MP of the Month: George Palmer, a ‘firm friend of the shipwrecked’

George Palmer, c. 1845

George Palmer, c. 1845

In September 2008 an exceptionally rare Gold Medal produced by the Royal National Institute for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was sold at auction for £3,200. The medal, with its unique pendant in the shape of a lifeboat, was awarded in 1853 to George Palmer, who had worked tirelessly for the institution for over a quarter of a century. Palmer’s achievements, especially his design of a lifeboat, have rightly secured his place in the annals of seafaring history, but his parliamentary career remains somewhat overlooked, even though it was his status as an MP that allowed him to produce vital legislation which improved safety at sea.

Palmer was only fourteen years old when he joined the navy of the East India Company. His early, often dangerous, experiences at sea left an indelible mark upon him: a narrow escape from drowning near Macao in 1788 persuaded him that a boat’s equilibrium was paramount to its safety, a conviction that shaped his future thinking on timber vessels. He retired from the navy at the turn of the century due to ill-health and went on to secure a small fortune as an East India merchant, but maritime safety remained his foremost concern.

Gold Medal and Gold Boat, awarded to Palmer in 1853

Gold Medal and Gold Boat, awarded to Palmer in 1853

In 1826 he began working with the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (known as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution after 1854), an organisation he went on to serve as deputy chairman for twenty five years. In 1828 his design of a lifeboat – built as a whale-boat, sharp at both ends, using air-cases for buoyancy – was officially adopted by the institution. By 1844 lifeboats based on his work had been placed at over 30 coastal locations around the British Isles. Significantly, Palmer, as a Member of Parliament, chaired the 1843 select committee on shipwrecks, in which he submitted his own lifeboat design, thus ensuring the widest and most influential audience for his work.

Palmer’s status as an MP undoubtedly helped him to achieve his ambition to improve safety at sea. First elected as a Conservative for Essex South at an 1836 by-election, he made his mark in his first full Parliament through his crusade to address the loss of life caused by shipwrecks. In April 1839 he successfully moved for a select committee to consider the regulation of timber trading ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The report of the inquiry, which he skilfully chaired, recommended that timber-laden vessels between the United States and Britain be barred from carrying deck-loads. After making a compelling case for the legislation in the Commons chamber, it arrived on the statute book as the 1839 Timber Ships, British North America Act. He followed this up with what became his main legislative triumph: the 1845 Timber Ships Act which extended and settled the law prohibiting timber ships from carrying deck cargoes.

Sketch of Palmer's lifeboat, 1843

Sketch of Palmer’s lifeboat, 1843

In many ways Palmer, the former sailor and merchant dedicated to maritime issues, was an unlikely fit for Essex South, an overwhelmingly rural constituency where the key issues were maintenance of agricultural protection and repeal of the much-detested malt tax. Yet Palmer, showing political savvy, reinvented himself as a ‘friend of the plough, the loom and the sail’, and promised his constituents that he would be unwavering in his defence of the corn laws. True to his word, he consistently voted against free trade proposals, and when Peel’s decision to support repeal of the corn laws became public, he pulled no punches in his denunciation of the prime minister, declaring to a packed Commons that Peel ‘stood in the light of Ahab’s prophets of old. He would deceive himself, and bring down destruction upon a devoted people’.

With his health declining, Palmer retired from the Commons at the 1847 dissolution, but continued to devote his energies to the Shipwreck Institution. He was instrumental in securing the services of the Duke of Northumberland as its president and continued to chair meetings until his retirement in February 1853, when he was awarded the gold medal of the institution. He died the following month. In 1854 his model of lifeboat was replaced by the ‘self-righting’ boat, based on an original design by James Beeching.

Palmer’s tenure in the Victorian Commons underlines how a politician could use their parliamentary status to promote humanitarian causes close to their heart. By pulling the levers of power – in his case through the adroit management of select committees – Palmer was able to achieve his legislative goals and leave a lasting legacy for maritime safety.

For details of how to access Palmer’s full History of Parliament biography from our preview site, please see here.

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A Victorian Essex Election

As electors go to the polls in the Clacton by-election, we consider how Essex voters behaved in the mid-nineteenth century, when the expanding seaside resort was still part of the Essex North constituency.

Clacton-on-Sea pier, 1908. Copyright Philip Salmon.

