CLIFFORD, Thomas (1630-73), of Ugbrooke, Chudleigh, Devon.
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Family and Education
b. 1 Aug. 1630, 1st s. of Hugh Clifford of Ugbrooke by Mary, da. of Sir George Chudleigh, 1st Bt.†, of Ashton. educ. Exeter, Oxf. 1647; M. Temple 1648. m. 27 June 1650 (with £1,000), Elizabeth (d. 21 Sept. 1709), da. of William Martin of Lindridge, Bishop’s Teignton, and coh. to her bro. William, 7s. (4 d.v.p.) 8da. suc. fa. 1640; kntd. c. June 1664; cr. Baron Clifford of Chudleigh 22 Apr. 1672.1
J.p. Devon Mar. 1660-73, commr. for militia Mar. 1660, maj. of militia horse Apr. 1660-at least 1661; commr. for assessment, Devon Aug. 1660-9, Westminster 1666-9, the Household 1671; dep. lt. Devon 1661-73, commr. for loyal and indigent officers 1662; sub-commr. for prizes, London 1665-7.2
Gent. of the privy chamber June 1660-d.; commr. for sick and wounded 1664-7; asst. R. Fishing Co. 1664; commr. for Duke of Monmouth’s estates 1665-70; envoy extraordinary, Denmark and ambassador extraordinary, Sweden 1665; PC 5 Dec. 1666-19 June 1673; comptroller of the Household 1666-8, treas. 1668-72; ld. of Treasury 1667-72, ld. treas. 1672-3; commr. for trade 1668-72, union with Scotland 1670-1, inquiry into land settlement [I] 1672.3
Clifford claimed descent from a baronial family prominent in the north country during the Middle Ages. His ancestors were living in Wiltshire in the 15th century, and produced a Member for Salisbury in 1547, but from the reign of Henry VII they also held land in Devon. His father is said to have died of an illness contracted as a colonel in the Bishops’ Wars. Clifford’s wardship was sold for £250, an experience which seems to have imbued him with a lasting hatred for the court of wards, ‘taking away the child and heir of the house from the mother’s breast’. His maternal grandfather took up arms for the Parliament in 1642, but laid down his commission in the following year.4
Clifford’s hereditary estate, though possibly underestimated by Samuel Pepys at seven score pounds a year, was small and until 1663 burdened with his grandmother’s jointure. His wife’s family was a cadet branch of the recusant Martins of Dorset, and there is some suggestion that her uncle and guardian (who with Clifford and Henry Ford formed a locally famous ‘triumvirate of topping wits’ during the Interregnum) was a crypto-Catholic. ‘While the sun of monarchy was under an eclipse, these stars of the first magnitude in our hemisphere sparkled only among themselves and their familiars in their own dark orbs.’ Clifford himself in later years told his astrologer that it was in October 1659 that he ‘first appeared on a public account at Exeter, and gained great esteem among the people’, but nothing more is known of his political activities, either local or national, till he was elected to the Convention for Totnes, some 12 miles from Ugbrooke. A moderately active Member, he was named to 16 committees, of which the most important were for the abolition of the court of wards and the attainder bill. He soon achieved prominence as a financial expert, and was appointed chairman of the committee for satisfying the public debt. In this capacity he carried to the Lords the report on moneys owing to Anthony Buller. His maiden speech was against the imposition of double taxation on recusants, and on 15 Aug. 1660 he reverted to this theme, saying ‘it was like the Egyptians to lay a double task and take away the straw’. In a debate on supply on 19 Nov. he proclaimed himself in favour of any kind of taxation, provided that the court of wards was abolished. Evidently his performance had attracted favourable attention at Court, for on 21 Dec. he was sworn a gentleman of the privy chamber.5
Re-elected for Totnes in 1661 with the aid of a letter from the Duke of York, though apparently not without opposition, Clifford was listed by Lord Wharton as a friend, and at once became one of the most active Members of the Cavalier Parliament. By the time of his promotion to the Upper House, he had been named to 325 committees, besides acting as teller on 20 divisions. He was concerned with the principal measures of the opening session, the corporations and uniformity bills and the bill of pains and penalties. He acted as teller (with his colleague’s son, Edward Seymour) for an unsuccessful proviso to the bill of oblivion, against which he is said to have made a notable speech, attacking the royal prerogative. When William Love refused the sacrament, Clifford feared that he might have imbibed ‘Popish principles’ abroad. On 24 July he reported to the House as chairman of the committee drawing up regulations for the navy. After the recess he was named to the committee for the execution of those under attainder, and on 4 Dec. he brought in a petition on behalf of the patentees for wine licences. In 1662 he was added to the committee to consider a pamphlet against the excise, and both in this session and the next he took a leading part in preparing compensation for loyal and indigent officers. On 18 Mar. he came to blows in the House with Andrew Marvell, who was apparently the aggressor; the occasion of their dispute is not known, though Marvell was later to describe Clifford as ‘a tall louse’. Clifford’s parliamentary standing was not affected by the incident; he reported the bill to prevent customs frauds and three days later carried it to the Lords. On 8 Apr. he was entrusted with an address against the Merchant Adventurers, and on 28 Apr. with managing a conference on the uniformity bill. In May he was chiefly active over the militia bill, acting as teller in two divisions and being ordered to bring in amendments, and as chairman of the committee on customs administration.6
