CHILD, Sir Francis (1642-1713), of Hollybush House, Fulham, Mdx. and the Marygold by Temple Bar, London
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Family and Education
bap. 14 Dec. 1642, 6th s. of Robert Child of Heddington, Wilts., by his w. Jane. m. 21 Oct. 1671, Elizabeth (d. 1720), da. of William Wheeler, goldsmith and banker, of the Marygold, 12s. (9 d.v.p.) 3da. (1 d.v.p.) Kntd. 29 Oct. 1689.1
Apprentice, Goldsmiths’ Co. 1656, freeman 1665, livery 1671, asst. 1688, master 1702, prime warden 1690–1; common councilman, London 1682–3, 1689, alderman Oct. 1689–d., sheriff 1690–1, ld. mayor 1698–9.
Jeweller to King William 1689–97; receiver, Salt Duty Act 1694; commr. taking subscriptions to land bank 1696.
Cttee. Old E.I. Co. 1699–1701; pres. Christ’s Hosp. 1702–12; commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1695, 1704.2
Child was born in Heddington, Wiltshire, where his family had probably been settled since the mid-16th century. His father was a clothier but he himself, a younger son in a numerous family, was sent to London at the age of 14 to be apprenticed to a goldsmith. The foundation of his fortune was his marriage in 1671 to the daughter of the banker, William Wheeler, who conducted business at the sign of the Marygold by Temple Bar. Wheeler was already dead by the time of the marriage and the firm was currently being run by Robert Blanchard, who had married Wheeler’s widow. Blanchard subsequently took Child into partnership, and on Blanchard’s death in 1681 the bulk of his estate, including the bank, came to Child. He quickly became one of the capital’s leading financiers, and, having been the first banker to give up the goldsmith’s trade, he was later heralded as ‘the father of the profession’. His wealth and City contacts made him a powerful ally, but his political outlook was less certain, for his allegiance swung from Whig to Tory in the course of an often controversial career.3
Child first entered public life in 1682, when he became a common councilman of London. However, having been labelled by one Tory observer as ‘indifferent’ in politics, he was displaced by another Tory the following year, and only gained greater prominence after the Revolution, when he started making large loans to the government. For a time in 1689 the stability of his bank was threatened by rumours of a run, but he was reportedly helped out of his difficulties by Sarah Churchill (later Duchess of Marlborough). Despite this scare, Child secured rapid advancement in the City and at court, becoming an alderman of London, receiving a knighthood, and gaining appointment as jeweller to the King. Even a Tory like Sir Peter Rich† acknowledged his financial standing, recommending him in March 1690 to Sir Stephen Fox* for the raising of a government loan in the capital. He was clearly identified as a Whig leader in the City, for in May 1690 the Earl of Monmouth rose in the Lords to condemn Child’s dismissal as a lieutenant-colonel in the London militia, branding Sir Francis’ replacement a ‘traitor’. The same month Child successfully stood as a Whig candidate for sheriff.4
In December 1690 Child’s status as a financier was attested by a summons before the Lords to advise on a bill to prevent the export of bullion. For the next few years the ministry found him a valuable source of credit, and in 1692 he joined Sir Joseph Herne* and Sir Stephen Evance* to advance £50,000 for the maintenance of the government in Ireland. He appears to have remained in Whig ranks until at least November 1693, when he gave evidence against the Tory admirals over the loss of the Smyrna convoy. Moreover, the following March he was chosen a colonel of the City trained bands as the Whigs consolidated their control of the capital, although one source suggests that he may have declined to serve. His Whig allegiance was severely tested after the foundation of the Bank of England in 1694, which, in common with many other private bankers, he opposed. He was subsequently involved in the scandal surrounding the City’s payments to secure the passage of the Orphans’ Relief Act, but testified to the Commons committee of inquiry in March 1695 that he had never attended the committee set up by the common council to obtain such a bill. In addition, although he had signed the order authorizing the payment of money to the Speaker, Sir John Trevor*, he denied being present when the money was handed over, and claimed he ‘could give little account of the matter’.5
In 1695 Child conducted his first parliamentary campaign at Devizes, a borough which lay only three miles from his birthplace. His brother John, mayor of Devizes in 1694–5, could boast a strong local interest, but Sir Francis failed to be returned. Most significantly, in preparation for this contest he had sought the aid of the Duke of Leeds (Sir Thomas Osborne†), thereby indicating a further drift towards the Tories. He certainly did not see eye to eye with the ministry during the recoinage crisis, for in May 1696 he and other financiers were summoned to the lords justices and warned ‘not to augment the difficulties that are now upon credit’. He was later commended for having weathered the emergency without closing his business, but in August it was reported that his ‘head is so turned upon the business of the coin that he hardly knows what he does or what he says’. Given his opposition to the Bank, it was no surprise that in that year he lent his support to the land bank. Furthermore, his alienation from the ministry may even have influenced his resignation as jeweller to the King in 1697. The following year he further identified himself with the Tory financial interest by advancing £3,000 to the subscription which the Old East India Company submitted to the Commons to rival the New Company’s proposal.6
