PRATT, George Charles, earl of Brecknock (1799-1866).
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Family and Educationb. 2 May 1799, o. s. of John Jeffreys Pratt†, 1st mq. Camden, and Frances, da. and h. of William Molesworth of Wembury, Devon. educ. Eton 1814; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1816. m. 27 Aug. 1835, Harriet, da. of Rt. Rev. George Murray, bp. of Rochester, 3s. 8da. summ. to Lords in his fa.’s barony as Lord Camden 8 Jan. 1835; suc. fa. as 2nd Mq. Camden 8 Oct. 1840; KG 19 Jan. 1846. d. 6 Aug. 1866.
Member of ld. high admiral’s council Feb.-Sept. 1828; ld. of admiralty Sept. 1828-July 1829.
Capt. W. Kent militia 1817; lt. W. Kent yeoman cav. 1820; capt. Tunbridge Wells troop of yeoman cav. 1822, res. 1825, capt. 1831; maj. W. Kent yeoman cav. 1831, lt.-col. commdt. Apr. 1831.
Ld. lt. Brec. 1865-d.
Brecknock, whose grandfather had risen to eminence as lord chancellor and 1st Baron, later 1st Earl, Camden, and whose father had served in high office under Pitt and was created a marquess in 1812, never lived up to the expectations which were placed on him by the rest of the family. He showed a good deal of early promise, and was praised for the ‘excellence of his disposition, his capacity, and his principles’ by James Henry Monk of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took his degree in 1819.1 In the same year he visited Paris (before travelling on to Vienna), from where the diplomat Sir Charles Whitworth wrote to Camden that his ‘behaviour and conduct are marked with good sense and propriety and his cheerfulness and obliging disposition make him, I assure you, a very acceptable addition to our society’.2 In March 1821 George Spencer, a contemporary at school and university, reported that
the Prattery are just come to town. Brecknock is much the same as ever, as good-natured, and the most sensible and clever of the family; but they have not melted him down at all. He constantly attends the debates in Parliament, and is, I suppose, educated as for prime minister by Lord Camden. He ... himself ... would rather be a good country gentleman.
Later that year he noted that the train-bearers at the coronation, of whom Brecknock was to be one, would be dressed up like ‘monkeys’, ‘if anyone of his portly dimensions can be called a monkey’.3 Before the general election of 1820 Thomas Grenville† informed Lord Grenville that Camden, whose family had a latent interest there, ‘starts Sir W[illiam] Scott* for Bath as a locum tenens for Lord Brecknock, who is not of age till 2nd May’, but nothing came of this plan.4 In September Camden made him a deputy lieutenant of Kent, where he was lord lieutenant and had his principal estates.5 Still a wealthy man, despite having relinquished the profits of his tellership of the exchequer, he took advantage of a vacancy at the ‘snug borough’ of Ludgershall in May 1821 in order to purchase Brecknock a seat.6 True to his father’s Tory credentials, Brecknock aligned himself with the Liverpool administration, in which his aunt’s stepson, Lord Castlereagh*, was foreign secretary, and, except on the issue of Catholic relief, he invariably voted with ministers.7 However, prey to indifferent health, he was evidently a very lax attender in the House, where he hardly ever spoke.8 He voted against parliamentary reform, 9 May, the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May, and various economies, 28 May, 18, 27 June 1821. He divided against inquiry into Irish tithes, 19 June, and repeal of the salt duties, 28 June. Castlereagh’s half-brother and heir Lord Londonderry, writing to his wife, 29 Dec. 1822, fulminated against ministers and the support shown for them by Camden, whose object, he believed, was ‘to get Brecknock into the treasury or admiralty’.9
Camden wrote to Robert Peel, the home secretary, 6 Feb. 1823, that as the new session was the first that Brecknock ‘on account of being abroad has been able to form the intention of attending with that sort of regularity which would have authorized me to have requested your notice of him’, they both wished him to be placed on a number of committees where he might gain information about public business. He added that the
general disposition he has shown to support the government I conceive authorizes me, thus, to mention him to you, whilst on the other hand I venture to think, a young man in his situation, entirely independent, may upon some of the occasions to which I allude, be a useful person for the government to place upon committees.
