Charles Arbuthnot

British diplomat and politician (1767–1850)

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Charles Arbuthnot

Rt Hon Charles Arbuthnot
First Commissioner of Woods
and Forests
In office
1823 – 9 April 1827
Monarch George IV
Prime Minister The Earl of Liverpool
Preceded by William Huskisson
Succeeded by The Earl of Carlisle
In office
11 February 1828 – 2 June 1828
Monarch George IV
Prime Minister The Duke of Wellington
Preceded by William Sturges Bourne
Succeeded by Viscount Lowther
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
2 June 1828 – 15 November 1830
Monarch George IV
Prime Minister The Duke of Wellington
Preceded by The Earl of Aberdeen
Succeeded by The Lord Holland
Personal details
Born 14 March 1767 (1767-03-14)
Rockfleet, County Mayo
Died 18 August 1850 (1850-08-19) (aged 83)
Apsley House, Piccadilly, London
Nationality British
Political party Tory
Spouse(s) (1) Marcia Clapcott-Lisle
(2) Harriet Fane

Charles Arbuthnot (14 March 1767 – 18 August 1850) was a British diplomat and Tory politician. He was Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1804 and 1807 and held a number of political offices. He was a good friend of the Duke of Wellington. His second wife, Harriet, became a hostess at Wellington’s society dinners, and wrote an important diary cataloging contemporary political intrigues.


Arbuthnot was son of John Arbuthnot, FRS of Rockfleet, and his wife Anne Stone, daughter of the banker Robert Stone;[1] he was brother of bishop Alexander Arbuthnot, General Sir Thomas Arbuthnot and General Sir Robert Arbuthnot. He was born in Rockfleet, County Mayo, Ireland, but much of his upbringing was with Andrew Stone, his mother’s relation. He was educated at Westminster School, and matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford in 1784, graduating B.A. in 1788. He then went on a Grand Tour.[1][2]

Political and diplomatic career to 1804[edit]

Arbuthnot joined the Foreign Office in 1793, where he impressed William Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville.[3] He sat as Member of Parliament for East Looe between 1795 and 1796, after William Wellesley Pole stepped down because he could not support the war policies of William Pitt the younger.[4]

Arbuthnot also held a number of diplomatic postings, notably as consul general in Portugal between 1800 and 1801, as Minister to Sweden. He served under Henry Addington as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs between November 1803 and June 1804. In 1804 he was sworn of the Privy Council.[5]

In Constantinople[edit]

Appointed on 6 June 1804 as Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Arbuthnot was the first ambassador in Constantinople under a new arrangement, whereby the Levant Company provided a consul-general, in this case Isaac Morier, who saw to commercial work.[6] In 1806 Arbuthnot negotiated a trade treaty with the Reis ül-Küttab, Ahmed Vâsıf.[7] He travelled out with William Pole-Tylney, nephew to Arthur and Richard Wellesley.[8]

Arbuthnot was tasked in the early days of 1807 to bring Selim III into the Anglo-Russian camp opposed to France. He was unable to do that.[3] In the context of a renewed Russo-Turkish War and tariff evasion under the commercial treaty, Arbuthnot pursued his own line, prepared to use force.[9]

Selim with Horace Sébastiani successfully resisted a British naval expedition in the Dardanelles operation. Arbuthnot left Constantinople on 29 January 1807.[3]

Politics to 1812[edit]

Arbuthnot was Member of Parliament for Eye between 1809 and 1812, taking up the seat when Henry Wellesley resigned.[10] He became Secretary to the Treasury in 1809, and began attempts to manage public opinion for the government, by centralising management of the press.[11]

Under Spencer Perceval, and then Lord Liverpool, Arbuthnot was Joint Secretary to the Treasury between 1809 and 1823.

The Liverpool ministry[edit]

Arbuthnot sat for Orford between 1812 and 1818, a pocket borough of the 2nd Marquess of Hertford, in a deal with the Liverpool ministry on behalf of Edmond Alexander MacNaghten.[12] Arbuthnot and Robert Jenkinson, later Lord Liverpool, had known each other in college days at Christ Church.[13]

Arbuthnot held the position of Patronage Secretary, and also played the role of “general cabinet fixer”.[14] In September 1812, John McMahon, private secretary to the Prince Regent, tried Arbuthnot in an attempt to shut down a series of scurrilous articles in the Morning Chronicle. They purported to be an epic and extended review of a poem by Charlotte Dacre on the Prince and his circle, and referenced the Prince’s affair with the Marchioness of Hertford. These squibs have been attributed by David V. Erdman to Lord Byron.[15] Liverpool disapproved of the subsidy Arbuthnot was giving Lewis Goldsmith, founder of The Anti-Gallican Monitor, a project of 1811 of Arbuthnot and John Charles Herries; and ran it down, ending it in 1814.[16]

During Arbuthnot’s time in charge of patronage, a Treasury appointment, over 2,000 sinecure posts were abolished. He noted the effect the reforms were having on his influence on Members of Parliament.[17] He is taken to have been the de facto Tory whip.[18] The responsibility for party discipline was only later recognised by a seat in the Cabinet.

