WALTER, Sir John, 3rd Bt. (c.1674-1722), of Sarsden, Oxon.
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Family and Education
b. c.1674, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir William Walter, 2nd Bt., by his 1st w. Mary (d. 1674), da. of John Tufton, 2nd Earl of Thanet. educ. Queen’s, Oxf. 1691; DCL 1702. m. c.July 1701, Elizabeth (d. 1748), da. of Sir Thomas Vernon*, s.p. suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. 5 Mar. 1694.1
Freeman and bailiff, Oxford 1695.2
Clerk comptroller of Bd. of Green Cloth 1711–16.3
Walter personified the unsophisticated, uncompromising bon viveur Tory gentleman, ‘an honest, drunken fellow’ as his friend Swift once described him. His fondness for drink, gambling and the turf made him a convivial socialite and he moved easily among the political greats of Anne’s reign. The family’s Oxfordshire estates had been acquired by his great-grandfather, Sir John Walter†, the eminent jurist of James I’s reign, with the profits of legal office. During the Civil Wars Walter’s grandfather Sir William, the 1st baronet, was a firm Royalist and was fined £1,430 by the committee for compounding. He stood for his county at a by-election in 1663 but was defeated. Walter’s father opposed James II’s religious policies stating, when required to submit his opinion concerning the proposed repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws, that having lived amicably with all former ‘disturbers of the government’ he would give no undertaking to ‘live peaceably and quietly with them during the King, his master’s pleasure’. With this background it is hardly surprising that young John Walter should be bred an instinctive Tory. He succeeded his father in March 1694 at about the time he attained his majority, and in December entered Parliament for Appleby at a by-election on the interest of his uncle the 6th Earl of Thanet (Thomas Tufton†). Early in April 1695 it was reported he was about to marry the widow of the 2nd Lord Stawell: indeed, he was granted a week’s leave of the House, quite possibly for this purpose, on 29 Mar., but the arrangement was evidently cancelled at the last minute. At the general election later in the year he did not seek re-election at Appleby, apparently as Lord Abingdon had initially offered him the prospect of a seat at Woodstock before deciding instead to set up his son, Hon. James Bertie*. Walter’s own interest in the borough stemmed from his possession of the fee farm rent of the royal manor. At the Oxford assizes in July 1697 he was chairman of the jury that acquitted the Earl of Abercorn of murder.4
Another vacancy occurring at Appleby, Walter regained his seat there in December 1697 and subsequently had no trouble in being re-elected at the general election the following summer. He was afterwards classed as a Country supporter in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments, and was forecast as likely to oppose the standing army. During his first two brief sojourns in the House he was not a conspicuous Member, and in the early months of 1699 was struck down by smallpox, which was followed by a leisurely recuperation: towards the end of April, when the House was still in session, he was reported as having lately attended the Newmarket races, and intended to see a ‘cock match’ at Oxford on which, according to rumour, he had wagered £500. With the onset of the next election Walter seems to have anticipated difficulty in retaining his seat. His friend Simon Harcourt I* approached Robert Harley* in November to intercede with the chief men of influence in Appleby, Lord Thanet and Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.*, via Lord Rochester (Laurence Hyde†), but in the poll Walter was pushed into third place by a single vote. Anticipating failure of some kind, he had also made interest in December at Woodstock, but with little apparent success. He remained out of Parliament for the next six years, during which time his improvident spending, due not least to his fastidious tastes in clothes, seems to have caught up with him and forced him in 1702 to sell off property near Oxford and at Woodstock, where he found a willing purchaser in Lord Abingdon (Montagu Venables-Bertie*). He negotiated a further sale of land with the Oxfordshire-based Duke of Shrewsbury in 1707, and in 1710 sold his manor of Wolvercote, near Woodstock, to the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†).5
