CAESAR, Charles (1673-1741), of Benington, Herts.
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Family and Education
b. 21 Nov. 1673, 1st s. of Sir Charles Caesar of Benington by Susanna, da. and coh. of Sir Thomas Bonfoy, London merchant. educ. St. Catharine’s, Camb. 1689; M. Temple 1690. m. 24 Nov. 1702 (with £5,000), Mary, da. of Ralph Freman of Aspenden Hall, Herts., 2s. 2da. suc. fa. 1694.
Treasurer of the navy 1711-14.
The Caesars were descended from Cesare Adelmare, an Italian physician, who came to England about 1550 and was medical adviser to Mary Tudor and Elizabeth. His eldest son Julius, who took the name of Caesar and bought Benington from the Earl of Essex in 1613, and his grandson, Sir Charles, both Members of Parliament, were eminent lawyers and masters of the rolls under James I and Charles I. Their successors were country gentlemen, who were frequently returned for the county and borough of Hertford from the Restoration till the reign of George II.
The sixth of the line, Charles Caesar succeeded on coming of age to an estate of £3,500 a year.1 In 1701 he was returned by the combined Tory and Quaker vote for Hertford, which he continued to represent in every Parliament but one till the end of Anne’s reign. A member of the October Club, he became one of the leading spokesmen of the High Tories; was sent to the Tower in 1705 for a speech in which he accused Godolphin of having corresponded with the Jacobite court; and was given office by Harley in 1711.
Again returned for Hertford in 1715 and 1722, Caesar was twice unseated on petition. Before being unseated in 1715, he spoke against the Address and a motion for increasing the civil list to £700,000 and in 1722 against a bill empowering the King to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act. While out of Parliament he became deeply involved in the Jacobite plots and intrigues. In 1716 he acted as intermediary between his friend, Harley, now Lord Oxford, and Atterbury, the Pretender’s two principal advisers in England, and took a leading part in the negotiations with Count Gyllenborg, the Swedish minister in London, for an invasion by Charles XII to bring about the restoration of the Stuarts. On 23 Oct. 1716 Townshend wrote to Stanhope in Hanover that an intercepted letter from Gyllenborg
confirms all we have ever suspected as to his corresponding with the disaffected here, and his saying that money will not be wanting to complete his scheme, shows plainly that he has had large offers from the party, and that they are determined to try once more their fortune if the King of Sweden will assist them with troops. Count Gyllenborg has passed most of this summer with Caesar, a creature of Lord Oxford’s in Hertfordshire.
When, at the beginning of 1717 Caesar and Gyllenborg were arrested, a Jacobite agent reported:
Our plot is at present at a stand. Nothing material is found amongst Mr. Caesar’s papers, and he is out on bail [for £10,000] ... There is not anything either amongst the Swedish minister’s papers that affects, or so much as names any British man whatsoever.
Highly laudatory accounts of Caesar’s conduct were sent to the Pretender, who was informed that
Lord Oxford begs that the King’s picture may be got immediately for Mr. Caesar’s lady. He would not for anything in the world have it neglected, they are so very earnest to have it and are people of that consequence that ought to be encouraged to the greatest degree, for there are few in England so useful in the King’s affairs; he spares neither money nor pains in anything that relates to his interest.
The picture was duly sent to Mrs. Caesar, who was reported to be showing it ‘to everybody and cannot be a moment without looking at it’. Throughout the summer of 1717 Caesar remained in constant communication with Gyllenborg on the proposed invasion, which he urged should be launched before winter was too far advanced:
The Parliament will not then be sitting, the fleet is expected home every day to be laid up, all the forces are not now above 18,000 and they so dispersed that it will be near a month at any time before 10,000 men can be drawn together; besides, the fear of risings will prevent even that number being brought together. Most of the officers are turned out and disobliged ... It has incensed them to that degree, that I doubt not they will be glad of an opportunity to show their resentment. The common soldiers are generally as well as heart can wish. The like behaviour in regard to civil employment, and the vast number of exceptions in what is called Act of Grace, has so disgusted the greatest and most powerful of the Whigs, that I believe they would now be very passive, if not active, on a fair prospect of success. As to the Tories, I find you have already had a very just account of their past behaviour, and from thence may reasonably conclude their firmness will continue. Nothing but utter despair will, I believe, ever alter them ... I cannot think anything could strengthen the King’s interest both here and abroad as much as marrying as soon as possible ... Far be it from anyone to presume to dictate to his sovereign, but I humbly beg leave to say, that if the King should think fit to make choice of a Protestant princess, it would make all here readily to fall before him.
