MERES, Sir Thomas (1634-1715), of Lincoln, Lincs. and Bloomsbury Sq., Westminster
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Family and Education
bap. 17 Sept. 1634, 1st s. of Robert Meres, DD, of Kirton, Lincs., chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral, by 1st w. Elizabeth, da. of Hugh Williams of Wegg, Caern., wid. of William Dolben, DD, preb. of Lincoln. educ. Sleaford (Mr Gibson); Sidney Sussex, Camb. 1651; I. Temple 1653, called 1660. m. 28 Jan. 1658, Anne, da. and coh. of Sir Erasmus de la Fountaine of Kirby Bellars, Leics., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. suc. fa. 1652; kntd. 11 June 1660.1
Commr. maimed soldiers 1660–1, rebuilding St. Paul’s Cathedral 1686–1711, for taking subscriptions to land bank 1696; ld. of Admiralty 1679–84.2
Chairman, cttee. of privileges and elections 8 Feb. 1673–27 May 1679.
Asst. Sons of the Clergy 1678, vice-pres. 1696, 1706.3
Freeman, Portsmouth 1681.4
Meres had represented Lincoln in every Parliament from 1659 to 1687, being very active both as a speaker and committee man, first as one of the leaders of the opposition and after 1679 as a courtier, although he subsequently opposed the religious policies of James II. Having been heavily defeated in the poll of December 1688 for James II’s proposed Parliament, he did not put up at Lincoln in 1689 or 1690. He unsuccessfully contested the city in 1695 and 1698, and it was not until the first election of 1701 that he regained his seat, when he came in for Lincoln as a Country Tory. During his absence from Westminster he had not been inconspicuous, serving on the commission to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral, an appointment which reflected his family’s close clerical connexions. Furthermore, he played a significant role in promoting the ill-fated land bank scheme of 1696, acting as one of its managing committee in negotiations with the Treasury, before whom he made ‘a very florid oration’ on 22 May when presenting the projectors’ demands. In his 67th year, when re-entering the House, he struggled to re-attain the authority he had enjoyed as a Country spokesman under Charles II, and was even regarded by some as a political joke, who ‘laughs at himself to please the rest’.5
At the outset of the 1701 Parliament it was reported that Meres was a contender for the Speakership, his candidacy for the Chair having been mooted on three previous occasions. However, his claims were not pushed very hard. Early in the session he was noted as likely to support the Court in agreeing with the supply committee’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’, and proved an active Member. His partisanship was suggested on 15 Apr. 1701 by his inclusion in the committee drawing up articles of impeachment against the four Whig lords. The next day he spoke against an amendment to the address for the removal of the Junto ministers, which would have assured the King of support to prevent the union of France and Spain, and to defend English trade. As he reasoned, ‘he would not come into a war by a side wind, but that by what he heard and believed we could not be long without a war declared’. Keen to seize party advantage, he spoke approvingly on 8 May of the articles of impeachment against the Earl of Orford (Edward Russell*). On the 23rd of that month he successfully moved that £3,700 per week be taken from the civil list for public use, being seconded by Tory leaders Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., and Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt. In June he chaired the conference committee drawing up reasons for disagreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill to re-establish the commission of accounts.6
Meres did not stand at the second election of 1701, but was returned again for Lincoln the following year. He was one of the Members ordered on 23 Feb. 1703 to confer with the Lords about accusations of neglect levelled against Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*) in his position as auditor of the receipt. Earlier, on 13 Feb., he had voted against agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the Abjuration, and in the next session was listed by Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) as a supporter, probably in connexion with the inquiry into the Scotch Plot. However, he was classed contemptuously as ‘peu estimé’ upon his unsuccessful attempt of 9 Nov. to block a Whig motion to address the Queen in support of the treaties with Savoy and Portugal. In January 1704, he was the principal manager of a bill to allow an individual to compound with the Treasury.7
In the summer of 1704 it was rumoured that Meres was to replace Hon. Henry Boyle* as chancellor of the Exchequer, but the story was unfounded, and he was always an unlikely candidate for any ministerial reshuffle which favoured moderate politicians. The following October he was listed as a probable supporter of the Tack, but despite having ‘raved so loud’ for the occasional conformity bill, he did not vote in the key division on 28 Nov. and was subsequently listed as a ‘sneaker’. He was keen to influence one of the other major issues in this session, the Aylesbury election controversy, rising on 25 Jan. 1705 to observe that the legal cases initiated by Lord Wharton (Thomas*) were ‘brought with spite’. He went on to argue that the House should have the power to award damages to electors unjustly deprived of their votes, and later that day spoke in favour of the motion to divide a key question on this issue, in order to take separately resolutions asserting the Commons’ sole jurisdiction over determining the qualifications of voters, and over the rights of Members to sit in the House. In February he was appointed to the committees to examine the Aylesbury case, and to manage the conference with the Lords on the matter. He was also much preoccupied with a bill to prevent the growth of popery, over which he presided as chairman of the committee of the whole on three occasions, thus maintaining the fervent anti-Catholicism he had exhibited since the Restoration. In addition, he chaired the conference committee on a naturalization bill. After the dissolution he featured in Defoe’s satire on the Tory party, ‘The Dyet of Poland’, being described as:
Meersky, an ancient, mercenary Pole,
With vitious body and a harden’d soul,
Grown old in crimes, as he was lame in sense,
But not at all decayed in impudence.8
Returned for Lincoln in 1705, Meres voted against the Court candidate for Speaker. He was also named to two drafting committees, for a private estate bill, and for a local measure to improve water communications to Boston. He spoke several times in the debates spawned by the regency bill, seeking on 19 Dec. to deflect the Whig attack on Charles Caesar, who had insinuated that Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) had been in correspondence with the Jacobite court. On 12 Jan. 1706 he demonstrated support for economical reform, claiming that the House could cope with 100 placemen but not with 150. He even alluded to the Interregnum in warning of the dangers of overmighty officials, remarking that ‘a way to keep from [a] Commonwealth [is] by keeping out officers’, a stance backed by Robert Harley. Three days later he expressed fears for the potential power of a regency, and on 19 Jan. proposed that the Queen name the regency council, observing ‘better the ill we know than what we know not’. He twice intervened on 21 Jan. in the debate on the ‘whimsical clause’. Moreover, the following month he was reported to have entertained the House with ‘some late remarkable speeches’, including one comparing the comptroller of the Household, Thomas Mansel I*, with his predecessor Seymour, observing of the latter that ‘he used to sit in the same corner, yet now – the staff is there, but the man is not’. He was also named to the conference committees on the regency and militia bills, as well as that reviewing the bill to amend the law and advance justice. From the next session onwards, he was less active, but remained a colourful speaker, providing much ‘bantering’ when defending his stance on parliamentary privilege in a matter ‘where the old blade . . . is a trustee’. Classed as a Tory by a political observer in the course of 1707–8, he secured an unopposed victory at Lincoln in 1708, but failed to make any significant contribution to Commons’ business in the ensuing Parliament. However, he predictably voted in early 1710 against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, and subsequently attended the presentation of a Tory address from his home county to the Queen.9
Meres was heavily defeated at Lincoln in 1710 and made no further attempt to enter Parliament. However, his name did appear in error on a parliamentary list in 1711, as one of the ‘Tory patriots’ who had opposed the continuance of the war. In that year he was at the centre of a scandal concerning the commissioners for rebuilding St. Paul’s, who were accused of corruptly awarding a contract to one Richard Jones against the wishes of Sir Christopher Wren*. Most damningly, it was alleged that Meres was indebted to Jones ‘for picking up common women and carrying them to his house to be entertained at supper and to divert him; for which Sir Thomas gives them the title of angels and appears on all occasions to promote what Mr Jones would have him’.
Meres died at his London home on 9 July 1715 and was buried at Kirby Bellars, Leicestershire. In his last years he had sought to buy the lordship of Stourton, Wiltshire, for £19,400, and thus presumably lobbied in May 1713 in support of a bill to clear the title to that property. However, even though the sale does not appear to have been completed, his eldest surviving son, Sir John, one of the six clerks in Chancery, inherited a considerable estate, and at his own death in 1736 was said to be worth £4,000 p.a. Among Sir Thomas’ other beneficiaries was the corporation for the relief of poor ministers, and he named as overseer his ‘dear nephew’ Gilbert Dolben*, another noted Churchman.10
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Paula Watson / Perry Gauci
- 1. Lincs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. li), 666; IGI, Lincs.
- 2. CJ, viii. 213; xii. 508; Wren Soc. xvi. 48, 115.
- 3. E. H. Pearce, Sons of Clergy, 9, 286–7.
- 4. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 365.
- 5. Add. 46525, f. 60; 70155, piece 64; 34355, f. 1; Lambeth Palace Lib. mss 942/144, John Mandeville to Archbp. Tenison, 20 Aug. 1698; Poems on Affairs of State ed. Ellis, vii. 114.
- 6. Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 3 June 1701; Cocks Diary, 101, 116, 146.
- 7. DZA, Bonet despatch [?12] Nov. 1703.
- 8. Newdigate newsletter 3 June 1704; Chandler, iii. 362–3, 385; Poems on Affairs of State, 113–14.
- 9. Cam. Misc. xxiii. 51, 54, 55, 65, 68–69, 74, 79, 80; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 379; Bodl. Eng. Lett. e. 6, f. 7; Add. 70421, newsletter 4 July 1710.
- 10. HMC Portland, x. 124–30; Lincs. Peds. 666; CJ, xvii. 309; Gent. Mag. 1736, p. 66; PCC 103 Fox.