MAYNWARING, Arthur (1668-1712), of Ightfield, Salop.

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



27 Dec. 1706 - 1710
1710 - 13 Nov. 1712

Family and Education

b. 9 July 1668, s. of Charles Mainwaring of Ightfield, by Katherine da. of Thomas Cholmondeley of Vale Royal, Cheshire.  educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1683; I. Temple 1687.  unm. 1s. illegit. by Anne Oldfield.  suc. fa. c.1693.1

Offices Held

Commr. customs, 1701–May 1705; auditor of imprests, May 1705–d.2

Private sec. to Duchess of Marlborough 1708–d.

Commr. taking subscriptions to S. Sea Co. 1711.3


Maynwaring’s political importance was wholly disproportionate to the level of his activity in the House, where he was named to few committees and was said never to have made a speech. He was a man of extreme passions and strongly held views who was confident, quick-minded, and wittily eloquent; but he preferred to act behind the scenes, lobbying ministers and courtiers, or penning the biting satires and political commentaries for which he is most famous, rather than take a leading public role in Parliament.4

Although Maynwaring was known for his fierce Whig polemic, his zeal was that of a convert from a Jacobite upbringing. After leaving university, where he was educated in the High Church principles of Christ Church, he lived for several years with his uncle, Francis Cholmondeley†, ‘a very honest gentleman of mistaken principles in politics’, who refused to take the oaths to William and Mary. Maynwaring’s biographer, John Oldmixon, excused his friend’s juvenile political error of following his uncle’s opinions (p. 4):

As Mr Maynwaring had expectations that respected his fortune from this uncle of his, no wonder he, whose thoughts were taken up wholly with polite literature, with poetry, history and criticism, should not trouble himself with politics, but gave himself up in that to the sentiments of those that were about him and on whom he had a dependence.

Much influenced by a non-juring relation, Sir Philip Egerton†, Maynwaring later claimed that ‘he had few or no opportunities, as well as inclinations, to receive any lights in a thing which he then thought did not very much concern him’. Even when he went to London to study law, he retained his Jacobite prejudices and wrote a panegyric on James II and squibs against the Revolution, whose advocates he called ‘fanatic drivers, whose unjust careers / produce new ills, exceeding former fears’. Ironically the literary merit of these verses (one piece was thought originally to have been written by Dryden) attracted the attention of Maynwaring’s Whig kinsmen Lord Cholmondeley and the Duke of Somerset, as well as the Earl of Burlington (Charles Boyle*), who introduced him ‘into the company of men of the first character for rank and wit’. Under their influence Maynwaring began ‘to have a true notion of the people’s rights and an abhorrence for tyranny and arbitrary power, and to be as much in love with the establishment as he had before been averse to it’. He left his legal studies after the death of his spendthrift father, from whom he inherited an estate ‘of near £800 a year . . . so encumbered that the interest money amounted to almost as much as his revenue’. He borrowed some £5,000 from the High Tory John Radcliffe*, who was ‘so easy on the interest that Mr Maynwaring was tempted to continue the security’ of the estate, and was dissuaded by his friends from selling up. With this new-found economic freedom, he resolved to pursue ‘a pleasurable life’: he took up gaming (though he later supported a bill against it), and ‘used to bowl high with the Duke of Devonshire [William Cavendish†] and other persons of quality’. Mixing easily with courtiers at a social level, it was not long before he was reconciled to the Court politically, and after the conclusion of the peace in 1697, he kissed the King’s hand. After a visit to Paris, Maynwaring appears to have moved almost exclusively in Court Whig circles, being admitted in about 1700 to the Kit-Cat Club, where he was ‘the ruling man in all conversations’. As Oldmixon observed (p. 20),

he had indeed a keen turn when he pleased to make use of it, which rendered him very formidable to pretenders and coxcombs. They were so afraid of the justice and fineness of his raillery that ’tis thought he would have had more true friends if he had been less free and less merry with them: he kept the greatest men in awe when he was in company, for he was a terrible prosecutor of impertinence and would not suffer it even in the highest titles and dignities . . . ’tis true he always kept within the bounds of good manners, there was not a better bred man in England, and yet he knew how far he might take liberty with the people of the first quality, without offending either decency or delicacy.

