SEDLEY, Sir Charles, 5th Bt. (1639-1701), of Southfleet, Kent and Bloomsbury Square, London

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



8 May 1668 - Mar. 1681
1690 - 1695
7 Nov. 1696 - Aug. 1701

Family and Education

bap. 30 Mar. 1639, 5th s. and event. h. of Sir John Sedley, 2nd Bt., of Southfleet, by Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Sir Henry Savile†, warden of Merton and provost of Eton, of Oxford.  educ. Wadham, Oxf. 1656.  m. 9 Feb. 1657, Katherine (d. 1705), da. of John Savage†, 2nd Earl Rivers, 1 da. (2s. (1 d.v.p.) illegit. by Ann Ayscough).  suc. bro. 1656.1

Offices Held

Freeman, New Romney 1668–d.2


The senior representative of a long-established and wealthy Kentish family, Sedley seems to have been always more attracted by the fashionable world of London than the provinces, and lived for much of his life in Bloomsbury Square. Apparently a model of propriety in the latter part of his life, Sedley never entirely lived down his reputation for loose morals, as contemporaries with long memories continued to recall his former exploits.

Sedley’s actions during 1688–9 are not known, although it is clear that he supported the Revolution. In December 1688 he made moves to regain his parliamentary seat, writing on the 13th to the corporation of New Romney and hinting at an antipathy to courtiers, which was to be a recurring theme of his speeches in the Commons. He explained his failure to contest the 1685 election on the grounds that he ‘did not question but that courtiers would carry it everywhere, so that (being none myself) I declined my pretensions’; however, circumstances were now entirely different, the Convention being ‘like to be an assembly of high consequence to the Protestant religion, the felicity of the nation, and the settling a lasting foundation of liberty, property and good government: things extremely valuable to all true Englishmen’. Thus he could no longer stand aside. The New Romney electorate disagreed and Sedley was not chosen. Out of Parliament in 1689, Sedley may have written a tract in reply to several Whig pamphlets, which, while praising the Prince of Orange’s heroic invasion to save the Protestant religion, also suggested that if the Prince of Wales was declared ‘suppositious’, then Mary had the best claim to the crown and that the throne should not be declared vacant. This tract was included in the 1722 edition of Sedley’s Works, but as there appear to be no contemporary attributions of it to Sedley (the only one on a manuscript copy of the tract being undated), his authorship is doubtful. Moreover, there seem to have been no doubts as to Sedley’s loyalty to the settlement enacted in 1689. That year he was reappointed to the lieutenancy and appointed a justice for Kent (positions he held until his death), his son was knighted in March 1689 and in the same year he lent the new regime £6,065 14s. Sedley’s electoral ambitions were revived in 1690 when, despite ‘the ill success I met with the last time’, he wrote to the mayor in February, again offering his services. He hoped that, if chosen, he could ‘make you some recompense for your preference of me when I was not so proper for great affairs as (I trust in God) time and experience have made me since’. Clearly he felt his past behaviour and reputation had contributed to his defeat in 1689 as he wrote,

I know it is usual for men . . . to raise scandal of their adversaries or competitors. The most ordinary reflexions are that one is not a good Church of England man, or not well-affected to the monarchy: for my part ’tis well-known I had my education under a reverend divine of that church, nor was I ever at a conventicle or seditious meeting, and he that is true to the Church of England must of consequence be true to the monarchy since the doctrine of the one is the best support of the other.

Sedley’s subsequent parliamentary career seems to prove the sincerity of this statement. Describing himself in 1691 as ‘an old Parliament man but a young speaker’, Sedley was assiduous in attending the House and spoke in many debates, frequently expressing sympathy with Country views, although supporting the government on many important issues, particularly after 1694.3

