WARTON, Sir Michael (c.1648-1725), of Beverley, Yorks., and Albemarle Street, London
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Family and Education
b. c.1648, 1st s. of Michael Warton† of Beverley by Susan, da. of John Poulett†, 1st Baron Poulett of Hinton St. George; bro. of Ralph Warton*. educ. Cheam g.s. Surr.; St. John’s, Camb. matric. 17 Feb. 1665, aged 16; G. Inn 1667. unm. Kntd. 30 June 1666; suc. fa. 1688.1
Ld. of Admiralty 1689–90.
The chief creditor and ‘great benefactor’ of Beverley corporation, Warton was reputed to be the richest man in England, and worth £15,000 a year. He had been associated with Lord Danby (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in securing Hull for the Prince of Orange in 1688, which may have accounted for his appointment in March 1689 as a lord of the Admiralty. However, having recently succeeded to his father’s estates, he rarely attended the board, nor did he draw his salary. Poor attendance appears to have been the cause of his prompt dismissal. His brief and evidently discontented term in office may have been due to his independent political beliefs, which have prompted one modern historian to refer to him as one of the ‘hotter’ Whigs in 1690, while another has classed him as one of the ‘stauncher’ Tories in Parliament during Queen Anne’s reign. This latter description owes much to Warton’s association with Robert Harley*. However, he is most aptly described as a Country Member, a role made eminently possible by his wealth, and fed by his strong disregard and distaste for government patronage.2
Warton’s dominant interest at Beverley ensured that he was returned unopposed for the borough in the March 1690 election, at which time he was classed as a Whig by Danby (now Lord Carmarthen). However, he did not pay the same attention to the House as he did to his constituency, calling himself ‘an occasional Member’, and taking little part in the business of Parliament. In April 1691 he was noted as a Country supporter by Harley, and the following month was one of several Members turned out of the East Riding lieutenancy by Carmarthen for being ‘Whiggishly inclined’.3
With the eclipse of the Hotham interest after the death of Sir John Hotham, 2nd Bt.†, Warton was able to obtain complete control of the borough by securing the return of himself and his brother Ralph in 1695. He was forecast in January 1696 as likely to oppose the Court on the proposed council of trade. However, he signified his willingness to sign the Association, and was therefore excused attendance in the House on 16 Mar. due to illness. He appears to have signed it at a later date. He voted later in March against the Court in fixing the price of guineas at 22s. On 25 Nov. he voted against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. Returned in a contested election in 1698, he was classed as a member of the Country party in the new Parliament and about this time was also listed as likely to oppose a standing army. In January 1700, with the Court party in disarray in Parliament, and the King appealing to Lord Sunderland to return to London, James Vernon I* reported that ‘Sir Michael Warton said he would not disoblige two Kings at a time, and others may be as cautious how they incur the displeasure of both parties’.4
Unopposed in January 1701, Warton was included on a list of MPs likely to support the Court on 22 Feb. in agreeing with the supply committee’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’. At the election in the autumn of 1701 Warton was returned, this time in a closely contested election, and was listed by Harley with the Tories in an analysis of the new Parliament. Warton voted on 26 Feb. 1702 for the motion vindicating the Commons’s proceedings over the impeachment of the King’s ministers, having been a strong advocate of bringing them to justice. He stood down in 1702, obviously disillusioned with politics, judging from his letter to Thomas Pitt of 14 Apr. 1703:
we are prosecuting a war against France and Spain, a legacy the last King left us; but we are at the old play we were in his time of pulling down France, and ourselves in more danger of being pulled down. The Elector of Bavaria is of the French side, at the head of his army in the Empire, and carries all before him. The war of Italy the French have got the superiority. Our army in Flanders under the Duke of Marlborough [John Churchill†] is going to besiege Bonn. The Dutch have scrambled up a pretty good frontier; when they have had enough, I hope we shall have peace.5
Warton did have recourse to Parliament, however, in a petition presented on 7 Dec. 1704 on behalf of himself and other owners of the level of the River Anholme in Lincolnshire, praying for a bill to remedy the defects of an Act passed in Charles II’s reign for repairing sluices and drains. But he had no intention of returning to politics, writing to Robert Harley* on 11 Mar. 1705 that he hoped reports that he was to be made a peer were not true, and asking him to put a stop to it if they were, as he sought ‘nothing but my ease and quiet, which I find so absolutely necessary to support my ill-health. I have seen enough of business and bustle, and am much better pleased when my friends tread the stage than to be there myself.’ He would not stand for election at Beverley in May, recommending John Moyser* instead. During the following years the borough continued to occupy his attention, and he took a leading part in helping Moyser to restore Beverley Minster from 1706 onwards, subscribing £500 to this end. However, in 1708 Warton chose to stand for election once again. Having been returned unopposed, he was noted as a Whig. He continued to be an inactive Member, though in March 1709, despite being ill with a cough from which he thought he would not recover, and although finding the Commons as much ‘a distemper to me as it is to the kingdom’, he assured Harley that he would attend whenever summoned to cast his vote against ministerial ‘malice’. During 1709–10 he made special arrangements with Harley to be kept informed of any urgent business requiring his vote. He voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710, and on 6 Mar. wrote to Harley that
this morning Sir John Thorold [4th Bt.*] sent me word that (Sir) Simon Harcourt [I*] would come into the House and that if he did [Nicholas] Lechmere* would move to send him to the Tower. Let me know if he comes today, for I am but an occasional Member, but would not be wanting to serve him. I hope he will be chief justice in order to the great seal hereafter. I hope the Queen will think it high time to be Queen.