Maynwaring’s friendship with the Junto lords had its rewards. Oldmixon explained (p. 18) that when in 1701 Sir Walter Yonge, 3rd Bt.*, surrendered his commissionership of the customs in order to retain his parliamentary seat,

the Lord Halifax [Charles Montagu*] sent for Mr Maynwaring and advised him to apply to the Duke of Somerset, who was his friend, to be one of the commissioners of the customs. The Duke very readily spoke to his Majesty . . . in his behalf, and the King himself made him a commissioner. His Grace went with him to the custom house and presented him to the board, where he applied himself with so much diligence to the study of that branch of revenue that tho’ there were several commissioners who had sat many years at the board, yet Mr Maynwaring soon distinguished himself above all of them for his knowledge in the discharge of that trust as well as his fidelity.

Indeed, he took this job so seriously that ‘as much of his time as he employed in the reading the ancient poets and historians, the critics and other writers in polite learning, [he] had also [a] variety of books of accounts before him and read them in turn’. Oldmixon records (p. 19) that, despising corruption, Maynwaring refused outright to accept bribes, and that one contemporary lampoon suggested that he was the only commissioner to command any respect.5

Although he had risen as a result of Junto patronage, Maynwaring was careful to cultivate the friendship of Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†). On the accession of Anne, Maynwaring ‘corrected and improved’ a poem called The Golden Age Restor’d, written by his close friend William Walsh*. When Maynwaring learnt that Godolphin had been informed that he himself was the author, according to Oldmixon (p. 22) he

went to that minister and assured him he was not, which he thought himself obliged to let him know, whether it was his pleasure to remove him from the custom house board or not. The lord treasurer was extremely well pleased with Mr Maynwaring’s frankness, saying, you may depend upon it, sir, you shall keep your place if you please as long as I keep mine. And from that time there grew such an intimacy between them that it ended in a mutual love, more like that of brothers than of friends.

As proof of the strength of this tie, Godolphin persuaded the incumbent auditor of imprest to resign, ‘his lordship paying him several thousand pounds for his doing it, and he never let Mr Maynwaring know what he intended to do for him, till he made him a present of a patent for that office, worth about £2,000 a year in a time of business’, a favour that was used in 1713 in an attack on corruption during Godolphin’s administration. Maynwaring remained grateful, saying that he would only ever part company with the Whigs if the lord treasurer was attacked, for he would ‘rather be buried alive than be accused of acting an ill part to him’. Yet Maynwaring’s new allegiance to Godolphin, with whom he was believed in 1709 to have ‘more interest . . . than all the men in England’, had to some extent compromised his loyalty to the Junto. He protested his impartiality, claiming if anything to ‘have always erred on the other side’, but admitted that ‘’tis hard to suppose that I should know so little of any one’s mind that has shown so much favour to me’. Although he attended a meeting of the Junto in August 1705, he found their confidence in him to have fallen from the moment he received his new office,

as if I had done mighty wicked and dark things to obtain it, when God knows I never did anything unless it was that I behaved myself honestly in the place I had in the customs, and having got more power in the office than Mr [Charles] Godolphin*, he left the board for two years and I believe did not let his brother rest till he removed me, which he was not willing to do to my loss. And all the time I was in that employment I never endeavoured to prefer one man that was not recommended by some of the Whigs, and I assisted in scribbling all the papers and verses that they were making as my Lord Halifax well knows.6

Maynwaring entered Parliament in December 1706 at a by-election at Preston, where he was returned on the interest of the Earl of Derby (Hon. James Stanley*), the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. One admiring supporter at the time of the election said that he had never met ‘a greater man of sublime wit and judgment’, qualities which Maynwaring had already exhibited in The French King’s Thanks and Advice, a song which he had penned the previous year to influence the polls. Little is known of his activity in the House, except that he was named to two conference committees. An analysis of the House dating from early 1708 listed him as a Whig. Maynwaring did, however, write a later vindication of his behaviour in which he protested that he had given no reason to be suspected of deviating from the Whig line

unless it was by voting in the Scotch business, which I would have done if I had had no place, for it was my opinion, and sure it was not a very wild one, since Sir Joseph Jekyll*, who had been of the other side, made a recantation speech and voted as I did.

