LEWIS, Thomas (1690-1777), of Harpton Court, nr. Radnor.
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Family and Education
b. 18 Oct. 1690, 1st s. of Col. Thomas Lewis of Harpton Court by Margaret, da. and coh. of William Howes of Greenham, Berks. educ. Wadham, Oxf. 1709. m. 12 Feb. 1743, Ann, da. and coh. of Sir Nathan Wright, 3rd Bt., of Cranham Hall, Essex, s.p. suc. fa. 1724.
Recorder, New Radnor 1731, 1766, bailiff 1740, 1750, 1752.
Lewis was the son of a Radnorshire landowner, whose estate was one and a half miles from New Radnor, the political preserve of the Harleys under William III and Anne. In 1693, when he was three, his father and uncle were involved in an affray in the streets of New Radnor with Robert Harley, then M.P. for the borough and later Earl of Oxford, swords being drawn on both sides. By 1714 relations between the two families had so improved that he was chosen to accompany Thomas Harley, M.P. for the county, on a mission to Hanover in the last months of Anne’s reign.
Carry yourself respectfully to Mr. Harley, and always speak honourably of him ... [his father wrote] Take leave of my Lord Treasurer [the Earl of Oxford], and thank him for all favours. Wish him all imaginable prosperity, and the like to the Auditor [Edward Harley], to whom I will write a letter of thanks if you think fit.
When, however, the Harleys fell from power on George I’s accession a few months later, Lewis stood sucessfully against Lord Harley for New Radnor, which he represented continuously for 46 years. His action, ascribed by tradition to a slight received by him from Thomas Harley during his mission, gave rise to a feud between the two families which continued till his death. The feud was deplored by his mother, who on learning that Lewis was supporting the impeachment of Lord Oxford, wrote to him
You cannot imagine the concern I am under. I can’t eat, drink, or sleep, for fear you have a hand in [the] blood of these men. My Lord of Oxon is our neighbour and friend; be tender of his life, and do not, for any advantage in this world, give your vote against him or the Duke [of Ormonde]; and give me the satisfaction that you are not ungrateful to him, which will very much quiet the mind of your uneasy mother.1
In his first Parliament he voted against the septennial bill in 1716, but thereafter he became a most reliable government supporter, appearing on the ministerial side in all the other division lists extant during his long political career. His support was not unrewarded. On 5 Aug. 1727 John Verney, who was standing against him at New Radnor, wrote to Walpole:
I am already sure of a majority of legal votes. But the returning officer, who is Mr. Lewis’s brother, has declared he will return him right or wrong; they have made two hundred new burgesses within this fortnight, and I dare say will make a thousand if they are necessary ... Mr. Lewis is now in town, and probably will wait upon you, and I am persuaded that the least word from you, will make him desist, for he has a place in the custom house, which was granted to his father for two and thirty years, and since his death he has enjoyed the profits of it, and I am sure it is either in his own name or held in trust for him.2
In 1739 Walpole agreed to finance from secret service funds the cost of legal and other proceedings resulting in the issue of a new charter to Radnor, which enabled Lewis to replace the Harleys as the dominant influence in that corporation.3 On 26 Oct. 1740 he applied to Walpole for the electorally important post of steward of the King’s manors in Radnorshire, whose then holder, the 1st Duke of Chandos, had allied himself with the Harleys:
The reason which obliges my now pressing it, [is] to prevent their making new burgesses in November, having till then adjourned their court leets for that purpose, as they made 140 at the last, the Duke’s agents being absolutely in the hands of our greatest opposers. As this will be taking the very means of opposition either for town or county out of their hands and thereby save many hundred pounds as well as trouble, I shall humbly submit it to you.4
So intent was he on gaining his objective that the mere rumour that the county Member, Sir Humphrey Howorth, coveted the same office, was enough to make Lewis support Howorth’s opponent in the 1741 election, although the two men had hitherto been firm friends and allies. He secured the office for his brother, Henry Lewis, in 1746,5 after which he was left in undisturbed possession of the seat till the end of the reign.
He died 5 Apr. 1777.