WALLER, Edmund I (1606-87), of Hall Barn, Beaconsfield, Bucks. and St. James's Street, Westminster.

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

Constituency

Dates

c. Feb. 1624
Apr. 1640
c. Nov. 1640 - 14 July 1643

Family and Education

b. 3 Mar. 1606, 1st s. of Robert Waller of Coleshill, Amersham, Bucks. by Anne, da. of Griffith Hampden of Great Hampden, Bucks. educ. High Wycombe g.s.; Eton c.1618-21; King’s, Camb. 1621; L. Inn 1622. m. (1) 15 July 1631 (with £8,000), Anne (d.1634), da. and h. of John Bancks, Mercer, of London, 1s. d.v.p. 1da.; (2) by 1644, Mary. da. of one Bracey of Thame, Oxon., 5s. 8da. suc. fa. 1616.1

Offices Held

Commr. for midland assoc. Bucks. 1642, corporations 1662-3, loyal and indigent officers, Mdx. 1662, highways and sewers, London and Westminster 1662, assessment, Bucks. 1663-74, 1679-80, Mdx. 1664-9, Westminster 1673-9.2

Commr. for trade 1655-7, Nov. 1660-8, plantations Dec. 1660-72, accounts [I] 1668, trade and plantations 1672-4.

FRS 1661-82.

Biography

Waller’s ancestors migrated from Kent to Buckinghamshire in the 14th century, rising from modest circumstances to an income of £3,500 p.a., though he was the first of this branch of the family to sit in Parliament. His reputation as a poet was already well established before his election to the Long Parliament, in which he sided with the moderates, defending episcopacy and opposing the attainder of Strafford. When the Civil War broke out, however, he remained in London, where he became involved in a royalist plot. On his arrest, he saved his life by massive bribery and by giving evidence against the other conspirators, including his brother-in-law Nathaniel Tomkins, who were hanged. Waller was fined £10,000, banished, and declared incapable of sitting in Parliament again. He remained abroad, in receipt of ample funds from his mother, until 1651, when he was pardoned by the Rump. When his kinsman Oliver Cromwell became Protector, Waller was given a seat on the committee of trade.3

Waller was returned on the court interest for Hastings in 1661, but Lord Wharton listed him as a friend, to be influenced by his cousin Edmund Petty. He was appointed to 209 committees, being particularly prominent in the earlier sessions as a manager of conferences. His speeches, of which over 180 are recorded, made him, in Burnet’s words, ‘the delight of the House’. Nevertheless,

he was only concerned to say that which should make him be applauded, but he never laid the business of the House to heart, being a vain and empty, though a witty man.

By Waller’s own account, however, his first speech, opposing the King’s intended marriage to a Roman Catholic princess, was so far from being applauded as to be cried down, and according to the Quaker Whitehead he was one of the very few Members to speak in favour of liberty of conscience in the debate on preventing danger from schismatics. He was genuinely tolerant, opposing persecution both of Roman Catholics and nonconformists. He served on the committee for the corporations bill, supported the amendment to forbid magistrates, Members, and unsuccessful parliamentary candidates from acting as commissioners in their own boroughs, and was appointed to manage a conference. He helped to draw up the petition to the King on behalf of Sir Arthur Hesilriget. The only bill for which he took the chair in committee was for the naturalization of the Roman Catholic Countess of Shrewsbury and her brother; on 17 July he reported that they were both too young to be required to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. As an author, he was much concerned with the bill for regulating the press, which he helped to ‘perfect’ He was sent to the House of Lords to desire a conference, of which he was one of the managers, and acted as teller against a proviso about reprinting. In the New Year he twice reported from the conference on sedition. He also helped to manage conferences on the execution of those under attainder, on confirming ministers in their livings, and on provision for the loyal and indigent officers. He was among the Members appointed to examine the text of the Book of Common Prayer, and to present to the King an address regarding Lindsey level. In the 1663 session he served on the deputation to thank the King for his proclamation against Popish priests and Jesuits. He was appointed to the committee for the sectaries bill and to the conference on the Duke of York’s revenue. On 6 July he carried up the address for a fast-day. On 23 Mar. 1664, Waller spoke in favour of the repeal of the Triennial Act, because of the disorder of elections. He helped to manage conferences on Dutch depredations and the conventicles bill, and was given leave to bring in a bill constituting St. James Piccadilly as a separate parish, but did not do so. On 25 Nov. he was among the Members ordered to thank the King and the City for defending the nation against the Dutch. He was appointed a manager of the conference on the royal aid on 9 Feb. 1665, and at Oxford took part in conferences on the King’s message and the spread of the plague.4

Waller’s record in the 1666 session foreshadowed the attack on Clarendon in which he was to take an important part. After the debate on the excise, according to Andrew Marvell:

Old Waller, trumpet-general, swore he’d write
This combat truer than the naval fight.

