WEBB, John Richmond (1667-1724), of Biddesden House, Ludgershall, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. 26 Dec. 1667, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Edmund Richmond Webb* by his 1st w; bro. of Thomas Richmond Webb*. m. (1) lic. 3 Feb. 1690, Henrietta (d. 1711), da. and coh. of William Borlase† of Great Marlow, Bucks., wid. of Sir Richard Astley, 1st Bt., of Patshull, Staffs. and Everley, Wilts., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da.; (2) 20 May 1720, Anne Skeates (d. 1737), wid., ?illegit. sis. of 1st w., 1s. 2da. illegit.1
Cornet, 3 Drag. 1685; capt. Queen’s Regt. Drag. 1688; capt. and lt.-col. Gren. Gds. 1689; gent. waiter to Prince George of Denmark by 1692–aft. 1694; col. 8 Ft. 1695–1715; brig.-gen. 1704, maj.-gen. 1706, lt.-gen. 1709; capt. and gov. I.o.W. Sept. 1710–15; c.-in-c. land forces in GB 1713.2
Freeman, Southampton 1710.3
Webb, lionized for posterity by his collateral descendant Thackeray in Henry Esmond, was a rough-hewn soldier, physically prepossessing but lacking the refinement of education, as he himself cheerfully admitted in a Commons debate in 1718. He survived the Revolution in spite of a relatively close association with King James’s government, having been given a captaincy in 1688 and been ordered by Lord Sunderland to stand as a Court candidate for Calne in the proposed Parliament. In a cryptic passage, Lord Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†) was to claim that Webb owed his ‘fortune’ to ‘advice I gave him’ at that time. More obvious debts were to his father Edmund Richmond Webb’s position in Prince George’s household, and to his own marriage. It was presumably with his wife’s money that in 1692 he purchased the Biddesden estate and with it the electoral interest on which he was returned at Ludgershall in 1695. Within a year he had been given a regiment. Webb was forecast as likely to support the Court in the divisions on 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade and signed the Association promptly. His former commanding officer, Sir John Fenwick†, felt him to be sympathetic to Jacobite schemes, but Webb denied that he ever encouraged this belief. His name did not occur in the division lists on Fenwick’s attainder. Army service probably helped prevent him from being an active Member of his early Parliaments: his regiment fought in the Low Countries in 1696 and was thereafter transferred to the Irish establishment to avoid the danger of disbandment. Generally his parliamentary activity is difficult to distinguish from that of his father, also known as ‘Colonel Webb’, but he was granted leave of absence on 17 Feb. 1697 and on 2 Apr. 1698 for a fortnight. In the meantime he had fought a duel with another officer in September 1697 and been ‘dangerously wounded’. After a surprising defeat by Thomas Neale* in the 1698 election he was seated on petition and his interest was consolidated by the Commons’ decision over the franchise. He was classed as a Court placeman in a comparative analysis of the old and new House of Commons of about September 1698. Elected to the first 1701 Parliament, he was listed as likely to support the Court in February 1701 on the question of continuing the ‘Great Mortgage’. Possibly the ‘Colonel Webb’ given leave of absence again for a fortnight on 2 May 1701, he probably went to Holland with his regiment, and not long afterwards was said to be in high favour with King William. He was re-elected to the second 1701 Parliament whereupon he was classed with the Tories by Robert Harley*.4
Webb has been numbered by historians among Harley’s followers in Queen Anne’s first Parliament, largely because of his kinship with Henry St. John II* and because he was one of the moderate Tories who, forecast as opponents of the Tack, did not vote for it on 28 Nov. 1704. Webb’s other parliamentary activities are sometimes difficult to distinguish in Anne’s reign due to the presence of more than one namesake, although after distinguishing himself in various actions in the War of the Spanish Succession he was promoted to brigadier-general in April 1704, and two years later was gazetted as a major-general, by which titles he was generally known. He was briefly a prisoner of the French in 1704. Released on Ailesbury’s intervention, though showing little gratitude to his benefactor, he was able to fight at Blenheim later in the year. His part in the Duke of Marlborough’s (John Churchill†) triumphs did not avail him at Ludgershall in the 1705 election, however, and he had to wait to be seated on petition. Listed as a placeman in 1705 he may have been the ‘John Webb’ listed as voting for the Court on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill on 18 Feb. 1706. If so, this may explain his classification as a Whig in a list of early 1708, although he was listed as a Tory in another list from 1708 with the returns added.5
