CRAGGS, James II (1686-1721), of Jermyn Street, Westminster

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



1713 - 16 Feb. 1721

Family and Education

b. 9 Apr. 1686, 2nd but o. surv. s. of James Craggs I*.  educ. M. Le Fevre’s sch., Chelsea; travelled abroad (Italy) 1703–4, (Low Countries, Germany) 1706.  unm. 1 da. illegit.1

Offices Held

Sec. to envoy extraordinary in Spain Apr.–Sept. 1708, resident Sept. 1708–Mar. 1711, envoy extraordinary Mar.–July 1711; commissary of stores in Spain 1710–13; cofferer to Prince of Wales 1714–17; sec. at war Apr. 1717–Mar. 1718; sec. of state (southern dept.) Mar. 1718–d.; PC 16 Mar. 1718.2


The younger Craggs was an ebullient version of his father. Contemporaries were all agreed on his winning social graces and talents which were worldly rather than blessed with learning: eloquence, an excellent memory, and ‘a perspicuity scarce to be met with’. A trait which did not endear him to ‘cool judges’, as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu once observed, was his quick tongue and a juvenile rashness. But from an early age he was marked as a politician in the making. In his own social and political aspirations, Craggs was constantly wracked by uneasiness about his ‘want of birth’ arising from his father’s lowly beginnings.3 Even so, Craggs’s early advancement was due almost entirely to the force of his father’s ambitions for him. The elder Craggs originally intended his son to follow him into the world of City business for which he devised an appropriate course of foreign travel combined with directed study. Craggs was put under the supervision of his father’s friend Richard Hill, newly appointed envoy extraordinary to Savoy, and accompanied Hill to Turin in the summer of 1703. A paragon of ‘dutiful and decent behaviour’, he degenerated into waywardness and extravagance once released from his father’s tight parental rein. He became involved with the ‘top gallantries of the place and at top expense’, and outspent even the sons of the Duke of Somerset and the Earl of Jersey. This irresponsibility appalled his father, who in anguished missives to Hill came close to disowning his son, and by September 1704 young Craggs was ordered home in disgrace. In the early part of 1706, however, he was trusted to undertake another educational sojourn abroad, this time in Germany. At Hanover, where he seems to have spent most of his time, he became embroiled in an unspecified, though newsworthy, ‘difference’ with the British envoy Emanuel Scrope Howe* in which he was considered to have done himself ‘a great deal of hurt’. This may have concerned his liaison with the Elector’s half-sister Sophia Charlotte, Countess von Platen, by whom he was said to have been seduced. It was through the Countess’ recommendation of him as ‘a young man of extraordinary merit’ that, much to his subsequent advantage, he became acquainted with the Elector. But to Howe, Craggs’s prolonged stay in the electorate, where he again proved his ability to incur large debts, was an undoubted embarrassment.4

In April 1708 Craggs was appointed secretary to the envoy in Spain, James Stanhope*, almost certainly under the auspices of his father’s patron the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†). In September he was made ‘resident’, enabling him to deputize in Stanhope’s absences on campaign. His real utility was as confidential messenger between Stanhope in Spain, Marlborough in the Low Countries and the ministers in London. During 1708 and 1709 much of this activity concerned Stanhope’s ultimately abortive negotiations with Charles III for the cession of Minorca to Britain. Let into the highest counsels at an unusually early age for someone of non-aristocratic birth, Craggs soon came to see the political world for what it was, on one occasion lamenting to Stanhope, ‘he that will get rewards and honours here must trust more to his riches, his credit, and his power than to his services and integrity’. He had a special regard for Stanhope, ‘my master and best friend’, and it was on him more than any other that Craggs seemed to be pinning hopes of advancement by September 1710: ‘you know I always declared you heir apparent to the Duke of Marlborough’. In the late summer of 1710 he was fully aware that his continued association with Marlborough ‘will entirely ruin me’ with the new ministers. He returned to London in October and, as he anticipated, was not sent back to Spain, though technically he remained accredited for a while longer, and was briefly promoted to full envoy in March 1711. Though he found Whig fortunes at a low ebb, he was stoical enough to see the situation as a temporary and necessary aberration: ‘we are very nigh a general break . . . and our misfortune is that the evil must be endured before the cure can be applied’. Now lacking suitable employment and with time on his hands, he seems to have reverted to his juvenile ways of indiscipline and profligacy. Early in March 1711 he fought a duel with a Captain Montagu which arose from a difference occurring between them at a playhouse. Wounding his opponent, Craggs was reported to have ‘had the right on his side and came off with a great deal of honour’. By contrast, his attempted rape of one of the Duchess of Marlborough’s servants in November while staying at her residence at St. Albans earned him the Duchess’s undying enmity. Soon afterwards, she received an abusive anonymous letter which she was convinced had come from Craggs, and despite his protestations of innocence she would have no more to do with him.5

In April 1713 Craggs contested the by-election for the Cornish borough of Tregony, but was narrowly defeated. He was returned unopposed for the same borough at the autumn general election. He was concerned when Stanhope lost his seat at Cockermouth and made some attempt to secure him an alternative constituency, though not with immediate success. To the compilers of the Worsley list of the 1713 Parliament and of two similar analyses of the House he was easily identifiable as a Whig. Very quickly he was drawn into the Hanover Club, a centre of Whig activism, and by the beginning of 1714 his political activities had taken a propagandist turn. Already a close friend of Richard Steele*, he assisted with the nationwide distribution of The Crisis, Steele’s controversial pamphlet accusing the ministry of endangering the Protestant succession. On 13 Mar., as prominent Tories launched complaints in the House about the contents of this and several other of Steele’s recent publications, Craggs jumped to his defence but was shouted down. His zeal for Steele’s cause was demonstrated again on the 18th when he was teller against the motion (which led to Steele’s expulsion) that The Englishman and The Crisis were ‘scandalous and seditious libels’ damaging to the administration. On 31 Mar. he told in favour of allowing consideration of the unsuccessful Whig candidate’s case in the recent Wallingford by-election. During the debate on the safety of the Hanoverian succession on 15 Apr. he offended Tories by ‘insolent expressions’ wherein he implied that the ministry itself was responsible for jeopardizing the succession. As summarized by the Whig MP Oley Douglas*, Craggs’s speech excoriated the government for its naked tolerance of Jacobitism:

