PELHAM, Thomas I (c.1653-1712), of Halland, Laughton, Suss.

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



25 Oct. 1678 - July 1679
Oct. 1679 - Mar. 1681
1685 - 1687
1689 - 1702
1702 - 1705

Family and Education

b. c.1653, 1st s. of Sir John Pelham, 3rd Bt.*, and bro. of Henry Pelham*. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. bef. 1672.  m. (1) 18 Mar. 1680, aged 26, Elizabeth (d. 1681), da. of Sir William Jones† of Ramsbury, Wilts., 2da.; (2) lic. 21 May 1686, Lady Grace (d. 13 Sept. 1700), da. of Gilbert Holles†, 3rd Earl of Clare, sis. of John Holles†, 4th Earl of Clare, 2s. 6da. (2 d.v.p.).  suc. fa. as 4th Bt. Jan. 1703; cr. Baron Pelham of Laughton 16 Dec. 1706.1

Offices Held

Commr. customs 1689–90; ld. of Treasury Mar. 1690–Mar. 1692, May 1697–June 1699, Mar. 1701–May 1702.2

V.-adm. Suss. 1705–d.; steward, honor of Eagle, Suss. 1707–d.3


Pelham was returned for Lewes in 1690 on his father’s interest, having represented the borough, which was six miles from the family seat at Laughton, since 1679. Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) erroneously classed Pelham as a Tory in his list of the new Parliament, although he was clearly a Whig. Shortly after the election, he was promoted from the Board of Customs to the Treasury, when he was added to the new commission on the recommendation of the 1st Marquess of Halifax (George Savile†), and in the Commons was one of the Treasury spokesmen. On 27 Mar. 1690, during the debate on settling the revenue on the King for life, he replied to criticism that such methods had brought unfortunate results in the previous two reigns, saying:

You are told that the revenue came to two millions in King Charles’s and King James’s time; but, as to what is said of the ill effects of it in King James’s time, none of that mischief came by that revenue, but upon what was given him afterwards, which enabled him to raise his army and bring in popery.

Later, on 1 May, he joined with other Whigs in trying to obstruct the passage of the regency bill. In William’s reign it is usually impossible to distinguish his activity from that of his brother, Henry, but it is likely that Thomas was the busier of the two. In Robert Harley’s* list of April 1691 he was queried as a supporter of the Country party, an analysis possibly occasioned by the fact that his office did not always prevent him from taking an independent line. On 9 Feb. 1692 he was probably the ‘Mr Pelham’ who proposed a clause on behalf of his uncle Lord Sydney (Hon. Henry Sidney†) to be added to the bill for Irish forfeitures. At the end of February he resigned from the Treasury for personal rather than political reasons, although he may have been influenced by the failure of his brother-in-law, the Earl of Clare, to obtain the dukedom of Newcastle to which he felt entitled.4

Over the next few years Pelham, while remaining a Whig, took an independent Country line in the Commons. On 22 Nov. 1692, ‘Mr Pelham’, probably Thomas I, successfully moved that the King should be desired to lay before the House a state of the war for 1693 in relation to the navy and land forces. He both spoke and told on 28 Jan. 1693 in support of the second reading of the triennial bill, saying, ‘I think this a very good bill notwithstanding what has been said, and that it is for the security of this government, a great service to our country, and to prevent pensionary and officered Parliaments’. Even so, Grascome classed him as a Court supporter in his list of 1693–5. During the winter of 1694–5 he made two loans to the government of £1,500 and £500.5

Returned as usual for Lewes in 1695, Pelham was forecast as a probable supporter of the Court in the division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696, and signed the Association in February. Shortly after this, on 3 Mar., he was given leave to go into the country for three weeks, but had returned by the end of the month in time to support the government on fixing the price of guineas at 22s. The opening weeks of the next session were dominated by the case of Sir John Fenwick†. On 6 Nov. Pelham defended Shrewsbury and Edward Russell* from Fenwick’s accusations, but in opposing the impeachment itself, he parted company both with his party and his family. He spoke three times on 16 Nov. expressing his anxiety about condemning a man for treason without the evidence of two witnesses as required by law in every other court in the land; the next day he spoke to the same effect:

I did presume yesterday to tell you, that Mr Algernon Sidney did stand upon it as his natural right, that they could not proceed against him, there being but one witness: I did not bring his case as parallel to this or think that his authority should influence you; but he was a man that had that love to liberty and the good of his country that he would not have said so, even to save his life, if he had thought it inconsistent with either of them. But I have looked upon his trial since, and there he does declare, that the being condemned by two witnesses, is the law of God, and the law of man; the just law that is observed by all men, and in all places; it is certain he reached even by these words, the power of Parliament.
And though we are sure of this House of Commons, and may be of all in this reign, yet I know not how facts may arise, and what Parliaments we may have; and upon that account I am very unwilling a precedent should be made, at least contrary to the usage in all manner of courts whatsoever.

