POWLETT, Lord William (1666-1729), of St. James’s, Westminster, Mdx.

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



1689 - 1710
1710 - 1715
1715 - 25 Sept. 1729

Family and Education

bap. 18 Aug. 1666, 2nd s. of Charles Powlett†, 1st Duke of Bolton, by his 2nd w.; bro. of Charles Powlett I*, Mq. of Winchester.  educ. Padua, 1687.  m. (1) settlement 26 Feb. 1689, in Holland, Louisa, da. of Mq. de Mompouillon, 2s. 2da.; (2) lic. 26 Oct. 1699, Anne, da. and coh. of Randolph Egerton of Betley, Staffs., 1da.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Winchester by 1689–d., Lymington 1698, Portsmouth, 1710; mayor, Lymington 1701–3, 1724, 1728; keeper Rhinefield Lodge and Queen Mead in New Forest 1715–?d.; recorder, Great Grimsby 1699–d.2

Farmer of greenwax fines 1690–1706; commr. for surveying lands for naval docks 1709; teller of Exchequer 1715–d.3


Like his father and brother, Powlett had supported William of Orange in 1688 and was rewarded with marriage to one of the Prince’s relations and a 41-year farm of the greenwax revenues in 1690. He first entered Parliament in 1689, the year of his father’s dukedom, and sat thereafter without intermission for 40 years. He became, and remained, one of the most familiar figures in the House. The height of his parliamentary career came in the latter years of the Godolphin ministry when he enjoyed prominence as one of a handful of the lord treasurer’s Whig ‘managers’. His true forte, as shown by the record of his activity in the Journals, was in the management of bills, very often measures of a local or private nature. He seems to have established himself as a pre-eminent example of the fairly small number of MPs who were prepared to devote their time and specialist knowledge to measures of this kind. Attention to such business obviously helped him to maintain a wide range of contacts in the House, and was thus important in enabling him eventually to assume the role of an unofficial ‘manager’ for the administration. It was largely because he was so frequently in the House that he was so regularly called upon to act as a teller in division, on questions ranging from detailed amendments in bills to questions of central political importance. He was not, however, a particularly adroit spokesman, and on the few occasions when it is recorded he did address the House, he did so poorly, and was prone to careless gaffes. Although he lived in London, he had interests in several counties, including Lincolnshire, where he had owned land from the time of his first marriage, and Yorkshire, which probably accounts for his frequent involvement in legislation on matters germane to those counties.4

Powlett was returned again on his family’s interest for Winchester after a contest in 1690. He was listed by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) as a Whig, and subsequently as a Court supporter and placeman on various other lists of this Parliament, including those drawn up by Robert Harley*, Carmarthen and Grascome. In the first session of this Parliament he was a teller on 4 Apr. 1690 against an adjournment motion during the hearing of the Plympton election case, though in these early years took only a selective interest in disputed elections, earning praise from Edward Harley* (probably for the first and only time) on 8 Nov. when he was one of the ‘many persons of quality who seldom attend committees’ who nevertheless generously appeared at the committee of elections and privileges to support the election of Robert Harley at Radnor. Powlett was several times a teller, most importantly on the Whig side in the Cirencester election on 25 Nov. In the third session, he spoke on 22 Jan. 1692 in favour of printing the vote of the House declaring Sir Basil Firebrace* guilty of bribery, and next day presented a bill for the naturalization of his father-in-law, which he carried up to the Lords on 1 Feb. He was also first-named to a second-reading committee for naturalizing the Duke of Leinster.5

Powlett spent the summer of 1692 as a volunteer with the army in Flanders, where he fought a duel with the Earl of Doncaster (Monmouth’s son), in which both were slightly wounded. He was given to settling his disputes, including political ones, by duel, and fought at least another two during William’s reign, in addition to two other occasions when he was restrained from doing so by the House after quarrels with other Members.6

During the 1692–3 session, Powlett acted on two occasions as a teller, once on 2 Jan. 1693 against an adjournment which would have put off a call of the House, and two days later in a committee of the whole, against a motion to allow the East India Company ten days to produce their books. In March he managed through the House a bill concerning church repairs, and in the next two sessions was involved in the passage of three private estate bills. On 28 Dec. 1694 he was given the honour of being the single Member appointed to prepare an address of condolence on the death of Queen Mary.

