PHIPPS, Constantine Henry, Visct. Normanby (1797-1863), of 19 Grosvenor Street, Mdx.

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



1818 - 18 May 1820
11 Feb. 1822 - 1826
1826 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 15 May 1797, 1st s. of Henry Phipps†, 1st earl of Mulgrave, and Martha Sophia, da. of Christopher Thompson Maling of West Herrington, co. Dur. educ. Harrow 1811-13; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1814. m. 12 Aug. 1818, Maria, da. of Sir Thomas Henry Liddell†, 6th bt., of Ravensworth Castle, co. Dur., 1s. suc. fa. as 2nd earl of Mulgrave 7 Apr. 1831; GCH 1832; cr. mq. of Normanby 25 June 1838; GCB 10 Dec. 1847; KG 19 Feb. 1851. d. 28 July 1863.

Offices Held

PC 30 May 1832; gov. Jamaica 1832-4; ld. privy seal July-Dec. 1834; ld. lt. [I] Apr. 1835-Apr. 1839; sec. of state for war and colonies Feb.-Aug. 1839, for home affairs Aug. 1839-Sept. 1841.

Ambassador to France 1846-52, to Tuscany 1854-8.

Capt. 1 batt. Hull militia 1816.


Normanby was in Florence, his favourite city and regular retreat, when Parliament was dissolved in 1820. Despite his recent defection to the Whigs (he had joined Brooks’s Club, 3 Dec. 1819), he was returned for Scarborough in his absence on his Tory father’s interest.1 However, Lord Mulgrave had second thoughts and turned him out in May 1820 to make room for his own brother. This was highly inconvenient both to Normanby and the Whigs, for whom he was a prestigious recruit. When a vacancy arose at St. Ives in May 1821 he hoped to come in there, but Sir Christopher Hawkins* exerted his considerable influence for his own benefit and Normanby gave up the contest without going to a poll. He admitted to the duke of Devonshire that it was ‘a cruel disappointment to me in the great object of my ambition’, but added that ‘I mean to put the best face I can upon it’. In another letter to Devonshire, 9 Aug., he remarked that he would ‘not be at all surprised’ if the death of Queen Caroline ‘turned out the ministers before long, as it removes the only remaining awkwardness between the king and their opponents’.2 It was reported in September 1821 that Lord Grosvenor intended to offer him one of the vacant seats for Shaftesbury, but nothing came of this. That December he addressed the annual meeting of the York Whig Club.3 In January 1822, with William Plumer, Member for Higham Ferrers, at death’s door, Henry Brougham* wrote to Lord Duncannon* advocating the return of ‘the excellent Normanby’ in his place, noting that ‘you know he can’t in all probability want it above a session’. Duncannon’s influence with his kinsman Lord Fitzwilliam, the borough’s patron, paid off, and George Tierney* was able to report to Lord Grey that ‘we have a new recruit’. In thanking Fitzwilliam, Grey observed that

I have not heard, for a long time, any news that gave me so much pleasure as your bringing in Lord Normanby ... He will be a most valuable addition to the sound and moderate party ... It is a pleasant thing to see a young man of such principles and talents placed in a situation both to acquire distinction for himself and to render, as I trust he will, useful service to the public.4

