TILY, Joseph (c.1654-1708), of Exeter, Devon and Lincoln’s Inn

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



1695 - 1698

Family and Education

b. c.1654, 1st s. of Joseph Tily, merchant, of Bristol, Glos.  educ. L. Inn 1671, called 1681.  m. (1) lic. 29 Nov. 1676 (aged ‘about 22’), Elizabeth Rivers of Godalming, Surr.; (2) aft. 1693, Deborah, da. of one Powell, merchant, of Bristol, wid. of one Bovett of St. Augustine’s, London and Sir John Roberts, 1st Bt., of Bromley, Mdx., 1s.  Kntd. 24 Mar. 1696.1

Offices Held

Vice-chancellor, duchy of Lancaster 1689–1702.2

Commr. taking subscriptions to land bank 1696.3


Qualifying as a barrister in 1681, Tily established himself in practice at Exeter. He appears to have disowned his chosen profession, however, and over the next seven years his career took a distinctly unorthodox and adventuresome path. In 1683 he became involved with several Bristol conspirators in the Rye House Plot. Neither a search of his house in Bristol nor of his chambers at Lincoln’s Inn revealed any incriminating evidence – he later denied having had any dealings with the plotters – but a warrant for his arrest prompted his escape aboard a coal-ship from Lymington, Hampshire, to Ireland. From there he made his way to France, where he remained until the end of 1684, and thence to Holland. In 1685, ‘thinking myself in a desperate condition’, he was persuaded to join the Duke of Monmouth’s cause in England, and was one of the rebels who attempted to secure Bristol. Escaping back to Holland, he became the ‘principal undertaker’ at the clothing manufactory at Lewaarden, run by English exiles and considered a major threat to English trade. When the business collapsed in the summer of 1686, Tily tried to turn it to his own advantage by claiming it had been his intention all along to destroy the manufactory and boasted that he was ‘not suspected for I had the good fortune to shuffle the cards so that I have cast all the blame on . . . the workmen’. He entertained hopes of compensation or ‘reward’ from the English government for this signal service to English trade, estimating his losses at 60,000 guilders, although not surprisingly his claims were treated with reserve and his sincerity was suspected. He insisted that he had begun the manufactory ‘out of necessity and not out of choice or out of any formed design to prejudice his Majesty’s affairs or my native country’. Equally importantly, he was also trying at this time to obtain a formal pardon from the government, and in June 1687 was reminding Secretary Lord Middleton (Charles†) of his ability ‘to do his Majesty very good service at Bristol and in the adjacent parts, where he hath and hath yet good credit . . . he will undertake when he is able to go into those parts to get some Parliament men chosen to his Majesty’s mind’. It appears that these negotiations bore no fruit, and he was only able to return to England with William of Orange in 1688.4

