STAWELL, William (1650-1702), of Parke, Bovey Tracy, Devon
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Family and Education
b. 1650, 1st s. of Sir John Stawell, barrister, of the Middle Temple and Bovey Tracy by his 1st w. Sarah, da. of Nathaniel Stephens† of Eastington, Glos. educ. Exeter, Oxf. matric. 6 Mar. 1668, aged 17; M. Temple 1669. unm. suc. fa. 1670.1
Stawell’s connexion with Ashburton derived from his ownership of a moiety of the manor which his father, a successful barrister, had purchased in 1666. He had fleetingly achieved prominence in 1680 when he chaired the Devon grand jury responsible for an abhorring address, managing to elude the custody of the serjeant-at-arms, and publicly proclaiming that this action had not disentitled him to his liberty. Through his mother’s relations he was a kinsman of Robert Harley*. Although he had been one of the Tories who joined William of Orange at Exeter in 1688, he did not re-enter Parliament until 1690. On the eve of the new Parliament he was classed as a Tory and probable Court supporter by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†); and in December Carmarthen, in anticipation of a Commons’ attack on his ministerial position, noted him as a likely supporter. Robert Harley* regarded him, however, as a Country supporter. Chronic absenteeism was the singular feature of his parliamentary career and he was accorded grants of leave in almost every session. His mother’s illness called him back to Devon in January 1692; three-week periods of leave were granted him in February 1693 and February 1694, and on defaulting at a call of the House on 14 Mar. 1694 he was excused attendance for a further two days, presumably allowing him to make the journey to London. He was granted leave again on 9 Mar. 1695, this time ‘for the recovery of his health’.
In January 1696 Stawell was forecast as likely to oppose the government on the proposed council of trade. He signed the Association the following month, but was absent from the divisions in March on the price of guineas and on 25 Nov. on the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. He was granted three weeks’ leave on 16 Dec., ‘his mother being very ill’. A further indefinite interval of leave was granted to him on 11 Mar. 1698. Following his re-election in 1698 he was listed as a member of the Country party. A near-fatal illness in October 1700 led to reports of his death, but his recovery was announced before the end of the month. On 15 Apr. 1701 he was granted a fortnight’s leave, but was evidently back in attendance the next month when he reported from a committee on a private bill. He was blacklisted as having opposed the preparations for war against France during the 1701 Parliament, was classed as a Tory by Harley in December 1701, and on 26 Feb. 1702 voted for the motion vindicating the impeachment of the King’s Whig ministers. He died on 18 June 1702. A private Act was needed for the sale of his estates in Devon and Cornwall in order to clear debts estimated at £15,000.2