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date: 01 March 2021

Manners, John James Robert, seventh duke of Rutlandfree

  • Jonathan Parry

John James Robert Manners, seventh duke of Rutland (1818–1906)

by James Russell & Sons

Manners, John James Robert, seventh duke of Rutland (1818–1906), politician, born at Belvoir Castle on 13 December 1818, was the second son in the family of three sons and four daughters of John Henry Manners, fifth duke of Rutland, and Lady Elizabeth, daughter of Frederick Howard, fifth earl of Carlisle; his elder brother was Charles Cecil John Manners, sixth duke of Rutland. He was educated at Eton College and at Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating MA in 1839; he became LLD in 1862. At neither place did he show much academic promise, but at Cambridge he began to adopt the outlook which was to lead him into public life.

Young England

Manners had a vivid and Romantic historical imagination. He developed a strong attachment to the principles of noblesse oblige, chivalry, and patriotism, and venerated the Stuart monarchy and high Anglicanism for their paternalist commitment to an integrated, hierarchical society. He was an active member of the Camden Society at Cambridge; he read the works of Kenelm Digby, Robert Southey, and Sir Walter Scott; and he supported the cause, and visited the camp of Don Carlos, the clericalist claimant to the Spanish throne, in the months after graduating (he wrote about his visit in Fraser's Magazine for May and July 1840). In these years of susceptibility he came under the influence of two gifted and intense propagandists, the Romantic tory George Smythe (afterwards seventh Viscount Strangford), and the Oxford fellow Frederick Faber. Faber, in turn, was much taken with the 'delicate holiness' of the young Manners, who was (and remained) a tall, slim, fresh-faced, and vivacious man of openness, integrity, good breeding, and fashion—and thus a fine symbol of noble purity. Both these mentors were poets, and it was to Smythe that Manners dedicated the first of his two books of poems, England's Trust (1841), which pleaded for the restoration of the former power of the church and the reassertion of feudal values. (Unfortunately for Manners, two of its many ardent lines permanently saddled him with the reputation of an impractical and narrow-minded landowner: 'Let wealth and commerce, laws and learning die, but leave us still our old nobility.') Although in the two years after graduating he was a regular member of Lady Blessington's literary salon, wrote poems, lived a gay London and country social life of dancing, dining, and racegoing, and read for the bar, he had a clear sense of the duty of his class to offer political and moral leadership. He had developed skills of public speaking at the Cambridge Union, and, in 1841, in his twenty-third year, anxious to act out his principles, he entered parliament as Conservative MP for Newark, where the Manners family had some influence, W. E. Gladstone being the other MP (Manners was his pallbearer, fifty-seven years later).

Manners's views were not eccentric for a Conservative in the early 1840s. This was because of the threat to the church, traditional aristocratic society, and rural values posed by urbanization, the 1832 Reform Act, and the class tension stemming from severe economic depression. But there was less agreement about the best way of defending these endangered principles. Manners became associated with three other Conservative MPs, Smythe, Alexander Cochrane-Baillie (afterwards first Baron Lamington), and Benjamin Disraeli, in what became called the Young England group. Young England scorned the practices and views of industrial employers as materialist, and asserted the need for a social politics, led by a regenerated aristocracy, in order to humanize the towns. The group attracted much attention, owing principally to Disraeli's flair for publicity and to its willingness to criticize the prime minister, Sir Robert Peel, for his attachment to political economy and his lack of sympathy with social reform. But its members had different priorities. Manners was particularly concerned about urban conditions; he toured the industrial districts of Lancashire and was distressed to discover the extent and effects of child labour. In 1844, and subsequently, he was an active supporter of Lord Ashley's campaign to secure a ten-hour day in factories; this was achieved in 1847.

