ministry’s revelation of their ‘cloven foot’ in backing the anti-Catholic George Bankes* against a Whig in the Cambridge University by-election, he told Scarlett that he would personally boycott his re-election for Peterborough on his appointment as attorney-general.47
Milton did not resume attendance until mid-March 1830, so missing the reform divisions of February. Althorp failed to persuade him to go up to join in the attacks on Scarlett’s use of ex-officio prosecutions and the government’s foreign policy.48 He was named to the East India select committee, 9 Feb. 1830 (and again, 28 June 1831, 10 Feb. 1832). He approved the proposed reduction in the leather tax, but would have preferred remission of the malt rather than the beer duty, 15 Mar. He divided with the reviving Whig opposition on most major issues from late April, having attended a meeting of ‘about 35 of the best Whigs’ at Althorp’s rooms ‘to consider public measures’ on the 15th.49 He called for further tax reductions, 30 Apr., and spoke and divided in a minority of 28 against the second reading of the sale of beer bill, 4 May. He presented many anti-slavery petitions in May, when he seconded Fowell Buxton’s motion for ‘entire abolition’ at a Freemasons’ Hall meeting, and voted for Jewish emancipation on the 17th.50 He presented and endorsed a Leeds petition for economical and parliamentary reform, 11 May, and voted for Russell’s reform motion, 28 May. He said that repeal of the Irish coal duty would not help the poor, as repeal of the coastal coal duties would not benefit manufacturers, 13 May. He did not want ‘the wealthy to wallow in their emoluments’ while the poor suffered, 14 May; Grey’s son Lord Howick* (who found Althorp’s reported wish to have Milton in office if the Whigs joined the ministry ‘objectionable’) considered this ‘a bad speech’.51 Milton attacked the corn laws, 25 May, and opposed inquiry into the currency, 8 June. On 26 June 1830, following the king’s death, he postponed his planned motion on the corn laws.
With his father’s health failing, he had decided to retire from the Yorkshire seat at the dissolution, and he stuck to this resolution despite the efforts of some county Whigs to persuade him to carry on. He endorsed Morpeth as his successor and trod carefully on the sensitive matter of the outsider Brougham’s controversial candidature, but eventually acquiesced in it as popular support for him in the West Riding became irresistible. Yet he told Brougham frankly that he regarded it as ‘an anomaly’ and was determined that it should not become ‘a precedent for disconnecting the representation of the counties from the[ir] landed or real property’, which would open them to partisan ministerial intervention.52 He declined an invitation to stand for Huntingdonshire, but supported the unsuccessful candidature of the Whig Rooper against two Tory aristocrats.53 He had decided to return himself for Peterborough, which necessitated the removal of Scarlett, who was still in office. When Scarlett found a berth at Malton on Fitzwilliam’s interest it was reported that Milton was ‘furious’ at ‘the old dotard having the weakness to yield’; but the truth was that Fitzwilliam made the offer of Malton without any solicitation from Scarlett. He accepted it, but when he was warned by Brougham that his holding a seat under the auspices of ‘such determined opponents’ of the ministry was ‘a subject of general disapprobation’, he placed himself in Milton’s hands. Milton replied:
It is ... true that your acceptance of office was with my father’s approbation, and with my acquiescence ... Even at that period [June 1829] I had strong misgivings about the principles and character of a ministry led by the duke of Wellington and composed, in its other efficient parts, of Peel and Lord Aberdeen. I never could ... bring myself to believe that such a ministry was favourable ... to liberty ... and subsequent events (vide Portugal, vide Greece) have proved that I was not very far wrong ... With respect to my mode of acting ... there was nothing in it hostile to them. The Catholic question had been carried too recently to permit its advocates to turn around upon the ministers who had carried it, merely because they suspected their principles ... But it would be equally absurd to support a government for ever and aye because they had carried one good measure ... Those principles ... developed themselves gradually in the course of the last session. Very great ignorance too (in ... Wellington at least) upon commercial questions has been displayed, so that ... I left town with a pretty large stock of hostility ... Brougham therefore is not far wrong in his description of my present politics, though he makes the bellum rather more internecinum than perhaps I should ... But ... I am very far from building upon it the superstructure which Brougham seems to think I ought, or rather that you ought. Provided I can obtain, what I have obtained, the ample security which I enjoy in your assurance that parliamentary reform and an alteration of the corn laws will find in you an active supporter ... I am content.54
