CROPLEY, Sir John, 2nd Bt. (1663-1713), of Red Lion Square, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 15 July 1663, o. s. of Sir Edward Cropley (d.v.p. 1665) of St. James Clerkenwell, Mdx. by Martha, da. of Robert Wilson, merchant, of London. educ. Clare, Camb. 1678; travelled abroad (Italy, France, Germany) 1686–9. unm. suc. fa. 1665, gdfa. as 2nd Bt. Nov. 1676.1
Descended from a London merchant, Cropley was the first member of his family to enter Parliament. The most important relationship in his political life began when he spent three years abroad from 1686, travelling in the company of Lord Ashley (Anthony*). The two became life-long friends. In December 1701 Ashley, now 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, secured the return of Cropley for the borough of Shaftesbury. His election was reckoned by Lord Spencer (Charles*) as a ‘gain’ for the Whigs, and Robert Harley* also listed him as a Whig. An opponent of the predominantly Tory ministry of the first years of Anne’s reign, he told on 7 Dec. in favour of Lord Ranelagh (Richard Jones*), who was under attack from the commissioners of accounts for alleged corruption. On 13 Feb. 1703 Cropley voted for agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration. Forecast as an opponent of the Tack, Cropley did not vote for it on 28 Nov. On 5 Dec. he told against the occasional conformity bill after it had been untacked. Classed as a ‘Churchman’ in the 1705 Parliament, he voted on 25 Oct. for the Court candidate for Speaker. As the ministry shifted towards the Junto, however, Cropley emerged as one of the members of a group of dissident Country Whigs. In the struggle over the regency bill he was one of the champions of the ‘whimsical’ clause, which would have disqualified all but about 40 named office-holders from the Commons after the Queen’s death. The clause was eventually lost on 18 Feb. 1706. Describing this outcome to James Stanhope*, Cropley wrote that
We lost it very honourably and advantageously . . . for . . . the crown has made the greatest concessions that ever were obtained . . . However, we had never yield[ed] to this exchange but that Sir Ri[chard Onslow, 3rd Bt.*] fainted at last in the pursuit and Ro[bert] Eyre*, unknown to Peter King* and I, . . . had treacherous made at my Lord Halifax’s [Charles Montagu*] this bargain . . . Notwithstanding we lost it but by eight when 440 in the House and many of our friends left us in the division merely, believing we were all parties to the bargain . . . We had two questions and in the last 14 of those friends, that perceived the treacherous part of R. Eyre, returned to us and I believe their resentment will help their inclination to be firm in the future.
To Shaftesbury he listed those office-holders who would be henceforth excluded from the Commons, adding
Here comes the best: no man to take any place after his being elected a Member of Parliament, but accepting such a place shall make his election void. This is the equivalent for our clause . . . ’Tis what we should last year have thought a great deal, but in exchange . . . a very sorry matter. But our clause being in reversion and this in present makes it go down . . . There was a real objection and danger in our clause, the unanimous resignation at the death of the Queen. On a whisper if they repealed the act they should be reinstated. However, I would have run the risk . . . I have made . . . somewhat of a formidable figure to our Whig lords. I have preferred what I judged right to all hazards . . . on principle adhering to that and no personal prejudice to them . . . I am much courted to heal up. I own a Whig ministry running riot makes my blood rise, only I know they are in chains themselves and hazard their all for that already given.
