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Sir George Savile (1726-1784)

This article was written by George Fisher Russell Barker and was published in 1898

Sir George SavileSir George Savile, a politician, was born at Savile House, Leicester Fields, on the site of which the Empire Theatre now stands, on 18 July 1726. He was the only son of Sir George Savile, bart., F.R.S., of Rufford, Nottinghamshire, M.P. for Yorkshire in George II's first parliament, by his wife Mary, only daughter of John Pratt of Dublin, deputy vice-treasurer of Ireland. He was educated at home under the care of a private tutor, and on 16 Sept. 1743 succeeded his father as the eighth baronet. At the outbreak of the rebellion in 1745 he was given the commission of captain, and he raised his company of fifty men in Yorkshire in three or four days. In the following year he went to Queens' College, Cambridge, where he graduated M.A. and LL.D. in 1749. At a by-election in January 1759 he was returned to the House of Commons for Yorkshire, and he continued to represent that county during the whole of his parliamentary career. The Duke of Newcastle in October 1761 appears to have been anxious to place Savile in office. In the session of 1763-4 he took part in the discussion of Wilkes's case, and joined in the condemnation of general warrants. Pitt during his interview with the king in June 1765 named Savile for the post of secretary at war. He was invited to take part in the Rockingham administration, which was formed after the failure of the negotiations between the king and Pitt, but he declined the offer, alleging that he could better assert his privileges and serve his friends as an independent member of parliament. Though he voted for the repeal of the Stamp Act, he seems to have warned the colonists that they might go too far in their demands. On 17 February 1768 he moved for leave to bring in his Nullum Tempus Bill, for securing the land of a subject at any time after sixty years' possession from any dormant pretension of the crown, but was defeated by 134 votes to 114. In the first session of the new parliament Savile reintroduced the bill, which, after amendment, passed through both houses and became law. On 8 May 1769 he both spoke and voted in favour of the petition against the return of Colonel Luttrell for Middlesex.

During the debate on the address on 9 January 1770, Savile declared that the majority of the house had ‘betrayed the rights and interests’ of their constituents. On Conway imputing the use of such expressions to ‘heat in debate,’ Savile rose again and deliberately repeated them. In December 1770 he supported Serjeant Glynn's motion for a committee to inquire into the administration of criminal justice. On 7 February 1771 Savile moved for leave to bring in a bill to secure the rights of electors, but his motion was defeated by 167 votes to 103. On 6 February 1772 he supported the clerical petition for relief from subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles in a remarkable speech. When it was urged that sectaries would make their way into the church if subscription were relaxed, he exclaimed, addressing the speaker, ‘Sectaries, sir! Had it not been for sectaries this cause had been tried at Rome.’ ‘I cannot help saying,’ wrote John Lee (1733-1793), ‘that I never was so affected with or so sensible of the power of pious eloquence as while Sir George was speaking. It was not only an honour to him, but to his age and country’. On 27 February 1772 he made another unsuccessful attempt to bring in a bill for securing the rights of electors. In April 1772 he was elected a member of the select committee on East Indian affairs, but declined to act, ‘being against the whole system of India affairs.’ He looked on the company's trade ‘as destructive, either from bringing in too great an increase of money, which would overturn the liberty of this country, or from many of the importations, tea especially, being destructive of the healths of the people of England.’ At the same time he ‘protested against the territorial acquisitions as public robberies’.

In March 1773 he supported the third reading of the bill for the relief of protestant dissenters. His motion for leave to bring in a bill to secure the rights of electors was again defeated on 15 February 1774. On 22 April, and again on 2 May, he protested against the bill for regulating the government of Massachusetts Bay, which he characterised as a ‘most extraordinary exertion of legislative power’. On 26 January 1775 Savile asked that Franklin might be heard at the bar in support of an address from the American colonists to the king, but the house by a majority of 150 refused even to receive the petition. During the debate on the bill for restraining the trade of the New England colonies in the following month, Savile declared that in his opinion the resistance of the colonies was justifiable. On 18 May his motion for the repeal of the Quebec government bill was defeated by 174 votes to 84. He supported Burke's bill for composing the troubles in America, on 16 November 1775, and seconded Hartley's propositions for conciliation on the 7th of the following month. His motion for the repeal of the Quebec government bill was again defeated on 14 April 1778. On 14 May following he moved for leave to bring in a bill for the relief of Roman Catholics from certain obsolete penalties and disabilities, which was passed through both houses without a division.. In June 1779 he urged the abolition of the press gang and protested against the bill for speedily manning the navy.

