GODOLPHIN, Charles (c.1650-1720), of St. James’s Place, Westminster and Coulston, 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



Mar. 1681
1685 - 1687
1689 - Nov. 1701

Family and Education

b. c.1650, 5th but 4th surv. s. of Sir Francis Godolphin†, KB, of Godolphin Breage, Cornw. by Dorothy, da. of Sir Henry Berkeley† of Yarlington, Som.; bro. of Sidney Godolphin†, 1st Earl of Godolphin and Sir William Godolphin, 1st Bt†.  educ. Wadham, Oxf. matric. 16 Mar. 1666, aged 15; M. Temple 1670, called 1677; travelled abroad (France) 1674.  m. lic. 27 June 1687, his cos. Elizabeth (d. 1726), da. of Francis Godolphin of Spargor, Cornw. and Coulston, and coh. of her uncle Sir William Godolphin†, 1s. d.v.p. 1da. d.v.p.1

Offices Held

Assay-master of the Stannaries 1681–d.; inspector of tin coinage Sept. 1688, commr. 1689; commr. of customs 1691–1713, for union with Scotland 1702; registrar of shipping 1701–d.2

Asst. R. African Co. 1690–1; commr. land bank 1694; commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1695 dir. 1704.3


Though Godolphin trained for the law it does not appear that he practised, concentrating instead on an administrative career built largely on the interest of his elder brother Sidney. Godolphin’s appointment to government office in 1681 was during his brother’s tenure as a Treasury lord, and after Sidney Godolphin returned to the Treasury in 1687 Charles received further preferment. Family influence also secured him a seat at the family borough of Helston, for which he was returned in 1681 and which he was to hold for the following six elections. During the Convention he had voted against declaring the throne vacant, and after the 1690 election he was classed by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) as a Tory and a Court supporter. Godolphin’s second cousin Sidney had also been returned in 1690, but it seems likely that the majority of recorded speeches in this Parliament can be attributed to Charles, and they have been ascribed as such in this article. It was certainly Charles who in the supply committee on 2 Apr. spoke in favour of granting £1,400,000 in addition to the ordinary revenue, and he was probably the ‘Mr Godolphin’ who spoke a week later during the debate on the recognition bill. Sir Thomas Lee, 1st Bt., suggested that the bill could be passed without the need for a committal stage if a rider was added stating that nothing in this measure should be taken as contrary to the Bill of Rights. Godolphin took up the question of the right by which Parliament sat, informing the House of his opinion that

It is dangerous to recognize the government upon such terms, as to endanger the government. Some may interpret as to ‘from the King’s landing’ etc. some conquest. I would have it in plain words, that everyone may understand, and it might be mended in three words. ‘Be’ and ‘be reputed’ looks as if the case of the kingdom was like the gentleman that rode over Rochester bridge upon a single plank, and was so struck with astonishment afterwards, that he fell down dead. We have gone over a precipice, and we ought to walk steadily.

When Lee called Godolphin to order, reminding him that they were debating the time of the bill’s reading rather than its contents, Godolphin responded by desiring leave to propose Lee’s rider. The Speaker judged that leave was not necessary for a rider, Lee denied intending to offer such a rider himself, and the matter was dropped. Godolphin’s Toryism was evident in the debate of 26 Apr. upon the abjuration bill, when he suggested that the Commons should ‘address the King that we will stand by him with our lives and fortunes instead of the oath’. During consideration on 2 May of the complaint against Anthony Rowe* for dispersing the black list of those who had voted against the transfer of the crown, Godolphin commented that ‘I never gave my vote nec ad aulam, nec ad populum, but ad liberandum animum meum’. He also spoke three days later during the debate upon the regency bill, supporting Heneage Finch I’s suggestion that a clause be added to the bill providing that, as Godolphin framed it, ‘every act of the administration, by the Queen alone, shall be good and valid, etc. wherein the King, by his sign manual, does not decree the contrary’. On 8 May he defended the clause of the bill restoring the rights of the city of London which removed the Whig Sir Thomas Pilkington† from the office of lord mayor, claiming this action was justified because, when Pilkington had been sheriff in 1681, he had ‘packed a jury that would not do the King justice against the Earl of Shaftesbury [Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper†]’.4

