Chaplin, Henry, first Viscount Chaplin 1840-1923, politician and sportsman, was born 22 December 1840 at Ryhall Hall, near Stamford, the third son of Henry Chaplin, rector of the parish of Ryhall and lord of the manor, by his wife, Caroline Horatia, daughter of William Ellice, member of parliament for Great Grimsby, originally of Invergarry, Inverness, and niece of Edward Ellice the elder [qv.], and of Horatio Ross [qv.], Nelson's godson. John Chaplin (1658-1714), son of Sir Francis Chaplin, lord mayor of London, became squire of Tathwell, Lincolnshire, by his marriage with Elizabeth, only daughter and heiress of Sir John Hamby. In 1719 their fourth son, Thomas Chaplin (1684-1747), bought Blankney, Lincolnshire, which had formed part of the forfeited estates of Sir William Widdrington, fourth Baron Widdrington [qv.]. Blankney Hall remained the Chaplin home until 1897.
After his father's death in March 1849, Henry Chaplin's mother and her family went to live at Blankney Hall with his uncle, Charles Chaplin, who, after the death of Henry's two elder brothers, brought him up as his heir. He was sent at the age of nine to a dame's school at Brighton, kept by a Mrs. Walker, spent two years at Harrow (1854-1856), studied with a private coach at Walton d'Eivile, Warwickshire, and in 1858 matriculated from Christ Church as a gentleman commoner, going into residence in January 1859. At Christ Church he was contemporary with the Prince of Wales, with whom he made a lifelong friendship. In later days he was frequently at Sandringham. Queen Alexandra entrusted her daughters to his guidance in the hunting field and Queen Victoria telegraphed to him when her ponies had pink-eye.
Chaplin went down from Oxford in 1860, in order to take part in an expedition to the Rocky Mountains with (Sir) John Rae [qv.]. The party landed at New York early in April 1861 whence they proceeded to Fort Garry (afterwards Winnipeg) but were turned back by the appearance of Black Foot Indians on the war path. Lake Chaplin, a salt lake in Saskatchewan, near the town of Moosejaw, was named after Chaplin by Rae.
On the death of his uncle in 1859 Chaplin became squire of Blankney, a title which he valued highly. No one, said Lord Willoughby de Broke, was half such a country gentleman as Henry Chaplin looked. In his earlier days, if not throughout life, Chaplin's primary interests were hunting and racing. Politics, though important, were secondary. Hunting was more than a pastime, it was a study of absorbing scientific interest. His father brought him up with the Cottesmore and gave him his first lessons on a pony, and Lord Henry Bentinck, then master of the Burton hunt, completed his education. While at Oxford he hunted six days a week and had four hunters of his own, besides auxiliary mounts. It was hunting there that laid the foundation of his acquaintance with the Prince of Wales, who not infrequently stayed with him for hunting, at Burghersh Chantrey and at Blankney. In 1864 Chaplin purchased the Burton pack from Lord Henry Bentinck, and in 1865 succeeded Lord Doneraile as master of the Burton hunt, to which, like his uncle Charles, he contributed £1,200 a year. It had a famous whipper-in, Will Goodall, a description of whose methods, in a letter from Bentinck, was published by Chaplin in 1922 under the title of Foxhounds and their handling in the Field, with an introduction which is a literary masterpiece after the manner of Cobbett. While master, Chaplin kept four packs and hunted the country six days a week, mainly at his own expense. In 1871, when the country was divided, he retained the southern part, designated the Blankney hunt, with the greater part of the old pack. On account of his political duties he soon afterwards transferred the mastership to his brother Edward, but he acted again as master himself from 1877 to 1881. In 1883 he sold the pack to Lord Lonsdale. He continued to hunt until his latest days with the Cottesmore. In the opinion of the well-known jockey, Henry Custance [qv.], he was the best big man that ever crossed a country.
