STONHOUSE, Sir John, 3rd Bt. (?1672-1733), of Radley, Berks.
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Family and Education
b. ?1672, 1st s. of Sir John Stonhouse, 2nd Bt.†, of Radley by Martha, da. and h. of Robert Brigges, merchant, of St. Paul’s Churchyard, London, wid. of Richard Spencer, Vintner, of Berry Street, Aldgate, London. educ. Queen’s, Oxf. matric. 12 Apr. 1690, aged 17;1 I. Temple 1690. m. (1) 1695, Mary (d. 1705), da. and event. h. of Henry Mellish of Sanderstead, Surr., 1s. d.v.p. 3da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 29 Aug. 1706, Penelope, da. of Sir Robert Dashwood, 1st Bt.*, 3s. 7da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. 1700.2
Freeman, Abingdon 1700, Oxford 1701; steward and bailiff, hundreds of Ock and Moreton, Berks. 1700–d.3
Comptroller of Household 1713–14; PC 17 Aug. 1713.4
The Stonhouse family had been resident at Radley since the mid-16th century, when George Stonhouse, an official in Elizabeth I’s household, purchased the estate from the crown. Radley’s proximity to Abingdon gave the family the predominant interest in the borough, Stonhouse’s grandfather and father monopolizing the parliamentary representation for 30 years after the Restoration. Little is known of Stonhouse’s activities during the 1690s when his father was still alive, except that he married his own half-sister. It seems probable, however, that by the time Stonhouse considered entering Parliament, he felt unable or unwilling to challenge the rising Tory politician, Simon Harcourt I*, who had succeeded Stonhouse senior at Abingdon. Indeed, the first hint of political activity occurred only in 1699 when he was made a freeman of Oxford, a privilege he seems not to have taken up until 1701. He was a deputy-lieutenant, and if his searching for weapons in 1705 is typical, a diligent one. Moreover, he had strong contacts with the Berkshire Tories, another half-sister having married William Jennens*. Some commentators expected him to stand for the county in January 1701, but he preferred to bide his time, being returned unopposed at the general election the following November.5
The political affiliations of the new knight of the shire were readily apparent to contemporary observers such as Robert Harley*, whose analysis of the new House listed Stonhouse with the Tories, and the compiler who included him on the ‘white list’ of Members voting on 26 Feb. 1702 in favour of the motion vindicating the Commons in their proceedings over the impeachments of William III’s ministers. Returned again in 1702, Stonhouse demonstrated his ability to toe the party line. On 13 Feb. 1703 he voted against agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill enlarging the time allowed to take the abjuration oath. In October 1704 he was listed as a probable supporter of the Tack, and voted for it on 28 Nov. The 1704–5 session also saw him act as a teller for the first time, on 22 Feb. 1705, against the naturalization bill. The repercussions of the Tack troubled Stonhouse sufficiently for him to disseminate copies of the occasional conformity bill via several influential clergy in Berkshire, because ‘he was informed that he had been misrepresented upon the account of that bill’, and wished to set the record straight. Stonhouse’s concern was probably justified as his Whig opponent was named first in the return to the 1705 general election, an indication that he himself may have been forced into second place in the poll. His support for the Tack no doubt explains the description of him as ‘True Church’ on a list of the new House. He voted on 25 Oct. 1705 against the Court candidate as Speaker, and at the end of the Parliament was classed as a Tory.6
Stonhouse was returned for the county without a contest in 1708. If this outcome was the result of an agreement between the parties, it did not entail any commitment from Stonhouse to promote reconciliation in the House. He was willing to arrive in London for the start of proceedings in the Commons, in order to support William Bromley II for the Speakership, but was annoyed when the challenge was allowed to lapse for tactical reasons. His three tellerships during the 1708–9 session are evidence of a higher profile in the chamber on party matters. On 18 and 20 Jan. 1709 he told for the Tory interest in his family’s old seat at Abingdon where (Sir) Simon Harcourt I faced a Whig petitioner in a hostile Commons. On both occasions he told for the losing side, as again on 1 Mar. when acting as a teller for the Tories on a question regarding the franchise at Coventry. He was among the seven Members appointed on 3 February to prepare an Oxfordshire road bill. In the 1709–10 session Stonhouse was involved in the management of a bill for registering deeds and conveyances in Berkshire which had been instigated by a petition from the county’s assizes, but, owing to the weight of opposition, it never emerged from committee. His only tellership during this session occurred on 25 Jan. 1710, against a motion ordering the town clerk of Beaumaris into custody for refusing the committee of privileges’ request to inspect the borough’s records. As might have been expected he voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. Running parallel to the proceedings on this emotive event was a family matter involving Stonhouse. During the committee stage of a private bill in the Lords on 16 Feb., relating to the estate of his recently deceased relative, William Jennens, Stonhouse accepted nomination as a trustee. When the bill reached the Commons he was the first Member appointed on 27 Feb. to the second-reading committee, although he left its management to others.7
