FITZROY, Charles (1662-1730)

FITZROY (alias PALMER), Charles (1662–1730)

styled 1662-70 Ld. Limerick; styled 1670-75 earl of Southampton; cr. 10 Sept. 1675 duke of SOUTHAMPTON; suc. mo. 9 Oct. 1709 as 2nd duke of CLEVELAND

First sat 28 Jan. 1689; last sat 26 Feb. 1728

bap. 18 June 1662, 1st illegit. s. of King Charles II and Barbara Palmer, suo jure duchess of Cleveland; bro. of George Fitzroy, duke of Northumberland, and Henry Fitzroy, duke of Grafton. educ. matric. Christ Church, Oxf. Dec. 1675; travelled abroad (France) 1677.1 m. (1) ?1 Jan. 16722 (confirmed 29 June 16773), Mary (d. 1680), da. of Sir Henry Wood, bt., clerk of the Green Cloth, s.p.; (2) Nov. 1694 (with ?£7,000),4 Anne, da. of Sir William Pulteney of St. James’s, Westminster, 3s. (2 d.v.p.), 3da.5 KG 1673. d. 9 Sept. 1730; will 24 Dec. 1716, pr. 17 Nov. 1730.6

Ch. butler of England 1716–d.7

Associated with: Bond Street, Westminster;8 St. James’s Sq. Westminster.9

Likenesses: oil on canvas (with his mother) by Sir P. Lely, NPG 6725; miniature, gouache on ivory, attrib. to W. Faithorne, National Trust, Anglesey Abbey, Cambs.

The least impressive of the sons of Charles II, Fitzroy was described by his own mother as ‘a very kockish idle boy’.10 He may have suffered from some form of mental disability, perhaps as a result of a blow sustained while an infant. Later satires emphasized his lack of wit, with one suggesting that it was only in his cups that he made much sense.11 Although a contemporary report noted that his mother’s husband, Roger Palmer, earl of Castlemaine [I], had not slept with his wife for 15 months prior to the birth, Castlemaine acknowledged the boy initially and as such he was styled Lord Limerick from birth.12 By 1670 the king had accepted paternity and, following Lady Castlemaine’s creation as duchess of Cleveland in her own right with a special remainder allowing the dukedom to descend to her eldest son, Limerick adopted the style earl (not, as initially rumoured, marquess) of Southampton.13

Southampton’s mother had made her pretensions for her son apparent as early as 1664 by posing with him in a faintly blasphemous double portrait by Lely in the guise of the Madonna and Child. Having established his royal (if not divine) paternity, she almost at once set about securing a profitable match for the boy. By early 1671 she had entered into an agreement with Sir Henry Wood for a marriage with his daughter Mary (then aged just seven), possibly through the intervention of Wood’s brother, Thomas Wood, later bishop of Coventry and Lichfield.14 Sir Henry’s death in May of that year, only days after he had drafted a settlement, threatened to bring negotiations to a close. To forestall this the duchess had the girl abducted from her guardian, Lady Chester, and arranged for the two children to go through a form of marriage service, which was conducted by Nathaniel Crew, (later 3rd Baron Crew) bishop of Oxford.15 It was commented at the time that ‘certainly the ceremony of the bed will signify but little should the young lady when at age repent it’, though it was reported to be a condition of the settlement that should Mary Wood not consent to the marriage she was to pay Southampton £20,000.16

Southampton was made a garter knight in April 1673. Two years later he was promoted to a dukedom, but a mistake made by his mother’s solicitor meant that his younger half-brother, Charles Lennox, the newly created duke of Richmond, was granted precedence over him and his brother Grafton, to the duchess’s unconcealed irritation.17 Despite his already well-known disabilities, Southampton was entered at Christ Church, Oxford, later that year (where Bishop Fell was dean), under the tutelage of Henry Aldrich, though his arrival was viewed with unease by a number of the dons and Dean Prideaux noted that it was ‘the general desire among us that he come not’.18 In 1677 Fell conducted a second marriage service between the young duke and duchess, who, though still minors, had both by then attained the age of consent.19 That summer Southampton travelled to France in company with his duchess, presumably to further his education. He completed his studies at Oxford the following year. In 1680 he was one of two peers to be forbidden by the king from joining the expedition to Tangier mounted by John Sheffield, 3rd earl of Mulgrave (later duke of Buckingham).20 There is no indication that Southampton was ever permitted to gain the kind of military experience common to all his siblings.

