MASHAM, Sir Francis, 3rd Bt. (c.1646-1723), of Otes, High Laver, 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



1690 - 1698
Feb. 1701 - 1710

Family and Education

b. c.1646, yr. s. of William Masham (?1st s. d.v.p. of Sir William Masham, 1st Bt.) of High Laver by Elizabeth, da. of Sir John Trevor† of Plas Teg and Trevalyn, Denb.  m. (1) 1 Nov. 1666, Mary, da. of Sir William Scott, 1st Bt., Marquis de la Mezansene, of Rouen, Normandy, 8s. (7 d.v.p.) 1da.; (2) 25 June 1685, Damaris (d. 1708), da. of Ralph Cudworth, DD, master of Christ’s, Camb., 1s.  suc. bro. as 3rd Bt. c.1663.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Colchester by 1695.2

Commr. victualling the navy 1711–14.3


Masham’s birth, marriage and friendships qualified him for a place in political life that his personal achievements did not perhaps merit. He was the grandson of the Parliamentarian Sir William Masham, who sat for the county of Essex in the 1640s and 1650s. The Mashams were related to Oliver Cromwell†, who visited the family seat of Otes in 1638, and Masham’s father-in-law, Ralph Cudworth, was also said to have been ‘much obliged’ to the Protector. Damaris Cudworth, Masham’s second wife, had imbibed her father’s Cambridge Platonism, and she was ‘so well versed in theological and philosophical studies, and of such an original mind’ that she attracted the notice of John Locke. In the early 1680s he exchanged intimate letters of friendship with her, and it seems likely that the attachment was romantic as well as intellectual, but it did not culminate in marriage. Instead in 1685 Damaris married Masham, described by one historian as a ‘somewhat stupid Essex gentleman’, and the inequality appears to have left her mentally unfulfilled and feeling isolated. At the beginning of 1687 Lady Masham complained to Locke that she could find no place in her heart for ‘the impertinent concerns of a mistress of a family’, adding that her mentor might ‘advise me to converse with the dead since here [at Otes] are so few living that are worth it’. When, therefore, Locke returned to England after the Revolution and found the London air damaging his health, she encouraged him to make long visits to Masham’s estate. In 1691 Locke decided to make it his permanent residence, ‘but to make him easy in living with us’, Lady Masham recalled, ‘it was necessary he should do so upon his own terms, which Sir Francis at last consenting to’, the philosopher paid £1 a week for himself and his amanuensis Sylvester Brownover. Since he retained Lady Masham’s affections, occupied a significant portion of the house, and attracted numbers of guests and correspondents, including Isaac Newton*, Edward Clarke I*, and the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley*), Locke was in some respects more the master of the house than Masham. It was at Otes, for example, that Peter King* was married in 1704, with Locke presiding at the feast as host. Locke held sway over Masham’s children as well, being particularly fond of Esther, whom he called ‘his Landabridis’, and Francis Cudworth Masham, to whom he bequeathed much of his estate and library. Significantly, Locke instructed King, his executor, not to lend any of the legacy to Sir Francis, which he did ‘to prevent inconveniences which I who am acquainted with the family foresee it would unavoidably occasion’. Since it is possible that Masham mortgaged some of his property to Locke, the latter may have had reason to suspect his host’s financial competence, and the only surviving letter from Masham to Locke is a breathless communication about money matters that does little to dispel such doubts.4

