MERES, Thomas (1634-1715), of The Close, Lincoln and Southampton Square, Bloomsbury, Mdx.
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Family and Education
bap. 17 Sept. 1634. 1st s. of Robert Meres, DD, of Kirton, Lincs., chancellor of Lincoln cathedral, by 1st w. Elizabeth, da. of Hugh Williams of Wegg. Caern., wid. of William Dolben, DD, preb. of Lincoln; half-bro. of John Dolben, abp. of York 1683-6, and Sir William Dolben, j.K.b. 1678-83, 1689-94. educ. Sleaford g.s.; Sidney Sussex, Camb. 1651; I. Temple 1652, called 1660. m. Jan. 1658, Anne (d. 4 Aug. 1698), da. of Sir Erasmus de la Fountaine of Kirby Bellars, Leics., and coh. to her bro. John, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. suc. fa. 1652; kntd. 11 June 1660.1
Commr. for assessment, Lincs. Jan. 1660, 1661-3, 1664-80, 1689, (Lindsey and Lincoln) Aug. 1660-1, 1663-4, Westminster 1633-80, Essex, Leics. and London 1679-80, militia, Lincs. Mar. 1660; j.p. Lindsey Mar. 1660-Feb. 1688, Holland Mar.-July 1660, 1681-Feb. 1688, Kesteven July 1660-Feb. 1688, Lindsey and Kesteven ?Oct. 1688-d.; commr. for sewers, Hatfield chase Aug. 1660, oyer and terminer, Lincoln 1661, loyal and indigent officers, Lincs. 1663, corporations 1662-3, complaints, Bedford level 1663, enclosures, Deeping fen 1665; dep. lt. Lincs. 1670-?87, 1691-?d., commr. for concealments 1671, recusants 1675, capt. of militia ft. by 1680; freeman, Portsmouth 1681.2
Commr. for maimed soldiers Sept. 1660-1; chairman, committee of elections and privileges 8 Feb. 1673-30 Dec. 1678, 19 Mar.-27 May 1679; ld. of Admiralty 1679-84; commr. for rebuilding St. Paul’s 1692-d., land bank subscriptions 1699.3
Meres’s ancestors had held land in Kirton since the 14th century, and first sat for the county in 1407. Meres was born in the ecclesiastical purple; his mother, the niece of Lord Keeper Williams, bishop of Lincoln 1621-41, married in succession two dignitaries of the cathedral, and he resided in the Close during the Interregnum. He held no local office before 1660; but he represented the city in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament, and its six immediate successors. Although he was called to the bar, there is no evidence that he practised.4
In the Convention Meres was a moderately active Member, being appointed to 32 committees, acting as teller in four divisions, and making 21 recorded speeches. Although he was marked by Lord Wharton as a friend, he established himself during the Convention as a dedicated Anglican, an attitude he no doubt inherited and was to retain throughout his career. It must have been peculiarly embarrassing for him to admit to possession of £50 worth of plate that had once belonged to Charles I, presumably as inheritor rather than purchaser, since he was rewarded with a knighthood in the following month. On the indemnity bill Meres acted as teller for excepting Sir William Roberts from its benefits, and would have disabled those who had sat in the high courts of justice. He introduced a proviso to exclude those guilty of sacrilege, and supported the proposal requiring Protectorate officials to refund their salaries. He also supported an inquiry into embezzlement of goods and estates during the Interregnum. On the confirmation of land purchases ‘Sir Thomas Meres moved not to have a greater care for the King than [for] the Church, and said the purchasers had already paid themselves, and moved for resumption’. In the debates on the religious settlement he urged that the King should be asked to call a synod, but in the committee the attempt to exclude Anabaptist ministers from livings reduced him to a pitiable state of indecision. On the proposal to expel only those who constantly refused to administer infant baptism,
Sir Thomas Meres first gave his voice ‘no’, and after he had been told once went over to the ayes; but ’twas not allowed by the committee, and so he came back again, but yet the noes lost it by the chairman’s voice.
The Speaker (Sir Harbottle Grimston) took no chances of a repetition when the matter came before the House, appointing Meres as teller for the yeas, with the committee chairman (Edward King) telling for the noes. He was named to the committees for settling the revenue and considering the navigation bill, and on 4 Aug. introduced a Lincolnshire estate bill on behalf of Sir Robert Dallison, which failed to emerge from committee. When the order for engrossing the heavily amended ecclesiastical settlement bill was passed at the end of the month, Meres was one of the Members to whom the clerk of the Commons was instructed to apply for directions in case of difficulty. He was also among those ordered to supply defects in the Disbandment Act. On 11 Sept. he was teller for an unsuccessful proviso to the fen drainage bill empowering the commissioners for sewers to override the Adventurers in an emergency. He was sent to the Lords on the following day to ask for a conference on their assessment for poll-tax, which he helped to manage, and on the last day after the session he was added to the committee for maimed soldiers, which was authorized to remove them from the Savoy and Ely House during the recess and return them to their respective counties.5
During the second session Meres spoke in favour of compelling all lay impropriators to endow their vicarages. He was named to the committee for the attainder bill, and acted as teller against reading a letter complaining about the conduct of the militia. When it was proposed to give statutory effect to the Worcester House declaration for modified episcopacy, Meres said: ‘To make this bill a law was the way to make all Papists and other heretics rejoice, since it would wholly remove all conformity in the Church’. On 17 Dec. he reported that all except four bedridden veterans had been discharged according to order, and that the committee would require a further £2,500 over and above the £6,000 already voted to pay off debts and compensate the counties. He warmly supported the grant of £10,000 to the Queen of Bohemia, and was sent to the Lords to request their concurrence.6