He rejoiced at the dismissal in August of Lord Godolphin (Sidney†), ‘the sieur Volpone’, as ‘an universal remedy for the spleen and vapours’. He believed that further dispensing of this ‘great elixir’ would presage the return of a golden age and bright skies. He was in London in September when he warned Harley that the Duke of Hamilton was dissatisfied at not being made an English duke, and that ‘the other party’ were courting him. There were great meetings twice weekly at ‘Putney bowling green’, he reported, and ‘at nights’ at Lord Sunderland’s (Charles, Lord Spencer*) and Lord Orford’s (Edward Russell*), concluding that ‘if these parties are not broken before the Irish Lieutenant [Hon. Thomas Wharton*] and the General [Marlborough] come to reinforce them, you may possibly have slept too much’.6
Returned unopposed in 1710, Warton was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’, while in the following year he was included among the ‘Tory patriots’ who opposed the continuance of the war and among the ‘worthy patriots’ who assisted in exposing the mismanagements of the previous administration. Harley (now Earl of Oxford) was so busy as lord treasurer that Warton was denied admittance to him by servants, Warton writing afterwards that ‘I hear your rooms are crowded with the common prostitutes, but I do not doubt they will find themselves mistaken to think that counterfeit smiles and looks can introduce their ulcerated hearts into your service’. At the same time he hoped that Oxford would find a place for a Mr Norris, who had married a relation of Warton’s, which would ‘very much oblige’ him. However, his independent Country instincts came to the fore again in December 1711, when he was considered for the peerage as one of 12 new creations intended to get the peace with France passed in the Lords. Warton once more declined a peerage, on the grounds of being ‘old and infirm’, and that he was ‘positively resolved to take my ease and be quiet’. However, he was reported privately to have declared that ‘it looked like the serving a turn; and that, whereas peers were wont to be made for services they had done, he would be made for services to be done by him’. The Dutch envoy further commented that though Warton had hardly ever attended Parliament, he had declared his resolve to come up the first day of the new session of the spring of 1712 so as to watch over the interest of his country. Indeed, he showed his independence by voting against the French commerce bill on 18 June 1713, when he was classed as ‘whimsical’. He was listed as a Whig in the Worsley list, while in two separate lists comparing the 1715 Parliament with its predecessor he was noted as a ‘whimsical’ Whig and as a Tory. Continuing to sit for Beverley after 1715, he congratulated the town corporation in 1716 on their resolve to petition against the septennial bill, in which they behaved ‘like Englishmen’, adding that the bill was being hurried on purpose to prevent such petitions. He died on 25 Mar. 1725 and was buried in Beverley Minster. Apart from the £4,000 left in his will for the perpetual repair of the Minster, Warton also left £1,000 to the town hospital which had been founded by his father, £500 to the charity school founded in 1710, £100 for the poor and £100 to each parish in Beverley. The executor of the will was his nephew and coheir, Michael Newton, who, along with Warton’s other coheir and nephew, Charles Pelham, represented Beverley in Parliament in the Hanoverian period.7