POLE, William (1678-1741), of Colcombe Castle, nr. Colyton, and Shute, nr. Honiton, Devon

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



Dec. 1701 - 1702
7 Jan. 1704 - 1708
1708 - 1710
1710 - June 1712
1713 - 1715
17 Mar. 1716 - 1727
15 Mar. 1731 - 1734

Family and Education

bap. 17 Aug. 1678, 1st s. of Sir John Pole, 3rd Bt.*  educ. New Coll. Oxf. 1696.  m. ‘for many years’ by 1733, Elizabeth, da. of Robert Warry of Shute, 1s. 1da.  suc. fa. as 4th Bt. 13 Mar. 1708.1

Offices Held

Master of the Household 1712–14.2


Pole’s entry into Parliament in December 1701 while still in his early twenties was made possible by his Morice uncles who brought him in for Newport. He was classed by Robert Harley* as a Tory, and on 26 Feb. 1702 voted in support of the motion vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachment of the King’s Whig ministers. Although he was not returned again in 1702, he was listed as having voted on 13 Feb. 1703 against the Whig lords’ amendments to the bill extending the period for taking the oath of abjuration. In January 1704 he was returned at a by-election for Camelford. Unlike his father, who was also in the House at this time, he voted in favour of the Tack on 28 Nov. 1704, and was classed as ‘True Church’ early in 1705. From this point on, Pole established himself as an active participant in the House as indicated by the frequency with which he acted as a teller. He was teller on three occasions in the 1704–5 session, the most important being a division on 26 Feb. 1705 against adjourning debate on the Aylesbury case. He was sent on 5 Mar. to inquire of the Lords’ progress on a poor relief bill, and on the 12th and 13th was involved in conferences with them concerning two other bills, one dealing with abuses in tax collection. At the commencement of the next session, 25 Oct. 1705, he voted against the Court candidate for the Speakership. On 4 Dec. he moved to adjourn the debate on the bill for establishing the union with Scotland and securing the Protestant succession there, and three days later, after hitting out at Nonconformists, was teller for giving immediate consideration in committee of the whole to the Lords’ resolution that the Church ‘was not in danger’. He was teller on 12 Jan. 1706 in favour of adding a place clause to the regency bill. In further debate on the 15th he complained that ‘Members’ actions [were] descanted, vilified and insulted’, and proposed that upon the Queen’s death, all Parliament must meet, and not just the officers appointed as regents. He was teller on nine other occasions during the session, mainly on very specific procedural questions, or in disputed election cases in which he invariably acted on the Tory side.3

Pole’s attention to issues arising from the clauses and detailed provisions of various bills was much in evidence again the following session in a further eight tellerships. Only one of these, however, clearly denotes his antipathy to Lord Godolphin’s (Sidney†) ministry: this was the question on 26 Jan. 1708 to commit the bill for recruiting more seamen in which Pole was teller for the opposition. A list of the post-Union Parliament compiled early in 1708 noted him as a Tory. In March he succeeded to the Pole estates and baronetcy, and in the May general election was returned for his former seat at Newport on the Morice interest. The presence of a healthy Whig majority in the new Parliament may well have dampened his enthusiasm for the minutiae of Commons business, and his activities lessened considerably. In the 1708–9 session he acted only twice as teller, on both occasions in favour of a mercantile bill to encourage the export of tobacco. He was a founder-member of the High Tory ‘Board of Brothers’ in July, and his activities with this new socio-political club may well have led him to neglect communication with his relatives and acquaintances in Devon, for his uncle Nicholas Morice† complained bitterly later in the year that ‘he may be dead for anything this borough [Newport] knows of him’. Significantly, however, he served as teller on 31 Jan. 1710 against a government motion to authorize the printing of a Low Church sermon heard by Members of the House on the anniversary of Charles I’s execution, and in the weeks that followed voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. The onset of ill-health, possibly the serious gout which from time to time afflicted him, forced him to seek leave of the House on 20 Feb.4

