SEDLEY, Sir Charles, 5th Bt. (1639-1701), of Southfleet, Kent and Bloomsbury Square, Mdx.
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Family and Education
bap. 30 Mar. 1639, 5th (posth.) s. of Sir John Sedley, 2nd Bt. (d.1638), of Aylesford by Elizabeth, da. and h. of Sir Henry Savile†, provost of Eton 1596-1622. educ. Wadham, Oxf. 1656. m. 9 Feb. 1657, Lady Catherine Savage (d. 1 July 1707), da. of John Savage†, 2nd Earl Rivers, 1da.; illegit. s. by Ann Ayscough d.v.p. suc. bro. c. Apr. 1651.
Commr. for militia, Kent and Leics. Mar. 1660, assessment Aug. 1660, Sewers, N. Kent Sept. 1660, Wittersham marshes, Dec. 1660; capt. of vol. horse Kent Oct. 1660, dep. lt. by 1668-July 1688, 1689-?94; asst. Rochester Bridge 1675-d., warden 1676, 1683, 1690, 1697; j.p. Kent 1689-d.1
Member, R. Adventurers into Africa Dec. 1660, asst. 1666.
Sedley’s ancestors had been small landholders in Kent in the fourteenth century. The family’s rise to prominence in the county, however, was begun by an auditor of the Exchequer under Henry VIII, who married a City heiress and acquired much property. Sedley and his brothers were too young to take part in the Civil War; but their mother’s royalist sympathies were well known, the family was harassed by the committee for the advance of money, and Sedley himself was regarded with suspicion by the republican regime, especially after his marriage to a Roman Catholic. After the Restoration he became prominent at Court as wit, dramatist and libertine. He was one of the grand jury which found a true bill against the regicides. In June 1663 he engaged with Lord Buckhurst (Charles Sackville) and others in the drunken and licentious frolic on the balcony of the Cock tavern which shocked Samuel Pepys and other contemporaries. Sedley was gaoled for a week and fined 2,000 marks, of which he paid only half, due it is said, to the kindness of the King.2
Sedley first stood for New Romney in 1665, but, as he explained to the mayor, he was one day too late to secure the nomination of the Duke of York in his capacity as lord warden. Nevertheless he was defeated by Henry Brouncker only on the mayor’s casting vote. On Brouncker’s expulsion from the House, the lord warden is said to have nominated the Marquis de Blanquefort, but Sedley won the seat, and became the first of the family to enter Parliament. As one of the Members to be engaged by the Duke of Buckingham, he was named on both lists of the court party in 1669-71. In December 1669 he acted as teller for the impeachment of Lord Orrery (Roger Boyle). In 1670 he went to France with Buckingham, who had been sent over to conclude the ‘traité simulé’. He placed his wife, who had gone mad, in a Flemish convent under Abbess Mary Knatchbull, a distant cousin of Sedley’s neighbours in Kent, and in April 1672 went through a form of marriage with the daughter of a certain Henry Ayscough of Yorkshire. This irregular union seems to have contributed to the reformation of his morals which occurred about this time, and may also have brought about a shift away from the Court and a change in his religious attitude,’ which later led him to write a poem in defence of the Church of England. At first he only ‘promised the King to be absent’, and he still appeared as a court supporter on the Paston list of 1673-4. But he was marked as ‘doubly worthy’ by Shaftesbury, and on 29 Feb. 1677 was a teller for the Opposition on supply. In October 1678 his translation of one of Coleman’s letters was read to the Lords. It is probable then that unless the Duke of York seduced Sedley’s daughter Catherine before 1678 (the earliest date usually given), paternal ire had nothing to do with his change of sides. In any event Sedley was an inactive Member, being named to only six committees in the Cavalier Parliament.3
Sedley was returned as an avowed opponent of the Court to the Exclusion Parliaments, but was named to no committees. Shaftesbury listed him as ‘worthy’, but he was absent from the division on the first exclusion bill. Grey recorded one speech on 27 Nov. 1680 in which Sedley opposed the address to the King in reply to the royal message on Tangier. He developed a rather cynical attitude towards party politics, perhaps the result of his daughter’s seduction. In August 1682 he wrote to the 2nd Earl of Chesterfield asking for a warrant for a buck:
Though the town is so empty ... I shall have much ado to find company for a party, besides the distinction of Whig and Tory cloth much add to the present desolation. They are in my opinion (at least the violent part on both sides) much of the same stuff at bottom, since they are so easily converted one into another: I mean self-interest.4
In 1685 Sedley declined to stand. He pleaded illness as an excuse, but his letter to the mayor of New Romney indicates that he knew he would not be elected in any event. James finally severed his relations with Catherine Sedley, whom he had created Countess of Dorchester, in 1686, but this connexion with the fallen monarch may help to explain Sedley’s defeat at New Romney in 1689. He lent the new Government more than £4,000, but a high Tory tract, published anonymously in the same year, was included in the posthumous edition of Sedley’s works. He regained his seat in 1690, and generally voted with the Court, though suspected of Jacobite sympathies. In 1696 his income was estimated at £3,000. He died on 20 Aug. 1701 ‘like a philosopher, without fear or superstition’. His reputation as a debauchee, while deserved, is based on his early years, and neglects the latter part of ‘a life which was far from wholly bad or useless’. His natural son had predeceased him, and his estates went to his grandson, created a baronet by Queen Anne.5
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Basil Duke Henning
This biography is based on V. de Sola Pinto, Sir Charles Sedley.
- 1. Stowe 744, f. 51; C181/7/46; Twysden Ltcy. Pprs. (Kent Recs. x), 57, 64; HMC Finch, i. 50; information from Mr. P. F. Cooper, Bridge Clerk, Rochester Bridge Trust.
- 2. Pinto, 311; State Trials, v. 987.
- 3. Kent AO, NR/JBf, no. 26; Add. 36916, f. 96; Harl. 7020, f. 47v.
- 4. Letters of 2nd Earl of Chesterfield, 229-31.
- 5. Kent AO, NR/JBf, no. 115; Lutrell, ii. 158; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 793; Pinto, 240.