DUDLEY, Sir Matthew, 2nd Bt. (1661-1721), of Clopton, Northants. and St. James’s 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



1702 - 1705
1713 - 1715

Family and Education

b. 1 Oct. 1661, 1st s. of Sir William Dudley, 1st Bt.†, of Clopton by his 3rd w. Mary, da. and h. of Sir Paul Pindar of London.  m. 8 Oct. 1693 (with £12,000), Lady Mary (d. 1735), da. of Henry O’Brien*, 7th Earl of Thomond [I], 4s. (3 d.v.p.) 1da.  suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 18 Sept. 1670.1

Offices Held

Sheriff, Northants. 1683–4.

FRS 1703.

Commr. customs 1706–12, 1714–d.2


The manor of Clopton, Northants., had been in the keeping of Dudley’s family since the 14th century. His father had been rewarded with a baronetcy at the Restoration for services to the Royalist cause, a distinction which elevated the family to the forefront of the Northamptonshire gentry. Although Sir William’s death in 1670 imposed a long minority, it was an indication of the family’s standing that eight months before coming of age in 1682, Sir Matthew was added to the commission of the peace; at the beginning of 1683 he graduated to a deputy-lieutenancy and towards the end of the year, to the shrievalty. In the election of March 1685 he contested Higham Ferrers, though without success. His marriage in 1693 to a daughter of the Earl of Thomond brought him considerable financial benefit. He appears to have been amenable in some degree to James II’s religious policies, answering the three questions on the Penal Laws, ‘consents, but to others denied’, and was entered in December 1687 as one of the deputy-lieutenants to be ‘offered to the King’.3

From 1687 Dudley became involved in a project for mining newly discovered deposits of copper ore and other minerals in Massachusetts. A recent visitation by New Englanders had brought over specimens, no doubt with the intention of encouraging English merchants to open trade. Within a short time almost £100,000 was subscribed by merchants and others to found a company with exclusive mining rights, and in March 1687 the subscribers, headed by Dudley, addressed the King for a charter of incorporation. The venture soon broadened to include production of the full range of ships’ stores, ‘to [the] increase of trade and revenue of the crown’. How Dudley first became involved in such a project is not clear, but, still only in his twenties, he was designated the company’s deputy-governor. The Revolution prevented the charter from passing the seal, and in March 1689 Dudley led his fellow subscribers in a renewal of their application, only to be told by the secretary of state, Lord Shrewsbury, that it would not be considered until the King returned from Ireland. When in August 1690 another group of subscribers, represented by (Sir) Joseph Herne*, obtained a patent for similar purposes, Dudley’s protest met with a ruling from the attorney-general in July 1691 that there appeared ‘no inconsistency between the pretensions of the parties’. But friction between the two merchant cliques culminated in a hearing of their respective claims before the lords of Trade in May 1692, after which Herne’s company appears to have ceased to operate. A draft charter incorporating Dudley and his associates into a joint-stock company to work mines and provide naval stores was sent for the attorney-general’s scrutiny in May 1693, and in October it was considered by the lords of the Treasury. Strong representations against the proposal had been made by the New England agents, led by Sir Henry Ashurst*, and the projectors were unable to persuade the governors of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island that their project would have anything but a ruinous effect on them. The colonists argued that their land rights being limited to ‘bare possession’ would be threatened by ‘so wealthy a body’ with superior rights of possession as defined by charter. Although there soon followed a recommendation by the lord chief justice and the attorney-general that the projected company be granted its charter, the scheme lay dormant until July 1696 when the subscribers, headed once more by Dudley, presented their case to the lords of Trade expressing a readiness ‘to receive such encouragements as you think meet’, but he pursued the project no further.4

