Carlo Pelligrini's watercolour of Lord Manners, published in Vanity Fair 20 (1869),
© National Portrait Gallery, by kind permission.

John James Robert Manners, seventh Duke of Rutland (1818-1906), has not attracted much attention from historians. Yet he sat in Parliament from 1841 to 1892, served in every Conservative cabinet between 1852 and 1892, and during his time in the House of Commons made significant interventions in the debates on the Corn Laws, the Maynooth question, the provision of museums, and the poorer classes’ education and physical recreation. He sought to emphasise a commonality of interests in a Parliamentary atmosphere all too congenial to the warring factions in the House of Commons. Throughout his career his model of society was anti-democratic and hierarchical, for as a traditional Tory from a traditional Tory background, he believed in the divine right of kings, and venerated the Royal Stuart dynasty. Therefore, he spoke consistently as a benevolent paternalist, and, although he was genuinely concerned with the misery of the poorer classes, opposed moves towards the extension of the franchise in 1867. His life throws light on many aspects of the Victorian age.

Family Background

Manners's family background accounted for many of his beliefs. The son of John Henry Manners, 5th Duke of Rutland, KG (1778-1857) and the Lady Elizabeth Howard (1780-1825), he was born in the highly agricultural North Leicestershire at the family home of Belvoir Castle standing on a site originally occupied by a Norman castle. The castle became strategically important to the Royalists during the English Civil War, but Parliamentarian forces demolished it in 1649.

His father was a dyed-in-the-wool Tory out of sorts with modern fashions, who believed firmly in "good breeding," and was glad that his eldest son, Granby, had read Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman . Significantly for his sons, their father was a friend of the Duke of Wellington, took a very keen interest in politics, and wanted them to do the same. The Manners had five sons, two of whom did not survive infancy, George John Henry (26 June-4 August 1807) and George John Frederick (20 August 1813-15 June 1814). Their remaining three sons fulfilled their father’s wishes, and after each attending and graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge, they were elected to Parliament. Appropriately, the constituencies which they represented were located in the predominantly agricultural East of England where a Manners had been in residence at Belvoir Castle since 1508 (Whibley 2). Lord George John Manners the 6th Duke (1820-1874) represented Cambridgeshire from 1847 to 1857, and again from 1863 to 1874. Charles Cecil John the 6th Duke of Rutland KG (1815-1888) represented Stamford, a Lincolnshire market town, from 1837 until 1852, when he was elected for the heavily agricultural North Leicestershire constituency. John James Robert was elected in 1841 to represent the market town of Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire, which was a most appropriate constituency for him considering his veneration of the Stuart monarchy, Newark having been one of Charles I’s strongholds during the English Civil War.

In the Newark election John James was one of the two successful Conservative candidates, the other being Gladstone, who wrote of him: "As a candidate Lord John Manners is excellent, his speaking is popular and effective, and he is a good canvasser by virtue, not, I think, of effort, but of a general kindliness and warmth of disposition, which shows itself to everyone. Nothing can be more satisfactory than to have such a partner" (Morley, I: 238). Gladstone polled 633 votes and Manners 630 for the Conservatives, and John James lived up to his father’s standards throughout his Parliamentary career which lasted from 1841 to 1892 when "his active political career may be said to have come to an end" (Whibley 243).

The Influence of Eton

Another important strand of influence was Manners's education at Eton College, before going up to Cambridge. At Eton neither science nor divinity appeared on the curriculum and Mathematics was in effect optional (see Landow: "The Established System"). His officially prescribed reading comprised Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Æneid and with his tutor he read Herodotus and Sallust. But he was more interested in teaching himself history and politics, and he read, "in my leisure time," Christoph Koch’s Revolutions in Europe (1837) which he admired as an account of European history from the end of the Roman Empire to Napoleon’s abdication, and Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Surprisingly for a Tory, he read View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages (1818) by his fellow Etonian, the Whiggish Henry Hallam (Whibley 47). He also devoted a significant part of his reading to works by Kenelm Digby, Robert Southey, and Sir Walter Scott which imbued him with the chivalric and patriotic ideals which he would share later with other Young Englanders.

Burke’s Influence

Reading Burke reinforced his opposition to democratic rule and his support for hierarchy and established religion for, according to Burke, "Nothing is more certain than that our manners, our civilization, and all the good things which are connected with manners and with, civilization, have, in this European world of ours, depended for ages upon two principles, and were, indeed, the result of both combined: I mean the spirit of a gentleman, and the spirit of religion." However, for Burke there had been a fall from Grace in which the nobility and the clergy had relinquished "their indissoluble union, and their proper place!" and he predicted that civilisation and those whose duty it was to preserve it would be "cast into the mire and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude" (93). Manners, however, hoped for a clerical renewal and, while he shared Burke’s opposition to democracy, his attitude to the people in his writings and in his Parliamentary addresses was benevolent, and not, like Burke’s, one of lofty contempt.