Returned again for Winchester in 1695, Powlett was forecast in January 1696 as likely to support the government in a division concerning the proposed council of trade, was among the early signatories to the Association, and in March voted with the Court for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. On 28 Mar. he was a teller for a motion aimed at deferring consideration of the bill for settling the East Indies trade until after the third reading of a bill for restraining the wearing of silks and calicos imported from Persia and India. He was also a teller on 22 Apr. for a minor question concerning a supply bill.

The following session, on 16 Nov. 1696, Powlett was teller for the Whigs against a motion to adjourn further proceedings in the trial of Sir John Fenwick† until the following day, and voted for the attainder on the 25th. Chosen as one of the new commissioners of public accounts on 13 Feb. 1697, his request to be excused from serving (which was granted after a division) was apparently taken up by opponents of the bill in an effort to throw it out. In March he was ordered to bring in, and duly presented, a bill for raising the militia for the coming year. During the 1697–8 session, over and above his heavy committee workload, Powlett managed a private estate bill through the House. In January 1698 he fought another duel, this time with Anthony Hammond*, after a quarrel in committee over the Cambridgeshire election. Towards the end of this Parliament, he joined in the attack on Charles Duncombe* who was being pursued by the Junto for fraud. In contrast to his father in the Lords, who, according to Burnet, supported Duncombes in return for previous, presumably financial favours, Powlett acted on 26 Feb. 1698 as a teller for a third reading of the bill against him, and in a debate on 9 Mar. was one of those who insisted that Duncombe had made a full confession of guilt. Shortly after the dissolution, Powlett was arrested at the behest of an attorney, also named Powlett, for an unknown cause. Although Parliament was not in session, the Middlesex undersheriff released Powlett on the basis of his parliamentary privilege, and the case against him was dropped soon afterwards.7

In July 1698 Powlett was re-elected for Winchester, and was classed in about September as a placeman in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments. He continued to be fairly active in the Commons, and acted as a teller for the Court on 18 Jan. 1699 in the crucial division against the third reading of the bill for disbanding the army. A month later, on 18 Feb., he was teller against the unsuccessful opposition motion to reduce the numbers of men proposed in the army estimates from 15,000 to 12,000. Given leave of absence on 16 Mar. for seven days, to attend his father’s funeral at Basing on the 23rd, Powlett was still in London on 20 Mar. when he was teller in favour of recommitting the address refusing further money for the King’s Dutch guards. He was teller on another eight occasions, including four election cases, all on the Whig side. Powlett’s father had left him a substantial settlement, at the expense of his elder brother, of some £8,000 in cash and what was said to amount to £4,000 p.a. income from estates and lead mines in Yorkshire. This inheritance no doubt facilitated Powlett’s second marriage, later in the year, to a wealthy heiress, a relation of his brother-in-law, the 3rd Earl of Bridgwater (John Egerton†). In the 1699–1700 session Powlett acted as a teller for the Whigs on four occasions, including two election disputes. Despite his solid support for the Whigs, however, his name was absent from a detailed analysis of ‘interests’ in the House compiled early in 1700.8

Powlett successfully contested Winchester in January 1701, and on 14 Feb. told for the Whigs in support of allowing the words ‘peace in Europe’ to stand in an address promising to support the King and government. On 16 Apr., he was teller for an amendment to the address for the removal of William’s Junto ministers, which expressed support for measures to prevent ‘the ill consequences that seem to threaten the peace of Europe and the interest and trade of the nation by the present union of France and Spain’ and was part of a Whig attempt to soften the criticism of the Junto. On 7 Mar. his name was mentioned in connexion with the promotion of the Whig candidate in the report on the disputed Great Grimsby election, and he survived a petition against his own election on 28 May. He also managed an estate bill and two naturalization bills. In July that year he and his brother Charles, now 2nd Duke of Bolton, were alleged to have attended a feast at Mercers’ Hall for the Kentish Petitioners.9

Powlett was returned without a challenge to the December 1701 Parliament, whereupon he was classed as a Whig by Robert Harley. At the beginning of the session he told on 30 Dec. in support of the unsuccessful Court candidate for Speaker, Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt. On 2 Jan. 1702 Powlett and Sir Rowland Gwynne were ordered to bring in a bill for the attainder of the pretended Prince of Wales. On 6 Mar. Sir Edward Harley took advantage of Powlett’s reputation for duelling during the hearing of the Bishop’s Castle election dispute, and successfully called for an adjournment, claiming that John Brewer and Powlett had had ‘some words’ and had then left the House. On 8 Mar. Powlett seconded John Smith I in nominating Hon. Henry Boyle for the chair of ways and means, in opposition to the Tories who unsuccessfully proposed William Bromley II. The next month, on the 9th, Powlett unsuccessfully proposed Gwynne for the chair of the committee to debate the Scottish union bill, this time in opposition to those who proposed Boyle.10