Sedley was classed as a Whig by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in a list of the 1690 Parliament. His first recorded speech was during the debate on supply on 3 Apr., when he advocated the seizure of Jacobites’ lands, saying ‘let us serve them in Ireland as they have served us, and worse, if you will’. Next, he supported the abjuration bill promoted by the Whigs, declaring in the debate on 26 Apr. that ‘those that are slippery ought to have many knots tied on them’, and he seems to have seen the proposed oath as a way of avoiding the further suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, likening the oath to the ‘expedients’ proposed as an alternative to outright Exclusion in 1680 and saying ‘I am for an expedient rather than lose all’. Sedley dismissed objections to the regency bill on 5 May, seeing no danger in Queen Mary ruling alone for so short a time, and the next day spoke against addressing the King not to go to Ireland, pointing out that William had not sought their advice. Sedley spoke again on 13 May, supporting a motion by Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., to have a committee consider how the peace of the nation might be preserved in William’s absence, Mary being ‘a wise woman, but she is a woman’. On the question of who should be appointed to Mary’s council, Sedley said somewhat ambiguously that William would leave Mary ‘some of his own Council, and some of King James’s Council . . . what concerns all people ought to be handled by all’. On the 14th he asserted that complaints against those who had been appointed to the council were merely self-interested. Later, when many Members had spoken for Lord Carmarthen’s removal, Sedley appeared neutral but sought to speed up the debate: ‘I have received no disobligation from this noble Lord, nor any favour from him; but pray keep us to some order, and put a question.’4

In the 1690–1 session, Sedley was appointed to several committees including that to draft a bill for attainting rebels in England and Ireland and confiscating their estates, a move he had supported in the previous session (22 Oct.). His concerns about supply were signalled in a report on 15 Nov. that ‘even Sir Charles Sedley, instead of songs and sonnets, talks of nothing now but customs and excise’, and he gained some notice with a speech on 22 Nov. in which he complained of the proposed taxes: ‘the courtiers and great officers charge as it were in armour, they feel not the taxes by reason of their places, while the country gentlemen are shot through and through with them’. His advice to the King, ‘a wise and virtuous prince but . . . a young king’ surrounded by ‘crafty old courtiers’, was to cut pensions and places. The people would give money cheerfully if they saw such thrift. In one manuscript report of the speech, Sedley ended: ‘If this will not do, let us be and make the best terms of peace we can with King James.’ The printed version cut this somewhat inflammatory line and ended with ‘let us save the King what we can, and then let us proceed to give him what we are able’. On the same day it was reported that Sedley intended to bring in a rider to the bill establishing a commission of public accounts to the effect that the House should from time to time be given notice of all pensions paid to Members and to others. No such clause was introduced, but Sedley’s speech caused something of a stir, being widely distributed and drawing a reply entitled, Remarques upon a late printed speech under the name of Sir Charles Sedley.5

A report in January 1691 that Sedley’s house had been searched for the Jacobite bishop of Ely may have been only a rumour as it seems to have had no repercussions. Moreover, Sedley’s apparent contempt for courtiers did not affect his support for the Whig ministers in the King’s mixed ministry. On Robert Harley’s* list of April 1691, Sedley was classed as a Court supporter and he wrote a loyal ballad after the successful 1690–1 campaign in Ireland which included the lines:

          With a Queen so devout,
          And a people so stout,
          A Parliament that will supply ’em,
          A cause that is right,
          And a King that will fight,
          Our enemies all we defy ’em.

Ironically, Sedley then tried to join the ranks of the despised courtiers for the very benefits of office he had previously denounced. It was rumoured in September that he had put himself forward to succeed Sir William Pulteney* as a commissioner of the privy seal, and towards the end of October he appealed unsuccessfully to the lord chamberlain, the Earl of Dorset (Charles Sackville†), for help in getting the office of house keeper of Whitehall. Sedley valued this office at £600 p.a. and although he thought himself neither ‘ambitious nor covetous’, the money would help him to pay the new taxes which appear to have dented his finances. His only desire was ‘to put myself . . . in the condition I was before these extraordinary, though I confess most necessary, payments’.6