In 1690 Masham ‘had so great an interest in [Essex] that he was chosen one of the knights of the shire’. According to a printed account of the election a clergyman was reminded by his parishioners about ‘the promise of the chieftains of our Church, to come to a temper towards Dissenters, and urged, that if we did so intend, we ought to join with them, in preferring a person of known candour and moderation of Sir Francis Masham’. Although accused of having opposed the Church party, the successful candidates accompanied Lord Fitzwalter ‘who had espoused their interest’, to church, and during the mid-1690s, at least, there is evidence that Masham attended the vestry meetings of his own parish, though his moderate Anglicanism tolerated a Presbyterian presence there. Classed as a Whig by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) at the opening of the 1690 Parliament, Masham could by April 1691 be listed as a Court supporter. On 10 Feb. 1692 he presented a petition from the victuallers of the navy relating to arrears due to them, but since the commissioners had not yet stated their accounts the matter was ordered to lie on the table. In the course of that year Carmarthen included him on a working list of supporters of the Court, apparently under the particular management of the bishop of London, a curious ascription given the latter’s reported support of Masham’s rivals at the election. On the opening day of the new session in November 1692 Masham requested a writ for the election of a new Member for Colchester to replace Edward Cary, who had died, and on 11 Feb. 1693 was appointed to a committee to prepare a bill for the continuation of the prohibition of trade with France, showing his strong support for the war. He was again listed in the spring of 1693 as a Court supporter. At the by-election at Maldon in April, prompted by the death of Sir Thomas Darcy, 1st Bt., Masham, together with the lord lieutenant of the county, the Earl of Oxford, ‘and all the fanatic and discontented party . . . averse to the governors of the town’, backed Hutchinson, a rival to Sir Eliab Harvey’s* candidature. At the end of January 1694 another by-election was held in Essex, this time for the county and an election agent reported that ‘Sir Francis Masham’s man brought letters etc. to engage [the Dissenters] for Mr Ben Mildmay’. Although he had perhaps inherited the mantle of champion of the Dissenters from the deceased Sir Henry Mildmay, Masham’s interest was not, however, strong enough to prevent the election of Sir Charles Barrington, 5th Bt., a strong Churchman. The charge that Masham was a pensioner had perhaps been made during the heat of this campaign, for barely a fortnight after polling the Commons took one William Soader into custody for making this ‘false and scandalous reflection’. On 9 Apr. 1694 Masham acted as teller for those in favour of increasing the maintenance of Lord Henry Cavendish*. As a friend of Locke, it is not surprising to find Masham sharing the interests of his ‘college’ and being appointed to two committees, on 8 Jan. and 3 Apr. 1695, concerned with the state of the coinage. Masham was appointed teller for four divisions in this session, the most important concerned with the consideration of a bill imposing taxes on paper and parchment, and another fixing the duties on glass and other wares.5

Returned once more for the county at the general election of November 1695, Masham was again active in the new Parliament on a bill to prevent electoral abuses, being appointed on 7 Dec. to the committee to prepare a bill to prevent undue election expenses by candidates. Since there were hints that Locke would be named to the projected council of trade, Masham’s appearance on lists of likely supporters of the Court on the matter in January 1696, and for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. in March, is further evidence of his support for the policies of his guest’s circle of friends. On 17 Feb. 1696 he acted as teller against a motion that the assizes be put off for a fortnight, and later that month signed the Association. At this time Edward Clarke reported from Otes that Masham had returned to Essex to help raise the militia there, but he must soon have returned to London since on 12 Mar. he acted as teller for those in favour of including provisions for the city of London’s poulterers in the bill for suppressing hawkers and pedlars. Being close to Locke and his circle, he was an obvious appointment, next session, to the committee to prepare a bill to explain the Recoinage Acts, and during the same session, on 25 Nov., voted in favour of Sir John Fenwick’s† attainder. In the third session Masham promoted local interests by helping to draw up a bill to make navigable the channel from Colchester to its out-port Wivenhoe, and by managing legislation dealing with the town’s hospitals and workhouses. On 29 Mar. 1698 he acted as teller on the land tax bill, which included a clause to take account of Masham’s earlier concern, the forfeited estates in Ireland. The following month he acted as teller for those who wished to prevent Simon Harcourt I* from being excused attendance, and on 1 July reported to the House about the ship the Sally Rose, which had been taken as a prize, an indication, perhaps, that his petition made as far back as May 1689 for the place of register of seizures had been successful.6

