POLEY, Henry (1654-1707), of Badley, Suff. and Lincoln’s Inn, London
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Family and Education
bap. 5 Jan. 1654, 1st surv. s. of Sir Edmund Poley† of Badley by Esther (d. 1714), da. of Sir Henry Crofts† of Little Saxham, Suff. educ. Bury St. Edmunds g.s.; G. Inn 1669; Jesus, Camb. 1670, BA 1673, fellow 1673–5; M. Temple 1673, called 1678, bencher 1701; L. Inn 1704, bencher 1704. unm. suc. fa. 1671.1
KC duchy of Lancaster 1679–89.2
‘A man of very despicable presence’, wrote Hearne, ‘being deformed to the highest degree’,
but what made amends for this was his admirable parts, being endowed with a strong memory and most solid judgment, in so much that he was accounted one of the best common lawyers in England . . . He was likewise a man of a very quick apprehension, and extraordinary elocution.
Poley’s legal career may have been prompted by the fact that most of the family’s Suffolk estates seem to have comprised his mother’s jointure. Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) listed him as a Tory supporter of the Court in March 1690. He is not known to have spoken in his first Parliament, but drew undue attention to himself at the opening of the second session on 2 Oct. when at the reading of the King’s Speech he refused to remove his hat. ‘We were all uncovered’, reported Lord Ranelagh (Richard Jones*),
except three, viz. Sir Edward Seymour [4th Bt.], Mr Paul Foley I, and little Poley the lawyer, which everybody minded, though nobody took any public notice of it, since it seems we may by the rules of the House be covered, except in case of a message signed by the King. However, it was thought a peevish disrespect in the three Hattons [sic].
In December Carmarthen forecast that Poley would support him in the event of an attack on his ministerial position. Robert Harley* classed him with the Country party in April 1691. Poley was listed in early 1695 as one of the friends of Henry Guy*, possibly in connexion with Guy’s forthcoming defence against charges of corruption.3
Though a Tory, Poley was selected by Lord Orford (Edward Russell*) as one of his counsel against impeachment in 1701. He was returned at Looe in 1703 on the recommendation of Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†), who later claimed to have taken considerable ‘pains’ on his behalf. Forecast as likely to support the Tack, he appeared on Harley’s lobbying list but voted for it on 28 Nov. Poley was one of the most prominent of the Tackers and would have been the High Tories’ candidate to be solicitor-general had they been able to force a reconstruction of the ministry. A Commons manager in February 1705 in a conference with the Lords over the Aylesbury case, he was described by a correspondent of John Methuen* as ‘the warmest man in these matters and the head of the Tacking party’. Poley had now so far turned against his former patron that he was vociferous in demanding Godolphin’s removal from office. Returned at the 1705 election on the Tory interest at Ipswich, he was classed as ‘True Church’ in an analysis of the new Parliament. The Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) classed Poley’s return as a loss. He voted on 25 Oct. against the Court candidate for Speaker. With James Drake and Sir Humphrey Mackworth* he was incriminated in December by the printer of the Memorial of the Church of England, who, unable to furnish proof of authorship as he had at first claimed, testified that Poley and the two others had been sent large batches of copies of the pamphlet immediately upon publication. At this, Poley, who was indeed widely suspected of having had a part in the Memorial and who had earlier delivered ‘a great encomium of the book very publicly’, observed (probably in Parliament) ‘that it was not usual to accuse Members of their House of being concerned in anything to the prejudice of the government, without naming their names’. He spoke on 4 Dec. 1705, in a debate on the proceedings in Scotland, in support of the proposed invitation to the Electress Sophia, and again on 19 Jan. 1706, during a discussion of one of the provisions of the regency bill, when he once more raised the question of the invitation.4
On 5 Mar. 1707 Poley was reported to be ‘dangerously ill’; he died on 7 Aug., aged 54, and was buried at Badley. Except for specific legacies amounting to approximately £6,000, he left the rest of his estate to his brother Edmund, a diplomat.