On the breach between George I and the Prince of Wales in December 1717 Caesar wrote to Lord Mar, secretary of state to the Pretender:
The tyranny of the father, and the behaviour of the son in this affair, has opened the eyes of many, that everybody thought would blindly support the interest of that family, they do not now scruple to own that this family cannot be suffered to continue here ... Brunswick is very impatient to get to Hanover, God forbid he should be detained longer here than needs must, especially if he carries his son with him, as I believe he will ... .
He suggested that an approach should be made to Spain, adding that ‘in the present disposition of the people, Roman Catholic troops would not give any manner of umbrage, the nation would entirely rely upon the assurances his Majesty has, and no doubt would give them upon that occasion for the security of their religion’.2
After the death of Charles XII and the failure of the Spanish expedition of 1719, Caesar strongly opposed a project for a rising in England without foreign aid. He wrote to the Pretender on 25 Apr. 1720:
Such a project ... had never entered into the Earl of Oxford’s thought or mine. We have been both, ever since the last unfortunate affair here, firmly of opinion that nothing could be attempted with any prospect of success without foreign assistance.3
The crisis caused by the collapse of the South Sea bubble brought heavy financial losses to Caesar, who held £13,800 worth of stock on the security of which he had borrowed £41,824, but the violent public discontent which it caused brought more favourable prospects for his party. He wrote to the Pretender, 28 Feb. 1721:
The affairs of the Court here are in very distracted condition, the miserable circumstances almost all sorts of people are reduced to through the apparent corruption and avarice of the Court and ministry has created them such a number of enemies that they will hardly be able to save themselves from the just resentment of the Parliament. Sunderland has been forced to take Townshend and Walpole to his assistance, but as he will not give up all into their hands and they will not be contented but with having the disposal of everything, there is not any prospect of their acting with harmony together ... The Tories have been offered carte blanche if they would heartily come in to support the present Government, but they will not harken to any efforts but what shall be for your restoration. Indeed those who were the greatest enemies of the restoration think now nothing would be so much for their own interest in general.
He was in favour of the Tory negotiations with Sunderland, who, he told the Pretender, ‘has it in his power to remove all the difficulties that light in the way of your restoration’, adding ‘I am induced to believe he will act sincerely in doing it because I cannot see he has any other way to secure his head but by throwing himself at your feet’. He thought, however, that ‘dependance’ on Sunderland should not preclude ‘helping ourselves in another way’, and eventually came round to the opinion that a restoration might be effected without foreign troops. The Pretender replied on 1 Mar. 1722:
You have not been single in your opinion as to the possibility of making an attempt independent of foreign aid, and I do not doubt, with God’s blessing, of our endeavours meeting with success if we all join heartily, hearts and hands in the matter, a noble resolution of a strict union amongst ourselves will make everything easy, and a miscarriage I think is only to be apprehended from the want of that. The Duke of Ormond will join you as soon as possible. As for my own particular, though my joining you is not without difficulty, yet I hope I shall be able to surmount them, at least I shall do my utmost for that effect and shall not give myself any quiet till I get among you. I doubt not in the least of your behaving yourself on this occasion in the manner which may conduce most to the success of this great undertaking. You know already the justice I do to your zeal and loyalty towards me and to the love you bear to your country.