In the first two sessions of the 1702 Parliament, to which Powlett had been returned unopposed, he acted as a teller on only two occasions: first, on 23 Dec., against a High Tory amendment to a motion to bring in a place bill, which would have excluded all placemen; and second, on 7 Jan. 1703, in favour of an unsuccessful motion to recommit an address requesting the Queen to demand the States General put an immediate stop to all trade and commerce with France and Spain. He voted on 13 Feb. 1703 in favour of agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for extending the time allowed for taking the Abjuration. A complaint of breach of privilege which he had made to the House on 17 Jan. 1704 was investigated and upheld in his favour on 26 Feb.

In the third session, when the Godolphin-Marlborough administration was beginning to reach an understanding with the Whig leaders, Powlett became more noticeably active. He was a teller on 18 Nov. in favour of an adjournment when the Tories attempted to revive proceedings against Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*). He was twice forecast as an opponent of the Tack in October–November 1704, voting against it on 28 Nov., and was then a teller against the third reading of the occasional conformity bill itself on 14 Dec. During this session, as a result of the ongoing pursuit of the arrears of the receiver-general for Cheshire and North Wales, Powlett attended a committee considering petitions from tax receivers or their sureties for permission to compound with the Treasury for their arrears, reporting on seven of these petitions and subsequently managing seven private bills enabling individual receivers to compound. In February 1705 Powlett was active on the Whig side in the Aylesbury election case, and twice acted as a teller on the 26th: to adjourn the debate on the committee report; and, later, against declaring one of the men involved in prosecuting the writs of habeas corpus on behalf of the Aylesbury men guilty of a breach of privilege. In March he was a manager of the Commons’ response to the Lords’ amendment to the bill for preventing correspondence with the Queen’s enemies.

Powlett was listed as a placeman in 1705 by virtue of his farm of the greenwax fines, a revenue which he seems not to have managed particularly well – by 1701 he was having to pay interest on money which he owed to the Exchequer, and in the autumn of 1705 proceedings were commenced against him for arrears in the rent. A stay of process was ordered on 24 Oct. on the grounds that the proceeds from the grant had been too small for him to profit from. He surrendered the grant in February 1706 when a warrant was issued for a discharge of all arrears of rent.11

Unopposed in his re-election in 1705, Powlett was joined in the House by both his nephew the Marquess of Winchester (Charles Powlett II), who was never active, and a kinsman Norton Powlett, who evidently followed Powlett’s lead in politics, and was often named with him to the same committees. Listed as a ‘Churchman’ in this Parliament, Powlett voted for the Court candidate for Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705. He was one of three Members named on 31 Oct. to invite Dr Willis to preach before the House, and was duly appointed on 6 Nov. to thank Willis for his sermon the previous day. During the next few weeks he acted as a teller on four occasions. On the 19th, he told against a Tory motion that the committee of privileges and elections should not sit after midnight. This may have been connected with the hearing on the petition from Admiral Henry Killigrew*, the Duchess of Marlborough’s candidate for St. Albans, who then won a late-night vote in favour of his election. On 24 Nov. when the St. Albans election case was reported to the House, Powlett told in support of a restriction on the making of freemen in the borough, a resolution which favoured Killigrew’s case. Powlett also told for the Whigs in two other divisions concerning disputed elections in this session. Having been named on 7 Dec. to a conference committee with the Lords on their address declaring that the Church was not in danger, he was a teller the next day in favour of a resolution that anyone making declarations to the contrary ‘is an enemy to Queen and country’. On 10 Dec. he was instructed to carry up to the Lords a bill naturalizing the Electress Sophia and her son (the future George I). On 19 Dec., during the debate following the third reading of the land tax bill, he told successfully in favour of bringing in candles, thereby enabling the bill to be passed the same evening. On 20 Dec. he was named to a drafting committee for a bill concerning river navigation in Lincolnshire. On the 21st, Powlett told against the House meeting the next day, probably preferring the option of commencing the two-week recess which followed this division.