Sedley’s lack of success in gaining office may have given an edge to the support he showed for Country concerns in the next session. First, on 27 Oct. 1691, he proposed unsuccessfully that the King’s Speech be considered the next day. Then, on 31 Oct., he was appointed to the committee to prepare a bill for maintaining and securing the rights and privileges of corporations, and on 9 Nov. supported Sir Thomas Clarges’ move to arrest the author and printer of the Court tract Mercurius Reformatus as a libel against the House’s proceedings relating to supply. Sedley supported the move on 16 Nov. that the House be allowed to examine the confessions of Lord Preston (Sir Richard Grahme†) and Matthew Crone, which was part of the Whig attack on Tory ministers, particularly the Earl of Nottingham (Daniel Finch†). Two days later, Sedley supported the bill for reforming treason trials, saying that ‘good Kings, good lawyers, and good judges, are perishable commodities’, thereby reminding the House of the necessity of good laws. On the same day he spoke in favour of an address to the King seeking information on how the army was to be distributed between England and Ireland, and on 19 Nov. supported calls from the back benches to examine the projected numbers of men for the army. Sedley then supported the referral of the army estimates to a select committee, and on 30 Nov. urged general prudence in supply: ‘I am for going on as we may hold and not for precipitating matters – not to ride at the same rate for 100 miles as a citizen does if he were going but to Islington. This is like to be a long war so that you must be as saving as you can.’ The public accounts commissioners’ report being laid before the House on 1 Dec., Sedley spoke for the continuation of the commission and to address the King, whom ‘the courtiers keep . . . as in a box’, for this purpose. He then spoke in favour of taking account of the crown’s payments for secret service which the commission had been unable to obtain, although his speech on 3 Dec. appears to indicate that he was not against such payments in principle as being essential for the service of the state. Sedley was sceptical of William Fuller’s discoveries of a Jacobite plot to the House, and remarked on 9 Dec. that ‘this young man has accused so many, that was he an angel from Heaven, I should not believe him, he has accused so many confident persons’. On 4 Jan. 1692 he wanted to know whether the witnesses Fuller claimed to have overseas were to be fetched by yacht or messenger, and on 24 Feb. he supported the resolution of the Commons to declare Fuller an impostor.7

Many Members were suspicious of the Lords’ amendments to the treason trials bill, presented and debated on 11 and 31 Dec. 1691, as encroaching on their privileges. Sedley made an uncomplimentary reference to the Dutch who had received English peerages (the ‘strangers made lords’), and their pensions from the King, but supported the amendments as strengthening the rule of law. The House returned to the bill on 13 Jan. 1692, when Sedley again supported the Lords’ amendments, as conducive to ‘a government of laws and not of men, for they were changeable, the Lords are most of them menial servants to the crown, the rest would be glad to be so’. A speech by Sedley supporting the amendments, not reported by contemporaries but printed in his posthumous works, would seem to belong to the debates of either 31 Dec. 1691 or 13 Jan. 1692. In this, Sedley argued that the clause amending the procedure for trials when Parliament was not sitting was simply a question of justice, the Lords merely desiring to improve upon a position which was worse than that of a commoner, who when on trial ‘may except against three juries, whereas a lord cannot except against one single person’. Moreover, commoners had nothing to fear from the peers who would not collude to save one another, being less close-knit than was thought, and, many being landless or ‘artificial’ lords, they were therefore weaker than in ancient times. He concluded by exhorting the Commons to action: having concentrated on money bills and private bills, ‘it is high time we should do something like a Parliament of England’.8

