CRAGGS, James I (1657-1721), of Jermyn Street, Westminster and Charlton, Lewisham, Kent

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1702 - 1713

Family and Education

bap. 10 June 1657, 1st s. of Anthony Craggs of Wolsingham, co. Dur. by Anne (d. 1672), da. of Rev. Ferdinando Morcroft, DD, of Goswich, Lancs., rector of Stanhope-in-Wardell, co. Dur. and prebendary of Durham.  educ. Bishop Auckland g.s., co. Dur.  m. 4 Jan. 1684, Elizabeth (d. 1712), da. of Jacob Richards, corn chandler, of Westminster, 3s. d.v.p. 3da.  suc. fa ?1680.1

Offices Held

Sec. to commrs. stating debts due to army 1700; trustee, receiving loan to Emperor 1706; commr. rebuilding Chatham, Harwich and Portsmouth 1709.2

Cttee, Old E. I. Co. 1700–1, 1702–5; manager, united trade 1702–4; commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1704.3

Sec. to master-gen. of the Ordnance 1702–11; clerk of deliveries 1703–11, 1714–15; jt. postmaster-gen. 1715–20.4


Craggs was one of the ablest self-made men of his generation. A shrewd financial operator, he had amassed a considerable fortune by the time of his death. He was remembered by his friend Arthur Onslow† as ‘a great instance of the force of natural talents’ and as a man of great facility in everything he undertook. Even his detractors acknowledged his superiority in matters of business and finance. Beneath his gruff charm lay acute discernment, a ‘talent in reading men’ and for ‘gaining on the minds of those he dealt with’. He rubbed shoulders with politicians of the first rank but was not overtly ambitious, seeming to be content with the conscientious servitude demanded by his role as the Duke of Marlborough’s (John Churchill†) principal intermediary, a position which in any event raised him in the echelons of Whig leadership in the final years of Anne’s reign, and yielded its own opportunities for the further acquisition of wealth.5

Craggs’s penchant for money-making may well have been nurtured by the financial decay which had overcome his family by the last decades of the 17th century. In the later 1680s, even before his rise to fortune and prominence, he was at pains to establish his gentility and right to bear arms. The pedigree drawn up for him and registered at the College of Arms in 1691 cannot entirely be taken on trust. It suggested, but did not prove, his descent from the ancient Scottish family of Craig or Cragg. Craggs’s forebears were only properly traceable back to mid-Tudor times, a minor gentry family ‘anciently’ situated in the parish of Wolsingham, county Durham. In the Civil Wars his grandfather Thomas Craggs, ‘a great stickler in the royal cause’, apparently suffered grievously from the plunderings of Scots forces. Vital ‘deeds and principal writings’ relating to the family’s past were said to have been destroyed or lost. Thomas Craggs’s elder son John settled in Ireland, leaving Anthony in possession of the small and scattered Wolsingham lands. The future MP’s family were thus impoverished minor gentry, socially only a little superior to the yeomanry. His father was eventually forced to sell off his meagre estate to settle debts ‘he was no ways liable to’, obliging Craggs to make his own way in the world.6