In the report on the disputed Huntingdon election on 22 Jan. 1706 Powlett was a teller against an adjournment, thereby enabling a resolution that the agent for the unseated Tory Sir John Cotton, 4th Bt.*, was guilty of corruption. Although not recorded as making any speeches during the debates on the regency bill in January, he acted as a teller on the 24th for the Court against the ‘place clause’ in the bill, and on 18 Feb. voted with the government in further proceedings on the clause. He was a teller on three occasions in February, including on the 25th against a clause preventing naturalized persons from voting in elections. In March he was teller on the 2nd, for the second reading of the bill for regulating charters in America and encouraging trade; on the 4th, for passing the bill for making more effectual the Act preventing the growth of popery; and on the 18th, in favour of retaining the wording of a clause in the bill for better law and justice. In addition to his many tellerships, he was involved in five private estate bills during this session, managed a bill on fish stocks in Hampshire and Wiltshire, was named to a drafting committee on the bill concerning Parton harbour, Cumberland, and managed another bill on the business of the tax collectors.

Powlett’s profile as an active ‘man of business’ in the House was again apparent in the 1706–7 session. In December he acted as a teller on two occasions: on the 6th against committing the bill for better regulation of the night-watch to a committee of the whole, and on the 16th for adding a clause to the land tax bill empowering commissioners to certify whether those people paying double the usual assessment had since taken the oaths, thereby reducing their assessment to the normal rate. In the new year he was a teller on five occasions: for the Whigs in the Clitheroe election dispute on 23 Jan., against going into a committee of the whole on the bill to secure the Church of England on 7 Feb., against agreeing with an amendment to the bill for the better preservation of game on 27 Feb., for a private estate bill on 28 Mar., and against putting the question for an address on Newfoundland on 5 Apr. He was first-named to drafting committees for a bill to regulate the six clerks’ office, which he presented on 17 Feb. 1707, and for a bill to establish a turnpike on the Petersfield road in Hampshire. Not surprisingly, Powlett was named in April by William Cary* as one of three who ‘manage’ the Commons.12

Powlett continued to be highly active in the 1707–8 session. George Rodney Bridges, Powlett’s fellow Member for Winchester, reported on 23 Dec. 1707 that Powlett was one of those Whigs who had decided to support Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) against the Junto’s more extreme actions, having declared ‘they would never come in to press the Queen and ministry to measures so unreasonable in themselves’. The same day Powlett evidently proposed a longer than usual Christmas recess, which was rejected by the Country Members, who no doubt wanted to avoid drawing out the session. He managed a wide variety of business in the House. On supply, at the third reading of the bill to raise a fund on the sale of annuities on 5 Feb. 1708, he told against the second reading of a clause promoted by Country Tories which voided all subscriptions to the fund received before the bill was given the Royal Assent. On 24 Feb. he reported the terms of an address to be presented against the future employment of Captain William Kerr, commander of a squadron in the West Indies for having extorted money from merchants to convoy their ships. On the same day the opposition had presented a motion criticizing the government’s handling of the war in Spain. Following the defeat of this motion, Powlett

proposed an address of thanks to her Majesty for the measures she had entered into for the recovery of Spain and for her employing the foreign troops in that service, which was carried without opposition and the whole House is to attend with it.

On the army, Powlett chaired two committees of the whole, the first inquiring into the arrears of several aides-de-camp, the resulting bill being managed through all its stages in the Commons by Powlett, and the second on the arrears due to 13 Dutch regiments, from which he reported on 27 Mar. On Scotland, he chaired the committee of the whole for a bill for electing Scottish peers to the British Parliament, and subsequently managed the bill through all its stages in the Commons, not surprisingly telling on 24 Mar. against the addition of a ‘place’ clause, which would have excluded naval officers from voting in elections. Powlett was a teller a further seven times in this session: in favour of bringing in a bill to repeal the preservation of game Act (17 Nov.); against retaining the wording of a resolution on ways and means (8 Mar.); against instructing the committee to receive a clause concerning the bill for clarifying the statutes of cathedral and collegiate churches (9 Mar.); for a third reading of the bill to secure American trade (23 Mar.); and three times on local matters, including a Somerset navigation bill. In March Powlett was involved in the drafting of a bill to suspend habeas corpus, which he duly presented. In addition to his regular committee and other functions, he was twice nominated to request sermons before the House, afterwards giving thanks to Dr Eyres and Dr Trimnel.13

