CRAGGS, James (1686-1721).
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Family and Education
b. 9 Apr. 1686, o. surv. s. of James Craggs, M.P., jt. postmaster gen. 1715-21, by Elizabeth, da. of Jacob Richards. educ. M. le Fevre’s sch. at Chelsea; Grand Tour (Hanover, Turin). unm.
Sec. to envoy extraordinary to the King of Spain and resident at Barcelona 1708-11; cofferer to Prince of Wales 1714-17; sec. at war 1717-18; sec. of state 1718-d.; P.C. 16 Mar. 1718.
‘Mr. Craggs (the father)’, wrote Speaker Onslow, who knew him well,
from very low beginnings came through various fortunes to have a greater hand and to be more considerable for some time in public affairs than any private man we have known, for the highest office he ever held was that of joint postmaster general. He was much employed and trusted by the Duke of Marlborough, and by that it was that he grew into acquaintance and strict intimacies with many persons of the first rank, and particularly with my Lord Sunderland, with whom during his Administration he had the nearest confidence, and was in the secret and depth of all their designs.
It was to the Marlborough-Sunderland connexion that his son, James, owed his meteoric career from secretary to James Stanhope at Barcelona in 1708, to cofferer to the Prince of Wales at George I’s accession, secretary at war when Sunderland and Stanhope ousted Townshend and Walpole in 1717, and secretary of state in 1718, with the management of the House of Commons, but under Sunderland, and as his ‘man’. He was the principal government spokesman in the debate on the peerage bill, which he defended with great ability though, according to Onslow, ‘no man in England was more against ... his measure than he was’.
With Aislabie, the chancellor of the Exchequer, Craggs was jointly responsible for introducing into the Commons the South Sea Company’s proposals for converting the national debt at the beginning of 1720, and for piloting the bill implementing them through the House. He did not share in the stock distributed by the company to Members of Parliament and other important persons; but saw to it that £30,000 of this stock was allotted to the King’s German ladies, while his father obtained £30,000 of it for himself, with another £50,000 for Sunderland.
Craggs died of smallpox 16 Feb. 1721, the day on which these facts were disclosed in the first report of the secret committee set up to inquire into the South Sea affair. A month later he was followed to the grave by his father, who was regarded as
the principal agent for the Administration in the whole transaction of the South Sea project and bore the chief blame for all the iniquity of it, as an accomplice with the leading director, and having made an immense gain by the stock, and being a man generally detested he was soon marked out for a sacrifice to the indignation of the people. His great spirit not brooking this, and knowing the severity, as he called it, of a House of Commons examination, and having just lost his son by the smallpox, he died soon afterwards, not without very strong suspicions of having used violence to himself.1
The elder Craggs left a fortune of more than a million and a half to be divided between his three daughters, married to Samuel Trefusis, Edward Eliot, and John Newsham, and his son’s natural daughter, aged seven, who subsequently married Richard Eliot. Declaring him to have been ‘a notorious accomplice and confederate of ... the late directors ... in carrying on their corrupt and scandalous practices’, the House of Commons included him in the South Sea sufferers bill, which provided for a levy upon the estates of the directors and their chief accomplices for the benefit of their victims. Thanks to Walpole’s efforts, the levy was limited to the confiscation of the increase in his estate since 1 Dec. 1719, which was assessed at £68,920.2