DUNCOMBE, Charles (1648-1711), of Teddington, Mdx. Barford, Wilts.

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
1690 - 1695
1695 - 1 Feb. 1698
Feb. - Nov. 1701
1702 - 9 Apr. 1711

Family and Education

bap. 16 Nov. 1648, 2nd s. of Alexander Duncombe of Drayton Beauchamp, Bucks.; bro. of Anthony Duncombe*. unm.  Kntd. 20 Oct. 1699.1

Offices Held

Apprentice, Goldsmiths’ Co. 1665, freeman 1672, livery 1674, prime warden 1684; receiver-gen. Bucks. 1670–1, 1676, Hunts. 1670–3, 1676, Beds. 1670–81, London, Mdx. and Westminster 1689–90, Surr. and Southwark 1689–94; alderman, London 1683–6, 1700–d., sheriff 1699–1700, ld. mayor 1708–9; freeman, Portsmouth 1684.2

Member, R. Fishery Co. 1677, E.I. Co. 1677; steward, Hon. Artillery Co. 1682, treasurer 1703–4; commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1695, 1704; pres. Corp. Merchant Woolstaplers 1700.3

Cashier, excise 1680–97, hearth money 1684–Nov. 1688; commr. for the mint 1680–by 1686, coining tin farthings and half-pence by 1685–8, taking subscriptions to Bank 1694.4


Earning both fortune and notoriety in equal measure, Duncombe established himself as one of the leading bankers of his day. His rise in the City was astonishingly quick, particularly considering his modest provincial background, and can largely be attributed to his association with the great financiers Edward Backwell† and Richard Kent†. Moreover, even though contemporaries censured him for avarice, an opponent grudgingly admitted that Duncombe was ‘not use to slip a favourable opportunity’. His banking activities brought advantageous connexions with several noblemen, in particular the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper†), and the 2nd Earl of Sunderland, who proved a most valuable patron at court. As a revenue official under both Charles II and James II, Duncombe was said to have amassed a considerable fortune at the government’s expense. However, such profits were insufficient to secure his loyalty to James and during the Revolution he carried an address from the City lieutenancy to Prince William, and further distinguished himself in January 1689 by advancing the government £20,000, thereby becoming the first major creditor to the new regime. Critics saw such generosity as ‘intended as security for his place’, and he duly retained his office at the excise by making a succession of substantial loans.5

Having failed to retain his Hedon seat at the elections for the Convention, Duncombe resurrected his parliamentary career in 1690 by being brought in for the government borough of Yarmouth. At the outset of the new Parliament Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) classed him as a Tory and probable Court supporter, but Duncombe proved an inactive Member. Such inactivity was in some contrast to his fiscal services for the ministry, and in the course of the Parliament most political commentators assessed his politics on the basis of his office, with five lists classing him as a placeman. In addition, in April 1691 Robert Harley* bracketed him with supporters of the Court, as did Samuel Grascome in 1693–5. However, Duncombe’s professional interests made him a reluctant supporter of the Bank of England, and although appointed a commissioner to take the first subscription, he proved one of the Bank’s leading opponents. Despite such antipathy, he maintained his place thanks to the support of powerful allies such as Sunderland, who warmly commended Duncombe’s advance of £30,000 during the sixth session, observing that he, ‘without excepting any man whoever, has been, and will be, more useful than any’. Given this powerful connexion, it was predictable that Henry Guy* in 1694–5 should identify him as a ‘friend’ and likely supporter against opposition attacks in the Lower House.6

Although ready to stand the government credit, in the course of the recoinage crisis Duncombe exhibited a less than public-spirited approach to national finance. In August 1695 he was reported to have sold ‘all his effects in the Bank of England, being £80,000’, a move which one historian has interpreted as an attempt to increase the Bank’s difficulties. Moreover, he subsequently invested a reported £90,000 in the purchase of the Duke of Buckingham’s former estate at Helmsley, Yorkshire, perhaps wishing to protect himself against the inflationary impact of the recoinage. This transaction certainly invited much comment at a time of national hardship, and later led Pope to pen the couplet:

          And Helmsley once proud Buckingham’s delight
          Slides to a scrivener or City knight.