On the turf Chaplin's fortunes were chequered, but early in life he had a notable triumph. In June 1865, at the annual sale of William Blenkiron [qv.], he purchased for a thousand guineas a yearling colt, which he named Hermit, and which in 1867 won the Derby by a neck at starting odds of 66 to 1 against, after breaking a blood vessel ten days before. Among the field was Mr. F. Pryor's Rake, and Punch improved the occasion by saying Who will dare say that racing is a sinful amusement? Think of £160,000 carried off from a Rake by a Hermit for the benefit of a Chaplin. Chaplin was elected a member of the Jockey Club in 1865 and succeeded Lord Calthorpe as a steward in 1873.
In politics as in hunting Lord Henry Bentinck was Chaplin's instructor. Like him and his more famous brother, Lord George Bentinck [qv.], Chaplin was a follower and admirer of Disraeli. He was born a protectionist and always retained the belief that protection meant fair play and that a tariff was the only means of restoring to the English farmer a satisfactory livelihood. Throughout life he was a force in the county constituencies, especially among farmers, whom he thoroughly understood. Accompanied by his agent he drove rapidly from one meeting to another in a dog-cart furnished with a magnum of champagne. At the general election of 1868 he was returned to parliament unopposed, for Mid-Lincolnshire, known after 1885 as the Sleaford division, and he continued to hold the seat until 1906, when he was defeated in the great liberal victory. In the following year he was returned at a by-election for Wimbledon, defeating the Hon. Bertrand Russell by a majority of seven thousand. He continued to hold this seat until he became a peer in 1916. He made his mark on 29 April 1869 in his maiden speech against the disestablishment of the Irish Church. He was congratulated by his leader, Disraeli, and complimented by Gladstone, whom he was criticizing. Although vehemently opposed to him in politics, Gladstone liked Chaplin, and retained to the end a kindly feeling for him. In April 1873 Disraeli put Chaplin on a small party committee of men of social influence to prepare the constituencies for the impending general election. Although not greatly devoted to the House of Commons, Chaplin, who was deeply interested in the Agricultural Holdings Bill, sacrificed Goodwood and a houseful of guests in order to support his leader in the minor political crisis caused by the protest made on 22 July 1875 by Samuel Plimsoll [qv.] when Disraeli announced that he intended to drop the Merchant Shipping Bill in order to proceed with the agricultural measure.
In the following August Disraeli proposed to appoint Chaplin chief secretary for Ireland instead of Sir Michael Hicks Beach [qv.], who was to go to the Board of Trade, but finally decided that he was not experienced enough for this nest of corruption.
From 1880 to 1885 Chaplin was in opposition. In party matters he found himself in disagreement with Lord Randolph Churchill [qv.]. The difference first manifested itself in 1878 when Chaplin, after listening to a speech by Lord Randolph, advised him, if such were his opinions, to lose not a moment in going over to the other side of the house. When in 1880 Churchill and his Fourth Party began to show themselves openly hostile to Sir Stafford Northcote [qv.], Chaplin was one of those who rallied most warmly to Northcote's support, and in August 1883 Churchill wrote to Sir Henry Drummond Wolff [qv.] that H. Chaplin and the Baron de Worms will soon make the tory party too hot to hold me. When later in that year Churchill developed in the National Union of Conservative Associations his attack on the autocratic Central Committee set up by Lord Beaconsfield in 1880, Chaplin secured election to the council of the National Union and continued the battle there without great success. In Lord Salisbury's short administration Chaplin was chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster from June 1885 to January 1886, and on Salisbury's return to power in July 1886 he was offered the presidency of the Local Government Board, but declined to take office without a seat in the Cabinet. In 1889 he entered the Cabinet as president of the newly formed Board of Agriculture. He had charge of the Small Holdings Act, which obtained the royal assent just before the ministry went out of office in July 1892.