Peel reacted favourably, and Brecknock was added to the select committee on foreign trade, courtesy of its chairman Thomas Wallace, 19 Feb., and those on the game laws, 17 Mar., and gas light establishments, 17 June.10 He voted against inquiry into the borough franchise, 20 Feb., repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., reform of the Scottish representative system, 2 June, and inquiry into the currency, 12 June 1823. In the following session he was again appointed to the select committee on foreign trade, 4 Mar., and voted against censuring ministers over the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. Peel explained to Camden, 18 Feb. 1825, that it had not been possible to accede to his request to have Brecknock added to the select committee on the state of Ireland, but he was appointed to one on the export of machinery, 24 Feb.11 He voted for the third reading of the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., but for the second and third readings of the Catholic relief bill, 21 Apr., 10 May. He was in Dublin between October and December 1825, and may well have remained in Ireland for the early months of the following year, as no trace of parliamentary attendance or activity has been found for that session.12
In late 1824 it had been rumoured that Brecknock might be returned unopposed for Kent in place of the Tory Sir Edward Knatchbull if a vacancy were to be created by his elevation to the Lords, but no such opportunity arose.13 Instead, with a dissolution expected, Camden attempted to re-establish his interest at Bath, a corporation borough, where he had sat until 1794 and still held the office of recorder. He attended the mayoral election with Brecknock, 14 Oct. 1825, and began to prepare the ground by canvassing support amongst the corporation.14 After an election meeting, at which Brecknock was so barracked as an unpopular outsider by the unenfranchised inhabitants that his speech was rendered inaudible, he succeeded against the independent candidate, Charles Palmer*, with another Tory, Lord John Thynne.15 At a dinner to celebrate their success, 29 June 1826, he claimed to have been a ‘sincere, honest and independent’ Member, and that
no man should exceed him in his attention to the support of the laws and constitution of his country; and though he generally approved of the measures of the present administration, still he was free to vote in any way that he thought best calculated to promote the commercial, and to cherish the agricultural, interests of the country.16
He attended and spoke at the mayoral dinner, 20 Oct.17 Frederick Robinson, the chancellor of the exchequer, relayed a polite rebuff from Lord Liverpool to Camden’s suggestion that Brecknock should enter office, 10 Aug. 1826, though acknowledging that he ‘could not but be acceptable to any government, both on account of his family and connections, and on account of his excellent disposition’. He added:
I cannot help thinking that it would be very desirable that Brecknock should make up his mind to try his hand at a speech next session. The House would certainly be disposed to receive him kindly, and even if the first trial did not satisfy himself, still that ought not to discourage him ... I really think it would be very useful to him, and I am sure that it would be gratifying to you to know that he could make such an effort successfully.18
He was added to the select committee on emigration, 19 Feb., and was appointed to one on communication with Ireland via Milford Haven, 21 Feb., but in other respects he remained inactive that session, his only known vote being for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827.