Given a duchy of Lancaster office, presumably through the influence of his fellow conspirator in the plots of the previous reigns, the 1st Earl of Macclesfield, Tily married a wealthy widow as his second wife, who brought him not only the manors of Bromley-at-Bow and Poplar in Middlesex, but also property in the West Indies. He quickly put this new accession of wealth to political purposes, coming forward in 1694 as a founder-subscriber to the Bank of England with an investment exceeding £3,000. At the 1695 election the corporation of Exeter invited him to stand for one of the city seats against Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.* The government, for whom he was known to be ‘zealous’, readily gave him its backing and in mid-October he was presented to the King by his patron, the Duke of Shrewsbury. One commentator noted that his ‘interest is great’ and that he was ‘fair in his character and of a plentiful fortune’. In the course of a fierce contest Tily sought to ingratiate himself with the clothing interests in the city by promoting an ambitious scheme, which he had already brought to the notice of the King and the Treasury, for ‘a linsey woolsey manufactory for the clothing of 100,000 people annually’ which he wanted to establish at Exeter. Tily’s campaign was probably instrumental in inflicting an undoubtedly humiliating defeat on Seymour and the Exeter Tories. His subsequent pro-ministerial conduct in the House is documented in his being forecast in January 1696 as a likely supporter in respect of the proposed council of trade, his signature of the Association at the end of February, and his vote in favour of fixing the price of guineas at 22s. In the debate on the council of trade on 31 Jan. Seymour alluded to him as one who ‘drank King James’s health daily’. Declaring himself to be the person intended, Tily assured Members ‘that the reflexion was governed only upon the affidavit of a whore and another who swore that six years ago he had drank King James’s health in their presence’. He endeavoured ‘to represent the improbability of it by saying that he came over with the King and was at his elbow before Sir Edward Seymour approached him’. Despite his support for the Bank of England, Tily also gave early backing to the project for a national land bank and was included on 6 Mar. among the Members authorized to draft a bill for the purpose. He was listed as having agreed to subscribe in excess of £3,000 towards its funds, and was subsequently named a commissioner for taking subscriptions. Towards the end of March he was knighted at Kensington by the King in company with his co-Member for Exeter, Edward Seyward. During the summer he did much at Exeter to promote Charles Montagu’s* scheme for the issue of interest-bearing Exchequer bills as an emergency measure for dealing with the chronic shortage of specie. In addition, at a Treasury meeting on 23 June, he agreed to raise £10,000 as ‘a fund for a credit for the expenses of the mint at Exeter’, and in a letter the same day to William Blathwayt*, Montagu praised Tily for his help in bringing the scheme ‘to great perfection’ in that city.5

Tily was apparently absent from the division on Sir John Fenwick’s† attainder on 25 Nov. 1696. In March 1697 he made some attempt to fulfil the electoral promises he had made at Exeter by initiating a bill ‘to encourage the woollen manufactures in England’ which he presented on 5 Apr. The bill was soon afterwards dropped, however, possibly because his attention had switched towards obtaining the passage of a bill to curtail the activities and numbers of brokers and stockjobbers. On 20 Jan. 1698, Tily fended off a motion for an inquiry into the grants which the King had made since the Revolution, by moving successfully for an investigation into the crown grants which had been made during the previous two reigns. During March and April he assisted Seyward in obtaining an Act for establishing a corporation of the poor in Exeter.6

Tily stood down at Exeter in 1698, though his bid for a seat at Lancaster, where he was put up by the 2nd Earl of Macclesfield (Charles Gerard*), came to nothing. A Whig pamphlet published at this time mentioned his efforts in conjunction with Charles Montagu and Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt.*, in obstructing the designs of those who wished to reduce the constitution to ‘a French or Turkish monarchy’. The post-electoral comparison of the old and new Parliaments classed him retrospectively as a member of the Court party. As was to be expected, he was removed in May 1702 from his duchy of Lancaster post by the incoming Tory chancellor Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.* In retirement Tily gave his attention to scholarly pursuits, publishing in 1704 an English translation of a collection of 16th- and 17th-century tracts on liberty, mostly by Dutch authors, relating to the independence of the Netherlands. He died in January 1708.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 451; Foster, London Mar. Lic. 1343.
  • 2. Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 171.
  • 3. CJ, xii. 508.
  • 4. CSP Dom. Jan.–June 1683, p. 368; July–Sept. 1683, p. 392; 1683–4, p. 378; 1686, p. 230; Add. 41813, ff. 142, 156, 199, 202–3; 41814, f. 245; 41819, ff. 121, 125–6, 159, 161–3, 204–5; 17677 QQ, ff. 257–8.
  • 5. Sloane 2717, f. 47; Add. 17677 QQ, ff. 257–8; 34355, f. 7; Le Neve’s Knights, 451; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Bank of Eng. pprs. 31.1.7, ff. 98, 99, 146; BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 32, [–] to Sir William Trumbull*, n.d. [Feb. 1696]; CJ, xii. 508; Cal. Treas. Bks. xi. 30, 32, 362.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1698, p. 38.
  • 7. The True Englishman’s Choice of Parliament-Men . . . (1698); Tily, Select Orations upon the Liberty and Peace of Europe (1704); Le Neve, Mon. Angl. 1700–15, p. 163.