Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter

John Hobhouse: Later 1st Baron Broughton

By David Yates

John Hobhouse was one of the more colourful Members of Parliament representing Nottingham during the mid-19th Century. Born 1835 in Bristol, educated at Westminster School and Trinity College Cambridge, he formed a strong friendship with Byron, travelling throughout Europe. Remarkably, they sat in a brougham, drinking champagne, eating canapes on a hilltop watching the decisive Battle of Dresden 1813, between Napoleonic forces ranged against an Austro-Prussian force. They followed Napoleon’s entry into Paris nine months later. Hobhouse claimed to have had a private meeting with Napoleon in his bed chamber, but this has never been verified. A severe critic of the Bourbon Monarchists and fervent supporter of Napoleon, following his return from exile in 1815, Hobhouse published a pamphlet condemning the monarchy, resulting in the Paris publisher being imprisoned for seditious language.

Further adventures abroad followed, notably in Greece, where with Byron, he supported the independence cause. When Byron died in 1824, he was the sole executor of his last will and testament, later supervising Byron’s funeral arrangements. Returning to England in 1816, he unsuccessfully stood for parliamentary election in February 1819. He followed his defeat by writing an anti-government pamphlet, incurring the displeasure of Parliament with him being imprisoned in Newgate for two months in December 1819. Upon release by an appeal to the Queen’s Bench Division, he stood for Parliament again and was elected with significant press and public support to sit for the Westminster constituency, as a Reform Party member. This was much to the chagrin of the ruling elite. He held the seat from 1820 to 1833. His fame lies in that he was the first MP to use the expression, ‘Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition’ in an 1826 debate. It was meant to be a rhetorical jibe in respect of ‘ loyalty, but it became enshrined in conventional usage to this day. Regarded as a classical scholar and making very clever use of the English language in parliamentary debate, he quickly climbed the political career ladder. Grey decided that it was better to ‘take him on board’ rather than have him as a radical backbencher.

A prolific writer of ‘radical’ pamphlets and political outpourings, he was appointed Secretary of State for War in Grey’s Whig administration in 1832, Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1833 and held Cabinet post under Melbourne’s government in 1833. He married into the ‘upper tier of aristocracy’ taking the daughter of the Marquess of Tweeddale to be his wife in 1828. The dowry was reported as being some £15,000 [equivalent to over £250,000] in today’s value.

He first became associated with Nottingham in 1834 when with 5 successive fellow members [Nottingham being a ‘two-member’ constituency] he held the constituency seat until 1848. Curiously, he then went on to represent Harwich with John Bagshaw [another former Nottingham MP] relinquishing his seat in 1851, when he became Baron Broughton of Broughton de Gyfford in the County of Wiltshire, joining the House of Lords. The barony lapsed with no male heirs. In the 14 years he represented Nottingham, archive material fails to disclose him coming to Nottingham on no more than just five occasions, which corresponded with each parliamentary election, or bi-election. When asked in an interview with The Times newspaper parliamentary reporter, about the civil unrest in the lace and other related hosiery and fabric industry in Nottingham, he blithely said: ’ I did not know that Nottingham had any (industry)....I have never seen any, or been made aware of its existence’. To add to his lack of understanding of local affairs, (as was the prevailing situation with many of his contemporary parliamentary colleagues), Hobhouse when asked in 1834, was also unaware that Nottingham Castle’s burnt out building was attributable to the October 1831 riots, or that three Nottingham men had been executed, following the trial of 26 men, under the auspices of the Special Commission set up in January 1832.

Broughton was a part owner of Whitbread Brewery, founder of the Royal Geographical Society and amassed a significant wealth which, at his death was in excess of £125,000, over £10,000,000 in 2020 terms.