This acquisition permitted Duncombe to influence elections at Hedon for the rest of his career, but at the general election of 1695 he preferred to take advantage of his proprietorial interest at Downton, having bought an estate at nearby Barford some five years before. After gaining an unopposed return, he continued to back the Court, being forecast as a likely supporter in a division on 31 Jan. 1696 concerning the proposed council of trade. He also signed the Association, but remained inconspicuous in the House, his only significant appointment in the first session resting with the drafting committee for a bill to explain the Acts concerning highways. He was still valued by the ministry, however, and the following summer was employed by the chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Montagu*, as an intermediary for negotiations with the land bank. These talks failed to raise the expected supply, but in August Duncombe’s name headed a cartel of financiers ready to advance £300,000 to the crown.7

Despite Duncombe’s forwardness to aid the administration, he remained on uneasy terms with Montagu. Matters came to a head in February 1697, when the banker refused a request to lend the government £50,000. Duncombe appeared before the Treasury on 10 Feb. to give his answer, and, in front of the King, stubbornly defended his record as a government creditor, offering to resign his excise post if anyone else could supply the crown better. Moreover, he firmly denied that he had made any personal gain from his tenure of office, and even claimed to have lost money due to the ‘noise’ of rumours concerning his future employment. Sir Stephen Fox* was his principal adversary on this occasion, and as soon as Duncombe had left the meeting, he assured the King that other financiers could meet royal needs. The following month it was reported that Duncombe had joined with Fox and others to establish a fund of £400,000 for public supplies, but by April Duncombe had been replaced at the excise by Bartholomew Burton, thereby ending any immediate hopes for reconciliation with Montagu.8

Having severed his own ties with the ministry, Duncombe encouraged Sunderland to break with the Junto. Before the end of the year he had warned Sunderland of possible impeachment, and it was later claimed that Duncombe and Guy ‘did perpetually alarm him [Sunderland] with stories of his being delivered up by the Whigs’. Sunderland’s resignation as lord chamberlain in late December sparked an immediate response from acolytes like Duncombe, who launched an attack on Montagu in the Commons, accusing the chancellor of fraud in connexion with the circulation of Exchequer bills. In particular, Duncombe was said to have charged Montagu with engineering his removal from office so that Burton could aid the conspiracy. Sunderland hastily tried to distance himself from these allegations, confiding to the Duke of Shrewsbury on 15 Jan. 1698:

I am informed that some in the House of Commons, who usually were thought to be influenced by me, have gone wrong of late, in particular Sir William Trumbull*, Mr Duncombe and Mr [John] Methuen*. For the two first, I think people need only consider one moment the difference between men in good places and good humour, and out of them, angry and unsatisfied.

Few believed Sunderland’s denials, but after Montagu had cleared his name before the Commons in early January, it was Duncombe who became the principal victim of the minister’s counter-attack.9

Having helped to broach an investigation into the circulation of Exchequer bills, Duncombe now found himself charged with corruption. On 17 Jan. he ‘entertained’ the House with his answer to the reasons given by Fox for his dismissal as cashier, and the next day James Vernon I* menacingly observed that Montagu was ready to go on the offensive, although Vernon was unsure whether Duncombe would be the chancellor’s target. Most significantly, Vernon remarked upon Sunderland’s readiness to abandon his ally, reporting that the peer had ‘nothing to say for’ Duncombe. On 22 Jan. Montagu openly delivered ‘a very severe charge’ against Duncombe before the House, but the banker made a spirited defence of his actions, accusing his opponents of trying to screen the real offenders, and it was reported that ‘no part’ of the allegations against him had been ‘made out’.10

However, the Commons pursued the matter three days later, focusing attention on a payment of £10,000 in Exchequer bills which Duncombe had made to the Exchequer in May 1697 to clear his account as cashier. The House was particularly keen for him to reveal the name of the person from whom he received the bills, and under such pressure Duncombe cracked, testifying to a central role in a fraud. He had purchased the bills at a 5 per cent discount from a Jew, John da Costa, who was persuaded by Duncombe to endorse them with fictitious names so that it appeared that they had been paid to Duncombe for excise duty. As a result, Duncombe could then pay the bills into the Exchequer at their face value, and pocket the discount himself. Such revelations were considered particularly unwise, for they ‘made him appear more guilty than perhaps could ever have been proved’. In response, the House committed him to the Tower for ‘having contrived and advised the making false endorsements of Exchequer bills’, and ordered him to prepare a written defence of his actions. Vernon gleefully blamed ‘Duncombe’s imprudence and his friends’ obstinacy’ for the banker’s downfall, observing that Duncombe’s ‘lavishness of tongue’ had implicated him with other disgraced revenue officials such as Burton and John Knight I*.11

