MASON, Charles (1661-1739), of Rockley Hall, nr. Bishop’s Castle, Salop.
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Family and Education
bap. 15 Apr. 1661, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Thomas Mason of Rockley Hall and Churchstoke, Mont.; bro. of Richard Mason*. m. 1s. suc. fa. 1705.1
Ensign 23 ft. 1689–at least 1694; jt. comptroller of the Mint 1696–1701; receiver-gen. and paymaster for transports 1706–8.2
Bailiff, Bishop’s Castle 1705–6.3
Mason’s family had been prominent in the affairs of Bishop’s Castle since at least 1572. His uncle, Sir Richard Mason†, had been a courtier under Charles II, and had sat for the borough as a Tory, but his father, Thomas Mason, was probably a Whig. Mason himself was one of the ‘councilmen’ appointed by the charter to Bishop’s Castle granted in September 1688, but at the Revolution, according to testimony given by his son over 50 years later, he ‘seized Red Castle [Weston-under-Redcastle, nr. Hodnet, Salop] . . . for the Prince of Orange at his own cost’. In July 1689 Mason was commissioned in the regiment commanded by Colonel Charles Herbert*, a cousin to Lord Herbert of Chirbury, and his father acted as one of Charles Herbert’s election agents at Montgomery Boroughs in the following year, managing Lord Herbert’s interest in that constituency. The connexion with the Herbert family continued long after the death in 1691 of both Charles Herbert and Lord Herbert, and Thomas Mason’s will included a small bequest to the nobleman’s widow.4
Mason did not stand for Bishop’s Castle at the by-election on his brother’s death in 1690, probably because he was with his regiment in Ireland, but he was returned in 1695, apparently with the support of Lord Macclesfield (Charles Gerard, Viscount Brandon*). Earlier that year, according to an accusation made against him in 1700, he was organizing illegal clipping of coinage in and around Montgomeryshire. When the accusation was made he did not deny its truth, claiming only that ‘what he did in that matter was by advice of a noble peer’. He was teller on 27 Jan. 1696, on the Court side, on an amendment to the land tax bill, and was forecast as likely to support the administration in a division on 31 Jan. on the proposed council of trade. He signed the Association without delay and in March voted for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. A teller on 9 Nov. in favour of the second reading of the bill of attainder against Sir John Fenwick†, he voted for the bill at its third reading on 25 Nov., having been a teller for the Court side on the same day, on a preliminary procedural motion. Then on 30 Dec. he was a teller against agreeing with a proposal that the committee on the bill to restrict the wearing of materials imported from the East Indies be instructed to hear petitioners by counsel. The previous day he and Thomas Molyneux* had been appointed jointly to the post of comptroller of the Mint, said to be worth £500 p.a. Mason was a teller four times more during this session: on 4 Feb. 1697, against Humphrey Courtenay* in a disputed election for Mitchell; on 13 Feb., in favour of a motion that Lord William Powlett* be excused at his own request from serving on the commission of accounts; on 15 Feb., on the Whig side, on a motion for adjournment; and on 3 Mar., with the Whigs once more, for accepting a proposal from the committee of ways and means.5
In 1698 Mason stood at Bishop’s Castle with Sir Gilbert Gerard, a nominee of Lord Macclesfield, and was himself elected while Gerard was defeated. The other defeated candidate, John Walcot, a Tory, considered petitioning against Mason’s return but eventually decided against doing so, on grounds of expense, although, as he wrote to his brother, ‘I had rather throw him out than any man I know in England’. Mason was listed in July as a placeman and again in September as a Court placeman, and he voted against the disbanding bill on 18 Jan. 1699. He and Thomas Molyneux petitioned the Treasury in the following March for payment of arrears of salary and for an additional allowance ‘for their extraordinary pains in the late grand coinage’. In November 1699 Walter Waring* requested Robert Harley* to use his influence on behalf of some Tory gentlemen from the neighbourhood of Bishop’s Castle who were in danger of being excluded from the commission of the peace through Mason’s influence. When the Commons, on 3 Feb. 1700, heard a petition of Sir Gilbert Gerard against the return of the other sitting Member for Bishop’s Castle, Sir William Brownlow, 4th Bt., both sides at the election were found to have been guilty of bribery. Brownlow’s election was declared void, and it was reported that Mason
against whom there was no petition, hardly escaped a censure, for being a tool under Lord Macclesfield, and his kinsman Sir Edward Seymour [4th Bt.*] moved to have it referred to a committee, to inquire how far Mason was guilty of bribery and it was dropped only that it might not be a precedent for bringing more acceptable men in question, when they are mentioned in evidence for bribery.
