MORICE, William I (1602-76), of Werrington, Devon and Spring Garden, Westminster.

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

Constituency

Dates

15 Aug. 1648
1654
1656
13 Apr. - 9 June 1660
9 June 1660
1661 - 12 Dec. 1676

Family and Education

b. 6 Nov. 1602, 1st s. of Evan Morice, DCL, chancellor of Exeter dioc. 1594-1605, by Mary, da. of John Castell of Scobchester, Ashbury, Devon. educ. Exeter g.s.; Exeter, Oxf. 1619, BA 1622. m. c.1627, Elizabeth (d. Dec. 1663), da. of Humphrey Prideaux of Soldon, Cornw., 4s. 4da. suc. fa. 1605; kntd. 27 May 1660.3

Offices Held

J.p. Devon 1640-d., commr. of array 1642, assessment, Devon 1647-52, 1657, Jan. 1660-d., Westminster Aug. 1660-1, 1663-d., Cornw. 1665-d., militia, Devon 1648, Mar. 1660, sheriff 1651-2, commr. for scandalous ministers 1654, oyer and terminer, Mdx. and Western circuit July 1660; havener, duchy of Cornw. 1661-d.; dep. lt. Devon 1670-d., commr. for recusants 1675.4

Gov. Plymouth Mar. 1660-1; col. of ft. by Apr. 1660.5

PC 26 May 1660-d.; sec. of state (north) May 1660-8. commr. for trade Nov. 1660-72, plantations Dec. 1660-70; asst. R. Fishing Co. 1664; commr. for prizes 1664-7.6

Biography

Little is known of Morice’s father except that he came from Carmarthenshire and his 11 years as an official of the Exeter diocese would certainly not have given Morice the entry into Devonshire society but for his mother’s second marriage into the Prideaux family and his own solid, if unspectacular, talents. ‘Always looked upon as a man far from any malice towards the King, if he had not any good affection for him’, he was returned for the county as a recruiter, but had not taken his seat before Pride’s Purge. Although a zealous Presbyterian, he was re-elected to the Protectorate Parliaments; but in 1657 he published a ponderous attack on the Independent doctrine of the sacrament. In Richard Cromwell’s Parliament he sat for Newport, where he had acquired the principal interest by his purchase of Werrington from Sir Francis Drake, 2nd Bt., in 1651. He managed the estates of his wife’s kinsman, George Monck, and became his ‘greatest confidant’. He took his seat in the Long Parliament on the return of the secluded Members, and at Monck’s request was made governor of Plymouth. The King, well aware of the contribution that he could make to the Restoration, wrote to him on 17 Mar. 1660 that ‘the good offices you have and will perform for me are so meritorious that they deserve all the trust and confidence I can repose in you’; and let it be known that he would appoint him secretary of state as ‘the most grateful and obliging thing’ that could be done for Monck.7

At the general election of 1660 Morice was re-elected for Newport on his own interest and involved in a double return at Plymouth. Listed as a friend by Lord Wharton, he was only moderately active in the Convention, with ten recorded speeches and 24 committees. On 1 May, ‘in a very eloquent oration’, he was the first to speak in the House for a restoration, and was among those ordered to prepare the answer to the King’s letter. Two days later he was named to the drafting committee. In a personal letter of thanks for his appointment as secretary, he suggested that the King should write again to Parliament, reiterating the promises contained in the declaration of Breda, and stating his desire that Parliament should advise what policies he should pursue. This, according to Morice, would ‘bring you hither by a conquest of hearts as well as by the right of inheritance, and make your empire more safe by being less absolute’. He was one of the Members appointed to confer with the Lords’ committee over the King’s reception, and at the King’s request accompanied Monck to welcome him back at Dover. He was confirmed as secretary of state, provoking in the wife of a disappointed royalist claimant to the office the comment that he was merely ‘a poor country gentleman of about £200 a year, a fierce Presbyterian, and one that never saw the King’s face’. But Sir Edward Hyde considered that he ‘behaved himself very honestly and diligently in the King’s service, and had a good reputation in the House of Commons, and did the business of his office without reproach’. His French accent was somewhat comic, but ‘for all domestic affairs no man doubted his sufficiency’.8

With the Restoration accomplished, Morice helped to draw up the petition for a day of thanksgiving and to administer the oaths to Members. With the Plymouth election resolved in his favour he resigned his seat at Newport. He managed the conference on recovering the queen mother’s jointure, and brought a message from the King on 18 June urging the House to expedite the indemnity bill. On 2 July he made ‘an excellent speech for the speedy raising of money’, and two days later defended the imposition of the oaths, saying ‘there was something hid in the opposition of it’. He was appointed to the committee for the navigation bill on 27 July. On the same day, when the House was considering withholding supply until the indemnity bill was passed, Morice said:

Having called the King home without conditions, [we] should not distrust him now. ... He had commands from the King to speed the bill of indemnity, and moved that we should show our duty and trust the King.

