Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fitzherbert, Alleyne

FITZHERBERT, ALLEYNE, Baron St. Helens (1753–1839), was fifth and youngest son of William Fitzherbert of Tissington in Derbyshire, who married Mary, eldest daughter of Littleton Poyntz Meynell of Bradley, near Ashbourne, in the same county. His father, who was member for the borough of Derby and a commissioner of the board of trade, committed suicide on 2 Jan. 1772 through pecuniary trouble. He was numbered among the friends of Dr. Johnson, who bore witness to his felicity of manner and his general popularity, but depreciated the extent of his learning. Of his mother the same authority is reported to have said 'that she had the best understanding he ever met with in any human being.' Alleyne, who inherited his baptismal name from his maternal grandmother, Judith, daughter of Thomas Alleyne of Barbadoes, was born in 1753, and received his school education at Derby and Eton. In July 1770 he matriculated as pensioner at St. John's College, Cambridge, his private tutor being the Rev. William Arnald, and in the following October Gray wrote to Mason that 'the little Fitzherbert is come as pensioner to St. John's, and seems to have all his wits about him.' Gray, attended by several of his friends, paid a visit to the young undergraduate in his college rooms, and as the poet rarely went outside his own college, his presence attracted great attention, and the details of the interview were afterwards communicated to Samuel Rogers, and printed by Mitford. Fitzherbert took his degree of B.A. in 1774, being second of the senior optimes in the mathematical tripos, and he was also the senior chancellor's medallist. Soon afterwards he went on a tour through France and Italy, and when abroad was presented to one of the university's travelling scholarships. In February 1777 he began a long course of foreign life with the' appointment of minister at Brussels, and this necessitated his taking the degree of M.A. in that year by proxy. He remained at Brussels until August 1782, when he was despatched to Paris by Lord Shelburne as plenipotentiary to negotiate a peace with the crowns of France and Spain, and with the States-General of the United Provinces; and on 20 Jan. 1783 the preliminaries of peace with the first two powers were duly signed. The peace with the American colonies, which was agreed to at about the same date, was not brought to a conclusion under Fitzherbert's charge, but he claimed to have taken a leading share in the previous negotiations which rendered it possible. This successful diplomacy led to his promotion in the summer of 1783 to the post of envoy extraordinary to the Empress Catherine of Russia, and he accompanied her in her tour round the Crimea in 1787. His conversation was always attractive, and among his best stories were his anecdotes of the empress and her court, some of which are preserved in Dyce's 'Recollections of Samuel Rogers' (pp. 104-5). At the close of 1787 he returned to England to accompany the Marquis of Buckingham, the newly appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland, as his chief secretary, and he was in consequence sworn a member of the privy council (30 Nov.) His health was bad, and the first Lord Minto wrote to his wife (9 Dec. 1787) that Fitzherbert was going to Ireland 'with the greatest danger to his life, his health being very bad in itself, and such as the business and vexation he is going to must make much worse.' In spite of these gloomy prognostications he continued to hold the post until March 1789, when he resigned the secretaryship, and was sent to the Hague as envoy extraordinary, 'with the pay of ambassador in ordinary, in all about 4,000l.' a year. At this time his reputation had reached its highest point, and Fox described him as 'a man of parts and of infinite zeal and industry,' but as years went on his powers of application for the minor duties of his offices seem to have flagged. One hostile critic complained in 1793 that his letters were left unanswered by Fitzherbert, and in the following year he was described by the first Lord Malmesbury as 'very friendly, but insouciant as to business and not attentive enough for his post.' In more important matters he acted with promptness and energy. When differences broke out between Great Britain and Spain respecting the right of British subjects to trade at Nootka Sound and to carry on the southern whale fishery, he was despatched to Madrid (May 1791) as ambassador extraordinary, and under his care all disputes were settled in the succeeding October, for which services he was raised to the Irish peerage with the title of Baron St. Helens. A treaty of alliance between Great Britain. and Spain was concluded by him in 1793, but as the climate of that country did not agree with his health he returned home early in 1794. Very shortly after his landing in England St. Helens was appointed to the ambassadorship at the Hague (25 March 1794), where he remained until the French conquered the country, when the danger of his situation caused much anxiety to his friends. A year or two later a great misfortune happened to him. On 16 July 1797 his house, containing everything he possessed, was burnt to the ground, and he himself narrowly escaped a premature death. 'He has lost,' wrote Lord Minto, 'every scrap of paper he ever had. Conceive how inconsolable that loss must be to one who has lived his life. All his books, many fine pictures, prints and drawings in great abundance, are all gone.' His last foreign mission was to St. Petersburg in April 1801 to congratulate the Emperor Alexander on his accession to the throne, and to arrange a treaty between England and Russia. The terms of the agreement were quickly settled, and on its completion he was promoted to the peerage of the United Kingdom. In the next September he attended the coronation of Alexander in Moscow, and arranged a convention with the Danish plenipotentiary, which was followed in March 1802 by a similar settlement with Sweden. This completed his services abroad, and on 5 April 1803 he retired from diplomatic life with a pension of 2,300l. a year. When Addington was forced to resign the premiership, St. Helens, who was much attached to George III, and was admitted to more intimate friendship with that king and his wife than any other of the courtiers, was created a lord of the bedchamber (May 1804), and the appointment is said to have been made against Pitt's wishes. He declared that he could not live out of London, and he therefore dwelt in Grafton Street all the year round. His consummate prudence and his quiet, polished manners are the theme of Wraxali's praise. Rogers and Jeremy Bentham were included in the list of his friends. To Rogers he presented in his last illness Pope's own copy of Garth's 'Dispensary,' with Pope's manuscript annotations. Bentham had been presented to St. Helens by his elder brother, sometime member for Derbyshire, and many letters to and from him on subjects of political interest are in Bentham's works. Two letters from him to Croker on Wraxall's anecdotes are in the 'Croker Papers' (ii. 294-7), and a letter to him from the first Lord Malmesbury is printed in the latter's diaries. St. Helens died in Grafton Street, London, on 19 Feb. 1839, and was buried in the Harrow Road cemetery on 26 Feb. As he was never married, the title became extinct, and his property passed to his nephew, Sir Henry Fitzherbert. From 1805 to 1837 he had been a trustee of the British Museum, and at the time of his death he was the senior member of the privy council.