On 22 Mar. Mason was a teller for a clause to be added to the bill resuming Irish forfeitures, to protect a grant in favour of the children of Sir Charles Porter*, a clause opposed by Tory leaders. An analysis of the House in early 1700 listed Mason as being in the Junto interest.6
In June 1700 Mason, having fallen out with Molyneux over their joint administration of the comptrollership of the Mint, wrote to the Treasury to denounce his colleague for corruption. Molyneux refuted the charge and accused Mason of having instigated a ‘groundless and malicious prosecution’ in order to bring about his dismissal. He said that
at first he told Mason he would have nothing to do with him (knowing his actions). Mason said, ‘Come, why do we dispute? We may get £1,200 a year by it’. Afterwards Mason made a price for his share . . . he would give £1,200 or take £1,000. I refused, because Mr [Charles] Montagu[*] at first told him [Molyneux], ‘we expect the duty of this office from you, Mr Molyneux’, and I knew his [Mason] insufficiency: besides, I heard he had mortgaged his share. In the last session Mason told me in the House [of Commons] I had taken presents and he ought to have half or he would tell . . . That Mason threatened to leave no stone unturned to get Molyneux out.
Molyneux further alleged that Mason had been negligent and guilty himself of corrupt dealings. The charges and counter-charges were laid before the King. In December, with the outcome still undecided, there was a rumour in London that ‘Mr Mason and Molyneux have quarrelled in their office and the bridge of Mason’s nose is broken’.7
Mason and Sir Gilbert Gerard again stood together at Bishop’s Castle in January 1701, supported by Lord Macclesfield’s interest, and again Mason was returned while Gerard was unsuccessful. Soon afterwards the dispute at the Mint was decided, though not before Mason had challenged Molyneux to a duel and had been obliged to withdraw at the insistence of the House. On 10 May a new comptroller was appointed, replacing both Mason and Molyneux. Meanwhile Mason faced a petition against his election, and according to the Whig diarist Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, had no counsel but represented himself ‘and behaved himself foolishly for he was but an indifferent fellow of no great parts or integrity’. On 13 May Mason was unseated, having been declared guilty of bribery, and was ordered into custody. In August 1701 he accompanied Lord Macclesfield on his official journey to Hanover to present the Electress Sophia with a copy of the Act of Settlement. Macclesfield, who died on 5 Nov. 1701, left in his will £100 to Bishop’s Castle, ‘to be disposed of at the discretion of Charles Mason’. This money, or at least the promise of it, was used by Mason to bribe voters at the November election, when he was returned with Henry Brett*, a fellow Whig and a relation by marriage. On 31 Mar. 1702 Mason was again unseated on petition, Cocks recording that ‘Mason had a good cause enough of it but his friends did not appear for him because he was a scandalous scoundrel fellow’.8
Returned without opposition at the next election, Mason was a teller on 18 Feb. 1703 for a clause in favour of Robert Leigh to be inserted into the bill to advance the sale of the Irish forfeitures. Forecast as a likely opponent of the Tack, he voted against it or was absent on 28 Nov. Listed as a placeman in 1705, at the general election of that year Mason was chosen for both Bishop’s Castle and Montgomery Boroughs, in each case after a contest, and in a list of the new Parliament was put down as a ‘High Church courtier’ for the former constituency and as ‘Low Church’ for the latter. Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) listed Mason’s election as a gain for the Whigs, and he voted for the Court candidate in the election for Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705. In the following January he was appointed as receiver-general and paymaster for transports. A teller on 13 Feb. 1706, on the Court side, against a clause to be included in the bill for recruiting, he supported the Court over the place clause of the regency bill on 18 Feb. Also in February, after the dropping of two petitions against the return for Bishop’s Castle (17 Jan., 4 Feb.) and the dismissal of another against his election for Montgomery (17 Jan.), he at last announced his decision to sit for the latter constituency, thus allowing Lord Newport (Hon. Henry Newport*), a member of the leading Whig family in Shropshire (and a family to which Lord Herbert’s widow also belonged), to succeed him in the other seat, at a by-election in which Mason himself was the returning officer.9