The influence of Cambridge

Manners went up to Cambridge in 1836, graduated from Trinity College as an M.A. in 1839, and was awarded an honorary law degree in 1862. He did not distinguish himself in his formal education, but among his personal reading he included Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England: Begun in the Year 1641 and Bolingbroke’s Letters on the Spirit of Patriotism, on the idea of a patriot king, and on the state of parties at the accession of King George the First which he read and re-read while reading for the bar and which proved to be essential formative influences on his political make-up (Whibley 83).

Clarendon’s Influence

Reading Clarendon reinforced Manners's dedication to the Stuart monarchy and illustrated the ideal relationship between king and parliament in Sir Edward Nicholas (1593-1669). He had served as Secretary of State to both Charles I and Charles II, and advised the latter to tell both Houses of Parliament that "in all his deliberations, and actions, his principal consideration should be, What will a parliament think of them?" Clarendon comments that "all England hath reason to wish, that all ministers had continued to this day, to give the like wholesome counsel," advice which he quotes from Virgil’s Æneid: "Hae tibi erunt artes" (vol. 6, ll, 852-3). The "artes," i.e., political skills, are to impose the ways of peace, to show mercy to the conquered and to subdue the proud. Bolingbroke adds: "Keep always well with your parliaments… Keep always in the true interest of the nation; and a king of England is the greatest and happiest prince in the world (23; my italics).

Bolingbroke’s Influence

Reading Bolingbroke nurtured another set of beliefs on monarchy and good government which Manners maintained throughout his career: that hereditary monarchy was to be esteemed above any other form of government; that kings with "their office, their rights, their persons" were to be reverenced (Bolingbroke 88); that governments were necessary because "societies cannot be maintained without them, nor subsist in a state of anarchy"; and that the ultimate aim of all government is "the good of the people, for whose sake they were made, and without whose consent they could not have been made" (127). But the emphasis on the people’s consent did not represent any concession to democracy but was an essential element in the development of Tory political beliefs whose adherents, like Manners, presented centralized planning and control as benevolent paternalism.

Manners’ Growing Concern for "the Good of the People"

Manners belonged to the Camden Society at Cambridge and this nurtured his interests in the past, but under Bolingbroke’s influence he developed a keen interest in "the good of the people." In contemporary terms this meant a concern with the miseries of the industrial poor and the parliamentary measures needed to address their condition, and many of Manners’ political actions and utterances in Parliament were consistent with this statement by the Viscount: "It is the more incumbent on those who have this benevolence and this regard at heart, to employ all the means that the nature of the government allows, and that rank circumstances of situation, or superiority of talents, give them, to oppose evil, and promote good government" (12).

In October, 1844 Manners demonstrated his continuing concern with the good of the people at the Manchester Athenaeum in a speech in which he congratulated the Mancurian civic authorities on their excellent town planning whereby they were making parks, walks and museums available to everyone. But he had his reservations about the Mechanics' Institutes, particularly about their forgetting the "amusement in education" which he advocated in A Plea for National Holy-Days in 1842, and assuming that a course in mathematics or a lecture on geology would provide relaxation for a man who’s worked for up to fifteen hours a day (Morrow 68).

Manners and Frederick Faber

Burke, Bolingbroke, Clarendon and his father influenced Manners throughout his life, but Frederick Faber (1814-1863), a Puseyite clergyman associated with the Oxford Movement, influenced him for a brief but emotionally intense period. In 1838, while still at Cambridge, Manners and his fellow old Etonian and Cambridge undergraduate, George Smythe, the 7th Viscount Strangford, holidayed in the Lake District, where Manners listened to sermons from Faber who in 1844 would convert to Roman Catholicism. Manners was immediately attracted to Faber. They shared a belief in the Divine Right of Kings, and the chivalric ideals exemplified in Faber’s poem "Sir Lancelot." Faber was also a High Church Anglican at this point and did much to confirm Manners in his adherence to the Established Church.

