LITTLETON, James (1668-1723), of North Ockenden, Essex

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



1710 - 17 Mar. 1711
18 Apr. - 22 May 1711
1722 - 3 Feb. 1723

Family and Education

bap. 29 Oct. 1668, 4th s. of James Littleton of Lingfield, Surr., being o. s. by his 3rd w. Susanna Medlicot of London, wid. of one White, attorney-at-law.  m. Jane, da. of Richard Bunch, MD, 1s. d.v.p. 2da.  suc. Anne, wid. of 2nd cos. Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt.*, to North Ockenden estate 1714.1

Offices Held

Lt. RN bef. 1690, capt. 1693, commodore and c.-in-c. West Indies 1710–12; commr. and c.-in-c. Chatham 1714–22; r.-adm. 1717; 2nd in command to Adm. Sir George Byng* in Baltic 1717; v.-adm. 1718.2

Freeman, Maidstone 1717.3


Previous generations of Littleton’s family had resided in Shropshire, though his own locale was Lingfield in Surrey which his father had inherited on the death of his first wife. His grandfather, Thomas, was a younger brother of the 1st Lord Lyttelton (Edward Littleton†) whose only child Anne had married her second cousin Sir Thomas Littleton, 2nd Bt.† In contrast to his elder brothers, who were put to the law, Littleton was set on course for a career in the navy, and by the time he reached early manhood had risen to lieutenant. In 1692 he was promoted to the rank of captain and for the rest of the decade held commands in various theatres of naval warfare. It is not known if his career ever benefited from the assistance of his politically active third cousin Sir Thomas Littleton, who, during his Speakership, became treasurer of the navy. That personal ties of some sort existed between them is apparent from the fact that Sir Thomas was godfather to Littleton’s only son (Thomas†). Sir Thomas, whose marriage was childless, was eventually to make Littleton his heir, although his initial intention had been to bypass Littleton and settle the inheritance on his godson.4

In 1698, while serving under Captain (later Admiral) John Norris*, Littleton was unfortunate enough to be implicated in the charges brought against Norris of negligence and prize embezzlement. For a while lawsuits pended against Littleton and fellow officers, but were eventually dropped. In 1705 he was acclaimed for his spectacular capture of a large French privateer, an engagement which cost his squadron only one man. Further promotion came in July 1710 when he was appointed commodore and commander-in-chief in the Caribbean. At the same time he was attracted by the prospect of a parliamentary seat, and in the autumn general election, though en route to his new command, was returned for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis. Having no previous connexion with the borough, it seems likely that he was put up with support from one of the retiring MPs, possibly the veteran general Charles Churchill*. It was alleged, however, that Littleton’s agents had extensively bribed the corporation and townsmen, and in March 1711 as a result of a petition against the return, his election was declared void. The following month, at the ensuing by-election, he was returned once more and again unseated, though during these two short spells as an MP his presence in Jamaica prevented him from attending the House.5

Littleton’s recent electoral exploits had disclosed his Whiggish views, and it was perhaps for political reasons that in 1712 he was relieved of his command and returned to England. In 1713 he was elected once more for Weymouth and was this time able to take his seat. On 18 Mar. 1714 he joined other Whig Members in voting against the motion leading to the expulsion of Richard Steele. He was also identified as a Whig in the Worsley list and several other analyses of the House. In July he inherited from Lady Littleton the estates of his kinsman Sir Thomas who had died in 1710. He was by this stage in possession of a small amount of property in the Bloomsbury area of London. His naval career resumed in November 1715 with his appointment as a commissioner in charge of Chatham dockyard, though at the election at the beginning of the year he had relinquished his seat to his son.6

Littleton enjoyed a final brief spell as MP for Queenborough from 1722 until his death on 3 Feb. 1723. His son Thomas having died unmarried in 1722, the North Ockenden estate passed, under the terms of Sir Thomas Littleton’s will, to Elizabeth Meynell, one of Sir Thomas’ surviving first cousins.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Misc. Gen. et Her. ser. 3, i. 37, 72–73; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxiii), 141; Morant, Essex, i. 103; Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. lx), 74; PCC 31 Richmond.
  • 2. Unless otherwise stated, the details of Littleton’s naval career are drawn from DNB.
  • 3. Centre Kentish Stud. Md/RF2/1, list of freemen 1598–1721.
  • 4. Vis. Surr. 74; Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. ser. 4, iii. 302–32; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 396; PCC 24 Smith; Boyer, Anne Annals, ix. 401.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1698, pp. 323, 331; HMC Portland, ii. 160.
  • 6. Add. 61461, f. 145; PCC 24 Smith, 31 Richmond.
  • 7. PCC 31 Richmond; VCH Essex, vii. 111.