LITTLETON, alias POYNTZ, Sir Thomas, 2nd Bt. (c.1621-81), of Stoke St. Milborough, Salop and Lincoln's Inn Fields, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. c.1621, 1st s. of Sir Adam Littleton, 1st Bt., of Stoke St. Milborough by Etheldreda, da. and h. of Thomas Poyntz of North Ockenden, Essex. educ. I. Temple, entered 1636, called 1642; Jesus, Oxf. matric. 15 June 1638, aged 16. m. lic. 6 Oct. 1637, aged 17, Anne, da. and h. of Edward Littleton†, 1st Baron Lyttelton of Mounslow, 2s. suc. fa. Sept. 1647.1
Commr. of array, Salop 1642, assessment 1661-3, 1664-74, Westminster 1661-80, Mdx. 1661-3, 1673-80, Essex 1664-80, corporations, Salop 1662-3; conservator, Bedford level 1665-8; commr. for concealments, Mdx. and Surr. 1670, recusants, Salop 1675; j.p. Mdx. and Westminster by 1680-d.2
Jt. treas. of the navy 1668-71, victualler 1671-3; commr. for trade 1668-72, union with Scotland 1670; ld. of Admiralty 1680-d.3
The Shropshire Littletons were descended from the youngest son of the great 15th-century lawyer. Unlike their cousins of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire branches, they did not enter Parliament before Stuart times. Littleton’s father was apparently neutral in the Civil War, though his interest as recorder of Wenlock facilitated Littleton’s return for the borough in both elections of 1640. Under the influence of his father-in-law, the lord keeper, he became an active Royalist, compounding in 1646 at £307 after settling tithes of £180 p.a. on the local churches.4
Littleton signed the Cavalier declaration of 1660 disclaiming animosity towards their former enemies. He is unlikely to have defied the Long Parliament ordinance by standing at the general election, but regained his seat in 1661. A very active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was appointed to 381 committees, in nine of which he took the chair, acted as teller in 18 divisions, and made 304 speeches. In the opening session, he was named to the committees for the uniformity bill and the execution of those under attainder, and took the chair for a Shropshire estate bill. A ‘country Cavalier’, he moved an unsuccessful proviso to the hearth-tax in grand committee in March 1662. He helped to manage two conferences on the bill for the repair of highways in London and Westminster, and twice acted as teller for the Bedford level bill. On 17 May he was sent to the Lords to ask for a conference on the militia bill. In 1663 he took part in the inquiry into the conduct of Sir Richard Temple, and acted unsuccessfully as teller against the bill to prevent sectarian meetings. He took the chair for the bill to settle the poor in the parishes of their birth, and carried up the staple bill on 25 July. In 1664 he sought to postpone debate on the repeal of the Triennial Act, and helped to manage a conference on the conventicles bill. On the outbreak of the second Dutch war he would have granted only one-fifth of the £2,500,000 demanded by the Government. He reported a deficiency of £5,000 in the accounts of the loyal and indigent officers fund on 20 Dec., for which the receiver for Cornwall was responsible. In the Oxford session he was named to the committee for the five mile bill. In pursuit of office he had attached himself to Lord Arlington (Sir Henry Bennet), and by promoting the ban on Irish cattle imports he helped to undermine the position of Clarendon’s ally, Ormonde; as chairman of the committee he gave his casting vote for the bill. In 1666 he acted as teller for a bill for the preservation of naval stores and was named to the delegation from the House to ask the King to prohibit the import of French goods. He helped to prepare reasons for the ban on Irish cattle and the withdrawal of the Canaries Company patent, and was named to the abortive parliamentary accounts commission. He resisted the government proposals for the additional excise, both in debate and division, earning from Andrew Marvell the sobriquet of ‘great Littleton’. He attended conferences on the conduct of Clarendon’s friend Lord Mordaunt, and on the coinage and plague bills, and reported a bill for the better attendance of those Members who had not followed his example by taking up permanent residence in London. By now he was accounted one of the foremost speakers in the Commons, and (Sir) William Penn described him to Samuel Pepys as ‘the usual second to the great [John] Vaughan’. Burnet, who later became his next-door neighbour in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, wrote:
Littleton was the ablest and vehementest arguer of them all. He commonly lay quiet till the end of a debate; and he often ended it, speaking with a strain of conviction and authority that was not easily resisted. ... A man of strong head and sound judgment, he had just as much knowledge in trade, history, and the disposition of Europe and the constitution of England as served to feed and direct his own thoughts, and no more.5
