DODINGTON, George (c.1662-1720), of Dodington, Som. and Eastbury, Dorset
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. c.1662, 1st s. of John Dodington of Dodington by Hester (d. 1691), da. of Sir Peter Temple, 2nd Bt.†, of Stowe, Bucks. m. lic. 12 Feb. 1697, aged 35, Eleanor (d. c.1714), da. and coh. of Henry Bull*, s.p. suc. fa. 1673.1
Commr. appeals in excise 1679–1705; paymaster to treasurer of navy 1695–June 1699; trustee for Exchequer bills 1697–1700, for loan to Emperor 1706; commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1695, taking subscriptions to land bank 1696, taking subscriptions to S. Sea Co. 1711; sec. to English commrs. for union with Scotland 1706; chief sec. [I] 1707–8; ld. of Admiralty 1709–10, 1714–17; PC [I] Sept. 1714; clerk of the pells [I] 1715 (for life of his nephew George Bubb Dodington†).2
Dir. Old E.I. Co, 1695–8; New E.I. Co. 1702–5.3
MP [I] 14 July 1707–13.
Dodington was descended from an ancient Somerset family which claimed to have been settled at Dodington since the 13th century. His grandfather, Sir Francis Dodington, had suffered for his loyalty to Charles I during the Civil War and at the time of his father’s death the estate was heavily encumbered with debt and worth only £300 p.a. His father, who had filled several diplomatic and secretarial posts under Charles II, died in 1673, whereupon his mother successfully petitioned the Treasury against the counter-claims of Sir Francis Dodington’s second wife that the profits of a commissionership of appeals in excise, granted in trust to Sir Francis and his eldest son, should still be paid to her and her five children. When their trustee was omitted on a reshuffle of the commission in 1678, she again petitioned and was this time rewarded with the appointment of her eldest son to the commission, with a salary of £200 p.a. Establishing himself in London, Dodington set about making his fortune, and by 1688 was part-owner of four ships; but it was after the Revolution that he really began to prosper. On 12 Apr. 1689 the Earl of Shrewsbury successfully recommended his continuation on the excise appeals commission, and in 1690 Dodington and his partners secured a lucrative clothing contract for 21 regiments in Ireland. As early as 1687 he had been acting as occasional ‘agent’ or cashier to the navy, latterly during the treasurership of Admiral Edward Russell*, and when in 1695 Russell’s cashier fell ill and died, Russell made Dodington his paymaster, presumably to run the office during his absences at sea. Dodington’s connexion with Lord Orford (as Russell became), and through him his close affinity with the Whig Junto, was to be the keynote of his subsequent political career.4
Dodington continued his money-making ventures in government service throughout the 1690s, and also became a significant figure in the commercial sphere, joining the board of the East India Company in 1695. A measure of his rapidly increasing wealth was his subscription in 1694 to the Bank of England of a sum in excess of £4,000, and in 1697 of another £2,000 to the subscription for funding Exchequer bills. Towards the end of the decade, however, he not surprisingly became a target for his patron’s enemies. Dodington’s main perquisite as cashier or paymaster to the navy treasurer was 12d. in the pound of all deductions from the seamen’s pay in respect of slop clothes, dead men’s clothes, tobacco and the like, but suspicions about the enormous sums he was thought to be making, and threats to bring the matter under parliamentary scrutiny, compelled him in July 1698 to seek Admiralty confirmation of his entitlement. The opposition attack during the next parliamentary session resulted in Orford’s exoneration on 15 Mar. 1699 by a single vote, but as the diarist Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, recorded, ‘when they could not hurt Lord Orford they fell foul upon Dodington’. It was claimed that Dodington had made as much as £30,000, and when the matter was referred to the committee of the whole on the state of the navy, ‘my lord’s friends, to save him, gave up Dodington to shift for himself’. On 27 Mar. the House, besides resolving that his deduction of poundage was ‘without warrant and ought to be accounted for’, also found him errant in having made several payments by privy seal without vouchers. It was clear that Dodington was being sacrificed in order to save Orford, the belief being that it would be easy to ‘retrieve’ Dodington on a subsequent occasion. Following Orford’s resignation in May, Dodington was dismissed from the paymastership by the incoming navy treasurer, Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt.*, but he was left with the responsibility of clearing Orford’s accounts, a task which occupied him for the next five years. An attempt to resume the attack on both Orford and Dodington was made on 2 Feb. 1700, when Robert Byerley moved for the previously requested accounts of poundage deductions, and there was some expectation that pressure would be brought to have the money paid back and applied to public use. This, as James Vernon I* observed, would be ‘a sensible mortification, both to my Lord Orford and Dodington’. The accounts were duly delivered on 5 Mar., but Parliament was prorogued and then dissolved before further action could be taken. It was probably due to the smear of financial impropriety that Dodington was soon afterwards taken off the commission for Exchequer bills. At the end of May 1701 Byerley raised the question of Dodington’s administrative conduct once again in ways and means, and accordingly it was resolved to charge him with the deductions, now allegedly amounting to £17,000. Extenuating circumstances were pleaded on Dodington’s behalf, however, centring on the fact that ‘he had but £3,000 per annum salary’ from his perquisites, which he claimed had hardly covered the cost of running his office. At the report on 3 June the Whigs rescued him from a resolution which would have required him to return all his takings to the public coffers.5
