GRENVILLE, George, 2nd Bar. Nugent [I] (1788-1850), of Lilies, nr. Aylesbury, Bucks.
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Family and Educationb. 31 Dec. 1788,1 2nd s. of George Grenville†, 1st mq. of Buckingham (d. 1813), and Lady Mary Elizabeth Nugent (cr. Baroness Nugent [I] 26 Dec. 1800), da. and coh. of Robert Nugent†, 1st Earl Nugent [I]; bro. of Richard Temple Nugent Grenville, Earl Temple†. educ. Brasenose, Oxf. 1804. m. 6 Sept. 1813, Anne Lucy, da. of Hon. Vere Poulett† of Addington House, Bucks., s.p. suc. mother by spec. rem. as 2nd Bar. Nugent [I] 16 Mar. 1812; GCMG 12 Aug. 1832. d. 26 Nov. 1850.
Ld. of treasury Nov. 1830-Nov. 1832; ld. high commr. to Ionian Islands 1832-5.
Cornet 2 Bucks. yeomanry 1803, lt.-col. 1813.
Nugent was even fatter than his elder brother, the 2nd marquess of Buckingham, but not remotely as obnoxious. Habitually dressed in top hat, tail coat and spurred boots, and scurrilously credited with a taste for prostitutes, he was personable, ‘accessible and affectionate’, possessing what Miss Edgeworth, who thought he looked ‘like a humorous Irishman’, called ‘a kind of offhand dashing cleverness’. According to the painter Haydon, his ‘manners’ were ‘graceful and commanding’ and he was ‘cultivated and entertaining’.2 He was perennially short of money, even though he received a life annuity of £1,500, raised on the family’s Wotton estates (where his residence of Lilies lay) by the terms of his father’s will. A legacy of £10,000 was never paid to him, nor did he take advantage of the bequest of an estate at Gosfield, Essex. His brother, who gave him £500 a year, had subsidized his returns for Aylesbury in 1812 and 1818, but by the latter date they had diverged politically, with Nugent remaining attached to the Whig opposition while Buckingham, the head of a small parliamentary squad, had turned alarmist and was gravitating towards a junction with the Liverpool ministry. Their only common political bond was their zealous support for Catholic claims.3 Nugent was, as Daniel O’Connell* noted in 1825, ‘no great orator’; and another contemporary commentator, who praised him as ‘a steady, courageous and consistent politician’, observed that when he strove for ‘oratorical effect’, there was ‘a certain clumsiness of elaboration ... in his arrangement and delivery’.4
He was returned unopposed for Aylesbury at the general election of 1820, and for the last time Buckingham paid his expenses.5 Anti-Catholicism was rife in the borough, and seven weeks later Nugent, whose independent colleague Rickford was opposed to relief, published A Letter to the Electors of Aylesbury on the Catholic Question, in which he explained and defended his position. In the House, which he attended with fair regularity, though by no means fanatically, he continued to act with the advanced wing of opposition. When his nephew Lord Temple, Buckingham’s son, presented a Buckinghamshire petition for relief from agricultural distress, 12 May 1820, he endorsed its complaint against the burden of poor rates, but dissented from its demand for enhanced protection and attributed current difficulties to ‘an immense [national] debt and a fictitious paper currency’. On 2 June he denounced the maintenance of a large standing army in peacetime and declared that ‘if complaints of taxation were to be met by enlarged establishments ... we should move on in a circle till some final rupture took place between the crown and the people, the issue of which must be either to confirm disaffection, or to establish a military government’. His proposal to reduce the army by 15,000 men, 14 June, when he was a minority teller, was defeated by 101-46. He voted against Wilberforce’s compromise resolution on the Queen Caroline affair, 22 June, and on the 25th opposed the appointment of a green bag committee, protesting that pro-government newspapers ‘teemed with paragraphs calculated to excite prejudices subversive of public justice’; he was a teller for the minority, 26 June. He supported the prayer of a Protestant Dissenters’ petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 13 July, when he spoke and was a minority teller against the barrack agreement bill. As his brother saw it, his ‘politics encourage all sorts of violence’ at Aylesbury in support of Caroline; and on 16 Aug. 1820 he waited on her in London with the loyal address which he had helped to promote.6
He joined in the opposition’s parliamentary campaign in support of the queen early in 1821, but his brother’s confidant William Fremantle* gathered that he was ‘discontented’ with the leaders’ ‘milk and water’ approach.7 He spoke of Caroline as a wronged though sometimes badly advised woman, 24 Jan. At the Aylesbury protest meeting, 29 Jan., he said that the government majority against restoration of her name to the liturgy conclusively proved the need for parliamentary reform, best ‘effected by firmness and moderation’ in conjunction with economical reform, tax remissions, liberalization of trade and army reductions.8 He presented the petition, 31 Jan. He spoke in the same sense in the House, 5 Feb., tried unsuccessfully to persuade the duke of Devonshire to contribute to the subscription for the queen, 14 Feb., and attended her Brandenburgh House dinner, 17 Feb.9 On 16 Feb. he seconded Hume’s motion for presentation of the ordnance estimates in detail. He brought up and supported the petition of over 8,000 English Catholics for relief, 28 Feb., when he divided in the majority; Buckingham blamed his ‘violence’ for Temple’s hostility to Catholic claims.10 Nugent had a favourable petition from the archdeaconry of Bath ‘read at length’ and was a teller for the majority for the second reading of the relief bill, 16 Mar. He presented a petition from the four English Catholic peers (Norfolk, Shrewsbury, Petre and Arundel), 23 Mar., and argued that no part of the Catholic service was ‘exclusive’, 26 Mar.11 He was a steward of the London Tavern reform dinner, 4 Apr., when he declared that ‘reform was rendered indispensable by the great corruption which had crept in, by the change of property which had taken place, but above all by the intelligence and virtue of the British people’, in whose hands lay ‘the first principle of reform’.12 He divided silently for Lambton’s and Russell’s reform motions, 18 Apr., 9 May. His bid to have the proprietor of John Bull reprimanded rather than gaoled for breach of privilege, 11 May, was defeated by 109-23. He voted to abolish capital punishment for forgery offences, 23 May, 4 June. His motion for inquiry next session into alleged abuses in the administration of justice in Tobago was rejected by 105-66, 6 June 1821.