Craggs was generally understood to be of ‘mean extraction’, and the early path of his advancement is obscure. When he came to London in 1680 his claim to gentility was enough to gain him employment in several royal and aristocratic households. Beginning briefly in the service of the Duke of York, he became a ‘menial servant’ to the Earl of Peterborough, passing on to the household of the Earl’s son-in-law the Duke of Norfolk, where by 1684 he appears to have been ‘steward’. According to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, he acted as go-between in an amour between the Duchess and James II and in the process ‘scraped a great deal of money’. Craggs’s wife, a great beauty, was said to have been a maidservant in the employ of Lady Marlborough while Craggs himself was said to have impressed Lady Marlborough as a resourceful manager of money. By the 1690s he seems to have been serving the Earl in the capacity of a private secretary. At the same time he appears to have been set up in business as a financial broker. It was almost certainly under Marlborough’s auspices that in the early 1690s Craggs acquired a lucrative army clothing contract. He also became heavily involved in the affairs of the East India Company, particularly as a sturdy defender of its interests against the advocates of a new joint-stock company. By 1695 he was prominent enough as a City businessman to excite the suspicions of the Commons with regard to his dealings as an army supplier and in the East India Company. In March that year he was required by the commission of accounts to produce his books in connexion with their current investigation of army agents, but refused to do so. His forthright answer to the commissioners, read to the House on 6 Mar., stated unequivocally that such demands set a bad precedent since they drew under scrutiny all other members of the trading community supplying the army or navy ‘which may expose them to the immediate demands of their creditors to their certain ruin. And will also tend to the general discouragement of all trade and dealing with the government.’ Summoned before the Commons on the 7th, he persisted in his refusal and was committed to the Tower. Towards the end of the month Robert Harley*, the chairman of the commissioners, initiated a bill compelling Craggs and several other contractors on pain of punishment to name the recipients of the bribes they were said to have paid. However, late in April, while Craggs was still incarcerated in the Tower, it was revealed in the joint Lords–Commons committee investigating Sir Thomas Cooke’s* ‘secret payments’ as governor of the East India Company, that Craggs had received £4,540, the largest single amount Cooke had dispersed. Brought from the Tower for questioning by the committee on 26 Apr., he gave in an account showing that he had paid only £1,462 to others, none of whom were MPs, while the remaining sums had been payments to himself including £1,468 alone ‘for my own pains and solicitation in the company’s affairs, to prevent a new settlement, and endeavouring to establish the old East India Company’. He had also accepted £350 ‘for encouragement of my friends and self to subscribe £7,000’. Craggs’s dubious conduct evidently did not satisfy the joint committee, and under swiftly enacted legislation he was condemned with Cooke and his accomplices to a term of imprisonment in the Tower extending until the end of the following parliamentary session.7

Craggs’s ardour in business was in no way dampened. Indeed his stout defence of trading interests against the prying eyes of parliamentarians doubtless won him admirers and notoriety. His association with the East India Company continued to flourish. In June 1698, for example, he subscribed £1,000 to the Company’s initial advance of £200,000 towards the government’s supply needs, while in 1700 he was elected a committeeman, or director, of the Company. Though he was chosen in April 1700 as secretary to the commission for stating debts due to the army, his East India concerns still took priority and prevented him from playing a full part in the proceedings. During the summer and autumn of 1701 he was actively involved in settling ‘our squabbles’ and in accommodating the differences between the Old and New Companies. Perceiving the great difficulties attaching to the agreement, he stood down from the court of committees in 1702 on being chosen by the general court as a manager of the united trade. The united company was in effect run by Cooke and a small inner cadre of other ‘old interest’ managers of whom Craggs was one, along with his friend Arthur Moore*, Sir John Fleet* and Charles Dubois. Inevitably, his business interests drew him into the heart of City politics. He was involved, for instance in August 1700, in politicking for a new lord mayor. At the 1702 general election he entered Parliament for the Cornish borough of Grampound, which he represented until 1713. Craggs almost certainly owed his election to the Marlboroughs, through their close connexions with the Boscawens, who exercised formidable electoral influence in the Cornish boroughs. Subsequently, Craggs himself became an intimate of Hugh Boscawen II*. During the formation of the new administration in the months preceding the July elections, Marlborough began to press Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) for Craggs’s appointment to a senior post in the Ordnance, where his administrative talents could be well deployed. None was readily available, however, and Marlborough expressed concern to the lord treasurer that Craggs was being deliberately overlooked. ‘You know’, he wrote on 2/13 July, ‘I am very desirous of having him there, for he is both honest and able.’ In August Marlborough proposed to Godolphin an interim arrangement whereby Craggs was appointed secretary to himself as master-general of the Ordnance, with the prospect of the keepership of the stores if another place could be found for its incumbent, James Lowther*, whom Marlborough regarded as unfit for the post. Nothing was immediately done, however, and at the end of August Marlborough was still urging Godolphin from abroad ‘to take some care that Craggs be in good humour for I shall be able to make more use of him than of any other ten’. For the time being Craggs received a pension from the privy purse. At the end of the year, however, Marlborough’s original suggestion that Craggs be placed at the Ordnance as his secretary was finally put into effect. Before then, in October 1702, Craggs had taken his seat in the new Parliament. He was never an avid participant in proceedings, though his occasional service in later sessions as a teller may indicate some participation in debates on secondary matters. The first occasion was on 8 Dec. when he told in favour of a motion condemning gross corruption at the Maidstone election, but was not a teller again until 1707. Craggs’s Whiggery was made plain in his vote on 13 Feb. 1703 in favour of the Whig Lords’ amendments to the bill for extending the time in which the abjuration oath could be taken. He was a thorough courtier, one whom Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*) regarded as ‘always right and attends’.8

