MEREDYTH, Thomas (aft.1661-1719), of Chelsea, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. aft. 1661, 2nd s. of Arthur Meredyth of Dollardstown, co. Meath by Dorothea, da. of John Bingley of Dublin. educ. G. Inn 1685. m. Dec. 1706 (with about £8,000), da. of one Paul, 1s. 2da.; 1s. 2da. illegit.1
Capt. 1691, adjt.-gen. 1701, brevet col. 1701, col. 37 ft. 1702, Scots fusiliers 1710, 20 ft. 1714, brig.-gen. 1704, maj.-gen. 1707, lt.-gen. 1709; equerry to Queen Nov. 1704–Jan. 1708; gent. of horse Mar. 1708– Jan. 1711; gov. Tynemouth 1708–10, Londonderry 1714–d.2
MP [I] 1703–13, 1715–d.
PC [I] 1714–d.
Meredyth’s father, the second son of an Irish knight, had established himself among the leading Protestant gentry of county Meath, his status being recognized by his nomination in both 1673 and 1678 as a commissioner for discovering Roman Catholics in the county, and his appointment in 1682 as Irish agent for the absentee dowager Countess of Drogheda (aunt of Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland). As late as 1699 he was one of six deputies to the Earl of Drogheda, the governor of Meath and Louth. Initially his ambitions for his second son seem to have centred on the law, and in 1685 Thomas was entered at Gray’s Inn. By 1688, however, the young man had switched to a military career, accompanying the Prince of Orange to England. Reports in a newsletter of 13 Mar. 1688 of a captain ‘Meredith’ being put out of possession of his estate in Meath, before regaining it, may refer to this Member, as might Dean Davies’ notices of a Lieutenant ‘Meredith’ serving in Ireland in 1690. Meredyth received a captain’s commission in 1691 and presumably served throughout the war.3
By the time Meredyth was appointed adjutant-general and made a brevet colonel in June 1701, his fortunes were bound up with those of the Earl of Marlborough (John Churchill†). His promotion coincided with Marlborough’s assumption of command of the forces destined for the United Provinces, and with the nomination of another of his patrons, the Duke of Somerset, as a lord justice. Thereafter Meredyth’s progress was rapid, and it did not go unnoticed by contemporaries that he was a ‘particular favourite’ of Marlborough. In 1705 there was adverse comment that the Duke tended to seek advice not from experienced officers but from ‘two or three favourites whom he himself has raised . . . who are men of little service and experience’. One letter survives from Meredyth to Somerset in 1706, consisting entirely of compliments, which would suggest a willingness on Meredyth’s part to cultivate his powerful friends. Nor was he content to acquire only field offices. The Household post he acquired in 1704 was due to the efforts of both the Duchess of Marlborough and the Duke of Somerset, and four years later he gained the governorship of Tynemouth and a place as gentleman of the horse, under Somerset. There were even rumours early in 1709 that he coveted the governorship of Jamaica. Meanwhile he had made a lucrative marriage, with ‘a maiden lady of about £8,000 fortune’. A seat in the Commons was a natural step in his progress, although he required an election petition to get in at Midhurst. Again the key figure was Somerset, who was building up an interest in the borough. When Meredyth’s petition was heard at the bar on 8 Mar. 1709 the Whig majority ensured that he was declared duly returned, although Hon. James Brydges* described it as ‘a hard struggle . . . occasioned by the solicitation of some great Lords against him’. Others were less favourable, the Earl of Rothes, a leading member of the Scottish Squadrone, remarking that ‘there was no shadow of ground for his election being good’.4
In the Commons Meredyth followed the Whig line, in his early days supporting the naturalization of the Palatines. In October 1709 he arrived back in England after having been ‘very ill’ at Brussels, although early in November he was well enough to dine with Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) and Arthur Maynwaring*. At this point Marlborough attempted to get him the colonelcy of an old regiment, a valuable perquisite as such regiments would survive any post-war disbandment, and a reward for having served ‘all the war’. Unfortunately, the regiment the Duke had earmarked for him had also been promised by the Queen to John Hill*, the brother of her favourite Abigail Masham. After Marlborough had ‘argued very long’ with the Queen, at one point going out of town in a huff and refusing to return, Meredyth was promised a regiment, although not the one in question. In May 1710, Marlborough reported that Meredyth could have the regiment belonging to Lord Mordaunt (John*) and Brydges sent his congratulations ‘as an instance that nothing will be wanting in my Lord Duke’s inclinations, when he has the power to serve a person of so much merit and who has given such proofs of his friendship to him’. In Parliament, Meredyth voted in 1710 in favour of Dr Sacheverell’s impeachment, but evidently left before the end of the session, for on 29 Mar. Robert Munro* reported having arrived at Greenwich to embark with him.5
