MOLYNEUX, William Philip, 2nd earl of Sefton [I] (1772-1838), of 21 Arlington Street, Piccadilly, Mdx.; Croxteth Hall, nr. Liverpool, Lancs. and Stoke Farm, nr. Windsor, Berks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



2 Apr. 1816 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 18 Sept. 1772, o.s. of Charles William Molyneux†, 1st earl of Sefton [I], and Lady Isabella Stanhope, da. of William Stanhope†, 2nd earl of Harrington. educ. Dr. Glass’s sch. Greenford, Mdx. 1783; Christ Church, Oxf. 1789. styled Visct. Molyneux until 1795. m. 1 Jan. 1792, Hon. Maria Margaretta Craven, da. of William, 6th Bar. Craven, 4s. 6da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 2nd earl of Sefton [I] 31 Jan. 1795; cr. Bar. Sefton [UK] 20 June 1831. d. 22 Nov. 1838.

Offices Held

Master of the Quorn 1800-5.

Maj. commdt. Croxteth vols. 1803.


Sefton, whom Greville found ‘irresistibly comical’, was widely noted for his ‘liveliness, persiflage and good humour, his hunting, racing, gaming and gastronomy’.1 Considered ‘a complete radical’ by Mrs. Arbuthnot, he continued to sit unchallenged for Droitwich on the interest of his cousin, the 3rd Baron Foley.2 A mostly silent member of the Whig ‘Mountain’, whose ‘parliamentary attendance never abridged the hours or nights which were devoted to Crockford’s’, where it was alleged he ‘broke the bank’ and ‘carried off £7,000’ in 1829, he was an intimate associate of Thomas Creevey*, to whom he was both patron and allegedly half-brother, and a close confidant of Henry Brougham*. Greville noted how Sefton ‘watches him incessantly’ and ‘rows him unmercifully for all the humbug, nonsense, and palaver he hears him talk’.3 Despite the handicap of ‘a frame somewhat deformed’ by a hunchback, Sefton ‘was a capital horseman’ and ‘one of the leaders of the Four in Hand Club’.4

He voted steadily with the Whig opposition to the Liverpool ministry on most major issues, including economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation. On 12 May 1820 he presented and endorsed a petition from the merchants of Liverpool complaining of distress and the ‘lavish and indiscriminate manner’ in which pensions had been bestowed. He played a leading part in the opposition campaign in support of Queen Caroline, although he declined to act with Lord Fitzwilliam on her behalf in the talks with ministers. Greville later commented that he was a ‘queer choice’, and ‘totally unfit for the office of negotiator in a grave matter’.5 He was ‘known to be so strongly against’ the bill of pains and penalties that the fact of his having ‘betted Lord Thanet 10 to 1’ that it would ‘pass the Lords’ was taken as ‘quite convincing’ grounds for optimism by the king.6 According to Sir James Mackintosh*, 3 July, he was much to blame for the ‘feud between Grey and Brougham’ during the negotiations, and ‘immediately reported’ back to Brougham Grey’s comments implying ‘that he had sold the queen for his own silk gown’.7 Lady Sefton later told the radical Whig Henry Grey Bennet* that ‘having for near eight years come daily to their house, and lived in it as one of the family’, Brougham no longer ‘comes near them’.8 During July 1820 it was reported that Sefton, Douglas Kinnaird†, Sir Robert Wilson and other ‘Mountaineers’ were ‘exulting in the prospect of mutiny and civil war’ at Brooks’s over the affair.9 He presented and endorsed a petition from 10,000 inhabitants of Liverpool calling for the restoration of Caroline’s ‘rights and dignities’, inquiry ‘into the outrages at Manchester’ and reduced taxation and parliamentary reform, 2 Feb. 1821. He divided steadily in her support early in that session, but was one of the six opposition Members ‘at Taylor’s supping’ who were ‘shut out’ of the division for restoring her name to the liturgy, to the ‘great amusement’ of Charles Williams Wynn*, 13 Feb.10 He was a member of the committee at Brooks’s for the management of her subscription and, with Lord Thanet, ‘advanced the deposit’ of £3,000 for her purchase of Cambridge House in South Audley Street, 24 Feb. 1821.11

