LEE, Thomas I (1635-91), of Hartwell, nr. Aylesbury, Bucks.
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Family and Education
bap. 26 May 1635, 1st s. of Thomas Lee of Hartwell by 2nd w. Elizabeth, da. of Sir George Croke, j.K.b. 1628-41, of Waterstock, Oxon., and coh. to her bro. Thomas. m. by 1660, Anne (d.1708), da. of Sir John Davis of Pangbourne, Berks., 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 6da. suc. fa. 1643; cr. Bt. 16 Aug. 1660.1
Commr. for assessment, Bucks. Jan. 1660-3, 1664-80, 1689-d., Kent. 1673-9, militia, Bucks. Mar. 1660, j.p. Mar. 1660-70, 1680-7, 1689-d.; commr. for oyer and terminer, Home circuit July 1660; dep. lt. Bucks. c. Aug. 1660-?70, 1680-?86, 1689-d., commr. for corporations 1662-3, recusants 1675.2
Ld. of Admiralty 1679-80, 1689 d ; chairman, committee of elections and privileges 25-28 Mar. 1681.
Lee’s ancestors, though not of the same stock as the Quarrendon family, had been settled in Buckinghamshire since the 15th century. They were of little account until they acquired Hartwell by marriage in 1617. Lee’s father, who died in the autumn of 1643, had taken no known stance in the Civil War. His mother married Richard Ingoldsby, but, in spite of thus acquiring kinship with the Protector, Lee was not appointed to county office until the second return of the Rump. He was elected a few months later for Aylesbury, together with his stepfather, the first of his family to enter Parliament. Lord Wharton marked him as a friend to be managed by himself; but he was not active in the Convention, being appointed only to the committees for continuing judicial proceedings and confirming parliamentary privilege, a matter which was to become his principal interest. He acted as teller for the second reading of the public accounts bill on 1 Aug. 1660. He was presumably a court supporter at this stage, though his baronetcy may have been earned more by Ingoldsby’s services to the Restoration than by his own. They were reelected in 1661, probably without a contest, and again listed as friends by Wharton. In the opening session of the Cavalier Parliament, he was appointed to the committees for the security and uniformity bills, and acted as teller for a rejected proviso to the militia bill on 13 Mar. 1662. A private bill to vary the terms of his marriage settlement passed through the House in the same session. Although a personal friend of Clarendon and a commissioner for corporations, by 1666 he was sufficiently consistent in Opposition to earn the commendation of Andrew Marvell:
Lee, equal to obey or to command,
Adjutant-general was still at hand.
He was teller against adding £54,000 to the estimates, and for describing Irish cattle as a ‘nuisance’. He was among those ordered to attend the King with a resolution against imports from France, and nominated to the abortive parliamentary public accounts commission. He helped to manage conferences on the impeachment of Lord Mordaunt and the import of Irish cattle.3
Lee opposed the address of thanks for the dismissal of Clarendon, but was appointed to the committees to inquire into restraints on juries and to reduce the charges against the former lord chancellor into heads. On 5 Dec. 1667, in his first recorded speech, he urged the Commons not to engage in a futile war of words with the Lords over impeachment procedure. He helped to prepare reasons for a conference on freedom of speech in Parliament, and to consider the banishment bill. After the Christmas recess he was twice sent with messages to the public accounts commission at Brooke House. Samuel Pepys considered him one of the ‘professed enemies’ of the Navy Office, who on 5 Mar. 1668 prevented a vote in its favour because the House was not full. In the debate on religion on 8 Apr. Lee proposed the abolition of the new oaths. ‘Many have fallen from the Church since they were imposed’, he said; ‘it is probable, if taken away, they may return.’ He urged that grievances should go ‘hand in hand’ with supply. Believing that there was far more than ‘common fame’ against (Sir) William Penn, he helped to prepare the articles of impeachment and deliver them to the Lords. He was also among those who presented the address of 23 Apr. for wearing English manufactures. An increasingly effective speaker in the 1669 session, he pressed the charges against Sir George Carteret, and hoped that ‘the King and his subjects may be the better’ for the revelations that might be expected from the dispute between Ormonde and Lord Orrery (Roger Boyle). Together with Robert Atkyns he was ordered to take care of a bill to prevent electoral abuses and extravagance, and he was chiefly responsible for the bill to prevent the transportation of prisoners overseas. In a debate on the third reading he assured the House: ‘It does not take away the King’s powers at all, but secures the subject’. On 4 Mar. 1670 he moved for a conference about the appeal to the Upper House against William Hale, and carried a message urging the Lords to have regard to the privileges of the Commons. He was also concerned at the Lords’ proviso to the second conventicles bill reserving all prerogative powers ever exercised by the King or his predecessors. ‘What this proviso may reach he knows not. ... The precedent is of such dangerous consequence that you may shake Magna Carta in this breach.’ He was among those appointed to prepare reasons for a conference. When the Act was passed, he resigned or was removed from the bench rather than enforce it. In the next session he consistently opposed supply, acting as teller in three divisions, and demanding pathetically over the proposal to extend excise to home brewing: ‘Will you make poor labouring men drink water?’. For all his tolerance, he condemned the ‘foolish zeal’ of the dissenter Jekyll. The attack on Sir John Coventry brought Lee into further prominence. ‘We come to provide for the Commons of England, as well as a particular Member’, he told the House. ‘We are upon occasion of speaking exposed to that [which] other men are not.’ He favoured the deferment of all other business until a measure to punish the assailants had passed both Houses, and was desired to take care of the bill, which he carried to the Lords on 14 Jan. 1671. He was chairman of the committee to consider the amendments made in the Upper House, and on 4 Feb. was sent to request a conference about them. Outraged by the unprofessional conduct of the radical lawyer Ayliffe over the Lindsey level case, he was teller for expelling him from the parliamentary bar. In the debate on the conventicles bill, he was teller for including a clause of indemnity for previous offences. He helped to manage five conferences in this session, and on 22 Apr. presented a major report on the differences between the Houses over supply procedure.4
When Parliament met again in 1673, Lee, to the general surprise, seconded the motion of William Garway for a grant of £1,200,000, without which, it was privately alleged, the session could not have been kept alive. At the time he dismissed rumours of bribery with the jocular remark that if he had any guineas he had earned them by his assiduity in attending the House. On his deathbed, however, he implicitly admitted receiving money from Lord Treasurer Clifford, though not from Clarendon or Danby. In the debate on the suspending power on 10 Feb. he declared that the King had been misinformed:
Could something happen that no mortal man could foresee, and the King raise money; were necessity so great that all men may see it, no Parliament would question it. It is not the first time the King has been deceived in prerogative. Hopes that in this he will be advised by the two Houses of Parliament.
He was teller for the resolution declaring that the Penal Laws could be suspended only by Parliament, and took part in drafting an address to that effect. Four days later he moved for a measure to unite Protestants, and in the following month he was sent to remind the Lords of the bill of ease for dissenters, and helped to prepare reasons for a conference on it. In the debate on the Modena marriage on 30 Oct. he said: ‘If it be so far gone as is said, we can only lament it, but let us show our distaste for it’, and he was appointed to the committee to draw up an address. Though he had previously argued that the House should not interfere with wars and alliances, he considered that Lord Arlington ( Sir Henry Bennet) ought to be removed from office for advising an offensive war with the Dutch without consent of Parliament. Lee was disposed to consider the petition of Bernard Howard for exemption from the recusancy laws, craving his friends’ pardon if he differed from them. ‘This gentleman tells you he will live quietly’, he observed, ‘and yet cannot change his religion, being born to it.’ He continued to press for the extension of habeas corpus, declaring that ‘no penalty is too great for unlawful prisons’, and carrying the bill to prevent illegal imprisonment to the Lords. He objected to the narrowness of the franchise in the Newark charter, and distrusted the standing army. ‘In the militia of England lies your strength and safety’, he told the House. ‘The army, by rules of war, are bound to obey superior officers; if commanded to break your law, they must do it.’ In supporting the proposal for judges to hold office during good behaviour, instead of at the King’s pleasure, he said: ‘When the judge is safe for doing right, he will do the better; no danger of not giving a right judgment’. None of these speeches can have been gratifying to the Court, though with his usual fairmindedness he encouraged Samuel Pepys to rebut the charges of Popery brought against him after his election for Castle Rising. At the unexpected prorogation he was one of the ‘guilty Commons’ who took hasty refuge in the City.5