In the Cavalier Parliament Meres was distinguished by the sheer volume of his activity. He was named to 686 committees, delivered well over 500 reported speeches and 109 reports, acted as teller in 35 divisions, and carried 40 bills, addresses, or messages. In the first session he was appointed to the committee for the security bill, and was twice sent to ask for a conference on the pardon clause as it affected the right to sit in Parliament. He was among those ordered to bring in a bill to prevent ill consequences liable to arise from numerous assemblies of schismatics who refused to take oaths, and to consider the bill restoring the bishops to the House of Lords. Before the prorogation he had helped to manage or to prepare reasons for no less than 15 conferences, including two on the corporations bill. A member of the committee for the bill of pains and penalties, he recommended the House on 27 July to agree with the Lords to omit the proviso in favour of the Marquess of Winchester. He was sent to the Upper House two days later to desire a free conference on the highways bill, and added to the managers. As chairman of the committee for confirming public Acts passed by the Convention, he failed to find an opportunity of reporting before the autumn recess, but on 29 Nov. the House accepted his recommendation that references to specific measures should be deleted, and ordered a separate bill for college leases. He was named to the committee on the bill for executing those under attainder, and sent to ask Dean Creighton (who was indisposed) and then Dean Hardy to preach on the anniversary of Charles I’s execution. He carried up a bill on 11 Jan. to confirm three private Acts and helped to manage three conferences. On 18 Feb. he was among those ordered to prepare reasons for the bills to prevent mischief from schismatics and to confirm incumbents in their livings. As chairman of the Lindsey level committee he was able to steer Dallison’s revived estate bill successfully through all its stages. With four other Members he was sent to ask the King on 4 Apr. to order that the whole of the £60,000 voted for the relief of the loyal and indigent officers should be distributed by Michaelmas. He helped to draft the renunciation of the Covenant in the uniformity bill and to prepare reasons for a conference. On 3 May he reported amendments to the militia bill designed to tighten government control, and three days later he reported the college leases bill with five additional provisos, to which the House agreed without a division. He was also chairman of the committee on the bill to abolish damage clere, but in view of the increasing load imposed on him in the closing weeks of the session he can scarcely be blamed for its failure to report. He was teller for committing a proviso from the Lords about their militia assessments, and helped to bring in an expedient. On 10 May he recommended that the Commons should abandon their amendments to the bill confirming private Acts. His report on the Lindsey level was heard two days later, but the House was unable to resolve the conflict of interests, and he served on the deputation that asked the King to ‘give the trouble to call all persons concerned before him and to hear their several claims and interests’. He was teller against a proviso to the poor relief bill. On 16 May he reported that the Lords had agreed to the amendments made by the Commons to the indigent officers bill, with the same proviso that they had added to the militia bill, and on the next day he was entrusted, together with Robert Bruce, Lord Bruce and Sir Robert Howard, with the management of another conference, which succeeded in resolving the differences between the Houses.7
On 19 Feb. 1663 Meres was among those appointed to bring in a bill to improve the maintenance of the urban clergy and to inquire into the release by the King’s command of the Presbyterian preacher Calamy. He reported on 9 Mar. that it could not be justified by any defect in the Act of Uniformity. He was named to the committees to inquire into defects in the Corporations Act and to consider a petition from the loyal and indigent officers. The urban clergy bill was referred to a committee of the Whole House, from which Meres made six reports; but it went no further in this session. He was among those ordered to unite the preface of the Lords’ petition for the expulsion of priests and Jesuits with the substance of the Commons resolution. The Calamy committee had received further instructions to inquire into the workings of the Militia Act and the poor law, and he introduced two additional bills. On 18 May he recommended priority for eight public bills, including the militia bill, the urban clergy bill and the staple bill, and also a bill for regulating abuses in the law courts, which he brought in. On the same day he was named to the committee to consider the bill for preventing abuses in the sale of offices and honours. He was teller for omitting a reference to Ireland in the staple bill, and took the chair in committee for the excise arrears bill, which was ultimately reported by Sir William Doyley. He supported the amendment to reserve servants’ duties in the bill to prevent meetings of sectaries and opposed the continuance of damage clere for defendants for two more years. He recommended the grant of leave to Brome Whorwood to bring in a bill cancelling an award of alimony made in Chancery during the Interregnum. Although his militia bill had been chaired for most of its progress through the committee of the Whole House by Robert Milward, it was Meres who had the satisfaction of rendering the final report on 14 July, when the amendments were agreed and the bill ordered to be engrossed. In a barely quorate House on the afternoon of 23 July he was teller against agreeing to one of the Lords’ amendments to the excise bill, and was sent to desire a conference. Before the end of the session he carried up the Duke of York’s revenue bill.8
In 1664 Meres aligned himself with the Opposition by acting as teller with Sir Richard Temple in a division on the repeal of the Triennial Act. He was appointed to the committees to consider the conventicles bill and to manage a conference on assisting the King against the Dutch. He favoured a statutory punishment for hearth-tax collectors who misbehaved themselves and acted as chairman for a bill against pluralities and the revived urban clergy bill. His additional poor relief bill was also revived, and he reported it on 12 May. He helped to manage conferences on the conventicles bill and the Falmouth church bill. He was twice sent to remind the Lords of the damage clere bills, twice acted as teller for the bill to settle salt marshes, and twice took the chair for private bills. On 9 Feb. 1665 he asked the Lords for a conference on their proviso to the royal aid bill, and helped to manage it. Later in the month he carried up the excise collection bill. He was added to the elections committee on 25 Sept., but there is no other evidence that he attended the Oxford session. He acted as teller in the divisions on supply of 8 Nov. 1666, first for requiring the proposed tax on foreign commodities to be levied at the customs house, which was defeated, and then against any such tax altogether. He opposed hearing objections to the corporate communion, and was approved for the abortive parliamentary accounts commission. He helped to draw up reasons for a ban on cattle imports and for withdrawing the Canary Company patent. In the conference on the latter subject Samuel Pepys heard ‘exceeding good discourses’ from John Swinfen ‘and a young man, Sir Thomas Meres, [who] do out-do the Lords infinitely’, though apparently leaving a not unintelligent auditor in some confusion about the subject under discussion. He reported conferences on the poll-tax and on public accounts, and was among those appointed to manage a conference on the plague bill and the impeachment of Mordaunt. During the recess he openly displayed sympathy with Buckingham.9
