OGLETHORPE, Sir Theophilus (1650-1702), of St. James’s, Westminster, and Westbrook Place, Godalming, Surr.
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Family and Education
bap. 14 Sept. 1650, 2nd s. of Sutton Oglethorpe of Oglethorpe Hall, Bramham, Yorks. by Frances, da. of John Matthew, wid. of Mark Pickering. m. c.1680, Eleanor (d. 1732), da. of Richard Wall of Rathkennan, co. Tipperary, 5s. (2 d.v.p.) 4da. Kntd. 7 July 1685.1
Capt. Duke of Monmouth’s Horse (French army) 1673–Feb. 1678; maj. R. Drag. Feb. 1678–9; brig. Duke of York’s tp. of horse gds. (3 Life Gds. from 1685) 1678, maj. and guidon 1679, lt.-col. 1680–Oct. 1685; col. of ft. Holland Regt. (later The Buffs) Oct. 1685–8; brig.-gen. Nov.–Dec. 1688.
Commr. of the stables 1682–5; equerry to King 1685–Dec. 1688; keeper of New Lodge Walk, Windsor forest 1687–9.
Freeman, Portsmouth 1683, 1687; master, Founders’ Co. 1684–5.2
Of an old West Riding dynasty which boasted an ancestry dating back to the Conquest, Oglethorpe in his early years faced the considerable challenge of re-establishing the family name and fortune. His father, a prominent Royalist, had been fined £20,000 by Parliament in 1651, and had been compelled to sell the Yorkshire estates to the Fairfaxes two years later. Under the restored Stuarts Oglethorpe sought advancement in the army, a move which ultimately proved the making of his political career. Having served under the great French general Turenne, he subsequently distinguished himself in the suppression of the Scottish covenanters at the battle of Bothwell Bridge. Oglethorpe acquired several forfeited estates in the wake of that victory, but the political contacts which he gained under the command of the Duke of York were even more valuable. His marriage to Eleanor Wall, a protégée of the Duchess of Portsmouth and later appointed Charles II’s head laundress, firmly established his position at court, and although refusing to adopt his wife’s Catholic faith, Oglethorpe became a favourite of the future James II.
Oglethorpe’s army connexions also paved the way for his entry into Parliament, for his candidacy at Morpeth in 1685 reflected his close association with the area during the campaign against the covenanters, and he was no doubt supported by the interest of the Earl of Carlisle (Edward Howard†), who had served with Oglethorpe in France. Oglethorpe went on to gain greater prominence in the defeat of Monmouth’s rebels, routing them at Keynsham, Somerset, but performing less effectively at Sedgemoor where he allowed the enemy forces to outflank his own troops. However, he was knighted by the King on bringing news of that victory, and over the next three years continued to obtain both offices and grants from the crown. He was at the heart of the dramatic events of 1688, bringing news to Princess Anne of the birth of the Prince of Wales, and was requested by Lord Sunderland to stand for Morpeth in preparation for James’s abortive second Parliament. However, subsequent events required his military, rather than his parliamentary, skills. Upon the arrival of the Dutch forces he was appointed one of the two brigadiers in charge of all foot regiments and, in a losing cause, fought for the King in the skirmish at Wincanton.