At the October quarter sessions he unsuccessfully opposed with his vote his brother’s ban on the placing of official advertisements in the new ‘radical’ paper, the Buckinghamshire Chronicle, though he ‘had the good taste to remain silent’ when the issue was debated. He got up a protest, ostensibly to try to reverse the decision, but in reality to bolster the Whig cause in the county. Buckingham, for whom blood was thicker than water, confided to Fremantle that Nugent’s ‘conduct is hourly getting so violent and so insane that I fear things will come to an explosion e’er long between us. Nothing but the greatest exertions on my part have prevented this for a long while past’.13 Nugent was keen to contradict a false report that he had subscribed to the fund to support Sir Robert Wilson* after his dismissal from the army (which he voted to condemn, 13 Feb. 1822); but in January 1822, as his brother’s junction with the government, which earned him a dukedom, neared completion, his maternal uncle Lord Carysfort wrote to his paternal uncle Lord Grenville:
The only drawback ... is that poor Lord Nugent now appears quite separate from his family ... He is so good humoured and agreeable that it is impossible not to be very much concerned for him ... [He] has even lately been acting very absurdly. I am, however, convinced that there might be a chance, not of his immediate reformation, yet with management of his coming round in a little time ... I ... know ... that he has really great love for his brother, and is grieved at being told that he is following a course that persisted in must separate them entirely at last.14
Nugent voted for the amendment to the address, 5 Feb., and was one of the diehard opponents of the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland, 7, 8 Feb. 1822. He addressed a meeting of distressed Aylesbury agriculturists, 9 Feb., and presented their petition for economies, reduced taxation and reform, 15 Feb., when he claimed that most of them were opposed to enhanced protection and a return to a paper currency.15 His vote for Creevey’s motion for inquiry into the board of control, an attack on the Grenvilles, 14 Mar., was considered ‘the height of folly’ by Fremantle, a member of the board, and a ‘personal’ slight by Buckingham, who also complained that on 27 Feb. he had ‘sat unmoved in the House ... to hear’ Grey Bennet ‘abuse and falsify his father’s memory’ over the sinecure tellership of the exchequer.16 Nugent presented an Aylesbury reform petition, 25 Apr., before voting for Russell’s motion.17 His fellow Whig Member Sir James Mackintosh thought his speech on Canning’s bill to relieve Catholic peers, which he disliked but voted for, 30 Apr., was ‘clumsy and tedious’.18 He voted with opposition on diplomatic expenditure, 15 May, but next day had the ‘good taste’, as Fremantle put it, to stay away from the attack on his cousin Henry Williams Wynn’s† embassy to the Swiss Cantons; Buckingham sourly remarked that he and Lord Ebrington, who also abstained, had ‘just recollected that they too were Grenvilles, a fact they seemed entirely to have forgotten’.19 They both attended the Westminster anniversary purity of election dinner, 23 May.20 Nugent was in small minorities against the Irish insurrection bill, 8 July. On 25 July 1822 he supported Wilberforce’s motion for inquiry into the state of the Cape, Mauritius and Ceylon and the administration of justice in the Leeward Islands. At the end of the year his wife fell seriously ill, and in January 1823 she was moved to Lilies ‘in a sort of carriage made on purpose for invalids’.21
Nugent divided for inquiry into the parliamentary franchise, 20 Feb., Russell’s reform motion, 24 Apr., and reform of the Scottish representative system, 2 June 1823. He was preoccupied that session with the Catholic question. On 28 May he secured leave for a bill to place English Catholics on the same footing as Irish in respect of their right to vote and hold office. It had a second reading on 18 June. Liverpool and Peel, the home secretary and leader of the parliamentary Protestants, gave it their blessing on condition that Nugent divided it into two bills, one dealing with the franchise and the other with offices, in which Peel wished to include swearing the oath of supremacy. Both passed the Commons in early July, but they were scuppered in the Lords on the 9th. Buckingham complained that his own vote and proxy ‘were lost by George never holding the slightest communication’.22 Nugent voted for inquiry into the Dublin disturbances, 24 June, and to refer the Irish Catholics’ petition alleging bias in the administration of justice to the judicial commission, 26 June 1823. That summer he went to Spain to fight with the liberals. He was bitterly disappointed by the recall of the British minister from Seville and was back in England in October 1823, after the surrender of the Constitutionalists.23 He divided for the production of information on Catholic burials, 6 Feb. 1824. On the 17th he attacked the government’s ‘most hostile’ attitude, disguised as neutrality, to Spain, and moved for the relevant papers. The Whig George Agar Ellis* considered the motion ‘foolish’, and an amendment endorsing ministerial policy was carried by 171-30. Nugent’s subsequent amendment, proposed to record his views, was negatived.24 When Russell took up the Spanish issue, 18 Mar., Canning, the foreign secretary, included in his reply some mockery of Nugent’s military enterprise as ‘a most enormous breach of neutrality’, making much of his journey in ‘the heavy Falmouth coach’, equipped with ‘a box of most portentous magnitude’ containing ‘full uniform of a Spanish general of cavalry, together with a helmet ... scarcely inferior in size to the celebrated helmet in the Castle of Otranto’. The House was convulsed with mirth, but by all accounts Nugent, whose ‘large person’ was painfully conspicuous, as no one was sitting near him, ‘took it with perfect good humour’.25 He spoke against the aliens bill, 5 Apr., and was a teller for the minority to limit its duration, 12 Apr. He voted for an advance of capital to Ireland, 4 May, and inquiry into that country, 11 May. He presented petitions for repeal of the leather tax, 27 May, and the abolition of slavery, 4 June; he voted to condemn the prosecution in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824.26 That autumn he went to the Morea to assist the Greek independents.27
