CHEYNE, Hon. William (1657-1728), of Chesham Bois, Bucks.

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



Mar. 1681
1685 - 1687
25 July 1689 - 1695
24 Feb. 1696 - Nov. 1701
Dec. 1701 - 1702
1702 - 1705
1705 - 1 May 1707

Family and Education

bap. 14 July 1657, o. s. of Charles Cheyne*, 1st Visct. Newhaven [S], by his 1st w.  educ. Brasenose, Oxf. 1671.  m. (1) 16 Dec. 1675, Elizabeth (d. 1677), da. of Edmund Thomas of Wenvoe, Glam., s.p.; (2) 6 May 1680, Gertrude (d. 1732), da. of Robert Pierrepont of Thoresby, Notts. and sis. of Evelyn Pierrepont*, s.psuc. fa. as 2nd Visct. Newhaven [S] 30 June 1698.

Offices Held

Commr. for privy seal 1690–2; clerk of the pipe 1703–6, 1711–Dec. 1727.1

Freeman, Hertford 1698; ld. lt. Bucks. June–Dec. 1702, 1712–14.2


Cheyne was defeated for the borough of Amersham in the election to the Convention of 1689, being forced to seek refuge at Appleby, where Hon. Thomas Wharton* secured his return at a by-election and at the following general election. Political friendship with Wharton suggests that he did not follow his father in supporting the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†), and this is reflected in Carmarthen’s failure to ascribe a party label to him, while marking him as a Court supporter on a list of the new Parliament. Office quickly followed, when the privy seal was put into commission in February 1690, at a salary of £365 p.a. Thus it was as a placeman that Cheyne made his first recorded speech on 29 Apr. 1690, when the Commons discussed the abjuration oath and the suspension of habeas corpus. He backed the Court unequivocally: ‘there is no need of further security, the King’s Speech intimates, what he would have us do’, which was to forbear reopening old quarrels. Cheyne does not appear on any other lists of Carmarthen’s supporters in this Parliament, but Robert Harley* thought him a Country supporter in April 1691. He lost office when the Earl of Pembroke (Hon. Thomas Herbert†) was appointed lord privy seal early in 1692. He was listed as a Court supporter by Grascome, but was not an active Member at this time.3

Having again been defeated at Amersham in 1695, Cheyne was returned for Buckinghamshire in the by-election caused by Wharton’s elevation to the Lords in February 1696. Cheyne was thus in place to sign the Association. In the following session he voted against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†, which may denote growing political differences with Wharton. Certainly in December 1696 he was being described in correspondence as a ‘Church of England man’, and written off as never likely to be chosen for the county again, which, given Wharton’s influence, was at least suggestive of a split between the two men. The 1697–8 session saw the first inklings of a more active role in the Commons. As early as May 1698 Cheyne was treating the freeholders in preparation for the shire election, and despite the death of his father at the end of June, he emerged top of the poll in August. He was then able to relinquish his seat at Amersham, where he had been chosen as a precaution against defeat in the county. Most important, the election marked the final breach with Wharton, who opposed his candidature, Richard Steele* later ascribing this quarrel to ‘some disgust about a membership . . . a strangeness commenced between them which turned to an emnity on Mr Cheyne’s part’.4

Two lists from the 1698–9 session would seem to confirm the fact of a breach with the Whigs, both seeming to indicate Country sympathies or opposition to the ministry. A comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments classed Cheyne as a Country supporter and he was forecast as likely to oppose the standing army. Lord Cheyne (as he was almost invariably styled, except in some official correspondence) was certainly more active in this session, being named on 14 Dec. 1698 to draft a bill for qualifying MPs and regulating elections, which he presented on 28 Feb. On 13 Mar. 1699 he was first-named to the committee on the petition from lace-makers in several counties, including Buckinghamshire, complaining of harassment by officers administering the Act against hawkers and pedlars. Upon his report on 6 Apr. the House resolved that the lace-men did not come under the act. On 14 Mar. he was named to bring in a bill for appointing a commission of accounts, Hon. James Brydges* recording in his diary that Cheyne, Gervase Pierrepont* and one of the Foleys met and ‘read over’ the old Act ‘to make us the better to bring in a bill’. Although Cheyne was not mentioned by Brydges in all the discussions on the bill, he was present at the home of Pierrepont (his wife’s uncle) on the 25th when a group of Members agreed on the bill. During this session Cheyne received a legacy of £2,000 from his mother-in-law, who also appointed his wife sole executrix ‘by which she will have a great deal’. In the summer of 1699 Cheyne’s feud with Wharton culminated in a quarrel at the quarter sessions, over precedency on the bench and a slight which Cheyne felt he had received during the previous election. The resulting duel saw Wharton disarm him. However, at least one observer feared that the reconciliation between the two following the duel might extend to political matters and that Cheyne might prove to be a ‘turncoat’ and support the Whigs at the impending by-election for Oxfordshire. In the 1699–1700 session, Cheyne put an end to an acrimonious debate by successfully moving a motion for granting a supply to the King. He also managed two private estate bills through the Commons.5