Sedley also spoke on 12 Dec. 1691 for the bill to prevent false musters, and on the 23rd his objection that the security offered by the East India Company was unsatisfactory received support from Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt., and Sir Thomas Clarges. In keeping with his views the previous session, Sedley moved on 6 Jan. 1692 that the House examine crown offices with a view to making savings. On the 8th, he joined the Country Whigs in supporting the controversial bill to reduce interest rates in private transactions from 6 to 5 per cent, which he believed would raise land values and spread the burden of financing the government. He supported it again at its third reading on the 23rd. He strongly opposed Paul Foley I’s proposals on 12 Jan. to allow the banks and the East India Company to lend the government money, ‘for I would not have this House give so great a countenance to our King, taking up money without Parliament’. Sedley was against the bill read on 16 Jan. to suppress hawkers and pedlars, for he saw it as restraining trade and setting up monopolies. He made several more contributions to debates on supply in January. These included support on the 18th for a Members’ ‘subscription’ (he suggested £500 each); for Thomas Neale’s proposed tax on money, although at the rate of 1 not 2 per cent; and his agreement with William Brockman’s opinion that since the idea of using the salaries and fees of crown officials for war finance had been made by the officials themselves, it should be supported. Although both of Sedley’s speeches on this subject are placed by Cobbett in the debate on 22 Dec. 1692, the first may have been delivered on 18 Jan. 1692. In this first speech, Sedley had been sarcastic about the previous offer made (12 Dec. 1691) by many placemen to give their salaries above a certain amount: ‘To find a whole set of courtiers as generous as I had ever yet known any one man, charmed me exceedingly. I think I broke into some raptures of kindness towards the worthy gentlemen.’ He suspected that the officers had made this offer in order to divert the House from voting that no Member should be a receiver of the revenue and wished that the House would return to this question. He also asserted that courtiers might vote money in Parliament in order to get hold of it at Whitehall, and in so doing they worked against the King’s and the people’s interests. Charles II, for instance, had £360,000 a year in land revenues but ‘the courtiers prevailed and got away that whole revenue in a few years, devouring not only the income but the very stock of their master’s liberality’.9

On 20 Jan. 1692 Sedley opposed the proposal for a tax on gentlemen according to their contributions to the militia, preferring instead a tax upon those who kept coaches. After apparently speaking against the bill to pay the City’s debts to the orphans of London on 29 Jan., Sedley supported the payment of these debts by a tax on chimneys rather than one on coal. The question of the orphans’ debt was again debated on 13 Feb., when Sedley opposed the report recommending certain taxes to pay off the debts. In the debate on the Irish forfeitures bill on 5 Feb. he disagreed with the committee on leaving out the clause for forfeiting remainders in estates in tail, and with several other Members argued that on the basis of existing treason law, it should be left in. The next day there was a debate on whether to proceed on a bill to regulate the East India Company or to address the King to dissolve it and establish a new company. Luttrell reported that those who were for the company were for going on with the bill, including Sedley who again expressed distrust of the Court, saying, ‘he would not leave it to Whitehall to determine’. On 15 Feb. Sedley supported moves to revive the bill of accounts by tacking it to a supply bill, and on the 18th joined others who agreed to remind the Lords of the Irish forfeitures bill which, it was thought, the Court was obstructing. He also opposed the bill for taking ‘the solemn answers’ of the Quakers on 22 Feb., claiming that Quakers were a disaffected group and friends of James II, and that it would be ‘a shelter for papists and enemies to the government’. Just before the session ended on 24 Feb., in a discussion on the relief of the French Protestants, Sedley proposed a tax of 12d. in the pound on all court posts, ‘which will be a relief to them for the present and what the gentlemen who have those places, I hope will not think much of’. Again, Sedley’s criticism of the court during this session did not extend to the King and Queen, and in May 1692 he published a birthday ode to Queen Mary.10

Another ballad by Sedley, written soon after George Pitt’s* conviction for the manslaughter of John Hoyle on 30 June 1692, showed sympathy for Hoyle: ‘A learned lawyer . . . No Tory as I’m told’, who had apparently angered Pitt by talking

          . . . of tyrants past,
          In words both sharp and bold,
          He touched a little on our times
          Defin’d the power of kings,
          What were their virtues, what their crimes,
          And many dangerous things.

However, the suggestion that Sedley had doubts about William III’s (although not Mary’s) rule is not supported by any satisfactory evidence.11

