Chapter I: An Independent Old Corps Whig


Born in 1719, Henry Seymour Conway was the second son of Francis Seymour Conway 1st Baton Conway and Charlotte, daughter of Sir John Shorter, a London merchant.[1] Francis Seymour—the name Conway was added when he inherited the estates of the Anglo-Irish Earls of Conway in 1699—was a son of Sir Edward Seymour, an outstanding figure in the House of Commons in the latter half of the seventeenth century. Sir Edward served and opposed every monarch from Charles II to Anne either as Speaker of the House or in some ministerial capacity, and although he was a Tory he and his political allies (the Hyde family led by the Earl of Rochester) were noted for the ease with which they could sacrifice principle for place. Still, he was essentially a House of Commons man and his zeal for the privileges and honor of the House sometimes bordered on the outrageous. In 1688 he was one of the first to go over to William although later he became one of his most virulent critics. In 1702 he took a prominent place in Anne’s first ministry only to be driven out and into retirement two years later because of his divisive anti-Whig attacks and inability to deliver needed votes.[2] Long before his fall, however, Sir Edward had provided for his sons. Francis was his fourth son, the second by his second wife, Laetitia Popham. She was a cousin of the Earl of Conway and the union of her eldest son with the heiress of the Conway family had brought an income of L7, 000 per annum into the family; an income which devolved upon Francis (while still a student at Oxford) on his brother’s death.[3] Although the Conway family seat was at Ragley in Warwickshire, the estate was mainly an Irish one with extensive holdings and interest in county Antrim. Throughout the seventeenth century the family was primarily concerned in Irish affairs, a concern the Seymour Conways came to share. In 1702 as a favor to his father, Francis was raised to the peerage as Baron Conway—one of the four Tory creations in Anne’s first year.[4] Although Sir Edward was dead by 1712, Lord Conway’s fidelity to Robert Harley in that year won him an Irish peerage. He was created Baron Conway and Killutagh (co. Antrim).

Lord Conway was not as active in politics as his father, and after the Whig triumph in 1714, we hardly hear of him again. Henry Seymour Conway could expect to benefit from his father’s wealth and position but he was a second son and, for the most part, he had to make his own way in the world. Fortunately for him, his father, through a third marriage to Charlotte Shorter in 1716 connected himself and his sons-to-be with the most prominent Whig of the next three decades, Sir Robert Walpole. Charlotte was the younger sister of Walpole’s wife, Catherine, and their father, John Shorter, besides being a wealthy London merchant was described by Horace Walpole as “an honest sensible Whig.”[5] The marriage of his eldest daughter to Walpole in 1700 had cost Shorter a considerable dowry, but in time the family gained sufficient return on the investment.[6] Even to a Tory like Lord Conway the connection with the Shorters and Walpole paid dividends. In 1728 he became an Irish Privy Councilor and governor of Carrickfergus castle in Belfast.[7] Lord Conway died in Ireland in 1732 and Charlotte passed away two years later, by which time Sir Robert had already taken the Conway children under his protection.

A class list for 1732 shows that Henry Seymour Conway and his elder brother, Francis, 2nd Baron Conway and later Earl of Hertford, were both at Eton in that year.[8] Sir Robert always took a particular interest in his old school and with the appointment of his friend and classmate Henry Bland as Headmaster in 1720 Eton became a Whig stronghold.[9] At Eton Conway and his cousin, Horace Walpole, struck up that friendship which lasted until the end of their lives. In 1761 Horace Walpole asked Conway, “since I was fifteen have not I loved you unalterably?”[10] Walpole was fifteen in 1732 and had been at Eton five years when Conway arrived, fatherless and two years his junior/ There he began to develop that fraternal, almost maternal, concern for his cousin’s well being which led him in these early years to keep Sir Robert in mind of Conway. On leaving Eton Conway chose a military career, and in 1737 his uncle, at the behest of Lord Conway and Horace Walpole, obtained a commission for him, although not until after he passed up a commission in the Duke of Argyll’s regiment. Conway was aware of Argyll’s animosity towards his uncle and “anybody that bears any relation to or has any dependence on him.”[11] Already he was finding his enemies among the opponents of his uncle, and his friends in those circles closest to Sir Robert.

Family ties and a sense of obligation bound Conway to his uncle, but not more than the regard he had for him as a statesman. He kept in close contact with Sir Robert. They met at the same fashionable places, they dined together on occasion, and Walpole was not above discussing politics with his nephew. The importance of such contact is difficult to assess but in any event Conway entered the world sharing the views of his uncle. In 1737, for example, he wrote to Horace Walpole of the bill preparing in the House of Commons to restrain the license of the stage, a measure provoked by some recent plays which had represented the King and the Prince of Wales and been especially scurrilous on Walpole.

Such indecency certainly calls for the notice and animadversion of the legislature; and is really of the most dangerous consequence to the state; when the sovereign and the chief magistrates are publicly exposed in that light and contemptible manner, it must greatly lessen the authority of the government, and may by the increase of such a liberty tend to the subversion of it.[12]

In the next few years he gloried in Walpole’s successes and scorned his defeated enemies. When in February 1741 Sir Robert defeated a motion calling for his removal from the King’s counsels, Conway likened his performance to “Cimon’s triumphs over land and wave,” and told Horace Walpole to “read Milton’s description of Satan and his crew of fallen angels” for a picture of the opposition.[13] Indeed he characterized the opposition—“that mingled mass of Jacobites, Tories, Whigs, Republicans, etc., men of principles and of no principles”—in much the same way that Sir Robert did in Parliament.[14]

