BIDDULPH, Sir Michael, 2nd Bt. (1654-1718), of Elmshurst, Staffs. and Westcombe, Kent
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
bap. 18 May 1654, 1st s. of Sir Theophilus Biddulph, 1st Bt.†, of Elmshurst, by Susanna, da. of Zachary Highlord, Skinner, of Hart Street, London and Morden, Surr. educ. St. Paul’s; Christ’s, Camb. adm. 2 Dec. 1670, aged 16. m. (1) 31 Dec. 1678 (with £8,000), Henrietta Maria (d. 1689), da. of Roger Whitley*, 1s. 2da.; (2) 7 Mar. 1698, Elizabeth (d. 1740), da. of William Doyley, Milliner, of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, Westminster, 3da. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 25 Mar. 1683.1
Both Biddulph’s father and uncle sat for Lichfield in the Restoration period. Biddulph succeeded to their interest and sat (as an inactive Member) during the three Exclusion Parliaments and the Convention of 1689. Locally he was more active, attending a meeting of gentry on 29 Nov. 1688 to consider how they should act in the wake of William’s invasion and signing an address to James II on 4 Dec. asking him to remove all non-qualified people from civil and military posts. At the election of 1690 he was soundly defeated by the sitting Member, Robert Burdett, and Richard Dyott*, both of them vigorous Churchmen. However, he maintained an interest in Lichfield and was the first person to whom Secretary of State Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) wrote in 1692 to investigate a report of disaffection in the city. He regained his seat at the 1695 election, possibly as a result of an agreement, because Dyott did not stand.2
Back in Parliament, Biddulph was a consistent supporter of the Court, albeit once again an inactive one. Although originally classed as doubtful in the forecast of a division on 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade, his name was later transferred to those supporting the Court. He signed the Association in February and voted for fixing the price of guineas at 22s. in March. In the following session he voted on 25 Nov. 1696 for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. After he had been re-elected in company with Dyott in 1698, the return was challenged by a more committed Whig, Humphrey Wyrley, but the petition never emerged from committee. On a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments undertaken in about September 1698 he was confirmed as a Court supporter. Rather intriguingly, on an analysis of the House undertaken between January and May 1700 he was not assigned to any interest, but marked with a query and the name of his brother-in-law Sir John Mainwaring, 2nd Bt.* The inference that he could be influenced by Mainwaring was reinforced by a comment made after the election of January 1701, that he was ‘a poor weak man of very mean understanding and so consequently easily led away by the nose by his friends of whom Sir John Mainwaring, knight of the shire for Cheshire, has the most predominant power over him’. At this election Biddulph had suffered a surprise defeat in a four-way contest, possibly owing to his insufficient attention to essential electioneering tactics such as the provision of ale. Nevertheless, much confidence was expressed that the election of William Walmisley* would be overturned by the House and Biddulph returned at the ensuing by-election. The remark quoted above was made in the context of a manoeuvre to persuade Biddulph to desist in favour of Thomas Coke* or James Stanhope*. In the event, Walmisley survived, albeit fortuitously.3
Biddulph was certainly keen to re-enter the House, because following his defeat in January 1701 he promised that he would ‘always vote as Dyott does’. This declaration was probably sufficient to unite Biddulph with Dyott for the election of November 1701. It may also explain why, in an analysis of the new Parliament, Robert Harley* marked him among those either of doubtful party allegiance or absent. A more plausible explanation is that he was unable or unwilling to attend the Commons due to the growing furore surrounding Morgan Whitley (his wife’s cousin) and his debts to the crown as receiver-general of Cheshire and North Wales, for which Biddulph and Mainwaring were sureties. According to a report laid before the Commons by William Lowndes* on 19 Jan. 1702, the debt totalled £43,000, which even after deductions amounted to approximately £25,000. As early as July 1700 the Treasury had ordered an extent to be placed on Whitley’s effects following information from Biddulph. Nevertheless, by February 1702 Biddulph was facing severe financial penalties for Whitley’s failings, while in March some of Mainwaring’s enemies in the House moved to examine Whitley in the hope that the receiver would implicate Mainwaring as the man holding the balance due to the crown.4