As soon as the clerkship of the deliveries became vacant in May 1703 Marlborough solicited Godolphin for Craggs’s appointment, which took place in June. The post involved Craggs closely in the minutiae of provisioning arms to the theatres of war in the Low Countries, Spain and Italy. But as Marlborough’s Ordnance secretary his role was much wider: he was an essential transmitter of information to and from the Duke not only on army matters at home but also upon the course of politics. In addition to his long personal letters, his views also reached the Duke via the Duchess, with whom he consulted regularly. His connexions in the City gave him ready access to all shades of opinion and enabled him to monitor swings of political mood. In particular he kept watch on the Tories, acquiring information from those of his acquaintance such as Moore and Cooke, and duly reported their every move. Some onlookers viewed Craggs disparagingly as an obvious confrère of other low-born, money-minded MPs. In her diary in January 1705 Lady Cowper linked Craggs’s name with Moore, lately made army comptroller, and Thomas Boucher*, ‘the gamester’, as all known to be in the service of ‘the great one’ [i.e. Marlborough]. Craggs also maintained links with older business associates, most notably Cooke, on whose behalf he handled the concluding stages in the Commons of a private estate bill. In October 1704 Craggs was identified as a likely opponent of the Tack, and was either against or absent in the division itself on 28 Nov. A published list of MPs elected to the 1705 Parliament described him as a ‘Churchman’. When the new Parliament assembled in October he duly supported the Court candidate in the Speakership contest on the 25th. In the summer he had remarked to General Thomas Erle* how the contest had been ‘blown up to the devil by the Tories’, but found by the beginning of October, as he apprised Marlborough, that they had no reason for being ‘so cocksure’. His more immediate concerns, however, were the problems imposed on accounting procedures in the Ordnance by the Commons’ demand for ‘a distinct account upon every head’ instead of summarized and abbreviated accounts which previously had been accepted practice. On 18 Feb. 1706 Craggs was one of the courtiers voting against the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill. The news of Marlborough’s victory at Ramillies in May sent him into rapture: ‘there is nothing in this world’, he wrote to the Duke, ‘above your genius nor beyond your reach when your orders are obeyed’. He went on:

And I hope for the future will never more be contradicted till tyranny and oppression be quite subdued and vanquished and peace and plenty flow in long succession, which all the world will own is due to you when this ungrateful age shall be no more, and truth unenvied shall speak forth your praise, unbiased and uninterested to all future ages.

Not least, victory had immediate effects at home: ‘for from growing into all the faction in the world we seem in the space of six days to be the most unanimous, contented, happy people . . . your Grace has done wonders here as well as in Brabant’. Craggs’s skills as a political intelligencer were clearly displayed in mid-October when he warned Godolphin, apparently before the lord treasurer knew from other sources, that Harley and ‘one or two’ of Marlborough’s ‘particular’ friends were planning to cause maximum disturbance in the forthcoming session. On the very last day of the pre-Union Parliament, 24 Apr. 1707, Craggs was teller against a minor amendment to a bill for preventing dangers arising from the transport of gunpowder into London from Southwark.9

