PULTENEY, Sir William (1624-91), of St. James’s, Westminster, and Isleworth, 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



Mar. 1679 - Mar. 1681
1689 - 6 Sept. 1691

Family and Education

bap. 25 Mar. 1624, 2nd s. of Michael Pulteney of Bray, Berks. and St. James’s, by his w. Eleanor.  educ. King’s, Camb. 1640; I. Temple 1647, called 1654, bencher 1671, reader 1676.  m. 23 Apr. 1655, Grace, da. of Sir John Corbet, 1st Bt.†, of Stoke, Salop, 4s. 2da.  suc. bro. 1655; kntd. 4 June 1660.1

Offices Held

Capt. of ft. (Royalist) till 1646.

Commr. privy seal Feb. 1690–d.2


A prominent figure in London’s central parishes, Pulteney combined property acquisition and development with politics. The core of his wealth derived from crown leases in the bailiwick of St. James on which his family had capitalized since at least the late 16th century. Chief among his business associates were his kinsman Henry Guy* and Sir Thomas Clarges*. He also enjoyed connexions among the City’s legal fraternity, continuing an involvement with his inn of court, the Inner Temple, where he had been nominated a bencher in 1671. On entering Parliament at the end of the decade he featured initially as a Court supporter but soon became a keen Exclusionist and, like several other Tories, including his friend Clarges, spoke out on the constitutional evils of a Popish monarchy. In the Convention he took, for a Tory, a strangely Whiggish line in the debates about the crown, defending the efficacy of Parliament’s intervention in the recent crisis, and was supportive of its new-forged authority in government finance. As he prepared to defend his Westminster seat in February 1690, he was appointed one of three commissioners of the privy seal with an ‘allowance’ of £365 p.a., presumably in anticipation of his continued support for Court policy. In March his return for Westminster was much assisted by Dr Thomas Tenison, the archdeacon of London, and other London clergy. At the outset of the new Parliament Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) identified him as a Tory, regarding him as a probable supporter of the Court.3

Pulteney spoke on 9 Apr. in support of the recognition bill, but objected that it did not declare William and Mary ‘King and Queen according to the bill of succession’. On the 24th, speaking in committee on the bill to reverse the quo warranto against the city of London, he insisted that ‘any person’ was entitled to be heard by counsel as it was ‘not a general bill but a private bill’, an opinion he must have formed as a nominee to the bill’s drafting committee appointed on 8 Apr. He saw a certain paradox in the introduction of the abjuration bill, and on the 26th presented MPs with the ‘hard thought that the oath of abjuration was brought in in order to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act’. He had already been involved in several committees on minor legislation, and on the 29th was included on a committee to draft a bill to secure the government against the late King James and his adherents. However, the Lords’ bill making the Queen regent during the King’s absence in Ireland struck him as ill-conceived, and he spoke damningly against it in committee on 1 May:

The more I have thought of this bill, the less I have understood it . . . [We have] a King invested with regal power, and you divest him and put it into the Queen. The King can take no notice of what she does here. In the Queen is the regal power[;] as our Queen can or could do, she may dissolve this Parliament, raise an army, set out a fleet. I know not how to qualify these things, but I see terrible consequences. When an Act of Parliament comes to terminate his power, I know not how that will operate on all commissions. I know not but some men may have a strange notion, when the King is gone, that it is a resignation of the crown. A King and Queen of England, and not in England, will be a strange composition . . . Though I think it is of mighty advantage that the King go into Ireland, yet this bill is of so strange a composition to come from the Lords, and the judges there, that this will have many more consequences than I can enumerate. My motion must be this, to take three or four days’ time to consider it.

On the 5th, he argued that a shorter bill should be drafted, ‘to take away all ambiguities’ and which transferred to the Queen only so much executive power as was necessary, but when this was pursued next day, the ensuing logic-chopping over the division of powers roused him to declare, ‘I would not have the government depend upon such nice distinctions’, and admitted that practical considerations must prevail: ‘if the King will go, he must go’. A week later he was involved in a conference with the Lords on the bill.4

Before the next session began in October 1690, Pulteney was earmarked by leading ministers as one of a small band of ‘managers of the King’s directions’, almost certainly in connexion with a planned coalition of Whigs and Churchmen. It is not clear if Pulteney, by now elderly and somewhat infirm, ever fulfilled such a role, but he evidently remained a Court supporter: Carmarthen marked him as such in a list he compiled in connexion with the possible attack on himself in December. During the session Pulteney was engaged in two bills concerning enterprises in his constituency and its environs in which he enjoyed a controlling interest. On 17 Oct. he moved for the introduction of a measure to regulate hackney coaches in London and Westminster, and over the next six or so weeks supervised the passage of a bill for the maintenance of the streets in Middlesex, Westminster and Southwark. In December he assisted in the passage of a further bill, to regulate coal measures and prices, and on the 13th his legal background was called into play in his appointment to an inquiry to review laws relating to the trial of offences committed at sea. Although Pulteney had had no experience of judicial office, his friends Guy and Sir John Trevor* proposed him for the judgeship of the common pleas when it fell vacant in the spring of 1691, and royal approval was obtained just as the King was about to embark for Flanders. A warrant for the appointment signed by the Queen was blocked, however, owing to Lord Nottingham’s (Daniel Finch†) preference for John Powell†, a crown lawyer, and was made to await the King’s further consideration. Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.*, observed to Robert Harley* on 14 May that ‘if Sir W[illiam] Pulteney be made a judge we lose a useful Member of Parliament. No question but Mr Guy and others are obliged to be earnest solicitors, and it may be an ingredient to his promotion making way for another’s preferment in the privy seal.’ Musgrave was evidently concerned that Pulteney’s customary sagacity might be lost to the House. In a further list compiled at about this time Pulteney was again marked as a Court supporter. Before a final decision could be made regarding his appointment to the judicial bench, Pulteney died suddenly on 6 Sept. at his house in Isleworth, ‘sleeping in a chair after dinner according to his custom, his daughters and others of the family sitting by him; he altered, grew pale and stiff and without any noise or convulsions; he only never waked’. He was buried at St. James’s, Piccadilly. His will appointed Clarges and Guy as trustees to administer his estates, their immediate task being to sell off some of the St. James’s property to pay the debts of his eldest son, William (father of William*), and to make provision for his other children.5

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxvi) 30; Westminster City Lib. St. Martin-in-the-Fields par. reg. 3; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 60; PCC 10 Aylett.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 460.
  • 3. C. T. Gatty, Mary Davies and the Manor of Ebury, i. 30; C. L. Kingsford, Piccadilly, Leicester Square and Soho, 114–16; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 219, 388; ix. 995; HMC Portland, iii. 445.
  • 4. Grey, x. 50, 62, 104–5, 118, 126; Bodl. Rawl. A.79, f. 83.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 211; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/1, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 11 May 1691; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 221; HMC Portland, iii. 465; HMC Finch, iii. 263; Bodl. Carte 79, f. 405.