FINCH, Daniel (1647-1730), of Kensington, Mdx and Milton Ernest, Beds.
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Family and Education
b. 2 July 1647, 1st s. of Heneage Finch (later 1st Earl of Nottingham), and bro. of Hon. Edward Finch, Hon. Heneage Finch I and William Finch. educ. Westminster; I. Temple 1658; Christ Church, Oxf. 1662; travelled abroad (Italy, France) 1665-8. m. (1) 16 June 1674, Lady Essex Rich (d. 23 Mar. 1684), da. of Robert Rich†, 3rd Earl of Warwick, 2s. d.v.p. 6da.; (2) 29 Dec. 1685 (with £12,000), Anne, da. of Christopher Hatton, 1st Visct. Hatton of Gretton, 6s. (1 d.v.p.) 9da. styled Lord Finch 12 May 1681; suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Nottingham 18 Dec. 1682, cos. as 7th Earl of Winchilsea 9 Sept. 1729.
Commr. for assessment, Mdx. and Westminster 1673-80, recusants, Wilts. 1675; freeman, Portsmouth 1682.1
Ld. of Admiralty 1679, first ld. 1680-4; PC 4 Feb. 1680-12 Mar. 1696, 2 May 1702-7, 23 Sept. 1714-d.; sec. of state (south) 1689-93, 1702-4; ld. pres. 1714-16.
Finch’s studious and dutiful conduct, both at Oxford and on the grand tour, gave his parents every satisfaction. In particular they thought it ‘a fortunate circumstance’ of his travels to have obtained the protection of John Trevor, the sitting Member for Great Bedwyn, when he was in Paris on a diplomatic mission in 1668. Trevor died in 1672, and Finch succeeded to his seat, probably on the nomination of the dowager duchess of Somerset, who appointed him one of her trustees. He was first elected on 29 Jan. 1673, but the writs issued during the recess were declared void (despite his father’s powerful argument in their favour), and he had to go through what in his case was probably no more than the tiresome formality of re-election. His record in the House cannot at first be always distinguished from that of Francis Finch, but he was moderately active, serving on 40 committees or a little less in eight sessions, and making 35 speeches, nine of which are not reported by Anchitell Grey. In his old age he wrote for the benefit of his children a summary of his parliamentary career:
In Parliament (my first public appearance in the year 1672/3) I always thought the limits of the prerogative of the crown and the liberties and rights of the people so well settled that those landmarks ought not to be removed. ... I did not think it a breach of [the] trust with which every Member is vested to gratify King Charles II with little sums, whose revenue for all services was not above £1,200,000. ... I have always been for some indulgence in those who differed in religion from the established Church, so far as was consistent with the safety of the Church and the peace of the state.
His maiden speech was apparently delivered on 27 Oct. 1673, a defence of the conduct of Edward Seymour as Speaker. He opposed impeachments in general, as invariably leading to ‘rage and violence overruling law’. On 19 Jan. 1674 he dealt with the charges against Lord Arlington in detail, commenting: ‘Gentlemen say nothing of their own knowledge, nor one witness to prove’. He was named on the Paston list, and in the next session he moved to examine how far the charges against Lord Treasurer Danby were criminal before calling evidence. On the proposal to exclude placemen from the Commons, he said on 29 Apr. I675: ‘We are not to pull feathers thus from the King’. So effective was his speech that (Sir) William Coventry could only urge that the bill should not be rejected outright but simply not ordered to be engrossed. He pointed out that the recall of British subjects from French service would aggravate the unemployment problem: ‘Most of these men in France [are] such as will have little livelihood here when they return. If they could have stayed, few would have gone.’ In a wise and compassionate speech on toleration for dissenters, he showed that, with a settled income of £3,000 p.a., he had outgrown his father’s tutelage:
The last session you considered of indulgence; and because we are safe on shore, shall we have no consideration for them who struggle with the tide? Whatever the case be, ’tis charity and prudence to think on them, so considerable a part of the nation, and would not have them in despair.