The fall of Clarendon opened up new vistas for the ambitious, and Littleton took a leading part in the next session. He helped to draft the address of thanks for the chancellor’s dismissal, and served on all the principal committees of inquiry into the late administration. Clarendon, he said, ‘being chief minister of state, and taking upon him the sole management of the Government, must either be guilty, or be able to clear himself by laying it justly upon others’. He chaired the committee to reduce the charges into heads, and undertook to prove five of them himself. On 18 Nov. he reported reasons why the Lords should order Clarendon’s arrest, and was sent to desire a conference. After the fallen minister’s flight he was named to the committee for the banishment bill. Despite his Cavalier background he was one of the leaders of the ‘Presbyterian’ party in Parliament; he declared on 11 Mar. 1668 that ‘so long as the Church was true to itself, the nonconformists never hurt the Church’, and that the causes of all religious controversies were the ‘new ceremonies’ introduced by Laud. A week later he spoke against excepting the clergy from paying the subsidy. He helped to prepare Penn’s impeachment and to carry it up, and was among those ordered to prepare a clause in the supply bill appropriating the new revenue to the use of the summer fleet. In November Arlington obtained for him the lucrative post of treasurer of the navy, though he had to share the office with Buckingham’s candidate, Sir Thomas Orborne. He was included as a placeman in both lists of the court party at this time, and when Parliament met again in the autumn of 1669, a pamphlet, The Alarum, was distributed to Members, in which he was described as ‘an angry man against the Court until silenced by a good place, and is now content that everything should be let alone, having got what he grumbled for’. He repeatedly spoke for supply in 1670, declaring that the money granted two years before had proved quite inadequate to the needs of the navy. He helped to manage conferences on the new impositions and on cattle frauds, and took the chair on the bill to preserve naval stores in April 1671; but during the recess Osborne succeeded in evicting him from his office on charges of maladministration and corruption, though he received a valuable victualling contract as compensation.6
For the remainder of the Cavalier Parliament Littleton, was in opposition, and had a hand in all their favourite measures. Vaughan had been removed to the judicial bench, but the Arlington group had been reinforced by Henry Powle. Burnet judged that Littleton and Powle were ‘the men that laid the matters in the House with the greatest care’. In February 1673 he acted as a teller for a motion to search for precedents for the issue of by-election writs while Parliament was not in session. He helped to prepare the address against the suspending power, but supported easing Protestant dissenters by statute. In the autumn session Arlington’s followers attacked the choice of Edward Seymour as Speaker, and Sir Edward Dering reported:
Sir Thomas Littleton in a set speech moved that we might have another Speaker, because he was a Privy Councillor and so not proper to be trusted with the secrets of the House; secondly, because being in that high sphere he was now above the place of Speaker, nor was it fit he, who was now one of the governors of the world, should be servant to the House of Commons; thirdly, that he had other eminent places and employment which would take up his time so much as he could not attend the service of the House with that diligence he ought to do; and lastly, that the House had formerly occasion to question the management of the treasury of the Navy, and if it should have to again it would be a very unkind thing that he who is questioned should sit in the chair at the debates, when it was not fit he should so much as hear the debates.
Next month, at a meeting at the Admiralty to consider renewing the contract for victualling the navy, Osborne used the words ‘a cheat upon the King’ to describe the last contract. Littleton retorted ‘no more cheat than he that said it’, and Osborne told Littleton that ‘he would deal with him elsewhere, that he was a cheat or knave, and he would prove it’. Littleton lost the contract. His accounts as treasurer and as victualler of the navy were never cleared, and though Osborne, now Lord Treasurer Danby, began proceedings against him, they came to nothing. In January 1674 he moved for the dismissal of Danby’s ally Lauderdale, and opposed the impeachment of his own patron, Arlington, though he was added to the committee on 26 Jan. 1674. He reported reasons for a conference on the address accepting peace with Holland. He incensed (Sir) Robert Thomas by failing to substantiate the charge of Popery against Pepys. But before the next session Danby wrote to the King:
Sir Thomas Littleton, who besides the great knaveries already known to his Majesty both in Parliament and his offices, and near £90,000 brought in post abstracts to his accounts, sets himself industriously, not only to traduce me in all kinds, but is in perpetual cabals against his Majesty to prepare fuel for the Parliament, and that nothing should be believed which his Majesty does say.
It was even alleged that Littleton had resorted to bribery to procure evidence against his former colleague, though the witness of course denied it. On 14 Apr. 1675 he was appointed to the committee to draw up an address for the removal of Lauderdale. A fortnight later, when he was pressing for Danby’s impeachment, Giles Strangways observed: ‘I am not for a general accusation, when I have heard some gentlemen speak one way when they have offices, and another when they have none, and fall out when they cannot agree about sharing the revenue among them’. Littleton suspected an allusion to himself, but eventually agreed to let the matter drop.
I beware saying anything in my own concern, though injured in the highest manner, even by erasing of a record and patent detrimentally taken from me, and a bargain broke made upon a valuable consideration, and I exposed to utter ruin and a statute of bankruptcy taken out against me to be tried Friday next. Pray God forgive the promoters of it. I had an office at Court, but it was at the time when the Triple League was newly entered into, and no religion nor property like to be invaded or in danger at all; but as soon as the French League was made, I lost the favour of a great man. But I would have you take notice that the great men are gone more from me than I from them, and no man runs greater hazards for the service of his country than I do at this time.
