YONGE, Walter (c.1626-70), of Colyton, Devon.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. c.1626, 1st s. of Sir John Yonge, 1st Bt. educ. Leyden 1644; I. Temple 1645. m. 30 Mar. 1649, Isabella, da. of Sir John Davie, 1st Bt.†, of Sandford, Devon, 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 9da. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. Aug. 1663.1
Commr. for militia, Devon 1659, Mar. 1660, col. of militia ft. Apr. 1660; freeman, Lyme Regis Apr. 1660; dep. lt. Devon c. Aug. 1660-d., commr. for assessment Aug. 1660-9, corporations 1662-3, j.p. ?1667-70; commr. for inquiry into Newfoundland govt. 1667.2
Yonge first entered Parliament when Richard Cromwell restored the representation of Honiton in 1659. Nevertheless he was appointed a commissioner of militia by the Rump and colonel of militia after the return of the secluded Members. He was probably returned for Lyme Regis in 1660 on the interest of Henry Henley. He was marked as a friend by Lord Wharton, and became an active Member of the Opposition in the Convention. He was named to 49 committees and made 18 recorded speeches. As one of the committee for the indemnity bill, he was confident that the withdrawal of political rights from decimators, major-generals and abjurors would be contrary to the King’s wishes, although he was himself comprised in none of these classes. He also spoke against exacting the repayment of salaries from Protectorate officials or their heirs, a proposal which was aimed specifically at his neighbour Edmund Prideaux. The disagreement between the two Houses over the indemnity bill seemed to him ‘a miserable thing’, but he was not prepared to extend the severest penalties beyond a few principal offenders. In the great debate on religion (16 July) he spoke in favour of discussing doctrine and discipline separately. He proclaimed himself in favour of episcopacy, but did not consider it an article of faith, and, after receiving the case for modification ‘with considerations’ from Wharton, urged that statutory effect should be given to the Worcester House declaration:
The ceremonies of the church [are] not of that great weight to embroil us again in a new war; but some indulgence ought to be given to such as had ventured their lives for the good of all. He could not hope for any benefit to be had by a synod because the spirits of the clergy by their late sufferings would be much higher in resentment than the minds of the House.
He was also named to the committee for settling the revenue, but he was more prominently concerned in the measure which had to be taken in the second session to correct the defects in the supply legislation of the first. A somewhat lukewarm attitude to the Restoration is suggested by his conviction that money would be less tight in the City if the corporation were to spend less on coronation festivities. On the other hand, he could be eloquent in opposition to a proposal to tax home-produced cider and perry, for which the West Country was already famous. ‘Devon was the first county that declared for a free Parliament, and this imposition would be a sad requital.’ Some Members found the logic of this speech hard to follow, but the House supported Yonge and the cider-makers, voting that excise should be levied only on retailers.3
Yonge was not negligent of his constituents’ interests. He served on the committee for the encouragement of fisheries, which recommended that restrictions on the use of drift-nets should be extended to the coasts of Devon and Dorset. More surprising, at first sight, is the moving by such a half-hearted Royalist for a grant to Francis Wyndham for his services to the King after the battle of Worcester. No doubt he was paving the way for similar claims which could be advanced by humbler folk in the Lyme neighbourhood.4
In 1661 Henley required the Lyme Regis seat for himself, and Yonge was defeated at Honiton. But he remained a deputy lieutenant, and there is no record of his helping dissenting congregations or clergy after 1662; indeed his opinion of clergy of all sorts was low, and he was probably an old-fashioned Erastian rather than one of the ‘arrant Presbyterians’ of whose presence on the Devon bench the Bishop of Exeter complained. His conformity with the Establishment must have been guaranteed, probably by (Sir) William Morice I, before he was added to the commissioners of corporations by order of the House. It was by Morice that he was highly recommended to the electors of Dartmouth in 1667, in opposition to Joseph Williamson. Williamson’s correspondents almost fell over themselves in the eulogies they lavished on Yonge:
The truth is, Sir W.Y. hath that character that next to yourself I could wish he were chosen. I am plain with you, and desire your pardon and direction.
‘A very sober gentleman’, wrote another more tactfully, ‘but alas he cannot do the town a pennyworth of service out of Parliament.’ But in spite of the natural desire of the Dartmouth shipowners to elect a Member who could secure them convoys and protections in time of war, Yonge, ‘pressed on by most of the eastern deputy lieutenants of the county’, and enjoying ‘the influence of the neighbouring gentry, of several in London and some at Court’, as well as of ‘the fanatic party’, won an overwhelming victory.5
Yonge resumed his parliamentary career with a sustained, but discriminating, attack on the handling of the second Dutch war. He was appointed to the committee to reduce into heads the accusations against Clarendon. If they were true, he said, then exile was an inadequate punishment. The culprits really responsible for the mismanagement of the war, unlike Clarendon, still enjoyed the King’s favour. A vote of censure on them, he proclaimed, with another of his characteristic flights of logic, would encourage the taxpayer; and he seems to have been extremely annoyed when John Birch demonstrated that the Government had actually used more than the stipulated percentage of customs revenue on defence. ‘Black Birch’ was obviously one of his b’tes noires; Yonge was as dubious of his theology as of his accountancy. Another branch of the revenue in which Yonge found abuses was the hearth-tax, brain-child of his rival for the control of Honiton, Sir Courtenay Pole. At one point Yonge and Pole were given joint responsibility for investigating a complaint against a sub-collector; it does not appear that the Treasury was ever troubled with their report. Nor did the customs service (in which his supplanter at Lyme, Sir John Shaw, held such a lucrative post) escape his scrutiny. As chairman of the committee on customs fees, he produced a report, which was adopted with two minor modifications, recommending that no increase should be permitted above the rates current under James I. Outside Parliament, he was one of the arbitrators between the customer and merchants of Lyme in 1669.6
Yonge was again active on the religious issue. On 4 Mar. 1669 he moved for the rejection of an address calling for more severe treatment of nonconformists. He still hoped for a comprehensive settlement, though he feared there was ‘no good to be had by conference on the Convocation’, the clergy on either side being so irreconcilable. On this occasion the Anglican John Milward commented: ‘Sir Walter Yonge spoke much for an indulgence, but very impertinently and little to the purpose’. It does indeed seem that Yonge’s speeches were not distinguished by brevity or logic. On the other hand he deserves credit for seizing on some of the worst features of the persecution of dissenters. He was a member of all the committees concerned with restraints on jurors, such as had occurred when they were unwilling to return a verdict against conventiclers, and he was entrusted with drawing up a resolution on this subject. He pointed out that while Popish recusants, to whom he was certainly no friend, were subject only to the normal processes of the law, the second conventicles bill placed dissenters at the mercy of a justice of the peace, without trial by jury, and he was removed from the bench when the bill became law a few months before his death on 21 Nov. 1670. He was buried at Colyton. He had been a very active Member in four sessions of the Cavalier Parliament, with 80 committees and 11 recorded speeches. His death at a comparatively early age, was a loss to the country party; but from the family viewpoint he had played his full part in their steady ascent to the centre of political power.7