BUCKNALL, Sir William (1633-76), of London and Oxhey, Herts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



9 Dec. 1670 - 26 Oct. 1676

Family and Education

b. 25 July 1633, bro. of Ralph. m. 1653, Sarah, da. of Thomas Chitts, Woodmonger, of London, 9s. (3 d.v.p.) 3da. Kntd. 20 Sept. 1670.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Salters’ Co. 1652, Brewers’ Co. 1664, asst. 1667-d., master 1669-70; jt. farmer of excise, London, Mdx. and Surr. 1665-75, Kent, Essex, Norf., Suff. and Bucks. 1668-75; alderman, London Jan.-Apr. 1667; j.p. Herts. 1669-d., St. Albans liberty 1673-d.; commr. for assessment, Herts., Lancs., Mdx. and London 1673-4.2

Commr. for excise 1668-75; jt. farmer of revenue [I] 1669-d.3


As excise commissioner, Bucknall indulged the astrological and genealogical tastes of his comptroller, Ashmole, so far as to disclose the exact date of his birth, but not the identity of his parents, and it is not clear whether he was entitled to the arms of the Northamptonshire gentry family. He was admitted to the livery of the Salters at the age of 19, and acquired interests in water supply and shipping. His transfer to the Brewers in 1664 was clearly aimed from the first at securing an interest in the excise, originally as representing his new Company, but after the heavy losses sustained during the plague on behalf of his own syndicate. He succeeded so well that he fined for alderman in 1667 and bought a country seat in Hertfordshire in the following year, besides acquiring land in Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire. Though he is said to have advanced over £100,000 to the Government, he was a dissenter and a patron of the Lancashire Independent, Newcome. He was called before a Commons committee in March 1670 as an expert witness, and gave evidence that home-produced spirits were not inferior to imported brandy.4

Bucknall was the principal business man on the syndicate formed to farm the customs by Sir Robert Howard and Lord St. John (Charles Powlett I):

Where Positive walks Woodcock in the dark Contriving projects with a brewer’s clerk.

The King arranged to meet the syndicate on 1 Dec. 1670, but nothing could be done until Bucknall returned from Liverpool, ‘whither he went to be chosen Member of Parliament’. His brother Ralph had just married the daughter of John Birch, who had great influence in the town, and he was also recommended to Lord Derby by letters from Court. Successful after a contest, he was at once listed by the Opposition as a court supporter, and became a moderately active Member of the Cavalier Parliament. He was appointed to 37 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges in three sessions, and made six recorded speeches. The first bill which he was asked to consider was to confirm the Duke of York’s surrender of wine licensing. On 22 Feb. 1671 he spoke in favour of the additional excise, and he helped to prepare for conferences on this bill and on preventing the export of wool. He was also appointed to committees to consider the bill to prevent the planting of tobacco and the Lords’ amendments to the bill to prohibit the import of brandy. It has been calculated that at this time Bucknall and his associates controlled three-quarters of the excise of the entire kingdom. In the contest for the customs farm, his influence at Court enabled him to outbid Sir Richard Ford, the manager of the rival syndicate; but he overplayed his hand and quarrelled with Lord Treasurer Clifford (Thomas Clifford), and on 24 Sept. the contract was cancelled.5

Opposition writers continued to include Bucknall among the court supporters. The author of Flagellum Parliamentarium described him as ‘once a poor factor to buy malt for the brewers, now a farmer of the revenues of England and Ireland on the account of the Duchess of Cleveland, who goes snip with him, to whom he has given £20,000’. He was quiescent in the 1673 sessions, in which his only important committee was to abolish the duty on home-produced goods exported by aliens. But his activity increased in the following year, and under the Danby administration he was clearly in opposition. He was among those to whom a petition against the activities of the naval press-gangs was entrusted on 21 Jan. 1674, and five days later he informed the House that ‘the King is not satisfied with the war from the beginning, and the unprosperousness of it. We must know how all things stand with us as to our alliances.’ On 7 Feb. he gave the House the first, and perhaps the only authentic information about the Popish Plot, describing how he had called on Clifford and, while waiting for an audience,

heard loud talking in the next room, Lord Clifford often saying his Majesty would never be brought to it, and some time after Lord Arundell of Wardour came out. Lord Clifford, seeing Bucknall, was much surprised, and after many reviling words, as calling him dog and the like, asked him who brought him thither and how he durst come there.

As one of the farmers of the Irish revenue, he gave an account of the state of the country and was appointed to the committee of inquiry. In both sessions of 1675 he was named to the committee for the appropriation of the customs to the use of the navy, and he defended the proposal to pay the revenue earmarked for building warships into the chamber of London:

’Tis not what I know, but what the people think. If the people believe not the money will be paid, the people will not trust where they think they shall not be paid. ... Sees no advantage for the King’s service for it to be in the Exchequer. ... There is not only delay and trouble to get the money out of the Exchequer, but if he has his money the charges are so great; £5 per cent. When he sat in the chamber of London, there was never any denial of payment, neither in the plague nor fire. ... Certainly the appropriation of this money is, according to the opinion of the people abroad, the best way to obtain your end.

He spoke in the debate of 11 Nov. to complain that ‘the King pays the new debts, and the old ones forgot. Doubts not but when we come to a committee we shall find that the King is misled in the manner of the anticipations.’ He retired from the excise about this time, but according to Danby’s working-lists might still be influenced by William Chiffinch. Sir Richard Wiseman, however, recommended that he should not be sent the government whip for the next session. He died on 26 Oct. 1676 during the recess, and was buried at Oxhey. His son was elected for Middlesex in 1696.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Irene Cassidy


  • 1. C.H. Josten, Elias Ashmole, 1452; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 40; Clutterbuck, Herts. i. 247.
  • 2. Guildhall RO, 5445/19/361, 378; 20/27; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 664; CSP Dom. 1667-8, pp. 316-17.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. ii. 323; iii. 62.
  • 4. Woodhead, 40; C. D. Chandaman, Eng. Pub. Revenue, 56; VCH Herts. ii. 457; Newcome Autobiog. (Chetham Soc. xxvi), 165; Grey, i. 225.
  • 5. Marvell ed. Margoliouth, i. 139; Bulstrode Pprs. 160; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 117-19; Grey, i. 396; CJ, ix. 214, 244; Chandaman, 26-28, 61; Browning, Danby, iii. 27.
  • 6. Grey, ii. 349, 397; iii. 359, 455; CJ, ix. 313; Chandaman, 63; Josten, 1452; Clutterbuck, i. 247.