He was sent to the Lords to ask for a joint committee to inquire into the naval debt, and helped to manage conferences on the Canary patent and the impeachment of Lord Mordaunt. He was also active over the private bill of (Sir) Thomas Higgons, which he supported in debate and division. In the next session he was appointed to the committees to report on freedom of speech in Parliament, to improve the dispatch of public business, and to inquire into restraints on juries. On 16 Oct. 1667 he spoke against the bill to prevent the growth of Popery; ‘for multiplying of oaths the land mourneth’. He was one of the seven Members sent to attend Prince Rupert and the Duke of Albemarle (George Monck) on 23 Oct., and helped to draw up the accusations against Clarendon. He made several contributions to the impeachment debates. ‘Touch a lawyer,’ he exclaimed, ‘and all the lawyers will squeak’, ‘Burleigh plodded fifty years for a fortune, the Chancellor got more in five.’ Clarendon was worse than Guy Fawkes, because he had caused both Houses of Parliament to be ‘blown up’. On the sale of Dunkirk, ‘the King might as well sell the Isle of Wight’. When the Houses disagreed over the impeachment, he asserted that ‘the people are at home nowhere but in the House of Commons, knock when you will’, and was appointed to draw up reasons. In the conference he crossed swords with Lord Ashley (Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper), who complained of the vagueness of the charges; but he helped to manage another conference on 4 Dec. after Clarendon had fled. He also took part in preparing the impeachment of (Sir) William Penn and in managing a conference, and repeatedly spoke in favour of tolerating dissenters: ‘Let them alone, and they will preach one against another’. On 5 May 1668 he was appointed to a conference on the petition against the East India Company.5

Waller’s links with the Court, where his wit was always acceptable, were closest during the Cabal period. He was made a commissioner for Irish accounts in August 1668, and he was marked on both lists of the court party as a friend of Ormonde, and as one who had for the most part voted for supply. In his own words, ‘he ever resisted both extremes of giving and not giving’. He spoke against the conventicles bill in 1670, and served both on the committee to consider the Lords’ amendments and on the conference. This was followed by his appointment to the plantations commission with a salary of £500 p.a., as correctly noted in Flagellum Parliamentarium. After the assault on Sir John Coventry he spoke against deferring supply, and he helped to manage the conference on the Coventry bill. He spoke frequently on supply in this session, was sent to ask for a conference on the impositions bill, and took part in another on the sugar duty. An opponent of the Court described him as ‘a poet that can turn a money bill into sad rhyme, but never into good reason’. On 30 Mar. 1671 he urged recommittal of the conventicles bill, reminding the House that

our reformers an hundred years ago translated the Bible that the people might read and judge, and so differences came, and in some measure you must bear with that in judging.

When Parliament met again in 1673, Waller spoke ‘very zealously’ for the Declaration of Indulgence, ‘and that against the sense and opinion of the House’, in

a long, premeditated speech, concerning the power of the King in ecclesiastical matters [and] the usefulness to the people of his power and dispensing, instanced particularly in the dispensing of the keeping of Lent, which, because it pleased us, we did not complain of.

Nevertheless, he was among the Members appointed to draw up both the address against the Declaration and the second address against the suspending power. He continued to speak against persecution as counter-productive and contrary to ‘the genius of the nation’. In the short October session, Waller advised against addressing the King to prevent the Duke of York’s second marriage, although he still considered, as in 1661, that there was

no greater disadvantage possible than for a prince to marry one of a different religion. ... [But] it is, first for the honour of your House not to interpose; the King communicated his marriage and you approved it, and now a thing is past all remedy, and you interpose. ... It is neither for the House’s honour, religion, nor the good of the nation. And above all these, consider how the Duke has exposed his person. Consider the thing and the person, and [he] hopes you will decline this manner of proceeding.