Given his connection with Walpole it was no wonder that Conway was brought into the House of Commons in the election of 1741 when only twenty-two years of age. Family pressure and the demands of a career—for young officers the road to success appeared to lie through Parliament—pushed him ahead despite a reluctance on his part. In 1741 his brother, whose estates in Ireland gave him considerable electoral influence there, put him up for election to the Irish Parliament. Conway groaned that he was,

condemned to go to the assizes at Carrickfergus in the County of Antrim and then and there to be barbarously and inhumanely set up as candidate for the ensuing election of a member to represent the said county.[15]

Lord Conway wished him in the English Parliament as well, and did his best to get Conway chosen in 1741. Negotiations took place to bring him in for Thetford, a borough controlled by the Duke of Grafton who had recently become Lord Conway’s father-in-law.[16] These negotiations fell through and Sir Robert eventually found Conway a seat for Higham Ferrers (Northants), a nomination borough of the Earl of Malton, later 1st  Marquis of Rockingham.[17] Lord Malton was a close associate of Walpole’s, another sign that Conway entered the great world not only as a Whig, but as a member of the Old Corps, that group of Whigs most closely identified with Sir Robert, and the King. In future years, after the Whigs had broken apart, Conway remained identified with those who were most attached to the memory of Sir Robert.

His first session in the House of Commons was his uncle’s last. Faced with an opposition swollen by defections from administration Walpole found the House unmanageable. He resigned and took a peerage, but as the Earl of Orford he continued until his death in 1745 to wield a good deal of influence over the King, over some of the new ministers, and over his old friends. When he urged his friends to support administration, they became the mainstay of the new ministry. In October 1742 Conway’s name appeared on Henry Pelham’s list of 295 potential supporters, and he and a few other officers were allowed back from Flanders by the administration to vote in the upcoming session.[18] In general, Conway did as expected. On the most important issue of that session—taking the Hanoverian troops into British pay—he voted with government.[19]

There were, however, at least two exceptions to this rule, and they tell a great deal about his character and convictions. In his Memoirs Horace Walpole introduced Conway as “a young officer, who having set out upon a plan of fashionable virtue had provoked the King and Duke [of Cumberland] by voting against the Army at the beginning of the war.”[20] More light is thrown on this “plan of fashionable virtue” by a letter from Walpole to Conway in 1746 when the latter was with the Duke of Cumberland’s army in Scotland. Besides pursing rebels Conway was seeking a regiment, but back in London Walpole had discovered that his cousin’s earlier political conduct had created a difficulty.

Mr. Pelham told me: the King had mentioned the Duke’s particular recommendation of you for one of the vacant regiments to him; had been pleased himself to say you was a brave young fellow, and a good officer, and felt himself disposed to do it: but said fairly at the same time he must own he had one difficulty that remained with him; which was a fondness that you had shown by a vote or two you had given for popular bills and which he was apprehensive might extend to your whole way of thinking upon matters of that kind….[21]

From Walpole’s answer to Pelham it is clear that one of Conway’s offensive votes—“given by a young man when he first came into the world”—had been for a place bill.[22] By the 1740’s support of place bills and opposition to the Army had ceased to be purely Tory positions and become “popular” positions used by oppositions because of their wide appeal both within and without doors. Voting for place bills appealed to many Members, whether Whig or Tory, who prided themselves on their independence, A.S. Foord has characterized place bills as “unexceptionable in principle, consonant with existing law, and appealing to the political conscience of the governing class.”[23] Sir Robert Walpole himself had been reluctant to oppose such measures directly, preferring to let them pass the Commons and be killed in the Lords. Horace Walpole’s statement that Conway’s vote for a place bill “was given by a young man when he first came into the world,” probably places that vote in the session of 1742-3. At the beginning of the session the country party opposition attempted to embarrass their former leaders who had joined administration by bringing in a place bill. The attempt was beaten back by 221-196 as most of the Whigs supported the ministry. If Conway voted for the bill on this occasion, Horace Walpole’s jibe about his cousin’s “plan of fashionable virtue” suggests it was a matter of conscience.

Rivaling place bills in popularity was opposition to the Army and involvement on the Continent. The decision of the new ministry in April 1742 to send 16,000 English troops to Flanders to relieve French pressure on Austria, and the subsequent decision to take an equal number of Hanoverian troops into British pay raised a storm of opposition all based on the fear that Britain’s interests were being sacrificed to those of Hanover. It was not only Tories and New Whigs who had qualms about Carteret and his policies, for many of the Old Corps found them difficult to accept. Despite some defections the Whigs supported those policies in the session of 1742-3. In the next, however, criticism of the conduct of the Hanoverians at Dettingen fanned popular resentment to the point where the ministry was on the verge of collapse. In December 1743 although a motion for the disbanding of the Hanoverians was defeated, some defections from the ministerial side led the Pelhams to consider dropping the troops. Deprecating this insult to the King and fearing its effect on the Old Corps Lord Orford rallied his friends to support of the measure.[24] Although Conway’s vote or votes against the Army were not recorded, they probably came during this session. Like many of the officers at Dettingen he was angered by the conduct of the Hanoverians, [25] but like many an Old Corps Whig his mind was apparently changed by his uncle’s intervention. The decisive vote came in the Committee of Supply where the funds were voted 271-226, and Conway’s behavior on that occasion caught the eye of Philip Yorke,

Col. Conway’s speaking for the question was matter of surprise to those who knew in what manner he had treated it in his private conversation: He allowed there were inconveniences in taking these forces again, but they were overbalanced by much greater, which would attend the turning them off;==his performance was a handsome one.[26]

In this debate a concerted effort was made to show that Lord Orford was standing firmly by the administration on this question. His son Horace seconded the vote of supply, the next speaker for administration was Conway, and the leading role in the debate was taken by his brother, Old Horace Walpole.  Conway could be persuaded by someone close to him whose judgment he respected. Despite his being a young officer whose career might depend on the favor of administration, Conway felt free to oppose ministers on issues which touched the conscience of many Englishmen, especially when those ministers were men whom his uncle and friends had little reason to respect.

