PORTER, Charles (1631-96), of Essex Buildings, the Middle Temple.
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Family and Education
b. 6 Sept. 1631, 2nd s. of Edmund Porter (d.1670), rector of Hevingham, Norf. and preb. of Norwich by Mary, da. of Sir Charles Chibborne of Messing Hall, Essex. educ. M. Temple 1656, called 1663. m. (1) lic. 1 Jan. 1666, Sarah Michell of Edmonton, Mdx., s.p.; (2) lic. 3 Jan. 1671, Letitia, da. of Bartholomew Coxeter of Weald Manor, Bampton, Oxon., 1s. 2da. Kntd. 25 Jan. 1686.1
Under-clerk in Chancery ?1656-63; solicitor to the Duke of York July 1660-85; member, R. Adventurers into Africa 1663, asst. 1667-71; member. R. Africa Co. 1672; dep. remembrancer of first fruits and tenths 1678, remembrancer Mar. 1688-d.; bencher, M. Temple 1682, treas. 1688-9; KC 1685; ld. chancellor [I] 1686-7, 1690-d.; one of the lds. justices [I] 1690-2, 1693, 1696-d.2
Commr. for assessment, Mdx. 1664-9, 1679-80, 1689, M. Temple 1690; j.p. Ely 1680-?86; freeman, Dublin 1686.3
Porter’s father, of Worcestershire origin, was presented to a Norfolk living in 1625 and installed as prebendary of Norwich cathedral two years later. Ejected during the Civil War from his spiritual employments as a strong opponent of Parliament, he lived quietly on his wife’s property in Essex until the Restoration, when he regained his prebend but not his rectory. Porter himself, a younger son, was an apprentice in Norwich at the time of the royalist riots in 1648; though perhaps less prominently involved than he afterwards liked to relate, he escaped to Holland and enlisted in the ranks. He then kept an eating-house for exiled Cavaliers, whose appetites unfortunately exceeded their means, and when this failed returned to England. ‘A genteel youth’, he found employment as an under-clerk in Chancery and began to read for the bar. At the Temple he formed a friendship with (Sir) Francis North, later lord keeper, despite their very different temperaments. At the Restoration he was appointed solicitor to the Duke of York with a salary of £50 p.a., though he was not yet qualified as a barrister. In 1669 he was granted in reversion the office of remembrancer of first fruits, supposed to be worth £800 p.a., acting as deputy and surety to the present incumbent. His practice flourished, partly owing to North’s patronage, but also to his own merits. As his patron’s brother and biographer, Roger North, wrote of him:
His industry was great, and he had acquired dexterity and skill in the forms of the court; and although he was a boon companion and followed much the bottle, yet he made such dispatch as satisfied his clients, especially the clerks, who always knew where to find him. His person was florid and his speech prompt and articulate.
He was one of the four lawyers, led by (Sir) John Churchill, who were sent to the Tower by the Commons in 1675 during a dispute over the jurisdiction of the Upper House. ‘But his vices in the way of women and the bottle were so ungoverned as brought him to a morsel, and he did but just hold up his head with all the advantages that fell to his share, which were very great.’ He supplemented his professional earnings by acquiring an interest in the Limerick tanning industry, which by 1682 was said to amount to a monopoly.4
Porter defeated Hugh Boscawen at Tregony at the general election of 1685 as a government supporter, probably on the interest of Charles Trevanion. An active Member of James II’s Parliament, he was appointed to 12 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges and that to recommend expunctions from the Journals. With Charles Bonython he was given leave to bring in a bill to establish ‘courts of conscience’ for small claims in the London suburbs, and he was appointed to committees on measures designed to reform the bankruptcy laws, to suppress simony, to establish a land registry, and to relieve poor debtors. In the following year he was appointed lord chancellor of Ireland. ‘His character for fidelity, loyalty and facetious conversation were without exception. He had the good fortune to be loved by everybody. ... He had that magnanimity and command of himself that no surprise or affliction ... could be discerned either in his countenance or society.’ The office was supposed to be worth £1,000 p.a., but the lord lieutenant the and Earl of Clarendon (Henry Hyde) thought that Porter could expect to clear £700 a year at the most, ‘which is no great matter for a man who has but a very small estate of his own, considering the figure he ought to make’. His salary was raised by £500 p.a., and he carried out the King’s instructions to admit Roman Catholics to office, but as a supporter of Clarendon’s moderate policies he fell foul of the violent Tyrconnell and was recalled in January 1687. The King reluctantly granted him an interview, but refused an explanation. However, he did not openly oppose the abolition of the Tests and Penal Laws, and succeeded a less compliant predecessor at the office of first fruits; but he could make little profit by it, and resumed practice at the bar.5
Porter’s loyalty was not proof against his recent ill treatment, and as early as December 1688 he was known to be an active adherent of William of Orange. He was returned for Windsor in 1690 as a court Tory, and reappointed chancellor at the end of the year. He was attacked by the Whigs in both Parliaments for favouring Papists, but without success. He died in Dublin on 8 Dec. 1696 ‘little better than insolvent’, and no other member of the family sat in Parliament.6
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Paula Watson
- 1. Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 401; Wood’s Life and Times (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xix), 42; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 1076; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 874.
- 2. North, Lives, i. 381; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 279; Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 1309; viii. 1791; ix. 782; HMC Lords, iii. 321; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 330; HMC Portland, iii. 406.
- 3. Add. 47182, f. 2.
- 4. DNB; A. G. Matthews, Walker Revised, 271-2; R. W. Ketton-Cremer, Norf. in the Civil War, 341-3; North, i. 381-2; CJ, ix. 351; CSP Dom. 1682, pp. 403, 498.
- 5. CJ, ix. 731; Clarendon Corresp. i. 290; Burnet, ed. Routh, iii. 73; HMC Portland, iii. 406.
- 6. HMC 11th Rep. VII, 28-29; North, i. 382; P. E. Ball, Judges in Ireland, ii. 12-14.