I. The Composition of the House

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

The number of men elected to the House of Commons in the period covered by these volumes was 2,040. This includes ten who died or were raised to the peerage before taking their seats. Technically, however, they must be counted as Members since new writs had to be issued for by-elections. They have been included in the general tables, but eliminated from those involving political analyses. Only one Member—John Tufton—has defied identification, and he too has been excluded from the political tables.

 

AGE OF MEMBERS

Exact dates of birth or baptism have been obtained for most of the Members, but for others an approximate date of birth, correct to within one or two years, has been derived from such sources as university registers or age at date of death. The table shows the ages of Members at the first election to each Parliament, and in the long Cavalier Parliament the ages at the general election, at subsequent by-elections, and at its dissolution in December 1678.

  1660

1661

General

election

By-

elections

Cavalier

Parls.

1678

end

Cavalier

Parl.

1679

(Mar.)

1679

(Oct.)

1681 1685 1689
 Total548522345511522541502526556
  %%%%%%%%%
Under 21 *23111121
21-30 19163191817181715
31-40 283125172423242527
41-50 292620242525272425
51-60 161615272020212018
61-70 46315898910
Over 70 210522122
Age not known 233323232
Average age 414138484243434343

 

It will be seen that in 1660, 1661 and 1689 the majority of Members were between the ages of 31 and 50, 57% for the first two Parliaments and 52% for the last. In the other four Parliaments slightly less than half were in this age group. The number of Members aged between 21 and 30 returned at by-elections to the Cavalier Parliament (31%) is much higher than at any general election, and as might be expected, at the end of that Parliament almost half (47%) were over 51 as opposed to less than a third in the other Parliaments. A venerable 23 Members were 71 or over; Charles II was right when he told the Members in 1661 that he would ‘keep them till they got beards’.1

To each Parliament a number of men under 21 were returned, 43 in all, of whom 24 were sons of peers. James Herbert and the Hon. Ralph Grey were each returned three times while under age, and Charles Somerset, a younger son of Henry Somerset, Lord Herbert of Raglan, was elected no less than four times before he reached his majority. But perhaps the most remarkable case is that of Christopher Monck, heir to George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle, who was returned as knight of the shire for Devon at a by-election in 1667 when he was only 13. Apparently no questions were raised at the time of his entrance into the House; he was appointed to several committees and actually made a speech when he was not yet 15, probably the youngest Member ever to speak on the floor of the House. When his father died in January 1670, however, a curious constitutional problem arose. Still under 21, he could not take his seat in the Upper House. Therefore the question was: should a new writ be issued for Devon? This problem was complicated by the fact that following the death of the first duke, Sir John Northcote and the 1st Earl of Bath had delayed the ordering of the writ in order to allow them time to canvass for their candidate. This was debated on 18 Jan. 1671. The seat was declared vacant and a new writ was ordered. Sir Edward Dering reported2 that during the course of the debate

it was said by several persons that no man under age ought to sit in our House, and I think my Lord Coke is somewhere of that opinion, but I am sure the common practice of that House has been otherwise; and none did name any precedent where anyone has been turned out for being under age.

On at least two other occasions the issue was raised. In May 1678, Sir George Hungerford protested at the presence in the House of Danby’s son Peregrine Osborne, Visct. Osborne of Dunblane, (18), and of his son-in-law, James Herbert (17), both returned in the previous year. The father of the equally youthful Charles Somerset, Lord Herbert of Raglan (18), wrote that ‘though it passed over, I am not sorry that Charles was not there to be excepted against’. In 1685 the uncle of the 15-year-old Peter Legh wrote:

This morning we met and took the oaths, after which I carried my nephew into our House, where I found several Members took notice of his youthfulness, but to keep us better in countenance, the Lord Plymouth’s son [the Hon. Thomas Windsor] appeared, whose looks did not so well qualify him as a law maker as Peter’s.

Lord Willoughby (Robert Bertie II) moved for their expulsion as minors, but again ‘it passed over’.

Having survived infancy, and coming from relatively prosperous families, it is only to be expected that the life expectancy of Members would be greater than for the population as a whole during this period.3 The two oldest Members were Sir John Holland, who lived to be 98, and Ralph Hawtrey who died just short of his century. The cause of death for the great majority is, of course, impossible to ascertain, but considering the fact that more than half lived into their sixties, it is probable that many died of what would have been called old age at the time. It is known that 23 Members died of smallpox and two of the ‘great pox’ (syphilis); if more evidence were available the figures would certainly be higher. Only one Member—Sir William Wheeler—is recorded as having died of the plague. Forty-six Members are known to have met violent deaths. Fourteen Members were killed in action (four in the battle of Sole Bay), and one, Wadham Strangways, was on duty with the West Dorset militia when Monmouth landed, and was shot down by a rebel musketeer in the town which he had formerly represented. Ten committed suicide (including Thomas Wyndham II who shot himself with a blunderbuss after having been rejected by the lady of his choice), six were killed in duels, and another four in brawls. Four Members were executed: Sir Thomas Armstrong and the Hon. William Russell, accused of complicity in the Rye House Plot, and Sir John Fenwick and John Friend after the assassination plot. The rest died in accidents of various sorts. According to contemporary rumour and family tradition Sir Richard Onslow was struck by lightning. Thomas Robinson was gored to death by his pet bull, and John Chetwynd, ‘an immoderate taker of snuff’, sneezed himself to death. Sir Robert Cann, on the other hand, having for many years drunk sherry, ‘morning, noon and night’, died after switching to small beer, for ‘nature would not long bear so great a change’.

AGE AT DEATH

 Total
 2040
 %
Under 251
25-302
31-408
41-5013
51-6019
61-7024
71-8020
81-897
90 or over1
Age not known5
Average age59

 

EDUCATION OF MEMBERS

It has been possible to obtain information concerning early education for only a small proportion of the Membership, 355 to be exact. Most boys of the upper classes were privately tutored at home or went to a local grammar school or to a school known by the name of its founder or proprietor. One hundred and twenty-eight went to schools which were later to be called public schools: Westminster (34), Eton (27), Winchester (20), Shrewsbury (18), Merchant Taylors (12), St. Paul’s (10), Charterhouse (4), and Felsted (3). Only Eton and Westminster drew their pupils from all parts of England; the other boarding schools attracted boys mainly from their immediate neighbourhood. Four Members are known to have been educated at schools kept by dissenting ministers, but if more evidence were available this number would certainly be larger. Eleven Members were educated at military academies abroad, and one Member, Sir Hugh Speke, received his education at Douai.

More evidence is available about higher education:

 Total 1660 1661

1679

(Mar.)

1679

(Oct.)

1681 1685 1689
 2040548867522541502526556
 %%%%%%%%
Oxford3026293631313333
Cambridge1822181617171717

 

Thus Oxford, the larger university, sent more men to the Commons than did Cambridge, and its representation showed an increase over the period, though the situation in the first Exclusion Parliament, when Oxford’s percentage was 36 to Cambridge’s 16, is unaccounted for. Since 14 men attended both Oxford and Cambridge, a total of 978 spent some time at one or other of the English universities. Four Oxford colleges—Christ Church, Exeter, Queen’s, and Wadham—provided almost half (49%), and four Cambridge colleges—Trinity, Christ’s, Emmanuel and St. John’s—more than half (57%) of the totals for each university. A few attended foreign universities. Two, Lord Broghill (Roger Boyle) and Sir John Temple, were educated at Trinity College Dublin, and the two Goodricke brothers were sent to Aberdeen, their father believing that its discipline was more rigorous than that of the two English universities. Sir George Downing went to Harvard College, and became the second student to receive a degree. Twenty-two Members attended the University of Leyden, of whom eight had been at Cambridge and three at Oxford. In addition, 41 had ‘matriculated’ at Padua, but this was usually a formality; young Englishmen travelling abroad who visited the city were apt to enter their names in the register of the Anglo-Scottish ‘Nation’. Only one Member, Sir William Langham, who had his medical training there as well as at Leyden, can be said with any certainty to have actually studied at Padua. The grand tour was not as popular as it was to become in the eighteenth century, but 76 Members who had been at Oxford and 68 who had been at Cambridge completed their education by travelling on the Continent. In addition 129 who had been at neither English university were known to have travelled abroad, a total of 273 (13%) of the whole Membership. This does not take into account those travelling abroad at an age when such travel could not be regarded as educational. Only 80 (13%) students at Oxford and 61 (16%) at Cambridge went on to take their degrees. But 35 second degrees were granted by Oxford and 21 by Cambridge, and the two universities produced about 80 Members who could be called learned men, of whom Isaac Newton and Sir Christopher Wren were the most prominent. Twenty-five were Fellows of colleges (six at All Souls) and two became Masters. Three Oxford graduates became presidents of the Royal Society: the Hon. Thomas Herbert, Sir John Hoskyns, and Sir Christopher Wren, and one Cambridge man: Charles Montagu.

