CAVE, Sir Thomas, 3rd Bt. (1681-1719), of Stanford Hall, Leics.

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



22 Feb. 1711 - 21 Apr. 1719

Family and Education

bap. 9 Apr. 1681, 1st s. of Sir Roger Cave, 2nd Bt.†, by his 1st w. Martha, da. and h. of John Browne of Eydon, Northants., clerk of the Parliaments.  educ. Rugby 1690; Christ Church, Oxf. 1699.  m. 20 Feb. 1703 (with £3,000), Margaret (d. 1774), da. of John Verney*, 1st Visct. Fermanagh [I], 2s. 2da.  suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. 11 Oct. 1703.1

Offices Held


Sir Thomas Cave was in many ways the archetypal Tory country gentleman in terms of lifestyle and prejudices. A high-minded Anglican, he regarded himself as a political spectator rather than a participant, judging himself ‘no tame politician’. Barely out of his youth, he inherited financially robust estates straddling the Leicestershire–Northamptonshire border from a father who never reconciled himself to his son’s choice of bride. Sir Roger’s own marriage had brought into the family a fortune of £30,000, and not unnaturally he wished his son and heir to marry equally advantageously. Cave’s marriage to Margaret Verney in February 1703 was performed in London without his father’s knowledge, a fact which momentarily ‘filled the town with fresh discourse’. Neither did this fait accompli help to soften the elder Cave, who allowed his son a niggardly £80 a year ‘to keep him from starving’. The young couple were made welcome at the Verneys’ Buckinghamshire seat at Claydon, until Sir Roger’s timely death in October. Cave very soon came to value a warm relationship with his father-in-law, and the two families exchanged visits regularly every year. On taking title and estates he quickly settled into the routines and responsibilities of a country gentleman. His letters to the Verneys reveal a companionable and sportsmanlike personality, dedicated to horse-racing, the chase and shooting, although his diminutive stature was not an asset: once, Lord Fermanagh observed, ‘the little baronet hath much ado to get clear of the black thorns, or brussle through the tall underwood’. Besides the Tory Verneys, his social milieu included two leading Midlands gentry families, also of Tory stock: the Bromleys of Warwickshire, with whom he was connected through his father’s second marriage, Cave’s stepmother being the sister of William Bromley II*; and the Ishams of Northamptonshire, whom he invariably assisted at elections.2

Though not elected until 1711, Cave had by then gained some familiarity with the ways of the House, having attended debates in several sessions, probably at the invitation of Members in his acquaintance. In January 1705 he was present at the debates on a place bill, informing Fermanagh of the rejection of another bill, ‘which I was in hopes might have passed’, to incapacitate peers from holding public office or benefiting ?nancially from taking their seats. At the same time he concurred with Fermanagh’s desire to see a bill to compel army officer-MPs ‘to be with their men, and not suffered to loiter in England when the campaign is begun’, as ‘equal and just’. Although the lateness of the session would not permit such a bill, he expressed a youthful determination to broach the idea with Members known to him. However, the design was soon forgotten. At the end of January he shared the homeward journey with Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, and ‘others of our countrymen’, whose immediate task was to prepare for the forthcoming Northamptonshire election. His appointment in February as a deputy-lieutenant for Northamptonshire by its Whig lord lieutenant, the Earl of Peterborough, was made, so one gentleman speculated, ‘to sweeten him’. During polling in May Cave energetically handled the problems of transporting distant freeholders by hiring all available horses and using his own coach to convey the elderly. The poll was given up, however, before his own contingent of voters could reach Northampton.3

In November 1705, Cave was in London to watch over a private bill initiated on his behalf in the House of Lords, enabling him to dispose of land at Eydon in Northamptonshire to raise portions for his brother and sisters, and which received the Royal Assent in mid-February. Some property was evidently retained at Eydon, since Cave’s stepmother and sisters were still living there in 1711. In January he also took the opportunity to attend the Commons’ proceedings on the disputed return for Leicester. In July 1707 Cave was one of the j.p.s dismissed during Lord Chancellor Cowper’s (William*) extensive remodelling of the Leicestershire bench. Following John Verney’s death in October, he canvassed busily for the Tory Geoffrey Palmer* in the ensuing by-election in November. On hearing of the motion made on 17 Nov. to repeal the Game Act he saw its use as a possible election gambit, and asked Fermanagh to find out ‘who first motioned it in the House, and whether Churchman or Fanatick; if the first the information may be of service to us’. A few months later Cave was promoting the Tory cause again at the 1708 general election. As the new Parliament of 1710 assembled for its first session he reflected sceptically on the nation’s euphoric mood of expectation: ‘the ignorant country rejoyceth much, and seemeth to expect great alter[ati]ons from your house’.4