In November 1680 the duchess of Southampton fell prey to smallpox. Her premature demise led to a series of legal actions between Southampton and other members of the Wood family over the descent of the Wood estate that would dominate his attention (and that of his agents) for the following 15 years.21 The basis of the dispute lay in a discrepancy between the terms of Sir Henry’s will and Southampton’s marriage settlement, and the ensuing legal wrangling later served as a precedent for other high-profile cases heard in the Lords such as Montagu v. Bath and Normanby v. Devonshire.22 As the duchess had both married underage and died without producing an heir it was argued by Sir Henry’s executors that the Wood estate should pass to Sir Henry’s heirs as stipulated in his will rather than to Southampton, but in the autumn of 1685 Southampton was successful in obtaining a favourable judgment in chancery at the hands of George Jeffreys, Baron Jeffreys.23 It proved only a temporary victory, as both Bishop Wood and Sir Caesar Cranmer Wood, another of Sir Henry’s heirs, contested the judgment. As Jeffreys must have been well aware, the argument hinged on the well-established principle of the courtesy of England, by which a widower could claim a life interest in his deceased wife’s estate, but only if she were actually seised of the estate and if a child of the marriage had been born alive, and Southampton’s success, however fleeting, probably had a political dimension. He was noted consistently as one of the peers thought sympathetic to James II’s policies. In forecasts of January and November 1687 and again in January 1688 he was listed among those thought likely to favour repeal of the Test, while a list of May 1687 included him among those believed likely to support the king’s policies.

Unlike his brothers, Southampton does not appear to have taken an active role on either side at the time of the Revolution or to have participated in the deliberations of the provisional government. Marked absent at a call of the House on 25 Jan. 1689 he took his seat for the first time three days later, introduced between his brother Grafton and Henry Somerset, duke of Beaufort, after which he was present on 27 per cent of all sitting days and was named to four committees. Opposed to settling the crown away from his uncle, the following day (29 Jan.) he voted in favour of establishing a regency. On 31 Jan. he voted against inserting the words declaring William and Mary king and queen in a committee of the whole and on 6 Feb. he voted against concurring with the Commons’ use of the phrases ‘abdicated’ and ‘that the throne is thereby vacant’. On 31 May he voted against reversing the perjury judgments against Titus Oates and on 30 July he voted to adhere to the Lords’ amendments to the bill reversing Oates’s conviction.

In a list drawn up between October 1689 and February 1690, Thomas Osborne, marquess of Carmarthen, classed Southampton as among the supporters of the court. But although Southampton took his seat in the second session on 23 Oct. 1689 and was thereafter present on almost 44 per cent of all sitting days, he was named to no committees. His attention may have been taken up with the continuing dispute over the Wood estate. On 19 Dec. Sir Caesar Cranmer Wood submitted a new petition against the chancery decree awarding the estate to Southampton but, although Southampton submitted his answer at the close of the month, no further progress appears to have been made.24 Southampton returned to the House for the new Parliament on 20 Mar. 1690 (of which he attended approximately 57 per cent of all sitting days). On 28 Mar., in response to an enquiry into protections that had been granted by members of the House, he withdrew all but one of the three protections he had previously issued, insisting only on that granted to Frederick Harder.25 On 3 Apr. the House received a further petition from Cranmer Wood requesting a stay of all proceedings in their case in the lower courts until the Lords had determined the matter, and on 10 Apr. the committee for privileges, chaired by John Egerton, 3rd earl of Bridgwater, considered Bishop Wood’s request to insist on his privilege in the case.26 The committee having recommended that the case be referred back to the Lords, on 12 Apr. the House concluded critically that the bishop had ‘waived his privilege in the courts below, when he found it was for his advantage; but, when he found it was against him, he insisted on his privilege’. Two days later the House took Cranmer Wood’s petition into consideration again, concluding in Southampton’s favour once more by affirming the chancery decree that awarded the estate to him. Despite this, when Southampton took his seat in the second session on 2 Oct. 1690 (attending almost 32 per cent of all sitting days), he was compelled to bring a further complaint against Bishop Wood over his failure to hand over money due to him from the estate.27 In response the bishop insisted that, despite not having fulfilled the terms of the settlement, Southampton had already benefited from the estate to the tune of £20,000 and appealed for the case against him to be dismissed. The case was referred again to the committee for privileges and, following hearings on 27 Oct. and 7 Nov., the committee concluded in Wood’s favour that there was no reason for him to waive his privilege, thus further delaying resolution of the ongoing dispute.28 On 6 Oct. he voted for the discharge of James Cecil, 4th earl of Salisbury, and Henry Mordaunt, 2nd earl of Peterborough, from their imprisonment in the Tower.