He told the Duchess of Marlborough that it was impossible for her to think worse of the Scots than he did, though his opinion in 1710 may have been coloured by Scottish support for Robert Harley’s* ministry. Maynwaring also repudiated suggestions that he had wavered in his attitude to the Admiralty Board, protesting that the issue had

never c[o]me to a question, and I am sure no body wished it worse than I did, though I have a friendship for Mr [Robert] Walpole [II]*, but I thought him little concerned in the matter, yet indeed I will confess that I could not advise him as some of the lords did, to play a false part and secretly give up and undermine the commission he had sat in, for I thought no end could justify such an act as that and as I would not have done it myself, I own I persuaded him against it.

It was not, however, until the disintegration of the Junto’s interest at Court that Maynwaring really became involved in buttressing the Whig cause against the rising tide of Tory influence. In September 1707 he appears to have identified the Duchess of Marlborough as the key to the political survival of the Whig ministry, and took the occasion of a rumour that he had written against the Duke in order to press on her assurances of his loyalty; flattery succeeded, and early in 1708 he was appointed her secretary. It is probable that Maynwaring was acting on his own initiative in insinuating himself into her favour, but his connexions with Godolphin and the Junto suggest possible prompters. Maynwaring supplied Sarah with news and advice that had two chief aims: to encourage her to maintain her position at court, which he regarded as a vital means of safeguarding the Whig interest against the whispering campaign conducted by Harley and Mrs Masham; and to foster a strong alliance between the ministers and the Junto.7

The 1708 election was called almost immediately after Maynwaring had taken up his new post, and he wrote his Advice to the Electors of Great Britain ‘because I knew of no other way that I could do any thing towards the elections’. The pamphlet argued that while the Tories ‘set up an establishment opposite to liberty’ and

a government as absolute and lawless as is possible . . . the true principle of the Whigs is to maintain the religion, liberty and property of their country . . . to keep the monarchy within its just bounds and to secure it with laws from tyranny at home and with forces given by Parliament from the danger of a foreign power; to reverence and esteem all good Churchmen, yet tolerate Dissenters; and in a word to keep our excellent constitution as it now stands, between the two extremes of arbitrary government and a commonwealth.

He claimed to have taken the theme from one of Sarah’s letters, in which she had mentioned ‘the usefulness of raising a cry upon the Jacobites’ and left the work with the Duchess to be corrected. The work nevertheless appeared anonymously, which was perhaps just as well, since one Tory critic said its author ‘ought to be put in the pillory’.8

Even while the country was still at the polls, Maynwaring was persuading Sarah that her husband needed to show greater ‘warmth and zeal’ towards the Whigs, and that she alone, by renewing her interest with the Queen, could prevent the mischiefs that Harley intended. She also needed to work to promote the unity of the Whig party, which meant, he believed, taking Lord Somers (Sir John*) into office, reorganizing the Admiralty Board, where the Duke’s High Tory brother George Churchill* had an unhealthy predominance, and buying off the leader of the ‘whimsical’ Whigs, Peter King*. It was apparently on Maynwaring’s suggestion that King was made recorder of London, a move that had the desired effect of bringing King over to the Junto. On the Admiralty issue Maynwaring offered to ‘work day and night’ as a parliamentary manager. Having calculated that the election had guaranteed a Whig majority in both Houses, he could not understand Marlborough and Godolphin’s hesitancy to embrace the Whig interest, attributing their caution to ‘a narrow little principle of being independent of a party, which in this case is really in effect being a slave without friends’. Maynwaring did all he could to smooth the way for an agreement between the ministers and the Junto, and indeed between the Junto ministers and their Whig friends. Confident that Lord Somers ‘could not reasonably take any thing amiss from me’, Maynwaring believed ‘in one respect, that I may better take the liberty of speaking to them freely than anybody else, because I have no kind of self-interest in it’. He was initially trusted by all sides, and Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) gave him ‘authority to say anything in his name to the lord treasurer’, although suspicions increased that Maynwaring was ‘nothing but a sad tool of the ministers’. As the opening of Parliament drew nearer, Maynwaring became more active in trying to resolve the Admiralty crisis, which threatened to derail the whole reconciliation process, and he drafted a letter for the Duke of Marlborough to send to his brother George to call for his resignation. The Prince’s death, which dissolved the commission, rendered further action unnecessary, and the Queen’s capitulation to the Whigs after her husband’s death undoubtedly owed something to her temporarily weakened resolve; but it was also a testament to the pressure which Maynwaring had encouraged the Duchess to exert on the Queen, and to his efforts to unite the Junto. Maynwaring was optimistic that a firm alliance between the ministry and the Junto was now imminent.9