Over the next few days Duncombe petitioned the Commons for time and counsel to prepare his defence, but on 1 Feb. the House’s patience ran out and his testimony of 25 Jan. was ruled as having been tantamount to a confession of guilt. He was accordingly expelled from the Commons, and, on the motion of ‘Mr Harley’, a committee was appointed to prepare bills to penalize Duncombe, Burton and Knight. Some Members wished to impeach Duncombe for his crime, but others foresaw that ‘his money and lordships’ tricks might puzzle the cause’. Montagu took the greatest pleasure from Duncombe’s discomfort, hoping that it would encourage Sunderland to come into the ministry on the chancellor’s terms:

We have taken away his [Sunderland’s] tools and engines. Duncombe’s fall will more disable him, and cut off his power to play tricks, than anything else could have done. He was the cement that kept [Lord] Peterborough, [the Duke of] Bolton [Charles Powlett†], [Sir Edward] Seymour [4th Bt.*], and the rest united. He was the Iago of the whole villainy, and nothing can keep them together, but such a busy temper, joined with a faculty of helping those that have money to dispose of it, and those that have none to borrow.12

The bill of pains against Duncombe was presented on 7 Feb., by which time speculation was already rife that he would be fined £150,000. His bitterest enemies wished to take nearly the whole of his estate, valued by most sources at £400,000. The first major hurdle for the bill was negotiated on 14 Feb., when the House heard counsel for both sides before the second reading. Duncombe’s allies sought to highlight the wide variety of practices permitted by Exchequer bill legislation, stressing that if Duncombe had transgressed, then so had many others. Moreover, they continued to target Montagu, querying why there had been no investigation of Duncombe’s transaction when the Treasury had first taken note of it the previous June. Up to this point John Pulteney* had been identified as his ‘great advocate’ in the Commons, but on this occasion Duncombe also received the support of Court opponents such as Seymour, Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.*, and John Grobham Howe*, whose activity highlighted the growing significance of the controversy. Their arguments were brushed aside, however, and after a motion for candles had passed easily, there was no opposition to the bill’s referral to a committee of the whole.13

That committee sat on 18 Feb., when debate lasted some seven or eight hours, and it was eventually resolved that Duncombe should lose two-thirds of his estate, and never hold public office again. John Ellis* interpreted ‘this severity’ as retaliation on the part of the ministry’s supporters, who had been angered by an attempt to embarrass Montagu by bringing to the House’s attention a grant of Irish forfeitures to the chancellor. At the report stage on 21 Feb., Duncombe’s allies were still striving to ambush the bill, proposing an amendment that the confiscated estate be appropriated by Parliament. This was probably a thinly disguised attempt to expose the self-interest of Duncombe’s opponents, for, as Sir Miles Cooke later observed, ‘the getting and keeping of £200,000 will find enemies and friends’. However, the amendment was rejected on the grounds that it would turn the bill into a fiscal measure, and thus run the risk of antagonizing the Lords. Furthermore, the House confirmed its resolve to punish Duncombe by ruling that it was a felony for anyone to aid the concealment of his estate. Indeed, such was the desperation of the Duncombe lobby that Vernon was sure that ‘some would be willing to blow the coals to a dissolution of this Parliament’. Other observers also thought that the struggle was far from over, speculating that the banker had allies in the Lords who were ready to come to his rescue.14

Duncombe’s allies were unable to prevail in the debate on the third reading on 26 Feb., even though Attorney-General Sir Thomas Trevor*, a member of the bill’s drafting committee, made an impassioned speech against the House’s proceedings. Trevor declared ‘little acquaintance and consideration’ for Duncombe, but echoed many of the arguments already broached against the bill, highlighting anxieties concerning the novelty of the crime, and questioning the legality of depriving an individual of his estate without a proper trial. Despite Trevor’s opposition, and that of Treasury commissioners Thomas Pelham I* and Fox, the bill was subsequently passed by 138 votes to 103. Most significantly, Sunderland’s heir, Lord Spencer (Charles*), had been cited as one of Duncombe’s fiercest critics. Spencer may have been acting independently of his father over this affair, but his stance can also be interpreted as further proof of Sunderland’s desertion of Duncombe.15

