CAPEL, Hon. Sir Henry (1638-96), of Kew, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1660 - Mar. 1681
1689 - 1690
1690 - 11 Apr. 1692

Family and Education

bap. 6 Mar. 1638, 3rd s. of Arthur Capel†, 1st Baron Capell of Hadham (d. 1649), by Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Sir Charles Morrison, 1st Bt.†, of Cassiobridge, Herts. m. settlement 16 Feb. 1659, Dorothy (d. 1721), da. and coh. of Richard Bennet of Chancery Lane, London and Kew, s.p.  KB 23 Apr. 1661; cr. Baron Capell of Tewkesbury 11 Apr. 1692.

Offices Held

Steward of Ogmore, Glam. 1662–93; chief steward, manor of Richmond 1690–?92; high steward, Tewkesbury by 1695–d.; freeman, Dublin 1695.1

PC [I] 1673–85, 1693–d.; ld. of Admiralty 1679–80; PC 21 Apr. 1679–31 Jan. 1680, 14 Feb. 1689–d.; ld. of Treasury 1689–90; ld. justice [I] 1693–May 1695, ld. dep. [I] May 1695–d.; commr. appeals in prizes 1694–d.2

Gov. Society of Mineral and Battery Works 1689–d.; member, Society of Mines Royal 1690.3


An Exclusionist and staunch Whig, Capel had come to occupy a leading position among the parliamentary Whigs and had been appointed to the Treasury Board in 1689. In the 1690 election he switched seats from Cockermouth to Tewkesbury, where his extensive estates gave him a commanding interest. Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) classed him as a Whig on the list of the new Parliament, but his prospective support for the government was placed in question soon after the election when he was removed from the Treasury in accordance with a promise made by the King to Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile†), Capel having been one of Halifax’s fiercest opponents in 1689. He did, however, receive a promise of future compensation and was evidently still expected to play his part in the management of government support, being listed at about this time as a ‘Privy Councillor that ought to assist’ in Parliament. His participation is recorded in several key debates of the first session. On 17 Apr. 1690, in the attack by the Churchmen on the recent alterations in the London lieutenancy, he spoke in favour of allowing the sheriffs to petition the House against them, and on the 24th against the Tory motion for an address of thanks to the King for the ‘great care’ he had shown towards the Church in making the changes, saying:

Suppose you make this address, and you find those put in are not of the Church of England and have been of the bloody juries? When you address the King, do you not take every part of his speech into consideration, before you draw up your address? I never saw the list of this lieutenancy, but I have heard an ill character of some of them. I have seen the Church of England set forwards and backwards by Lord Clifford, who did head the declaration; and here we are set one against another and all for the interests of the papists . . . Another Parliament will find fault for this address as not consistent with reason.

He subsequently proposed that any address be couched in ‘general’ terms and should omit mentioning the lieutenancy altogether, but his counter-motion for a committee to report on the new appointments was unsuccessful. Two days later, on the 26th, he supported Hon. Thomas Wharton’s* abjuration bill, declaring it to be ‘a test, who are for King James and the French king, and thereby for popery, that we may know then if we must not secure this government’. On 13 May he was nominated a manager of a conference with the Lords on the Queen’s regency bill.4

In the 1690–1 session Capel was active, at the request of his sister, the Duchess of Beaufort, in organizing opposition on behalf of their niece Elizabeth, Lady Ailesbury to a bill enabling her husband the Earl of Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†) to dispose of some of the estates in Wiltshire which she had inherited from her late brother, the 3rd Duke of Somerset. His efforts were unavailing however, and the bill was passed. In lists drawn up between December 1690 and February 1691 he was still classified as a Court supporter, and by Robert Harley* in April 1691 as a Country party supporter. He evidently missed no opportunity of stating his strong Whiggish views. On 19 Nov. 1691 he spoke in favour of the Court’s wish to deal with the army estimates ‘in a lump’ rather than item by item, stressing the imprudence of such action in the event of unexpected attacks from the French in Ireland or elsewhere: ‘who would be so bold to advise his Majesty to withdraw any of his forces from the other parts of his kingdom, thereby to lessen what the Commons have thought fit to establish for the defence of those kingdoms?’. On the 28th he opposed the attempt to reduce the number of men voted for the army by including the officers in the estimate, further to which on the 30th he was named to the committee to consider lists of forces and garrisons needed by the King. During November he also participated in two conferences with the Lords. At the beginning of December he involved himself on behalf of the Duchess of Beaufort in further unsuccessful attempts to block another estate bill for the Earl of Ailesbury. He spoke three times in December and January against the Lords’ efforts to tone down the treason trials bill; on 2 Jan. 1692 opposed reductions in the army in Ireland; and in ways and means on the 20th, supported the proposal for a quarterly poll, pointing out that the inclusion of peers within its scope was a particularly attractive feature. On 22 Jan. he spoke in favour of printing the vote which declared Sir Basil Firebrace* guilty of bribery; on the 28th, saw no reason for the Lords to have their own nominees on the commission of accounts, ‘for what end should they have an account of the monies given and issued?’; and on 15 Feb. opposed the attempt to revive the commission of accounts by the back-door process of tacking a clause for this purpose to the poll bill.5

