PULTENEY, John (c.1661-1726), of St. James’s, Westminster and Harefield, 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



1695 - 1710

Family and Education

b. c.1661, 2nd s. of Sir William Pulteney*.  educ. Westminster (under Dr Busby); I. Temple 1676, called 1682; Christ Church, Oxf. 1677.  m. bef. 1674, Lucy Colville of Northants., 3s. (2 d.v.p.).1

Offices Held

Under-sec. of state (southern dept.) 1689–June 1690, (northern dept.) Dec. 1690–Mar. 1692, Mar. 1693–5; sec. lds. justices [I] Oct.–Dec. 1690; sec. ld. lt. [I] Mar. 1692–Mar. 1693; clerk of council [I] 1692–d.; chief clerk to master-gen. Ordnance 1693–June 1702, clerk of deliveries Feb. 1701–3; registrar to commrs. forfeited estates 1696–7; ld. of Trade 1707–11; commr. customs 1714–22; surveyor-gen. of crown lands 1722–d.2

Assist. R. Fishery [I] 1692.3

MP [I] 1692–3.

Commr. Million Act 1694; building 50 new churches 1715–d.4


As a younger son, Pulteney appears to have been destined for a career at the bar. He and his younger brother William were granted ‘special admission’ to the Inner Temple in 1676 at the time his father, a bencher at the inn, was nominated reader-elect. It is not clear, however, what path his career took after he was called in 1682, but by 1689 his rise in stature in the London area, aided by his father’s local prominence, was sufficient to merit his nomination as a deputy-lieutenant of Middlesex. He began his life-long course as a government official later that same year when, without any previous experience in the higher echelons of government, he was appointed under-secretary to Lord Shrewsbury in the southern department. To whom he owed this sudden elevation is not entirely clear, unless he was already known to Shrewsbury or, as seems more likely, to Lord Sydney (Hon. Henry Sidney†) with whom he subsequently enjoyed a long and fruitful connexion. It is quite possible, too, that the family’s great friend and protector Henry Guy* had a hand in launching Pulteney’s career. In October 1690, Sydney, on becoming one of the lords justices in Ireland, had Pulteney named as their secretary. Pulteney was in Ireland only briefly in December, however, before Sydney, as incoming secretary of state in the northern department, chose him as under-secretary, and as part of his duties Pulteney accompanied Sydney on the Flanders campaign with the King in the summer of 1691. He appears to have been disappointed of some form of promotion in September, Guy writing to Sydney on the 22nd that ‘I did fear that my cousin Pulteney would be that afflicted, as I find by yours he is. I beg of your lordship to lay your injunction on him to hear it as a man of his understanding ought to do, for nothing will prevail so much with him as what shall be said to him by you.’ In March 1692, Sydney, upon taking office as lord lieutenant of Ireland, nominated Pulteney one of his secretaries, and secured for him the life grant of the clerkship of the council in Ireland at £400 p.a., an office which Pulteney had performed since 1690. Towards the end of February 1693 Pulteney participated as one of several key witnesses in the Lords’ and Commons’ inquiries into the miscarriages in the Irish administration. As an ‘express advocate for the government’, he championed the actions of his patron Lord Sydney and ‘omitted nothing that could extenuate his excellency’s conduct’. In the Commons, when quizzed about the repercussions of poor provisioning and quartering of troops, he caused dismay with his tough-minded assertion that ‘if Parliament did not find supplies for the troops, the troops would find free quarters for themselves’. He was also under attack himself as one of the leading ‘men of arbitrary principles’ said to be engaged in the embezzlement of forfeited lands and goods, and the sale of various licenses and ‘protections’. Upon Sydney’s removal from the lord lieutenancy in March, Pulteney was almost immediately reappointed to his former post as under-secretary, this time to Sir John Trenchard*, while in July, Sydney, now enjoying the less contentious office of master-general of the Ordnance, chose him as his secretary and chief clerk.5

By 1695 Lord Sydney, in his capacity as lord warden of the Cinque Ports, was able to reward Pulteney with a parliamentary seat at Hastings. Joining the ranks of government supporters in the House, Pulteney was forecast in January 1696 as likely to support the Court on the proposed council of trade, but it was in the following month, in the proceedings on the Assassination Plot, that he gained notice as a budding man of business. Having served as one of the ‘managers’ on 24 Feb. of the conference with the Lords to frame a joint response to the King’s intimation of the plot, Pulteney afterwards took the initiative of moving for a bill for apprehending the conspirators. He presented this the next day, taking it through its stages over the next week, and passing it to the Lords on 2 Mar. In the meantime he was an early signatory of the Association and in March voted with the Court for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. He had also been involved on two private bills and was named to a second conference committee at the end of March. In April, the Duke of Shrewsbury obtained Pulteney’s appointment as registrar to the commissioners for forfeited estates, informing the Irish lord deputy, Lord Capell (Hon. Sir Henry Capel*), that ‘the King has a gracious regard for the services of Mr Pulteney, particularly those performed by him in the last session of Parliament’.6

