MORDAUNT, Sir John, 5th Bt. (bef.1649-1721), of Walton D’Eiville, Warws.; Massingham Parva, Norf.; and St. James’s, Westminster, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. bef. 1649, 2nd s. of Sir Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Bt. (d. 1648), by Catherine, da. of Sir Lionel Tollemache, 2nd Bt., of Helmingham, Suff. m. (1) lic. 13 June 1678, aged 21, Anne (d. 1692), da. of William Risley of the Friary, Bedford, 1da. d.v.p.; (2) lic. 8 June 1695, Penelope (d. 1733), da. of Sir George Warburton, 1st Bt., of Arley, Cheshire, 2s. 4da. (2 d.v.p.). suc. bro. as 5th Bt. 24 Apr. 1665.1
The Warwickshire Mordaunts were originally a Norfolk family who could trace their descent from the 15th-century barons Mordaunt and earls of Peterborough. The Massingham and Walton lands were acquired in the next century through Robert Mordaunt’s marriage to an heiress, and their grandson L’Estrange Mordaunt was created a baronet in 1611. Contemporary sources often confuse the surname of Sir John, the 5th Bt. and MP, with that of Sir John Morden, 1st Bt.*, a Turkey merchant who became an excise commissioner in 1689. In 1683 Mordaunt, as one of Warwickshire’s only two deputy-lieutenants then serving in office, was involved in supervising searches for arms in the county’s principal towns following the Rye House Plot. In April 1686 Lord Brooke (Fulke Greville†) chose him to replace the recently deceased Lord Digby (Simon†) as Member for Warwick, his residence at Walton lying just five miles from the town. On notifying Secretary of State Lord Sunderland, Brooke emphasized Mordaunt’s local seniority, referring to him as ‘the first baronet of the county’, but less accurately as ‘a near relation’ of Lord Peterborough. No writ for the vacancy was ever issued, however, and Mordaunt was never again considered for election at Warwick. Twelve years later the prospect of becoming knight of the shire presented itself. At the 1698 general election both outgoing Members for the county stood down allowing Mordaunt to stand. He was returned unopposed, and afterwards was classed as a ‘Country’ supporter and forecast as likely to oppose the Court on the standing army.2
Mordaunt’s surviving correspondence, which covers the late 1690s and 1700s, reveals a blend of family and political concerns. He was fixed in connubial contentment with his second wife and was a doting father. He once gently chided his wife, Lady Penelope, for having written something in a letter to him ‘wherein you seem to mistrust the power you have with me; I would not have you think that King, Lords and Commons have so much, for you may prevail with me beyond ’em all as to possession’. He also showed a considerable preoccupation with the state of his health, so much so that in the election of January 1701 his Whig rivals were able to cast doubts on his ability to continue to serve the county in Parliament. In the 1690s he divided his time between Norfolk and Warwickshire. At Massingham, in the former county, he was a near neighbour and friend of the Walpoles of Houghton, and helped Colonel Robert Walpole I* to find a wife for his son and namesake (Robert Walpole II*). The elder Walpole died in 1700, but Mordaunt’s friendship with the younger Robert does not seem to have outlasted the early 1700s, possibly because the political disparities between them became clearer as they pursued their very different parliamentary careers, but also, quite feasibly, on account of Mordaunt’s part in bringing about Walpole’s unhappy marriage with Catherine Shorter. After 1700, Mordaunt’s visits to Norfolk in any case seem to have become rarer. As a close friend of William Bromley II*, he was one of Bromley’s chief informants on Warwickshire’s electoral affairs. A Country Tory by nature, Mordaunt relished presenting himself to his electors as the embodiment of disinterested parliamentary service. Among his papers there survives the text of an undated election speech in which there is no allusion to current political issues, only to his conception of his role at Westminster:
I esteem it a particular happiness that I have this opportunity of making my public acknowledgments . . . to you my lords and all these gentlemen and also for this additional and present favour in proposing the same service to me again . . . if you are pleased so far to approve of me as to recommend [me] to the choice of the freeholders at this ensuing election and as I never yet came into Parliament with any other thing in view than to do what I really thought was for the true interest of the public, you may be assured I shall continue to vote according to that rule if you think fit to send me hither again.
