TOLLEMACHE, Hon. Thomas (c.1650-94), of Leicester Fields, Westminster

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



30 Jan. 1689 - 1690
22 Jan. 1692 - 12 June 1694

Family and Education

b. c.1650, 2nd surv. s. of Sir Lionel Tollemache, 3rd Bt.; bro. of Lionel Tollemache*, 3rd Earl of Dysart [S].  educ. Queens’, Camb. 1668, MA 1669; I. Temple 1668; travelled abroad (Germany).  unm. 1s. illegit.1

Offices Held

Capt. Coldstream Gds. Jan.–Feb. 1678, May 1679–82; lt.-col. of ft. regt. of Ld. Alington (William†) Feb. 1678–Apr. 1679, R. Fusiliers 1685–by May 1686; col. 5 Ft. (in Holland) Oct. 1685–Mar. 1688; col. of ft. Dutch army (later 5 Ft.) Mar. 1688–May 1689; col. Coldstream Gds. May 1689–d.; maj.-gen. Dec. 1690–Jan. 1692, lt.-gen. Jan. 1692–d.; gov. of Portsmouth Dec. 1690–d.2


Tollemache landed with William of Orange in 1688, and commanded the advance guard of the invading army. Though he was a brave, somewhat reckless soldier, the vehemence of his Whiggery and brashness of his personality did not make him a favourite with the new King. William appointed him to the colonelcy of his old regiment, the Coldstream Guards, in 1689, in gratitude for his services, but refused to add to it the governorship of Portsmouth, to which Tollemache had been recommended, saying that ‘he would make no chief governor’ there. Tollemache fought under Marlborough (John Churchill†) in the Netherlands in the 1689 campaign, and was in Holland at the time of the 1690 election, for which he did not put up, pinning his hopes on his friend Thomas Felton* ‘being chosen in two places and giving him one of them’. Unfortunately for Tollemache, Felton was only returned for one. In December 1690 Tollemache was at last appointed governor of Portsmouth, and the following May he was promoted to major-general, his commission antedated to the previous December, and sent with Ginkel to Ireland, where he distinguished himself at Athlone and at Aughrim, and in October 1691 received the surrender of Limerick.3

Tollemache was back in England in time to stand at a by-election at Chippenham in December 1691. According to Luttrell he received a majority of votes but was not returned. He petitioned, however, and was soon seated. There had been a rumour, reported by Luttrell on 2 Jan. 1692, that Tollemache would follow Major-General Charles Trelawny* in resigning his commission out of sympathy for the disgraced Marlborough, but a lengthy private audience with the King, who expressed himself ‘extremely satisfied with his conduct of matters’, must have dissuaded him, and on 23 Jan. he was given Marlborough’s place as lieutenant-general. He served in the Netherlands during the 1692 campaign, earning praise for his masterly handling of the English infantry’s retreat after Steenkerk, and acting in September as governor of the King’s garrison at Dixmude. His achievements contrasted sharply with what was seen as the incompetence of William’s infantry general, the Count de Solms, and in a debate in the Commons on 23 Nov. 1692 Country Whigs and Country Tories joined in praising Tollemache in order to disparage Solms and the other foreign officers. Several were for addressing the King to replace Solms with Tollemache, ‘a better soldier and one who has done . . . extraordinary service and is well beloved of the soldiers, which the other is not’, but it was agreed that to ‘name one’ to the King was ‘not . . . decent in the House’. Tollemache himself shared this open contempt for Solms, and the King was plainly anxious to conciliate him. Tollemache was told in January 1693 that he would have the command of the English forces in the next campaign, and subsequently, it would appear, was promised the governorship of the Isle of Wight in exchange for that of Portsmouth, and a grant from the confiscated Irish estates. It was at about this time that the Jacobite conspirator Sir John Fenwick† recalled that Tollemache had told him that ‘he hoped he and I should serve together again . . . and he would be as honest as I was’. In April a warrant was issued to grant Tollemache a three-year custodiam of lands in Ireland worth some £1,200 p.a., but meanwhile the governorship of the Isle of Wight had been given to his old comrade-in-arms Lord Cutts (John*). Tollemache wrote bitterly to Felton:

The mighty secret is at last out, and . . . I must confess I am glad of it, for fear new favours might have made me more complying, though if I know myself well I can never let my interest overcome my reputation, nor so just a pretension as I have to the Duke of Württemburg’s command. I assure you I am in no manner of passion, and can’t help believing that the King has no further occasion of my service, and why should I then follow rules which are so uneasy to him and to me, for all the world can’t hinder me from leaving the service when the campaign is over; why therefore must I not do it now? I have some thoughts to ask leave to serve in another army this summer if I leave my command. But I am so weary of this way of living that I need not look after new troubles. I thank God I am very well contented with my condition without relying on the Irish concerns, for that I believe will never be made good . . . The giving this government just in my absence has obliged me extremely, for I wanted this occasion to save me a great expense and trouble.