Milton was devastated by the death of his 43-year-old wife in premature (six months) labour on 1 Nov. 1830. He renounced public life for the sake of his children and vacated his seat a fortnight later, though the government evidently delayed his nomination to the Chiltern Hundreds until a ‘second application’ convinced them that he was in earnest. Had he stayed in the House, he would almost certainly have been offered a place in the Grey ministry.55 On 5 Dec. 1830 he wrote to his successor at Peterborough, John Fazakerley, of his notion that an acceptable scheme of the reform which he now considered essential would be the disfranchisement of ‘20 or 30 of the smallest boroughs’ in favour of ‘an equal number of numerous elective bodies’. (He had communicated this to Althorp, leader of the House, but had received no reply.) He explained that he would disfranchise not on the ground of corruption, which would require inquiry and was not confined to small boroughs, but on those of ‘decay of population and poverty’. He regarded 25 as a maximum because a greater number of suitable substitutes would be hard to find, as, ‘with the exception of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield, all the very large towns are represented’. He would add about five districts of London, including Marylebone and Lambeth. Keen to give ‘the lower orders’ an adequate share in elections, he favoured ‘the old constitutional franchise’ of scot and lot to any ‘newfangled right’.56 On 13 Dec. 1830 he wrote a letter to The Times correcting its ‘somewhat exaggerated’ report of the extent of his father’s reduction of rents in 1822. The Tory alarmist William Fremantle* asked, ‘Can anything demonstrate the power of the press or the submission to it more strongly than such a document from such a member of the aristocracy?’57 At the end of ‘this dreadful year’ he wrote in his diary: ‘I feel grateful to God for all his mercies but deeply humiliated, and I pray God it may work to my advantage’.58
On 28 Feb. 1831 he urged Lord Holland, a member of the cabinet, to be ‘as careful of the public money as the porter at Holland House is of yours’.59 At the Northamptonshire county reform meeting, 14 Apr., he expressed his ‘strong approbation’ of the ministerial scheme: ‘by the general diffusion of the elective franchise, security would be given to property, and the due influence of every man brought into action’.60 When Parliament was dissolved a week later, Milton tried unsuccessfully to persuade William Hanbury to stand as a reformer with Althorp against the other sitting Member, the Tory Cartwright. In reply to an invitation to stand himself from Wellingborough freeholders, he replied that ‘no power on earth could induce me to engage as a candidate in a popular election, but I am far from saying that under certain circumstances I might not feel it a duty to obey the call strongly made upon me’. He maintained this stance, in which there was an element of subterfuge, refusing to canvass, appear on the hustings or pay costs. Althorp, horrified at the prospect of a contest, tried to block the move for a second reformer, but at the election meeting, 6 May, Milton was nominated in absentia and a second Tory, Knightley, was put up in response. Althorp, who stood accused, unfairly, of having betrayed Cartwright, vainly pleaded with Milton to show his face and exonerate him, especially ‘as you have rather helped to bring me into the scrape by not at once refusing to let them put you up’. Milton would do no more than speak privately to Cartwright and Knightley and issue an address. He deputed his 19-year-old son William Charles to represent him on the hustings. After a bitter 13-day poll Althorp and Milton were returned. By then Milton was in Ireland, visiting the family estates at Coolattin in Wicklow.61
He called for calm consideration of the Newtownbarry massacre and announced that he would bring on his corn laws motion in the next session, 23 June 1831. (He had recently composed an Address to the Landowners of England on the Corn Laws, but he delayed its publication until 1832 when reform was out of the way.)62 Seemingly oblivious to the worry and expense which his conduct at the election had caused Althorp, who was additionally irked by his ‘talking about the corn laws without any communication to me’, he gave him a shabby return with some of his crotchety antics on the reform bill. He duly voted for the second reading of the reintroduced measure, 6 July, but two days later he gave notice of amendments to get rid of the county leaseholder franchise and to give the 21 new schedule D boroughs two Members each. The reformer Edward Littleton* considered this ‘strange’:
He is an excessively proud, conceited, eccentric man, conceiving himself to be of another order of men, and ... ‘one of those who inhabit a more elevated region, where they look down with contempt on the Thompsons and Johnsons in the vale below’, and thus, unconscious of mischief, considers himself exempt from the ordinary rules and obligations of party men towards their leaders, whom he considers himself as patronising, not following.