Such early Votes mark him as an independent Old Corps Whig. The independent’s professed ideal of right conduct in Parliament was set forth by Governor Pitt early in the century in counseling his son:

Avoid faction, and never enter the House prepossessed; but attend diligently to the debate, and vote according to you conscience and not for any sinister end whatever.[27]

Despite the freedom of independents from obligation and their vaunted resolves to vote their own conscience, they generally supported the government which the King had chosen. Only when they were convinced that he had not chosen ministers freely, or that these were forcing him into dangerous or unconstitutional paths, did they vote against administration. Throughout his career Conway appeared to his contemporaries as one of the few who paid more than lip service to the ideal of independence. In his aversion to those things which limited one’s ability to vote according to conscience Conway certainly shared many of the attitudes of an independent. In February 1741, for example, after his uncle’s triumph over the opposition, he wrote to Horace Walpole:

So much for politics. If I go on any farther You’ll think I have caught the contagion and am grown as politically mad as any of my countrymen, but you must know for all this that nobody is so indifferent in party matters. I seldom think about them, and when I do I sometimes think one in the wrong and sometimes t’other, but commonly both; when I am angry at either side I rail and for that moment am courtier or patriot just as it happens…[28]

Three years of experience in public life did not change his views and in 1744 he confessed to Horace Walpole:

I am afraid I could see the balance of Europe shake with tolerable philosophy if he quiet possessions of my friends and attachments were secured to me. I wish all the world happy with all my heart, but they will give me leave to wish myself so too. I would even sacrifice a great deal to make them really so, but not to nourish the pride of any system or any faction, great or little, in the universe…I only wish them all of one mind in politics and religion…[29]

This desire to be his own man was characteristic of Conway. Even while he as a handsome and accomplished young officer had no difficulty in participating in the lively social life of the London world, his friends noticed that he was different from most. Their obvious affection for him allowed them to comment playfully on his “gravity” and “seriousness” and they enjoyed ragging him about his hatred of drunkenness and lewd talk. He was no frivolous gallant. As he was about to stand for election to the Irish Parliament he wrote to Horace Walpole:

I am going [to] be loaded with honours that I am so far from coveting at the present…’Tis thus, my dear Horry, that we are hurried down the stream of life, always looking one way and rowing another…Here I am obliged to give a forced preference to a situation that the world thinks more honourable, when I should think myself more happy in following inclinations that would lead me a more private but a pleasanter way, and I believe make me a better, and, if anything would, an abler man: I don’t pretend to be so philosophical as to divest myself of all ambition but I can’t help thinking that deserving honours without being in possession of them is more honourable…than being loaded like a herald with badges that belong to other people…[30]

He entered the world determined never to sacrifice character to ambition. Again confiding in Walpole he wrote,

I think it is barely possible I may be happy one time or other; but if I am not to be so in the way I desire, I assure you neither honour, nor interest, nor regiments, nor generalships, nor kingdoms can give it me.[31]

Honours, interest, and regiments did not necessarily lead a man to abandon character. No one could be free of obligations, but if one were obligated only to family, friends, or to those who shared the same convictions, character and independence need not be lost. Conway always preferred working with likeminded friends, and he had a real difficulty  in making the casual acquaintances and fleeting alliances that were common in politics. This difficulty, which led his warmest friends to call him “cold,” he experienced even in the army. Writing from the Flanders camp in 1742 he told Horace Walpole,

I have formed no sort of alliance or connexion. I don’t know how it is some people are made so that they form friendships in a moment and stick like burrs to the first person they meet…Adieu! dear Horry.  Je m’en tiens a mes anciens…[32]

On receiving the compliments of his friends after Fontenoy, he assured his brother,

I have no notion of any other happiness but the enjoyment of one’s friends and connections, and, of course, can think nothing so valuable as their regard.[33]

At first sight it might seem difficult to reconcile Conway’s independent spirit with his Old Corps ties. Sir Robert Walpole and his friends were among the staunchest supporters of government in the reigns of George I and George II, and some of them like the titular leader of the Old Corps, the Duke of Devonshire, were renowned courtiers. Nevertheless, to call Conway an independent Old Corps Whig involves more of a redundancy than a contradiction. Few considered themselves more independent than the members of the Old Corps. The importance of their families and positions kept them out of the reach of ministers and they were noted for the ease with which they spoke their minds before the King, in ministerial gatherings, and in Parliament. They prided themselves on voting their own conscience and condemned corruption, place-seeking, faction and opposition. In 1751 Old Horace Walpole told the House,

I shall act in concert with that body of gentlemen who are without doors called the old corps; a body of men, who, with scarce any other bias or encouragement then that of voting agreeably to their own sentiments, have never swerved from pursuing an uniform conduct for the preservation of the present establishment.[34]

The Whigs, especially the Old Corps, could be led but never driven. After Walpole’s fall they supported the Pelhams only when they and their former leader were courted and their views respected. The Duke of Newcastle’s lack of control over the Old Corps was the source of one of the many anxieties that constantly plagued him. Even after the Whigs had split up and numerically the Old Corps had become insignificant, the Duke continued to exhibit what to many was an excessive concern for their feelings. As the Dowager Princess of Wales complained,

He will say, “the party will not come into it;” the party this, and the party that: but I could never understand what the party was; I have endeavour’d to learn, and I could never find that the party was anything else, but the Duke of Devonshire, and his son, and old Horace Walpole.[35]

Newcastle’s concern, however, was based on the realization that an Old Corps Whig with his reputation for independence and honesty was worth more in Parliament than a gang of place-seekers.