Duncombe may have lost Sunderland’s support, but when the bill was presented to the Upper House, his cause was strongly upheld by Tory leaders such as Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), Rochester (Laurence Hyde†) and Leeds (Carmarthen), as well as Whig dissidents like Bolton and Peterborough. Their principal objection was that the measure was ‘a method introduced to intermeddle in their jurisdiction’, and even proponents of the bill such as Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) were reportedly concerned over its drafting. The bill passed its first reading on 4 Mar. by 48 votes to 36, but sufficient opposition had been raised for the Lords to hold a conference with the Commons three days later in order to discover ‘the matters of fact’ on which the Lower House had proceeded. Also on 7 Mar., the Commons took into consideration a pamphlet, Mr Duncombe’s Case, which claimed that the banker had never made any confession to its Members. Predictably, this was ruled to be ‘false and scandalous’, and ordered to be burnt in public. Only two days later, the conference sparked another tempestuous debate in the Commons, when some Members argued that the ‘confession’ should not be represented to the Lords as proof of Duncombe’s guilt. Opponents of the bill had consistently asserted that the Lower House had no power to administer an oath to take such testimony, but Duncombe’s adversaries, with Lord Spencer again conspicuous among them, prevailed on the Commons to appoint a committee to inform the Upper House that the bill was grounded upon the ‘confession’ and other evidence. The conference took place the same day, but another was needed on 11 Mar., such was the rift which the bill had created between the Houses. As Cooke wearily observed on 15 Mar., ‘hitherto there have happened so many blunders in the matter that I cannot say it [the bill] goes forward’.16

On 15 Mar. came the second reading in the Lords, and counsel were again heard for both sides. In a dramatic and unexpected reversal of fortune, the bill was then lost by a single vote on a motion for committal. Some observers attributed the defeat to Duncombe’s connexions with such peers as Bolton, to whom the banker had earlier given advance warning of the Stop of the Exchequer. Others credited enmity towards Montagu, with Leeds singled out as casting the decisive vote against the bill, in order to repay Montagu for having ‘a few years before accused the Duke himself of corruption’. Furthermore, it was suggested that the result had been ‘not without some charge’ to Duncombe, who was said to have gained this victory by ‘a golden sacrifice’. There were also recriminations on the ministry’s side, for several of its supporters had left the House before the vote, ‘not thinking there was any danger of losing it’.17

However, the surprise result was quickly surpassed in importance by the Lords’ decision immediately after the vote to order Duncombe’s release from the Tower, which was interpreted by the Commons as a breach of privilege. It was claimed that the Lords had only acted in haste, being ‘sufficiently tired after a long debate’, but there was great apprehension that Duncombe’s ‘wonderful good fortune’ would cause ‘very much ill blood between the Houses’. Moreover, it was not only constitutional issues that were at stake, for Vernon anxiously took notice of the King’s impatience with the Duncombe affair, which had delayed discussion of fiscal business. The Commons had no compunction in pursuing the matter, hastily appointing a committee to examine the Lords’ proceedings, and later choosing another to search for precedents to assert their rights against the Lords. After both committees had reported their findings, the House resolved on 22 Mar. that its prisoners could not be discharged by ‘any other authority whatsoever’ during the same session, and that Duncombe should be taken into custody. Even at this late stage, an attempt was made to prolong the dispute by a motion to condemn the Lords for their release of Duncombe, but it was defeated by moderates eager to contain the controversy. There were also reports that ‘it has been endeavoured to terrify Mr Duncombe as to make him run away’, but the banker wisely surrendered himself to the serjeant-at-arms, and on 31 Mar. was recommitted to the Tower, where he remained until the end of the session.18