At dinner on 10 July the cabinet ministers Russell and Graham
ventured to rally him on his conduct, saying, ‘Cartwright would have been a better Member for us’; and then proposed jocosely Mr. Cartwright’s health, which we all drank in playful earnestness, amidst most malicious laughter; Milton trying all the while to stretch his muscles into a grin. As son as we went upstairs for coffee, he sat alone without speaking for an hour.63
According to Greville, Althorp called a meeting of ministerialists at which Milton
made a speech just such as any opponent of the bill might make ... They were annoyed to the last degree, and the more provoked when reflecting that it was for him Althorp had been led to spend an immense amount of money, and compromise his character ... His obstinacy and impracticability are so extreme that nobody can move him, and Sefton told me that nothing could be more unsatisfactory then the termination of the meeting. I guess, however, that they will find some means of quieting him.64
The cabinet subsequently decided that Milton’s proposal to give two Members to the schedule D boroughs was ‘inadmissible’.65 He tried to get Russell to explain the reasoning behind the contentious decision to disfranchise Appleby, 12 July, but did not press the matter;66 and he defended the proposal, 19 July, when he divided with ministers against using the 1831 census to determine borough disfranchisement. He upheld the disfranchisement of Bere Alston, 20 July, but voiced doubts about that of Downton and St. Germans and voted against ministers on these points, 21, 26 July. He spoke for disfranchisement of the Looes, 22 July, when he presented and endorsed a Gloucester petition for repeal of the corn laws. Although he did not ‘exactly approve’ of schedule B, 27 July, he said he would support it and divided for the inclusion of Chippenham in it, against his better judgement. He did likewise on Dorchester, 28 July, Guildford, 29 July, and Richmond, 30 July, but he baulked at including Sudbury and voted accordingly, 2 Aug. He was in O’Connell’s minority for swearing in the Dublin election committee, 29 July, but divided with government to punish the bribers, 23 Aug. He voted for the enfranchisement of Greenwich, 3 Aug., but next day, having voted for Littleton’s motion to give Stoke two Members, moved his ‘mischievous’ amendment to give two to the schedule D boroughs. He denied that he was ‘actuated by any hostility to the bill’ or by want of confidence in ministers, and argued that
in these towns [such as Bolton Bradford, Brighton and Chippenham] the people are divided into parties very different from the parties in this House. They have each their local aristocracy and democracy; and let them have only one Member, and they will always be in collision.
He was defeated by 230-102, with a number of Tories in his minority.67 On 5 Aug., when he voted for the enfranchisement of Gateshead, he said that it was wrong to regard county Members as the ‘sole protectors of the agricultural interest’. He divided with government on the cases of Rochester, 9 Aug., when he exhorted them to look again at the Welsh representation, which as it stood would establish ‘a system of oligarchical elections’, and Merthyr, 10 Aug. He argued that measures other than the introduction of poor laws could be adopted to aid Ireland and denied Hunt’s allegation that his father was an absentee Irish landlord, 10 Aug. He approved the division of the larger English counties, 11 Aug., but next day objected to the proposal to give an extra Member to the others, which he feared might open the way into Parliament for ‘men ... of no great estimation, little interested in the county’. He supported an unsuccessful amendment to give the Isle of Wight two county Members, 16 Aug. He voted with government on the county copyholder franchise, 17 Aug., but protested against the ‘oligarchical tendency’ of the proposed enfranchisement of leaseholders, and on the 18th tried in vain to have them excluded. That day he was in the ministerial minority against the Chandos amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, but on the 20th he attacked the government’s counter measure of allowing borough freeholders to vote in their counties as a response ‘destitute of political wisdom’. The Tory Lord Ellenborough thought his hostile speech was ‘as strong as any that could have been made by Croker’.68 On 24 Aug., however, Milton enthusiastically supported the £10 borough householder franchise, contending that ‘universal