PULTENEY (POULTNEY), Sir William (1624-91), of Westminster.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679
1690 - 6 Sept. 1691

Family and Education

bap. 25 Mar. 1624, 2nd s. of Michael Poultney of Bray, Berks. and Westminster by w. Eleanor. educ. King’s, Camb. 1640; I. Temple 1646, called 1654. m. 23 Apr. 1655, Grace, da. of Sir John Corbet, 1st Bt., of Stoke, Salop, 4s. 2da. suc. bro. 1655; kntd. 4 June 1660.1

Offices Held

Capt. of ft. (royalist) to 1646.2

Commr. for militia, Mdx. Mar. 1660; j.p. Westminster July 1660-81, Mdx. 1667-81, 1689-d.; commr. for sewers, Westminster Aug. 1660, hackney coaches, London and Westminster 1662-3, assessment, Westminster 1663-80, Mdx. 1671-80, Mdx. and Westminster 1689-90, inquiry, Richmond Park 1671.3

Commr. for privy seal 1610-d.4


Pulteney’s family had held a substantial leasehold interest in the bailiwick of St. James since at least 1575. They were Royalists in the Civil War, his father contributing £500 to Charles I’s funds and Pulteney himself serving in the regiment of Sir William Russell until the surrender of Worcester. As a younger son he was not required to compound, but the family estate was sequestrated and sold to a Berkshire neighbour in 1651 for £3,758, probably a collusive purchase. Pulteney was knighted at the Restoration, recovered the estate, and took the poll probably on behalf of Thomas Clarges, in 1661. In partnership with Henry Guy he contracted under the Act of 1662 for ‘the cleaning and repairing the streets, and the licensing and regulating of hackney-coaches and coach-horses in London and Westminster’. Exploiting the sand and gravel deposits in Soho and the springs of Piccadilly, he contracted to supply bricks to the crown, and developed the property in a profitable but unsystematic way. He adapted the spelling of his name to suggest a descent which has not been established from an ancient Leicestershire family, recently extinct. Despite his Cavalier background he was one of the Westminster justices accused in 1676 of discouraging action against conventicles.5

Pulteney was regarded as a court candidate at the Westminster election of February 1679, and classed ‘doubtful’ on Shaftesbury’s list. But his petition for the freehold of his estate, grounded on the great sufferings of his father and himself ‘by reason of the late usurpations’, was unsuccessful, and he went into opposition. An active Member of the first Exclusion Parliament, he was appointed to 15 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges, and made eight speeches. On 21 Mar. he declared himself ‘much troubled’ at Bedloe’s statement that he had been hindered in his discovery of the Popish Plot and encouraged him to name Danby as responsible for the obstruction. He was among those appointed to draw up the address on the irregularity of Danby’s pardon and the proclamation summoning him to give himself up. On 3 May he took the chair in the committee to consider the Lords’ amendments to the habeas corpus bill, and was given special responsibility for the bill for security against Popery. He helped to draw up an address for raising the militia in London and Westminster during the trial of the Popish Lords, and seven days later he declared that, until Danby’s pardon had been rescinded,

you can have no fruit of this trial of the five Lords. If they get pardons, all your proceedings are to no purpose. If the King can pardon, there is an end to all our lives and liberties.

In the debate on exclusion he said:

I am afraid that a Popish King will have a Popish Council and Popish bishops, and that priests and Jesuits, now skulking in corners, will appear in public, and that the Government will be Popish. If there is such a bent to the Duke, now he is but a subject, what will there be when he comes to be king?

It is probable that he voted for the bill, as Morrice believed, though the list in the state paper shows him in the other lobby. A very active Member of the second Exclusion Parliament, he made six speeches and was appointed to 16 committees. He was among those entrusted with preparing the repeal of the Elizabethan statute against Protestant nonconformists, and took the chair in grand committee on the second exclusion bill. He was named to the committee to inspect the laws about cleansing the streets of London and Westminster and licensing hackney-coaches. He chaired the committee for the impeachment of Edward Seymour, who he agreed should be put in custody lest he abscond while his case was under consideration. He was named to the committee to bring in bills for security against arbitrary power, and deputized for (Sir) George Treby as chairman of the elections committee, reporting on the Monmouth and Marlow cases. On 7 Jan. 1681 he firmly opposed the expedients offered to avoid exclusion, saying:

the naming of councillors by Act of Parliament would bring us into an aristocracy. Banishment is but pruning the tree, and not cutting it down. Would never give over insisting upon the bill, for a Popish head upon a Protestant body is a monster.