As Old Horace Walpole made clear their consciences (like those of most independents) led them to support the King and the administration which he had chosen, especially when those governments were usually in the hands of their leaders. Support of government rather than resistance was the essence of their Whiggism, as Henry Pelham pointed out in 1753 in distinguishing between a constitutional and a factious resistance.

A constitutional resistance is that made against an administration, which advises he sovereign to incroach upon the liberties of the people, or the privileges of parliament, and to pursue measures, evidently subversive of the constitution. A factious resistance, is that which is offered to a just and wise government, and a sovereign who has ever made the law of the land the rule of his conduct; and this resistance has never any other origin, than private or party interest, or resentment. Constitutional resistance is the true Whig principle.[36]

Bred up in the Old Corps it was natural for Conway to share many of the attitudes of an independent. His votes for a place bill and against the Army annoyed the King and possibly Henry Pelham, but since they did not involve him in any break with his important friends, or alter his basic support of government, they did little harm to his career.

At the close of the session in 1744 Conway was made aide-de-camp to Marshal Wade, the commander of he army in Flanders. Still, he was a struggling young officer. In July 1744 when a market decline adversely effected his small amount of South Sea stock, he complained to Horace Walpole, “I am absolutely ruined. My fortune…is sunk to nothing at all at present, and not the least prospect I doubt of seeing it mend.”[37] The financial circumstances prevented him from marrying Lady Caroline Fitzroy, a daughter of the Duke of Grafton. Horace Walpole wrote to him:

I see as strongly as you can all the arguments for your breaking off’ but, indeed, the alteration of your fortune adds very little strength to what they had before. You never had fortune enough to make such a step at all prudent.[38]

Walpole made a generous offer of aid which Conway refused, preferring, if he need be dependent, to depend on his brother:

My mind begins to be formed a little to dependence. I find it is my lot, and I must endeavour to bear it with as little reluctance as possible; and as this [Walpole’s offer] would be only a change of dependence, I could certainly place it nowhere so well, as upon one whom I even feel a pleasure in being obliged to, as I would be bound to him [his brother] by all possible ties.[39]

It was, however, the connection with the Walpole’s that eventually brought Conway financial independence. In March1745 Horace Walpole prevailed upon his dying father to request Conway’s appointment as an aide-de-camp to the Duke of Cumberland, the King’s favorite son, who was about to take command of the British forces on the Continent. Cumberland had “great aversion” to doing this because of Conway’s former votes against the Army, but Lord Orford’s last request could not be denied.[40]

‘The Duke,’ as he was commonly known, was the second surviving son of George II. Born in 1721 he quickly came into all the honors and places that awaited a member of the royal family. His parents had initially intended a naval career for him, but he chose the Army, his father’s first love. The young Duke was with the King at Dettingen and distinguished himself. Two years later with a campaign about to open in Flanders he was placed in sole command of the Army with the rank of Captain-General. This rank, which he was the first to hold since Marlborough, conferred enormous power, and as long as he held it Cumberland was a leading figure in both military and political affairs. In politics the Duke was always noted for his closeness to his father, in striking contrast to the Prince of Wales. He tended to work with those politicians whom he regarded as the great supporters of the Hanoverian succession, and came after 1745 to have very close ties with the remnants of the Old Corps.[41] In terms of his previous connections Conway’s movement into the Duke’s camp was not unnatural. From 1745 to 1754 nothing was so important in his career as his connection with the Duke. It brought him more and more prestigious regiments, and when the Seven Years War broke out, he was well up in the list of officers awaiting a major command. At the same time he attended Parliament regularly but usually limited himself to military matters. In general, he supported government and, in particular, he was an outspoken defender of the Duke and his military reforms. He became, according to Horace Walpole, “a chief favorite” of the Duke, “by most distinguished bravery in the battles of Fontenoy and Lafffelt,” and also, “by a steady defense of military measures on all occasions….”[42]

Although Conway’s early votes against the Army had created a bias against him in the Duke’s mind, his performance as a soldier overcame that bias. He was no ordinary soldier. His bravery early became subject of renown, but he also appears to have been a progressive, reforming officer. In matters of discipline Sir John Fortescue singled him out, along with Wolfe and Ligonier, as “less rigid, less narrow, and more humane.”[43] He had written in 1742,

I would not change my profession for any other I know; and yet at the same time I had rather be a scrivener, an exciseman, what you will, than a mere soldier and command armies; for your mere soldier I take to be as far removed from humanity as any wild beast in Libya; unknowing, unpolished, unsociable, with savage manners, narrow principles, and a weak head to govern a strong heart. He thinks all life confined to the army, and hardly knows that there exist human creatures wearing brown coats or black gowns; and even within the verge of his own profession his pride and ambition make him hate all above him and despise all below him. He loves you furiously, but would cut your throat at any time to give half-a-dozen fools like himself an opinion of his courage. He loves his country too in general, vehemently, but hates every individual in it; and is through conscience and duty professed enemy to all mankind besides.[44]
Two years later he reflected:

I look upon soldiers as men and not as beasts of burden, and I could wish that those who think so lightly of their merit or their service were to make a trial of what they undergo.[45]
According to Fortescue, such a view was not in accord with the “system of Cumberland.”[46] Yet, the Duke was a commander who recognized and rewarded merit; and when Conway showed his mettle in the campaigns of 1745 and 1746, friendship, regard for each other’s opinions, and mutual fidelity grew between the two young soldiers.

