PAPILLON, Thomas (1623-1702), of Fenchurch Street, London and Acrise Place, Kent.

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



16 Jan. 1674
Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679

Family and Education

b. 6 Sept. 1623, 5th but 2nd surv. s. of David Papillon, builder, of Roehampton, Surr. and Lubenham, Leics., being 4th s. by 2nd w. Anne Marie, da. of Jean Calendrine of Sedan, France and Putney, Surr. educ. Drayton sch. Northants. m. 30 Oct. 1651, Jane (d.1698), da. of Thomas Broadnax of Godmersham, Kent, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 5da.1

Offices Held

Member, Mercers’ Co. 1646, master 1673-4, 1682-3, 1692-3, 1698-9; member, Eastland Co. 1661; committee, E.I. Co. 1663-71, 1675-6, 1677-83, dep. gov. 1680-2; auditor, London 1672-4, 1675-7, 1680-2, common councilman 1672-3, 1675-6, 1681, alderman Oct.-Dec. 1689; freeman, Dover 1673; commr. for assessment, Kent 1673-80, London 1677-80, Kent, Dover and London 1689-90; bridgemaster, London 1675-6; j.p. Kent 1689-d.; dep. lt. London and Kent 1689-d.; commr. for lodemanage court, Cinque Ports 1689.2

Commr. for trade 1668-72, victualling 1690-d.


Papillon was of Huguenot stock. His father, who had been brought to England as a child, became an architect and property developer. He was deacon of the French church in Threadneedle Street and designed the defences of Gloucester for the Long Parliament. Papillon himself was apprenticed to a London merchant; he took part in the violent demonstrations against the militia ordinance in 1647, and was obliged to take refuge from the army in France. On his return he was confined in Newgate for a time but released on bail, and for the next 20 years concentrated on his mercantile interests. In 1653 he successfully petitioned the Council of State against the export duty on lead, and four years later he asserted the independence of the French church, where, like his father, he served as deacon. He married into an ancient Kentish family of minor gentry status, and in 1666, when his affairs had sufficiently prospered, bought an estate in that county, Acrise, ten miles from Dover. He was appointed to the council of trade two years later, though his tender for the naval victualling contract was not accepted. Nevertheless Sir Edward Spragge held him responsible, presumably as sub-contractor, for the inefficiency of the arrangements for victualling his ships at Dover in the third Dutch war. Spragge and Papillon contested the vacancy created there by the succession to the peerage of Lord Hinchingbrooke ( Edward Montagu). Papillon applied for the Duke of York’s interest as lord warden through his business partner, Sir Thomas Littleton, 2nd Bt., but was denied. His devoutness had earned him the support of the ‘fanatics’ in Dover, and he could only be defeated by the irregular creation of freemen, against which he petitioned. Meanwhile, apparently on the recommendation of Prince Rupert, Littleton, Papillon and Josiah Child had been added to the victualling syndicate, though they withdrew at the end of 1673 before the contract came into force.3

It was therefore as an independent that Papillon took his seat when his petition was at last upheld by the House on 16 Jan. 1674. An active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, serving on 65 committees and making about 20 speeches, he was not long in revealing his support for the country party. With Littleton, Child and Henry Powle he was active and unscrupulous in collecting evidence for the impeachment of the lord treasurer in 1675. In consequence his election as deputy governor of the East India Company was overruled by the King, an action which was brought to the notice of the House, though without Papillon’s knowledge, in the debate on grievances on 23 Feb. 1677. A fortnight later Papillon attacked the navy office over the issue of passes to merchant shipping, and on 22 Mar. he was among the Members appointed to bring in a bill establishing free trade in coal. He was marked ‘worthy’ on Shaftesbury’s list. In the debates on foreign affairs in the spring of 1678, he declared himself unable to vote for supply until assured that the Government’s foreign commitments were in accordance with the address of 31 Jan., and he was still dissatisfied when the text of the treaty with Holland was found to contain no provision for reducing France to her 1659 frontiers. On 17 June he acted as teller for the bill to remove restrictions on leather exports. As a bilingual Member, he was an obvious choice for the chair in a naturalization committee, and later, during the Popish Plot debates, for membership of the committees to search Langhorne’s papers, translate Coleman’s letters, and inquire into the misleading French version of the Gazette. On 18 Nov. 1678 in the debate provoked by the discovery that (Sir) Joseph Williamson had issued commissions to Papists, Papillon said