The fourth session began with a consideration of the naval actions against the French that summer. On 12 Nov. 1692 there were calls for Admiral Ashby to explain his lack of action after Admiral Edward Russell’s* victory at La Hogue. Sedley felt that the French accounts might be expected to reflect ‘upon our best men’, and he supported the calling of Ashby to the bar, in order to ‘let him tell his own tale’. The East India Company having refused to submit to regulation, Sedley successfully moved on 17 Nov., in conjunction with Thomas Neale, that the House vote for a new Company. When a new treason trials bill was introduced on the 18th, Sedley naturally supported it against the objections of many who claimed it would weaken the government: ‘I am for this government, and yet I am for this bill and do not think one inconsistent with the other’. On 21 Nov. Sedley supported Harley’s motion to address the King concerning the future administration of the Admiralty, it being proposed that orders should pass through the Admiralty commissioners rather than through the secretary of state’s office. Sedley ‘could not see what is the use of the Admiralty; if merchants ask for convoy they send them to the secretary of state: if in matters of war they must obey other orders, what is it they do themselves besides receiving £1,000’. On the question of the foreign general officers in the army discussed on 23 Nov., Sedley thought ‘it the highest ingratitude to turn out those generals. These gentlemen have been the King’s companions of his arms; ’twill be hard upon the King to turn them out’, although he apparently agreed with the proposal by Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II, to try to avoid employing them in the future. This apparent support for the Court was reinforced when Sedley, in contrast to his earlier keenness, spoke for an amendment to the treason trials bill on 28 Nov. which would have delayed its commencement until after the war. In the debate on ‘advice’ to the King on 30 Nov., he spoke in agreement with the Whig ministers, thinking it proper to give William advice against a descent in Europe, and intervening when Hon. Thomas Wharton reflected on Tory ministers’ de facto beliefs: ‘I doubt not some gentlemen were willing to come into this government to get money by it, but I desire you will address his Majesty to employ such men as are of his principles.’ The poll tax having failed to produce the expected sums, Sedley appears to have been in favour of making further attempts to collect more money from it rather than voting extra funds, noting on 3 Dec. that ‘the Lords, I hear, paid nothing towards it’, but he supported the total of 54,000 men for the army favoured by the Court. In a further debate on advice on 5 Dec., Sedley spoke against Thomas Pitt I’s suggestion that foreigners be removed from among the King’s councillors, and agreed with Paul Foley I’s proposal that the House declare that the descent had been mismanaged. It is not known if he contributed to the debate which followed the motion (inspired by Whig ministers) in which Secretary Nottingham was blamed for this ‘mismanagement’, but Sedley did propose on 12 Dec. that all the papers about the descent be laid before the House. On the 13th he opposed another land tax of 4s. in the pound; on the 14th he supported the committal of the Whig bill for ‘the preservation of their Majesties’ persons and government’; and on the 16th he was for advising the King to declare the creation of another secretary’s post, ‘for that business is too great for one man’, a suggestion obviously aimed at Nottingham. Sedley supported Sir Edward Hussey’s place bill, read on 22 Dec., and in a speech on placemen perhaps given on this date declared, ‘we shall find that it is convenient, not only to lessen the officers of the court and state, in point of profit, but in point of number too’, and he questioned the wisdom of Members also having offices: ‘we are called by the King, and sent up by the people, and ought to regard no interests but theirs; which . . . are always the same’.12