If succ[ession] in danger at all, it must be during her Majesty’s government. In danger from pamphlets, Jacobites, Scotch chieftains, levying forces in Ireland, pretend[er’s] standard bearing English arms. We are laughed at abroad for not believing it. Our laughing at home at these things increases our danger.

A week later, on the 22nd, he and Robert Walpole II* led an attempt to deflate the Tory defence of the Utrecht peace settlement as ‘safe, honourable and advantageous’, though they could scarcely be heard above the noise and ‘impatience’. According to Douglas’ account, however, Craggs argued the favourite Whig line that the peace had been instigated by the allies whose whim the British ministers had blithely followed. Craggs’s early eagerness to address the House on topics of the first political magnitude helped establish him in the opinion of his party’s rank and file as an able parliamentary performer and as an aspirant to high office. Like most Whigs, he felt that the reconciliation achieved in July between Bolingbroke (Henry St. John II*) and Oxford (Robert Harley*) would not last. ‘It would be the first example of sincere reconcilement where men had disputed which should be premier minister.’ These ruminations, addressed to the Duke of Newcastle, also contained the first hint of his later discord with the Walpole brothers. Asking Newcastle to convey his ‘respects’ to Horatio II*, Craggs could not forbear adding that ‘he’s a cunning, designing shaver. I hope he does none of us ill offices with your lordship.’ On 31 July, as the Queen lay dying at Kensington, the Privy Council entrusted Craggs with the task of journeying to Hanover to inform the Elector of the Queen’s imminent demise, and to desire his ‘immediate presence’ in Britain. From London, the Hanoverian envoy Bothmer notified the new King of Craggs’s impending mission, advising that he be rewarded with a good post rather than with gold. By the time Craggs arrived at the electoral court on 4 or 5 Aug. the Queen was already dead.6

Craggs received as his reward the cofferership of the Prince of Wales’s household. His fortune was firmly fixed in the Sunderland–Stanhope orbit, and in the Commons he impressively fulfilled his early promise. Within three years of his vital mission to Hanover he became secretary at war, and shortly afterwards secretary of state. In high office he comported himself, as Speaker Onslow (Arthur†) recalled, with ‘a sufficiency that amazed those who knew him, and with candour and frankness that pleased all’. He was certainly implicated in the South Sea scandal in 1720–1, though not as deeply as his father. However, it is impossible to surmise what action Parliament might have taken against him for his comparatively mild crime of procuring stock for the King’s mistresses. Just as his name began to feature in the findings of the Commons committee of secrecy, he was struck down by smallpox, dying on 16 Feb. 1721, 11 days after Stanhope, who was by then Craggs’s fellow secretary of state. He was buried in Henry VII’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Misc. Gen. et Her. ii. 37; Boyer, Pol. State, xxii. 443; DNB.
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvii. 451; xxviii. 359.
  • 3. Misc. Gen. et Her. 37; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Letters and Works (1887), i. 129–31; HMC Portland, vii. 29–30; Burnet, vi. 80–81.
  • 4. Salop RO, Attingham mss 112/1642, 1679, 1681, 1682, 1686, James Craggs I to Hill, 31 Mar., 13, 21 July, 4, 18 Aug., 29 Sept. 1704; Add. 4291, ff. 48, 54–55; HMC Portland, iv. 292; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Letters and Works, 131.
  • 5. Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1096–7, 1102, 1316, 1321, 1351, 1357–8; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/0138/6/67/7, Craggs to Stanhope, 17 Oct. n.s. 1708; U1590/0139/9/71/3, same to same, 9 Aug. n.s., 16, 23 Aug., 1 Nov., 2 Dec. 1709; U1590/0140/12/73/18, same to same, 9, 12 Sept. n.s., 13 Oct., 3 Nov. 1710; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxv. 229; xxvii. 451; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 57(5), p. 23; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 699; F. Harris, Passion for Govt. 190; Add. 61475, ff. 47, 49, 51–52.
  • 6. Churchill Coll. Camb. Erle mss 2/12, Craggs to Thomas Erle*, 21 Sept. 1713; J. Oldmixon, Hist. Eng. 509; Steele Corresp. 293; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 1267, 1369; NSA, Kreienberg despatch 16 Mar. 1714; Wentworth Pprs. 370; Douglas diary (Hist. of Parl. trans.) 15, 22 Apr, 1714; Bodl. Ballard 25, f. 113; BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 55, Ralph Bridges to Sir William Trumbull*, 23 Apr. 1714; Add. 32686, f. 17; Fitzwilliam Mus. Lib. Camb. Perceval mss A22, James Craggs I to Anne Newsham, 5 Aug. 1714; G. M. Trevelyan, Eng. under Q. Anne, iii. 324, 392; Clavering Corresp. (Surtees Soc. clxxviii), 128.
  • 7. Misc. Gen. et Her. 38; HMC 14 Rep. IX, 511.