He deplored the bill to suppress the Catholic Association, 4, 18 Feb., and was a teller for the minorities against its introduction, 15 Feb., and for his own wrecking amendment, 21 Feb. 1825, when he said that ‘the right of free discussion was the only plank ... left to the despairing Catholics’.28 He divided for relief, 1 Mar., attended the pro-Catholic dinner for O’Connell at Norfolk House, 6 Mar., presented three favourable petitions, 18 Apr., and next day presented and endorsed the English Catholics’ petition.29 He was a teller for the majority for the second reading of the relief bill, 21 Apr., yet according to Buckingham was ‘heartily sick of his party but does not know how to shake it off’ and ‘out of humour with everybody’.30 On 10 May he presented a pro-Catholic petition before voting for the third reading of the bill.31 After its defeat in the Lords he signed the declaration of Protestant peers with Irish property got up by his brother, which impressed on ministers the need for emancipation but asked Irish Catholics to shun violence. At the end of the month Fremantle informed the duke that Nugent
states himself as authorized to tell all the opposition, and every being interested in the Catholic question, that you are no party to any compromise that may have been made in the cabinet, and that you entirely condemn the proceedings ... of government. I mention this that you may guard your brother against such a declaration on your part, because you must see how deeply it will affect [Charles Williams] Wynn’s* situation.
Williams Wynn, president of the board of control, later complained to Buckingham of his using Nugent as a messenger to convey his sentiments to the opposition; but the duke convinced him that Nugent had exceeded his brief, and Williams Wynn intervened to curb his indiscretion.32 Nugent voted for inquiry into the corn laws, 28 Apr., and against the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 30 May, 2 June, when he was a minority teller, and 10 June. He presented petitions from Leighton Buzzard for revision of the licensing laws, 4 May, and from the resident freemen of West Looe for inquiry into the borough’s franchise, 20 June 1825.33 In November he publicly denied having any connection with the dubious Swennappe Mining Company, but Fremantle thought he had made a ‘terrible hash’ of his explanation and that he would ‘not make the public believe him, more particularly as he seems to have been engaged in other shares which he has disposed of’.34 In December 1825 he let Lilies ‘for the purpose of getting a little money in his pocket’ and took ‘two adjoining houses’ in Aylesbury, which, Fremantle commented, would ‘make a pleasant residence’.35
On 17 Jan. 1826 Nugent chaired and passionately addressed a Buckingham meeting to petition for the abolition of slavery and to form an Anti-Slavery Society, of which he became president. He spoke in the same sense at Chipping Wycombe, 1 Feb., and Aylesbury, 19 Apr., and presented and supported petitions, 6, 16 Feb. He applauded the government’s stated intention of abolishing slavery as soon as possible, 2 Mar., when he was a teller for the minority for inquiry into the Jamaican slave trials.36 He was named to the select committee on the slave trade at Mauritius, 9 May. He was in minorities of 24 and 19 against the promissory notes bill, 20, 27 Feb. He divided for the abolition of flogging in the army, 10 Mar., and for defence by counsel in felony trials, 25 Apr., when he withdrew his motion for a bill to secure the independence of West Indian judges on an assurance that ministers had the matter in hand. He voted for Russell’s reform motion, 27 Apr., and investigation of James Silk Buckingham’s* allegations of curbs on press freedom in India, 9 May 1826, when he was put on the select committee. At the general election the following month he adopted a ‘purity of election’ stance, on the model established by Sir Francis Burdett* in Westminster, declining to stand unless invited to do so by his constituents (as he duly was) and refusing to canvass or spend money. His brother thought he was inviting trouble, but promised to get his ‘friends’ to vote for him if there was a contest. He was angered when Nugent directed ‘the cap of liberty to be hoisted upon the tops of his colour staves’, apparently ‘in spite of the remonstrances even of his radical friends’. There was no opposition to his return, after which he declared that with the spread of popular intelligence, ‘the mask of corruption’ was ‘wearing out’, and said that the Whig party had been ‘promoting measures of salutary reform, by the gradual influence which their unceasing and patient efforts have had and will continue to have over the measures of government’. At a dinner to celebrate his election he said that if a body of his constituents amounting to half the number of those who had signed the requisition inviting him to stand should indicate dissatisfaction with him, he would resign his seat. He asserted his conscientious right to support Catholic relief, in the face of majority opinion in the borough, and referred to the damage to family harmony which his adherence to liberal principles had entailed. He professed anxiety to inform and enlighten his constituents, and published later in 1826 a new edition of his Plain Statement in support of Catholic claims.37