Stonhouse found a new Tory partner for the general election of 1710, joining with the new secretary of state, Henry St. John II*. It has been suggested that St. John ‘quickly acquired great influence’ over Stonhouse, a view made plausible by their political fellowship in the years that followed, but which was by no means obvious in the opening session of the new Parliament. Indeed, one might characterize Stonhouse during 1710–11 as a committed Tory back-bencher, keen to eradicate the signs of Whig misrule while generally supporting the ministry. He was classed as a Tory on the ‘Hanover list’ and appeared on both the ‘white list’ of Tory patriots who opposed a continuation of the war and the list of ‘worthy patriots’ who had helped to detect the mismanagements of the previous administration. Particularly significant in this respect was Stonhouse’s speech on 12 Dec. in support of a bill to secure the freedom of Parliaments by setting a property qualification of £500 p.a. for membership, which he was duly ordered to prepare. Both the Tory newsletter-writer John Dyer and Sir James Dunbar, 1st Bt.*, saw this as a move to block Edward Wortley Montagu’s* place bill, the second reading of which was put off that day. In this context, Stonhouse’s tellership on 29 Jan. 1711 against the third reading of Montagu’s place bill was consistent with his support for the qualification bill and with the ministry’s view that the place bill should be opposed. Stonhouse’s tellership against the place bill and support for the option of a property qualification, together with his links to Harcourt and St. John, suggest a closer association with the Court than most back-benchers. He was certainly not averse to socializing with Lord Keeper Harcourt, or other pro-ministerial Tories such as Thomas Rowney*. Indeed, among Harley’s numerous jottings, a memorandum dated 4 June 1711 contains an ambiguous reference to Stonhouse which may suggest he was a possible candidate for office.8
The 1711–12 session perhaps shows Stonhouse steadily moving towards the ministry. Evidence that Stonhouse was close to the ministry can be seen in Harley’s lobbying memorandum in 1712, probably compiled in preparation for the attack on the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), where Stonhouse was listed as a canvasser of opinion, rather than as a recipient of political pressure. Indeed, it was Stonhouse who began the attack on Marlborough when the House took into consideration the report of the public accounts commissioners on 24 Jan. His final act during the session occurred on 28 Feb. when he was a teller on a motion adjourning a call of the House for a further week.9
In the 1713 session, Stonhouse was one of the speakers on 11 Apr. in favour of an address for the treaties of peace and commerce to be laid before the Commons. According to the published division lists, he voted on 18 June 1713 for the French commerce bill. However, this evidence was contradicted in a letter from William Brydges, written on 21 June, in which it was noted that ‘Sir J. Stonho[use], Sir T[homas] H[anmer], Free[ma]n, Caes[a]r and abundance of the Coun[tr]y par[t]y voted against the bill for rendr[ing] effect[ive] the 8 and 9 articles’. It should be noted that according to the printed lists Charles Caesar also voted for the bill. What Brydges’ comments illustrate is that Stonhouse could be associated with both the Court and Country wings of the Tory party. The interpretation which regards him as increasingly orientated towards the Court is strengthened by his appearance on 22 June 1713 to propose an address to the Queen that the army should not evacuate the towns held in Flanders until those to be placed under the sovereignty of the Spanish Netherlands had given British subjects the same trading rights enjoyed by other nationals. This motion had the dual advantage of demonstrating sensitivity towards British commercial interests while at the same time issuing a warning to the Dutch and Austrian negotiators meeting at Ostend.10