Although success was tempered by the Duchess’s disillusionment with the Junto and concern for her husband – when MPs moved in January 1709 for an address of thanks to be given to the Duke, Maynwaring had to remind Sarah to send them ‘some little compliment’ – the gap in his correspondence with her until the early summer may reflect his satisfaction that affairs were moving steadily in the direction he wanted, and that there was no need to wheedle the Duchess into greater activity. The silence may also reflect Maynwaring’s preoccupation with business in the House, including the general naturalization of the Palatines, a measure which he favoured. His support for the bill was symptomatic of his religious tolerance and hostility to High Church principles, which he saw as being used by hypocritical Tory politicians as a means by which to berate the ministry. Although previously a critic of the occasional conformity bill and of the Tack, his own religious views were not strongly held. According to his biographer (pp. xvii, 39), he regarded the Established Church as ‘the best constituted of any upon earth, for the good of society and support of government’, and his civil religion included ‘an abhorrence for those that cursed and swore, talked profanely and irreligiously or abused the clergy’; but at a personal level he appears to have been, on his own admission, far from devout: ‘there is something so partial in our religion as it is taught to us’, he told Sarah one day,

that when I was a boy I could never be so towardly that way as my parents and interest should have made me; for I never could conceive that all the blessings of a future state could be confined to such a poor handful of mankind (taken in general) as the Protestants are. And even of them, if you will believe our doctors, none are in the right way to heaven but those of the Church of England. There is so much spiritual pride in this nation that I wonder how it could get into so many people’s heads, as if no people had any merit but ourselves, the contrary of which is so true that I have seen even Indians . . . that I have thought better made in all respects both as to body and mind than myself and why they should be destined to be for ever miserable I could not possibly conceive. And we have so little reason to be proud of ourselves that ’tis certain we are not half so good or virtuous as those Romans and Grecians were that had the grossest notions of religion in the world . . . but this I do not say to disparage any body that lives according to the precepts of our religion, which are certainly very good, and I wish I could conform to them better, but to show that I will mend as fast as I can.10

As relations between Sarah and the Queen took a new turn for the worse in the summer, and pressure mounted to force the appointment of Orford (Edward Russell*) to the Admiralty, Maynwaring was again obliged to renew his entreaties to Sarah to redeem her status at court, a task he undertook with such vigour that the Duchess described her gold key of office as ‘Mr Maynwaring[’s] key, for ’tis by his persuasion she has kept it so long’. People, he told her, believed that ‘whether Whigs or Tories shall be uppermost, whether the nation shall be happy or undone’ depended on her, and his mixture of flattery and conviction had the desired effect, since she successfully pressed for Orford’s appointment. As well as making the Duchess believe well of the Junto, Maynwaring also had to reassure the Whig lords, and Somers in particular, of the Duchess’s support, and here, too, his mediation was successful. Once his objectives of a more Whiggish ministry and a more united Whig party had been achieved, Maynwaring told the Duchess that he was ‘convinced that nobody can keep things long in the good way they are in now, but you and your secretary, who must always be on the watch, and even write books together, as was done before the last election, to prove that the Tories are Frenchmen and must never rise again’. In early December 1709 he rejoiced that the spirit of the Tories was ‘quite broke, and . . . things were never so likely to go well and easily since I remember’.11

