Biography

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Thomas Thynne, third Viscount Weymouth and first Marquis of Bath (1734-1796)

This article was written by Gerald le Grys Norgate and was published in 1898


Lord Weymouth, a statesman, was born on 13 September 1734. He was the eldest son of Thomas, second viscount Weymouth, by his second wife, Louisa, daughter of John Carteret, earl Granville. Sir Thomas Thynne, first viscount Weymouth, was his great-grand-uncle.

After some time at St. John's College, Cambridge, Thomas completed his education by a residence on the continent. He succeeded as third Viscount Weymouth in 1751, and soon fell into dissipated courses. George II expressed to Lady Waldegrave in 1757 his concern for Weymouth's losses at play, adding that ‘he could not be a good kind of man, as he never kept company with any woman, and loved nothing but play and strong beer’. But he devoted some attention to the improvement of Longleat, where he employed Lancelot Brown, known as ‘Capability’ Brown, to replace the Dutch gardens by a fine lawn and a serpentine river.

On the accession of George III Weymouth was made a lord of the bedchamber (25 November 1760), and his wife one of the ladies in waiting to Queen Charlotte. He attached himself to the Bedfords, and was named master of the horse to the queen when, in April of the following year, they joined Grenville's ministry. By 1765 the state of his private affairs was so desperate that he was on the point of flying from his creditors to France. Consequently Bedford pressed upon Grenville Weymouth's nomination to the viceroyalty of Ireland, and after some difficulty with the king he was appointed on 29 May and sworn of the privy council. Weymouth, though he received the usual grant of £3,000 for equipage, held the viceroyalty only till the end of July, and never set foot in Ireland. Edmund Burke referred to Weymouth at this time as ‘a genteel man and of excellent natural sense’; Walpole dismisses him as ‘an inconsiderable, debauched young man attached to the Bedfords’.

Weymouth, however, soon began to make his mark as a speaker in the House of Lords. In May 1766 he made an effective attack on the proposed window tax; and when Chatham returned to power the Bedfords urged his claims to office. The negotiations for the time fell through. Weymouth remained in opposition for another year. On 27 November 1767 he gave notice of a motion to inquire into the state of the nation, to avoid which the house was adjourned. Meanwhile the Bedfords had made it a condition of their support of the Duke of Grafton ‘that Weymouth should divide the secretary's place with Shelburne,’ and on 20 January 1768 he was appointed to the northern department.

Weymouth's appointment to an important office brought about no change in his habits. He continued to sit up all night drinking and gaming at White's or Brooks's, and left most of the official business to be managed by Wood, the under-secretary. In parliament, however, he frequently made brief but able speeches. He declared against interference in favour of Corsica, on the ground that while England retained her naval superiority France could never hinder her entrance into Mediterranean ports. He also gave great satisfaction to the king, and in August was described to Grenville as one of the oracles of the court. The king's favour was largely due to the vigour with which he acted during the Wilkes riots. On 17 April he wrote to Ponton, chairman of the Southwark quarter sessions, that he was not to hesitate to apply for a military force, which he would find ‘ready to march to his assistance and to act according as he shall find it expedient and necessary.’ This letter somehow came into the possession of Wilkes, who published it on 8 December 1768 in the St. James's Chronicle, with a prefatory note, in which he said: ‘The date, prior by more than three weeks to the fatal tenth of May [when the soldiery fired on the mob in St. Giles's Fields], shows how long the design had been planned before it was carried into execution.’ Weymouth complained of the comment as a breach of privilege, and the lords declared it a scandalous and seditious libel; but the matter was ultimately taken up by the House of Commons.

When Wilkes appeared at their bar on 2 February 1769, he not only avowed the publication, but declared his object to have been to ‘forward the impeachment of the noble lord’ who wrote ‘that bloody scroll.’ He was expelled the house. In ‘Junius'sfirst letter Weymouth is ironically complimented on his action, which was prompted by ‘the deliberate motion of his heart, supported by the best of his judgment.’ The king's correspondence with him during April and May shows that Weymouth was acting almost under his personal direction.

On the resignation of Shelburne, in October 1768, Weymouth was transferred to the southern department, an arrangement which provoked the scorn of ‘Junius,’ as his new colleague, Rochford, had much better qualifications for it. He held office till the close of 1770. He concluded an arrangement with the East India Company in 1769, one condition of which was a restriction of their dividends, a measure against which he had signed a protest the year before; and he made the first attempt to obtain for the crown some control over the political affairs of the company. Relations with France and Spain were in a very strained condition in 1769-70, and Weymouth, says Walpole, ‘was not apt to avoid hostile measures.’ A French ship entering an English harbour and refusing to lower her pennant was fired at, and France threatened reprisals. Weymouth sent a vigorous reply, which Walpole insinuated was penned by his under-secretary with the view of lowering the stocks.

