ABNEY, Sir Edward (1631-1728), of Willesley Hall, Leics. and Portugal Row, Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
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Family and Education
b. 6 Feb. 1631, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of James Abney of I. Temple and Willesley, sheriff of Derbys. 1656, by 1st w. Jane, da. of Edward Mainwaring of Whitmore, Staffs.; bro. of Sir Thomas Abney*. educ. Ashby-de-la-Zouche (Mr Porter) and Measham (Mr Houlton) schs.; Christ’s, Camb. 1649, BA 1652–3, MA 1656, LL.D. 1661, fellow 1655–?70. m. (1) 21 July 1661, Damaris (d.1687), da. of Thomas Andrewes, fellow of Christ’s, Camb., 1s. (pres. d.v.p.) 3da.; (2) 18 Dec. 1688, Judith, da. and coh. of Peter Barr, merchant, of London, 2s. (1 d.v.p.). Kntd. 2 Aug. 1673; suc. fa. 1693.1
Clerk in Chancery 1670–82; commr. of public accts. 1694–5.2
Freeman, Leicester 1690; Fishmongers’ Co. 1696.3
A branch of the Abney family had been established at Willesley since at least the early 15th century. Abney’s father had participated in the Royalist defence of Ashby Castle in 1645. Before entering the House at the age of almost 60, Edward Abney’s career was devoted to civil law. Initially he pursued an academic existence at Cambridge, having been allowed to retain his fellowship at Christ’s after marrying the stepdaughter of the college’s master, Dr Ralph Cudworth, the eminent Platonist theologian. Until 1662 his elder brother was still living and consequently the retention of this post was clearly of importance, especially as his marriage brought him no property. He was re-elected a fellow again in 1669, but in the year following obtained a highly lucrative place as one of the six clerks in Chancery.4
In 1685 Abney, a Presbyterian, stood for Leicestershire but was defeated. It was rumoured during the electoral preparations early in 1690 that he was to stand at Tamworth but in fact he stood for Leicester where initially his chances were considered doubtful, the corporation being dominated by Churchmen, ‘the majority and best party’. He was returned, however, after a busy campaign in which he had the support of the earls of Stamford and Huntingdon, he being on particularly good terms with the latter as a family friend and legal adviser. Classed as a Whig by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in March 1690, he was noted in Robert Harley’s* list, compiled c. April 1691, as a Court supporter. Grascome also classed him as such in a slightly later list. By 1694 Abney had obviously achieved sufficient prominence in the House, presumably through his committee work, to obtain election on 12 Apr. with 121 votes as one of the seven commissioners of accounts for 1694–5, with a salary of £500 p.a. It would appear that his candidacy was promoted by the Rose Club of which he was a member. He was not reappointed in 1695, and missed nomination in 1696 coming 11th in the ballot on 1 Feb. On 23 Apr. 1695 he was one of 24 MPs selected for the joint committee of both Houses to receive evidence from Sir Thomas Cooke* regarding bribes from the Old East India Company. Cooke’s evidence led to the Commons’ decision on the 27th to impeach the Duke of Leeds, and Abney was put on the committee charged to initiate the proceedings which were shortly afterwards aborted with the close of the session. Evidence for Abney’s pro-Court stance can be found for the next Parliament to which he was re-elected in 1695. In January 1696 he was forecast as a Court