suffrage, kept within bounds by counteracting measures, is a most desirable form of constituency’, and opposing an amendment for £5, which would guarantee ‘uncontrolled universal suffrage’. That day he obtained three weeks’ leave on account of a family illness and went into the country, but it seems that he did so in pique after receiving ‘a letter of remonstrance’ for his contrary behaviour from lord chancellor Brougham.69 He went up to vote silently for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and renewed his furlough for three weeks on the 23rd. At a party meeting next day, according to Greville, he made ‘a foolish speech, with prospective menaces and present nothingness in it’.70 On 6 Oct. he refused to obey Lord Ebrington’s* summons to London for a meeting to decide on the course of action if the Lords rejected the bill: his own notion was a popular campaign, managed by the Whig reformers, ‘to pay no taxes till the bill is carried’. In a more reflective letter, 7 Oct., he expressed willingness to support the creation of ‘20 or as many peers as may be necessary to secure a majority’, though he was worried about the almost inevitable ‘creation of poor peers, who are as injurious to the constitution of the House of Lords as the rotten boroughs are to that of the House of Commons’. His preferred alternative parliamentary solution was ‘a dissolution ... preceded by an address from the Commons to the king praying that he will not issue writs to boroughs in schedule A but that he will issue writs to the places in schedules C and D, taking no notice of schedule B’.71 This nonsense, not surprisingly, was disregarded. He was absent from the division on Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct., but at the Yorkshire county meeting, 12 Oct. 1831, he moved the petition to the Commons in favour of undiluted reform, explaining that although he had objected to details of the bill, ‘when he considered the whole and the vast improvement effected, he was happy to take the whole bill’.72
Milton voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and for the principle of schedules A, 20 Jan., and B, 23 Jan. 1832. He was in the government majorities on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. (he paired on 12 July) and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He said that the division of some counties was a ‘necessary evil’, but he may have voted against it, 27 Jan., when he repeated his criticism of the three-Member counties.73 On the presentation of petitions for protection of the glove trade, 31 Jan., he condemned ‘the folly of the manufacturers in their expectation that they should gain anything by the adoption of a system of prohibition’. He spoke and voted in the minority of 32 for the unsuccessful attempt by Sir Robert Heron (who sat on his interest for Peterborough) to rescind the Chandos clause for enfranchising £50 tenants. He supported and divided for an amendment to give the borough vote to £10 ratepayers, 3 Feb. He joined Peel in welcoming ministers’ concession of the vote to resident freeman by birth or servitude, 7 Feb.: ‘although I am not desirous of giving them any paramount influence in the state, I do think there should be places where the very humblest classes should feel that they are in immediate connection with this House’. He voiced some doubts over the mechanics of the new electoral registration procedure, 8, 11 Feb. While he thought government were right to resist Hunt’s call for retrospective inquiry into Peterloo, 10 Feb., he lamented how the episode had caused ‘a separation of the lower classes ... from the upper’ and, from a sense of obligation, voted in the minority of 31. He forecast that the abolition of Irish tithes would prompt landlords to increase their rents, 14 Feb. He defended the disfranchisement of the schedule A boroughs, including Appleby, 21 Feb., voted for the inclusion of Helston in B, 23 Feb., and spoke and divided for the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and Gateshead, 5 Mar. He was keen on the allocation of an individual seat to Merthyr, 9, 14 Mar. He voted silently for the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar. At the Brooks’s party meeting to discuss the form of address to the king following ministers’ resignation, 9 May, he ‘spoke warmly’ for a creation of peers to force reform through the Lords;74 he voted for Ebrington’s motion next day. In the debate which dashed the Conservatives’ hopes of forming an administration to carry moderate