At the general election of 1710 Pole was returned as knight of the shire for Devon, and was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ of the new Parliament. In February 1711 he brought in a bill enabling the Queen to grant the site of Exeter Castle, part of the duchy of Cornwall, for a term of 99 years to ‘the use and benefit of the county of Devon’, which he subsequently managed through the House. He was noted in a printed list as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who had participated during the 1710–11 session in the detection of the previous ministry’s mismanagements. At about the same time he became a member of the October Club, but there are signs that by the end of the year be began to find himself in disagreement with the extremism which the club came to represent. According to his own later claim, he opposed the expulsion of Robert Walpole II on 17 Jan. 1712, although on the 24th, the day after the censure of the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), he was one of eight Members thanked by the Board of Brothers for ‘their good attendance and service’. However, his moderate Tory views, and in particular his support for the Protestant succession, led him soon afterwards to end his connexion with them. In February he took the lead in initiating a bill for the relief of insolvent debtors and subsequently directed its progress through the House, while the same month he was involved with the two Gloucestershire knights, Matthew Ducie Moreton and John Berkeley, in the promotion of a bill to regulate the manufacture of mixed broadcloth which he himself presented on 1 Mar. During this time Pole had also severed his links with the October Club and was one of the leading spirits behind the setting up of the breakaway March Club. On 6 May, he led the March Club Tories against the Octobrists’ proposal for an inquiry into the controversial subject of crown grants since 1689 and to ‘tack’ legislation for this purpose to a supply bill, thereby to hasten it through the Lords, arguing strongly that such a move threatened supply which the Queen’s government urgently required. He was subsequently a teller for keeping the two measures separate. In June he handled the passage of a further bill, this time concerning a private estate in Devon. His efforts on the ministry’s behalf during this arduous session were rewarded with his appointment shortly after its close as master of the Household in succession to Marlborough’s protégé Edmund Dunch*. Reporting this in his despatch of 29 July, Kreienberg stated that Pole had initially been a critic of the ministry ‘mais . . . peu à peu de temps après devint taciturne’. His consequent re-election for the county ought to have been no more than a formality, but a strong High Church faction among Devonian Tories had determined to unseat him. It was said that he had caused offence by his ‘carriage’ towards ‘the gentlemen at the general quarter sessions by the taking little or no notice of them, which gave such a disgust that they immediately declared he should not be their representative’, although this was merely the pretext used to be rid of a representative whose moderation had become politically unacceptable. Consequently Pole was dispensed with at the earliest opportunity. While his opponent Sir William Courtenay, 2nd Bt.*, busily amassed electoral support, Pole, caught out by this surprise turn of events, was immobilized with severe gout and unable to co-ordinate defensive tactics (see DEVON). In December he informed Lord Treasurer Oxford (Harley) that he was ‘still wrapped up in flannel and confined to my chamber’, and despite having assurances from ‘my friends in the House’, his plans to petition against Courtenay were not pursued.5

Pole re-entered Parliament in the election of 1713 when, defeated for Honiton, he was returned for Bossiney. He was classed as a Tory in the Worsley list. On 15 Apr. 1714 he joined in defending the ministry against the motion that the Protestant succession was in danger under the current administration, although this clearly necessitated his differing from the tactics of Hanoverian Tory confreres who chose to remain silent on the issue. In May he took charge of a further bill for the relief of insolvent debtors. Soon after the accession of George I he was dismissed from his Household post, and in September 1715 was removed from the commission of the peace to which he had been added only the previous summer. In an illuminating letter in November to his Whig cousin Humphry Morice*, complaining of underpayment while in the late Queen’s household, he testified to his devotion to the Protestant succession during the last years of her reign and revealed Bolingbroke’s (Henry St. John II*) efforts to win him over during the last months of the reign:

It is said I am turned Whig, but I take this opportunity to disown that, but if to be an enemy to the Pretender and his abettors be the only characteristic of a Whig, then I am one. What strange principles must influence when men would sacrifice their religion and country to their own spleen or resentment . . . Won’t they distinguish between a Hanover Tory and a Jacobite, and must I who have been ever zealous for the Protestant succession (even when in place, as you know by many votes), insomuch that Gaffer St. John did all he could to rout me with her Majesty, and would have done it had she lived, be used as a Jacobite Tory?

He remained a Tory, and died on 31 Dec. 1741.6

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 604.
  • 2. R. O. Bucholz, Augustan Court, 264; Scots Courant, 25–27 June 1712.
  • 3. Cam. Misc. xxiii. 43, 47, 68.
  • 4. Bank of Eng. Morice mss, Nicholas to Humphrey Morice*, 29 Nov. 1709.
  • 5. Add. 49360, ff. 2–3, 8, 67, 100; 70204, Pole to Oxford, 22 Dec. [1712]; NSA, Kreienberg despatches 9 May, 29 July 1712; Huntington Lib. Q. xxxiii. 165, 168; Boyer, Anne Annals, xi. 381.
  • 6. Douglas diary (Hist. of Parl. trans.), 15 Apr. 1714; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 225, 247; Morice mss, Pole to Morice, 13 Nov. 1715.