The accession of Lord Granby (John Manners*, Lord Roos) to his father’s dukedom in January 1711 precipitated discussion about who might replace him as Member for Leicestershire. There was almost complete unanimity among the county’s leading Tories, meeting in London early in February, that it should be Cave. They pressed him to resolve immediately, ‘thinking you the fittest to represent the county’. Unenthusiastic at first, he merely told his father-in-law he had ‘complied’. One of his strongest advocates was the former shire knight John Wilkins, who seems to have suggested his name to the county’s leading Tory peer, Lord Denbigh, even before the by-election had materialized, and it was Wilkins who took on the task of organizing Cave’s campaign. The appearance of a Tory rival, Henry Tate, to whom several of Cave’s friends had already pledged themselves threatened an unnecessarily divisive campaign, which, as he himself recognized, would be damaging to the party. He explained his predicament to Fermanagh:

the sudden resolution of some of my former friends must give the county a great deal of trouble and make the election more strange to see some before my friends now my opponents, and others formerly my opposites now my side bearers, for by losing my old I’m obliged to make new friends. I must confess ’twould be unhappy to have the Ch[urch] interest once divided which would be difficult to unite. I can’t honourably recede from my engagem[en]t nor the worthy gents that desired my standing desire it.

By mid-February, however, Tate’s withdrawal had retrieved the situation and Cave was returned without opposition. During his first session Cave was noted as a ‘worthy patriot’ who supported the initiatives to expose the previous ministry’s mismanagements, but did not belong to any Tory back-bench group. He shared his party’s irritation at the expense of maintaining troops abroad during lulls in campaigning, grumbling, ‘I fear we shall pay ’em extravagantly dear for their quiet.’ In the summer he was reinstated on the county bench by Lord Chancellor Harcourt (Simon I*). London proved thoroughly uncongenial to him, and he once compared ‘stinking London’ to his ‘paradise’ at home. He seems never to have spent longer than one month there at a time. Singularly inactive in the House throughout his parliamentary career, he became progressively less conscientious about his attendance. In his first session he was up at the House as late as June 1712, reporting to Fermanagh the embittered debates on the conduct of the war in which ‘the Whigs raved very violently’. The following year, however, he left Claydon for London in mid-April, and was soon reporting that the 2s. reduction in the land tax ‘no doubt will be highly acceptable to the country and all landed men’. A little over a month elapsed before he was again back at Stanford. Finding no opponents in the next general election, he had sufficient leisure to invite himself to Claydon, ‘as we Leicestershire beanbullies apprehend no opposition, you may command my attendance on you’. Early in September he and Lord Tamworth (Robert Shirley*) were returned unchallenged.5

At the beginning of 1714 Cave expressed relief at news of the Queen’s improving health, ‘especially from the reflections of the ill consequences of her death, and what confusion it must have created, while affairs are so unsettled’. He was in no doubt that during her illness the Whigs had been ‘very uppish’ and the Tories ‘as much dejected’. After the new session had opened he spent a token two or three weeks in London, returning comfortably before the House recessed for Easter on 24 Mar. Anticipating a summons from Sir George Beaumont, 4th Bt.*, ‘the sergeant’, he travelled south again in mid-April and for a few weeks was deeply absorbed in ‘the excessive hurry and fatigue’ of ‘a continued close attendance’ during the debates on the peace ‘and never dined more than two days before six at night’. He was appalled at the attitude of the Whigs, referring to them with irony as the ‘religious party’, for espousing far more confidence in the Emperor as a guarantor of the Protestant succession than ‘to our present good Protestant Queen’, when persecutions of German Protestants under the late Emperor Joseph I were still ‘very fresh’ and there being no sign of change in imperial policy: ‘’tis monstrous to see what lies and impossibilities they suggest to us; I can equal their practices at best to nothing but the snake in the grass’. Within a few more weeks in mid-May he had reserved his place on the Aylesbury coach, having stayed in town longer than he had originally intended. Early in June news reached him that the House was to be called over, but he decided to remain until called up by Beaumont and ‘take another mouthful of agreeable Leicestershire air’. He had little time for the ‘whimsical’ sentiments that were emerging in his party. Towards the end of June, further deferral of the call had caused him to give up the prospect of visiting London again in the session. He teased his father-in-law about the death of the Electress Sophia, jesting, ‘I wish to know if you was at old Sophy’s burial’. At the beginning of August the jokes were laid aside, however. Cave instantly responded to news of the Queen’s death, and probably left for town even before receiving Beaumont’s summons of the 3rd. At the Commons on the 4th he joined ‘a great concourse of the members to prevent any Whiggish play after so great a loss of the Queen’. The Whigs appeared to him in buoyant, ‘uppish’ mood, ‘and threatened hard’. He was back at Stanford on the 10th.6