As one of the committee which drew up the address for the removal of Lauderdale in the spring session of 1675, Lee was dissatisfied with Burnet’s reluctant evidence against his former patron, and desired to question him further at the bar of the House. The historian retaliated with a distinctly unflattering description. He brought in a bill to prevent the sending of prisoners beyond the reach of habeas corpus. On 21 Apr. he took the chair in the grand committee on the growth of Popery. He supported, both in debate and in division, the bill to oblige Members to submit to re-election on accepting office. On 5 May he reported his illegal imprisonment bill. When violence threatened over a disputed division in committee on British subjects in the French service, he approved the action of Edward Seymour in resuming the chair himself without a formal motion, and proposed that every Member present should engage himself to proceed no further with the challenges that had passed. On the following day he himself acted as teller in an equally close but orderly division in favour of recalling all British subjects. He took a leading part in the disputes between the Houses that consumed the remainder of the session. He drew the case of Arthur Onslow to the attention of the Commons, urging them not to become entangled in controverting the Lords’ claim to appellate jurisdiction, but to confine themselves to the assertion of their own privilege. ‘He thinks it in no man’s power to waive privilege to your destruction.’ He twice reported on entries in the Lords Journals, and took the chair in no less than seven committees to prepare reasons for conferences. When deadlock was reached, he remarked: ‘Though the Lords have not so much land left as formerly their ancestors and predecessors had, yet they have enough to preserve the Government, and he hopes in this matter of judicature they will change their minds’. In the autumn session he told the House that he would ‘represent to the King the present condition of the kingdom, but was none of those ‘meek and humble reformers’. ... Did never think that all advices from hence were appeals to the people. Knows not how else the ill management of his counsellors shall be represented to him.’ He was twice teller: for candles in order to prolong the debates on the motions for no further supply in that session, and an appropriation clause to the bill for building 30 warships. He helped to manage a conference on British subjects in the French service, and to prepare reasons for avoiding the revival of differences between the Houses. At the end of the session Sir Richard Wiseman had ‘little cause to hope well’ of Lee, but added that he had been invited to Hartwell, which would at least increase his knowledge of the Opposition in Buckinghamshire.6
When Parliament met again in 1677 after the long recess, Lee was not prepared to support the contention of William Sacheverell that it had been automatically dissolved; but he was much concerned that Shaftesbury, who marked him ‘worthy’, and four other peers had been committed to the Tower for insisting that so long a prorogation was illegal. He helped to manage three conferences, including that on the defence of the Spanish Netherlands. He condemned the imprisonment without a charge of Shaftesbury’s cousin and agent, Harrington, for refusing to incriminate himself before the Privy Council. He helped to draw up the addresses offering security for a government loan of £200,000 and urging the speedy conclusion of alliances against France. On 28 May he told the Speaker that, whatever the King’s commands, he had no power to adjourn the House against its own wishes; but Seymour suddenly sprang out of the chair and removed the mace. Lee had been excluded from the counsels of the opposition leaders in this session, and during the summer he was ‘extremely surprised with a most large hamper of wine’ from (Sir) Joseph Williamson. ‘It is enough’, he wrote, ‘to set up a country gentleman for a year’s expense of wine, and to call in his neighbours too to drink Mr Secretary’s health’; but not enough, it seems, to alter his politics. In the earlier sessions of 1678 he helped to draft addresses for reducing France to her boundaries of 1659 and declaring war on her immediately, and to prepare reasons for a conference on the growth of Popery. Lee’s admiration for Seymour had long vanished, and when he was temporarily replaced by Robert Sawyer in April he told Williamson that he hoped the new Speaker would be less pernicious than the old. He helped to summarize foreign commitments and to draw up the address for the removal of counsellors, although denying the charge of Henry Goring II that MPs on the opposition benches desired to creep into the ministers’ places. ‘I am loath to tell you what fears the people have of an army, and what reason the people have for it’, he said, and he took an active part in discussions between the Houses over disbandment. He was teller on 20 June for appropriating the new imposts on wine and vinegar to the use of the navy, and, fortified by an unknown hand with a list of Quakers convicted of recusancy, he supported a bill to distinguish Papists from Protestant dissenters. In the final session he was appointed to the committees to inquire into the Popish Plot, to consider the bill for disabling Papists from sitting in Parliament, to examine Coleman, and to prepare reasons for believing in the Plot, which he thought ‘as clear as the sun that shines’; he hoped that some reference to it would be included in the Prayer Book. He took part in preparing