Sir William Fitzherbert (1748-1791), gentleman-usher to George III, born 27 May 1748, was Lord St. Helens's eldest brother, and was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge, receiving the degree of M.A. per literas regias in 1770. He was called to the bar and became recorder of Derby. After serving as gentleman-usher to the king, he was promoted to be gentleman-usher in extraordinary, and was created a baronet in recognition of his services 22 Jan. 1784. He resigned his post at court soon afterwards in consequence of a personal quarrel with the Marquis of Salisbury (lord chamberlain). He died 30 July 1791 at his house at Tissington, which he had inherited from his father in 1772. He was author of 'A Dialogue on the Revenue Laws,' and of a collection of moral 'Maxims.' He is also credited with an anonymous pamphlet 'On the Knights made in 1778.' By his wife Sarah, daughter of William Perrin, esq., of Jamaica, whom he married 14 Oct. 1777, he was father of two sons, Anthony (1779-1798) and Henry (1783-1858), who were respectively second and third baronets.

[Gray's Works (ed. 1884), in. 384-5; Hill's Boswell, i. 82-3; Hutton's Bland-Burges Papers, pp. 141-5, 189-90, 243, 250-1; Collins's Peerage (Brydges's ed.), ix. 156-7; Lord Minto's Life and Letters, i. 175, 295, ii. 413-14, iii. 341; Wraxall's Posthumous Memoirs (ed. 1884), v. 35; Lord Malmesbury's Diaries, i. 504-5, ii. 38-9, iii. 98, 199, 223-5; Bentham's Works, x. 261-2, 305-6, 319-20, 362, 429-31, xi. 118-120; Mary Frampton's Journal, p. 83; Gent. Mag. 1791 pt. ii. 777-8, April 1839 pp. 429-30, December 1839 p. 669; Catalogue of Cambridge Graduates; Burke's and Foster's Baronetages.]

W. P. C.