Once again, however, the Marlboroughs’ difficulties cast a shadow over a broadly satisfactory state of affairs, and this time presaged disaster for the Whigs. A true satirist, Maynwaring knew better how to attack than how to build or maintain, and he failed to appreciate that the tactics of resolution and boldness that had proved successful against the Tories the previous year were no longer appropriate; it would, however, be fairer to blame him for failing to restrain the violence of the Churchills’ own reactions to John Hill’s* army appointment than for mischievously egging on a confrontation. Maynwaring was genuinely overwhelmed by the Queen’s ‘monstrous folly and stupidity’, and outraged that ‘the greatest, most useful and successful subject in the world must submit to a dresser’, Hill’s sister Abigail Masham. He therefore busied himself securing Junto support in and out of Parliament, and urged the Duchess to persuade her husband to force the point further by threatening resignation unless the ‘stinking chambermaid’ was removed. Marlborough needed little persuasion, but by raising the stakes Maynwaring and the Churchills were taking a gamble, as Maynwaring himself admitted, that the Tories could not govern the Whig Commons, and that even if they procured a dissolution, they could not dominate the Lords; but they failed to take into account the possibility of a complete breach between Sarah and Anne, or the impact which the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, for which Maynwaring voted, was to have on public opinion. Lord Coningsby (Thomas*) later blamed Maynwaring for his misguided opinion that the Hill affair offered a ‘happy opportunity’ to drive Mrs Masham from court by means of a parliamentary address, and for advising Marlborough to threaten retirement. Coningsby also believed that Maynwaring had an over-sanguine impression of the lengths to which Somers would go to back the Marlboroughs’ defiance, and failed to inform them that the forthright approach he himself had advocated had found little or no parliamentary support.12

The consequences of the miscalculations were far-reaching – Coningsby thought the affair was ‘the fatal spring’ which divided and distracted the Whigs – and although Maynwaring temporarily railed against Godolphin for having obstructed an open attack on Mrs Masham, which he believed necessary for the lord treasurer’s own survival, his frustration may also have been mixed with fear and anger that he had unwittingly helped the rise of Tory influence, which he had so recently thought destroyed. Certainly, he believed that circumstances forbade the ‘rightest’ course of wholesale Junto resignations, because ‘it would be dangerous to choose [new MPs] while the nation is in such a ferment’. Even so, he was not dispirited, believing that Shrewsbury would ‘hearken to any terms of accommodation’ with Marlborough and Godolphin, and that the crisis had concentrated the minds of Whig whimsicals. Over-confidence once again clouded his judgment, for while he disingenuously advised Sarah to make it clear to the Queen that she had not encouraged the attack on her rival, he filled his letters with condemnations of Anne as ‘an obstinate, proud fool’ and an ‘ill-judging, ill-natured, ungrateful person’, remarks that were likely to appeal to the Duchess’s offended sensibilities, but which were unlikely to move her to seek reconciliation. Maynwaring continued, until it was too late, to underestimate the likelihood of a Tory ministry seizing power, though by May 1710 he began to suspect that Godolphin planned a mixed ministry, a course of action from which he tried to dissuade the treasurer. The mistrust seems to have been mutual, for Godolphin refused Maynwaring’s offer to shuttle between the Whigs and Shrewsbury, and made pointed remarks when Maynwaring’s plan for reconciliation between Sarah and the Queen met with the expected rebuff. Although the Junto still believed him capable in September of plumbing the depths of Godolphin’s mind concerning the intended changes at court, Maynwaring wisely preferred to wait and see, rather than risk another ticking off. Indeed, Godolphin now had unhindered access to the Duchess, who had retired into the country, depriving Maynwaring of his usual role as her confidant.13

Having helped to wreak so much damage, Maynwaring’s positive contribution to the Whig cause at this time came from the numerous tracts he wrote against Sacheverell and the High Church interest. According to Oldmixon, Maynwaring was ‘a strenuous asserter of the rights of the Parliament to try and punish that incendiary, whom he never names but with the greatest marks of detestation or contempt’, and for whose impeachment he had voted in the House; in addition Maynwaring published four Letters to a Friend in North Britain, which argued that the Tories used the pretence of concern for the Church to promote their own Jacobite interest, and condemned a dissolution of Parliament as squandering Marlborough’s military gains against France. It was largely to ‘provide an antidote’ to the Tory propaganda published by The Examiner at the time of the election that Maynwaring began writing The Medley, his most successful venture, which eventually succeeded in beating down its rival in 1711, though not in preventing the establishment of a Tory administration. He also approved of the publication of a tract, probably A Test Offer’d to the Consideration of the Electors, which printed the division list of 13 Feb. 1703 over the abjuration bill: Maynwaring thought the work should be ‘sent in a frame to Hanover, to be hung up for their daily perusal . . . I cannot think any of these men that were against this clause must have a good deal of assurance so much as ever to mention the Protestant succession’. Although concentrating on the national party situation, he was also forced to look to his own electoral fortunes. He wrote to Lord Derby ‘to desire the continuance of his favour in the next election, for which I promise to be at any charge or trouble so that my desiring not to hinder a better man in another place cannot be interpreted to arise from any desire to ease myself’; but Derby’s dismissal from office shortly before the poll forced Maynwaring to seek refuge at West Looe, where he was returned on the interest of Bishop Trelawny. The ‘Hanover list’ compiled after this election classed Maynwaring as a Whig. His own electoral difficulties, together with a discussion with John Pulteney* who was overheard putting Maynwaring right about the scale of the imminent Tory victory, must have helped to dispel his earlier confidence ‘that the Whigs upon a new election would have the majority’.14