Following the ministerial changes which brought the Tories to power in 1710, Meredyth lost his seat at Midhurst, though not for want of Somerset’s support, despite the fact that the Duke had backed Harley in the recent ministerial revolution. Indeed, Marlborough reported that Somerset had written a letter to Meredyth before the election ‘in which he owns his behaviour of this summer to be very wrong’. But the Tories had a low opinion of Meredyth, Henry St. John II* writing in November 1710 that ‘faction, indeed, will fit any rank, and where that prevails Cardonnnel [Adam de*] might be secretary at war and Meredyth archbishop of Canterbury’. Not surprisingly, Meredyth’s petition to the Commons on 5 Dec., complaining of his opponents’ undue election, went unreported. Even worse, on 12 Dec. he was dismissed from his offices, and forced to sell his regiment. According to St. John, the Queen had ‘found it absolutely necessary to stop the licentious insolence which was used the last campaign, both towards her, and towards her administration’. This referred to the habit indulged in by Meredyth and other army officers of drinking ‘confusion to the new ministry’; or, if Swift’s embellished account is to be believed, ‘drinking destruction to the present ministry, and dressing up a hat on a stick, and calling it Harley [Robert*]; then drinking a glass with one hand, and discharging a pistol with the other at the maukin, wishing it were Harley himself’. According to Swift, Meredyth was left with approximately £10,000 to live on, but in March 1712 it was reported that Francis Stratford, a Hamburg merchant, had wagered and lost vast amounts of money, including Meredyth’s, on wrongly predicting the date on which peace would be declared. This is confirmed by Meredyth himself, who wrote to Brydges that Stratford had ‘disposed of my tallies and lottery tickets to my ruin’, and asking for his assistance to minimize the damage, which resulted in Brydges’ intervening to bail out Stratford, at least to the extent of paying some of the debt to Meredyth. The Hanoverian succession and Marlborough’s return to favour saw Meredyth regain the colonelcy of a regiment; he was also appointed to the Irish privy council and made governor of Derry. Although this appointment was dated January 1715, he had in fact ‘kissed hands’ on the death of the previous governor in August 1714, and was paid from that date because ‘he has always distinguished himself in the true interest of his country’. Meredyth died, v.p., at Dublin on 19 June 1719, his will proving not only his marriage and three children, but also the existence of two illegitimate daughters living in Hertfordshire and a son at school in Lisburn, co. Antrim, for whom he also provided. His son Arthur inherited his estate in Oxfordshire.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Add. 61163, f. 236; Jnl. R. Soc. Antiquaries of Ire. lv. 50; Addison Letters, 67; PCC 65 Shaller.
- 2. Info. from Prof. R. O. Bucholz; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 485; vi. 283, 667; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxx. 75.
- 3. HMC Ormonde, i. 338, 353; Mss. Sources for Hist. of Irish Civilization ser. 1, iii. 366; Jnl. R. Soc. Antiquaries of Ire. 39; HMC Portland, iii. 406; Davies Diary (Cam. Soc. lxviii), 115, 119, 126.
- 4. H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 294; HMC Portland, iv. 255; Boston Pub. Lib. Mass. mss K5.5, Meredyth to Somerset, 14 Oct. ; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 396, 398, 594, 1225; Addison Letters, 67; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 57 (2), p. 178; NLS, ms 14415, f. 186.
- 5. Luttrell, vi. 498; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. i. 269; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1393; Wentworth Pprs. 102–3; Coxe, Walpole ii. 20; Stowe mss 57 (4), p. 45; NLS, ms 1392, f. 74.
- 6. Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1644; Bolingbroke Corresp. i. 25, 38–39; Wentworth Pprs. 162–4, 274; Swift Stella ed. Davis, 120, 502; Stowe mss 58 (10), pp. 224–5, 246–7; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxx. 75; PCC 65 Shaller.