FARRER, William (c.1656-1737), of Biddenham, Beds. and the Inner Temple

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



1695 - 1698
Dec. 1701 - 1702
1705 - 1713
1715 - 1727

Family and Education

b. c.1656, prob. 1st s. of Thomas Farrer of Harrold, Beds., Aylesbury, Bucks. and the I. Temple by Helen, da. of Sir William Boteler of Biddenham and Harrold.  educ. I. Temple 1667, called 1677; Trinity, Oxf. matric. 16 Feb. 1672, aged 15.  m. (1) 2 Mar. 1680, his 1st cos. Mary, da. and coh. of William Boteler† of Biddenham, 1s. d.v.p. 3da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) Elizabeth (d. 1734), s.psuc. fa. 1703.1

Offices Held

Burgess, Bedford 1690; dep. recorder by 1691–1711.2

Member, SPCK c.1699–bef. 1708; master, St. Katherine’s Hosp. by the Tower 1715–bef. 1727; commr. for building 50 new churches 1715–aft.1727.3

Commr. army, navy and transport debts 1700–5; clerk of the pipe Apr. 1710–July 1711.4

Chairman, cttees. of supply and ways and means 1708–10, 1715–27.


Several members of Farrer’s family had achieved minor distinction in the practice of the law: his own father had been a bencher of the Inner Temple, while an uncle and namesake, also a templar, had been appointed King’s Counsel in 1689 and served after the Revolution as solicitor to Queen Catherine of Braganza. Farrer himself was admitted to the Inner Temple as a ten-year-old, at his father’s special request, and called to the bar at the age of only 20. His appointment as deputy-recorder of Bedford under the 3rd Earl of Bolingbroke (Paulet St. John†), himself chosen recorder in 1689, involved him closely in the politics of the borough and enabled him, possibly with the assistance of the St. John interest, to secure his election to Parliament for Bedford in 1695. Although his political sympathies were clearly always with the Whigs, Farrer’s early behaviour in Parliament was unpredictable, perhaps reflecting the ‘Country’ proclivities of Lord Bolingbroke, who had voted in the Lords in 1693 in favour of the place bill. On the other hand, his legal training ensured that he was also very active in managing politically uncontroversial bills through the House, including many private bills. Thus, even in his first session in the House he helped to manage two private bills through the Commons. He was marked as ‘doubtful’ in the forecast for the division of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade and, returning after a fortnight’s leave of absence granted on 12 Mar., he voted against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. He had, however, signed the Association promptly.5

By the second session Farrer had aligned himself more closely with the Whig ministry, possibly in order to qualify himself for some employment. He voted on 25 Nov. 1696 in favour of the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†, and was a teller on 18 Jan. 1697 on the Whig side against a motion for a call of the House. He assisted in the management of bills. On 4 Mar. he was given leave of absence for three weeks. The following session he reported two bills from committee, including the bill to give more time to ‘divers persons’ to ‘qualify themselves for their employments’. His opposition to the coal duty bill, against which he told on 3 May, may have been prompted by local concerns, for in a later Parliament Bedfordshire interests were instrumental in reforming the trade in imported coal (see CARTERET, Edward). On the other hand, a more general principle probably lay behind his tellership three days later against receiving a petition from several landlords in Southwark against the Act to regulate the privileges of prisons, which empowered sheriffs’ officers to make a forcible entry into various premises without a prior warrant, since this local opposition threatened to hinder efforts to suppress urban crime. An association with the movement for the reformation of manners, for which a society was active in Southwark, is suggested by Farrer’s appearance among the earliest subscribers to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, though by 1708 his keenness had waned and he was noted as one of the ‘residing members’ of the society who neither attended nor paid his subscriptions. In July 1698 he was included in a list of placemen (probably in error, being confused with his uncle the King’s Counsel), and in about September he was classed as a supporter of the Court party in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments.6

Farrer does not appear to have sought re-election in 1698 and was not returned again until the 1701–2 Parliament. But he was elected (in fourth place out of five) in April 1700 as one of the parliamentary commissioners to examine the debts due for the army, navy and transports, and reported to the House from that commission in February 1701. He was classed as a ‘gain’ for the Whig party by Lord Spencer (Charles*) when he won back his seat in November 1701, and in Robert Harley’s* list of this Parliament he was included with the Whigs. He retained his place on the army debts commission while an MP, presenting accounts to the House on one occasion in his official capacity. He presented a bill to strengthen the Henrician Act for the repair of bridges, and then piloted it through its stages in the Commons. He also chaired the committee of the whole on the mutiny bill during February 1702. After a brief period in the country to attend a daughter’s marriage he was back in the House by 28 Apr. to act as a teller against giving leave for a bill to relieve the merchant Ignatius Gould from the effects of the Irish Forfeited Estates Resumption Act.7