But, notwithstanding his genuine sympathy for the urban poor, Manners's priority was to defend the rural order, the gentlemanly political and social code, and the Anglican church establishment. He urged landlords to establish allotments for agricultural labourers, and persuaded his father to do so on the Belvoir estate. In a pamphlet of 1843, A Plea for National Holy Days, he advocated the establishment of communal rest days for dancing, archery, and other sports, as in pre-industrial ‘merrie England’—hoping that they would brighten working-class lives, bring families together, increase respect for the church, remove 'thoughts of discontent and moroseness', and improve the nation's fitness in case of attack (he figured as Lord Henry Sydney in Disraeli's Coningsby, 1844, urging similar reforms). He strongly believed in the role that religion, and religious art and architecture, could play in reassuring the poor and reducing class tensions. After visiting Lancashire in 1841 he wrote that 'nothing but monastic institutions can Christianise Manchester'. He was committed to defending the Church of England, as the national, established church, rooted in the parochial structure and the alliance with land. Unlike some of his friends, he was never tempted by the idea of seceding to the Roman Catholic church. For all his susceptibility to Romantic fashions, Manners remained a straightforward English aristocrat: a patriot, a churchman, and a firm believer in the social order.

Manners criticized Peel for failing to uphold these values sufficiently staunchly, and it was this which led to his separation from his leader in the crisis of 1846 arising from Peel's proposal to repeal the corn laws. Manners was no absolutist supporter of protection. He believed that Peel should have opened the ports to corn imports, in order to mitigate the effects of the Irish famine, and taken the argument for free trade to the constituencies, in which case he would have supported him (though his ideal solution would have involved a moderate fixed duty on grain imported from outside the colonies, thus maintaining imperial preference). But he could not support Peel in his unchivalrous course of forcing repeal through parliament by expecting MPs to flout the principles on which they had been elected in 1841. So, unlike Smythe, he remained with Disraeli and the protectionists after the prime minister's fall in June 1846.

Tory government

Young England was now destroyed as a force, having already been damaged in 1845 by division on Peel's proposal to increase the grant to the Roman Catholic seminary at Maynooth. Manners, like Smythe, did not feel that the grant violated the compact between the Church of England and the state. On the contrary, he advocated a generous treatment of the Irish priesthood, and the maintenance of friendly relations with the Vatican. These views, together with Manners's continuing public sympathy for the Spanish Carlists and his friendship with Tractarians—such as Faber, who joined the Roman Catholic church in 1845—displeased some of his Newark constituents. When his lukewarmness on protection became known in 1846, Manners felt obliged to announce that he would look for another seat at the next election, which was held in 1847. However, his choice of Liverpool instead was unpropitious; he fell victim to a No Popery campaign from evangelical protestants, and was unsuccessful. In 1849 he was again defeated—in the City of London by Baron Lionel de Rothschild—and only in 1850 did he return to the Commons as Conservative MP for Colchester. (He sat until 1857, when he was returned instead for North Leicestershire, a seat which he held until becoming MP for East Leicestershire in 1885.) Manners was therefore out of parliament for the three crucial years during which the leadership of the party in the Commons was decided for the next generation. Though probably not a serious contender for this position, owing to his age, dislike of responsibility, and lack of intellectual weight, Manners had by now developed into a self-confident and tenacious debater. His rank was also a great asset, as is suggested by the elevation of his less talented brother, then known as the marquess of Granby, to the joint leadership between 1848 and 1851. By 1851 Disraeli was agreed to be the party's leading MP. Manners was his ally, counsellor on public affairs and political tactics, and unswerving supporter for the next thirty years.

This was Manners's major contribution to Conservative Party history and it ensured him a cabinet place in all the Conservative governments between 1852 and 1892, though he was never given the responsibility of a major department. In the minority Conservative ministries of 1852, 1858–9, and 1866–8 he was first commissioner of works. This was a post to which his artistic and architectural interests made him suited. His most contentious actions during his first tenure included his decision to remove the Crystal Palace to Sydenham after the Great Exhibition, and his appointment of Alfred Stevens to design the monument to the duke of Wellington in St Paul's Cathedral. In 1858, as an admirer of Gilbert Scott and the Gothic style of architecture, he chose Scott to design the new Foreign Office buildings, despite the fact that Scott had not been placed first in the competition arranged by the previous government of Lord Palmerston. His choice was criticized by Palmerston in the Commons in February 1859, and when the latter returned to power in June 1859 Scott was told to design the offices in an Italianate style instead, which caused Manners in turn to protest, unavailingly, at this flaunting of amateurish taste and slight to the architectural profession.