six addresses, saying: ‘While we smooth the way to the King, let us not smooth ourselves out of our religion’. He described the Lords’ proviso to enable the Duke of York to retain his seat as ‘an unfortunate reflection on the Duke, brought on by them that shelter Popery under his name’, and was named to the committee to prepare reasons for a conference. He reported a conference on disbandment on 9 Dec., and helped to prepare reasons for another. He was responsible for the proposal that the Christmas recess should be reduced to two days, which he carried to the Lords. He had been a very active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, in which he was appointed to 465 committees, taking the chair in 12, acted as teller in 40 divisions, and made more than five hundred recorded speeches.7
Lee was re-elected to the Exclusion Parliaments, and marked ‘worthy’ on Shaftesbury’s list. His attitude to Seymour had changed again: he took a leading part in forcing him into the chair against the King’s wishes, and objected to any compromise over the choice of a Speaker. He was most anxious to instruct new Members about the Plot and the proceedings of the previous Parliament: ‘gentlemen that were not here then, and who live in the country, will scarcely believe what they will find’, he said. He was appointed to the committee of secrecy, and helped to prepare five addresses and manage three conferences. He was among those sent to the lord chancellor to inquire into the circumstances of Danby’s pardon and instructed to prepare an address of protest. He was appointed to the committee on the habeas corpus amendment bill, reported from a conference on Danby on 10 Apr., and was among those entrusted with the consideration of the Lords’ amendments on habeas corpus. On 5 May he reported that there was no reason for the further detention of Brent, the ‘Popish solicitor’. He helped to prepare reasons for a conference on Danby’s pardon. ‘I am sure’, he told the House, ‘the pardon is illegal, or ought to be.’ On 11 May he was appointed to the joint committee on the trial of the lords in the Tower. One of those who ‘could not keep pace’ with the exclusionists, he was appointed to the new Admiralty commission, and kept uncharacteristically silent in the debate on exclusion; but he voted for the bill. Again a very active Member, he made 45 speeches and was appointed to 37 committees.8
Although he had been a frequent contributor to naval debates, Lee seldom attended the Admiralty board, and resigned in February 1680, convinced that ‘at this age and under his inexperience he could never hope to arrive at any useful knowledge of it’. His moderation was appreciated by the Government, and in April he even replaced his step-father on the Buckinghamshire lieutenancy. Scarcely less active in the second Exclusion Parliament, he made 35 speeches and was appointed to 32 committees, including those to inquire into abhorring, to repeal the laws against Protestant dissenters, to manage a conference on the Irish plot, and to draft the address for the removal of Lord Halifax. Recalling his long-standing friendship with Seymour, he warned the House of the absurdity of his impeachment:
It is a matter of so great weight, an impeachment, that the Commons ought not lightly to accuse. Impeachment is your weapon, and you must not blunt it. If you are mistaken in one part, you may be in another; and it will be a fatal thing to go to the Lords with a mistake.
He served on the joint committee for Lord Stafford’s trial, helped to prepare the address insisting on exclusion, and on 24 Dec. moved the total repeal of the Corporations Act. He was regarded as one of the leaders of the party of expedients, but on 7 Jan. 1681 he at last admitted that there was no viable alternative to exclusion. In the Oxford Parliament he was voted into the chair of the elections committee, but had no time to present any reports before the dissolution. He was among those appointed to prepare for a conference on the disappearance of the bill to relieve dissenters and to recommend a more convenient place for sitting. After taking part in drafting Fitzharris’s impeachment, Lee was greatly shocked at the refusal of Sir Leoline Jenkins to carry the articles to the Lords. ‘I would not have said one word’, he remarked implausibly, ‘but that the very being of Parliament is in this case. It is to no end to sit here any longer if this be suffered.’ He made two more speeches, and was appointed to the committee to bring in the third exclusion bill before the brief session ended.9
