MOYLE, Walter (1672-1721), of Bake, St. Germans, Cornw.

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



1695 - 1698

Family and Education

b. 3 Nov. 1672, 1st surv. s. of Sir Walter Moyle† of Bake; bro. of Joseph Moyle*.  educ. Exeter, Oxf. 1689; M. Temple 1691.  m. 6 May 1700 (with £5,000), Henrietta Maria (d. 1760), da. of John Davis of Bideford, Devon, 2s. 1da.  suc. fa. 1701.1

Offices Held

Vice-warden of the stannaries ?–Dec. 1709.2


Moyle’s was a long-established, parliamentary Cornish family, and both his father and grandfather had sat for Cornish seats. At the age of 16 Moyle entered his father’s Oxford college, but though he contributed to the University’s collection of poems, published upon the coronation of William III and Queen Mary, he did not take a degree. In 1691 he entered the Middle Temple. Having moved to London he was soon drawn into the orbit of radical Whigs and dramatists who met at such taverns and coffee-houses as Maynwaring’s, the Grecian and Wills, and quickly demonstrated his own erudition, translating Latin texts and providing Dryden with suggestions for his Parallel of Poetry and Painting (1695). Moyle entered Parliament at the 1695 election, the support of his father, a trustee of the Buller family, and Lady Carew securing his return for Saltash. In the 1695–6 session Moyle took a keen interest in the recoinage, being appointed in January 1696 to two conference committees concerning the Lords’ amendments to Charles Montagu’s* measure on this matter, and on 21 Jan. he told against an opposition motion that the committee of the whole on the bill to encourage the handing in of milled money and plate be instructed to consider the price of guineas. Moyle was forecast as likely to support the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. on the proposed council of trade, and his support for the Whig ministry is emphasized by his telling on 21 Feb. against passing a bill for regulating elections. Such loyalties were confirmed by his prompt signing of the Association, and his vote in March in favour of fixing the price of guineas at 22s. His only other notable act in the session was on 22 Apr. when he was teller in favour of adding a clause to the land bank bill requiring all receivers of taxes to swear an oath that the clipped coinage they paid into the Exchequer was that which they had received in payment of taxes. During the summer recess Moyle’s concern for the implementation of the recoinage and the preservation of the Whig interest in Cornwall was combined in his appeal to Montagu to discourage an attempt by ‘a Jacobite party’ to prosecute Cornwall’s receiver ‘for opposing them in the last election at Launceston’. This request is also suggestive of Moyle’s continuing support for the Whig ministry, and at the beginning of the 1696–7 session his partisan loyalties were confirmed when he voted on 25 Nov. for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. In the new year, on 10 Jan., Moyle was one of three Members whose attendance in the Upper House the Lords requested. On 10 Feb. he chaired a committee of the whole on the bill to renew the commission of accounts, reporting two days later, and on 22 Feb. was teller in favour of a general naturalization bill.3

Before the end of the 1696–7 session Moyle had demonstrated no deviation from mainstream Whiggery or from support of the predominantly Whig ministry, but his London companions included a number of notable Country supporters including Anthony Hammond*, John Trenchard† and Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun. During the recess of 1697 the political influence of this company upon Moyle became clear, as he collaborated with Trenchard on a pamphlet, An Argument, Shewing, That a Standing Army Is Inconsistent with a Free Government, and Absolutely Destructive to the Constitution of the English Monarchy. Published in October 1697, it argued that a standing army in time of peace was an instrument of tyranny since it was liable to disturb the delicate balance between King, Lords and Commons, and consequently a militia was the only legitimate form of defence because the people would never oppress themselves. Although the extent of Moyle’s contribution to this work is uncertain, modern historians have suggested that given his reputation as a classical scholar of some note it seems likely that he was at least responsible for the classical allusions contained in the second part of An Argument. It was, however, one of the most damaging attacks upon the standing army to appear in print in recent years, and prompted a written response by Lord Somers (Sir John*). Moyle’s only noteworthy activity in the final session of the 1695 Parliament was clearly a consequence of this opposition to the standing army, as he was nominated on 14 Dec. to prepare a bill to enable disbanded soldiers to exercise trades in any town or corporation. His transfer of loyalties to the opposition prompted James Vernon I* to speculate in December 1697 that Moyle was perhaps involved in ‘a design to attack my Lord Sunderland’.4

