Thomas Fonnereau

Thomas Fonnereau (1699-1779), MP for Sudbury, subscribed to Joshua Kirby’s Twelve Prints and Historical Account of 1748, as well as Canning’s Gifts and Legacies of Ipswich of 1747. The Fonnereaus were a wealthy Huguenot merchant family based in London. When the father, Claude Fonnereau, died in 1740, he left nine children and vast wealth. Thomas, the eldest son, inherited £40,000, enough to keep in politics for life, as well as Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich, which his father had bought in 1734 from Price Devereux, 10th Viscount Hereford, who had sold the house after his wife died.

The Fonnereau family had extensive dealings with the Gainsboroughs of London, the painter’s uncle Thomas, and his son Thomas, and there are persistent claims that Thomas Fonnereau was an early patron of Gainsborough. Adrienne Corri certainly thought so, although later scholars have cast doubt on her arguments. However, early on, sometime in the late 1740s, Gainsborough did paint a view of Ipswich from the grounds of Christchurch.

Thomas Fonnereau was MP for Sudbury from 1741 to 1768, voting reliably on the government side. In December 1745, The Rev. Gibbon Jones preached a sermon “Fear God and and honour the King”, and the printed version was dedicated to Thomas Fonnereau. Sudbury was renowned as a particularly corrupt seat, and therefore very expensive to contest. The History of Parliament Online notes, “the borough had a well-deserved reputation for venality”, and Susan Sommers said of Sudbury, “it offers the historian an unself-conscious example of eighteenth-century political corruption at its most exuberant”.

The story that brings together Gainsborough, Fonnereau and elections is told (at second hand) in Whitley’s 1915 biography of Gainsborough.

According to a story told by William Windham (Pitt’s Secretary for War), his earliest supporter was Mr. Fonnereau, a member of the family which long owned the beautiful old house in Christchurch Park, Ipswich, where the effigy of Tom Peartree is now to be seen. Windham, who did not like Gainsborough, and described him as dissolute and capricious and not very delicate in his sentiments of honour, says that Mr. Fonnereau gave him his first chance by lending him £300, and that the painter was afterwards so forgetful of this benefit as to vote against his patron’s interest in a parliamentary election. “His conscience, however, remonstrating against such conduct, he kept himself in a state of intoxication for the time he set out to vote till his return to town, that he might not relent of his ingratitude.” The only thing that gives the slightest colour to this remarkable story is that one of the Fonnereaus was for a time the parliamentary representative of Sudbury.

Gainsborough was twenty for the election of 1747, and supposedly still living in London, and by the election of 1754, he had moved to Ipswich. If there was any truth to the story, though, he would have been voting for Richard Rigby, put up by the Prince of Wales, who sent him down to Sudbury in 1747 with a bodyguard of prize fighters.

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One thought on “Thomas Fonnereau

  1. Pingback: A Clique of Politicians | Kirby and his world

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