MASHAM, Samuel (c.1679-1758), of Otes, High Laver, Essex
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Family and Education
b. c.1679, 8th but 1st surv. s. of Sir Francis Masham, 3rd Bt.*, by his 1st w. m. c.June 1707, Abigail Hill (d. 1734), da. of Francis Hill, Levant merchant, of London, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da. cr. Baron Masham of Otes 1 Jan. 1712; suc. fa. Feb. 1723.1
Page of honour to Princess Anne by 1692; equerry by 1702; groom of bedchamber to Prince George of Denmark 1706; ensign, Coldstream Gds. 1697, capt. and lt.-col. 1704; brevet col. 1705; col. 1707; brig.-gen. 1710; cofferer of Household 1711–14; keeper of gt. wardrobe 1711–13; remembrancer of Exchequer in reversion 1713.2
Masham was described by Sarah Churchill as a ‘good natured, soft, insignificant man, making low bows to everybody, and being ready to run to open a door’. According to her, he attracted the attention of few at court, except Abigail Hill, a woman of the bedchamber, whom he may have met through her brother ‘Jack’ Hill, a fellow page and officer in the Coldstream Guards. Abigail was unlikely to have been dazzled by Masham’s military career since, although his service in Lisbon and Altea in 1705–6 was later officially described as having been attended with ‘a share of success and glory’, it seems doubtful whether he ever heard a shot fired. Nevertheless, Masham and Abigail were married in the summer of 1707 at a ceremony in Dr Arbuthnot’s apartments which Abigail kept secret from her cousin and patroness, Sarah Churchill. The Queen’s presence at the marriage, and her willingness to provide Abigail with a dowry, indicated a redistribution of favour at court that infuriated the Duchess of Marlborough and which rapidly led to a breach between her and Abigail. The marriage also marked a break with the Whiggishness of Masham’s family since Abigail held strong Tory views. She was also a second cousin of Robert Harley*, who seems to have discovered the kinship once Mrs Masham’s political importance became apparent and to have used the relationship to gain privy access to the Queen. These connexions, rather than Masham’s own ability, explain his advancement. Although he had returned from the army to attend his wife ‘and the basset table’, Abigail was determined in January 1710 to have her husband and her militarily incompetent brother promoted to the rank of general over the heads of more experienced officers, a test of her influence that outraged both the Duke (John Churchill†) and the Duchess of Marlborough. The Duke was reported to have pressed the Queen to be rid of her favourite, encouraging rumours that the Commons would pass an address requesting her removal from court. Perhaps because Anne made it clear that such action would be ‘very disagreeable to her’, no address was made, and as part of a compromise solution Masham, though not his brother-in-law, duly received promotion.3
Masham’s political career began in 1710 after the fall of the Whig ministry. In September of that year there was a whisper that he would be appointed to the post of vice-treasurer of Ireland, though nothing came of it, and at the general election in October the Tory Lord Poulett, apparently acting on the wishes of Harley, ‘complimented Brigadier Masham by having him chosen a Member’ at Ilchester. Although the ‘Hanover list’ of 1710 failed to record him as either a Whig or a Tory, Masham was listed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who helped to detect the mismanagements of the previous administration, and his support for the Tories can hardly be in doubt. His representation of Ilchester was, however, short-lived since the appointment of Harley, with whom Mrs Masham was described as ‘intimate’, as lord treasurer in May 1711 brought Masham the lucrative office of cofferer of the Household. This place at court forced him to seek re-election, but at New Windsor rather than Ilchester, the Duke of Northumberland withdrawing his nominee upon learning of Masham’s candidature. Parliament was prorogued less than a month after his election, but when MPs reassembled in December the ministry faced defeat in the Lords on its policy of ‘Peace without Spain’. This was only averted by the creation of 12 new peers. Rumours that Masham would be ennobled had been circulating since Abigail’s rise to favour, but Anne feared she might ‘lose a useful servant about her person, for it would give offence to have a peeress lie upon the floor and do several other inferior offices’. Even in December 1711 the 12th barony was first offered to Sir Michael Warton*, but on his refusal Masham’s name was put forward, and the Queen finally relented on condition that Abigail remain in her service. On 1 Jan. 1712 a patent was issued referring to Masham’s ‘candour, and ingenious disposition’ and ‘unshaken fidelity’ at court and in Parliament as qualities to justify the creation, but his wife’s influence had clearly been his greatest asset, and thus the family rose into the peerage in what one historian has described as ‘the oddest manner in the history of the English noble order’. Although the creations revived unpleasant memories of earlier monarchs’ abuse of prerogative powers, there was no overt opposition to them in Parliament. Masham played an important role behind the scenes until the death of the Queen led to his retirement from politics. He died on 16 Oct. 1758, being succeeded by his son, also Samuel.4
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Mark Knights
- 1. DNB (Masham, Abigail); PCC 55 Richmond.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1698, p. 2; DNB (Masham, Abigail); Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 73; Berks. RO, D/EE/240/04, quietus roll; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvii. 464.
- 3. DNB (Masham, Abigail; Hill, John); HMC Astley, 175, 183; Add. 61422, f. 47; Luttrell, v. 447; The Reasons Which Induced Her Majesty to Create Samuel Masham Esq. a Peer (1712), 3; Coxe, Marlborough (1847), ii. 96–97; Wentworth Pprs. 103–4; Coxe, Ld. Walpole, ii. 15.
- 4. Addison Letters, 240; Add. 70252, Poulett to Harley, ‘Sunday night’; 17677 EEE, ff. 107, 207, FFF, f. 17; 47026, f. 68; Wentworth Pprs. 150, 193, 197–8; The Rival Dutchess (1708); HMC Var. viii. 251; Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 215, 264, 491; Hist. Today, iii. 535–43; Stanhope, Reign of Anne, 507; Burnet, vi. 36, 94–95; Boyer, Anne A