Shortly before the 1701 election, Cheyne gave an interesting insight into his motivation as a parliamentarian when he noted ‘in truth a seat in Parliament is not worth the pains we undergo to attain, but a place at court with a seat there is most people’s aim’. Certainly Cheyne’s victory at the 1701 election was not achieved without considerable effort, and he also won a seat at Amersham as an insurance policy. Cheyne was listed as likely to support the Court in February over the ‘Great Mortgage’. He was appointed on 2 Feb. to a committee to draft a bill qualifying MPs and regulating elections. On 14 June he was sent to the Lords with a message refusing a conference until the Upper House had proceeded against Lord Haversham (Sir John Thompson, 1st Bt.*) for his denunciation of the Commons over the impeachment of ministers for signing the Partition Treaties. Cheyne was later blacklisted as having opposed preparations for war against France and this may have played a part in his defeat in the county election of December 1701. However, he was returned for Amersham.6

Cheyne was listed as a Tory by Harley in December 1701. He played the major role in managing through the Commons the bill to continue the Quaker affirmation Act, which he carried to the Lords on 12 Feb. Likewise, it was Cheyne who at the third reading of the abjuration bill on the 19th ‘offered a clause for the Quakers’ preachers to be exempted’, which was rejected. On the 26th he voted in favour of the resolution vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachment of the King’s Whig ministers. On 7 Mar., with the King gravely ill, Cheyne seconded a motion that the Commons should vote to stand by and support Princess Anne, but the suggestion was not taken up. March saw him manage a private estate bill through the Commons. In May Cheyne was again the voice of the Quakers in the House when the abjuration bill returned from the Lords. On the 4th the Meeting for Sufferings decided to leave to Cheyne’s discretion ‘the timing and indeed the decision on whether to present the clause’ they had prepared as a substitute for the Lords’ amendment. According to Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, after much lobbying the Lords had added a clause allowing Quakers to affirm to the oath of abjuration, but some Quakers demurred, with the followers of William Penn opposed to the amendment, and it would seem that this was the view Cheyne was asked to represent. In opposing the clause Cheyne divided the House on the 6th and carried his point, being nominated to manage the subsequent conference with the Upper Chamber on the reasons for the Commons disagreement. Rather embarrassingly, Cheyne then attended the conference on 7 May without leave of the House, prompting a short debate as to how to proceed, but the Lords withdrew their amendment. May also saw him manage a second private bill. In June he replaced Wharton as lord lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, although this was a temporary measure until Scrope Egerton, 4th Earl of Bridgwater, came of age.7

Helped no doubt by the prestige of his new office, Cheyne was successful for the county in the 1702 election. On the opening day of the session he made a short speech seconding the nomination of Robert Harley to the Chair. His reward was to be named clerk of the pipe in July 1703, an office worth £500 p.a., and which he had been promised during the illness of the incumbent, Lord Robert Russell (Hon. Robert*). In the 1703–4 session ‘Lord Shany’ [sic] was described by Bonet rather surprisingly as a Whig who played an important role in the debate on the Address on 11 Nov. His other activities in this session included presenting a private bill on behalf of his neighbour in Chelsea, Sir Joseph Alston, 3rd Bt., being first-named to draft the militia bill, and carrying the message inviting Dr Robert Wynn to preach before the Commons on the anniversary of Charles I’s execution. In October 1704 he was graciously received by the Queen when he presented a congratulatory address from Buckinghamshire on the victory at Blenheim. Forecast as a probable opponent of the Tack, he was lobbied by Harley, and absented himself from the crucial division of 28 Nov., earning opprobrium as a ‘Sneaker’, although Dyer later proclaimed him a ‘well-wisher’ to the Tackers. His other important activities included a drafting committee for the Don navigation bill and the management of an estate bill on behalf of Edmund Waller, presumably the nephew and namesake of the former Member for Amersham.8

