SEYMOUR (afterwards PORTMAN), Henry (c.1637-1728), of Orchard Portman, Som. and Bryanston, Dorset
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. c.1637, 5th s. of Sir Edward Seymour, 3rd Bt.†; bro. of Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.* m. (1) c.Jan. 1691, Penelope, da. and coh. of Sir William Haslewood of Maidwell, Northants. s.p.; (2) 31 July 1714, aged 77, Meliora, da. of John Fitch, Grocer, of London and Lower Henbury, Dorset, s.p. suc. cos. Sir William Portman, 6th Bt.*, in Som. and Dorset estates and took name of Portman 1690.1
Ensign, Guernsey garrison by 1662, lt. of ft. 1669; capt. of ft. Duke of Buckingham’s regt. 1672–3.
Keeper of Hyde Park 1703–d.
Shortly after the 1690 election Seymour assumed the surname and property of his cousin, Sir William Portman. A warrant to this effect, valuing the estate at £8,000, was passed on 19 Apr. 1690, and the following spring Portman enhanced his status by marrying the sister and coheiress of Lady Hatton, a match no doubt assisted by his earlier military service in Guernsey during Lord Hatton’s governorship. At about this time an informer claimed that Portman was ‘well inclined’ to James II, though the real extent of any such sympathy is difficult to gauge. Having been returned for St. Mawes and Totnes in 1690, he opted to sit for the latter; and, since this choice was communicated in writing, it may be assumed that he was absent at the beginning of the session. Lord Carmarthen classed him as a Court Tory, and in December forecast that he would support him in the event of a Commons’ attack on his ministerial position, an assessment that is somewhat surprising given the hostility of Portman’s brother towards Carmarthen. In April 1691 Robert Harley* listed Portman as a Country party supporter. He does not appear to have been particularly active in the routine business of the House, though he was later described as ‘a sedulous attender always’ and ‘hearty for old England on its ancient basis’. In November 1692 he wrote to the borough of Totnes in support of his brother’s candidate for the by-election there, Thomas Coulson*. At the 1695 election Portman stood for Taunton, hoping to exploit the electoral influence of nearby property, but was ‘laid aside’ by only a handful of votes. Although he petitioned against the result, he was forced to wait until a by-election the following year before he could return to Westminster for St. Mawes. He is alleged to have spent his time out of the House with the ‘association’ of 30 MPs who met in the summer and winter of 1695 to play cards and drink wine, a group of High Tories who were resolved to ‘stick close to each other and not to give subsidies for to carry on the war’. He may well have shared their views, but the social side may have been equally important for he was later described as a ‘jovial companion’ who ‘indulged his appetites’ and was a lover of French wines. He was granted leave of absence on 19 Mar. 1697 and 12 Apr. 1698.2
Portman again joined battle with the Whigs at Taunton in 1698, this time successfully. His narrow victory was perhaps due to the ‘united strength and influence of the gentlemen of these parts’, such as Francis Gwyn*, Sir Francis Warre, 1st Bt.*, Nathaniel Palmer* and Sir John Trevelyan, 2nd Bt.*, who were present to support him. Although Gwyn thought that Portman would be ‘unanimously chose knight of the shire’ for Somerset, he having appeared at Taunton ‘very honestly . . . upon the desire of his friends only’, it was just as well that he had, for a few days later he lost the county election ‘very extraordinarily’. No doubt sharing his brother’s views, he was forecast as a likely opponent of a standing army, and as a Country supporter, though it is unlikely that he was the Henry Seymour against whom objections were made in 1699 for having bought property at Corfe Castle in order to obtain a vote in elections there. In January 1699 Portman wrote a letter to Taunton corporation assuring them of his ‘readiness to promote and forward’ the Tone navigation bill, but he was not appointed by name to any of its committee stages, though the second-reading committee was open to all Somerset Members.3
At the election of January 1701 Portman was elected for both Taunton and Wells, and opted to represent the latter, where he was thought to have enough influence to procure the election of any desired candidate. Evidently he also felt confident enough that he had sufficiently established his interest in the borough to bring in his friend, Sir Francis Warre. Following his brother’s lead, Portman supported the resolution in February 1701 of the committee of supply to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’, was blacklisted as having opposed preparations for war with France, and favoured the motion on 26 Feb. 1702 vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of the previous session.4