Soon afterwards Cave came in for criticism from some of Leicestershire’s county gentry for his indecisiveness upon the question of his candidacy in the forthcoming election. He may well have thought twice before embarking on what he must have apprehended would be a strenuous and expensive contest. He was certainly under no delusions about the newly exposed condition of the Tories: ‘we are threatened in all our employs when the King comes over’. Having decided to press forward, he was smartly rebuked by Beaumont for neglecting to publicize his intentions:

to do your brother [i.e. (Sir) Geoffrey Palmer (3rd Bt.)] and you justice you have done your parts to promote an opposition, in running out of the county and not condescending so much as to let your countrymen know you offer your services to them. We meet with Leicestershire men almost daily in town, who from the neglect of the former kn[igh]ts of the shire conclude they are to have new ones.

For the rest of the year Cave campaigned unstintingly, touring the county regularly on horseback in company with his fellow candidate, Palmer. Against his own inclination, he had been goaded by experienced electioneers such as Beaumont, James Winstanley* and John Wilkins into initiating an orchestrated campaign well before the Whig contestants appeared on the scene. In consequence of this protracted ordeal, quite unlike his previous unopposed elections, he became weighed down by the pressure of overcoming ‘the vast Armada equipped with the great peers’. To his father-in-law he ruled out all question of a compromise with the Whigs, not wishing to ‘yield to any degenerate terms of compromise of those spawners of iniquity’, but the very next day, 19 Oct., confessed wearily to his brother-in-law, Ralph Verney†, ‘I have taken more pains than I ever had thoughts of.’ He was eventually returned in April 1715 following the Whig sheriff’s refusal to make a return in February.7

Cave was still at an early age when he died on 21 Apr. 1719; he was buried at Stanford. His funerary monument, erected by his wife, described him as ‘a gentleman of steadfast principles to Church and state’.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 140.
  • 2. Ibid. 131–3, 136–7, 139, 236, 255.
  • 3. Ibid. 222–5; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/52, Fermanagh to Cave, 4 Feb. 1705, Cave to Fermanagh, 6 Feb., same to Ralph Verney, 22 May 1705; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 3702, Henry Benson to Sir Justinian Isham, 22 Feb. 1705.
  • 4. Verney mss mic. 636/53, Fermanagh to Penelope Vickers [c.Dec. 1705], Cave to Fermanagh, 24 Nov. 1705, 17 Jan. 1706, 10 Nov., 24 Nov. 1707, 5 Apr. 1708, 2 Dec. 1710; Nichols, Leics. iv. 352–3; Verney Letters 18th Cent. 229, 238, 322; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 180, 212.
  • 5. Leics. RO, Braye mss 23D57/2846, Denbigh et al. to Cave, 6 Feb. 1711; 2845, Denbigh to same, 6 Feb.; 2843, 2852, Wilkins to Cave, 5 Feb., [7–9 Feb. 1711]; Verney mss mic. 636/54, Cave to Fermanagh, 11, 22 Feb. 1711; 636/55, same to same, July, 5 Sept. 1713, 27 Apr. 1714, Ralph Verney to Cave, 23 Apr. 1713; Isham mss IC 4441, Cave to Sir Justinian Isham, 19 Feb. 1711; Verney Letters 18th Cent. 216, 238, 310–11; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 250–1.
  • 6. Verney mss mic. 636/55, Cave to Fermanagh, 16 Jan., 17 Mar., 13, 24 Apr., 11 May, 7, 26 June, 5, 14 Aug. 1714; Braye mss 2877, Beaumont to Cave, 3 Aug. 1714; Verney Letters 18th Cent. 246.
  • 7. Braye mss 2878–9, Beaumont to Denbigh, 19, 21 Aug. 1714; 2881, Denbigh to Cave, 28 Aug. 1714; 2886, 2890, Beaumont to same, 16 Sept., Oct. 1714; Verney mss mic. 636/55, Cave to Fermanagh, 15 Sept., 18, 19 Oct., 6, 11 Dec., same to Ralph Verney, 19 Oct. 1714.
  • 8. Nichols, 358.