Having fought a successful campaign at Devizes in 1698, Child was increasingly identified with the Tories. One observer classed him as a likely opponent of the Court on the standing army issue, and even though he was listed as a Court supporter on a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments, this assessment was subsequently queried. The ministry clearly did not endorse Child’s candidacy for the London mayoralty in September, Robert Yard* reporting to William Blathwayt* that ‘many of our friends’ were ‘indifferent’ to any of the competitors. Even less equivocally, James Vernon I* bracketed Child with the Tory Sir Peter Daniel, observing ‘there will be no great choice of either of them: the Bank and the New East India Company have spoiled Sir Francis for a good Whig’. Child was elected, and for his inauguration decided to revive the custom of a pageant, held in abeyance for the previous three years. According to one account his was ‘one of the finest shows that has ever been seen on the like occasion’, but the Whiggish Post Man reported that ‘the mob was very rude, and threw dirt’.7
In the new Parliament Child gave little clue as to his political leanings, although he did gain election to the committee to prepare an address to the King to give thanks for his assent to the disbanding bill. He appeared keen to serve his constituents’ interests in the first session, gaining appointment to two conference committees dealing with Blackwell Hall and Billingsgate market respectively. His mayoral duties may have limited his Commons activity, for he proved an active magistrate, paying close attention to the regulation of the price of corn, and distributing charity to London’s prisons. He was also reported to have donated £500 in April 1699 for the relief of the Huguenots. Unfortunately for him, ‘no place of moment fell to the chair’ during his mayoralty, and he finished up some £4,000 out of pocket. Although relieved of the burdens of office, he made little impact in the succeeding session. However, a parliamentary list of early 1700 classed him in the ‘interest’ of the Old East India Company.8
Prior to the general election of 1701 Child emerged as one of the most active Tory campaigners in the City. In September 1700 he clearly backed the Tory (Sir) Charles Duncombe* for the mayoralty, and subsequently led the Tory inquest into Duncombe’s failure to achieve a majority in the court of aldermen. The following January he discussed parliamentary elections with Duncombe and Hon. James Brydges*, and, having secured an unopposed return at Devizes, stood unsuccessfully for London in the interest of the Old East India Company. In the new Parliament he proved much more active, and acted as a teller on an amendment to a supply bill. He was duly classed in February 1701 as a likely supporter of the Court in continuing the ‘Great Mortgage’.9
Perhaps motivated by Sir Francis’ desertion of the Whig cause, Child’s opponents singled him out for attack, accusing him of Jacobite sympathies. A satire, which has been tentatively dated at around December 1700, provocatively suggested that he was the ideal Member to prepare a bill ‘for educating the Prince of Wales in the Protestant religion’. He was subsequently blacklisted as having opposed the preparations for war with France, and it was further alleged that he had ‘declared himself for calling home the Prince of Wales’. However, there is no evidence to link Child with St. Germain, and the Tory pamphlet issued to answer such allegations had ample grounds to query whether he ‘in every circumstance during the present government have [sic] not signalized himself a well-wisher and a ready assister of his King and country?’ It also hailed him as ‘a true Churchman, and a hater of popery’. Child’s personal accounts suggest that he may even have taken legal advice to clear his name, but he did not feel sufficiently confident to contest London at the general election of November 1701. He again secured an unopposed return at Devizes, and was listed with the Tories by Robert Harley*. He subsequently voted in February 1702 in favour of the resolution vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of the preceding Parliament, but made little contribution to the business of the House, only gaining appointment to a committee to draft a bill for the employment of the poor.10
In the first general election of the new reign Child was successful at both London and Devizes. Prior to the City poll his standing in the capital had been enhanced by election as a colonel of the Orange regiment of militia, but he needed a scrutiny to beat Sir Robert Clayton* to fourth place in the parliamentary election. Choosing to sit for the City, and turning the Devizes seat over to his son John, Sir Francis was not active in the first session, although he did vote on 13 Feb. 1703 against agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration. In the second session he joined with other City figures to speak in the debate on 27 Nov. on the manning of the fleet, and was duly appointed to the drafting committee for a bill to increase the number of seamen. In the next session he was named to draft a bill to redevelop Gresham College, and acted with (Sir) Gilbert Heathcote* to arbitrate between the college and the Royal Society over this measure, albeit with little success. Most significantly, he broke with his party over the Tack, for on 30 Oct. he was listed as a probable opponent of the measure, and before the crucial division on 28 Nov. left the House with the other ‘Sneakers’.11
