FELTON, Thomas (1649-1709), of Whitehall, Westminster and Playford, Suff.
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Family and Education
bap. 12 Oct. 1649, 6th but 2nd surv. s. of Sir Henry Felton, 2nd Bt.†, of Playford; bro. of Sir Adam Felton, 3rd Bt.* m. ?(1) lic. 1 Feb. 1677, Elizabeth King of Down Ampney, Glos., s.p.; (2) Lady Elizabeth Howard (d. 1681), da. and coh. of James, 3rd Earl of Suffolk, 1da. suc. bro. as 4th Bt. 9 Feb. 1697.1
Page of honour 1665–Mar. 1671; groom of the bedchamber Mar. 1671–by 16 May 1679; master of the hawks (apptd. for life) 1675–1703; master of the Household 1689–Nov. 1708, comptroller Nov. 1708–d.2
Asst. Mines Adventurers’ Co. 1693.3
The circumstances under which Felton left his post as groom of the bedchamber to Charles II have not been established. He was a crony of the 2nd Earl of Sunderland and by 1690 at least, unlike his father and elder brother, was a firm Whig. Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) classified him as such in his analysis of the 1690 Parliament. In the previous election Felton had been willing to aid his Whig cousin Hon. Thomas Tollemache*, and at Orford had enjoyed the assistance not only of his family, but also of the Whig Sir John Duke, 2nd Bt.* He was listed as a supporter of the Court by Robert Harley* in April 1691, figured in no fewer than four lists of placemen in 1692–3, and was marked by Samuel Grascome as an office-holder and a member of the Court party. But he was never prominent or particularly active in the House. His important political role was behind the scenes as an agent for, and adviser to, Sunderland, and especially as an intermediary between the Earl and the Whig leaders. He also acted for Sunderland in a business matter, undertaking the preliminary negotiations for the marriage of Lord Spencer (Charles*) in 1694. Common knowledge of his part in Sunderland’s intrigues probably explains the attack on him in ‘The Club Men of the House of Commons’ (1694), a satirical ballad against placemen:
Tom Felton pretends to be wonderful sly;
Yet sure without taking much labour to pry,
One may see that, both sober and drunk, he’s a spy.
A beneficiary of King William’s land grants, he received the lordship of Egham in Surrey, and by the time of the 1695 election his political record had rendered him highly obnoxious to many Tories in Orford. Sir Edward Turnor*, faced with an offer of an electoral compact, snorted, ‘I scorn to stand with Mr Felton; Sir Robert Rich [2nd Bt.*] is only fit to stand with him’.4
Either for tactical reasons, or to please his family, Felton acquiesced in an accommodation with a Tory candidate in 1695, but ‘the heads of his party’ repudiated this scheme. In order to forestall the election of an ‘outsider’ Sir Adam Felton then proposed to stand himself. Thomas ‘coldly’ refused to recommend him but the local Whigs accepted his candidature and both brothers were returned. Thomas was forecast as likely to back the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade. He signed the Association in February and voted the following month for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. He was involved with Sunderland in meetings with the Junto to decide how best to proceed in Parliament in Sir John Fenwick’s† case, and voted on 25 Nov. for the attainder. ‘Laid up with a fit of the gout’ in February 1697, he was none the less able to make efforts on behalf of (Sir) Joseph Jekyll* at the Orford by-election caused by his brother’s death. It was rumoured in March and April 1697, and again a year later, that on the promotion of Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) he would be made comptroller of the Household, but Wharton was not promoted. Meanwhile Felton had accompanied the King to the peace negotiations at Ryswick.5
Blacklisted as a placeman before the 1698 election, Felton stood for knight of the shire as well as at Orford. In the county he was heavily beaten; at Orford, on the other hand, he was returned with Sir Charles Hedges after a contest that was hotly disputed and made the subject of a petition. Marked as a placeman and as a member of the Court party in lists of the new Parliament, Felton voted on 18 Jan. 1699 against the third reading of the disbanding bill. The Orford election case was finally reported in February 1700 and after a long debate carried against the sitting Members by the narrowest majority. Even a Country sympathizer like Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.*, admitted that ‘Hedges and Felton had a very hard case of it’, while James Vernon I* interpreted the outcome as a serious blow to the Court interest. Removal from Parliament did not lessen Felton’s value to Sunderland, however, and at the news of the Duke of Gloucester’s death he immediately made his way to Althorp to give his counsel. He attempted to regain his seat at Orford at the next election but without success, and a petition was rejected by the House. After his defeat it was reported in the borough that ‘Sir Thomas Felton’s gang hath declared he will lay down the cudgels’, and although during the summer of 1701 he and his supporters went through the motions of keeping up his interest, he did not put up again. Instead he was returned at the next election for Bury St. Edmunds on the interest of his son-in-law John Hervey*, being classed as a ‘gain’ by Lord Spencer and as a Whig by Harley.6