Dudley boldly displayed his Tory colours in preparations for the Northamptonshire elections of 1701–2. In January 1701 he assumed responsibility for rallying voters in his neighbourhood in support of the Tory–Whig compromise agreed by the gentry, telling the Tory candidate, Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, that he would ‘spur them up a little’ if a poll was necessary. At the second election, in November, he was perturbed by Isham’s seeming obliviousness to the divided state of opinion within the county and his delay in giving notice to Dudley’s own locale of his intention to stand jointly with another Tory, Thomas Cartwright*. Then in the spring of 1702 he took a resolute stance in favour of the Tory interest, brimming with indignation at the ‘base insinuations . . . on all the Queen’s actions’ contained in the county address on the accession drawn up under the eye of the Whig chairman of the quarter sessions. In May, having heard that the stamp office commissioners would probably be removed, Dudley requested in vain that Isham use his influence with Secretary Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) or Lord Marlborough (John Churchill†) to recommend his brother for one of the vacancies. At what stage prior to the 1702 election he offered himself for the borough of Northampton is unclear, but against all expectations he and another Tory, Bartholomew Tate*, comfortably defeated the Whig candidates.5

Dudley’s election was naturally viewed by Lord Spencer (Charles*) as a ‘loss’ to the Whigs. In the first months of the 1702 Parliament Dudley emerged as an active figure in the House, managing a great deal of minor legislative business. He gained early notoriety from his supervision, between November 1702 and February 1703, of the Tory bill to allow an additional year for taking the abjuration oath, chairing the committee of the whole on the bill on 21 Jan. 1703. At consideration of the Lords’ amendments on 13 Feb., Dudley served as a teller in favour of the new Whiggish clause to bar from reappointment those deprived of their offices for refusing the oath. His agreement with the Whigs on this issue marks the beginning of his move away from Toryism. During the early weeks of 1703 Sir Justinian Isham was alerted to the fact that Dudley had been covertly building up a rival ‘interest’ among leading politicians in London, a rumour which Dudley was understandably anxious to scotch, though his efforts in relation to the abjuration bill leave no doubt of his ambition at this time to make a name for himself.6

As the 1703–4 session commenced, Dudley told on 15 Nov. 1703 against the motion to consider the Queen’s Speech. In mid-February 1704 he managed a bill to clear the Sword Blade Company of £18,864, certified by the commissioners of accounts to have been an overcharge in its purchase of forfeited estates in Ireland, after which he attended to a private estate bill, begun in the Lords, for selling land in Northamptonshire. On 21 Feb. he told against committing the bill for the encouragement of manufactures and ‘setting the poor at work’, and on 3 Mar. reported the bill to discharge insolvent debtors who would serve in the army or navy. He chaired a committee appointed on 22 Feb. to investigate arrears of interest on the malt lottery tickets, reporting on 7 Mar., and in mid-March took charge of another private bill.

In the next session Dudley chaired the committee of 11 Nov. 1704 on expiring laws, and later supervised the resulting bill through its stages. In October he had been forecast as a probable opponent of the Tack and did not vote for it in the division on 28 Nov. On 9 Dec. he reported from the committee considering the arrears of £1,050 claimed by the administrators of the ‘fixed and moving hospitals’ attending the army in Ireland in 1690. He was one of the chief promoters of a bill to improve the regulation of the night watch, which failed after its first reading in January 1705. On 3 Feb. he reported from a second-reading committee on the interest due to the holders of malt lottery tickets, who in the previous session had failed to obtain legislative relief; on the 12th he was teller for an amendment to a supply bill; and on the 21st against the addition to another supply bill of a clause to exempt naval stores.