The House accepted Morice’s arguments and he was named to the committee for settling the revenue. In the debate on replacing the income derived by the crown from the court of wards, he opposed a pound rate as ‘very injurious and partial’. He was added to the managers of conformers on the poll-tax and the indemnity bill, and acted as teller for agreeing with the Lords to pardon 16 offenders disabled from office. On 30 Aug. he argued that ‘as long as the soldiery continued there would be a perpetual trembling in the nation’. He helped to manage a conference on disbandment, and asked the lord chancellor to attend the Privy Council on 13 Sept. so that the Act could be put into execution.9

When the debts of the army and navy were under consideration after the recess, Morice delivered ‘a set speech’ in favour of a year’s assessment at £70,000 a month. Otherwise, he said,

the debts of the public would be like that serpent in America which would eat a cow at a meal, and, falling asleep, the birds of prey devour him, but if they break not the bones of him he grows as big as before.

On 17 Nov. he brought to the attention of the House a dangerous book denying that the Long Parliament had been legally dissolved. He was among those ordered to draw up the excise clauses for the bill abolishing the court of wards. Despite his Presbyterian views, he opposed the bill to give statutory force to the Worcester House declaration for modified episcopacy, concluding with a characteristic metaphor that ‘sometimes a wound would heal of itself if you applied nothing to it’.10

Morice was re-elected for Plymouth in 1661 without known opposition, but he was even less active in the Cavalier Parliament, though the peerages bestowed on Arthur Annesley, Denzil Holles, and Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper had thinned out the government front bench, and until the appointment of Sir Henry Bennet the other secretary of state was not in the Commons. But he seems to have been content to let Heneage Finch shoulder the burden of committee work, while he acted chiefly as a messenger. He helped to manage the conference on the King’s marriage, but quickly revealed his Presbyterian sympathies by acting as teller against the burning of the Covenant. On 20 May he reported a message from the Scottish Parliament. When Dr Gunning, ‘the hammer of the schismatics’, preached to the House on 27 May, Morice found his sermon scandalous and together with William Prynne opposed a vote of thanks. He was one of the managers of the conference on the security bill on the next day, and was appointed to the committee to consider the bill restoring the bishops to the House of Lords and to inquire into the shortfall in the revenue. On 1 July he carried up the bill to confirm the legislation of the Convention, and he was named to the committees for the uniformity bill and the bill of pains and penalties. He was one of four Members selected to deliver to the King a petition on behalf of the Marquess of Winchester. After the autumn recess he was sent to the Lords for concurrence in an address for disarming the disbanded soldiers and expelling them from the metropolitan area, and to the King to thank him for deferring for four months the demonetization of the Commonwealth coinage. He took no part in the numerous conferences that marked the end of the first session.11

French sources reported that Morice sympathized with the attempt by the Roman Catholic Earl of Bristol to impeach Clarendon in 1663, but this seems unlikely, since his chief interest in the session was the prevention of the growth of Popery. He was appointed to the committees to consider a bill for this purpose and to combine the resolutions of both Houses against Jesuits and Popish priests, and on 27 June he carried the bill to the Lords. He was also named to the committee to consider the bill to regulate the sale of offices. He was one of those appointed on 17 July to request the King to grant preferment to the chaplain of the House. Listed as a court dependant in 1664, he was sent to the Upper House to ask for their concurrence in a vote of thanks to the King for defending the honour and interest of England against the Dutch, and in the Oxford session he was appointed to the committee for attainting English officers in the service of the enemy. In November 1666 he cut short a debate on the hearth tax by informing the House that the King would never consent to part with it. The last important legislation in which he was involved concerned the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. He introduced bills to facilitate the production of the necessary brick and tile and to raise money by a levy on coal. On 4 Feb. 1667 he brought a message from the King about rebuilding the City churches, and was appointed to the committee to prepare a bill. In the same month he successfully commended his fellow-Presbyterian Walter Yonge as candidate for Dartmouth.12