Their relationship was very close. Manners acknowledged Faber’s influence and Faber’s attitude to Manners was extravagant, telling him "you shall be my Pope in politics. If you ever gain one tithe of the power over my intellect which you have over my heart, Hildebrand himself might envy you." Hildebrand, i.e., Gregory VII (1073-1085), wanted to subject the Western Christian governments to papal authority and did not hesitate to depose the Emperor Henry IV. When Henry submitted to the Pope at Canossa in 1077, the papal victory was complete. Manners, however, could not tolerate the State subjecting itself to the Church. Rather, as he said in the "Maynooth College Debate" in April 1845, "he had always understood and believed that there was a compact between Her Majesty's Ministers and the Protestant Church in this country" (774). For this and other reasons, Manners’ friendship with Faber did not survive when Faber left the Anglican Church and submitted himself to papal authority. Manners could not share the Oxford Movement’s advocation of the revival of Catholic doctrine and its observance in the Church of England of which he remained a firm adherent.

However, despite Manners’ impeccable Anglican credentials and his vision of past and future national greatness, the sympathy with the Irish Catholics which he voiced in the adjourned debate on the "Maynooth College Bill" on 16 April 1845 (cols. 830-02) made him unpopular with his Newark constituents, an unpopularity intensified when he attended the debate on the Navigation Acts in February 1847 and said nothing, so showing that he was not wholeheartedly in favour of protectionism. He further alienated his constituents by arguing that opening the ports to corn imports would alleviate the Irish famine. But he responded to their antipathy, and stood down from Newark. He then sought, but failed, to be elected for Liverpool, a major player in exporting British manufactured goods, where a powerful group of Evangelicals raised the cry of "No Popery" against him. However, he succeeded in the 1850 election at Colchester, a market town dating back to Roman times. A modern commercial centre rejected him, but a historic agricultural centre accepted a candidate with his roots deep in rural Lincolnshire.

Manners: Paternalism and Accountability

After the 1850 election he acted for thirty years as a political advisor to Disraeli, and his parliamentary career continued with posts. Between 1866–8, for instance, he was first commissioner of works, ordered the Crystal Palace to be moved to Sydenham after the Great Exhibition, appointed Alfred Stevens to design the Duke of Wellington’s monument in St Paul's, and "chose [Gilbert] 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" (Parry).

He proved to be very conservative in his defence of vested interests and this resulted in some contradictions in his ministerial statements. For instance, on 17 June 1852 the House debated his Metropolis Water Supply Bill. Viscount Ebrington objected to the bill on two counts. First, "it placed in the hands of greedy traders the control over one of the prime necessaries of life, which ought to be supplied to the inhabitants of the metropolis at the cheapest possible rate." Francis Mowatt, the Radical MP for Penryn and Falmouth, initially seemed to agree with Manners’ notion of good, strong government and described the Bill as "of very great importance, for it introduced the principle of Government interference and control in reference to that subject" (col. 840). However, he called the House’s attention to "the source of supply, the mode of distribution, and the price charged" and argued that if the House considered the Bill carefully, "they would find that all three were touched in so slight a degree as to involve an aggravation, he feared, of the evil" (my italics, col. 842). In a direct challenge to some of Manners’ most cherished ideals, he charged that if the House sanctioned the Bills before it, this would "inflict evils of the most serious and grave character upon the metropolis — evils that could scarcely be estimated by any money consideration, but which went directly to affect the physical, social, and moral condition of the people, in the most fearful and injurious manner, bearing most oppressively too on the poorest and most helpless classes" (col. 856).

Mowatt was holding Manners to account for acting on behalf of the commercial classes whom he had formerly opposed. He was also holding to account a believer in strong paternalist government whose amended clauses provided insufficient governmental control. Manners’ belief in a benevolent paternalism governing the people’s affairs had, in this instance, deserted him because the bill did nothing to improve the quality of the water which the companies were supplying at what Viscount Ebrington considered as an "extravagant price" (col. 861).

However, his paternalism did not desert him when he actively supported Lord Ashley’s "Ten Hours’ Factory Bill" in the debate on 29 January 1846. It informed his reasons for supporting the Bill: "He was convinced that he could do nothing more effectual in conciliating the feelings of the operative to the master than to support this Bill. It was because he wished to see a friendly and cordial feeling between all classes that he gave his most unhesitating and determined support to the Bill of his noble Friend" (col. 399). Manners’ debt to Bolingbroke is clear. Bolingbroke wrote that governments were necessary because "societies cannot be maintained without them, nor subsist in a state of anarchy" (127) and Manners shadows him in assuming that Parliament could legislate into existence "a friendly and cordial feeling between all classes" and avoid disorder. Logically, therefore, he demonstrated a consistent anti-democratic paternalism in his political beliefs when he opposed potential disorder by working men’s combinations; urged Spencer Walpole, the Home Secretary, to resist the Reform League’s application for permission to agitate in Hyde Park for a reform bill; opposed any further extension of the borough franchise beyond 1867; and as an advocate of strong government, defended Governor Eyre and favoured strong measures in Ireland in the 1870s to secure property rights.