Clacton-on-Sea pier, 1908. Copyright Philip Salmon.

In the fifty years following the 1832 Reform Act, the Conservatives enjoyed almost complete political hegemony in both the county’s northern and southern divisions (although the Liberals had some success in the borough seats of Colchester, Maldon and Harwich). Unlike today, elections in these two double-member county seats were usually uncontested. As was so often the case in the 19th century, however, this seeming acceptance of the status quo belied both a vibrant political culture centred round non-electors (in Essex’s case Braintree silk factory workers who doggedly interrupted candidates’ addresses at the nomination) and intense pre-electoral negotiations and skirmishes between candidates.

The 1859 general election at Essex North was a case in point. Although two Conservative candidates were elected without opposition, in the weeks prior to the nomination there was a sustained attempt within the local party to oust their high-profile MP William Beresford, a former chief whip who had served as secretary for war in the Earl of Derby’s 1852 administration. A highly-strung Irishman with a wicked tongue, Beresford,  throughout his thirteen year tenure as MP for Essex North, remained unpopular with a section of the local party, who were unhappy with the spectre of an ‘outsider’ representing a seat that had traditionally been the preserve of local, resident gentry.

This emphasis on local connections has long been a feature of elections in this area and elsewhere. Throughout the 19th century candidates made stringent efforts to highlight both their local credentials and attack those who lacked them. In 1859 Samuel Ruggles Brise, of Spains Hall, Essex, threatened to stand against Beresford on the grounds that the Irishman was not a ‘proper country gentleman’. His outsider status also went hand-in-hand with a wider political issue of the day. Although a devout Protestant, Beresford, as an Irishman, was viewed with suspicion by a hostile Essex press that was not unknown to publish hysterical warnings about the threat posed by the Roman Catholic Church. Brise eventually gave way (and was later elected for Essex East in 1868), but the affair revealed a schism within local Conservatism that was masked by the unopposed return recorded in the polls.

Had Brise’s intervention taken place at a by-election, there would undoubtedly have been far greater coverage of the affair; one of the well-noted features of by-elections is that one-off local contests are given a national dimension, especially given the widespread media attention. We explored the dynamics of Victorian by-elections in an earlier blog. For today, though, it is worth noting that despite what the official returns may suggest, Victorian Essex witnessed internecine Conservative rivalry and fierce debates generated by the politics of locality.

Our constituency studies of Essex North and South have recently been completed and will soon be available on our preview site. For more details see here.

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Verse and Victorian MPs: National Poetry Day 2014

Poetry played an important role in Victorian political culture. From rhyming election squibs celebrating a prospective candidate, to Members of Parliament reciting classical verse in the Commons, political versifying was prevalent. To celebrate National Poetry Day, we offer a small selection of poetry delivered both inside and outside the walls of the Victorian Commons.

Poetry was an intrinsic part of electioneering and candidate posturing in the nineteenth century, with a range of doggerel taking its place alongside handbills and cockades as campaign ephemera. At a meeting of Liberal supporters in the North Riding at the 1857 general election, for example, the opposition candidate Edward Stillingfleet Cayley, who had gone through various changes of party allegiance, was mocked by Alderman Leeman, who referenced a poem about being:

Nor Whig, nor Tory, nor this, nor that,
Not bird, not beast, but a kind of bat,
A twilight animal, true to neither cause,
With Tory wings, but Whiggish teeth and claws.

Cayley himself was of a literary bent, and in a Commons debate on the repeal of the corn laws in 1846, he turned to verse to denounce free trade, quoting a popular rhyme:

Woodman, spare that tree;
Touch not a single bough;
In youth it shelter’d thee,
Do thou protect it now!

Cayley was far from alone in using the debating chamber as a forum for literary quotations. Charles Du Cane, Conservative Member for Essex North, invoked Shakespeare’s Hamlet when arguing against the 1859 church rate abolition bill, declaring:

It will but skin and film the ulcerous place,
Whilst rank corruption, mining all within,
Infects unseen.

Du Cane’s poetic posturing came back to haunt him, however, when his motion against Gladstone’s 1860 budget was heavily defeated. The satirical magazine Punch mocked his and Disraeli’s failure:

Diz and Du,
Made motions to
Knock over the ministers’ budget,
The House felt bored,
Pert Diz was floored,
And Du was driven to trudge it.

