FLETCHER, Sir George, 2nd Bt. (c.1633-1700), of Hutton Hall, Hutton-in-the-Forest, Cumb.
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Family and Education
b. c.1633, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Sir Henry Fletcher, 1st Bt., of Hutton by Catherine, da. of Sir George Dalston† of Dalston. educ. Queen’s, Oxf. 1651. m. (1) 27 Feb. 1655, Alice, da. of Hugh, 1st Baron Coleraine [I], of Longford Castle, Wilts., 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da.; (2) c.1664, Lady Mary Johnston, da. of James, 1st Earl of Hartfell [S], wid. of Sir George Grahme, end Bt., of Netherby, Cumb., 2s. 2da. suc. fa. 24 Sept. 1645.1
Sheriff, Cumb. 1657-8, 1679-80; commr. for assessment, Cumb. 1657, Aug. 1660-80, Westmld. 1661-3, 1673-80, co. Dur. 1666-9, Cumb. and Westmld. 1689-90, militia, Cumb. Mar. 1660; j.p. Cumb. Mar. 1660-80, 1681-May 1688, Oct. 1688-d., Westmld. Mar. 1660-d., dep. lt. Cumb. c. Aug. 1660-80, Cumb. 1681-Feb. 1688, Westmld. 1685-Feb. 1688, Cumb. and Westmld. Oct. 1688-d.; capt. of militia horse, Cumb. and Westmld. Oct. 1660, col. of ft. by 1663-80, 1683-Feb. 1688, Oct. 1688-d.; alderman, Carlisle 1662-87, mayor 1671-2; commr. for oyer and terminer, Northern circuit 1665, charitable uses, Westmld. 1670, recusants, Cumb. and Westmld. 1675; asst. Linen Corp. 1690.2
Fletcher was the grandson of a wealthy Cockermouth merchant, who bought Hutton in 1605. His father raised a regiment for Charles I at the outbreak of the Civil War and was killed at the battle of Rowton Heath, whereupon he was himself imprisoned for a time in Carlisle Castle. His mother compounded for the estates on a fine of £764. This seems to have been lenient, for his inheritance included Hutton, described as ‘a prince-like palace’, Calder Abbey, and much other property. Under the Protectorate he was appointed to the assessment commission, but declined nomination as knight of the shire in 1659. His record placed him outside the scope of the Long Parliament ordinance against the candidature of Cavaliers’ sons in 1660, but he was defeated by Sir Wilfred Lawson after a bitter contest.3
At the general election of 1661 Fletcher defeated Sir William Huddleston, a prominent Cavalier, and became the first of his family to enter Parliament. An inactive Member, he was appointed to only 19 committees in the Cavalier Parliament, including the elections committee in seven sessions, and was three times listed among the defaulters. His most important committee was for restoring bishops to the House of Lords, a matter in which his stepfather, Thomas Smith, was eventually to have a personal interest. Although Lord Wharton listed him as a moderate and he took no part in the Clarendon Code, as a j.p. he was severe on Quakers, whose refusal of tithe threatened his interests as lay impropriator of Brigham rectory, the mother church of Cockermouth. On the other hand, he was one of the Cumberland magistrates accused of trying ‘to make themselves popular’ by a narrow interpretation of the hearth-tax and stopping the collectors from distraining for arrears. He was elected mayor of Carlisle by a single vote in 1670, and Smith’s appointment as dean two years later strengthened his interest there at the expense of Sir Philip Musgrave, who complained that Fletcher
for many years has endeavoured to contrive a jealousy between my Lord Carlisle [Charles Howard] and me, that by my lord’s countenance he might make himself head of a faction in this county and Carlisle in opposition to my family and myself.
