Henry Seymour Conway

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Governor 1772-1795
Henry Seymour Conway


History rightly remembers Field Marshal Henry Conway as the man who commissioned the building of Jersey's ring of defensive coastal towers, while it is conveniently forgotten that the French were able to invade Jersey on the eve of the Battle of Jersey in 1781 during his 22-year tenure as the man responsible for the island's defence

Field Marshal Henry Seymour Conway was a British general and statesman. A brother of the 1st Marquess of Hertford, and cousin of Horace Walpole, he began his military career in the War of the Austrian Succession and eventually rose to the rank of Field Marshal in 1793, at which time he held the office of Governor of Jersey.

Family and education

Conway was the second son of Francis Seymour-Conway, 1st Baron Conway (whose elder brother Popham Seymour-Conway had inherited the Conway estates) by his third wife, Charlotte (daughter of John Shorter of Bybrook, Kent). He entered Eton College in 1732 and from that time enjoyed a close friendship with his cousin Horace Walpole.

Conway's English residence was Park Place at Remenham in Berkshire. On 19 December 1747 he married Caroline, the widow of Charles Bruce, 4th Earl of Elgin and 3rd Earl of Ailesbury, and daughter of Lieutenant-General John Campbell, later the 4th Duke of Argyll. They had one daughter, the sculptor Anne Seymour Damer.

Early army career

Conway joined the Molesworth's Regiment of Dragoons in 1737 as a Lieutenant, being promoted to Captain-lieutenant (the equivalent of lieutenant-colonel) in the 8th Dragoons in 1740. During the War of Austrian Succession he served as a captain-lieutenant in the 1st Foot Guards in 1743 at Dettingen. In 1745 he fought at Fontenoy, distinguishing himself, when only 24 of his company survived. He was engaged in Culloden in 1746 during the Jacobite Rebellion. His next battle was at Lauffeld, in which he narrowly escaped death, being captured by the French but released on parole three days later. In 1748, he transferred from the 48th Foot to the 34th Foot, and served with his regiment in the garrison of Minorca in 1751.

Early political career

Conway entered politics at an early age. He was elected unopposed to the Irish Parliament in 1741 for Antrim County, and to the British Parliament for Higham Ferrers in 1741 on the recommendation of Sir Robert Walpole. In this period he spent his winters in Parliament and his summers on active military service. He was elected in 1747 for Penryn and for St Mawes in 1754.

In 1755, he was unexpectedly appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland by William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, the new Lord Lieutenant. It was hoped that he would resolve the conflict in Irish politics between the Speaker, Henry Boyle on the one side and George Stone, Archbishop of Armagh and the Ponsonby family. Ultimately, he reached a compromise, acceptable to the British Ministry, in which Boyle was bought off with an earldom and John Ponsonby became Speaker. He was promoted a Major-General in 1756 and returned to England in May, but remained an Irish MP until 1761. He became a Lord of the Bedchamber in 1757.

Henry Seymour Conway.jpg

Seven Years War

Conway was the British military second in command on the Rochefort expedition in 1757, and repeatedly advocated an attack on Fort Fouras, but his colleagues would only agree a night attack, which failed. He then refused to take sole responsibility for a day attack. Ultimately the expedition returned to Portsmouth having achieved nothing. George II refused to employ Conway on the 1758 campaigns.

In 1761 he served in Germany as deputy to John Manners, Marquess of Granby, the British commander in the army led by Ferdinand of Brunswick. He commanded a corps at the Battle of Vellinghausen. He was also present at the Battle of Wilhelmstahl in June 1762, and captured the castle of Waldeck the following month. After peace preliminaries were signed at Fontainebleau in November, he supervised the embarkation of British troops from Europe, returning to England in March.

Later political career

Conway was mentored in his political career by his cousin Horace Walpole. He was re-elected to the House of Commons in 1761, this time for Thetford, which he represented until 1774. Like Walpole he was a senior member of the Rockingham faction of the Whigs. He opposed the King's action against John Wilkes in 1763, to declare this a breach of Parliamentary Privilege. This resulted in his dismissal as a Groom of the Bedchamber and as Colonel of the 1st Dragoons.

He entered office with Lord Rockingham as Secretary of State for the Southern Department in 1765 before switching to the Northern Department the next year, serving until his resignation in 1768. In these offices, Conway sought to urge a moderate policy towards the American colonies, being the principal supporter of the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766, and opposing the taxation policies of Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend.

Return to the Army

Following his resignation in January 1768, Conway returned to the military, and in 1772 was made a full general and Governor of Jersey. He remained an important figure in the Commons, opposing the British attempt to suppress the American Revolt, and his motion in March 1782 was partly responsible for the fall of the North government. He was rewarded with a cabinet position and the office of Commander-in-Chief in the new Rockingham ministry, but left the government a year later with the establishment of the Fox-North Coalition. His political career came to an end in 1784 when he lost his seat in parliament due to his opposition to the government of William Pitt.


Conway was kept too busy in England to be able to visit Jersey before 1778, six years after he took office. He was appalled by the state of the Island's defences and started a programme of building coastal towers. This was not enough to prevent the French invasion of 1781, leading to the Battle of Jersey, but the programme continued. In 1785, when a parade ground was being levelled on Mont de la Ville, a prehistoric dolmen was discovered, and was presented to Conway for re-erection in the grounds of his English home. It is not obvious from historical records why he was held in such high esteem, when neither he nor his appointed Lieut-Governor came out of the Battle of Jersey episode with any credit

Predecessor Successor
George Keppel, Earl of Albemarle
1761 - 1772
Henry Seymour Conway
1772 - 1795
Sir George Howard
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