A treasurer for transports, Mason was often entrusted with large amounts of money, which he made use of for his own ends. Not for over a year did he deposit any of it in the transports office, disobeying repeated orders from the Treasury, but instead, as he admitted, ‘lodged great sums of public as well as my own money in the Bank and in the hands of goldsmiths and cashiers’. By February 1707 he was £14,000 in debt to some private bankers, the Newell brothers. To settle this debt he agreed to mortgage a ‘considerable estate’ which he owned in Berkshire, together with property in Shropshire, Montgomeryshire and Dublin. However, he defaulted on the agreement and in September 1707 was obliged to enter on another mortgage, this time of all his estates in Shropshire and Montgomeryshire (worth £1,200 p.a.), for £5,000 to a London barrister, Thomas Lake, the loan to be repaid by 20 Nov. 1707 and the Newells supplying Lake with promissory notes as collateral security. Mason failed to repay Lake in time, although he deposited with the Newells over £5,000 in cash out of approximately £35,000 advanced to him in November for the transport service. Very shortly afterwards the Newells went bankrupt, leaving Mason £5,000 in debt to Lake and over £6,000 in arrears on his official account. Despite the fact that his estates were already mortgaged, he offered them as security for the settlement of his debt to the crown. Sums of money issued for transportation in January and March 1708 were expressly placed under the care of the commissioners for transports, to keep them out of Mason’s hands, and in April he was dismissed. Proceedings were immediately started to compel Mason to settle his official account, while at the same time Lake began a lawsuit to recover his own £5,000, together with an additional £2,700 which he had paid to acquire a previous encumbrance on Mason’s property, the existence of which had been concealed at the time of their agreement.10
On 19 Feb. 1708 Mason was a teller against a Tory-inspired clause to be added to the bill for the elimination of bribery and corrupt practices at elections. Listed as a Whig twice in 1708, he was re-elected unopposed in the general election that year with an erstwhile opponent, Richard Harnage, having apparently made overtures of marriage to Harnage’s niece which he would subsequently repudiate and which were presumably designed as a means of securing Harnage’s interest at this election. Mason supported the naturalization of the Palatines in 1709; and voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710. During this time no progress was made in either of the sets of proceedings against him: the Treasury granted him successive stays of process, and Lake’s suit was delayed in Chancery and eventually abandoned. In September 1710, however, after the change of ministry, Mason was required to attend at the Treasury concerning his account. It was shown that he still owed nearly £6,000. On 21 Sept. proceedings against him were ordered to be set in motion again, notwithstanding any stays of process which had previously been granted. No sooner had this order been made than Mason was approached by an agent of Edward Harley*, who had acquired an interest at Bishop’s Castle and was anxious to secure the return there at the forthcoming general election of a nominee of his brother Robert. Harley’s agent wrote of his meeting with Mason: ‘I told him . . . if he desisted, there were several ways and means whereby you may be serviceable to him; he said, he would gladly join in interest, which I rejecting, we parted.’ At the election Mason was defeated easily, despite having been ‘furnished with £300 by Lady Herbert, which was all distributed among the burgesses’.11
By June 1711 Mason’s estates had been placed under a writ of extent, but the settlement of his account as treasurer for transports proceeded slowly: by March 1712 only £800 of what was due had been repaid. He did not stand in the 1713 election. His other creditor, Lake, had meantime died, but Lake’s son revived his father’s suit and in December 1713 obtained a Chancery decree ordering Mason’s debt to be stated, and settled by means of the sale of at least part of his estate. Mason contested the decree, attempting to delay proceedings, and was able to claim parliamentary privilege after he had succeeded in getting himself elected for Bishop’s Castle in 1715, a comparative analysis of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments listing him as a Whig. Thereafter he contrived by various stratagems to prevent the young Lake from foreclosing on his mortgage: in particular, Mason was able to turn to his own advantage the writ of extent on his estates, being granted numerous stays of process and being permitted to have his rents collected and used to pay off by degrees what he owed the crown.12
Mason died in 1739, without ever settling his official account, and after having lived for some years in ‘miserable circumstances’.13
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. IGI, Salop; CJ, xiii. 171; Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. ser. 1, iv. 341–2; ser. 2, x. 53; PCC 224 Gee; Salop Par. Reg. Soc. Hereford dioc. xix. Norbury. ii; VCH Salop, iii. 300
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. xi. 340; xvi. 268; xx. 547–8; xxii. 204.
- 3. Bor. of Bishop’s Castle: List of Mayors and Town Clerks.
- 4. CSP Dom. 1687–9, p. 272; 1689–90, p. 198; Cal. Treas. Bks. and Pprs. 1742–5, p. 13; Herbert Corresp. ed. W. J. Smith (Univ. of Wales, Bd. of Celtic Studies, Hist. and Law ser. xxi), 352–4; PCC 224 Gee.
- 5. Add. 70249, Richard More to Robert Harley, 27 Mar. 1695; Cal. Treas. Bks. xi. 340; xvi. 8–9, 135–6; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 48; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, pp. 424–5.
- 6. Salop RO, Walcot mss, John to George Walcot, 18 Dec. 1698; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiv. 294; Add. 70036, f. 41; Vernon–Shrewsbu