Two lists of early 1708, one with the returns for 1708 added, classed Powlett as a Whig, and in the 1708 Parliament, now that the Junto had officially joined the administration, Powlett was extremely active as one of their managers in the Commons, although he sometimes displayed a distinct lack of talent for the task. On 16 Nov. he successfully proposed the Court candidate, Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt., as Speaker. The same day he was a teller against a motion that all election questions should, if any Members insisted, be decided by ballot. On 15 Dec., he was reported to have assisted in a debate on the land tax bill in reducing the interest to be paid on the money lent to the government from 6 to 5 per cent. The next day, during the first day’s hearing of a petition from Sir Henry Dutton Colt, 1st Bt.*, against the return of Thomas Medlycott for Westminster, Powlett acted as a teller in favour of a motion that the bailiff of Westminster, who had returned the Tory candidate, was guilty of a ‘high crime and misdemeanour’ in refusing to tender the oath of abjuration to Catholics. However, on the 18th, he was partly responsible for losing the Whigs’ chance to gain the seat when, during the hearing, assuming the debate would be adjourned till the following Monday, many Whigs left the House, whereupon the Tory leaders called for a division. Powlett, miscalculating the remaining Whig strength in the House, supported this move and the Whigs were defeated. He acted as a teller in a further four election cases: those of Whitchurch (21 Dec.), Abingdon (two motions on 18 and 20 Jan. 1709, which resulted in the unseating of (Sir) Simon Harcourt I), Newcastle-under-Lyme (1 Feb.) and Bewdley (8 Feb.). Sir William Trumbull* described Powlett as one of the ‘governors’ of the Commons on 24 Dec., and reported that Powlett had moved on 23 Dec. for an adjournment of the House before the vote on the third reading of the land tax bill, probably in order to muster support. He had also, however, managed to amuse the House by committing a blunder ‘the other day in speaking of a worthy admiral who had done great services and yet never had the thanks of the House, “I’ll name him”, said he, “it’s Sir George Rooke*”, – he meant [Sir George] Byng*, as he roared out immediately’. On 13 Jan. Powlett was prominent in speaking against a pamphlet advocating the removal of the Test Act from Dissenters, and was naturally appointed to the committee of inquiry to discover the offending pamphlet’s author and publisher. He seconded a motion on 25 Jan. to address the Queen to remarry, was appointed to the committee to draw up such an address, and on 29 Jan. seconded Sir William Strickland’s motion for an address of thanks for the Queen’s answer. Robert Harley’s anti-government pamphlet The Dream was taken notice of in the House at this time, possibly on 26 Jan.; Powlett’s comment ‘that he was sure somebody was the author of it’, drew Edward Harley’s* observation that it was ‘a discovery worthy of his lordship’s penetration’. Also on 26 Jan., an address was moved requesting all the papers concerning William Greg, Harley’s former secretary who had been executed for high treason, to be laid before the House. Accounts differ as to whether Powlett or James Montagu III moved or seconded the address. Henry St. John II* warned Harley:

I am just now told that the motion made today by Lord W[illiam] P[owlett] is by direction and that there is to be the same stress laid upon the proceedings in consequence of it against you as was on the election [for Abingdon] against Har[court].

In February, before Harley had vindicated himself, Lord Halifax gave assurances that ‘there was no design in it, that it was resolved at a drunken bout between Lord William and Sir William Strickland’. Edward Harley, however, believed Halifax to be lying. Shortly afterwards Powlett was caught out by Tory mischief-making. Powlett received a ‘sham letter’ informing him that the Tories would assemble en masse on 14 Feb. to move an address requesting the invitation of the Protestant heir to England. He immediately informed the ministry, who became very alarmed, and ‘in expectation of violent attack’ mustered their own forces only for nothing to happen on the expected day. In March, the proposal to reinforce the ban on French claret caused disagreement between Powlett, who supported the ban, and George Brydges, who opposed it. According to one report the debate had ‘in some measure resembled a civil war, and set brother against brother’. Powlett was also active in the major government initiatives of the session. He was named on 5 Feb. to the committee to draw up the bill for naturalizing the Palatines, told on 2 Mar. in favour of reading the orders of the day, probably in order to speed the passage of the bill, and acted as teller for the bill’s passage on 7 Mar. Not surprisingly, in a published list he was shown as supporting the bill in February–March 1709. Having been one of the initiators on 29 Jan. of a bill to extend the laws of high treason to Scotland (which subsequently failed), he was then a teller on 31 Mar. in favour of committing a similar bill from the Lords. Powlett also managed through its stages a bill for the relief of debts incurred by army regiments in the West Indies, and, being named to the drafting committee for a bill to establish a regulated company for trade with Africa, he chaired the committee of the whole on the resultant bill. He also chaired the committee of the whole on the bill to explain the Act obliging the former solicitor to the Admiralty, Edward Whitaker, to account for monies he had received, subsequently reporting from committee and carrying the bill to the Lords. In addition, Powlett was named at various times to a further eight drafting committees. Three of these were local bills: to erect a workhouse in St. Martin-in-the-Fields on 13 Dec. 1708; to repair the pier at Whitby, Yorkshire, on 11 Jan. 1709; and for better regulation of woollen cloth manufacture in Yorkshire on 29 Jan. He was more extensively involved in three local and five private estate bills, in addition to one for selling part of his own estates in Lincolnshire, and a private naturalization bill.14