With Higgons, he was involved in passing information about this session to the French ambassador, who considered him one of the more reasonable Members.6

In the 1674 session, Waller spoke against Lauderdale, but defended Buckingham. He opposed a separate peace with Holland, on the reasonable grounds that ‘never to stand to our allies, nor think of them, is not for the honour of the nation’. In the debate on Ireland he acted as teller for the Opposition, and was appointed to the committee of inquiry. With the dissolution of the plantations commission, Waller was ‘no longer a courtier’, as Daniel Finch noted, and though his name was included in the working lists and among the government speakers, it was with the significant note: ‘threatens to fly out’. Certainly in the summer session of 1675, in which he was named to all the committees of political significance, he followed an independent line, causing Giles Strangways to hint at ‘the difference between a pension and no pension, to the great confusion of Mr Waller’. He ‘expatiated very rhetorically’ on toleration; but on foreign policy he defended the prerogative against the claims of the country party:

He has formerly seen how dear our meddling with peace and war has proved to us. We have no light or measure at all in such things. All that comes to the King is from his own and foreign ambassadors.

He spoke in favour of appropriating the customs to the use of the navy, but objected to the bill for preventing Papists from sitting in Parliament, because it imposed an oath. In the disputes with the Upper House that eventually forced a prorogation, he served on three conferences, for one of which he helped to draw up reasons. He stated his position clearly on 3 June:

If the Lords can judge the whole, they may judge parts. See the danger of this pretence. The foundation of the castle is the noblest part; the Commons are the foundation, the Lords are the superstructure and ornament, the pinnacles and the parapets.

Perhaps the King, as Danby suggested, spoke to Waller before the autumn session, and promised him the next reversion of the provostship of Eton College, for his name appears on none of the controversial committees, and his speeches on the naval programme were moderate, though privately he expressed scepticism, and reminded the House that ‘we give public money, and must see that it goes to a public use ... Rome was not built in a day, nor the navy. Twenty ships in a day is very fair’. He spoke in favour of depositing the proceeds of the assessment with the corporation of London, observing that ‘if he had his own natural inclination and desire, he would have taken this occasion to reform the Exchequer, which, for aught he sees, breaks loose from all Acts of Parliament’.7

Waller had done enough for the Opposition to earn the rating of ‘worthy’ on Shaftesbury’s list of 1677, and to warrant the omission of his name from A Seasonable Argument. He desired that William Sacheverell should be allowed to proceed with his argument that Parliament had been automatically dissolved by the long recess, but he urged ‘all haste in giving the King ships’, subject to safeguards against misuse of the money. His only important committee in this session was to bring in a bill to preclude Members from claiming wages from their constituencies, but the result was not altogether to his taste. ‘Some in the House are so poor and some of the boroughs so rich that to force men not to take wages would not be equal justice’. On the enfranchisement of Newark he supported the prerogative: ‘to question this power of the King here is to question all our sitting here’. Danby was sufficiently encouraged by Waller’s attitude to offer him a sweetener of £1,000 before Parliament met again, and this was paid over on 3 Jan. 1678 out of the French subsidy. He was not helpful to the Court, or at least to the Speaker (Edward Seymour), in the debates on irregular adjournments, but he gave good value over foreign policy, the only matter in which the Government was in serious danger of defeat. The end of his speech on 5 Feb. was inaudible, but 11 days later he urged:

Let us lay aside all distrust of the King. ... The rule of the government is for us to assist, and the King to make peace and war. Let us rely upon him, and I hope for good success.

The country party apparently found this unanswerable, for ‘there was a great silence for some time’. He was appointed to draw up reasons for a conference on the growth of Popery and to summarize foreign commitments. On 4 May he said: ‘I would have the King given affirmative advice, anything rather than that of finding fault’. His speech was noted ‘well’ by the court reporter, but his name appears on no lists of government Members this year. On 11 July he was appointed to draw up reasons for a conference on colliers, and to manage a conference on burying in woollen, which he had opposed, because ‘our Saviour was buried in linen’.8

After serving on the committees to inquire into the Popish Plot, and to translate Coleman’s letters, Waller, for all his tolerance and sophistication, was genuinely convinced of its reality. But he feared the consequences of banishing the Duke of York from the Court:

There is a great deal of love between the two brothers; if the Duke go away, love will go afar off ... I would let this debate alone. There may be more dangers in removing the Duke than in letting him alone ... At Court the Duke will keep none but good company, abroad Catholics. I would pause upon this motion.