The Later Years

In the cabinets of the 1870s and 1880s, he served as postmaster-general from 1874 to 1880 and from 1885 to 1886. At the time this was a very important role because the Telegraph Act of 1868 had given the holder extensive powers to "acquire, work, and maintain Electric Telegraphs." For instance, Clause 9, section 1 authorised the Postmaster General "to give to each Railway Company Three Months’ Notice before he acquires the Undertakings of any of the Telegraph Companies with which the Railway Company has Agreements," and Sections 11 and 12 gave him gave him powers to acquire rights of way over the Bridgewater Canal and the Grand Junction Canal respectively. He was also responsible for a significant budget. According to the 1869 Act to alter and amend "The Telegraph Act, 1868," the Electric and International Telegraph Company paid over to one of his predecessors, Compton Cavendish, the Marquess of Hartington, the sum of £2,938,826 in 1869.

Before he succeeded to the dukedom in 1888 and took his seat in the House of Lords, "he presided over the introduction of postal orders (1880) and the reduction of the minimum telegraph charge from 1s. to 6d. (1885)" (Parry). In both Houses of Parliament, from 1886 to 1892, he held the position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a special recognition of his worthiness. Queen Victoria herself was the Duke of Lancaster (see endnote). After such a long Parliamentary career he retired to Belvoir Castle in feudal style - the benevolent landlord and an aristocrat who opened his gardens and galleries to visitors gratis. (see Parry).


Address plate on the exterior of the Duchy's headquarters in London,
at the Strand end of Waterloo bridge — photo by JB.

The reigning British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is known as the Duke of Lancaster, a title which reigning British monarchs have held since 1399 when Henry IV of the House of Lancaster deposed Richard II and decreed that the Duchy of Lancaster which Richard had taken from him would be held "separately from the other possessions of the Crown." The continued ignoring of strict gender accuracy owes much to tradition at which the British Are Very Good. Queen Victoria started using the title Duke of Lancaster. She believed the title Duchess was a title referring to the spouse of a duke as opposed to the holder of a royal Dukedom, but the present queen is called "Duke of Lancaster" only in the county of Lancashire where, at gatherings of Lancastrian regiments, the loyal toast to the Crown is usually to "The Queen, the Duke of Lancaster." Oddly considering that government propaganda projected the image of Victoria as "The Great White Mother," the Fijians call Elizabeth II "Tui Viti," or "Paramount Chief."

The Duchy of Lancaster's "rural estates consist of 18,481 hectares of land in England and Wales along with commercial, agricultural and residential properties, the majority in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Lincolnshire. Additionally, the Duchy has a significant commercial property portfolio largely in the Savoy precinct off the Strand in London, a portfolio of financial investments and a small urban residential portfolio" ("About the Duchy"). Yudex Hasbún tells us that "[a]ccording to the latest official figures for 2019, the Duchy is currently worth £549 million." Apart from providing personal income to the monarch it also operates a Benevolent Fund (see "Benevolent Fund"). Lord Manners would no doubt have approved. — MW


"About the Duchy." Duchy of Lancaster. Web. 28 March 2021.

"Benevolent Fund." Duchy of Lancaster. Web. 28 March 2021.

Bolingbroke Letter 1: On the Spirit of Patriotism. London: A. Millar, 1752.

Burke, E. Works: Vol. 3 London: John C. Nimmo, 1887.

Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England: Begun in the Year 1641. Publisher unknown

Hansard. The Telegraph Act 1868 (31 & 32 Vict. c.110).

Hansard. Telegraph Act 1869 (32 & 33 Vict c.73, 9th August 1869) An Act to alter and amend "The Telegraph Act,1868."

Hansard. Metropolis Water Supply Bill. HC Deb 17 June 1852.

Hansard. Maynooth College-Adjourned Debate (Fourth Night). HC Deb. 16 April 1845.

Hansard. The Ten Hours’ Factory Bill. HC Deb. 29 January 1846, vol 83.

Hasbún, Yudex. "Why is The Queen also The Duke (not Duchess) of Lancaster?" Web. 28 March 2021.

Koch, C. History of the Revolutions in Europe from the Subversion of the Roman Empire in the West to the Congress of Vienna. Hartford, Cheshire: publisher unknown, 1847.

Morrow, J. Young England: The New Generation. London: Leicester University Press, 2008.

Virgil. Aeneid. London: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Whibley, C. Lord John Manners and His Friends in two volumes. London: Blackwood & Sons, 1925.

Created 28 March 2021