Subsequently Arbuthnot sat for St Germans between 1818 and 1827.[1] The constituency was controlled by John Eliot, 2nd Baron Eliot (as he was in 1818).[19] Under Liverpool he was First Commissioner of Woods and Forests between 1823 and 1827.

Later life and death[edit]

Arbuthnot was Member of Parliament for St Ives between 1828 and 1830 and for Ashburton between 1830 and 1831.[1] At St Ives he was the favoured successor of Sir Christopher Hawkins, 1st Baronet. For a time in 1828 a rival candidate was promoted, Guy Lenox Prendergast, but he withdrew before the poll.[20] Ashburton was controlled by landlords Robert Trefusis, 18th Baron Clinton and Sir Lawrence Vaughan Palk. Arbuthnot was elected with Palk in 1830, and resigned in 1831.[21]

Under Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Arbuthnot was First Commissioner of Woods and Forests in 1828 and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster between 1828 and 1830. In the 1830s he remained a major figure in the party management of the Tories, working with John Charles Herries, William Holmes and Joseph Planta.[22]

During the last years of Arbuthnot’s life, after the death of his second wife Harriet, he turned over the family home to his eldest son, and moved into the Duke of Wellington’s London residence, Apsley House, as his confidential friend.[23] Their story is told in Wellington and the Arbuthnots by E. A. Smith.[24]

Charles Arbuthnot died at Apsley House in August 1850, aged 83. Spiridione Gambardella’s portrait of him is kept there.[25] He was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.[26]


Personal life and family[edit]

Engraved portrait of Marcia Clapcott-Lisle (1774–1806), first wife of Charles Arbuthnot

Arbuthnot was first married on 28 February 1799 to Marcia Mary Anne Clapcott Lisle, at Cholmondeley House, Piccadilly. She had been Lady-in-Waiting since 1795 to Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales. She died in Constantinople on 24 May 1806.

Arbuthnot married a second time on 31 January 1814 at Fulbeck, Lincolnshire, to Harriet Fane (1793–1834), daughter of the Hon. Henry Fane. Harriet was fascinated by politics. During her marriage to Arbuthnot, she became a hostess at society dinners given by Arbuthnot’s good friend, the Duke of Wellington. Smith rejects the suggestion that Harriet was Wellington’s mistress. Her diaries were published as The Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot in 1950.[28]

With his first wife Marcia, Arbuthnot’s children were:

Arbuthnot had an illegitimate son, from the days before he first married, mentioned in correspondence with his clerical friend John Sneyd (1763–1835), brother of Walter Sneyd. These letters discuss also his nickname “Gosh”, which spread from his familiar circle to being generally used, and mistaken for his surname; and his interest in John de Mainauduc, Irish-Huguenot practitioner of animal magnetism.[32] Of Arthur Paget, Arbuthnot’s replacement in 1807 at Constantinople, George Canning as incoming Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the second Portland administration wrote “I must send him to repair if possible the mischief poor Gosh has been doing there.”[33]

Harriet Fane (1793–1834), second wife of Charles Arbuthnot, portrait by John Hoppner, now in the Foundation Lazzaro Galdiano, Madrid


