HOWARD, Hon. William (c.1630-94), of Lincoln's Inn.
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Family and Education
b. c.1630, 2nd s. of Sir Edward Howard†, 1st Baron Howard of Escrick (d.1675), by Mary, da. of Sir John Boteler†, 1st Baron Boteler of Brantfield. educ. Corpus, Camb. 1646; L. Inn 1648, called 1654. m. 21 July 1661, Frances, da. of Sir James Bridgeman of Whitley, Yorks., 4s. (3 d.v.p.) 2da. suc. bro. as 3rd Baron Howard of Escrick 24 Aug. 1678.1
Tpr. Life Gds. by 1653-6.
Commr. for oyer and terminer, Home circuit July 1660, assessment, Westminster 1661-3.
Gent. of privy chamber 1672-?78.2
Howard’s father, the youngest son of the 1st Earl of Suffolk, married into the Villiers ‘kindred’ and was raised to the peerage in 1628. He was one of the most constant attendants in the House of Lords during the Civil War, and after its abolition sat on the Council of State and in the Rump as MP for Carlisle till expelled for corruption in 1651, after which he took no further part in public life. Howard himself, ‘a person of very extraordinary parts, sharpness of wit, readiness and yet volubility of tongue, and yet an Anabaptist ... sucked in the opinions that were most prevalent’, in his adolescence. Although undersized and misshapen, he joined up in the ranks of Cromwell’s lifeguard while still eating his dinners at Lincoln’s Inn. But after a few years he was dismissed as a Leveller, and became preacher in an Anabaptist congregation. ‘After some few days’ conference’ he prevailed on John Wildman I and other leading Levellers to lay aside their ‘vain and idle prejudices’ against the monarchy. As their emissary, he visited the King at Brugge in 1656, and offered his humble associates as pawns ‘in a desperate game at chess’ for the modest price of £2,000. But even this was beyond the resources of the exiled Court, and Howard returned empty-handed, only to be arrested through Wildman’s treachery and imprisoned until Oliver’s death. On his release, he resumed correspondence with Sir Edward Hyde, who urged him to stand for Richard Cromwell’s Parliament, but he is not known to have done so.3
Howard was a nephew of William Ashburnham, and his return for Winchelsea in 1660 was probably on the Ashburnham interest, but he was not an active Member of the Convention, serving on one committee at most, that for preserving the Forest of Dean, and probably acting as teller against the tanning bill on 18 Dec. Hyde, however, now Lord Chancellor Clarendon, had not forgotten his services to the Restoration, particularly among the sectaries. He was granted £500 out of smuggling fines and, with his younger brother Sir Cecil Howard, £1,500 for secret service. He was used to obtain a confession from a prisoner suspected of importing seditious literature and allowed to sell a couple of baronetcies. After failing to extract £900 from the keeper of the King’s Bench prison for a technical breach of habeas corpus, he went to Ireland, and at the King’s request was given the standing of a KC. He reappeared in the House of Commons in 1668, opening the case for the Irish Adventurers. John Milward found him ‘a well-spoken young man, but indeed too fine and affected’. In a speech of ‘full two hours’ he charged Richard Rainsford I with unjustly favouring the Irish, and ‘received a sharp reprimand from the Speaker’. Returning to Ireland, he was appointed leading counsel to the Earl of Meath, a tool of his kinsman, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, against Ormonde. Meath advanced him money to extract him from a debtors’ prison, and he crossed to England again and sold another baronetcy. When Meath tried to recover his money, Howard became a gentleman of the privy chamber. He soon grew weary of lurking about Whitehall to avoid arrest, and was recruited to du Moulin’s organization. He was sent to the Tower on 28 June 1672, but released in October, and spent the remainder of the third Dutch war as a double agent in England and Holland.4
Howard succeeded to the peerage on the eve of the Popish Plot, but not to the estate, which had been sold to Sir Henry Thompson in 1668. A member of the Green Ribbon Club, he voted for exclusion, and (like most of his family) for the condemnation of his distant cousin, Lord Stafford. He was again imprisoned in 1681 on a false charge made by Fitzharris, who summoned him as a witness for the defence at his own trial. According to Burnet he owed his liberty largely to the unremitting efforts of Algernon Sidney. A member of the Council of Six, he warmly approved the project of ‘lopping’ the royal brothers in the theatre, ‘for then they will die in their calling’. He was one of the last to be arrested after the discovery of the Rye House Plot, being found hiding in a chimney. ‘As soon as he was taken, he fell a-crying: and at his first examination he told, as he said, all he knew.’ He implicated John Hampden, and was the chief witness against William Russell, Lord Russell, and the only witness against his benefactor Sidney. On 2 Dec. 1683 a warrant was issued for his pardon and he was allowed to retire into obscurity like his father before him. He was buried in York Minster on 24 Apr. 1694. His son, the last of the Escrick branch, sat in the Lords as a Tory.5
Howard’s extraordinary career provided ample material for the moralist and the satirist. Against Clarendon’s assessment in his early years may be set Burnet’s: ‘a man of learning ... who had run through many parties in religion. ... [He] did some service at the Restoration, but was always poor and ready to engage in anything that was bold’.6