Although Craggs had ceased in 1705 to belong to the Old East India Company’s governing body, and was no longer associated with the management of the united trade, he was still in 1707 in the thick of Old Company business as one of Cooke’s leading ‘agitators’. He was, as one company official observed, ‘on account of his intimacy with the Duke of Marlborough, as well as his own merits, in high favour in the City’. To the compiler of an analysis of the Commons early in 1708, he was unmistakably a Whig. On 26 Jan. he served as teller in favour of the bill for the better manning of the fleet. Analysing the May election results for Marlborough, Craggs was circumspect about the new Whig superiority in the Commons and hoped that ‘God almighty will bless your Grace’s undertakings with a success that will put it out of everybody’s power to be troublesome, or I am convinced there can be no dependence upon their pretended majority’. His thoughts were unchanged a month later when he told the Duke that ‘there has not been a more ticklish Parliament chosen since the Restoration of King Charles the second’. Only resounding military success could defuse ‘this anarchical disposition which rages now among us’. Craggs’s prayers were answered the following month with Marlborough’s spectacular success at Oudenarde. Proffering his congratulations to the Duke, he was brimming with enthusiastic confidence for the future, his earlier anxieties about the ministry’s majority in the Commons now gone: ‘it has disconcerted a world of knavish politics and designs here’. But he was even more vigilant for signs of pre-sessional Tory activity, and in late August was feeding information to the ministers via the Duchess of Marlborough concerning recent Tory ‘meetings and resolutions’. At the end of September he supervised the transportation of two shiploads of arms and ammunition from the Tower to Ostend, but more important, seems also to have been sent as Godolphin’s personal emissary to brief Marlborough on the current round of peace talks. In November, as the new session drew near, his usual preoccupations with army budgeting were especially troubled, for with the year’s campaign still unfinished, there was the likelihood of difficulty in raising supply: ‘under such circumstances’, he wrote, ‘people are very loath to part with their money’. His only recorded activity during the session was on 15 Apr. 1709 when he was teller for the Court against a motion that arrears of seamen’s wages be paid out of the supply already allotted to the navy. In May Craggs was involved in ‘several discourses’ with the Junto leaders, who were anxious to have Lord Orford (Edward Russell*) brought into the Cabinet as first lord of the Admiralty. Craggs represented the logic of this arrangement to Marlborough as a means of avoiding Whig ‘inquisitions’ in the next session when all thoughts should be upon consolidating the peace, now soon expected. Such an obeisance to the Junto Whigs would do service to Marlborough’s lofty reputation in Parliament. But Craggs went on, somewhat prophetically:

Your Grace has so far outdone fame itself in the conduct of the war, that even to name it is far greater praises than the greatest eloquence or poetry can describe, and nothing but the stupendous peace your great merit has alone procured us can bear any comparison with what went before, for which nothing in this world can reward you, only the philosopher’s notion that merit is its own reward and one would think envy itself could not find room for complaints; but infallible experience has taught us that not only the whitest innocence, but even the brightest merit may suffer without a prudent guard to attend it, and especially in our noble senate. But which will be the best course, you are the best judge, which is all I shall presume to trouble you on this subject.

It was Marlborough’s recent application to be made captain-general for life that prompted Craggs to sound this cautionary note. He had been required by the Duke to investigate the terms of General Monck’s (George†) appointment to the office in 1660. In his letter on the ‘Admiralty affair’, he warned Marlborough that Monck’s commission had only been during pleasure, adding, ‘all I can learn from my Lord Chancellor’s [William Cowper*] opinion is that a commission during life is a new instance and liable to malicious constructions’. The point did not register with Marlborough, however, who broached the subject with the Queen later in the year.10