Finch had made his mark, and ten days later he was appointed to his first important committee, on the bill for preventing the growth of Popery. He was noted as a court dependant before the autumn session, in which he was appointed to the committees to consider the bill for hindering Papists from sitting in Parliament and to draw up an address for the apprehension of the Jesuit St. Germain. His name appeared in Wiseman’s account, on the list of government speakers and on the working lists.2
In the 1677 session Finch spoke in favour of supply: ‘You have been told by persons that understand the condition of the navy ... that £600,000 will be necessary to put us in some equality with our neighbours, and that ’tis impossible the money should be embezzled’. When William Williams attacked the power of Chancery, Finch naturally sprang to his father’s defence. ‘’Tis now a great and expensive jurisdiction’, he confessed, adding quite truthfully: ‘The present lord chancellor has endeavoured to lessen and restrain it’, and he was named to the committee to bring in a regulating bill. To the bill to abolish payment of Members he objected: ‘By this bill you take away from every gentleman an opportunity of obliging his corporation’, but he was also named to this committee. He pointed out the difficulty of discussing foreign affairs in so large and ignorant an assembly:
No man can represent the state of all the world here, and, with deference, you are not competent judges. Leave it to the King, whose wisdom and right it is to preserve himself and you.
He was appointed to the committee to draw up an address on the danger from France and to manage a conference on the same subject. He supported the government bill for educating the children of the royal family as Protestants, and was named to the committee; perhaps for this reason Shaftesbury marked him ‘thrice vile’. On 23 May he was among those Members charged with drawing up an address for the speedy conclusion of an alliance against France. In the debate on supply on 4 Feb. 1678 he asked: ‘Do you expect the thanks of the country for delay? Their rage, rather, and the discontent of Christendom.’ He was teller for the motion to go into committee, and three days later he was among the Members appointed to consider the reports from the Ordnance and the Admiralty. He did not take much part in private legislation, but he served on the committee for the Earl of Warwick’s estate bill to look after his wife’s interests. On 30 Apr. he was named to the committee to summarize foreign commitments. He was among the Members summoned to the caucus of the court party on 30 May. In the last session of the Cavalier Parliament he was appointed to the committees to inquire into the Popish Plot and to impeach Lord Arundell of Wardour. He spoke against the proposed address for the removal of the Duke of York from Court, ‘not to the dissatisfaction of the House’, he thought, ‘but the Duke was very well pleased’. He was one of the Members ordered to prepare reasons for a conference on disabling Papists from sitting in Parliament and to bring in bills to secure the Protestant religion. He helped to draft representations on the dangers arising from non-observance of the laws against recusancy, and sat on the committee for the bill to secure speedier conviction of recusants. On the impeachment of Danby he denied the power of the House to declare treason. His name appeared on both lists of the court party.3
At the general election Finch was defeated by John Deane, who refused the offer of a safe seat elsewhere. Though out of Parliament he was appointed to the newly constituted Admiralty commission, in which capacity he has been adjudged to have fully justified his modest confession of ignorance two years before. Although blacklisted in the ‘unanimous club’, he might have regained his seat at Great Bedwyn at the second election of 1679, but he preferred to pass it on to his brother William. He was returned unopposed at Lichfield on the interest of Thomas Thynne I, who described him as entirely at the devotion of Lord Halifax, (Sir George Savile) and promised that he would not be a courtier. His appointment as first lord of the Admiralty and Privy Councillor in February 1680 could not prevent Sir Charles Lyttelton from writing: ‘I am told that Mr Finch, my lord chancellor’s eldest son, is run high into the popular way’. Lyttelton’s informant was either malicious or uncomprehending, for when Parliament met Finch ‘did the King and the Duke great service’. Arguing against exclusion, he urged the House to
consider what a miserable prospect we shall have before us, what unextinguishable flames we are kindling in this nation, what wretched confusion we are raising to ourselves and entailing upon our posterity.
