GAPE, John (1652-1734), of Harpsfield Hall, nr. St. Albans, Herts.

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



19 Mar. 1701 - 24 Nov. 1705
1708 - 1713
27 Apr. 1714 - 1715

Family and Education

bap. 26 Aug. 1652, s. and h. of John Gape† of Harpsfield Hall by Anne Oxton.  educ. ?St. Albans sch. 1659–61; L. Inn 1672, called 1682.  m. 1 Dec. 1679 (with £2,000), Susan (d. 1720), da. of Thomas Cowley of London, 6s. (5 d.v.p.) 5da. (4 d.v.p.).  suc. fa. 1703.1

Offices Held

Trustee receiving money for repair of St. Albans abbey ch. 1683; sheriff, Herts. 1696; receiver-gen. of taxes, Herts. from 1697; freeman, Hertford 1698.2


Gape was a junior partner in the set of Hertfordshire High Church Tories headed by Ralph Freman II* and Charles Caesar*, who acted as tellers in favour of his contested return in 1705. He voted for Freman and Thomas Halsey* at the county election of 1708, and for Caesar at Hertford in 1701, 1710 and 1713, as one of a number of Tory honorary freemen created in 1698. Following his father into Parliament, Gape was continuing a long tradition, stretching back to the 16th century, of familial involvement in local politics. Having been trained in the law, he joined with his father (who owned £500 of Bank stock by 1694) as a local financier and purchaser of land, and the extensive local property he stood to inherit was outlined in his marriage settlement in 1679, by which he gained a dowry of £2,000. As early as 1684 he bought land in St. Albans on his own account, and immediately after the Revolution stood surety for the borough town clerk and county collector of taxes, Thomas Richards, with whom he was to be involved in a protracted financial struggle, aimed partly at destroying Richards’ credit and standing in order to protect the interests of Gape’s brother-in-law, William Marston, who was an alderman of the corporation and a co-receiver. According to Richards, who had also failed to collect all the corporation rents, Marston refused to hand over the sum he had collected, causing Richards to default on his payment to the Exchequer; Gape then did all he could to prevent Richards from prosecuting Marston, and by 1698 had applied to seize Richards’ estate, by which time he was acting himself as receiver of taxes. Gape petitioned in 1704 that the ‘surplusage’ gathered by Richards (probably the amount withheld by Marston) should be offset against Gape’s own arrears, a manoeuvre which suggests a clever, if rather unscrupulous, mind.3

By the terms of the 1694 Lottery Act receivers of taxes were excluded from Parliament, and Gape ceased collecting public money perhaps with the specific intention of sitting at Westminster. He stood at St. Albans in the first election of 1701, being defeated by only three votes, a narrow enough margin to merit his immediate petition against Joshua Lomax*. The election was nevertheless declared void after both sides were accused of bribery, but Gape was returned at the new poll, and although he made no mark on the parliamentary record, was later blacklisted for having opposed the preparations for war with France. He was re-elected in the autumn, when he was listed with the Tories by Robert Harley*, and his return was marked by Lord Spencer (Charles*) as a loss for the Whigs. Somewhat ironically, in view of his previous record and the petition outstanding against him, Gape was added on 20 Jan. 1702 to the drafting committee of the bill to prevent bribery and corruption at elections. On 26 Feb. 1702 he favoured the motion vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of the Junto ministers, but his only significant entry in the Journals at this time relates to his tellership on 8 May on an amendment to the bill to oblige Jews to provide for their Protestant children. Chosen again in July 1702, Gape told on 28 Jan. 1703 against the return of the Whig Richard Edgcumbe* for Plympton Erle, reported a private estate bill on 10 Feb. and voted three days later against agreeing with the Lords’ amendment to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration. In January 1704 he wrote to Marlborough’s secretary, Adam de Cardonnel*, after hearing that he ‘might have the opportunity of waiting upon my lord Duke’, in order to recommend a kinsman for an army commission, a letter which suggests that thus far Gape’s Toryism had not been offensive to Marlborough. The following October Gape was forecast as a likely supporter of the Tack, and, despite being included on Harley’s lobbying list against it, voted for the measure on 28 Nov. This act cast him unequivocally as a High Church Tory, and as such he was vigorously opposed by the Duchess of Marlborough at the 1705 election. Despite her prominent involvement, he was returned by the mayor and consequently marked as ‘True Church’ on an analysis of the new House, but lost his seat on petition in the first contest at the elections committee. He had nevertheless had time to vote on 25 Oct. against the Court candidate as Speaker.4