In October 1667 Meres was among those instructed to bring in a public accounts bill, to investigate the miscarriages of the second Dutch war, and to reduce into heads the charges against Clarendon, though he would rather have referred them to the committee of grievances, and did his utmost to palliate the one serious accusation. He attended the conference of 14 Dec. on the proclamation for apprehending the fugitive. He chaired the bill for settling trade with Scotland, and was among those ordered to take the accounts of the indigent officers fund during the Christmas recess. He condemned the failure in the 1666 campaign to recall Rupert’s squadron in good time and the general discharge of the fleet by ticket. ‘If this argument of miscarriages reflect upon the King’, he observed on 15 Feb. 1668, ‘we shall never bring any great man to account.’ But when Temple sought to revive the Triennial Act without leave, Meres abandoned his former ally and hoped that it would be laid aside. When John Birch proposed that j.ps should be added to the excise commissions, he said: ‘The justices have trouble sufficient already, and now would you make them excisemen and odious in their country?’ The imposition of customs duties on wine, brandy, tobacco, and linen, he believed might yield £300,000 annually. After giving examples of sectarian insolence, he was sent with Samuel Sandys I and (Sir) John Berkenhead to ask the lord keeper for copies of the proclamation against Papists and nonconformists in order that they might be transmitted by Members to their constituencies. He supported the renewal of the Conventicles Act, demanding that ‘comprehension should not extend to a toleration’. In the debate on the enfranchisement of Durham he moved that ‘the shires may have an increase of knights, and that some of the small boroughs where there are but few electors may be taken away’, but he failed to find a seconder for this Cromwellian proposal. He opposed the deferment of the Lindsey level bill, despite the thinness of the House, and the motion to give daily consideration to supply. He was among those appointed to prepare the impeachment of (Sir) William Penn, and on 8 May recommended an inquiry into the moneys received by the sheriffs for the militia.10
When Parliament reassembled in 1669 Meres and Sir Robert Carr were sent to ask the attorney-general why the prosecution of Henry Brouncker had been stopped, and brought back the answer that (Sir) John Morton had failed to follow up his information. He continued to obstruct supply under the Cabal, and on 26 Nov. made one of the earliest allusions to party groupings in the Cavalier Parliament; alleging that £1,000,000 voted for the war remained unspent, he spoke of the court supporters as ‘the million corner’ of the House. As chairman of the committee of grievances he secured the dismissal of the governor of Gravesend for charging illegal dues on passing vessels. On 26 Feb. 1670 he brought in a list of public bills ‘most necessary to receive dispatch’, presumably including the conventicles bill, which received its second reading four days later. On 31 Mar. he took the chair in committee of the Whole House for the bill to enable Lord Roos ( John Manners) to marry again, which was passed without alteration or amendment. He helped to manage four other conferences, reporting from those on the conventicles bill and on the bill to prevent the surrender of merchantmen to pirates. He took the chair for the bill to authorize negotiations for union with Scotland, and on 8 Apr. returned it to the Lords. In the autumn he read and tabled estimates of the naval debt from the Treasury and the navy board. Horrified at the proposal of Sir Thomas Dolman for a tax on beer, he exclaimed: ‘Lay what you will upon wine, but will you lay it upon your own manufacture? Let that be the utmost extremity’. On the action taken against the leaders of the London dissenters, Hayes and Jekyll, he said: ‘It was not an ordinary breach of the peace that the lieutenancy of London bound them for, but there were thousands in the streets, like a rebellion’. He took the chair for a bill to prevent frauds by servants, and helped to prepare reasons for a conference on the bill to improve navigation between Boston and the Trent.11
As a member of the committee to punish those who had assailed Sir John Coventry, Meres was responsible for the clause to make all nose-slitting felony, urging that the subsidy bill should be laid aside. He divided the House against the commitment motion, and when this failed urged that a fair assessment could only be ensured by permitting
a deduction of one-third part for men’s expenses, hospitality, and debts. ... The gentleman is an officer in many things without fee; so that a gentleman of £700 a year, by these chargeable offices, receives not £600.
He reported three conferences on the Coventry bill, and persuaded the House on 8 Feb. to declare the Irish lighthouses a grievance. Still a champion of the Englishman’s native liquor, he was teller on 22 Feb. for a reduction in the penalty for lending brewing vessels in the additional excise bill, and took part in preparing reasons for a conference. As one of the managers of a conference on the growth of Popery, he reported a bill on 9 Mar. and carried it up. Although he was usually conciliatory towards the Upper House, he could not defend their action in reducing the sugar duty, and ‘would have it upon your books that the Lords ought not to alter any sum of money given by us, to remain to posterity’. Privately, he explained that the Commons ‘ought to keep it within their power to grease the hand of the Court’. ‘Very knowing in the orders of the House’, he was appointed to manage a conference on the subject, and another on the bill to prevent fraudulent cattle sales.12
It was reported that Meres would have been the King’s own choice for Speaker in 1673. But he had to be satisfied with the chairmanship of the elections committee, and it was perhaps out of disappointment that he took so strong a line against the Court on the by-election writs and the Declaration of Indulgence. In the matter of supply for the third Dutch war, he declared, both sides of the House were equally loyal; but he could not refrain from observing that
kings did usually consult with their Parliament before they engaged in a war. At least he did expect that some of the Privy Council would open to us the motives and occasions of this war; and that then he should be as willing as any man to supply his Majesty.