Even though the Lords had saved Duncombe from immediate punishment, it was inevitable that he would face further arraignment for his crime. On 18 May the Lords addressed the King for Duncombe to be prosecuted, a request to which William readily assented, and informations were filed against Duncombe in both London and Middlesex. Accordingly, he was tried at King’s Bench in February 1699, only to be acquitted on a technical error in the information. He was retried in the same court on 17 June, but was quickly acquitted by the jury, whose foreman was the Country Tory Member Warwick Lake*. Provocative as ever, Duncombe treated the jurors to ‘a noble dinner’ afterwards, and gave them five guineas each, declaring ‘the prosecution had cost him £10,000’. However, it was nearly two years before he finally obtained royal approval to quash the second process against him.19

The Exchequer bill controversy had obviously precluded any thoughts in Duncombe’s mind of standing at the general election of 1698, and even after his acquittal it was reported that ‘being out of favour at court, he seemed to retire himself from business’. He did not remain in the political wilderness for long, for in the summer of 1699 he staged a remarkable comeback with the support of the City Tories. His first success came at the London shrieval elections in June of that year, a victory which Charles Davenant* viewed as ‘a just rebuke to those invaders of property who had so unreasonably persecuted him the last Parliament’. Davenant also maintained that Duncombe’s allies had been planning his candidacy for some time before the election, thereby contradicting other accounts which suggested that the banker had only been put up to raise money for the corporation. In his new office Duncombe embarked on a campaign to win over the London electorate, paying particular attention to the City’s prisons. The newspapers avidly followed his philanthropic path, and it was claimed that during his shrievalty he dispensed £5,364 to poor prisoners, and freed some 170 debtors. In addition, he donated £500 to redeem captives taken abroad. Several pamphlets celebrated his generosity in verse, but others viewed him sceptically, insinuating that he ‘designs to live very splendidly to wipe off the blemish the late business of the Exchequer bills cast upon him’. His civic dignity even brought him recognition at court, for in October 1699 he was knighted when a City delegation attended the King. He also established himself as a leading Churchman, playing host to some 100 London clergymen on New Year’s Day, 1700. Duncombe’s popularity had evidently been transformed during his shrievalty, with one observer remarking that only two years before the banker ‘was thought to deserve nothing less than the gallows . . . and now is the idol of the mob’. However, another believed that ‘his credit is as ill among the best sort of people’.20

Duncombe’s benevolence was seen to pay further dividends in June 1700 when he was elected as alderman for Bridge ward. In order to curry favour with the local electorate he donated a clock for St. Magnus’ church, the magnificence of which was said ‘to answer the design of the donor’, and he later presented the parish with an organ as well. Once he had been admitted to the court of aldermen, interest was immediately made for his candidacy for the mayoralty, and rumours soon spread of the liberality which would follow his election. Various building schemes were promised, including an armoury for the Honourable Artillery Company, a statue of the King at Cheapside, and a mansion house for the mayor, and it was claimed that he would spend £40,000 for ‘the good of the City’. The success of this strategy was demonstrated in September by his resounding victory in the mayoral poll, when he beat his nearest Whig challenger Sir Thomas Abney* by a majority of over 800. However, the court of aldermen ignored the result and voted by 14 to 12 in favour of Abney. The City Tories, who had been confident of securing the support of 13 aldermen for Duncombe, reacted furiously, launching an inquest to overturn the result. The controversy aroused ‘great animosities’ in the capital, and speculation surrounded the ministry’s involvement. One account maintained that Montagu had attempted to influence the current mayor against Duncombe, but another rumour suggested that the Earl of Marlborough (John Churchill†) had endorsed Duncombe’s candidacy, although this report was dismissed as ‘Lord Sunderland’s work’. Furthermore, after Baron of the Exchequer William Simpson had made ‘a violent panegyric upon Duncombe’ when swearing in the new City sheriffs, the Whig leader Sir William Ashurst* challenged Simpson whether ‘Lord Sunderland had not made him the speech, and Duncombe given him money for pronouncing it’. An anti-Duncombe pamphlet surprisingly claimed that Sir Charles ‘did not appear so much concerned at the repulse as his friends were’, but all the strenuous efforts made on his behalf proved in vain.21

