Tottenham (Loftus), Sir Charles (1738–1806), 1st marquess of Ely and MP, was born 23 January 1738, the son of Sir John Tottenham (d. 1786), 1st baronet, and his wife Elizabeth daughter of Nicholas Loftus (1687–1763), 1st Viscount Loftus. He was returned for the borough of Clonmines, Co. Wexford, by his grandfather Loftus in 1761, and held the seat until 1776. He was later MP for Fethard, Co. Wexford (1776–83) and for Wexford town (1783–5). A professional soldier, he acted as ADC to successive lords lieutenant (1765–9), and served as a captain in the 50th foot. Among the positions he held were collector of the revenue for Drogheda (1768–77), paymaster of forces serving abroad (to 1783), joint postmaster general (1789–1806), and captain of the Rathfarnham yeomanry corps (1796). Probably on the instructions of his uncle, Henry Loftus, 4th Viscount Ely (1709–83), he voted against the augmentation of the army in 1769 but it may also have been because the Loftus-Ponsonby family were connected. It was said that ‘in his heart’ he was with John Ponsonby (qv), speaker of the house of commons and leader of the opposition to the viceroy, Lord Townshend (qv). In any case ambition triumphed and he soon rejoined the government party; Viscount Ely received an earldom and Tottenham a military pension of £1,000 a year in lieu of his position as paymaster; he was also made an Irish privy counsellor (18 July 1783).
During the 1770s and 1780s he generally supported the government, voting against catholic relief, legislative independence and parliamentary reform. In 1783 his uncle died and left him his estates, including Rathfarnham Castle, Co. Dublin, and extensive parliamentary influence; Tottenham then assumed the name of Loftus. His inheritance included the infamous boroughs of Bannow, Clonmines and Fethard (in 1783 the same 13 non-resident burgesses served for all three). He later admitted a group of gamekeepers and fishermen (known as ‘Lord Ely's Freemen’) to the borough of Fethard to consolidate his control.
There was, however, a dispute over the inheritance, which came through a nephew of his late uncle whose mother, Mary, was a Hume and co-heiress with her sister, Alice, who had married George Rochfort. The nephew was physically and possibly mentally impaired, and his uncle Lord Ely, who seems to have been the only person who showed him any kindness, left him his estates. However, Alice and George Rochfort sought to prove that their nephew was an idiot and that their son should inherit. It was the first case to come before the restored judiciary of the Irish house of lords in 1784 and the case was evenly balanced; the lord chancellor, Lord Lifford (qv), gave his vote in favour of Rochfort. Then it emerged that Lord Strangford, a clergyman, had endeavoured to sell his vote. There was a re-trial and the verdict was in favour of Loftus.
Loftus then set out with obsessive zeal to ensure the aggrandisement of himself and his family. He was created Baron Loftus (28 June 1785). Controlling the return of at least seven MPs, he could make a difference of fourteen either way in any division, and blatantly used his parliamentary leverage to secure titles for himself and patronage for his family and followers. Appropriately, his motto was ‘Prends moi tel que je suis’. During the regency crisis of 1788–9 he followed his friends the Ponsonbys in voting for a regency but, realising that this was not to his personal advantage, soon reverted to supporting the government. He became Viscount Loftus (28 December 1789), earl of Ely (2 March 1794), and KP (12 December 1794). During the 1790s he strongly opposed the alliance of liberal protestants and catholics in Co. Wexford, and expressed alarm to Dublin Castle at the rise of disaffection in the county.
He took full advantage of the government's anxiety during the debates on the act of union, declaring himself in favour of a union at first, then against (10 January 1799) and, having won sufficient concessions (including an Irish marquessate and a UK peerage), finally voted in favour (March 1799). He became marquess of Ely (1 January 1801) and Baron Loftus (UK) (19 January 1801). In fifteen years Loftus rose from commoner to marquess and is a striking example of the extent to which the Irish parliamentary system was open to self-interested advancement. On 11 November 1766 he married Jane (d. 1807), daughter and co-heir of Robert Myhill of Killarney, Co. Kilkenny. They had two sons and a daughter. He died 22 March 1806 in Hume St, Dublin, and was succeeded as 2nd marquess by his eldest son John Loftus (1770–1845), MP for Co. Wexford (1791–1806).