reform, 14 May, he said that if Wellington did this he would be guilty of ‘an act of public immorality’. On the reinstated Althorp’s assurance that ministers had secured a guarantee of the passage of reform, 18 May, he abandoned at the last minute his planned motion for an alternative ‘strong address ... praying the king to make peers’. ‘What a stormy debate it would have brought on’, reflected John Campbell II*.75 Milton paired for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and voted with government against an attempt to increase the Scottish county representation, 1 June. That day, confirming his notice of a corn law repeal motion for the 6th, he responded to pressure for disclosure of his views by saying that every measure ‘that does not proceed on sounder principles than the present ... is vicious in its very foundation, and any superstructure that is built upon it must necessarily defeat the object’. In the event his motion lay dormant that session. On the Lords’ amendments to the reform bill, 5 June, he observed that the peers would have been ‘more prudent ... to be cautious’ before rejecting a measure which did not directly affect them. He spoke and voted for extension of the Irish county franchise to 40s. freeholders, 13 June 1832. At a Northamptonshire celebration dinner, 28 June, he extolled the many virtues of ‘popular government’.76
An advocate of a ‘prudent and practicable’ approach to the ultimate abolition of slavery, he stood for the Northern division of the county at the general election of 1832.77 He topped the poll, but his father’s death removed him from the Commons ten days after the new Parliament met.78 He took his crusade against the corn laws into the Lords, but opposed further constitutional reform. He oversaw the Wentworth industrial enterprises with paternalistic prudence, but died unsure that he had lived a worthy life in October 1857.79 He was succeeded as 4th earl by his second son William Thomas Spencer (1815-1902), having lost William Charles, at the age of 23, in 1835. He was assessed about then as an unimaginative ‘man of highly respectable talents’ and ‘great moral courage’.80
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Smith Letters, ii. 750; G. Mee, Aristocratic Enterprise, 1, 23-25, 203; D. Spring, ‘Earl Fitzwilliam and the Corn Laws’, AHR, lix (1953-4), 288-9.
- 2. E.A. Wasson, Whig Renaissance, 47-52; P. Mandler, Aristocratic Government in Age of Reform, 30, 61, 88-91, 276; Spring, 289-90; B. Hilton, Age of Atonement, 238-40.
- 3. Smith Letters, i. 419-20; [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Lords (1836), 312.
- 4. Grant, 308-12; Wasson, 48-49.
- 5. E.A. Smith, Whig Principles and Party Politics, 349-52; Althorp Letters, 91-92.
- 6. The Times, 14 Mar.; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. WWM/F48/171; Fitzwilliam mss, Milton to Fitzwilliam, 20, 31 Mar. 1820.
- 7. Spring, 291-2.
- 8. Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey [1 June 1820].
- 9. Add. 52444, f. 122.
- 10. The Times, 26 July 1820.
- 11. Wasson, 81; Fitzwilliam mss 102/12; Althorp Letters, 112; Add. 51562, Brougham to Holland [21 Dec.]; Bessborough mss, Grey to Duncannon, 25 Dec. 1820; Wilberforce Corresp. ii. 444.
- 12. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 13.
- 13. The Times, 7 Feb. 1821.
- 14. Fitzwilliam mss, W. to G. Strickland, 31 May, Sir F.L. Wood to Milton, 1 June 1820.
- 15. Broughton, Recollections, ii. 140.
- 16. Fitzwilliam mss 731, p. 12; Smith, 363-7; The Times, 2 Apr. 1821.
- 17. Grey Bennet diary, 82.
- 18. Wasson, 115.
- 19. CJ, lxxvi. 402, 420, 434; The Times, 1, 7 June; Fitzwilliam mss, Yeoman to Milton, 9 June 1821.
- 20. Grey Bennet diary, 107.
- 21. Fitzwilliam mss, Althorp to Milton, 11 Mar. 1822.
- 22. Grey mss, Fitzwilliam to Grey, 24 Mar., 4 Apr.; Fitzwilliam mss, reply, 6 Apr. 1822; Smith, 368-9.
- 23. Fitzwilliam mss, Althorp to Milton, 9 Aug. 1822; 731, p. 43.
- 24. The Times, 7 Nov. 1822, 21, 24 Jan. 1823; Smith, 369-71.
- 25. Brougham mss, Milton to Brougham, 2 Feb.; Fitzwilliam mss, Althorp to Milton, 3 Feb. 1823.
- 26. Fitzwilliam mss 113/3, 4.
- 27. Ibid. 731, p. 77.
- 28. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 21 Feb. 1825.
- 29. Wasson, 146-7.
- 30. Dorset RO D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 157 (18 Apr. 1826); Wasson, 122-3.
- 31. Add. 76379, Milton to Althorp, 27 Dec. 1825; E. Baines, Yorks. Election of 1826, p. 16.
- 32. Leeds Intelligencer, 15 June; The Times, 23 June 1826; Smith, 374-6. See YORKSHIRE.