The Revolution ushered in a twilight existence for Oglethorpe after he stubbornly refused overtures from William III to transfer his allegiance. By March 1689 he was already reported to be fomenting insurrection in the north of England and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He became a past master at evading capture, even though over the next three years the government periodically issued orders for his apprehension. In February 1690 his wife, a most active adherent of the exiled King, was arrested at Chester, but she was discharged on security of good behaviour. In July Oglethorpe’s name appeared alongside other notable conspirators in a proclamation issued in the wake of the Ferguson Plot, but he still managed to retain his liberty. He incurred royal displeasure in a most daring fashion in April 1691 when, in the company of Sir John Fenwick† and others, he insulted the Queen at Whitehall. For this show of bravado they were specifically banned from the royal palaces, and Oglethorpe was subsequently listed as one of those ‘justly suspected as disaffected to the government’. It was thus no surprise that soon afterwards he nearly fought a duel with Sir Henry Goodricke, 2nd Bt.*, a Williamite Tory who had previously called for a suspension of habeas corpus to deal more effectively with Jacobite agents. However, even though William Fuller named Oglethorpe as a plotter in December 1691, the only penalty which Sir Theophilus incurred in the course of that year was a fine of 40s. for refusing to take the oaths to William and Mary.3
Although Oglethorpe was reported to have opined gloomily in August 1691 that ‘at present he found little on which to arouse hope’, he continued to be regarded as an active conspirator, cited on 10 May 1692 alongside other ‘dangerous’ Jacobites in a proclamation for their arrest. Several weeks later he surrendered himself into custody and was admitted to bail for £3,000 with two sureties of £1,000 each. However, despite this submission, his name continued to be mentioned in Jacobite correspondence, a memorial of December 1693 relaying his opinion that the exiled king should send an invasion force of 30,000 men in the following spring to ‘oblige both the fleet and army to return to their duty’. More spectacularly, in January 1694 he played a key part in aiding the escape to France of Jacobite agent Sir James Montgomerie, an act which earned him the praise of the French ‘spymaster’ Abbé Renaudot as ‘un homme de mérite et [un] brave officier’. As a known Jacobite, Oglethorpe was reported to have visited France on several occasions, and Renaudot’s correspondence confirms that, after escorting Montgomerie to safety, Sir Theophilus visited both Versailles and St. Germain. At the Stuart court he took the opportunity to press James II for the dismissal of the Catholic Lord Melfort as chief adviser. Oglethorpe soon decided to return to England, having been reportedly embittered by the coolness of his reception at St. Germain and the greed of the courtiers there.4
On the discovery of the Fenwick plot in February 1696, yet another warrant was issued for Oglethorpe’s arrest, and he was later implicated in the conspiracy by the confession of Peter Cook. However, Secretary Trumbull (Sir William*) noted in late May that ‘there is nothing alleged against him’, and Fenwick’s own testimony, read to the Commons on 6 Nov., denied that a prior meeting of Jacobites, at which Oglethorpe had been present, had had any sinister intent. Moreover, when trying to secure a promise of bail for her husband in the spring of 1696 Eleanor Oglethorpe had found the Duke of Shrewsbury and Lord Sunderland most sympathetic to her pleas. Oglethorpe himself was prepared to go abroad to serve under the emperor, but before the year was out he had made the momentous decision to take the oaths of allegiance for the first time. John Macky attributed Oglethorpe’s volte-face to his being ‘so unkindly used’ by the exiled court on account of his attachment to the Anglican Church, and believed ‘that he was very glad to get home again, where ’tis expected he will plot no more’. Oglethorpe had indeed retired as an active conspirator, but his family had not severed its connexions with St. Germain. In particular, his Westbrook mansion, with its secret tunnel to a local inn, continued to act as a meeting-place for Jacobite agents for many years to come.5
Having publicly accepted the new regime, Oglethorpe was able to resurrect his parliamentary career by virtue of his interest at Haslemere, the borough in close proximity to the Westbrook estate which he had purchased in July 1688. By the time of his victory at the election of 1698 he had already established himself in Surrey as a j.p. and deputy-lieutenant, but his suspect reputation encouraged the defeated candidate at Haslemere, George Rodney Brydges*, to petition against the return. This challenge was easily rebuffed and, after a close division on 9 Feb., the House was even prepared to rule the petition against Oglethorpe ‘frivolous and vexatious’. By that time a parliamentary forecast had listed him as a likely opponent of a standing army, and his political sympathies were later confirmed by an acquaintance who described Oglethorpe as ‘a particular friend to the Old East India Company’. In the House he steered a naturalization bill through its stages, and in the next session was a teller on 1 Apr. 1700 in favour of an exemption from the bill to resume Irish forfeitures.