Although Maynwaring maintained his correspondence with the Duchess, there was a cooling in their relationship and a break in their surviving letters during the winter, though this may partly have been due to his illness at Christmas. In October 1710 he admitted to Coningsby that he had ‘never expected such a Parliament’, and that although he believed his interest with Sarah was ‘as well as ever’, he never went into the country and so had not seen her ‘so much as at other times’. He found himself almost alone in believing that Marlborough should not retain his command, and in January 1711 Harley rejected Maynwaring’s overtures on the Duchess’s behalf to prevent her removal from court. Illness increased his isolation and in March he wrote that he seldom saw anybody and had been ‘but once in the House of Commons these three months’, though he was named to two committees of inquiry in January. A consumptive condition soured his lightness of spirit, and, as Oldmixon observed (p. 45), the rise of the Tories

put him so out of humour with the public that he was seldom in temper, even in private, but he acquired a peevishness of mind which, fed by his distemper, deprived his friends in a great measure of the pleasure they formerly found in his company.

A parliamentary inquiry into the imprest accounts and a vote on 24 Apr. 1711, that over £35 million of public money lay unaccounted for, did little to soothe his irritation. ‘There can be nothing more unjust than this whole proceeding’, he told the Duchess, ‘which is intended to reflect on the last ministry’, and he used his financial competence to draw up a short account, written, according to his biographer (p. 299), jointly with Walpole, of how inaccurate the charges were. Indignant at the episode, he remarked that

there never was such a place as this House of Commons; it has made me quite sick, and I would rather be shut up in a dungeon than be obliged to sit and see things carried against all reason and experience, and debates managed not only by boys but by the most hopeless incapable boys that were ever got together . . . but I can give but a very lame account of these debates because I do not yet hear well enough to retain much of them, which I think is a happiness.

Frustration, ill-health and bitterness sharpened his satirical pen, and in the Medley on 7 May 1711 he accused Harley of bringing the nation ‘under great difficulties’, a charge that nearly brought prosecution and which probably encouraged an Oxfordshire grand jury in the summer to present the paper as a libel. Hostility to Harley was also evident in Maynwaring’s private correspondence, though here his antipathy was tempered by a hope that the new lord treasurer could not hold office for long, and that there was more to fear from ‘an outrageous party ministry than in such a mongrel scrambling one as this must be, which will always be trinketing with some of each side’. Maynwaring now despised the Court, which he believed to be ‘filled with knaves and vipers’, though he hoped that ‘even such men as these will not bring in France and Popery, and that [the Duchess] will not, in that be so true a prophet as in the case of the Union, which had certainly brought in all these mischiefs upon us, and was the favourite work of these wise politicians’.15

When in July 1711 Maynwaring’s health declined further he took lodgings at Hampstead and Paddington, and, as his biographer observed (p. 201) ‘rode out every fine day for the air but . . . his friends began to despair of his recovery’. Perhaps sensing vulnerability, Harley, by now Earl of Oxford, hinted that he could ‘live fairly’ with Maynwaring. There was some mutual respect on which to build, for when he had been commissioner of customs Maynwaring had aided Harley in tracking down treasonable correspondence with France, and had still been on sufficiently good terms with him in 1707 to secure Richard Steele’s* appointment as gazetteer. Yet Oldmixon recorded (p. 340) that although his friend was ‘courted’ by the lord treasurer via fellow auditor Edward Harley*, Maynwaring regarded Oxford and his brother ‘as a couple of __ [sic] with whom no measures of decency or discipline were to be kept’, and seems to have taken an active role in encouraging further anti-ministerial propaganda. Indeed, in the autumn he revised Francis Hare’s tract on Marlborough’s siege of Bouchain to warn of the folly of signing a peace ‘which shall give up Spain to France’, and duly voted on 7 Dec. 1711 in favour of the ‘No Peace without Spain’ motion. His continued hostility to the negotiations, and defence of Godolphin and Marlborough, was evident in a stream of pamphlets condemning the peace proposals, written with a ‘masterly style, and with a peculiar happy turn of wit and strength of argument’ that made some of his works bestsellers and forced the government to prosecute many of his printers and publishers.16