Nugent, whose correspondence with a local clergyman defector from the Catholic cause appeared in the county press, presented and endorsed the English Catholics’ relief petition, 2 Mar., and voted in the minority, 6 Mar. 1827.38 He divided for relaxations of the corn import tariff, 9, 27 Mar., and inquiries into the electoral interference of Leicester corporation, 15 Mar., and the Barrackpoor mutiny, 22 Mar. He called for an end to army flogging, 12 Mar. Supporting Lord Althorp’s motion for a select committee on county polls (to which he was named), 15 Mar., he raised the problem of non-resident freemen and suggested their registration, as in Ireland. He collected information on this subject, was added to the select committee on borough polls, 14 May, and on 29 June sought leave to introduce a registration bill, but was persuaded to drop it.39 He divided for the spring guns bill, 23 Mar., for information on the Lisburn Orange procession, 29 Mar., and to withhold supplies until the ministerial crisis following Liverpool’s stroke was resolved, 30 Mar. When Canning, the new premier, turned down Buckingham’s request to be made governor-general of India, the duke told Nugent that any member of his family maintaining amicable relations with Williams Wynn, who had stayed in office, was no longer his friend; but Nugent was ‘inclined to think that in ... a very short time’ his brother ‘would come round and be again a supporter of government’.40 In the House, 7 May, he declared his support for the new ministry, if only to keep out the anti-Catholic Tories, while reserving his position on reform and repeal of the Test Acts. He presented petitions for the latter, 22, 30 May, 8, 19 June, claiming that most of his Dissenter constituents favoured Catholic relief. He attended and addressed the Westminster anniversary dinner, 23 May.41 He called for general religious toleration at an Aylesbury Independents’ meeting to petition against the Acts, 26 May.42 In June he gave Mackintosh ‘a sad account of his brother’s conduct and condition and of the absurd violence of his nephew’ Lord Chandos (formerly Temple).43 At the Aylesbury anniversary celebration of his election, 15 June, he attacked the late ministers as a reactionary faction who had sought ‘only to chill, to neutralize and taint’ every liberal measure, justified his support of Canning, urged Dissenters to make common cause with the Catholics and spelled out his guiding principles of economy, reform, the abolition of slavery and religious toleration. He ‘answered for the Romans’ when Lord John Russell and others contemplated the formation of a society to promote the last object.44 His claim to employment in the Goderich administration was one of the Whig objects which Lord Holland thought ‘time alone can accomplish’.45 Sending William Fremantle’s nephew Sir Thomas Fremantle, Member for Buckingham, an extract of a letter from the duke asking him to support the ministry, 9 Dec. 1827, Nugent, who had declined his brother’s offer to take him on his extended money-saving retreat to Italy because he wanted to be on the spot to uphold the Catholic cause against Chandos, pressed him not to participate in the planned fête for Wellington and Peel at Buckingham on the 15th, which he believed would have a blatant political and anti-Catholic slant. When Fremantle, one of its promoters, told him to mind his own business and that the ceremony was to be non-political, Nugent admitted that he had jumped to the wrong conclusion. William Fremantle, urging Sir Thomas to keep well in with Chandos in the duke’s absence, warned him against ‘mingling’ with Nugent, who had ‘the most perverted judgement with the first rate ability’, was ‘as little to be depended on for firm and steady support as his brother’, could ‘never be friends’ with Chandos and was ‘always playing a false and unprofitable game’ with the duke.46
Nugent presented petitions from Aylesbury and 5,000 English Catholics in favour of repeal of the Test Acts, 25 Feb. 1828, and next day spoke and voted for that measure. He was not happy with the declaration inserted by Peel in the subsequent bill. He opposed throwing East Retford into the hundred of Bassetlaw, 21 Mar., 2, 24, 27 June. On the Penryn disfranchisement bill, 24 Mar., he stated his preference for six months’ imprisonment to a £50 fine for bribery offenders. He challenged the contention that slaves were legal property and that their owners had a right to compensation in the event of abolition, 6 Mar. On the 10th he unsuccessfully moved to limit the infliction of corporal punishment in the army to cases of drunkenness, theft, fraud and assault. He was a teller for the majority for a bill to restrict the use of ribbons at elections, 20 Mar., when he approved the principle of Ross’s bill to regulate the admission of borough freemen but said it would achieve little, whereas his own registration bill ‘took a more extended sweep’. He secured leave for this measure, which aimed to break attorneys’ ‘undue monopoly of knowledge’ and stop excessive creations for electoral purposes, 22 May. He made changes to it and, moving its second reading, 19 June, said he would not press it