Camden’s applications for a position for his son reached a peak when the duke of Wellington was appointed prime minister in January 1828. The new premier responded positively, and the following month Brecknock was appointed to a place on the council of the duke of Clarence, the lord high admiral, despite some opposition from other interests within the administration.19 Palmer declined to stand against him at the subsequent by-election for Bath, where he was again returned amid an upsurge of popular hostility. The local radical newspaper printed a pseudonymous account of how the
worthy young representative assured his 30 constituents that he would ‘stick to the present administration as long as he lived’. This, with a few other such sublime sentences, which, from the modesty of the juvenile orator (he holding down his head when delivering his long speech of about three minutes’ duration), were wholly inaudible, constituted the substance of the candidate’s address to his constituents.20
He took his seat, 13 Feb., when Camden wrote to Peel to ‘recommend him to your notice and protection, confident that if he chooses to take the trouble to be useful he has the capacity to be so’.21 He voted with ministers against criticizing chancery administration, 24 Apr., and for the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July, and Fyler’s motion on the silk duties, which was carried with government support, 14 July. He again divided in favour of Catholic relief, 12 May. He took the side of his senior colleague, Sir George Cockburn*, in his disagreement with Clarence, and informed Wellington, 15 July 1828, that he would resign if Cockburn was forced out of office.22 As Robert Cavendish Spencer, Clarence’s private secretary, wrote, his ‘best friends could not have wished him to steer a course more perfectly high minded, honourable and handsome than the one he chose entirely for himself’.23 By September it was Clarence who had been removed, as Lord Colchester recorded, because of an
illegal assumption of power by his royal highness in sending orders to the admiralty, whilst he was at sea; and sending a ship of war to take soundings off the coast of Denmark. This was told me by Lord Camden, as stated by his son Lord Brecknock, who, in conjunction with the rest of the lord high admiral’s council, tendered his resignation, as declining to be responsible for such acts.24
According to Lord Palmerston’s* journal, when the admiralty secretary John Croker* informed the board that Clarence considered him the only member of it to have acted like a gentleman, ‘Brecknock broke the silence, which he is supposed to have held since his first appointment, by an humble opinion that Croker might as well not have accepted a compliment at the expense of all his colleagues’.25 The board was reconstituted under Lord Melville, and Brecknock was retained on it. He attended the dinner for the new mayor of Bath, 10 Oct., when his brief speech was described, not without irony, as ‘expressive of the great qualifications he evinced for his high office’.26 Despite his pro-Catholic votes, he was listed as sitting with the Brunswickers at the Kent anti-Catholic county meeting, 24 Oct. 1828.27
His new position necessitated another by-election at Bath in February 1829, where he was opposed by Palmer, and although expected to win, he only managed to tie. After the election had been declared void, he succeeded in a second turbulent contest: it was noted that he looked pensive in front of the threatening crowd, and that his countenance indicated ‘but little of that refined feeling and manliness of character for which the English nobility have so often been conspicuous’.28 He took his seat, 13 Mar., and voted for the third reading of the Catholic emancipation bill, 30 Mar. Despite what Lord Mahon* described as his ‘sleek and rosy appearance’, his continued ill health and the demands of his office forced him reluctantly to resign in July 1829.29 He spent much of the rest of the year recuperating.30 He was present on 11 Feb. to vote against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, and on 8 Mar., when he was excused for his absence from the ballot for the Cork election committee, 26 Feb. 1830. He was granted leave for two weeks to attend the assizes, 15 Mar. He presented a petition from the mayor and magistrates of Bath against the death penalty for forgery, 11 May. He divided against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and reducing the grant for missions to South America, 7 June 1830.
Aware of the unreliable and troublesome nature of his seat, Brecknock and his father had been looking for an alternative route into Parliament since the time of his retirement from office.31 He nevertheless started again at Bath at the general election of 1830, when he stressed his connections with the city and his independent conduct, and stated that he had ‘determined to stand the poll’. As he had expected, he was defeated by Palmer in a close contest.32 Camden immediately sought out Wellington to press on him again their favourite scheme of having Brecknock called to the Lords in his barony during his lifetime. Wellington marshalled several arguments against the idea and instead offered to bring him into the Commons. Camden informed his son that
I then said, I could give him no answer, that you had a very honourable mind and though it might be agreeable to you to be in one or other House, yet you felt so strongly what is due to those who might place you there, that I was not sure how you would feel as to such a proposition, that you would not like to be at the command of [Joseph] Planta* or Billy [Holmes*].
