FitzRoy, Edward Algernon 1869-1943, Speaker of the House of Commons, was born in London 24 July 1869, the younger son of Charles FitzRoy, third Baron Southampton, by his second wife, Ismania Katherine, daughter of Walter Nugent, a baron of the Austrian Empire. He was descended through the second Duke of Grafton from Charles II. His mother was for twenty-three years a lady of the bedchamber in ordinary to Queen Victoria to whom Edward FitzRoy was himself a page of honour. He was educated at Eton and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and was gazetted to the 1st Life Guards in 1889, but on his marriage two years later his preference for the life of a country gentleman led him to retire to Northamptonshire, where he became a noted breeder of dairy shorthorns and for twenty-five years served on the county council. His interest in local affairs soon led him to turn his attention to politics, and in 1900 he entered the House of Commons as Conservative member for South Northamptonshire. At the general election of 1906 he did not stand and the seat was won by the Liberals, but he stood again successfully in January 1910 and thereafter held the seat (which in 1918 became the Daventry division) until his death. On the outbreak of war in 1914 he rejoined his regiment with the rank of lieutenant, and in November of that year was wounded in the first battle of Ypres. He returned to France in 1915, and until 1916 was in command of the mounted troops of the Guards division.
On his return to political life in 1918 FitzRoy played an unassuming though valuable part which led to his appointment in 1922 as deputy chairman of ways and means under James Fitzalan Hope (later Lord Rankeillour) [qv.]. This post he held until 1928, except during the short-lived Labour administration of 1924, and when in 1928 J. H. Whitley [qv.] resigned the speakership, FitzRoy was unanimously elected to succeed him.
FitzRoy's speakership covered fifteen years and, although it was during his occupation of the chair that, in July 1930, Mr. John Beckett, the Labour member for Peckham—in almost the last scene of disorder which the chamber witnessed—made his eccentric attempt to carry off the mace, the period was more memorable for external events than for the domestic problems of Parliament. This was perhaps fortunate, for FitzRoy had not the legal training which so many of his predecessors could call to their aid. He was, indeed, the first soldier Speaker of recent times, and it was by good sense and good hands, rather than by any store of parliamentary book-learning, that this ex-cavalryman, with his tall and commanding figure, proved his worth in the chair. The financial crisis of 1931, the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936, the outbreak of war in 1939, and the destruction of the Commons' chamber in 1941, although they profoundly stirred the nation, left little permanent mark on the institution of Parliament. But the war and the air raids on London put a heavy strain upon FitzRoy as head of the administration of the House; as did also his constant watch on the debates and conduct of the House itself, lest the free expression of opinion might inadvertently give secret information to the enemy. These duties he performed with success, but the burden proved seriously to have impaired his strength, and he succumbed to a sudden attack of pneumonia at his official residence in the Palace of Westminster 3 March 1943. He was buried in the chancel of St. Margaret's, the church traditionally associated with the House of Commons.
As a private member FitzRoy made no attempt to shine in debate. After he became Speaker opportunities of hearing him were necessarily few, but when he was called upon to speak as mouth of the House, notably at the ceremonial meetings of Parliament in Westminster Hall on the occasions of King George V's silver jubilee in 1935 and the visit of M. Lebrun, President of the French Republic, in March 1939, he showed that he had the gift of combining grace with formal oratory. He carried his office with great dignity. When at the general election of 1935 the Labour Party in his constituency chose to disregard the old-established convention under which the Speaker, once elected, could rely upon being returned to Parliament unopposed, FitzRoy refused to allow the speakership to be dragged into party politics and, taking no active part in the contest, was rewarded by an increased majority. Throughout the vicissitudes and the emergencies of the period of his speakership he retained the confidence of members of all parties, and the tributes which were paid to him on the occasion of his golden wedding in 1941 showed that he had won the esteem and affection of the whole House.
FitzRoy married in 1891 Muriel, elder daughter of Colonel Archibald Charles Henry Douglas-Pennant, younger son of the first Baron Penrhyn, and had three sons, the second of whom was killed in action in 1915, and one daughter. He received honorary degrees from the universities of Cambridge (1931) and Oxford (1934), was a J.P. and D.L. for Northamptonshire, and was sworn of the Privy Council in 1924. In recognition of his services his widow, who had been appointed C.B.E. in 1918, was raised to the peerage in 1943 with the title, in her own right, of the Viscountess Daventry.
A portrait of FitzRoy by (Sir) Oswald Birley hangs in the Speaker's House in the Palace of Westminster.
The Times, 4 March 1943