The ‘great undertaking’ was the Atterbury plot (see under John Freind and Sir Henry Goring), which was to include seizing the Tower, the Bank, and the Exchequer, as well as a general rising in the provinces, and in which Caesar’s share was to be the distribution of military commissions sent from Rome. After the discovery of the plot Caesar wrote to the Pretender, 19 June 1722:
It is from letters they have got, or at least copies of letters, that they pretend to have made the discovery of the plot as they call it, but as they do not pretend to have any evidence against any one person whatever, even their own friends think it now nothing but an invention of their own, in order to get a large sum of money from the Parliament and a greater number of standing troops.
After the exile of Atterbury in 1723 and the death of Lord Oxford in 1724, Lord Orrery, M.P., Lord Strafford and Caesar jointly managed the Pretender’s affairs in England. ‘I have not a sixpence but from Lord Orrery and Mr. Caesar’, a Jacobite agent in London wrote on 3 July 1727, ‘the latter is the only person that ever did handsomely that way’. In May 1725, Jacobite hopes were revived by an alliance between the Emperor and the King of Spain with a view to the recovery of Minorca and Gibraltar for Spain, the recognition of the Ostend Company for the Emperor, and, in addition, the restoration of the Pretender. Their expectations were further raised when Russia showed an inclination to join this confederacy. The Pretender wrote to Caesar on 15 Dec. 1725 that his negotiations at Vienna had ‘taken a favourable turn’, and that he had suggested that the Emperor should send ‘privately a trusty minister over to England, who should address himself to Lord Strafford and you’, to gain proof of the support that could be obtained in England itself. Caesar readily agreed, telling the Pretender on 9 Feb. 1727:
The ministry depend very much upon frighting the Courts of Vienna and Madrid into a submission by the vigorous resolutions of the Parliament, and the address of the city of London, but sure it cannot be any surprise to those Courts that a Parliament two thirds of which in both Houses depend entirely upon the Court by their places and pensions, should come into any resolutions their paymasters require of them, let it be never so destructive to their country, or opposite to the sense of the nation. It is to be hoped these Courts are not so ignorant of the true state of affairs here, as not to know that the Parliament does not speak the sense of the nation, but of the ministers only, and that addresses from thence and all other parts of the kingdom, are things of course whenever a government declares they are in danger. The deposing Richard Cromwell in a few months after all parts of England had assured him in their addresses that they would stand by and support him with their lives and fortunes, is a sufficient instance how little is to be depended upon them. But in the present case of the city it was feared by most of your friends there, who are eight parts in ten, that if they had refused to have addressed upon this occasion, it would have given such a damp to the ministers, that they would upon any terms have avoided a war, which gives us here the only prospect we can at present have of your restoration, and although they declare in it against giving up Gibraltar, they would cheerfully and thankfully part with it and acquiesce under the Ostend trade, to have your restoration. The apprehensions the government here daily show that an invasion is concerted in your favour may plainly demonstrate how practicable such an attempt is thought, and how the consequence of it is dreaded. Notwithstanding all our fleets, opportunities might be taken to embark a body of men from Spain and if our ships should lie in such a station as to prevent them coming up the Channel, they might go out to sea as if they were assigned for the West Indies and go round Ireland, and land in Lancashire, and if the Czarina would give you her assistance, she might send another body of troops, before our fleet can arrive at the Baltic, and from Ostend opportunities of wind and tide might be taken to bring over any number of forces, even in sight of our men of war, without any hazard ... As to the names of the officers and others that would devote to you when an attempt is made, the giving such a list might be a means to put them out of a capacity of serving you if not bring them to utter ruin, since we see that most transactions at foreign courts are known here by some one or other. If any person should go from hence to Vienna, unless he is a man of figure and quality, as well as capacity, I doubt he would not be able to do you any service, and such a man’s going would give too great an alarm here at this juncture.