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  1. ^ a b c d .mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit;word-wrap:break-word}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:”””””””‘””‘”}.mw-parser-output .citation:target{background-color:rgba(0,127,255,0.133)}.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output a,.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url(“//”)right 0.1em center/12px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:none;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#2C882D;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit} .mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{color:#18911F} .mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error, .mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{color:#f8a397}@media(prefers-color-scheme:dark){ .mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error, .mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{color:#f8a397} .mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{color:#18911F}}“Arbuthnot, Charles (1767-1850), of Woodford, Northants. History of Parliament Online”.
  2. ^ Foster, Joseph (1888–1892). “Arbuthnot, Charles (2)” . Alumni Oxonienses: the Members of the University of Oxford, 1715–1886. Oxford: Parker and Co – via Wikisource.
  3. ^ a b c Thompson, Neville. “Arbuthnot, Charles (1767–1850)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/607. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ “East Looe 1790-1820, History of Parliament Online”.
  5. ^ “No. 15714”. The London Gazette. 26 June 1804. p. 789.
  6. ^ Berridge, Geoffrey R. (31 July 2009). British Diplomacy in Turkey, 1583 to the present: A study in the evolution of the resident embassy. BRILL. p. 33. ISBN 978-90-474-2983-8.
  7. ^ Menchinger, Ethan L. (10 August 2017). The First of the Modern Ottomans. Cambridge University Press. p. 247. ISBN 978-1-107-19797-8.
  8. ^ “Pole Tylney Long Wellesley, William (1788-1857), of Wanstead Hall, Essex. History of Parliament Online”.
  9. ^ Talbot, Michael (2017). British-Ottoman Relations, 1661-1807: Commerce and Diplomatic Practice in Eighteenth-century Istanbul. Boydell & Brewer. p. 206. ISBN 978-1-78327-202-0.
  10. ^ “Eye 1790-1820, History of Parliament Online”.
  11. ^ Hamilton, C. I. (3 February 2011). The Making of the Modern Admiralty: British Naval Policy-Making, 1805–1927. Cambridge University Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-139-49654-4.
  12. ^ “Orford 1790-1820, History of Parliament Online”.
  13. ^ Hutchinson, Martin (1 January 2021). Britain’s Greatest Prime Minister. BoD – Books on Demand. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-7188-9564-8.
  14. ^ Bew, John (2012). Castlereagh: A Life. Oxford University Press. p. 306. ISBN 978-0-19-993159-0.
  15. ^ Erdman, David V. (1970). “Byron’s Mock Review of Rosa Matilda’s Epic on the Prince Regent — A New Attribution”. Keats-Shelley Journal. 19: 102–104. ISSN 0453-4387. JSTOR 30210623.
  16. ^ Sack, James J. (27 May 1993). From Jacobite to Conservative. Cambridge University Press. pp. 14 and 21. ISBN 978-0-521-43266-5.
  17. ^ Evans, Eric J. (5 December 2006). Political Parties in Britain 1783-1867. Routledge. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-135-83560-6.
  18. ^ Huch, Ronald K.; Ziegler, Paul R. (1985). Joseph Hume, the People’s M.P. American Philosophical Society. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-87169-163-7.
  19. ^ “St. Germans 1790-1820, History of Parliament Online”.
  20. ^ “St. Ives 1820-1832, History of Parliament Online”.
  21. ^ “Ashburton 1820-1832, History of Parliament Online”.
  22. ^ Salmon, Philip J. (2002). Electoral Reform at Work: Local Politics and National Parties, 1832-1941. Boydell & Brewer. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-86193-261-0.
  23. ^
    “THE IRON DUKE’S LADY”. Heritage Alive UK. Retrieved 23 May 2020. By January 1835, Charles handed his estate at Woodford to his son, and followed the diaries to Aspley House. He and Wellington lived there together, surrounded by the legacy of Harriet’s influence, until Charles died in 1850.
  24. ^ Arbuthnot, Harriet (1950). Bamford, F.; Duke of Wellington (eds.). The journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot, 1820–1832. London: MacMillan.
  25. ^ Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1885). “Arbuthnot, Charles” . Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 2. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  26. ^ Thompson, Neville. “Arbuthnot, Charles”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/607. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  27. ^ Arbuthnot, Charles (1941). The Correspondence of Charles Arbuthnot. Royal Historical Society. ISBN 978-0-86193-065-4.
  28. ^ Smith, E.A. Wellington and the Arbuthnots: a triangular friendship (UK, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1994) ISBN 0-7509-0629-4.
  29. ^ Portugal, Select Baptisms, 1570-1910
  30. ^ The Gentleman’s Magazine. W. Pickering. 1842. p. 544.
  31. ^ Debrett, John (1840). Debrett’s Peerage of England, Scotland, and Ireland. revised, corrected and continued by G.W. Collen. p. 179.
  32. ^ Canning, George (1909). Bagot, Josceline (ed.). George Canning and His Friends: Containing Hitherto Unpublished Letters, Jeux D’esprit, Etc. Vol. I. J. Murray. pp. 3–7.
  33. ^ George III (1968). The Later Correspondence of George III.: January 1802 to December 1807. Vol. IV. Cambridge University Press. p. 574 note 2.

External links[edit]

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by

Member of Parliament for East Looe
With: Robert Wood
Succeeded by

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by

Member of Parliament for Eye
With: Mark Singleton
Succeeded by

Preceded by

Member of Parliament for Orford
With: Edmond MacNaghten
Succeeded by

Preceded by

Member of Parliament for St Germans
With: Seymour Thomas Bathurst 1818–1826
Charles Ross 1826–1827
Succeeded by

Preceded by

Member of Parliament for St Ives
With: James Halse
Succeeded by

Preceded by

Member of Parliament for Ashburton
With: Sir Lawrence Palk, Bt
Succeeded by

Political offices
Preceded by

Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by

Preceded by

Joint Secretary to the Treasury
With: Richard Wharton 1809–1814
Stephen Rumbold Lushington 1814–1823
Succeeded by

Preceded by

First Commissioner of Woods and Forests
Succeeded by

Preceded by

First Commissioner of Woods and Forests
Succeeded by

Preceded by

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Succeeded by

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by

Ambassador to Sweden
Succeeded by

Preceded by

Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
Succeeded by