It is difficult to date precisely Webb’s estrangement from the Godolphin ministry. Perhaps he accompanied the other Harleyites into opposition in February 1708, though there is no hard evidence for such an assumption. Nor is the fact that he faced attacks from Tory interests at Ludgershall in the 1708 election necessarily significant: the contest there had more to do with personalities, and money, than with party principle. Whatever his opinions in the summer of 1708, an event was to take place in September which did break his personal loyalty to Marlborough. In an engagement with the French at Wynendael he won a signal success, beating off attacks by superior forces, but Marlborough, probably misinformed, gave the credit in his first dispatch to Webb’s rival, William Cadogan*. Webb was enraged, and nothing could bring about a lasting pacification. He was sent over to give his version of events to the Queen, and it was printed in the London Gazette as a correction to the previous account; he was flattered and ‘caressed’ by the Junto Whig ministers; and in the following spring Marlborough secured his further promotion to lieutenant-general, and warmly invited him back to Flanders for the next campaign. But Webb felt himself a hero – he was eulogized in a ‘heroick essay’ in verse, and received the ‘order of generosity’ and a gift of diamonds from the king of Prussia. He became overfond of recounting his adventures. The story went that on one occasion, choosing a particularly unreceptive audience in the Duke of Argyll, and telling how he had suffered as many as four wounds on the great day in question, he was given the reply, ‘What a pity, my dear general, that one of them was not in your tongue.’ His cause was taken up by Tories in Parliament. The Commons as a whole voted him thanks on 13 Dec. 1708 for ‘the great and eminent services’ he had performed, but this was at the instigation of the Tories, and it was a Tory, William Bromley II*, who turned the occasion into an attack on Marlborough.6
The 1709 campaign was Webb’s last on active service. After his regiment had been involved in the siege of Tournai he found himself at Malplaquet, where he received a disabling wound in the thigh. Even by January 1710 he was ‘still so lame of his wound that he can’t walk but with great pain’. He was granted an annuity of £1,000 out of the revenues of the Post Office in consideration of ‘his many eminent . . . services’ during the war, a pension that although technically ‘for life’ was intended as a stop-gap until he could be found a government office, something Webb not only understood but later agreed to in writing. On top of this he was allowed £1,000 as royal bounty in August 1710 to pay the expense of treating his wounds. Although in England during the 1709–10 parliamentary session, he made little impression in the Commons, perhaps maintaining a politic silence: he was not listed, for example, as either supporting or opposing the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. The collapse of the administration of Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) and Marlborough and the Whigs opened up considerable opportunities, however, to one of his fame and connexions. Appointed by Harley in September to the governorship of the Isle of Wight, for which he surrendered his Post Office pension, he found himself with a choice of parliamentary seats. He was sure of election at Newport, Isle of Wight, through his influence as governor; there was Ludgershall, in which his interest was still strong; and he even thought of himself as a possible candidate for Westminster, until dissuaded by wiser heads. He returned himself both at Newport and at Ludgershall, where he brought in a fellow Tory general, Thomas Pearce, as his partner. The stiffest opposition at Ludgershall had come from another Tory, Lord Ailesbury’s son Hon. Robert Bruce*. To the Bruces, who had contested Ludgershall previously against Webb, the general’s ingratitude appeared boundless, and his determination to press his interest at Ludgershall particularly galling. However, their appeals to leading figures in the new ministry and the Tory party, the Dukes of Ormond, Shrewsbury and Beaufort, to intercede with Webb fell on deaf ears. To add insult to injury, Webb then opted to sit for Ludgershall.7
Classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ of the new Parliament, Swift recorded that Webb still walked ‘with a crutch and a stick’, but he now made himself more active, if not always effective, in debate. On 2 Jan. 1711, for example, he contributed a speech to the discussion of the address to the Queen following her communication of the news of the allied defeat at Brihuega. Robert Walpole II had proposed to add the phrase ‘in concert with the allies’ to any promise of support for action taken in the Peninsula, because of his professed fear that the ministry might be intending to weaken the forces in Flanders by switching troops to the other theatre. Harley had refuted the charge, but then:
Lieutenant-General Webb made a speech which disconcerted all that had been said before and gave Mr Walpole’s friends a very good handle to justify his proposal. He said that everybody was sensible that in all this war the war in Spain had been starved, and that in Flanders very sufficiently provided for; and that in his opinion the war in Spain could not be well maintained by sending such troops as were usually sent there, but that it would be necessary to send the very best of the troops they had for that service; and that if 20 battalions of the best troops in Flanders were sent it would soon be seen what a change of affairs they would make; and said that he wished that those who have been knocked in the head there this last year unnecessarily had been sent to Spain. This gave an opportunity for Sir Joseph Jekyll* to say that what Mr Walpole had said was not so far out of the road as was pretended, and that it seems there was some ground for the apprehensions he had expressed.