When the Emperor came to terms with the British Government and their allies, Caesar wrote, 29 June:
I could not but think it highly necessary at this extraordinary juncture to lay before you the plain and true state of affairs as they stand here at present. The news of the Emperor’s signing the preliminary articles, and the Czarina’s death, fling most of your friends here into the utmost despair. I am sorry to be obliged [to say] that even before this some of the Tories, particularly such as Lord Bolingbroke could influence, had shown an inclination to quit their principles in hopes of preferment, and upon the Duke of Hanover’s death and his son’s succeeding him, your steady friends found that many more would do the same. They could not tell where it would stop, they thought that the only way to prevent a considerable breach amongst the Tories upon this occasion was to go one and all to Court, and as your steady friends are the most considerable amongst them for reputation and interest in their country, it would defeat the mercenary designs of the others, and keep them undistinguished in the common herd, till time and disappointments in their new schemes should bring them back to their duty. Another consideration was the hopes that by not showing any dissatisfaction to the Government, they might be as far lulled asleep as to think they might safely disband a great part of the forces, the doing of which would greatly contribute to make your restoration easy, whenever there shall be a proper opportunity to attempt it. I hope the behaviour of your friends here will not prejudice your affairs at any foreign Court, but time will show them that however calm and smooth things appear here at present, it will not last so long, and I am very sure that he who has now the Crown is of such temper that he will disoblige and disgust, not only the Tories, but everybody that has to do with him ... I wish Sir you could prevail with the Emperor to send a person over hither, whose secrecy might be depended upon, with a direction to apply himself to Lord Strafford and Lord Orrery, and I don’t doubt but he would be fully convinced how practicable and easy it would be to set you on the throne, and of what importance it would be to him to make this his first effort. But upon this occasion I must acquaint you that I have reason to believe that the Emperor’s measures in regard to England have been very much influenced for some time by Mr. Pulteney who is an inveterate enemy to you, and has no other view but to turn out the present English ministry, and in conjunction with Lord Bolingbroke to get into their places. Therefore great caution must be used that he may not come to the knowledge of any design that may be formed for your service.
After the death of George I, the Pretender left Italy for Lorraine, with a view to making his appearance in England, but Caesar strongly advised against such a step. He wrote (1 Aug. 1727):
The duty I owe you, and the sincere concern I have for your safety, oblige me to beg of you in the most earnest manner, not to think of making any attempt here at this juncture, without the assistance of a foreign force, which you seem not to have any hopes of at present, for if you should, you’d be exposed to the utmost danger, without any prospect of success. Every part of the kingdom is full of troops, that would soon overpower and crush those that should appear for you, for regular troops, however well they may be inclined, will never desert but to regular troops, for as that can’t be done but in small bodies, they will never run the hazard of being destroyed the next moment they have done it, nor will the people in general be prevailed upon to rise, without some prospect of success. Should the congress produce a peace, your friends here hope the greatest part of the troops will be disbanded, and then an attempt without foreign assistance might be made with a much greater prospect of success than it can at present. But should an unsuccessful attempt be made now, it would be attended with a continuation of that great number of troops we are at present oppressed with, and your friends would be entirely ruined and rendered incapable of ever doing you any service. Besides, Sir, several of the Tories ... had formed to themselves ridiculous notions of favour from the present prince, and there must be a little time to bring them back to their duty and zeal for your service, every day does and will show them more and more how vain their hopes were, and not only they, but even the Whigs will find themselves disappointed in their expectations. Those who were discontented in the last reign, thought there would be a total change of persons, measures and counsels, and that the true interest of the nation would be the chief point in view, but, Sir, you may depend upon it that the discontents in general on these heads will in a little time be much greater than ever, and then they will naturally see they can have recourse to nobody but you for redress. They have tried two princes of that line and can have no hopes in the next who is bred a foreigner and everybody believes to have but a very mean capacity. Should the Congress [of Soissons] produce a peace upon the foot of the Quadruple Alliance, yet I cannot think you should despair upon that account. The interest of princes and nations are daily jarring, and you have already seen that Quadruple Alliance broke soon after its first existence. I hope the difficulties upon several points will prove too great to be adjusted without blows, and in that case, if the Emperor and Spain can be prevailed upon to begin here, nothing could be so much for their service as well as yours.4
At the general election of 1727, which took place shortly after this letter was written, Caesar stood for the county and headed the poll, ousting his brother-in-law Ralph Freman, in circumstances which gave rise to suspicions in Tory circles that he had ‘made his terms with the ministry’. On 31 May 1729, the Pretender was informed by his agent in London:
For several months past Lord Orrery, [and] Lord Strafford have observed that Mr. Caesar has not been so frequently to visit, nor to communicate with them on your affairs as formerly. This with a particular information of his being early in the mornings twice at Chelsea (that is Mr. Walpole’s), and by other accounts there is strong presumption of Mr. Caesar receiving money from that quarter. These steps make it necessary now to acquaint your Majesty of them. Not that the above friends do advise your Majesty to withdraw the correspondence from him, but on the contrary that you would be pleased to continue writing to him in general terms and to appear in the same confidence, without communicating any secret the discovery of which might bring prejudice to your service ... in truth this reservedness in your servant is done with the greatest reluctancy, for I believe him to this hour attached to your Majesty’s service. But his not being so frequently with, nor he mentioning to any one of the above friends the steps he hath taken for a year, requires this precaution in them and your servant. If there is any thing wrong in Mr. Caesar it is to be imputed to his great losses in the South Sea. His family is numerous and some of them grown up to be men and women, his creditors are very uneasy to him. But these are no reasons to a man of principle and in one who shares so much of your trust and confidence.