Despite this setback, Duncombe had successfully re-established himself as a major force in City politics, and in October he was cited as a member of a cartel of financiers ready to advance the government £4,000,000 to pay off the Bank and the New East India Company. Earlier in the year he had appeared reluctant to resume the role of government financier when touted as a possible excise farmer, and this most ambitious scheme predictably failed to get off the ground. However, the subsequent dissolution of Parliament gave him ample opportunity to advance the cause of the Old East India Company, and in January he met Hon. James Brydges* and Sir Francis Child* to discuss the elections. He first took the precaution of securing his own return at Ipswich, a victory which he probably gained through his connexions with the Old Company. However, he suffered narrow defeats at both Downton and London. Duncombe’s popularity in the capital may well have been adversely affected by attacks in the press (such as Defoe’s True Born Englishman), which even persisted after the City poll. Most significantly, one pamphleteer censured Duncombe for becoming a tool of party, condemning his rapid rise to civic office, and lambasting him for failing to distance himself from Jacobite supporters. Such themes were also rehearsed in an anti-Tory satire of about December 1700, which suggested that plans were afoot for the introduction of a bill ‘to authorize Sir Ch. Dun—b, when he is lord mayor of London, to proclaim the Prince of Wales’. In addition, he was attacked in February 1701 for having attempted a run on the Bank as part of a conspiracy hatched by supporters of the Old East India Company.22

In contrast to the showmanship which had salvaged his political career, once back in the House Duncombe proved an inactive Member, failing to make any significant contribution to Commons business. However, he was listed in February 1701 as a likely supporter of the Court in continuing the ‘Great Mortgage’, and was also blacklisted for opposing the preparations for the war. In response he signed The Vine Tavern Queries, which defended the Tories from allegations of crypto-Jacobitism. However, his City adversaries still managed to prevail against him at the mayoral election in September, when he only managed to gain the backing of three other aldermen, a poor performance which was attributed to his absence from the corporation’s recent debate on an address to decry Louis XIV’s recognition of the Pretender. Equally worryingly, his support among the liverymen had fallen by over 1,000 votes in the space of a year, and it was thus of little surprise that he suffered a heavy defeat at the City’s parliamentary contest in November. Further ignominy followed, for not having taken care to secure himself at either Ipswich or Downton, he again faced exclusion from Parliament.23

The accession of Anne saw a resurgence in the fortunes of the City Tories, and Duncombe was duly appointed a colonel of the London militia. However, he was the only Tory candidate to fail at the ensuing parliamentary election. Personal notoriety may well have contributed to his defeat, for in the same month Defoe launched a bitter attack on him in his Reformation of Manners:

          Duncombe, the modern Judas of the age,
          Has often tried in vain to mount the stage:
          Profuse in gifts and bribes to God and man,
          To ride the City horse and wear the chain.

Fortunately, Duncombe was able to secure his own return at both Downton and Hedon, and chose to sit for the former. He remained generally inactive in the House, although he was appointed in the first session to a committee to investigate London coal prices. Moreover, in February 1703 he acted on behalf of his constituents to petition the crown for an extra market day at Downton. In the next session he was predictably forecast by Lord Nottingham as a supporter concerning proceedings over the Scotch Plot, but by the end of the Parliament had broken with his party over the Tack. On 30 Oct. 1704 he was classed as a probable opponent of the measure, and, having been included on Robert Harley’s canvassing list, left the House with the other ‘Sneakers’ prior to the crucial vote on 28 Nov.24

Duncombe’s estrangement from his party did not last long, for he backed the Tory candidates at the Middlesex election, and, after retaining his seat at Downton, he voted on 25 Oct. 1705 against the Court candidate for Speaker. He remained inconspicuous in the House, and his activity outside of it during the Parliament for once merited little publicity. Whig advances in the City conspired to undermine his standing: in June 1707 he was removed as a militia colonel, and three months later he was again overlooked for the mayoralty by the court of aldermen. In early 1708 two parliamentary lists confirmed his Tory politics, and in May of that year he had no difficulty in securing his election at Downton. Although failing to make any significant contribution to Commons business, he finally gained the mayoralty in September as the senior alderman below the chair, despite the fact that ‘some great men’ and ‘a furious Whig party’ had reportedly opposed his election. Unfortunately, the death of Prince George pre-empted his plans for a spectacular Lord Mayor’s Day parade, but he was able to use his new authority to promote the Church interest. In May 1709 he endorsed the candidacy of Dr Henry Sacheverell for the chaplaincy of St. Saviour’s, Southwark, but did not attempt to secure Sacheverell any City appointment. However, the following summer he displayed Tory partisanship towards the poor Palatine refugees, reportedly giving only £50 for their relief, ‘and would scarce have done that but for the sake of his office’. Such parsimony was in some contrast to his previous support for charitable causes, but in the ensuing parliamentary session he received praise from the poor debtors of the Wood Street compter for assisting them during his mayoralty. He opposed the impeachment of Sacheverell, and later entertained the Tory champion at his Teddington home.25