His demand was satisfied by Secretary Henry Coventry, whereupon Meres declared for a sum virtually identical to that demanded by the Government. While he continued to attack the suspending power, he announced his conversion to a more tolerant line with dissenters:
The House of Commons having seen how little good force will do, it may be the reason of the thing will oblige us in a fair legal way of doing what the King has been designing these twelve years. ... What is it now that makes us so zealous in this question but the fear of Popery? ... Let us take care, whilst we dispute the indulging the Protestant subjects, the third dog does not take the bone from us both.
Meres’s popularity in the Commons was never greater, and he was voted into the chair of the committee of the Whole House on the bill of ease for tender consciences. In the debate of 22 Feb. he remarked that ‘a gracious answer’ to the address against the suspending power ‘would very much smooth the passage of the money bill’.
Some heat began to grow in the House by Sir Thomas Meres saying they were plain countrymen and could not speak as smoothly as the fine men about the town. ... This speech was something sharply reflected upon by Secretary Coventry, as if Sir Thomas Meres had now and often heretofore laboured to make a distinction in the House between the country gentlemen and the courtiers; ... and often used the words ‘of this side of that House, and that side’, which were not parliamentary.
When Coventry said that it was unnatural to include pensions in the test bill, Meres seized the opportunity for a riposte, so warmly supported by the House that the Speaker (Edward Seymour) was unable to call him to order:
The word pension is not in the bill. Thinks these are mistakes made to throw dirt on the bill. With all submission to those that drew the bill ... the House always improves and mends it. Thinks there are but few that will pass muster here. People now turn for preferment.
On 10 Mar. Meres was given responsibility for preparing a bill to exclude dissenters from the Commons, which he introduced a week later; but it was never read or committed. He brought in a modified oath against the Covenant, and again took the chair in grand committee to consider the Lords’ amendments to the test bill. He was sent to ask for a conference, which resulted in agreement on a formula that he had devised himself. Until it had completed its passage through the Lords, the Commons, on Meres’s advice, detained the supply bill. Less concern was felt for indulging dissenters when the Lords amended the bill by giving to the King the power to issue proclamations in religious matters. ‘The proclamation is the same in effect as the Declaration’, Meres objected, and he was in the middle of his report on a conference when Black Rod arrived to end the session. By now well-established as chairman of a political discussion club that included several Members, he spent the summer in town, expecting to succeed to the Speaker’s chair when Seymour became treasurer of the navy and a privy councillor. Alternatively he hoped that the new lord treasurer would appoint him as secretary; but Danby preferred his own brother-in-law, Charles Bertie, in this politically sensitive appointment. Meres’s disappointment was obvious; ‘but they say he shall be better provided for before October’ when Parliament was due to meet again. Still ungratified, he was no less prominent in the principal business of the brief autumn session. He helped to draft the address against the Duke of York’s marriage to Mary of Modena, asking rhetorically:
Who thinks the duke a Protestant? To marry a Papist gives great occasion of jealousies of Popery. Consider that there are two hundred persons to one in the people against Popery, and yet the people are afraid of Popery. He cannot imagine the reasons of these fears but from these marriages with Popish foreign allies, terrible to us in this case.
He was named to the committee for a general test bill, and in the debate on grievances of 3 Nov. he said:
Several grievances were enumerated the other day. For that of Popery directions were given for a bill to be drawn, which is near finished. The next grievance he thinks fit to propose is that of a standing army. ... He has been informed that they are of no service; the King’s treasure is wasted by them, so that aids are asked twice in one year. Loves not to be the first man that moves a thing, but would now form you a question: ‘that this standing army is a grievance’. ... It brings in the billeting of soldiers against the Petition of Right. ... Martial law has arbitrary principles and arbitrary power. We like not these arbitrary principles in any councils. This army has the youth of the nation; it debauches them, and fills them with such principles that towns by them are debauched.13
In the 1674 session Meres prevented a precipitate vote of thanks for the speech from the throne. During the debate on the ministers of the Cabal, he claimed that ‘Cabal and Council are different, but we have power over both’. He delivered a remarkably prescient and statesmanlike speech on the charges against Lord Arlington:
The House did but rarely proceed upon common fame, and, if you had such a power, it was the prerogative of the House, and would have it seldom used. No minister of state, be he ever so wise, ever so good, but will offend somebody able to speak against him, and lies in great danger; such a terror as may discourage him in his place.
Nevertheless he was named to the committee of inquiry. Although he considered that ‘a peace is most desirable to this nation’, he was too cautious to express approval of the terms offered by the Dutch, ‘being not sufficiently informed of them’, and he helped to prepare reasons for a conference. He was scathing about the enfranchisement of Newark; the next return, he suggested, might be from the Royal Society, ‘a much better corporation’. When Lord Shaftesbury (Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper) was revealed as the source of the rumours about the Pepys’s religion, Meres was sent with (Sir) William Coventry and William Garway to ask ‘whether his lordship has at any time seen an altar and a crucifix in the house of Mr Pepys’. Subsequently he remarked: ‘You have foreign hangings in the house, and friars praying in them, and crucifixes; it is no new thing for a gentleman to have such. He loves pictures himself, and a gentleman may have such without offence’.14
Before the next session Danby described Meres to the King as one of Arlington’s intimate friends ‘who was at all times in the head of all opposition to your Majesty’s service, and whose business has been to possess all men that I drive all the designs of the late lord treasurer [Thomas Clifford], only in a more dangerous manner’. Charles sent for Meres and told him that the impeachment of Danby would be very prejudicial to his affairs, and the supple politician obligingly suggested an attack on the odious Lauderdale as the only means to divert the Commons from their original quarry. He was named to the committee of 14 Apr. 1675 to draw up reasons for an address for the Scotsman’s removal. In the debate on British subjects serving in the French army he proclaimed himself ‘unable to enter the lists with Coventry’ over their status in international law; but he scored some palpable hits nevertheless.
