POWLE, Henry (1630-92), of Williamstrip, Glos.

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



3 Jan. 1671 - Jan. 1681
Mar. 1681
1689 - 1690
8 Mar. - 25 Nov. 1690

Family and Education

bap. 18 Oct. 1630, 2nd s. of Henry Powle of Shottesbrook, Berks. by Katherine, da. of Matthew Herbert of Monmouth, Mon.; bro. of Sir Richard Powle†.  educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1646; L. Inn 1647, called 1654, bencher 1689.  m. (1) 1659, Elizabeth (d. 1672), da. of Richard Newport†, 1st Baron Newport, 1da; (2) lic. 28 June 1679, Lady Frances (d. 1687), da. of Lionel Cranfield†, 1st Earl of Middlesex, wid. of Richard Sackville†, 5th Earl of Dorset, s.psuc. uncle William Powle of Quenington, Coln St. Aldwyn, Glos. 1657.1

Offices Held

Commr. for corporations 1662–3, loyal and indigent officers 1662, recusants 1675, inspecting hospitals and houses of charity 1691; PC 21 Apr. 1679–31 Jan. 1680, 1689–d.; master of the rolls 1689–d.; judge delegate of the Admiralty by 1692.2

Speaker of House of Commons 22 Jan. 1689–27 Jan. 1690.

FRS 1661–85.


At the beginning of the 1690 session Powle enjoyed a certain prominence in having presided as Speaker over the Convention. His family were Berkshire gentry, though having qualified as a barrister during the Interregnum he purchased the Gloucestershire manor of Williamstrip from his elder brother in 1657 and in the same year inherited property nearby at Quenington in the vicinity of Cirencester which provided him with an interest in the borough. In the Cavalier and Exclusion Parliaments Powle established himself as a consistent critic of royal policy and government and played an important part in leading the parliamentary attack on Danby (Sir Thomas Osborne†). Though of Whiggish outlook, he was among a number of prominent Court opponents who did not support Exclusion. During the parliamentary interval of the 1680s, he was said to have spent his time in legal practice and foreign travel. He was also an assiduous collector of books and manuscripts. It was primarily owing to his lead in the initiatives which brought the Convention into being that he was unanimously elected its Speaker in January 1689. His appointment to the Privy Council in February and as master of the rolls the following month was a signal mark of royal gratitude for his contribution towards the inauguration of William’s reign. As Speaker, he drew Tory accusations of partiality on account of his strong Whig views. He was able to ensure, for example, that the composition of the two select committees appointed at the beginning of the Convention’s proceedings to draw up the Declaration of Rights was predominantly Whig. Similarly, the manner in which he forestalled an attempt to jettison the comprehension bill early in April excited High Church disapproval.3

Returned again for Cirencester in 1690, Powle failed to emerge as the Court’s candidate for the Chair in the new Parliament. The Whigs, in their ‘dispirited’ post-electoral condition, were divided over the question of re-electing him. He was touted only by the more ‘violent’ kind led by Sir John Guise, 2nd Bt., and Sir John Thompson, 1st Bt., while others followed the example set by Richard Hampden I in opting for the Tory Sir John Trevor. Consequently, as one observer commented, ‘the majority was so much on his [Trevor’s] side against Powle that the House never divided’. It is interesting to note that on the eve of the session Lord Carmarthen (as Danby now was), while marking him as a Whig, did not consider him a likely Court supporter. Powle was an accomplished debater and ‘very learned in precedents and parliament journals’, an ability which Burnet none the less felt suffered sometimes through want of preparation. During the debate on 8 Apr. 1690 concerning the quo warranto judgment against the corporation of London, he argued the Whig case that merely to seek reversal of the judgment was to acknowledge its validity, which, since it encroached upon the jurisdiction of the Commons, struck ‘at the root and foundation of government’ and made it essential for the judgment to be declared void. Even though the Tories afterwards succeeded in their preference simply to reverse the judgment, which by implication condemned the City’s Whig governors, Powle was still included on the committee named to prepare the bill ordered for reversing the judgment. In his next recorded speech, on 26 Apr., he saw the abjuration bill as an essential way of ending the duality of allegiance to the king de facto and the king de jure, but was anxious that the oath be restricted to office-holders. He spoke again on 6 May expressing confusion over the wording of a clause in the regency bill, and on the 13th, after its return from the Lords, he participated in a conference over amendments, from which he reported the same day. Another conference appointment followed on 22 May in connexion with the King’s ‘act of grace’.4

Amid preparations for the next session, Carmarthen noted Powle as a Privy Councillor ‘that ought to assist’ in the King’s business. On 14 Oct., Powle and several other legal officers were added to the committee to prepare the bill for establishing a commission of accounts. In the meantime, his election at Cirencester had come under the scrutiny of the elections committee, and at a hearing at the bar of the House on 25 Nov. he was unseated. At the time he was deeply enmeshed in legal proceedings to assert his rights to the personal estate of his late wife, the dowager Countess of Dorset who had died in April 1687. The case attracted attention, not least because of his late wife’s connexions with two leading aristocratic families, and his own position as master of the rolls. A chancery decree of May 1688 had confirmed his possession of the countess’s personal estate at Knowle amounting to £3,000 p.a., but this was reversed by the Lords on appeal from the Earl of Dorset and Middlesex (Charles Sackville†, Lord Buckhurst), her eldest son from her first marriage. Powle’s petition against the decision was heard and dismissed by the Lords on 19 Dec. Earlier in the month he had petitioned the Upper House claiming the right to attend Lords’ proceedings as an ‘assistant’ by virtue of his office, but his case was never considered.5

Powle died intestate on 21 Nov. 1692 after a few days’ sickness, the victim of ‘a kind of bastard apoplexy’, and was buried at Quenington. His only child, a daughter, was the wife of Henry Ireton* who succeeded to Powle’s estates and his interest at Cirencester.6

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. The Gen. vi. 78; vii. 11; Bigland’s Glos. Colls. (Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Glos. Rec. Ser. v. pt. iii), 1004–5; Mar. Lic. Fac. Off. (Harl. Soc. xxiv), 147.
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 789; CSP Dom. 1689–90, pp. 15, 137; 1690–1, pp. 240, 474; Bigland’s Glos. Colls. 1004.
  • 3. DNB; L. G. Schwoerer, Declaration of Rights, 53, 173; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 15; D. Rubini, Court and Country, 95–96.
  • 4. Morrice ent’ring bk. 3, p. 125; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 2259, John to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, 20 Mar. [1690]; Burnet, ii. 84; Grey, x. 44, 85–86, 126; Bodl. Rawl. A.79, f. 77.
  • 5. HMC Lords, iii. 190–1; Centre Kentish Stud. Sackville mss U269/L11; LJ, xiv. 578, 583, 598; PRO NI, De Ros mss D638/13/1, John Pulteney* to Thomas Coningsby*, 23 Dec. 1690; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 140.
  • 6. Luttrell, 622; Portledge Pprs. 152–3; Bigland’s Glos. Colls. 1003–4.