PROBY, Thomas (1632-89), of Raans, Amersham, Bucks and Elton, Hunts.
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Family and Education
bap. 18 Oct. 1632, surv. s. of Sir Heneage Proby of Raans by Helen, da. of Edward Allen, Fishmonger, of Bread Street, London. educ. Emmanuel, Camb. 1648; M. Temple 1648, called 1658, travelled abroad (France) 1656. m. by 1662, Frances, da. of Sir Thomas Cotton, 2nd Bt.†, of Conington, Hunts., 2s. d.v.p. 4da. cr. Bt. 7 Mar. 1662; suc. fa. 1663.1
Commr. for militia, Bucks. Mar. 1660, assessment, Bucks. Aug. 1660-80, Hunts. 1664-80, Bucks. and Hunts. 1689-d.; j.p. Hunts. 1666-81, 1687-Apr. 1688, Oct. 1688-d., commr. for recusants, Bucks. and Hunts. 1675; dep. lt. Hunts. ?1686-Mar. 1688, Oct. 1688-d., commr. for inquiry into recusancy fines 1687.2
Proby’s grandfather, the versatile Peter Proby, MP for Hull in 1593 and for Liverpool in 1597, was the real founder of the family, purchasing the Amersham estate in 1619, and acting as steward of the crown manor of Elton, where he acquired some property. Proby’s father was a passive Parliamentarian during the Civil War, holding local office only from 1657. Proby himself was less cautious politically and was returned for Amersham at the general election of 1660, presumably as a supporter of the Restoration. Lord Wharton marked him as a friend, to be managed by Edmund Petty. An inactive Member of the Convention, he made no recorded speeches and was named to only five committees, those to fix the duty on imported corn, to consider the navigation bill, to hear the London petition about naturalization and two concerned with the drainage of the Bedford level. Re-elected in 1661, he was again silent and inactive in the Cavalier Parliament, serving on only 41 committees. Having acquired the manor of Elton by marriage, he rebuilt the Hall and took up residence. He already had family as well as territorial connexions in Huntingdonshire, his great-grandmother having been a Bernard. In Parliament he took no part in the passage of the Clarendon Code, but was appointed to consider the conventicles bill in 1670, and the bill for hindering Papists from sitting in Parliament in 1675. Sir Richard Wiseman had no hope of him as a court supporter; perhaps he was responsible for his loyal but absent-minded brother-in-law John Cotton I occasionally going astray in the divisions. Shaftesbury classed Proby as ‘worthy’, and on 23 May 1677 he helped to draw up the address for an immediate alliance against France.3
Proby seems to have fallen between two stools at the first general election of 1679; an absentee landowner in Amersham, he could not compete with Sir Roger Hill; at Huntingdonshire his connexion with the Cottons had become anything but a recommendation to his natural supporters in the country party. He was successful for the county, however, at the next general election, and doubtless supported exclusion in 1680, though his only known activity was on the committee of elections and privileges. Re-elected in 1681, he left no trace on the records of the Oxford Parliament, but he was removed from the commission of the peace in July. His restoration by the Privy Council in 1687 and his appointment to the commission of inquiry into recusancy fines suggest a sympathy for Protestant dissenters, but his answers on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws were uncompromising:
In case he be elected, he shall give his vote according to the best reasons of the debate, before a due hearing not knowing well how to judge. ... He shall do the best he can to elect such Members as shall not be pre-engaged, but such as according to their conscience and reason in a parliamentary way will be ready to do their duty.
Proby doubtless welcomed the Revolution, but did not long survive it, dying on 22 Apr. 1689. His monument records that he was ‘frequently elected to the Parliament House by the unanimous suffrage of his neighbours’. Elton was inherited by his brother John, who sat for the county from 1693.4