THOMPSON, William III (c.1676-1739), of the Middle Temple

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



29 Jan. 1709 - 1710
1713 - 1 Apr. 1714
1715 - 15 Nov. 1729

Family and Education

b. c.1676, 2nd s. of Sir William Thompson, serjeant-at-law, of the Middle Temple by Mary Stephens of Bermondsey, Surr.  educ. Brentwood g.s.; Trinity Coll., Camb. adm. 25 Apr. 1691, aged 14, BA 1695; M. Temple 1688, called 1698; L. Inn 1719.  m. (1) lic. 16 July 1701, Joyce Brent, wid., of St. Clement Danes, Mdx., s.p.; (2) 7 Nov. 1710, Julia, da. of Sir Christopher Conyers, 2nd Bt., of Horden, co. Dur., wid. of Sir William Blackett, 1st Bt.*, s.p.  Kntd. 18 July 1715.1

Offices Held

Recorder, Ipswich 1707–d., London 1715–d.; solicitor-gen. 1717–20; cursitor baron of Exchequer 1726–Nov. 1729; serjeant-at-law 1729; baron of Exchequer Nov. 1729–d.


Although he had been made recorder for life by Ipswich corporation in 1707, Thompson did not put up there in the general election the following year but instead was recommended by (Sir) Thomas Felton* (4th Bt.) at Orford, where, despite making full use of Felton’s name and interest, he received only three votes. This outcome caused much merriment, and it was thought that Thompson had been ‘baffled . . . at Ipswich by turning him off to . . . where they knew he could have no prospect of success’. When he petitioned, however, his opponents were quick to offer ‘terms’. He carried his petition, and was listed as having voted for the naturalization of the Palatines, being perhaps a teller on 7 Mar. 1709 against a Tory amendment to the bill to prevent naturalized persons from standing or voting at parliamentary elections. He was given a month’s leave of absence on 12 Mar. to carry out his legal duties. It was reported in August that Lord Somers (Sir John*) ‘designs to assume his recordership [of Orford] and that Thomp[son] is to be his deputy’, but nothing came of this. Named on 14 Dec. 1709 to the committee to draw up the articles of impeachment against Dr Sacheverell, he spoke on 11 Jan. 1710 against the recommittal of the articles, and naturally voted for the impeachment. Thompson’s part in the presentation of the case against Sacheverell was to speak on 1 Mar. to the ‘Church in danger’ article, and in a ‘fine, elaborate speech’ he set about proving the accusation

from the general scope of the sermon, which charged these dangers upon false brethren in Church and state, which were part of her Majesty’s administration . . . which must be persons in power and authority, otherwise they could not be capable of accomplishing the design of uniting the Dissenters and the Church.

Defending the ministry’s religious policy, he asked:

Is there any invasion or attempt upon the liturgy, even the least ceremony of the Church, or any part of her ecclesiastical constitution? Are her revenues impaired or any of her temporal rights violated? No . . . But our royal sovereign has distinguished her care for this Church in a more peculiar manner than any of her predecessors.

He blundered, however, in stating that he had not been able to find in his own Bible a text quoted in Sacheverell’s sermon, which ‘created a laugh’ that almost put him ‘to the blush’. During the reply to this article, on 6 Mar., he intervened to try to prevent the introduction as evidence of a series of readings from blasphemous and otherwise offensive pamphlets, and four days afterwards he made the prosecution’s rejoinder. Not one point in his argument had been satisfactorily answered, he alleged, and he ridiculed a defence counsel’s contention ‘that the only way in which Sacheverell had accused the government of endangering the Church was in the failure of “inferior magistrates” to enforce the laws against blasphemy and immorality’. He questioned whether such men were responsible for the policies the doctor had denounced so vigorously.

I suppose . . . as men of characters and stations in the state were construed to be constables, excisemen and custom-house officers, so these persons who were to bring about comprehension, and are now blowing up and undermining the Church in another manner, must be churchwardens, parish clerks and sextons.

He also widened his attack to include the High Church movement, by denouncing its

impudence . . . in calling the Dissenters schismatics, and . . . liable to spiritual censure, notwithstanding the toleration. And, that by continuing the indulgence to them, they countenanced schism . . . This . . . was a specimen of that independency of the Church . . . which, if not confuted by authority, would soon devour the supremacy of the state.

On 24 Mar. he acted as a teller with another of the managers of the impeachment, Robert Walpole II, for an amendment to the address to the Queen for a fast day, condemning Sacheverell for publishing ‘blasphemies’.2

Thompson stood at Ipswich rather than Orford in 1710, but was defeated: his petition was rejected by the House the following February and voted ‘frivolous and vexatious’, and he was ordered to pay costs to the sitting Member. Marrying in November 1710 a widow who brought him a fortune ‘upwards of £20,000’, he resumed his successful practice at the bar. Although his Whig partner did not think him properly qualified according to the Landed Qualifications Act of 1711, he was returned at Ipswich after a contest in 1713. The extent and disposition of his landed property was a touchy subject: when the Post Boy pointed out that on Thompson’s own admission his was ‘an estate in parcels’, land in Westminster, various Suffolk parishes and in Devon, he stormed at the author, Abel Roper, demanding a published retraction and threatening in vain to cut Roper’s throat if he did not comply. Probably the ‘Mr Thompson’ who spoke in favour of (Sir) Thomas Hanmer II (4th Bt.), for the Chair on 16 Feb. 1714, and who was a teller on 16 Mar. for Sir Thomas Wheate, 1st Bt.*, in the disputed election for Woodstock, he was unseated on petition on 1 Apr. He was marked as a Whig on the Worsley list and two other comparative analyses of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments. He died on 27 Oct. 1739.3

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 651.
  • 2. G. R. Clarke, Ipswich, 76–77; W. Suss. RO, Shillinglee mss Ac.454/1166, 861, 1068, 1081, Thomas Palmer to Sir Edward Turnor*, 6 May 1708, Turnor to the mayor of Orford, [?11] May 1708, John Hooke to Turnor, Sept. 1708, 29 Aug. 1709; Camb. Univ. Lib. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, Thompson to [Robert Walpole II], 12 Mar. 1709; Boyer, Anne Annals, viii. 226, 264; An Impartial View of the Two Late Parliaments (1711), 183–4, 214; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 148, 195, 203; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn coll. ‘Acct. of trial of Dr Sacheverell’, 1, 10 Mar. 1710.
  • 3. EHR, lvi. 79; Luttrell, vi. 651; HMC Lords, n.s. ix. 113; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 181; Post Boy, 10–12, 12–15, 17–19 Sept., 29 Sept.–1 Oct. 1713.