further that session, as he wanted it to be altered to accommodate local rights and customs. A wrecking amendment was carried against it. He presented petitions for Catholic relief from 14,000 English and Scottish Catholics, 7 May, and the freemen of Sudbury, 19 May; he voted for relief, 12 May. He supported the provision for Canning’s family, 20 May, when he voted against the Wellington ministry on civil list pensions, as he did on the cost of Buckingham House improvements, 23 June, inquiry into the Irish church, 24 June, the additional churches bill, which he spoke against, 30 June, and the ordnance estimates, 4 July. At the Aylesbury anniversary dinner, 2 May, he proclaimed that ‘the seed which had been sown in Westminster’ had been ‘resown in Aylesbury, and had shot up into a rich and glorious harvest ... under the patient and virtuous husbandry of the middle class’. He expressed his lack of confidence in the ministry and again exhorted Dissenters to join in the campaign for Catholic emancipation.47 He presented a Newport Pagnell petition against the Malt Act, 25 July 1828. In September he went to Ireland, visited O’Connell and was given a public dinner by the friends of civil and religious liberty at Waterford, where he made what William Fremantle considered ‘a foolish speech ... going out of his way unnecessarily to abuse the king’.48 On his return in October he published a letter to his constituents condemning Chandos’s promotion of a county Brunswick Club and arguing that Catholic emancipation was essential to save Ireland from anarchy. On 6 Nov. he chaired a meeting of the supporters of the Aylesbury British School for Boys and expounded on the moral and political benefits of universal education.49 In December 1828 he submitted a ‘plan’ for dealing with the Catholic question to Lord John Russell, who did ‘not think ... [it] practicable, and if not practicable folly to attempt’.50
Nugent had successfully defied Chandos to call a county meeting on the issue, and in early February 1829, when the ministry’s decision to concede emancipation was announced, he was fortified by receipt of a letter from Buckingham giving him ‘positive directions to prevent his tenants from attending any county or other meetings’ and promising ‘his whole support at Aylesbury’ against Chandos’s machinations.51 In the House, 13 Feb., he praised Peel for his change of mind, presented an Oxford petition for emancipation and said he would not offer any ‘captious objection’ to the bill to suppress the Catholic Association. On the 16th he countered Chandos’s presentation of dozens of hostile petitions from Buckinghamshire with an assertion that majority opinion there was favourable, and presented petitions in that sense, including that of the duke of Norfolk and 18,000 English and Scottish Catholics; Chandos observed that his seat might be at risk next time. He decided to attend the anti-Catholic meeting of the three hundreds of Buckingham got up by Chandos, 21 Feb., but failed to persuade Sir Thomas Fremantle and his colleague Sir George Nugent to join him. He had a furious row with Chandos when opposing the resolutions and stating his brother’s views.52 He said the Dover anti-Catholic petition was unrepresentative, 3 Mar., asked Peel if English and Scottish Catholics were to be placed on the same footing as Irish concerning the oath of supremacy, 5 Mar., voted for emancipation next day and said it would have a ‘tranquillizing effect’ on Ireland, 13 Mar. He presented and endorsed favourable petitions, 17, 27 Mar., and divided for the third reading of the relief bill, 30 Mar. He assisted O’Connell in his bid to take his seat without swearing the oath and voted thus, 18 May.53 He voted for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, and to issue a new writ, 2 June, when he paired for Lord Blandford’s reform scheme. He urged the continuation of the investigation into West Indian judicial systems, 25 May 1829, when he was again at the Westminster dinner.54 Chandos threatened to get up an opposition to him at Aylesbury at the next general election, and on Buckingham’s return home towards the end of the year William Fremantle wondered how he would steer his course between his warring brother and son.55
Nugent divided again for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5, 15 Mar. 1830, when he announced that he had ‘lately become a convert’ to the secret ballot before voting in O’Connell’s minority of 21 for it. Supporting Blandford’s reform plan, even though he did ‘not understand the details’, 18 Feb., he stated his preference for triennial parliaments and a significant extension of the franchise. He voted for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and for Russell’s reform motion, 28 May. He pointed out to Hume that taking the number of voters at the last contested election would not furnish an accurate assessment of the English borough electorate. At an Aylesbury meeting, 24 Feb., he predicted that Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester would have two Members each before the year was out, for the cause of reform was ‘advancing with a giant’s stride’, sustained by ‘the increasing intelligence ... [and] education of the people’. He attributed distress to 35 years of national overspending, dismissed currency nostrums and advocated rigid economy. He also called on landlords to rescue labourers from the pauperism to which their selfishness had driven them.56 He supported Lord Ellenborough’s divorce bill, 1 Apr., and voted for reform of the laws of divorce, 3 June. On the St. Giles vestry bill, 2 Apr., he argued for a compromise voting qualification of £20. He