On the return of the conservatives to power in 1895 Chaplin was included in the Cabinet as president of the Local Government Board, and he introduced the Agricultural Rating Act in 1896, the Vaccination Act in 1898, and the Housing Act in 1900. When Lord Salisbury reconstructed his Cabinet after the general election in 1900, Chaplin resigned office at Salisbury's request, because of the necessity for creating vacancies for others, but declined a peerage. At this period he had lost influence in the House of Commons. He was too pragmatical and not sufficiently supple in debate. His Agricultural Rating Bill roused fierce opposition, ably led by Sir William Harcourt. He was also addicted to advocating measures, such as bimetallism, which were not part of the party programme, the exact effect of which it was difficult to foresee. His advocacy of protection under the name of fair trade was also at that time a serious disqualification for office.
Out of office Chaplin continued to speak in parliament on agricultural matters; served on several royal commissions; and was president of the old age pensions committee. But in the summer of 1903 when Joseph Chamberlain [qv.] outlined his plans for a preferential tariff and exhorted the nation to think imperially, he found a larger field. At Chamberlain's request he became the representative of agriculture on the tariff reform commission, and he spoke frequently and with effect in the constituencies. According to his own statement it was his desire for an effective scheme of preference that kept him in parliament. In the early months of 1914 he supported with equal zeal the cause of Ulster.
After the outbreak of the European War in August, Chaplin was active in advising on agricultural questions. He did not support the Coalition government formed in 1915, and became by common consent the leader of the opposition, but it was an opposition of suggestion and friendly criticism. When there was real hostility, as on the subject of the Military Service Bill, he would have nothing to do with it. In 1916 he was created Viscount Chaplin, of St. Oswald's, Blankney. He disapproved strongly of the continuance of the Coalition ministry after the War. When he went to the Carlton Club on 19 October 1922 to protest against its prolongation he was warmly cheered by the crowd in Pall Mall.
Chaplin's magnificent hospitality and the cost of his stables and kennels early impaired his fortune. His wife's uncle by marriage, the first Duke of Westminster, remarked, When our Harry is broke, which is only a matter of time, all the crowned heads of Europe ought to give him a hundred thousand a year in order that he may show them how to spend their money. His family home, Blankney, was mortgaged, and in 1897 passed into the hands of Lord Londesborough, whose father had been one of the chief mortgagees. In later times Chaplin frequently made Stafford House, the London residence of his brother-in-law, the Duke of Sutherland, his head-quarters. After the duke's death in 1913, he lived in a flat in Charles Street, until October 1922, when his son-in-law, the Marquess of Londonderry, gave him a suite of rooms in Londonderry House. He died there 29 May 1923 and was buried at Blankney.
Chaplin was strikingly handsome as a young man; later on, as a well-known parliamentary figure his dignified appearance was a delight to the cartoonists of Punch. In 1864 Chaplin was engaged to be married to Lady Florence Paget, only daughter of the second Marquess of Anglesey, but within a few days of the date fixed for their wedding she eloped with and married the Marquess of Hastings, who subsequently lost approximately £120,000 at Chaplin's Derby in 1867. In 1876 Chaplin married Lady Florence Sutherland Leveson-Gower (died 1881), elder daughter of George, third Duke of Sutherland; by her he had one son, Eric (born 1877), who succeeded as second viscount, and two daughters.
The Times, 30 May and 1 June 1923;
Lady Londonderry, Henry Chaplin, 1926;
National Review, July 1923;
W. S. Churchill, Lord Randolph Churchill, 2 vols., 1906;
W. F. Monypenny and G. E. Buckle, Life of Benjamin Disraeli, vols. v, vi, 1920;
Victoria County History of Lincolnshire, vol. ii, 501-4;
Sir H. W. Lucy, Diaries of Parliament, passim;
Sir Sidney Lee, Edward VII, 1925, vol. i, index;
Hon. G. Lambton, Men and Horses I have known, 1924;
Henry Custance, Riding Recollections, 1894;
H. H. Dixon, The Druid, 1880.
Portrait, Royal Academy Pictures, 1909.
Contributor: E. I. Carlyle.