On 25 Nov. he spoke and voted against the bill, claiming that, ‘I can’t satisfy myself in my conscience and should think some misfortune might follow me and my posterity, if I passed sentence upon Sir John Fenwick’s life upon less evidence than the law of England requires’. He again took an independent line on 1 Dec., when he opposed raising money by increasing the customs and received the compliments of John Grobham Howe* for his efforts. He continued to express reservations about extending taxes on 2 Dec. and was accused by Lord Cutts (John*) of forsaking the truth which, according to James Vernon I*:

gave Mr Pelham a handle for a very genteel vindication of himself, and if his lordship would excuse him in this, where his judgment would not let him comply, he hoped he might satisfy him within three or four days, that he had not forsaken the truth. I believe he meant by it, that he should come up to excises, which he had hinted at before, not as approving of them, but submitting to what a necessary care for the support of the government required.

On 13 Feb. 1697 he was elected one of the commissioners of public accounts, but declined to serve.6

Pelham’s independence during the 1696–7 session clearly convinced the Court he should be bought off and in May 1697 he was added to the Treasury commission, but if the ministers hoped that office would induce him to follow the government line consistently, they were quickly proved wrong. It is true that on 7 Dec. 1697 he seconded Lord Coningsby’s (Thomas) motion that the Commons should proceed to consider supply rather than debate the King’s Speech in general as proposed by Robert Harley*. But on 11 Dec., when the ministerialists tried to persuade the House to recommit Harley’s resolution of the previous day to reduce the standing army to the level of 1680, it was reported that he voted against the Court, although Vernon noted that he had not taken any part in the debate. He definitely acted against the Court on 8 Jan. 1698 when he both spoke and voted against a Court amendment to an instruction to the committee of supply, preparatory to an attempt to secure a supply of £500,000 for guards and garrisons and sufficient to retain 15,000 men. He was a little more helpful when the debate was resumed on 11 Jan.: in reply to Harley’s suggestion of £300,000, he proposed £400,000, which the Court would have accepted as the best obtainable, had not Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.*, then recommended £350,000, which the House accepted. Pelham also supported the government on 17 Jan.: he seconded a move to secure half-pay for all commissioned officers who were not of English birth until they were ‘otherwise provided for’, and on 11 Feb. defended the subsidy payments to the Danes. Pelham’s contrary attitude was partly due to the conflicts within the ministry. He was considered a protégé of the Earl of Sunderland, who was increasingly mistrusted by the Junto. Sunderland’s resignation in late December and the rivalry between him and Charles Montagu* led to divisions within the Treasury Board. When an attack was launched on the Treasury in the Commons on 22 Feb. 1698 for its handling of Exchequer bill payments, the critical motion was voted down, but Vernon reported:

Mr Pelham has shown that he is in ill intelligence with his brethren, and took an occasion to let it be known in an angry manner. What difference he has had with them at the board I don’t know, but this may put things at a farther distance from an accommodation, he being looked upon as under my Lord Sunderland’s guidance.

He further distanced himself from his fellow commissioners when he joined Sir Stephen Fox* in dissociating himself from Montagu’s attacks on Sir Charles Duncombe*.7

After the 1698 election, in which Pelham was returned as usual for Lewes, he was retained on the Treasury commission despite his independence in the last Parliament. Classed as a placeman in two lists of 1698 and as a Court supporter in a comparative analysis of the old and new House of Commons of about September 1698, Pelham began the new session by speaking in support of Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt., for Speaker on 6 Dec. 1698 and spoke in defence of the Treasury the same day. However, when the House turned its attention to the army on 4 Jan. 1699, he strongly opposed a ministerial attempt to increase the agreed figure of 7,000 men. He reportedly said that in the previous year he had voted for an army but this year the international situation was much more promising and therefore, in his judgment, 7,000 men would be sufficient. Vernon considered that Pelham’s opposition, together with that of Lord Hartington (William Cavendish*) and Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt.*, had been decisive in swinging the vote against the Court, and on 18 Jan. Pelham voted for the third reading of the disbanding bill. On 3 Feb., in a committee of supply, he supported the figure of 15,000 men for the navy rather than the lower figures put forward by the opposition, but when the question of the marines arose he argued for their inclusion in the 15,000 rather than as an addition to this figure. It was probably he rather than his brother who was first-named on 18 Feb. to draft the bill for settling augmentations on small vicarages, presenting it on the 23rd. His continued opposition to the standing army spelt the end of his term at the Treasury. He ceased to attend meetings, and by May rumours of his impending dismissal were circulating. He was removed on 1 June.8

Loss of place did not, however, send Pelham into permanent opposition: he continued to pursue an independent course while remaining loyal to the Whigs. When the Tories attacked Gilbert Burnet on 13 Dec. 1699 he spoke in the Whig bishop’s defence. On 31 Jan. 1700 he spoke for the government against the motion to ban the wearing of silks from India, but on 13 Feb., during the attack led by John Grobham Howe on Lord Chancellor Somers (Sir John*), Pelham defended Howe from Whig counter-attacks. Not surprisingly, an analysis of the House of early 1700 listed him as doubtful or possibly of the opposition.9

