CORNEWALL, Henry (c.1654-1717), of Moccas Court and Bredwardine, Herefs.

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



1685 - 1687
11 June 1689 - 1695
1698 - 1700
Feb. - Nov. 1701
1702 - 1708
1710 - 1713

Family and Education

b. c.1654, 1st and o. surv. s. of Edward Cornewall of Moccas Court by Frances, da. of Sir Walter Pye† of the Mynde, Much Dewchurch, Herefs., wid. of Henry Vaughan of Moccas Court and Bredwardine.  m. (1) 11 Oct. 1683, Margarita Laurentia (d. 1692), da. and h. of Laurentius Huyssen, Lord of Weelde, Zeeland, 2s. (1 d.v.p.); (2) lic. 27 Apr. 1695, Susanna, da. and coh. of Sir John Williams*, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da.  suc. fa. 1709.1

Offices Held

Page of honour to Duke of York c.1669; equerry to Princess Mary 1677; master of the horse by 1683–5.2

Ensign of ft. Duke of York’s regt. 1672, lt. 1676–7, capt. 1677–82; capt. R. Eng. Regt. (French army) 1672–6; capt.-lt. R. Horse Gds. 1682–5; col. of ft. 1685–Nov. 1688.3


Cornewall’s lengthy career of personal service both to James II and Princess Mary left him with divided loyalties at the Revolution, but his doubts over James’s policies, and perhaps also the Dutch connexions he had forged by his first marriage, overcame any habits of deference. He had determined to give up his regiment in 1687, and, though his resignation was not accepted until after the Prince of Orange’s landing, he may well already have been active in the army on William’s behalf. The absence of any tangible reward from the new King and Queen, on whom Cornewall had made a poor impression in earlier days, seems to have accentuated his Tory sympathies, and to have pushed him rapidly into opposition. Prior to the 1690 election he was blacklisted as having voted in the Convention against the transfer of the crown, and after an unopposed return for Hereford was classed as a Tory in Lord Carmarthen’s (Sir Thomas Osborne†) analysis of the new Parliament. Reports that he would oppose the veteran Whig Sir Edward Harley* in the county proved unfounded. In April 1691 he was classed by Robert Harley*, Sir Edward’s son, with the Country opposition.4

Not particularly active in the first two sessions of the 1690 Parliament, Cornewall made his mark in the winter of 1691–2. On 28 Nov. 1691 he acted as a teller in the committee on the East India trade, against a motion to proceed to a regulation of the trade ‘by a joint-stock’. Then on 9 Dec. came his first recorded speech, when he proposed that the House interrogate the messenger who had apprehended the informer William Fuller. Subsequent contributions reflected his continuing interest in military matters, in which he could of course claim some expertise. On 15 Dec. he spoke in favour of agreeing with the committee on the army estimates, in their resolution to grant extra pay to the two regiments of foot guards, on the grounds that these were ‘always attendant on the King’s person’ and were therefore ‘generally here in town at a dearer expense’. Later in the same debate he showed the first sign of that animus against the Allies, especially the Dutch, which was to become even more pronounced after the death of his first wife in April of that year. Opposing the allowance of English rates of pay to Dutch troops in England, he deplored the ‘mischievous’ practice of giving ‘different pay to soldiers of the same nation in one and the same army’. He twice acted as a teller on the subject of the Irish army estimates: first in committee, on 30 Dec., against accepting the estimate provided by the paymaster of the forces in Ireland (Thomas, Lord Coningsby*); and on 2 Jan. 1692, on the report against the sum resolved upon for the maintenance of infantry. Regarding the army generally, he made two attempts to add a clause to the poll tax bill to appropriate ‘such a part’ of the revenue to the support of the ‘land forces’: on 10 Feb., when it was rejected as a breach of procedure, and, more successfully, on the 15th, when it was accepted by the House after a division in which Cornewall was a teller. The very next day, however, he withdrew it, saying that ‘since the House had agreed to continue the commissioners of accounts for one year longer, he thought there was no great need of this clause’. The connexion between the two issues was tactical. On the 15th, before reviving his appropriation clause, Cornewall had supported another proposed addition to the bill, to continue the accounts commission, the threat of appropriation being used to extort from ministers acceptance of this first demand. His evident hostility to the Court had been manifested again only a few days earlier, on 12 Feb., in a debate on the bill to vest the Irish forfeitures in the King and Queen. Here it was to some degree masked by an affected concern, which appeared natural in an old soldier, for the interests of army veterans. He offered a clause ‘that the third part of the estate forfeited . . . shall be given to such officers and soldiers as served in person in Ireland’. It was lost on a division. His other recorded speeches in this session occurred on 16 Feb., in opposition to a clause of Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.*, to enable the King to borrow money on the security of future parliamentary grants in order to make up any shortfall in receipts from taxation; and on 20 Feb., in committee on the bill to prevent correspondence with enemies of the King and Queen, when he ‘tendered a clause that no one should be prosecuted on this Act without two witnesses, but the law being so already it was laid aside’.5

