THOMPSON, Sir William (1614-81), of Lime Street, London and Osterley Park, Mdx.

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




Family and Education

b. 10 Apr. 1614, 4th s. of Robert Thompson of Cheshunt, Herts. by Elizabeth, da. of John Halfhead of Watton-at-Stone, Herts.; bro. of George Thompson and Robert Thompson. educ. Merchant Taylors’ 1623-4. m. 1 Jan. 1638, Elizabeth, da. and h. of Samuel Warner, Grocer, of London, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 1da. Kntd. 16 May 1660.1

Offices Held

Capt. and regt. of militia ft. London 1642, lt.-col. 1643; member, Salters’ Co. by 1653, master 1671-2; alderman, London 1653-61, commr. for scandalous ministers 1654, sheriff 1655-6; committee, E.I. Co. 1657-d., gov. 1664-6, 1668-70, 1676-8, 1680-d.; commr. for assessment, London 1657, Jan. 1660-80, Mdx. 1677-9, militia, London 1659, oyer and terminer July 1660, recusants 1675.2

Commr. for trade Nov. 1660-72; member, corp. for propagation of the gospel in New England 1661; commr. for customs 1671-5.3


Thompson was the youngest of four brothers of an obscure Hertfordshire family who made successful business careers in the City. The eldest, Maurice, was the father of Sir John Thompson, and the second, George, lost a leg in the Civil War and represented Southwark in the Rump. The whole family was strongly parliamentarian, and Thompson himself was second-in-command of the regiment that sustained the severest casualties at the first battle of Newbury. They were also prominent in the East India company, in which Thompson held £14,650 stock. Elected alderman in 1653, he sat on the important committees administering the City prisons and lands, including the Ulster plantation. He sat for London in 1659, and took a leading part in petitioning the Rump for a free Parliament. He was among those appointed by the common council on 2 Mar. 1660 to draw up a petition against the excise. As one of the City delegation to Charles II he was knighted at The Hague. He was appointed to the committee entrusted with floating a government loan of £100,000 on the security of the poll-tax in August, and became a commissioner of trade.4

Thompson was returned for London in 1661 as a Presbyterian. Listed as a friend by Lord Wharton, he was one of the few Members who refused to receive the sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England in St. Margaret’s on 26 May. On 3 July he made his excuse to the House, and was ordered to bring in a certificate that he had taken communion. On 5 Sept. 1661 he was discharged as alderman of London without fine, ostensibly for infirmity but more probably to avoid being purged as a nonconformist. After this he became a moderately active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, being appointed to 144 committees, few of which were of major political significance, acting as teller in seven divisions, and making fourteen recorded speeches. His first committee was on a bill for the relief of the poor and the punishment of vagrants in the metropolitan area (17 Jan. 1662). A month later he reported a new clause for the bill to establish a corporation of the poor for the City; but this was his only chairmanship. In 1663 he was among those instructed to recommend remedies for meetings of dissenters, and he twice acted as teller for the minority, in favour of a clause to safeguard the rights of vintners in the bill granting wine licences to the Duke of York, and against committing a bill to regulate London offices. He was named to the committee for the first conventicles bill (2 Apr. 1664), and was again on the losing side in a division on additional tax relief for London on 14 Jan. 1665. During the second Dutch war, as governor of the East India Company, he petitioned the King to provide convoys. He was nominated to the abortive public accounts commission on 11 Dec. 1666, an office later to be held by his brother George. He was active in replanning the City after the Great Fire, being named to the principal legislative committees, and helping to draft the provisos for suspending construction work along the Thames and rebuilding 39 churches. He carried the bill to the Lords on 7 Feb. 1667.5

On the fall of Clarendon, Thompson was for the first time named to the committee of elections and privileges at the opening of the session. He was also among those appointed to bring in a public accounts bill, to hear a petition from merchants trading with France, and to inquire into arrears of taxes on London offices. On 11 Mar. 1668

Sir William Thompson moved for a toleration and liberty of conscience, because those that desired it were true worshippers of God, and that a restraint would prove destructive to trade by driving many of them into foreign countries, and so take the trade with them.

His efforts to obtain exemption from the excise on wine and brandy for his constituents were countered by Thomas Lee I, who moved instead to levy the tax only on London and the ports. On 21 Mar. 1670 he opposed the second reading of the bill to prohibit foreign brandy, saying ‘every town that has brewers in it will have stillers, and what a numerous company of officers will you employ and so create a land excise’. A spokesman in the House for the Virginia merchants, he opposed a heavier duty on tobacco, since they built ‘great ships’ for its import which were useful to the King in time of war, but ‘if we lay great duty, great ships cannot bring it, and it will be stolen in by small ships into creeks, and so both ships and [the] King’s revenue [will be] destroyed by it’. He opposed the bill to build another bridge over the Thames at Putney because it would diminish the revenue that the City received from London Bridge, and also interfere with navigation. He was appointed a customs commissioner in 1671, and on 13 Feb. 1673 he was instructed, together with two of his colleagues, Sir George Downing and (Sir) William Lowther, to bring in a bill to extend the Coinage Act. He probably introduced the petition from the London colliers engaged in the Newcastle trade on 21 Jan. 1674, since he was the first Member appointed to consider it. Now at the peak of his wealth and influence, he was able to purchase part of the Osterley estate, including the great Tudor mansion.6

Danby removed Thompson and William Garway from the customs board in 1675, the loss of their services, it was later computed, costing the crown £100,000 a year. He was struck off the list of court dependants in the Commons, and Sir Richard Wiseman was unable to answer for him. But it was still hoped that the King might influence him, and in January 1677 Danby applied for his good offices in raising a loan of £30,000 from the East India Company, together with their entire stock of saltpetre. In his last speech he told the House that he had received no parliamentary wages ‘though the City is able to pay them’. He acted as teller again on 7 Apr. for easing the tax burden on London. Shaftesbury first marked him ‘doubly worthy’ but later altered this to ‘vile’, though he was teller for the Opposition on disbandment on 11 June 1678, and on the following day he was named to the committee on the bill to hinder Papists from sitting in Parliament. He was passed over at the London election of February 1679, when more extreme Members were chosen. He died in the spring of 1681. In his will, proved on 19 Apr., he left legacies to several ‘preachers of the Gospel’ in London, to Bethlehem and Bridewell hospitals, and to the East India Company Hospital at Blackwall. His only surviving son, Samuel, nominated alderman of London by James II in 1687 and knighted in the next year, inherited about £40,000 in money, and an estate which produced £1,800 p.a., but he squandered it all and died in obscurity.7

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 45; St. Stephen Walbrook (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxix), 62.
  • 2. Archaeologia, lii. 134; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 161-2.
  • 3. PC2/55/217; Bulstrode Pprs. 201.
  • 4. H. E. Waters, Gen. Gleanings in England, 65-67, 74; Guildhall RO, common council bk.
  • 5. HMC Finch, i. 120; HMC 5th Rep. 171; D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parl. Pols. 448-9; Beaven, Aldermen, i. 223; CJ, viii. 366, 503, 513, 582; CSP Dom. 1664-5, p. 21.
  • 6. Milward, 216, 224; Grey, i. 241, 248, 416; Dering, 92; VCH Mdx. iii. 109.
  • 7. HMC Lindsey, 45; Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 874; Grey, iv. 179; PCC 64 North; Le Neve’s Knights, 45.