SELWYN, William (c.1658-1702), of Matson and Stonehouse, Glos., and Cleveland Court, St. James’s, 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



1698 - Nov. 1701

Family and Education

b. c.1658, 3rd but o. surv. s. of William Selwyn of Matson by Margaret, da. of Edward Nourse of Gloucester.  educ. Oriel, Oxf. matric. 11 Apr. 1674, aged 16.  m. 26 May 1681, Albinia (d. 1738), da. of Richard Bettenson of Scadbury Park, Kent, sis. and coh. of Sir Edward Bettenson, 2nd Bt., 3s. 3da.  suc. fa. 1679.1

Offices Held

Capt. 1 Ft. Gds. 1681–87, lt.-col. 1687; col. of ft. 1689; gov. Gravesend and Tilbury 1690–d.; col. 2 Ft. 1691–1701, 22 Ft. 1701–d.; brig.-gen. 1695, maj.-gen. 1702.2

Freeman, Gloucester 1698.3

Gov. of Jamaica 1701–d.4


Selwyn’s family had been settled in Gloucestershire since the late 16th century when his great-grandfather, a prosperous London lawyer, acquired estates at Matson, two miles from Gloucester, and at Stonehouse, near Stroud. His father was one of a handful of local gentlemen drafted on to Gloucester’s corporation under its charter of 1672, and in 1675 he became the city’s mayor. Although assured of a comfortable estate, Selwyn chose an army career and saw early service in the Netherlands. He had returned to England by 1681, when he secured a captaincy in the foot guards. As a man of Whiggish inclination, it must have been a source of some embarrassment to recall that he had been an officer on guard at the execution of the Whig hero Lord Russell (Hon. William†) in 1683. In November 1688 Selwyn was part of the escort accompanying Princess Anne during her flight from London, but was back with King James’s army the following month when, hearing of the King’s flight, he joined other officers in pledging their support to William of Orange, promising to maintain discipline in the forces as they awaited his instructions. As an immediate reward for his services he was promoted to full colonel of foot at the end of December. In 1690 he was made governor of the Tilbury and Gravesend garrisons, and the next year was given his own regiment. The Tory Earl of Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†) was later to allege in his memoirs that Selwyn, whom he dismissed as being ‘of little merit and service’, had covertly purchased both the governorship and the regiment from the Earl of Marlborough (John Churchill†) for 2,000 guineas. He was on active service throughout the war in both Ireland and Flanders, though somewhat inexplicably he was seen in Jacobite circles as a potential supporter of their cause, having, according to their informants in January 1694, indicated his readiness to hand over the forts of Tilbury and Gravesend in the event of a rising. In July 1695, while commanding under the King at Namur, he was promoted to brigadier-general of foot.5

After the conclusion of war had relieved him from active service abroad, Selwyn was able to enter Parliament for Gloucester in 1698. A Whig, he was classed as a placeman and Court supporter in lists drawn up in around September, and on 18 Jan. 1699 he voted for the standing army. Provision for the poor appears to have been an area of special interest to him; quite apart from being appointed to a committee on the issue on 20 Dec. 1698, he rescued Gloucester’s Sir Thomas Rich Hospital from its ‘sinking condition’ in 1699 with an interest-free loan of £100, for which he was warmly thanked by the corporation. During the brief 1701 Parliament he was listed as likely to support the Court in agreeing with a supply resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’. He twice acted as a teller: on 21 Mar. on the Whig side in favour of thanking the King specifically for his ‘care of these nations and the peace of Europe’; and on 12 May against considering a report in favour of the Tory candidates in the disputed election at Lichfield. In July he was appointed governor of Jamaica with a salary of £2,000 p.a., having been spoken of for the post as early as March. The government appears to have been anxious to replace the civilian governor with an experienced army officer who would be more fit to command in the event of attacks from the French. The salary was also welcome to Selwyn since he had recently arranged his daughter’s marriage with John Hanbury*, the wealthy iron master, which as he told her, ‘has made me strain my pocket to enlarge your portion beyond what I am well able or had designed’. His determination to ensure he had adequate instructions and provisions to improve the island’s poor defences delayed his departure until November, and on finally arriving on 21 Jan. 1702, he found everything ‘in disorder and confusion’. According to the author of The Groans of Jamaica (1714), he dealt briskly with the ‘designing’ machinations of the two most senior army officers on the island, declaring it his intention to govern ‘all the time . . . during my stay here’. He died very soon afterwards, however, on 5 Apr. 1702, having proved himself ‘a gentleman of a very goodly preserve, of bright natural parts, and very good acquired endowments; an excellent soldier; impartial in the administration of justice, frugal without parsimony, and generous without prodigality’. His body was brought back to England and buried at Matson. His sons John and Charles, both army officers, were courtier-MPs under the first two Hanoverian monarchs.6

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Paula Watson / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. PCC 167 Herne; Vis. Glos. ed. Fenwick and Metcalfe, 160–2; IGI, Kent; F. Cundall, Govs. of Jamaica 18th Cent. 10.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 544; 1690–1, p. 96; 1700–2, p. 383.
  • 3. Gloucester Freemen (Glos. Rec. Ser. iv), 51.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 404.
  • 5. VCH Glos. iv. 441, x. 276; Trans. Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. ii. 260–2; CSP Dom. 1687–9, p. 377; 1689–90, p. 544; Ailesbury Mems. i. 245; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, i. 473; Dalrymple, Mems. iii. pt. 3, 91.
  • 6. Glos. RO, Gloucester bor. recs. GBR/B3/7, f. 230; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 28; Add. 40775, f. 3; CSP Dom. 1700–2, pp. 452, 496; Cundall, 1–11.