Sefton voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr. (as a pair), but he and Creevey joined Lambton’s ‘seceders’ and abstained from the third reading of the bill, there having ‘been a great schism in the opposition on the whole matter’, 10 May 1825.12 On 17 Apr. 1823, when Plunket, the renegade Whig Irish attorney-general, rose to open the debate on the Catholic question, Sefton was among those opposition Members who pointedly left the chamber in protest.13 He divided in favour of Leeds becoming a scot and lot borough if it received Grampound’s seats, 2 Mar., and for parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 20 Feb., 2 June 1823, but was absent from the division on the issue, 27 Apr. 1826. Congratulating Creevey on his ‘conversion to reform’, 2 Oct. 1825, he declared, ‘I have been long convinced that nothing else will bring down taxation and tithes, and therefore would not give a farthing for any other remedy’.14 On 13 Sept. 1821 he disagreed with Creevey over the conviction of Life Guards accused of murder in the Colchester riots following the queen’s death, protesting that ‘they are always infamously treated by the mob’ and that it was the government which ‘ought to be impaled’.15 On 27 Feb. 1822 Creevey recorded that during his lengthy speech on pensions, ‘Brougham and Sefton were amongst my bottle holders in the front row’.16 Sefton declined an offer to stand against Huskisson at the 1823 Liverpool by-election, but did all he could to ‘assist’ his son Lord Molyneux†, whom he persuaded the deputation to adopt instead.17 Having joined Creevey in opposing the Liverpool and Manchester railway bill in March 1825, he was said to be in ‘ecstasies’ at its being ‘strangled’ in committee, 1 June 1825.18 He was in the minorities for revising the corn laws, 28 Apr. 1825, and against the corn bill, 11 May 1826.

Following his return at the 1826 general election Sefton confided to Grey that the recent death of his daughter Georgiana had left ‘a blank which can never be filled up’.19 He voted against the Clarences’ grant, 16 Feb. 1827. He divided for Catholic claims, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828 (as a pair). He voted for inquiry into electoral interference by Leicester corporation, 15 Mar., and for the spring guns bill, 23 Mar. 1827. That month he put up bail for Brougham, who had been arrested for his part in a duel.20 Following the accession to power of Canning, Sefton commented to Creevey, 13 Apr., that the Tories ‘all declare their motive for resigning’ to be ‘strictly personal’ and ‘that the Catholics have nothing to do with it’, and hoped that ‘if opposition support, Canning may stand, and they certainly ought to keep out these villains’. The following day James Macdonald* reported that ‘[Lord] Duncannon*, backed by Lord Sefton and some of the most unlikely men’, were urging ‘the necessity’ of Lord Lansdowne’s accepting office in ‘a government that should be formed without any restrictions on the Catholic question’.21 Brougham explained that their ‘prime object’ was ‘to keep out the Ultras and not let them back’ and reported that ‘Sefton (no friend of Canning or coalitions) is full of this and has written strongly’: his letters, Brougham informed Creevey, ‘would put life into a wheelbarrow, or anything but a superannuated Whig’.22 Lady Cowper observed, 24 Apr., that pressure on Lansdowne, who ‘does not much like coming into office at this moment’, came from ‘even those who are in general the greatest democrats - Lord Sefton, Lord Tankerville, Brougham, Wilson. They feel it is everything for the Catholics and that by a refusal the House of Commons must fall back upon the Tories’.23 On 28 May Sefton defended his conduct to Creevey, who had firmly opposed the coalition:

I do say the junction is justified by the exclusion of Eldon, Wellington, Peel and Bathurst. It could have been brought about by no other means ... As to the ‘baseness of the junction’, and the rest of your apple-blossom twaddle ... I don’t stand up for Canning, but I think the junction with him is a chance for the country ... Don’t forget that Grey, whose opposition is solely personal, once preferred him to Whitbread ... I don’t care a damn - nor do you - for the Catholics; but I say their chance is a hundredfold better under the new cabinet than under the old; and so do they.24

On 13 June Mrs. Arbuthnot noted that Lord Palmerston* ‘provoked me very much by boasting of Lord Sefton being the prime supporter of government’.25 Following Canning’s death and his replacement by Lord Goderich, Lord Cassillis advised Peel to ‘depend upon it, Brougham and such will break out upon ministers ere long. Words won’t do with Lambton, Sefton, etc. They want peerages perhaps, which the king will never give them’.26 Sefton, however, continued to give ministers his support, although privately admitting to Creevey that the ‘Navarino business must destroy them’. According to Grey, 13 Dec. 1827

