ONSLOW, Sir Richard (1601-64), of West Clandon, Surr. and Arundell House, The Strand, Westminster.
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Family and Education
bap. 30 July 1601, 2nd s. of Sir Edward Onslow of Knowle, Cranleigh by Isabel, da. of Sir Thomas Sherley of Wiston, Suss. educ. Jesus, Camb. 1617; L. Inn 1618. m. settlement 21 June 1620, Elizabeth (d. 20 Aug. 1679), da. and h. of Arthur Strangways of Holborn Bridge, London, 8s. (3 d.v.p.) 6da. suc. bro. 1616; kntd. 2 June 1624.2
Col. of militia horse, Surr. 1626-42, dep. lt. by 1628-44, j.p. by 1634-49, 1651-July 1660, 1661-d., commr. for defence 1643, 1645, assessment, Surr. 1643-52, 1657, Jan. 1660-d., Glos. 1648, sequestration, Surr. 1643, levying of money 1643, execution of ordinances 1644, new model ordinance 1645, militia 1648, Mar. 1660, scandalous ministers 1654, custos rot. 1659-?July 1660, commr. for oyer and terminer, Home circuit 1662, corporations, Surr. 1662-3, highways and sewers, London and Westminster 1662; bailiff, Bedford level 1663-d.3
Col. of horse (parliamentary) 1642-5, 1651.4
Member, committee of Both Kingdoms 1644-8; commr. for regulating excise 1645, exclusion from sacrament 1646, scandalous offences 1648; councillor of state 25 Feb.-31 May 1660.
Onslow’s grandfather, a lawyer of Shropshire origin, acquired property in Surrey by marriage, sat for Steyning in 1558, and became Speaker in 1566. His father, a church puritan, took little part in public life; but Onslow himself, a devout Presbyterian, represented Surrey in the Long Parliament and commanded his own regiment of horse until the self-denying ordinance. ‘A person of great spirit and abilities, very ambitious and much set upon raising his family’, he dominated the county committee. A strong monarchist but without dynastic commitments, the ‘red fox of Surrey’ was imprisoned at Pride’s Purge, but supported the offer of the crown to Cromwell, for which he was rewarded with a seat in the ‘Other House’. During the Interregnum he transferred his residence to Clandon, three miles from Guildford. On the return of the Secluded Members he was appointed to the Council of State. He stood again for the county with his son Arthur Onslow at the general election of 1660, but they were defeated amid cries of ‘No Rumper! No Presbyterian!’, and obliged to content themselves with the representation of Guildford, which had apparently delayed its own election for the purpose.5
Lord Wharton relied on Onslow as one of the principal managers of his friends in the Commons. In the Convention he was moderately active, being appointed to 31 committees and making three recorded speeches. He was among those ordered to bring in the bill for the abolition of the court of wards, and to confer with the Lords about the instructions for the messengers to the King and the arrangements for his reception. Some of Onslow’s local rivals offered reasons for excluding him from the benefit of the indemnity bill, including his arrest of the loyal Judge Malet at the Surrey Assizes in 1642 and his later comparison of Charles I to a hedgehog, who had ‘wrapped himself in his own bristles’ when he gave himself up to the Scots. Onslow sought to demonstrate his loyalty in a ‘railing’ speech against the regicide Col. John Hutchinson, and was appointed to consider the proviso to cover his case. But his own position was so weak that he was dropped from the Surrey commission of the peace. He was appointed to the committee of inquiry into unauthorized Anglican publications, and helped to manage the disbandment conference on 7 Sept.6
After the recess Onslow sued out a pardon under the great seal. In the second session he was appointed to the committees for the attainder bill and the restitution of the dukedom of Norfolk. The present claimant to the title was a hopeless lunatic, whose town house Onslow occupied as one of his guardians, and in this capacity he spoke in favour of the bill. Lord Wharton sent him the case for modified episcopacy ‘with considerations’, but he did not speak in the debate. He opposed the application by London for power to recover from the ratepayers the money spent on the King’s reception, because ‘every other city and corporation in the kingdom might take example and petition likewise’. On Christmas Eve, with a bare quorum present, he acted as teller for the motion to hear the report on the Earl of Cleveland’s estate bill. Three days later his recommendations from committee for payments to the officers of the House were accepted.7
Onslow and his son were re-elected in 1661. He was again included in Wharton’s list of friends, and expected to use his influence over no less than 40 Members, several of them Cavaliers. A very active Member in the first three sessions of the Cavalier Parliament, he twice acted as teller and was named to 116 committees, including that for the corporations bill. He was particularly active over highway legislation and the drainage of the Bedford level, where he acquired a large holding. On 20 July he reported a bill, probably sponsored by Lord Mordaunt, to realign a highway in Fulham, and returned it to the Upper House. Presumably he had given sufficient guarantees of religious conformity to warrant his reappointment as j.p. in August. A member of the committee on the bill to cancel the conveyances extorted from Lady Powell by William Hinson and his uncle, he spoke ‘very well’ in the long debate on 28 Jan. 1662. He was also named to committees to consider the Wey navigation bill, to recommend streets in and around London and Westminster for widening (for which he was appointed a commissioner), to rectify the general highways bill, and to enlarge the judicial powers of the Bedford level authorities. At the end of the first session he helped to prepare reasons and to manage a conference on the poor relief bill.8
Onslow took part in regulating the corporation of Guildford, as his great-grandson explained, ‘for the sake of his friends ... and thereby to hinder his enemies from ruining his interest in that town’. When Parliament reassembled in 1663 he complained that a property case had been decided against him, but privilege was most exceptionally denied, though (Sir) Job Charlton reported from committee that his tenant at least was entitled to the protection of the House. Onslow was among those ordered to peruse the Corporations Act and the Bedford level bill, and to provide remedies against meetings of sectaries. Another claim of privilege, as trustee of a charitable estate, met with more success on 22 May; the dowager countess of Peterborough was ordered to stay proceedings for the duration of the session. He did not hesitate to complain to Sir William Batten when he was convinced that a purveyor for the navy was exceeding his powers. He was appointed to the committee for the conventicles bill in 1664, but died in mysterious circumstances at Arundell House on 19 May and was buried at Cranleigh. It was given out at the time that his death was due to an ague which developed into gangrene, but Mrs Hutchinson heard that her husband’s enemy had been struck by lightning, and this is confirmed by family tradition. The great Speaker Onslow could not bring himself to approve of his ancestor, who ‘seems to have had a sort of art and cunning about him, which by no means deserves imitation, and can only be justified by the uncertainty and confusion of the times he lived in, which made it very difficult for a man to act in them whose principles did not lead him to the extremes of any party’. However, he ‘laid the foundation of that interest both in the county and the town of Guildford that our family have ever since kept up to a height that has been scarcely equalled in any county’.9