In December 1690 Godolphin was included in Carmarthen’s list of likely supporters in the event of a Commons attack upon his ministerial position. It is difficult to attribute to Godolphin with certainty any parliamentary activity in this session, except for an incident on 28 Apr. 1691 when the Commons heard the complaint that he had been arrested, and his privilege therefore violated, by a bailiff who had mistaken Godolphin for another man. An analysis of the House dating from April by Robert Harley* classed Godolphin as a Court supporter. The following June Godolphin was appointed a customs commissioner, with a salary of £1,000 p.a., a preferment owed to his support for the Court in the Commons and, no doubt, the influence of his elder brother, now first lord of the Treasury. Thereafter his probable contributions to the Commons were dominated by financial issues. When the committee examining the naval estimates reported on 14 Nov., for example, Godolphin spoke against the reduction in the allowance for wear and tear, and on the 27th, in the committee of the whole upon the East India Company, he requested leave for a bill ‘to regulate the old company’. A concern for matters of supply and trade was also evident in the new year. In the ways and means committee of 6 Jan. 1692 he somewhat surprisingly opposed the Treasury lord Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II, and supported Paul Foley I’s contention that the double excise would raise £400,000 in the coming year, though when the customs was considered later in the same debate he spoke against making any further charges upon this source towards the cost of the war. During consideration of the poll tax, on 20 Jan., Godolphin advocated ‘a rate of tax on inhabitants according to their expenses in the parish’. His motion six days later for ‘leave to bring in a bill to explain a clause in the Act of new impositions on East India goods, declaring those goods should pay 20 per cent as the intention of the House was when that Act passed’ was seized upon by Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., and Sir Thomas Clarges as nonsensical, ‘for how could any man say what the intention of the House was but by their public resolutions’, and a violation of procedure, being ‘a matter of money’ that should have been initiated in the committee of the whole. Godolphin’s motion was therefore laid aside. On 2 Feb. during the committee of the whole’s consideration of the bill vesting forfeited Irish estates in the crown, he told against a clause ‘for forfeiting the remainders on estates tail for treason committed by the tenant in tail’. In the summer of 1692 Carmarthen included Godolphin in a list of government officials in the Commons, and during this Parliament Godolphin appeared on a number of other lists of placemen. On 8 Dec., in the committee of the whole upon the advice, he was probably the ‘Mr Godolphin’ whose motion to ‘make some application to his Majesty to renew the treaty with the Duke of Hanover’ was rejected, on the grounds that as it amounted to the giving of money it was not a procedural motion. On 4 Feb. 1693 Godolphin was granted leave of absence in order to recover his health, but in the following month ‘Mr Godolphin’ made a number of speeches relating to matters of trade, a fact which suggests he did not take advantage of this leave. In ways and means on 6 Feb. 1693 he criticized the estimated yield of a number of additional customs duties proposed by Clarges, and two days later, in opposition to Clarges’ and Foley’s proposal to extend the term of the new customs duties, he proposed raising ‘a considerable sum of money by advancing the stock of the East India Company to £500,000’. On 23 Feb. Godolphin supported Seymour’s motion that the Commons go into a committee of the whole the following day in order to ‘enlarge’ the customs beyond Christmas 1694. Two days later he spoke in opposition to the proposal that the King be addressed to dissolve the East India Company. His final recorded speech of the session was also concerned with his official duties, as on 13 Mar. he spoke against a Lords amendment to the bill to encourage privateers, an amendment which would have transferred from collectors of prizes to collectors of customs the burden of paying the reward for guns taken by privateers. Less can be said of Godolphin’s contribution to the remaining sessions of this Parliament. He was probably the ‘Mr Godolphin’ who on 22 Dec. 1693 spoke against the triennial bill, declaring,

I am against the timing of it – elections in boroughs will create heats in boroughs, and here . . . Besides, in respect to your affairs, you are in war, and must have men and money – what are you doing? Now, before you give any of these supplies, you declare yourselves dissolved, and are ashamed of what you have done. I think this bill is not for the safety of the government and I humbly beg to have it rejected.