attended a meeting of ‘about 35 of the best Whigs’ at Althorp’s, 15 Mar., and divided with the revived opposition on most major issues that session.57 He voted for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, and to end the death penalty for forgery offences, 24 May, 7 June. He was a teller for the two minorities on the address to the new king, 30 June, and for Brougham’s motion for the immediate abolition of slavery, 13 July. After presenting a petition from the labouring poor of Ashenden against the practice of paying a portion of wages from the poor rates, 6 Apr., he secured leave to bring in a bill to improve parish provision for the employment of the poor and to eradicate the ‘roundsman’ system. After its second reading, 10 May, the bill was referred to a select committee; but it was got rid of, 9 July 1830. Four days later, on hearing of his brother’s appointment as lord steward of the household in the room of Lord Conyngham, he amused Lady Williams Wynn by remarking that it was comical to think of the strait-laced duchess of Buckingham replacing Lady Conyngham, George IV’s mistress for nine years. 58 At the general election later that month Nugent offered himself for Aylesbury in defiance of stories that he was to be challenged on account of his support for Catholic emancipation, but he again refused to canvass. After his unopposed return he restated his political principles of 1826 and boasted of his lifelong attachment to the Whigs, ‘the party for liberty’, as against the Tories, who stood for ‘thraldom’.59
Nugent did not share Lord Holland’s keenness to save the lives of Polignac and the other French ex-ministers, feeling that Britain owed them nothing, though as an opponent of ‘all capital punishments’, who thought ‘the killing of a man is at best but a bungling sort of way of obtaining reparation for any mischief he may have done or intended’, he was willing to back the campaign.60 He supported Williams Wynn’s bill to abolish some parliamentary oaths, 4 Nov. 1830. He helped to vote the government out of office on the civil list, 15 Nov., and next day presented a Bridport reform petition. On 19 Nov. he said that repeal of the Union would not curb the influx of Irish paupers and secured leave to reintroduce his bill to promote the employment of the labouring poor. On 17 Dec. 1830, having been made a lord of the treasury in the Grey administration and re-elected for Aylesbury, where he promised to work for ‘severe retrenchment to lighten those burdens which years of unmeaning senseless profusion have cast on the people’, he deferred the second reading to allow adjustments to be made. The measure got no further.61 He announced that ministers hoped to make savings in the cost of official printing and gave an assurance of free access for solicitors to inmates of Aylesbury and Warwick gaols, 10 Feb. 1831. He presented reform petitions from Aylesbury and elsewhere, 28 Feb., and of course divided for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. He presented anti-slavery petitions, 28 Mar. At the 1831 general election he seconded the nomination of the reformer John Smith* for the county and, having proclaimed in his address that the dissolution had put ‘the cause of reform ... once more ... in the hands of the people’, was returned in second place for Aylesbury after a contest forced by an anti-reformer, who received support from his brother and nephew’s ‘pocket votes’. He attacked Chandos for his intervention and said that in future he would canvass in person.62
On 23 June 1831 Nugent got leave to introduce a bill to abolish 40 customs and excise oaths, which received royal assent a week later (1 and 2 Gul. IV, c. 4).63 He was named to the select committee on the East India Company, 28 June. As an official man, he of course voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, solidly for its details, occasionally as a ministerial teller, and for its third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept. He was in the majorities on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug., and the Liverpool writ, 5 Sept. There was a false report at that time that he was to be made a coronation peer.64 On 10 Oct. he hosted with a breakfast at Lilies the inaugural meeting of the Aylesbury Independent Union, planted a tree of reform, deplored the Lords’ rejection of the reform bill and urged its supporters to be ‘firm ... watchful [and] ... constant’ but to avoid violence, which would be ‘playing the game of your enemies ... a disappointed and desperate faction’. He went immediately to London to divide for the motion of confidence in the ministry. At an Aylesbury dinner, 17 Nov. 1831, he condemned self-styled ‘moderate reformers’ and declared that ‘the £10 franchise must be nailed to the mast’.65
Nugent, whose Memorials of John Hampden, his hero, was published in December 1831 (Tom Macaulay* found it ‘dreadfully heavy’),66 voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill on the 17th. He was a steady supporter of its details, though he was credited with an unlikely vote against the enfranchisement of Gateshead, 5 Mar., and he divided for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He was in Hobhouse’s minority for vestry reform, 23 Jan. Declining to reintroduce his labourers’ employment bill because it might be construed as a government measure, 17 Feb., he called for action on the problem; he welcomed Burrell’s bill, 18 May. He presented a bill to establish a general registry of births, 6 Mar., but it provoked great opposition and lapsed on 6 July. He approved the principle of Sadler’s factories regulation bill, 16 Mar., when he was placed on its committee, but was afraid of its hindering British manufacturers. He was a teller for the majority for the Irish tithes bill, 16 Apr. He presented a petition for abolition of the death penalty for non-violent crimes, 8 May. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May. At an Aylesbury meeting on the 15th he defended ministers’ resignation following the temporary success of ‘a base and filthy intrigue’, denounced the duke of Wellington and company and urged his audience to ‘be at your post, in firm, compact and sustained union’.67 Reinstated with his colleagues, he voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and paired against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish one, 1 June. He voted to make coroners’ inquests public, 20 June 1832. At the Chipping Wycombe by-election that month he appeared on the hustings to back Grey’s son against the enigmatic Benjamin Disraeli†, whose comment in defeat that the ‘nearest thing to a Tory in disguise was a Whig in office’ he interpreted as a personal insult. A duel was averted by the intervention of mediators.68 The impecunious Nugent had apparently solicited the war secretaryship on the resignation of Sir Henry Parnell* in January, but he was deemed by Althorp to be quite ‘unfit’ for it. Yet he was regarded as a deserving case, whose ‘services at the treasury can easily be supplied’, and he was offered the government of the Ionian Islands (partly because it would stop him applying for domestic posts which were beyond his abilities).69 He jumped at it. Macaulay told his sisters that he would go
as soon as a ship has been built large enough to carry him out. I recommend that the vessel which is to bring us Cleopatra’s needle from Egypt should carry his Lordship to Corfu. I should think that the machinery which will raise an obelisk of ninety feet long might be sufficient to embark and disembark even the portly frame of a Grenville.70
An attempt by the Conservatives, who had his seat in their sights, to secure the immediate issue of the writ so that a by-election could be fought on the old franchise was thwarted, and he remained Member until the dissolution on 3 Dec. 1832. By then he was well on his way to Corfu, having issued four months earlier a valedictory address urging his constituents to elect a reformer and arguing that the farmers’ demand for high protecting corn duties was ‘fraught with a fatal fallacy’. His bid to ensure his replacement by the reformer Thomas Hobhouse†, which so enraged Buckingham that he withdrew Nugent’s annual allowance, ended in defeat by a Conservative.71
Nugent, whose Legends of the Library at Lilies, a joint production with his wife, was published in 1832, improved the revenues of the Ionian Islands before resigning in 1835 on the formation of a Conservative ministry supported by his brother and nephew. He was ‘hardly treated’ by the Liberal party leaders on his return, being passed over as a candidate for Marylebone in 1836 and 1838.72 He was defeated at Aylesbury, now in Conservative hands, in 1837, when he published a pamphlet advocating the secret ballot, and 1839. His On the Punishment of Death by Law (1840) put the case for the abolition of capital punishment and his Letter to the Chairman of the Committee of the Anti-Corn Law League (1842) explained why he had withdrawn from it as a Marylebone delegate. That year he unsuccessfully contested Southampton. After travelling in Greece, Egypt, the Holy Land and Syria, 1843-4, and recording his observations in Lands, Classical and Sacred (1845), he succeeded at Aylesbury in 1847, after repeal of the corn laws had removed the major issue which had dished him there.73 Nugent, who lost his wife in 1848, sat until his death at Lilies in November 1850, after three weeks’ torture from ‘low fever and erysipelas’.74 In his will, dated 25 Oct. 1848, after his wife’s death, he listed debts of about £14,000 and noted that his £10,000 patrimony had been transferred by Chandos (now 2nd duke of Buckingham) to a firm of solicitors as security for a mortgage without his knowledge or consent. He left Lilies and the residue of his personal estate to his ‘sister-in-law’ Mrs. Vera Connel, who since his wife’s death had lived with him ‘like a sister’, with remainder to Lucy Henrietta, eldest daughter of his kinsman Sir George Edward Nugent of Westhorpe. He left freehold fields at Weedon for use as allotments by the poor. His affairs were found to be in great disarray.75
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Bucks. RO, Spencer Bernard mss PFE 4/9a.
- 2. Gent. Mag. (1851), i. 92; M.D. George, Cat. of Pol. and Personal Satires, x. 14416, 14689, 14828, 14831; Edgeworth Letters, 491; Lord Nugent, Mems. of Hampden (1854), p. liv.
- 3. J.J. Sack, The Grenvillites, 8-9, 25, 166, 168, 174; J. Beckett, Rise and Fall of the Grenvilles, 91, 111, 121, 149; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 86-88.
- 4. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1203; Nugent, p. xlv.
- 5. The Times, 9, 13 Mar. 1820.
- 6. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/46/11/31; The Times, 17, 25 Aug. 1820.
- 7. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 111.
- 8. The Times, 8 Feb. 1821.
- 9. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 13, 20, 23.
- 10. Fremantle mss 46/12/34.
- 11. The Times, 17, 24, 27 Mar. 1821.
- 12. Grey Bennet diary, 50; The Times, 5 Apr. 1821.
- 13. Fremantle mss 46/9/5/1; 46/9/9; Althorp Letters, 116; R.W. Davis, Political Change and Continuity, 60-62.
- 14. BL, Fortescue mss, Carysfort to Grenville, Sunday [Jan. 1822]; Buckingham, i. 218.
- 15. The Times, 12 Feb. 1822.