On 20 Dec. 1709, in the proceedings on the Shrewsbury election case, Craggs was teller against allowing reconsideration of a resolution to unseat the Tory John Kynaston*. During February and March 1710 he voted in support of the government’s impeachment proceedings against Dr Sacheverell. In May it was becoming clear to him that the Tories were moving in on the ministry. When the Duchess sought his views, he predicted an overwhelming Tory victory if Parliament were to be dissolved: ‘as the common people are now set, they will get at least three for one’. Even so, he did not take seriously Marlborough’s current thoughts of retiring. ‘I agree with you’, the Duke informed his wife, ‘that [Craggs] wishes us both very well, and has very good judgment, but I know his temper is such that he can’t think anybody is in earnest that talks of retiring’. In a long letter to the Duchess on 18 May, Craggs denounced the Junto leaders for their failure to stand by the Duke, ‘their very best friend’. He thought it distracting that Harley, Abigail Masham and their ‘creatures’ should appropriate ‘the benefits’ of Marlborough’s glorious actions in which they themselves ‘were no more instrumental than their coach-horses’. He entirely agreed with the Duchess that all would be well if the Duke of Shrewsbury, a Harley associate whom the Queen had appointed lord chamberlain, could be made to accommodate with the ministry, ‘but if they [the Junto] force my lord Duke to quit, I believe this will become a very distracted country in a very short time’. As the ministry’s situation continued to deteriorate in June, however, Godolphin decided to despatch Craggs to Marlborough in the Low Countries to brief him fully on the current state of affairs, particularly on the government’s increasing difficulties in obtaining continued co-operation in the City, and to receive ‘his directions’. Godolphin felt that Craggs would be best able to represent Marlborough’s views about the need to fight the war to a conclusion ‘among all our friends in the City’ and thus improve confidence. An ulterior motive for sending Craggs to Marlborough at this juncture may have been a growing sense of isolation on Godolphin’s part and an anxiety to ensure that the Duke would not desert him. Craggs embarked for Ostend on 4 July, but not before having conferred with no fewer than 19 leading financiers. Not surprisingly, it was reported that he was sent on the initiative of the ‘worthy bankmen’ whose interests were now threatened by Tory incursions into the ministry. Shrewsbury’s principal creature, James Vernon I*, was resentful of Godolphin’s evident ploy to save his ministry. While Craggs was absent, Harley even attempted to secure his dismissal from the Ordnance. Marlborough heard nothing from Craggs that gave him reassurance and above all was concerned that political uncertainty seriously impeded the government’s access to credit. Craggs briefed Godolphin when he returned to London in the last week of July. But less than a fortnight later Godolphin’s anticipated dismissal had taken place. Shortly before, Craggs had observed to Erle that this event, when it came, would ‘be far from giving that general satisfaction which will put a very different face upon all our affairs’. Marlborough was left to find his own way with the new ministers. Shrewsbury was particularly anxious to reach a modus vivendi with Marlborough, and met Craggs at the end of August. Craggs was encouraged by the Duke’s conciliatoriness towards Marlborough and by the assurance that there was no intention of dispensing with his services. The main problem, as both men recognized, was the breach between the Duchess and the Queen. Marlborough, as Craggs made clear, would continue so long as no affront was offered his wife. But Shrewsbury indicated that the Queen was unlikely to reform her attitude towards the Duchess. Craggs’s discussion with Shrewsbury possibly helped to stabilize Marlborough’s position for the time being, but the Duke remained sceptical about the new ministers. In mid-September Craggs was confidently predicting a dissolution when ‘great politicians’ still believed the contrary, and when the elections were held in October he grieved to see them ‘entirely go one way, so that they will have it in their power to do just what they please’. His greatest fear, as he confessed to Erle, was ‘a general stop’ to the credit and its inevitable crippling of the war effort.11

In the ‘Hanover list’ of the new Parliament, Craggs routinely appeared as a Whig. Towards the end of the first session he twice served as teller: on 22 May 1711 in favour of the Whig candidate William Betts* in the Weymouth election case; and, more importantly, on the 25th at the report on the bill establishing the South Sea Company when he told for the small, mainly Whig minority opposed to the amendment vesting nomination of the Company’s first directorate in the crown, and thus in effect in Harley. Craggs’s interest in the bill was naturally aroused on account of his East India interests which the new company stood to rival. During the Whigs’ wilderness years after 1710, Craggs emerged more distinctively as a senior Whig politician, although he was always seen primarily in the light of his close connexion with Marlborough. His association with the senior Whig grandees, Marlborough’s son-in-law Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) and Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*), became closer. Throughout the spring and early summer of 1711 Craggs was engaged in a round of consultations, first with Henry St. John II*, and then with Harley. Emerging divisions within the Tory ranks prompted St. John to open a dialogue with Marlborough, via Craggs, with a view to enlisting his future support. These discussions moved cautiously, however, and apparently concluded in April with no deal. Tory commentators such as Dr William Stratford, canon of Christ Church, Oxford, easily saw through St. John’s gambit: ‘the secretary thinks he has always been able to get secrets out of Craggs, though I am afraid the contrary is true’. Stratford suggested that Craggs was simply exploiting St. John’s need in order to extract advantage of some kind for his son. In July Craggs had a two-hour meeting with Harley, ostensibly concerned with the dispute which had recently erupted over the financing of the construction of Blenheim Palace, and the Queen’s insistence, contrary to the Marlboroughs’ earlier belief, that she had not promised to meet its cost. The matter had threatened to break the Duke’s already strained relationship with the ministry. Harley promised Craggs that he would do what he could but warned that the Queen was ‘inexorable’. Craggs was unmoved by Harley’s professions of goodwill towards the Duke, and reminded him of the ‘difficulties’ Marlborough was under and the persistent attacks on him in the Tory press. He could not have been impressed with Harley’s dismissive advice that the Duke ‘must not mind them’. It was undoubtedly as the Duke’s personal representative that Craggs was also from about this time admitted to the inner counsels of the Junto leaders. On the first day of the new session, 7 Dec. 1711, Craggs took his party line in support of the motion of ‘No Peace without Spain’. With Marlborough’s dismissal at the end of the year came his own removal as chief clerk and secretary at the Ordnance. He had ceased to be clerk of the deliveries in March 1711. At the Commons’ proceedings against Marlborough in January 1712, he tried to defend the Duke on the subject of the captain-generalship. According to Swift, Craggs told the House ‘with a very serious countenance’, though quite disingenuously, that it was the Queen who had pressed Marlborough to accept the commission, ‘and upon his refusal, conceived her first displeasure against him’.12