The prime minister, nevertheless, promised him the next available seat, without any conditions attached about attendance, but his fall from office in November 1830 left Brecknock unprovided for.33 He signed the Kentish declaration against parliamentary reform in April 1831.34 He was doubtful about offering again for Bath at the general election and, though he briefly visited the constituency, he took his father’s advice and, being very uncertain of success, he withdrew and returned to London before the poll.35 This decision was eased by the fact that Camden had already found him a seat at Dunwich, purchased from Lord Huntingfield for £1,000 a year.36 He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and for using the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, and to postpone consideration on Chippenham, 27 July. He paired against the inclusion of Cockermouth and Dorchester in schedule B, 28 July, and divided against the bill’s passage, 21 Sept. He was given a fortnight’s sick leave, 7 Oct. 1831, and being too ill to attend, he retired from the Commons in January 1832, having arranged for his seat to be transferred to Lord Lowther.37
When Peel took office in late 1834, Camden renewed his solicitations, pleading that
you are aware that Lord Brecknock continued in the House of Commons as long as his health would permit. You are also aware that he had a very severe and long illness and only on that account yielded it. It has pleased God that Lord Brecknock has recovered from the long and severe illness he has sustained but yet his health is not so firm as to induce his friends to allow him to expose himself to the fatigue and late hours of the House of Commons and he has felt the mortification of not being able to acquiesce in most honourable offers to come into Parliament. He is therefore left at his age without any connection with either House of Parliament.
Peel agreed to have him promoted to the Lords, and in return Brecknock pledged himself to be ‘amongst the firmest of your supporters’, though he later sided with the Liberals.38 In the last years of his life he served as president of the Royal Archaeological and Camden Societies. He died, of heart disease, in August 1866, and was succeeded as 3rd Marquess Camden by his eldest son, John Charles (1840-72), Liberal Member for Brecon Borough, Feb.-Aug. 1866.39
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. Cent. Kent. Stud. Camden mss U840 C247.
- 2. Ibid. C202/1; C268; C504/1.
- 3. Ibid. F162; Lady Lyttelton Corresp. 234, 236.
- 4. HMC Fortescue, x. 454.
- 5. Camden mss O266.
- 6. Lady Lyttelton Corresp. 235.
- 7. Black Bk. (1823), 140; Brougham, 1830 Result, 11.
- 8. H.S. Eeles, Lord Chancellor Camden and Fam. 263-4.
- 9. Norf. RO, Blickling Hall mss.
- 10. Add. 40353, ff. 165, 167; 40354, ff. 216-17.
- 11. Add. 40373, ff. 186-9.
- 12. Camden mss C202/11/1-24.
- 13. Kent Herald, 30 Dec. 1824.
- 14. Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 17 Oct. 1825; Camden mss C202/11/14.
- 15. Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 12 June 1826.
- 16. Ibid. 3 July; Bath Chron. 6 July 1826.
- 17. Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 23 Oct. 1826.
- 18. Camden mss C257.
- 19. Camden mss C266/7; C351/1; C528/12; Wellington mss WP1/913/8; 915/44; 920/4; Add. 40307, f. 29; Harrowby mss, Denison to Sandon, 6 Feb.; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale [Feb. 1828].
- 20. Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 4, 11, 18 Feb.; Bath Gazette, 5, 12 Feb. 1828.
- 21. Add. 40395, f. 222.
- 22. Wellington mss WP1/941/14; 942/1; Wellington Despatches, iv. 530-1; Ellenborough Diary, i. 163.
- 23. Camden mss C126/8.
- 24. Colchester Diary, iii. 583.
- 25. Bulwer, Palmerston, i. 298.
- 26. Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 13 Oct. 1828.
- 27. Kentish Chron. 28 Oct. 1828.
- 28. Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 16 Feb., 16 Mar. 1829.
- 29. Berks. RO, Pusey mss D/EBp C1/29; Camden mss C38/2A, 2B; Wellington mss WP1/1024/13; 1029/22; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 282.
- 30. Camden mss C127/1; C376/3; C442.
- 31. Ibid. C38/1.
- 32. Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 2 Aug.; Bath Gazette, 3 Aug. 1830.
- 33. Camden mss C38/1; C202/3; C212/3; Wellington mss WP1/1129/10; 1131/52; 1143/13; 1155/4.
- 34. Kentish Gazette, 26 Apr. 1831.
- 35. Three Diaries, 85; Camden mss C202/5; Bath Chron. 28 Apr., 5 May 1831.
- 36. Camden mss C202/4; Wellington mss WP1/1182/23; The Times, 2 May; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 13 Dec. 1831.
- 37. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 13 Dec. 1831.
- 38. Camden mss O257; C250/3, 4; Add. 40408, f. 141.
- 39. Gent. Mag. (1866), ii. 403.