In November 1696 Pulteney took an active part in the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†, though in this, as in other issues, his partisan enthusiasm sometimes led other ministerialists to look at him askance. On the 9th, for instance, when the attainder bill was presented, his ‘commendation’ of the Duke of Shrewsbury, whom Fenwick had aspersed as a co-conspirator, appeared highly inept to the likes of Under-Secretary James Vernon I*, but at its committal on the 17th, he gave a closely argued, if lacklustre, speech justifying the measure. There was a need, he said, in any government for ‘a sufficient power for its own preservation upon extraordinary occasions’, and in the present case there was no question that crimes of high treason were proven despite the deficiencies of evidence. ‘I do think’, he concluded, ‘if this bill does miscarry, it not only turns this plot upon you, but makes it impossible ever to come to the depth of any other.’ At the end of the debate he acted as teller for the bill’s committal. Three days later, however, he upset ministerial sensibilities once more by supporting Lord Spencer’s (Charles*) ‘very unadvised motion’ to prevent the lords spiritual from voting on the bill in the Lords and ‘did worse’ with arguments ‘so very unseasonable and contrary to the style of acts of Parliament in the like cases’, with the result that ‘the Tory Churchmen made a jest of it all and all of them divided against the bishops, in hopes the consequence of it would have been favourable to Sir John Fenwick’. Pulteney naturally voted for passing the bill on the 25th. In mid-February 1697 he took an active part in the proceedings for choosing a new commission of accounts, acting as teller on the 13th in favour of allowing Lord William Powlett to be excused from serving, and again on the 15th in favour of engrossing the amended bill. The following month saw him involved in legislation concerning the completion of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the repair of Westminster Abbey, and for encouraging the recruitment of seamen. On 1 Apr. he was the initiator of a bill to prevent the writing, printing or publishing of any news without licence, which he presented on the 3rd, but this attempt to renew the Licensing Act was later rejected.7

In a debate on the army of 8 Jan. 1698, Pulteney opposed a reduction on the grounds that France’s commitment to peace could not be relied upon, while neither the fleet nor the militia was adequate for defence. Early in February, as the House began its proceedings against Charles Duncombe* on accusations of corrupt dealings in relation to the circulation of Exchequer bills, Pulteney consistently stood out as Duncombe’s ‘great advocate’. A strong sense of personal and political obligation connected him with Duncombe, an intimate of his late father’s associate Henry Guy, both of whom enjoyed the close friendship and patronage of Lord Sunderland. Pulteney himself had an equally strong tie with Sunderland through his own close connexion with the Earl’s uncle, Lord Romney (formerly Lord Sydney). Pulteney’s attempt on 5 Feb. to play down the magnitude of Duncombe’s crimes ‘was not accepted, as coming from an advocate of Duncombe’. Pulteney took advantage of an accusation by a witness that the Treasury lords, too, were culpable in the false endorsement of Exchequer bills, and proposed, as a mollifying tactic, that they ‘might be vindicated by a vote’. However, this ‘compliment’ cut no ice with the Treasury lords, who immediately declared that they would conduct their own inquiries into the allegations and would ask no favour. Pulteney nevertheless continued to appear for Duncombe, as on the 26th, for instance, when he was a teller against the bill for his punishment; and the following month he was involved in a conference on the bill with the Lords. It is uncertain, however, whether Pulteney kept up his support for the disgraced banker once Sunderland’s desertion of him became obvious.8

Retaining his Hastings seat in the election of July 1698, Pulteney was duly classed as a placeman and a Court supporter. He spoke and voted against the third reading of the disbanding bill on 18 Jan. 1699, and was a teller on 18 Feb. against an amendment to the supply bill for the navy to exclude marines from the agreed total of 15,000 seamen. Somewhat inexplicably, he told against a motion on 1 Mar. that effectively favoured a fellow Whig and court supporter, Thomas Newport, in the disputed return for Ludlow. On the 9th, he ‘made a very tedious long oration on the behalf of the Old East India Company’ in a debate on a bill to enable the Old Company to continue trading regardless of the establishment of the New. On the 17th he was teller in favour of the election of Tory Court supporter John Chetwynd* for Tamworth. One of Pulteney’s closest colleagues at the Ordnance was James Lowther*, and it was to Lowther that Pulteney entrusted a private bill enabling Guy, as trustee of Sir William Pulteney’s estates, to grant leases and sell property to pay off family debts.9

