WHARTON, Hon. Thomas (1648-1715), of Upper Winchendon, Bucks. and Danvers House, Chelsea, Mdx.
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Family and Education
bap. 23 Oct. 1648, 3rd but 1st surv. s. of Philip, 4th Baron Wharton; bro. of Goodwin Wharton and Henry Wharton. educ. privately (Theophilus Gale); Protestant academy, Caen 1663-4; travelled abroad (France, Italy, German States, Netherlands) 1664-6. m. (1) 16 Sept. 1673, Anne (d. 29 Oct. 1685), da. and coh. of Sir Henry Lee, 3rd Bt., of Quarrendon, Bucks. and Ditchley, Oxon., s.p.; (2) July 1692, Lucy, da. and h. of Adam, 1st Visct. Lisburne [I], 1s. 2da. suc. fa. as 5th Baron Wharton 4 Feb. 1696; cr. Earl of Wharton 23 Dec. 1706, Mq. of Wharton 15 Feb. 1715, Mq. of Catherlough [I] 12 Apr. 1715.1
Commr. for recusants, Bucks. 1675; j.p. Bucks. 1676-80, Bucks. and Mdx. 1689- d., Oxon. 1697-?1702; commr. for assessment, Bucks. 1679-80, 1689-90; custos. rot. Bucks. 1689-1702, Oxon. 1697-1702, 1714-d., Westmld. 1700-2, 1706-14; dep. lt. Bucks. 1689-97; ld. lt. Oxon. 1697-1702, Bucks. Jan.-June 1702; high steward, Malmesbury 1690-2, 1693-7, 1705-7, 1708-14, Chipping Wycombe 1694-d., Tewkesbury 1710- d.; ranger, Woodstock park 1690-?1705; freeman, Wycombe 1691, Woodstock 1697; mayor, Appleby 1708-9.2
PC 19 Feb. 1689-d.; comptroller of the Household 1689-1702; commr. for reform of abuses in army 1689; asst. Mines Co. 1693; c.j. in eyre (south) 1697-1702, 1706-10; commr. for union with Scotland 1706; ld. lt. [I] 1708-10; ld. privy seal 1714-d.3
Col. of dgns. [I] Apr.-Oct. 1710.
Wharton’s father came from a northern marcher family, which had served in Parliament for Westmorland since 1414, and acquired by marriage the extensive Buckinghamshire estates and interest of the Goodwins. A parliamentary supporter during the Civil War, he acquired an unfortunate reputation for cowardice at Edgehill. He disapproved of the Protectorate, and signed the Buckinghamshire petition for a free Parliament presented to George Monck in 1660. Wharton’s childhood was passed, in the words of Macaulay, ‘amidst Geneva bands, heads of lank hair, upturned eyes, nasal psalmody, and sermons three hours long’. ‘An atheist grafted upon a dissenter’, and regarded by contemporaries as fearless of God and man, Wharton stood in the greatest awe of his father, and his childhood trained him in the powers of dissimulation for which ‘Honest Tom’ the politician was renowned.4
When the Wendover by-election was declared void on 6 Feb. 1673, Wharton came forward on the Hampden interest against Edward Backwell, who enjoyed the support of the Court and the Church. He was narrowly defeated on the poll, but awarded the seat on petition. No sooner had he taken his seat than he suffered the double humiliation of being ‘robbed by persons like soldiers’ and insulted by John Arundell, his rival for a rich heiress with £10,000 in cash and an estate of £2,000 p.a. Even the pious wife of the Hon. William Russell hinted that he had displayed an excess of Christian forbearance on the latter occasion, and they had to fight. Arundell was the victor with his ‘Cornish dexterity’, but, satisfied that Wharton in one important respect was no chip off the old block, he ‘gave him both his life and his mistress too, since he had the courage to fight for her’. The marriage brought him a house in Chelsea and a strong interest at Malmesbury, but ‘did not contribute much to his happiness, for ... her person was not so agreeable to him as was necessary to secure his constancy’. Freed of parental control, though still a model of filial respect, Wharton became one of the greatest rakes in England. He improved his swordsmanship so that he was never again worsted in a duel, always disarming his opponents without serious injury. He boasted that he never gave and never refused a challenge. He was equally fearless on horseback, and his triumphs on the racecourse were frequently spiced by the costly defeat of political rivals. In the Cavalier Parliament he was probably inactive, though the Journals do not distinguish him from Michael Warton. Sir Richard Wiseman included him in 1676 among the Buckinghamshire Members of whom there was ‘little cause to hope well’, and Shaftesbury, whom he visited at Wimborne St. Giles during the long recess, classed him as ‘worthy’. His host and his father were both sent to the Tower in 1677 for asserting that Parliament had been automatically dissolved, and Wharton initiated a debate by inviting the Commons to assert his right to visit them. But after a call of the House on 11 Dec. 1678 he was sent for in custody as a defaulter.5
A county Member in the Exclusion Parliaments, Wharton was still regarded by Shaftesbury as ‘worthy’. He was again appointed to the elections committees, and voted for the bill in 1679, though only a few days earlier he had been ‘much battered’ and ‘taken up for dead’ after falling in a race on Banstead Downs. He served on the Middlesex grand jury that presented the Duke of York as a Popish recusant in 1680, and it was probably he who alleged that some of the witnesses heard by the committee of inquiry into the conduct of Sir George Jeffreys as recorder of London were ‘the very men that tore the petition for the sitting of the Parliament’. He probably also served on the committees for the bill to regulate the trial of peers, and for the third exclusion bill in the Oxford Parliament. He had abandoned dissent, he was wont to say, at a much earlier stage of his career than Robert Harley II, but a ‘grievous prank’ perpetrated while on a visit to a Gloucestershire friend, Reginald Bray, in the summer of 1682 does not suggest any great reverence for the church to which he had conformed. In a state of intoxication he and his brother Henry forced the doors of the parish church of Great Barrington in the middle of the night, rang the bells, tore up the Bible, and ‘pissed against a communion table’. The rector was willing to hush the sacrilege up, but it came to the knowledge of the newly appointed diocesan, Bishop Frampton, who admonished them severely and fined them £1,000.6