Normanby joined readily in the Whig opposition to Lord Liverpool’s ministry, voting with them on all major issues, including parliamentary reform (on which he had apparently been in correspondence with Lord John Russell*),5 25 Apr., 24 June 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., 2 June 1823, 26 May 1826. He divided for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., and paired for it, 10 May 1825. Speaking in favour of reduction of the salt duties, 28 Feb. 1822, he argued that ‘the sinking fund ... ought to be applied to the amelioration of the prevailing distress’. He gave notice of a motion for the abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 6 Mar., which he brought on a week later, when he declared that it was ‘as clear a question of reduction as any which could be brought under the consideration of Parliament’ and ‘could not be productive of any distress or embarrassment’. The motion was rejected by 184-159, but he announced the next day his intention of reviving it. He did so in the form of an address to the king, 2 May, which was carried by 216-201. Harriet Arbuthnot recorded that ‘Mr. Stuart Wortley and 40 other country gentlemen who, a month ago, voted against Lord Normanby and with us, turned round and supported him’. It was the high point of the Whig assault on ministers that session.6 He spoke in favour of economies in the ‘extravagant’ cost of the embassy to the Swiss Cantons and was a teller for the minority, 16 May. On 15 Mar. Russell raised the question of a possible breach of privilege by Charles Arbuthnot*, the patronage secretary, who had written a letter asking a Member to attend in order to ‘resist the dangerous practices’ of Normanby and other Whigs. After a brief exchange Normanby indicated that he was willing to let the matter drop, the letter being a private one. He presented a York petition for remission of the radical agitator Henry Hunt’s* prison sentence and supported a similar one from Bethnal Green, 28 Mar., when he expressed the hope that the House would support Burdett’s forthcoming motion on the subject.7 He presented a Whitby petition in favour of the Yorkshire polls bill, 29 Apr., but stated that he disapproved of the measure, which was ‘contrary to the general wish of the county’; he repeated this opinion, 7 June 1822. His name was mentioned by Brougham as one who might move an amendment to the address at the opening of the 1823 session, but in the event he was not asked.8 On 19 Feb. he asked the home secretary Peel what action had been taken as a result of his address on the postmastership, besides stopping the salary of one of the incumbents; Peel replied that there was little else to do, the main object having been achieved. He asked if ministers meant to retain the office of joint-postmaster in Ireland, 24 Feb.9 Of the debate on Hume’s motion condemning the peacetime appointment of a lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 19 Feb., Mrs. Arbuthnot recorded that ‘Lord Normanby (whose father was master-general of the ordnance ... and whose uncles are both in the office) was not ashamed of abusing the whole office’; yet there is no evidence that he spoke or voted for it.10 In March, Brougham, who wanted to press for British intervention in Spain (a subject on which the Whigs were divided), tried to recruit Normanby to his cause.11 Supporting Russell’s motion for parliamentary reform, 24 Apr. 1823, he declared that ‘the demand for reform was now general, but the tone was moderate’, and observed that ‘the weapons of the people were the justice of their case and the determination with which they supported it’. The next day he sought to clarify his reference to Edinburgh, explaining that ‘however respectable the individual may be who is sent to Parliament as the representative of so large a population, and is yet chosen by so very small number of electors ... [the] case affords one of the strongest instances that can be advanced of what has been styled the mockery of representation’.12 He wintered in Florence and returned to condemn the aliens bill, a measure that was ‘hostile to the principles of the British constitution’ and which ‘outraged all those feelings with which, as Englishmen, we are bound to sympathize’, 12 Apr. 1824. He signified his intention of moving a hostile amendment, but there is no record of his doing so. He moved the passage of the spring guns bill and was a teller for the minority, 29 June 1825. At the general election of 1826 he transferred from Higham Ferrers to another of Fitzwilliam’s nomination boroughs, Malton, where he replaced Duncannon.13

In the summer of 1825 Normanby became a subject of society gossip. John Stuart Wortley* wrote to Henry Edward Fox*, 24 Aug., that ‘there is a new mysterious novel come out which I am convinced is Normanby’s, except that it is very well written, with considerable talent, and very interesting, which exceeds my estimate of his powers’. The book was ‘called Matilda and is in one volume’. Fox considered it to be ‘horrid trash’, but Sir James Mackintosh* admired the ‘line of sturdy and moderate liberalism which runs through the book’. Normanby was indeed the author, and he turned his hand to other works of fiction in this period, publishing Yes and No (1828), Clorinda (1829) and The Contrast (1832). He also produced two companion editions, The English in Italy (1825) and The English in France (1828), which, though ostensibly works of fiction, were supposedly based on his own observations and opinions. Writing from Rome at the end of 1825, Fox reported that ‘the Normanbys are at Florence trying to get up a theatre’, in which venture ‘they will I hear succeed but have more actors than audience’.14