For the proposal to defer action, Brome Whorwood denounced him as ‘an enemy to his King and country’, but was forced to apologize. On 9 Nov. Waller was sent to the Lords to ask for a conference on the delay in issuing a commission to administer the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. His attitude had changed since 1675, and he was no longer willing to exempt even the Duke of York from these oaths. He was appointed to the committee on the bill for speedier conviction of Popish recusants. On the other hand he demurred at the conduct of William Williams as chairman of the committee for the impeachment of Danby, and dared to assert that it was first necessary to ascertain if the fallen statesman had acted by the King’s command.9

It is clear that Waller could never be described as a good party man, and, as ‘he would never be in the commission of the peace or the lieutenancy’, his local interest in Buckinghamshire must have suffered. He does not appear to have stood at any of the Exclusion elections. Though disappointed of the provostship of Eton (for which he was not qualified), his standing at Court remained high, especially with the Duchess of York, who, when she became Queen, probably recommended him to Lord Bath for a seat at Saltash. He was appointed to no committees in James II’s Parliament, but ‘even at eighty [a slight exaggeration] he said the liveliest things of any among them’. The speeches sometimes ascribed to him in this Parliament scarcely merit this description, and were more probably delivered by the Hon. Thomas Wharton. He died of dropsy on 21 Oct. 1687 and was buried at Beaconsfield.10

There is much that is attractive to modern eyes in Waller’s political attitudes. His hatred of cruelty led him to express his sympathy for the poor, ‘hunted like foxes out of parishes’ by the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1662. He was deeply shocked by the bill to legalize bigamy introduced by Michael Malet, and his persistent advocacy of toleration was not the product of indifference. ‘He was always of the Church of England, bred and born in it, and hopes to die in it’, while of Quakers he said, ‘No man is more against them than I am. No reason will satisfy them; they are not good at that, but they are best at suffering that ever people were’. His patriotism took the form of a high opinion of the English people, whose sympathy for the underdog would always render persecution ineffective. As Father of the House he was mindful of the dark days of 1641-2, and always concerned to preserve the unity of the three estates. ‘The King has his part, and we ours. ... If there be union betwixt the Lords and us, all will go well’. His politics, like his poetry, were remarkable chiefly for their softness; panegyrics of Oliver Cromwell under the Protectorate, of Charles II at the Restoration, and of the Prince of Orange during the Exclusion crisis demanded a degree of flexibility unusual even in a poet, and he did not have Dryden’s excuses of youth and political inexperience. His betrayal of the Royalists in 1643 could never be forgotten, besides involving him in losses which ‘being no very good economist’ he was unable to retrieve. Though Burnet’s judgment is harsh, it is probably true that harder, more consistent if less able men had more influence in Parliament.11

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Basil Duke Henning

Notes

  • 1. Lipscomb, Bucks. iii. 182, 201; PCC 84 Scroope, 163 Foot.
  • 2. Browning, Danby, i. 64; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 2, f. 452; Evelyn Diary, iii. 319; HMC Lords, i. 174; Tudor and Stuart Proclamations ed. Steele, i. 405.
  • 3. VCH Bucks. iii. 158; Keeler, Long Parl. 376; Aubrey, Brief Lives, ii. 276.
  • 4. Burnet, ii. 91; G. Whitehead, Christian Progress (1725), 270; Grey, ii. 193; CJ, viii. 291, 298, 303, 311, 313, 315, 341, 342, 355, 367, 423, 435, 527, 544, 548, 562, 568, 613, 623; Add. 35865, f. 212; Pepys Diary, 13 May 1664.
  • 5. Milward, 39, 61; CJ, viii. 647, 662, 674, 687; ix. 21; Grey, i. 1, 28, 29-30, 33, 43, 51, 146.
  • 6. Marvell ed. Margoliouth, i; Browning, Danby, i. 64; Grey, i. 93, 220, 339, 412; ii. 193; ix. 367; CJ, ix. 150, 194, 233, 236, 238, 257; Dering, 115; Harl. 7020, f. 47; Finch mss; PRO 31/3, bdle. 129, f.