WILLIAMS, Sir Thomas, 1st Bt. (c.1621-1712), of Elham, Kent.
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Family and Education
b. c.1621, 2nd s. of Thomas Williams of Llangasty Talyllyn, Brec. by Mary, da. of John Parry of Poston, Vowchurch, Herefs. m. (1) bef. 1653, Anne (d. Feb. 1664) da. of John Hogbeane of Elham, 3s. 1da. other ch.; (2) lic. 21 Dec. 1666, aged 45, Grace, da. of Thomas Lewis of The Moor, Herefs. wid. of one Carwardine of Madeley, Herefs., 2s. 1da. cr. Bt. 12 Nov. 1674.1
Saymaster of tin 1668; chemical physician to the King 1669-89; jt. registrar of bankrupts 1669; member, Society of Mines Royal 1683, asst. 1687; asst. Society of Mineral and Battery Works Dec. 1688-93, dep. gov. 1693-1701.2
Receiver-gen. Herefs., Salop., Staffs. and Worcs. 1670-89; steward of Kingsland manor, Herefs. 1671-?95; commr. for assessment Herefs. and Brec. 1673-80, Rad. 1677-9, Brecon 1689-90; j.p. Herefs. and Brec. 1674-80, Brec. Apr. 1688-9; custos rot. Brec. 1677-9.3
Williams was the younger son of a Breconshire family which acquired Talyllyn by marriage in 1622. No details of his education are known, but just before the Restoration he was practising as a doctor in Kent and was admitted a licentiate of the College of Physicians. He acted as informer against the local Cavaliers in 1659. He owed his place at Court to Charles II’s hobby of chemistry, and to ‘the extraordinary learning and skill which he shows in compounding and inventing medicines, some of which have been prepared in the royal presence’. In 1669 Cambridge awarded him an honorary MD, and the post of chemical physician was created for him; the salary was a nominal £20 p.a., but from midsummer 1674 he was drawing £1,000 a year from the hard-pressed Treasury for laboratory equipment. He was already connected with Herefordshire through his mother and second wife, and he bought the crown lease of Kingsland from (Sir) Robert Harley I about 1669. He was made steward of the manor and receiver-general for the county, though he had difficulty in finding securities for the latter office. On the erroneous report of the death of Ranaid Grahme in 1670, he prepared to contest Leominster. He may have relied on the interest of another amateur chemist, the Duke of Buckingham, but Thomas Harley advised him to obtain letters of support from the Court. On 13 Jan. 1674 William Stockdale told the House that Buckingham in Williams’s presence had called the King an arrant knave, unfit to govern. Williams promptly wrote to the Speaker to deny that he had passed this on to Stockdale, though Robert Phelips and Silius Titus also claimed to have heard it from him.4
At the end of the year a vacancy occurred at Weobley, and Williams, now a baronet, set out to ingratiate himself with all parties, hoping that ‘the population would choose him voluntarily ... at no charge’, for, as he complained, he was ‘five years’ salary behind and cannot get one farthing. His soothing bedside manner had imposed on Sir Robert Harley, who had described him as ‘most concernedly my friend’, but his widow was less credulous: ‘Sir Thomas Williams still gives us fair words and large promises, but I believe all will come to nothing’. He now attempted the same technique for electoral purposes. On 5 Jan. 1675 he told (Sir) Edward Harley: ‘His Majesty desires I would stand’. Court pressure was indeed used to persuade John Booth to withdraw in his favour, but on 25 Feb. Williams wrote again to Harley, the local leader of the country party: ‘If you will be pleased to encourage Mr [William] Gregory to assist me with his interest ... I mean to be guided by you in the way that I desire to be serviceable to my country’. At the poll he defeated Gregory by 13 votes, and took his seat in the House, Gregory’s petition being delayed by the death of the sheriff, who had been ‘very much Sir Thomas Williams his friend’. A moderately active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was named to sixteen committees, none of which was of much political importance. Sir Richard Wiseman considered him generally a reliable vote for the Court, ‘unless the doubtfulness of his election makes him sometimes leave the question, which ought not to be’. On the other hand, the country party were determined to oust him, and Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’. In A Seasonable Argument, he was described as ‘a poor quack chemist, now the King’s chemist, has got at least £40,000 by making provocatives for lechery; and yet at this time all his land is under extent, and his protection only keeps him out of prison’. The annulling of the election must have been a severe blow. He was defeated by Gregory in the next election, and the House rejected his petition without even an entry in the Journals. He was blacklisted in the ‘unanimous club’, and did not stand again, though his laboratory played an uncomfortably prominent role in the opening stages of the Popish Plot. One of his assistants was responsible for introducing the informer Tongue into the King’s presence, and Williams’s garrulity got him into serious trouble when he was proved by three witnesses to have carried false messages between Oates and the Duke of York. ‘It was plain’, commented Sir Robert Southwell, ‘he had been blowing other coals than what concerned him in the profession of a chemist.’ He was committed to the Gatehouse, but not for long, for on 20 Feb. 1679 the Marquess of Worcester (Henry Somerset) wrote: ‘I have been extremely importuned by Sir Thomas Williams to recommend him for Breconshire, but with much ado have at last convinced him it is too late.’5
Williams was removed from the commissions of the peace in 1680, though he retained his place at Court. Under James II he seems to have declared himself a Roman Catholic. At the Revolution he lost all his offices, and could obtain protection from his creditors only by describing himself as the menial servant of the Earl of Suffolk. He died, a nonagenarian at least, on 12 Sept. 1712, and was succeeded by his son Sir John Williams, who sat for Herefordshire from 1701 to 1705.6
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Edward Rowlands
- 1. The Gen. n.s. xiv. 150-1; DWB, 1024.
- 2. BL Loan 16; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 75, 516, 911; ix. 232; x. 1102; CSP Dom. 1668-9, pp. 245, 315; 1685, p. 341.
- 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 311; v. 56.
- 4. Stowe 185, f. 167; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 938; BL Loan 29/79, Thomas to Sir Edward Harley, 12 Jan. 1671.
- 5. BL Loan 29/49, Williams to Harley, 5 Jan., 25 Feb. 1675; 29/182, f. 178, Stephens to Harley, 3 Feb. 1675, f. 181, Edith Lady Harley to Sir Edward Harley, 6 Mar. 1675, f. 279, Sir Edward to Lady Harley, 26 Mar. 1678; CSP Dom. 1675-6, p. 461; CJ, ix. 444; Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 20, f. 225; Luttrell, i. 23; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 546; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 1, p. 211; Beaufort mss. Lord Worcester to Lady Worcester, 20 Feb. 1679.
- 6. PC2/71/291; HMC Lords, ii. 12.