Maynwaring’s hatred of the ministry led him to seek an all-party coalition against it. Oldmixon noted (pp. 289–91) that when his friend ‘found that nothing else would satisfy the late managers than giving up all to France, he was for reconciling Whig and Tory against them, there being at that time some honest Tories whose fault was folly only’, and he urged

that whatever words were formerly used to distinguish parties, there should now be no more remembrance of them, but that men on both sides would forget all past offences and unanimously consult for their present safety . . . this is not a party but a national concern, and when everything that is dear is at stake, expedients of union should rather be found out, than differences of opinion regarded . . . nor ought any distinction now to remain among us, but those that are for making a ruinous peace and of those that are for saving the liberties of Europe.

Yet when it was clear that such an alliance was impracticable, Oldmixon found (p. 341) Maynwaring’s contempt for Harley had moderated:

sometime after he began to cool a little in his aversion to him, and to be touched by his extraordinary civilities, especially upon occasion of his Grace the Duke of M[arlborough’s] obtaining a pass [in October] by the new treas[urer’s] means to remove to Flanders. Mr Maynwaring was the man that solicited and procured it, contrary to the major part of the new managers.

It was the last service he performed for the Churchills, and he had perhaps already resolved, as Oldmixon claimed, that he would no longer write against Oxford. Throughout 1712 he had been seriously ill, with the pain in his head so bad in July that he found writing ‘very uneasy’. Oldmixon noted with concern (p. 342) that as a result of his illness Maynwaring ‘began to be altered as to his disposition of mind, upon the alteration of affairs, but he wore off that sourness by degrees’. In September, however, he ‘caught a great cold by walking too late in the garden at St. Albans’ with the Duchess of Marlborough, who became a weeping visitor at his death-bed, despite the fact that he had recently ‘given her some occasion of offence’. He died on 13 Nov. and was buried at Chertsey, Surrey, where his family had once held an estate. It was rumoured that he had died of the effects of excessive drinking or a ‘venereal distemper’ (Maynwaring admitted that he had contracted an infection in 1698), but a post-mortem concluded that he had died ‘of a consumption’.17

A ‘mighty clamour’ continued to surround his death when it was discovered that his mistress, the actress Anne Oldfield, was one of the beneficiaries of his will. Maynwaring’s biographer thought (p. 345) he ‘was far from dying rich, and he used frequently to bemoan a son he had by Mrs Oldfield, very like him in person and vivacity, saying, “what will become of him when I am gone?”’. Maynwaring therefore divided his estate equally between his son, ‘the child bearing his name Arthur Maynwaring’, the child’s mother and his own sister, who had nursed him during his final illness. The liaison with Oldfield had lasted eight or nine years before his death, ‘with a passion that could hardly have been stronger had it been both her and his first love’, and it was partly because ‘this amour was expensive to him’ that he died in straitened circumstances. He had inherited his father’s careless disregard for money: ‘the utmost of my aim’, he told the Duchess on one occasion, ‘is to be worth a thousand pounds, which is more than is necessary for one that has so little view of any satisfaction or enjoyment in life’. Yet, according to Oldmixon (p. 44),

in the latter part of his life he resolved to set up for a good manager, he reduced all his expenses . . . saying he had been such a fool as to despise money till then, but now he would do as other men did, and endeavour to grow rich. He endeavoured it, when it was too late . . .