The following table shows the numbers of Members attending an inn of court.

 Total 1660

1661-

78

1679

(Mar.)

1679

(Oct.)

1681 1685 1689
 2040548867522541502526556
 %%%%%%%%
Gray’s Inn1216121114151014
Lincoln’s Inn1015997886
Inner Temple1111111210101211
Middle Temple1216121010101211
 4558444241434242

 

The proportion of those receiving some legal training who were returned to the Restoration Convention is, as can be seen, much larger than in the other Parliaments, and is matched by the larger number of actual lawyers, a phenomenon which has defied explanation. An examination of the evidence failed to support the attractive hypothesis that lawyers were holding seats for their ineligible royalist clients. In addition to those who had been to the four principal inns, four men went to an inn of chancery only, and 11 were trained as civil lawyers at Doctors’ Commons, so that 947 (46%) had some exposure to a legal education. Of these, 599 (63%) had been to a university, so that 29% of the total Membership had received both academic and legal training, and 1,340 (66%) had either one or the other. Of the 932 men who had entered an inn of court 330 (35%) were called to the bar, but on the basis of admittedly scanty evidence it is probable that about 15% did not actually practise their profession. As was earlier the case, it was felt that spending some time at one of the inns was a useful part of a gentleman’s education. Of those classified as country gentlemen, 48% had been to an inn, in contrast to the merchants, of whom only 6% had any legal education.

 

OCCUPATIONS OF MEMBERS

The tables on pages 10 and 11 show the occupations of Members, occupations in relation to family types, and the occupations of country gentlemen. Almost a third of Members had two or more occupations. Thus a man might be a lawyer and a government official or, more likely, a country gentleman with another string to his bow. There were three exceptions: the country gentlemen (68% were only that), merchants (65%), and ‘others’ (66%). For the other three categories the proportions of those with only one occupation were: lawyers (39%), army and naval officers (14%) and government officials (11%). The number of government officials varied considerably from Parliament to Parliament. Understandably their numbers would be small in the Convention elected before the Restoration, and would grow in the long Cavalier Parliament. The decline in the three Exclusion Parliaments was matched by the decline in the interest and influence of the Court, while the large increase in James II’s Parliament can be explained by the revival of that interest and the efforts of the Government to ensure the return of reliable Members. Included in this group are the diplomats, since diplomatic service could scarcely be regarded as a separate occupation. During this period there were only five permanent embassies: France, Spain, Portugal, the United Provinces and the Hanse towns. In addition, there were posts in Turkey and Russia, but these were maintained by the Levant and Muscovy Companies. Very few ‘diplomats’ spent much time abroad, most being sent on special missions. Not surprisingly the overwhelming majority of government officials were from noble or gentry families, though a few, such as Sir Anthony Deane, Stephen Fox, William Hewer, and Sir Leoline Jenkins were of humbler origins.

The large proportion of army officers returned to James II’s Parliament was, like the large number of officials, also probably due to the swing to the Court as much as to the increase in the size of the army, although James did grant commissions to 20 MPs after Monmouth’s landing. It is significant that 35 army officers sat only in that Parliament and 12 who had sat previously did not sit again. About half of the army officers were younger sons of noble or gentry families, and only a few were full-time professional soldiers. These included men like William Legge I who was a veteran of the Thirty Years War and served in the Swedish and Dutch armies. Richard Leveson, first commissioned in 1685, became a professional soldier after 1688 and fought in Ireland. Edward Sackville, whose parliamentary career lasted only a few weeks in 1679, commanded the garrison at Tangier, and was promoted major-general by James II in November 1688. He did not die until 1714, but the Revolution ended his career and he became a Jacobite. Percy Kirke, the notorious commander of ‘Kirke’s Lambs’, was more flexible than Leveson. Commissioned first in 1666, he held a succession of military posts and fought in the French army during and after the third Dutch War. His outrageous behaviour and that of his troops after the suppression of Monmouth’s rebellion won him only a reprimand, and he was promoted major-general on the landing of William of Orange, though he was already secretly committed to the Revolution. He was made governor of Londonderry after he had broken the siege, and died on active service in 1691. The Trelawny family produced five soldiers who entered Parliament. Jonathan Trelawny I was a royalist officer in the Civil War and a lieutenant-colonel in the Duke of York’s regiment of horse in 1678-9. His eldest son John Trelawny II served in one of the English regiments in the French service and was killed in action at Tangier in 1680. A younger son Charles also was in the French service, and was commissioned captain-lieutenant in the Duke of Monmouth’s regiment of foot. He went over to William at the Revolution and in 1690 was promoted ‘major-general of all the forces’. Henry, the seventh son, was commissioned captain in his brother’s regiment in 1678, served in Tangier and also joined William. He was steadily promoted and attained the rank of major-general in 1696. Jonathan Trelawny I’s younger brother, John Trelawny I, had a less successful career. He was commissioned a major in a foot regiment during the second Dutch War, and hoped for service in Tangier to relieve his straitened circumstances, but he was unsuccessful, though he found service in the Irish army until he sold his commission in 1678. The most famous soldier of all was, of course, John Churchill II, later Duke of Marlborough. But while he was returned to the first Exclusion Parliament, he went into exile with the Duke of York before it met, and the only reference to him in the Journals was on 1 May when he was given leave to go into the country ‘for this whole session, in order to the recovery of his health’.

There were surprisingly few naval officers who entered the House, 19 to be exact, considering the two Dutch Wars during this period, though of these many were professional seamen. The most famous were the Earl of Sandwich (Edward Montagu I), who shared the command of the fleet in the second Dutch War with the Duke of Albemarle (George Monck), and Arthur Herbert, who commanded the invasion fleet of William of Orange. Lord Sandwich was killed in action, as were Sir Frescheville Holles and Sir Edward Spragge. Like the army officers, most came from peerage or gentry families.

There were always a number of merchants in the House, including bankers like Edward Backwell; financiers such as Sir John Banks, one of the richest business men in England; and brewers and vintners. On 23 Mar. 1664, however, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that his friends at Trinity House had told him that there

were not above 20 or 30 merchants [in the Commons] which is a strange thing in an island, and no wonder if things of trade go no better nor are better understood.

Actually only 28 had been returned at the 1661 election (two had died before Pepys wrote) compared with 47 in 1660, though subsequently another 28 came in at by-elections. But in the Exclusion Parliaments the proportion was somewhat higher. The smaller proportion in James II’s Parliament probably reflects the electioneering policy of the Government. Half came from merchant families, but it should be noted that almost a third had gentle origins, most of them coming from minor gentry families. One merchant, Sir Dudley North II, was the younger son of a peerage family. He became a very successful Turkey merchant, and towards the end of his life, governor of the Muscovy Company. Almost two-thirds of the merchants had no other occupation, but a quarter acquired country estates through inheritance, marriage or purchase, a majority of them before election to Parliament. Most were based in London, but there were provincial merchants like the two William Blacketts, father and son, who were prosperous coal merchants in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sir Henry Thompson a successful vintner in York, Richard Head of Rochester whose first wife brought him a fleet of merchant ships, and John Knight a rich Bristol grocer. Many, of course, were members of the chartered companies.