I am in great apprehensions that Williamson should have signed he knows not what. It might have been to destroy my life and fortune. I have heard mention made of the Act of the Militia wherein the lords lieutenant and deputies are obliged to swear not to oppose persons commissioned by the King. ... Therefore great care should be taken of those commissions, how they are granted out that must not be disobeyed. Therefore you must show your displeasure against this minister, who signs he knows not what. Formerly we had no standing army; only the King’s gentlemen attended him. And what may become of us, now we have a standing army and a [Popish] Plot, if such commissions be granted out? At this rate, Williamson might have commissioned the Pope’s army. ... This is in your power to punish, and you may do it, though you could not remove ill ministers. Therefore I move that Secretary Williamson may be made an example.

Williamson was sent to the Tower but the King notified the House he would release him. Papillon urged the House ‘to address the King not to release Williamson, and show our reasons why we committed him’.4

At the first general election of 1679, there was a double return for Dover, but Papillon was named on both indentures and took his seat at once. Again marked ‘worthy’ on Shaftesbury’s list, he was very active in the first Exclusion Parliament, being named to 33 committees and making three speeches. He was appointed to the committees for habeas corpus amendment and security against Popery. On 8 Apr. he acted as teller against referring the Irish Cattle Act to a grand committee, declaring that he did not look upon Ireland as a foreign kingdom. On 2 May he was given special responsibility for bringing in a bill to prevent the obstruction of bankruptcy proceedings, such as had ruined the Whig bankers Thompson and Nelthorpe. He helped to draw up the address for the removal of Lauderdale, voted for the exclusion bill, and took the chair in the committee to inspect the entries in the Journal about the impeachments of the lords in the Tower.5

Only a handful of votes were cast against Papillon in the second general election of 1679. Before Parliament met, Sir Leoline Jenkins, in a private intervew, tried to modify his attitude towards exclusion, but in vain, and he was again very active, being named to 25 committees and making six speeches. He was particularly severe on Abhorrers, saying of Francis Wythens:

What is this gentleman’s crime? It is betraying the liberties of the subjects of England by petitioning to subvert the rights of the subjects. He has confessed it and can bring no witnesses. The thing is plain before you for judgment. The main crime he has confessed [is] of hindering these petitions, etc. contrary to the liberty of the subject and their common natural right. Will you give him any time to prove anything against his own confession?

He was appointed to the committee to inquire into abhorring, helped to manage the conference on the Irish plot and the impeachment of Edward Seymour, and reported from the committee for the perusal of Sheridan’s papers. He defended Sir Robert Peyton against the charge of compliance with the Duke of York. He again acted as chairman of a naturalization committee, and carried the bill to the Lords. He retained his seat without difficulty in 1681, and was appointed to the committee of elections and privileges. He was one of the managers of the conference on legislative procedure (with reference to the disappearance of a bill to repeal the penal laws against Protestant dissenters) and of the impeachment of Fitzharris, but did not speak.6

After the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament, Papillon became prominent in London politics. On the grand jury empanelled for the indictment of Shaftesbury in November 1681, he was very active in examining the witnesses for the crown, and joined in the ignoramus verdict. As one of the Whig candidates for sheriff in 1682, he warned Sir John Moore against overriding the popular vote. With John Dubois he swore out a writ of mandamus for a false return, and in April 1683 caused the new lord mayor, Sir William Pritchard, and all the Tory aldermen to be arrested for failing to answer the writ. Pritchard retaliated by suing Papillon for false and malicious arrest for which he was ordered to pay £10,000 damages. In January 1685 he fled to Holland. There he remained until the Revolution, and was included in the list of James II’s opponents as one ‘considerable for parts’, though Pritchard remitted the damages at the King’s request in 1687.7

