SMITH (SMYTH), William (1617-97), of Radclive, Bucks. and Stepney, Mdx.

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



c. Feb. 1641 - 16 Jan. 1644

Family and Education

bap. 3 July 1617, 1st s. of Robert Smyth of Akeley, Bucks., principal of New Inn, London, by Martha Greene of Bedford. educ. Trinity, Oxf. 1635; New Inn; M. Temple 1636, called 1641. m. (1) c. July 1644, Margaret, da. of Sir Alexander Denton of Hillesden, Bucks., 1s. d.v.p. 1da.; (2) by 1657, Dorothy (d.1686), da. of Sir Nathaniel Hobart of Highgate, Mdx., master in chancery, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da. suc. fa. c.1644; cr. Bt. 10 May 1661.1

Offices Held

Col. of horse (royalist) 1643-6; gov. of Hillesden 1644.2

J.p. Buckingham Nov. 1660, Bucks. 1662-87, Mdx. 1674-87; commr. for assessment, Bucks. 1661-80, Buckingham 1663-80, Mdx. 1673-9, 1689-90, corporations, Bucks. 1662-3, loyal and indigent officers 1662, recusants 1675; col. of militia ft. and dep. lt. Tower Hamlets by 1680-6.3

Commr. of inquiry into the Mint 1677-9.4


Smith’s grandfather, a civil lawyer of Lincolnshire origin, was appointed a prebendary of Lincoln in 1581 and held the Buckinghamshire living of Mursley till his death forty years later. His father, a thriving attorney, who had acquired the manors of Wroxhill in Bedfordshire and Wavendon Heath in Buckinghamshire, as well as a college lease at Akeley, died at Oxford during the Civil War, and Smith’s mother paid £360 to compound for his delinquency. Smith himself, ‘a person well-versed in bargaining’, though qualified as a barrister, was chiefly active as a land-jobber. His long and profitable association with the Bedfordshire Wentworths began in 1641, when the Earl of Cleveland mortgaged to him the manors of Stepney and Hackney, on the eastern outskirts of London, and by purchasing other debts he enlarged his claim on the estate to £32,568. In the Long Parliament, he began as a strong opponent of the prerogative, and published two of his speeches in 1642. But he soon went over to the Royalists, raised a cavalry regiment, and was taken prisoner at the fall of Hillesden House. After an exchange of prisoners he made his way to Cornwall, with a patent to set up a mint at Truro, and then to Jersey. In 1649 he was allowed to compound for the mere £54 due at one-third on his chambers in the Temple and house property in Bristol. On the sale of Cleveland’s lands by the treason trustees he was allotted in satisfaction of his claims the two lordships and the lion’s share of the lands in Stepney and Hackney, and proceeded to dismember the manors on a spectacular scale. In his home county he prospected for fuller’s earth, and took over, probably in lieu of his first wife’s portion, another college lease at Radclive, two miles west of Buckingham, where he indulged his tastes for hospitality and splendour by enclosing and stocking a deer park. He was arrested on suspicion of royalist conspiracy in 1658, but soon released, and was later alleged to have promoted a loyal address to Richard Cromwell.5

In 1661 Smith was returned for Buckingham after a hard-fought contest in which he allegedly offered the corporation £300 to build a new town hall, and was created a baronet in the following month. Though voluble enough elsewhere, he was almost totally silent in the Cavalier Parliament, and decreasingly active as a committeeman. He was appointed to 73 committees, including those for the security and corporations bills and the bill of pains and penalties. He also served on the committee for the private bill to enable Cleveland to sell the estates which he had recovered at the Restoration. In 1664 he was granted, with Cleveland’s assent, an annual fair on Mile End Green, a weekly market at Ratcliffe Cross, and a court of record with enlarged jurisdiction at Whitechapel. In the Oxford session he was appointed to the committee for the five mile bill, and in 1666 to those to consider a bill giving Cleveland more time to pay off the mortgages and to take the accounts of the loyal and indigent officers fund. Another interest of Smith’s was a salt-works on the Isle of Grain which was destroyed in the Dutch raid on the Medway. On 8 Nov. 1667 he was added to the committee considering a petition against Lord Mordaunt, and after the Christmas recess he was among those ordered to receive information of nonconformist insolencies. He advanced £5,000 on the security of the Wine Act, and was listed as a government supporter by the Opposition in 1671.6