His other contribution was more valuable to Harley, supporting (Sir) James Montagu I in the Carlisle election case, and giving evidence against the character of the petitioner, Colonel Samuel Gledhill, even being prepared to move that Gledhill be taken into custody. Listed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who in this session exposed the mismanagements of the previous ministry, he was not a troublesome back-bencher, keeping clear of the October Club, as befitted one who not only held a place but continued to receive sums of £1,000 and £2,000 from the Queen for his medical expenses. He did not, however, regard these grants or his governorship as adequate reward for his ‘services and sufferings’. He may also have incurred pressing financial obligations as a result of electioneering in Ludgershall, or as a result of his decision, in about 1711, to build a house at Biddesden. His first surviving appeal to Harley, now Lord Oxford, is dated September 1711, and makes a case for the ‘continued’ payment of the pension he had given up when appointed to the Isle of Wight. This Oxford resisted, but after Webb had shown himself useful in the 1711–12 session, revenging himself by voting against Marlborough, and adding the private pleasure of snubbing an overture of friendship from the Duke, one of his daughters was named a maid of honour and he himself was seriously considered by the treasurer, under prompting from St. John, as a replacement for Thomas Erle* as commander-in-chief of the land forces in Great Britain. Opposition from other officers prevented the appointment, and further requests from Webb followed. In March 1713 he asked for ‘the paymaster’s place of Gibraltar’ should it fall vacant. Even when Oxford did give him Erle’s post in about June 1713 he was not satisfied: a month later he was demanding ‘his pension’ of 1710 ‘or . . . the Coldstream regiment, with a pension of £500 on the establishment of Ireland for life’. Harley proposed instead, ‘as an equivalent’ to the pension, ‘the government of Chelsea College, and that to be made up’, but characteristically failed to deliver. Disappointment did not alienate Webb, and he voted with the Court on 18 June for the French commerce bill.8
Returning himself once again at Ludgershall and Newport in 1713, he chose to create the vacancy this time at Ludgershall, perhaps because he had reputedly made himself unpopular in the Isle of Wight, and put up John Ward II* at the ensuing by-election. He endured a near-fatal illness in December 1713, and played no prominent part in the 1714 parliamentary session, after which he was described as a Tory in the Worsley list.9
Despite Whig pressure, Webb was retained in his regiment and governorship by George I, though on condition that he made his peace with Marlborough. The compiler of a comparative analysis of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments presumably took this acceptance by the new regime as the basis for his classification of Webb as a Whig, but in fact he continued to vote with the Tories, and was dismissed in 1715. He turned to Jacobitism, and was sent a commission by the Pretender in 1722, his name frequently cropping up in the trials in the aftermath of the failure of the Atterbury Plot. The Irish Tory playwright William Philips subsequently dedicated to Webb his play Belisarius, based on the life of Justinian’s general, whose ‘ungrateful treatment’ furnished an obvious parallel. Webb died at Biddesden House on 5 Sept. 1724.10
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. H. T. Richmond, Richmond Fam. Recs. ii. 235–6; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxxi), 132; DNB; Her. et Gen. ser. 5, vi. 45.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1687–9, p. 366; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiv. 515; Boyer, Pol. State, iii. 386.
- 3. Southampton RO, Southampton bor. recs. SC3/2, f. 44.
- 4. Richmond, 235; HMC Stuart, vii. 568; HMC Portland, v. 570; J. Childs, Army, Jas. II and Glorious Revol. 207; Ailesbury Mems. 376, 582; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 18, 275; v. 51; Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 258.
- 5. G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 263; H.T. Dickinson, Bolingbroke, 37; Boyer, Anne Annals, i. 103; vii. 70; EHR, xix. 309; Ailesbury Mems. 537–8, 570.
- 6. I. F. Burton, Capt. Gen. 139–40; Coxe, Marlborough, ii. 320–1, 376–7; Boyer, Anne Annals, vii. 127; Ailesbury Mems. 610–11; HMC Portland, iv. 507; Luttrell, vi. 358, 383, 395, 399, 425; Add. 22202, f. 28; 70420, newsletter 10 Feb. 1709; 17677 CCC, f. 685; An Heroick Essay upon the Unequal’d Victory Obtain’d by Maj.-Gen. Webb . . . at Wynendale (1709); 7th Duke of Manchester, Court and Soc. Eliz. to Anne, ii. 380–1; Addison Letters, 123–4; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 760–1.
- 7. Boyer, Anne Annals, viii. 39; Post Boy, 3–6 Sept. 1709; Add. 70421, newsletter 17 Jan. 1710; 17677 DDD, ff. 577–8, 595; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiv. 200, 403, 515; HMC Portland, ii. 222–3; x. 90–91; Addison Letters, 236; Camb. Hist. Jnl. vi. 220; Wentworth Pprs. 137, 140; HMC 15th Rep. VII, 202–3; Wilts. RO, Ailesbury mss 1300/1020, Robert to Ld. Bruce (Charles*), [22 Sept. 1710].
- 8. Swift Stella ed. Davis, i. 246; SRO, Montrose mss, Mungo Graham* to Montrose, 2 Jan., 22 Feb. 1711; NSA, Kreienberg despatches 3 Jan., 23 Feb. 1711; Add. 17677 EEE, ff. 31, 95; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxv. 198; G. Holmes, Augustan Eng. 271–2; HMC Portland, v. 161–2, 323; x. 89–91; Verney Letters 18th Cent. 310; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 281; Wentworth Pprs. 262; Boyer, Pol. State, iii. 386.
- 9. Beaufort mss at Badminton House, Beaufort to Ormond, 10 Oct. 1713; HMC Portland, v. 368–9.
- 10. Wentworth Pprs. 426, 430; Verney Letters 18th Cent. 339; W. Philips, Belisarius (1724); Richmond, 236; The Gen. n.s. vi. 105.