- 16. Buckingham, i. 294; Fremantle mss 46/10/20, 24.
- 17. The Times, 26 Apr. 1822.
- 18. Add. 52445, f. 83.
- 19. Buckingham, i. 325, 329.
- 20. Add. 56545, f. 7.
- 21. Fremantle mss 46/10/49.
- 22. G.I.T. Machin, Catholic Question in English Politics, 42-43; Colchester Diary, iii. 280; Buckingham, i. 472, 474; Fremantle mss 46/11/84.
- 23. Nugent, p. xxx.
- 24. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 17 Feb. .
- 25. Ibid. 18 Mar. ; TNA 30/29/9/5/22, 23; Harewood mss, Canning to wife, 20 Mar.; Hatherton diary, 18 Mar. ; Life of Wilberforce, v. 217.
- 26. The Times, 28 May, 5 June; Bucks. Chron. 26 June 1824. 1824.
- 27. Nugent, p. xi.
- 28. The Times, 19 Feb. 1825.
- 29. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 1182, 1203.
- 30. Fremantle mss 46/11/116.
- 31. The Times, 11 May 1825.
- 32. Buckingham, ii. 257-9, 265, 267, 268.
- 33. The Times, 5 May, 21 June 1825.
- 34. Ibid. 3, 7, 9, 10 Nov., 1 Dec. 1825; Christ Church, Oxf. Phillimore mss, Fremantle to Phillimore, 24 Nov. 1825; NLW, Coedymaen mss 954.
- 35. Fremantle mss 138/12/2.
- 36. Bucks. Chron. 21 Jan., 4 Feb., 25 Apr.; The Times, 7, 17 Feb., 3 Mar. 1826.
- 37. Bucks. Chron. 3, 10, 17, 24 June, 15 July; The Times, 12 July 1826; Fremantle mss 46/11/138; 51/5/25; 138/21/1/5; Davis, 81.
- 38. Bucks. Chron. 24 Feb., 3 Mar. 1827; Canning’s Ministry, 32.
- 39. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 10 Dec. 1826; Wilts. RO, Marlborough (Burke) mss 124/1/74/1, 2; The Times, 30 June 1827.
- 40. Sack, 210; Fremantle mss 49/1/13.
- 41. Add. 56550, f. 177; The Times, 24 May 1827
- 42. The Times, 23, 31 May, 8, 20 June; Bucks. Chron. 2 June 1827.
- 43. Add. 52447, f. 76.
- 44. Bucks. Chron. 23, 30 June; Add. 51677, Russell to Holland, 14 Oct. .
- 45. Lansdowne mss, Holland to Lansdowne, 4 Sept. 1827.
- 46. Fremantle mss 138/21/2/21, 23; 138/22/6, 8; 138/22/3/1.
- 47. Bucks. Chron. 31 May 1828.
- 48. Bucks. Chron. 20 Sept., 11 Oct. 1828; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1492; Fremantle mss 139/2/1.
- 49. Bucks. Chron. 25 Oct., 15 Nov. 1828.
- 50. Add. 51677, Russell to Holland, 25 Dec. .
- 51. Fremantle mss 139/2/3; 139/10/3, 4.
- 52. Ibid. 139/10/21; The Times, 24 Feb. 1829.
- 53. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1559.
- 54. Add. 56554, f. 17.
- 55. Fremantle mss 139/10/ 47, 55, 56, 62, 64.
- 56. Bucks Gazette, 27 Feb. 1830.
- 57. Salop RO 6003/1, Slaney diary, 15 Apr. 1830.
- 58. Williams Wynn Corresp. 376.
- 59. Bucks Gazette, 24 July, 7 Aug.; Add. 51835, Nugent to Holland, 5 Aug. 1830.
- 60. Add. 51835, Nugent to Holland, 17 Sept. 1830.
- 61. Bucks Gazette, 4, 11 Dec. 1830; Fremantle mss 139/14/72.
- 62. Bucks Gazette, 23 Apr., 7, 14, 21 May 1831; Fremantle mss 139/20/23.
- 63. Nugent, p. li.
- 64. Coedymaen mss 218.
- 65. Bucks Gazette, 15 Oct., 19 Nov. 1831.
- 66. Macaulay Letters, ii. 110; Disraeli Letters, i. 188.
- 67. Bucks Gazette, 19 May 1832.
- 68. Disrali Letters, i. 203; The Times, 3 July; Bucks Gazette, 7 July 1832.
- 69. Add. 76373, Althorp to Grey [30 June 1832].
- 70. Macaulay Letters, ii. 159; George, xi. 17206.
- 71. Bucks Gazette, 4, 11, 18, 25 Aug., 1, 8, 15, 22 Sept., 29 Dec. 1832; Sack, 26; Davis, 111-12.
- 72. Nugent, pp. lv-lxi; Holland House Diaries, 350, 352.
- 73. Nugent, pp. lxvi-lxviii; Davis, 136-7, 143-6, 159-60.
- 74. Nugent, p. lxxiii; Gent. Mag. (1851), i. 92.
- 75. PROB 11/2129/224; IR26/1909/182; Disraeli Letters, v. 2087.