Given such publicized support for the High Church party, it was no surprise that Duncombe was cited as a Tory candidate shortly before the City election of 1710. However, even though he did vote for the Tories at the London poll, he settled for another unopposed return at Downton. Soon afterwards he was greeted most warmly at court by Harley, who, as Tory election propaganda had made out, evidently considered him as a potential government creditor. Duncombe did not live up to such expectations, for despite reports that he ‘cries out everything that’s now done, is very well done, and talks as if they shall never want money’, it was observed that ‘the devil a penny does he lend’. Although unforthcoming in financial terms, he clearly maintained support for the ministry, since he was later cited as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who in the first session of the 1710 Parliament helped to detect the mismanagements of the previous administration. However, well before the end of the session the Tories had been robbed of his interest by his death at Teddington on 9 Apr. 1711, on the occasion of which he was cited as ‘the richest commoner of England’.26

Duncombe had undoubtedly made many enemies in the course of a tempestuous career, even if his philanthropy had gained him support among the London populace. Many of his election promises remained unfulfilled, but imprisoned debtors had much to thank him for, and he had also supported the SPCK. However, such charity did not spare him vilification at the hands of critics like Defoe, who portrayed Duncombe as the personification of ingratitude. Moreover, Defoe also cast aspersions on his private life, and other sources allude to the mistresses of the bachelor banker. Towards the end of his life he kept to a more fastidious diet, and preferred the joys of his estates at Teddington and Barford, both of which drew praise for their ornament. He may also have planned to develop his property at Helmsley, for within two years of his death an impressive mansion had been built there. He died intestate and unmarried, and thus his considerable fortune was split between the offspring of his brother and sister. The Wiltshire estates passed to his nephew Anthony†, who further consolidated the family interest at Downton. Another nephew, Thomas*, who took the name of Duncombe, succeeded him as Member for Downton, but founded a dynasty at Helmsley. In addition, £200,000 was said to have passed to the Duke of Argyll, who had married Duncombe’s niece, Mary.27

