EARLE, Joseph (c.1658-1730), of St. Werburgh’s, Bristol

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



1710 - 1727

Family and Education

b. c.1658, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Earle†, merchant, of St. Werburgh’s, Bristol, and Crudwell, Wilts., mayor of Bristol 1681, by Elizabeth Ellinor (d. 1709), da. of Joseph Jackson† of Small Street, Bristol and Sneyd Park, Glos.; bro. of Giles Earle†.  m. lic. 18 Nov. 1689, Elizabeth, da. of Sir Thomas Cann, merchant, of Bristol, 1da. d.v.psuc. fa. 1696.1

Offices Held

Member, Merchant Venturers’ Soc., Bristol 1697, warden 1709–10, master 1721–2; president Loyal Soc., Bristol 1712–13.2


Earle’s father, the son of a Wiltshire yeoman, had prospered in Bristol as a merchant and had then risen in civic politics, becoming MP for the city during the Exclusion Parliaments. Earle himself was destined to succeed to the family business and was already the leading member of a mercantile partnership at the time of his father’s death in 1696. In February 1693 he had petitioned the government for Admiralty protection of shipping bound for the West Indies, taking command of a privateer for this purpose later in the year. He was also, by this time, a captain in the local militia.3

At the election of 1710, having completed his term as warden of the city’s Merchant Venturers’ Society, Earle took advantage of the strong upsurge of popular Toryism in his native city and stood as a candidate in partnership with the wealthy Bristol philanthropist, Edward Colston II*. Although Colston was undoubtedly the better known Tory, his absence from the city left Earle to front their campaign. Their success marked the end of the 15-year Whig monopoly over the city’s parliamentary seats and was hailed as a great victory for the ‘Church party’. Enthusiasm still ran high a month later when, during the first few miles of his journey to London, he was escorted by ‘above 500 horse’. Earle was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’, and was subsequently listed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who in the 1710–11 session detected the mismanagements of the previous administration and was a member of the October Club. On 5 Apr. 1711 he was teller against a minor amendment to the bill preventing bribery at elections. Indications of a weakening in Earle’s Toryism in the next session presaged his alignment with the Whigs a few years later. On 7 Dec. 1711 he was one of a handful of Tories who voted with the Whigs in favour of the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion, though as would later appear the measure of his disagreement with his party brethren was not confined to the commercial implications of the Tory government’s peace policies, but, more fundamentally, involved his attitudes to the Church. It is possible, however, that he was never a committed Tory in the first place. His father was a moderate Tory who had dissociated himself from the extremist Tories in the corporation in the 1680s, and in 1690 found himself at loggerheads with their leaders, who attempted to engineer his expulsion from the corporation. On 1 Mar. 1712 Earle was first-named to a committee on a petition from the copper and brass manufacturers of Bristol and London complaining of unfair advantages given to foreign imports; and on 23 May he was a teller against providing legislative relief to two London wine merchants who claimed they had been over-charged on customs duty. Next session, on 2 May 1713, he was among those ordered to prepare a bill to open up the African trade, almost certainly as a result of a petition from the merchants of Bristol, which Earle may have presented. Two days later his telling against a bill for the temporary suspension of duties on French wine further underlined his disapproval of the new trading relationship with the French, and on 18 June he voted against the French commerce bill. In the printed list of the division he was noted both as a ‘whimsical’ and as ‘concerned in trade’. He was teller on 8 July against a technical amendment to a bill for encouraging the tobacco trade.4