Conway arrived in the Duke’s camp just before the battle of Fontenoy. To his account of that battle Horace Walpole replied,
You have one spice of madness! Your admiration of your master leaves me a glimmering of hope, that you will not always be so unreasonably reasonable….Indeed, your master is not behind-hand with you; you seem to have agreed to puff one another.[47]
Cumberland’s report of the battle did single out Conway for special praise. “Mr. Conway,” Walpole noted to Horace Mann, “has highly distinguished himself, he and Lord Petersham…are most commended.”[48] In July 1745 Cumberland recommended a regiment for Conway.[49] Nothing came of this but throughout the year he supported Conway’s attempts to by-pass seniority and purchase a regiment. In October Conway told Walpole that “the D. (whose goodness to me I can never be grateful enough for) is now pushing for a regiment for me…”[50] Finally, in April 1746, after serving with the Duke at Culloden, he became colonel of the 48th Foot. The regiment was of great importance to Conway. The resulting improvement in his fortune smoothed the way in December 1747 for his marriage with Caroline, Lady Ailesbury, a young widow who was a daughter of the 4th Duke of Argyll. At the same time it was the means by which he would become his own man, free of onerous obligations. He told his brother that the attainment of the regiment would have the effect “of freeing both you and myself from an obligation which, one day or other, we might find a charge.”[51] He certainly had to be grateful to Cumberland but, as in his attachment to his uncle, friendship and a similarity of view counted perhaps even more in associating him with the Duke politically.

In 1746, as Cumberland set out on the last campaign against the Jacobites, Horace Walpole wrote,
The Duke; the soldiers adore him;…he has a lion’s courage, vast vigilance and activity; and, I am told, great military genius…Lord Bury and Mr. Conway, two of his aides-de-camp, and brace as he, are gone with him:…The ministry would have kept back Mr. Conway, as being in Parliament; which when the Duke told hi, he burst into tears, and protested that nothing should hinder his going—and he is gone.[52]
Two years later, at the end of the war in Europe, the Duke prevented Conway’s regiment from being broken.[53] During peacetime they dined together, rode together, and Conway was a confidant and frequent advisor. When Horace Walpole ranked the Duke as one of the five great men of the age, his judgment probably owed something to the opinion of his cousin.[54] No wonder Conway tended to identify with and be identified with Cumberland politically. Moreover, as an independent Old Corps Whig his first loyalty was to the King, and by 1745 those issues that induced him to vote with opposition had largely disappeared. Conway’s support of government and aversion to opposition was confirmed after 1745 by the animosity that existed between the Duke and the Prince of Wales, the source of most oppositions during the reign of their father. His friendship with Cumberland ensured that Conway would never have anything to do with Leicester House.

In the election of 1747 Conway was brought into Parliament for Penryn by Lord Edgecumbe, one of his uncle’s old friends, and a leading borough monger whose interest was usually exerted in behalf of government. Electoral lists for that Parliament and the next identify Conway as an “army officer,” a sure sign of the importance of his connection with Cumberland.[55] Although the officers were traditionally among the steadiest supporters of government, from 1746 to 1757 the ministers of the Crown had little control over them. In those years the Duke’s exclusive control over army patronage kept that influence out of their hands. An incident in 1756, noted by Lewis Namier, illustrated this lack of ministerial control.
When Fox was Secretary of State in Newcastle’s administration, the Duke of Cumberland, his patron, acted as whip for the officers in the House. ‘I spoke to the Duke this morning,’ wrote Fox to Newcastle on 20 March 1756, ‘who most cordially assured me that he would have every officer applied to that he could.’ [56]
Obviously, neither Fox, the Manager in the House and Cumberland’s lieutenant, nor the Duke of Newcastle, First Lord of the Treasury and ostensible controller of patronage, had much to do with the parliamentary conduct of the officers. [57] It was the Duke alone who could have them applied to. Such application, however, was rarely needed; first, because the officers were inclined to support government anyway, and, second, because their  personal, professional, and political obligations rarely led them away from that bias.

In the late 1740’s Cumberland’s closeness to his father, his control over the Army, and his quarrels with the Pelhams, were all combining to create a “Cumberland party” whose leaders were Henry Fox in the House of Commons, and the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Sandwich in the House of Lords. Strictly speaking the army officers were not of this party, but like it they supported government while looking for leadership to the Duke rather than the Pelhams.[58] However, the Duke and his influence were most feared at Leicester House and even before 1749 the Prince of Wales encouraged his followers to attack his brother, especially his control over the Army. Almost annually oppositions appealed to fears of a standing army, and attacked Cumberland’s revisions of the Mutiny Act as tending to set up an irresponsible and dangerous force within the country.

In the session of 1749-50 Conway made two major speeches defending the government’s military measures and indirectly turning back personal attacks on the Duke. On February 7, George Townshend, an officer but a bitter enemy of the Duke’s, opposed the Mutiny bill in its third reading and introduced a rider designed to prevent non-commissioned officers from being broken without a court-martial. Townshend alluded to men who had been broken without cause, and inveighed against arbitrary power in the hands of colonels, but the real thrust of his speech was in the following:
When this custom was first introduced, I cannot determine; but I think it was never established by any article of war, before 1747, when our usual articles of war underwent many and great alterations, most of which were unnecessary even for the strictest discipline, and could serve no purpose but that of vesting an absolute and despotic power in the chief commander of our army. [59]
Conway defended the Duke arguing that strict discipline was essential in the Army, and that absolute power, although objectionable in civil authority, was necessary “for preserving subordination and discipline in an army. He did not find the duke’s rule oppressive and avowed,
There is now no country in the world where their armies enjoy so much freedom, or so much security against being oppressed by their commanders, as both the officers and soldiers of our British Army enjoy.
Freedom, he said, should not be extended to extremes and he opposed Townshend’s rider on the grounds that it would produce a saucy, insubordinate n.c.o., and “the post of serjeant or corporal would become a sort of civil employment…too often sold to the highest bidder.”[60]  Conway was supported by Henry Fox and Townshend’s motion was defeated. On February 16 he employed much the same argument in opposing Thomas Pitt’s motion to limit military service to ten years and fix the price of discharge at three pounds as another attempt to weaken the Duke’s authority. [61]