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Paula Watson / Perry Gauci


  • 1. Hoare, Wilts. Downton, 45; Yorks. Peds. ed. Foster, ii. (unpag.).
  • 2. J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London (London and Mdx. Arch. Soc.), 63; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 369, 854; iv. 127; v. 210; vi. 725; ix. 129, 570; x. 466, 590; R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 367.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. vi. 2; Cal. Ct. Mins. E.I. Co. 1677–9 ed. Sainsbury, 56; Luttrell, Brief Relation, i. 179; Beaven, Aldermen, ii. 110; Add. 10120, ff. 232–6; Daily Courant, 8 Aug. 1704; Flying Post, 29–31 Aug. 1700.
  • 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. vi. 580, 612; vii. 1347; viii. 176, 1621, 2125.
  • 5. Hoare, 45; F. G .H. Price, Handbook of London Bankers, 108–110; Liveryman’s Reasons [1701], 6; Burnet, i. 561–2; HMC Lords, ii. 307; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 468; Boyer, Wm. III, ii. 325; R. Beddard, Kingdom Without a King, 173; E. Hughes, Studies in Admin. and Finance, 165–6, 173; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 369, 999, 1607; x. 883.
  • 6. NLS, Advocates’ mss 31.1.7, f.146; J. E. T. Rogers, First Nine Years of the Bank, 70; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 906; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1245, Sunderland to [Portland], 29 May 1695.
  • 7. Luttrell, iii. 513; Rogers, 28; Evelyn Diary, v. 246; Poems of Alexander Pope ed. Butt, iv. 69; VCH Wilts. xi. 34, 45; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 181–2; Portledge Pprs. 236.
  • 8. Cal. Treas. Bks. xi. 353–4; xii. 5; Add. 17677 RR, f. 261.
  • 9. J. P. Kenyon, Sunderland, 299; Shrewsbury Corresp. 524, 526; Add. 17677 SS, ff. 136–7.
  • 10. CSP Dom. 1698, pp. 34, 41; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 469–70; Add. 70019, Edward* to Sir Edward Harley*, 22 Jan. 1698.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1698, pp. 33–34; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 477–8.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1698, pp. 53, 58; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 487–8; Shrewsbury Corresp. 532.
  • 13. Add. 17677 SS, ff. 136–7, 146; 30000 B, ff. 40–41; CSP Dom. 1698, p. 89; Bodl. Ballard 39, f. 136; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 487–8; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. 1987. 7. 1, Robert Yard* to Ld. Manchester, 18 Feb. 1698.
  • 14. Add. 17677, ff. 168–9; CSP Dom. 1698, pp. 95–96, 102, 144; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 19; Ballard 39, f. 136.
  • 15. Stowe 364, ff. 70–79; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. 1987.7. 1, Yard to Manchester, 1 Mar. 1698; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 19.
  • 16. CSP Dom. 1698, pp. 97, 129, 139–40, 144; HMC Lords, n.s. iii. 136; Add. 17677 SS, ff. 183–4.
  • 17. Burnet, 561–2; Cunningham, Hist. GB, i. 169; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 1171; Bodl. Carte 130, f. 392.
  • 18. CSP Dom. 1698, pp. 144, 173; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 26–27; Kenyon, 304; Add. 17677 SS, ff. 198201; BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 50, Thomas Bateman to Trumbull, 23 Mar. 1698; Luttrell, iv. 399.
  • 19. HMC Lords, 224; Luttrell, iv. 480, 528; CSP Dom. 1699–1700, p. 229; 1700–2, pp. 136–7, 174.
  • 20. Liveryman’s Reasons, 4; HMC Cowper, ii. 388–9; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn Coll. Blathwayt mss, box 19, Vernon to William Blathwayt*, 27 June 1699; Post Boy, 6–8 Feb., 24–26 Sept. 1700; Ballard 4, f. 44; G. Hogaeus, Ad Virum Nobilissimum . . . Carolum Duncombum [1699]; Poet’s Address to Sir Charles Duncombe [1700]; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/8, Yard to Alexander Stanhope, 4 July 1699; Luttrell, iv. 574, 599; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 47.
  • 21. J. P. Malcolm, Londinium Redivivum, iv. 34; Luttrell, iv. 660, 667, 692; HMC Portland, iii. 631; Trumbull Alphab. mss 50, Bateman to Trumbull, 11 Oct. 1700; HMC Bath, iii. 421–2; Liveryman’s Reasons, 8.
  • 22. Luttrell, iv. 693–4; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 452; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 26(2), Brydges’ diary, 26 Jan. 1701; Poems on Affairs of State ed. Ellis, vi. 300–8; Liveryman’s Reasons; HMC Portland, viii. 63; Rogers, 134.
  • 23. Blathwayt mss, box 20, Vernon to Blathwayt, 2 Oct. 1701; Add. 40775, ff. 220–1.
  • 24. Luttrell, v. 193; Poems on Affairs of State ed. Ellis, 409–10; CSP Dom. 1703–4, p. 379.
  • 25. Mdx. Poll of 1705; Luttrell, vi. 186, 364, 367; Boyer, Anne Annals, vi. 240; HMC Portland, iv. 503; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 30 Sept. 1708; E. Settle, Triumphs of London [1708]; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 57–58; Bull. IHR, xl. 161; CJ, xvi. 321; Add. 70421, newsletter 28 Mar. 1710.
  • 26. Luttrell, vi. 633; Wentworth Pprs. 151; Boyer, Anne Annals, ix. app. 144; Le Neve’s Knights, 468; Post Man, 10–12 Apr. 1711.
  • 27. Chapter in Eng. Church Hist. ed. McClure, 26; Poems on Affairs of State ed. Ellis, 300–8, 409–10; HMC Bath, 321; Liveryman’s Reasons, 14–15; A Common Council Journal [1701]; Hoare, 40–42; Lysons, Environs (1792–6), iii. 512; VCH Yorks. N. Riding, i. 486; PCC Admon 1711, f. 93; VCH Wilts. 34; Swift Stella ed. Davis, 238.