GOSTWICK, Sir William, 4th Bt. (1650-1720), of Willington, 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



1698 - 1713

Family and Education

bap. 21 Aug. 1650, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Edward Gostwick, 3rd Bt., of Willington by Mary, da. of Sir William Lytton† of Knebworth, Herts.  educ. Hadley, Mdx. (Mr. Lowell); Sidney Sussex, Camb. 1667.  m. 17 Sept. 1668, Mary (d. 1691), da. of Sir Philip Boteler, KB, of Hatfield Woodhall, Herts., 2s. d.v.p. 3da. (2 d.v.p.).  Kntd. 24 Nov. 1668; suc. fa. as 4th Bt. 24 Feb. 1671.1

Offices Held

Burgess, Bedford 1676; sheriff, Beds. 1679–80.2


Though a blessing for Gostwick himself, it was unfortunate for his heirs that he was spared the disorder that had deprived his father and paternal uncle of hearing and speech, for unaided, and with the full use of his faculties, he was able to waste the entire inheritance of about £1,800 p.a. preserved for him by his father’s trustees. The origins of his descent into debt are not clear. Although he was still in a position to purchase land as late as 1686, when he added another Bedfordshire manor to his estate, he had begun to borrow money the following year and by the time he stood for Parliament in 1698 had already taken out mortgages of over £10,000 on his property. Thus the expense of contesting elections cannot have been the major cause of his indebtedness, as has been suggested by one historian, but served to aggravate an existing problem. Indeed, it may well be that financial difficulties provided the stimulus to Gostwick’s desire to enter Parliament. Before his election he had given little indication of being a political animal. Given his later Whiggery, his inclusion in the county lieutenancy appointed at James II’s accession would seem to indicate that he had previously steered clear of factional conflicts. Moreover, his first response to James’s question on the repeal of the Penal Laws and Test Act was that he ‘never designs to stand’ for Parliament. He then went on to say, in a forthright manner, that ‘if he be chose, he cannot part with the Penal Laws and tests’ nor would he ‘contribute to the election of any such as will’. However, although a steady Anglican, and a considerable benefactor to his parish church, he was not intolerant; indeed, ‘he was ever for liberty of conscience, and submits it to the law to support or not to support the same, and is desirous to live friendly with all persons of what persuasion soever, as becomes a good Christian’. His role in 1697 in facilitating the reconciliation of the Earl of Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†) with some of the Whig gentlemen of Bedfordshire might suggest an aversion to party faction even at this stage and a preference for some kind of neutralism in county politics; alternatively it might represent the first step in an election campaign. At any event, Gostwick joined forces with (Lord) Edward Russell* and the Bedford interest to contest the county in the 1698 election, and at some cost both men were returned, defeating a Tory challenge.3

Despite being classed as a supporter of the Country party in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments, Gostwick voted on 18 Jan. 1699 against the third reading of the disbanding bill and in the following year was described in another list as a follower of the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Orford (Edward Russell*). He was not, however, an especially active member of the Russell connexion in the House, and he made no recorded speeches. The first of several leaves of absence was granted to Gostwick as early as 6 Apr. 1699. Chosen again with Lord Edward Russell in January 1701 and to the two succeeding Parliaments, Gostwick was given another leave of absence (for two weeks) on 25 Apr. 1701. Robert Harley* listed him with the Whigs in December 1701, and he voted on 13 Feb. 1703 in favour of agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration. On 28 Nov. 1704 he did not vote for the Tack. At the 1705 general election he and Russell were challenged by two Tories; the fact that Gostwick was returned while Russell was defeated has been taken to prove that he possessed considerable interest of his own in the county, independent of any association with the Duke of Bedford. Marked as a ‘Churchman’ in a list of the new Parliament, he voted on 25 Oct. 1705 for the Court candidate in the division on the Speaker, and again for the Court in the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill on 18 Feb. 1706. In 1708 Gostwick was twice listed as a Whig, and he and Russell were once more returned together, easily defeating a single Tory candidate. Gostwick voted in 1709 in favour of the naturalization of the Palatines and, after being forced by illness to take three weeks’ leave of absence from 23 Dec. 1709, voted in early 1710 for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. Victorious in the 1710 election, albeit after a close contest, he was classed as a Whig in the ‘Hanover list’. He was given leave of absence on 29 Mar. 1711, and again on 6 Mar. 1712, on both occasions for reasons of health, but in between voted on 7 Dec. 1711 in favour of the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion. His last recorded vote was on 18 June 1713, over the French commerce bill, which he opposed, as a Whig.4

Gostwick did not stand again, presumably crippled by debt. After the Hanoverian succession he brought before the Treasury a claim over a lease of crown land, alleging that a report on an earlier petition had been held back by the previous Tory ministry, but seems to have failed to get what he wanted even from a Whig Treasury board. Instead, he was rewarded for his loyalty to his party with several grants of money from the privy purse before being added to the pension list in 1717 at £400 p.a. This was hardly sufficient for his needs and within a year he was applying for advances, but in fact payment inevitably fell into arrears. At about this time he agreed to sell his entire estate for £47,000, some £9,000 less than the total of his debts, in the hope that his creditors would agree to take a loss and divide the purchase price among themselves, the encumbrances being ‘so confused and intermixed, and the priorities unknown and so difficult to be discovered’. The scheme fell through, however, because of the refusal of a few creditors to accede, including the biggest, the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), who had acquired some £27,000-worth of the mortgages on Gostwick’s estate and who evidently withstood a plea on Gostwick’s behalf that without this sale the hapless debtor would be obliged to abscond. Gostwick was described as one ‘who has always lived in plenty and with respect, and been ever serviceable in raising and supporting in the county where he lived the true interest of the nation and in doing it very much reduced himself’. He made his will on 17 Jan. 1720, at lodgings in St. Martin-in-the-Fields, specifying only £30 for mourning and leaving all his estate, real and personal, in trust for a grandson, an army officer on the Irish establishment. A week later his body was buried at Willington. The trustees, who included the Duke of Chandos (James Brydges*) and the Earl of Orford, refused to act, and the unfortunate heir was obliged to apply for the administration himself. He gained nothing from his inheritance, for the estate was eventually sold off to satisfy the creditors, part in 1727 by an order of Chancery and the residue (for £51,000) four years later by private treaty, to the Duchess of Marlborough.5

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xxxvi. 106–7, 135–7; Beds. N. and Q. ii. 18.
  • 2. Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. lix. 15.
  • 3. Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. 100, 105, 107; VCH Beds. iii. 203, 239, 266; Beds. RO, Bedford mss R box 214, bdle. 9, nos. 224, 227, 236–8, 246, 249, 251–2; bdle. 10, nos. 264–5, 283, 289, 291; bdle. 11, nos. 308, 311–13, 324; bdle. 12, no. 239; Duchess of Marlborough Letters at Madresfield, 153–4, 173; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 119; Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1883), 48; Ailesbury Mems. ii. 442.
  • 4. W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 26, 71; Bull. IHR, xxxvii. 34; xlviii. 67–69.
  • 5. Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. 113–16, 137; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 422; xxx. 13, 35, 131, 387; xxxi. 20, 138, 367; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1720–8, p. 188; Bedford mss R box 214, bdle. 11, nos. 308–10; bdle. 12, nos. 239, 241; VCH Beds. 203, 211, 264.