Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Yorke, Charles Philip (1764-1834)

YORKE, CHARLES PHILIP (1764–1834), politician, born on 12 March 1764, was elder son of Charles Yorke (1722–1770) [q. v.] by his second wife, elder brother of Sir Joseph Sydney Yorke [q. v.], and half-brother of Philip Yorke, third earl of Hardwicke [q. v.] He was educated at Harrow, and was admitted a fellow-commoner of St. John's College, Cambridge, on 22 Jan. 1781; he graduated M.A. from St. John's per literas regias in 1783, and was called to the bar from the Middle Temple in 1787. During the winter of 1788 he spent a few months in Italy.

He represented the county of Cambridge in parliament from 1790 to 1810, being chosen at the general election of 1790, and re-elected in 1796, 1802, 1806, and 1807. In 1792 he moved the address in answer to the king's speech. He frequently spoke in parliament, generally in opposition to Pitt, and was a strenuous opponent of the catholic claims. In 1801 he was made a privy councillor, and accepted the post of secretary at war in the Addington administration; but he showed anything but special aptitude for this office, and was in August 1803 transferred to the home department, acting as secretary until May 1804, when Pitt returned to office. He gave his steady support in debate to Windham's military schemes. On 22 Jan. 1808 he spoke at some length in defence of the Copenhagen expedition. On 25 May 1808 he spoke after Wilberforce against the catholic petition. Early in 1810 he succeeded William Eden (son of Lord Auckland), who was drowned in the Thames, as one of the tellers of the exchequer, a sinecure worth 2,700l. a year, which gossip had decided that Spencer Perceval would retain for himself, or at least for one of his own family (Walpole, Life of Perceval, ii. 66–8). Yorke, who was not well off, accepted the provision in an effusive manner. Having lost his seat in Cambridgeshire, where his policy in regard to the war had given offence, though he received a present of gold plate from his late constituents, he re-entered parliament for St. Germains, a seat exchanged in 1812 for Liskeard.

On 26 Jan. 1810 Lord Porchester moved that the House of Commons should resolve itself into a committee to inquire into the conduct and policy of the Walcheren expedition, and the motion was carried against all the exertions of the ministry and their friends, among whom Yorke was prominent. He made himself responsible for the enforcement of the standing order for the exclusion of strangers. The consequence of his unpopular action was that John Gale Jones [q. v.], president of the British Forum Debating Society, placarded London with handbills announcing the decision of the society that Yorke's action was an insidious attack upon the liberty of the press, and proposing, as a subject for future discussion, the question ‘which was the greater outrage upon public feeling, Mr. Yorke's enforcement of the standing order or Mr. Windham's recent attack upon the liberty of the press.’ Yorke complained of this in the commons on 19 Feb. 1810 as a gross violation of the privilege of the house. On 21 Feb. Gale Jones was committed to Newgate, and this led to Burdett's questioning the legality of the proceeding, the commitment of Sir Francis himself to the Tower, and the riots of 6 April, in which Yorke's windows were the first to be smashed. In the same month, negotiations with Lord Gambier and with Dundas having fallen through, Perceval asked Yorke to come into the ministry as first lord of the admiralty. His acceptance of the tellership and his attitude over the Walcheren debate had made him enemies, but these difficulties were quickly surmounted (see Hansard, xv. 330). He held the post, however, for barely eighteen months, resigning in the autumn of 1811. In a long letter to Perceval he hints pretty clearly that, apart from considerations of health, and the ‘increasing wear and tear of business in the House of Commons’ (his ostensible motive for resigning), he was actuated by a profound distrust of the prince regent. He made a long speech in the House of Commons on 25 Feb. 1813 against Grattan's motion on the catholic claims (printed with notes in 1813 by J. J. Stockdale). In the following April he opposed Romilly's bill to ‘take away corruption of blood’ (in cases of felony and treason), his action being dictated, it was believed, by filial piety, his father having upheld the doctrine in his ‘Law of Forfeitures.’ In April 1814 he continued his opposition almost alone; he also resisted the entire abolition of mutilation after execution for high treason, proposing an amendment, which was eventually adopted, to the effect that the bodies should be decapitated after death (the modus operandi followed in the case of the Cato Street conspirators, 1820).

Yorke retired from public life in 1818. He had been elected F.R.S. on 12 Nov. 1801 (Thomson, Royal Society, App. lxv.); he was also F.S.A. and a vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature. He died, aged 70, in Bruton Street, Berkeley Square, close to the house where Canning lived in 1809, on 13 March 1834. He married, on 1 July 1790, Harriott, daughter of Charles Manningham of Thorpe in Surrey, and sister of Major-general Manningham. He left no issue, and the earldom of Hardwicke, to which he was heir-presumptive, devolved upon Charles Philip Yorke [q. v.], the son of his younger brother, Sir Joseph. His motions to clear the galleries in the House of Commons and to stifle the Walcheren inquiry had gained a long-lived notoriety among the reporters, and after his death the family had to insert an advertisement in the ‘Times’ newspaper correcting hostile misstatements on the part of the press.

[Graduati Cantabr.; Gent. Mag. 1834, i. 652; Times, 19 March 1834; Pantheon of the Age, 1825, iii. 641; Debrett's Peerage, 1834, s.v. ‘Hardwicke;’ Cornwallis Corresp. 1859, ii. 499; Walpole's Life of Spencer Perceval, 1874, vol. ii. chap. iii. and vii.; Courtney's Parliamentary Rep. of Cornwall; Dalling's Life of Palmerston; Pellew's Life of Addington; Lord Colchester's Diary, 1861, i. 141–52, 229, 272–5, 372, ii. 49, 100, 137, 150, 172, 180; Romilly Memoirs, 1840, ii. 311, iii. 39, 98, 100, 132–4; Craik and Macfarlane's Hist. of George III, 1844, iv. 398; Erskine May's Constit. Hist. ii. 52; Martineau's Hist. of England, 1800–15, pp. 103, 112, 153, 357; Addit. MSS. 32166 f. 63, 33109 f. 109, 33110 f. 110, 33107 f. 98; note kindly supplied by R. F. Scott, esq., fellow of St. John's, Cambridge.]

T. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.286
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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341 ii 27-28 Yorke, Charles P.: for secretary for war read secretary at war