He continued to press for Danby’s impeachment, and demanded an examination of secret service accounts. He supported a motion for recalling British subjects from the French service, and reported an address on 20 May. He took part in three conferences on the disputes over the Lords’ jurisdiction. In the autumn session he reported the refusal of Col. Thomas Howard to confirm or deny his challenge to William Cavendish, Lord Cavendish, and acted as teller against the adjournment of a debate on appropriation. Classed as ‘worthy’ by Shaftesbury in 1677, he feared that the bill for educating the royal children as Protestants under the bishops’ supervision would ‘rather promote than hinder Popery’, because
we have had a sort of clergy ever since Archbishop Laud’s time too much addicted to Popery. Archbishop Laud professed that it was the best way for us to unite with the Papists, and that was his whole endeavour; and men of that leaven are still in the Church.
He seconded a motion for an alliance against France, though he was himself on close terms with the French ambassador from whom he received a bribe of £500. He helped to draw up two addresses on foreign policy in this session, and took a leading part in the stormy debates of 1678 that shattered Danby’s court party. He was among those instructed to draw up the addresses on the terms of peace (28 Jan.) and for the removal of counsellors (7 May). In the closing session he was named to the committee to inquire into the Popish Plot and helped to draw up reasons for believing in it. On 14 Nov. he reported an address for administering the oaths to the servants of the Queen and the duchess of York. He again helped to draw up Danby’s impeachment, though he subscribed privately to the undertaking given by Denzil Holles that it would be dropped if Parliament were dissolved, and the minister dismissed.7
Littleton’s continuous residence in London had undermined his interest at Wenlock. He was defeated at the general election, but Powle brought him in at a by-election for East Grinstead. A moderately active Member of the first Exclusion Parliament, he was appointed to nine committees and made eight speeches, but he was one of the Members ‘accounted the greatest zealots’ in the last Parliament who could not keep pace with the tide of hostility towards the Court. He helped to prepare reasons for disallowing Danby’s pardon and addresses for the removal of Lauderdale and the calling up of the militia in the home counties. He took part in a conference on the trial of the lords in the Tower, but opposed the exclusion bill, both in debate and division, as ‘the most impractical thing imaginable’. He was unable to find a seat in the second Exclusion Parliament, but was given a place on the board of Admiralty. With Seymour and Laurence Hyde he formed ‘the triumvirate of ministers’ reckoned as ‘too high-spirited’ to brook the dominance of Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile). In 1681 he was defeated at Truro, but Sir Leoline Jenkins instructed Sir Robert Holmes to find him a seat in the Isle of Wight, and he was returned for Yarmouth. In the Oxford Parliament he was appointed to the committee to draw up the impeachment of Fitzharris. As an ‘expedient’ to break the deadlock on exclusion, he proposed that on the King’s death his authority should devolve on the Princess of Orange:
A regency has been proposed to secure the administration of the Government in Protestant hands, so as not to alter the constitution of the monarchy; and this alters the constitution of the monarchy the least imaginable, to have a regency in the room of the King, and the monarchy goes on.
He died on 14 Apr. 1681 and was buried at North Ockendon.8
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Eveline Cruickshanks
- 1. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 3), ii. 327.
- 2. Bodl. Ch. Salop 146; S. Wells, Drainage of Bedford Level, i. 457-9; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 607.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 56; 1671 p. 169; Browning, Danby, i. 65; Bulstrode Pprs. 17.
- 4. Keeler, Long Parl. 254-5; Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 3), ii. 327-9; Cal. Comm. Adv. Money, 113, 428.
- 5. DNB; Cal. Cl. SP, v. 217; CJ, viii. 401, 416, 433, 507, 514, 532, 562, 580, 630, 669, 674, 683, 687; Bodl. Carte mss 34, f. 44; Marvell ed. Margoliouth, i. 148; Pepys Diary, 18 July 1666; Burnet, i. 425-6; ii. 84.
- 6. Milward, 98, 99, 332-5; CJ, ix. 15, 21, 22, 26, 33, 233, 237; Burnet, ii. 84; Survey of London, v. 75; Grey, i. 112-13, 118 270-1; Clarke, Jas. II, i. 436; CSP Dom. 1668-9, pp. 403-4; 1671, pp. 489, 498; 1672, pp. 566-7; Browning, Danby, i. 84-87.
- 7. CJ, ix. 248, 302, 310, 343, 356, 540; Grey, ii. 103, 106, 238, 297; iii. 88-90, 134; iv. 294; Dering, 152; Browning, i. 155-7, 159-60; iii. 1, 8; HMC 13th Rep. VI, 276; Cal. Treas. Bks. vi. 238, 257; Eg. 3345, ff. 24, 38; Dalrymple, Mems. ii. 123, 289-90, 314-17; Burnet, ii. 188.
- 8. HMC 13th Rep. VI, 20; CJ, ix. 617; Grey, vi. 255; viii. 317; HMC Ormonde n.s. v. 98; vi. 7.