BIRCH, John II (c.1666-1735), of Garnstone Manor, Weobley, Herefs.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. c.1666, 2nd s. of Rev. Thomas Birch, rector of Hampton Bishop, Herefs., afterwards vicar of Preston, Lancs. by his w. Mary. educ. G. Inn 1682; M. Temple 1687, called 1687. m. (1) bef. 14 July 1691, his cos. Sarah (d. 1702), da. and h. of John Birch I*, s.p.; (2) 26 Jan. 1704, Letitia, da. of John Hampden† of Great Hampden, Bucks., sis. of Richard Hampden II*, s.p.1
Attorney-gen. Brec., Glam. and Rad. 1695–1705; serjeant-at-law 1705; Queen’s serjeant 1712; commr. forfeited estates 1716–25; cursitor baron of Exchequer 1729–d.2
Birch had been selected as the heir of his uncle John Birch I, inasmuch as the elder Birch had made his daughter’s inheritance conditional upon marriage to her cousin. While the bridegroom was content to comply with this provision, and subsequently took pains to protect his uncle’s funerary monument from Tory parishioners and ecclesiastical authorities enraged by its provocative references to the Civil War, he did not quite adhere in every respect to the religious and political tradition that old ‘Colonel’ Birch had exemplified. In campaigning to secure his uncle’s parliamentary seat at Weobley, in the by-election held in 1691, he refused to accommodate himself to the wishes of the colonel’s old political comrades, the Foleys and Harleys, and an acrimonious contest resulted. However, after the poll Birch agreed to withdraw a petition he was preferring in return for a promise by the Foleys and Robert Harley* to find him a seat elsewhere during this Parliament, or if they could not, to pay him £260. As he did not come into the House, he must have accepted the cash composition. At the following election he challenged again, but from a weaker position, which made the Harleys less concerned to interpose. If anything, feelings at this election ran even higher, with Birch relying on the ‘Church interest’ in his opposition to the Foleys. This reliance was understandable in the son of an Anglican parson, though it scarcely accorded with the Presbyterianism with which the name of John Birch had been associated in the preceding generation. Birch’s relations in Bristol also displayed Tory sympathies in this period: their quarrel with the Whig John Dutton Colt* was attributed by Colt to party animosity. At the same time, Birch was himself involved in the movement for the reformation of manners, as a colleague of Edward Harley*, Robert’s brother, in a pressure group in Middlesex, an interest which was characteristic of Presbyterians or those from Puritan backgrounds and which was also reflected perhaps in his abortive election campaign at Weobley in 1695, when he refused to pay money to the electors and moreover enjoyed support from Lord Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†), another active ‘moral reformer’. Birch’s political preferences cannot in fact be easily characterized at this point. In the 1698 election he went to a poll at Weobley against Thomas Foley II* and the Tory Robert Price*, but at the same time had been maintaining amicable relations with the Harleys since at least 1693 and seems to have given his interest in Radnorshire to Thomas Harley* against a Whig opponent.3
The election at Weobley in January 1701 was a complicated affair, characterized by shifting alliances, underhand dealings and wholesale bribery. However, on this occasion Birch seems to have overcome any scruples about spending money, and was successful at the election. His political sympathies are not readily apparent from his three tellerships during this Parliament: against giving a second reading to a private bill on behalf of Sir Walter Clarges, 1st Bt.* (2 May 1701); against adjourning a debate on the Lichfield election (10 May); and against an amendment to a motion to refer petitions on Irish forfeited estates to the trustees chosen under the Act of Resumption (31 May). However, his authorship of the bill to prevent the corrupting of jurors, which he presented on 13 Mar. 1701, and reported on 28 May, indicates a sympathy with the concerns of ‘Country’ Members. Re-elected in December 1701 after another contest, he was classed with the Tories in Robert Harley’s list of the new Parliament, and, although a teller on 10 Feb. 1702 in favour of committing the abjuration bill, was included in the ‘white list’ of those who favoured the motion on 26 Feb. vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of the four Whig lords. He was also one of several ‘Country’-minded MPs who had promised to support Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt., in his motion on 11 Feb. for the taxation of all crown grants since the Revolution, but who failed to appear in the House at the appropriate time. Of his other tellerships, two were on questions connected with the Irish forfeitures, against receiving or reading petitions from Lord Haversham (Sir John Thompson, 1st Bt.*) and Robert Edgworth respectively (20 Feb., 14 Mar.); one arose from the bill to regulate the King’s Bench and Fleet prisons, against an instruction to the committee to state the ‘encumbrances’ on each institution (7 Mar.); and one was on a point of procedure, against a motion that all committees be adjourned (23 Jan.). During this Parliament he presented another bill on 5 Feb., for ascertaining the water-measure of fruit, and reported it on 7 Mar.4