As ‘a warm friend to the Catholic cause’, Normanby condemned the government for their attempts to put down the Catholic Association and deplored the ‘continuance of a system so inefficient and so mischievous’, 2 Mar. 1827.15 He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He spoke in favour of the Wakefield and Ferrybridge canal bill, 16 Mar. On 30 Mar. 1827 he was a minority teller in the division on Tierney’s unsuccessful attempt to postpone the committee of supply. He left for Florence at the end of the session but returned to England for the Doncaster races in September.16 In the House, 29 Jan. 1828, he declared that he had no confidence in the duke of Wellington’s ministry. Pointing out that he had ‘not had an opportunity to commit [himself] by any pledge or assurance of support’ to either of the preceding coalition ministries of Canning and Lord Goderich, he paid tribute to Canning and hoped that ‘among the remnants of his political friends, some of them at least will not depart from the line of policy which he has marked out’. Two days later he asserted that of all the governments he had seen formed, Wellington’s, ‘from the mode of its construction, holds out the least prospect of a favourable consideration of the measures essential to the welfare of Ireland’. He took a leading role in the subsequent discussions concerning the part played by William Huskisson* and John Charles Herries* in the downfall of Goderich’s ministry. An explanation had been widely expected on 15 Feb., but Huskisson and Herries, now colonial secretary and master of the mint respectively in Wellington’s government, remained silent. Next day Normanby approached Edward Littleton* and asked him to inform Huskisson of his intention ‘to call forth an explanation’, as he ‘thought it right the public should be satisfied whether [Huskisson] had obtained pledges from the duke [of Wellington] or not’. In compliance with Huskisson’s request, Normanby promised Littleton that he would give the same notice to Herries. He duly put his question, 18 Feb., after emphasizing his independence and maintaining that he had ‘never had any connection’ with Canning. He wished to know ‘two things ... the cause of the dissolution of [Goderich’s] ministry’ and ‘the principle on which the present government was constructed’. In the opinion of one observer, his speech was ‘long, ill arranged and tedious, but quite gentlemanlike in tone and manner, which prevented his questions, as so young a man, being offensive’. However, Littleton considered that Huskisson ‘made a triumphant and most satisfactory answer’.17 Herries also replied, but declined to enter into details. Normanby challenged Herries again, 21 Feb., tartly observing that he ‘seems to be as incapable of understanding the questions put to him as he is of answering those questions in a way that can be understood by others’. He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and was a majority teller for Catholic relief, 12 May. He backed the reintroduced Wakefield and Ferrybridge canal bill, 3 Mar., presented a Malton petition for repeal of the stamp duties, 20 Mar., and supported the Battersea enclosure bill, 31 Mar. Acting contrary to his patron’s interest, Normanby was a minority teller against extending the East Retford franchise to Bassetlaw freeholders, 21 Mar. He told the House that he was ‘quite ready with my ... friends near me’ to vote against the East Retford disfranchisement bill ‘in any future stage’, 2 June. He was a teller against the bill, 27 June, when he warned that ‘nothing will be more likely to raise the cry of parliamentary reform, during any temporary distress, than the course which [ministers] are at present pursuing’. He voted against the grant to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels in the colonies, 6 June, to condemn the misapplication of public money for building work at Buckingham House, 23 June, to reduce the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July, and against the grant for North American fortifications, 7 July 1828. That summer Normanby’s name appeared in Lord Palmerston’s* list of Canningites, though it was omitted from a similar list compiled by Lord Colchester.

Normanby was in Florence once more for the winter, and the looming crisis over Catholic emancipation provoked concern at his absence in Whig circles as the 1829 session approached. Lord George William Russell* promised Lord Holland that he would try to persuade Normanby and other Whigs to return to England, which they did not plan to do until Easter, and Lord Tavistock* criticized him for ‘winning thousands at Doncaster to spend them in scenes and theatres abroad’.18 In fact, his first reported appearance in the House was on 5 May, when he voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, after explaining that ‘I do not think we ought to view it as part of the general question of reform, [but] as a ... reformer I am anxious to take what I can get’. Alluding to the government’s settlement of the Catholic question, he described the current session as ‘the most glorious that has occurred during the present century’. He voted to allow Daniel O’Connell to take his seat without swearing the oath of supremacy, 18 May 1829. He divided for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb. 1830. He spoke of the harmful effect of the government’s foreign policy on Britain’s reputation abroad, ‘as being rather the friends of despotism than of the liberal party’, 8 Feb., but he welcomed the neutrality that ministers proposed to adopt in future. He was again a minority teller for transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., having urged that an example be made of the borough. He voted for Russell’s reform motion, 28 May. He divided for Labouchere’s motion on the civil government of Canada, 25 May, and against the grant for South American missions, 7 June, and paired against that for the consular services, 11 June. He voted to abolish the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. He remarked to Devonshire, 15 June, that ministers were ‘rather in a mess about the chancery bill owing to our friend’ lord chancellor Lyndhurst, who had altered it ‘just as Brougham liked without consulting the rest of the government’. On the 23rd he reported that the recent opposition dinner at Brooks’s ‘went off beautifully’ and had been attended by ‘all that is most venerable and revered in Whiggism’; it ‘did good and looked more like a revival of party than anything that has happened for some time’.19 In his final speech in the Commons, 9 July, he attacked Sir James Scarlett (another of Fitzwilliam’s Members), who had taken office under Wellington as attorney-general, over the libel law amendment bill, declaring that he would be ‘the last person to whom I should be willing to trust any additional power which might be converted into a means of oppressing the press’; he voted against requiring increased recognizances. The death of George IV and the ‘unconscious state’ of his father led Normanby to write to Fitzwilliam’s son in late June 1830 that, ‘under the circumstances, I do not think it will be worth my while again to come into the ... Commons’.20 Ironically, Scarlett replaced him at Malton at the ensuing general election.