Sedley’s activity continued in the new year. Given that his own estates were mortgaged, his support on 6 Jan. 1693 for a clause in the land tax bill to empower mortgagees to deduct 4s. in the pound out of the interest they paid was not surprising, and he stated, no doubt with some feeling, that it would ‘ease the land a little’. Sedley also wished to tack to this bill a clause to the effect that provisions bought by the navy victuallers be registered and paid for in course; however, he was forced to withdraw it on procedural grounds. Sedley was for putting the question that the King be advised to form an Admiralty commission of ‘such persons as are of known experience in maritime affairs’. He voiced his opposition to the Lords’ triennial bill in all the debates on it in January and February 1693, regarding it as an unwelcome interference by the peers, an encroachment on the King’s prerogative, and inconvenient and dangerous in time of war, pleasing only the papists and Jacobites. Two speeches by Sedley, printed posthumously, belong to these debates and were possibly delivered, as Cobbett places them, on 28 Jan. and 9 Feb. 1693. Sedley objected to the Lords’ attempts to regulate the Commons when they had not passed several Commons’ bills and he asserted that the bill offered no protection against a corrupt Commons ‘which may undo the nation in three years, as well as in thirty’. He agreed that a bad Parliament was better got rid of but they should have confidence that the King would not continue such a Parliament and only ‘when he shall have made a considerable transgression, it were then time enough to enter our complaint’. Sedley could not see that the bill was any sort of effective measure against an ‘ill prince’, as ‘all will be in his power though this act pass; and even triennial Parliaments cannot give us a certain remedy, in case of any invasion upon our liberty and property; for it is the King that must appoint time and place’. He concluded that his main objection to the bill was the clause requiring the dissolution of the present Parliament by an Act, for ‘never was there any such invasion upon the prerogative of a King, never such an indignity offered to an House of Commons in being’. In his second speech on 9 Feb. Sedley reiterated these themes, contending that the House had nothing to fear from William and ‘let us be extinguished in the usual way of Parliament and not pull ourselves a violent and . . . ignominious death’. He went on: ‘we are all for frequent Parliaments . . . but some of us had rather obtain it from some ordinary act of the King’s prerogative . . . I should have liked this bill better if it had begun in our own House; then it had been a self-denying bill; but now it looks like a surprise upon us from the Lords’. Aware that some Members supported the bill in order to be ‘popular’ with their constituents Sedley declared that for himself ‘I renounce those partial measures, and if I cannot be chosen upon the account of general service to the nation, I will never creep into the favour of any sort of men, and vote against my judgment’. He supported, on 8 Feb., a bill for the increase and preservation of timber in the New Forest, another Court measure. Local traders’ and merchant shipping concerns probably prompted Sedley’s opposition on 17 Feb. to the bill for the export of wool. He supported an address to dissolve the East India Company on 25 Feb., and on 6 Mar. opposed a clause for licensing privateers which he saw as being destructive of the Turkey trade.13

Although the sources for parliamentary debates are much scarcer after 1692–3, the surviving evidence suggests that Sedley’s contributions continued at the same rate as before. Indeed, his activity, if measured by significant committee appointments, could be said to have increased. He also continued to give support to the ministry. In the debate on 5 Dec. 1693 on the army estimates, he said ‘this army is not so dangerous as is said. It is to defend us from France and popery’, and although a great sum would be needed to pay for it, ‘the nation cannot be saved without it’. Moreover, when the Tory Admiralty commissioner Lord Falkland (Anthony Carey*) was accused on 7 Dec. of misappropriation of funds, Sedley spoke against an investigation, asserting that ‘I find this lord has done nothing but as first commissioner of the Admiralty and paid it accordingly’. Sedley was probably a member of the Whig Rose Club in 1694, and his contacts there may have further bolstered his support for the ministry. On 17 Jan. 1694 he was a teller on the Court side in a successful motion against retaining a clause relating to hospitals in the land tax bill. Sedley did not share the agitation of some Members on hearing of the King’s veto of the place bill. Described by Bonet as ‘un des plus sensez de la compagnie’, Sedley told the Members in the debate on 26 Jan. that they were behaving as children who refused to eat their dinner, having had their toys taken away from them. The King’s answer to the Commons’ address which had objected to the loss of the bill was debated on 1 Feb. Only the beginning of Sedley’s speech survives, but it was apparently another defence of the King’s prerogative: ‘I know not how a crowned head can descend to other answer. But an offender at the bar may be expected to say he will do no more.’ A pamphlet by Sedley, A Modest Plea for Some Exercises [sic] . . . in Order to the Avoiding of a Land Tax for the Year 1694, combined support for the excises desired by ministers in 1694 with Sedley’s traditional Country opposition to a land tax. His performances in the Commons in support of the Court may almost certainly be linked with the report in May that he was to be made a viscount and with his son’s appointment as a cupbearer in June, a position he held until Sedley’s death in 1701.14

