OSBORNE, Sir Thomas, 2nd Bt. (1632-1712), of Kiveton, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. 20 Feb. 1632, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Edward Osborne, 1st Bt.†, of Kiveton by Anne, da. of Thomas Walmesley of Dunkenhalgh, Lancs., wid. of William Middleton of Lichfield, Staffs.; bro. of Charles Osborne. educ. St. Peter’s, York c.1638; travelled abroad (France and Italy) 1649-50. m. 1 May 1653, Lady Bridget Bertie, da. of Sir Montagu Bertie†, 2nd Earl of Lindsey, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 8da. suc. fa. 9 Sept. 1647; cr. Visct. Oseburne of Dunblane [S] 2 Feb. 1673, Visct. Latimer 15 Aug. 1673, Earl of Danby 27 June 1674, Mq. of Carmarthen 20 Apr. 1689, Duke of Leeds 4 May 1694. KG 24 Mar. 1677.1
J.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) Mar. 1660-79; commr. for assessment (W. Riding) Aug. 1660-73, York 1664-73, N. Riding, Mdx. and Westminster 1673, sewers, Hatfield chase Aug. 1660; dep. lt. (W. Riding) 1661-Mar. 1667, Sept. 1667-74, col. of militia ft. 1661-Feb. 1667, Oct. 1667-79; sheriff, Yorks. 1661-2; freeman, York 1662; commr. for corporations, Yorks. 1662-3, loyal and indigent officers 1662, oyer and terminer, Northern circuit 1665, concealments, Mdx. and Surrey 1670; ld. lt. (W. Riding) 1674-9, 1689-99, (E. Riding) 1691-9, (N. Riding) 1692-9; high steward, Lichfield 1678-86, Oct. 1688-d.; custos rot. E. Riding and liberties of Cawood and Ripon 1689-99; gov. of Kingston-upon-Hull 1689, high steward 1691-9; jt. ld. lt. Som. 1690-1; c.j. in eyre (north) 1711-d.2
Commr. for accounts [I] 1668-9, trade 1668-72, trade and plantations 1672-4; treas. of navy (jt.) 1668-71, (sole) 1671-3; commr. for union with Scotland 1670; PC 3 May 1672-21 Apr. 1679, 14 Feb. 1689-d., [S] 1674-9; ld. treas. 1673-9; ld. of Admiralty 1673-9; commr. for Tangier 1673-9; ld. pres. of the Council 1689-99; ld. high steward 1693; commr. for Greenwich Hosp. 1695; gov. of Mine Adventurers’ Co. 1698.3
Osborne was the great-grandson of Sir Edward Osborne, a London apprentice of Kentish origin, who acquired Yorkshire estates by marrying his master’s daughter, became lord mayor in 1583, and sat for the City three years later. His father, vice-president of the council in the north and a supporter of Strafford, represented York in the Short Parliament. A royalist commissioner of array, he helped to provide supplies for the Duke of Newcastle’s army until Marston Moor, and compounded in 1645 on a fine of of £649.4
After his father’s death Osborne travelled on the Continent in the company of (Sir) William Temple. The Restoration found him with an estate of under £1,200 p.a., encumbered with about £10,000 worth of debts. In an endeavour to restore his fortune he secured the lucrative office of sheriff of Yorkshire, though his offer to serve a second term was not accepted by Lord Chancellor Clarendon, and formed a project for farming the Yorkshire excise. With the support of the Duke of Buckingham he defeated the court candidate at York in 1665, and, after his tender for the excise farm had been rejected, became one of Clarendon’s most dangerous enemies in the Commons. ‘A comely gentleman’ he was not yet remarkable for the pallor and emaciation of his riper years. In the formal business of the Cavalier Parliament he was no more than moderately active, with 40 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges in six sessions, and 33 recorded speeches; but his skill in lobbying made him formidable. It was later remembered that during the Oxford session his defection, taking with it the votes of his brothers-in-law Peregrine Bertie I and Robert Bertie I, defeated the imposition of a general oath of non-resistance. He apparently served on one of the sub-committees authorized on 28 Sept. 1666 to prepare and facilitate the examination of the accounts of the navy, ordnance and stores, and he supported the prohibition of Irish cattle, by which Buckingham helped to weaken the position of Clarendon’s ally Ormonde. His attendance at Westminster was interrupted by a challenge from Lord Fauconberg, who had been insulted by Buckingham. In the ensuing duel Osborne wounded his opponent in the thigh, and prudently lay low till it was clear that fatal consequences would not ensue. Although a bill was promptly ordered for the prevention of duelling, Osborne’s standing in the House was probably enhanced by this episode. In the following month he indirectly attacked his successful competitors for the excise farm by supporting a motion that imports should be taxed only at the customs, and his work as examiner of accounts had sufficiently impressed his colleagues to secure his nomination to the abortive parliamentary commission. He was also among those appointed to consider the accounts bill, and he was the first Member named to the committee for the bill to nominate additional trustees for his brother-in-law Lord Norris. He laid down local office on Buckingham’s temporary disgrace in the following February, and resisted a personal appeal from the King which would have reactivated the public accounts commission as a whitewashing exercise.5