In the next session Powlett was appointed on 15 Nov. 1709 to invite Dr Clarke to preach before the House, Clarke later receiving from Powlett the thanks of the House. His most important task this session was as one of the managers of the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. Harley remarked sarcastically that Powlett, ‘that learned man, began the business’ and on 14 Dec. Powlett was named to the committee to draw up the articles of impeachment. At the trial itself he was one of the three managers presenting the second article on 28 Feb. 1710, but his speech was very poor.

[He] read (or mumbled over) every word of his speech so that almost nobody could hear him; it was very short and the word heterodox proved something too hard for him and he was pleased to make use of ‘pathick’ instead of ‘passive’, nothing could atone for what he said but his shortness and, that he might have a better title to our approbation on that score, he skipped two pages, though ’tis said the connexion he happened upon by this mistake was ‘heterodox Church’.

On 4 Mar. Powlett acted as a teller against a motion to recommit the address, and on the 22nd in favour of a motion requiring the Lords to give judgment against Sacheverell. Typically, he was also active in other business, telling for the Whigs on 31 Jan. when Tory opposition to a motion to thank Dr West for his sermon to the House resulted in a division. On 15 Feb. he was appointed to the committee to draw up the Whig-inspired address asking that the Duke of Marlborough should attend the peace negotiations, and was a teller for the address the next day. When the African trade issue was reopened, he chaired the committee of the whole on six occasions before reporting on the 18th and being ordered to prepare a bill. He presented this on the 23rd, and subsequently chaired its committee stage. He was a teller in the Cirencester election case on 8 Dec., and was active on bills to prohibit the export of corn, and for the enclosure of a common at Ropley, Hampshire. Among the three bills in whose preparation he was involved, he appears to have been the initiator of one to regulate hackney coaches. He managed, in addition, five private estate bills.15

Probably fearing the consequence of his actions against Sacheverell for his election at Winchester in 1710, Powlett retreated to the family borough of Lymington. The inauguration of a Tory ministry resulted in a sharp decrease in Powlett’s activity, and may well indicate that his attendance on the House was much less frequent. It was expected by some that Powlett would keep on good terms with the Tory government and play some role in the Speakership election, since his absence from the House on 25 Nov., when William Bromley II was nominated by (Sir) Thomas Hanmer II, was met with surprise: it was reported that John Manley had led the ‘chorus of “hear hims”, Lord William Powlett not appearing’. Further, in the committee hearing of the petition against Powlett’s election for Lymington it had been expected that

the Tories would be favourable to Lord William and give a proof of their profession of impartiality in this case. It happened that his case was the fairest ever came before the House and yet upon the division there was 109 against and 155 for him. The old good men were all for him but the young ones say they’ll throw him out upon the report.