On 17 and 27 Feb. 1694 Godolphin presented to the House information on customs matters, and it seems likely that it was he who was appointed on 3 Apr. 1695 to prepare a bill to establish a number of additional duties. During the 1694–5 session Godolphin was included in Henry Guy’s* list of ‘friends’, probably in connexion with the Commons’ attack upon Guy.5

Godolphin retained his place at the customs despite the ministerial changes of the mid-1690s, but it may be that the contrast between his Tory sympathies and the increasingly Whig ministry led to some doubt over his support for the Court. This much is suggested by the forecast for the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade, which listed Godolphin as ‘doubtful’. He was later reclassified as likely to support the Court. Godolphin promptly signed the Association and in March voted to fix the price of guineas at 22s. Consideration of his contribution to the business of the House is again complicated by the presence of a namesake, in this case his nephew Hon. Francis, but it seems likely that it was the customs commissioner who was appointed to draft a bill concerned with customs duties (1 Jan.) and who in February and March reported from a committee on a bill to relieve the Mint from the obligation to coin guineas. At the beginning of the 1696–7 session Godolphin absented himself from the division of 25 Nov. upon the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. No activity can be attributed to him with certainty in this session, though it seems likely that he was the ‘Mr Godolphin’ named on 20 Mar. 1697 to the committee, appointed following a petition from Cornish tinners, to draft a bill to encourage the consumption of tin. During the following session he pursued matters of a more personal nature. On 30 Dec. 1697 the House heard a petition from the Spanish consul requesting that Godolphin waive his privilege in the matter of a dispute concerning the estates of his wife’s uncle Sir William Godolphin. Godolphin was heard in his place and the petition was referred to a committee, which reported on 25 Jan. 1698. The committee informed the House that it had heard evidence that on 30 Mar. 1696 Sir William Godolphin had made a notarial act, binding in Spanish law, nominating six men, three of whom were Catholic priests, to dispose of his estate for charitable uses, but that, contrary to this, Godolphin, his wife and Hon. Francis Godolphin had obtained, in England, administration of Sir William’s estate. Counsel for the Godolphins had argued, however, that the notarial act had not been signed by Sir William; that as Sir William remained an English citizen his estate must be dealt with according to English and not Spanish law; that Sir William had made a will subsequent to the notarial act; and that the notarial act had been obtained by ‘priests, Jesuits and friars’ while Sir William lay on his death-bed. The committee resolved that the notarial act was null and void, that the administration granted in England to Godolphin and others was valid, and that Godolphin had no reason to waive his privilege. The Commons agreed with the committee, and bills were initiated to settle Sir William’s estate and encourage the discovery of lands given to superstitious uses. ‘Mr Godolphin’ was included on the second of these committees. The estate bill received the Royal Assent in March, and a petition from the Spanish consul presented to the Commons on 28 June was, in Godolphin’s absence, ordered to lie on the table.6