Southampton stood godfather to his nephew, one of the sons of Edward Henry Lee, earl of Lichfield, in the late summer of 1691.29 He took his seat in the new parliamentary session on 27 Oct. but was then absent at a call on 2 Nov. and remained absent until 12 Nov., after which he was present on almost 22 per cent of all sitting days. The same month he was named along with his brother Northumberland as a Jacobite plotter by Fuller, but little attention was paid to the information and there seems no reason to believe that Southampton was actively engaged in plotting against the regime. Towards the close of the year he was listed by William George Richard Stanley, 9th earl of Derby, among those whom Derby thought likely to support his ongoing efforts to secure restitution of lands lost during the Commonwealth.30

In June 1692 Southampton recommenced his suit with Cranmer Wood, suing to secure a £4,000 annuity out of the estate.31 He took his seat on 4 Nov. 1692 and proceeded to attend on 42 per cent of all sitting days. In January 1693 he was forecast as being opposed to the divorce bill of Henry Howard, 7th duke of Norfolk, and on 2 Jan. he voted against reading the bill. The session was again dominated (for Southampton at least) by his ongoing tussle with the Wood family. Shortly after the opening of the session, Cranmer Wood appealed to the House once more for the judgment against him to be overturned, prompting a further response from Southampton in which he complained that Cranmer Wood had ‘been very unkind’ to him and refused ‘to give him any account of the personal estate’.32 Following consideration of the matter in December 1692, the Lords overturned their former resolution by reversing the chancery decree in Southampton’s favour and awarding the estate to Cranmer Wood instead, ‘no one lord speaking one word to justify the decree but the whole House exploded it’.33 The decision served only to perpetuate the dispute, which continued to trouble both sides until at least the close of the decade.

Southampton returned to the House for the fifth session on 14 Nov. 1693 but was thereafter present on just 16 per cent of all sitting days. In the summer of the following year he was said to have been on the point of marrying a daughter of Major Buggins, only for his mother to prevent the match at the last minute.34 A few months later he concluded a match with Anne Pulteney, presumably more acceptable to his mother, who brought with her £7,000 provided by the Pulteneys’ kinsman and close associate Henry Guy. Guy (the secretary to the Treasury) was also said to have undertaken to pay Southampton his pensions.35 Southampton took his seat once more shortly after the nuptials on 4 Dec. 1694 and was then present on 40 per cent of all sitting days in the session. He does not appear to have exercised any interest in the autumn elections of 1695 but he took his seat in the new Parliament on 3 Dec, after which he attended for just under a quarter of all sitting days. He returned to the House for the second session on 20 Oct. 1696 (being present on 35 per cent of all sitting days) and on 23 Dec. he voted in favour of attainting Sir John Fenwick. He took his seat in the third session on 8 Dec. 1697 (attending on 19 per cent of all sitting days) and on 15 Mar. 1698 he voted against committing the bill to punish Charles Duncombe.

Southampton’s attendance of the House during the 1698 Parliament increased slightly. He took his seat on 13 Dec. 1698 for the new session (of which he attended almost 25 per cent of all sitting days) and the subsequent session on 16 Nov. 1699, (of which he attended approximately 24 per cent of the sittings). In advance of the latter session he was noted as one of those to have been especially finely apparelled at a ball held at Princess Anne’s court.36 Forecast as being in favour of continuing the East India Company as a corporation in Feb. 1700, on 10 Apr. Southampton subscribed the protest at the failure to insist on the Lords’ amendments to the supply bill.

Southampton’s attendance declined markedly again the following year. He attended just one day of the first Parliament of 1701 and 10 per cent of all sitting days of the subsequent one, when he was named to the conference on the death of King William on 8 Mar. 1702. He took his seat in the new Parliament on 7 Nov. 1702, after which he was present on 31 per cent of all sitting days. On 4 Dec. he was said to have been ‘cajoled’ by Mulgrave (now marquess of Normanby) during the debates on the Occasional Conformity bill.37 On 1 Jan. 1703 he was estimated by Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, as doubtful on the question of the bill. On 16 Jan. he voted in favour of adhering to the Lords’ amendment to the penalty clause. He took his seat in the second session on 9 Nov. 1703 but was then present on approximately 21 per cent of all sitting days. In advance of the session his continuing opposition to the Occasional Conformity bill had been noted in two forecasts compiled by Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland, and on 14 Dec. he again voted against the bill. For the subsequent session, Southampton’s attendance declined still further and, having taken his seat on 24 Oct. 1704, he was present on approximately 11 per cent of all days in the session. The following month he was listed as a likely supporter of the tack. On 23 Nov. he was excused at a call of the House.

