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WIDDRINGTON, Hon. Ralph (c.1640-1718), of Blankney, Lincs. and Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumb.
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Family and Education
b. c.1640, 3rd s. of Sir William Widdrington, 1st Baron Widdrington of Blankney by Mary, da. and h. of Sir Anthony Thorold of Blankney. educ. Blankney g.s. (Mr Hatton); Christ’s, Camb. adm. 28 Apr. 1657, aged 17; G. Inn 1659. m. (1) by 1698, Mary, s.p.; (2) c.1703, Anne, da. of John Thimelby of Snydale, Yorks., wid. of John Fanning of Leics., s.p..1
Ensign, regt. of Lord Ogle (Henry Cavendish) 1667, capt. 1673-4; capt. of ft. Portsmouth garrison 1671-3, (Dutch army) 1676, Berwick 1676-87; lt.-gov. of Berwick 1678-87.2
J.p. Northumb. 1677-89, co. Dur. 1687-9; asst. R. Fishery Co. 1677; dep. lt. Northumb. 1680-9, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Feb. 1688-9; col. of militia, Northumb. by 1684-9; conservator, Bedford level 1684-6; common councilman, Berwick 1685-Oct. 1688; capt. of militia ft. Newcastle, Feb.-Oct. 1688, alderman Aug-Oct. 1688, freeman Oct. 1688-9.3
Servant to the Duke of York by 1679.4
Widdrington’s ancestors were already holding the Northumbrian township from which they took their name in 1166. One of them represented the county in 1348, as did Widdrington’s father in both the Short and Long Parliaments. An enemy of the Scottish rebels, he fought for the King in both wars, receiving a peerage in 1643, and died of wounds after a skirmish at Wigan in 1651. The second lord, a Roman Catholic convert, was governor of Berwick from the Restoration till his death in 1675. Another brother became a Jesuit in 1665, and Widdrington was ‘a favourer of Papists, and strongly suspected to be a Papist himself’. He adopted a military career, serving in the regiment of his cousin, Lord Ogle, in the Dutch wars. In 1677 he canvassed Berwick on behalf of the lord treasurer’s son, Peregrine Osborne, to whom he was related through the Berties. He was rewarded with a pension of £200 p.a. and the command of the Berwick garrison as deputy to Ogle, now Duke of Newcastle. He stood for Northumberland against Sir Ralph Delaval at the first general election of 1679, being recommended to Sir John Fenwick by the King. But Fenwick ‘thought him not qualified ... because he was reputed a Papist and was then a servant to the Duke of York’, and joined interests with Delaval. A reported alliance with Ralph Grey of the country party came to nothing, and he was unsuccessful. After the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament he complained to the Privy Council about the failure of the Berwick corporation to prevent the flouting of the Conventicles Act in the borough, and carried up the loyal address from the county. In the bitter dispute over the appointment of a ‘country keeper’ to prevent rapine on the borders he headed the minority faction opposed to Fenwick. But in 1682 he quarrelled with Newcastle, who wrote: ‘I am very angry with Ralph Widdrington. ... He has had much money from me, but I find little gratitude from him.’5
Widdrington defeated one of the official court candidates at Berwick in 1685, but he probably never took his seat in Parliament. On 10 May he was ordered to set out for Berwick on the following day, ‘his Majesty having received an account of some ill designs on foot’. He was nominated to the Berwick corporation under the new charter in the following year, but replaced in command of the garrison by an avowed Roman Catholic in 1687, though Sunderland assured him that:
The King ... has not made this change out of the least dissatisfaction to you, but rather to give you ease, intending you a consideration equal to the advantages you had by that command.
He was granted a pension of £300 p.a. To Newcastle’s questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws, he replied:
I hope your grace will give me credit to his Majesty that I have ever been faithful to the crown to the height of my power and skill, and also that none will believe that any alteration or change in me can make me less zealous than I have been. Therefore I think the taking away the Test and Penal Laws incumbent upon all his Majesty’s subjects as a duty to God and the King, so that my utmost endeavours shall not be wanting in obedience to his Majesty’s commands and to continue [in] your grace’s good opinion.
His application to the leader of the Newcastle dissenters for assistance in defending Tynemouth during the Revolution met with no response, and he fled overseas. He returned in 1693, saying, according to Robert Harley II, that ‘King James minds little but hunting, and loves not to talk of England’. He and his first wife were among the former Jacobites who obtained permission to remain in England in 1698. A Catholic non-juror in 1715, he was living in the London suburbs, with property consisting of a Leicestershire rectory valued at £210 p.a. and an annuity of £100 p.a. under the will of his nephew, the third lord. He died on 22 June 1718, and was buried at Blankney. The fourth lord had been attainted after the ’Fifteen, and no later member of the family entered Parliament.6
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. F. J. A. Skeet, Hist. Fams. Skeet, 93; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 61.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1667, p. 180; 1671, p. 1; 1672-3, p. 549; 1675-6, p. 487; 1678, p. 125; 1686-7, p. 425; HMC Dartmouth, i. 75; J. Childs, Army of Charles II, 243.
- 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. vi. 2; S. Wells, Drainage of the Bedford Level, i. 463-4; CSP Dom. 1683-4, p. 243; 1685, p. 67; 1686-7, p. 231; R. Welford, Men of Mark ’Twixt Tyne and Tweed, i. 664; Reg. of Freemen (Newcastle Recs. iii), 110.
- 4. Add. 47608, f. 174.
- 5. Hodgson, Northumb. pt. 2, ii. 230; Keeler, Long Parl. 394; Skeet, 103; Add. 47608, f. 174; HMC Lords, i. 187; Spencer mss, Reresby to Halifax, 20 Aug. 1681; Eg. 3330, f. 63; Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 491; CSP Dom. Jan.-June 1683, pp. 72, 97; Slo. 2724, f. 131.
- 6. HMC Dartmouth, i. 124; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 148; 1686-7, pp. 231, 425; 1698, p. 61; Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 1752; Welford, i. 192; HMC Portland, iii. 187; Estcourt and Payne, Catholic Non-Jurors, 159, 165; Skeet, 99.