Smith seems to have acquired complete control of the Stepney estate by 1673-4, when he took up residence there and was appointed to county office. In October 1675 Sir Ralph Verney was told that ‘Sir William Smith’s business is done. ... Prince Rupert and the Duke of Monmouth have presented him with their pictures’. His introduction to Monmouth was probably due to Cleveland’s granddaughter, Lady Wentworth, though her infatuation with the duke was not revealed for some years. The ‘business’ may have been connected with the coinage of tin, in which Smith had been interested since the Civil War. In 1676 Sir Richard Wiseman reported to Lord Treasurer Danby that Smith had ‘attended very little last session, which fault a very little intimation from your lordship will mend’. He was assigned to Danby’s own management on the working lists, and probably promised a seat on the Mint commission, which gave him the opportunity of promoting his case for coining farthings from tin. Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’ for the 1677 session, in the course of which a bill was introduced ‘for the further and better satisfaction’ of Cleveland’s creditors. For the first and only time, Smith acted as teller, and the bill was rejected on second reading. In the chair at the Middlesex quarter sessions he was severe both on Catholic recusants and Protestant nonconformists. On 1 Feb. 1678, in his only recorded speech in the entire Parliament, he informed the House of the conviction of (Sir) Solomon Swale for recusancy. His last committee, six days later, was to consider reports from the Ordance and Admiralty. Despite his inactivity he was on both lists of the court party at this time.7

As one of the ‘unanimous club’ Smith did not stand for re-election, but he was persuaded by his brother-magistrates to contest Middlesex in September. Although assured of the support of the bishop of London, Lord Craven, and (Sir) John Robinson I, he would spend no money, and gave up after polling only three votes. He was summoned before the second Exclusion Parliament as an Abhorrer. He was soon locked in a desperate faction fight in the Middlesex quarter sessions; it was even alleged that he was less active in suppressing conventicles than Sir William Goulston or Charles Cheyne. He was invited to attend the Privy Council with his proposals for reforming the administration of the poor law, and drafted a letter from the King to be read at quarter sessions ordering that new workhouses should be built and that irregularities in empanelling jurors should cease. With the Court again in the ascendant, he extracted a confession of perjury from one of the Popish Plot informers and launched a new campaign against the nonconformists. He was foreman of the grand jury that committed Algernon Sidney. In 1684 he proposed the foundation of a hospital in Tower Hamlets for the dependants of seamen who had lost their lives or been enslaved by the Turks. A charter was ordered to provide for its maintenance by a grant of £100 p.a. from his court of record at Whitechapel, the limit of whose jurisdiction was simultaneously raised to £40. He stood again for Middlesex in 1685, but, finding his party inconsiderable, desisted. In 1687 he was removed from the commission of the peace. The circumstances are obscure, and the nonconformist divine Roger Morrice naturally alleged corruption. Bitter local rivalries appear to have come to a head over a proposal to construct a covered sewer from Spitalfields to the Thames; Lord Chancellor Jeffreys patronized the other faction, and dismissed all attempts to intervene on Smith’s behalf as the work of ‘trimmers’. Smith never stood again, and was buried at Akeley on 17 Feb. 1697, the only member of the family to sit in Parliament.8

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: Leonard Naylor / John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Bucks. RO, Akeley bishops’ transcripts; F. A. Blaydes, Gen. Bed. 40; SP23/203/491; Verney Mems. i. 320; ii. 122.
  • 2. Jnl. of Sir Samuel Luke (Oxon. Rec. Soc. xxxii), 202; HMC 7th Rep. 446; HMC Dartmouth, i. 129.
  • 3. Huntington Lib. Stowe mss, 2/452.
  • 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 751, 986.
  • 5. Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 68, 173, 428; Wood, Athenae, iv. 669-70; A. Fea, Loyal Wentworths, 50-56; S. E. Hoskins, Chas. II in the Channel Is. ii. 138-42; SP23/203/491-503; Econ. Hist. Rev. (ser. 2), v. 196-7; CSP Dom. 1666, p. 217; Jnl. of Sir Samuel Luke, 217; HMC Dartmouth, i. 129; HMC 7th Rep. 69, 112; Verney Mems. ii. 33, 122, 124, 362; PCC 40 Pyne; E. Whittaker, Second Part of Ignoramus Justices (1682), 3.
  • 6. Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 264; CSP Dom. 1663-4, p. 669; 1680-1, p. 681; Lysons, Environs, iii. 420-1; HMC Dartmouth, i. 129; CJ, ix. 79.
  • 7. HMC 7th Rep. 468; CSP Dom. 1679-80, pp. 158-9; HMC Lindsey, 176; CJ, ix. 408; Grey, v. 47.
  • 8. BL M636/33, Denton to Sir Ralph Verney, 31 July, Stewkeley to Verney, 25 Aug., John to Sir Ralph Verney, 8 Sept. 1679; Whittaker, 2; CSP Dom. 1680-1, pp. 241, 321, 352, 431, 503; 1682, pp. 352-3; 1683-4, pp. 360-1; HMC 7th Rep. 498; Verney Mems. ii. 382-3; Bath mss. Thynne pprs. 14, ff. 214-15; HMC Dartmouth, i. 129; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 518; North, Lives, iii. 327-8; Bucks. RO, Akeley par. reg.; Fea, 204-9.