His support of Cumberland secured rather than forfeited Conway’s independence. Indeed, in the session of 1750-51 he spoke and divided against government on at least two occasions after a quarrel within the administration split its parliamentary ranks. Newcastle’s hatred of his fellow ministers, the Duke of Bedford and Lord Sandwich, his determination to drive them from office, and his suspicion that his brother, Henry Pelham, was actually siding with Cumberland, the patron of Bedford and Sandwich, sparked the conflict. Newcastle had negotiated a Bavarian subsidy which Pelham, with great difficulty, got the Old Corps leadership to accept, but on the opening of the session when the subsidy came under attack, only Wiliam Pitt came to Newcastle’s defense. A few days later Pitt, although a member of the administration, attacked Pelham’s plan to reduce the navy from 10,000 to 8,000 effectives, a measure strongly supported by Henry Fox and the Old Corps leadership. In the division Pitt and the Grenvilles were joined by Conway.[62] Only conscience can explain his vote on this occasion since he definitely voted against his connections. Pitt’s failure to give advance notice of his intentions; his being in the ministry; and Newcastle’s quarrel with Pelham all reinforce this conclusion.
In February, after the Pelhams had patched up their differences, the opposition made its usual attack on the Mutiny bill. In these debates Conway spoke often in defense of the Duke and his interest. [63] In March, however, he again voted against government. Horace Walpole described the occasion:
George Townshend presented a vehement petition from one Don Juan Compagni, a Minorchese, who had been barbarously treated by Anstruther [Governor of Minorca]…Mr. Pitt spoke warmly for the petition,…Mr. Fox ridiculed this warmth;…Mr. Conway spoke for the Order of the Day; but asking if the intention was to hear the cause, and Pitt telling him it was, he then spoke and voted for the petition…no English Whigs but Pitt, Conway, and the three Grenvilles in the minority. [64]
Later that month the death of the Prince of Wales and the resultant break-up of the Leicester House opposition allowed the Pelhams to move against the Cumberland party. The Duke of Bedford was driven from office in June, and, more importantly, the Pelhams refused to name Cumberland as Regent in the Regency bill. The Duke never forgave this slight and while he had no choice but to support Pelham, it was a grudging support which more than ever kept the officers out of ministerial hands.

In the summer of 1751 Conway’s regiment was sent to Minorca, a station he soon found intolerable. As a means of escape he hoped for a recall for the parliamentary session, or the attainment of another regiment.[65] He was, however, out of favor with the Pelhams. In October Horace Walpole wrote to Sir Horace Mann, the envoy to Florence, about a trip to Italy that Conway was planning to relieve his boredom:
He still talks of seeing you; as the Parliament is to meet soon, I should think he will scarce have time, though I don’t hear he is sent for, or that they will have occasion to send for anybody, unless they want to make an Opposition.[66]
Conway read Walpole’s note at Mann’s in December and his own letter to his cousin reflects the disfavor into which he had fallen.
I am advised to say little of my Italian voyage for fear it should be ill taken at Court…For the Parliament there’s an end of my returning; there ‘s no want of anyone there as you tell Mr. Mann without they first pick an opposition, but I’m afraid they won’t send for me even for that though last year I got an ill name…[67]
Attempts had been made to sour even the Duke with him, and he complained to his brother that “with all my imputed politics, there are none that wish him more sincerely and zealously well than I do.”[68] Still, he was very cautious in asking for a different regiment.
As to the regiment, if I had not wished for it very much, I should not have been prevailed upon to ask for it, though even now I by no means repent of having done it, as the manner in which I was received gave me reason to think I retained some little share in his R[oyal] H[ighness’] good opinion.[69]
He read the situation correctly and a few weeks later, despite the Pelhams, he gained his new regiment.

The next two years were comparatively calm and Conway spent most of the time with his regiment in Ireland. He attended Parliament but confessed himself “a miserable politician,” and avoided the intrigues that Henry Fox and Horace Walpole, playing on Cumberland’s anger at the Pelhams, dabbled in.[70] In February 1754, however, the attack on the government’s plan to extend the operation of the Mutiny Act to the troops in the service of the East India company made him stir. Lords Egmont and Strange, spokesmen for Leicester House, attacked the measure on constitutional grounds; first, as an unjustifiable transferral of the prerogative, and second, as an imposition of martial law in peacetime.  Implicit in this affair was another attack on Cumberland and his control over the Army. In defending the government bill Conway reaffirmed his belief in the need for an army and his trust in the Duke’s policies. He saw nothing unconstitutional in the measure but said that the doubts raised constituted a strong argument for passing the bill,
Upon the principle…that every act of power should be warranted by the authority of an Act of Parliament, if there be the least doubt whether it can constitutionally be exerted by virtue of prerogative alone.[71]
Horace Walpole wrote that Conway got “infinite reputation” by this speech.[72] By 1754 he was a rising young man with good connections who had made a name for himself in Parliament. Three years earlier, as Conway was preparing to visit Italy, Walpole had recommended him to Horace Mann:
You will see something very different from the staring boys that come in flocks to you new once a year like woodcocks. Mr. Conway is deservedly reckoned one of the first and most rising young men in England: he has distinguished himself in the greatest style both in the army and in Parliament.[73]
Walpole placed Conway in that second rank of speakers just below Pitt, Fox, and Murray, and compared him with Charles Townshend, who had begun to astonish the House.
What will be their fates I know not; but this Mr. Townshend and Mr. Conway seemed marked by nature for leaders, perhaps for rivals in the government of their country. The quickness of genius is eminently with the first, and a superiority of application; the propriety and amiableness of character with the latter. One grasps at fortune; the other only seems pleased to accept fortune when it advances to him. The one foresees himself equal to everything, the other finds himself so whenever he essays. Charles Townshend seems to have no passion but ambition; Henry Conway not even to have that. The one is impetuous and unsteady; the other, cool and determined. Conway is indolent, but can be assiduous; Charles Townshend can only be indefatigable. The latter would govern mankind for his own sake; the former, for theirs. [74]
In the election of 1754 Conway was brought in for St. Mawes in the government interest, and election lists again placed him in the category of “army officer.” Some officers like Cumberland’s military aide, Lord Bury, were placed in a group of 26 members, including Fox and Walpole, which was the Cumberland party. [75] Failure to include him in that group indicates that, despite the attention he had attracted, Conway’s independence made him appear hardly a political man. He generally supported government and was known as a favorite of the King’s favorite son; but in limiting himself to military measures, and in voting occasionally against government and connection he avoided a factional label. However, a few weeks after the debate on the East India Mutiny bill Henry Pelham died and a new, more turbulent scene opened, a scene in which Conway was destined to play a much more active role. ###