- 33. Wasson, 123-4.
- 34. Grey mss, Grey to Howick, 14 Mar. 1827.
- 35. Ibid. Howick to Grey, 2 Mar. 1827.
- 36. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. WWM G15/1; Fitzwilliam mss 731, p. 121.
- 37. Add. 52447, ff. 81-82; The Times, 19 June 1827.
- 38. Canning’s Ministry, 346; Fitzwilliam mss, Lansdowne to Milton, 21 July 1827.
- 39. Arbuthnot Corresp. 89; Creevey Pprs. ii. 129; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 142; Add. 51677, Lord J. Russell to Holland, 16 Aug.; Lansdowne mss, Tierney to Lansdowne, 6 Sept., Spring Rice to same, 11 Sept.; Castle Howard mss, Abercromby to Carlisle, 14 Oct. 1827.
- 40. Hants RO, Tierney mss 31M70/66; Add. 38752, f. 164; Wasson, 153.
- 41. Life of Campbell, i. 453; Fitzwilliam mss 731, p. 135.
- 42. Add. 40395, f. 221.
- 43. Broughton, iii. 246; Ellenborough Diary, i. 45; Fitzwilliam mss, Milton to wife, 29 Feb. 1828.
- 44. Harewood mss, Lord G. Cavendish Bentinck to Lady Canning, 14 May 1828; TNA 30/29/9/5/67.
- 45. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey [12 Feb. 1829].
- 46. Add. 51677, Lord J. Russell to Holland, 25 Dec. ; 76371, Brougham to Althorp [24 Mar. 1829]; Fitzwilliam mss 731, p. 157.
- 47. Fitzwilliam mss 731, p. 167.
- 48. Ibid. Althorp to Milton, 20 Jan. 1830
- 49. Salop RO 6003/6, 15 Apr. 1830.
- 50. Buxton Mems. 247.
- 51. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 13, 14 May 1830.
- 52. M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 97; Fitzwilliam mss 732, p. 12. See YORKSHIRE.
- 53. Fitzwilliam mss, Duberley, Maltby, Tavistock to Milton, 5 July 1830.
- 54. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ossington mss OsC 75; Howick jnl. 27 July; Brougham mss, Scarlett to Brougham [26 July]; Fitzwilliam mss, same to Milton, 26 July, reply, 28 July 1830 (732, p. 9).
- 55. The Times, 6, 27 Nov. 1830; Wasson, 189.
- 56. Add. 61937, f. 120.
- 57. The Times, 17 Dec. 1830; Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/139/20.
- 58. Mee, 5.
- 59. Add. 51836.
- 60. The Times, 16 Apr. 1831.
- 61. Fitzwilliam mss, Milton’s memoranda, 13, 20, 21, 23, 26, 27 Apr., 2-4, 6 May; 732, pp. 25, 31; Althorp to Milton [6 May]; Althorp Letters, 155-6; Wasson, 214-17; Lincs. AO, Tennyson d’Eyncourt mss TdE H14/2, Milton to Tennyson, 21 May 1831; E.G. Forrester, Northants. Elections, 131-47
- 62. Spring, 293.
- 63. Le Marchant, Althorp, 323; Hatherton diary, 10 July 1831; Three Diaries, 102-3.
- 64. Greville Mems. ii. 164.
- 65. Holland House Diaries, 11-12.
- 66. Croker Pprs. ii.129.
- 67. Hatherton diary, 4 Aug. ; Three Diaries, 113.
- 68. Three Diaries, 121.
- 69. Le Marchant, 341-2.
- 70. Greville Mems. ii. 203.
- 71. Devon RO, Earl Fortescue mss 1262M/FC 87.
- 72. The Times, 14 Oct. 1831.
- 73. Add. 51573, Spring Rice to Lady Holland, 27 Jan. .
- 74. Three Diaries, 245.
- 75. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 18 May 1832; Croker Pprs. ii. 165; Life of Campbell, ii. 11.
- 76. The Times, 30 June 1832.
- 77. Northants. RO, Gotch mss GR 1216; Add. 57370, f. 98.
- 78. Arbuthnot Corresp. 176.
- 79. Spring, 293-300; Mee, 5-7, 13-22.
- 80. Grant, 307-8.