DRAKE, Sir William, 4th Bt. (1658-1716), of Mount Drake, and Ashe House, Musbury, Devon

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



1690 - 1713
1713 - 1715
1713 - 1715

Family and Education

bap. 12 July 1658, 4th s. of Sir John Drake, 1st Bt.†, of Great Trill, Axminster and Ashe House by Dionyse, da. of Sir Richard Strode† of Newnham, Devon.  educ. Oriel, Oxf. matric. 1675; Corpus Christi, Oxf. BA 1679, MA 1683.  m. (1) 5 Apr. 1687, Judith (d. 1701), da. and coh. of William Eveleigh of Olcomb, Ottery St. Mary, Devon, 2s. 3da.; (2) 16 Apr. 1705, Mary (d. 1729), da. of Sir Peter Prideaux, 3rd Bt.†, of Netherton, Devon and sis. of Sir Edmund Prideaux, 4th Bt.*, s.p.  Kntd. 13 Mar. 1685; suc. bro. as 4th Bt. 1687, sis. at Ashe House and Mount Drake 1694.1

Offices Held

Commr. public accts. 1703–4; ld. of Admiralty 1710–14.


A cousin of John Churchill†, later 1st Duke of Marlborough, Drake was knighted shortly after James II’s accession. In 1687 his elder brother’s suicide unexpectedly brought him the baronetcy given his father. Although he survived a purge of the commissions of the peace in June 1688, he was displaced the following month. He then joined the Prince of Orange at Exeter in November, being noted as a gentleman of ‘considerable fortune’. In the election to the Convention in 1689 he stood for Lyme Regis where he owned a manor, but was defeated.2

Drake was returned in 1690 for Honiton, another borough in which he owned property, and was classed as a Tory in Lord Carmarthen’s (Sir Thomas Osborne†) list. His fellow Member was his kinsman Sir Walter Yonge, 3rd Bt., with whom he shared the representation of Honiton in eight successive Parliaments, though the two men were on different sides of the party-political divide. In December 1690 Carmarthen noted him as a supporter in connexion with a projected attack on his own position. Until the end of the decade, however, Drake was an inactive Member. Grants of leave were given him on 17 Feb. and 21 Dec. 1693, though he did act as teller, on 23 Feb. 1695, on a supply motion. In January 1696 he was forecast as likely to oppose the Court over the proposed council of trade, at the end of February subscribed to the Association without hesitation, and in March voted against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. Although he supported the parliamentary association, he helped to organize a High Church protest against the removal from the Devon commission of the peace of those who had refused to sign. He was apparently absent from the division on 25 Nov. on the impeachment of Sir John Fenwick†. His otherwise blank record of activity in the Commons was only marked by a further grant of leave on 30 Mar. 1697.3

During the 1697–8 session Drake took the lead in securing the passage of a bill to prevent the importing of foreign lace, a measure which did much to strengthen his interest at Honiton by wiping out foreign competition to the town’s staple industry. Drake’s promotion of this bill also marks his transition towards greater involvement in the business of the House, especially in select committee, the value of which was later widely recognized in his election as a commissioner of accounts. Following the 1698 election he was classed as a supporter of the Country party in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments, and in another list was noted as likely to oppose a standing army. Participation in debate on the floor of the House did not come easily to him, however, and while speaking on 14 Jan. 1700 against the allocation of a proportion of the forfeited estates in Ireland to the King’s use, he disclosed to MPs: ‘upon my word, Sir, it is very uneasy for me and unpleasant to rise up unwillingly in this place to speak’. On 29 Apr. 1701 he was granted leave of absence to attend his dying wife. In the aftermath of the December 1701 election, Robert Harley* listed him as a Tory, and on 26 Feb. 1702 Drake voted for the resolution vindicating the Commons’ late proceedings in the impeachments of the King’s Whig ministers. Towards the end of the session he took charge of a private bill to enable Exeter’s cathedral clergy to grant leases in a Devon manor.4