Having demonstrated his principled independence, Cropley was quite willing to co-operate with the Junto on other questions, and indeed did so in the 1706–7 session to secure the Union.2
Meanwhile, the admission to office of some of the Whig leaders encouraged Shaftesbury to try to secure a place for a young kinsman of Cropley’s, Thomas Micklethwayte. Application was duly made to the Earl of Sunderland (the former Lord Spencer) and Lord Somers (Sir John*) in 1706. A long delay then occurred, occasioned by annoyance at court over Shaftesbury’s supposed patronage of a clergyman who had written a pamphlet attacking the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), and partly by divisions among the Whigs. In May 1707 Cropley wrote to Shaftesbury that Somers had recently apologized for the delay, but had begged them ‘to bear their ill usage longer by reason of the late squabbles had made it necessary for him to keep out of lord treasurer’s way’. However, the Junto lords proved unable to make good their promises and their failure opened a door for Lord Godolphin (Sidney†), who in December 1707 was trying to construct a new Court party of ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’ and moderate Tories. Early in December an approach was made through Robert Molesworth*, who arranged a meeting for Cropley with the lord treasurer on 14 Dec. On that occasion Godolphin, having promised a place for Micklethwayte, assured Cropley that ‘there is not a man in the kingdom that I more honour than my Lord Shaftesbury’. Cropley wrote excitedly to Shaftesbury that all seemed set for the emergence of a new party. Although flattered by such attention, Cropley did not wish his patron to break openly with the Junto in case the quarrel between the Whigs and Godolphin should be patched up. He therefore urged Shaftesbury to keep a low profile in the forthcoming general election, and not to be seen openly opposing Junto candidates. In his correspondence he adopted the quaint terminology of ‘oaks’ and ‘pines’ to distinguish Whigs from Tories, referring to those like himself who supported Godolphin’s plans for a new political alignment as ‘nymphs’. The main hope of the ‘nymphs’ was that there would not be ‘an overgrown oak Parliament’. At the beginning of 1708 Cropley had received something of a jolt when rumours reached him that the Queen might be prepared to sacrifice Godolphin in favour of Harley. Although this particular fear was laid to rest by Harley’s dismissal, Cropley remained uneasy. As Godolphin struggled to reach an agreement with the Junto, Cropley constantly defended the treasurer, whom he described on one occasion as ‘the most open, plain man, the freest of art and trick I have ever known’. Conversely, he denounced the Junto’s unreasonable demands, claiming that the Whig lords did not make sufficient allowance for Godolphin’s difficulties with the Queen. He himself continued to trim, arranging to be out of town in February 1708 in order to miss the debate on the Queen’s reply to the address over the number of soldiers present at the battle of Almanza. By the beginning of April he was able to inform Shaftesbury that Godolphin had offered the place of treasurer of transports to Micklethwayte and had promised to accept any of the Earl’s recommendations for local offices in Dorset. Moreover, Cropley had himself received indications that an office could be his if he desired, to which he had replied that he thought he could serve the ministry best by remaining a free agent.3
Cropley was classed as a Whig both before and after the 1708 election, at which he was eventually returned without a contest after some convoluted pre-election manoeuvring (see SHAFTESBURY, Dorset) that reflected the political uncertainties at Westminster. In this Parliament Godolphin gradually came to terms with the Junto, and therefore Cropley merged back into the reunited Whig party. He voted for the naturalization of the Palatines in 1709, and the following year in favour of the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. He thought that the failure to obtain more than a token punishment of Sacheverell ‘gives us a very sad prospect, for if this is all the ministry and Whigs joined can do against the Tories, I fear we shall soon be overpowered, especially since from the pulpits we shall have all their thunder to depress us’. So closely was he now identified with the Junto that he could write to Stanhope that ‘I never was better with them in my life than I am now nor never so much devoted to them as now, for to be sure if they are not supported we are gone indeed’. By June he had come to believe that no more could be hoped for than that the Whigs would be able to delay the expected dissolution till the Duke of Marlborough had made peace. He was also concerned with the fate of the Bank of England, in which he held £2,000 worth of stock. Shortly after Harley acceded to office in 1710, Cropley was invited for an interview with the new minister, who expressed his respect for Lord Shaftesbury and desire to serve him. Cropley duly transmitted these sentiments to his patron, urging Shaftesbury
to say something in return to me. I’ll read it to him. This is what you can’t avoid. I would not have you speak of it to anybody living, nor have I done it, for to speak of it as acceptable to you might displease others and to speak of it with slights would be a harsh return.
The response was very cool, however. Cropley’s worst fears were realized when he was defeated by a Tory at Shaftesbury in the 1710 election. He spent much of the next three years attending to the affairs of Lord Shaftesbury, who had been forced by illness to settle in Italy, leaving Cropley and Stanhope in charge of his infant son and estates. In May 1711 a correspondent of Lord Strafford described Cropley as one of a group of ‘old Whigs’ who were ‘full as unaccountable and railing as ever’. He did not stand at the general election of 1713 and died shortly afterwards on 22 Oct. 1713, leaving an estate of about £4,000 p.a. to Thomas Micklethwayte.4