Craggs’s chief political role as confidant to the Marlboroughs assumed even greater importance from December 1712 when they went into exile. Belatedly, he also participated more actively, if with little distinction, in Parliament. He certainly appears to have had some part in managing the Whig attacks on the peace terms. On 6 May 1713 he voted against the bill suspending the duties on French wine, and on the 14th, in the committee proceedings on the French commercial treaty, contributed to the Whig case that it was potentially ruinous to British trade and markets. On the 30th he told for the minority supporting an opposition motion to print the bill confirming the treaty’s eighth and ninth articles, voting against it in the crucial division of 18 June. On 9 May, in an unconnected matter, he had told in favour of a filibustering motion to delay consideration of the committee of public accounts’ charge of corruption against Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*). In the supply committee on 25 June, he seconded John Smith I’s* abortive motion to prove that the previous ministry’s handling of the debt-ridden civil list had been no more maladroit than the present ministry’s. At the 1713 election Craggs found himself ousted from his seat at Grampound owing to a rearguard action by an obstreperous local Tory element. He continued, nevertheless, to figure in high-level consultations between leading Whigs, taking part, for example, in the autumn post-mortem discussions on the general election with Sunderland, William Cadogan* and others at Althorp. Despite earlier misgivings about the establishment of the South Sea Company, Craggs had become a shareholder and an active member of the Company’s general court by the beginning of 1714. When late in February it emerged that the government was offering the Company only half of the profits accruing from the asiento contract, Craggs led a bitter assault against the proposals, which were eventually withdrawn. He watched expectantly as the Tories became increasingly divisive over the succession question. Even ‘a great many’ High Church Tories, he observed, now apprehended more dangers than they had acknowledged in the past and were voting with the Whigs. In the last weeks of the Queen’s life, Bolingbroke, now seeking Whig backing for himself, negotiated with Craggs for Marlborough’s support. Craggs viewed with alarm the apparent favour shown the Tories by the Hanoverian court in the early weeks of the new reign. He cautioned the Hanoverian minister Robethon with recent evidence of the Tories’ continuing protectiveness towards the Pretender, and argued that Tory proscription was now necessary to overcome the previous exclusion of Whigs; though the King might one day ‘succeed in annihilating parties, and in employing without distinction’, a wholesale change in office-holders was necessary ‘in order to be able to say that you are not governed by a party’.13

In December 1714 Craggs was reinstated in his old Ordnance office as clerk of the deliveries. He failed in his bid for another Cornish seat at Newport in the 1715 general election, as also in his application to the Earl of Clare (the future Duke of Newcastle) to be returned for the Earl’s Yorkshire borough of Aldborough. Craggs had particularly looked forward to rejoining the Commons in order to play his part in ‘bringing to condign punishment all those villains that have betrayed us to France’, a privilege, as he told Clare, that would give him ‘unspeakable satisfaction’. Very shortly afterwards, however, he was more than adequately compensated by his appointment as joint postmaster-general with Lord Cornwallis. He hoped it would prove ‘a very easy office’ once its business had been put in order. Indeed, the duties of the post interested him little. His real responsibility was as Sunderland’s minister for the City, a field of activity for which his intimate associations with its institutions and personnel suited him well. During the early years of the Whig administration, his membership of the metropolitan Hanover Club provided a vital link between the ministers and the City’s political and business interests. It was probably through him, for example, that the government channelled money to finance campaigns against the Tories in common council elections. The monitoring of Jacobite disaffection in the capital also absorbed his attention. The solution to such populist tendencies, as he saw it, was straightforward, if sweeping: ‘when the militia, the lieutenancies and the commissions of the peace are put into hands well-affected to the government, we shall not be troubled with such riots for the future’. This concern with the preservation and safety of the new Whig regime was also evident during the passing of the septennial bill in 1716. ‘I hope’, he wrote to his daughter, ‘it will have very good effects in quieting the minds of the people.’