Although his presence at Westminster greatly assisted his return to respectability, Oglethorpe’s past refused to desert him, for in the run-up to the first election of 1701 a lampoon mockingly predicted that he would soon introduce a bill ‘to authorize (Sir) Charles Duncombe* when he is lord mayor of London to proclaim the Prince of Wales’. Despite such slurs, he encountered no opposition to his return at Haslemere in January 1701 and, most significantly, was forecast the following month as likely to support the Court in agreeing with the supply committee’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’. An embarrassing reminder of his Jacobite connexions was paraded before the House on 27 Mar. when his name appeared in a list of crown grants as the recipient of a forfeited estate in April 1687 and a 21-year lease in September 1688. Fortunately for Oglethorpe, the bill to resume these grants was lost in the Commons.
The subsequent controversy over the Kentish Petitioners gave the clearest indication that Oglethorpe had come to be recognized by the ministry as a useful servant, for on 8 May 1701 he featured as one of the Members who tried to intimidate the presenters of the petition while they waited in the lobby to hear the Commons’ response to their address. The next day, when the House debated a proposal to send military aid to the Dutch, Oglethorpe ‘was for sending men or money presently’, but counselled caution before troops were actually sent, and later that year was listed as one of the Members who had opposed the preparations for war with France. He continued to feature in the Common’s proceedings in relation to the Irish forfeitures, and was teller on 31 May agreeing to a technicality concerning the drawing up of petitions. He was also teller on 10 June against an amendment to the bill for appointing the commissioners of accounts.
Doubts over Oglethorpe’s allegiance remained right to the end of his political career, a satirical pamphlet of 1701 citing his home as the meeting-place of several Tory leaders, all of whom were branded as crypto-Jacobites. He chose not to stand at the election of November 1701, although there can be little doubt that he acquiesced in the return of two Tories at Haslemere. Ill-health may have influenced his decision not to stand, for he died shortly afterwards on 10 Apr. 1702. All three of his surviving sons followed their father into Parliament, despite continuing scandals over the family’s Jacobite connexions, and the youngest of the trio, James Edward†, maintained the family’s interest at Haslemere into the second half of the 18th century. Moreover, his daughters, educated as Catholics at the court of St. Germain, established themselves in French society, two of them marrying into the French nobility. Oglethorpe’s monumental inscription at St. James’s, Westminster, raised by his wife, protested a loyalty which was fully acknowledged by the Old Pretender and his court: ‘per varios casus et rerum discrimina, magnanimam erga Principem et Patriam fidem, sed nec temere, sustinuit’.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Perry Gauci
Except where otherwise stated, this biography is based on A. A. Ettinger, James Edward Oglethorpe, chapters 1-2. Dr P. A. Hopkins also supplied several references.
- 1. DNB; Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 300; Thoresby, Ducatus Leodensis, 252–3; HMC Rutland, ii. 90; Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 264, 577, 766.
- 2. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 367–8.
- 3. Add. 17677 PP, ff. 288–9; 30192, f. 171; Luttrell, Brief Relation, i. 509; ii. 18, 204, 212; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 11; 1690–1, pp. 65, 336; HMC Portland, iii. 485; Bodl. Carte 79, ff. 350–1.
- 4. Luttrell, ii. 448–9; CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 343; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, i. 466; Archives de la Bastille ed. Ravaisson-Mollien, ix. 439–40, 444–9, 451–3.
- 5. HMC Hastings, ii. 259; CSP Dom. 1696, pp. 110–11; HMC Downshire, i. 664; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 337, 364, 367; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1251, Ld. Sunderland to Ld. Portland, 23 May 1696; J. Macky, View of Court of St. Germain’s , 14; P. K. Hill, Oglethorpe Ladies, 12–14.
- 6. Add. 22852, f. 104; Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 2714, ‘Titles of several public acts agreed to in the cabal’, 7 Dec. ; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. app. xvii, pp. clxxix–clxxx; Cocks Diary, 118; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP/F27, f. 16; HMC Stuart, v. 282; Manning and Bray, Surr. i. 610.