The proportion of lawyers in each Parliament remained more or less the same, except in the Restoration Convention. Most had chambers in London, but there were a few provincial attorneys such as James Baker who practised in Shaftesbury and Nicholas Dennys who practised in Barnstaple. More than half (53%) were benchers in the inns of court, and 45 became judges in the high courts, nine of them after 1690. The majority came from minor gentry families: it is surprising that so few followed in their fathers’ footsteps. Almost half of the lawyers acquired country estates through inheritance, marriage or purchase. More than two-thirds of the acquisitions were before election to Parliament.

There were 1,577 MPs who owned estates and thus can be classified as country gentlemen. Of these, 502 had other occupations or economic interests as well, but the 1,075 who existed only on the rents and profits of their estates provided at least half of the Membership in each Parliament and, if the 502 with other occupations are added to this group, gentlemen with country estates always made up at least three-quarters of the Commons. The highest number of ‘plain’ country gentlemen was to be found in the three Exclusion Parliaments and in the Revolution Convention. This probably reflects a greater proportion of ‘independent’ Members than in the other Parliaments of the period. As can be seen from the table showing family types, the overwhelming majority of these ‘plain’ country gentlemen came from noble or gentry families. An explanation has already been provided for the large number of country gentlemen with army or navy commissions and government offices in 1685. There are no other significant differences as far as other occupations are concerned.

There were 42 country gentlemen who exploited the minerals under their land. The Foleys of Worcestershire were very rich iron-masters with holdings in seven counties, as was Thomas Preston II of Lancashire. Roger Bradshaigh I of the same county improved the collieries on his estates by extensive drainage. Thomas Mostyn restored the family fortunes, not only by his marriage to a Cheshire heiress, but also by his exploitation of the coal and lead mines on his Caernarvonshire estate. Anthony Lowther’s father, a younger son and a merchant, bought a Yorkshire estate on which he developed the alum deposits which his son continued to exploit. Sir John Lowther III, 2nd Bt., of Whitehaven Court (no relation to Anthony), vigorously exploited the collieries and salt-pans on his estate, and, to provide an outlet for them, transformed Whitehaven into a busy seaport. Francis Godolphin was among the principal mine-owners in Cornwall and increased his already large income from that source by profits from his estates in Norfolk and the Scilly Isles. Piers Edgcumbe of Mount Edgcumbe, Cornwall, had an income estimated at £3,000, mostly from the profits of his tin mines. Peter Venables, a very rich man, derived considerable profits from his Cheshire salt-works as, to a lesser extent, did John Burrard of Hampshire.

Some 41 country gentlemen, while not merchants, had close connexions with trade. Several were members of chartered companies. Edward Hungerford was an original member of the Hudson’s Bay Company. In addition he was empowered to demolish his house in the Strand and hold a market there on three days a week. But it did not prosper and the reason for Hungerford’s long parliamentary career (with the exception of one Parliament he sat continuously from 1659 until 1705) was his need for privilege against his creditors. Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, later Earl of Shaftesbury, was a member of the Royal Adventurers into Africa and had substantial interests in the Carolinas. Sir John Evelyn I was a member of the Virginia Company and the East India Company, and had the monopoly of the manufacture of gunpowder until 1636. Sir Kingsmill Lucy was a member and stockholder in the East India Company, and enlarged his Hampshire estates with the profits. Richard Onslow, who was, of course, more of a politician than a country gentleman, became governor of the Levant Company in 1710. William Hale, who had a small estate in Oxfordshire, was the principal partner in the Friendly Society, a mutual fire insurance fund, and left large legacies and annuities to his children. The country gentlemen who were also merchants should rather be regarded as merchants who acquired country estates, and are so treated.

Not a few of the Members were poets, playwrights or men of letters. Andrew Marvell, Edmund Waller I, Charles Sackville (Lord Buckhurst) and John Denham were poets, Denham also being a popular playwright. Other playwrights were Sir Robert Howard, Sir Charles Sedley and Sir William Killigrew. Lord Broghill (Roger Boyle) wrote poetry and tragedies, but his most substantial work, written after his retirement from politics, was An Entire Treatise of the Art of War. Several Members were what would later be called ‘political economists’, such as Sir Dudley North II, whose Discourse on Trade marks him as a precursor of Adam Smith. John Pollexfen also wrote a Discourse on Trade, primarily directed against the East India Company. Josiah Child’s Discourse was the most popular, running to several editions. Sir John Pettus, deputy governor of the royal mines, wrote on mining, and on constitutional and religious subjects as well. Learned lawyers such as John Hawles and John Somers, later lord chancellor, published legal tracts. There were several historians: Winston Churchill produced a high-Tory history, as might be expected, of the rulers of England to 1660. On the other hand, Nathaniel Bacon’s Historical Discourse, written in 1647, was so critical of the royal prerogative that publication was twice suppressed after the Restoration. John Rushworth’s Historical Collections are still useful for historians. But Robert Brady, physician and Master of Caius College, showed himself to be a pioneer of historical research and method in his Compleat History of England, to which he devoted much of his life. Sir George Savile’s political pamphlets can still be read with pleasure, though perhaps the same cannot be said of those by William Prynne, the most prolific author of the century. John Berkenhead, editor of the royalist newspaper Mercurius Aulicus, may be regarded as one of the founders of modern journalism, while Roger L’Estrange, editor of several newspapers, is probably remembered more for his role as censor of the press. Sir Ralph Cole was a painter, one of his subjects being Thomas Wyndham II, whose portrait still hangs in Petworth House. He was so generous a patron of the arts that he dissipated his fortune. The Hon. Francis Robartes was a musician, much admired for his compositions in the contemporary French style. Although 91 Members were Fellows of the Royal Society, only two can be regarded as true scientists: Sir Christopher Wren, who was a brilliant scientist before he became an even more brilliant architect, and, of course, Isaac Newton.

OCCUPATIONS

 Total 1660

1661

-78

1679

(Mar.)

1679

(Oct.)

1681 1685 1689
 2040548867522541502526556
 %%%%%%%%
Government officials12615876166
Army or naval officers105108881712
Country gentlemen only5352535857615060
Lawyers1421109119129
Merchants99710111078
Others32433232

 

OCCUPATIONS AND FAMILY TYPES

 

Govt.

Officials

Country

Gentlemen

only

Lawyers

Army

Officers

Naval

Officers

Merchants
 277107527718118173
 %%%%%%
Noble201133225*
Major gentry26371631206
Minor gentry374552302524
Merchant941031050
Lawyer3113101
Humble6*632018

 

OCCUPATIONS OF COUNTRY GENTLEMEN

 Total 1660

1661

-78

1679

(Mar.)

1679

(Oct.)