’Tis touched as if we were governed blindfold, and that six or seven men must govern all. He is glad to inquire as country gentlemen used to do. Formerly this House did understand foreign affairs as well as any Council. The suffering these men to be in France is not for the interest of religion, that has been our interest at all times since the Reformation. ’Tis the King’s glory to defend the Protestant religion, and his greatest interest. The King of France is now the great patron of the Popish interest. ... Whoever will support the Protestant religion must not support the French interest, and he lays that down for a principle. The edict of Nantes [has been] violated upon 100,000 Protestants. ... The King of France is setting up for the Western Empire. Observe how the French have broke all treaties, and at last ours, both by sea and land. But imagine them faithful and kind, ’tis as dangerous to our interest. They have destroyed their three estates, an ill example to us in government. ’Twas always the opinion of our ancestors to keep the balance equal between France and Spain, to which we ought to have a deference.
Meres took the chair in the grand committee on religion in this session, and was given the responsibility, with Sir Charles Harbord and Robert Sawyer, for drafting a series of measures against the Papists. But when Harbord said in the naval debate: ‘’Tis high time to lay your hands upon your hearts and purses’, Meres rejoined smartly that he would ‘lay his hand upon his purse, as Harbord does, to keep his money in it’. He thirded the impeachment of Danby when it was at last brought in, and managed the charge of stopping the Exchequer. He was among those Members entrusted with drafting the address for recall from the French service and the appropriation bill, which he warmly supported:
Whether the money yearly spent be two, three or four hundred thousand pounds, it does but forward the question to appropriate the customs to the use of the navy by bill. Then ’tis a security to us that there is a fund for the navy for three years; then let the gentlemen that manage the navy apply this money as cheap as they can.
Meres, who had long believed that ‘the greatest evil in the world is a thin House’, was chairman of the committee to draft a letter from the Speaker to those boroughs whose Members were negligent in attendance. He took a moderate line over the dispute with the Lords; ‘we shall not meddle with their judicature but when it comes in the way of our privilege’, he said, though he helped to prepare reasons on the cases involving (Sir) John Fagg I and Arthur Onslow, and acted as manager of two conferences. He also attended a conference on the Four Lawyers, though ridiculing the assertion of the Lords that ‘the dignity of the King and the safety of the Government’ were at stake. When Charles told the Commons that ‘the intent of all this, in the contrivers is to procure a dissolution’, Meres was sure that there were no contrivers among them, and ‘if the King dissolves us, he knows not where to get a better Parliament’. His eloquence was now sufficiently well known to enable him to add to his income by publishing his speeches.15
After the speech from the throne of 13 Oct. 1675, asking for supply to take off anticipations on the revenue and to expand the fleet, ‘the Commons returned to their own House, and sat almost an hour looking upon one another in a profound silence, till at length Sir Thomas Meres broke forth, and said that he was sorry to see the House as it were in amazement, and was afraid it might prove ominous’. He may have been hoping to provoke a reference to papers distributed by the Roman Catholic Colonel Thomas Howard, describing him and William Cavendish, Lord Cavendish as ‘bold and busy Members’ and ‘barbarous incendiaries’ callously rejoicing over the casualties suffered by the English regiments in the French service. When Sir Trevor Williams produced an example, order was at once taken to prevent the high-spirited Cavendish from embarking on the usual steps to defend a gentleman’s honour; but it was noticed that ‘the House did not apprehend that the courage of Sir Thomas Meres might draw him into much danger’. Sir John Reresby (who had a case pending before the elections committee) earned his lasting gratitude by adding his name to the order. On supply Meres ‘expressed himself mighty careful of the Government and ready to give money to support it, if it were necessary; but undertook to make it as clear as sunshine, when the business should come on, that there could not possibly be any need’. He flatly refused to consider paying off the debt, recalling that ‘at Christmas 1671 such desperate counsels followed giving money that he has no mind to mention them’ (though he succeeded in overcoming his reluctance at some length). On 25 Oct. he brought in ‘his thundering bill against Popery’, prepared in the previous session; and he had no sympathy with Grimston’s proposal for a dissolution, remarking that ‘five or six times bills have been cut to pieces by prorogations [until] we are tired of hearing them read’. He was sent to ask Dean Sancroft to preach to the House on the anniversary of Gunpowder Plot. He took a constructive part in the long, technical debates on the naval programme, though insisting, as a matter of constitutional principle, that the lowest sum proposed for supply should be voted on first, and acting as teller for a clause ‘that no other charge be laid upon the subject this session of Parliament’. After successfully moving that the revived appropriation bill should also be tacked, he was the first Member named to the committee; but he failed to persuade the House that ‘we cannot trust the Exchequer, and therefore would have the money put into the chamber of London’. On 10 Nov. he reported a conference on renewing the proclamation against entering the French service, though he would have preferred an Act. Rather surprisingly he was prepared to sacrifice the legislation under discussion to a reassertion of the Commons case over the jurisdiction of the Lords. But during the recess Sir Richard Wiseman was able to write:
I may possibly give a further account of him before Michaelmas. Colonel [Roger] Whitley can do much with him, and has hinted to me something of that nature as if Sir Thomas might be treated with.16
It is not known whether any offer was actually made to Meres at this time, and he remained in opposition. In 1677 he defended the right of William Sacheverell to argue that the long recess had automatically dissolved Parliament, though he did not agree with his conclusions. He visited Shaftesbury in the Tower, and was classed as ‘doubly worthy’. He spoke with increased authority on the need for electoral reform, urging that his committee should be given the power to put witnesses on their oath:
Till such a bill pass we have extraordinary trouble at the committee of elections. ... This evidence of drinking fills most of his papers at that committee, of which he is reporter, since he was in that service. The thing looks not well abroad, and drinking men throw away a child’s portion at an election in this charge; and labourers and good handicraftsmen ruin their wives and children by ill habits of drinking at these elections.
