DAVENANT, Charles (1656-1714), of Westminster.
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Family and Education
b. 17 Nov. 1656, 2nd s. of Sir William Davenant (d.1668) of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, being 1st s. by 3rd w. Henriette Marie du Tremblay, wid. of St. Germain Beaupré of Anjou, France. educ. Cheam g.s. Surr. 1665; Balliol, Oxf. 1671-3; travelled abroad (Holland) c.1673-5; LL.D. Camb. 1675; advocate, Doctors’ Commons 1675. m. c.1678, Frances, da. and h. of James Molins, MD, of Shoe Lane, London, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 6da.
Commr. for excise 1678-89, hearth-tax 1684-Jan. 1685, July 1685-9; sec. to commrs. for union with Scotland 1703; inspector-gen. of imports and exports 1705-d.1
Dep. lt. London 1687-Oct. 1688, Herefs. Apr. 1688-9.2
According to Aubrey, Davenant’s father was Shakespeare’s son by the wife of an Oxford innkeeper. He became a courtier and playwright, and was implicated in the army plot of 1641. He acted as lieutenant-general of the ordnance in the royalist army of the Marquess of Newcastle during the first Civil War, and then joined Henrietta Maria in exile. He is said to have become a Roman Catholic, but his conversion must have been of short duration. During the second Civil War he was captured while on a mission to the Virginian Royalists, and on his release he was able, despite ‘the nicety of the times’ to return to the entertainment world as producer of the first operas in England. At the Restoration he became manager and part-owner of the Duke of York’s Theatre. Davenant took over this interest from his mother with a 16½ per cent holding while still an undergraduate, but his only play, Circe, was not a success. He owed his doctorate at Cambridge, which qualified him for practice as a civilian, to ‘money and favour’, the latter presumably being due to the Duke of Monmouth as chancellor of the university. He offered (Sir) Joseph Williamson £500 for ‘some post of business’, but his seat on the excise board, which enabled him to marry, was apparently due to some other interest. A rival, Thomas Prise, described him as a spy of Shaftesbury and Monmouth on the Court, but he retained his posts, at a salary rising to £1,000 p.a., until the Revolution.3
Davenant was elected for St. Ives in 1685 on the government interest. A moderately active Member of James II’s Parliament he was appointed to nine committees, including those on the bills for establishing the new parish of St. James Piccadilly, preventing clandestine marriages, and relieving poor debtors. He was summoned to the meeting of the court caucus on 18 Nov., and presumably opposed the address against the employment of Roman Catholic officers. In 1687 he sold his theatrical interests to his brother Alexander for £2,400. He was approved by the King’s electoral agents as court candidate for St. Ives in June 1688, but he is not likely to have stood in 1689, and was deprived of office under the new regime. He became a prominent Tory pamphleteer and economist under William III, and sat for Bedwyn. He lost his seat in 1701, when he was one of the three Tory Members who were discovered at supper with the French minister on the evening of the declaration of war, but Queen Anne gave him office as inspector-general of imports and exports. He died on 6 Nov. 1714, and was buried at St. Bride’s, Fleet Street. His son held minor diplomatic appointments under the Hanoverians, but no other Member of the family entered Parliament.4
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
This biography is based on D. Waddell, ‘Career and Writings of Charles Davenant’ (Oxford D. Phil. thesis, 1955).
- 1. Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 1055; vii. 1074; viii. 247; ix. 190.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1687-9, pp. 62, 186.
- 3. A. Harbage, Sir William Davenant, 104 6, 120, 147; L. Hotson, Commonwealth and Restoration Stage, 222, 231; CSP Dom. 1677-8, p. 616; 1678, p. 371; 1682, p. 617.
- 4. Hotson, 285; Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 430.