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Friday 8 November 2013

Henry Bankes (1757-1834)

Henry Bankes the Younger
Henry Bankes the Younger by Pompeo Batoni (1779)
In the library at Kingston Lacy

Henry Bankes (19 December 1757–17 December 1834) was a Tory MP and a trustee of the British Museum. He owned Kingston Lacy and the Corfe Castle estate in Dorset.


Henry Bankes was born on 19 December 1757, the son of Henry Bankes, a wealthy Dorset landowner, and Margaret Wynne, daughter of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. The Bankes estate encompassed Corfe Castle and the surrounding Dorset countryside including the family seat of Kingston Lacy near Wimborne. 
The family also owned a lucrative black lead mine in Cumberland. Henry inherited the estate on the death of his father in 1776.

Kingston Lacy
Kingston Lacy

Henry was educated at Westminster Hall and went up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1773 where he became friends with William Pitt. In 1778, he went on the Grand Tour and had his portrait painted by Pompeo Batoni in Rome in 1779. Whilst in Rome, he met John Soane and Robert Furze Brettingham, two young English architects who both drew up designs for remodelling Kingston Hall.

Tory MP

From 1780 to 1831, Henry served as a Tory MP, representing Corfe Castle (1780-1826) and then Dorset (1826-31). He was a great opponent of the American War of Independence and became a fierce enemy of Catholic Emancipation and other political reforms which led to his failure in the 1831 election.

Corfe Castle, Dorset
Corfe Castle, Dorset
Throughout the majority of his parliamentary career, Henry kept a journal which provides an extensive account of the day-to-day business of the House of Commons.1

On 26 July 1832, the Tories held a dinner for him in Dorchester to celebrate fifty years of parliamentary service.

A man of principle

Although Henry generally supported the government of his friend, William Pitt the Younger, his “attachment to his friend was always restrained and regulated by high public principle” and his “independent mind revolted at every sacrifice of principle to private friendship.”2
He was also a friend of the Duke of Wellington.

William Pitt the Younger
William Pitt the Younger
from Posthumous Memoirs of his own time
by N Wraxall (1836)
A man of good sense

Nathaniel Wraxhall described Henry Bankes in his Memoirs:
His talents compensated by their calm solidity, for the want of brilliancy; his enunciation, slow, formal, precise, and not without some degree of embarrassment, was nevertheless always controlled by judgment, caution, and good sense. No man displayed more rectitude of intention, independence of mind, and superiority to every private object of interest, or of ambition.2
However, he went on to describe Henry’s manners as “altogether cold, repulsive, and destitute of amenity.”2

Family life

On 18 August 1784, Henry married Frances Woodley, a celebrated beauty and the daughter of William Woodley, the governor of the Leeward Islands. She brought the sum of £6,000 to the marriage.

Frances Woodley by George Romney (1780-1)
Frances Woodley by George Romney (1780-1)
In the drawing room at Kingston Lacy
They had six children: Henry (1785), William (1786), George (1787), Edward (1794), Anne (1789) and Maria (1791).

Kingston Hall remodelled

After his marriage, Henry embarked on the huge task of altering Kingston Hall according to Brettingham’s design. The revised layout included the creation of a new entrance on the east side of the building, a kitchen block outside of the main house, a new dining room and a magnificent ballroom.

In December 1791, the Bankes family held a ball to celebrate the completion of the building works.

A reenactment of Frances Bankes' ball  at Kingston Lacy (2013)
A reenactment of Frances Bankes' ball
at Kingston Lacy (2013)

Henry was a trustee of the British Museum and was active in parliament on its behalf.

The hall and staircase of the British Museum
The hall and staircase of the British Museum
from The Microcosm of London (1808-10)
In 1818, he published The Civil and Constitutional History of Rome from its Foundation to the Age of Augustus.


Tregothnan House, Cornwall,
Tregothnan House, Cornwall,
from Devonshire and Cornwall illustrated
by J Britton & EW Brayley (1832)
Henry Bankes died on 17 December 1834 in Tregothnan, Cornwall, at the home of his daughter Anne and her husband, Lord Falmouth. He was buried at Wimborne Minster, Dorset, on 24 December.

Wimborne Minster
Wimborne Minster
from The Beauties of England and Wales
by J Britton & EW Brayley (1803)

Headshot of Rachel Knowles author with sea in background(2021)
Rachel Knowles writes faith-based Regency romance and historical non-fiction. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew.

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1. This journal comprises 177 notebooks which are in the archives of the Dorset records office.
2. Posthumous Memoirs of his own time by N Wraxhall (1836).

Sources used include:
Ackermann, Rudolph, and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 1-3 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
Britton, John & Brayley, Edward Wedlake, Devonshire and Cornwall illustrated, from original drawings by T Allom, WH Bartlett etc with historical and topographical descriptions (1832)
Britton, John & Brayley, Edward Wedlake, The Beauties of England and Wales (1803, London)
Farrell, SM, Bankes, Henry (1757-1834) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Jan 2008, accessed 3 Oct 2013)
The National Trust, Kingston Lacy (guidebook) (1994)
Wraxall, Sir Nathaniel William, Posthumous Memoirs of his own time (1836)

Photographs © Andrew Knowles -


  1. How and where did Henry Bankes meet Frances Woodley?