Felton made his only recorded speech on 6 Mar. 1702, when he pointed out to the House that ‘the King was very bad and had not slept, and proposed that in case of the King’s death we should vote that we would stand by and support the Princess Anne of Denmark’. This was ‘not well received’ and was ‘evaded easily’; but it may have served a purpose, for Felton survived Anne’s accession without losing office. On the strength of a reported appointment for Hervey, ‘the people’ at Orford were inclined to believe for a while that Felton ‘can do anything now and that he is as great a man in this [reign] as in the last’, and certainly Hervey’s peerage in 1703 owed much to his efforts. Felton remained a Whig, voting on 13 Feb. for agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill to extend the time for taking the oath of abjuration. It was reported, prematurely, in September 1704 that he was ‘dead or dying’. Having been forecast as a probable opponent of the Tack, he did not vote for it on 28 Nov. 1704. He supported the Whig candidates for the county in 1705, when Hervey brought him in again at Bury, and was listed as a placeman and as a ‘Churchman’ in analyses of this Parliament. Having voted for John Smith I* in the contest for the Speakership on 25 Oct., and with the Court in the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill on 18 Feb. 1706, he was classed as a Whig before and after the 1708 election.7
At last advanced to the comptrollership in 1708, Felton enjoyed the office for only five months, dying on 3 Mar. 1709 ‘at his lodgings in Whitehall of the gout in his stomach’. He was buried six days later at Playford. Hervey, to whose wife the Playford estate eventually descended after the death in 1710 of Felton’s only surviving brother, penned the following panegyric:
A man so religiously just to his word, that one could not be more sure of the thing he had done than of that which he had once promised; one who never deservedly made any man his enemy; and if he had any . . . they were such as had shown themselves to be no friends either to the liberty or laws of our country, whereof he was always a zealous patriot.8
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss, Thomas Tollemache to Felton, 29 Apr. ; Hervey Diary, 48; Hervey Letter Bks. i. 240–1; Procs. Suff. Inst. Arch. iv. 55; Add. 19129, ff. 128–9, 148; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 479; Wood, Life and Times, ii. 561.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 669; iii. 1199; iv. 752; ix. 949; xviii. 263, 328; CSP Dom. 1672, p. 662; 1678, p. 299; 1684–5, p. 275; Boyer, Anne Annals, vii. 244; R.O. Bucholz, Augustan Court, 262.
- 3. Sel. Charters, 239.
- 4. J. P. Kenyon, Sunderland, 15, 241, 253, 260, 267; EHR, lxxi. 587; Ailesbury Mems. 304; Bodl. Carte 79, f. 300; 130, f. 355; W. Suss. RO, Shillinglee mss Ac.454/902, Edward Pratt to Sir Edward Turnor, 16 Aug. 169, Turnor to [?Theophilus Hooke], 18 Aug. 1695; Poems on Affairs of State ed. Cameron, v. 437.
- 5. Shillinglee mss Ac.454/1007, 1009, 1013–14, Theophilus Hooke to Turnor, 19 Oct., 4 Nov. 1695, 2, 5 Mar. 1696–7; Kenyon, 280; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 30, 36, 45, 195, 205, 221; Shrewsbury Corresp. 414, 418, 429; Add. 30000 A, f. 300; Hervey Diary, 26; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 298; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 354; Add. 19129, f. 141.
- 6. Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. p. clxxii; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 151, 262; Hervey Diary, 24, 26–28, 31–32, 35–36, 38–39, 41, 46–47; Shillinglee mss Ac.454/1022, 1045, 1063, 1151, 1166, 843, 1183, 1185, 981, John Hooke to Turnor, 22 July 1698, 2 Apr. 1705, 8 June 1708, Thomas Palmer to same, 25 July 1698, 6 May 1708, William Betts to same, 11 Apr. 1701, Leicester Martin* to same, 26 Aug., 5 Sept. 1701, Nathaniel Gooding to Betts, 23 Nov. 1702; Add. 30000 D, f. 47; Luttrell, iv. 612; v. 27; Cocks Diary, 48; Kenyon, 318; Hervey Letter Bks. i. 175, 181–2.
- 7. Cocks Diary, 237; Shillinglee mss Ac.454/1031, John Hooke to Turnor, 30 Oct. 1702; Duchess of Marlborough Conduct, 220; Defoe Letters, 58–59; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 31.
- 8. Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 28 Sept. 1708; Hervey Diary, 48; Copinger, Suff. Manors, iii. 91; Hervey Letter Bks. 240.