Despite his various ailments he was indeed a conscientious servant of his county’s interests and during the course of his 17 years in the House undertook a number of legislative tasks. The first was a bill to revive an Act for ascertaining the tithes of hemp and flax, which he managed through its stages during January–March 1700. The bill was ordered on Mordaunt’s presentation of a petition wherein the county’s hemp and flax dressers complained that with the recent expiry of the old Act, ‘parsons, vicars and impropriators’ had reverted to making unreasonable demands on them for tithes.3
At the end of December 1700, illness prevented Mordaunt from leaving London to make preparations for the impending election. His colleague, Sir Charles Shuckburgh, 2nd Bt., wrote anxiously to him on the 28th, warning of signs of opposition activity on behalf of one of the sons of Sir Richard Newdigate, 2nd Bt.† The Newdigates, he reported, had spread rumour that Mordaunt was ‘sickly and infirm’ and incapable of a further parliamentary term. However, Mordaunt seems to have responded almost immediately to Shuckburgh’s plea for a clear indication of his capacity, and probably appeared in person at the election meeting of county gentlemen. The election came at a time of personal difficulty for Mordaunt. In addition to ill-health, including toothache, he was grieving the loss of a baby daughter, though realizing, as he advised his wife, that ‘we should patiently submit to God’s dispensations, and be thankful unto him for preserving the rest and blessing us with such fine children’. In the new Parliament he was forecast in February 1701 as likely to vote with the Court in agreeing with a supply resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’. Shortly before the second 1701 election he was blacklisted as an opponent of the preparations for war with France, but his name also appears among those listed in a Tory pamphlet as rejecting these accusations. Returned at the election, he was classed by Robert Harley* as a Tory. On 17 Jan. 1702 he was one of the Members ordered to prepare a bill to prevent bribery at elections, a measure favoured by Country Members. He followed his party line in supporting the motion of 26 Feb. vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of King William’s Whig ministers. On 7 May Mordaunt was mildly upbraided by Speaker Harley for breaching rules of procedure over the reporting of a conference with the Upper House the previous day concerning amendments to the abjuration bill. His clumsy interruption of Sir Rowland Gwynne’s formal request for the conference to proceed, with an announcement that it had already taken place, was much frowned upon by ‘the old Members that keep to order’. On the 21st he acted as a teller in a minor question in connexion with Irish forfeitures.4
In July 1702, Mordaunt believed the general election would not be determined in Warwickshire without a ‘dispute’, but as the weeks went by neither he nor his ‘brother’, Shuckburgh, received any challenge. In February 1704 he took charge of the latter stages of a private bill revising the estate settlement of William Keyt, father of the future MP for Warwick, Sir William Keyt, 3rd Bt.† The following month Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) noted him as a likely supporter in the event of an attack concerning the government’s handling of the Scotch Plot. Forecast in October as a probable supporter of the Tack, he voted accordingly on 28 Nov. in spite of being lobbied by Harley to oppose it. A private estate bill on behalf of his wife’s nephew, Sir George Warburton, 3rd Bt.*, preoccupied him between December 1704 and February 1705. His letters at this time show that he particularly objected to clauses in the so-called ‘aliens’ bill, designed to pressurize Scottish politicians into resuming negotiations towards union with England, which allowed the Protestant freeholders of ‘the six northern counties’ to arm themselves against possible attack from Scotland, and voted against the bill when put to a division on 11 Jan. At the 1705 election he faced serious opposition from the Whig contender, George Lucy of Charlcote, but his own campaigning was interrupted by an urgent summons to London to attend his dying spinster sister. None the less, both he and Shuckburgh were re-elected by a wide margin of votes. In a printed analysis of the new Parliament Mordaunt was categorized as ‘True Church’, reflecting the pro-Tack stance he had