PARKER, Thomas (1667-1732), of Bridge Street, Derby, and Essex Street, London
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 23 July 1667, o. s. of Thomas Parker of Leek, Staffs. by Anne, da. and coh. of Robert Venables of Nuneham, Cheshire. educ. Newport free g.s. (Salop); Derby sch. 1680; Rev. Samuel Ogden’s sch. Derby; I. Temple 1684, called 1694, bencher 1705; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1685. m. 23 Apr. 1691, Janet (d. 1733), da. and coh. of Charles Carrier of Wirksworth, Derbys., 1s. 1da. suc. fa. ?1689; kntd. 9 July 1705; cr. Baron Parker 10 Mar. 1716, Earl of Macclesfield 15 Nov. 1721.1
Recorder of Derby 1696–?1706; custos rot. Worcs. Oct.–Dec. 1718, Worcs. ?1719; high steward of Stafford 1724–6, Henley-on-Thames ?–d.2
QC and serjeant-at-law 1705; l.c.j. Qb 11 Mar. 1710–14, Kb 1714–May 1718; PC 1710–25; ld. justice 1714, 1719, 1720, 1723; ld. chancellor May 1718–Jan. 1725.
Commr. building 50 new churches 1715–d.; gov. Charterhouse 1716.3
Parker’s father was a practising attorney in Leek and Newcastle, Staffordshire (and possibly steward to Sir John Gell, 2nd Bt.†), whose rental, which included an interest in several coalmines, amounted to about £100 p.a. However, Parker’s early life was made more difficult by his father’s declining practice and consequent shortage of money to provide for his education. The root cause of his father’s predicament seems to have been his elopement with a daughter of Robert Venables, an action which cost him a substantial dowry. After educating Parker at Derby, his father applied to Venables in 1684 for money to send him to university. Parker had evidently impressed many people with his intellectual prowess, for his father could support his application by noting that he had been ‘importuned by some persons of quality and others who are able to judge of a lad’s capacity and learning to send my son to the university’. Nevertheless, financial aid was refused, leaving Parker senior to complain ‘my son’s teeth are set on edge with the sour grapes which his parents have eaten. And he is like to be the only sufferer for our offences’, a view which might explain Parker’s later avarice. After spending 1686 at Cambridge, Parker seems to have set his sights on a legal career and was called to the bar in 1694. Initially, his main practice seems to have been based on the Midland circuit where his ability quickly earned him nomination to the recordership of Derby in 1696. This post propelled him into corporation politics, where he revealed himself to be a staunch Whig. During the hard-fought county election of January 1701 he enthusiastically supported the Marquess of Hartington (William Cavendish*), and Lord Roos (John Manners*) against Thomas Coke*, labelling the latter’s followers as Jacobites. However, by the end of 1701 he had probably moved to London on a more permanent basis as he was attempting to sell his Wirksworth estate from London in December of that year. This is confirmed by the complete absence of any reference to his activities in the meticulously documented Derbyshire election of December 1701. Parker soon prospered in the capital, making his first appearance before the Lords on 1 Feb. 1703 to argue the corporation of Derby’s case in support of the Derwent navigation bill. Thereafter, he was regularly engaged as counsel in appeal cases before the Lords until his promotion in 1710. His Whig partisanship, allied to his proven ability as an advocate, ensured that he was increasingly used as a counsel in party causes. Thus, in November 1704 he joined with James Montagu I* to defend the Whig printer John Tutchin for libellous remarks on the Queen’s ministers published in the Observator. His conduct in such cases clearly enhanced his reputation: on 12 Dec. Bishop Nicolson of Carlisle noted that his dinner companion Dr George Hickes, a non-juror, ‘gives a mighty character of Mr Parker (recorder of Derby) and Mr [John Aland] Fortescue†, as two of the most learned lawyers of the age’. His legal career received a further substantial boost with his election to Parliament in 1705. At the general election of that year he successfully contested the borough of Derby on a joint interest with Lord James Cavendish* (a son of the Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish†), defeating two Tories. The assessment of one electoral observer that Parker was ‘generally esteemed and looked on as a rising man’ was confirmed in July 1705 when he was appointed a Queen’s Counsel and serjeant-at-law, and was knighted.4
Before the opening of the 1705 Parliament, Parker was classed as a ‘Churchman’. More accurately Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) regarded his election as a Whig gain and he duly voted for the Court candidate as Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705. As a busy lawyer (he was counsel in seven appeals to the Lords in this session alone) and a compelling advocate, he was used primarily as a debater by the Whigs. Hence the early adjournment by Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) of an appeal case before the Lords on 8 Dec., Parker being one of the three counsel, ‘all of them persons confided by his Lordship’ and whom Wharton wanted in the Commons to participate in the debate on the ‘Church in danger’. Similarly, he intervened in the debates on the regency bill on 21 Jan. 1706 to support the proposition that Parliament should continue to sit after the Queen’s death without any need for a new summons, and then responded to the suggestion that the regents would have the power to dissolve Parliament by arguing that the power of the regents in this matter could be restrained. Not surprisingly, Parker also supported the Court in the divisions on the ‘place clause’ of the bill on 18 Feb. 1706. He featured among the nominees ordered on 27 Feb. to draft a bill to prevent the growth of popery.5