By the autumn of 1662, Clifford had engaged ‘the particular friendship’ of Sir Henry Bennet. Burnet’s story that he had previously offered his services to Clarendon, who rejected him as a secret Papist, is improbable. In Clarendon’s own account, Clifford and his friend Winston Churchill are described as ‘country gentlemen of ordinary condition and mean fortunes’ who had hitherto followed the directions of Sir Hugh Pollard, but nothing is said about his religion. Clifford’s commonplace book reveals him at this date and for some years to come as an orthodox Anglican, though with strong High Church proclivities. According to one of Pepys’s informants, his intimacy with Bennet arose solely from ‘Clifford’s coming to him and applying himself to him for favours, when he came first up to town to be a Parliament man’. Evelyn described Clifford as Bennet’s creature, ‘and never from him’. It was certainly Bennet who drew attention to his influence as a speaker in the House, obtained for him a grant of the logwood farm (worth about £100 p.a.), procured his admission to the inner circle of managers for the Court, and assigned him some responsibility for intercepting letters. In the 1663 session he came out against relaxing the legal penalties for eating meat in Lent and in favour of increasing clerical stipends in those hot-beds of dissent, the corporate towns. But he was also in favour of toleration; he was named to the committees to consider defects in the Act of Uniformity and the Corporations Act, and on 25 Feb. he acted with the crypto-Catholic (Sir) Solomon Swale as teller for the small minority of 30 who, in a House of 300, favoured the Declaration of Indulgence. As a reward, Clifford was granted the first reversion of a tellership of the Exchequer, presumably without payment, for later in the same session he took part in preparing a bill to forbid the purchase of offices. Meanwhile, he was more concerned to protect his parliamentary position among the Anglicans; he was named to the first conventicles bill, and on 4 Apr. he joined in a message of thanks to the King for his proclamation against Jesuits and popish priests. In this session he was ordered to bring in a bill for the encouragement of trade and to draft a clause restraining imports of cattle from Scotland and Ireland, a specially sore point with the west country Members whom he aspired to lead. On 10 July he attended the King with a petition from the Merchant Adventurers of Exeter for the enforcement of the Navigation Act—a sighting shot for his great campaign against the Dutch in the following year. In the spring session of 1664 he was listed as a court dependant, and took the chair in a committee on the state of trade, though many years later he was to admit to the House that ‘he may probably speak out of his compass in trade, having no knowledge in it but what he has learned here’. Nevertheless on 21 Apr. he confidently reported that the ‘wrongs, dishonours and indignities done to his Majesty by the subjects of the United Provinces [are] the greatest obstruction to our foreign trade’, and was sent to the Lords to desire a conference on the subject. He was again named to the committees on the conventicles bill and the additional corporations bill.7
Clifford was knighted during the summer, and in the session that followed he was teller for the grant of £2,500,000 for war with the Dutch, describing the debate in detail in a long letter to the Hon. William Coventry. His animosity against the Merchant Adventurers of London, who drove their principal trade with the Low Countries, was undiminished, and he opposed a bill for their relief. After the Christmas recess he was chosen to carry the estate bill of Sir Robert Carr, Arlington’s brother-in-law, to the Lords, and to ask the King to proclaim a day of fasting and prayer for victory over the Dutch. Having done as much as any man (except perhaps Sir George Downing) to start the war, Clifford did not personally shirk the consequences. He served as a volunteer in the naval campaign of 1665, and followed it up with a diplomatic mission to the northern courts. Coventry regretted ‘the absence of so considerable a man from Parliament ... where he may be the most useful Member in the House’, and he resumed his seat in the 1666 session. He again served on the committee for the Irish cattle bill under Seymour’s chairmanship, but on 6 Oct. he reported to Bennet (now Lord Arlington):
Keen as the House of Commons is for the bill against Irish cattle, yet on report of it from the committee it is ordered to be re-committed, there being some clauses so extravagant and severe as to the seizing and conviction.