Osborne helped to draw up the address of thanks for the dismissal of Clarendon after the disastrous Dutch raid on the Medway, and took a prominent part in the proceedings that followed. He was among those instructed to bring in another public accounts bill, to inquire into restraints on jurors, the miscarriages of the war, and the sale of Dunkirk, and to report on the charges against Clarendon’s friend, Mordaunt. As one of the committee to reduce the accusations against the fallen minister into heads, he proclaimed that he was acting without pique, and simply as spokesman for ‘the four hundred of the House of Commons thought by the chancellor useless and inconsiderable’ The staccato report of Anchitell Grey doubtless does less than justice to the eloquence of one whom Burnet described as ‘a very plausible speaker, but too copious’:
No money remaining. No person in employment but who can buy it. We are upon our last legs. No one man ever had more employments. Threatens any man that gave advice. No vessel to swim without his hand at the rudder. No money issued out of the Treasury without his approbation.
He acted as teller against referring the charges to a committee and for accusing Clarendon of advising arbitrary power, and undertook to prove two minor charges himself. He helped to draw up reasons for the proceedings against Clarendon and was added to the conference managers. On 14 Dec. he attended a conference on the proposed proclamation for the apprehension of Clarendon, and two days later was named to the committee to consider the bill for his banishment.6
With Buckingham’s star in the ascendant, Osborne was not long in obtaining office. In 1668 he was named to the Irish revenue commission set up to find grounds for the dismissal of Ormonde, and in the following year he became treasurer of the navy, though at first he had to share this valuable appointment with Sir Thomas Littleton, 2nd Bt., the nominee of the Earl of Arlington (Sir Henry Bennet). Though still reckoned a Buckingham supporter in 1669, he began mending bridges with the Clarendonians by doubting the propriety of receiving fresh evidence against Sir George Carteret, and sought to produce a stable majority for the Court in Parliament based on a policy of friendship with France and confirmation of the Anglican ascendancy, though with some concessions both to Roman Catholics and to dissenters. He produced an elaborate list of Members who might participate in this grand coalition, consisting of 92 court dependants (including himself), nine dependants of the Duke of York, 45 who might be engaged by the duke and his friends, 39 who might be engaged by Buckingham, and 106 independent Members who usually voted for supply. But neither the Yorkists nor the Clarendonians would act with Buckingham. He was listed as a court supporter by the Opposition in 1671. Although it was to Buckingham that Osborne owed the dislodgement of Littleton in September, by which he acquired a free hand to introduce more business-like methods in naval finance, they were moving apart on the toleration issue, with Osborne supporting the renewal of the Conventicles Act. In any case his post brought him membership of the cabinet council and frequent access to the Court, so that he no longer needed a patron.7
In the spring session of 1673 Osborne succeeded in carrying a vote of thanks for the King’s speech despite the Declaration of Indulgence. On the suspending power he said that he did not ‘wonder that the King expresses these things to be his inherent right, when his own Council thinks so, and his counsel at law’ He moved for a committee to prepare an address, to which he was himself appointed. He considered the bill of ease for dissenters most unreasonable: ‘it is a great scandal to bring them in by special Act of Parliament. The nation groans under it, and he thinks they would return into rebellion.’ He helped to draft the address for the suppression of Popery, though he was willing to exempt the Duke of York and most of the armed forces from the test bill:
There are but two captains Roman Catholics in the whole fleet, and they but young gentlemen and no notice taken of them. ... Masters, bosuns and gunners are of great use, and the humour of being fanatic most upon them; therefore would distinguish and confine it only to captains, only to such as command the ship and become dangerous.
