PULTENEY, William (1684-1764), of St. James’s, Westminster, Mdx.

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



1705 - 1734
1734 - 14 July 1742

Family and Education

bap. 29 Mar. 1684, 1st s. of William Pulteney of St. James’s, Westminster by his 1st w. Mary Floyd; bro. of Harry Pulteney† and nephew of John Pulteney*.  educ. Westminster; Christ Church, Oxf. 1700; travelled abroad (including Hanover) 1705.  m. 27 Dec. 1714, Anna Maria (d. 1758), da. and coh. of John Gumley† of Isleworth, Mdx., 1s. d.v.p. 2da. d.v.psuc. Henry Guy* 1710, fa. 1715; cr. Earl of Bath 14 July 1742.1

Offices Held

Sec. at war 1714–17; PC 6 July 1716–1 July 1731, 20 Feb. 1742–d.; cofferer of Household 1723–5; in Cabinet without office 1742–6; ld. justice 1743, 1745; first ld. of Treasury 10–12 Feb. 1746.

Ld. lt. E. Riding, Yorks. 1721–8, Salop 1761–d.

Commr. building 50 new churches 1727.2

FRS 1744.


Pulteney, like his future arch-enemy Robert Walpole II*, was schooled in the politics of Queen Anne’s reign. His gifts of eloquence and oratory brought him early prominence among his Whig peers and while still in his mid-twenties he was fast becoming an important asset to his party and regarded as a certain contender for governmental office. His eulogistic address to the Queen and her court in 1702, during her visit to Christ Church, Oxford. where he was a student, was in many ways the debut of a political career which held glittering prospects. Wealth was also on his side. Virtually nothing is known of Pulteney’s father, the son of Sir William Pulteney*, a prosperous businessman and London property speculator, except that he was prey to chronic indebtedness and there were times after Sir William’s death in 1691 when family property in the capital had to be sold in order to satisfy his creditors. It might well have been his father’s unfortunate financial experiences that gave rise to Pulteney’s own notorious avarice in later life. Sir William had denied Pulteney’s father direct control over his valuable London estate by placing it in a trust administered by two of his closest friends and business associates, Sir Thomas Clarges* and Henry Guy. Clarges’ death in 1695 left Guy with sole responsibility for the family’s financial concerns, but with no wife or family of his own, Guy was already devoting his resources and influence to the support of their wider interests. Following the death of his only sister and heiress in 1692, Guy nominated the young William Pulteney as heir to his considerable fortune. In the autumn of 1699, the betrothal of Lord Spencer (Charles*), eldest son of Guy’s patron Lord Sunderland, to a daughter of the Earl of Marlborough (John Churchill†) prompted speculation that the young Pulteney, with his promised ‘great estate’, might feature in this politically significant alliance by marrying another of the Marlborough daughters. The suggestion may well have emanated from Guy himself who in mid-September accompanied the Marlboroughs and Spencer’s intended bride into Northamptonshire in their search for a suitable estate. The idea was dropped, however, perhaps because Pulteney was still well under age.3

After Oxford, where he shone at classics, Pulteney travelled on the Continent and was visiting Hanover in the summer of 1705 when Guy procured him the parliamentary seat at Hedon and summoned him homewards. At the start of the new Parliament he voted for the Court candidate as Speaker on 25 Oct. and voted with the government in the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ in the regency bill on 18 Feb. 1706. His uncle John Pulteney was also in the House at this time, and it would appear that most of the Journal references to ‘Mr Pulteney’ are to him rather than his young and as yet inexperienced nephew. At first, Pulteney was a silent member of the Whig majority. It is not exactly clear when the friendship was first forged between himself and Robert Walpole II but it may not have been until sometime after the end of 1708; whereas Walpole had by this date broken with his Junto cronies, Pulteney was still very much within their orbit, and in November of that year was even touted as Lord Wharton’s (Hon. Thomas*) ‘wisest choice’ as chief secretary in Ireland following his appointment as lord lieutenant. It was probably Walpole who soon afterwards introduced Pulteney to the Kit-Cat Club. Pulteney followed his party line in voting for the naturalization of the Palatines early in 1709, and during the Commons debates on Dr Sacheverell in February–March 1710 he was remembered to have ‘ably distinguished himself . . . in defence of the Revolution against the doctrines of passive obedience and non-resistance’ as well as voting for the impeachment.4

Pulteney’s rise gathered momentum during the final years of the Queen’s reign when the Whigs were in opposition. Shortly after the fall of Lord Godolphin’s (Sidney†) ministry he chose in his impetuous fashion to pick a personal quarrel with the Duke of Marlborough over the denial of his brother’s chances of promotion in the army. Pulteney addressed the Duke in a fit of high indignation on 15 Aug. 1710:

this is so heavy and distinguishing a mark of your Grace’s displeasure that with it I am sure my brother can never serve either with honour or prospect of advancement . . . I hope he may deserve so small a compensation as the liberty of selling out, when he shall have had the honour to finish his attendance on your Grace at the end of the campaign.

