LYDDELL, Dennis (c.1657-1717), of Wakehurst Place, Suss. and Crutched Friars, London

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



Feb. 1701 - 1702

Family and Education

b. c.1657, s. of Dennis Lyddell, compass-maker, of Wapping, Mdx. by his 2nd w. Frances Cobb.  m. 11 Sept. 1690 (aged 33), Martha (d. 1720), da. of Sir Richard Haddock† of Mile End, Wapping, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da.  suc. fa. 1656.1

Offices Held

Clerk to comptroller of navy 1676–Mar. 1686, chief clerk Mar. 1686–July 1689, asst. comptroller July 1689–Mar. 1690, asst. clerk of acts Mar. 1690–May 1691, comptroller of treasurer’s accounts May 1691–d.2


Lyddell’s penetrating eyes and probing nose, features that are striking in a contemporary portrait of him, may reflect character traits that made him invaluable in the dockyard at Chatham and later in the accounts office of the Navy Board. His family had strong naval connexions: his father had been a compass-maker and his father-in-law, Sir Richard Haddock, was comptroller of the navy. Indeed, it was probably through the latter’s patronage that Lyddell rose through the ranks at the board, culminating in his appointment in May 1691 as comptroller of the navy treasurer’s accounts, though clearly he was able and diligent. Only two months into the job his advice was sought concerning the accounts as he ‘must needs be thought to be best acquainted therewith, having so many years been conversant in all the branches of the comptroller’s business’. The post carried with it an annual salary of £500, and by 1694 he was wealthy enough to buy Wakehurst Place in Sussex for £9,000, an estate only a few miles from that of his lifelong friend and colleague, Charles Sergison*. In May 1699, as in 1688, the pair waited on the King to give him a detailed account of the state of the navy. Sergison told William that he and Lyddell were ‘the only persons that have given a constant attendance’ at the Navy Board, but that their conscientiousness had created a number of enemies: these included ‘persons turned out for abuses in the service, [and] others thought to be disobliged by us’, who had been examined by the Admiralty in order to discredit the two men from the rival board. Further investigation later that year was carried out by one of Lyddell’s former clerks, Gilbert Wardlaw, who approached Lord Haversham (Sir John Thompson, 1st Bt.*), a commissioner of the Admiralty and an enemy of the Navy Board, with accusations against Lyddell and his colleagues. The charges were mainly of petty peculation and mismanagement, including the charge that an exorbitant price was being paid for charcoal which was ‘of Mr Lyddell’s growth in the country and served into the office by his tenants’. Lyddell and Sergison were also accused of having run up a large expense account by ‘very many dinners at the Ship Tavern in Gracechurch Street’. The Navy Board’s reply pointed out that Wardlaw’s attack focused only on ‘the meanest parts’ of the office’s day-to-day administration, rather than on its larger function of managing the navy, and Lyddell claimed that ‘till now, he had never heard what quantities [of charcoal] were bought, or ever spoke or concerned himself therein’. The other allegations were dismissed as frivolous and unsubstantiated. Lyddell replied with what was described as a ‘brutish’ counter-attack on Haversham, and on 30 Mar. 1700 the Admiralty Board admitted that the case against the two navy officials had not been proven. Suspicions about their political loyalty may have been behind the incident since Sergison complained to the King that he and Lyddell had been ‘reported to be disaffected . . . but God be thanked none that know us, or anything of our actions, gives any credit to it, and we hope the zeal we have always shown to your service will always clear us of such aspersions’. The smears continued, however, perhaps because Lyddell and Sergison insisted on the re-employment of Samuel Atkins, who was ‘clamoured at as a Jacobite whether he deserves it or not’. Atkins had been the former chief clerk to a former favourite of James II, Samuel Pepys†, whom Lyddell knew and who gave him a ring of mourning for his funeral. As late as 1715 Lyddell and Sergison were listed by one Whig club as ‘suspected persons’. At the 1699 interview, however, William, who no doubt valued their services, promised to protect them. Having reassured the King of their loyalty, the two ‘leading commissioners’, as Lyddell and Sergison were called, dined soon after with the Speaker, Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt., who had recently been appointed treasurer of the navy, and calmed his ‘terror about passing his accounts at the Navy Board’ by telling him that ‘he may depend upon their having a regard for him, and that upon trial either he will be satisfied with their method’ or they would assist him in reforms.3

