LEE, Sir Thomas, 1st Bt. (1635-91), of Hartwell, nr. Aylesbury, Bucks.

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



1660 - Mar. 1681
1689 - 1690
1690 - 19 Feb. 1691

Family and Education

bap. 26 May 1635, 1st s. of Thomas Lee by 2nd w. Elizabeth, da. of Sir George Croke, judge of Kb 1628–41, of Waterstock, Oxon.  m. 31 Mar. 1656, Anne (d. 1708), da. of Sir John Davis of Bere Court, Pangbourne, Berks., 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 6da.  suc. fa. 1643, mother at Hartwell 1675; cr. Bt. 16 Aug. 1660.1

Offices Held

Ld. of Admiralty May 1679–Feb. 1681, Mar. 1689–d.


One of the most prominent members of the Country party in the Cavalier Parliament, Lee returned to office in the Admiralty after the Revolution of 1688. An important figure in the Convention, he vacated his county seat at the 1690 election, and was returned for Aylesbury along with his son. He was classed as a government supporter by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†), though was regarded with some suspicion by some courtiers as one of the ‘commoners eminent in Parliament, useful men, but not to be trusted’. Although reported to be dead in February 1690, Lee was active in furthering the Court’s financial requests from the very beginning of the new Parliament. Thus on 22 Mar. 1690 he moved for an immediate vote of supply, and on the 27th twice spoke to move the process along, observing that to give the crown a ‘revenue’ was also to grant them a ‘supply’. After contributing to the debate in the committee of the whole on supply on 31 Mar., he declared the following day:

I agree with the gentleman that moved for a million; but I would be satisfied how it can answer the occasion; that is all the difficulty with me. Land is already largely taxed. Don’t give less that you may live upon credit. I would not have the whole security of England be at the pleasure of a few men, whom you borrow from. The army is to be paid monthly, and that will take up all the first money: the poor seamen will be unpaid.

On 2 Apr. he thought it irregular to instruct the committee of the whole on supply to preclude a land tax, and feared that the only way otherwise to raise large sums was through a ‘home-excise’. Although opposed to either a land tax or a ‘twelve-penny subsidy’, he felt that ‘you must keep yourselves in a condition to raise it upon land hereafter’, and that the instruction would prove inconvenient in the future. He was appointed to the drafting committee on 8 Apr. for a bill to reverse the quo warranto proceedings against the city of London, having spoken for it, wishing to have the original proceedings ‘sufficiently damned’ and the ‘judgment reversed and voided from the beginning’. On the 9th he suggested a way by which the bill for recognizing William and Mary could be passed without a committee stage by adding a rider to declare that nothing in the bill should be taken as contrary to the Bill of Rights. This would have avoided the need to ‘explain what right we sit here by . . . lest we should make farther limitation of the crown’. Later in the debate, however, he disclaimed any intention of actually offering such a rider, saying merely that it could be done to facilitate the quick passage of the bill. On the 17th he was first-named to the drafting committee to bring in a bill to vest the £500 forfeitures in their Majesties. On the same day he defended the right of the sheriffs of London to present a petition to the Commons: ‘I am one of those who were always of opinion, that just so much is due to London, and no more, as to every little corporation in England’, but that ‘if they come in that due measure and decency, as they ought. If the matter be what they ought not to petition, they are in your hands.’ A week later he twice supported calling in counsel on the bill reversing the quo warranto proceedings, and supported attempts by the City corporation to alter the bill:

it was London that brought [the] resigning of charters in fashion all over England, and it consists with justice to have those restitutions made, which the bill [for restoring corporations] does not reach. I know not why those small corporations of the companies should not be provided for as well.

Also on 24 Apr. he supported the motion for an abjuration bill, including provision for a clause excluding those refusing the oath from recourse to the Habeas Corpus Act. On 26 Apr. he supported a committal of the bill saying that ‘there were many things fit to be altered and mended’, such as the ‘too large putting in ecclesiastical persons’. However, he backed the bill firmly: ‘if [there was] no need of frequent oaths, why is the Test and Penal Laws so often taken upon every office?’; and argued that those in employment should give ‘security to the government’. He cited the Dutch as an example of a people that needed to abjure the king of Spain in order to set up their commonwealth, and since King William had informed the Commons of designs against the government, ‘we cannot better discover them than by this oath, which is a new test for a new government’. On the 28th he contributed to the debate on the heads of a bill to secure the government, and the next day was nominated to draft it. On the 30th he set out the difficulties inherent in the regency bill, and did so again in committee on 5 May declaring:

let men tell plainly their minds, whether they will leave him no power or leave him only King of Ireland . . . I think the bill necessary, and I hope the long robe will find out such a way to invest the Queen with the regency, as not to dispossess the King. I would have it plainly understood, whether while the King is in Ireland, he loses the executive power in England, and whether he is not less than he is already.