[1] The Dictionary of National Biography erroneously gives 1721 as the year of Conway’s birth but see Eton College Register, 1698-1752, ed. Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (Eton, 1927), s.v. Conway, where his baptism is dated August 12, 1719.
[2] For Sir Edward Seymour see the article in the D.N.B.; and A. Audrey Locke, The Seymour Family, History and Romance (London, 1911). A valuable summary of his political life is in Robert Walcott Jr., “English Party Politics, 1688-1714,” in Essays in Modern English History presented to Wilbur Cortez Abbott (Cambridge, Mass., 1941).
[3] The Conway heiress died on the wedding day but Francis Seymour’s brother was adopted as son and heir by the Earl of Conway on the condition that he add the name Conway to his own. Locke, Seymour Family, 217-8, 231-3; and G.E. Cokayne, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, and Ireland, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom, s.v. Conway.
[4] Sir Edward expected that the eldest son of his first marriage would one day become Duke of Somerset, and so accepted the Conway title for the eldest son of his second marriage. Locke, Seymour Family, 222-3.
[5] Walpole to William Mason, April 13, 1782, in Horace Walpole’s Correspondence with William Mason, ed. Grover Cronin Jr. and Charles H. Bennett (The Yale edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, general editor, W.S. Lewis, New Haven, 1937, XXIX), II, 232. Hereafter this edition will be cited as Yale Walpole and the volume number in the whole series will be used. Despite Shorter’s Whiggism there was a strain of Jacobitism in the family. John Shorter was the son of the London merchant who was arbitrarily set up by James II as Lord Mayor of London in 1688.
[6] For the Shorter family see R.W. Ketton-Kremer, Horace Walpole, A Biography (Ithaca, 1966), 10; Horace Walpole, “Short Notes of My Life,” Yale Walpole, XIII, 25; and the introduction to the Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Peter Cunningham (Edinburgh, 1906), I, viii-ix. Hereafter cited as Cunningham.
[7] Cokayne, Complete Peerage, s.v. Conway.
[8] Eton College Lists, 1678-1790, ed. R.A. Austen-Leigh (Eton, 1907), 30-31.
[9] Sir H.C. Maxwell Lyte, A History of Eton College, 1440-1910 (fourth edition, revised, London, 1911), 281, 292, 298.
[10] Walpole to Conway, July 14, 1761, The Letters of Horace Walpole, ed. Mrs. Paget Toynbee (16 vls.; Oxford, 1903-4), V. 76. Hereafter cited as Toynbee.
[11] Conway to Walpole, July 12, 1737. From a typescript of the original MSS in the possession of W.S. Lewis. Hereafter cited as WSL. Some of Conway’s early letters to Walpole were printed in the first volume of George Thomas, Earl of Albemarle, Memoirs of the Marquis of Rockingham and His Contemporaries (2 vols.; London, 1852). Some from 1755 to 1759 were published in “Letters from General Conway and Lady Ailesbury to Horace Walpole,” Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, XLI, Jan. to June, 1850.
[12] Conway to Walpole, May 24, 1737, WSL.
[13] Conway to Walpole, Feb. 16, 1741, WSL. Printed in Albemarle, Rockingham, I, 378-380.
[14] Ibid. William Coxe, Memoirs of the Life and Administration of Sir Robert Walpole (3 vols., London, 1800), III, 178 ff., printed Walpole’s notes of his speech.
[15] Conway to Walpole, Aug. 23, 1740, WSL. This election did not take place until October 1741.
[16] Conway to Walpole, Aug. 6, 1741, WSL. Printed in Albemarle, Rockingham, but misdated 1740.
[17] J.B. Owen, The Rise of the Pelhams (London, 1957), 54n. Horace Walpole alluded to this return and either the Earl’s displeasure at having to choose Conway, or his anger at his subsequent parliamentary conduct when he notified Conway of the dissolution of that parliament. “I am told, you are taken care of, though I don’t know where, nor whether anybody that chooses you will quarrel with me because he does choose you, as that little bug, the Marquis of Rockingham did…” Walpole to Conway, June 8, 1747, Toynbee, II, 280.
[18] This list was enclosed in Henry Fox to the Duke of Newcastle, Oct. 16, 1742, British Museum, Add. MSS 32699, ff. 465-467. For the return of the officers see Walpole to Mann, Nov. 1, 1742, Yale Walpole, XVIII, 97.
[19] The Parliamentary History of England…to 1803 (36 vols.; London, 1806-20) XII, 1054.
[20] Horace Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of King George the Second, ed. Lord Holland (3 vols.; 2nd. Edition, revised, London, 1846) I, 41.
[21] Walpole to Conway, March 6, 1746, WSL.
[22] Ibid.
[23] A.S. Foord, His Majesty’s Opposition, 1714-1830 (Oxford, 1964), 183-4, 242-4.
[24] Coxe, Sir Robert Walpole, III, 314-5; and the MS Journal of Philip Yorke printed in the Parliamentary History, XIII, 467.
[25] A few days after the battle Conway wrote, “we thought ourselves heinously ill-treated by the great care that was taken of our persons…”Conway to Walpole, July 8, 1743, n.s., WSL. See also Albemarle, Rockingham, I, 390.
[26] Parliamentary History, XIII, 464. Conway’s vote or votes against the Army probably came on the deployment of English troops in Flanders, a question which arose before Lord Orford came to town.
[27] Governor Pitt to Robert Pitt, Jan. 16, 1705-6, in Lewis B. Namier, The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III (second edition, London, 1963), 16.
[28]  Conway to Walpole, Feb. 16, 1741, WSL.
[29] Conway to Walpole, May 21, 1744, n.s., WSL. Printed in Albemarle, Rockingham, I, 395.
[30] Conway to Walpole, Aug. 23, 1740, WSL.