Despite facing a challenge from Sir Henry Gough* (presumably because he had broken his resolution to vote in the Commons ‘with Dyott’), and an increasingly bleak financial future, Biddulph was re-elected for Lichfield on 6 Aug. 1702. At that time he was in gaol in Stafford, which forced the ‘magistrates’ of the city to visit the sheriff on the 8th ‘to demand him for their Member’. His detention was probably the result of financial difficulties engendered by an agreement made between Biddulph, Mainwaring and the Treasury on 27 Feb. 1702 to secure Whitley’s release in return for a payment of £3,850 into the Exchequer (plus a tally of £3,400) and for allowing judgment to be entered against their bonds. Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) had confirmed this arrangement on 27 May. In August 1702 Biddulph petitioned the Treasury for a discharge from prison to enable him to raise £800 to pay off part of the debt. His major ally in this approach was the newly appointed chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.*, a Staffordshire landowner. Both (Sir) Charles Lyttelton† (3rd Bt.) and Lord Stanhope attributed Biddulph’s eventual release in October 1702 to Leveson Gower’s influence, Stanhope in critical terms, as it thwarted the hopes of Gough’s early return to Parliament at a by-election. However, Biddulph evidently feared re-arrest, for Lyttelton reported on 16 Jan. 1703 that ‘Sir Michael Biddulph though he be of the House, never comes there, and lodges incognito’. Nevertheless, he may have found it expedient to venture into the chamber on occasion, as he was recorded as voting with the Whigs on 13 Feb. 1703 in support of the Lords’ amendment for enlarging the time for taking the abjuration oath.5
By the summer of 1703 Biddulph must have been in prison again, for in September he was released by the lord treasurer for 13 weeks in order to assist an inquiry into Whitley’s accounts. His estates had also been taken over by the crown and his rents collected towards paying off his debt. However, this course was not very satisfactory from the Treasury viewpoint, because Biddulph only held a life interest in the estates and his death would liquidate the debt. Furthermore, long spells in prison had had a deleterious effect on his health. The solution was to apply to Parliament for a private Act to allow the lord treasurer to negotiate a composition for the remainder of the debt. Such a course had been suggested as early as August 1704 when the marriage of Biddulph’s son, Theophilus, had provided sufficient funds to make the scheme practicable owing to his wife’s portion. Accordingly, a petition was duly presented to the Commons on 20 Nov. 1704. When the report from the examining committee was read on 7 Dec. it revealed that the yearly value of the Staffordshire estates was £555 17s. 4d. and those in Kent £140 13s., and that a total of £1,105 4s. 9d. had been received from the former. A bill was introduced on 11 Dec. and passed its third reading on 24 Jan. 1705, which empowered the lord treasurer to compound with Biddulph before 25 Mar. 1706. The amount was duly set at £4,626 12s. and although it was necessary to extend the time limit, a report to the Commons on 12 Mar. 1708 indicated that the money had been paid into the Exchequer. During the passage of the Act, Biddulph did not vote for the Tack on 28 Nov. 1704.6
Although Biddulph did not sit in the 1705 Parliament, he was returned for Lichfield in 1708. His election was marked as a ‘gain’ for the Whigs by Lord Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*). As in his earlier career, he seems now to have been an inactive Member. He did not stand again, dying on 2 Apr. 1718. He was succeeded by his son, Theophilus. In his will he left the unentailed part of his estate to his wife, plus the judgment for £10,000 he had received against Morgan Whitley.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. IGI, London; J. C. Wedgwood, Staffs. Parl. Hist. (Wm. Salt Arch Soc.), ii. 141–2.
- 2. Wm. Salt Lib. (Stafford), Bagot mss, D/1721/3/291; CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 269.
- 3. Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/9, Ld. Stanhope to [James] Stanhope, 26 Apr. , same to ‘my Ld.’, 26 Apr. , same to Coke, 8 Feb. 1700[-1].
- 4. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/9, Ld. Stanhope to ‘my Ld.’, 26 Apr. ; HMC Cowper, ii. 425; Cal. Treas. Bks. xv. 426; xvii. 16–17; Cocks Diary, 255–6.
- 5. HMC Cowper, ii. 451; Add. 29579, ff. 407, 416, 433; Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 17, 37, 361; BL, Lothian mss, Ld. Stanhope to Coke, 12 Oct. 1702.
- 6. Cal. Treas. Bks. xviii. 401; xx. 224–5, 603, 610; Bagot mss D(W)/1733/J1/2, ff. 8–9; Add. 29579, f. 497; CJ, xiv. 428, 448; xv. 603.
- 7. Wedgwood, 142.