Manners's tenure of the commissionership reflected his localism; despite his abstract sympathy for working-class living conditions, it was not distinguished by legislative initiatives. His Metropolitan Burials Act of 1852 followed the consensus of the day in giving government power to close insanitary burial-grounds, but vested the power to establish new public cemeteries in parish ratepayers rather than in the Board of Health as the previous Liberal cabinet had proposed. His Metropolis Water Supply Act of the same year did not seriously challenge the vested interests of the water companies. Similarly, he rarely advocated social reform in government after the extension of the borough franchise in 1867. His concern to defend church interests made him unsympathetic to the extension of government responsibility for elementary education. As a firm believer in social order, he was also anxious that government should not appear weak in the face of radical agitation for parliamentary reform. In July 1866, when the government was faced with demands from the Reform League for permission to agitate in Hyde Park for a reform bill, he steadied the nerve of the home secretary, Spencer Walpole, whom he regarded as insufficiently resolute in upholding the law; he also defended Governor Eyre's behaviour in ruthlessly suppressing a black uprising in Jamaica in 1865; and he advocated strong measures in Ireland in the 1870s, especially against the press, in order to secure property rights. However, he was a supporter of Disraeli throughout the discussions on the franchise in 1867. He subsequently spoke at a number of Conservative working-men's meetings, and toyed with the New Social Movement inaugurated by Scott Russell in 1871 in an attempt to build up support for the Conservative Party among the lower classes. Manners claimed to discern support from this quarter for a number of Conservative principles, including defence of the church, property, and the union with Ireland.

But Manners's speeches after 1867, in and outside parliament, were particularly associated with two issues on which he hoped to generate a wide measure of agreement: national defence and import duties. His patriotism led him to call for a strong army—and the determination to go to war if necessary—in order to assert Britain's position in Europe. He repeatedly expressed his belief that Britain needed a standing army of 100,000 men as well as an effective militia, yeomanry, and volunteer movement. He was disturbed by the loss of national face over the Schleswig-Holstein affair and the concession of the Ionian Islands to Greece in 1864, and by the rise of Prussia and the resurgence of Russia in 1870. He was a strong critic of Gladstone's foreign policy and he was particularly hostile to Russia. With David Urquhart he advocated an understanding with the Circassians, the anti-Russian people on the north-eastern shores of the Black Sea; he also argued that the resettlement of many Circassians to the Balkans after the Crimean War fuelled the instability there in 1875–8, and made Gladstone's proposal of regional autonomy impractical. He supported Disraeli in cabinet during 1877–8 in taking a strong line against Russia and risking war, believing that this was the patriotic and popular cause. He remained an advocate of a pro-Ottoman policy until the end of his life, and in February 1899 published an article in Blackwood's Magazine criticizing Salisbury's abandonment of it.

Manners was the first leading politician publicly to advocate a return to a system of import duties and imperial preference, capitalizing on the rise of German competition and the slights to national pride apparent in the 1860s. He stressed it in speeches to working men from the late 1860s, citing the dangers of this competition, for example in the Leicester hosiery trade. In the light of the depression of the 1870s, he urged tariff reform in an article in Blackwood's for October 1881, arguing that it would benefit commerce and consolidate the empire. He was seen as the representative of agriculture in Salisbury's cabinet of 1886, until the establishment of a special cabinet post for it in 1889. In 1903 he welcomed Joseph Chamberlain's tariff reform initiative.