Pulteney’s conduct in Ireland during his patron Lord Romney’s governorship early in the previous decade came once again under parliamentary scrutiny in the 1699–1700 session. The report of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the distribution of forfeited estates made undisguised criticisms of both Pulteney and Lord Coningsby (Thomas*), and in a debate on 13 Jan. 1700 on a motion that the report be printed, he exceeded Coningsby in appearing ‘very pathetic in their expostulations not to be proclaimed criminals in print upon false suggestions’. In his defence, Pulteney named one of the forfeited estates commissioners, Sir Richard Levinge*, as the propagator of these accusations, and on the 16th had the satisfaction of seeing Levinge condemned by the House and committed to the Tower. In the attack on Lord Somers (Sir John*) on 15 Feb., Pulteney defended the lord chancellor, to whom he ‘owned his obligations’, while earlier in the debate he had helped to throw ridicule on the outspoken Tory John Grobham Howe by defending the grant supposedly awarded him during his days as a government supporter. On 2 Mar. he was teller in support of an unsuccessful motion declaring James Sloane, a Whig, qualified to serve as Member for Thetford. At other times during the session he supervised a private estate bill, and initiated a measure for the relief of the poor of his own parish, St. James’s. On 26 Mar. he told against a motion which in effect called for the reinstatement of Tories to the commissions of the peace and the lieutenancy.10

At the beginning of the new Parliament in February 1701 Pulteney was promoted to the more remunerative Ordnance office of clerk of the deliveries with a salary of almost £1,000 p.a. In the House, however, with proceedings dominated by the impeachments against the former Whig ministers, he, as a Junto supporter, prudently maintained a low profile. In March, renewing his efforts to obtain legislation for dealing with the poor of St James’s, he introduced a bill on the 31st for establishing a parish workhouse only to see it denied a second reading a fortnight later. In addition, he was a teller on 31 May against unseating the sitting Whig MP, William Walmisley, in the disputed Lichfield election. On the eve of the new Parliament he was classed as a Whig by Robert Harley*. He acted as teller four times during the ensuing session, but only twice on matters of note: on 17 Mar. 1702 in favour of the Whig John Thornhagh’s election for East Retford; and on 7 May against a punitive amendment to the bill for the relief of Protestant purchasers of Irish forfeitures, which required a third of the purchase money to be put to public use.

Following the accession of Queen Anne, the dismissal of his old patron Lord Romney from the lord wardenship might have rendered Pulteney’s continuing tenure of a seat at Hastings unsafe under the new Tory government, but having assiduously cultivated a personal interest of his own with the town corporation he was re-elected without difficulty. His position as a Whig in employment under the new Tory administration remained unaffected during the first year or so of the new reign, though when partisan considerations pressed, he did not refrain from following his own party line, as he did on 26 Oct. 1702 when he was teller against a Tory amendment to the address celebrating the Duke of Marlborough’s (John Churchill†) recent victories. On another occasion, 13 Feb. 1703, he voted to agree with the Whig amendments made in the Lords to the Tories’ bill for extending the time allowed for taking the oath of abjuration. His intractability nevertheless galled the ministers and an early pretext was used to prise him from office. The ministers homed in on criticisms he was alleged to have made in private to several Ordnance colleagues about Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), and at Nottingham’s instigation he was hauled for questioning before the cabinet council in the Queen’s presence on 25 Apr. Strongly protesting his innocence, he denied being the originator of reports that Nottingham was obstructing progress on the proposed alliance with Portugal and was opposed to assisting the Protestant rebels of the Cevennes. The hearing bore all the hallmarks of careful engineering, however. Two of Pulteney’s Tory colleagues, William Bridges* and Christopher Musgrave*, were called in and Musgrave, in particular, testified against him, while his friend James Lowther*, to whom he appealed ‘for the truth of what I said’, was not summoned at all. Although he was thought to have delivered ‘a lame excuse’ with regard to his comments about Nottingham and the Portugal alliance, the cabinet meeting broke up without censuring him. None the less, as he informed the Duke of Marlborough shortly afterwards, he could see no other option but to resign, ‘considering how impracticable it was to act in conjunction with those who had brought it upon me’. Henry Guy, to whom Pulteney confided his decision next day, the 26th, ‘according to his usual warmth of friendship, expressed a great concern’ for him, and through the offices of the Duchess of Marlborough and Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†), Pulteney was allowed to tender his resignation to the Queen in preson. This he did on the 27th:

I acquainted her Majesty that I thought myself very unfortunate that anything which concerned me should have occasioned the least trouble . . . that the account I had given to her Majesty at the cabinet council was most exactly true as Mr Lowther was ready to testify upon oath, so that I was not conscious to myself that I had been guilty of any crime. However, apprehending her Majesty might be importuned by that noble lord [Nottingham], I was unwilling her Majesty should have any further trouble on my account, and therefore begged leave to resign . . . [but] that I should continue that same zeal for her Majesty’s service out of office as well as in, and that though I now retired from her service, I hoped I did not retire from her favour; then her Majesty was pleased to give me leave to kiss her hand, and to express herself in a most gracious manner towards me.