In the 1692–3 session Cornewall made a strong speech on 23 Nov. in the debate on advice to be tendered to the King. Following up attacks on ‘foreign officers’, he directed his fire particularly at Count von Solms, for his failure to assist the English troops at Steenkerk: ‘Reduce the question singly to Solms; put it upon him. He is a man very haughty, and puts officers under such hardships, that I am sure the service will be ill done as long as he is general of the foot.’ His own preference was for Thomas Tollemache* to be given the command, ‘a better soldier and one who has done you extraordinary service and is well beloved by the soldiers, which the other is not’. The speech also contained some more general remarks of a xenophobic nature – ‘I am sorry to see that your English officers are so fond of foreigners; I doubt not but they will make their hearts ache before they have done’ – and these were pursued a little later in the same debate, when he observed that ‘you have all the foot under Dutch general officers, and the cannon too. I hope they will not play foul play, but if they should, you have a scurvy business of it.’ An active member of the ‘Country’ opposition, Cornewall spoke against the Court on 25 Nov., when he advocated the postponement of consideration of the army and navy estimates until the House had the opportunity to ‘look over them’; acted as a teller in committee of supply on the 29th against allowing £11,000 in the navy estimates for the construction of ‘bomb vessels’; and on 1 Dec. was a teller against a ministerial amendment to the treason trials bill. He intervened twice on the ‘Country’ side in committee of supply on 3 Dec. and acted as a teller in the committee on 6 Dec., against a proposal to triple the salary of the secretary at war. In the committee to consider advice to be offered to the King, he first of all defended the lower rate of pay allowed to soldiers when in Holland, in a debate on 8 Dec., explaining that ‘things were cheaper there’, and subsequently, on the 16th, returned to a familiar theme: ‘I think it a proper head for you to advise his Majesty upon’, he declared,

that no foreigners, but only natives of England, be employed in your Tower of London or any other of your garrisons nor in the office of Ordnance, stores, etc., for I think it dangerous that the Dutch should be acquainted so well wherewith, with whom you have had wars and may again.

However, after this date he ceased to make significant contributions to the opposition cause for this session, a fact which may largely be explained by ill-health. He was unable to vote for the triennial bill in February 1693, because he had been obliged to ‘keep his chamber for four weeks’. For all his parliamentary co-operation with the Harleys at this time, he was one of the very few Herefordshire gentlemen whose party sentiments and personal antipathies prevented them from joining in the general clamour in the county for Sir Edward Harley to stand for the vacant place of knight of the shire in the by-election of February 1693.6