It was reported after the Rye House Plot that some of the conspirators were in hiding at Winchendon, and Samuel Starkey seized ‘a great quantity of concealed arms’ there. But Wharton was not personally compromised, and stood successfully for re-election in 1685 at a cost of £3,000, though Jeffreys campaigned in person for his defeat. Listed by Danby among the Opposition in James II’s Parliament, he was probably appointed as usual only to the elections committee, to which his opponent’s petition was referred on 23 May. Although Monmouth had been one of his racing cronies, he regarded the invasion project as ‘chimerical’, and was not molested by the Government. He resumed his seat in the second session, and, when the House was ready to rise on 18 Nov. moved for consideration of the King’s reply on the employment of Roman Catholic officers; but he was more careful in his language than his seconder, John Coke II, who was sent to the Tower, and on the following day his return for Buckinghamshire was confirmed. Although a civilian, he attended the ‘Treason Club’ of discontented officers that met at the Rose tavern in Covent Garden under the presidency of ‘his most intimate friend and companion’, Lord Colchester (Richard Savage). His chief contribution to the Revolution was Lillibulero, a satirical comment on Tyrconnel’s rule in Ireland, with which, he claimed, he sang and whistled King James out of three kingdoms. He joined William of Orange at Exeter, with about 20 followers.7
At the general election of 1689 the Wharton interest carried both seats at Malmesbury and one at Wycombe. Wharton’s brother Henry represented their ancestral county of Westmorland in the Convention, and he was himself re-elected for Buckinghamshire. A moderately active Member, he was named to 12 committees and delivered as many recorded speeches. On 20 Jan. he moved ‘to supply the vacancy of the throne’ by naming William and Mary as joint sovereigns, so as to ‘adhere to the constitution as near as possible’, and was among those ordered to draw up a list of the essentials for securing religion, law and liberty. The vote of thanks to the clergy led Wharton to remind the House of those army officers who had ‘behaved themselves so bravely in opposition to Popery and slavery. Comparisons are odious; but I think it more extraordinary in men of their education.’ ‘I own driving King James out, and I would do it again’, he declared forthrightly, and he was sent to the Lords to ask for a conference on the new oaths of allegiance and supremacy. His services were rewarded with a Household post worth £1,042 p.a., but he regarded the royal message agreeing to the abolition of the hearth-tax which he brought to the House on 1 Mar. as ‘the greatest honour the King can do me’. He was named on the same day to the committees to draft an address of thanks and to consider the suspension of habeas corpus. With three other Members and two peers he was sent to Windsor a fortnight later to ask the King to suppress the Ipswich mutiny. William appointed him one of the commissioners for regulating the army, and this employment took him into the north for the next few months, though he was kept informed of proceedings in the Commons by William Jephson. Wharton’s colleagues complained of his reluctance to travel on Sundays ‘for fear of giving offence, as he said, to his father’s godly tenants’, and his activities seem to have done little to improve the efficiency of the army. He removed from the Carlisle garrison some officers ‘suspected as no friends of the Revolution’, though their real offence was probably their dependence on Sir Christopher Musgrave. When Musgrave’s son died Wharton was able to increase his following in the Commons by procuring the election of William Cheyne for Appleby at the cost of £2,200. He had returned to Westminster by 16 July when he told the House that the King had consented to open the Privy Council records relating to Ireland to their inspection. In the second session he was among those ordered to examine the state of the revenue, and he concluded the debate on the allowance to Princess Anne and her husband by saying: ‘I have no orders to propose it, but as from myself I move that they may have the addition of £20,000 p.a.’. Although his office gave him constant access to the Court, it rather reduced than increased his interest there, for William disliked his freedom of manner and his partisan approach to politics. In a memorandum dated 25 Dec. Wharton wrote:
If you intend to govern like an honest man, what occasion can you have for knaves to serve you? They struggled for everything that could be devised against you before they would agree to make you King alone; and it is remarkable they never yielded one point until your friends did as well by threats as arguments oblige them to comply. ... If the Parliament had not seen these men employed, I dare affirm they would have settled upon your Majesty and the Queen the revenue for life. ... Now they see so much treachery, and the miscarriages grown to such a bulk, that they can no longer bear them. ... We hope it will not be in the power of any to fix thoughts in your Majesty in prejudice of your Parliament; ... your circumstances are such, by reason of enemies at home and your wars abroad, that you will always want to be supported by Parliament. ... The proposal of settling a revenue by Act of Parliament upon the Princess Anne of Denmark was fortunate for your Majesty, for thereby you saw the number of your friends; and that if you take right measures you may carry anything in this House of Commons. ... This was laboured by the Tories and High Churchmen, and carried for you by the honest old Whig interest.
A member of the committees on the bills for restoring corporations, and the general oath of allegiance, Wharton was listed as a supporter of the disabling clause.8
Wharton continued to represent his county as a court Whig until he succeeded to the peerage, and an estate of £8,000 p.a. One of the lords of the Whig Junto, he played a central role in British politics until the Hanoverian succession, when he was made a marquess. He died on 12 Apr. 1715 and was buried at Winchendon. His heir, the last of the family, was a minor who, on coming of age, rapidly dissipated the estate.