In the 1673 session he was added to the committee to prevent abuses in parliamentary elections. Meanwhile Lord Carlisle tried to reconcile him with Musgrave, but was ‘ill put to it betwixt us’. Sir Richard Wiseman in 1676 recommended approaching Fletcher through Lord Ogle (Henry Cavendish), but he twice acted as host to the Scottish covenanting peer, Lord Cassilis, and Shaftesbury marked him ‘doubly worthy’. He was among those instructed to summarize foreign commitments on 30 Apr. 1678, but failed to attend the final session, and on 25 Jan. 1679 he wrote to his brother-in-law Daniel Fleming: ‘I intend to be a spectator next Parliament’.4
Fletcher’s temporary retirement from politics may have been due to a serious quarrel with Lord Carlisle. The reasons for their estrangement are not clear, but may be connected with the seizure on a warrant signed by Fletcher and Sir John Lowther III of 18 Irish cattle illegally imported by Carlisle’s son, Lord Morpeth (Edward Howard). Relations were no doubt exacerbated by the imposition on him of the burdensome office of sheriff, which he had already filled during the Commonwealth, and in 1680 he was deprived of his militia commission and removed from the lieutenancy and the bench. He was befriended by (Sir) Christopher Musgrave, who needed Fletcher’s ‘country interest’ to supplement his own interest at Court. In 1681 he had the satisfaction of displacing Morpeth as knight of the shire. He set out for Oxford, where he had the promise of a room in his old college, on 5 Mar., but his intended route was circuitous and there is no evidence that he took his seat before the dissolution. His standing at Court improved, and through his step-son, James Grahme, and George Legge the King was brought to intervene personally in his dispute with Lord Carlisle. The settlement restoring Fletcher to office after a formal apology was humiliating to his opponent, who protested vainly:
I am apprehensive that the manner of carrying this business will give this gentleman’s vanity the opportunity of bragging that he has carried this matter over my belly, my authority given him being public, his acknowledgment private.
Together with Musgrave he secured the surrender of the Carlisle charter in 1683, and was appointed to the remodelled corporation.5
On 10 Feb. 1685 Musgrave wrote that he supposed Fletcher would stand for re-election to James II’s Parliament,
for it is most absolutely necessary that he takes this opportunity to express his duty to the King, for, if he should decline it, he would gratify his enemies and disable his friends from serving him.
But Fletcher was obdurate, refusing to stand himself or to allow his son to stand for Cockermouth. ‘That which weighs most with me is the charge and attendance’, he wrote, ‘for if it be a good Parliament, it may be a long one, if an ill one, short, and in neither case I would be in. They [that] are upon the place, and have convenience so, cannot judge of the prejudice it is to a country gentleman.’ Instead, he recommended his eldest step-son, Lord Preston (Sir Richard Grahme), who was returned. But to Preston’s questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws in 1687 he replied:
It is humbly my opinion that the first question is more proper for the consideration of a Parliament than a private meeting of country gentlemen, who, not having liberty to debate, are unable to arrive at a true understanding of the conveniences or inconveniences that may attend this question; but whenever his Majesty shall be pleased to call a Parliament, if the gentry and freeholders of this county will do me the honour to let me serve them as one of their Members, I shall endeavour to discharge my duty to my God, my King and country as well as my conscience and judgment can direct me. ... Wherever I am an elector, and that such persons are present with whom I think I may with confidence trust my religion, liberty and property, they shall freely be my choice. ... I have ever been of the King’s opinion that conscience ought not to be forced, and when I was a Member of Parliament did act accordingly.
He was again removed from the lieutenancy. In October 1688 he and Musgrave rode into Carlisle at the head of a great cavalcade with the restored charter; but they refused to co-operate with Lowther in calling out the militia in December, and secured the peaceful withdrawal of the Roman Catholic officers. He stood in conjunction with Sir John Lowther II, at the general election of 1689 and was ‘quietly elected’. He had passed York on his way to London by 22 Jan., but left no trace on the records of the Convention, except for an application for leave for six weeks on 6 May ‘to settle the militia’. His acceptance of this command was regarded as a sign of his ‘great affection to the Government’. He continued to sit for the county as a court Whig for the rest of his life. He died on 23 July 1700, aged 67, leaving an estate of £1,500 p.a., and was buried at Hutton. According to his epitaph, composed by his daughter, he was
an affectionate husband and an indulgent father, careful of his children’s education, regular in his own life and conversation; pious without affectation, and free without vanity, charitable, hospitable, and eminently just; so great a patriot to his country that he was chosen knight of the shire of Cumberland near forty years; much beloved in his lifetime and much lamented at his death.