BLATHWAYT, William (c.1649-1717), of Scotland Yard, Whitehall and Dyrham Park, Glos.
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Family and Education
b. c.1649, o.s. of William Blathwayt, barrister, of the Middle Temple by Anne, da. of Justinian Povey of Hounslow, Mdx. educ. M. Temple 1665; Padua 1672. m. 23 Dec. 1686, Mary (d. Nov. 1691), da. and h. of John Wynter of Dyrham Park, 3s. 1da. suc. fa. c.1650.
Clerk of embassy, The Hague 1668-72, Copenhagen and Stockholm 1672, asst. sec. of trade and plantations 1675-9, sec. 1679-96; clerk of PC (extraordinary) 1678-86, (ordinary) 1686-d.; auditor-gen. of plantations 1680-d.; under-sec. of state (north) 1681-3; sec. at war 1683-Feb. 1689, May 1689-1704; ld. of trade 1696-7.
J.p. Westminster 1680-9, Glos., Mdx., Westminster and Som. by 1701-d.; commr. for assessment, Westminster 1689; dep. lt. Glos. and Som. 1701-?d.1
Blathwayt was the grandson of a London merchant who was prominent in the affairs of the Cutlers’ Company under James I. His father, a lawyer, took no part in the Civil War and died soon after Blathwayt’s birth ‘leaving his estate, which had been more considerable, extremely embroiled and impaired’, though still producing £157 10s. p.a. in rent. Blathwayt was brought up by his uncle Thomas Povey, who became treasurer to the Duke of York at the Restoration until forced to resign for incompetence. Nevertheless he succeeded in launching Blathwayt in the public service. His first post was at The Hague under Sir William Temple, and he succeeded in earning the approval even of so hard a taskmaster as Temple’s successor, Sir George Downing, who wrote: ‘I have found him very exceeding ready and serviceable in all things conducing to his Majesty’s service’. He next served in the Duke of Richmond’s embassy to the northern states, his travels on his employer’s behalf taking him as far afield as Venice and the German courts. But the duke’s death put an end to Blathwayt’s diplomatic career, and in 1675 he found his true vocation in the colonial administration as assistant to his uncle’s friend, Sir Robert Southwell. He was soon commended for diligence and rewarded with an increase in salary. He also won the personal regard of the King by taking over to the French Court a physician who cured his niece of an ague. Further official posts followed; he became the first auditor-general of the colonial revenue on a life patent with a salary of £500 p.a., while his attachment to the Privy Council gave him a glimpse of high politics. He served as under-secretary of state to Lord Conway, after which he bought the office of secretary at war, and was even considered as a possible successor to Sidney Godolphin I as secretary of state. But this appointment eluded him.2
At the general election of 1685 Blathwayt was returned on the government interest at Newtown. He was not active in James II’s Parliament, being appointed only to the committee to examine the disbandment accounts. In the supply debate in the second session he replied to accusations of disorderly conduct by the soldiers to the effect that the King had prescribed rules to control them.
If any disorders have been committed, it is not yet too late to have them redressed; and martial law (if by that cleared) does not hinder proceedings at common law for the same thing.
He condemned the figure of £400,000 proposed by the Opposition as inadequate: ‘no country near us in proportion but what exceeds this small number of men’. In the following year, Southwell introduced him to a Gloucestershire heiress, whom he married. Evelyn wrote of him in 1687 that he had
raised himself by his industry from very moderate circumstances. He is a very proper, handsome person, and very dexterous in business, and has besides all this married a great fortune. His income ... by the army and his being clerk of the council and secretary to the committee of foreign plantations brings him in above £2,000 per annum.
He could hardly expect to escape the tongue of malice, and in the summer of 1688 army officers ridiculed the threat of a Dutch invasion as a device on his part to extract fees from them for licence to be absent from their posts. At the trial of the Seven Bishops he was called by the crown to prove that they had acknowledged before the Privy Council their signatures on the petition against the Declaration of Indulgence, but under a ferocious cross-examination by the cream of England’s legal talent he admitted that there had been an implied promise not to prosecute. He was recommended for re-election by Sunderland, and accompanied the army to Salisbury in November.3
Blathwayt’s role as star witness for the prosecution against the Seven Bishops made it impossible to continue him in the politically sensitive post of secretary at war after the Revolution. But Temple’s son, who succeeded him, committed suicide after a week, which convinced William that he might do worse than trust in Blathwayt’s methodical dullness. His wife’s inheritance had fallen in during the Revolution, and from 1693 to 1710 he sat as a government supporter for the nearby borough of Bath. He was buried at Dyrham on 30 Aug. 1717, the only member of the family to sit in Parliament.4
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Paula Watson
This biography is based on G. A. Jacobsen, William Blathwayt.