In August 1713, barely one month after the prorogation of Parliament, Stonhouse was appointed comptroller of the Household and sworn a Privy Councillor. Most comments from foreign diplomats reported his promotion in terms of the credit he possessed in the Commons and his attachment to the ministry, and particularly to St. John. It seems very likely that he was not a natural courtier, for on 18 Aug. Lord Raby went to a Council meeting at Windsor and met ‘a face I did not know with a white staff, whom I soon heard to be Sir John Stonhouse’. Despite his new status, Stonhouse faced no opposition at the general election of 1713. In the 1714 session, Stonhouse seems to have become a ministerial advocate. Two of his interventions in debate are recorded. On 15 Apr. 1714 he spoke in the committee of the whole on the state of the nation with regard to the Protestant succession, although what he said is unknown apart from the fact he was noted by one observer as a ‘courtier’. On 22 Apr. he spoke in favour of the Commons concurring with an address from the Lords which thanked the Queen for procuring an honourable and advantageous peace and so delivering the country from a burdensome war. The gist of his intervention was a defence of the conclusion of a separate peace: ‘success in war would have been our ruin, being our allies did not perform their parts in the war there was no reason we should provide or take care of them at the end of it’. He then enumerated the gains made by the Emperor, the Dutch and the English. He was included among those named in May to draft a Reading road bill, and more importantly the schism bill, the latter demonstrating perhaps that in the deep divisions besetting the Tory ministry during the first half of 1714 Stonhouse sided with St. John (now Viscount Bolingbroke) against Harley (now Earl of Oxford). His reward for backing the victor in this struggle seems likely to have been advancement to the Treasury Board, for, according to Swift, in the days immediately before Queen Anne’s death, his name was touted as a member of a revived commission. Unfortunately for Stonhouse, the Queen’s death destroyed such hopes and he was dismissed by the new regime. Not surprisingly, he was classed as a Tory on the Worsley list and on a list comparing the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments.11
Stonhouse retained his seat until his death on 10 Oct. 1733, although his attendance in the chamber seems to have been fitful at best. As early as 1705 he had been linked with Jacobite intrigue and his name was sent to the Pretender in 1721, as a possible supporter, but there is no evidence of committed Jacobite activity. Indeed, he seems to have lived contentedly at Radley, engaging in numerous profitable activities. He owned stock in the South Sea Company, for in 1724, together with three others, including Sir John Evelyn, 1st Bt. (who had married another of his half-sisters), he empowered an attorney to receive the dividend on the £6,000 of stock held jointly by them. Agricultural improvement, including enclosure, was another of his profitable undertakings. Such income-generating activity was no doubt essential to finance the rebuilding of Radley Hall, into which he moved shortly before his death. As late as 1729–30 he was actively engaged in a Chancery suit over the Act making the Thames navigable from Burcot to Oxford, probably over the question of compensation. Hearne reported Stonhouse’s death, from a ‘lingering distemper’ adding that ‘he was an honest man, and improved his estate much by his skill in husbandry, in which he took great delight. The poor labourers will miss him much, he being a constant employer of such.’ The bulk of his estate descended to his eldest son, John, in whom the Stonhouse baronetcies were united in 1740, when his cousin, also John, the 6th baronet of the original creation, died.12
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Cf. Hearne Colls. xi. 267, where his age at death is given as 64.
- 2. J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London (London and Mdx. Arch. Soc.), 154; Manning and Bray, Surr. ii. 575; Wotton, Baronetage, ii. 84; Hearne Colls. iv. 332; Hist. Reg. Chron. 1728, p. 38.
- 3. Abingdon bor. recs. 10 Dec. 1700; Oxford Council Acts (Oxford Hist. Soc. n.s. ii), 305; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxi. 560.
- 4. Boyer, Pol. State, vi. 123; London Gazette, 15–18 Aug. 1713.
- 5. VCH Berks. iv. 410, 412; Oxford Council Acts, 287; CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 249; HMC Lords, n.s. vi. 417; BL, Trumbull Add. mss 131, Rev. John Power to Sir William Trumbull*, 7 Jan. 1700–1.
- 6. Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 14, f. 297; Trumbull Add. mss 135, Power to Trumbull, 5 Mar. 1704–5.
- 7. G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 303; HMC Lords, n.s. viii. 339.
- 8. Trumbull Add. mss 133, St. John to Trumbull, 2, 20 June, 9 Sept. 1710; Holmes, 264; SRO, Mar and Kellie mss GD124/15/1020/2, Dunbar to Ld. Grange (Hon. James Erskine†), 15 Dec. 1710; Add. 70421, newsletter 12 Dec. 1710; 70331–3 memorandum, 4 June 1711; G. Holmes, Pol. Relig. and Soc. 50; HMC Portland, iv. 694; vii. 34.
- 9. Add. 70331–3, canvassing list c.1712; Scots Courant, 30 Jan.–1 Feb. 1712; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 6, f. 96.
- 10. Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 7, ff. 129–30; Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford), Brydges mss A81/IV/23/b, William to Francis Brydges, 21 June 1713; NSA, Kreienberg despatch 23 June 1713.