Towards the end of February Dudley made it known that he would not contest Northampton in the forthcoming general election, expecting instead to be brought in at Higham Ferrers by the outgoing Member, Hon. Thomas Watson Wentworth*. However, Watson Wentworth retained the seat and Dudley did not re-enter Parliament until 1713. By 1705 Dudley had completed his transmogrification from Tory to Whig, and in the election of that year voted for the Whig candidates in the Northamptonshire contest. In the earliest stages of electioneering he was briefly considered a possible Whig candidate. His apostasy earned him appointment in May 1706 as a customs commissioner with a salary of £1,000 p.a., joining a board that was politically mixed. His attachment to Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†), which was mentioned in 1711 by his friend Jonathan Swift, may have been a result of the appointment, or may have predated it.7 In 1709 Dudley’s sympathy with the plight of the Palatine refugees resulted in his becoming a trustee in June of the brief to oversee their settlement. He even accommodated two Palatine families for a short time on his own estates. The Tory landslide of October 1710 made it unlikely that Dudley would retain his customs post and there were reports in December and in January 1711 that he and several other commissioners were about to be replaced. He prevailed on the Earl of Peterborough, the lord lieutenant of Northamptonshire, with whom he was on good terms, to intercede with Robert Harley*, which Peterborough did, requesting Harley to see Dudley that he might ‘beg . . . to be reckoned one of your servants and [I] believe he is worthy of that favour’. Either as the result of such a meeting, or more simply because he could not be dispensed with immediately, Dudley was kept on. His position was none the less tenuous and he several times unburdened himself on the subject during meetings with Swift. In March, Swift wrote that Dudley was: ‘one of those that must lose his employment whenever the great shake comes; and I can’t contribute to keep him in, though I have dropped words in his favour to the ministry; but he has been too violent a Whig and friend to the Lord Treasurer [Godolphin] to be kept in’. Calling on ‘poor Sir Matthew Dudley’ in July, Swift noted ‘he is in hopes of continuing: I would not tell him the bad news, but advised him to prepare for the worst’. Dismissal did not come, however, until the middle of January 1712. A month later Swift observed that Dudley ‘affects a good heart’ but reported that he continued to talk ‘in the extremity of Whiggery, which was always his principle, tho[ugh] he was gentle a little while he kept in employ[me]nt’.8

Dudley returned to the Commons in 1713 as a knight of the shire, having successfully contested Huntingdonshire through the support of the 2nd Duke of Montagu, whose seat at Boughton was very near his own. He was identified on the Worsley list unequivocally as a Whig, and on 18 Mar. 1714 voted against the motion that led to the expulsion of Richard Steele. On 7 Apr. he told against committing a bill for tightening existing laws to prevent wool smuggling, and, on 6 May, on the Whig side in the disputed Colchester election. During May and June he steered through the House a bill for reimbursing William Paterson for his ‘expense and pains’ in the service of the Company of Scotland, and another for repairing the road between Royston in Hertfordshire and Wandsford Bridge in Huntingdonshire. Early in November 1714, following the Hanoverian succession, he was reinstated in the customs commission and was thus obliged to quit his parliamentary seat. He died in harness on 14 Apr. 1721, ‘about noon’, having directed in his will that his body ‘be buried among my ancestors in the usual burying place in the church of Clopton’. The baronetcy became extinct on the death of his only surviving son in 1764.9

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. PCC 107 Buckingham; Add. 32500, f. 151; 24120, f. 274; Baker, Northampton, i. 21.
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. xx. 655; xxvi. 118; xxix. 145.
  • 3. VCH Northants. iii. 126; CSP Dom. 1682, p. 78; Jan.–June 1683, p. 2; The Commons 1660–90, ii. 240; Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1883), pp. 84, 275.
  • 4. Egerton 3340, ff. 199–202; CSP Col. 1689–92, pp. 612, 678, 701, 751; 1693–6, pp. 75, 95, 158, 165, 168, 242, 246, 253, 258, 266, 297, 307; 1696–7, pp. 42–43; CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 364; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 425.
  • 5. Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 2708–9, 2719, 2721–2, Dudley to Isham, 20, 26 Dec. 1700, 18 Nov. 1701, 21 Apr., 11 May 1702; IC 2720, Edward Stratford to same, 18 Apr. 1702; Add. 29568, f. 114.
  • 6. E. G. Forrester, Northants. Elections and Electioneering 1695–1832, p. 31.
  • 7. Isham mss IC 4987, Edward Morpott to Isham, 24 Feb. 1704–5; Northants. Past and Present, vi. 262; Northants. Poll Bks. 1702–1831, p. 46; Cal. Treas. Bks. xx. 655; Swift Stella ed. Davis, 226.
  • 8. Post Boy, 30 June–2 July 1709; EHR, lxxxii. 477; HMC Downshire, i. 891; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 664, 717; Add. 70409, Ld. Peterborough to Robert Harley, 5 Jan. 1710–11; Swift Stella, 68–69, 118, 159, 226, 312, 317, 337, 403, 410, 484; Post Man, 19–22 Jan. 1712.
  • 9. HMC Buccleuch, i. 359–60; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 145; The Gen. n.s. iii. 139; PCC 107 Buckingham.