On 7 Jan. 1703 Drake was among the group of prominent Tories balloted by the House to serve on the revised commission of public accounts, and was elected a second time on 25 Feb. 1704, this time achieving first place with 261 votes. However, the bill authorizing the commission’s renewal failed to pass. Drake nevertheless continued to be an active presence in the House and maintained his reputation as a willing committee-man. In mid-March he was noted as a supporter of Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) in connexion with the projected attack on Nottingham over his handling of the Scotch Plot. In October he was forecast as a probable supporter of the Tack, an expectation which he fulfilled in the division on 28 Nov. At the end of February 1705 he was actively involved in the proceedings of the Aylesbury case and on the 28th was one of the managers of a conference with the Lords. In the middle of the next month he was chief rapporteur in similar proceedings concerning the Commons’ disagreement with the Lords’ amendments to the militia bill. Following the dissolution of the Parliament, Drake was accorded a grand reception on his arrival at Honiton on 29 Mar. He was welcomed, so one news writer reported, by

all the principal gentry and clergy of that part of the country, making a body of 6 or 700 horse; and this honour was paid him from a grateful sense they have of the good service performed by that worthy gentleman during the whole Parliament, and particularly in the last session, for his endeavours for the passing of the bill to prevent hypocrisy in matters of religion.

Early in May, however, he filed a suit against an Exeter man for calling him a ‘Tacker’ and describing him as a friend to France.5

Following the 1705 election Drake was described in a published list of the returns as ‘True Church’, and at the assembling of the new Parliament he spoke and voted on 25 Oct. 1705 against the Court candidate for the Speakership. In a debate on 4 Dec. on proposals for union with Scotland and protecting the Protestant succession, he opposed going into committee on such a ‘dangerous experiment’ without first examining precedents. Then on the 19th he spoke in defence of Charles Caesar* for alluding in a speech on the regency bill to Lord Treasurer Godolphin’s (Sidney†) alleged correspondence with St. Germain in the previous reign. In a further debate on the bill on 10 Jan. 1706 he did not fully support a Tory ‘blocking’ proposal to require an immediate summons of Parliament at the Queen’s death, but advocated a delay of 20 days to allow west-country MPs time to make their journeys to London. In two analyses of the House drawn up early in 1708 Drake was classed as a Tory. He reported from a select committee on 28 Feb. 1709 on an Exeter petition against imports of Irish yarn, and in February 1710 assisted in the passage of a private bill concerning the Devon estate of the late Sir John Rolle†. On 4 Mar. 1710 the House had to interpose to prevent Drake and Sir William Strickland, 3rd Bt., from pursuing a quarrel which had broken out between them in the House. He was naturally listed as having opposed the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell.6

Drake was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ of the new Parliament. After the fall of the Marlborough– Godolphin administration he was rewarded in mid-September with a place on the Admiralty Board, though it appears that some persuasion was needed to induce him to accept. By November, however, John Ward III* was able to inform Lord Nottingham that ‘Sir William Drake is come to town, and [I] have prevailed with him (much against his inclination) to act in the Admiralty’. He was one of the few office-holders to vote on 29 Jan. 1711 for committing the place bill. After this session he was listed among the ‘Tory patriots’ who had voted for peace, and among the ‘worthy patriots’ who had detected the mismanagements of the previous administration. In the election of 1713 he was successful once more at Honiton, and was also returned for Dartmouth – though in fact he never declared his choice between the two. He was named on 12 Nov. 1713 a commissioner for administering the oaths to Members. The Worsley list classed him as a Tory. By the early months of 1714, however, increasing ill-health from ‘dropsy’ had prevented him from fulfilling his duties at the Admiralty. Losing his seat at Honiton in 1715, he died on 28 Feb. 1716 and was buried at Musbury.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Devon. 297.
  • 2. L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 88; Bodl. Rawl. lett. 109, f. 115; Luttrell, Brief Relation, i. 477.
  • 3. HMC 13th Rep. VI, 40.
  • 4. Cocks Diary, 45.
  • 5. Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, box 72, bdle. 3, newsletter 3 Apr. 1705; bdle. 4, newsletter 8 May 1705.
  • 6. Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 450; BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 53, John Bridges to Sir William Trumbull*, 26 Oct. 1705; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 40, 43, 45, 54, 61.
  • 7. Boyer, Anne Annals, ix. 242; Leics. RO, Finch mss 4950/23, Ward to Nottingham, 2 Nov. 1710; Cam. Misc. xxxi. 329; Add. 31139, f. 92.