1681 1685 1689
 1577435698422433420399466
 %%%%%%%%
Country gentlemen only6866667271736671
with trade/industrial interests55676535
also government officials10813988158
also lawyers913777586
also army/naval officers868667149
also merchants34223323
with other occupations11111111

 

RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION OF MEMBERS

The table on page 13 attempts to show the religious affiliation of Members, though, as Dr Lacey has shown, evidence for affiliations outside the established Church is not easy to come by. His criteria for determining the degree and kind of Protestant nonconformity have generally been used, though in some cases a ‘probable Presbyterian’ might as well have been described in the table as a ‘possible Presbyterian’.4 All, of course, had to conform to some degree if they wished to remain in the House. A Presbyterian or Independent who is described as having conformed was one who seems to have gone fairly regularly to church and to have received the sacrament, rather than one who was only an occasional conformist. The former, however, may still have retained his sympathy for dissenters and usually favoured toleration for them. Such a Member was John Birch who asserted that he regularly attended church, but who spoke often in favour of a moderate attitude towards dissenters and had close associations with two ejected clergymen. Edward Harley, another former Presbyterian, maintained that he was a regular churchgoer, but he also continued his friendship with Richard Baxter. John Maynard I, conformed, though he allowed ejected ministers to preach on one of his properties. Good examples of Presbyterians who were only occasional conformists are John Fagg I, Sir John Gell, Richard Hampden and his son John. Independents who sat after the Restoration Convention and conformed were such men as Sir John Hewley and Sir John Thompson. Among the Independents who were occasional conformists were John Eyles, Sir John Hartopp and John Upton. One of the most occasional of conformists was William Love. He twice ignored orders of the Commons requiring him to take the sacrament, and almost certainly did not attend the House until after the fall of Clarendon. Roman Catholics, even more than Protestant nonconformists, were, of course, not anxious to reveal their religion, so that the number of 27 may be too low.5 There can be no doubt about two Members—Sir Thomas Strickland and (Sir) Solomon Swale—who were forced to leave the House for refusing to conform. It is also difficult to determine exactly when a man embraced the old faith, and certainly some Members became Catholics only after their careers in the Lower House were over. Charles Middleton, for example, was not converted until 1702, and Roger Palmer, later Lord Castlemaine, was not a Catholic when he sat for New Windsor in 1660. Arlington’s secretary, William Godolphin, was converted in 1671, but denied it, as did Humphrey Weld. There are some Members whose Catholicism has been inferred from indirect rather than direct evidence. There were also a good many Members with close Catholic connexions. Robert Apreece’s father was martyred in 1644 and beatified in I887, but Apreece himself was a staunch Anglican. Several Members’ wives were or became Catholics, such as those of William Chiffinch and Sir John Holland. Both Francis Finch’s wife and heir became Catholics. On the other hand Christopher Wilkinson disinherited his son because he believed he had been converted to Rome. Five Members—Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, William Glanville, Sir Robert Peyton, the Hon. Henry and the Hon. Thomas Whartonn—have been classed as unbelievers; the number should probably be larger, but without putting windows into men’s souls it would be impossible to ascertain it precisely.

The proportions in each Parliament are not surprising. Except in the Restoration Convention where the Anglicans and probable Anglicans were in a slight minority, these two groups taken together always made up a substantial majority. In the three Exclusion Parliaments, the probable Anglicans, who might also be described as low churchmen, increased their numbers, and in James II’s Parliament the high church Anglicans accounted for more than three quarters of the Membership; a clear result of the Tory reaction after the exclusion crisis. It should also be noted that the proportion of probable Anglicans or low churchmen in 1689 approximately equals that in the Exclusion Parliaments, while the proportion of strong churchmen is about the same as in the Cavalier Parliament.

 

RELIGION

 Total 1660

1661

-78

1679

(Mar.)

1679

(Oct.)

1681 1685 1689
 2040548867522541502526556
 %%%%%%%%
Anglicans5334595047487857
Probable Anglicans2013182324251623
Presbyterians4112444*3
Probable Presbyterians47334413
Presbyterians who
conformed
9211099815
Independents231222*1
Probable Independents34134413
Independents who
conformed
47355513
Roman Catholics or crypto-Roman
Catholics
1121**1*
Unbelievers***111*1

 

WEALTH OF MEMBERS

It has been possible to estimate the wealth of 60% of the total Membership. As extremes of wealth or poverty were usually commented on by contemporaries, it is reasonable to assume that most Members whose financial status is now unknown were men of moderate means. In the table below, an MP has been classified as very rich if he enjoyed an income of over £3,000 p.a., rich if his income was between £1,000 and £3,000 p.a., moderately rich if between £500 and £1,000, and less than moderately rich if his annual income was under £500. Bearing in mind that there is more information about the financial status of MPs who sat in the Cavalier Parliament, the pattern of distribution of income was very similar for all Parliaments. Slightly less than a fifth of the Members are known to have improved their financial status by one means or another, while 9% are known to have gone into debt at some point in their careers. Still, only 3% of them suffered a permanent drop in their income and only 2% actually went bankrupt, which suggests that for most MPs the financial disadvantages of Membership (election expenses, the cost of living in London and the inevitable neglect of personal affairs) were more than outweighed by opportunities for advancement.

The 123 very rich ranged from peers’ heirs to self-made merchants of humble origin. At the top of the social scale were men like the Hon. Thomas Wharton, heir to a rich estate, who made two fortunate marriages and held a number of lucrative offices, or the Hon. Ralph Montagu, who married an heiress and held profitable government office before inheriting an extensive estate. Slightly inferior socially, but not financially, were such Members as Sir George Savile (later Marquis of Halifax), one of the greatest landowners in England, Giles Strangways, who inherited an estate worth £5,000 p.a., Hugh Boscawen, who was left a large estate and married the Earl of Lincoln’s coheir; and Sir William Courtenay who inherited not only his father’s lands but also those of two cousins. The vast Wiltshire estates of the notorious Thomas Thynne II, whose greed proved his undoing, earned him the nickname of ‘Tom of Ten Thousand’. All these Members were notable for their political independence, their landed wealth making them immune from government threats or blandishments. Not all wealth, however, was inherited. Sir Joseph Ashe and Josiah Child made fortunes from the East India trade, while Sir John Moore, a younger son, acquired enormous wealth by dealing in lead. Perhaps the most notable merchant in the Commons, in terms of affluence, was Sir John Banks, grandson of a London woollen-draper, who made a fortune both from his East Indies trade and his financial dealings with the Government. During his lifetime he lent the crown £360,000, and at his death was estimated to be worth more than £180,000. The MPs who acquired rather than inherited wealth were just as politically independent as their landed colleagues, though lack of a well-established territorial base sometimes made it harder for them to enter Parliament.

Few Members could be classed as very rich, but a much larger number managed significantly to improve their financial status. There were a number of ways in which this could be achieved: fortunate marriages (see p. 21), successful commercial ventures, which sometimes consisted of the exploitation of minerals on a Member’s estate, or government employment. Sometimes an MP’s acquisition of wealth owed a great deal to luck: Thomas Clarges was given government office and a handsome pension because he was the brother-in-law of George Monck. Even more fortunate was Roger Pope, who with the prize money won by his racehorse Diamond was able in the early 1680s to build himself a handsome house in Bridgnorth which he called, appropriately enough, Diamond Hall. Most Members who bettered themselves financially, however, did so by a combination of ability and industry. Typical of them was Sir Matthew Andrews, a successful East India merchant who at his death left a great deal of money to charity. The legal profession was another avenue to riches. John Vaughan and Heneage Finch are two outstanding examples of successful lawyers: the former became lord chief justice, the latter lord chancellor and eventually Earl of Nottingham.

While membership of the Commons often proved a positive asset to ambitious and able men, for others it was a drain on their resources. As stated above, 9% went into debt at some point in their lives. For some Members this was only a temporary embarrassment; for others it became a chronic condition. Samuel Sandys I, outlawed for debt in 1661, had to be given a court post to protect him from his creditors, while Ambrose Pudsay, also outlawed for debt, eventually had to mortgage his whole estate. William Glascock owed his misfortunes to his wife’s extravagance: outlawed for debt in 1669, he was forced to sell much of his property and become dependent on government subsidies. For MPs already in pecuniary difficulties membership of the Commons often proved to be a crippling financial burden. Sir Richard Wiseman complained bitterly of

the disadvantages and charges of being ten years a Parliament-man, which employment does not only increase ordinary expense but puts a great charge upon all men in debt by necessitating them to make costly offerings for the atonement of privilege, the consideration of all which makes me seriously to determine that Parliament-men of all ranks and conditions of men whatsoever as to their own affairs are in the worst and most disadvantageous condition.