On the motion for supply he declared: ‘it has been a rule that no sooner money has been got, but grievances were set aside’, and he warned the House that the crown was in danger, through the increasing yield of customs and excise, of becoming financially independent:
If we do prudently, ’twill be a mighty mischief to give an additional revenue. Your Parliament by it is of no effect nor use; and he shall never expect good till this additional revenue goes off. It is so great they will need no Parliament, and you will be turned off at least six years. ’Tis money that makes a Parliament considerable, and nothing else.
He was among those ordered to prepare a supply bill with a proviso that the money voted for building warships should be kept separate and distinct in the Exchequer. On foreign policy he declared that ‘it is the natural remedy to have the Council purged of these persons partial to France’. He helped to draw up three addresses and to manage a conference. On 16 Mar. he brought in a bill to abolish the penalty of burning for heresy. On the bill to ensure that the children of the royal family should be brought up as Protestants, Meres was ‘sorry to differ from gentlemen that he has not differed from this session’; he had no objection to episcopal control, and was named to the committee. On 7 Apr. he recommended the Commons to withdraw their proviso to the bill for the general naturalization of British subjects born abroad during the Interregnum, and he took a prominent part in the negotiations between the Houses over the warships bill, taking the chair in a committee to prepare reasons and reporting four conferences. On the bill to renew the additional excise, he said: ‘If you do not continue the corn [bounty] clause, ’twill cause an abatement of rent. ... This duty will never be given more unless this be tacked to it. I love the word "tacking", and this will be good for England, the King, and you.'17
Meres strongly supported the reduction of France to the frontiers agreed at the Peace of the Pyrennes in 1659, helping to draw up the address of 31 Jan. 1678. He was also concerned at her commercial expansion: 'it shall never be said to be our fault that we suppress not this exorbitant trade of France that will ruin us'. But he was reluctant to grant supply without a clear understanding of what was entailed: 'if this treaty that the honourable persons, the King's ministers, tell us to be so good and desired by the confederates, and we may not see it, it may well be good for them, and not for us'. In the supply committee on 6 Feb., however, he said: 'if I could add two or three words for a sum of money, I fear I should displease both sides, and I have so much wit as not to do that'. He acted as teller against the defence estimates, expressing his distrust of the Government in the plainest terms: 'my fear is that an army is setting up for another purpose than against the French king, and that it is for a standing army'. When Coventry inquired whether he had intelligence from the Spaniards, Meres replied: 'I do aver I never spoke with any ambassador, and I scarce know the face of any'. He was responsible for securing the presence of the lawyers to give a clear decision on the right of the Commons to debate and vote upon an order from the King to adjourn. He brought in an appropriation clause for the poll-tax. He helped to manage the conference on the river fishing bill and to prepare the address of 15 Mar. for an immediate war with France. He thought that there ought to be a memorial to Charles I, preferring Windsor to Westminster abbey on the grounds of economy; but while the committee of the whole House was sitting under his chairmanship on this matter they were summoned to witness the royal assent to a batch of bills, and never resumed their deliberations. He was the first Member named to prepare reasons for a conference about the growth of Popery, and commended the report to the House in a bravura performance that doubtless increased sales. 'You cannot save the Protestant religion,' he declared, 'but by this paper. Farewell, Parliaments and all laws and government, and the Protestant religion, for they are all one.' He served for the delegation to ask the lord chancellor (Heneage Finch*) about recent changes in the commission of the peace, and supported the motion that no further supply could be contemplated, however urgent, until the House was satisfied. He helped to draft the address for the removal of counsellors saying:
England is lost upon this House's not having courage to come up to remove persons that have ill advised the King. This is the rock we split upon. Every man sees ill management. The Parliament is big enough to speak to the King, and they can only keep great men in awe.
Lauderdale was again his principal target, and he was now prepared to resort to common fame, although the duke was assured that Meres had 'minced the matter very much' through fear of incurring the King's displeasure. He helped to prepare reasons for compulsory burial in woollen, and later to manage a conference. Now one of the strongest disarmers in the House, he said:
I would have all the new-raised men since Michaelmas disbanded and paid off; and if the Guards were paid off and disbanded, I would give my vote for it, that the King may live, as his father did, without guards.