Earle, who by now ranked as a colonel of militia, was again successful for Bristol in 1713, though his recent failure to support his party line evidently annoyed the High Tory zealots in the city, giving rise to reports that he had ‘underhand encouraged the Whig side, notwithstanding his outward appearance’. So lukewarm had his adherence to the Tory party become by the session of 1714 that he was described by the compiler of the Worsley list as a Whig who often voted with the Tories. In Bristol his relations with the Tory faithful worsened, not least over a bill to provide the corporation of the poor, established in 1696, with a sounder financial base. Tory aversion towards the corporation arose from the way in which it had lessened the autonomy of the city parishes through its assumption of responsibility for poor relief. Moreover, the corporation was regarded as a ‘Whig device’, the 1696 Act having exempted guardians and poor law officers from the religious test, which had made it a multi-denominational body. Earle’s promotion of the corporation’s bill, which had the full backing of the Whiggish city council, did nothing for his diminishing credit with Bristol’s Tories. Between April and June 1714 he personally supervised the bill through all its Commons stages. His conflict with High Tories over the issue was clearly registered on 8 June during consideration of the second-reading report. When Tory MPs, almost certainly at the behest of Bristol Churchmen, took the opportunity to strike a blow at the corporation by pushing for a clause to end the poor rate when payment of the corporation’s debts had been completed, Earle was on the losing side as a teller in the ensuing division. The Tories then added another clause ending the exemption of guardians from the religious test. His only other tellership, on 7 May, had been against a bill concerning imports. He was the same day first-named to a second-reading committee on a private bill. At some point during 1714, a Tory attack on him was published in Bristol, announcing his expulsion from the city’s chief Tory venue, the Loyal Society, of which he had lately been president. The author roundly accused him of flagrant anticlericalism, citing his frequent railings ‘against the established Church and the ministers of it’, and his declaring publicly ‘that religion was of very little use, and that there ought to be no more pastors to take care of our souls that there were judges to preside over our laws’. He had refused to pay his parish dues and had profaned Christ’s miracles as ‘no more than the curing of a Tertian ague’:

He was a man so variable in his temper that though he had in the most solemn manner promised Mr [Edward] Colston [II], and even pawned his salvation upon it, so far as words would suffer him, that he would stand by the society, and persevere on his loyalty to the Church and its government, yet (when he was by the sole interest of that society chosen into the House during the time of his sitting there) he kept no other correspondence in this city than with Quakers, Independents, Anabaptists, and other professed enemies to it.5

Earle’s defection to the Whigs was complete by 1715, when he successfully defended his seat as a Whig candidate against the Tories. He thereafter established a close rapport with the Hanoverian administrations and could boast of his ability always to fill vacancies in Bristol’s customs establishment with his own nominees. At the election of 1727 he chose to stand and lose his seat, rather than retire gracefully. He died on 13 Mar. 1730, aged 72, and was buried at St. Werburgh’s church. He left his Bristol property and land at Crudwell in Wiltshire to his younger brother Robert, with remainder to his daughter’s son from her marriage to William Benson†.6

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Inhabitants of Bristol 1698 (Bristol Rec. Soc. xxv), 133; F. A. Brown, Som. Wills, ser. 4, p. 125; W. Barrett, Hist. Bristol, 482; Fac. Off. Mar. Lic. (Brit. Rec. Soc. xxxiii), 110; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 338–9; Hoare, Wilts. Ambresbury, 105.
  • 2. A. B. Beaven, Bristol Lists, 126, 342; Merchant Venturers of Bristol (Bristol Rec. Soc. xvii), 33.
  • 3. Merchants and Merchandise in 17th Cent. Bristol (Bristol Rec. Soc. xix), 225–6; Trade of Bristol in the 18th Cent. (Bristol Rec. Soc. xx), 7.
  • 4. J. Latimer, Annals of Bristol in 18th Cent. 85; Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, box 74, bdle. 9, newsletter 23 Nov. 1710.
  • 5. Latimer, 102–3; Bodl. Ballard 31, f. 119; Parish, Church and People ed. S. J. Wright, 168–9; A Few and True Reasons Why a Late Member was Expelled the Loyal Society (1714).
  • 6. Bristol Cent. Lib. Southwell mss B11156 (unfol.) Richard Matthews to Edward Southwell†, 14 June 1740; Hist. Reg. Chron. 1730, p. 30; Barrett, 482; PCC 93 Auber.