The following month his temper had cooled to the point where he sought the Duke’s forgiveness for being so ‘troublesome’, and thereafter pursued the matter with a strong sympathy for the Duke’s declining authority in army affairs. By February 1711 Pulteney had resigned himself to inevitable failure on this front, assuring Marlborough, ‘I am much better pleased to have been denied it with the honour of your Grace’s assistance, than I should have been to have succeeded with the assistance of those in whose power perhaps it might have been to have procured it for me’. Turning to the privations of the Duke’s own situation, Pulteney urged him ‘to conquer yourself so far as to submit to it, and still serve your country while that is at stake . . . I doubt not but we shall all join sometime or other in revenging your Grace’s and the nation’s sufferings on those persons that have been the occasion of them’. The death of Henry Guy on 23 Feb. provided him with his long expected inheritance, a legacy of £40,000 and an estate of £500 a year. In its entirety the estate was said to be worth £100,000. To his own holding of £2,000 of Bank stock at this time he added £3,000 more left to him by Guy. The acquisition of Guy’s property in and around Hedon enabled Pulteney henceforward to control the borough’s parliamentary elections. For a while it was expected that he would adopt Guy as his surname although this was not a condition of his benefactor’s will. According to Archdeacon Coxe’s researches in the late 18th century, it was Pulteney’s obnoxiousness towards the new Tory administration in Parliament during the 1710–11 session that cost his uncle his office as a lord of Trade in June 1711. On 25 May 1711 he voted against an amendment to the South Sea Company bill which vested the right to appoint the company’s first directorate in the crown; and on 7 Dec. voted for the motion of ‘No Peace without Spain’. When Walpole was assailed with charges of corruption on 17 Jan. 1712, Pulteney vigorously defended him and was a teller in favour of excluding the words ‘notorious corruption’ in the censure motion condemning Walpole for breach of trust in his handling of forage contracts when secretary at war. On 24 Jan. Pulteney was on his feet defending the Duke of Marlborough against similar charges. He was presumably acting on Walpole’s behalf on 6 Mar. in the proceedings concerning Walpole’s disputed re-election at King’s Lynn, serving as teller in favour of hearing counsel on the petition submitted by the borough’s freemen. Pulteney kept in close touch with Walpole during the latter’s incarceration in the Tower. In the Commons he helped to maintain Walpole’s working relationship with the Junto Whigs, and was a mainstay of activity in the newly formed Hanover Club. When, towards the end of May, news reached them via Prince Eugene that Secretary St. John (Henry II*) had issued ‘restraining orders’ to the Duke of Ormond, commander of British forces on the Continent, a meeting of leading Whigs instigated by the Junto lords chose Pulteney to move an address urging the continuance of military action. In doing so on the 28th it was noted that Pulteney ‘could not forebear calling the Court a weak and treacherous ministry’, and only narrowly did he escape High Tory wrath and commitment to the Tower. He was afterwards a teller for the Whig minority who supported the address. After the 1710 election, when he was the only ‘Mr Pulteney’ in the House, his disinterest in committee work, for which he was later renowned, becomes more apparent as in each session he received only a handful of nominations. In one matter, however, an inquiry appointed on 8 Apr. 1712 into the authorship of anti-government reports in the Daily Courant, he may well have actively participated since he was a teller on the 11th against arresting the newspaper’s printer.5

On 10 Apr. 1713, the beginning of the new session, Pulteney was ‘very warm’ against the ministry’s peace-making efforts and was subsequently a teller against the wording of the Address. In his reply to Pulteney, John Manley inadvertently referred to him as ‘my lord’, prompting from him a typically quick-witted rejoinder, that ‘he was obliged to that gentleman for the honour he did him, but he did not know that ever he had made interest to be a lord, nor he hoped he should never be thought worthy to be put into the next set that was made’, an obvious allusion to the ministry’s recent ‘mass’ creation of 12 Tory peers to bolster support in the Upper House. Later in the session he was a prominent campaigner against the commercial treaty with France, acting as teller on 30 May in favour of a motion to delay consideration of the bill confirming the treaty’s 8th and 9th articles, and telling against its committal on 4 June. He also spoke and voted against the bill at its report stage on the 18th. While the peace negotiations had been under way he had subscribed a substantial sum to a secret fund set up by the Whigs with the intention of enabling the Emperor to maintain his refusal to accede to the Utrecht settlement.6