In a subsequent cabinet meeting, however, the Queen declared that if Pulteney had not resigned of his own accord she would have dismissed him. Marlborough, who was favourably disposed towards Pulteney and his family, regretted the whole incident, and, in a letter to Godolphin, blamed the ‘unreasonable animosities of the parties’ and not least the ‘very unreasonable’ behaviour of Lord Nottingham.11

Pulteney none the less honoured his word to the Queen and continued to support government measures where these did not conflict with his party loyalties. Forecast as an opponent of the Tack, he either voted against it on 28 Nov. or was absent. He was teller on 21 Dec. in favour of a second reading on the bill for appointing commissioners to negotiate a union with Scotland. In 1705 he was still classed as a placeman, presumably on account of his Irish office, and in another list as a High Church courtier. At the general election he kept his seat for Hastings which was now under the suzerainty of the Whiggish deputy lord warden, Lord Westmorland. At the opening of the new Parliament in October he voted for the Court candidate in the Speakership division. The arrival in the House of his nephew William makes him less easy to identify as the ‘Mr Pulteney’ minuted from time to time in the Journals, but since William was still a young and inexperienced Member it is probably safe to assume that most, if not all, references were to Pulteney senior. On 22 Nov. he was teller for the government in defence of a supply resolution for continuing an additional force of 10,000 troops. Four days later he moved to bring in a private bill, where one of the parties was a daughter of his ex-fellow MP at Hastings Peter Gott, which he oversaw until it passed to the Lords at the end of January 1706. In the meantime he was teller on 6 Dec. in proceedings on the disputed election at Hertford, agreeing to a motion on the franchise which effectively favoured the Whig candidate. On the 8th, in a debate on the regency bill, he took issue with the claim made by Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., that the Church was in danger. He naturally voted with the Court on the bill’s ‘place clause’ on the 18th, and in the debate next day demanded that the clerk of the House take down Charles Caesar’s words alleging that Lord Treasurer Godolphin had been in collusion with the court of St. Germain in the previous reign. It was probably as a result of Henry Guy’s approaches to Marlborough and Godolphin to provide for Pulteney and his family that Pulteney’s son Daniel† was appointed envoy to Denmark in the spring of 1706. In March Pulteney chaired several sittings of the committee of the whole on a bill for increasing the number of seamen, and conveyed the bill to the Lords on the 18th. The same day he was teller for proceeding upon a disputed set of amendments to the Lords’ bill for ‘the better advancement of justice’, and on the same bill managed a return conference with the Lords next day.12

In the next session, on 3 Dec., Pulteney was named to the committee to draw up the Address, and appears to have been regularly named to other address committees until 1710. In January 1707 he initiated and presented a bill enabling a London merchant to compound for a debt to the crown, and on 1 Apr. was teller on the Court side in favour of a short adjournment on the bill for vesting Cotton House, Westminster, in the crown. Towards the end of the month he was one of the moderate Whigs appointed by Godolphin to the Board of Trade, with a salary of £1,000 a year, and later in the year he was able to obtain a lieutenancy in the army for his son Thomas. Despite the failure of the Journals to distinguish between Pulteney and his nephew, there were some items of business which were evidently undertaken by the elder Pulteney which appertained to his role as a lord of Trade. He took his responsibilities at the board seriously, rarely missing a meeting, and on several occasions presented papers to the House particularizing on various trade-related matters. He was teller five times during the 1707–8 session: on 11 Dec., against a clause in a bill limiting the East India Company’s trading pretensions in Scotland; on 23 Jan. 1708, against an amendment in the bill for perfecting the union with Scotland, for dissolving the Scottish privy council as from 1 May; on 24 Feb., against a motion censuring the Court for the numerical deficiency of troops at the battle of Almanza; on 18 Mar., in favour of preserving the monopoly of the Bank of England (in which he held £2,000 worth of stock, having initially subscribed £500 in 1694) in a bill concerning public credit; and on the 27th, in favour of a technical amendment to a supply bill. On 5 Feb. he helped to promote the introduction of a bill for encouraging fisheries, and in March chaired the committee of the whole on Dutch and German linen duties and on a bill to ascertain rates of foreign coinage in the plantations. He was classed as a Whig in lists compiled just prior to, and shortly after, the 1708 election.13

