ESTCOURT, Thomas (c.1645-1702), of Chelsea, Mdx. and Sherston Pinkney, nr. Malmesbury, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. c.1645, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Estcourt, master in Chancery 1652-83, of Sherston Pinkney by 1st w. Magdalen, da. of Sir John Browne of East Kirkby, Lincs. educ. St. Edmund Hall, Oxf. matric. 24 May 1661, aged 16; L. Inn. 1662. m. lic. 11 Feb. 1678, Mary, da. of Sir Vincent Corbett, 1st Bt., of Morton Corbett, Salop, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. Kntd. 15 Sept. 1674; suc. fa. 1683.1
Commr. for assessment, Wilts. 1665-80, 1689-90, Mdx. 1679-80; high steward, Malmesbury 1671, 1673-7; j.p. Mdx. 1675-87, Wilts. aft. 1690-?96, dep. lt. Wilts. aft. 1690-96, 1700-d., sheriff 1692-3.2
Examiner in Chancery 1674-82; committee, R. Fishery Co. [I] 1691; asst. Mines Co. 1693.3
Estcourt’s ancestors had been considerable landowners on the borders of Gloucestershire and Wiltshire since the 14th century, and represented neighbouring boroughs under Elizabeth. His father, a Puritan, served on local commissions during the Interregnum, and was first made a master in Chancery by the Rump, though an uncle served in the royalist army, and Estcourt himself, ‘his father’s own son’, was sure that ‘nothing but loyal blood runs in my veins’. Estcourt was elected high steward of Malmesbury and returned to Parliament at a contested by-election in 1673, surviving a petition from his opponent. An inactive Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was named to only 11 committees of little political importance. Although named on the Paston list, he was expected to propose the impeachment of Danby in April 1675, but he made no recorded speeches. Never called to the bar, he was knighted and given a minor post in Chancery. In the working lists he was assigned to the management of the lord keeper, but it was the Duke of Ormonde, as lord steward, who granted him the reversion of the judgeship of the Household court. Shaftesbury marked Estcourt ‘thrice vile’ in 1677, and he lost his corporation interest at Malmesbury, but he was not to be relied on as a court supporter. He was noted as absent from a debate in 1678, and omitted from the May government list. He later claimed, perhaps in a moment of alcoholic fantasy, to have headed a ‘party volant’ in the ensuing session, which ‘gained the additional duties on wine for three years, and £600,000, instead of £300,000, for ships, when my Lord of Danby, had his life been at stake, could only have gained the last mentioned sum’. His father’s second wife came from a prominent Devonshire recusant family, and in A Seasonable Argument Estcourt was described, apparently untruly, as ‘converted to the Church of Rome by his young, handsome mother-in-law, with whom he is very inward’.4
Estcourt was listed among the ‘unanimous club’ of court supporters, and did not stand for the Exclusion Parliaments, in which his seat was occupied by Sir William Estcourt, a distant cousin. He was charged with complicity in the Popish Plot, and prudently withdrew to Flanders with the Duke of York. Though the principal accuser, who seems to have been the nonconformist Roger Morrice, was obliged to recant under his own hand, he was described in a skit of 1680 as ‘Estcourt the sot, that knew all the plot, and could only discover his mother’s lewd twat’. He regained his seat in 1685 after a contest, but took no ascertainable part in James II’s Parliament. In reply to an inquiry about his attitude to the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws, he wrote on 5 Mar. 1687:
I am really against sanguinary laws in controversial points of divinity, it being my opinion that scarce any sect professing Christianity ought to suffer in their persons on that account, especially if they obey the Government in all temporal matters. I shall be pleased to serve the King as far as I can, salvo contenemento, as lawyers call it. I served the late King so far that I presumed I was intended for a sacrifice, ... though I never had a shilling by the Crown, nor by the reversion of the stewardship of the Marshalsea that my Lord of Ormonde gave me ... and now I hope I shall not be esteemed the less if I do not hereby promise to give my vote to take off the Test, because perhaps I am not a competent judge of the consequences without hearing the debates. ... I desire this may not prejudice the opinion that I hope is had of me of being a dutiful, loyal subject.
In a postscript to a letter written shortly thereafter, however, he declared that he was ‘for taking off the Tests as well as Penal Laws’. But he ha