The death of Lady Carew and the loss of the Buller interest were in large part responsible for Moyle’s failure in 1698 to retain his seat at Saltash, though it also appears that Lord Orford (Hon. Edward Russell*) was attempting to prevent Moyle’s election. Moyle was listed as a Country supporter ‘out’ of the new House. At the beginning of 1699 his move into opposition was condemned by his kinsman Humphrey Prideaux, dean of Norwich, who complained to a friend that

the Court would have preferred him [Moyle], and the circumstances of his family put him in need enough of it; but instead of behaving himself so, last Parliament, as to recommend himself to the favour intended for him, he joined with the King’s most bitter enemies, opposed his interest in everything, and hath affronted his person in a libel which he is supposed to have had a hand in, to that degree that he will never be pardoned in it, or can expect to signify anything further than his estate can make him.

Moyle, however, appears to have had no regrets concerning such lost opportunities. In February 1699 he wrote to Hammond of his joy at the Commons’ votes against the lords of the Admiralty, describing ‘ministry hunting’ as a ‘noble sport’ and expressing the hope that by the end of the session the opposition would have proceeded in a similar vein against the Treasury lords. The pleasure he took in the attacks upon the Junto-dominated ministry was, however, tempered by a fear that

when we have got out of the hands of the party which now betrays us, we must fall into the hands of those who formerly did the same thing. And I often doubt which is the worst, the practice of the present Whigs or the principles of the former Tories. But the most melancholy reflection of all is that I wish heartily all knaves out of the government, and yet I wish no honest man in it. There is a third party that has not been prostituted; if they come into play, I give all for lost. If they are honest they can do no good. If they are corrupted, they will do as much hurt as the others and besides will make all the world believe that there is no public virtue left in the nation and that ’tis in vain to struggle against a yoke which our corruption and baseness must infallibly lay upon us in short time.

While Moyle considered the health of the body politic, Dean Prideaux was more concerned that he should be found a wife, both to improve his finances and temper what the Dean viewed as Moyle’s impetuous nature. The Dean suggested as a possible bride a lady from Norfolk with £7,000, but was unsure whether ‘she would go so far [as Cornwall] for an husband’. This proposal came to nothing but in 1700 Moyle married the daughter of a Devon brewer, a match which brought him two manors in Cornwall. He spent the remainder of his life in pursuit of his scholarly interests. These included natural history and ornithology, and Moyle collected one of the largest libraries of his time. He also translated, and wrote commentaries upon, classical texts. He at some point obtained the office of vice-warden of the Stannaries, from which he either resigned or was dismissed by Hugh Boscawen II* in December 1709. His loyalty to the Hanoverian succession was clear in 1715 when he assisted the defence measures in Cornwall occasioned by the Jacobite rising. Moyle died on 9 June 1721, and was buried four days later at St. Germans. His will made his brother Joseph his literary executor. In 1726 an edition of Moyle’s unpublished works was issued, and a collection of his previously printed works, edited by Anthony Hammond, followed in 1727.5

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 335; Sheffield Archs. Copley mss CD457, mar. settlement, 1 May 1700.
  • 2. Boase and Courtney, Bib. Cornub. 375–7, 1290.
  • 3. DNB; Works of Walter Moyle (1727), 3–6, 153–208; Egerton 929, f. 9; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 243.
  • 4. DNB; L. G. Schwoerer, No Standing Armies, 4, 175–6; Jnl. Brit. Studies, v(2), 78–80; Huntington Lib. Q. xxviii. 187–212; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 452.
  • 5. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 147–8; HMC 5th Rep. 377; Works of Walter Moyle, 15–16; BL, Trumbull Add. mss 90, Moyle to Earl of Peterborough, [10 Mar. 1698–9] (copy); DNB; Bank of Eng. Morice mss, Sir Nicholas Morice, 2nd Bt.*, to Humphry Morice*, 30 Dec. 1709; R. Inst. Cornw. Tonkins ms Hist. of Cornw. i. 43; Two Republican Tracts ed. Robbins, 35; PCC 206 Buckingham.