Sefton’s conduct can only be explained on the supposition that he feels himself bound not to abandon, in their difficulties, an administration which he originally promised to support; but I do not think this feeling can prevail long against his own opinion and the increasing opinion of the public.27

On 1 Jan. 1828 Lord Tavistock* reported that he had received a letter ‘from Sefton anxious to know what we mean to do, as his new friends have tried him too high’.28 Following the collapse of the ministry, however, and the Canningites’ acceptance of office under Wellington, Huskisson was informed by Sir George Warrender* that

Sefton came to White’s obviously for the purpose of contradicting your accession to the new arrangement, and he read to me a letter dated 8th, last evening, which I feel certain was from Brougham, entreating and desiring Sefton everywhere to deny and contradict the sinister reports about you as most injuriously tending to weaken and dishearten their party (i.e. the Whigs).29

Sefton presented a petition from Toxteth against the Test Acts, 19 Feb., and paired for their repeal, 26 Feb. 1828. He voted against extending the franchise of East Retford to the freeholders of Bassetlaw, 21 Mar., and the additional churches bill, 30 June. Writing to Creevey, 7 Sept., he doubted that Wellington had ‘the slightest intention of doing the smallest thing for the Catholics, or that he ever thinks about them’, and warned that ‘when the time comes, he will send troops to Ireland’.30 On 29 Dec. 1828 he told Brougham that he considered

the duke’s letter to Curtis [the Irish Catholic primate] ... as the signal for rebellion. At least it ought to be. It causes a stormy session and I hope you will be at your post and take the field in earnest. What a letter! To be sure he’s a great fellow for a prime minister! Surely Grey cannot stand this. He certainly had indignant feelings towards ... [Wellington] and would have forgiven trifles, but he is not the man I take him for, if he quits now.31

On hearing of the ministry’s proposals to concede emancipation, 6 Feb. 1829, however, Sefton, ‘owned that the business is very handsomely done’.32 He presented a favourable petition, 17 Feb., and voted accordingly, 6, 30 Mar. (as a pair), despite being convinced that Grey ‘must and will come into office’ before the issue could be settled.33 (James Abercromby* had incorrectly predicted that ‘Sefton and Co.’, taking their cue from Grey, would ‘not vote for the third reading’ on account of the disfranchisement of Irish 40s. freeholders.)34 That June Greville ‘set about making a reconciliation between the king and Lord Sefton’. The cause of their quarrel, he explained, was ‘very old’. George IV had ‘pimped’ for Arthur Paget†, who ‘was in love with Lady Sefton ... by taking Sefton out on some expedition and leaving the lovers to amuse themselves’. Sefton had ‘found out’ and ‘revenged himself by a thousand jokes at the king’s expense’, and they had ‘been at daggers drawn ever since’.35 Sefton divided against Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform scheme, 18 Feb., but for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., to refer the Newark petition complaining of the duke of Newcastle’s electoral interference to a select committee, 1 Mar., and for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 15 Mar. 1830. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and for proper use of Irish first fruits revenues, 18 May 1830.

In July 1830 Greville noted that William IV was ‘very civil’ at his levee, ‘particularly to Sefton, who had quarrelled with the late king’.36 Commenting on Wellington’s determination to continue in office, 27 Aug., Sefton warned Brougham:

If we are not organized, his miserable weakness will still prevail. For God’s sake, concert with Grey for a regular place for our union of parties and don’t put it off till it is too late. I have a very bad opinion of Huskisson, but he and his people are necessary and are anxious to join you ... An avowed party in opposition is indispensable and will prevent desertion and mischief ... There never was such a moment. You supported ministers as long as you could, but their imbecility and rotten incapacity for conducting the government has become so obvious that it is impossible to support them or even tolerate them any longer. The whole country sees this and has spoken pretty plainly in the elections.37

At his Berkshire seat three days later, Sefton boasted to Greville that ‘Brougham and Grey were prepared for a violent opposition and that they had effected a formal junction with Huskisson, being convinced that no government could be formed without him’; but Greville was sceptical and later ascertained from George Agar Ellis* that ‘there was not a word of truth in the reported junction’.38 Sefton continued to press on Brougham the importance of keeping options open, commenting on 8 Sept. that ‘I don’t think there is any occasion to mind the Ultras. You cannot expect to conceal from them co-operation with Huskisson. However, for God’s sake don’t let the Huskissonites slip through you fingers’. On hearing of Huskisson’s accidental death on the Liverpool and Manchester railway, 21 Sept., he wrote:

What a lucky fellow this duke is! Nothing else could have saved him ... One ought to believe anything, but I cannot believe that the remnant will consent to bolster him ... Surely after his treatment of them at their elections the Grants are out of the question. Granville hates the duke and Palmerston must hate him too ... I have reason to know that there is no truth whatsoever in his having made any overtures to Palmerston and Melbourne ... Notwithstanding all you philosophers may say, the locomotive is an uncontrollable machine and if it is used as a conveyance for passengers thousands of horrible accidents will happen.39

Sefton, according to Greville, refused Brougham’s entreaties ‘to go to the Liverpool dinner and attack the duke of Wellington ... face to face’ at the ensuing by-election.40 As Lord John Russell* explained to Lady Holland, 13 Oct., Sefton ‘is in great spirits at the prospect of a November Parliament, but he quite agrees with me that we ought to begin quietly’.41 He was, of course, listed by the Wellington ministry as one of their ‘foes’, and he voted against them in the division on the civil list which brought them down, 15 Nov. 1830, when, despite being told ‘not to cheer’, his ‘yell was heard triumphant in the din’.42 The incoming Grey ministry asked him ‘to settle the conditions of Brougham’s accession to office, and to appease the wrath which had been stirred up in his mind by the offer of being made attorney-general’. This, as Sefton explained to Creevey, 18 Nov., was ‘very difficult’ as Brougham was ‘in a state of insanity’ on the subject; but the following day he informed Creevey of Brougham’s appointment as lord chancellor. At dinner with Grey and Greville, 22 Nov., Sefton, who found the appointment highly amusing, ‘bantered’ Brougham ‘from the beginning to the end’ and afterwards ‘walked out before him with the fire shovel for the mace, and left him no repose all the evening’.43 By December, Sefton felt that ‘things are looking awkward’ and could not ‘be allowed to go on as they are at Manchester’, where there had been ‘parading with arms and flags’; he believed that ‘force must be used’. Having ‘done all I can to ascertain the truth about Manchester and its neighbourhood’, however, he became more sanguine, telling Grey, 26 Dec. 1830:

I am quite convinced things are not so bad as represented. [Lord] Derby does not seem alarmed and says the proclamation against procession with offensive flags, placards, etc. was completely successful. He does not believe that they have carried arms to any extent. The worst is they are all in a union and have a great accumulation of money from their weekly subscriptions, certainly above £100,000, so that they can hold out a long time. The marchers are determined not to give way but still I am convinced a compromise will take place.44

According to Creevey, when Parliament met Sefton complained that the government ‘cut a very sorry figure ... upon the civil list and upon the pensions part of it in particular, and ... he was going to blow up Grey about it’.45 To Greville he observed that Lord Althorp was ‘wretched’ and ‘leading the House of Commons without the slightest acquaintance with the various subjects under discussion’.46 He presented a petition from the landowners of West Derby against the revived Liverpool and Manchester railway bill, 25 Feb. That month he again used his influence with Brougham, urging him to do all he could to temper the attacks on Grey in The Times.47 He voted for the second reading of the ministerial reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. On 21 Apr. 1831 he asserted that the ‘grossest bribery and corruption were practised at Liverpool’ in ‘former elections’, but denied Thomas Gladstone’s accusation that he was ‘impugning the conduct of Canning’, claiming that he was speaking of contests in which he himself had taken ‘a very active part’.

At the ensuing general election Sefton made way for another of Foley’s cousins at Droitwich, amidst rumours that he was ‘shortly to have an English peerage’. He declined an offer to stand for Lancashire, prompting Creevey to complain that ‘considering Sefton’s connection with Grey, and that he is to be his first peer, he ought to have made some demonstration in favour of the government during this eventful battle’.48 The results of the election prompted Sefton to remark to Lord Durham and Greville that ‘the county Members are tumbling about like ninepins’.49 As one of five new peers created in June 1831, he perpetually urged Grey and Brougham to create sufficient peers to carry the reform bill.50 On 20 Aug. Greville noted:

Sefton ... talks blusteringly of the peers that are to be made, no matter at what cost to the House of Lords, anything rather than be beaten; but I am not sure that he knows anything. In such matters as these he is (however sharp) no better than a fool, no knowledge, no information, no reflection or combination; prejudices, partialities, and sneers are what his political wisdom consists of; but he is Lord Grey’s âme damnée.51