Lee retained local office during the Tory reaction, and kissed James II’s hand on his accession. He was therefore well placed, as Judge Jeffreys complained, to assist the election campaign of the Whig candidates for Buckinghamshire. It was suggested that Lord Treasurer Rochester (Laurence Hyde) might influence him. Lee and Ingoldsby were themselves defeated at Aylesbury, though they claimed a majority of six to one, and Lee’s petition was never reported. In the list of the Opposition in 1687 he was classified among the eminent Parliament men who were useful, but not to be trusted. It was suspected that he might agree to collaborate with the King’s religious policy, but he was in touch with Dutch agents during the summer of 1688 and refused to commit himself over the Tests. ‘Always against persecution, and an able man of parts and temper’, the King’s electoral agents correctly expected him to stand for Buckinghamshire, leaving the Aylesbury seat to his son. He attended the meeting of Members of Charles II’s Parliaments on 26 Dec., looking ‘very grum’, and helped to draw up the address asking the Prince of Orange to undertake the administration.10
As knight of the shire in the Convention, Lee was still a very active Member, though ‘with a state of body very infirm’. He was named to 67 committees, in three of which he took the chair, and made 84 recorded speeches. As one of the committee which drew up the list of essentials for securing religion, law and liberty, he had the satisfaction of abolishing the right of the crown to raise troops, as he had urged. He was among those ordered to prepare reasons for maintaining that James had abdicated, and to manage the conference on that subject. On his reappointment to the Admiralty board he disturbed William by his doubts over the legality of pressing seamen. He was probably responsible for drafting the temporary bill for the detention of Jacobite suspects, since he was the first to be appointed to the committee on second reading. He also helped to prepare the first mutiny bill and the declaration of rights, and to manage a conference on the removal of Papists from the metropolitan area. He was anxious lest the new coronation oath should ‘too much tie up the legislature’ from making changes in the Church. He helped to prepare reasons on the new oaths of supremacy and allegiance, and reported from the conference of 22 Apr. His suggestion that the King rather than the House should find a reward for Schomberg appears to have been resented, the veteran marshal comparing the performance of Lee and Lord Carberry (John Vaughan) at the Admiralty unfavourably for ‘truth and zeal’ with that of the French minister of marine. He helped to manage a conference on the toleration bill, and to examine the Journals for references to the Popish Plot. On the indemnity issue he favoured excluding only a few individuals by name. In his account of shipping on 17 June, he modestly disclaimed, as Member for an inland county, any technical expertise. He was ordered to take care of the declaration on religion which the Lords had proposed for each sovereign on succeeding to the throne, and he helped to inquire into the scandalous reports about William Harbord and to prepare reasons for reversing the judgment on Titus Oates.11
After the recess Lee presented a state of the navy for the ensuing year, and was appointed to the committee of inquiry into the miscarriages of the war. Defending the Admiralty, he admitted his own ignorance of naval matters, but appealed to common sense:
Losses must be, and yet great fleets at sea, and you masters of the sea. Great numbers of ships were lost when the French fleet came not out. If merchants will go ship by ship, and not in company, all the fleet cannot protect them.
He helped to draft the address to inquire who had recommended Commissary Shales, but he could not conceal his concern at the vague and negative nature of parliamentary criticism, while a Whig lawyer complained that Lee wanted information about Shales to be given to the Privy Council rather than to Parliament. Together with John Hawles he was ordered to bring in a bill for regulating imprisonment. His proposal to defer for six days the third reading of the bill to restore corporations ‘was taken very ill’ by the extreme Whigs, who suspected ‘an intention to bring in a rider that may defeat the main design of the bill’. He was listed as a supporter of the disabling clause, but he was ‘absent and really sick’ from the crucial debate of 10 Jan. 1690, in which it was rejected. He continued to favour moderation over the indemnity bill. ‘I would forget and forgive’, he said on 21 Jan. ‘I do recommend heartily not to proceed in general terms. Where there are faults, and these evidently proved, I would have them punished, but not to involve all England.’ Having ‘utterly destroyed his interest’ in the country Whigs, he had to return to his borough for the next Parliament. He died of dropsy on 19 Feb. 1691, and was buried at Hartwell.12
According to Burnet, Lee ‘valued himself upon artifice and cunning, in which he was a great master, without being out of countenance when it was discovered’. He does not seem to have been an eloquent speaker, and was always anxious to adjourn the debate when the dinner-hour approached. He kept a magnificent table at his country house, which he naturally preferred to town life. His part in the struggle for habeas corpus was second only to that of (Sir) Thomas Clarges. His tolerance was broad and sincere, and extended even to Roman Catholics provided that they abstained from politics. Always careful of the privileges of the House, he must rank among the most eminent parliamentarians of his time.13