Sharing the return to favour enjoyed by Sir Edward Seymour at the accession of Queen Anne, Portman was appointed in June 1703 as keeper of Hyde Park, with an annual salary of £200. Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) forecast his support over the Scotch Plot in March 1704. Portman was listed by Harley to be lobbied over the Tack, but nevertheless voted for the measure on 28 Nov. Perhaps sheltered by his brother’s influence, Portman did not, however, lose his place, nor his seat at the 1705 election, for which he had hurried down to Bryanston. He was categorized as ‘True Church’, a label borne out by his patronage of Thomas Naish, a Wiltshire High Churchman who actively opposed Bishop Burnet during elections.5
Portman voted against the Court candidate as Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705. He was nominated on 9 Jan. 1707 to the committee to draft a bill settling a pension of £5,000 p.a. on the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†). This perhaps indicates some willingness to support the Godolphin ministry despite his brother’s earlier divergence from it. Returned for Somerset in 1708, Portman was listed as a Tory and as a Tacker in analyses of the new Parliament. In 1710 he voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, and in the summer he entertained other High Tories, such as George Clarke* and Richard Hill. Marked as a Tory on the ‘Hanover list’, Portman was returned ‘for the Church’ at Taunton, and successfully fought off an election petition. He was counted as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who in the first session of this Parliament detected the mismanagements of the previous administration. In the summer of 1711 he was involved in some commercial transaction with his ‘cousin’ Sir William Gifford* concerning ‘painted cloth’, and again went into the country to entertain High Tory MPs such as Sir John Trevelyan, Sir Coplestone Bampfylde, 3rd Bt., Sir Francis Warre (his close partner at Taunton) and Sir James Wishart*, all of whom formed a ‘good company of worthy gentlemen’. On 18 June 1713 he voted in favour of the French commerce bill. He was re-elected in 1713, though it was his activity outside the House rather than within it that attracted contemporary comment, for in August 1714 he married a girl of 14, over 60 years his junior. She was reputed a ‘beauty who has for her fortune £1,500’, though Portman was himself described as ‘a gentleman of considerable fortune’.6
Although returned again in 1715, and marked as a Tory on the Worsley list, Portman was unseated on petition and never regained his seat. He died on 23 Feb. 1728 and left £10,000 to his wife, with further bequests of £30 to Sir John Trevelyan and (Sir) Peter Mews*, and £40 to Gifford. Part of his large estate was to have passed to his nephew William Seymour*, but William died a few weeks before his uncle and instead the property was inherited by William Berkeley, the son of Edward Berkeley*, who in 1708 had married the daughter of Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt. William Berkeley’s son William Henry Portman entered Parliament in 1734.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Mark Knights
- 1. Morrice ent’ring bk. 3, p. 228.
- 2. Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 23; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 561; Westminster Diocesan Archs. Old Brotherhood mss III/3, info. of Capt. Lloyd; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 26, f. 417; HMC 3rd Rep. p. 347; BL, Althorp mss, Halifax pprs. box 10, Francis Gwyn to Mq. of Halifax (William Savile*, Ld. Eland), 7 Nov. 1695; Ailesbury Mems. i. 359; Cunningham, Hist. GB, ii. 200.
- 3. Som. RO, Sanford mss DD/SF 3833, Edward Clarke* to his sis. 1 Aug. 1698; DD/SF 1093(20), John Parsons to Clarke, 25 Jan.1699; Althorp mss, Halifax pprs. box 4, Gwyn to Halifax, 1, 10 Aug. 1698.
- 4. HMC Cowper, ii. 421.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1703–4, p. 454; Cal. Treas. Bks. xix. 101; Wilts. Arch. Soc. xx. 13, 69.
- 6. Wilts. Arch. Soc. 69; Add. 70421, Dyer’s newsletter 17 Oct. 1710; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Manvers mss 4376, Gifford letterbk. Gifford to Portman, 8 Aug., 24 Aug. 1711, Portman to Gifford, n.d, 19 Aug. 1711; HMC Portland, v. 484.
- 7. PCC 159 Brook; Collinson, Som. iii. 282.