Pulteney’s powers of rhetoric were also applied to the pen, and among his earliest published writings was the satirical dedication to Lord Oxford (Robert Harley*) which he was understood to have written for Walpole’s Short History of a Parliament published in 1713. His friend Richard Steele* dedicated to him the second volume of a collected edition of The Guardian published at the beginning of 1714. In mid-March, when Steele’s writings came under government attack in the House, Pulteney, Walpole and Joseph Addison, along with other members of the Kit-Cat Club, concerted Steele’s defence. On 18 Mar., Pulteney, as one of the leading speakers in the debate against his expulsion, ridiculed the government’s method of harrying Steele, that ‘he must first suppose himself guilty of these crimes if you’ll oblige him to answer before he is accused’. He was a teller against Steele’s expulsion in the division which concluded the debate. On 9 Mar. he had been included on the drafting committee for a bill to curtail wool smuggling, one of the few occasions his name was associated with business of a non-political kind. On 20 Apr. he supported the sitting Whig MPs in the proceedings on the disputed Brackley election, acting as teller in favour of their claim that the franchise belonged with the resident freemen. Early in June, with the quarrel deepening between Oxford and Bolingbroke (St. John), Pulteney was among the first MPs to take public notice of it in the House, making a direct reference to the situation in a speech on supply on the 4th. A week or so later he elaborated this theme, telling the House that ‘he did not know who the ministry was, or whether we had any, or how such as are reckoned so can be relied on, seeing they cannot trust one another, and on that account it may be proper to think of other measures if the Queen do not prevent it by putting the management into other hands’. On 22 June he was teller (with Walpole) against the address to thank the Queen for the asiento. After the dismissal of Oxford late in July, Pulteney was among the senior Whig MPs (the others being James Craggs II and James Stanhope) to whom Bolingbroke made desperate but futile overtures. In the debate on the civil list bill on 12 Aug., shortly after George I’s accession, Pulteney supported the inclusion of a clause offering a £100,000 reward for the capture of the Pretender on the premise that ‘the Protestant succession was in danger as long as there was a Popish Pretender who had friends both at home and abroad’. In October he was appointed secretary at war in the new Whig ministry.7

He remained a close ally of Walpole until the mid-1720s when their political partnership disintegrated into mutual jealousy and acrimony, and Pulteney embarked on his long career of bitter opposition. He gave effective and sometimes brilliant leadership to those ‘patriot’ Whigs prepared to follow his lead, but, as the years passed, his self-interested political motives became increasingly plain and his reputation suffered. His inability to find adequate support for his ministry in February 1746 marked the end of his active political career. He died on 7 July 1764.

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. IGI, London.
  • 2. E. G. W. Bill, Q. Anne Churches, p. xxiv.
  • 3. Boyer, Anne Annals, i. 76; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/2, James Lowther* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 25 Apr. 1699; CJ, xiv. 285; Huntington Lib. Hastings mss HA9638, newsletter 28 Jan 1691–2; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 560; J. P. Kenyon, Sunderland, 313.
  • 4. DNB; HMC Portland, iv. 212; Add. 7059, f. 71; 7073, f. 218; Trinity, Dublin, Lyons (King) coll. 2003/1306, Edward Southwell* to Abp. King, 19 Nov. 1708; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 232; Coxe, Walpole (1816), iii. 27.
  • 5. Add. 61293, ff. 174, 176, 178; Top. and Gen. iii. 380; Luttrell, vi. 695; Egerton 3359 (unfol.); Coxe, 27–28; Coxe, Marlborough, vi. 158; Coxe, Walpole (1798), i. 37; Oldmixon, Hist. Eng. (1735), 509; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58 (11), p. 180; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 311; NSA, Kreienberg despatch 30 May 1712; D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pol. 110.
  • 6. Hervey Letter Bks. i. 355; Coxe (1816), 27–28.
  • 7. Holmes, 493; Steele Corresp. 476–7; Coxe (1798), i. 45; Douglas diary (Hist. of Parl. trans.), 18 Mar. 1714; BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 52, Thomas Bateman to Sir William Trumbull*, 4, 14 June 1714; Swift Corresp. ed. Williams, ii. 89; G. M. Trevelyan, Eng. under Q. Anne, iii. 298–9; Boyer, Pol. State, viii. 156.