Such apostasy may well have influenced Child’s decision not to contest London at the general election of 1705. Furthermore, for the first time in a decade he faced opposition at Devizes, where he and his rival Josiah Diston* were reported to have spent some £3,000 a year ‘in law and bribes’. In the new Parliament Child resumed the party line, voting on 25 Oct. against the Court candidate for Speaker. In the second session he managed through the House a Devizes highways bill, which he may have viewed as a means to secure his interest in the borough. Sir Francis found himself the victim of Whig advances, being displaced in June 1707 as one of the colonels of the London trained bands. In March 1708, with an imminent threat of French invasion, he and fellow Tory banker Sir Richard Hoare* were accused of promoting a run on the Bank of England by collecting large quantities of bank bills for which they demanded immediate payment in cash. Hoare subsequently published a notice denying any involvement in such a scheme, but Defoe insisted that Child
carried it with a higher hand and afterwards pretended to refuse the bills of the Bank; but still declared he did it as a goldsmith, and as a piece of justice to himself, in some points in which the Bank had, as he alleged, used him ill. But in general it was looked upon as an open affront to the government, and an abetting and countenancing the invasion of the Pretender from abroad, and the rebellion intended at home.
Two parliamentary lists of early 1708 confirm Sir Francis as a Tory, but his controversial opposition to the Bank did not serve his party well at the ensuing London election. He finished bottom of the poll, and, not having taken the precaution of securing election at Devizes, experienced his first spell outside Parliament in a decade.12
The ministerial changes of the summer of 1710 offered Child an entrance back into public life, and he soon established himself as one of the leading financial backers of the new administration, joining with Hoare to advance ‘more than they [the ministers] have occasion for this six months’. However, in early August it was reported that he and ‘the rest of the monied citizens on the Tories’ side’ had expressed grave reservations regarding the impending dissolution of Parliament. Evidently such worries were quickly allayed, and Tory election propaganda later praised Child as one of the City figures who could provide ‘sufficient’ supplies for the government. Despite regaining a colonelcy of the City militia, he did not stand at the ensuing London contest, but voted for the Tory candidates. Shortly afterwards he attended at court for the presentation of an address from the London lieutenancy, on which occasion Robert Harley was said to have been ‘very joyous with the rich men’, Child and Sir Charles Duncombe. At that time Child was still unsure of his place at Westminster, for he had been involved in a double return at Devizes. One of his opponents, Paul Methuen*, testified to Child’s influence at that time, reporting to Harley that Sir Francis ‘has made no scruple of telling me himself to my face that he has interest enough in the House to have me turned out’. This boast proved true and he was indeed seated by the House on 16 Dec. 1710.13
In the new Parliament Child was generally inactive. Classed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who in the first session helped to detect the mismanagements of the previous ministry, he lapsed from loyalty to the Tory administration on 25 May 1711 by voting against the amendment to the South Sea Company bill, which gave the crown the right to appoint the first directors. However, he subsequently made a considerable investment in the company, and was clearly regarded as a Tory in April 1712, when ‘Dutch Whigs’ were blamed for having caused a run on his bank. He was not present in June 1713 at the division on the French commerce bill, possibly due to ill-health, for in late August he was prepared to turn the Devizes seat over to his son Robert. Child died on 4 Oct. 1713, and on receiving the news, L’Hermitage described him as a most zealous Tory.14
At the time of his death Child was a very rich man, boasting significant stock-holdings in several City institutions. However, he had proved himself an active supporter of charitable projects, including Christ’s Hospital, one ward of which he had rebuilt at his own expense. His great wealth ensured that his offspring were able to emulate his achievements: four sons entered Parliament, and one of them, Francis†, also became lord mayor of London. His daughters naturally secured good matches, and in February 1700 one of them had been identified as a possible bride for the Duke of Norfolk. Child himself showed little interest in setting himself up as a country gentleman, although he was mortgagee of Osterley Park, which subsequently became the principal seat of his eldest surviving son, Robert*.15
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Paula Watson / Perry Gauci
- 1. Feret, Fulham Old and New, ii. 91, 93–94; IGI, London; Wilts. N. and Q. ii. 207–8, 217–18.