William Webb Follett

Attorney General for England and Wales
In office
15 April 1844 – 28 June 1845
Prime MinisterSir Robert Peel
Preceded bySir Frederick Pollock
Succeeded bySir Frederic Thesiger
Solicitor General for England and Wales
In office
Prime MinisterSir Robert Peel
Preceded bySir Thomas Wilde
Succeeded bySir Frederic Thesiger
In office
Prime MinisterSir Robert Peel
Preceded bySir Robert Rolfe
Succeeded bySir Robert Rolfe
Member of Parliament
for Exeter
In office
6 January 1835 – 28 June 1845
Preceded byJames Wentworth Buller
Edward Divett
Succeeded bySir John Duckworth, Bt
Edward Divett
Personal details
Born(1796-12-02)2 December 1796
Topsham, Devon
Died28 June 1845(1845-06-28) (aged 48)
Regent's Park, London
Political partyConservative
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge
Sir William Webb Follett, portrait by Sir Martin Archer Shee (1769–1850). National Portrait Gallery, London
Sir William Webb Follett, portrait by Sir Martin Archer Shee (1769–1850). National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir William Webb Follett (2 December 1796 – 28 June 1845) was an English lawyer and politician who served as MP for Exeter (1835–1845). He served twice as Solicitor-General, in 1834-5 and 1841 and as Attorney-General in 1844. He was knighted in 1835. He was reputed to have been the "greatest advocate of the century".[1]

Early life

Follett was born 2 December 1796 at Topsham in Devon, the eldest surving son of ten children. His father was Captain Benjamin Follett, late 13th Regiment of Infantry, who had retired from the army in 1790 and gone into business as a timber merchant,[2] and his mother was Ann Webb, daughter of John Webb, of Kinsale, Ireland.[3][4] His younger brother was Brent Spencer Follett (1810–1887) QC, MP and his sister Elizabeth married Richard Bright.[5][4]

Follett attended Exeter grammar school[6] and was privately educated by Mr Hutchinson, the curate of Heavitree. In 1813, he matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge, receiving a B.A. without honours in 1818 and an M.A. in 1830.[5][7]

On 11 October 1830, Follett married Jane Mary Giffard, the eldest daughter of Sir Ambrose Hardinge Giffard (1771–1827) who was chief justice of British Ceylon. They had five sons and two daughters.[5][8]


He joined the Inner Temple in Michaelmas term 1814 and read in the chambers of Robert Bayly and Godfrey Sykes. He became a special pleader in 1821 and was called to the bar on 28 May 1824. He joined the western circuit in 1825, where his first notable case was Garnett v Ferrand.[5][8]

In November 1828, he and Henry Brougham were briefed on the case of Rowe v Brenton and when Brougham became Lord Chancellor, he offered to make Follett a silk, but Follett declined. He had a large practice with the House of Lords and, when it was re-organised in 1833, the Privy Council of the United Kingdom.[5]

In 1832, Follett ran to be a Member of Parliament for Exeter but was unsuccessful. Instead he served as recorder for Exeter from 1832 to 1834,[7] when Sir Robert Peel formed his first administration. He became solicitor-general in November and thereafter was appointed a king's counsel and received a knighthood.[5]

On 6 January 1835, he was returned to parliament for Exeter with 1425 votes.[9] He resigned with the ministry in April 1835.[8] In 1837 and 1841, Follett was re-elected to Parliament.[5] On the return of Peel to power in 1841 Follett was again appointed Solicitor-General on 6 September, and on 15 April 1844 he succeeded Sir Frederick Pollock as Attorney-General.[8][10]

Follett never gave up his private practice. He was best known for defending James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan in 1841 after a duel with Captain Harvey Tuckett,[5] and representing George Chapple Norton in an action against Lord Melbourne in 1836.[11] His speech in the latter case was parodied in the Pickwick Papers (1837).[5]

Death and legacy

Sir William Webb-Follett. Marble bust sculpted by Edward Bowring Stephens, presented in 1842 to the Devon & Exeter Institution, Exeter
Sir William Webb-Follett. Marble bust sculpted by Edward Bowring Stephens, presented in 1842 to the Devon & Exeter Institution, Exeter

Follett was first ill in December 1835 and April 1836. He collapsed in February 1839 and could not return to work until later that year.[5] He collapsed again in April 1844 and he was compelled to relinquish legal practice and to visit the south of Europe to recuperate. He returned to England in March 1845, but the tuberculosis, with which he had previously been diagnosed, reasserted itself and he died at Croker's house, 9 Cumberland Terrace, Regent's Park, London on 28 June 1845.[5][8] He was buried in the Temple Church in London on 4 July.[1][5]

A statue of Follett executed by William Behnes was erected by subscription and placed in the north transept[12] at Westminster Abbey.[8] His marble bust by Edward Bowring Stephens exists in the Devon and Exeter Institution, Exeter.


  1. ^ a b Per inscribed plaque on base of his bust in the Devon & Exeter Institution
  2. ^ The Heraldic Register 1849-1850, with an annotated obituary, Bernard Burke, E. Churton, 1850, p. 73
  3. ^ Ryall's Portraits of Conservative Statesmen, Henry Thomas Ryall, p. 1
  4. ^ a b Dod, Charles Roger Phipps (1852). The Parliamentarian Companion (2nd ed.). London: Whitaker and Co. p. 178.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Follett, Sir William Webb (1796–1845), lawyer and politician". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/9796. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. Retrieved 14 June 2021. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  6. ^ Neale, Erskine (1846). Stray leaves from a freemason's notebook, by a Suffolk rector. R. Spencer.
  7. ^ a b "Follett, William Webb (FLT813WW)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  8. ^ a b c d e f  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Follett, Sir William Webb". Encyclopædia Britannica. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 602.
  9. ^ Besley, Henry (1835). Besley's Exeter Directory, for 1835: With the List of Voters Polled at the Contest for the Representation of the City, in January, 1835.
  10. ^ Norton-Kyshe, James William (1897). The Law and Privileges Relating to the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General of England: With a History from the Earliest Periods, and a Series of King's Attorneys and Attorneys and Solicitors-General from the Reign of Henry III. to the 60th of Queen Victoria. London: Stevens and Haynes. pp. xiv. OCLC 741493559.
  11. ^ Norton, Caroline Sheridan; Hoge, James O.; Olney, Clarke; Melbourne, William Lamb (1974). Letters of Caroline Norton to Lord Melbourne. The Ohio State University Press. p. 69. hdl:1811/24805. ISBN 978-0-8142-0208-1.
  12. ^ Stanley, A.P., Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey (London; John Murray; 1882), p. 244.
Parliament of the United Kingdom Preceded byJames Wentworth BullerEdward Divett Member of Parliament for Exeter1835 – 1845 With: Edward Divett Succeeded bySir John Duckworth, BtEdward Divett Political offices Preceded bySir Robert Rolfe Solicitor-General for England and Wales1834–1835 Succeeded bySir Robert Rolfe Preceded bySir Thomas Wilde Solicitor-General for England and Wales1841–1844 Succeeded bySir Frederic Thesiger Preceded bySir Frederick Pollock Attorney-General for England and Wales1844–1845 Succeeded bySir Frederic Thesiger