Lyddell also hoped to serve the Court and navy in Parliament. It would seem that in 1698 he first ‘had some thoughts of being a representative for Harwich’, where the navy interest was very strong, but it was not until 1700 that he began serious electioneering. By December one resident reported that his candidature had already ‘been in nomination by some of our electors’, and although for a while it was unclear whether or not he would accept the invitation, he successfully stood at the election in January 1701. As his office would suggest, he was listed among the likely supporters of the Court in agreeing with the committee of supply’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’, and on 3 Mar. presented an account of the progress of the naval accounts since the Revolution. On 24 May the House heard a report about delayed payments made to discharged seamen, but the letters submitted to MPs, which had been written by Lyddell and his colleagues, put the Treasury rather than the Navy Board in a bad light, and three days later he was granted a fortnight’s leave of absence. He was again returned for Harwich at the second election of 1701 and, categorized as a Tory, favoured the motion on 26 Feb. 1702 to vindicate the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of the King’s Whig ministers. With the declaration of war in May pressure of work dissuaded Lyddell from standing again, and instead he placed his interest at Harwich behind John Ellis*. In the summer of 1704 it was thought that he would stand again the following year, and that the corporation backed his candidature, but he did not pursue his election at the polls. Although he never sat again at Westminster he did appear before the House once more in person. Perhaps motivated by a desire for revenge for the 1699 campaign to discredit him, he gave evidence to the House on 11 Mar. 1704 about the naval accounts of the Earl of Orford (Edward Russell*), which led to the censure of the latter’s ‘neglects and delays’. In retaliation, however, Orford launched an attack on the navy from the Lords, and a committee of peers examined both Sergison and Lyddell about its debts. Orford even summoned Lyddell to his house for questioning, and the resulting address proved to be a pointed reminder about naval over-expenditure.4

By 1713, after 39 years’ service to the government and with the war over, Lyddell was ready for retirement from his post. In June he wrote to the Earl of Oxford (Robert Harley*) that a recent illness had ‘left such remains of indisposition upon me that I doubt I shall hardly ever get rid of, and am advised and hope that some redress from the continual fatigue at this place may afford me some relief’. He repeated an appeal that he and Sergison had made in December 1712 for greater reward for their offices:

Your lordship is not unsensible what part of this laborious office has lain upon two of us, and the difficulties we have gone through in these two long wars, in a business and trust [that] has required a duty and spirit to prevent and oppose the artful designs of others too much disposed to their own advantages . . . and cannot but observe with no small concern, that many in our own way and under our own eye, who have not spent anything near the time or attendance to the service as we have done, have met with indulgences, favours and advantages . . . while we have only had what your lordship knows, the wages of the ancientest and meanest salary of any commission in the kingdom, in proportion to the business and trust thereof.

It was perhaps as a result of these pleas that Lyddell received a tax rebate on his salary, and remained in office through to his death on 19 Nov. 1717. Eight days later he was buried at Ardingly, Sussex, and his estate passed first to his wife, rather than directly to his eldest son, Richard (Liddell†), a profligate rake. Lyddell’s younger son, Charles, received £500 of Bank of England stock and £1,200 of South Sea stock, together with a sizable income from rents and the interest from government loans; and his daughter was bequeathed £2,000, plus £500 of East India stock and confirmation of an earlier grant of £500 of South Sea stock.5

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Mark Knights


  • 1. G. W. E. Loder, Wakehurst Place, 69–77; Foster, London Mar. Lic. 845.
  • 2. Duckett, Naval Commissioners, 8.
  • 3. Loder, 66, 70–71; Duckett, 8, 31; NMM, Sergison mss Ser/107; Navy Recs. Soc. lxxxix, 7, 14, 28, 56; Suss. Arch. Soc. xxv. 63–68; Mariner’s Mirror, xxxviii. 106–31; J. A. Johnston, ‘Parl. and the Navy’ (Sheffield Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1968), 482; Pepys Corresp. i. 202; ii. 316; Add. 40775, f. 345; 40774, f. 50; London Rec. Soc. xvii. 22; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 307.
  • 4. Add. 28886, ff. 158, 172, 195–6; 28889, ff. 8, 20, 38; 28927, ff. 176, 180; HMC Lords, n.s. vi. 9–10; LJ, xvii. 643–5.
  • 5. Add. 70317–18, Sergison and Lyddell to Oxford, 15 Dec. 1712; 70292, Lyddell to [Oxford], 6 June 1713; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxviii. 280; Loder, 74–76; Abstract of the Tryal of Richard Lyddell (1730), 8.