In the first 1701 Parliament, on 12 Feb. 1701, Pelham opposed as premature the assurance in the Address of the House’s support for ‘effectual measures’ to maintain ‘the peace of Europe’. In March his brother-in-law, now Duke of Newcastle, fearing an attack from the Tories in the Commons on his recent appointments to the commissions of the peace and deputy-lieutenancy in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, asked Pelham to attempt to defuse any such criticism if it should arise in the House. At the end of March he was reappointed to the Treasury in place of John Smith I*, an appointment which maintained the political balance on the commission in the new mixed administration, since, though he was a Whig, he was much less closely identified with the Junto than Smith. As before, his office did not prevent him supporting Country measures: on 27 May he supported a widening of Howe’s motion for reducing the salaries of office-holders to include pensions, as ‘for the one, men did something, for the other nothing was done at all to deserve them’. Classed as a Whig by Harley in the second 1701 Parliament, he was probably the ‘Mr Pelham’ who told against a recommittal of the abjuration bill on 10 Feb. 1702. On 7 Mar., as King William lay dying, Pelham strongly opposed a Tory attempt to adjourn the House, on the grounds that ‘we had no money in the Treasury, no army in England and that if ever it was requisite to pass the abjuration bill it was now’.10

Pelham was returned for both Lewes and Sussex in 1702, and chose to sit for the county. Shortly after the election he lost his place at the Treasury, when the commission was dissolved and replaced by Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) as lord high treasurer. He voted for agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration on 13 Feb. 1703. Forecast as a probable opponent of the Tack, he was one of Harley’s managers for the lobby on it, entrusted with the task of speaking to three of his fellow Sussex Members, and himself voted against it or was absent on 28 Nov.11

Pelham, who had succeeded to his father’s estates and baronetcy in 1703, was now looking for a peerage, using the good offices of his brother-in-law, Newcastle, shortly to be appointed lord privy seal. Robert Harley wrote to the Duke on 16 Mar. 1705:

Yesterday I took your hint and mentioned Sir Thomas Pelham, to which I am answered it was reasonable he should be when there are any creations, but he did not find the Queen was inclined to make any now; but there will be care to oblige Sir Thomas. I hope you will persuade him to come to the next Parliament.

He did not in fact stand in 1705, but the following year he received his peerage along with a number of other Whigs. The death in 1711 of the Duke of Newcastle, who left the Holles estates to Pelham’s eldest son, Thomas, led to a prolonged legal wrangle with the Duchess, who disputed her husband’s will on behalf of her daughter, but Pelham’s son eventually made a settlement in 1714 with Lord Harley (Edward*) who had married the Newcastle heiress. Pelham died on 23 Feb. 1712 of an apoplexy, the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony, Lord Ashley*), writing, ‘I am sorry for the death of my old friend, Lord Pelham. I have taken him all along for one of the honestest of men and most true to the interests of the public’. Both his sons, Thomas, who was created Duke of Newcastle in 1715, and Henry†, were leading politicians in the reign of George II.12

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. J. Comber, Suss. Gen. Lewes, 209–10; W. M. Marshall, George Hooper, 7, 17.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 53.
  • 3. Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster Official Lists, 217.
  • 4. H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 52; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 554, 618; Luttrell Diary, 177; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 371; PRO NI, De Ros mss D638/13/118, John Pulteney* to Thomas Coningsby, 27 Feb. 1691[–2].
  • 5. Luttrell Diary, 249, 391; Cobbett, v. 759–60; HMC Portland, iii. 512; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 911, 916.
  • 6. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 49, 63, 91, 93; Cobbett, 1034, 1036, 1044, 1077–8, 1130.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1697, p. 125; 1698, pp. 23, 33; Horwitz, 187, 226–7, 229, 235; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/163, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 11 Dec. 1697; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 460; ii. 9, 19.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1698, p. 424; 1699–1700, pp. 5, 6, 28; Horwitz, 248, 250, 252; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 226–7, 295, 297; Add. 30000 C, ff. 3, 8, 61, 115; 40773, f. 88; Cam. Misc. xxix. 381; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/8, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 24 Jan. 1698[–9]; Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/140, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 4 Feb. 1698[–9]; Herts. RO, Panshanger mss D/EP/F98, ff. 12, 17.
  • 9. Cocks Diary, 42; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 261; Som. RO, Sanford mss, DD/SF 4107(a), notes on debate, 13 Feb. 1699[–1700].
  • 10. Horwitz, 281; Add. 33084, f. 65; Cocks Diary, 152, 237.
  • 11. Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 92, 94.
  • 12. HMC Portland, ii. 189; Add. 17677 HHH, f. 304; 32686, f. 18; 33064, ff. 1–30; Comber, 209; B. Rand, Shaftesbury, 487.