Despite his efforts for the locality, and although listed as a Court supporter in September 1698, Masham was not elected in July of that year, and did not regain his seat until January 1701, when he was said to have been ‘supported by the Dissenters, who are so zealous, that ’tis thought they will generally give single votes’. When he reached Westminster, Masham began managing the first of a long sequence of bills for naturalizing subjects. He was well suited to the task, being fluent in French, and his interest may have been fostered by the arrival at Otes in 1697 of Pierre Coste, a French Protestant who had taken refuge in Holland after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and who agreed to act as tutor to Masham’s son. After the December 1701 general election Masham was marked as a Whig by Robert Harley*, and the recent polls seem to have revived his interest in the reform of electoral abuse, since on 17 Jan. 1702 he was included on a committee to prepare legislation against bribery at elections. In the second session Masham reported the amendments to another bill for naturalization, a task he also undertook in the 1703–4 session. As might be expected, he voted against the Tack (or was absent) upon the division on 28 Nov. 1704, but his fellow knight of the shire, Barrington, voted in favour. Thus, it was possibly to ensure Barrington’s defeat at the next election that Lord Manchester gathered together the leading Essex Whigs just before Christmas, when they agreed to back Masham and Lord Walden (Henry Howard*) against whomever the Tories put up. When the House resumed after recess, Masham returned to his work on naturalization bills, acting as teller in February 1705 for the third reading of one of them. Masham’s concern to regulate elections and his support for the Whigs in the Lords combined in the Aylesbury case, even when it meant opposing the rights of the Commons, and on 3 Mar. he acted as teller in a very thin House for those who wished for the debate on the writs of error to be adjourned. The motion was defeated, with the result that two supporters of the five men committed to Newgate by the Commons for breach of privilege found themselves in custody.7

The early electoral preparations proved worthwhile since the Whig slate was successful in 1705. Masham voted with the administration in favour of the Court candidate as Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705, and during the session he once more reported on a bill of naturalization as well as three private estate bills. Although he was listed as of ‘No Church’ in an analysis of MPs, presumably on account of the electoral support given him by Dissenters, Masham dined the following winter at Lambeth with the Whig bishops of Carlisle and Bangor, plus White Kennett and Peter King, though the talk may have been more of state than Church affairs. In February 1706 he supported the Court against the attempt made by King and other Country Whigs to include a place clause in the regency bill. During the second session in the winter of 1706–7 Masham reported from a committee dealing with the estate of Daniel King, possibly a relative of Peter, which if true would suggest that the difference of opinion earlier in the year had not damaged their friendship. Masham was also nominated to sit on committees to produce three new naturalization bills, a bill for the better support and maintenance of the minister at Tettenhall, Staffordshire, a bill for the crown’s purchase of Cotton House, and a bill empowering the Treasury to compound with Nathaniel Rich, late receiver-general of Essex, the latter of which he also managed through the House. During the next session, Masham handled four private estate bills, two more naturalization bills, and the Harwich roads bill. On 16 Feb. 1708 he acted as teller on a private bill for the relief of Lieutenant-Colonel John Savery, who had served in Ireland, an action that he may have undertaken on behalf of his son, Samuel Masham*, who himself had risen to the rank of colonel. Samuel’s marriage in June 1707 to Abigail Hill, who rapidly replaced Sarah Churchill as the Queen’s favourite, reinforced his father’s Court stance. Masham was accordingly at his most active in the first session of the 1708 Parliament: between 16 Feb. and 12 Apr. 1709 he reported from seven committees, presented a bill and was ordered to carry two more to the Lords. As well as reporting a naturalization bill, he reported from a committee concerned with the haven at Edinburgh, and presented a bill of relief for three French regiments, presumably again at his son’s behest. Five of his reports were on private bills, and two, concerning the estates of Sir John Bolles* and George, Lord Jeffreys, suggest that Masham was now looked to by Tories as well as Whigs as a useful manager of business. In January 1710 he twice reported from the committee investigating a private debt to the crown, but his Whiggism again came to the fore in his vote for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell.8