The promise of recompense given to Capel at the time of his dismissal from the Treasury was honoured in April 1692, when he was raised to the peerage (as Lord Capell), and a greater reward followed in May 1693 when he was appointed one of three lords justices to govern Ireland. Shortly afterwards he wrote to Admiral Edward Russell* of his disappointment at his friend and fellow Whig Lord Shrewsbury’s refusal to accept a similar high office as it gave the impression that the Whigs were ‘men contented with nothing’, but was delighted when the Earl finally accepted the seals as secretary of state in March 1694. Meanwhile in Ireland all was not well. It had been hoped that the new dispensation, replacing the discredited Lord Sydney (Hon. Henry Sidney†) with a more balanced administration, in which Capell’s Whig zeal would be balanced by the moderation of Sir Cyril Wyche* and William Duncombe*, would bring stability, but the experiment was not a success. Capell soon distanced himself from his fellow justices and concentrated on forging an alliance with the extreme Protestant party led by Thomas* and Alan Brodrick† and Robert Rochfort, at the same time urging the government to recall the Irish parliament. Wyche and Duncombe continually warned of the dangers and difficulties of such a course, but their influence waned as Capell’s increased, thanks to the growing dominance of his Junto allies in England. Eventually the King, acting on the advice of Lord Sunderland, gave Capell sole responsibility for the government of Ireland in May 1695 by making him lord deputy. Having reshuffled the Dublin administration in accordance with the wishes of his Irish allies, Capell then summoned a new parliament, where with the help of the Brodricks and Rochfort he managed to achieve a satisfactory compromise on the claim of the Irish house of commons to possess a sole right to initiate supply bills; he also secured additional taxation, the annulment of all the proceedings of James II’s Irish parliament, and the confirmation of the Act of Settlement. Within the Irish ministry he faced covert opposition from the lord chancellor, Sir Charles Porter*, who was anxious to secure the ratification of the Treaty of Limerick, something also desired by William, but about which Capell and his supporters were unenthusiastic. The breach came to a head when Capell’s faction tried, unsuccessfully, to impeach Porter in the Irish parliament. Capell denied responsibility himself, although his refusal to intervene on Porter’s behalf led many to suppose that he had tacitly countenanced the proceedings. The King urged a reconciliation, but little progress had been made by the time of Capell’s death on 30 May 1696. His body was returned to England and buried at Little Hadham in Hertfordshire. Lord Dartmouth considered Capell ‘very weak, formal [and] conceited’, one who had ‘no other merit than being a violent party man’, but Shrewsbury and other Whigs naturally expressed a very different view.6

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Paula Watson / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster Official Lists, 228; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 627, 1682–3; CSP Dom. 1694–5, p. 462; Cal. Ancient Recs. Dublin ed. Gilbert, vi. 103.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1693, p. 134; 1694–5, pp. 204, 460; 1695, pp. 111–12, 331.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1460.
  • 4. Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 124; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 211; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 586, 592, 594; Bodl. Rawl. A.79, f. 78.
  • 5. . Wilts. RO, Ailesbury mss 1300/784, Lord Clarendon (Henry Hyde†) to Lady Beaufort, 13 Dec. 1690; 1300/787, Godfrey Harcourt to same, 1 Jan. 1690[–1]; 1300/788–90, Capell to same, 7 Jan. 1690–1, 4, 29 Dec. 1691; Luttrell Diary, 32, 48, 75, 105, 128–9, 143, 150, 153, 162, 187.
  • 6. Penal Era and Golden Age ed. Bartlett and Hayton, 27–29, 40; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 118, 132; D. H. Somerville, King of Hearts, 184–8.