Happy National Poetry Day!

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John Edward Redmond: The ‘Wexford Railway King’

Earlier this month the Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, gave his backing to a campaign for John Edward Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party from 1900 until his death in 1918, to be honoured with a memorial in the Irish parliament building at Leinster House. This has been greeted as a long overdue recognition of that party’s role in Irish political history. Redmond is, however, commemorated elsewhere with a monument in Wexford, where his name appears alongside other members of a remarkable political dynasty. These include his great-uncle and namesake, who features as our MP of the Month.

Memorial plaque from the Redmond monument, Wexford

Memorial plaque from the Redmond monument, Wexford

John Edward Redmond (1806-65) represented his native borough of Wexford from 1859 until shortly before his death in 1865. ‘Old John Redmond’, as he was known, was a pivotal member of Wexford’s greatest political dynasty and was chiefly responsible for the modern development of the town, providing it with its first railway, its harbour works, and many of its public amenities. His election inaugurated the family’s tradition of parliamentary participation, which lasted for almost a century.

Building on the success he had acquired as a banker from the mid-1820s, Redmond became a ship owner, the size of his fleet of steamers reaching 22,000 tons by 1846. The shipping interest in Wexford was further improved when Redmond opened a ship-building yard, extended the quays and constructed a slipway. He also became the largest property owner in Wexford, acquiring around 100 houses in different parts of the town. From 1845 he took a leading role in local railway construction, and became known as the ‘Wexford Railway King’.

Redmond’s political allegiances were erratic in the 1830s and 1840s, and appear to have been influenced more by family bonds and economic interest rather than party politics. In 1835 he backed an unsuccessful attempt by his elder brother, Patrick Walter, to secure a parliamentary seat at Wexford as a ‘Conservative Whig’. Although he subsequently lent a degree of support to the Liberals, he seems to have shared some of his brother’s convictions, which included opposition to the repeal of the union, and an aversion to clerical ‘dictation’ in political affairs. At the 1841 general election he backed James Bourne, a representative of the Liverpool shipping interest, who unsuccessfully contested Wexford for the Conservatives. However, he did not subsequently offer any opposition to the borough’s Liberal interest, which from 1847 lay with another family of Catholic merchants, the Devereuxs.

In 1846 Redmond initiated the first of two successful land reclamation schemes at Wexford harbour, which sparked opposition from the harbour commissioners and certain mercantile interests, most notably the Devereuxs. By the late 1850s this economic rivalry had developed into a political contest, and at the 1859 general election the Liberal MP for Wexford, John Thomas Devereux, was forced to make way for Redmond. Although he now held Liberal opinions on questions of religious equality, the franchise and landlord-tenant relations, Redmond generally supported the Conservatives while in the Commons, being one of around a dozen members of the so-called ‘Roman Catholic party’ which continued to oppose Lord Palmerston’s administration after the break up of the Independent Irish Party. He took little part in the business of the Commons, though, being one of only 30 MPs to sit through the 1859 Parliament without serving on a committee of any kind, and spoke only three times in debate.

Having devoted his fortune and talents to the advancement of his constituency, Redmond was ‘almost worshipped in Wexford, particularly by the working people’. However, his achievements in the borough came at a price, creating both commercial and political enemies. This was made clear at the 1865 general election, when he not only faced opposition from business rivals, but also lost the support of the local Catholic clergy, who backed the National Association candidate, Richard John Devereux, a nephew of the man Redmond had displaced in 1859. He was defeated by the 153 electors who voted for his opponent, and although he was said to have accepted their verdict ‘good-naturedly and resignedly’, he still ‘felt keenly his defeat’.

Redmond died unexpectedly of heart failure the following month. He was buried in the family mausoleum in St. John’s churchyard, Wexford. His funeral was remarkable not only for an attendance of around 10,000 mourners, but because no Catholic priest could be found willing to conduct the service. The funeral rites were reportedly withheld owing to Redmond’s independence in political matters, and his non-observance of religious duties such as confession.