It would appear that by now Masham found it increasingly difficult to juggle conflicting loyalties – support for his Tory son and daughter-in-law, and his own earlier espousal of the Whigs – at a time when Whig and Tory were at their most polarized and when a general election forced him to make a choice. Although Dyer’s newsletter on 26 Oct. 1710 described him as standing with Thomas Middleton against the Church party represented by Sir Richard Child, 3rd Bt.*, the latter had in fact recommended to at least one clergyman that where his supporters did not plump for him, their second vote should go to Masham. Possibly this, or Sir Francis’ filial connexions with the court, alienated the support of the Dissenters since he found himself 32 votes short of Middleton’s total and without a seat. Although Dyer reported on 23 Nov. 1710 that Masham stood at a by-election for Huntingdonshire in November on Lord Manchester’s interest, it would appear that he never pushed the matter to a contest with the Tory Sir John Cotton, 4th Bt.*, and never seems to have sought re-election again. The following year, in November 1711, he was appointed to the victualling commission, presumably through the influence of his son and daughter-in-law, and as such signed the accounts presented to the Commons on 24 Mar. 1712 which mark his final appearance in the Journals. In May 1713, however, an investigation into the navy’s pensioners produced ‘a fling’ at his commissioner’s salary, though the House was in fact more interested in Lord Strafford’s pension, and even that was soon dropped. But Masham’s appointment to the victualling commission was too closely associated with the influence of Anne’s favourite dresser for him to remain in office at the accession of George I. He died on 7 Feb. 1723, having made his will in 1719, appointing Locke’s publisher Awnsham Churchill* as one of the executors to act on behalf of his eldest surviving son, Francis Cudworth Masham, who had trained as a lawyer and who died in 1731. Three of Masham’s other sons had held military commissions, all predeceasing their father, and a fourth was sent as chaplain to the East India Company station on St. Helena where he apparently drank himself to death.9

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Mark Knights


  • 1. Dorm. and Extinct Baronetcies, 343; DNB (Masham, Damaris).
  • 2. CJ, xi. 537.
  • 3. Boyer, Anne Annals, x. 385; Pol. State, iv. 58.
  • 4. VCH Essex, iv. 91; DNB (Masham, Damaris); M. Cranston, John Locke, 215–17, 342, 380, 474, 477; Hist. Today, iii. 535–43; Locke Corresp. ed. de Beer, ii. 758; iii. 105; v. 743; viii. 415; Newton Corresp. iv. 406; B. Rand, Shaftesbury, 294.
  • 5. Hist. Today, 536; Tryal of Skill, Performed in Essex (1689–90); VCH Essex, 95; Luttrell Diary, 178, 214; A Circular Letter to the Clergy of Essex (1690); Bramston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxxii), 375–6; W. Suss. RO, Shillinglee mss Ac.454/1136, John Yardley to Sir Edward Turnor*, 25 Jan. 1694.
  • 6. Som. RO, Sanford mss DD/SF3110, Edward Clarke jnr. to Edward Clarke snr. 8 Mar. 1696; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 106.
  • 7. Bodl. Ballard 10, f. 35; Essex RO, DDL/c/48, C. Clarke to D. Barnett, 5 Dec. 1700.
  • 8. Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 348.
  • 9. Add. 70421, Dyer’s newsletter 26 Oct. 1710; 31144, ff. 372, 379; Camb. Univ. Lib. Add. mss 6, f. 391; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 23; Watson thesis, 396–7; PCC 55 Richmond; Gent. Mag. 1731, p. 220; CSP Dom. 1694–5, pp. 40, 402; 1702–3, p. 387; Dalton, Army Lists, iii. 166, 351, 370; info. from Dr D. F. Lemmings; Locke Corresp. vii. 644.