So cogent were his arguments that Hugh Boscawen made no attempt to answer them, but seizing on his incidental remark that Roman Catholics were Christians too, delighted the Opposition with a long and irrelevant diatribe against Popery and Antichrist. With regard to the laws against Protestant dissenters, Finch relied less on rigorous logic than on commonsense: ‘No vote of yours is a declaration of the law of England, but you give your opinion, which is not a total suspension of the law, but only to take off the vigorous prosecution of it’. He fastened at once on the weak point in the second exclusion bill: ‘I was surprised at the bringing in the bill, but much more that we should leave all things at uncertainty who shall succeed ... We are going about by this bill to divide Protestants, which will gratify the Papists.’ In the debate on Seymour’s impeachment on 26 Nov. 1680, Finch set himself to provoke William Harbord, whose blatant self-interest, once exposed, might serve to divide the country party. Picking up Harbord’s accusation of ‘dexterity’ in managing the House, which of course had no conceivable relevance to the financial irregularities with which Seymour was ostensibly charged, he said:
I perceive gentlemen manage this matter with very great dexterity, for some speak to the matter of all the articles, and others make other objections against Mr Seymour. ... We hear of some miscarriages of this gentleman in the chair of the Long [i.e. Cavalier] Parliament; I desire to know whether Harbord did not give his vote for him to be Speaker at the next.
Harbord retaliated with the aspersion that Finch had voted in the Privy Council for retaining the Duke of York in England, to which he replied: ‘I can justify myself to every Member, and the most partial’.4
Though Finch was one of the most frequent government speakers, with 16 speeches, he was appointed to only three committees in this Parliament. He helped to draw up the address on Tangier, but he was not among the Members entrusted with bringing in a comprehension bill for Protestant dissenters. Nevertheless, he took the chair in the committee, and the draft is almost entirely in his handwriting. On 22 Nov. he obtained permission from the House to bring in a separate toleration bill, which was also largely drafted by him. He defended the comprehension bill on its second reading, and was named to the committee, but no further report was made. He was appointed to the committee for the prevention of superstitious bequests. In the debate on impeaching Lord Chief Justice Scroggs, Finch attacked the opinion of John Maynard I as ‘a doctrine so mischievous that this age, or the next, may rue it. ... I would have a precedent showed me when ever any offence was declared treason in Parliament that was not felony before; whether ever they did declare or enact a man out of his life?’ On 7 Jan. 1681, after the receipt of the King’s message ruling out any alteration of the succession, he said: ‘I move that you will not spend more time in fruitless debate, but go upon things you have a certain prospect of effecting’. In spite of an unfounded charge by his country opponent that he had voted for the repeal of the Irish cattle bill, Finch was re-elected for Lichfield in 1681. He also had himself returned for Newtown on the Holmes interest, chiefly to keep his Lichfield opponent out of the House. But he was unable to attend the Oxford Parliament as his wife was expecting their sixth child. He asked (Sir) Edward Harley to take special care of the comprehension bill in his absence, but Parliament was dissolved before anything could be done.5
Finch’s long and important career after he succeeded to the peerage in 1682 as Earl of Nottingham can only be outlined here. He lost office when the admiralty board was dissolved in 1684, but remained a Privy Councillor, though he absented himself after the Jesuit Father Petre was sworn of the Council in 1687. It was intended that Nottingham should sign the invitation to William of Orange in 1688, but at the last moment he developed scruples of conscience and withdrew. With Lord Halifax and Sidney Godolphin I he was sent by James II on a futile mission to William at Hungerford. He opposed the transfer of the crown, but agreed to accept William, who thought him an honest man, as king de facto, and was appointed secretary of state. In this capacity he introduced the toleration bill into the House of Lords, but his attempts at comprehension failed. On the loss of the Smyrna fleet in 1693 he was dismissed, though a parliamentary inquiry subsequently exonerated him from blame. He was struck out of the council book in 1696 for refusing the Association, but restored on the accession of Anne both to the Council and to office. But he found it impossible to co-operate with the Whigs and resigned two years later. He bought the estate of Burley-on-the-Hill in Rutland, which became his principal residence, and his eldest surviving son sat for the county from his coming-of-age until he succeeded to the peerage. Nottingham broke with his own party in 1711 on the issue of ‘no peace without Spain’, which enabled him to obtain the Occasional Conformity Act. As a Hanover Tory he was made president of the Council by George I. This post he lost in 1716 by demanding mercy for the Jacobite peers, and he never held office again, dying on 1 Jan. 1730 at the age of 82. Nottingham’s abilities were certainly above average, but he owed his political importance less to them than to his influence over the clergy, obtained by his sound churchmanship and his unimpeachable moral character.
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: John. P. Ferris
This biography is based on H. Horwitz, Revolution Politicks, from which all unacknowledged quotations are taken.