ERLE, Thomas (c.1650-1720), of Charborough, Dorset.

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



Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679
Feb. 1701
Dec. 1701
1715 - 28 Mar. 1718

Family and Education

b. c.1650, 2nd s. of Thomas Erle (d.1650) of Bindon House, Axmouth, Devon by Susanna, da. of William, 1st Visct. Saye and Sele. educ. Trinity, Oxf. matric. 12 July 1667, aged 17; M. Temple 1669, m. 1675, Elizabeth, da. of (Sir) William Wyndham of Orchard Wyndham, Som., 1da. suc. gdfa. Sir Walter Erle 1665.1

Offices Held

Dep. lt. Dorset 1674-May 1688, Oct. 1688-?d., commr. for assessment 1677-80, 1689-90, j.p. 1678-June 1688, Nov. 1688-?d., capt. of militia ft. by 1679, maj. by 1686, lt.-col. Dec. 1688, commr. for rebels’ estates 1686; freeman, Poole 1691; commr. for Chelsea Hosp. 1715-d.2

Col. new regt. of ft. 1689-98, (later 19 Ft.) 1691-1709; brig. 1693; gov. Portsmouth 1694-1712, 1714-18; maj.-gen. 1696; c.-in-c. [I] 1701-5, Britain 1708-12; lt.-gen. 1703; col. of dgns. [I] 1704-5; gen. of ft. 1711.

PC [I] 1701; one of the lds. justices [I] 1702-3; PC 3 May 1705-d.; lt. of the Ordnance 1705-12, 1714-18.

MP [I] 1703-13.


Erle’s father enjoyed with Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper ‘the nearest friendship imaginable’. He was a Parliamentarian in the Civil War till secluded at Pride’s Purge. His mother’s second marriage to the brother of Francis Hawley, however, took him into a Cavalier household, from which his grandfather, after his elder brother’s death without issue, was at pains to extract him, committing his education to Thomas Grove, Thomas Moore, Henry Whithed and two other sound puritan trustees. Nevertheless, for the first 35 years of his life Erle failed to commit himself to the country party attitude traditional in his family.3

Erle’s father had been elected to the Long Parliament for Wareham, which is six miles from Charborough, and the family may be considered to have possessed a natural interest there. On Erle’s entry into the first Exclusion Parliament, Cooper (now Lord Shaftesbury) marked his old friend’s son as ‘doubtful’, but he voted for exclusion. In the second Exclusion Parliament he left no record, apart from the grant of leave of absence on 8 Dec. 1680; but his re-election without opposition or expense in 1681 suggests that his constituents were satisfied that his attitude to exclusion had not changed. He was again totally inactive in the Oxford Parliament. But on 19 Nov. Erle, together with two other justices, Henry Butler and George Ryves, asked the Government for guidance in dealing with an opponent of the Court who described all addressers as either fools or rogues. On 3 July 1683 he was ordered with Richard Fownes to search Poole for arms.4

Erle was a little more active in James II’s Parliament, being named to the committees for the relief of the Earl of Cleveland’s creditors and the suppression of pedlars, but was soon afterwards called away by the news of Monmouth’s landing. In the absence of the lord lieutenant, and presumably also of his colonel, Sir William Portman, he assumed command of the East Dorset militia. With his friend Thomas Chafin he fought as a volunteer at Sedgemoor, and was presented by Lord Churchill (John Churchill II) to the King. Due to the coldness of James II’s reception or to some other cause, Erle was one of the first to commit himself to William of Orange. In the words of the inscription put up by his great-grandson on the ice-house at Charborough:

Under this roof in the year 1686 a set of patriotic gentlemen of this neighbourhood concerted the great plan of the Glorious Revolution.

Erle returned adverse answers to the lord lieutenant’s questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws in 1687, and was removed from the commission and the lieutenancy. On 21 June 1688 he obtained a pass overseas with Samuel Rolle, but he was back at Charborough by the middle of August. James’s agents considered his election assured for Wareham; they had been doubtful of his attitude in April, but by September were assured that he was ‘right’. Nevertheless, it is clear from Erle’s papers that he took the leading part in securing Dorset for William. One of his correspondents wrote from Lyme Regis on 21 Dec. 1688:

Places of great trust and advantage will be distributed now, and I hope (as you have well deserved) you will come in for your share.5

Erle was very active in the general election of 1689. His interest carried both seats at Wareham, and Portman applied for it at Corfe Castle and Poole. In the latter borough Chafin was defeated by Sir Nathaniel Napier, and it was suspected that Erle supported Thomas Trenchard II at Dorchester in the hope of keeping out Napier’s son, Gerard Napier. In the Convention, according to Ailesbury’s list, Erle voted to agree with the Lords that the throne was not vacant. His only committee was for preventing the export of wool, and he did not speak. On the death of his colleague Ryves he obtained leave (19 Mar.), no doubt in order to take the writ down, and on 29 Apr. he was given a pass for Bristol on his way to Ireland with his regiment. Erle was described as possessing ‘very good sense, a hearty man for his country, brave, and loves his bottle’. For the remainder of his career he seems to have been a fairly consistent Whig. He died on 23 July 1720, and was buried at Charborough. His descendants in the female line continued to sit for Wareham and other Dorset boroughs throughout the 18th century.6

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: John. P. Ferris


This biography is based on the family papers of Admiral of the Fleet the Hon. Sir Reginald Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, deposited at Churchill College, Camb. and consulted there by courtesy of the Librarian.

  • 1. Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 502; Dorset RO, D60/F2; HMC Portland, iii. 352; Christie, Shaftesbury, i. p. xlix.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1679-80, p. 61; Luttrell, i. 482; Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 546; Poole Archives B17; C. G. T. Dean, R. Hosp. Chelsea, 298-9.
  • 3. Christie, i. p. x; PCC 158 Mico; Cal. Comm. Comp. 1858.
  • 4. Prot. Dom. Intell. 22 Feb. 1681; CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 570.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1685, pp. 191, 200; 1687-9, p. 402; Hutchins, iii. 506, 566; Luttrell, i. 482.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1689-90, p. 82; Mackay, Mems. 104.