Powlett, however, survived the report, which was heard on 11 Jan. 1711. He was added to the drafting committee on a new, and this time successful, bill for a turnpike on the road outside Petersfield in Hampshire. Even more unusually, he was involved in only two private estate bills. His vote on 25 May 1711 against the Court amendment to Harley’s South Sea company bill confirms that he did not abandon his party. On 9 June he seconded a proposal for an address to prorogue Parliament, the Whigs reportedly suspecting that the Tories were delaying the prorogation simply in order to arrange a reshuffle of the government, and enable by-elections to be held during the recess. They were the more annoyed as it was obvious that Lord Oxford (Robert Harley), despite earlier professions of a desire for a balanced government, had no intention of appointing any Whigs.16

In August Robert Price* complained to Oxford of Powlett’s grant of all the greenwax fines in the Western circuit that year. If this grant was a government attempt to gain Powlett’s political support, it failed, as in the second session he voted for the motion demanding ‘No Peace without Spain’ on 7 Dec. 1711. On 17 Jan. 1712 he was a teller against a motion that Robert Walpole II was guilty of corruption. His one drafting committee of this session was on 18 Feb. 1712 for a bill to prevent irregular and corrupt proceedings in the election of Members. A proposal on 22 Mar. from the October Club member, William Shippen, for a resumption bill for grants from 1688 met with a typically Whig response from Powlett, who (unsuccessfully) suggested an amendment to include grants from 1685 onwards. A report on the division on the election for Anstruther Burghs on 10 Apr. reveals that Powlett voted against the election of George Hamilton*, and that the vote occasioned a display of Powlett’s violent nature. He had, it seems, been targeted some time previously in the Tory Post Boy by the newspaper’s editor Abel Roper, and on going out into the lobby of the House, he happened to see Roper and ‘pulled off his peruke and beat him, I suppose for some of his old faults, for I don’t hear of any new offence that Abel gave his lordship’. His discernible activity was largely confined to the management of two private estate bills. At the beginning of the final session, after the Queen’s Speech to both Houses on 9 Apr. 1713, Powlett again signalled his disapproval with the direction of the government when ‘the House of Commons unanimously, except my Lord William Powlett, voted an address of thanks’. He voted against the French commerce bill on 18 June, and in the remainder of the month was actively involved in a bill for fen drainage in Lincolnshire and a private estate bill, neither of which emerged from the second-reading committees to which Powlett was appointed.17

Powlett was returned unchallenged for Lymington in 1713, and although again his activity in Parliament was limited, he was involved in the major party issues. He naturally voted against the expulsion of Richard Steele on 18 Mar. 1714. On 15 Apr. he told in favour of adjourning a debate in the committee of the whole, endeavouring unsuccessfully to block a Tory resolution that the Protestant succession was not in danger under the present government. He acted as teller on a further four occasions in this session: on 27 May, against engrossing the schism bill; on 18 June, in favour of adjourning all committees that were to sit that evening, possibly a Whig manoeuvre; on the 23rd, in favour of giving leave to Andrew Archer to make a motion after 6 p.m., again possibly a party manoeuvre as Archer’s motion may well have concerned his discoveries of corruption in the army in Europe; and on the 29th, against Hon. Benedict Leonard Calvert’s election for Harwich. He also supported an enclosure bill concerning land in Gloucestershire and a private estate bill.18

Classed as a Whig on the Worsley list and on two other lists comparing the 1715 Parliament with its predecessor, Powlett remained a consistent Whig after 1715. He died on 25 Sept. 1729, from a fall from his horse while riding in Hyde Park, and appears to have left all his real and personal estate to his wife. His two sons, William and Charles Armand, both sat in the Commons in George II’s reign.19

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Paula Watson / Sonya Wynne


  • 1. IGI, Yorks.; Coll. Top. et Gen. v. 256–7; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 1085.
  • 2. Hants RO, Winchester corp. assembly bk. 6, f. 38; E. King, Old Times Revisited, Lymington, 184, 192; R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 375; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 545–6; E. Gillett, Grimsby, 145.
  • 3. CJ, xvii. 457; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 607; xxix. 814.
  • 4. Dalrymple, Mems. ii(1), bk. 5, pp. 91–92; iii(2), bk. 5, p. 72; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 607.
  • 5. HMC Portland, iii. 451; Luttrell Diary, 150.
  • 6. Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 427, 599; iii. 252; iv. 337, 370; v. 623.
  • 7. Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/6, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 23 Feb. 1696[–7], 8 Feb. 1697[–8]; Burnet, i. 561–2; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 64; CJ, xii. 394.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1699–1700, p. 81; PCC 127 Pett; Add. 40774, f. 124.
  • 9. Add. 57861, f. 69.
  • 10. Cocks Diary, 235, 241, 265.
  • 11. Staffs. RO, Paget mss D 603/K/3/6, P. Walter to Hon. Henry Paget*, 29 July 1701; Cal. Treas. Bks. xx. 188, 449, 594.