Craggs enjoyed ‘the nearest confidence’ of Lord Sunderland, and with his own son as secretary at war from 1717, and then as secretary of state, it was natural that he should be ‘in the secret and depth of all their designs’. Though he never became a director of the South Sea Company, he was among its foremost proprietors. In November 1719 he and John Aislabie*, the chancellor of the Exchequer, were entrusted to negotiate with company officials the details of the ill-fated South Sea scheme for converting the national debt. Arthur Onslow later heard that Craggs had advised against the scheme at first, fearful of an excessive inflation of stock values. But there is no doubt that he became deeply, perhaps obsessively, immersed in the scheme. His close collaboration with the company’s cashier Robert Knight was later used to incriminate him. He himself subscribed to the tune of £6,000. In his enthusiasm to recruit investors he fell foul of his old patroness the Duchess of Marlborough when he tried to bypass her in an attempt to persuade her sick husband to invest. Thwarted, he openly denounced her for deliberately keeping the Duke an invalid and incapable of handling his own affairs. As the company plummeted into ruin in the early autumn of 1720, Craggs anxiously threw himself into the business of devising a viable rescue formula, presiding at the General Post Office over a series of tripartite discussions between representatives of the government, the company and the Bank which, in the third week of September, produced two versions of the ‘Bank contract’. Though Robert Walpole II’s* name is traditionally associated with the creation of these provisional agreements with the Bank, Craggs may have had a greater share in their conception than has so far been recognized. On 24 Sept. he sent to his daughter the ‘heads’ of the second, more palatable, agreement drawn up the previous day, ‘which’, as he remarked, ‘I have taken no small pains in. All the negotiations have been at my house and the ministers of state have dined with me every day, and I hope matters will go better than they now appear.’ By November, however, the rescue subscription to South Sea shares, whose value the Bank had agreed to peg, was proving a dismal failure. Craggs had argued vigorously, but unavailingly, at a stormy meeting of the general court at the close of September that those who had gained in the summer had a positive duty to subscribe. After September, however, Craggs’s involvement in the crisis falls from view. In January 1721 the Commons committee of secrecy found he had applied for, and received, a massive transfer of £30,000 worth of stock for which he had not paid, plus a further £50,000 for Sunderland. Though he vehemently denied the charge when examined before the committee, he seems to have suffered a loss of morale and nerve following the sudden death of his son on 16 Feb. On hearing this news, he was said to have expressed himself in ‘the most blasphemous manner’. He died a month later on 16 Mar. of apoplexy, but rumour insisted it was from an overdose of opium. He had been due the following day to be questioned before the Commons about his dealings with the South Sea Company.14

By its timing, Craggs’s sudden death bespoke his guilt and provided Walpole with a perfect ministerial scapegoat. In the Act passed to compensate the sufferers, he was posthumously declared ‘a notorious accomplice and confederate with the said Robert Knight . . . and did by his wicked influence and for his own exorbitant gain promote and encourage the pernicious execution of the South Sea scheme’. None the less, through Walpole’s intercession a minimal confiscation of £68,920 was inflicted on his estate, of which the total value was reckoned at £1.5 million and said to yield £14,000 p.a. Walpole was probably loath to offend the husbands of Craggs’s three coheiresses, all of whom were government-supporting Whig MPs: Samuel Trefusis*, Edward Eliot* and John Newsham†. The bulk of Craggs’s landed estate lay at Charlton and Kidbrooke in the vicinity of Lewisham and Greenwich, Kent, which he had augmented in 1718 with a £14,000 purchase from the 2nd Duke of Montagu, the husband of the Marlboroughs’ youngest daughter. He was buried at Charlton, the monument set up to his memory by his daughters recalling him simply as ‘the best of fathers’.15