William Harbord, writing ten years later, claimed that in 1670 he had discovered 56 Members outlawed for debt.6 Later research suggests that the figure was probably nearer ten, but Harbord may well have been using sources which have since been lost, so that it is impossible to check the accuracy of his statement. Many MPs undoubtedly found the long duration of the Cavalier Parliament a considerable strain on their resources.

Although many Members suffered temporary or chronic financial difficulties only 51 actually collapsed under the burden. In many cases their biographies make pathetic reading. Fourteen MPs were ruined by their own extravagance, among them Sir Ralph Dutton, who squandered his patrimony on greyhound racing; Philip Smythe, 2nd Viscount Strangford, a drunkard incapable of managing his affairs, and Edward Hungerford, an incorrigible spendthrift who was reputed to have spent £500 (a year’s income for a gentleman of moderate means) on a wig. A further six Members were bankrupted by litigation, though in this context it should be borne in mind that an expensive lawsuit was often the only means of establishing a title to land. Five crippled their estates through election expenses, among them Cresheld Draper, who allegedly spent £11,000 on a single election; Sir Peter Gleane, 1st Bt., and Morgan Randyll. Six Members defaulted on debts to the crown and one, Edward Backwell, was ruined by the Stop of the Exchequer, which occurred when he had £296,000 on deposit. Christopher Philipson probably came to grief financially because of his adherence to the exiled James II, and Sir Roger Strickland certainly did. Sir Thomas Player, whose estates were seized because he was in arrears in his account with the crown, probably owed his bankruptcy as much to his politics as to anything else. Only two Members, Sir Thomas Fanshawe I and Sir Robert Holte, 2nd Bt., could attribute their ruin directly to the Civil War, although the estates of many more MPs may have been permanently impaired by it. Perhaps the most curious case of bankruptcy is that of William Montagu: expelled from the House for bribery, he was unable to pay the damages awarded against him for his adultery with John Lewknor’s wife, and eventually died in a debtor’s prison.

 Total 1660

1661

-78

1679

(Mar.)

1679

(Oct.)

1681 1685 1689
 2040548867522541502526556
 %%%%%%%%
Very rich67898867
Rich1415181614151112
Moderately rich77944455
Less than moderately rich23212122
Moves up1716171918172120
Moves down34422221
Goes bankrupt22344422
Goes into debt991499976
No estimate of wealth4038263639404444

 

STATUS

The social standing of Members defies any attempt at rigid definition and so has not been tabulated. It is impossible to quantify an MP’s position vis à vis his parliamentary colleagues, his local prestige, his professional standing, or his relations with patrons or superiors. The most that can be attempted here is to examine those aspects of social status which can be fairly accurately defined. These are of two kinds: the position conferred on a Member by virtue of his parentage (or in some cases a more distant branch of the family), and honours and dignities acquired during his adult life. To some extent the former influenced the latter: for example a man of humble origin was most unlikely to be raised to the peerage. In dealing with ‘conferred’ (as opposed to ‘acquired’) social position the figures have been based on a Member’s social status at the time of his first entry into Parliament. This is not necessarily the same as status at birth: Christopher Monck was born the son of a knight’s younger son, but by the time he entered Parliament at the age of 13 he was an English peer’s heir.

Seventy-four Members were heirs to English peers at the time of their first election to Parliament. Of those, seven (the Hon. John Darcy; the Hon. Edward Montagu; Charles Somerset, Lord Herbert of Raglan; the Hon. Robert Robartes; the Hon. Nicholas Saunderson; Edward Osborne, Viscount Latimer, and the Hon. Charles West) died during their fathers’ lifetimes; the rest eventually took their seats in the Upper House. A further 85 MPs were younger sons of English peers. Eleven Members were heirs to Scotch peerages and two were younger sons of Scotch peers. Thirty-one MPs were Irish peers’ heirs and 11 Irish peers’ younger sons. The scions of Scotch families were naturalized Scotchmen or men whose families had lands and interest in Scotland. The Irish peers’ heirs and younger sons, on the other hand, came almost exclusively from English families, some of whom may have had some temporary connexion with Ireland but whose estates and interests for the most part lay in England. Fourteen per cent (283) of the Members were heirs to baronetcies and a further 52 Members were baronets’ younger sons. Knights’ heirs and younger sons account for a further 17% of the Membership, leaving a residue of 30% of Members who claimed no higher status than that of esquire or gentleman, both of which terms had come to be applied in a fairly loose, non-technical way by this time, despite their earlier more precise meanings. Only 4% of MPs came from families below the status of gentry. These were for the most part the sons of yeomen or merchants. John Berkenhead, who has some claim to be called the father of English journalism, and William Chiffinch, Charles II’s confidential servant, were both innkeepers’ sons, while William Vincent was the son of a chapman (although his uncle, a herald, registered a dubious pedigree). Archibald Clinkard and William Thomas were both bailiffs’ sons and William Wood’s father was a butcher. It should be remembered that all these men were usually styled ‘esquire’ after their election to Parliament and could therefore be said to have in a sense acquired gentry status.

The other aspect of social status to be considered is the acquisition of honours and dignities by the Members themselves. The most coveted honour was an English peerage, which was conferred on 43 MPs during the period covered by this section of the History, while a further 24 Members were ennobled at some later date. Family connexions were an important factor: 15 of the Members raised to the peerage during this period came from noble families. Some, like the Hon. Arthur Annesley, Lord Richard Butler and Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory, were already Irish peers, others were scions of families who stood high in the favour of the monarch. Most of the other Members who were ennobled received their peerages for outstanding service to the crown. Several MPs were raised to the peerage for their part in the Restoration, most notably George Monck, created Duke of Albermarle, Edward Montagu I, created Earl of Sandwich, and Sir George Booth, who in 1661 was made Baron Delamer. The three members of the Cabal who sat in the Commons (Sir Henry Bennet, Thomas Clifford and Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper) all received peerages, as did Sir Thomas Osborne, better known to posterity as the Earl of Danby. Robert Paston’s peerage was a reward for his services in the Commons. Not all peerages were conferred for political or administrative achievements: Sir Charles Berkeley II, given an Irish peerage in 1663 and an English one in 1665, seems to have owed his ennoblement entirely to his personal friendship with Charles II.

Scotch peerages were conferred on only eight Members during this period, nearly all of whom had a close connexion with Scotland, or else, like Sir Thomas Osborne and John Churchill II, were given English peerages soon afterwards. Irish peerages were given to ten MPs during the period under discussion and to two Members after 1690. Three of the Members concerned, Francis Aungier, 3rd Baron Aungier of Longford, Roger Boyle, 1st Baron Broghill, and Richard Jones, 1st Earl of Ranelagh, were already Irish peers whose promotions conferred prestige but did not disqualify them from sitting in the Commons and acting as government spokesmen. The other Irish peerages were for the most part conferred on second-rank government supporters, who thus enjoyed the prestige of a title without adding to the numbers in the English House of Lords. Perhaps the most notorious Irish peerage of the period was the earldom of Castlemaine, conferred on the unfortunate Roger Palmer in 1661 to give the King’s mistress a title.

The only hereditary honour below the rank of peerage was the baronetcy, originating in 1611 as a revenue-raising device. Thirty Members were so created before the Restoration, three (Sir Richard Fanshawe, Sir Herbert Price and Sir Henry Wood) by Charles II while in exile. Between 1660 and 1690 baronetcies were conferred on 150 MPs, which represents 34% of all baronetcies granted during this period. As might be expected, the first two years of Charles II’s reign saw the largest number of creations: 48 in 1660 and 27 in 1661. The nominal fee for a baronetcy was £1,095 but this was sometimes waived in whole or in part. William Blackett was excused all fees for his baronetcy in 1673 ‘in consideration of his good services’ (presumably as a farmer of coal duties). In 1660 Sir William Wiseman managed to obtain a baronetcy for only £500 through the good offices of Sir John Bramston, who preferred to be made KB. It is not always clear who received the profits from these transactions since Charles II, always anxious to find ways of rewarding people at no expense to himself, sometimes granted individuals the right to sell a patent for a baronetcy. The Hon. Goodwin Wharton, whose fire-engine the King greatly admired, was granted such a patent in 1677, but, as he noted ruefully, ‘I could never find a fool to buy it’. Whether this reflects a decline in the prestige of the honour or Wharton’s own inefficiency as a salesman is not clear. James II, perhaps in reaction to the more lavish creations of earlier years, created only 21 baronets, eight of whom were MPs.