Cheyne was defeated for the county at the general election of 1705, all the Quakers voting against him, despite (or perhaps because of) his previous role as their spokesman. Returned instead for Amersham, he also took part in the Middlesex election, by virtue of his estate in Chelsea, polling for the two Tory candidates. On 25 Nov. 1705 he was one of the placemen who voted against the Court candidate for the Speakership. His only significant role in the 1705–6 session was to manage a private bill dealing with the estates of his brother-in-law Evelyn Pierrepont* (now Earl of Kingston). No doubt it was Harley’s protection which enabled Cheyne to retain his office in the Exchequer until December 1706, despite pressure from Whigs such as Wharton and Archbishop Tenison for his dismissal. In the 1706–7 session his activities in the Commons were limited to managing a bill to sell lands for the payment of the debts of Montagu Garrard Drake*, and for the rebuilding of Humberstone church in Lincolnshire. It was to prove his last session in the House, for as a Scottish peer he became ineligible to sit after the Union. However, he was listed as a Tory on one list of the post-Union Parliament.9

Cheyne’s removal from the Commons did not affect the level of his political activity. Although he left his proxy for the elections of Scottish representative peers with the Court managers (reserving only one or two votes for particular friends), he continued to play a major role in Buckinghamshire elections on the Tory side. Thus in 1708 he could only bewail the failure to challenge the Whigs for the county and ‘wish myself at liberty that I might try my fortune once more’. The 1710 election saw Cheyne presenting an address to the Queen in August and attending a meeting to adopt the Tory candidate from the ‘Vale’ to partner the man chosen from the Chilterns. Nor was he slow to report his efforts to the head of the new ministry, Robert Harley, hoping for his favour ‘towards repairing the suffering I have sustained from a Whiggish ministry’. Cheyne had to wait until September 1711 to be restored to his office of clerk of the pipe, but an even greater honour came in May 1712 when he was named as lord lieutenant of Buckinghamshire.10

An indication of Cheyne’s importance to the Tories can be seen from the comment by Lord Fermanagh (John Verney*) on hearing a false report of Cheyne’s death in February 1713: ‘it would be a fatal stroke to the Church party in this county’. From his position as lord lieutenant Cheyne played a pivotal role in securing the election of two Tories for the county in September of that year. August 1714 saw Cheyne engaged in desperate efforts to persuade Fermanagh to join with John Fleetwood† in contesting the general election following Queen Anne’s death. Once this prospect had been dashed Cheyne managed to negotiate a compromise with the Whigs whereby the representation would be shared, and then proceeded to ensure that the agreement held. In December 1714 he lost the lord lieutenancy, but seems to have kept his office as clerk of the pipe. Having in December 1707 finally received from the crown the remainder of the purchase price agreed by his father for the lands on which Chelsea Hospital was built, in 1712 Cheyne sold the manor of Chelsea to Sir Hans Sloane. He died on 26 May 1728 ‘beloved of hospitality, respected for integrity and admired for a well-advised zeal for the true interests of his country’. He left his estate to his wife.11

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Stuart Handley


  • 1. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 736, 1828; xviii. 353–4; xxi. 118; xxv. 433; xxix. 346.
  • 2. Herts. RO, Hertford bor. recs. 25/100.
  • 3. Wharton Mems. 31; Bodl. Rawl. A.79, f. 85v.
  • 4. BL, Verney mss mic. 636/49, W. Bushby to Verney, 6, 19 Dec. 1696; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 154; Wharton Mems. 31.
  • 5. Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 26(1), Brydges diary, 14, 25 Mar. 1699; Bolton mss at Bolton Hall, D37, Ld. Bridgwater (John Egerton†) to [Charles Powlett I*, Mq. of Winchester], 8 Jan. 1698[–9]; Add. 40774, ff. 104–5; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 539; Macaulay, Hist. Eng. 2938; Verney mss 636/51, Cary Gardiner to Verney, 25 July, 15 Aug. 1699; Cocks Diary, 37; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 369.
  • 6. H. Horwitz, Parl. and Policy Wm. III, 316.
  • 7. Soc. of Friends Lib. Mins. Meeting for Sufferings 15, pp. 337–8; Cocks Diary, 220, 237, 284, 286; CSP Dom. 1702–3, p.113.
  • 8. Add. 70264, Cheyne’s speech, 20 Oct. 1702; Cal. Treas. Bks. xviii. 353–4; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 227; DZA, Bonet despatch 12/23 Nov. 1703; Rawl. D.863, f. 89.
  • 9. HMC Portland, iv. 190; Mdx. Poll 1705 (IHR), 10; Add. 4743, f. 47; 70217, Cheyne to Harley, 12 Aug. 1710.
  • 10. Add. 61628, f. 153; 70217, Cheyne to Harley, 12 Aug., 23 Sept. 1713; Bodl. Ballard 10, f. 155; HMC Portland, iv. 459, 694.
  • 11. Verney Letters 18th Cent. 292, 315–19; Huntington Lib. Ellesmere mss EL 10728, John Robartes to Cheyne, 18 Nov. 1713; Cal. Treas. Bks. xx. 287; HMC 7th Rep. 508; T. Faulkner, Chelsea, i. 336, 338; PCC 174 Brook.