He was active over the proposed prohibition of imports from France, being charged with preparing reasons for a conference with the Lords and with attending the King with the Commons’ vote. He succeeded Pollard as comptroller on 28 Nov. and a few days later, by the King’s command, read a despatch from Scotland announcing the defeat of the rebels there. On 11 Dec. he was approved by the House as commissioner of public accounts, and on 29 Jan. 1667 he was one of the Members appointed to attend the King with an address on behalf of merchants trading with France. He intervened unsuccessfully in the Dartmouth by-election in favour of Joseph Williamson.8
Clifford was not particularly prominent in the stormy debates which followed the dismissal of Clarendon. He was named to the committees considering public accounts and restraints on juries. To the latter he gave evidence of the harshness of (Sir) John Kelyng at the Devon assizes. On 25 Oct. 1667 Clifford and Richard Kirkby were ordered to obtain a statement on naval intelligence from Arlington, and later he defended his patron in debate on this subject. Always reckoned a reliable friend by Lord Sandwich (Edward Montagu I), he seems to have defended the admiral’s conduct at Bergen (of which he had been an eye-witness) and to have pitched eagerly on the unfortunate Peter Pett as general scapegoat. Clifford served on the committees for the impeachment and banishment of Clarendon, but he was against pressing the dispute with the Lords over the failure to prevent his flight. On 6 Dec. he was ordered to bring in a bill for free trade with Scotland, and three days later by the King’s command he tabled a statement of arrears of poll-tax. He attacked the proposal of Sir Richard Temple for the frequent holding of Parliaments as ‘a bill of ill consequence, breeding jealousy between the King and his people’. He took part in examining the militia laws, and he was twice entrusted with drafting clauses in the wine duties bill.9
Clifford was now much in the public eye, but in spite of his consistent support for toleration and his hostility to the Protestant Triple Alliance, no suspicions of his religion appear to have been yet uttered, even by his enemy Marvell in private correspondence. Indeed it was not till 1671 that his guileless Anglican friend Evelyn ‘suspected him a little warping to Rome’. But on 25 Jan. 1669 the King revealed his own secret conversion to Arlington and Clifford as well as to the recusant Lord Arundell of Wardour, and bade them prepare for a public declaration ‘as wise men and good Catholics ought to do’. At this stage Clifford seems to have been hoping for a voluntary reunion between Canterbury and Rome, though his conversation with Arundell overheard by Sir William Bucknall is certainly susceptible of a more sinister interpretation. In foreign affairs, he was undoubtedly the chief architect of the alliance with France. His reckless courage at this stage enabled him to outstrip the cautious Arlington in royal favour. According to the Duke of York he was ‘the only minister of Charles II that served him throughout faithfully and without reproach’. In a pamphlet called The Alarum, which was found scattered in Westminster Hall when Parliament reassembled on 20 Oct. 1669, he was depicted as whispering absolute power to the King. In a debate on the conventicles bill on 10 Nov. he recalled the promise of toleration in the declaration of Breda. More controversial was his reference to the Swedes, partners in the Triple Alliance, as ‘a mercenary people’, and he was forced to explain that he used the adjective in no pejorative sense. When Ormonde’s friends proposed the impeachment of Lord Orrery ( Roger Boyle), Clifford ‘would not have the sword of this House ... blunted upon offences of this nature’. On the return of the conventicles bill from the Lords with a questionable amendment reserving the royal supremacy in religion, Clifford remarked: ‘We shall be puzzled when we come to the Lords at a conference if they should ask us why we will not recognise the King’s supremacy’. On 10 Mar. 1670 he was instructed to inform the Lords that the Lower House agreed in principle to union with Scotland. Two days later he announced that the King had promised effective measures against both conventicles and recusants.10