On 30 December he took part at an influential meeting in York, where it was agreed that a petition should be presented to the House of Commons in favour of economical reform. He presented the petition on 8 February 1780; three days afterwards Burke introduced a great measure of economical reform, and on the 15th of the same month Savile moved for an account of all places and pensions granted by the crown, but was defeated, after an adjourned debate, by a majority of two votes. During the Gordon riots at the beginning of June, his house in Leicester Fields was burnt and plundered by the rioters, to whom he was especially obnoxious as the author of the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1778. Burke records that for four nights he ‘kept watch at Lord Rockingham's or Sir George Savile's, whose houses were garrisoned by a strong body of soldiers, together with numbers of true friends of the first rank, who were willing to share their danger’. In order to show that he had no bias in favour of the Roman catholics, Savile brought in a bill to secure the protestant religion from any encroachments of popery, which passed through the House of Commons but was thrown out by the lords. He strongly opposed North's ill-considered loan of £12,000,000 and unsuccessfully moved, on 26 March 1781, for a select committee of inquiry.

On 12 June 1781 Savile supported Fox's motion for a committee to take into consideration the state of the American war, and on 7 May 1782 he warmly supported Pitt's motion for parliamentary reform. While supporting a similar motion on 6 May 1783, Savile was compelled by sudden illness to break off his speech. It does not appear that he ever spoke again in the house. He resigned his seat in November on account of the state of his health. He died at Brompton in the arms of his friend, David Hartley, on 10 January 1784, aged 57, and was buried in the family vault in Thornhill church in the West Riding of Yorkshire on the 24th.

Savile was a staunch whig of unimpeachable character and large fortune. He devoted the whole of his time to public affairs, and was greatly respected by his contemporaries for his unbending integrity and his unostentatious benevolence. In person he was slightly above the average height. He had a slender figure, a sallow complexion, and a feeble voice. Though destitute of oratorical power, his speeches were clear, forcible, and persuasive. When Fox was asked by Lord Holland who had been the best speaker in his time who had never held office, he is said to have answered, ‘Sir George Savile and Mr. Windham.’ Lord Rockingham relied greatly upon his judgment for guidance in political matters. Burke describes him as ‘a true genius, with an understanding vigorous, and acute and refined, and distinguishing even to excess; and illuminated with a most unbounded, peculiar, and original cast of imagination’. ‘He had a head,’ Horace Walpole says, ‘as acutely argumentative as if it had been made by a German logician for a model,’ while he shrewdly adds: ‘Though his reason was sharp, his soul was candid, having none of the acrimony or vengeance of party; thence was he of greater credit than service to that in which he listed’.

Rufford Abbey Rufford Abbey

Savile was a fellow of the Royal Society, vice-president of the Society of Arts and Sciences, and colonel of the first battalion of the West Riding militia. He was presented with the freedom of the town of Nottingham in July 1776, and was a warm supporter of the Yorkshire Association. He never married. The baronetcy became extinct on his death. He devised the Brierley estate in Yorkshire, and the whole of his Irish estates, which were chiefly in co. Fermanagh, to his niece, Mrs. Foljambe, daughter and heir of his elder sister, Arabella (d. 1767). The bulk of his property in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire (including Rufford and Thornhill) he left to the Hon. Richard Lumley, a younger son of his sister Barbara, wife of Richard Lumley Saunderson, fourth earl of Scarborough, who thereupon assumed the additional surname of Savile.

Savile was the author of An Argument concerning the Militia. His papers and correspondence are in the possession of the Right Hon. F. J. Savile-Foljambe at Osberton, near Worksop. A number of his letters on the subject of political and economical reform, will be found in Wyvill's ‘Political Papers’ and some few are printed in Lord Albemarle's Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham.’ Dr. Newton Ogle, dean of Winchester, who promised to write Savile's life, appears to have abandoned his self-imposed task.

There are portraits of Savile by Wilson at Osberton and at Rufford. Another portrait by Richard Wilson, R.A., was lent to the loan collection of national portraits at South Kensington in 1867 by the Trinity House, Hull. There are engravings of Savile by Basire after Wilson, and by Bartolozzi after Fisher. A marble statue of Savile was erected in York Cathedral by public subscription, and his bust adorns the mausoleum erected to the memory of Lord Rockingham in Wentworth Park.

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