In 1681 he was returned unopposed, assuring the electors that ‘he hoped never to live to see a Popish successor’. At Oxford he was appointed to four committees, including the elections committee. On 25 Mar. he was on the committees to inspect the Journals about Danby’s impeachment and to prepare a conference with the Lords over the loss of the bill of ease for Protestant dissenters in the last Parliament. On the next day he declared against a regency as an alternative to exclusion, which would ‘make the King but a shadow, and divide the person from the power. ... By express directions of those I represent I am enjoined to adhere to the bill of exclusion’, he said, and was appointed to the drafting committee.6

Pulteney did not stand in 1685, but regained his seat in the Convention. A moderately active Member, he was appointed to 32 committees, including both elections committees, and made 12 recorded speeches. He was among those nominated for the chair of the grand committee on the state of the nation on 28 Jan., but excused himself on the ground of infirmity. In committee he asked: ‘Have you not made another determination of putting the government into another’s hand for the present, [by] which you have already in effect declared a demise?’. If the crown did not descend from heaven, it must come from the people. To recall James II would be to put halters about their necks. The crown, he asserted, had often been disposed of by Parliaments. On 26 Feb. he supported the proposal to grant the revenue for three years only ‘to secure us a Parliament’. He was appointed to the inquiry into the authors and advisers of the grievances of the last two reigns. On 16 Apr. he successfully proposed an address promising assistance for the war with France, which was seconded by (Sir) Thomas Clarges. He was among those appointed to consider a bill for licensing hackney coaches, and as one ‘of the long robe’, though he is not known to have practised, added himself to the committees appointed to consider the bill to put the great seal in commission and to relieve the Irish clergy. He took a prominent part in each, reporting from committee and conference, and carrying both measures to the Lords. He was among those ordered to bring in a bill of pardon and indemnity, and spoke against excepting Bishop Crew. He reported a conference on the bill of rights on 20 July, and at the end of the month was added to the managers of a conference on Titus Oates. After the recess he was appointed to the committees to inquire into the expenses of the war, to examine the circumstances of the sentence on Sir Thomas Armstrong, and to consider a bill to attaint those in arms against the new regime. In the debate on restoring corporations he opposed the disabling clause, saying that such punishment was not ‘the way to make friends for the King nor the Government’, and he spoke in favour of proceeding with the indemnity bill before considering a bill of pains and penalties.7

After the dissolution of the Convention, Pulteney was put on the commission for the privy seal, and in the next Parliament he acted as one of the ‘managers of the King’s directions’. He died suddenly on 6 Sept. 1691 and was buried at St. James, Piccadilly, leaving Clarges and Guy as trustees of his estate. His younger son John sat for Hastings as a court Whig from 1695 to 1708, and his grandson was William Pulteney, Walpole’s great rival.8

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. St. Martin in the Fields (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxvi), 30; Westminster City Lib. St. Martin in the Fields par. reg., 3; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 60; PCC 10 Aylett.
  • 2. CSP Dom. 1645-7, p. 456; Townshend’s Diary (Worcs. Hist. Soc.), i. 112.
  • 3. C181/7/37, 151; CSP Dom. 1665-6, p. 264; Mdx. RO, MJP/CP5a; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 1161.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1689-90, p. 460.
  • 5. Survey of London, xxix. 26-27; xxxiii. 288-9; C. L. Kingsford, Piccadilly, 24, 65, 74, 115; E. B. Chancellor, Romance of Soho, 25, 214; C. T. Gatty, Mary Davies and the Manor of Ebury, i. 30; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 10; ii. 320, 642; iii. 393; v. 469, 470; vi. 229; viii. 1349; CSP Dom. 1663-4, p. 599; 1670, p. 669; PC2/65/249.
  • 6. HMC 7th Rep. 475; Survey of London, xxix. 27; Grey, vii. 12-13, 17, 294, 409-10; viii. 17, 294, 409-10; viii. 175, 179-80, 316-17; CJ, ix. 612, 648, 663, 682, 686; Add. 28930, f. 142; HMC 12th Rep. IX, 111; Bodl., Carte 222, f. 249; True Prot. Merc. 12 Feb. 1681.
  • 7. IHR Bull. xlix. 249, 255-6; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, pp. 444, 536; Hardwicke SP, ii. 404; Grey, ix. 24, 115, 384, 512-13; CJ, x. 123, 125, 152, 190, 240, 245.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1690-1, p. 211; PCC 172 Vere.