During the days of May 1832 Sefton’s face, according to Raikes, was ‘a true barometer’ and ‘picture of despair’; and on William IV holding a Jockey Club dinner, ‘Sefton, who was indignant at the resignation of his friends the ministers, and most clamorous at what he called the duplicity of the king, in a fit of pique and vexation erased his name from the list of members and sent an excuse to the dinner as no longer belonging’.52 Later that year Princess Lieven noted that his ‘digestion is beginning to trouble him’ and that ‘he looks ill’.53

Sefton died in November 1838, having been for the last six months ‘reduced to a state of deplorable imbecility’.54 By his will, dated 10 Nov. 1836 and proved under £35,000, all his property passed to his wife. He was succeeded in the peerage by his eldest son Charles William (1796-1855), Liberal Member for Lancashire South, 1832-5.55

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. Greville Mems. iv. 144; Smith Letters, i. 334.
  • 2. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 125.
  • 3. Creevey Pprs. ii. 195; Greville Mems. ii. 150-1; iv. 102, 145.
  • 4. Maxwell, Clarendon, i. 43; Gronow Reminiscences, ii. 110.
  • 5. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 23; Creevey Pprs. i. 303; Greville Mems. i. 97; ii. 420-1.
  • 6. Creevey Pprs. i. 328.
  • 7. Add. 52444, f. 183.
  • 8. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 83.
  • 9. Add. 52444, f. 202.
  • 10. Grey Bennet diary, 19; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 122.
  • 11. Grey Bennet diary, 24; Creevey Pprs. ii. 15.
  • 12. Gurney diary, 10 May; TNA 30/29/9/2.
  • 13. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 17 Apr. 1823.
  • 14. Creevey Pprs. ii. 93.
  • 15. Ibid. ii. 32.
  • 16. Ibid. ii. 35.
  • 17. Add. 51836, Sefton to Holland [early 1823].
  • 18. Creevey Pprs. ii. 88.
  • 19. Grey mss GRE/B52/2/4, Sefton to Grey, 7 July 1826.
  • 20. T. Ford, Brougham and his World, 426.
  • 21. Creevey Pprs. ii. 112-13; Canning’s Ministry, 117.
  • 22. Add. 51562, Brougham to Holland [Apr. 1827]; Creevey Pprs. ii. 114.
  • 23. Canning’s Ministry, 240.
  • 24. Creevey Pprs. ii. 117-18.
  • 25. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 125.
  • 26. Add. 40394, f. 189.
  • 27. Creevey Pprs. ii. 139, 142.
  • 28. Russell Letters, ii. 223.
  • 29. Add. 38754, f. 114.
  • 30. Creevey Pprs. ii. 170.
  • 31. Brougham mss.
  • 32. Greville Mems. i. 248.
  • 33. Creevey Pprs. ii. 199.
  • 34. Add. 51574, Abercromby to Holland [?Mar. 1829]; G.I.T. Machin, Catholic Question in English Politics, 56.
  • 35. Greville Mems. i. 297.
  • 36. Ibid. ii. 11.
  • 37. Brougham mss, Sefton to Brougham, 27 Aug. 1830.
  • 38. Greville Mems. ii. 32-33, 39.
  • 39. Brougham mss.
  • 40. Greville Mems. ii. 45.
  • 41. Add. 51680.
  • 42. Greville Mems. ii. 60.
  • 43. Ibid. ii. 112, 67-8; Creevey Pprs. ii. 214.
  • 44. Add. 51835, Sefton to Holland [Dec. 1830]; Grey mss GRE/B52/2/7.
  • 45. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 5 Feb. 1831.
  • 46. Greville Mems. ii. 118.
  • 47. Creevey Pprs. ii. 219-20.
  • 48. Worcester Herald, 23 Apr.; Add. 51680, Russell to Lady Holland [May]; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 4 May 1831.
  • 49. Reid, Lord Durham, i. 259-60; Greville Mems. ii. 141.
  • 50. Holland House Diaries, 42; Grey mss GRE/B52/2/6, Sefton to Grey, 17 Nov. 1831.
  • 51. Greville Mems. ii. 186.
  • 52. Raikes Jnl. i. 27-28, 36.
  • 53. Lieven-Palmerston Corresp. 38.
  • 54. Gent. Mag. (1838), ii. 657; Raikes Jnl. iii. 341; Greville Mems. iv. 143.
  • 55. PROB 11/1907/122; CP, xi. 593-4.