BILSON, Leonard (1681-1715), of West Mapledurham, nr. Petersfield, Hants.
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Family and Education
bap. 25 Sept. 1681, 1st s. of Thomas Bilson† of West Mapledurham by Susanna, da. of Colonel William Legge† of the Minories, London, sis. of George†, 1st Baron Dartmouth, and William Legge†. educ. New Coll. Oxf. 1699. unm. suc. fa. 1692.1
Commr. Portsmouth and Sheet turnpike trust, 1711–d.; freeman, Portsmouth 1711.2
The ownership of estates in and near Petersfield and marriage into the Legge family had given Bilson’s family an electoral interest in the borough which three successive generations of Bilsons had represented, the latest being Bilson’s father in 1685 and 1689. Bilson followed the family tradition of education at Oxford where he had the honour of reciting a poem before Queen Anne during her visit to the university in August 1702.3
Bilson was returned to Petersfield at a by-election in 1704. In October he was reckoned doubtful in a forecast for the vote on the Tack, but his vote for the measure on 28 Nov. confirmed his solid Toryism, and an analysis of the 1705 Parliament (to which he was returned unopposed) identified him as ‘True Church’. Having voted for the Tory candidate in the county elections, in Parliament Bilson voted against the Court candidate for Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705 and was given leave of absence for a month on 21 Dec. His next notable action was not until 1 Feb. 1707 when he was included among those named to draft a bill for a turnpike on the road between Petersfield and Butser Hill. Two lists of 1708 classed Bilson as a Tory and he continued true to form in the next Parliament. During the Sacheverell trial in 1710 he was a teller, on 2 Mar., in favour of a Tory motion to insert the word ‘republican’ into an address asking the Queen to take measures to suppress ‘the present tumults set on foot and fomented by papists, non-jurors and other enemies’. Listed as having voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, February–March 1710, he told against a motion on 24 Mar. to burn a book to which Sacheverell had referred in his answer to the articles of impeachment.4
Bilson voted for the Tory candidates in the 1710 elections for Hampshire and was himself returned at Petersfield. Unsurprisingly he was classed as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’. He figured in the first session as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who exposed the mismanagements of the previous administration, and was a member of the October Club. Since he was undoubtedly a High Tory, his membership of the club was probably genuine, although with his cousin Lord Dartmouth holding high office, it has been suggested that he may have acted as a Court spy. On 11 Jan. 1711 he was a teller in favour of extending the franchise at Lymington from the freemen to the inhabitants, a move aimed at ending the Whig monopoly of the borough. He was again named to the drafting committee for a bill for a turnpike on the Petersfield to Portsmouth road, 15 Feb., and twice, on 3 and 7 Apr., he acted as a teller on the Tory side in the contested election at Cockermouth. Bilson again voted for the Tory candidates in the 1713 county elections and was himself described as a Tory in the Worsley list and two other lists comparing the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments. Bilson continued to represent Petersfield until his death on 28 June 1715. His estates eventually passed to his cousin Henry Legge† who took the additional name of Bilson, as required by Bilson’s will.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Paula Watson / Sonya Wynne
- 1. IGI, London; Hants Vis. (Harl. Soc. n.s. x), 133; Hants Repository, ii. 215.
- 2. Portsmouth and Sheet Turnpike Commrs. Min. Bk. (Portsmouth Rec. Ser. ii), 169; R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 375.
- 3. VCH Hants, iii. 89; Boyer, Anne Annals, i. 77.
- 4. Hants Poll 1705 (IHR), 57.
- 5. Hants Poll 1710 (IHR), 58; 1713, p. 21; Huntington Lib. Q. xxxiii. 157; Hants Repository, ii. 215; PCC 232 Fagg.