The following session saw Parker involved in the presentation of two bills. On 21 Dec. 1706 he introduced a bill to sell some London houses, one moiety of which belonged to the infant Simon Degge. Since the Degge family was influential in Derby, Parker was the obvious Member to promote this measure. On 1 Mar. 1707 he presented a bill for the better payment of tithes, which was only accepted by 14 votes and then allowed to drop. In a list drawn up early in the next session, which included the new Scottish Members, Parker was classed as a Whig. He was involved in the debates on Scottish institutions following the Union. In a committee of the whole, probably on 9 Dec. 1707, he supported the resolution giving j.p.s the same powers as in England. However, he changed his opinion at the report stage on 11 Dec. after a speech by Hon. Sir David Dalrymple, 1st Bt.*, in defence of traditional Scottish jurisdictions, and supported an amendment to the resolution which only gave equal powers in so far as they were consistent with the articles of the Union. On 22 Jan. 1708, Parker presented a private bill relating to the estate of Henry Mayne, providing for his daughter from a previous marriage to inherit some of his property, rather than his son from his present marriage, who was mentally retarded. Neither Parker nor Peter King*, who were instructed to prepare the bill, had any obvious connexion with the Northamptonshire yeoman, and presumably handled the bill due to the complex legal questions it involved. Despite the sparseness of his parliamentary input as apparent from the Journals, Parker’s performance and legal acumen were such that he was suggested in February 1708 as a possible successor to (Sir) James Montagu I as solicitor-general, upon speculation that Montagu would replace (Sir) Simon Harcourt I as attorney-general. His support on legislation of a legal nature was certainly worth having as Bishop Nicolson’s comments on his cathedrals bill illustrate. Parker declined to support the measure in the Commons, despite the political benefits to be derived from it, unless Nicolson accepted the decision of the court of common pleas (in the particular case which prompted the bill) by absolving one of his canons from a sentence of excommunication. On 27 Feb., the day before the bill was due to receive a second reading, and with strong Tory opposition expected, Nicolson lobbied both Parker and the new Duke of Devonshire (formerly Hartington) to support it, but they remained unmoved. The following day the bishop absolved Dr Todd, whereupon Parker ‘promised his assistance to the Church bill’ which passed later in the day. According to Joseph Addison*, Parker managed the debate along with four other Whig lawyers. For Addison, they tipped the balance, but he offered an insight into another limitation to their parliamentary contribution: ‘the season of the year drawing the lawyers off to their circuits, it is feared the superiority may not be kept up in the next debate’. Early in 1708 Parker was listed as a Whig.6
The illness of lord chief justice Holt (Sir John†) in March–April 1708 prompted Arthur Maynwaring* to suggest Parker as his replacement ‘for he has the character of a very good lawyer and an honest man and is more considerable out of the House of Commons than there, the reason of which may be only that he has not been long there’. In the event, Holt recovered and Parker was returned unopposed for Derby in the election of May 1708. In June, before Parliament sat, he was linked again with legal office on account of the Queen’s prolonged resistance to Montagu as a replacement for Harcourt. One of Parker’s most enthusiastic patrons, the Duke of Somerset, was seriously suggesting him as an alternative attorney-general, even if it upset the Montagus. In a list of Members for this Parliament, he was naturally classified as a Whig. Almost nothing is known of Parker’s conduct in the Commons for the 1708–9 session except that later in the session he voted for the general naturalization of foreign Protestants, a measure supported by most Whigs.7
As one of the leading Whig lawyers in the Commons, Parker was intimately involved in the moves to impeach Dr Sacheverell in the 1709–10 session. On 14 Dec. 1709 he was appointed to the committee ordered to draw up the articles of impeachment, which in turn became entrusted with the management of the trial. His main task was to make good the charge contained in the fourth article of the impeachment, namely that in his sermons and books Sacheverell had falsely and maliciously suggested that the Queen’s administration, in both ecclesiastical and civil affairs, tended towards the destruction of the constitution. Parker was regarded as so important to the Whig case that his illness caused them to adjourn the trial early on 28 Feb. in the hope that he would recover sufficiently to undertake his brief the following day. Despite this illness, he was in his place on 1 Mar. to