Whig attempts to keep Gape out of Parliament failed after measures to prevent his election in 1708 were bungled. In March Sunderland informed Lord Cowper (William*) that Gape had ‘misbehaved himself on several occasions where her Majesty’s and the public service were concerned’ and was to be turned out of the commission of the peace: Cowper duly issued the appropriate fiat, but the order was never enforced, and the Duchess of Marlborough attributed the electoral defeat of her brother-in-law, George Churchill*, to this oversight. Despite his victory, Gape made little impact upon the records of this Parliament, though he is known to have voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. He was re-elected in 1710, again in opposition to Marlborough’s interest at St. Albans. His hostility to the Churchills was also evident in his ownership of An Excellent New Song Call’d the Full Trial and Condemnation of John Duke of Marlborough (1711). As might be expected, the change of ministry encouraged Gape into greater activity. He was classed as a Tory on the ‘Hanover list’. He was certainly a member of the October Club and featured as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who had detected the mismanagements of the previous administration, and as a ‘Tory patriot’ opposed the continuation of the war. In June 1712 he was accordingly introduced by Harley, now Lord Treasurer Oxford, to present his borough’s address of thanks for the peace, and delivered another in May 1713 for its conclusion, while on 18 June he voted for the French commerce bill. Both addresses had referred to ‘the illustrious House of Hanover’, suggesting that Gape may have followed Freman’s pro-Hanoverian lead on the succession issue. On the other hand, such language was also to be found in the address urging the Queen to use her influence with the Duke of Lorraine to eject the Pretender from his territories, Gape being one of the appointees to the drafting committee on 1 July 1713 alongside such later Jacobites as Charles Caesar. Indeed the Gapes have been described as a Jacobite family, and John’s son Thomas† was later to be accused of singing a Jacobite song and beginning a riot at the 1722 election.5

Gape was defeated by the Whig William Hale* at the election in 1713, and was forced to petition, though the Post Boy forecast as early as September 1713 that ‘’tis not doubted he will be the sitting Member, having in so numerous [an] election lost it only by 14 votes’. This prediction proved true and Gape was seated on 27 Apr. 1714. He told on 12 June 1714 against a motion to recommit the resolution on supply relating to the encouragement of leather manufacture, and, following the death of the Queen, signed the proclamation of George I. He was listed as a Tory on the Worsley list, but did not contest the seat again and recalled the loans he had made to the corporation, an apparent withdrawal from local and national politics that may partly explain his retention as a j.p. In December 1714, though, his retirement cannot have been quite complete, since he gave evidence to the hearing on the 1715 Hertford election on behalf of Caesar and Richard Goulston*.6

In 1732 Gape wrote that he had ‘been long in an ill state of health’, but he lived another two years, until 7 May 1734. In his will he requested burial in a vault which he had built in the upper chancel of the abbey church in St. Albans, ‘as near my dear wife as conveniently may be’. He left £10 to the local poor and the bulk of his estate to his only surviving son William, his elder son Thomas, who had been elected for the borough in 1730, having died in 1732.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Mark Knights


  • 1. VCH Herts. Fams. 160; Home Cos. Mag. vi. 193.
  • 2. Herts. RO, Hertford bor. recs. 25/100; Clutterbuck, Herts. i. 71.
  • 3. CJ, xv. 39; Hertford bor. recs. 23/134, 23/392b, 23/425, pollbks.; Herts RO, D/EX/294/Z1, f. 1, pollbk.; St. Albans and Herts. Arch. Soc., Rep. on Muniments of Gape Fam. 3–13; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 385, 973; xii. 349; xiii. 251, 446; xiv. 398; xv. 351; xvii. 125; xix. 247; H. Lansberry, ‘Pol. and Govt. in St. Albans 1685–1835’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1964), 52.
  • 4. Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 2; Add. 61297, f. 116.
  • 5. L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 185; Muniments of Gape Fam. 10; Add. 70198, Gape to Harley, 6 Sept. 1710; Post Boy, 26–28 June 1712; London Gazette, 16–19 May 1713; Monod thesis, 262.
  • 6. Post Boy, 15–17 Sept. 1713; Boyer, Pol. State, viii. 118; Glassey, 242; Lansberry thesis, 54; Hertford bor. recs. 23/462, The Hertford Case [1715], p. 2.
  • 7. Muniments of Gape Fam. 19; PCC 109 Ockham.