Until the end of 1729 Caesar remained outwardly on the same footing with his Jacobite associates, continuing to write to the Pretender, but there is no trace of any letters from him to Rome in 1730. On 2 May 1731, the Pretender, on sending Lord Orrery powers to negotiate with the French court, observed:
... I understand ... Mr. Caesar may also be coming soon into France. You know better than I that there were formerly some suspicions about him. I hope and believe they were groundless, but if you are not very much persuaded they are so, to be sure you will be on your guard. However, he is not to be shocked, and therefore if you think it proper, I think it would be fit you should make him a kind compliment from me in telling him that I don’t write the scene of action being not here, but where he is.
This is the last mention of Caesar’s name in the Stuart correspondence.5
Whatever the nature of Caesar’s dealings with Walpole, they did not save him from his creditors, who seized his ‘house and goods in town and country for debt’ in January 1732. He regularly voted against the Government, and ‘railed extremely against the Court’ in the presence of his former Jacobite friends, but was treated by them with coldness and suspicion. He showed disapproval of Wyndham’s motion pressing for an outright rejection of the excise bill, when, 11 Apr. 1733, ‘going by Sir Robert [he] told him he thought a father should have the burying of his child’. He was passed over, at the county meeting which selected the candidates for 1734, but stood, coming at the bottom of the poll. In a letter to William Shippen, appealing to him to find a seat, Caesar attributed his defeat to
all manner of vile and infamous practices, one of which was making many well-meaning freeholders believe that if I was chose I would now widely differ from my former behaviour in the House of Commons and be ready to prostitute my vote upon any occasion.
Shippen replied that ‘no gentleman ever voted more steadily and constantly for the interest of the church and Crown of England’, but that he was unable to provide him with a seat.6
Having lost parliamentary privilege, Caesar was arrested for debt. He remained in a debtors’ prison till 1736 when at a by-election for the county his friends at the last moment nominated him and carried his election at their own expense.7 He took his seat and voted against the Government till his death on 2 Apr. 1741. In his will he directed that he should be buried ‘with as little expense as decency will admit’ and that his estates were to be sold to pay his debts.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 213.
- 2. Coxe, Walpole, ii. 113-14; Mrs. Caesar's diary, 30 May 1774, Bodl. Lib.; HMC Stuart, ii. 477; iii. 538; iv. 299, 545-7, 554; v. 330-2, 440, 529, 556; vi. 293.
- 3. Stuart mss 46/92.
- 4. CJ, 16 Feb. 1721; Stuart mss 52/70, 53/78, 55/62, 58/39, 58/40, 60/53, 80/44, 90/72, 103/52, 107/141, 108/44, 109/6.
- 5. HMC Portland, vii, 452; Stuart mss 128/127, 145/10.
- 6. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 213; Wentworth Pprs. 499; Cottrell. Dormer letter bk. C. 32, 33, at Rousham, Oxon., ex inf. L.M. Munby.
- 7. Turner, Hist. Hertford, 160.