By 1704 Dodington had cleared Orford’s accounts, and in the following year the new Whiggish current in politics enabled him to direct his career towards Parliament. Since becoming involved with the New East India Company, he had joined its board in 1702 and during his final year as a director, 1704–5, rated as the board’s second largest shareholder. Although left out of the commission of excise appeals in 1705, he received government help, almost certainly through the auspices of Lord Orford, in obtaining a seat for the Cinque Port town of Winchelsea at the general election. His election was reckoned by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) to be a gain for the Whigs, and at the assembling of the new Parliament on 25 Oct. he voted for the Court candidate for Speaker. He also supported the Court in the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill on 18 Feb. 1706. Soon after the end of the session, he was pressed into service by the Junto over the proposed union with Scotland. Sunderland wrote to Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) on 2 Apr. 1706: ‘Lord Orford [one of the commissioners] has spoke to Mr Dodington about his being secretary to the Scotch commission, who made several objections to it, but Lord Orford would not take a denial, but desired him to consider of it; I fancy he will accept of it at last.’ The Junto evidently set great store by this appointment, which was settled shortly before the commissioners met. No salary was allocated to him for his secretarial assistance to the English commissioners, although many years later in 1716 he was allowed £628. Meanwhile, in May 1707, his time on Orford’s accounts was rewarded with a payment of £1,500. Despite his administrative value to the Junto, in Parliament he did not shine as an active Member. His most substantial act during the 1705 Parliament was to help in proposing a bill for improving the preservation of game (24 Jan. 1707).6
Almost as soon as Dodington completed his stint with the Scottish commission, the new lord lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Pembroke (Hon. Thomas Herbert†), made him his chief secretary. Dodington went over to Ireland in June 1707 but was soon complaining to Sunderland: ‘In truth, I am almost dead with the fatigue I undergo, not having the least assistance from anybody in this family, my lord honouring me with the very least as well as the greatest business.’ Overwork did not stop him from plunging incautiously into Irish politics after being returned to the Irish house of commons in July, but he lacked the experience and skill necessary to direct the court party there, a task which invariably fell to the chief secretary. Instead, his tactless advocacy of certain measures, such as the removal of the test, in league with several radicals, proved too much for many Irish Whigs and he was soon regarded as a liability. They were no doubt relieved at his return to England in October for the approaching session at Westminster. At the 1708 election Dodington took a seat at Bridgwater, eight miles from his estate at Dodington. His return for the borough was deemed by Sunderland as a Whig gain. Despite his somewhat unsuccessful Irish interlude he remained high in favour with the Junto, who were now in a strong position to reward his loyalty and industry. In June 1708 he obtained a salary of £400 p.a. for the years he had spent on Orford’s accounts, and in August he petitioned for and was granted the reversion of the lucrative clerkship of the pells in the Irish treasury, during the life of his nephew, George Bubb (later Dodington). He was replaced as chief secretary in Ireland in December 1708 when Pembroke was made lord high admiral. In the Commons on 8 Mar. 1709 he strayed from his usual Court allegiance over the disputed Midhurst election and voted with the Tories in company with a number of other Whigs against Marlborough’s protégé, General Thomas Meredyth*. This aberration was not repeated, however, in the major questions of the Palatines and the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in which he voted with his Whig brethren.7
In November 1709 Orford, on being appointed first lord of the Admiralty, saw to Dodington’s inclusion on the board with a salary of £1,000 p.a. As the holder of £5,000 of Bank of England stock he was at this time involved in several subscriptions to government loans. Early in January 1710 an unfounded rumour arose that he was to become treasurer of the navy, but the Tory appointments in the summer and autumn ruled out any possibility of his advancement for the time being. Orford’s dismissal in October was followed by Dodington’s in December. He had managed to hold on to the seat at Bridgwater, however, and was classed as a Whig in the ‘Hanover list’ of the new Parliament. On 25 May 1711 he voted against an amendment to the South Sea Company bill which vested the right to appoint the company’s first directorate in the crown; on 7 Dec. for the motion of ‘No Peace without Spain’; and on 18 June 1713 against the French commerce bill. He performed his only tellership during the Queen’s reign on 27 May 1712, in relation to a minor bill concerning one of the lotteries. His situation at Bridgwater having become politically untenable, he achieved an effortless return at Winchelsea in the September election, where the Tory administration saw fit not to challenge the personal interest he had established there. On 18 Mar. 1714 he voted against the expulsion of Richard Steele even though some years earlier he had successfully prosecuted him for recovery of a £1,000 debt.8
Dodington retained his seat in Parliament, switching back to Bridgwater at the 1715 election. The Worsley list and other lists of this period classed him as a Whig. His enduring connexion with Lord Orford had been apparent once again in October 1714 when Orford, back at the Admiralty, included Dodington in the new commission; when the Earl went out of office with the schismatic Whigs in April 1717, Dodington went with him. He died on 28 Mar. 1720. In a vastly complicated will he left land worth about £4,000 p.a. and the clerkship of the pells, yielding some £2,000, to his nephew and heir, George Bubb (who had since assumed the surname Dodington). However, his chief concern was to provide for the completion of the palatial mansion, planned by Vanbrugh, at the Eastbury estate in Dorset which he had purchased in 1709 and intended as a momument to his name and fortune. To this end the sum of £100,000, which he left in cash, company bonds and notes, was placed in trust to be invested in land, and the income to be applied to the cost of construction; only when the work was finished (or 30 years had lapsed, whichever was the earlier) was the trust and mansion to revert to his nephew and heir. Before the will was proved, however, Bubb, having taken his uncle’s surname, effectively pre-empted this arrangement by taking possession of the estate and of the securities earmarked for it.