Southampton took his seat in the new Parliament on 6 Nov. 1705. Six days later, despite being listed as present on the attendance list, he was excused at a call of the House. He resumed his seat on 19 Nov., after which he attended for 27 per cent of all sitting days and was named to just one committee. Present for just 16 per cent of all sitting days in the subsequent session in the winter of 1706, he attended just one day of the 1707 Parliament and two during the first session of the 1708 Parliament. That year he was marked ‘+’ on a printed list of party classifications, a sign whose meaning is not clear but which may refer to his court affiliations.

On the death of his mother in October 1709, Southampton succeeded as 2nd duke of Cleveland according to the special remainder in his mother’s patent as duchess. With the dukedom he also inherited a share, with his brothers, of the late duchess’s annuity of £5,000 paid out of the post office.38 He took his seat in the new session on 23 Nov. 1709 but it was not until 14 Jan. 1710 that he was introduced in his new dignity, between James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormond, and James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S]. The reason for the delay in his introduction is uncertain but may reflect some ambivalence about his status. Peers by descent were not introduced but Cleveland had inherited his honour from a woman, and by special remainder. He was thereafter present on just under a third of all sitting days and on 9 Feb. he was named to the committee for Henry Summers’ bill.

One of the more inglorious episodes of Cleveland’s career occurred at the time of the Sacheverell vote. Firmly under the thumb of his duchess, who was determined that her husband should ‘speak as his brother Northumberland did’ and acquit the doctor, Cleveland was locked in his room so that he could be escorted to the House to vote the ‘right’ way. The duchess’s plan was thwarted by Cleveland’s half-brother Richmond (an opponent of Sacheverell), who came to his rescue by smuggling him out of his chamber via a ladder. Once in the House, Richmond ensured that Cleveland joined with him in finding Sacheverell guilty.39 It is not reported what occurred when Cleveland returned home that night.

By the autumn of 1710 Cleveland appears to have moved away from his former political associates and in October he was marked ‘doubtful’ by Robert Harley, (later earl of Oxford). His change of heart may have coincided with difficulties in securing regular payment of his pension out of the excise (which otherwise appears to have been paid with notable regularity), about which his duchess complained to Oxford in an undated letter, pointing out that without the money they would ‘be under greater difficulties than is easy for me to say’.40 Cleveland took his seat in the new Parliament on 27 Nov. 1710, following which he was present for just seven days of the whole. Before the next session opened, in December 1711, he was listed as a peer to be contacted in advance of the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion. It appears that Oxford’s efforts to retain his loyalty were unsuccessful as he was later nominated by Thomas Wharton, earl (later marquess) of Wharton, along with Nottingham to be part of the committee for drawing up the address, Wharton joking that ‘he had matched them well, being both changelings’.41 On 8 Dec., although not marked as being present on the attendance list, Cleveland, predictably, was forecast as being in favour of presenting the address with the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion. It seems likely that his omission from the register was on account of lateness, as he was noted as having voted in favour of presenting the address, urged on by Charles Seymour, 6th duke of Somerset.42 Forecast on 19 Dec. as being opposed to admitting Hamilton to the House as duke of Brandon, on the following day Cleveland abstained by going out before the vote was taken.

In May 1712 Cleveland divided with the ministry in voting against addressing the queen to overturn the restraining orders issued to Ormond. Despite this he was marked a doubtful court supporter the following month.43 In February 1713 Oxford (as Harley had since become) listed him as someone to be canvassed in advance of the new session but the following month Oxford added Cleveland to a list compiled by Swift of those thought likely to oppose the ministry. Cleveland took his seat in the third session on 17 Apr. 1713 but attended just two days of the session. On 31 May he was listed among those lords either thought likely to oppose the French commerce bill or to be contacted about the bill, and on 13 June he was again estimated by Oxford as an opponent of the measure.

Cleveland took his seat for the first session of the new Parliament on 3 Mar. 1714 (attending for a quarter of all sitting days) and in May he was forecast by Nottingham as an opponent of the Schism bill. He attended just one day of the brief session that met in the wake of Queen Anne’s death in August and his attendance of the House thereafter remained sporadic, never rising above 13 days in any one session for the remainder of his life. Although present in the House at the time of the vote on the impeachment of Oxford in June 1717, Cleveland joined John Montagu, 2nd duke of Montagu, in going out without voting either way, indicative of his general detachment from the political process.44 The following year he registered his proxy with James Stanhope, Baron (later Earl) Stanhope, on 11 Jan. 1718, which was vacated seven days later. Full details of his post-1715 parliamentary career will be covered in the next part of this work.