In July 1698 Godolphin was included in a list of placemen, and, having retained his seat at Helston at the election of that year, was, in September, included in another such list. A comparison of the old and new Commons classed him as a Court supporter, but in October he was included upon a forecast of likely opponents of the standing army. His attitude to this issue is uncertain, as he appeared on only one of the two lists of those who on 18 Jan. 1699 voted against the disbanding bill. The following day he presented to the Commons information on the customs accounts. Though Godolphin had retained his place he found himself out of sympathy with some members of the ministry, and during a committee of the whole of 10 Mar. upon the state of the navy he criticized Lord Orford (Edward Russell*), James Vernon I* recording that Godolphin ‘spoke in general of persons that had made immoderate gains such as £150,000 in a few years’. Charles Montagu* ‘reproved’ him for these comments, but Godolphin was unrepentant and ‘answered that he was now more convinced than ever of the necessity of the bill for restraining the number of officers (though he had voted against it) since they could not make inquiries upon the misbehaviour of any officer but the rest herded together to bring him off’. Such comments are, perhaps, surprising in light of the fact that this session’s place bill would have barred Godolphin himself from sitting in the House, but his increasing hostility to the ministry was further demonstrated in the ways and means committee, probably of 4 Apr., in which he supported, in opposition to William Lowndes, Robert Harley’s claim that there was likely to be an ‘overplus’ in customs revenues. Godolphin still retained his office in the customs, presenting information on customs matters to the House on several occasions in the 1699–1700 session, but his one recorded speech in this session was again critical of the ministry. In the debate of 10 Apr. 1700 on the proposed address asking for the removal of Lord Somers (Sir John*) from the Privy Council Godolphin was reported, by Vernon, to be ‘as bitter as anybody’, claiming that the inadequacies of customs officials appointed on Somers’ recommendation had cost the public £20,000. Vernon later commented that this attack on Somers ‘casts shades upon his brother’, but that ‘those who know anything of him, must know he is more fantastic and ungovernable than a mule’. The remodelling of the ministry in 1700, which included his brother’s return to the Treasury, seems to have satisfied Godolphin, as in February 1701 he was listed as likely to support the Court over the ‘Great Mortgage’. Godolphin was also included in the black list of those who during the first 1701 Parliament had opposed preparations for war with France.7

Godolphin did not stand at the second 1701 election and thereafter does not appear to have held parliamentary ambitions. He remained a customs commissioner and in December 1701 was appointed registrar of shipping, posts he retained throughout his brother’s tenure as lord treasurer and into the Harley ministry. In 1711 he applied to Lord Oxford (as Harley had become) for the post of teller of the Exchequer, pledging to take only £1,000 p.a. from this office, a sum he regarded as ‘a sort of honorary pension’. This application was unsuccessful and in December 1713 he wrote to Oxford requesting to be removed from the customs commission, claiming that though he wished to continue to serve as registrar of shipping he was unwilling to have to represent the customs to future parliamentary inquiries when, he thought, ‘there could not be found answers for one of 1,000 [questions]’. By April 1714 no new customs commission had been sealed, but payment of Godolphin’s salary for the last quarter had not been paid. He angrily complained to Oxford of the failure to pay his salary while he was kept in the commission, describing it as ‘a distinguishing mark of disgrace’, and at the beginning of May was removed. Godolphin retained his other places until his death on 10 July 1720, aged 69. He was buried at Westminster Abbey on the 28th.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison


  • 1. F. G. Marsh, Godolphin Fam. 38; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 184; Add. 28052, ff. 81, 83.
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 245; viii. 2060; ix. 266, 1199; xvi. 410; xvii. 210; xxi. 488; xxviii. 242; xxix. 327; APS, xi. app. 46.
  • 3. K. G. Davies, R. African Co. 382; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Bank of Eng. pprs. 31.1.7, f. 146; Add. 10120, f. 233; Daily Courant, 8 Aug. 1704.
  • 4. Grey, x. 39, 51–52, 110; Bodl. Rawl. A.79, f. 82; Morrice entr’ing bk. 3, p. 142.
  • 5. H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 69; Luttrell Diary, 19, 45, 113–14, 145, 155–6, 168, 303, 404, 411, 445, 449, 477.
  • 6. HMC Lords, n.s. iii. 117–22.
  • 7. Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/155, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 11 Mar. 1698[–9]; Cam. Misc. xxix. 401; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 22, 35.
  • 8. HMC Portland, v. 42; Add. 70159, Godolphin to Oxford, 11 Dec. 1713; 70228, same to same, 16 Apr. 1714; Vivian, 184; Westminster Abbey Reg. (Harl. Soc. x), 300.