GORGES, Richard, 2nd Baron Gorges of Dundalk [I] (c.1619-1712), of Stetchworth, Cambs.
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Family and Education
b. c.1619, 3rd but o. surv. s. of Edward, 1st Baron Gorges [I] of Longford Castle, Wilts. by 1st w. Katherine, da. and h. of Sir Robert Osborne of Kelmarsh, Northants., wid. of Edward Haselwood of Maidwell, Northants.; step-bro. of James Livingston, 1st Earl of Newburgh [S]. educ. Clare, Camb. 1637; travelled abroad 1639-40. m. by 1654, Bridget, da. of Sir Henry Kingsmill of Sydmonton, Hants, 2s. d.v.p. suc. fa. Jan./Apr. 1657.1
Surveyor-gen. Bedford level 1656-86, commr. of sewers 1662-3, bailiff 1663-5, 1666-1700, conservator 1700-d.; commr. for assessment, Lancs. 1663-4, 1673-9, Ely 1664-80, Cambs. 1673-80, Wilts. 1677-80, Cambs. Ely and Westminster 1689-90; j.p. Cambs. 1669-?87, Cambs. and Lancs. 1689-1702, Lincs. (Holland) and Mdx. by 1701-?d.2
Commr. for plantations 1670-2, trade and plantations 1672-4.
Gorges’s grandfather, a younger son, married the widowed Marchioness of Northampton about 1580, and the peerage followed in the next generation. But Gorges’s father, who invested heavily in North American plantations and the drainage of the fens, was obliged to sell Longford Castle just before the Civil War. In December 1640, Gorges himself stood for the neighbouring borough of Downton against Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper; the decision on the double return in favour of his opponent was not reached until after the return of the secluded Members in 1660. The remaining estates in the west country were sequestrated by the Royalists in 1643, but neither Gorges nor his father was active in the Civil War.3
Gorges devoted the greater part of his long life to the drainage of the fens. He first appears at a meeting of the Adventurers in 1649, and on the death of Sir Cornelius Vermuyden, the Dutch engineer in charge of the whole project, was appointed surveyor-general.
In his attention to the interest of the fens he was indefatigable. The Earl of Bedford placed great reliance upon his judgment, and entertained the highest opinion of his integrity.
In August 1659 Gorges obtained a pass overseas, but there is no record of contact with the exiled Court. Soon afterwards he is said to have accompanied Lord Bedford on his visit to the fens, where much damage had been done to the drainage works during the general breakdown of public order. New legislation was an urgent necessity for the Adventurers; a temporary Act was passed through the Convention for the maintenance of the works, but there were so many disputes with the dispossessed royalist Adventurers, headed by Samuel Sandys and (Sir) William Tyringham, that a permanent measure setting up a corporation and giving it power to levy rates would obviously require skilful and patient steering through the Lower House. In these circumstances it is surprising that Lord Bedford failed to find a seat for Gorges at the general election of 1661. Lord Treasurer Southampton recommended him in vain to Sir John Wolstenholme as ‘a person every way qualified for that service, and one who, as he will be of public use, so particularly a very faithful and industrious servant for the place he represents’. Fortunately a vacancy soon occurred at Newton, where the patron, Richard Legh, was the son-in-law of a leading Adventurer, Thomas Chicheley.4
Gorges was a moderately active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, with a total of 72 committees. He took every opportunity to familiarize himself with parliamentary procedure, helping to manage two conferences on street repairs in London and Westminster and acting as chairman of a naturalization bill. Meanwhile the Bedford level bill had been slowly proceeding through committee; by 12 May 1662 it was clear that it had no chance of becoming law before the end of the session, and a new temporary bill was introduced. On the first reading it was rejected by 113 to 58, Gorges being one of the tellers for the minority. Two days later there occurred a ‘difference’ between Gorges, seconded by Chicheley on the one hand and Sandys and Tyringham on the other, whereby, the House was told, ‘a mischief [was] like to ensue’. The four Members were ordered to wait on the King ‘to give him satisfaction touching the difference’. Shortly after the adjournment a commission of sewers was issued that in fact gave the Adventurers the temporary power they were seeking.5
In 1663 the new Adventurers at last reached a compromise with the Sandys group, and the General Drainage Act was passed. Even then the establishment, represented by Gorges and Chicheley, met with some setbacks. Amendments in committee filled 34 sheets, and when they asked the House to reject them they were crushingly defeated by 96 votes to 13. The majority tellers were Henry Williams and Roger Pepys, who were not Adventurers and probably acted in the interests of the commoners and corporate towns. On 27 July the bill received the royal assent. Even so an explanatory bill was required in the next session; Pepys again opposed it, together with Lionel Walden I, but the second reading was carried by 108 to 82. In 1667 the old Adventurers tried again; Sandys got their bill through the Commons over the opposition of Pepys, as well as Gorges and Chicheley, but it died in committee in the Upper House. In the next session a bill was introduced to compensate Sir John Cutts for damage to his lands caused by the drainage of the Bedford level; the House ordered that none of the parties principally interested should sit on the committee, but an exception was made for Gorges and Sandys, for once in agreement, who had spoken against it on the first reading. Thus unimpeded, Cutts’s bill became law.6
Gorges was repeatedly named to drafting committees on other drainage bills and he occasionally spoke on other subjects, but he was not prominent. In 1668 he attacked toleration, but in the following year he was among those to be engaged for the Court by the Duke of York. In A Seasonable Argument he was alleged to be in receipt of a pension of £500, presumably a reference to the salary he enjoyed for two years as a member of the committee for plantations. His name appeared on the Paston list, the working lists, and the list of government speakers. For the autumn session of 1675 he received the government whip, and attended the court caucus. Sir Richard Wiseman recommended that he should again be summoned to the next session, and Shaftesbury classed him ‘doubly vile’, but his name disappeared from the lists in 1678, though on 4 Feb. he spoke in defence of the royal prerogative over the proposed Dutch alliance. On 19 June he urged strong measures against the recusant (Sir) Solomon Swale, saying that his excuses were inadmissible.7
Gorges did not sit again after the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament. Presumably he opposed the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws, for his name seems to disappear from the Cambridgeshire commission of the peace in 1687. His means were straitened by the general deterioration of the fenland about this time, and by 1700 he no longer held the 400 acres required to qualify as a bailiff of the Bedford level. A man of scrupulous honour, though ‘captious and peevish’ in his old age, he was buried at Stetchworth on 27 Sept. 1712, aged 94, the last of this branch of the family.8
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Irene Cassidy
- 1. Bridges, Northants. ii. 48; Mon. Inscriptions from Cambs. 155-6; S. Wells, Drainage of the Bedford Level, i. 329; CSP Dom. 1639, p. 166.
- 2. Wells, i. 328, 350, 456-81, 544.
- 3. Hoare, Wilts. Downton 30-32; Wells, i. 111; Cal. Comm. Adv. Money, 190; Cal. Comm. Comp. 3244.
- 4. Wells, i. 163, 328, 336-40; Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 1539-40; CSP Dom. 1653-4, pp. 115-116; 1659-60, p. 563.
- 5. CJ, viii. 423, 427, 429, 430; CSP Dom. 1661-2, p. 383.
- 6. CJ, viii. 505, 579, 683; ix. 65; Wells, i. 388; LJ, xii. 100; Milward, 96, 223.
- 7. Milward, 217; CSP Dom. 1670, pp. 538-9; Grey, v. 65; vi. 107.
- 8. Le Neve, Mon. Angl. 1700-15, p. 251; HMC 15th Rep. X, 172; Add. 29564, f. 379.