Cleveland sat for the final time on 26 Feb. 1728. He died two and a half years later on 9 Sept. 1730. In his will he named his duchess as sole executrix and beneficiary, entrusting to her the education of his remaining children. He was buried in Westminster Abbey and succeeded by his only surviving son, William Fitzroy, as 3rd duke of Cleveland.


  • 1 Verney ms mic. M636/30, P. Osborne to Sir R. Verney, 20 June 1677.
  • 2 Verney ms mic. M636/24, Sir R. to E. Verney, 4 Jan. 1672.
  • 3 PA, HL/PO/JO/10/3/185/20; HL/PO/JO/10/3/183/34.
  • 4 Add. 61455, ff. 181–2.
  • 5 Verney ms mic. M636/48, A. Nicholas to J. Verney, 13 Nov. 1694; Hist. Reg. xv (1730), 58; London Evening Post, 8–10 Sept. 1730.
  • 6 TNA, PROB 11/640.
  • 7 Weekly Journal, 7 July 1716.
  • 8 Add. 22267, ff. 164–71; London Top. Rec. xxix, 53–57.
  • 9 Daily Courant, 31 Aug. 1730.
  • 10 Prideaux Letters, 21.
  • 11 Wood, Life and Times, ii. 329; Bodl. ms Eng. misc. c. 116, f. 6; Bodl. ms Eng. poet e. 87, ff. 164–6.
  • 12 Bodl. Carte 59, ff. 516–17.
  • 13 Add. 36916, f. 186; Verney ms mic. M636/24, Dr W. Denton to Sir R. Verney, 14, 15 July 1670.
  • 14 Lansd. 987, f. 102.
  • 15 CSP Dom. 1671, p. 279; PA, HL/PO/JO/10/3/185/19; Verney ms mic. M636/24, Sir R. to E. Verney, 4 Jan. 1672.
  • 16 Verney ms mic. M636/24, Sir R. Burgoyne to Sir R. Verney, 8 Jan. 1672; NLS, Yester pprs. ms 7023, letter 277.
  • 17 Verney ms mic. M636/28, W. Fall to Sir R. Verney, 11 Aug. 1675.
  • 18 Prideaux Letters, 48.
  • 19 PA, HL/PO/JO/10/3/185/19.
  • 20 Verney ms mic. M636/30, P. Osborne to Sir R. Verney, 20 June 1677; M636/34, C. Gardiner to Sir R. Verney, 3 June 1680.
  • 21 Verney ms mic. M636/34, A. Nicholas to Sir R. Verney, 17 Nov. 1680; Dr W. Denton to same, 17 Nov. 1680; J. Verney to same, 18 Nov. 1680.
  • 22 HMC Lords, n.s. ii. 254, 259.
  • 23 Morrice, Ent’ring Bk. iii. 53.
  • 24 PA, HL/PO/JO/10/3/183/34.
  • 25 HMC Lords, iii. 12, 14.
  • 26 PA, HL/PO/DC/CP/1/3, f. 56.
  • 27 HMC Lords, iii. 109.
  • 28 PA, HL/PO/JO/10/1/424/287; HL/PO/DC/CP/1/3, ff. 63–66.
  • 29 Verney ms mic. M636/45, Lichfield to Sir R. Verney, 24 Sept. 1691.
  • 30 Lancs. RO, DDK 1615/9.
  • 31 Verney ms mic. M636/45, J. to Sir R. Verney, 2 June 1692.
  • 32 HMC Lords, iv. 112; PA, HL/PO/JO/10/3/185/20.
  • 33 Verney ms mic. M636/46, J. to Sir Ralph Verney, 7 Dec. 1692; Add. 29574, ff. 126–7.
  • 34 Bodl. Carte 79, f. 570.
  • 35 Add. 61455, ff. 181–2.
  • 36 Verney ms mic. M636/51, E. Adams to Sir J. Verney, 4 Nov. 1699.
  • 37 Nicolson, London Diaries, 139.
  • 38 Longleat, Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 46, f. 139.
  • 39 Holmes, Sacheverell, 224; Add. 15574, ff. 65–68.
  • 40 Add. 70293, duchess of Cleveland to Oxford, n.d.
  • 41 Wentworth Pprs. 224–5.
  • 42 Wentworth Pprs. 223.
  • 43 C. Jones, ‘Vote in the House of Lords on the Duke of Ormond’s “Restraining Orders”’, PH xxvi, 177–81; Add. 70331, unfol.
  • 44 Tory and Whig ed. S. Taylor and C. Jones, 201.