In the cabinets of the 1870s and 1880s, Manners was postmaster-general (1874–80 and 1885–6) and chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster (1886–92). He presided over the introduction of postal orders (1880) and the reduction of the minimum telegraph charge from 1s. to 6d. (1885). On leaving office in 1880 he was made GCB and given a pension of £1200 per annum. He had never been a rich man (he wrote extensively in Blackwood's between 1881 and 1885 in order to supplement his income), and it was partly on grounds of expense that he declined the prime minister's offers of the lord lieutenancy of Ireland (1866), the governor-generalship of Canada (1868), and the viceroyalty of India (1875)—for which Disraeli proposed him on account of his positive conception of the national destiny. But in 1888 he succeeded his brother as duke of Rutland, and inherited over 70,000 acres, principally in Leicestershire and Derbyshire. In 1892 he sold his Cheveley estate, near Cambridge, claiming that the injurious consequences of free trade necessitated this. He was made KG in 1891, and on 17 June 1896 he was granted the additional title of Baron Roos of Belvoir. After 1892 he spent most of his time at Belvoir, playing the part of the amiable, eager, benevolent landlord to general admiration; his gardens and galleries were freely open to visitors; he was never deeply interested in sport.

Manners married twice: on 10 June 1851 Catherine Louisa Georgina (1831–1854), only daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel George Marlay CB, of Belvedere, co. Westmeath; she died in childbed, of scarlet fever, in 1854, and on 15 May 1862 he married Janetta (1836–1899), eldest daughter of Thomas Hughan of Airds, Galloway. From the first marriage he had one son, Henry John Brinsley, who succeeded him as eighth duke, and who had five children, including the future Lady Diana Cooper. With his second wife Manners had five sons and three daughters. He died at Belvoir on 4 August 1906, and was buried there.


  • C. Whibley, Lord John Manners and his friends, 2 vols. (1925)
  • Lord John Manners: a political and literary sketch, comprising some account of the Young England Party and the passing of the Factory Acts, by a non-elector (1872)
  • I. Toplis, The foreign office: an architectural history (1987)
  • P. Smith, Disraelian Conservatism and social reform (1967)
  • Benjamin Disraeli letters, ed. J. A. W. Gunn and M. G. Wiebe (1982–)


  • BL, corresp. with W. E. Gladstone
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Benjamin Disraeli
  • CKS, letters to Edward Stanhope
  • Lpool RO, letters to fourteenth earl of Derby; corresp. with fifteenth earl of Derby
  • NL Scot., corresp. with W. Blackwood & Sons Ltd
  • NRA, priv. coll., letters mainly to Drummond family
  • NRA, priv. coll., letters to E. De Lisle
  • U. Nott., letters to C. B. Marlay; letters to E. M. Wrench
  • Wellcome L., letters to Sir Thomas Barlow


  • F. Grant, oils, 1853, Belvoir Castle; replica, Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire
  • W. Walker, mezzotint, pubd 1853 (after R. Buckner), BM, NPG
  • F. Grant, oils, 1860, Belvoir Castle
  • H. T. Wells, chalk drawing, 1872, NPG
  • E. Lacretelle, etching, pubd 1874, NPG
  • lithograph, 1877, BM
  • W. W. Ouless, oils, 1886, NPG
  • M. Beerbohm, drawing, 1926, Sheffield City Art Gallery
  • Ape [C. Pellegrini], chromolithograph, NPG; repro. in VF (20 Nov 1869)
  • Bede, portrait, NPG; repro. in VF (7 Dec 1905)
  • T. Chartran, chromolithograph, NPG; repro. in VF (5 July 1881)
  • G. Cook, stipple and line engraving (after photograph by S. A. Walker), NPG
  • H. Gales, group portrait, oils (The Derby cabinet of 1867), NPG
  • J. R. Herbert, oils (kit-cat portrait), Belvoir
  • H. von Herkomer, oils, Belvoir
  • J. Russell & Sons, photograph, NPG [see illus.]
  • cartoon, repro. in VF (1881)
  • photographs, NPG
  • prints, NPG
  • statue, Bottesford church, Leicestershire

Wealth at Death

£99,596: probate, 30 Oct 1906, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

British Library, London
University of Nottingham
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)
Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone, Kent
National Portrait Gallery, London
British Museum, London
National Register of Archives, private collection
Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, London
W. E. Gladstone , ed. M. R. D. Foot & H. C. G. Matthew, 14 vols. (1968–94)
Liverpool Record Office and Local Studies Service
Bodleian Library, Oxford
National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh