BRYDGES (BRIDGES), George Rodney (aft.1649-1714), of Avington, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. aft. 1649, at least 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Sir Thomas Bridges (d. 1707) of Keynsham, Som. by Anne, da. and coh. of Sir Edward Rodney† of Stoke Rodney, Som. m. 1677, Lady Anna Maria Brudenell (d. 1702), da. of Robert, 2nd Earl of Cardigan, and wid. of Francis Talbot, 11th Earl of Shrewsbury, 1s.1
Capt. Duke of York’s indep. coy. 1673–aft.1675; groom of bedchamber 1678–85.2
Freeman, Portsmouth 1675, Winchester by 1701, Lymington 1701.3
The younger son of a noted Somerset Cavalier who had been Royalist governor of Bath during the Civil War (and an unsuccessful parliamentary candidate three times between 1666 and 1673), Brydges was one of the young ‘gallants’ of the Restoration court. After a spell as a captain in the Portsmouth garrison, during which he ran up debts and was reduced to borrowing from London goldsmiths, he had secured his fortune at the expense of what remained of his reputation by marriage to the notorious Countess of Shrewsbury, the former lover of the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, a domestic rearrangement which entailed his bringing an action in the court of arches for jactitation of marriage against his own previous mistress, Ann Smith, a shopkeeper in the New Exchange in the Strand, with whom he had evidently cohabited for some years. The Countess paid £4,500 to buy him a place as groom of the bedchamber, and it was almost certainly through her influence that he was appointed to the Staffordshire lieutenancy in 1680 and stood at Lichfield in the election to the Oxford Parliament. Although he enjoyed the support of ‘the dean and churchmen there’, the principal thrust of his campaign was an attack on the Tory lawyer Daniel Finch† (later 2nd Earl of Nottingham), whom he hoped thus to blackmail into providing him with a seat elsewhere, though without success. He seems to have remained loyal to the Court during the ‘Stuart revenge’, and even entertained Charles II at his new house in Hampshire while the King’s house at nearby Winchester was under construction. In 1683 Lord Sunderland recommended him for a keepership in the New Forest. Although evidently not reappointed a groom of the bedchamber by James II, he was still a faithful courtier: having given satisfactory answers to the King’s questions on the repeal of the Penal Laws and Test Act, he was recommended by the royal agents for inclusion in the Hampshire commission of the peace, and himself proposed to stand at Petersfield in the elections to the King’s abortive Parliament of 1688, though a subsequent report stated that he had ‘wholly left his interest and declines standing’. Of his conduct at the Revolution little is known: he was given a pass by King James to go down to Salisbury in November 1688, and another on 1 Dec. to travel to and from his seat at Avington. He does not seem to have been a candidate in the elections to the Convention, and then in March 1689 was granted an exemption, along with the Earl of Middleton, from having to quarter troops or suffer the requisition of his horses, evidence from which one may infer that he was still regarded as in some degree King James’s man. Possibly of significance in this connexion is the fact that payment of his wife’s pension of £1,600 p.a. on the Irish establishment, granted in 1672, was discontinued at the Revolution.4
By the time of the 1690 general election Brydges had succeeded in establishing his credentials as a Williamite: a volte-face doubtless achieved with the help of his powerful Whig connexions, in particular his stepson the 12th Earl (later 1st Duke) of Shrewsbury, and probably also his old friend Lord Brandon (Hon. Charles Gerard*). He was classed as a Whig by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in an analysis of the new Parliament, to which he had been returned for the Surrey constituency of Haslemere, possibly on the Onslow interest. In Robert Harley’s* list of April 1691 he was classed as a Country party supporter, though with an additional comment of ‘d[oubtful]’, that may have been added much later. His involvement in a debate on naval affairs on 14 Nov. 1691 can conceivably be attributed in some measure to the fact that Sir Richard Onslow*, brother of Denzil*, his colleague at Haslemere, was at this point one of the lords of Admiralty. In the debate Brydges reported to the House information vouchsafed to him by a captain in the fleet that Admiral Sir Ralph Delaval* had lately captured a French ship containing documents that were ‘of dangerous consequence’ to the government. On the 16th he was ordered to name the captain and identified him as Carmarthen’s son Lord Danby (Hon. Peregrine Osborne*). As a Member with Irish estates (at Skirk, Queen’s co.) and considerable Irish connexions, he was a natural choice to be named on 1 Jan. 1692 to the committee to receive proposals for raising funds on the Irish forfeited estates; oddly, he was later added, on 20 Jan., to the same committee. When the ensuing Irish forfeitures bill was reported, on 9 Feb., he presented a clause on behalf of the Duke of Ormond. Almost certainly by this time he had penetrated the inner circle of Hampshire Whigs headed by the Duke of Bolton (Charles Powlett†), with whom he was to be closely associated in the future; and on 8 Feb. 1693 he spoke alongside other ‘friends to the Duke of Bolton’ in opposition to the bill to preserve timber in the New Forest. He was again active in Irish business on 22 Feb., introducing Irish witnesses to give evidence before the Commons in the debate on the charges of maladministration and corruption against the government in Dublin, and moving for the recall of the Irish parliament. Little is heard of him during the 1693–4 session, aside from a fortnight’s leave of absence, granted on 8 Feb. 1694. Grascome’s list now classified him as a Court supporter, however, and on 29 Nov. he was ordered to bring in another bill to vest the Irish forfeited estates in their Majesties, a measure he duly introduced on 3 Dec. After a second grant of leave, in February 1695, also for two weeks, he returned to the House by 26 Mar., when he was appointed to bring in a bill to oblige Sir Thomas Cooke* to disclose how he had distributed the sums, amounting to £87,000, detailed in the report of the committee of inquiry into the affairs of the East India Company. He introduced the bill on the 28th, chaired the committee of the whole House to which it was referred, and the committee on the Lords’ bill to indemnify Cooke. He also took a prominent part in the impeachment of Carmarthen, now Duke of Leeds, for which the East India inquiry had paved the way.5
After the 1695 general election, and the arrival in the Commons first of Hon. James Brydges* and then of other namesakes, it becomes progressively more difficult to distinguish the parliamentary activity of the various ‘Mr Brydges’ recorded in the Journals. To some degree, however, Brydges’ adopted Whiggism conveniently sets him apart, until the election of his own son in 1708. Classed as likely to support the Court in a forecast for the division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696, he signed the Association promptly, and in March voted for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. Because of his local interest, he was almost certainly the Brydges who told on 27 Feb. 1696 against the Avon navigation bill. His conduct over the attainder of Sir John Fenwick† in the following autumn seems to have been determined for the most part by his anxiety to protect the reputation of his stepson, Shrewsbury, whom Fenwick’s confession had implicated in Jacobite intrigues. Even before Parliament met, Brydges was busy on Shrewsbury’s behalf behind the scenes, and in the first debate on the affair, on 6 Nov., Shrewsbury was informed by James Vernon I* that Brydges had ‘employed both industry and judgment’. He was clearly acting as his stepson’s agent, attending high-level ministerial conferences to concert parliamentary strategy, and sending Shrewsbury regular progress reports. In the House he intervened whenever possible to forward the attainder, speaking on 13 Nov. to oppose any suggestion that Fenwick be allowed more time to produce witnesses, and, on a subsequent occasion, in favour of admitting as evidence the examination of the absconded witness, Cardell Goodman, when he observed acidly, ‘if you do not read this affidavit I do not say but it is a kindness to Sir J. F., but what kindness will it be to the country and government?’ On 17 Nov., before Fenwick was to be called in for examination, Brydges proposed a question to be asked him on Shrewsbury’s behalf, namely what proof Fenwick possessed for his claim that ‘Shrewsbury came into the office of Secretary of State again, by the operation and consent of King James’. Later in the same debate he suggested, to the general disapprobation of the House, that Fenwick also be required to confirm that the statement denouncing Shrewsbury and the rest was indeed in his own hand. He canvassed support for the bill as the crucial division came nearer, and on 25 Nov. voted for it himself. But the successful passage of the bill did not mark the end of Shrewsbury’s personal danger, for, as Brydges reported, there were still those, like the Earl of Monmouth and ‘the cabal in Dover Street’, whose enmity to Shrewsbury was such that they were determined to pursue any scandal. In December and January 1697 Brydges continued to act for the Duke in this matter, gathering information and offering advice. The other issue in which he was active in the House in this session was the bill to naturalize the sons of the Earl of Athlone: he brought in the bill, and on 29 Dec. reported from the second-reading committee. This too would have done him no harm at court, and he moved quickly to cash in on whatever gratitude he had earned from the great men, asking Shrewsbury in January 1697 to use his influence with Lord Albemarle to secure a nomination to the new commission of lords justices to be named for Ireland, adding that Athlone too might be willing to help in return for Brydges’ efforts over the naturalization bill. This was in fact to pitch his claims rather too high, and nothing came of it: he had more success with a petition for a renewal of payment of his wife’s Irish pension, which was duly granted in April 1697, the pension being secured as before to Lord Rochester (Laurence Hyde†) as trustee, though this time Brydges rather than his wife was named as beneficiary. He was not, however, granted payment of the arrears which had accumulated since 1688. In the one remaining session of the Parliament he seems to have been less active than previously. He told Vernon in December 1697 that he intended to absent himself from the House when the rumoured attack on Sunderland eventually materialized, since past obligations to the Earl made it impossible for him to appear against Sunderland ‘and he knew not how to be for him’; and on 7 Apr. 1698 he was officially granted two weeks’ leave of absence. There had been no change in his political allegiance, however, for in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments drawn up after the 1698 general election he was still ranked with the Court party.6
Despite the endorsement of his influential Whig friends, and of members of the administration like Vernon, Brydges failed to secure his re-election in 1698 at Haslemere, and may also have unsuccessfully contested a seat at Winchester, not far from his residence at Avington. He petitioned on 12 Dec., but his evidence (of bribery) was so feeble that on 9 Feb. 1699 the Commons not only rejected the petition but went on to vote it ‘frivolous and vexatious’. He had not given up his efforts to obtain office, even without a vote in Parliament, and in January 1699 it was reported that he entertained hopes of a customs commissionership through the intercession of Lord Portland. In the first election of 1701 Brydges concentrated his attention on Winchester, where his own proprietorial interest and the help of the Powlett family stood him in better stead than at Haslemere. He topped the poll in a contested election. Now, in a time of adversity for the Whigs, he once more took a prominent part in parliamentary proceedings. He acted as a teller on 19 Feb. 1701 against the Tory attempt to expel Sir Henry Furnese* from the House on the basis of the clause in the Salt Duty Act excluding those concerned in the management of the revenue, again on 14 Apr., against the motion declaring Lord Orford (Edward Russell*) guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours, and, after a fortnight’s leave of absence, granted on the 14th, was possibly a teller once more on 14 June, for an additional clause to the wine duty bill which would have ‘respited’ the sale of the Irish forfeited estates, a move opposed by leading Tories of the kind with whom James Brydges habitually associated. Returned unopposed at Winchester in November, he was grouped with the Whigs in Harley’s list of this Parliament. His Irish connexions make it feasible that he was the Brydges involved in April–May 1702 in putting through a number of private bills arising from the resumption of the Irish forfeited estates, and who acted as a teller against leave for a bill on behalf of two Protestant ladies, Elizabeth Foulke and Elizabeth Wandesford (10 Mar.). He may also have been the ‘Mr Brydges’ who on 16 May moved an additional clause at the third reading of the bill to relieve the ‘Protestant purchasers’ of Irish forfeited estates from the effects of the resumption, a clause designed to ‘encourage the sale’ of the forfeitures and at the same time ‘quieten the minds’ of previous purchasers.7
In Queen Anne’s first Parliament Brydges served in all probability as a teller in a division on the Plympton election on 28 Jan. 1703, in favour of the Whig Richard Edgcumbe*, and voted on 13 Feb. 1703 for agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill to enlarge the time for taking the oath of abjuration. On 19 Feb. 1704 he resumed his earlier practice of obtaining leave of absence early in the year, on this occasion for three weeks. Forecast as a probable opponent of the Tack at the beginning of the 1704–5 session, on 28 Nov. he either voted against it or was absent. Later in that session he evidently joined other Members with Irish interests or associations in working to forward the bill to permit the export of linen cloth to the Plantations and to prevent its importation from Scotland into Ireland. His Irish pension qualified him for inclusion in a ‘blacklist’ of placemen drawn up prior to the 1705 election, and, having been listed as a ‘Churchman’ in an analysis of the new Parliament, he voted on 25 Oct. 1705 for the Court candidate as Speaker, and supported the Court on 18 Feb. 1706 in the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ in the regency bill. His loyalty was rewarded in 1707 by a further rearrangement of his pension, Rochester now withdrawing from the trusteeship, so that the money was paid directly to Brydges. Meanwhile he had fulfilled a family obligation in the 1705–6 session of Parliament by managing through the House in February the bill to naturalize the Duchess of Shrewsbury, and probably also an obligation of friendship by introducing the bill on 26 Jan. to empower the Treasury to compound for the debt of a former receiver-general for Hampshire, who had been a client of the Powletts. Further leave of absence was granted on 21 Feb. 1707, and on 7 Jan. 1708, the latter restricted to three weeks, but even so he was probably still the Member who told on 17 Feb. 1708 against his former electoral opponent Frederick Tylney* in the Whitchurch election, and on the 19th in favour of committing the petition of Sir Thomas Cookes Winford, 2nd Bt.*, for a bill to settle the bequest of Sir Thomas Cooke to establish what was to become Worcester College, Oxford.8
Brydges was marked as a Whig in two parliamentary lists from early 1708, and in the next Parliament was probably a teller in two election cases: on 2 Dec. 1708, against a Tory amendment to a resolution of the committee over the Reading election; and on 29 Jan. 1709, again on the Whig side, in a division over the notorious Abingdon dispute. He supported the naturalization of the Palatines in 1709, and may well be credited with a further tellership, on 29 Mar. 1709, for giving a second reading to the bill for improving the union with Scotland. That month it was reported that he was at odds with his Winchester colleague, Lord William Powlett, over the bill to permit the importing of French wines, but on 28 Jan. 1710 he and Lord William told together in favour of a motion to thank Richard West, a canon of Winchester, for his sermon to the Commons, there being some Tory opposition to the motion on the grounds that West had declared the Civil War to have been the product of ‘faults on both sides’. Predictably, Brydges voted for Dr Sacheverell’s impeachment.9
Overcoming strong opposition from Tories at Winchester in the 1710 election, Brydges was noticeably less active during the ensuing Parliament. He was marked as a Whig in the ‘Hanover list’. Either he or his son was a teller on 3 Feb. 1711 against referring to a committee a petition against a Hampshire enclosure Act, but he appeared on no further parliamentary lists. Nothing has been discovered of his relationship with the Tory administration other than an unsuccessful petition which he preferred in 1712–13 for the payment of the £13,600 arrears on his pension (accumulated between 1688 and its regranting in 1697), and for which he sought James Brydges’ assistance.10
Brydges was returned again for Winchester in 1713 but two days before the election he had clumsily doctored an ingrowing toenail, which swiftly gangrened. On the advice of the royal physician his foot was amputated ‘and such was his courage’, ran one account, that he was able ‘to tell the surgeon he had spoiled his dancing. But soon after the same was done to his leg above the knee.’ After this his death was widely reported, but in fact he lingered over the winter, and was buried on 9 Feb. at St. Giles-in-the-Fields, his son succeeding him both in his estate and in his parliamentary seat.11
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 45, 49, 58, 64, 81, 113, 137, 143, 452–3; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 422, 429–30, 434–5, 438–9, 441–2; J. Oldmixon, Hist. Eng. (1735), 152; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 1014, 1032, 1051, 1055; Shrewsbury Corresp. 528–9; CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 74, 119; Cal. Treas. Bks. xii. 123.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1672–3, p. 587; 1675–6, p. 407; 1678, pp. 301, 336; Jan.–June 1683, p. 293; Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 908; viii. 222.
- 3. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 361; Hants RO, Winchester bor. recs. ordnance bk. 7, f. 166; E. King, Old Times Revisited, 192.
- 4. D. Underdown, Som. in Civil War and Interregnum, 69, 111, 128; P. R. Newman, Royalist Officers in Eng. and Wales 1642–60, p. 43; Lambeth Palace Lib. ct. of Arches recs. A12 (20 June 1677), E6/64, 112; E6, ff. 181–2; F8, f. 148; CSP Dom. 1679–80, p. 377; Jan.–June 1683, p. 293; 1683–4, pp. 24, 128, 142; 1685, p. 160; 1687–9, pp. 406, 415; 1689–90, pp. 32, 36; 1697, p. 74; VCH Hants, iii. 307; Wilks, Hants, ii. 41; Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1882), pp. 419, 423–4, 429, 432.
- 5. HMC Finch, ii. 406; Rapin, Hist. i. 192; Luttrell Diary, 22, 409–10, 440; HMC Lords, n.s. viii. 275–6; Bolton mss at Bolton Hall, Thomas Cobbe to Bolton, 16 May 1698, Brydges to same, 8 Nov. 1698, Bolton to Ld. Winchester (Charles Powlett I*), 2 Dec. 1698, 2nd Duke of Bolton (Charles Powlett I) to Thomas Coward, 13 June 1710.
- 6. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 45, 49, 58, 64, 81, 113, 137, 143, 452–3; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 422, 429–30, 434–5, 438–9, 441–2; Oldmixon, 152; Cobbett, 1014, 1032, 1051, 1055; Shrewsbury Corresp. 528–9; CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 74, 119; Cal. Treas. Bks. xii. 123.
- 7. Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/63, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 30 July 1698; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 173, 250, 260; Add. 40773, f. 140; P. J. Le Fevre, ‘Three Surrey Bors. 1660–1714’ (Univ. of East Anglia MA thesis, 1981), p. 136.
- 8. Add. 28893, f. 84; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxi. 475.
- 9. Add. 28052, f. 130; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 541.
- 10. Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(6), p. 242; 57(9), pp. 45, 67–68, 100; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1708–14, p. 392; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvi. 273.
- 11. Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP F35, p. 16; Bodl. Carte 211, f. 137; BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 51, Thomas Bateman to Sir William Trumbull*, 2 Sept. 1713; Wentworth Pprs. 352; CP, xi. 720.