No sooner had this affair blown over than a dispute arose with Spain as to the possession of the Falkland Islands. In September 1770 news came that the governor of Buenos Ayres had driven out the British settlers in Port Egmont. On 22 November, when the Duke of Richmond moved for papers bearing on the question, Weymouth resisted the motion as inopportune pending the negotiations.. Weymouth demanded from the Spanish government the disavowal of the action of the governor of Buenos Ayres and the restitution of the settlers, and, when this was conceded, refused to agree to a convention under which the question of the claim to the islands was reserved. At the end of the year war appeared highly probable. The question was complicated by the attempt of France to mediate. While the matter was yet unsettled Weymouth suddenly resigned (16 December). His action was popularly attributed to the want of support he received, but was more probably explained by his fear of having to conduct a war, and was possibly due to jealousy of Hillsborough, the newly created colonial secretary. His management of the whole negotiation was mysterious. Thomas Walpole, the secretary of the embassy at Paris, complained of the vague instructions he received, and Choiseul, the French minister, said of the two secretaries of state, ‘Milord Weymouth ne parle point et milord Rochfort parle trop.’ Rochford also told North that Weymouth ‘did not wish to make war or know how to make peace.’ Horace Walpole accuses Weymouth of a wish to overthrow North and ‘share or scramble for his power.’

In the debate in the House of Lords on 13 February 1771 which followed Spain's recognition of the English pretensions to the Falkland Islands, though Chatham and Shelburne spoke, ‘all expectation hung on Weymouth'. He ‘expressed himself with much obscurity and mystery,’ and maintained that there was no material difference (as the opposition contended) between the terms he had claimed and those now agreed to. He did not go into opposition, and as early as June 1771 his name was mentioned for the office of lord privy seal should Grafton decline it.

In August 1772, when dissensions arose in the cabinet over the question of the Ohio grants, North, wishing to strengthen himself, offered Weymouth one of the secretaryships of state, though Rigby had previously told him he would not accept it. Weymouth haughtily rejected the offer. Though not regularly in opposition, he at this period took an independent line. On 8 March 1774 he spoke against Grenville's election committee bill. Though he opposed Chatham's resolution of 20 January 1775 for the recall of the troops from America, it was with so many compliments to the mover that ‘he seemed to think the latter would still be minister once more’. When Chatham's conciliation bill was presented (1 February). Weymouth was absent, according to Walpole, out of compliment to him and through jealousy of North. He was partially conciliated in the following month by his appointment as groom of the stole (29 March), but ‘still looked to better himself by a change.’

On Rochford's retirement Weymouth was reappointed secretary of state for the southern department (10 November 1775), and during the next four years he generally conducted the government business in the House of Lords. During the discussion of Richmond's motion (5 March 1776) to countermand the march of German troops and for the suspension of hostilities in America, Weymouth twitted Grafton and Camden with responsibility for the present state of affairs caused by their own action when his colleagues. On 30 May 1777 he opposed Chatham's motion for putting a stop to hostilities in America as inadequate and ill-timed, in view of the commission recently appointed to negotiate with the colonists. In reply to a second speech by Chatham, he said that his remarks were founded on the erroneous supposition that Great Britain was the aggressor in the quarrel; he declared that France had never been more friendly.

Walpole in his account of the same debate asserts that Weymouth ‘remarkably denied that the court held any such doctrine’ as the unconditional submission of the colonies, in flat contradiction to the language of his colleague in the other house, Lord George Germain. The same authority represents him a few months later as ‘for peace at any rate,’ though of opinion that ‘ministers must go on to save their heads.’ On 16 February 1778 he renewed former assurances of the pacific professions of France, ‘but would not hold himself answerable to be called upon should a war happen to break out shortly’. On 5 March he assured the lords ‘in the plainest and most precise manner’ that he knew of no treaty having been signed or entered into between France and the deputies of the American congress. But on the 17th he had to announce such a treaty, and to move a resolution assuring the king of support. On 7 April, when Richmond opened the debate which was remarkable for the dying effort of Chatham, Weymouth made a spirited speech in which he declared the motion (for the withdrawal of troops from America and the dismissal of ministers) as an infringement of the prerogative. When the debate was resumed after the adjournment caused by Chatham's illness, neither Weymouth nor any other minister made any reply.

On 19 March Fox, speaking in the other house, said he was sorry to include his own friend Weymouth in his condemnation of ministers. Thurlow, who was Weymouth's protégé, having replied ironically, Fox rose to excuse himself, but ‘launched out still more severely against Weymouth’. In the House of Lords, Shelburne (while professing sincere respect for Weymouth) also commented very severely upon his conduct. During 1778-9 Lord North's anxiety to resign office led to frequent negotiations, in which Weymouth took a leading part. The king always stipulated that he was to have any office which suited his inclination, and that his friend Thurlow should become lord chancellor.