His bitterness quickly became known in London, and Lord Sunderland wrote to calm him down but, as Sunderland informed Lord Portland, without success: ‘arguments at distance signify little, though I hope he will do nothing to anger the King, for it would be mighty unseasonable’. Sunderland added, ‘Tollemache’s anger is not about the Isle of Wight but Count de Solms’. In Grascome’s list, compiled in the spring of 1693, Tollemache was classed as opposition; the previous year he had twice been listed as a placeman. In due course, however, he stifled his resentment and served, again with distinction, in the 1693 campaign. At the battle of Landen he ‘brought off the English foot with great prudence, bravery and success’. As he had predicted, there were difficulties about the Irish grant, but it finally passed in October, and when he came back to England he was treated with great solicitude by the King. He had been included in three further lists of placemen during the year, and on 11 Dec. 1693 made his only recorded Commons speech, on the Court side, in the committee of supply. Seconding a motion to augment the land forces, he recalled the previous campaign, praised the King’s part in it, and warned of what might have happened had the enemy pressed their advantage and taken Louvain and Mechlin:

The consequence of losing these great towns is the French will afterwards take Nieuport and Ostend. I have been told Nieuport may be made a good port, which will annoy our trade very much; and besides, the Hollanders will be uneasy with such neighbours, and though they are very willing to do what they can to carry on the war, yet, if the war comes near them, the common people will force them to make an ill peace, or join with France. If the committee will increase their forces, I hope it is the way to make a good peace. A peace may now be had, but upon such terms as that, before the present debts are paid, you may be engaged in another war. It may be thought that I, having no estate, am ready to put the nation to a great charge, but I do declare, I am as weary of the war as any person, and as desirous to have an end of it; and, though I cannot answer for the success of the war, yet if the House will enable the King to come into the field with a good army, they may be able to preserve Flanders.4

Tollemache had been taken ill in the Netherlands in September 1693 and suffered recurrent fits of ‘ague’ early the following year. In May 1694 he wrote to his brother:

I did indeed all this winter believe I should not be in a condition to serve this campaign, and with some other reasons I resolved to go live in the country the rest of my life, but my ill fortune will not let me alone, and now I am engaged more than ever, I must say much against my will.

He had been given command of the troops for the landing at Brest, a project he warmly supported. Although he was informed before embarking in May 1694 that the French had been warned of the attempt, and was at a late stage given some latitude in his orders, so that he might ‘try what could be done on any other part of the coast they should find more feasible’, he persisted in adhering strictly to the original plan. Evidently he considered that this permission to try elsewhere had not been explicit enough, and, against the advice of his fellow officers, insisted on making the landing in Camaret Bay, which the French had heavily fortified. Characteristically, he led the first shore party himself, and was shot in the thigh during the rout that ensued. Carried back to Plymouth and pronounced to be in no danger, his wound ‘gangrened’ suddenly and he died the same evening, 12 June 1694. His body was brought to London by the Queen’s order to be interred in Westminster Abbey at royal expense, but from there it was conveyed instead to Helmingham where he himself had wished to be buried.5

The King expressed himself ‘extremely afflicted with the loss of poor Tollemache, for although I do not approve of his conduct, yet I am of opinion that his too ardent zeal to distinguish himself induced him to attempt what was impracticable’. The view that it was Tollemache’s own rashness and stubbornness that was responsible for the disaster, rather than the fact that the plan had been betrayed to the French, was shared by all those involved, though not by the public at large, where Tollemache’s own opinion, that he had been the victim of ‘the envy of some of his pretended friends’, took hold. A popular Whig hero, Tollemache was described in the sermon at his funeral as ‘a complete English gentleman’, a ‘firm and exemplary’ patriot and as a soldier ‘surprisingly brave in the most dangerous emergencies’: ‘his conversation was familiar and engaging, his wit lively and piercing, his judgment solid and discerning; and all these set off by a graceful person, a cheerful aspect and an inviting air’. Shrewsbury, however, suggested that he was ‘perhaps not altogether without his faults’. Lord Dartmouth identified one of these as ‘lewdness’, another his ‘particular . . . vanity’ that he was indeed, as was rumoured, a natural son of Oliver Cromwell†. Burnet, who was ‘very much his friend’, thought him ‘much too apt to be discontented, and to turn mutinous’. In his will, drawn up shortly before the Brest expedition, Tollemache had estimated his personal estate at £2,400 net, excluding the profits of the Irish custodiam. His property was to be divided between his illegitimate son, ‘Thomas Tollemache’, a serving officer, and his niece, on condition that she should not ‘marry to any Scotsman who is to live in Scotland with her’.6

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Wood, Life and Times, iii. 459; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1922; DNB; E. D. H. Tollemache, Tollemaches of Helmingham, 72–76.
  • 2. F. J. G. ten Raa and F. de Bas, Het Staatsche Leger, vi. 254.
  • 3. Tollemache, 75–76; DNB; Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 229; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, ‘Devonshire House’ notebk. (‘Talmage’); Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1033; Bodl. Carte 79, f. 300; CSP Dom. 1690–1, pp. 180, 362.
  • 4. Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 314, 328, 338, 342, 399, 450, 461, 528, 551, 561, 647; iii. 12, 33, 38, 61, 69, 150, 218; HMC Hastings, ii. 338; Wood, 381; Tollemache, 77; Luttrell Diary, 254–6; CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 531; Portledge Pprs. 166; Bodl. Tanner 25, f. 13; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 108, 176–7, 269–70, 290, 315, 336, 379; CJ, xi. 578; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1400, Tollemache to Felton, 29 Apr. [1693]; PwA1213, Sunderland to Portland, [10 May 1693]; Boyer, Wm. III, iii. 369; Grey, x. 363–4.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1693, p. 349; 1694–5, pp. 157, 169–70, 175, 183–4; HMC Astley, 78; Tollemache, 78–81; Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1420–4, Sir John Trenchard* to Portland, 25, 29 May, 15 June 1694; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 71, 73, 81; HMC Portland, iii. 551; Burnet, iv. 233; Carte 79, ff. 534, 536; Luttrell, iii. 333–5.
  • 6. Shrewsbury Corresp. 45–47, 199; HMC Portland, iii. 551; DNB; Macaulay, Hist. Eng. v. 2450; N. Brady, Sermon . . . at the Funeral of Lt.-Gen. Tolmach, 23–30; PCC 162 Box; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 151.