STEPHENS, Thomas I (c.1639-1708), of Lypiatt Park, nr. Stroud, Glos.
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Family and Education
b. c.1639, 1st s. of John Stephens† of M. Temple and Lypiatt by his 3rd w. Anne, da. of John Moulson of Hargrave, Cheshire. educ. M. Temple 1652, called of grace 1662. m. lic. 13 May 1662, Anne, da. of Thomas Child of Northwick, Worcs., 4s. 3da. suc. fa. 1679.1
Sheriff, Glos. 1693–4.
Stephens was descended from a junior branch of a family which had been seated at Eastington in Gloucestershire since the mid-16th century. His grandfather, a bencher of the Middle Temple, had bought the manor of Lypiatt in James I’s reign, and his father, a bencher at the same inn of court, had served in the Long Parliament. Stephens became an active figure among Gloucestershire’s Whig gentry, working his way steadily upwards on the ladder of county office. Having held the shrievalty during 1693–4, he was persuaded to stand for the shire in the general election of November 1695. Although he was defeated in a three-cornered Whig contest, the sudden death immediately afterwards of one of the victors, Sir John Guise, 2nd Bt.*, gave him another chance the following month. In this second contest, in which he was opposed by Guise’s son, Sir John, 3rd Bt.*, Stephens benefited substantially from a determination among Gloucestershire’s leading Whigs to end the ‘established’ Guise interest, and through the blatant partiality and enterprise of the sheriff obtained a majority. The contest cost Stephens £1,000, and in his memoirs Guise later recalled that this ‘expense lay so uneasy upon the stomachs of Mr Stephens’ family that they hardly were ever in charity with me or mine, notwithstanding some advances I made’. In Parliament he allied himself with the Country Whigs, and in January 1696 was classed as doubtful in the forecast on the proposed council of trade. He duly signed the Association in February but voted against the Court on fixing the price of guineas at 22s. in March. He made no mark in proceedings, however, and only once was associated by name in a legislative project, a bill ordered on 3 Feb. 1698 for the improvement of woollen manufacture, being first-named to the panel ordered to prepare it. He was granted leave of absence on 6 Apr.2
Stephens put up again in the 1698 election, but on finding that the odds against him were too great, he withdrew before the poll. A comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments noted him as having been a Court supporter, though a later development suggests that such a notation must have been erroneous, for in November 1700, Stephens’s Tory cousin Lord Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†), tried at the behest of Robert Harley* to persuade him to stand in a joint ‘Country’ arrangement with the prominent Tory John Grobham Howe*. Stephens, no doubt fearful of the effects on his reputation of associating with such an unpopular and outspoken figure as Howe, declined, and instead fronted the campaign for the Country Whig Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt.* He made no further attempts to return to Parliament himself, and died in 1708 aged 69.3