taken the previous November. On 25 Oct. he naturally voted against the Court candidate for Speaker, and in support of Bromley, while on 19 Dec. he is recorded as having spoken at the second reading of the regency bill, though the substance of his intervention is unclear. He was given leave on 22 Jan. 1706 to introduce a bill for improving the effectiveness of laws made at the end of William III’s reign ‘for the more effectual punishment of vagrants, and sending them whither, by law, they ought to be sent’, which he presented a week later. Its provisions appear to have caused some contention in the House since at the report stage it was necessary to recommit the bill, though it finally passed on 8 Mar. A month later, however, the Lords returned it with an amendment to which the Commons disagreed, but after a conference to explain their reasons to the Upper House, in which Mordaunt was inevitably involved, the Lords waived the offending alteration and the bill was enacted. The same session he was also entrusted by Lord Digby (William*) with a bill for the building of a new church at Birmingham. Digby sent him a petition on 12 Feb. containing ‘heads for a bill’, and urged him to employ a ‘skilled’ lawyer to draft it in full. It was probably Mordaunt who presented the petition on 17 Feb., and he introduced the bill on the 28th, Digby having already thanked him for minimizing the legal expenses entailed: ‘you have been a very good husband of the town’s money’. From its committee stage onwards, responsibility for the measure passed to Andrew Archer*, but it failed to emerge from the Lords. In March of that year he managed the latter stages of a bill for repairing the highway between Old Stratford in Northamptonshire and Dunchurch in Warwickshire. The analysis of the House compiled early in 1708 identified Mordaunt as a Tory.5
Quietly re-elected in 1708, Mordaunt took charge of the pre-committee stages of a second Birmingham church bill in February 1709. Before the 1710 general election he was noted as an opponent of the impeachment proceedings against Dr Sacheverell. When Lord Northampton, the lord lieutenant of the county, made it known in August that he sought a parliamentary seat for his son and heir Lord Compton (James*), Mordaunt offered his own, despite (or perhaps because of) his strong reservations about the likelihood of a dissolution. However, his colleague Andrew Archer’s subsequent decision to retire allowed Mordaunt to secure re-election. He was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ of the new Parliament. On 28 Feb. 1711 he was a teller in favour of amending a supply bill to remove the drawback on iron and steel. During the same session he appeared as a ‘worthy patriot’ who detected the mismanagements of the previous Whig ministry, and as a ‘Tory patriot’ opposed to the continuance of war, becoming at about the same time a member of the October Club. In August 1712 he took charge of a private estate bill, begun in the Lords on behalf of Hon. Algernon Greville, the former MP for Warwick. Returned in 1713, he was subsequently classed in the Worsley list as a Tory. He took charge of a private divorce bill in the 1714 session, chairing the committee of the whole on 25 June. Mordaunt stood down at the next dissolution, and died at Kensington on 6 Sept. 1721. His eldest son, Sir Charles, elected for the county at a by-election in February 1734, served uninterruptedly until 1774.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. Dugdale, Warws. 574, 577; Mar. Lic. Fac. Off. (Harl. Soc. xxiv), 215; PCC 101 Marlboro’.
- 2. E. Hamilton, Mordaunts, 2–3; Dugdale, 577; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 547; CSP Dom. Jan.–June 1683, p. 374; 1685, p. 119.
- 3. Hamilton, 7–36, 40; Warws. RO, Mordaunt of Walton Hall mss CR1368/i/15, Mordaunt to his w., 15 Sept. 1700–1.
- 4. Hamilton, 18; Mordaunt mss CR1368/iii/34, i/50, 9, Shuckburgh to Mordaunt, 28 Dec. 1700, Mordaunt to Katherine Mordaunt, [postmk. 7 Jan. 1701], same to his w., 6 Jan. 1700–1; An Answer to the Black List, or, the Vine Tavern Queries , p. 4; Cocks Diary, 286.
- 5. Mordaunt mss CR1368/iii/9, 16, 17, 19, Mordaunt to Bromley, 4 July 1702, Ld. Digby to Mordaunt, 13 Jan. 1704–5, 12, 26 Feb. 1706–7; Hamilton, 34–35, 57; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 54; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 407.
- 6. Mordaunt mss CR1368/iii/92, [Bromley] to Ld. Northampton, 21 Aug. 1710; The Gen. n.s. iii. 145.