Negotiations with both the Grafton and Rockingham sections of the opposition were set on foot. Weymouth himself began the latter in the early summer of 1778 by passing a night drinking with Fox.. The treasury and great seal were to be reserved by the king, ‘the first in a great measure, if not wholly, for Weymouth’ (Portland to Rockingham, 29 May 1778). The negotiation was resumed towards the end of the year, when it was proposed that Weymouth should have the treasury and Thurlow the chancellorship, while North, with the more unpopular of his colleagues, was to retire in favour of the opposition leaders. The troops were to be withdrawn from America, ‘as from necessity or prudence,’ and a vigorous war carried on with France. The retiring ministers were not to be attacked, and were to have the three vacant Garters. Weymouth was consequently invested with the order of the Garter on 3 June 1778. Fox was willing to acquiesce in the arrangement, but negotiations were broken off early in 1779 because Rockingham insisted on being head of the coalition.

In February 1779 the king empowered Weymouth to negotiate with Grafton. He met him on the 3rd, but ‘found no reason to ground any hopes of coalition’. In March 1779, on the resignation of Suffolk, Weymouth took charge of the northern department in addition to his own seals. On 11 May he opposed Rockingham's motion for remedial measures in Ireland on the ground that a repeal of laws restricting trade must originate in the lower house. On 2 June, in speaking upon a similar proposal by Shelburne, he denied that ministers were averse from giving relief to Ireland. On the 17th he announced to the peers the rupture of relations with Spain, and moved an address of support to the crown. In the autumn Weymouth and Gower, dissatisfied with their failure to effect a coalition and disliking the continuance of the war with America, resigned office. On 21 October Weymouth gave up the seals of the northern department, and he resigned those of the southern department a month later (25 November).

Weymouth never again held an important office, though in May 1782 he was appointed groom of the stole when Rockingham took office for the second time. He refused to give any active support to the whig ministers, and when the coalition of Fox and North was formed, the king wrote to Weymouth ‘to desire his support against his new tyrants’. In June he was acting in concert with Thurlow and Dundas to effect a new change, and on the 30th inst., when Temple moved for an account of the fees received in offices, he absented himself, though he had promised ministers his support unless the king forbad him.

Notwithstanding the king's favour, Weymouth received no office from Pitt in 1783, though he supported him on the regency question. He and his wife retained their court offices for the rest of his life. He was created LL.D. by Cambridge University in July 1769. In June 1770 he became master of the Trinity House, and in May 1778 a governor of the Charterhouse.
On 25 August 1789 he was created Marquis of Bath. In August 1793 he was appointed a member of the board of agriculture. He died at his house in Arlington Street on 19 November 1796, and was buried at Longbridge Deverell, where there is a handsome marble record and inscription on the north side of the chancel.

Horace Walpole in his Memoirs of George III twice sketches elaborately Weymouth's character. In spite of his indolence and love of dissipation, he was able to present a dignified appearance in public, and to express himself in the House of Lords with elegance, quickness, and some knowledge, his tall and handsome figure aiding the effect. He could reason acutely and had a retentive memory, and ‘a head admirably turned to astronomy and mechanics.’ But he neither had nor affected any solid virtue. Ambition, his only passion, could not surmount his laziness; his timidity was womanish, the only thing he did not fear being the opinion of mankind. To panic Walpole mainly attributes his first sudden resignation. Wraxall describes his conversation in convivial moments as delightful; and Sir George Trevelyan remarks that any one who sat up with Weymouth might get a notion of how his grandfather, the brilliant Carteret, used to talk when reaching his second bottle. Charles James Fox and the Prince of Wales were among his boon companions at Brooks's and at White's.

Weymouth married, in May 1759, Elizabeth Cavendish Bentinck, elder daughter of the second Duke of Portland. She died, at the age of ninety-one, on 12 December 1825. All her daughters, says Mrs. Delany, were beautiful and good. Only five of ten survived their father. Louisa, the eldest, married Heneage, fourth earl of Aylesford; Henrietta, the third, became the second wife of the fifth Earl of Chesterfield; Isabella, the youngest, was lady of the bedchamber to the Duchess of Gloucester. Weymouth was succeeded as Marquis of Bath by his eldest son, Thomas Thynne (1765-1837), the grandfather of John Alexander Thynne, fourth marquis. His second son, George Thynne (1770-1838), succeeded in 1826 his uncle Henry Frederick Thynne as Baron Carteret of Hawnes, and was himself succeeded by his younger brother, John Thynne (1772-1849), on whose death the barony became extinct.


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