Cust, John (DNB00)

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CUST, Sir JOHN (1718–1770), baronet, speaker of the House of Commons, was the eldest son of Sir Richard Cust, bart., by his wife Anne, daughter of Sir William Brownlow, bart., and sole heiress of her brother, Sir John Brownlow, bart., who in 1718 was created Baron Charleville and Viscount Tyrconnel in the kingdom of Ireland. He was born on 29 Aug. 1718 and was baptised at the church of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, Westminster, on the 25th of the following month. He was educated at Eton and Benets (afterwards Corpus) College, Cambridge, where he received the degree of M.A. in 1739. He succeeded to the title as third baronet upon the death of his father on 25 July 1734, and was called to the bar at the Middle Temple on 26 Nov. 1742.

In April 1743 he was elected member for Grantham without a contest, in the place of Sir Michael Newton, bart., and thenceforth continued to represent that borough during the remainder of his life. On 18 Dec. 1743 Cust married Etheldred, daughter and coheiress of Thomas Payne of Hough-on-the-Hill, Lincolnshire, by whom he had two sons and two daughters. In 1747 he was appointed one of the clerks of the household to Frederick, prince of Wales, and upon that prince's death in 1751, he received a similar appointment in the household of the Princess Dowager of Wales. Onslow having resigned the office of speaker, which he had held for more than thirty-three years, Cust was unanimously chosen in his place on 3 Nov. 1761. He was admitted to the privy council on 24 Jan. 1762, and was again elected speaker on the opening of George's second parliament on 10 May 1768. Worn out by the fatigue of his office the speaker became so ill that on 17 Jan. 1770, being unable to attend, he entreated the house, through the mouth of the clerk, ‘to excuse him at present from any further attendance on their service’ (Parl. Hist. xvi. 733). He resigned the speakership on 19 Jan., and Sir Fletcher Norton was elected in his place on 22 Jan. Cust died two days afterwards, on 24 Jan. 1770, in the fifty-second year of his age. This date is confirmed by letters still in the possession of the family as well as by the inscription on his monument. Upon the election of Sir Fletcher Norton to the chair, Lord North paid an eloquent tribute to the late speaker's unwearied diligence, his uniform impartiality, and his minute knowledge of the proceedings of the house (ib. pp. 734–5). He was buried on 8 Feb. at Belton, near Grantham, where there is a monument erected to his memory. His widow survived him, and died on 27 Jan. 1775. Cust is represented in Hogarth's print of ‘The Times’ (plate ii.) Horace Walpole, in a letter to George Montagu, dated 7 Nov. 1761, writes: ‘Sir John Cust is speaker, and, bating his nose, the chair seems well filled’ (Walpole, Letters, 1857, iii. 458). In Wrax- all's opinion, which, however, has little authority, ‘the chair of the House of Commons during the whole course of the eighteenth century was never filled with less dignity or energy than by Sir John Cust’ (Historical and Posthumous Memoirs, 1884, i. 260). Wilkes was very severe on him; his merciless attack upon Cust's speech to the ten Oxford gentlemen who were reprimanded for bribery appeared in the appendix to the ‘North Briton’ (1769). A corrected edition of it is given in Almon's ‘Correspondence of the late John Wilkes’ (1805), iii. 245–62. Lord Brownlow possesses a fine full-length portrait of Cust, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, dated 2 Dec. 1761 (Catalogue of the 3rd Exhibition of National Portraits, 1868, No. 885). It was engraved by James Watson in 1769. There are portraits at Corpus College, Cambridge, and in the speaker's residence. Sir Brownlow Cust, the speaker's only surviving son, was in consequence of his father's services created Baron Brownlow of Belton on 20 May 1776. He was succeeded in turn by his eldest son, who was advanced to the earldom of Brownlow on 27 Nov. 1815. The earl's eldest grandson ultimately became entitled to the great Bridgewater estates, after one of the most remarkable lawsuits of the century (Egerton v. Earl Brownlow, House of Lords' Cases, iv. 1–256). The present earl is a great-grandson of the first Baron Brownlow.

[Manning's Speakers of the House of Commons (1851), pp. 440–5; Collins's Peerage (1812), vii. 478–81; Edmondson's Baronagium Genealogicum (1784), vi. 69; Parl. Hist. vols. xv. xvi.; Burke's Extinct Peerage (1883), pp. 80, 188; Allen's Hist. of Lincolnshire (1834), ii. 309–10; Turnor's Hist. of Grantham (1806), pp. 92–3, 101, 104; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 89, 101, 113, 128, 140; Graduati Cantab. (1823); Gent. Mag. (1770), xl. 47; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. i. 228, 274, ii. 72, 113; private information.]

G. F. R. B.