Despite this clerical boycott, a memorial to Redmond was subsequently erected in what is now Redmond Square, Wexford. This was restored in 2007 and also commemorates the lives of Redmond’s nephew, William Archer Redmond (1825-80), a Home Rule MP for Wexford from 1872 until his death, along with his sons, William Hoey Kearney Redmond (1861-1917), MP for County Wexford, 1883-5, South Fermanagh, 1885-92, and County Clare, 1892-1917, and John Edward Redmond (1856-1918), MP for New Ross, 1881-5, North Wexford, 1885-91, and Waterford, 1891-1918.

Further reading: J. McConnel, ‘John Redmond and Irish Catholic Loyalism’, English Historical Review, cxxv (2010), 83-111.

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Constituencies recently added to our preview site (2)

The 1832-68 House of Commons project includes studies of every constituency – more than 400 – in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Between 4,000 to 6,000 words in length, each study provides a detailed but accessible analysis of every parliamentary election in this period, alongside a brief social and economic profile. Borough entries also contain related information about local government. Since 2012 we have made our articles available in draft form on our preview site, where they can be consulted in full (and for free). The articles are uploaded as they are completed, and since our previous update last year, we have recently added a host of new constituency studies, ranging from England’s smallest constituency to a rare triple-member seat. These include:

Thetford, one of the constituency pieces recently uploaded to our preview site

Thetford, one of the constituency pieces recently uploaded to our preview site

Thetford. A double-member borough that straddled the Norfolk and Suffolk border, Thetford was the smallest English constituency in terms of its electorate following the 1832 Reform Act. The representation was controlled by the heads of the Grafton and Baring dynasties, by arrangement with the borough’s leading manufacturing families who dominated the town council. A striking feature of the borough’s post-Reform parliamentary politics was the ambiguous nature of the candidates’ party loyalties. Indeed, party spirit was generally lacking on both sides at the hustings, with candidates eschewing pledges and instead preferring to identify themselves solely with their family.

Suffolk East and Suffolk West. In the early 1840s Suffolk was described as ‘one of the most extensive agricultural districts in the empire’. The East Suffolk Agricultural Society, whose committee contained the leaders of local Conservatism, loomed large in county life and ensured that rural issues, particularly the much-detested malt tax, took centre stage during parliamentary elections. A sustained registration drive by the Conservatives in the five years following the Reform Act, coupled with the strategy of presenting their candidates as moderate and progressive, delivered complete electoral hegemony for the party in both constituencies from 1837 onwards.

Hereford and Herefordshire. The representation of the county town and cathedral city of Hereford was generally monopolised by the Liberals in this period, though the Conservatives, ignoring their own weakness on the register, made a habit of unwisely contesting elections that they had no chance of winning. The borough had a distinct political culture. Local Conservatism had a ‘High Tory’ flavour, a legacy of the influence of cathedral clergymen, known as the ‘Black and Tans’, and the corporation. The Whigs, meanwhile, due to the prevalence of bribery in the division, were early advocates of the ballot. The wider county, universally known for its cider production, was one of only seven English constituencies to elect three MPs after 1832, and the representation was generally shared between the Conservatives and Liberals. The county’s triple-member status also allowed candidates to differentiate themselves from their party colleagues.

Boundary commissioners' map of Elgin, 1832 (Copyright Uni. of Southampton)

Boundary commissioners’ map of Elgin, 1832 (Copyright Uni. of Southampton)

Elgin District. A Scottish constituency, this single-member borough comprised, in descending order of electoral importance, the burghs of Elgin, Banff, Peterhead, Kintore, Invery and Cullen, the later being ‘little more than a street’. The district remained in Liberal hands throughout this period, but this was far from assured, especially in the 1830s and 1840s when the Conservatives posed a serious challenge. The Liberals also suffered from internecine conflict, though, unlike in the larger Scottish towns, these disputes concerned the nature of representation and influence in the burghs, rather than religious divisions over patronage in the Church of Scotland. The most prominent landowner was the extraordinarily popular James Duff (1776-1857), 4th Earl of Fife, locally known as the ‘good earl’. The Duffs were victorious in 1847 and held the seat without opposition for the remainder of the period.

We have now uploaded over 75 constituency studies to the 1832-68 preview site. For details about how to obtain access, please click here.