Farrer was not returned again until the 1705 general election, in which he and Sir Philip Monoux, 3rd Bt.*, a fellow Whig, defeated the Tory Samuel Rolt*. By this time the army debts commission, to which he had given continuous service, was coming to an end. He was listed as a ‘Churchman’ in an analysis of the 1705 Parliament, and voted for the Court candidate as Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705. He took a managerial role in three bills during the session, and in between was granted leave of absence for three weeks on 20 Dec. In the division of 18 Feb. 1706 on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill he sided with the Court. In the 1706–7 session he was named to five drafting committees, four relating to private estates and the other to the repair of a Bedfordshire highway, which he managed through the House. Indeed, his usefulness as a parliamentary lawyer was recognized at about this time by a correspondent of the Duke of Shrewsbury, who had enlisted his assistance with a private bill in January 1707. Farrer was also called upon to manage a conference with the Lords during April 1707 over the bill continuing the vagrancy Acts. In the 1707–8 session he was named to seven drafting committees, and managed one of the resulting bills through the Commons, a bill to continue the Act for ascertaining tithes on hemp and flax. He also contributed to the management of three other bills. In two parliamentary lists of 1708 he was classed as a Whig.8

Returned unopposed in 1708, Farrer was named on 24 Nov. as the Whig candidate for the chair of the committees of supply and ways and means, securing a majority of 50 over the Tory John Conyers*. This post saw Farrer chair the committee of the whole on 37 occasions during the session, as supply and related financial business (such as the resettlement of Nevis and St. Christopher’s and the allowances for Scottish fish exports) passed through the House. In the only vote in this session for which a division list has survived he supported the naturalization of the Palatines. His involvement in financial legislation clearly limited his availability for other business, but he was concerned to forward several private bills and did manage a Northamptonshire road bill through the House. He voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, and was rewarded in April 1710 for his services to his party in the House with the office of clerk of the pipe, worth £800 a year. He then survived not only the by-election necessitated by his acceptance of a place, but the general election only a few months afterwards, in which the Whig interest in Bedford encountered a Tory challenge.9

Things soon began to go wrong for Farrer in the new Parliament. He lost the chairmanship of the committee of supply, although the Commons did make use of his legislative experience in the management of several private bills. The new lord treasurer, Oxford (Robert Harley*), had marked him down as a prime target for dismissal from office, and in July 1711 he lost the clerkship of the pipe. Worse was to follow: with the death of Bolingbroke late in the year, Bedford corporation elected the Tory Lord Bruce (Charles*), as recorder, and he in turn replaced Farrer with a deputy who conformed to his own principles. Farrer stuck to his political guns, voting on 7 Dec. 1711 in favour of the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion. In the 1711–12 session he continued to be active in legislative matters, helping to pilot an estate bill through the House on behalf of the Duke of Bedford, and acting as chair of the committee of the whole when the Commons discussed a bill on the African trade. Rather surprisingly he seems to have been inactive in the 1713 session, although he was recorded as voting on 18 June against the French commerce bill, as a Whig. In the 1713 general election the loss of his local office, combined with a swing to the Tories in Bedford corporation and in the constituency generally, proved too much to overcome, and he was defeated by Samuel Rolt. He petitioned, alleging that Rolt was not duly qualified according to the terms of the 1711 Landed Qualification Act, but the petition was never heard.10

Farrer regained his seat, and the chairmanship of supply and ways and means, in the 1715 Parliament, being listed as a Whig in a comparative analysis of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments. He voted consistently with the Court until he retired from active politics at the 1727 election. A year later he made his will, giving his address as St. George the Martyr, Middlesex, and leaving as his heir a great-nephew, Dennis Farrer, of Cold Brayfield, Buckinghamshire, whom Farrer referred to as his ‘grandson’: in fact, Dennis had married Farrer’s granddaughter, the daughter of William Hillersden*. By the time of his death on 22 Sept. 1737, Farrer was living at Cold Brayfield, and he was buried there.11

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. v. 90–91; Lipscomb, Bucks. iv. 48–49.
  • 2. Bedford Bor. Council, Bedford bor. recs. B2/3, corp. act bk. 1688–1718, ff. 12, 17, 116.
  • 3. Chapter in Eng. Church Hist. ed. McClure, 2; SPCK Archs. min. bk. 4, pp. 93–94; C. Jamison, Hist. St. Katherine’s Hosp. 192; E. G. W. Bill, Q. Anne Churches, p. xxiv.
  • 4. Post Boy, 1–4 Dec. 1711; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxv. 433.
  • 5. VCH Bucks. iv. 325; Lipscomb, 49; J. C. Sainty, Eng. Law Officers (Selden Soc. supp. ser. vii), 89; Cal. Treas. Bks. xi. 305; Bedford bor. recs. B2/3, f. 7; Bull. IHR, liii. 82.
  • 6. Bull. IHR, sp. supp. vii. 25; Chapter in Eng. Church Hist. 2; SPCK Archs. min. bk. 4, pp. 93–94.
  • 7. Cal. Treas. Bks. xv. 414; Add. 70037, Farrer to Harley, 9 Apr. 1702.
  • 8. Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 77/70, M. Talbot to Shrewsbury, 13 Jan. 1706–7.
  • 9. Add. 17677 CCC, f. 649.
  • 10. Add. 70332, memo. by Harley, 4 June 1711; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 377, 564; Huntington Lib. HM 30659, newsletter 4 Apr. 1710; Bedford bor. recs. B2/3, f. 111; Post Boy, 29 Aug.–1 Sept. 1713.
  • 11. PCC 223 Wake; VCH Bucks. 325; Lipscomb, 48–49; Hist. Reg. Chron. 1737, p. 22.