On 30 Aug. 1667 Morice was sent to Clarendon to demand his seals of office, but when Parliament met he was one of the Members who believed that they should not further prosecute or trample on the fallen minister. His own account of the division of the fleet in 1666 gave the House little satisfaction, and he later blamed lack of money, stating that ‘he never had from the King for intelligence above £750 in one year, [whereas] Oliver allowed for intelligence £70,000 per annum’. This absurdity was not challenged, for obvious reasons, by those in a position to know better, like Andrew Marvell. He was appointed to the committees to inquire into restraints on jurors, and with Lord Fitzhardinge (Sir Charles Berkeley I) and Lord Torrington (Christopher Monck) was sent to ask the King to consult Monck about measures to secure the highways against robbers. After Clarendon’s flight he agreed to commit the bill for his banishment, ‘though it be condemning him unheard, because he could not but conclude it would be so’. In a supply debate after the Christmas recess he opposed taxing ‘dignified clergy and ecclesiastical officers’, stating that ‘they are to pray for us, and I would not have them meddled with’. On 11 Mar. 1668 he wound up a long and confused debate on ease for Protestant dissenters by moving its adjournment for a month. In his last recorded speech, on 28 Apr., Morice attacked the continuation of the Conventicles Act, warning that ‘the fire of zeal for suppression of conventicles may be so hot that it will burn those that cast them in, as well as those that are cast in’. His last mention in the Journals was on 4 May, when he pardoned a Chester bookseller who had published a letter from a post office clerk, passing himself off as under-secretary of state. He had been appointed to 40 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges in six sessions, and 13 speeches are on record.13

As early as October 1667 it had been rumoured that Morice was ‘willing to resign’, and the King was displeased with his ‘constancy to the chancellor’. It remained only to negotiate the sale of the post, and in September 1668 he sold it for a price variously estimated at £6,000 and £8,000 to Alington’s nominee, John Trevor, rather than to Sir Robert Howard, Buckingham’s candidate. Following the sale Morice retired to his estate at Werrington, and again devoted himself to theology and the accumulation of a notable library. He gave a yearly pension to an ejected nonconformist minister, and the Independent, John Owen, dedicated a book to him. While Sir Thomas Osborne listed him as a court supporter in September 1669, his name does not appear on the opposition lists drawn up later. In 1676 Sir Richard Wiseman simply noted that ‘I guess will not come up’. Burnet thought him ‘virtuous but weak’ as a secretary, and ‘full of pedantry and affectation’. His old friend Shaftesbury, however, wrote to him on his retirement that ‘you are the only happy man that have got off the stage with the love and esteem of all’. He died on 12 Dec. 1676 and was buried at Werrington.14

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / J. S. Crossette / Basil Duke Henning

Notes

  • 1. Abstained after Pride’s Purge, 6 Dec. 1648, readmitted 21 Feb. 1660.
  • 2. Excluded.
  • 3. N. and Q. cxcii. 178; PCC 77 Hale.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 496.
  • 5. Ibid. 1659-60, p. 577; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 590.
  • 6. Sel. Charters (Selden Soc. xxviii), 182; CSP Dom. Add. 1660-85, p. 120.
  • 7. EHR, xxxiii. 367-77; Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 592; Clarendon, Rebellion, vi. 192-4.
  • 8. Cal. Cl. SP, v. 6; EHR, xxxiii. 373-5; Fanshawe Mems. 93; Clarendon, Life, ii. 224-5; PRO 31/3, bdle. 117, f. 42.
  • 9. Bowman diary, ff. 40v, 54, 99v, 122; CJ, viii, 57, 107, 118, 124, 130, 157, 171; Old Parl. Hist. xxii. 465.
  • 10. Old Parl. Hist. xxiii. 11, 28-29; CJ, viii. 186.
  • 11. CJ, viii. 248, 254, 315, 317, 321; HMC 5th Rep. 160; Voyce from the Watch Tower, 288.
  • 12. PRO 31/3, bdle. 11, f. 107; CJ, viii. 567; Milward, 38, 46, 69; CSP Dom. 1666-7, p. 446.
  • 13. Pepys Diary, 31 Aug. 1667; Milward, 95, 222; CJ, ix. 6, 8, 15, 93; Grey, i. 79, 108, 146; Clarendon Impeachment, 129; P. Fraser, Intell. of Secs. of State, 95.
  • 14. Pepys Diary, 28 Oct., 30 Dec. 1667; Browning, Danby, i. 62; D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parl. Pols. 425-6; Burnet, i. 179; K. H. D. Haley, Shaftesbury, 268.

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