At the 1705 election Walter stood at Woodstock but was defeated. The following year, however, he was encouraged to take advantage of a vacancy at Oxford, and in spite of stiff opposition from the Whig candidate was successful. He was classed as a Tory early in 1708 and, following the general election, was marked as a ‘Tacker’, an ascription which, though obviously spurious, may nevertheless have represented his political protectiveness towards the Church. He and several other Tory friends expressed particular annoyance when, after obeying a summons from party chiefs to be in London for the opening of the new Parliament as part of an opposition initiative, they found at their arrival that the initiative had been aborted. At the beginning of 1709 he and his fellow Oxford MP, Thomas Rowney, promptly alerted their city corporation to the imminent presentation of a bill to repeal an Elizabethan statute (the ‘Mileway Act’) exempting citizens from the financial burdens of repairing all roads within a one-mile radius of the city. As a result, the corporation were able to organize a successful defence of the city’s privilege and the bill was dropped. Walter was one of a small group of wine-bibbing Tories who came together under the Duke of Beaufort’s lead in July 1709 to establish the ‘Board of Brothers’, and he became a regular participant in the Board’s proceedings. In June 1710, as prospects of peace began to materialize, he showed a characteristic concern that Parliament should lose no time in restoring regulations allowing the direct import of French wines from France. But in addition to his enthusiasm for French wine, Walter had also emerged as a High Church champion of Dr Sacheverell, voting against the impeachment early in 1710, and in July extending ‘noble’ hospitality to the doctor at Sarsden. Walter’s alcoholic reputation seems to have inspired the Whigs to claim in print that he had got Sacheverell so excessively drunk that he was ‘laid flat under the table’, permitting the Whig jest that the ‘pillar of the Church’ had been made to seem ‘Low Church’. This was vehemently repudiated in a wide-ranging Tory vindication of the doctor in which was printed a letter, dated 4 Jan. 1711, purportedly penned by Walter to Sacheverell, solemnly testifying that the charge was sheer fabrication.6
Walter was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ of the new Parliament, and for a short while contributed to proceedings in small ways clearly calculated to buttress the Tory presence in Parliament. On 2 Dec. 1710 he acted as teller in favour of hearing the merits of the Stafford election at the bar of the House. He showed an unmistakeable attachment to ‘Country’ Tory mores when on the 12th he was one of four Tory Members ordered to prepare a bill for stipulating a stronger landed qualification for gentlemen to sit in the House, and since he was first-named, it is probable that he himself had been responsible for this initiative. His interest in the progress of the Stafford election case appears again on 25 Jan. 1711, when he told in favour of a franchise supportive of the Tory petitioner. Neither was this the only disputed return in which he took an avid interest. He went so far as to declare the Commons’ readiness to nullify the election of one Whig, Hon. John Noel*, as knight of the shire for Rutland, even before the case had properly been considered. His preoccupation with disputed election hearings was again seen on 8 Feb. when, at the close of proceedings on the Aberdeen case, he was teller in favour of the Tory candidate. Walter’s new-displayed zeal received Court approbation in his appointment on 18 Feb. as clerk comptroller of the Green Cloth with a salary of £500, a post to which, with its duties of keeping table at court, he was eminently suited. He may well have owed the position to the recommendation of Thomas Coke*, a longstanding friend and fellow racing enthusiast who was vice-chamberlain of the Household. It is probable, too, that Lord Keeper Harcourt (Simon I) had a hand in the appointment. During this first session of the 1710 Parliament Walter featured as a ‘worthy patriot’ who assisted in exposing the mismanagements of the previous Whig administration, and in 1711 as a ‘Tory patriot’ opposed to the continuance of war. In October and November London society was agog with news of a ‘quarrel’ between Walter and Swift. When, as part of his Green Cloth duties, Walter had entertained Swift, the latter had described the choice of wine as ‘something small’. According to Swift, no quarrel actually occurred, but Walter had afterwards ‘railed at me behind my back’ for having ‘abused the Queen’s meat and drink, and said nothing at the table was good’. Innocent and unwitting though Swift’s remark appeared, he could not have insulted Walter’s pride on a more delicate subject. Walter later promised Swift an apology, but never gave it.7
