FOLEY, Philip (1648-1716), of Prestwood, Kingswinford, Staffs.

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



Mar. 1679 - Mar. 1681
1689 - 1690
1690 - 1695
1695 - 1700
25 Feb. - 11 Nov. 1701

Family and Education

bap. 12 May 1648, 4th but 3rd surv. s. of Thomas Foley† of Witley Court, Great Witley, Worcs.; bro. of Paul I* and Thomas Foley I*.  m. 5 Oct. 1670, Penelope, da. of William, 6th Ld. Paget, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 7da. (1 d.v.p.).1

Offices Held

Freeman, Bewdley 1675, Stafford 1689, Droitwich by 1694, bailiff 1694–5.2

Member, Soc. of Mines Royal 1690.

Commr. receiving subscriptions to land bank 1696.3


His father’s mantle as a capitalist entrepreneur seems to have descended upon Philip Foley. When the great ironmaster’s industrial empire had been divided, it had been the two younger sons, Philip and Paul, given their share of the patrimony principally in ironworks rather than land, who had been the more active in developing and expanding their manufacturing interests. Even after the two brothers had eventually merged their holdings with others in ‘the ironworks in partnership’, the largest iron-manufacturing company in the country, established in 1692 and controlling production in south Staffordshire, Worcestershire and the Forest of Dean, Philip continued to increase his involvement in industrial enterprises, in contrast to Paul, who gave himself up to a career in politics. Philip owned a sixth share in ‘the ironworks in partnership’ at the company’s inception, although this had receded to approximately one-eighth in 1711, when the stock totalled £27,000. He also held a seventh share in the next largest iron-manufacturing company, the ‘Staffordshire works’, set up in 1693 and incorporating most of the remaining ironworks in the county, north of the Trent valley, and participated in similar partnerships in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.4

A Presbyterian, Foley retained a Nonconformist chaplain in his family as late as 1706, and was a contributor after the Revolution to the ‘common fund’ set up for Presbyterian and Congregationalist ministers. His early political sentiments were strongly Exclusionist, though his concern for religious toleration seems for a time in James II’s reign to have outweighed other political considerations, since he has been identified as one of the ‘Whig collaborators’. He did, however, sign a county address on 4 Dec. 1688 calling for the removal from office of all unqualified persons. In the 1690 election he faced considerable hostility from Tories in Stafford, and was defeated in spite of the strength of his own interest there. His refusal to appear in person in the borough cannot have helped. Fortunately, brother Thomas possessed sufficient influence to secure his return at Droitwich, where Foley in turn defeated a Tory, Sir John Pakington, 4th Bt.* He was classed as a Whig in Lord Carmarthen’s (Sir Thomas Osborne†) analysis of the new House. However, instances in which some aspect of parliamentary activity can be specifically attributed to Philip rather than to any of his brothers or nephews, are comparatively rare. One such instance occurred on 31 Oct. 1690, when he was named to the committee on the bill for securing the rights of corporations, a committee he appears to have attended. In April 1691 he was listed by his niece’s husband, Robert Harley*, as a supporter of the Country party, but with the addition of ‘d[oubtful]’, and the following February he and his brother Thomas were said to have voted against ‘reviving the powers of the commissioners of accounts’. If there were any fraternal disagreements with Paul, himself an accounts commissioner, these had presumably been resolved by the following April, when Philip offered to back the candidature of Paul’s son for a vacancy as knight of the shire in Staffordshire. Philip’s involvement in intrigues to bring in his great-nephew Hon. Henry Paget* at by-elections first for the county and then for the borough of Stafford in 1693–4 revealed that the old party divisions in the county still held firm and that Foley was himself still associated in local politics with his former Exclusionist and Whig comrades. When Paget proved unwilling to stand, he recommended his nephew Thomas Foley III* instead. In the House he had returned to his Country party allegiance by March 1694, when he joined in opposition to a general excise, ‘so odious to the country, and dangerous’, and pressed the ailing Staffordshire Whig John Swinfen* to come up and add his weight to the resistance. Among many possible references to Philip in the Journals, he is most likely to have been the Foley who on 16 Feb. 1694 acted as a teller in favour of allowing a petition from the salt-pit proprietors in his constituency to lie on the table until the salt duty bill received its second reading.5

Reverting to his former seat at Stafford in 1695, Philip was almost certainly the ‘Mr Foley’ who acted as a teller on 24 Jan., with another Staffordshire MP, for leave for a clause to take away the duties on coal transported by water. ‘All the Foleys’ were recorded as having voted on 31 Jan. against the imposition of an abjuration oath on members of the proposed council of trade, and although Philip signed the Association promptly he divided in March against fixing the price of guineas at 22s., and in the following November against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. Marked as a member of the Country party in a comparative analysis of the old and new Houses of Commons in 1698, he was also forecast as likely to vote against a standing army. By this time he seems to have been becoming less conscientious in his parliamentary attendance. In April 1700 one of his nephews wrote to call him back urgently to Westminster:

I am sorry that what I told you before you left London I feared would happen proved true, that there would be more occasion for you at the latter end of the session than there hath been all the while you were there; I therefore send these to desire you to lay all private business aside, and come to London with the utmost speed, for the Lords have made an amendment to the Irish and land tax bill, and nobody can yet tell what will be the consequence of it . . . by directions from our great men, we have taken several of us with our particular acquaintance to write to, to come up with all speed.

