NAPIER, Sir Nathaniel, 2nd Bt. (c.1636-1709), of More Critchell, Dorset

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

Constituency

Dates

12 Apr. 1679 - Mar. 1681
1685 - 1687
9 Feb. 1689 - 1698
4 Feb. 1702 - 1705

Family and Education

b. c.1636, 1st s. of Sir Gerard Napier, 1st Bt.†, of More Critchell by Margaret, da. and coh. of John Colles of Barton Grange, Som.  educ. Oriel, Oxf. 1654.  m. (1) 20 Dec. 1657, Blanche (d. 1695), da. and coh. of Sir Hugh Wyndham, j.c.p. 1673–84, of Silton, Dorset, 5s. (4 d.v.p.) 4da.; (2) 9 Mar. 1697 (with £400), Susanna Guise, s.p.  Kntd. 16 Jan. 1662; suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 14 May 1673.

Offices Held

Attaché, The Hague 1667; gent. of privy chamber 1702–d.1

Sheriff, Dorset 8–29 Nov. 1688; freeman, Poole Dec. 1688, Dorchester 1700.2

Biography

Returned for Poole in 1690, Napier was classed by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in March as a Tory supporter of the Court. No contribution to debate may be attributed to him with certainty. It is conceivable, however, that he was the ‘Mr Napier’ referred to by Bonet as having spoken against the Court in the committee of supply on 31 Mar. 1690, asserting that Catholic rule under the Pretender could scarcely be less oppressive than the fiscal exactions of the current regime. If this was indeed Napier’s opinion it does not appear to have led to a breach with the Court as yet. In December Carmarthen forecast that Napier would support him in the event of an attack in the Commons, but Robert Harley* was less sure of him in April 1691, and marked him as ‘doubtful’. In any event Napier’s active involvement in politics was hampered by the chronic illness of his first wife, on which account he obtained leave of absence on four occasions between December 1691 and February 1695, the last of which immediately preceded her death. Re-elected in 1695, Napier was forecast in January 1696 as a probable opponent of the Court in connection with the proposed council of trade, and signed the Association in February. In the same month the House considered his claim that an attempt by Lord Francis Powlett to dispossess one of his tenants of a Dorset farm was a breach of his parliamentary privilege. Napier’s right was upheld by the committee of privilege, but rejected by the House on 22 Feb. He subsequently agreed to waive privilege so that the case could be settled in court.

In the summer of 1696 one of Napier’s daughters married Sir John Guise, 3rd Bt.*, who formed an unfavourable opinion of his father-in-law, with whom the young couple lived for a while after their marriage. Guise wrote that Napier

was a man of extreme levity, which had given me an ill impression of him at first, nor did his behaviour after mend my opinion of him, so that we lived disagreeably enough, and worse when we discovered his design of marrying Mrs Sue Guise, which was about the spring after his seeing her at Rendcomb, where he had taken a liking to her and told her so. She was advised by her mother . . . a very crafty woman, to come to London and put herself in his way; which advice she immediately put in practice, having but four hundred pounds to her portion, and he a very good estate, which (in her judgment who intended not to want younger men) made up for his great age.3

Napier stood unsuccessfully for Poole in 1698, and was classified in September as a member of the Country party ‘left out’ of the new Parliament. During his interval away from the House he took the opportunity to travel to Italy and France with his new wife, where their behaviour aroused the anxiety of the ambassador, Lord Manchester, who wrote on 18 Sept. 1700 that

Sir Nathaniel Napier and his lady are here. They both have taken all occasions of going where’re the late King and Queen and p[retended] Prince of Wales have appeared, and have had particular marks of civilities from them. She has done it more publicly than he, and is very great with Lord Melfort’s lady. He intends to go soon for Looe, and afterwards to his corporation, which I hope will serve him as they did the last time.

He and his wife continued to give and receive flattering attentions from the court of St. Germain and, when the time came for them to leave for home, Manchester warned James Vernon I*, the secretary of state, that they would probably bring letters, for ‘he may pretend what he will in England, but no man has given more assurance, or has carried it so openly’. He added on 30 Oct. 1700:

I have now more reason to believe that Sir Nathaniel Napier carries letters, by reason the way he went was so private. He is after all gone to Dieppe, and I suppose will land at Rye, though in case, as it is said, he has hired a vessel, it may be he will go to some place in the west, near his own house.4

Napier had returned for the February 1701 election, but having failed to secure a seat at Poole (both then and in November), he transferred to Dorchester, where his family had considerable influence. He was returned at a by-election in February 1702, and retained this seat at the general election. Although his name figures in no known list of this, his last Parliament, it was reported by Charles Davenant* in April 1704 that ‘Sir Nathaniel Napier is now become one of the most flaming Tories in the whole House’. Napier died on 21 Jan. 1709, aged 72.5