After losing his seat in 1702, Birch was returned unopposed at Weobley in 1705. Uncertainty as to his party allegiance is reflected in the fact that he was described as a ‘Churchman’ in a printed analysis of the new Commons, while Lord Sunderland’s (Charles, Lord Spencer*) private calculation of the election results accounted his return a ‘gain’ for the Whigs. In fact, he had already been recruited by Robert Harley to the ranks of the Court party by the offer of the coif, and although he had not been given the honour of Queen’s serjeant, which he had himself considered ‘the most acceptable’, he had been permitted to name his brother to be his successor as attorney-general on the South Wales circuit, that office being ‘incompatible’ with the degree of serjeant. He voted on 25 Oct. for the Court candidate as Speaker, and supported the Court again on 18 Feb. 1706 in the proceedings over the ‘place clause’ in the regency bill, having contributed a comment on a matter of procedure to a debate on the clause on 21 Jan. On 12 Dec. 1706 he presented a bill for preventing the corrupting of jurors, while on 3 Mar. 1707 he was granted a leave of absence, the first of a series, which may well have been connected with the performance of professional or even official duties. That he was being considered for preferment is clear from a letter of Lord Coningsby (Thomas*) in May 1707, in which Coningsby reported (to Robert Harley) having spoken to the lord treasurer and lord chancellor in Birch’s favour and found them ‘both so inclinable that I cannot but conclude it done’. Whatever the intended appointment or favour may have been, nothing appears to have transpired. In the 1707–8 session Birch was the only Member in the House on 21 Nov. 1707 who ‘had the boldness’ to question whether the place clause of the Regency Act (which he had voted against less than two years before) should now be invoked as a result of the Act of Union rendering the Parliament technically a ‘new’ one. But on 16 Dec. he received another month’s leave of absence. He was twice listed as a Whig in early 1708, but in a by-election for Weobley in December of that year gave his backing to a Tory, Henry Gorges*. Despite being granted an unlimited leave of absence on 15 Dec. 1708, he voted for the naturalization of the Palatines the following February. The next session, after his customary leave of absence had been granted on 17 Dec. 1709, this time for one month, he voted (before 16 Mar., when he was granted three weeks’ leave of absence) for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. Returned unopposed at the 1710 election, and classed as a Whig in the ‘Hanover list’, Birch ceased to be a particularly active Member in this and the succeeding Parliament. He was given leave of absence again on 26 Feb. 1711, for a month, but was listed as voting on 7 Dec. 1711 in favour of the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion, and on 18 June 1713 against the French commerce bill, on which latter occasion he was noted as a Whig. Returned at a by-election in 1715, he served successive Whig ministries as a loyal placeman, conveniently forgetting earlier ‘Country’ principles, until his death on 6 Oct. 1735, when he was succeeded in the Garnstone estate by his brother Samuel.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. E. Heath-Agnew, Roundhead to Royalist, pp. xxiii, 215.
- 2. W. R. Williams, Gt. Sessions in Wales, 154–5; HMC Portland, iv. 216.
- 3. Heath-Agnew, 216–20; Bodl. Ballard 34, f. 132; Trans. Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, xxxix. 128–9, 132–3; HMC Portland, iii. 469, 473, 478, 571; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Harley) mss Pw2Hy 308, Robert Harley to Birch, 19 Sept. 1691; Craig thesis, 69–70; Harley mss at Brampton Bryan, Robert to Thomas Harley*, 30 July 1698.
- 4. Trans. Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, 133–4; Add. 70019, ff. 270–1, 275; 29/190, f. 38; HMC Portland, iv. 11; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 25, ff. 15, 17–18, 25, 27, 32, 46, 53–4, 58; Cocks Diary, 211.
- 5. Portland (Harley) mss Pw2Hy 513, Birch to Robert Harley, 24 Apr. 1705; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 81; HMC Portland, iv. 414, 513; HMC Downshire, i. 855–6.