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‘I am not in a position of life in which our Members usually are’: William Wood (1816-71), MP for Pontefract

The Lib-Lab MPs Thomas Burt and Alexander Macdonald, both miners who were elected to the Commons at the 1874 general election, are generally regarded as the first working men to enter Parliament. As we continue our research for the 1832-68 project, it is becoming clear that while Burt and Macdonald may have been the first ‘labour’ representatives at Westminster, there were MPs before 1868 who had similarly humble roots. These self-made men form a particularly interesting group, and one of them, William Wood, who sat as Liberal MP for Pontefract from 1857 until 1859, is the focus of this month’s blog.

When invited to stand for his native borough in 1857, Wood initially professed reluctance, on the grounds that ‘I am not in a position of life in which our Members usually are’. Having agreed to come forward, his election address emphasised his humble origins, describing himself as ‘a native and resident elector … who can be fairly classed as a working man’. Wood was the son of a small shopkeeper, and, in contrast with the vast number of MPs who attended Oxford or Cambridge universities, he ‘received his mechanical education in a mechanics’ institute’. It was his practical abilities and his genius for invention which enabled Wood’s rise. In 1838 he left Pontefract to become the resident managing partner of the Wilton carpet manufactory, where he began what he described as ‘a mechanical revolution’. He took out numerous patents for improvements in the manufacture of carpets, devoting himself in particular to the problem of how to apply steam power to carpet-weaving. In 1855 he exhibited a version of his loom at the Paris Exhibition, where it won a first class medal. Wood improved his financial position by selling the rights to his inventions to the Halifax carpet manufacturer, John Crossley.

1855 Paris Exhibition

1855 Paris Exhibition

Wood had returned to live in Pontefract in 1851, and was keen to share the fruits of his success with his fellow townspeople. In December 1855 he and his second wife (who had formerly been his servant) distributed sums of 2s. 6d. and 5s. to 900 local families, who returned their thanks by presenting Mrs. Wood with a silver cream jug. Wood had larger plans for benevolence, hoping to set up a ‘model factory’ in Pontefract, with organised homes for workers, which would provide employment for ‘female orphans, the deaf and dumb, and the destitute generally’. This scheme, in which he claimed to have invested £10,000, never bore fruit, and his political opponents alleged that it was ‘a mere bubble affair’, designed to curry favour with Pontefract’s electors, although they offered no evidence for this.

At the 1857 election, Wood agreed to stand for Pontefract on condition that he would ‘be allowed to devote as much time as could properly be spared from national public duties to the local interests of the town’. He described his political views as ‘liberal but not partisan’, declaring in plain terms his support for ‘such measures as are based upon common sense, and the principle of doing unto others as we would they should do unto us’. His sympathies for the working classes were demonstrated when he argued for meritocracy in the civil service and the armed forces, so that ‘every man, rich or poor, shall have a fair field and no favour’. He also advocated reforms of taxation, remarking that ‘I cannot see the justice of taxing the poor man on nearly everything he eats and drinks, and allowing the rich man’s property to go free’. He supported ‘a large extension of the franchise’ and the introduction of the secret ballot. Despite his admitted political inexperience, Wood finished second in the poll, ousting one of the sitting members, Benjamin Oliveira, who was also a Liberal. Oliveira had lost local support, and petitioned against Wood’s election in a fit of pique. However, Wood’s assurances that he had stood ‘wholly and solely on the principles of purity of election’ were accepted by the election petition committee, and he retained his seat, although the defence of it cost him £2,000.

Although Wood had declared that if elected, he would ‘strive to show that the capability of governing was not solely confined to what is considered as the upper class of society’, he failed to make any impact at Westminster, neither speaking in debate nor serving on any select committees. Given his apparent lack of enthusiasm for parliamentary life, and his unpleasant and costly experiences with the election petition in 1857, it was hardly surprising that he retired at the 1859 election, wishing to devote his time to local affairs. Although his model factory scheme floundered, he continued to register patents throughout the 1860s, not only on processes relating to carpet manufacture, but also to the manufacture of Pontefract cakes, the liquorice sweets associated with the town.

Compared with many fellow MPs, Wood died in relatively modest circumstances, leaving effects valued at under £2,000. His properties in Pontefract were subsequently sold for £9,880, but his widow and four children from his second marriage evidently remained in a difficult financial position. In 1872 she was granted a pension from the civil list of £70, in recognition of Wood’s service as an MP and magistrate and the contribution made ‘by his inventive genius to the carpet manufacture of the country’, from which he had ‘reaped little advantage himself’.

For details on how to access our draft biographies, see here.