Shortly after the end of the session Clifford left for Dover, where on 22 May he and Arlington signed the secret clauses providing for the conversion of England. Parliament met again on 24 Oct. 1670 for what was to be Clifford’s last session in the Lower House. About this time he was described by an opposition satirist as ‘the grandson of a Devonshire vicar, now treasurer of the Household, a commissioner of the Treasury, and chief commissioner for managing the bribe money wherewith to buy votes in the Parliament house’. As the leading figure in the Treasury commission he was no doubt responsible for an increase of 50 per cent in secret service payments between 1666 and 1671, and he was also extremely active in debate:
We struggled with a debt after the war between two, and three millions. ... in all these straits the King spent not above half his revenue; whatever wanted, the King kept his navy in repair. The King was sensible how lands fell everywhere, and was unwilling to press you.
He was against a tax on new buildings, pointing out to his fellow cattle-breeders that the growth of London had produced a most gratifying increase in prices at Smithfield. A subsidy, he revealed, brought in only £45,000, and he favoured a land-tax, which he was forced to withdraw by ‘the zeal which transports gentlemen’ against it. On the representations of Sir Edward Dering he also abandoned the excise on home brewing. His attitude to bankers showed an interesting development; in April 1670 he thought they ‘ought to be commended and encouraged’, by the following January they had become merely ‘necessary evils’. He did not neglect local interests, defending the continued exemption of tin-mines from the subsidy on the grounds that they provided many of the small vessels of Devon with cargoes as far afield as Alexandria. Clifford’s horror at the proposal of John Birch to tax church dignitaries was not his only gesture to the Anglican majority in this session; on 23 Nov. he moved to have the dissenter Jekyll sent for in custody. On the assault on Sir John Coventry which so inconveniently delayed supply, he protested against excepting the culprits from pardon as an infringement of the prerogative. For a court spokesman he was remarkably forthcoming in the debate on the Devon by-election on 18 Jan. 1671; perhaps he was not displeased at the enforced withdrawal as court candidate of the Earl of Bath’s nominee in favour of Sir Coplestone Bampfylde, under whom he had served in the militia. As the session drew towards its close, Clifford was twice appointed to draw up reasons for conferences on supply, and on 20 Apr. he informed the House of its forthcoming prorogation.11
Clifford, with Seymour’s co-operation as chairman of ways and means, had produced ‘by far the richest harvest since the revenue had first been established.’ During the long recess which followed, his influence over policy increased. He was primarily responsible for the Stop of the Exchequer, the Declaration of Indulgence and the third Dutch war. His appointment as lord treasurer ended his old friendship with Arlington. When Parliament met again in 1673 Clifford had moved to the Upper House. The test bill, which he attacked in the Lords in an impassioned speech, revealed his religious allegiance. He laid down his offices on 19 June
before he had formed wide political connexions. What he unquestionably lacked in administrative talent, he made up in courage and sympathy; his influence was based on readiness to disburse bribes that he did not touch himself, on naturally high prerogative notions, and on a close intimacy with the royal brothers, by whom he was instructed in the Catholic secret. He was ever foremost in the imminent deadly breach ... and his own apparently self-inflicted death merely followed a political suicide.
Clifford, whose health had begun to give way as early as 1670, died on 17 Oct., perhaps by his own hand, within four months of his retirement, and was buried in his private chapel