COLEPEPER (CULPEPER), Sir Thomas, 3rd Bt. (c.1656-1723), of Preston Hall, nr. Maidstone, Kent

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



1705 - 1713
1715 - 18 May 1723

Family and Education

b. c.1656, o. s. of Sir Richard Colepeper, 2nd Bt., of Preston Hall by Margaret Reynolds.  educ. Magdalen Coll. Oxf. matric. 15 June 1672, aged 15;  m. 23 Aug. 1704, Elizabeth, da. of Sir Thomas Taylor, 1st Bt., of Park House, Maidstone, Kent, sis. of Sir Thomas Taylor, 2nd Bt.*, and wid. of (Sir) Francis Wythens† of Southend, Eltham, Kent and the Middle Temple. s.psuc. fa. as 3rd Bt. Jan. 1660.1

Offices Held

Sheriff, Kent 1703–4.


The Colepepers were a well-established Kentish family, having been resident in the county since the 12th century. Beginning with Sir Thomas Colepeper of Bayhall, many branches of the family had flowered, so that by the 17th century identification can be very difficult. Thus Colepeper must not be confused with Sir Thomas Colepeper of Hollingbourne (d. 1697), or the latter’s son Thomas (one of the Kentish Petitioners), nor with Colonel Thomas Colepeper, the hot-tempered engineer and inventor who pursued a quarrel against the Earl of Devonshire (William Cavendish†) after 1685. Having succeeded to the baronetcy at an early age, this Member was left in the capable care of his mother, her deceased husband having provided in his will for the education of his children. In the early 1670s, Sir Edward Dering, 2nd Bt.†, thought a marriage for his son to Colepeper’s sister worth pursuing, since the young lady was of ‘a very considerable family in our country’, but financial constraints prevented a match. Indeed, by 1671, when Lady Colepeper was considering this alliance, she estimated that the cost of her son’s education, presumably at Oxford, would be £100 p.a., which would prove a severe constraint on the options available for her daughter, Alicia. In 1681 John Tillotson (the future archbishop of Canterbury) drafted a letter to Colepeper offering moral counsel, having ‘known you from your tender years’, in which he warned the young man, ‘you are now in the slippery and dangerous part of life, exposed to many and powerful temptations, especially in so licentious an age’, adding, ‘I have good hope you are not yet entangled in any very bad course’. In this Tillotson was unsuccessful, for at some point Colepeper took as his mistress the wife of Sir Francis Wythens. Conflict inevitably arose. In 1693 Lady Wythens tried to have her husband incarcerated in a debtors’ prison and in November 1696 Wythens himself entered an information against Colepeper and Sir Thomas Taylor, 2nd Bt. (brother-in-law to both Wythens and Colepeper), for assault. He failed to gain a conviction after Lord Colepeper, Sir Philip Boteler, 3rd Bt.*, Sir George Rooke* and Sir George Choute, 1st Bt.*, all testified to Colepeper’s ‘great worth and honour’. After Wythens’ death on 9 May 1704, Colepeper wasted no time in marrying his widow. Thereafter it was reported that he never lived with her as a husband.2

Considerable difficulty attaches to following Colepeper’s career in local office because central government records do not always distinguish between the Member and his namesake of Hollingbourne. One of these men was a j.p. before 1679, almost certainly Sir Thomas Colepeper of Hollingbourne, who also became a deputy lieutenant in November 1679. It was the baronet who was appointed to the lieutenancy in 1685, but it was his Hollingbourne relative who as a ‘Whig collaborator’ was named as such in February 1688. After the Revolution, it seems likely, on grounds of age alone, that the Sir Thomas Colepeper who served as a deputy-lieutenant and militia colonel was the baronet. In 1701 Colepeper was one of the men suggested for the shrievalty, but he was not pricked until 1703–4. He was elected to Parliament for Maidstone in 1705, although he ‘could not be prevailed upon to stand till the alteration was made in Kent’, a reference to Lord Rockingham (Hon. Lewis Watson†) replacing the Earl of Winchilsea as lord lieutenant of the county. Despite the fact that one analysis of the 1705 Parliament classified him as a ‘Churchman’, Colepeper was undoubtedly a Whig. The Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) considered his election in 1705 as a gain for the Whigs, and on 25 Oct. he voted for the Court candidate for Speaker. He failed to support the Court on 18 Feb. 1706 over the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill, which may indicate sympathy with Country Whig views, but on a list of early 1708 he was again classed as a Whig. Returned once more in 1708, Colepeper was marked as a Whig on a list of that year with the election returns appended to it. In 1709 he supported the naturalization of the Palatines and the following year voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. Not surprisingly, on the ‘Hanover list’ of 1710 he was again listed as Whig. He was returned at the top of the poll in the 1710 election, but his name does not appear on any division list for the ensuing Parliament. Not having stood as a candidate in the Tory landslide of 1713, he was returned in 1715, being described as a Whig on a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments.3

Colepeper continued to sit for Maidstone until his death on 18 May 1723. Perhaps the suddenness of his demise accounts for the fact that his will had not been updated since February 1711. The major beneficiary was Sir Thomas Taylor, 3rd Bt., the son of his sister, Alicia, although Catharine, Lady Twisden (née Wythens), whom some would have as Colepeper’s natural daughter, benefited to the tune of 500 guineas, and mistress Swayne, ‘her woman’, by 100 guineas for faithful service.4

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. IGI, Kent.
  • 2. C. W. Martin, Hist. and Description of Leeds Castle, 174; Add. 5520, ff. 13–16; 4236, f. 12; DNB (Colepeper, Thomas); Dering Pprs. ed. Bond, 113; PCC 242 Nabbs; Stowe 745, f. 60; Arch. Cant. v. 40; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv.144; Post Man, 26–28 Nov. 1696; J. R. Twisden, Fam. of Twysden, 296–7.
  • 3. Info. from Prof. N. Landau; CSP Dom. 1679–80, p. 286; 1685, p. 165; 1687–9, pp. 141, 228; 1693, p. 212; 1694–5, p. 19; 1700–2, p. 250; Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1882), 348, 354, 360; Add. 61458, f. 160; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 176; Party and Management ed. C. Jones, 80.
  • 4. Boyer, Pol. State, xxv. 570; PCC 94 Richmond.