GODOLPHIN, William (1635-96), of Spargor, St. Mabyn, Cornw.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



17 Oct. 1665

Family and Education

bap. 2 Feb. 1635, 4th but 2nd surv. s. of Sir William Godolphin (d.1663) of Spargor by 1st w. Ruth, da. of Sir John Lambe, dean of the Arches 1633-43, of Coulston, Wilts. educ. Westminster 1648, KS 1650; Christ Church, Oxf. 1651, MA 1661; I. Temple 1654. unm. Kntd. 28 Aug. 1668.1

Offices Held

Under-sec. of state (south) by 1662-5; sec. of embassy, Madrid 1666, envoy extraordinary 1668, ambassador 1671-8; auditor in the Exchequer 1668-90.2

FRS 1664.


Godolphin’s father, the first cousin of Francis Godolphin, sat for Helston in the Short Parliament. He commanded a royalist regiment of foot during the Civil War, and compounded under the articles of Scilly in 1647 on a fine of £330 at one-tenth. His elder brother Francis fought at the battle of Worcester and went into exile in France.3

Godolphin was one of Locke’s closest school-friends; but he had much more in common with Sir Henry Bennet, to whom he became undersecretary soon after the Restoration. He petitioned for one of the seven auditorships in the Exchequer, pleading that his father had ‘faithfully served his late and present Majesty at the hazard of life and ruin of fortune without recompense’, and was granted a reversion. He was returned to the Cavalier Parliament at a by-election for Camelford on the last day but one of the Oxford session in 1665; but he probably never took his seat, since early in the following year he went to Spain with Lord Sandwich (Edward Montagu I) and, except for a visit to England during the recess of 1668-9, seems to have remained there for the rest of his life. He was on both lists of the court party in 1669-71 among the Members to be engaged by the Duke of Buckingham. The influence of Bennet (now Lord Arlington) secured his promotion to ambassador and his knighthood. His Venetian colleague described him as experienced, profound and well-skilled in languages; he had ‘arrived at his present position by his remarkable talents and by the skill with which he has conducted the most difficult transactions. ... He favours the side of this crown [i.e. Spain], and hopes to profit thereby’. Godolphin did indeed acquire remarkable wealth in his adopted country after his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1671. Two years later Sir Robert Southwell reported to (Sir) Joseph Williamson ‘the very scandalous rumours that many merchants of Cadiz and Seville ... declare touching our friend at Madrid, as if he and all his family but the cook were professed Romanists’. Godolphin denied his conversion in a letter which Arlington showed to the King, and retained his post. Sir Richard Wiseman noted him in 1676 as a government supporter absent in the King’s service, and Shaftesbury marked him ‘doubly vile’. The author of A Seasonable Argument wrote that he had got £30,000 in boons, which is probably true, though not at the expense of the English tax-payer. He was on both lists of the court party in 1678 as ‘in foreign parts’, and was denounced by Titus Oates as one of the principal conspirators in the Popish Plot, who was to be rewarded with the office of lord privy seal. With considerable less plausibility Bedloe said that he was to have landed at Milford Haven with a Spanish army of 10,000 men. In a private letter to (Sir) Stephen Fox, Godolphin himself commented, fairly enough: ‘I cannot guess whether the purpose of my enemies be to make me appear in the world more of a fool or a traitor’. On 12 Nov. the House of Commons voted an address for his recall to answer the charges against him, and on the next day Williamson announced that the King had already despatched a letter of revocation. He retained the profits of his post in the Exchequer, which he had always performed by deputy, and he was not even expelled the House. But in 1680 he was made a grandee of Spain ‘for his sufferings about the Plot’.4

After the accession of James II he contemplated a return to his native country on the grounds that ‘his own presence can give best order to some parts of his estate, which suffereth ruin by his absence’. But the Government was too deeply committed to the French alliance to give him any encouragement. After the Revolution his auditorship of crown revenues in Wales was transferred to Charles Herbert. On his deathbed ‘surrounded by priests and Jesuits’ he executed ‘a notarial act’ empowering four persons, including the procurator-general of the Jesuits, to make a posthumous will for the good of his soul. He died on 11 July 1696 and was buried in Madrid. His will was nullified by a private Act in 1698, which made over his assets in England to his heirs-at-law, his nephew Francis and his niece’s husband Charles Godolphin. But these represented only a quarter of his wealth, estimated at £80,000. Diplomatic pressure persuaded his bankers in Amsterdam and Venice to transfer his accounts to England; but his property in Madrid and Rome returned, presumably, whence it had come. Parliament further required that the heirs should satisfy the provisions of an earlier will made in 1669, bequeathing £3,000 to be distributed among poor scholars, decayed virtuous gentlemen, prisoners, and poor apprentices, as well as the poor of Camelford, Liskeard and St. Mabyn. Part of his wealth was eventually used to found and endow the Godolphin School for girls.5

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 187.
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. ii. 645; ix. 615.
  • 3. Cal. Comm. Comp. 1559; M. Coate, Cornw. in Gt. Civil War, 96; CSP Dom. 1650, p. 149; 1651, pp. 96, 414, 478, 506; 1651-2, pp. 79, 171.
  • 4. M. Cranston, John Locke, 22; CSP Dom. 1663-4, p. 417; 1673, p. 465; CSP Ven. xxxv. 20, 216; xxxviii. 248; Eg. 1509, ff. 281-3; 2539, f. 185; V. Barbour, Arlington, 149; DNB; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 222, 471, 475, 577; Oates, True Narrative (1679); Grey, vi. 189, 193; CJ, ix. 539; Add. 51319, f 53.
  • 5. Add. 28051, f. 208; 28942, f. 254; F. G. Marsh, Godolphin Fam., 19-25; HMC Lords, n.s. iii. 117-24; 9 Wm. III, c.19; DNB; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 68, 90.