Liddell, Henry, first Baron Ravensworth (bap. 1708, d. 1784), politician and coal owner
by William C. Lowe

Liddell, Henry, first Baron Ravensworth (bap. 1708, d. 1784), politician and coal owner, was baptized on 1 August 1708 in Lamesley, co. Durham, the eldest son of Thomas Liddell (c.1680–1715) and his wife, Jane (1679–1774), the daughter of James Clavering of Greencroft, co. Durham. Both families were prominent north-eastern coal owners. Liddell succeeded his paternal grandfather, Sir Henry Liddell, as fourth baronet in 1723 and went to Peterhouse College, Cambridge, in 1725. Following a grand tour in the early 1730s, on 27 April 1735 he married Anne (1712–1794), the daughter of a former lord mayor of London, Sir Peter Delmé, and his first wife, Anne Macham.

In 1726 Liddell was one of the original signatories of the grand alliance, a cartel of Tyneside coal owners that came to dominate the production and sale of coal in the area. By 1750 the alliance was at the peak of its power, controlling sixteen of the twenty-seven Durham collieries that produced for the sea-going trade. Although it later declined in dominance, the alliance outlived its original organizers and remained a force in the industry into the nineteenth century.

Liddell pursued a parliamentary career that spanned nearly fifty years and included membership in both houses. He was first elected as a member for Morpeth in 1734, and was raised to the peerage as Baron Ravensworth in 1747. He was an active parliamentarian, attending regularly and speaking occasionally. While he was always solicitous of the interests of his fellow coal owners, he made his political reputation as an independent whig. He started out as a follower of Sir Robert Walpole and later supported the Pelhams, but often showed an independent streak. On occasion in the 1740s he clashed with William Pitt the elder on the issue of Hanoverian troops. Later, in 1778, he was one of a handful of peers to oppose the annuity bill for Pitt's heirs.

Ravensworth's best-known intervention in politics came in 1753, when, prompted by an anonymous memorial from Horace Walpole, he accused several of those in charge of the education of the prince of Wales—Andrew Stone and William Murray, together with James Johnson, the bishop of Gloucester—with having been Jacobites. The charge caused a sensation and was investigated by the cabinet. It was found to be groundless, and Ravensworth emerged as one who seemed both sincere and gullible. It did not, however, break him of the habit of raising politically awkward questions. In 1763 the duke of Newcastle characterized him as a ‘Wild Man’ when he moved for financial accounts of the war in Germany (BL, Add. MS 32947, fol. 164, 3 March 1763); he was ultimately dissuaded from dividing the upper house by the prospect of being a minority of one. By this time he was regarded as a political eccentric, respected for his honesty but viewed as erratic in his judgement. Shortly after his motion for the accounts, George III, in a letter to Lord Bute on 11 March 1763, used Ravensworth as an example of the sort of man he considered unfit for office.

At times Ravensworth espoused populist causes. He became a staunch early supporter of John Wilkes: Lord Ilchester described him on 3 May 1765 as ‘so zealous for Wilkes that he is half mad’ (BL, Add. MS 51421, fol. 41). In 1766 he pressed the Chatham administration for a bill to allow the import of rye and rye meal to alleviate the suffering of the common people of the north-east.

In January 1756 Ravensworth's only child, Anne [see ], married Augustus Henry Fitzroy, earl of Euston (1735–1811). During the 1760s the rise of his son-in-law, by then the duke of Grafton, to a position of importance gave Ravensworth closer connections to those at the highest level of politics. He, however, continued his independent course, voting both for and against Grafton's hard-pressed administration during the spring of 1767. His daughter later eloped with John Fitzpatrick, second earl of Upper Ossory (1745–1818), whom she married after her marriage to Grafton was dissolved in March 1769.

After 1770 Ravensworth increasingly inclined towards opposition. He often opposed the North administration's colonial policy and the resultant war in America. He was also strongly critical of the government's handling of the Gordon riots. He supported economical reform in 1782, and Shelburne listed him on 6 May 1782, in a letter to George III, as among ‘the most independent people’ who supported the Contractor's Bill (Shelburne to George III, Correspondence of King George the Third, 6.8–9).

Ravensworth died on 30 January 1784 and was buried on 8 February at Lamesley. His widow survived him by ten years, and died on 12 June 1794 at their house, 13 St James's Square, London. The peerage became extinct on Ravensworth's death, but the title was revived in 1821 in favour of the son of his nephew and heir.

WILLIAM C. LOWE

Sources  

H. Walpole, Memoirs of the reign of King George the Second, ed. Lord Holland, 2nd edn, 3 vols. (1847) · E. Hughes, North country life in the eighteenth century, 1 (1952) · M. W. Flinn and D. S. Stoker, The industrial revolution: 1700–1830 (1984), vol. 2 of The history of the British coal industry (1984–93) · J. B. Owen, The rise of the Pelhams (1957) · T. S. Ashton and J. Sykes, The coal industry of the eighteenth century, 2nd edn (1964) · GEC, Peerage · Cobbett, Parl. hist. · The correspondence of King George the Third from 1760 to December 1783, ed. J. Fortescue, 6 vols. (1927–8) · HoP, Commons, 1715–54 · Letters from George III to Lord Bute, 1756–1766, ed. R. Sedgwick (1939) · IGI · J. Ingamells, ed., A dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy, 1701–1800 (1997) · Political Magazine and Parliamentary, Naval, Military and Literary Journal, 2 (1781), 589

Archives  

Durham RO, estate and legal MSS · Gateshead Central Library, family MSS · Tyne and Wear Archive Service, Newcastle upon Tyne, family letters and papers |  BL, Holland House MSS, Add. MS 51421 · BL, corresp. with duke of Newcastle, Add. MSS 32695–32958, passim · North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers, Newcastle, Grand Allies collection · Northumbd RO, Newcastle upon Tyne, letters to Matthew Ridley


Wealth at death  

£5000 (fourth largest estate in Durham): Political Magazine, 589


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Henry Liddell (bap. 1708, d. 1784): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/40432