speak first to the article, delivering what many contemporaries considered to be one of the best speeches of the trial. His method was to draw together several passages from Sacheverell’s sermons to illustrate a concerted design to undermine both Church and state. His other contribution to the trial, on 10 Mar., was to reply to the arguments put forward by the defence against the fourth article and to sum up the case. His effectiveness can be illustrated by the language used by the supporters of Sacheverell; to one of them it was ‘a very ill specimen of his own, but an exact one of the spirit of his party’. Parker was also involved in the action the Commons took in response to the destruction wrought by the Tory mob during the trial. On 2 Mar. he reported from the committee ordered to draw up an address of thanks to the Queen for her rapid response to the riots in issuing a proclamation to suppress the tumults and punish the instigators. His name appears on lists of those voting for the impeachment.8
The Sacheverell trial was Parker’s last act as a Member, for immediately after its conclusion he was made lord chief justice. The previous incumbent, Sir John Holt†, had withdrawn from the bench through illness and had died on 5 Mar. during the trial. Fortune favoured Parker here as the ministry wanted a quick replacement in order to demonstrate royal confidence in them and to dispel rumours that the Queen secretly favoured Sacheverell, which it was feared could influence the verdict of the Lords. Parker was in the right place at the right time: he had shone at a major trial and had influential backers on hand such as Devonshire and Somerset who could recommend him to the Queen as a suitable appointment. Thus, on 11 Mar. he left the Commons to continue his rise to the pinnacle of the legal profession.9
Parker’s promotion to high legal office was by no means the end of his political career. There is some evidence that Robert Harley* attempted to recruit him to the new ministry in the autumn of 1710, but he remained lord chief justice, secure in the knowledge that he held office during good behaviour and was in a position to assist the Whigs. Thus, he defended Whig propagandists while simultaneously harrying Tory publicists, including Defoe and Swift, on the merest suspicion of favouring the Pretender. He spoke against the peace in the Privy Council in April 1713, and possibly because of this at the end of the month there were rumours of an attempt to use Parliament to remove him. In June 1714 he was the judge whom Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) approached with evidence of the recruiting activity of Jacobite agents which led to a price being placed on the Pretender’s head. Such staunch support for the Hanoverian succession found favour with George I who reappointed him lord chief justice in 1714, raised him to the peerage as Baron Parker in 1716, appointed him lord chancellor in 1718 and bestowed the earldom of Macclesfield on him in 1721.10
Parker was impeached for financial corruption in 1725 and retired from public life to his estate at Shirburn, Oxfordshire, which he had purchased in 1716 for £8,350. By 1725 he was a rich man, drawing nearly £3,000 p.a. from rents in six counties. He died of a strangury in London on 28 Apr. 1732 and was buried at Shirburn.11
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Campbell, Lives, iv. 502; Collins, Peerage, iv. 190–3; Vis. Staffs. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. v.(2)), 230; Derby Sch. Reg. ed. Tachella, 7; info. from Dr D. F. Lemmings; Stowe 780, f. 150; J. C. Wedgwood, Hist. Wedgwood Fam. 91.
- 2. Stowe 540, f. 59; Whitehall Evening Post, 29 Apr. 1732.
- 3. London Rec. Soc. xxiii. p. xxxvi.
- 4. Derbys. RO, Chandos-Pole-Gell mss 47/19, Parker to Sir Philip Gell, 3rd Bt.†, 21 Feb. 1705[–6]; Campbell, iv. 502, 506; Stowe 780, f. 150; BL, Lothian mss, [–] to Robert Harding, 26 Dec. 1700, R[obert] H[arding] to [Thomas Coke*], Sat. night; Add. 6667, f. 345; HMC Lords, n.s. v. 182; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 193, 251; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Whildon pprs. Aaron Kinton to James Whildon, 27 Nov. 1704; HMC Portland, iv. 177, 185–6; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 560–1, 571.
- 5. Nicolson Diaries, 325; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 79.
- 6. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 291; Huntington Lib. Q. xv. 40; Nicolson Diaries, 457; Addison Letters, 96.
- 7. Add. 61459, f. 114; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/28, Somerset to James Stanhope*, 24 June, 6 July 1708.
- 8. Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn mss, ‘Acct. of Trial of Dr Sacheverell’, 1, 10 Mar.; Luttrell, vi. 551, 555; Boyer, Anne Annals, viii. 264, 269, 294; HMC Portland, iv. 533, 537; Impartial View, 187, 214; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 826.
- 9. HMC 11th Rep. XII, 117; Burnet, v. 446; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/1/43, James Lowther* to William Gilpin, 14 Mar. 1709[–10]; HMC Portland, iv. 538; HMC 14th Rep. IX, 514.
- 10. HMC Portland, iv. 584; Campbell, 513; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 86, 186; G. M. Trevelyan, Eng. under Queen Anne, iii. 205; Swift Works ed. Davis, xvi. 437–8, 472, 478, 508, 656; Add. 17677 GGG, f. 134; Bodl. Ballard 36, f. 111.
- 11. G. Holmes, Augustan Eng. 133.