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Misc. Gen. et Her. ii. 34–39; Stowe 1058, f. 244; IGI, London; Westminster Abbey Reg. (Harl. Soc. x), 302.
  • 2. Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 639; vi. 28; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiii. 224.
  • 3. Info. from Prof. H. Horwitz; Add. 38871 (unfol.); Daily Courant, 8 Aug. 1704.
  • 4. H. Tomlinson, Guns and Govt. 225–6; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 390; xxx. 106.
  • 5. HMC 14th Rep. IX, 511; Misc. Gen. et Her. 37; Cunningham, Hist. GB, i. 209.
  • 6. Misc. Gen. et Her. 34–39.
  • 7. Boyer, Pol. State, xxii. 442–3; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Letters and Works (1887), i. 129–31; Stowe mss 1058, f. 244; J. Carswell, S. Sea Bubble, 20–21; CJ, xi. 257; Debates 1694–5, pp. 2, 37–38, 45, 52, 56, 60–61; Luttrell, iv. 51.
  • 8. CJ, xii. 322; info. from Prof. Horwitz; Add. 70201, Francis Lyn to Harley, 8 May 1700; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 26(2), James Brydges’* diary, 21 Aug. 1700; Add. 22851, f. 121; 22852, f. 73; Bodl. Rawl. A.303, f. 57; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 60, 80–81, 84, 86, 88, 95, 101, 109; Tomlinson, 226; Bull. IHR, xlv. 47.
  • 9. Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. pp. xxxiii, 180–2, 247, 715, 929, 1073; Add. 61164, ff. 169, 171, 173; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP F31, Lady Cowper’s diary, 14 Jan. 1705; Churchill Coll. Camb. Erle mss 2/12, Craggs to Erle, 31 July, 28 Aug. 1705.
  • 10. HMC Fortescue, i. 30; Add. 61164, ff. 183, 185, 187, 193, 195–7; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1073, 1113, 1116, 1126, 1131; Erle mss 2/12, Craggs to Erle, 15 Nov. 1708; I. F. Burton, Captain-Gen. 166.
  • 11. Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1492, 1544, 1547, 1549, 1552–3, 1557, 1559, 1566–7, 1568, 1570, 1574, 1577, 1617–19; Add. 61475, ff. 14, 25–26; Bagot mss at Levens Hall, Edward Harvey* to James Grahme*, 12 July 1710; Erle mss 2/12, Craggs to Erle, 5 Aug., 19, 23 Sept., 14 Oct. 1710; D. H. Somerville, King of Hearts, 271–2.
  • 12. Hist. Jnl. iv. 194–5; Bolingbroke Corresp. i. 118, 129, 150, 167; HMC Portland, v. 136; vii. 29–30; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. ii. 71; Parlty. Hist. x. 177; Swift Works ed. Davis, vii. 22.
  • 13. Hist. Jnl. xv. 597–8, 614–15; NSA, Kreienberg despatch 15 May 1713; Wentworth Pprs. 339; G. S. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 291; Boyer, vii. 176; Carswell, 67–68; Fitzwilliam Mus. Lib. Camb. Perceval mss A21, Craggs to Anne Newsham, 22 Apr. 1714; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 645.
  • 14. Add. 32686, ff. 29, 31; Perceval mss A23, A27, A29, A55, Craggs to Anne Newsham, 10 Mar. 1714–15, 8 Oct. 1715, 24 Apr. 1716, 24 Sept. 1720; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 511; London Rec. Soc. xvii. 2, 4–5 and passim; Carswell, 100, 183, 187, 188, 201–5; F. Harris, Passion for Govt. 228; CJ, xix. 427; P. G. M. Dickson, Financial Rev. 95–96, 109, 173, 188; J. H. Plumb, Walpole, i. 320–1; Boyer, xxii. 444; HMC Portland, v. 618, 619; Misc. Gen. et Her. 35.
  • 15. DNB; Carswell, 250–1; Hasted, Kent, Blackheath, 137, 246; HMC Buccleuch, i. 366; Stowe 1058, f. 244.