AYLMER, Matthew (c.1650-1720), of Covent Garden, Westminster, and Westcliffe, nr. Dover, Kent
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Family and Education
b. c.1650, 2nd s. of Sir Christopher Aylmer, 1st Bt., of Balrath, co. Meath by Margaret, da. of Matthew Plunkett, 5th Baron Louth [I]. m. bef. 1682, Sarah (d. 1710), da. of Edward Ellis of London, 2s. (1 d.v.p.), 4da. (2 d.v.p.). cr. Baron Aylmer of Balrath [I] 1 May 1718.1
Ensign of ft. Duke of Buckingham’s regt. 1672–?3, Tangier regt. 1677, lt. 1678; capt. of horse, Queen Dowager’s regt. 1686–?; lt.-col. of horse by 1690, marines 1697; ent. RN 1677, lt. 1678, capt. 1679, r.-adm. Feb. 1693, v.-adm. July 1693, adm. of fleet, 1709–1711, 1714–18, half-pay 1708–9, 1711–14; r.-adm. of Eng. 1718–d.; extra commr. Navy Board 1694–1702; ld. of Admiralty 1717–1718.2
Commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1695–?1703, gov. 1714–d.; keeper, Greenwich park and palace 1714–d.; gov. Deal Castle 1700–?4.3
Freeman, Portsmouth 1695, Dover 1697.4
Commr. registering seamen 1696–?1700.5
Long-established in Ireland, the Aylmers were Old English palesmen with estates in the counties of Meath and Louth. As Catholics they suffered during the Civil Wars, when Aylmer’s grandfather was imprisoned, but were restored at least to some of their lands in 1661. Aylmer’s father, who received a baronetcy at this time, showed a loyalty to King Charles II which extended to a willingness to compromise with the Protestant establishment: he subscribed to the ‘protestation and remonstrance’ of Catholic gentry in 1661 repudiating papal authority, and both his younger sons, Matthew and George, conformed to the Established Church. As a result, Christopher came into conflict both with his own father, and then with his eldest son, Gerald, who disputed title to the family inheritance before eventually succeeding as 2nd Bt. Gerald then jeopardized the family estates by joining James II in 1689. In October 1690 Matthew Aylmer petitioned for a grant of the property his brother had forfeited, but the outcome is not known.6
As the second son, Matthew embarked on a military career, as did his younger brother, George (d. 1689). He seems to have become a client of the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, in whose regiment he was commissioned. After the disbandment of the regiment, family history notes that Aylmer raised troops in Munster for the Dutch, before obtaining a commission in a Tangier regiment in 1677, and then switching to a naval career. While on active service at Tangier, he was raised to captain by Admiral Arthur Herbert†, and continued to serve until the evacuation of the garrison in 1683–4. In James II’s reign Aylmer saw service at sea against Monmouth’s rebels, before receiving promotion in the army. Given his Catholic antecedents, and his elder brother’s commitment to Rome, Aylmer’s position was fraught with possibilities and dangers; in July 1687 he received a dispensation from taking the oaths of allegiance and supremacy while acting as an army captain. However, in 1688 he showed unequivocal support for the Prince of Orange, and was a leading participant in the ‘navy plot’ against James II.7
Aylmer’s main patron at this time appears to have been Edward Russell*. In February 1690, a report that John Hill had been appointed to the Navy Board brought a missive from Russell to Secretary Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), extolling Aylmer’s qualifications for such a post and recalling previous service to the Williamite cause. He was considered for a flag as early as August 1690, but it was as a captain that he was given command of the Mediterranean fleet in 1690–1, although he was allowed to retain his lieutenant-colonelcy in the army. In August 1691 Aylmer sought command of the West Indies squadron, but had to wait until 1693 for a flag. He may have tried to take advantage of the Smyrna fleet debacle in 1693, because Sir Ralph Delaval* wrote acidly, ‘there was not a flag at the council of war so very fond of coming into port as Mr Aylmer who I suppose doth all the good is in his nature but his hand is to every resolution of our councils of war which I hope to see him deny’. The following year saw his appointment to the Navy Board.8
Aylmer’s first foray into electoral politics ended in a double return at the Portsmouth by-election of 1695 (after Russell himself had created the vacancy by opting to sit for Cambridgeshire). The Commons on 24 Jan. 1696 voted this a void election, and even with Russell’s backing Aylmer’s interest proved insufficient to overcome that of John Gibson, the town’s lieutenant-governor, who was returned unopposed at the second by-election. Early in 1696, the deposition of the Assassination Plotter Peter Cook suggested that the Jacobites thought they could ‘depend’ upon Aylmer, but nothing incriminating was revealed. In May 1697 he subscribed £1,000 to the contract for lending money to circulate Exchequer bills. The death of James Chadwick* left a vacancy for Dover, a borough in which the navy could exercise considerable influence. Aylmer approached the corporation in June 1697 and, despite snide references by Philip Papillon* to Aylmer’s Irishness and lack of any visible estate in the town or county, he was returned on 15 Dec., taking his seat on the 20th.9
In February 1698 Aylmer was given command of the squadron destined for the Mediterranean. At this point he was ‘in town’, and presumably attending Parliament. Delays in supplying the fleet, owing to a shortage of funds, meant that he did not sail until September, which may have allowed him to consolidate his position in Dover with timely applications to the government for money to repair Dover harbour. Before leaving England he was re-elected, and was listed as a placeman in September 1698 and as a placeman on a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments. In an addendum to this list he was marked as absent, and the House officially excused his attendance on 7 Mar. 1699 because of his duties at sea and as envoy to various North African states.10
During Aylmer’s absence (he returned at the end of October 1699) there was a lengthy parliamentary inquiry into mismanagements at the Admiralty, one of the allegations being the delay in fitting out Aylmer’s squadron. Other, more specific, charges against him included his detention of the Centurion at Cadiz in order to force its commander, Price, to concede a large share of his profits, and Aylmer’s role as victualler of his own fleet while in the Mediterranean. Opinion divided on party lines as to his culpability. Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, thought Price’s charges ‘mere malice, nothing in it at all’, while James Vernon I* reported that the House had considered, in regard to victualling, that Aylmer was ‘too honest and too considerate’ to have submitted false accounts and profit thereby. However, Robert Harley’s* papers contain the draft of a resolution condemning Aylmer for corruption and breach of trust in detaining Price at Cadiz. This may well relate to the debate in the committee of the whole on 10 Mar. 1699, when Aylmer was blamed, but the matter was ‘let fall before they came to any question’.11
While Aylmer was at sea during the summer of 1699 Orford resigned his place at the Admiralty. In discussions that followed there was talk of promoting George Churchill* to a flag senior to Aylmer, no doubt as part of the Earl of Marlborough’s (John Churchill†) rapprochement with the Court. Vernon felt that Aylmer might resign over this matter, possibly ‘to give a handle for finding fault with the partialities of this commission of Admiralty, and to show the case is not much mended in that respect’, and that the appointment of Churchill would be difficult to defend on the grounds of experience and seniority. In the event, Churchill went to the Admiralty in place of Sir Robert Rich, 2nd Bt.*, while Aylmer continued at the Navy Board. An analysis of the House into ‘interests’ in early 1700 listed Aylmer as a member of the Bedford/Orford connexion. This affiliation did not help him to obtain one of the limited number of peacetime commands, although his name was linked with a squadron going to the Straits. In March 1701 he was listed among those flag officers ‘unemployed at sea’. Aylmer’s attention to constituency matters, such as his appointment on 12 Feb. 1700 to draft a bill to repair Dover harbour, ensured that he was returned at the election of January 1701; he even appears to have retained the naval interest at Dover although another Court supporter, Secretary of State Sir Charles Hedges*, was also returned. In the ensuing parliamentary session, Aylmer was listed among those thought likely to support the Court in February over the ‘Great Mortgage’.12
When Dover corporation rebuffed Hedges in the run-up to the election of December 1701, it was mostly because of Aylmer’s ‘neglect’ of their interests. In comparison, he had been more attentive, particularly over the harbour. Aylmer was also solicitous for his own interests: hence a petition he signed with three other navy commissioners on 31 Dec. 1701, for the continuance of an allowance of £80 p.a. for housing, in view of the fact that they could not be accommodated in government property. Aylmer had resided in the parish of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, since at least as early as 1694, moving from St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields at some point after 1690, possibly coincidental with his appointment to the Navy Board in 1692. He had also purchased an estate near Dover, presumably by 1701 when he presented to an advowson at nearby East Langdon. On a list of the new Parliament, Harley classed him as a Whig. With fewer naval duties to perform, Aylmer was more active in the 1701–2 session, and was included on the drafting committee of a bill to encourage privateers. On a personal note he also assisted in the management of a private bill for the Fitzgerald and Plunkett families, with both of whom the Irish Aylmers were connected.13
Aylmer had been appointed vice-admiral of the red in January 1702, but the death of William III saw his naval career at a standstill, following the Queen’s decision to employ George Churchill in that place, and the consequent dispute about seniority which Vernon had predicted three years before. Aylmer was also left out of a revamped Navy Board, for which the governorship of Deal and nomination to the Kentish lieutenancy and the bench were poor recompense. Re-elected for Dover in 1702, in July he petitioned the Queen for a pension, such as had been given by William III to Admirals Delaval and Killigrew (Henry*). Aylmer considered his position to be similar, in that he had been displaced from being vice-admiral of the red by Churchill and then removed from the Navy Board, whereas the official view was that Aylmer had declined to serve and had as a consequence also lost his post as a navy commissioner. Although L’Hermitage had described him in February 1702 as a Whig and a creature of Orford, Aylmer was spotted caballing in September with Lord Burlington (Hon. Charles Boyle I*), Lord Somers (Sir John*), Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*), (Sir) Thomas Felton* (4th Bt.) and ‘Mr Hopkins [?Thomas*]’. Nothing came of these discussions between overlooked politicians, but Aylmer remained a Whig, voting on 13 Feb. 1703 to agree with the Lords’ amendments enlarging the time for taking the oaths of abjuration. Forecast as an opponent of the Tack, he did not vote for it on 28 Nov. 1704.14
In January 1705 there was a rumour that Aylmer would serve at sea again the following summer, and in a conciliatory move the Treasury ordered a stay of prosecution against Aylmer and Sir Basill Dixwell, 2nd Bt.*, for failure to account for money given to them to repair Dover harbour. Returned again at the 1705 election, Aylmer was described in an analysis of the new House as a ‘High Church Courtier’, and his name appears on a list of placemen for 1705, presumably because of his governorship at Deal. On 25 Oct. 1705 he voted for the Court candidate as Speaker, and later in the session, on 18 Feb. 1706, supported the Court in the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill. He was more active in the Commons in this Parliament, his committee appointments again reflecting his interest in naval affairs, and in 1706 he presented a memorial to the Treasury on the desirability of the Navy Board taking over responsibility for Dover harbour.15
Re-elected in 1708, Aylmer was classed as a Whig on two lists of that year. He sought to capitalize on the swing towards the Whigs at this time and gain further preferment. Thus on 25 May, only a few weeks after the general election, he wrote to Marlborough to remind the Duke of a memorial delivered the previous winter, in which Aylmer had asked for the governorship of Greenwich Hospital, ‘or to be allowed a subsistence’. Since that post had been disposed of, Aylmer recounted the ‘hardships under which I suffer, and not being conscious that I have done anything can deserve so particular a mark of severeness above all other officers’. Marlborough seems to have responded favourably to this letter, which was referred to Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†), although nothing was done immediately. In December 1708 a commission was made out for Aylmer as admiral of the fleet, which was superseded the following day. This was a device to provide Aylmer with a ‘subsistence’ on half pay at a high rank. In 1709 he supported the naturalization of the Palatines. With the Earl of Pembroke (Hon. Thomas Herbert†) as Lord High Admiral, rumours began to circulate as early as March that the Admiralty would be put into a commission which would include Aylmer. The same rumours recurred in October and November, but when Orford was brought back into the Admiralty Aylmer was not one of the commissioners; instead he was given command of the fleet. This did not please everyone: Sir John Jennings* felt rather as Aylmer had done in 1702 when Churchill had been appointed, and Arthur Maynwaring* noted that ‘the officers have no real value for Mr Aylmer, nor indeed for anyone now but for Jennings’. As a consequence of his appointment Aylmer had to fight a by-election, but was returned unopposed. In the 1709–10 session he voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell.16
Returned again at the 1710 election, Aylmer soon lost his position as admiral and commander-in-chief of the fleet. Indeed, at the committee of elections on 22 Feb. 1711, both Aylmer and Jennings were ‘severely criticized’ for interfering at the election for Weymouth by treating the corporation on board ship. However, when the report came before the House on 17 Mar. no resolution critical of Aylmer was passed. The end of the session saw Aylmer appealing to Harley for repayment of the contingency money he had spent while equipping himself for service at sea the previous year and referring again to the hardships he had undergone. In the following session Aylmer voted on 7 Dec. 1711 for the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion, but otherwise was not very active. In the 1713 session he was not present in the Commons to vote in the divisions of 18 June over the French commerce bill because he had gone to Deal Castle with Sir John Norris* (his son-in-law) to celebrate the marriage of his younger daughter to Hugh Fortescue*.17
Not only was Aylmer defeated at the 1713 general election, it was even felt necessary to scotch a rumour in the following January that he was a Catholic. However, he was soon back in favour after the Hanoverian succession. In October 1714 he was reported to have been made governor of Greenwich Hospital, a post he had long coveted, which ‘is a very pretty post, and has a very pleasant house to dwell in’. November saw him reappointed admiral of the fleet, and he regained his seat in the Commons at the 1715 general election. On a comparative analysis of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments he was listed as a Whig. Aylmer continued as admiral until he exchanged the post for the honorific title of rear-admiral of England and an Irish peerage in 1718. He died at Greenwich on 18 Aug. 1720, although his will, dated in June that year, still gave his address as Covent Garden. In it he had appointed as executor his son Henry†, an equerry to the King. Swift wrote off his compatriot as a violent partisan, but Aylmer seems to have been skilled at exploiting the situations available to him. His early naval career was marked by the smooth facility with which he moved between patrons, yet he managed to retain his seat at Dover even after the original backing of the Navy interest had been lost.18
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. F. J. Aylmer, Aylmers of Ire. 190, 194–5, 253; Misc. Gen. et Her. ser. 4, iv. 75–77; Mariner’s Mirror, li. 178–9; Addison Letters, 80; IGI, London.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1676–7, p. 512; 1677–8, p. 337; 1690–1, p. 189; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 191; vi. 684; Mariner’s Mirror, lxxiii. 206; CJ, xvi. 225.
- 3. Add. 10120, f. 232; Daily Courant, 8 Aug. 1704.
- 4. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 371; Add. 29625, f. 130.
- 5. J. Ehrman, Navy in War of Wm. III, 600.
- 6. Aylmer, 146–52, 154.
- 7. Ibid. 168–9; CSP Dom. 1687–9, p. 23; 1690–1, p. 147; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1557–1696, p. 156; By Force or By Default? ed. Cruickshanks, 85–87; Cam. Soc. n.s. xlvi. 27.
- 8. HMC Finch, ii. 270; iii. 243, 386, 451; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 189; Centre Kentish Stud. Papillon mss U1015/O57/7, Delaval to Thomas Papillon*, 29 June 1693.
- 9. CSP Dom. 1696, p. 111; 1697, p. 525; Luttrell, iv. 59; Univ. of London mss 65, item 3; Papillon mss U1015/C44, p. 28.
- 10. Luttrell, iv. 344, 415, 418, 518; CSP Dom. 1698, pp. 104, 371; Add. 28123, f. 1; 28943, f. 76; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 151–2; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, p. 140; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 65.
- 11. Luttrell, iv. 577; Add. 30000 C, f. 226; 40773, f. 152; 70044, f. 203v; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 252–3; Cam. Misc. xxix. 351, 390; Cocks Diary, 3; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 263, 266; CSP Dom. 1699–1700, p. 90.
- 12. Add. 40774, ff. 53–54; Luttrell, iv. 650; CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 283; Bodl. Carte 228, f. 402.
- 13. Add. 28887, f. 374; CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 283; IGI, London; Hasted, Kent, ix. 421; Aylmer, 190; Jnl. Kildare Arch. Soc. iii. 174–5.
- 14. Navy Recs. Soc. ix. 145; Luttrell, v. 152; CSP Dom. 1702–3, pp. 275–7, 394, 437; info. from Prof. N. Landau; Add. 29588, f. 196.
- 15. Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 6 Jan. 1705; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, p. 460; Cal. Treas. Bks. xix. 377, 515, 519.
- 16. Add. 61111, ff. 204–5; 70420, newsletter 24 Feb. 1709; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1051; Luttrell, vi. 387, 501; CJ, xvi. 226; HMC Downshire, i. 871, 881; Navy Recs. Soc. liii. 341; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. i. 279.
- 17. Luttrell, vi. 684; Bodl. Ballard 39, f. 34; Add. 70321, memo. Aylmer to Oxford, [c. Aug. 1711]; 70209, Aylmer to Oxford, 15 Aug. 1711; Papillon mss U1015/C45, p. 100.
- 18. Papillon mss U1015/C45, pp. 185, 353; Navy Recs. Soc. lxx. 383; HMC Polwarth, i. 462; PCC 188 Shaller; Swift Works ed. Davis, v. 261; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 363.