Further posthumous controversy about his life erupted when the revived Examiner published an attack on him, to which Walpole replied that there was not ‘a gentleman of better sense, solider judgment and quicker dispatch in business in the intervals of wit and pleasure’, and said that his friend’s name ‘would be immortal had not his modesty been as great as his merit’. Walpole claimed, in a reply to the Examiner, that Maynwaring’s ‘learning was without pedantry, his wit without affectation, his judgment without malice, his friendship without interest, his zeal without violence, in a word he was the best subject, the best friend, the best critic, and the best writer in Britain’.18

Maynwaring was, for all his assertiveness at the Kit-Cat Club, ‘a man of great modesty and could not exert himself in public places or in mixed company’. His reticence in the Commons may partly have been due to fears of prosecution of his writing, and ill-health and pressures on his time may also have limited his ability to attend; but the disparity between his acute political observations and parliamentary obscurity reflect the fact that his talents were those of a brilliant critic, propagandist and stage-manager rather than a practical politician. In the same way that he had advised Anne Oldfield how to deliver the epilogues he wrote for her, he had tried to choreograph the political movements of his other ‘mistress’, the independently-minded Sarah Churchill. Maynwaring may have seen a parallel between the national political stage and a literary one, for there was enough in the constantly shifting court intrigues to satisfy his developed sense of drama, and he may have felt that by participating in court politics he was at the heart of the action as much as those who preferred the parliamentary arena. Certainly he found sufficient material for frequent philosophical reflections on ingratitude, virtue and folly. Perhaps always primarily a student of classical antiquity, he saw in the plotting and posturing of the court in the Augustan age a reflection of past times in which the man of learning and virtue came to the rescue of misguided politicians during times of national crisis. He expressed, in language couched in terms of stoic incorruptibility, hostility to what he perceived to be a weak monarch flattered by favourites into abandoning liberty at home and abroad, and it was this moral authority that gave his writings, both private and public, their vigour, strength and cogency.19

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Mark Knights


Unless otherwise stated, information has been derived from J. Oldmixon, Life ... of Arthur Maynwaring (1715), occasional references to which are made parenthetically in the text.

  • 1. DNB; Ormerod, Cheshire, ii. 157.
  • 2. DNB.
  • 3. Pittis, Present Parl. 351.
  • 4. E. Budgell, Mems. of Earl of Orrery and Boyle Fam. (1732), 209.
  • 5. Swift v. Mainwaring, l; Add. 61461, f. 108; Cheshire RO, Cholmondeley of Cholmondeley mss DCH/L/41, Robert Critchley to William Adams, 30 Nov. 1697; Huntington Lib. Q. xxxiii. 135; Addison Letters, 18.
  • 6. Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 1200; Add. 61459, ff. 137–9; 61460, f. 97; 28932, f. 244.
  • 7. HMC Kenyon, 438; Swift v. Mainwaring, l; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. i. 283, 296; Add. 61459, f. 1; F. Harris, Passion for Govt. 142.
  • 8. Add. 61459, ff. 14, 45; G. Holmes and W. A. Speck, Divided Soc. 109–110; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. 117.
  • 9. Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. 122, 128, 151, 155, 165; Add. 61459, ff. 37, 40, 56, 64, 139; 61359, ff. 118–19; 61430, ff. 35–36.
  • 10. Add. 61459, f. 161; Swift v. Mainwaring, l; Add. 61460, ff. 11–12.
  • 11. Harris, 158–9; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. 171–2, 205–6, 277; Wentworth Pprs. 105–6; Add. 61460, f. 3; 57861, f. 121.
  • 12. Add. 61460, ff. 156, 179, 173, 178; Archaeologia, xxxviii. 9–12.
  • 13. Add. 61460, ff. 200, 202, 207; 61461, ff. 18, 27, 39, 85; Harris, 171.
  • 14. Add. 61461, ff. 81, 87; 57861, ff. 153–4; Wentworth Pprs. 135.
  • 15. Add. 57861, ff. 153–4, 158; 61461, ff. 104, 108, 124–5, 131, 135–6; Harris, 177; Swift v. Mainwaring, lx; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. ii. 65–6.
  • 16. HMC Portland, iv. 90; Add. 61123, f. 15; Swift Works ed. Davis, viii. 6; Literatur als Kritik des Lebens ed. Haas et al., 125–35.
  • 17. HMC Portland, v. 238; Add. 61461, f. 162; Harris, 190.
  • 18. T. Betterton, Hist. Eng. Stage (1741), 78; Add. 61459, f. 31; Egerton 3359.
  • 19. Oldmixon, 352.