Early in 1709 Pulteney took part in proceedings concerning the African trade, presenting papers on its condition on 27 Jan., backing a motion for a bill to place the trade under a new ‘regulated company’ on 17 Mar., and on 7 Apr. telling in favour of a procedural motion on the bill. On 10 Feb. he had also supported a motion bringing in a measure to encourage the export of tobacco. Amid a mild skirmish among the Whigs during supply business a week later, he clashed with Sir Edward Turnor over the question of continuing the ban on imports of French wine. In the same session he voted for the naturalization of the Palatines. He supported the introduction of a new Africa bill on 18 Feb. 1710, but it is unclear whether it was he or his nephew who was teller on 27 Jan. against a place bill and again on 21 Mar. for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. He did, however, support the impeachment in division.14

The fall of the Marlborough–Godolphin administration did not bring an immediate change in Pulteney’s position within the government, although as the election loomed he was highly pessimistic about Whig prospects. In August, while discussing politics in St. James’s coffee house with Arthur Maynwaring*, he took issue with Maynwaring’s opinion that the Whigs would win, saying that the future lay with the Tories as ‘by God they have managed it so cunningly that they are sure of a majority’. At the election Pulteney was displaced at Hastings by a nominee of the new ministry, but along with several other Whigs he kept his place at the Board of Trade when it was reconstituted in October. It was thought to have been due to his nephew William’s* firebrand attacks on the new administration that Pulteney lost his post in a further sweep of the board in June 1711. At the Hanoverian succession Pulteney was appointed a customs commissioner with a salary of £1,000 but made no attempt to re-enter Parliament. In July 1717 his eldest son Daniel, a rising figure in the Whig party, was appointed a lord of Trade and in December married a sister-in-law of the Earl of Sunderland (formerly Lord Spencer). Pulteney himself stood once more for Hastings in 1722 with support from Sunderland’s ally the Duke of Newcastle but lost to the Tory Archibald Hutcheson* by a single vote. He was nevertheless compensated by the incoming Townshend–Walpole ministry with the surveyor-generalship of the crown lands, which he held until his death on 23 May 1726.15

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Nichols, Leics. iv. 320.
  • 2. Luttrell, Brief Relation, i. 580, ii. 116, 149, 372, 537–8, iii. 61, 279; H. C. Tomlinson, Guns and Govt. 225–6; CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 158; 1696, p. 148; 1700–2, p. 480; Cal. Treas. Bks. xi. 295; xii. 111; xxix. 145.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1691–2, pp. 112–13.
  • 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 983; E. G. W. Bill, Q. Anne Churches, p. xxiv.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 54; 1690–1, pp. 326, 470; 1691–2, pp. 158, 182; Luttrell, i. 580; ii. 116, 149, 372, 414, 537–8; iii. 46, 61, 144; Trinity, Dublin, Clarke mss 749/2/194, Thomas Coningsby to George Clarke*, 20 Sept. 1690; 749/3/346, Sir Thomas Clarges* to same, 18 Dec. 1690; Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 650; Add. 32681, f. 429; Dalrymple, Mems. iii. (3), 29; Ralph, Hist. Eng. ii. 405; Tindal, Continuation, i. 234; Add. 70017, ff. 36–37.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1696, p. 148.
  • 7. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 53, 69; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 1060–2; Luttrell, iv. 204.
  • 8. Cam. Misc. xxix. 357; CSP Dom. 1698, pp. 65, 71; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 485, 488.
  • 9. Cam. Misc. xxix. 387; Cocks Diary, 19; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/2, James to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 25 Apr. 1699.
  • 10. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 406, 410; Somerset RO, Sanford mss DD/SF 4107(a), ‘notes of the Debate . . . 15 Feb. 1699[–1700]’.
  • 11. Add. 61293, ff. 155–6; 4291, ff. 6–7; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 182.
  • 12. Cam. Misc. xxiii. 45, 51; Add. 4291, f. 72.
  • 13. Add. 61293, f. 157; I. K. Steele, Pols. Colonial Policy, 175; Egerton 3359 (unfol.); DZA, Bonet despatch 6/16 July 1694.
  • 14. Add. 28052, f. 130.
  • 15. Wentworth Pprs. 135; Coxe, Walpole, (1816), iii. 27; Add. 33073, ff. 7, 13; Boyer, Pol. State, xxxi. 435.