DUNCOMBE, William (c.1647-1704), of Battlesden, Beds.

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



10 Feb. 1673 - Jan. 1679
1689 - 1690
1695 - 1698

Family and Education

b. c.1647, o. surv. s. of Sir John Duncombe† of Battlesden by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Humphrey May† of Carrow Priory, Norf., and sis. of Baptist May*.  educ. travelled abroad (Flanders) 1666.  m. settlement 30 May 1672, Jane, da. of Frederick Cornwallis†, 1st Baron Cornwallis, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da.  suc. fa. 1687.1

Offices Held

Envoy to Sweden 1689–92; ld. justice [I] 1693–5; joint comptroller of army accounts 1703–d.2

Freeman, Merchant Adventurers’ Co. 1692.3

Member Dublin Philosophical Society, 1693.4


Duncombe, a distant kinsman of (Sir) Charles Duncombe*, was appointed ambassador to Sweden in 1689 to try to persuade Charles XI to provide troops against France, and to negotiate treaties of alliance and commerce. He failed in both objectives and was recalled in 1692, supposedly ‘at his own desire’. He informed the diplomatist Sir William Dutton Colt that ‘I am going out of the ministry, which is too much for me in truth, for I am not able to cope with it’. His absence abroad probably accounts for his failure to stand for Parliament in 1690.5

Duncombe had returned to England by September 1692 and the following May was appointed one of the three lords justices of Ireland, with Sir Cyril Wyche* and the Whig Lord Capell (Hon. Sir Henry Capel*). Duncombe arrived in Dublin in July, having travelled over with Capell. Initially the three men enjoyed a successful working relationship, but by 1694 it was clear from their communications with the English ministers that Duncombe and Wyche had fallen into disagreement with Capell. In July 1694 Duncombe and Wyche sent the Privy Council an unfavourable report on the prospects for a successful session of parliament in Ireland, an action which marked the turning point in Duncombe’s sojourn in Ireland. Capell’s more positive opinion, and the strong support in England he derived from the Whig Junto, ensured that Duncombe and Wych would not remain in office much longer. In May 1695 the conflict was resolved when Duncombe and Wyche were recalled, and Capell was left as lord deputy. At this time there was a rumour, which proved to be false, that Duncombe was to succeed Sir William Trumbull* at the Treasury. The rumour may have prompted Capell to write to James Vernon I* on 12 May 1695: ‘I wish Mr Duncombe well, he being my relation; but the King, I presume, will be wary whom he puts in great places, for I doubt he is not sound to this government.’ In July, at a Privy Council meeting on the government’s bills prepared for presentation to the forthcoming Irish parliament, Duncombe and Wyche ‘opened themselves pretty freely’ against several of the bills. Their action caused Vernon to express the view that given their opinion, it was a good thing that the calling of parliament had been put off until after they had been removed from office.6

Duncombe was returned for Bedfordshire in 1695 in a contested election. He was noted as likely to oppose the Court in a forecast of the division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696, though he signed the Association promptly. However, in March he voted against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. He does not appear to have voted on the attainder of Sir John Fenwick† in the 1696–7 session, and was in general an inactive Member. He was granted leave of absence on 22 Dec. 1696 for recovery of his health, and was probably the ‘Mr Duncombe’ granted leave again on 6 Mar. 1697 because his family was ill. He unsuccessfully contested Bedfordshire in 1698, when a comparative analysis of the old and new Houses described him as a Country party supporter. He petitioned against the return on 12 Dec., though without success. In October he was nominated as the Old East India Company’s ambassador to the Mogul, but in the event was not chosen. After the accession of Anne he was appointed, along with Sir Joseph Tredenham*, as comptroller of army accounts, with a shared salary of £1,500 p.a. Duncombe died of smallpox on 13 Apr. 1704.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Beds. N. and Q. ii. 45–47; F. A. Blaydes, Genealogia Bedfordiensis, 22, 344.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1693, pp. 134, 175; 1694–5, p. 471; Cal. Treas. Bks. xviii. 41, 300.
  • 3. Rutland mss at Belvoir Castle, no. 20, list of freemen, 1621–93.
  • 4. K. T. Hoppen, Common Scientist in 17th Cent. 204.
  • 5. EHR, xxxix. 571–87; HMC Finch, ii. 415; PRO NI, De Ros mss D638/13/106, John Pulteney* to Thomas Coningsby*, 2 Feb. 1692; Add. 36662, f. 388.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1693, pp. 134, 175–6, 238; 1694–5, pp. 236, 471; McGrath thesis, 265, 267, 269, 270–1; Burnet, iv. 284; Coxe, Shrewsbury, 58; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/4, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 7 May 1695; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 154; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 1 June 1695; Add. 40771, f. 39.
  • 7. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 196; Cal. Treas. Bks. xviii. 41, 300; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 413.