Nobody supported this second proposal, which must have seemed a somewhat tasteless joke after the recent debate on the royal martyr; but on 4 June Meres was ordered, with the solicitor-general (Sir Francis Winnington*) and four other Members, to bring in a supply bill to give effect to the first. No time or place of meeting was specified, but while Winnington was attending another committee John Birch* mustered a quorum (himself, Meres and Henry Powle*), and a bill was prepared in the terms of the Speaker's breviate. Next morning Meres was able to announce to the House: 'You have ordered a bill for disbanding the army, and I have it ready for you'. Winnington, who had prepared his own draft, was not amused; but Sir Robert Howard*, who had heard of the meeting only when the committee sent for papers from his office, and Sir Thomas Littleton, 2nd Bt.*, who had been 'casually there', attested that all was in order, and the bill was accepted. Rebuked by the Speaker on 15 June 'for sitting up so late at night that he came not timely in the morning' to make his report on the privilege case of (Sir) William Tyringham*, Meres was sufficiently provoked to give Seymour the lie, and had to apologize to the House for 'the first occasion I have given to misspend your time these eighteen years'. He took the chair for the bill to hinder Papists from sitting in Parliament, twice reported conferences on the disbandment supply bill, and helped to prepare reasons for a conference on measuring coal-ships.18
In the last session of the Cavalier Parliament Meres was appointed to the committee of inquiry into the Popish Plot, and reported from a confernece, though it was noted that he was less vocal than usual over Oates's allegations. Recalling the kaleidoscopic religious changes under the Tudors he called the English 'a mutable people', and feared that in a crisis only one in three would engage for the Protestant religion. He helped to draft eight addresses, including those to ask for the calling out of the militia and the continued imprisonment of (Sir) Joseph Williamson* for countersigning commissions granted to Roman Catholic officiers. He complained that 'Parliament had never been able to get one good law against Popery', and blamed the Duke of York for the obstructions. When the Lords attached the bill to exclude Papists from Parliament a proviso to allow the duke to retain his seat, Meres exclaimed: 'I had rather this bill had never been brought into the House than that this proviso should name the duke. ... It is a beginning of toleration'. Though reckoned by his opposition cronies as only a talker, Meres is said to have repeated a remark attributed to Shaftesbury: 'Let us once see the militia up, and let them get them down as they can'. He was certainly outraged by the imposition of the royal veto on the militia bill, declaring: 'Whoever advised the King to this act is neither a friend to the King nor the nation'. He was among those appointed to bring in a series of anti-papists bills, and helped to manage two conferences on disbandment. When Danby accused Ralph Montagu* of treasonable correspondence with the papal nuncio in Paris, Meres proposed to 'beseech the King to suspend any further proceedings upon Montagu till this House be satisfied whether the information be given upon oath and whether the subject of that conference was treason'. His proposal was accepted, and he was named to the delegation to carry the message. He was satisfied, on the other hand, that Montagu's disclosures about Danby's negotiations for a French subsidy did amount to treason, and he was named to the committee to prepare the impeachment.19
It was unfortunate for Meres that he had just arranged the marriage of the lord treasurer's nephew, Lord Willoughby (Robert Bertie II*), to a great Welsh heiress at the disposal of his own half-brother, Bishop Dolben. 'Much opposition' was reported in Lincoln to his re-election, but it was not apparently pressed to a poll. At Westminster, however, his nomination as Speaker by the court party proved unacceptable. It was ascribed to the influence of Willoughby's father, the Earl of Lindsey (Robert Bertie I*), and 'this remote and ill-grounded fancy served to hold him in jealousy, who heretofore was leader of the host'. Amid cries of 'away with him, no upstarts', the Commons rejected Meres and presented Seymour again. The King refused to accept him, and after a week of wrangling William Gregory* was installed as compromise candidate. Though Shaftesbury still classed Meres as 'worthy', others regarded him as a turncoat 'who truly ought to lose his ears', and he retained the chairmanship of the elections committee by a margin of only six votes over George Treby*. Still very active, he reported on ten election cases, delivered 19 speeches, and was named to 37 other committees. On 22 Mar. 1679 he was among those ordered to bring in a bill for security against Popery and to ask the lord chancellor about the circumstances of Danby's pardon. He helped to manage two conferences, one of which he reported, to draft two addresses, and to prepare the bill to attaint the fallen statesman if he did not give himself up. 'The Treasury is better managed by commissioners than by a lord treasurer', he remarked casually on 17 Apr., 'especially when the lord treasurer is the sole manager of affairs of state.' No doubt he hoped that the House would apply the same conclusion to the Admiralty when, three days later, it was announced that he was at last to attain offfice on the board. He tried to earn his salary of £1,000 p.a. by urging a vote of thanks for a speech from the throne which showed the King totally opposed to any alteration in the succession. Though he had served on the committee for the habeas corpus bill, he was not among those charged by name with preparing reasons for a conference; but he was entitled to attend as one 'of the long robe', and reported both from the committee and the conference. Unlike other 'zealots' who could not 'keep pace' over exculsion, he agreed, rather helplessly, that 'something must be done', and eventually voted to commit the bill.20
Meres was again very active in the second Exclusion Parliament, being appointed to 23 committees and making 14 speeches. He helped to conduct the inquiry into Abhorring and to draw up the address of support for the Protestant religion, at home and abroad. He attended a conference on the Irish plot. On the address for the removal of Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile*), he said:
Let me see your reason, and I will go along with it. I am not bound to believe it because another man says it; let him show it. Let the House go upon an impeachment by common fame; that way is regular. But to make this a judgment of the House for the King to confirm it, I am against it.
He was among those instructed to bring the bills for security against arbitrary power and to consider the comprehension bill, though he still feared that it might 'destroy the great bulwark against the church of Rome'. When the conductof the judges was under attack, especially their dismissal of the Middlesex grand jury to forestall the presentment of the Duke of York as a recusant, he defended his half-brother, Judge Dolben, as merely a silent participant in the proceedings. Opening the debate on the second reading of the toleration bill, he said:
Some of this bill is good and beneficial to be done. I desire to go on in the worship of God as I like. If you change ceremonies as to habit and gesture, they are things indifferent; but if a person be of invincible ignorance, though of conscience, I would not hurt that man. ... There are a moderate party of the Church of england, and not a lordly. ... I do not doubt but, when this bill is passed, most of the dissenters will come into the Church with that moderate party.