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MP of the month: Wyndham Lewis

Wyndham Lewis (1780-1838) is probably best remembered today for bankrolling the future prime minister Benjamin Disraeli’s election to Parliament. Lewis’s wife Mary, an aspiring society hostess with an eye for younger men, had taken a shine to Disraeli and adopted him as her ‘political pet’. In 1837 Lewis agreed not only to let Disraeli stand alongside him as a Conservative in the two-member constituency of Maidstone, where he had been one of the MPs since 1835, but also advanced all the money to cover Disraeli’s expenses.

Given Disraeli’s precarious finances and previous election defeats, including two failed candidatures as a ‘radical’, the opportunity to stand for a safe seat and share the political platform with an established Tory was a godsend both practically and politically. Lewis and Disraeli’s jointly published address – still something of an innovation in the 1830s – stressed their support for the ‘Protestant Constitution’ and opposition to the ‘heartless’ New Poor Law with its attack on the ‘English poor’. After spending almost £5,000, much of it on bribing Maidstone’s notoriously venal freemen, Lewis and Disraeli were elected with comfortable majorities.

Mrs Lewis’s marriage to Disraeli following her husband’s death in 1838 has made the name of Wyndham Lewis a familiar one. Lewis himself, however, remains a curiously neglected figure. Indeed, for someone who appears so frequently in the footnotes of Victorian political history, surprisingly little has been written about him.

Wyndham Lewis MP

Wyndham Lewis MP

One immediately striking feature about Lewis was his non-élite background and willingness to chart his own political course. The fourth son of a Welsh clergymen, Lewis had begun his working life in 1798 as a solicitor’s clerk. By 1808 he had progressed to running his own country practice at Pentyrch, near Cardiff. The death of a childless uncle two years later transformed his life, making him and his brother major shareholders in the Dowlais Ironworks, run by Josiah John Guest MP. As well as taking the opportunity to read for the bar, Lewis began to work closely with Guest on finance and contracts, a field in which he evidently excelled. The company prospered, eventually becoming the world’s largest ironworks and earning the partners huge profits. Aided by his new wealth, in 1820 Lewis was elected as an ‘independent’ MP for Cardiff – one of growing band of industrialists and businessmen to secure election to the Commons before the 1832 Reform Act. However, he soon found himself at odds with Cardiff’s leading patron and embroiled in controversy for ‘abusing’ his position as an MP, after securing lucrative contracts for Dowlais and blocking industrial pollution controls.

Despite spending freely at elections in both Camelford and Maidstone in 1826, Lewis was unable to secure another seat until 1827, when he was brought in for Aldeburgh by a leading Tory MP in return for party support. Unwilling to back the Tory ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation in 1829, however, he resigned. Thereafter Lewis concentrated on building up his own personal electoral interest at Maidstone. Standing there as a Conservative in 1832, he lost on account of bribery by the Radicals, as he believed. Determined not to be outgunned again, he continued to lavish money on the constituency and its fledgling Conservative societies and was elected with ease in 1835. By 1837 he was effectively the borough’s patron, able to return himself and whomsoever he pleased.

Lewis’s decision to back Disraeli, his wife’s ‘parliamentary protégé’, illustrates another revealing aspect of his career: the political influence exercised by his wife. Like his business partner Guest, Lewis had married a woman who was politically aware and active, most conspicuously at election time with canvassing and campaigning, but also generally behind the scenes. With Lewis, however, it may have gone further. His estranged son-in-law claimed that Lewis ‘was so completely under petticoat government, that he would not dare to vote on any question in the House of Commons without the sanction of his wife!’ Maidstone’s electors, he asserted, were ‘being represented, de facto, in the British Legislature by a woman!’

The same son-in-law also accused Wyndham of having two illegitimate children (both of whom appear to have been provided for in Lewis’s will) and Mary of ‘flagitious behaviour’ with other men. Mrs. Lewis’s affairs have indeed been the subject of much historical speculation. However, there is no doubting the genuine feeling that existed between the couple, as the affectionate notes and keepsakes of hair collected by Mary following Wyndham’s death in 1838 amply testify. Eighteen months after being widowed Mrs Lewis married Disraeli, twelve years her junior, and began funding his political career. She was rewarded with the rare honour of a peerage in her own right four years before her own death in 1872.

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