Biography

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William Vesey Fitzgerald, Baron Fitzgerald and Vesey (1783-1843)

This article was written by Henry Morse Stephens and was published in 1889


William Vesey Fitzgerald, statesman, was the elder son of the Right Hon. James Fitzgerald , by his wife Catherine Vesey, who was in 1826 created Baroness Fitzgerald and Vesey in the peerage of Ireland. He was born in 1783, and spent three years at Christ Church, Oxford, where he made some reputation as a young man of ability, and he entered the united House of Commons as member for Ennis, in his father's room, in 1808. He was greatly involved in the famous scandal resulting from the connection of the Duke of York with Mrs. Mary Ann Clarke , but rendered services to the government and the court in bringing facts to light, and secured his appointment as a lord of the Irish treasury and a privy councillor in Ireland in February 1810. His motives at this time were impugned by Mrs. Clarke in a ‘Letter’ which she published in 1813, but though there probably was a grain of truth in her assertions, there was not enough to damage Fitzgerald's reputation, and the lady was condemned to nine months' imprisonment for libel.

In 1812 he was sworn of the English privy council, and appointed a lord of the treasury in England, chancellor of the Irish exchequer, and first lord of the Irish treasury, and in January 1813 he again succeeded his father as M.P. for Ennis. He held the above offices until their abolition in 1816, when the English and Irish treasuries were amalgamated. A year earlier he had assumed his mother's name of Vesey in addition to his own, on succeeding to some of the Vesey estates. In 1818 he was elected M.P. for the county of Clare. In 1820 he was appointed minister plenipotentiary and envoy extraordinary to the court of Sweden, where he spent three years in fruitless attempts to persuade Bernadotte, who had succeeded to the throne of that kingdom, to repay the large sums of money advanced to him during the war with Napoleon. His efforts were of no avail, and in 1823 he was recalled in something like disgrace. Lord Liverpool, however, knew his value as a speaker and man of business, and in 1826 made him paymaster-general to the forces. After the retirement of Huskisson and others from the Duke of Wellington's administration in June 1828, the duke selected Vesey-Fitzgerald for a seat in his cabinet as president of the board of trade, and this nomination made it necessary for him to seek re-election for the county of Clare. He was opposed by Daniel O'Connell, and was beaten at the poll, a defeat involving important political consequences.

A seat was, however, found for Vesey-Fitzgerald at Newport in Cornwall in 1829, and in August 1830 he was elected for Lostwithiel. In February 1830 he resigned office, being succeeded by John Charles Herries, and gave up his seat in parliament, but next year was again elected for Ennis, and sat for that borough until his accession to his mother's Irish peerage in February 1832. When Sir Robert Peel came into office with his tory cabinet in 1835, he did not forget the services of Vesey-Fitzgerald, who was created an English peer, Lord Fitzgerald of Desmond and Clan Gibbon in the county of Cork, 10 January 1835. He did not form part of Sir Robert Peel's original cabinet when he next came into office in 1841, but he succeeded Lord Ellenborough as president of the board of control on 28 October 1841, and held that office until his death in Belgrave Square, London, on 11 May 1843.

Vesey-Fitzgerald was not a great statesman, but he was a finished speaker, a good debater, a competent official, and had refined literary tastes. At the time of his death he was a trustee of the British Museum, president of the Institute of Irish Architects, and a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. At his death his United Kingdom peerage became extinct, but he was succeeded in his Irish peerage by his brother Henry, dean of Kilmore, at whose death in 1860 that also became extinct.


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