The next general election saw him step down, though only after he had withstood considerable pressure to stay on in the Commons, from his family and especially from Harley, to whom he explained himself as follows in December 1700:

I have a true zeal for the public, and you know I have attended the service of it many years, to the expense of that which would have provided for divers of my children, which now being grown up puts me to great difficulties. The reflection of my brother Paul’s decease and my brother Foley’s [Thomas I] indisposition raises great thoughtfulness to provide for my children, and pay my just debts, for doing which I believe I must sell my outlands . . . and leave my son to buy more nearer home with his fortune, and that I needed not to have done if I had avoided public charges sooner . . . It grieves me to deny you anything that you command me. Yet my circumstances being thus I hope you will allow me to stand well in your good opinion and that you and my friends will give me leave now to be excused.

The respite was only brief. On his brother Thomas’ death in February 1701 he was pressed to fill the resulting vacancy at Droitwich, at least for the duration of that Parliament. Again he appealed to Harley:

The loss of my most dear brother is very grievous, which I heartily bewail, and my mind is now so concerned about Wich, what may be my duty therein, that for my own relief I crave leave to chat with you freely. I was use[d] to have a strong appetite, now a strange reluctancy, to appear publicly, and it may be it is the care which possesses me for my numerous family upon these notices of mortality . . . I know the ship is of greater concern than a cabin, but my hopes are that it will be steered by better and fitter men than myself, who am able to contribute so little thereto.

His suggestion, that his nephew Edward Foley*, Harley’s brother-in-law, might be drafted instead, was evidently unacceptable, for he was returned himself at the by-election soon afterwards. Little is known for certain of his contribution to the navigation of ‘the ship’ in this Parliament, other than that he was blacklisted among those who opposed making preparations for war.6

Foley managed to hand the Droitwich nomination over to his nephew Edward at the next election, and thenceforth retired to devote himself to his estate and to business. He rapidly acquired the reputation of one who did not ‘come to town’. But he still offered Harley occasional items of political advice, as in October 1702, when he recommended that Harley

find out methods to cure the abominable debaucheries and evil practices in corporations, and why may not those who find the entertainment as well as those who pay for it be equally punished, or what need those who keep public houses at any time be magistrates, whose duty it is to punish disorders and whose interest it is to promote excess.

His electoral influence at Stafford continued to be deployed to benefit his family, though he may not always have agreed with his various nephews in their politics. In particular, there remained in him enough of the old Presbyterian to make him suspicious of the pro-Sacheverell agitation in 1710. Foley died shortly before 11 Dec. 1716, when his nephew Thomas Foley II* was granted leave of absence from duties at the Exchequer on this account. His will was proved ten days later.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Diaries and Letters of Philip Henry ed. Lee, 231; Shaw, Staffs. ii. 235.
  • 2. Birmingham Univ. Hist. Jnl. i. 109–10; Staffs. RO, D1323/A/1/1, Stafford corp. order bk. p. 355; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 77/85, list of Droitwich freemen [c.1697–1702].
  • 3. HMC Portland, iii. 58.
  • 4. Econ. Hist. Rev. ser. 2, iv. 326–8, 330; Business Hist. xiii. 19–38; Trans. Worcs. Arch. Soc. n.s. xxvii. 35–46; VCH Staffs. vii. 244; xx. 157.
  • 5. D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parlty. Pol. 1661–89, pp. 395–6; A. G. Matthews, Calamy Revised, 132, 267, 383; VCH Staffs. xvi. 67; xx. 157; DNB (Morton, Richard; Reynolds, John); Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1882), 442; Wm. Salt Lib. (Stafford), Bagot mss D1721/3/291; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 24, f. 172; Add. 70014, ff. 290, 344; 70016, f. 30; 70114, Paul Foley I to Harley, 29 Sept. 1694; 42592, f. 167; 30013, f. 55; Epistolary Curiosities ed. Warner, i. 141–2; Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford), Foley mss, [?Paul I] to Philip Foley, 1 Apr. 1692, Paget to same, 14 June, 25 Sept., 11 Oct. 1693, 18 Sept. 1694, John Swinfen to same, 17 Oct. 1693, Foley to [–], 10 Oct. 1693, same to Sir Walter Bagot, 3rd Bt.*, 17 Oct. 1693, same to Paget, 11 Sept. 1694.
  • 6. HMC Kenyon, 398–9; Foley mss, Thomas Foley III to Philip Foley, 6 Apr. 1700; Add. 70225, Foley to Harley, 18 Dec. 1700, 5 Feb. 1700[–1]; HMC Portland, iii. 638.
  • 7. Foley mss, John Pershall* to Foley, 7 Nov. 1702, Foley to [–], 13 Mar. 1704[–5]; Add. 70225, Foley to Robert Harley, 28 Oct. 1702; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(6), p. 36; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxx. 583; PCC 136 Fox.