Meanwhile, on 2 May he had intervened twice to establish correct methods of procedure concerning a publication by Anthony Rowe* which named the members of the Convention who had voted against offering the crown to William and Mary. On 12 May he sought to have the Commons reply to the Lords through their own messengers so as to allow time to debate a request by the Upper House for the attendance of two MPs. On the following day he managed conferences with the Lords on the regency bill and pondered on the advisability of a motion proposed by Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., for a committee of the whole to consider the safety of the kingdom: ‘it falls oddly to have agreed the bill of regency with the Lords [and] now to put it into the people’s heads that they are insecure’. Finally, he spoke on 22 May in the debate on the Act of Grace and was named to a conference committee on the precedent of the Lords’ message whereby it was sent down to the Commons.2

In July 1690, during the panic at the prospect of a French invasion after the battle of Beachy Head, Lee was one of the five Admiralty commissioners appointed to investigate the reasons for the miscarriages of the fleet and to punish the culprits. With Torrington (Arthur Herbert†) dismissed, the Queen, following the advice of her advisory council, ordered the command of the fleet to be put into a commission, headed by Sir Richard Haddock†. The Whig members of the Admiralty Board, with Lee to the fore, refused to sign the warrant, claiming that they should have nominated the candidates for the vacant post. As the Queen informed William on 24 July, she had interviewed the lords of the Admiralty:

when they came, lord president [Carmarthen] told them what the resolution was. Sir T. Lee grew as pale as death, and told me, that the custom was that they used to recommend, and they were to answer for the persons, since they were to give them the commission, and did not know but they might be called to account in Parliament. I shall not repeat all that was said: Lord President argued with them; at last Sir T. Lee came to say plainly Haddock was the man they did not like . . . Sir T. Lee said, it could not be, I ought to give them a commission if I pleased, but they could not; and when I saw he talked long, and insisted upon their privileges, I said that I perceived that the King had given away his own power, and could not make an admiral which the Admiralty did not like; he answered, no, no more he can’t.

The Queen was ‘heartily angry’ with Lee, who later sent an emissary to make his excuses for not signing, but still insisting that ‘Sir R. Haddock was imposed upon the King’, and, when this proved unavailing, was ‘at other ways to oppose it’. Also, in August it was reported that Lee was one of the Admiralty Board who had ‘scrupled’ to sign the court martial commission against Torrington because statute law laid down that the lord admiral should sign it.3

In the 1690–1 session, Lee presented the naval estimates on 9 Oct. At this time he was endeavouring to secure a military appointment for one of his sons and was not averse to making his approaches to political foes like the Earl of Nottingham (Daniel Finch†). Election cases drew his attention in November. He was reported to have attended Robert Harley’s* committee hearing for Radnor, and supported Thomas Trenchard* at Dorchester. Finally, on the 28th he acted as teller against the motion that the moderate Tory Sir Carbery Pryse, 4th Bt.*, was duly elected for Cardiganshire. From November illness prevented him from attending the House and meetings of the Admiralty Board, and his name was absent from one of Carmarthen’s lists for December 1690. By the end of the month he was thought to be beyond recovery. He died on 19 Feb. 1691 ‘of a dropsy’ and was buried at Hartwell. As Anne Pelham recorded:

all the world is the cause, for that vast bulk which was took for a complication of distempers was nothing but fat. He cut four inches and a half of fat all down his belly. He had nothing of decay in him but was made for a very long life had his lungs had room to play . . . he died in his chair, the last thing he said was that he was called and must go . . .

Harley thought it worthy to note that ‘before his death, [he] made a solemn profession that he never received money from Clarendon or Carmarthen’, a reference to accusations made in the 1670s.4

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Stuart Handley


  • 1. Lipscomb, Bucks. ii. 305, 307–8; IGI, Berks.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1689–90, pp. 384–5; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/44, Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, to Edmund Verney, 21 Feb. 1689[–90]; Grey, x. 4, 9, 16, 25, 34–35, 43, 51–52, 56, 62, 64–65, 74–75, 82–83, 101, 110, 114, 116, 124, 135, 137, 147–8; Bodl. Rawl. A.79, ff. 74v.–75; Add. 42592, ff. 117, 138.
  • 3. Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 74, 88; Dalrymple, Mems. iii(2), 107–10, 114; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 61; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 19 Aug. 1690.
  • 4. HMC Finch, iii. 382, 490; Add. 70014, f. 355; 70121, Anne Pelham to Sir Edward Harley*, ?1 Mar. 1690[–1]; Dorset RO, Lane (Trenchard) mss D60/F56, Sir John* to Henry Trenchard†, 27 Nov. 1690; Bull. IHR, xvii. 14; PRO NI, De Ros mss D638/13/3, John Pulteney* to Thomas Coningsby*, 30 Dec. 1690; CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 275; Luttrell, ii. 179; Lipscomb, ii. 320; HMC Portland, ii. 460.