CLAYTON, William (1671-1752), of Sundon, Beds.
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Family and Education
bap. 9 Nov. 1671, 1st surv. s. of William Clayton of Newmarket, Suff. by Ann, da. of John Haske of Newmarket. m. bef. 1714, Charlotte, da. of John Dyve, clerk of the Privy Coucil, of Bromham, Beds., s.p. cr. Baron Sundon [I] 2 June 1735.
Entered Exchequer as clerk of receipts 1688; dep. auditor of receipts by 1714; paymaster of the King’s private pensions 1715-18; ld. of Treasury 1718-20, 1727-42; auditor gen. to Prince of Wales 1725-7.
During Marlborough’s exile at the end of Anne’s reign his estates were managed by Clayton, a Treasury official, whose wife was appointed woman of the bedchamber to the Princess of Wales on the recommendation of her friend, the Duchess of Marlborough, at the accession of George I.1 In 1715 the Prince and Princess, after trying unsuccessfully to get Clayton made secretary to the Treasury under Walpole, helped him to obtain another place.2 Next year, buying the estate of Sundon,3 from which he afterwards took his title, he was brought in for Woodstock by Marlborough, whose son-in-law, Lord Sunderland, made him a lord of the Treasury in 1718. Turned out to make room for Walpole’s friends on the reunion of the Whig party in 1720, he was elected to the South Sea committee of the House of Commons, speaking against Walpole’s proposals for restoring public credit and discharging a civil list debt, 10 Jan. and 14 July 1721.
In 1722, when Marlborough was dying, Clayton, one of his executors, was defeated at Woodstock but returned for St. Albans as the Duchess’s nominee. He spoke against the Government on a bill for taxing Roman Catholics, 7 May 1723, and on the dropping of bounties on wheat exports from Scotland, 9 Dec. 1724. In 1725 Walpole was informed anonymously that Pulteney, the leader of the Whig opposition, was receiving accounts of Treasury transactions from Clayton, now auditor general to the Prince (see Merrill, John). On 21 Apr. 1727 Clayton and Pulteney attacked Walpole’s proposals for financing a budget deficit.4
At George II’s accession
when first the Queen’s power with the King began to appear, people made great court to Mrs. Clayton, one of the women of her bedchamber. This lady having been always thought her favourite when Princess, and from her first coming over constantly in her service, ... everybody imagined she would have power in the new reign; but Sir Robert Walpole, either jealous of her interest from not believing her cordially in his, or thinking he wanted no assistance, soon clipped the wing of her ambition.5
According to Walpole,
in the enthusiasm of her vanity, [she] had proposed to him to unite with her and govern the kingdom together; he bowed, begged her patronage, but said he thought nobody fit to govern the kingdom but the King and Queen.6
It was no doubt to her that Clayton owed his reappointment to the Treasury board, on which his dullness made him a foil to Dodington’s wit. After one meeting, at which Clayton, now Lord Sundon, had laughed heartily at one of Dodington’s jokes,
Winnington said, ‘Dodington, you are very ungrateful; you call Sundon stupid and slow, and yet you see how quick he took what you said’. ‘Oh no’, replied Dodington, ‘he was only laughing now at what I said last Treasury day.’7
He spoke for the Government in the 1727 Parliament, but in the next his only recorded parliamentary activities were devoted to his constituency.
From 1727 Sundon had represented Westminster, having fallen out with the Duchess of Marlborough by taking office under Walpole. He was unopposed till 1741, when he was returned after a fierce contest by the partiality of the high bailiff, whose action in prematurely closing the poll provoked such an outbreak of mob violence against Sundon that he had to be rescued by the guards.
It may be wondered [wrote the 1st Lord Egmont, an eye-witness of these scenes] what could move men to set themselves so violently against Lord Sundon, who had so often represented Westminster without opposition, and is himself a sober, virtuous, and sensible man, without pride, and as lord of the Treasury able to serve (as doubtless he had done) many particular persons, as well as the city of Westminster in general, which he showed by furthering the interest thereof in divers respects, as in procuring a bill to pave their streets, another for a bridge over the Thames, and money for several years past to repair Westminster Abbey; but the truth is he is esteemed covetous, and the people are so distasted at the present Administration, that they cannot endure any who serve in offices under it. Besides, not apprehending he should have met with any competitor in his election, he neglected to ask and secure the votes of the inhabitants.8
On petition the election was declared void by the House of Commons, a crushing blow to Walpole’s Administration. Ten days later Lady Sundon died, - ‘Lord Sundon’, Horace Walpole wrote, ‘is in great grief. I am surprised, for she has had fits of madness ever since her ambition met such a check by the death of the Queen’. He asked his father whether she took money:
‘no’, said he, ‘but she took jewels; Lord Pomfret’s place of master of the horse to the Queen was bought of her for a pair of diamond earrings, of fourteen hundred pounds value’. One day that she wore them at a visit to old Marlborough’s, as soon as she was gone the Duchess said to Lady Mary Wortley, ‘How can that woman have the impudence to go about in that bribe?’ ‘Madam’, said Lady Mary, ‘how would you have people know where wine is to be sold, unless there is a sign hung out?’9
Sundon lost his place on Walpole’s fall, but was provided with government seats till his death, 29 Apr. 1752.