During the debate on Lord Chief Justice Scroggs, he warned the House: 'Pray be wary of too many declaratory treasons!' He helped to prepare reasons for asserting that the Duke of York's religion had encouraged plotters. In the Oxford Parliament he was named to the committees to find a more convenient place to meet, to prepare for a conference on the loss of the toleration bill, and to impeach Fitzharris. He made four speeches, three of them in support of the regency 'expedient' proposed by Littleton:
I have been for this bill of exclusion, and I am of opinion that something must be done for the people to quiet their fear of Popery. ... I would not rise now to speak if I thought that this bill of exclusion would pass the Lords and King. My grounds are but conjectures. The last Parliament, I did believe the bill would pass, with greasing the wheels. ... If anything of expedient can be thought of to save religion under a Popish successor, not to destroy the monarchy, and if the next expedient be not the best, pray refuse not the next to that.
Although he was the only Member to support the proposal, he was appointed to the committee to bring in the third exclusion bill.21
Meres does not seem to have attached himself either to the Halifax or Rochester factions during the last years of Charles II. He lost office when the Duke of York returned to the Admiralty in 1684, and congratulated Danby on his release from the Tower 'at the head of a deputation from the Loyal Club which met at Fuller's Rents'. With the support of the Bertie interest, he was re-elected in 1685, and recommended for the Speakership by Lord Keeper Guilford (Sir Francis North*); but Judge Jeffreys carried the day for his cousin, Sir John Trevor*. Despite this third failure Meres was one of the most active Members in James II's Parliament with 37 committee appointments. He was sent to ask Sherlock to preach to the House on the anniversary of the Restoration, and took the chair in the grand committee of religion, reporting two resolutions on 27 May: 'to assist and stand by his Majesty according to our duty and allegiance for the support and defence of the reformed religion of the Church of England, as now by law established', and to ask for a proclamation 'for putting the laws in execution against all dissenters whatsoever'. On the news of the Duke of Monmouth's invasion, Meres helped to draw up the loyal address from the Commons, and was given special responsibility for bills to attaint Monmouth and to preserve the King's person and government. He was among those ordered to prepare a bill for the general naturalization of Huguenot refugees, and to estimate the yield of tax on new buildings. He reported to revive certain expiring laws on 19 June, and carried it to the Lords. He also took the chair on the bill for rebuilding St. Paul's. He was named to the committee to bring in a clause 'that none shall move in either House of Parliament for alteration of the succession of the crown'. On the second reading of the general naturalization bill he prevailed on the House to instruct the committee to insert a clause requiring all beneficiaries to conform, saying: 'If you indulge one sort of dissenters, how can you blame the crown indulging another, as Papists for instance?' After the recess he spoke twice for supply, which, he said, need not hinder the address against the employment of Roman Catholic officiers. Conveniently forgetting his own motion for disbanding the Guards, he asserted that the Cavalier Parliament had 'always owned some force necessary', and that James, 'a great soldier', was the best judge of that number.
There was a bitter spirit in the three last Parliaments, not yet well allayed; and so I conclude a considerable force needful, besides the militia. I call those raised 'guards' and would have a supply given to support his Majesty's extraordinary occasions. The navy wants six or eight hundred thousand pounds, and I would give any reason for it.
After serving on the committee for the address he persuaded the House to accept the Government's demand for £1,200,000 by reminding them that 'the principle of the rebel party is never to repent', and describing those who wished to confine the grant to the support of the army as opposed to all supply. He took the chair in the committee of the Whole House to consider how to make the militia more useful, and in December it was again rumoured that he was to succeed Trevor as Speaker, though Charles Bertie found it incredible.22
In January 1688 Lindsey reported that both Anglicans and dissenters in Lincoln were resolved to re-elect Meres. But he was struck off the commission of the peace in March 'for refusing to be one of the repealers' of the Test Act and Penal Laws, presumably after closeting. Nevertheless Sunderland recommended him as court candidate. But either political inconsistently or neglect of his constituency had disastrously affected his interest, for at the abortive election he received only nine votes. He attended the meeting of the Members of Charles II's Parliaments after the King's flight in December and very much 'perplexed' the committee appointed to draw up an address to William of Orange, though he had not been named to it. He is not known to have stood for the Convention and did not regain his seat till 1701, when he was elected as a county Tory. He died at his home in Bloomsbury (Southampton) Square on 9 July 1715, and was buried at Kirby Bellars, which he had inherited from his brother-in-law. No later member of the family entered Parliament.23
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: J. S. Crossette
- 1. Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. li), 666; E. Deacon, Deacon and Allied Fams. 298, 300, 303.
- 2. Kesteven Q. Sess. Mins. (Lincs. Rec. Soc. xxv), cxlii; HMC Portland, iii. 406; C181/7/20; CSP Dom. 1690-1; p. 441; J. W. F. Hill, Tudor and Stuart Lincoln, 173, 184-5; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 912; R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 365.
- 3. CJ, viii. 213; ix. 260, 572; xii. 508; HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 9; CSP Dom. 1691-2, p. 267; HMC Downshire, i. 893-4.
- 4. Deacon, Fam. of Meres, 5; Her. and Gen. ii. 123-4.
- 5. CJ, viii. 37, 66, 129; Bowman diary, ff. 44v, 46, 51v, 67v, 73v, 114v, 115a, 121.
- 6. Old Parl. Hist. xxii. 6, 25, 65; CJ, viii. 185, 231.
- 7. CJ, viii. 266, 321, 335, 343, 350, 358, 370, 423, 431.
- 8. CJ, viii. 454, 494, 521, 532.
- 9. CJ, viii. 538, 548, 550, 557, 559, 562, 564, 595, 606, 610, 661, 671, 672; Pepys Diar