In the 1694–5 session, Sedley was listed among Henry Guy’s* supporters in connexion with the Commons’ investigation of Guy for corruption. Sedley’s parliamentary career almost ended in 1695. In October he wrote to the mayor of New Romney, offering himself for re-election. He was aware that his lengthy stays in London meant he was something of a stranger to his constituency, but he insisted that this had given him the opportunity to be diligent in his attendance at Parliament and to represent the town’s interests. He also asserted his independence: ‘I have principally endeavoured to appear a true Englishman, both as to the Church and state, without regarding smiles or frowns, when they come in competition with my duty to my country in the House of Commons’. This was not enough to secure his re-election and he lost, apparently by one vote. Sedley regained his seat a year later, on 27 Nov. 1696, in a by-election held when the successful candidate, Sir William Twisden, 3rd Bt., chose to sit for another constituency. Sedley therefore missed the debates of 1695–6 but would no doubt have voted for the national land bank set up in 1696, since he subscribed at least £3,000 to it. The suspicion that he was sympathic towards Jacobitism in the spring of 1696 would appear to be without foundation, being based on the fact that one of his tenants was interrogated for allegedly smuggling Jacobites. Moreover, Sedley’s interview with William on 6 May 1696, when the King was ‘pleased to tell him . . . that you would let him know to whom he should apply as to a promise formerly made’, although obscure, indicates his certain favour at court.15

Sedley wasted no time after taking his seat in re-entering the parliamentary fray, speaking on 1 Dec. 1696 in favour of the Court proposal for further customs duties. In the next session, on 8 Jan. 1698, he spoke in the supply debate on providing for guards and garrisons. This debate reopened the question of the vote on 10 Dec. 1697 that all land forces raised since 1680 be disbanded, against which Sedley appears to have spoken, although notes on the rest of his speech are obscure. The next day, during which there was ‘a Godly fit in the House against immorality and profaneness and against Socinian books’, Sedley was one of the ‘pious’ Members appointed to a committee to address the King for the suppression of such licentiousness. Having been re-elected in 1698, Sedley was listed as a Court supporter in an analysis of the old and new Commons. In confirmation of this, he made a speech on 6 Dec. in the debate on a standing army. He began by explaining that he had supported the government on the army during the war but now peace had been declared, a strong navy would protect the nation. Despite this apparent agreement with opposition arguments, Sedley ended by proposing an establishment of 10,000 men which, although smaller than the present army, was rather more than Harley’s proposed 7,000. However, without a lead from the Court, he ‘was but faintly seconded’ and failed to gain a hearing. On 23 Dec. Sedley spoke against the immediate committal of the disbanding bill, and at its third reading on 18 Jan. 1699, again spoke and voted against it. In the debate on supply on 23 Feb., he seems to have argued that it was up to the King, who had accepted the numbers approved by Parliament, to decide what sort of troops they should be. He did, however, express some reservations about the size of the army, warning that an increase in numbers during peacetime ‘would amount to a dec[laration] of war on the people’, whereas in war it was convenient to be able to increase numbers suddenly. When the theme of morality re-emerged in this session in debate on 12 Jan. on the bill proposed by (Sir) John Philipps (4th Bt.) against ‘debauchery and profaneness’, one cynic wrote some weeks later that it was ‘the loosest livers’, including Sedley, who voted for the unsuccessful bill. In March Sedley took an interest in measures to prevent the corrupt mixing of wines, being first-named to a committee to draft a bill which he presented on 18 Apr. He was listed as an adherent of the Court Whig Hon. Henry Boyle* in an analysis of the House of early 1700, which reflects his known politics, although no other connexion between the two men has been discovered. Sedley’s continued loyalty to the King was expressed in a poem, dated about 1700, ‘To the King on his Birthday’, which sang William’s praises and defended the time he spent overseas. In his letter to the New Romney mayor in December that year, seeking support for his candidacy at the forthcoming election, Sedley was able to claim zealousness in religious matters and also pointed to his past service for the corporation in representing their interests in legislation of local consequence and acting for the concerns of the nation ‘which are at present more nice and intricate than ever’. Sedley was duly returned in January 1701, but despite having insisted in his letter on his fitness, his health may have already begun to deteriorate, affecting his performance in the Commons. On 10 Feb., in the debate on the choice of Speaker, he spoke ‘foolishly’ in favour of the Court’s choice, Harley, and on 23 Apr., in the debate on supply, Sedley’s (and others’) ‘notions were all loose . . . in relation to their discourses’. He died near the end of August 1701, his burial taking place on the 26th at Southfleet Church. On the evidence of his parliamentary actions in his last years, his reconciliation to the Church would appear to have been genuine, although Sarah, Lady Cowper, reserved judgment. After his death she wrote that he was ‘infamous for atheism, but ’tis to be hoped he long since has deserved a more favourable character’, adding that she had a prayer and a sermon written by Sedley, ‘but with what sincerity he did either I can make no conclusion’. Sedley’s will confirmed the settlement, made in September 1699, of his estate on his son, Charles, and on his son’s heirs. His great-grandson, Sir Charles Sedley, 2nd Bt., sat for Nottingham during the reigns of George II and George III.16

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Sonya Wynne


Unless otherwise indicated, this biography is based on V. de Sola Pinto, Sir Charles Sedley.