Subsequent developments caused Normanby to regret his decision to retire. Shortly after the formation of Grey’s ministry in November 1830 he wrote to Devonshire from Florence asking him to pass on his request for ‘any appointment in Italy’. He maintained that of ‘all the names I have heard mentioned’ for the foreign secretaryship, there was ‘not one who I do not flatter myself would further do me a kindness’, and if it was Palmerston, ‘he is a very old friend of mine from whom no former political differences ever estranged me’. Nothing came his way, and he solicited a peerage instead. Early in 1831 Lord Durham reported to Grey that

I have received a letter from Normanby requesting me to speak to you on the subject of his being called up to the Lords by writ of summons ... May I suggest some reasons why this request might be complied with. It would not increase the peerage either in future or even at present, for Lord Mulgrave is in such a state of mental imbecility that he cannot take his seat. Lord Normanby might be very useful in the House ... [He] is not an orator but he can speak better than nine out of ten peers, and would be a regular attendant.21

In fact, his father’s death in April 1831 obviated the need for such an arrangement, and the 2nd earl of Mulgrave soon made his debut in the Upper House. Lord Ellenborough, however, judged that ‘he will never speak effectively’.22 He was appointed governor of Jamaica in 1832 and later served in Lord Melbourne’s ministries, though he failed to form a government of his own after Melbourne’s temporary resignation in May 1839. He was promoted to a marquessate in 1838 and later became a diplomat. In his final years he was partially disabled by a stroke. He died in July 1863 and was succeeded by his only son, George Augustus Constantine Phipps (1819-90). An obituarist recalled that ‘everybody liked him, nobody can well say why’, and observed that ‘in good nature and good humour, the pleasant manner, the cheery smile, the ready hand, there is an indeterminable charm’.23

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Martin Casey


  • 1. Yorks. Gazette, 11, 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 2. Chatsworth mss 6DD/GPI/524, 536.
  • 3. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss, T.F. to W.H. Fremantle, 2 Sept.; The Times, 7 Dec. 1821.
  • 4. Bessborough mss, Brougham to Duncannon, 17 Jan.; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 23 Jan.; Fitzwilliam mss, Grey to Fitzwilliam, 1 Feb. 1822.
  • 5. P. Mandler, Aristocratic Government in Age of Reform, 61.
  • 6. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 161; A. Mitchell, Whigs in Opposition, 165.
  • 7. The Times, 29 Mar. 1822.
  • 8. Bessborough mss, Brougham to Duncannon, 23 Jan. 1823.
  • 9. The Times, 20, 25 Feb. 1823.
  • 10. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 216.
  • 11. Bessborough mss, Brougham to Duncannon, 2 Mar. 1823.
  • 12. The Times, 26 Apr. 1823.
  • 13. Castle Howard mss, Lady Carlisle to Lord Morpeth, 1 June 1826.
  • 14. Add. 52011, Stuart Wortley to Fox, 24 Aug.; 52017, J.R. Townshend to same, 30 Aug.; 61937, Fox to Eleanor Fazakerley, 28 Dec.; Lansdowne mss, Mackintosh to Lansdowne, 15 Oct. 1825.
  • 15. The Times, 3 Mar. 1827.
  • 16. Hants RO, Paultons mss 10M55/326.
  • 17. Hatherton diary, 16, 17, 18 Feb. 1828; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC12/86.
  • 18. Add. 51599A, Lady Cowper to Holland, 28 Jan.; 51676, Lord G.W. Russell to same, 24 Feb. 1829; Blakiston, Lord William Russell, 180.
  • 19. Chatsworth mss 1946, 1947.
  • 20. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. G1/3, Normanby to Milton, 29 June 1830.
  • 21. Chatsworth mss 2107; Grey mss, Durham to Grey, 28 Jan. 1831.
  • 22. Three Diaries, 96.
  • 23. The Times, 29 July 1863.