Beneath baronetcies in terms of social status came knighthoods. The abolition of feudal tenures had severed the theoretical link between knighthood and military service but during the period under review it was still an honour valued by the landed gentry. Ninety-two Members were knighted before 1660 (only one of them, Sir Henry Bennet, by Charles II while in exile) and a further 379 MPs were dubbed between 1660 and 1690, representing 36% of all knighthoods conferred during this period. As with baronetcies, knighthoods were granted in greatest numbers immediately after the Restoration: 110 Members were knighted in 1660 and 22 in 1661. Only 17 MPs were knighted by James II, and 13 between 1689 and 1690. Most of the MPs knighted were country gentlemen, but knighthoods were by no means confined to those of gentry status. A number of merchants were knighted, some of them men who had risen to wealth and position from humble origins. Examples are John Langham, a yeoman’s son, who made a fortune from the Levant trade; Sir William Thompson, of obscure origin who became a wealthy London merchant; Sir Richard Crumpe, another yeoman’s son, who became prominent in Bristol’s administration and commerce; Richard Browne I, of unknown parentage, who became a London merchant and eventually lord mayor, and Sir William Bucknall, also of obscure background, who made a fortune as a merchant and excise commissioner. Nor was commerce the only avenue to honour: Sir William Batten and Sir Richard Haddock were both mariners’ sons who earned their knighthoods by their naval service, while Sir Robert Clayton, the son of a carpenter, became a highly successful land agent and financier (or usurer).

While men of humble origin might aspire to an ordinary knighthood, the order of the Garter remained the exclusive preserve of noblemen and their sons. Ten MPs were made KG by Charles II of whom only one, George Monck, was not of noble blood, and he was shortly afterwards given a dukedom. Only one Member, Laurence Hyde (by this time Earl of Rochester), was installed as a knight of the garter by James II, and a further seven MPs were made KG after 1690. The order of the Bath was not quite as exclusive, but the 42 MPs dubbed KB at the coronation of Charles II all came from well-established gentry families, and John Bramston’s preference for this honour over a baronetcy (despite the fact that it was not hereditary and cost him almost as much) indicates that it was highly regarded. After 1661 the order of the Bath lapsed into desuetude until 1725 when it was reconstituted with a fixed establishment. Shortly after the Restoration a new order of knighthood was proposed, that of the Royal Oak. It was designed to reward Royalists, some of whom, however, had come late into the fold. Of the 675 men proposed, 132 were returned to the Commons in the period under review, most of them to the Restoration Convention or the Cavalier Parliament. The list is valuable not only for the light it sheds upon a Member’s politics, but also because it gives an estimate of each man’s annual income. Probably because the order would have been likely to perpetuate past dissensions, it never came into being.7

 

FAMILY TYPES

The types of families from which Members came varied little from Parliament to Parliament. Eleven per cent came from noble families (i.e. belonged to peerage families in the male line), 30% from major gentry families, 42% from minor gentry families, 10% from merchant families, 3% from lawyer families and 4% from humble families. Thus the great majority (83%) belonged to the upper classes. It was the rule rather than the exception for the heirs of English peers of the grade of viscount or higher to be returned to the Commons. The heirs of noblemen in this group of a conceivably eligible age who were not returned numbered only 12, and of these two were idiots and four were Roman Catholics.8 It was only to be expected that three-quarters of the membership would be chosen from gentry families, continuing a trend which had begun at least under the early Tudors. The distinction between major and minor gentry must of necessity be somewhat arbitrary. The size of a family’s estate, especially if it extended to several counties, is of course important, but other criteria have been used in classifying a family as ‘major’ gentry, such as intermarriage with the peerage, frequent grants of knighthoods, persistent representation of the county and a long pedigree. Included among the gentry are 51 sons of clergymen, most of whom have been classed as minor gentry, though Francis Aungier came from an Irish peerage family. Thirty-one were sons of parish priests, but 20 had fathers who could be counted as clerical dignitaries. Richard Sterne and Gilbert Dolben were sons of successive archbishops of York, and five Members were sons of bishops: Sir Herbert Crofts, Sir Andrew Hackett, Robert Hyde and Matthew and Sir Christopher Wren. The number (198 or 10%) of those coming from merchant families is surprisingly small; of the identified MPs sitting in Elizabethan Parliaments, 17% came from this group. The number of Members (60 or 3%) with a legal family background is also comparatively small. Examples were John Maynard I and his two sons; Hugh Hodges, who outstripped his provincial attorney father and became a serjeant-at-law; Thomas Jones I, who became lord chief justice of common pleas; Samuel Starkey whose father and grandfather had been lawyers, and George Treby, who also rose higher in the profession than his father.

Of more interest are the 86 men who came from humble families. This group includes 25 whose parentage is unknown and 28 whose fathers were yeomen. The fathers of the remainder had various other humble occupations; inn-keepers, small shopkeepers, weavers, and the like. Many of them prospered, a few by fortunate marriages such as Richard Head, the son of a yeoman, whose first wife brought him a fleet of merchant ships and his second considerable property, and Thomas Clarges, the son of a London farrier, who married the sister of George Monck and made a fortune out of government offices. Another yeoman’s son, Sir Leoline Jenkins, rose to high office, but left only a modest estate because of his incorruptibility. John Jones, whose parentage is unknown, became a successful London grocer, and at his death left an estate of £20,000, much of which went to charity. Thomas Bludworth, of a Derbyshire yeoman family, became a prosperous Turkey merchant and was elected lord mayor of London. The financier Sir Robert Clayton, a carpenter’s son, was director of the Bank of England (with statutory intervals) from 1702 until his death in 1707. But perhaps the greatest success story was that of Stephen Fox who in his own words was ‘a wonderful child of providence’. He rose from a minor post in Charles I’s Court to an important position in the exiled Court and thence to be paymaster of the forces and finally first lord of the Treasury. When he died in 1716 he was worth more than £174,000, but nevertheless was remarkable for his integrity and honesty.

One Member must be singled out for overcoming an even more serious handicap than lowly birth. Sir Humphrey Winchcombe came of a gentry family, but although ‘his eyes were lost in youth, neither in public nor in private duty was he found wanting, since he served the interest of his country in Parliament, and at home that of his friends’.9

 

MARRIAGES

NUMBER OF MARRIAGES ANALYSED BY THE FAMILY TYPE OF THE MP

 Total            
Noble

Major

Genrtry

Minor

Gentry 

Merchant Lawyer Humble
 20402296218511986180
 %%%%%%%
Unmarried814877710

Not known

if married

*0**103
Married once64606167666750
Married twice23212720202133

Married

three times

4435725

Married more

than three times

11*1130

 

Only 168 (8%) of MPs never married, and information is lacking for a further seven Members. Early deaths account for some of this number (16 MPs died under the age of 25); in other cases inadequate means was probably a major factor. Examination of MPs’ marriages in relation to family type shows that the proportion of unmarried men is higher for Members from noble families. Most of these unmarried scions of the nobility were younger sons who were financially dependent on their fathers or elder brothers (the Hon. Fitton Gerard, the Hon. Robert Montagu and the Hon. Goodwin Wharton are cases in point). The major and minor gentry groups also contain a number of unmarried younger sons living on annuities. The great majority of Members, however, married, and rather more than a third of them married twice. Only one marriage, that of John Manners, Lord Roos, ended in divorce during the period under review, and the Hon. Charles Gerard, by then Earl of Macclesfield, was divorced in 1697. Marriages have been classed as fortunate if they brought a Member financial, political or social advantages. Many MPs married heiresses or women with substantial dowries, others acquired an interest in the constituencies they represented through their wives or wives’ families. Of course, marriages classed as fortunate were not necessarily successful in personal terms: witness the case of Thomas Thynne II, whose abduction of the 14-year-old heiress to the vast Percy estates eventually resulted in his murder at the instigation of a rival suitor. Such spectacularly disastrous unions were unusual, in more cases a fortunate marriage was a very useful boost to a Member’s social and financial prospects.