A rumour was current in Herefordshire in November 1693 that Cornewall had been ‘secured for compounding with enemies’, the only suggestion that he possessed Jacobite sympathies or connexions, and one which was without foundation. When Parliament reassembled he was again prominent among opposition speakers. On 22 Nov. 1693, when the miscarriages of the fleet were under scrutiny, he inquired why no attempt had been made to ‘hinder the enemy from coming out’, a failure he took to be ‘the ground of all’. As before, his special contribution was to debates on supply and the maintenance of the armed forces. He spoke in the debate on supply on 28 Nov., and on 5 Dec. turned his attention to the Allies, and the inequity of England’s financial burden in carrying on the war. Why, he asked, had ‘the confederates . . . not their numbers complete’? The consequence would be that ‘we shall pay above double, and they not above half’. The same argument appeared in his speech on 11 Dec.: ‘we are at the charge of the whole war, and they [the Allies] go away with the money’. He also renewed his attacks on the general staff, claiming, ‘we have not want of numbers of men, nor officers, but general officers’, a point he reiterated the following day, when in a debate on the question of augmenting the land forces he remarked that the House would only be mocking itself if it discussed augmentation, while the main topic at issue remained ‘the generals’. Anti-Dutch feeling surfaced again in his intervention on 23 Feb. 1694 on the report of the committee of ways and means. With other Members, he opposed the suggested duty on leather, on the grounds that it resembled too closely the dreaded inland excise and that at this rate Englishmen would find their condition worse than that of the Dutch, in whose country no article was exempt from taxation. He opposed the salt tax too, acting as a teller on 16 Mar. in favour of a motion to adjourn the debate on the salt duty bill. Little is known of his parliamentary activity in the following session, during which he remarried, but he had not lost interest in remaining a Member, and after contemplating a move to Gloucestershire, where a large estate was on the market, he set himself to challenge for the county seat in Herefordshire. In doing so he ignored both his existing constituents at Hereford and the voters of Weobley, ‘many’ of whom had ‘applied themselves’ to him to stand there. The venality of the Weobley electorate, however, made any candidature in that borough an expensive proposition. In the county Cornewall made an approach to the Harleys, offering to ‘join with’ Sir Edward. Rebuffed, he displayed considerable pique, telling Paul Foley I* that Sir Edward Harley’s decision to partner instead the Whig Sir Herbert Croft, 1st Bt.*, was an affront he took ‘very ill’. His friends, he said, had assured him his chances of carrying the county were good, and although ‘he did not much care for standing, but upon a provocation he might do Sir Ed[ward] an unkindness’. This was mere bravado, for the alliance of Harley and Croft was secure. Cornewall then belatedly turned his attention back to the borough of Hereford, but his inquiries there evoked no response and he left without the prospect of a parliamentary seat and entirely ‘out of humour’. He did half-heartedly challenge Croft for the county but withdrew before the poll.7

Spurning the support he could have secured among the Hereford electors ‘if he would be commonly civil to them’, Cornewall aimed once more at the county in the 1698 election, where this time he was successful in a contest. He was classed as a supporter of the Country party in a comparative analysis of the old and new Commons. At the crucial vote of 18 Jan. 1699 on the standing army, however, he would seem to have sided with the Court, for three out of four witnesses recorded that he had spoken and voted against the disbanding bill and his name was included in the ensuing black list. Despite his own military background, this appearance in favour of a standing army did represent an unexpected change of heart. Not long afterwards, on 10 Feb. 1699, he was granted a fortnight’s leave of absence. He may have striven during the next session to restore his reputation with the Tories. Certainly by autumn 1700 he had convinced Lord Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) that he had repented his ‘wrong step about the army’ and become once again an ‘honest man’.8

Cornewall’s efforts to curry favour with Weymouth were part of a tortuous, duplicitous and ultimately corrupt campaign to procure his election for the venal borough of Weobley in January 1701. He had moved over from the county to make room for his cousin Charles Corn(e)wall*, and the manoeuvrings of the autumn and winter of 1700–1 had a dual purpose: to bring in Charles as knight of the shire while safeguarding his own candidacy in the borough. By August 1700 he had made an alliance of convenience with the Court Whig Lord Coningsby to promote his cousin’s chances in the county, to offset the opposition of three Tory magnates, Lords Chandos, Kent and Scudamore (James*). Coningsby’s backing was insufficient by itself, however, and Cornewall was obliged to approach the Harleys once again. This time he did not go cap in hand but gave himself a bargaining counter by interfering in Radnorshire, where he canvassed apparently on his own behalf against Thomas Harley*, the outgoing knight of the shire and cousin of Robert. In an obscure episode, Cornewall then announced his intention to withdraw, in return, he said, for a promise from the Harley family to support cousin Charles in Herefordshire. This arrangement with the Harleys is not confirmed by any other source, however, and it may well have been an invention of Cornewall’s, in order to dupe the Herefordshire electors into believing that his cousin did enjoy the Harleys’ support, a trick he was not above trying on other occasions. Such an explanation is suggested by the fact that Cornewall subsequently intervened again in Radnorshire, in favour of another anti-Harley candidate, and then backed off for the second time, appealing directly to Robert Harley:

I confess I was never so surprised in my life as when my cousin Charles told me you would not promise him your interest . . . I thought we were hardly dealt with, and in the heat of it spoke to two gentlemen at Presteigne assizes [in Radnorshire] in order to oppose your kinsman, but since I have reflected that our enemies may improve this difference to both our prejudices, I am willing to make the first step towards an accommodation, which is, if you think I can be serviceable to your kinsman . . . I will be ready to serve him with my interest.

When this too failed, the Cornewall family and their agents were reduced to bare apology and the hope that the Harleys would ‘use Capt. Cha[rles] tenderly’: neither stance was of any avail, a fact which largely accounted for Charles Cornwall’s failure at the poll. Henry’s own election at Weobley, though successful, was an equally arduous and serpentine affair.9

Cornewall was included on a list of those MPs likely to support the Court on 22 Feb. 1701 in agreeing with the supply committee’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’, which may indicate an endeavour to ingratiate himself with Robert Harley, or with the King. Other evidence suggests a determination to be all things to all men. In October he even dined with the ex-Weobley MP, Robert Price, who reported ‘all honour done me and good nature shown by Colonel Cornewall . . . Not a word of elections.’ However, this did not prevent Price from contesting Weobley in November and effectively ousting Cornewall. The following year, recovering his seat at Weobley, Cornewall gave his interest to the candidate for knight of the shire supported by the Whigs Lord Coningsby, Sir Herbert Croft and John Dutton Colt*. With the Tories temporarily in the ascendant at Westminster, he voted on 13 Feb. 1703 against agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration. After the ministerial reshuffle of 1704, however, he was considered a moderate Tory. Forecast in October of that year as a probable opponent of the Tack, he was included in Robert Harley’s lobbying list, to be contacted by Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†). Cornewall did not vote for the Tack on 28 Nov. 1704. An analysis of the Commons following the 1705 election classed him as ‘Low Church’, although he subsequently voted on 25 Oct. against the Court candidate for Speaker. By this time he had established what he evidently considered a sure route to patronage. He had begun to send flattering letters to the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) in 1704, playing on their ‘very long acquaintance’ in order to obtain favours, posts and promotions for relations and friends. Marlborough’s achievements ‘struck your . . . enemies dumb’; ‘the better half of mankind are preserved by the great actions you have done; all the world must know that since Alexander and Caesar no man ever did as much’; the Duke’s ‘glorious victories and successes . . . has [sic] struck us all dumb with admiration’. On at least one occasion Cornewall asked for something for himself, the governorship of a garrison, but without success. How far this campaign of ingratiation affected his conduct in Parliament is unclear. A list from early 1708 even marked him as a Whig. What can be said about him with confidence is that he was increasingly inactive, and it was no surprise when he did not seek re-election in 1708.10

Two years later Cornewall did an abrupt volte-face and decided to contest Weobley again, and in the Tory interest. One Tory rival begged Robert Harley to persuade Cornewall to desist and thus prevent any damage to the party cause. He added,

I can’t see why the colonel should deny, for I am well satisfied he does not much care for the fatigue of attending, and there will be as many Members for this county [Herefordshire] firm to the interest which I suppose he befriends as there will be if he comes in.

Classified as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’, Cornewall, though, as predicted, almost totally inactive during the 1710 Parliament, meant to use his presence in the Commons as a lever to preferment. Given that he had made two advantageous marriages, had at long last succeeded his father, and besides considerable property owned at least £6,000 in stocks, it is unlikely that even his excessive election expenses at Weobley had reduced him to the level of a parliamentary pauper. None the less his appetite for office, for himself and his family, was undiminished. In February 1711 he was reported to be ‘very fond’ of purchasing the colonelcy of a regiment, and one letter to Robert Harley, as lord treasurer, bluntly requested appointment as ‘master of the Queen’s household’. Harley’s procrastinations and refusals may account for Cornewall’s appearance among the Tory rebels on 7 Dec. 1711 in the division on ‘No Peace without Spain’, although as an old soldier and an associate of Marlborough it is conceivable that he might have stepped out of character to take a principled stand. He finally abandoned Parliament at the 1713 general election, but his son Henry†, another career army officer, was given the place of groom of the bedchamber to King George I in May 1715, thus resuming, after a long intermission, the family tradition of royal service. Cornewall died on 22 Feb. 1717, aged 63, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.11

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. C. G. S. Foljambe and C. Reade, House of Cornwall, 102, 104–5; C. J. Robinson, Castles of Herefs. 24, 107; C. J. Robinson, Mansions and Manors of Herefs. 119.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1677–8, p. 532.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1676–7, p. 412; J. Childs, Nobles, Gent. and Profession of Arms (Soc. for Army Hist. Res. Sp. Pubn. xiii), 21.
  • 4. Correspondentie ed. Japikse, iv. 303; HMC Portland, iii. 421.
  • 5. Grey, x. 204; Luttrell Diary, 46, 81, 98, 180, 182, 187–8, 190, 197.
  • 6. Grey, x. 259, 261, 280; Luttrell Diary, 254–6, 260, 270, 287, 290, 298, 302, 324; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 2385, notes on debate, 23 Nov. 1692; Add. 70017, ff. 5, 22.
  • 7. Add. 70115, Abigail to Robert Harley, 11 Nov. 1693; 70116, same to Sir Edward Harley, 28 June 1695; 70226, Thomas Foley II* to Robert Harley, 31 July 1695; 70018, ff. 67, 81; Grey, x. 321, 333, 343, 358; Ranke, vi. 226, 240; D. Rubini, Court and Country, 58–59.
  • 8. Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 24, f. 331; 26, ff. 287–9; Add. 70113, Sir Edward Harley to Edward Cornewall, 24 Feb. 1697[–8]; 70019, ff. 58–59; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 57(1), p. 22; Cam. Misc. xxix. 387; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 253.
  • 9. Add. 70019, ff. 168, 235, 259, 277, 302; 70056, [–] to [?Robert Harley], 24 Sept. 1700; 70239, Thomas Harley to same, 28 Sept. 1700; 70219, Cyriac Cornewall to same, 10 Nov. 1700; Henry Cornewall to same, [1 Dec. 1700]; 70298–9, [–] to same, 28 Dec. 1700; 70064, Robert Harley to Coningsby, 26 Dec. 1700; 70226, Thomas Foley II to Robert Harley, 20 Sept. 1700; 70020, f. 38; Thynne pprs. 25, ff. 10, 13, 21, 23–25, 27–29, 37, 40, 55–58; 26, ff. 285–9; HMC Portland, iii. 635; iv. 11.
  • 10. Thynne pprs. 26, ff. 291–2; Add. 70168, James Brydges to Robert Harley, 4 Feb. 1700[–1]; 70254, Robert Price to same, 11 Oct. 1701; 70256, H. Seward to [?same], 13 Apr. 1702; 61289, f. 125; 61363, ff. 86–87, 117–18, 135–6, 165–6; 61286, f. 26; 61364, f. 144; 61296, f. 72; Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 96; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 468; HMC Ormonde, n.s. viii. 60.
  • 11. Add. 70278, Henry Gorges to [Robert Harley], 3 Aug. 1710; 70219, Cornewall to same [aft. May 1711]; P. G. M. Dickson, Financial Rev. 297; Wentworth Pprs. 181; Bull. IHR, xxxiii. 226–7; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 499; J. M. Beattie, Eng. Court in Reign of Geo. I, 62; Le Neve, Mon. Angl. 1650–1718, pp. 279–80; Westminster Abbey Reg. (Harl. Soc. x), 289.