NORTH, Sir Dudley II (1641-91), of Camden Place, Maiden Lane, London.
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Family and Education
b. 16 May 1641, 4th but 3rd surv. s. of Sir Dudley North I, 4th Lord North, and bro. of Sir Francis North and Hon. Roger North. educ. Bury St. Edmunds g.s. 1656; writing-school, London. m. 12 Apr. 1683, Anne (d. 27 Aug. 1715), da. of Sir Robert Cann, 1st Bt. of Compton Greenfield, Glos., wid. of Sir Robert Gunning of Cold Ashton, Glos., 3s. (1 d.v.p.). Kntd. 11 Feb. 1683.1
Freeman, Mercers’ Co. 1666, master 1683-4; asst. Levant Co. 1681-6; asst. R. African Co. 1681-2, 1685-7, dep. gov. 1682-4, sub-gov. 1684-5; sheriff, London 1682-3, alderman 1682-4, Oct. 1688-9, dep. lt. 1685-9; gov. Muscovy Co. by 1686-d.2
Commr. of customs Mar.-July 1684, 1685-9; ld. of Treasury 1684-5; chairman, committee of ways and means 17 Nov. 1685.3
At school North was sharp-witted but an ‘indifferent scholar’. A younger son, he was apprenticed to a Turkey merchant at a modest premium of £350 and early showed qualities of ambition, financial skill and ruthlessness, essential to a successful commercial career. In 1661 he was factor at Smyrna, and later set up trade on his own account at Istanbul, where he rose to be local treasurer of the Levant Company. Long residence in Turkey made him a skilled linguist and well versed in Levantine culture. He returned to London in 1680, and, having failed to secure the Istanbul embassy, took a large house from Thomas Bludworth I and furnished it sumptuously at a cost of £4,000. On the recommendation of his brother Francis he was nominated sheriff in 1682 by Sir John Moore, the retiring lord mayor. Though defeated at the poll by the Whig candidates, he took up office, selecting the juries for the trials of the Hon. William Russell and Algernon Sidney, and presiding at their execution. He was appointed a commissioner of customs in March 1684, and promoted to the treasury board in July, but reverted to his former post when the Earl of Rochester (Lawrence Hyde I) became lord treasurer on James II’s accession. He was returned for Banbury, three miles from his brother’s property at Wroxton, at the general election, and became a very active Member, serving on 15 committees. ‘Although he was bred in business abroad and had little experience in the affairs of England, and in Parliament none at all, yet he took the place of manager for the crown in all matters of revenue stirring in the House of Commons; and what he undertook he carried through against all opposition, with as much assurance and dexterity as if he had been an old, battered Parliament man.’ In particular he carried, despite fierce opposition outside the House, a tax on tobacco and sugar. His committees included those to inspect the accounts of the disbandment commissioners, to amend the bankruptcy laws and to encourage shipbuilding. In the second session he was faced as chairman of the committee of ways and means with a demand for a heavy duty on French wines, import of which had been prohibited since 1678. In his report he recommended raising £700,000 in the next five years, including an increase of £4 a tun, and said:
The book of rates has been well considered and these goods are capable of bearing the duties proposed, but, if the King took the £40 per tun on French wines at £20,000 yearly, he would be the loser by it.
He was appointed to the committee to estimate the yield of the increased duty, from which he reported two days later. North’s advocacy of higher duties rather than complete prohibition was in line with Tory policy in general, but also evidence of his belief in the principles of free trade. His loyalty was strained by James’s religious policy, for he evaded the questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws. But to the King he declared, according to his brother Roger, ‘that he could not, and therefore would not pretend to tell what he should do upon any question proposed in Parliament, if he had the honour to sit there, till he had heard the debate’. Nevertheless he did not lose office.4
North’s political career came to an end with the Revolution. His estate, if not his life, was for a time in danger. He was examined by a committee of the House of Commons under Paul Foley about his assumption of the sheriff’s office in 1682, and by the Lords on an accusation of packing juries for the treason trials. But nothing came of either inquiry. Despite heavy losses in the French war he bought an estate in Suffolk from Thomas Glemham shortly before his death, and in the same year published his Discourse upon Trade, which ranks him among the predecessors of Adam Smith. He died on 31 Dec. 1691, and was buried in St. Paul’s, Covent Garden. His son, one of the leading Suffolk Tories, sat for Thetford and Orford from 1710 to 1730.5