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Dudley Ryder, first Earl of Harrowby and Viscount Sandon, and second Baron Harrowby (1762-1847)

This article was written by John Andrew Hamilton and was published in 1897

Dudley Ryder, first Earl of Harrowby, was born in London on 22 December 1762. He was the eldest son of Nathaniel Ryder, first baron Harrowby, by Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Terrick, bishop of London. Henry Ryder and Richard Ryder were his brothers. He was sent to St. John's College, Cambridge, where in 1782 he graduated M.A., and then entered parliament at the general election of 1784 as member for Tiverton, the family borough. In August 1789, while the Duke of Leeds was foreign secretary, he became under-secretary of state for foreign affairs. Early in 1790 he was promoted to be controller of the household and a member of the India board, and on 3 March 1790 he was sworn of the privy council.

Thanks to his aptitude both for parliamentary and for departmental work, he was advanced in February 1791 to be paymaster of the forces and vice-president of the board of trade, and continued to hold this post for many years. He was a clear and fairly pleasing speaker, with a good presence, and steadily gained in parliamentary experience and reputation. He was appointed chairman of the finance committee in 1791, and chairman of the coin committee in 1800. His intimacy with Pitt, which had no doubt assisted his promotion, was in turn increased by his services to his chief both in office and elsewhere, and on 27 May 1798, when Pitt fought a duel with Tierney, Ryder was one of Pitt's seconds.

In May 1800, while retaining his office at the board of trade, he became also treasurer of the navy, and continued to hold both posts until November 1801. His father's death on 20 June 1803 raised him to the House of Lords. When Pitt succeeded Addington in 1804, Lord Harrowby became his foreign secretary, but retained that office only for a few months. At the end of 1804, having fallen downstairs on his head at the foreign office, he became at once ‘totally disqualified for so laborious a post,’ and was compelled by ill health to resign. After a stay at Bath his health was restored, and on 1 July 1805 he was appointed to the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster, retaining his seat in the cabinet. At the end of October 1805, when England was attempting to unite the continental powers in a fresh coalition against Napoleon, Lord Harrowby was accredited to the emperors of Austria and Russia, and general directions were given to all the British ministers on the continent to follow his instructions, winter having interrupted the usual communications with England. He was ordered to proceed to Berlin, Vienna, and St. Petersburg, to negotiate with the several courts, and after very great labour he had succeeded in effecting an offensive and defensive alliance with Prussia, and in making an excellent general impression, when the battle of Austerlitz (2 December) put an end to any further prosecution of his mission.

For the first two years after the Duke of Portland's ministry was formed Lord Harrowby was out of office, though its warm supporter; but in 1809 he held for a few months the presidency of the board of control, and then, resigning that office, remained till Perceval's death a member of the cabinet without office. Meantime, on 20 July 1809, he had been created Earl of Harrowby and Viscount Sandon. He had particularly interested himself in church questions, publishing one or two pamphlets on the augmentation of benefices, and introducing the bill which ultimately passed as the ‘Curates Act’ in 1813 (53 Geo. III, c. 149).

In 1812 he again became a minister — president of the council — in Lord Liverpool's administration, and retained that office till August 1827, when he retired from office on the formation of the Goderich administration, and was succeeded by the Duke of Portland.

When the British army had occupied Belgium in 1815, the cabinet despatched Lord Harrowby and Wellesley-Pole on a special mission to Brussels to confer with Wellington. They started on 5 April, and after meeting both Wellington and Louis XVIII, reported to Lord Castlereagh, and returned about the middle of the month. Lord Harrowby had devoted considerable thought and study to currency questions, and accordingly he became chairman of the lords' committee on the currency in 1819, prepared its valuable report, and moved the ministerial resolutions on 21 May which were founded on it. It was at his house in Grosvenor Square that the Cato Street conspiracy for the assassination of ministers was to have been accomplished by Thistlewood and his accomplices in February 1820, and it was to him that the plot was first betrayed.

Except on questions which were strictly questions of party politics, Lord Harrowby's disposition was towards a liberal and reforming legislation. He had given proof of this in April 1791, when he avowed himself converted by the arguments of Wilberforce and Fox in the slave-trade debate of that month. As early as 1812 he was known as a supporter of the catholic claims, and in 1823 and 1824 he spoke and voted in their favour. He also approved the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. On the death of Canning, to whom he had adhered when Peel and Wellington resigned, Harrowby finally retired from office, and even refused the prime ministership when Goderich resigned in November 1827.

Nevertheless, when reform became a practical and pressing question, he returned to the debates of the House of Lords and to a considerable political activity. As early as 4 October 1831 he declared his opinion in the House of Lords that the time for some measure of parliamentary reform was come, and even indicated the changes which he would support, namely, a generous extension of the franchise to wealthy and populous places, and a reduction in the number of small boroughs so as to make room for an increased representation of the large counties. His speech was subsequently corrected and published by Roake and Varty. During the winter of 1831 and the spring of 1832 he was active, along with Lord Wharncliffe, in endeavouring to arrange some compromise between Earl Grey and the tory lords, by which a creation of fresh peers might be averted. He issued a circular letter to various members of the House of Lords, and repeatedly met Lord Grey but he failed to obtain any definite terms from either side, and met with little but reproaches from both. He and those who acted with him were known as ‘the waverers'. After this time he took little part in politics, though for the party funds at the election of 1834 he subscribed, in spite of his being a poor man, a sum of £1,000.

Of Lord Harrowby Greville says that his manner was pert, rigid, and provoking; that he was crotchety, full of indecision, and an alarmist, but exceedingly well-informed, not illiberal in his views, and one of the most conscientious, disinterested, and unambitious statesmen that ever lived; but the very openness of view and honesty of temper which had led him to try to moderate between the two parties in 1831 had earned him the enmity of both.

Pitt is said shortly before he died to have selected Harrowby as the fittest person to be his successor; but defects of temper diminished his influence with his own party, nor were his gifts as a speaker sufficiently signal to counterbalance them. Lord Liverpool indeed boldly accused him of having ‘a wretched mind, or a distempered body which operates on his mind’ to an extent which disqualified him for business, of being interested, and of winning Pitt's good opinion by mere subserviency; and Lord Grey told the Princess Lieven that although he found Lord Harrowby an able and agreeable man ‘as long as he keeps to English, when he talks French he bores me, for he is pretentious, is a purist in literature, recites verses, and has a grating voice, all of which are antipathetic to me’.

In addition to his high offices of state Lord Harrowby was at different times high steward of Tiverton, a commissioner for building churches, a trustee of the British Museum, a governor of Charterhouse, and was made D.C.L. of Oxford on 16 June 1814, and LL.D. of Cambridge in 1833. He died at Sandon Hall, Staffordshire, on 26 December 1847. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Dudley, second earl of Harrowby.

Harrowby married, on 30 July 1795, Lady Susan Leveson-Gower, sixth daughter of the first Marquis of Stafford, by whom he had four sons and five daughters. Greville describes her as superior to all the women he had ever known, praising her noble, independent character, her sound judgment, vigorous understanding, and brilliant conversation. She died on 26 May 1838.

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