The test forced Lord Treasurer Clifford (Thomas Clifford) out of office, and Osborne succeeded him. He was given an English peerage, first as Viscount Latimer and from 1674 as Earl of Danby, the title by which he is best known. His ministry was based on sound churchmanship, sound finance, and the Protestant interest. In the Lords he was never in danger of defeat, with the help of new creations and the bishops, and reinforced by the King’s personal attendance in key debates. In order to secure a reliable majority in the Commons he adopted tactics which foreshadowed the organization of all court parties in the 18th century. Assisted by the two secretaries of state, Henry Coventry and (Sir) Joseph Williamson, and at a lower level by Sir Richard Wiseman, he organized the counting of heads, the systematic use of royal patronage, and whipping, which had hitherto been practised only haphazardly. Disregarding the Earl of Essex’s advice that in English elections ‘recommendations from the Court do rather hinder than help one to be chosen’ he intervened actively in by-elections to secure the return of reliable Members. He appreciated the importance of election petitions as a way of increasing the court party, and contemporaries noticed that nowhere were Danby’s friends so active as in the elections committee. He easily survived the first test of his strength in the spring session of 1675, when the Hon. William Russell moved his impeachment, and Sir Samuel Barnardiston charged him with violating the ancient course of the Exchequer by appointing Richard Kent as cashier of the excise. John Birch and Giles Strangways, from opposite ends of the political spectrum, defended the treasurer, and the attack collapsed. The improvement in the royal finances enabled pensions and salaries to be paid regularly for the first time in the reign, and the amounts spent on the management of the Commons rose sharply. Whereas Clifford had believed in buying over only the great and leading men of the Opposition at a high price, Danby ‘reckoned that he could gain ten ordinary men cheaper than one of those’ This policy coincided with his own preference for tools rather than colleagues. Hence ‘the chief men he made use of were of so low a size that they were baffled in every debate, so that many who were inclined enough to vote in all obedience, yet were ashamed to be on the side that was manifestly run down in the debate’ Compliments from the King, titles, and offices were all used to ‘fix’ doubtful supporters; but so many of the placemen held life patents that they were scarcely amenable to discipline. Defections from the court party in the Commons in the spring of 1678 over the ambiguous foreign policy forced on Danby by the King and the conduct of his Scottish ally Lauderdale went virtually unchecked; his relations with Secretary Coventry were never cordial, and he quarrelled with Edward Seymour, who as Speaker possessed an unrivalled power over the House. Louis XIV was determined to bring down the principal architect of the marriage of William and Mary, with no expense spared. The production of Danby’s letters to Ralph Montagu, instructing him to ask for a French subsidy, was sufficient in the heated atmosphere of the Popish Plot to destroy his majority in the House, and a dissolution could not be avoided.8
Danby obtained from Denzil Holles a guarantee of immunity from prosecution, provided that he left office; but the general election went so badly for the Court, and especially for his relatives, that the moderates lost control of the Opposition. Faced with the threat of attainder, he gave himself up to Black Rod and was committed to the Tower. But the Commons were exasperated by his production of a royal pardon as a bar to the resumed impeachment, and only a dispute between the Houses saved him. By the time the second Exclusion Parliament met the country party had moved on to more important questions than the punishment of a fallen minister; but he remained in the Tower till 1684. He had no hopes of recovering favour under James II, and he was probably the most active Englishman in the Revolution. His rising in support of William of Orange secured the north for the Protestant cause; but he had no wish to make William King, and was never trusted under the new regime. His connexion did well in the general election of 1689, and for the first time he had an efficient spokesman in the Lower House in the person of Sir Henry Goodricke. Realizing with reluctance that William would not serve as his wife’s gentleman usher, he voted to agree with the Commons on the vacancy of the throne, and accepted the dignified post of lord president and the marquessate originally promised him by Charles II on his resignation in 1679. A further step in the peerage followed in 1694, but in the following year he was involved in a corruption scandal, and played no further part in politics. He died on 26 July 1712 and was buried at Harthill.
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
This biography is based on A. Browning, Thomas, Earl of Danby.
- 1. Eg. 2539, ff. 236, 260.
- 2. C181/7/20; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 275; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 607; C. H. Josten, Ashmole, 1549; CSP Dom. 1689-90, p. 48; J. J. Sheahan, Hist. Hull, 188.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1667-8, p. 543; Williamson Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. viii), 149; Sel. Charters (Selden Soc. xxviii), 243.
- 4. DNB; Royalist Comp. Pprs. (Yorks. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. xviii), 159-60.
- 5. Pepys Diary, 5 Nov. 1668, 14 Feb. 1669; Cobbett, Parl. Hist. iv. app. xl; Milward, 17, 18; CJ, viii. 647, 661.
- 6. Grey, i. 23; CJ, ix. 15, 18; Milward, 115.
- 7. Grey, i. 164; Pepys Diary, 29 Oct. 1668; Eg. 2539, ff. 236, 260; 3338, ff. 2, 10, 78.
- 8. Dering, 107; Grey, ii. 24, 45-46, 86; Eg. 3327, f. 15; HMC Ormonde, n.s. iv. 399; Burnet, ii. 79.