Most MPs married before they had made their way in the world, so that a Member’s first marriage depended more on his family’s status and wealth than on his own. Most married into their own class. The exception might seem to be MPs from merchant families (as opposed to MPs who were themselves merchants) 38% of whom married into the gentry, but it should be remembered that many of these families had acquired estates, so that the MPs themselves could be described as first generation country gentlemen. This was certainly the case with Sir Edward Blackett, 2nd Bt., whose father, William Blackett, left him enough wealth to purchase an estate and set up as a country gentleman. Seven MPs from merchant families married into the peerage. These were all men like Philip or Robert Foley or Sir John Thompson, whose fathers had bought estates and who were thus good matches (in financial terms at any rate) for the daughters of minor aristocrats. Only two Members of humble origin, Thomas Wancklyn and Joseph Williamson, married into the peerage. Both their wives were widows. Mésalliances on the part of MPs from noble families were also uncommon: only four (the Hon. Philip Howard, the Hon. Edward Sackville, William Spencer, and the Hon. Ralph Widdrington) married into unknown families. Howard and Widdrington were younger sons of peers, Sackville and Spencer cousins, and in no case does the union seem to have been so unsuitable as to provoke comment. The higher in the social scale a Member’s family the more likely he was to make a fortunate first marriage. Most MPs from noble or gentry families who made fortunate marriages did so by marrying heiresses; in some cases the wife’s property might also give an MP an electoral interest in a constituency. The further down the social scale, the more usual it was for a man to acquire an electoral interest through a judicious marriage. Gerard Gore, William Chapman and Richard West are but three examples of men gaining a foothold in a constituency through their wives.

By the time of his second marriage an MP would have acquired property and electoral interests, and so a smaller proportion appear ‘fortunate’. Otherwise, the pattern of second marriages follows that of the first, with MPs tending to marry within their own social class. The slight overall rise in the proportion of Members marrying into unknown families is probably explained by gaps in the evidence. Perhaps the most remarkable second marriage is that of Stephen Fox, who had ten children by his first marriage, seven sons who all predeceased him and three daughters. In 1703 after seven years of widowerhood he married again at the age of 76 and, since there is no reason to doubt his wife’s virtue, fathered four children, two sons and two daughters, all of whom married and had offspring. By all accounts both marriages were happy. Just under 5% of MPs married for a third time, again mostly into their own social class.

Only 14 MPs married four times. In some cases this represents a series of triumphs; certainly in the case of Sir Francis Compton, who, after marrying successively an heiress and two wealthy widows, at the age of 70 married a niece of Anthony Rowe and fathered a daughter. Sir Robert Howard’s marital exploits might better be described as the triumph of hope over experience: after a disastrous second marriage (his wife petitioned the King to relieve her of his ill usage, and when she died cut him off with a shilling) he went on to make an honest woman of his ‘whore’ who proved to be an expensive embarrassment. His fourth marriage seems to have been reasonably happy. The most married MP was Sir Gervase Clifton, who having buried six wives married for the seventh time at the age of 69.

Although a substantial number of marriages could be described as fortunate in economic or social terms there is one sense in which many Members’ marriages ended in failure: of the 1,866 MPs known to have married, about 550 (29%) had no surviving male heir and a further 17 probably did not. For the wives of many MPs life must have consisted of an almost uninterrupted series of confinements and bereavements: of the 17 children which Thomas Merry’s wife bore him, 12 of the 14 sons died during his lifetime. The MP with the largest recorded number of offspring was Daniel Finch, whose two wives bore him 23 children. Thirty-three MPs (ten of them unmarried) are known to have had illegitimate offspring, and this figure would be higher if more evidence were available. In some cases Members went to considerable pains to provide for their bastards: Sir Robert Holmes arranged a marriage between his daughter and her first cousin, whom he made his heir, while Sir Edward Spragge left all he had to his three illegitimate children, an arrangement which can hardly have pleased his widow.

The more secure a man’s income the more likely he was to marry. The proportion of MPs who remained unmarried is highest among the annuitants, secretaries, agents etc. Naturally some remained single for personal reasons. Others, such as the Hon. Edward Hyde, died young. But as a general rule an inadequate income precluded marriage: see for example Richard Eliot, an annuitant and younger son with no prospect of inheritance, and Andrew Marvell, whose origins were humble and whose literary achievements brought him only moderate rewards. The proportion of MPs in the armed forces who never married is also high: again one explanation may be insufficient means (Sir Richard Haddock complained that it was impossible for him to maintain his family on his pay as a naval officer), another, no doubt, was frequent absences abroad. It is impossible to generalize about the government officials and lawyers in this context. A fairly humble naval administrator such as William Hewer may have felt himself unable to support a wife and family, while a senior official like Sir Leoline Jenkins was undoubtedly in a position to make an advantageous marriage if he had so wished. The proportion of unmarried MPs is lowest among country gentlemen and merchants. This is to be expected: most country gentlemen enjoyed a secure and adequate income, while those merchants who entered the Commons were usually well-established men. Again, if second marriages are examined according to occupation groups it will be seen that MPs with ‘other’ occupations or who were army or naval officers were least likely to remarry, probably for economic reasons. In general the rate of remarriage is fairly even, as is the proportion of MPs who made third or subsequent marriages.

Analysis of MPs’ first marriages by occupation groups shows that, as might be expected, since most Members came from gentry families, the majority married into the gentry. Merchants usually married into their own class or into unknown families (who may of course have been in fact merchant families). Government officials and serving officers were most likely to marry into the peerage and to make fortunate first marriages, perhaps because many Members in these occupations themselves came from peerage families. These would include men of the stamp of Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory; William Alington, 3rd Baron Alington of Killard, and Wentworth Fitzgerald, 17th Earl of Kildare. Government officials of humble origins were well placed to make advantageous marriages: John Nicholas’s marriage to the daughter of a peer represented a definite rise in social status for him, as did Thomas Higgons’s marriage to the widow of the Earl of Essex. Perhaps the most glamorous match of all was that of Joseph Williamson, who fairly late in life married the widow of Henry O’Brien, Lord Ibrackan, who was herself of royal blood, a peeress suo jure and an heiress. This marriage was undoubtedly fortunate in social and financial terms, but it is worth mentioning that the disparity in social status and indecent haste of the marriage caused a scandal at Court, and the couple themselves do not seem to have lived happily ever after. As might be expected, lawyers were shrewd in making fortunate marriages, usually to heiresses or women with large dowries, sometimes (as in the cases of Richard Colman and Arthur Sparke) acquiring an electoral interest through their wives. Most country gentlemen who made fortunate marriages did so by marrying heiresses, though sometimes there were other advantages as well: Walter Langdon was given office by his brother-in-law, while Sir William Wentworth’s wife brought him valuable court connexions.

Twenty-three per cent of MPs married twice, most of them into the gentry. Naturally the proportion of fortunate marriages is much smaller for all occupation

NUMBER OF MARRIAGES ANALYSED BY THE OCCUPATION OF THE MP

 Total

Government

officials

Country

gentlemen

only

Army or

Naval

Officers

Lawyers Merchants Others
 2040277107520027717370
 %%%%%%%
Unmarried81451810324
Not known if married**01110
Married once64576659606957
Married twice23252418232316
Married three times4234453
Married more than three times11*1100

 

groups, for by the time a Member was free to remarry he had usually made his own way in the world so that his choice was less likely to be influenced by considerations of financial or social advantage. The relatively high proportion of government officials who married for the second time into the peerage is probably explained by the fact that many MPs in this occupation group were themselves of noble family. Third marriages follow very much the same pattern, except that the handful of merchants who made third marriages favoured the gentry.