In subsequent sessions Walter’s recorded activities were slight. On 25 Jan. 1712 the ‘Board of Brothers’ minuted that he and several other board members should be thanked for their ‘good attendance’ the previous day in the successful censure motion against Marlborough. He voted on 18 June 1713 for the French commerce bill, and following the 1713 election was noted as a Tory in the Worsley list of the new Parliament. During the redistribution of offices marking the Whig accession to power, Walter’s retention as a servant of the court made some Whigs ‘mighty uneasy’, particularly as it seemed most unlikely that he could be tamed to the new administration’s advantage. It was presumably for his persistent anti-ministerial voting over the next 18 months that he was finally dismissed in February 1716. In later years he looked back with nostalgia to his involvement in the heyday of Tory politics in Anne’s reign. As he set about composing his will in October 1718 it was his ‘earnest desire’ that the silver wine fountain with which the Queen had presented him in acknowledgement of his services to her household should be retained at his residence at Sarsden, ‘that the same may be therein perpetually preserved in remembrance of my duty and gratitude to her said late Majesty and of the honour I bear to her memory’.8
Walter died on 11 June 1722 and was buried at Sarsden. He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his half-brother Robert, having bequeathed the Sarsden estate to his wife with reversion to Robert upon her death. He also left £1,000 to his old friend Harcourt who in 1724 married Walter’s widow. Another old confrere, Sir John Stonhouse, 3rd Bt.*, was appointed an executor. Walter’s marriage had been childless, and his widow’s subsequent nuptials with Lord Harcourt prompted Dr George Clark, MP for Oxford University, to remark somewhat pointedly that ‘if the consequences of this happy union should be a fine boy, what a reproach that would be to the memory of Sir John Walter’. The baronetcy became extinct in 1731 when Sir Robert, too, died childless, the estate then becoming the subject of a protracted Chancery suit.9
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. Post Boy, 5–8 July 1701.
- 2. Oxford Council Acts (Oxf. Hist. Soc. n.s. ii), 257–8.
- 3. Info. from Prof. R. O. Bucholz.
- 4. Swift Stella ed. Davis, 374; HMC Cowper, iii. 165, 180; VCH Oxon. xii. 313, 373; DNB (Walter, Sir John); Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1882), 337; HMC Hastings, ii. 244, 298; Wood, Life and Times, iii. 483; Add. 70018, f. 62; Flemings in Oxford (Oxf. Hist. Soc. lxxix), 354–5.
- 5. Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 37; Add. 70019, f. 278; Bodl. Carte 228, f. 343; VCH Oxon. xii. 311, 313, 373; Swift Works. ed. Davis, i. 52; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 77/72, Sir John Talbot to Shrewsbury, 21 Jan. 1706–7.
- 6. Hereford and Worcester RO (Worcester), Hampton mss 705: 349/BA4657/iii/37, Rowney to Sir John Pakington, 4th Bt.*, 25 Apr. 1705; Oxford Council Acts (Oxf. Hist. Soc. n.s. x), 45, 55; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 303; Add. 49360, passim; 70421, newsletters 3, 10 Aug. 1710; Bodl. Ballard 20, f. 69; A Vindication of the Rev. Dr Henry Sacheverell from the False . . . Aspersions Cast upon Him . . ., 82.
- 7. Staffs. RO, Sutherland mss D868/7/43d, Duchess of Rutland to Lady Gower, 28 Jan. 1710[–11]; info. from Prof. Bucholz; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvii. 495; HMC Cowper, ii. 402; iii. 165, 180; Swift Stella, 374, 377, 379, 421, 601.
- 8. Add. 49360, f. 100; Norf. RO, Ketton-Cremer mss, James to Ashe Windham*, 28 Sept. 1714; PCC 64 Richmond.
- 9. Egerton 2540, f. 331; PCC 64 Richmond; C 110/135–6, 186.