[31] Conway to Walpole, June 21, 1744, n.s., WSL.
[32] Conway to Walpole, Sept. 26,  [1742], n.s. WSL.
[33] Conway to Lord Conway, May 1745, n.s., “Letters of Henry Seymour Conway to Lord Hertford,” Colburn’s United Service Magazine and Naval and Military Journal, June 1880, 214.
[34] William Coxe, Memoirs of Horatio, Lord Walpole, 1678 to 1757 (2 vols.; third edition, corrected and enlarged, London, 1820), II, 338-39.
[35] The Political Journal of George Bubb Dodington, ed. John Carswell and Lewis Arnold Dralle (Oxford, 1965), 301.
[36] William Coxe, Memoirs of the Administration of Henry Pelham (2 vols.; London, 1829), II, 243.
[37] Conway to Walpole, July 18, 1744, n.s., WSL.
[38] Walpole to Conway, July 20, 1744, Toynbee, II, 36.
[39] Conway to Walpole, Aug. 5, 1744, n.s. WSL.
[40] Horace Walpole, MS Political Papers, f. 64, cited in Yale Walpole, XIX, 26, n.13. See also Walpole to Sir Horace Mann, March 29, 1745, Yale Walpole, XIX, 26.
[41] “As to the king and family’s old friends (the Whigs I mean) [sic], I am rejoiced that they are still in temper: without them we should never have seen England, and without them I fear we should hardly stay.” Cumberland to Newcastle, May 22, 1745, n.s., Coxe, Pelham, I, 237-8.
[42] Walpole, George II, I, 41.
[43]  J.W. Fortescue, A History of the British Army (London, 1910), II, 578.
[44] Conway to Walpole, Sept 29, [1742], WSL.
[45] Conway to Walpole, Oct. 19, 1744, n.s., WSL.
[46] Fortescue, British Army, II, 579.
[47] Walpole to Conway, May 27, 1745, Toynbee, II, 102.
[48] Walpole to Mann, May 11, 1745, Yale Walpole, XIX, 43.
[49] Ibid. n. 13.
[50] Conway to Walpole, Oct. 25, 1745, n.s., WSL.
[51]Conway to Lord Conway, Aug. 4, 1745, n.s. Colburn’s…Magazine, July 1880, 321.
[52] Walpole to Mann, Jam. 28, 1746, Yale Walpole, XIX, 204.
[53] Henry Pelham to Newcastle, Oct. 4-15, 1748, Coxe, Pelham, II, 324.
[54] Walpole, George II, III, 84.
[55] Add. MSS 33034, f. 193 for 1747; and f. 173 for 1754.
[56] Namier, Structure of Politics, 25-6.
[57] Newcastle opposed the nomination of the Duke of Bedford, Cumberland’s friend, as Lord lieutenant of Ireland in 1752 because, “We have now nothing to do in the English army. We shall then have as little to do in the Irish one.” Newcastle to Pelham, June 11, 1752, n.s. Coxe, Pelham, II, 426.
[58] Add. MSS 33034, ff. 173-179. This is the election list drawn up in 1754 by Lord Dupplin. See also John Brooke and Sir Lewis Namier, The House of Commons (3 vols., HMSO, 1964), I, 141.
[59] Parliamentary History, XIV, 643.
[60] Ibid., 647-8.
[61] Ibid.
[62]  Walpole to Mann, Feb. 9, 1751, Yale Walpole, XX, 223. Walpole, George II, I, 12. For the quarrel within the ministry see Coxe, Pelham, II, passim.
[63] Parliamentary History, debates of Feb. 11 and Feb. 26, 1751, XIV, passim. Walpole, George II, I, 40-41.
[64] Walpole, George II, I, 57-60.
[65] Conway to Lord Hertford, Dec. 30, 1751, n.s., Colburn’s Magazine, Dec. 1880, 406-408.
[66] Walpole to Mann, Oct. 14, 1751, Yale Walpole, XX, 280.
[67] Conway to Walpole, Dec. 3, 1751, n.s. WSL.
[68] Conway to Lord Hertford, Dec. 30, 1751, n.s., Colburn’s Magazine, Dec. 1880, 407.
[69] Ibid., 406-7.
[70] Conway to Walpole, June 24, 1753, WSL.
[71] See Parliamentary History, 249-286 for the whole debate. Conway spoke last.
[72] Walpole to Richard Bentley, March 2, 1754, Toynbee, III, 210.
[73] Walpole to Mann, July 16, 1751, Yale Walpole, XX, 265.
[74] Walpole, George II, I, 341.
[75] Add. MSS 33034, ff. 173-179.

1 comment: