BASSETT, Sir William (1628-93), of Claverton, nr. Bath, Som.
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Family and Education
bap. 17 Apr. 1628, 1st s. of William Bassett of Claverton by 2nd w. Elizabeth, da. and h. of Sir Joseph Killigrew† of Lothbury, London and Landrake, Cornw. m. (1) Philadelphia, da. of James Cambell of Woodford, Essex, and coh. to her bro. Sir John Cambell, 1st Bt., s.p.; (2) 28 Sept. 1685, Rachel, da. of Sir Theophilus Biddulph of Westcombe Park, Greenwich, Kent, s.p. suc. fa. 1656; kntd. 7 July 1660.1
Commr. for assessment, Som. Aug. 1660-80, 1689-90, Bath 1690; freeman, Bath 1661; capt. of militia horse, Som. 1661, maj. by 1679; j.p. Som. 1662-d., Cornw. 1683-5, Bath 1684-Oct. 1688, member, Hon. Artillery Co. 1681; commr. for recusants, Som. 1675, dep. lt. 1680-7, 1689-d.2
Bassett was descended from a Gloucestershire family called Pynchard who changed their name when they acquired a moiety of Uley manor by marriage to the heiress of Sir Anselm Bassett. Her grandson, Sir Simon Bassett, represented the county in three of Edward III’s Parliaments. Bassett’s grandfather moved to Somerset, buying Claverton, an estate of 1,300 acres just outside Bath, in 1609. His father, a conscientious ship-money sheriff, sat for the city in the Long Parliament and was nominated to the original county committee; but he was disabled as a Royalist in 1644 and compounded at one-third in 1651 for £1,935. Bassett himself was involved with Edward Massey in a plot to seize Bristol for the King in 1659, and claimed to have expended £3,000 in the cause. He was knighted at the Restoration and proposed for the order of the Royal Oak with an estate of £1,800 p.a., though two-thirds of this represented his mother’s Cornish inheritance, the title to which was contested by Edward Nosworthy I.3
Bassett, at the head of his militia troop, arrested nine of the Bath corporation on the eve of the municipal elections in 1661, and lodged them in the county gaol. Nevertheless he was returned for the city by a clear majority at a by-election in 1669, and, except in the second Exclusion Parliament, retained the seat for the rest of his life. An inactive Member, he was appointed to 21 committees in the Cavalier Parliament, of which the most important was for the second conventicles bill (2 Mar. 1670). He was listed as a court supporter in 1671, when he was given £1,000 as recompense for his own and his father’s constant loyalty. ‘Exceeding much in debt’, commented an opposition writer, ‘and has engaged to vote as his [?step]father [Henry] Seymour [I] would have him.’ He appealed to the Lords against an unfavourable decision in Chancery on 16 July 1674 on his Cornish estate, and on 28 May 1675 acted as teller for adjourning the debate on the jurisdiction of the Upper House. Four days later the Commons, already infuriated at the breach of their privileges in the cases of John Fagg I, Arthur Onslow, and Thomas Dalmahoy, were informed of Bassett’s petition, and he escaped censure only because their attention was engrossed by the more sensational circumstances of the Four Lawyers’ case. After he had been entered on the working lists among those ‘to be remembered’, a contract was drawn up for the lease of the law duties for three-and-a-half years at an annual rent of £20,000 to a consortium which he had formed. But they were unable to make the advance payment which Lord Treasurer Danby required, and the lease went to another group without parliamentary interest. Bassett’s politics were unaffected; Sir Richard Wiseman listed him among the government supporters, and Shaftesbury marked him ‘doubly vile’ in 1677. The author of A Seasonable Argument referred to his grant of £1,000 from Lord Treasurer Clifford, and Danby’s promises of the law duties, adding that he was ‘always drunk when he can get money’. On 26 June 1678 he was teller against the bill for distinguishing Papists from Protestant dissenters, and he was on both lists of the court party in this year.4
Bassett was again marked ‘vile’ by Shaftesbury in 1679. His only committee in the first Exclusion Parliament was on the bill to reverse outlawries in the King’s bench, and he probably paired with Sir George Speke in the division on the exclusion bill. As one of the ‘unanimous club’ he was defeated by one vote by the exclusionist Sir Walter Long in the August general election. He regained his seat in 1681, but left no trace on the records of the Oxford Parliament. After the removal of the Presbyterian faction from municipal office under the new charter, he was returned unopposed in 1685, but was appointed only to the elections committee in James II’s Parliament. Despite the final overthrow of his claim to Landrake in 1687, and the reversal of the King’s religious policy, his loyalty to the crown was unshaken and he consented to the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws. He was approved as a court candidate in 1688, and returned to the Convention at the top of the poll, the bishop of Winchester being described as his great patron. He voted to agree with the Lords that the throne was not vacant, but was appointed to no committees. Re-elected in 1690, he died on 25 Sept. 1693 and was buried at Claverton. He directed his executors to sell his lands for payment of his debts, and though some £10,000 was raised, not all his creditors were satisfied.5