  • 1. Westminster City Archs. Centre, St. Clement Danes par. reg.
  • 2. Centre Kentish Stud. New Romney bor. recs. NR/Ac2, New Romney common assembly bk. 1622–1702.
  • 3. New Romney bor. recs. NR/Aep 55/4, 56/4, Sedley to corporation, 13 Dec. 1688, 20 Feb. [1690]; Shaw, Knights, ii. 264; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1986; Grey, x. 199.
  • 4. Grey, 40, 114, 131, 138, 142, 142a; Bodl. Rawl. A.79, ff. 75, 82, 89.
  • 5. Trinity, Dublin, Clarke mss 749/3/296, T. Maule to George Clarke*, 15 Nov. 1690; BN, Renaudot mss (N. Ac. Fr.) 7492/421; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 3310, ‘Sir Charles Sedley’s speech’; PRO NI, De Ros mss D/638/13/1, John Pulteney* to Thomas Coningsby*, 23 Dec. 1690.
  • 6. Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 158; Works of Sir Charles Sedley ed. de Sola Pinto, i. 29; Bodl. Carte 79, f. 405.
  • 7. Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/1, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 27 Oct.1691; Luttrell Diary, 8, 25, 32, 52, 55, 61, 204; D. Rubini, Court and Country, 76; Hopkins thesis, 214; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 71–72; Grey, 171, 198–9, 204, 225.
  • 8. Grey, 219; Luttrell Diary, 75, 99, 128; Carte 130, ff. 335–6; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 685.
  • 9. Luttrell Diary, 76, 91, 113–14, 117, 123, 132, 136, 150; Grey, 225, 226 (misdated 11 Jan.); Cobbett, 745–8.
  • 10. Luttrell Diary, 144–5, 164, 171–2, 174, 185, 187, 198, 204–5; Works of Sir Charles Sedley, 26–27.
  • 11. Works of Sir Charles Sedley, 32–33; N. and Q. ccxxxix. 176–85.
  • 12. Luttrell Diary, 222, 233, 237, 244, 253, 265, 272, 274, 287, 290, 294, 310, 324, 336; Grey, x. 245–6, 251, 255; Carte 130, f. 340; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 2385, debate, 23 Nov. 1692; Cobbett, 747–8.
  • 13. Luttrell Diary, 390–1, 398, 406, 409, 413–14, 430, 464; Grey, 299, 304–5; Carte 79, f. 483; Cobbett, 757–8, 763–4.
  • 14. Grey, 341, 353, 379, 383; Horwitz, 209; Ranke, vi. 237; Works of Sir Charles Sedley, i. p. xxvi; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 307; info. from Prof. R. O. Bucholz; Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 1003.
  • 15. New Romney bor. recs. NR/AEp/57/1, Sedley to Peter Martin, 10 Oct. 1695; Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 31 Oct. 1695; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/29, James Vernon I* to Duke of Shrewsbury, 30 Nov. 1696; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Bank of Eng. pprs. 31.1.7, f. 97; info. from Dr P. A. Hopkins.
  • 16. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 91; ii. 235; Cam. Misc. xxix. 358, 380, 385, 397; Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/177, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 8 Jan. 1697–8; Carte 130, ff. 389, 399; Sir C. Sedley, Miscellaneous Works (1702), 4–5; Works of Sir Charles Sedley, 38; New Romney bor. recs. NR/AEp/59/2, Sedley to mayor of New Romney, 21 Dec. [1700]; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss, D/EP F29, p. 129; Bodl. North C.8. f. 12; Bunyan Studies, iv. 66–69.