HICKMAN, Sir William, 2nd Bt. (1629-82), of Gainsborough, Lincs.
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Family and Education
bap. 8 Jan. 1629, o.s. of Sir Willoughby Hickman, 1st Bt., of Gainsborough by Bridget, da. of Sir John Thornhaugh of Fenton, Notts. educ. I. Temple 1645. m. c.1652, Elizabeth, da. and h. of John Neville of Mattersey Priory, Notts., 5s. (3 d.v.p.) 8da. suc. fa. 28 May 1650.1
Sheriff, Notts. 1653-4; commr. for militia, Lincs. and Notts. Mar. 1660, assessment, Notts. Aug. 1660-80, Lincs. (Lindsey) Aug. 1660-1, 1663-4, Lincs. 1661-3, 1664-80; j.p. Lincs. (Lindsey) Mar. 1660-d., Notts. June 1660-d., Mdx. and Westminster 1679-?d.; commr. for oyer and terminer, Midland circuit July 1660; dep. lt. Lincs. and Notts. c. Aug. 1660-d.; commr. for sewers, Hatfield chase and Lincs. Aug. 1660; steward of Kirton manor, Lincs. Sept. 1660-d.; capt.-lt. of vol. horse, Notts. 1661; commr. for sewers, Hatfield chase 1668, concealments, Lincs. 1671, recusants 1675.2
Lt. indep. tp. of Lord Ogle (Henry Cavendish) 1667-7.
Commr. for trade and plantations 1672-4, ordnance 1679-82.
Hickman’s ancestors seemingly farmed the demesne lands of Woodford in Essex under the abbots of Waltham before the Reformation, after which they prospered greatly, though their ardent Protestantism drove them into exile under Mary. One of Hickman’s great-uncles became chancellor of Peterborough and MP for Northampton in the last Parliament of Elizabeth. Another was the great-grandfather of Thomas Windsor. Hickman’s grandfather married a Willoughby and bought the manor of Gainsborough in 1596. His father was named to the county committee in 1643, but accepted a wartime baronetcy, and was fined £900 for being in the King’s quarters, though he was never in arms. Hickman did not succeed to much wealth or social prestige; after the Restoration it was said ‘the best of his estate [is] in the dues upon the fairs kept there, about £800 p.a., not more; but a late family’. He was connected with the Nottinghamshire gentry by birth, and acquired a small estate there by marriage, though his residence by his own computation stood ten yards outside the county. First returned for East Retford, some ten miles away, at the general election of 1660, though his eligibility under the Long Parliament ordinance was questionable, he held his seat for the rest of his life, so far as is known without a contest. He was not an active Member of the Convention, with 11 committees, none of much political importance, and no recorded speeches. He was presumably a supporter of the Court.3
Hickman was moderately active in the Cavalier Parliament, in which he was appointed to 167 committees and acted as teller in 13 divisions. About 40 of his speeches have been recorded. He was appointed to the committees for the corporations and uniformity bills and the bill of pains and penalties in 1661, and for the five mile bill in 1665. He was regarded by the commoners of the Isle of Axholme as their friend and patron. He was active as local correspondent of the London Gazette, and as a cavalry officer in the second Dutch war. In 1667 he was named to the committees concerned with restraints imposed on juries, the miscarriages of the war and the banishment of Clarendon, and in 1668 to those for reviewing public accounts and the militia laws. He was reprimanded by the Treasury for failure to support the local excise farmer, but noted by Sir Thomas Osborne in 1669 as one of the independent Members who usually voted for supply. On 3 Dec. he was teller for the unsuccessful motion declaring Sir George Carteret guilty of negligence over the slop-sellers’ accounts. About this time, Hickman himself acquired an interest in naval contracts, though only as trustee for the people of Gainsborough in the factory set up by Anthony Eyre for the manufacture of sailcloth. On 28 Nov. 1670 he told the House: ‘People will not make this canvas unless they have an inducement to it; and therefore [I] would have all French linen charged, as is now paid, with the additional duty at the custom house’. In November 1672 he was selected to fill a vacancy on the council of trade.4
In the days of the Clarendon Code, Hickman had something of the reputation of a persecutor, but his attitude changed, and on 14 Feb. 1673 he declared in the House that ‘there did appear a general inclination for uniting Protestant subjects’. He hoped to find a formula renouncing the Covenant which tender consciences could accept. On 29 Jan. 1674 he was added to the committee to prepare a general test bill, and later in the same session he was among those appointed to consider the condition of Ireland. Now free of government office, in 1675 he opposed a vote of thanks for the speech from the throne and spoke in favour of appropriating a fixed proportion of the customs to the use of the navy, being named to both committees on this subject. He was also on the committees for preventing the growth of Popery, for examining dangerous and scandalous books on religion, for recalling British subjects from the French service, and for preserving the liberty of the subject. On 8 Nov. he seconded the motion of William Sacheverell for no further supply, and he acted as teller against the adjournment on the penultimate day of the session. His activity follows the same pattern in 1677, when he was marked by Shaftesbury as ‘doubly worthy’. With his customary lucidity, he faced the probability that a full-scale alliance with the Dutch would entail war with France, and accepted it ‘if occasion be’. He was teller against omitting this passage from the address.5
Hickman’s attitude towards the Danby administration hardened in 1678. He was teller against the report stage of the supply bill, and on 14 Mar. he said:
We have done our parts in the House; we have given our advice several years against the growing greatness of the French king. Still we are in the same darkness as to the war with France as when we first met.
He helped to prepare reasons for a conference on the growth of Popery, and to draw up the address for the removal of counsellors. In the debate on the latter, he acted as teller for its fourth paragraph, remarking bitterly on 7 May: ‘Plainly, I do not expect any good answer of our address whilst such are in power that have run reprimand upon reprimand upon a chain to all our addresses’. Such frustration explains how one of the coolest heads in the House could be prepared to swallow the Popish Plot in the autumn. He was the first Member appointed to the committee of inquiry, and carried up to the Lords the address for the removal of Papists from London. He helped to translate Coleman’s letters, to search the chambers of Robert Wright and to draw up reasons for believing in the Plot. He took part in preparing four addresses in November and December and in drafting instructions for disbanding the army. On 21 Dec. he was teller against adjourning the debate on the impeachment of Danby.6
Hickman is seen at his best in the Exclusion Parliaments, where he worked in close association with Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile). It is an indication of the respect which he enjoyed and deserved that his speeches, though usually opposed to the orthodox country views of Anchitell Grey, are fairly and clearly summarized in the Debates. In 1679 he was again moderately active, with ten committees, the most important of which were for the bill of security against Popery and to prepare for a conference on the impeachment of Danby. He had again been marked ‘worthy’ by Shaftesbury, but he soon revealed his well-grounded doubts about the practicability of exclusion. He reminded the House, with remarkable prescience, that the King might succeed in the plan revealed by Ralph Montagu to make himself independent of Parliament with a French subsidy. He put his finger on a major constitutional difficulty by pointing out that the English Parliament could not exclude the Duke of York from the Scottish or Irish thrones. Finally he voted against the bill.7
In July, Hickman became one of the commissioners of the ordnance. Halifax was apprehensive lest he might have difficulty in securing re-election at East Retford, and urged Thomas Thynne I to reserve a seat for him at Tamworth, but this was not required, even though a carriage accident on his way to his constituency prevented him from attending the election. In the second Exclusion Parliament he was appointed only to the committees for the regulation of elections and the removal of Papists from London. On 6 Nov. 1680 he seized on another weak point in the exclusion argument, the lack of agreement on an alternative successor:
Here is nothing in the bill that the crown may devolve to the next successor. Suppose that two Protestants lay claim to the crown; if they divide, they may let in Popery at the end of it. Princes often leave those things doubtful, but Parliaments should leave them plain. I would have it left to the next right heir in succession.
Although Hickman’s tactics seem obvious, to divide the supporters of Monmouth from those of William of Orange, they were too subtle for the Duke of York, who grumbled at his defence of the constitutionality of exclusion. The dangers of open opposition to exclusion were shown by the motion for the dismissal of Halifax on 17 Nov. Hickman was in some difficulty in defending his patron in his capacity as a councillor, for he had admitted (though as an exception) the use of ‘common fame’ against Arlington. But he skilfully steered the debate on to the other ground:
You are now come to some particulars against this lord of what he should say in the Lords’ House. But is that parliamentary to take notice of what is said there? What he said was in the last Parliament, which is dissolved, and did he not withdraw from the Council since the prorogation of this Parliament? Pray run not into such hasty resolutions against this lord till things are proved against him.
He acted as teller on a motion to adjourn, but in vain. He continued to defend Halifax at every opportunity, but he was in favour of impeaching Sir Francis North, and he agreed with the anti-Papal legislative programme put forward by William Cavendish, Lord Cavendish, on the defeat of the second exclusion bill in the Lords.8
In the Oxford Parliament, Hickman was named only to the committee of elections and privileges, and made no speeches. He was anxious to resign his seat at the ordnance board, but could not find a purchaser, and eventually the commission was dissolved only a few days before his death. He was buried at Gainsborough on 10 Feb. 1682.9