 

WIFE’S FAMILY ANALYSED BY MP’s OCCUPATION: FIRST MARRIAGES

1st wife’s

family type

Total of

married

MPs

Government

officials

Country

gentlemen

only

Army or

Naval

Officers

Lawyers Merchants Others
 1865237102116424716753
 %%%%%%%
Peerage10181120118
Gentry63567161632649
Merchant1513107164717
Other55448511
Unknown783812  
Fortunate24322237241619

 

WIFE’s FAMILY ANALYSED BY MP’s OCCUPATION: SECOND MARRIAGES

2nd wife’s

family type

Total

Government

officials

Country

gentlemen

only

Army or

Naval

Officers

Lawyers Merchants Others
 5677931345804813
 %%%%%%%
Peerage1225139148
Gentry57486164611954
Merchant1510121314488
Other66678100
Unknown101087161931
Fortunate91381113223

 

WIFE’s FAMILY ANALYSED BY MP’s OCCUPATION: THIRD MARRIAGES

3rd wife’s

family type

Total

Government

officials

Country

gentlemen

only

Army or

Naval

Officers

Lawyers Merchants Others
 10295491592
 %%%%%%%
Peerage14221722700
Gentry6056615653670
Merchant9071113110
Other111191120110
Unknown71160130100
Fortunate722601300

 

OFFICES

The vast majority of members held some sort of office,10 the exceptions being mostly men who died young, such as Robert Boscawen, John Fagg II and Edward Palmer.

Officeholding

Central

Government

 County  Municipal  
 2040 2040 2040
 % % %
Major office4Lord lieutenant4Mayor or bailiff10
Privy Councillor5Sheriff13Recorder or dep. Recorder10
Minor office16Dep. lieutenant47Other municipal office16
Steward, royal estates9Custos rotulorum6 
High court judge2JP85  
Other legal office6Militia commissioner28
  Assessment commissioner92
  Tax official8

 

It will be seen that 92% of all Members returned were commissioners of assessment. As it happened the percentage was lowest in James II’s Parliament, though Ailesbury reported ‘such a landed Parliament was never seen’.11 Ten per cent of those Members had no taxable property in any county, whereas in 1689 only 3% were in this position. In fact an attempt had been made at the Restoration, with the approval of politicians of such diverse outlook as Andrew Marvell and Sir Henry Bennet, to abandon the ‘assessment’, which had been introduced by the Long Parliament as a wartime emergency measure.12 This proved impossible, and throughout this period most direct taxation was raised by assessment. The commissioners after the Restoration might have been termed ‘commissioners for taxation’, but, whatever the name of the tax, they were fulfilling broadly the same functions as their predecessors. For the purposes of these biographies, the lists printed in the Statutes of the Realm have been used principally to indicate those boroughs and counties in which Members possessed taxable wealth, on the assumption that they would not fail to seize any opportunity of using their influence on their own assessment, provided they were not on oath.13

The proportion of justices of the peace was also very high: 85% of the total Membership sat on the county benches and about another 7% were probably borough magistrates, so that only about 165 Members (8%) never held that office. Again, these were apt to be younger sons, army and naval officers, or obscure persons. Three other substantial commissions are not listed in the table: commissioners appointed to administer the Corporation Act of 1661 (11% of the Membership), those appointed in 1662 to administer the Act for the Relief of Indigent Officers (14%), and those for Recusants’ Lands in 1675 (24%).

Many offices were held by life patent, particularly minor central government posts, and consequently the holders of these offices could not be dismissed. John Birch, for example, who was made auditor of the excise in 1661, could not be ousted even though he was a vigorous opponent of the Court. The majority of office holders, particularly at the local level, could be dismissed at pleasure. This was, of course, true of high offices in the central government, but the political factor influencing tenure in office can best be seen in the appointment, retention, and dismissal of justices of the peace.14

There were always a number of Members who held office at Court, 6% in all Parliaments except the Cavalier Parliament and James II’s. In the former there were never less than 20%, and under the Cabal no less than a quarter of the Members were courtiers. In the 1685 Parliament they made up 9%; one would have expected the proportion to have been higher. Normally they could be counted upon to support the Government in the Commons, but there were a few exceptions: exclusionists such as Thomas Browne, Gilbert Gerard II and Sir Roger Hill retained their posts as gentlemen of the privy chamber until the accession of James II, as did John Morton, who had been in office continuously since the early seventies.

 

PARLIAMENTARY EXPERIENCE

The first of the following tables shows the number of new Members in each Parliament and, for the Cavalier Parliament only, the numbers at the general election and at by-elections. At the beginning of each Parliament more than half the Members had previous parliamentary experience, the exception being James II’s Parliament. This reflects the Tory reaction after the Exclusion crisis as well as the electioneering activities of the Government. Exclusionists may not have stood or were rejected, and it is significant that of the 273 Members elected for the first time, 144 sat only in that Parliament, perhaps an indication that they were not ‘natural’ MPs, since death or old age accounts for only 20 of them. The large number of new Members returned to the Cavalier Parliament reflects its long duration, and the consequent necessity of replacing those who died or left the House for other reasons. The remarkable continuity in the three Exclusion Parliaments can be explained by the short interval between the elections, as well as by the prevailing political climate. The relatively small number of new Members in 1689 is due to the fact that 155 Members (a little more than a quarter of the House) sitting before 1685, but not in James II’s Parliament, were returned to the Convention.

The third table below shows that 49 Members had sat before 1640, five of them as early as 1614. Edmund Waller I, the poet, who first sat in 1624, last sat in James II’s Parliament. Fifty Members were returned first to the Short Parliament in 1640 (37 of these were also in the Long Parliament) and 102 began their parliamentary careers in the Long Parliament. Sixty-two of these had been recruiters, and of these more than half (35) ended their careers in the 1660 Convention. But three Members who first sat in the Short Parliament—Edward Herle, John Maynard I and Sir Ralph Verney—were returned to the Convention of 1689. Fifteen Rumpers were returned in 1660. Four were expelled, and only four—John Fagg I, Richard Ingoldsby, Herbert Morley and Alexander Popham—won seats in 1661 or later. Of the 17 Members who had sat in Barebones’ Parliament, two—the arch-survivor Bussy Mansel (he represented Glamorgan until his death in 1699) and the prudent Richard Norton—were returned to the Convention of 1689.

MEMBERS RETURNED FOR THE FIRST TIME

1660

1661-78
general

election

1661-78
by-

election

1679

(Mar.)

1679

(Oct.)

1681 1685 1689
548522345522541502526556
%%%%%%%%
4542854522125234

 

MEMBERS RETURNED FOR ONLY ONE PARLIAMENT

1660

1661-78
general

election

by-election

1679

(Mar.)

1679

(Oct.)

1681 1685 1689
%%%%%%%
40291119275328

 

PREVIOUS PARLIAMENTARY EXPERIENCE

 Total 1660

1661

-78

1679

(Mar.)

1679

(Oct.)

1681 1685 1689
 2040548867522541502526556
 %%%%%%%%
Sat before 164024311**0

Sat for first

time in 1640

410721111

Sat in Long

Parliament

9241244412

Sat in Barebones'

Parliament

13*1110*

Sat in first

Protectorate Parliament

518543312

Elected to second

Protectorate Parliament

619755513

Excluded from second

Protectorate Parliament

273221*1

Sat in second

Protectorate Parliament

414444411

Sat in Richard

Cromwell’s Parliament

11351287734

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

End Notes

  • 1. Reresby, Mems. 38.
  • 2. Dering, 54.