Even before Papillon returned to England, he wrote to the corporation of Dover to offer himself as a candidate. He was duly elected to the Convention, and helped to support the canopy at the coronation. Again a very active Member, he was named to 58 committees, made nine reports, acted as teller in four divisions, and was recorded as speaking 16 times. According to Roger Morrice, he was one of the Members whom the Tories wished to expel from the House as nonconformists, though he was in fact a communicant at St. Katherine Coleman. On 20 Mar. 1689 he was added to the committee to examine the cases against the prisoners in the Tower. Although he had acted as teller against appointing a committee to estimate defence costs in peacetime, he was voted into the chair and presented two reports. He was appointed to the committees for the address promising assistance in a war against France and for the bill restoring corporations. He again acted as chairman for a naturalization bill, which he carried to the Upper House, and of the committee to estimate the yield of a tax on ground rents and forfeitures. On 23 May he acted as teller against further relief for Irish Protestants out of the revenue. With Sir John Banks and Sir Matthew Andrews he was ordered to inquire into James II’s stockholdings, and reported to the House on 28 May. He was among the Members ordered to inspect the Journals regarding the Popish Plot. In the indemnity debates he favoured severity, declaring: ‘I am not for revenge, but to vindicate the nation’, especially over the Plot. He took the chair in the committee to consider providing for wounded seamen. He was among those appointed to inquire into the charges against William Harbord and to prepare reasons for a conference on tea, chocolate and coffee duties. He was chairman of the committees to inquire into the illegal collection of customs and excise under James II and for the bankruptcy bill. In the second session he was among those ordered to bring in a bill imposing a general oath of allegiance and to inspect war expenditure. He spoke repeatedly in favour of supply, even to the extent of proposing a discriminatory tax on Jews, ‘which was thought very ridiculous’. When the victualling office under the Tory Sir Richard Haddock incurred the displeasure of the House Papillon reluctantly took over responsibility on William’s express command, but urged the House not to order Haddock and (Sir) John Parsons into custody before charging them, which would be ‘taken for a great discouragement’. On 10 Dec. 1689 the corporation excused him from serving as alderman without fine. He supported the disabling clause in the bill to restore corporations, and acted as teller against the bill to confirm university charters.8

Papillon was re-elected for Dover in 1690, but in the next two Parliaments served for London. He remained a Court Whig under William III, and died on 5 May 1702. His son Philip sat for Dover from 1701 to 1720.

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. A. F. W. Papillon, Papillon Mems. 46; Procs. Huguenot Soc. xviii. 49-72.
  • 2. J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 125; Add. 29625, f. 107; CSP Dom. 1689-90, pp. 210, 488; 1694-5, p. 21; HMC Lords, iii. 47; London corp. RO, common council jnl.
  • 3. Papillon, 124-7; HMC Var. iii. 257; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 148; CSP Dom. 1667-8, pp. 576, 604; 1672-3, pp. 499, 522, 542; 1673, p. 385; J. B. Jones, Annals of Dover, 385; Kent AO, Papillon mss, Littleton to Papillon, 27 Jan. 1673.
  • 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 431; Dering Pprs. 78-79; CSP Dom. 1676-7, p. 75; Grey, iv. 138, 211-12; v. 91, 329; vi. 224-5, 235; CJ, ix. 504.
  • 5. CJ, ix. 589, 629; Grey, vii. 102.
  • 6. Papillon mss (memo. 27 Aug. 1680); Grey, vii. 388; viii. 142; CJ, ix. 640, 676, 686, 696.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 279; 1682, p. 544; Jan.-June 1683, pp. 214-15; 1683-4, p. 391; 1684-5, p. 200; Papillon, 178-83, 192-3, 199-202, 238-68; State Trials, viii. 759-821; x. 319-72; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 154.
  • 8. Morrice, 2, pp. 420, 505, 654; Add. 28037, f. 50; D. R. Lacey, Dissent and Parl. Pols. 431-2; CJ, x. 56, 80, 91, 129, 134, 136, 154, 196, 237, 253, 337; Grey, ix. 148, 319, 442-3.