BUCKINGHAM, Sir Owen (c.1649-1713), of Bread Street, London and Erleigh Court, Earley, Berks.
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Family and Education
b. c.1649, 2nd s. of George Buckingham of Stanwell, Mdx., prob. by his 3rd w. Anne. m. (1) bef. 1673, Elizabeth (d. 1680), 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da.; (2) 10 Nov. 1681, aged 32, Mary (d. 1687), da. of Nathaniel Maxy, Vintner, wid. of Henry Warner (d. 1680), merchant, 2s. d.v.p. 3da. d.v.p.; (3) 10 July 1690, Hannah (d. 1691), da. of Peter de Lannoy of St. Olave and St. Saviour’s, Southwark, wid. of John Curtis (d. 1688), grocer, of All Hallows, Bread Street, London, s.p.; (4) 21 Nov. 1693, Mary (d. 1694), da. and h. of Richard Franklin of New Windsor, Berks., s.p.; (5) 4 Feb. 1702, Dorothy (d. 1704), da. of Henry Cornish, Haberdasher, of London, and alderman of London 1680–3, sis. of Henry Cornish*, and wid. of Joseph Ashurst, Merchant Taylor, of London, s.p.; (6) 10 Jan. 1706, Frances (d. 1720), da. of Thomas Manley of St. Margaret’s next Rochester, Kent, and wid. of one Buckley, E. India capt., s.p. Kntd. 14 Oct. 1695.1
Livery, Butchers’ Co. by 1680–5, 1687–92, Salters’ Co. 1692–d.; common councilman, London 1689–90, 1691–6, alderman 1696–d., sheriff 1695–6, ld. mayor 1704–5; col. trained bands 1697–1702, 1707–10; freeman, Reading 1698; vice-pres. Hon. Artillery Co. 1708–11.2
Commr. taking subscriptions to land bank 1696, New E.I. Co. loan 1698; trustee, receiving loan to Emperor 1706.3
The younger son of an innkeeper, Buckingham was left only a small amount of freehold land in Middlesex by his father. He appears to have risen by dint of his own ability and a series of judicious marriages. By 1680 he was a liveryman in the Butchers’ Company and about this time his name becomes common in records relating to City politics. He served on two Whig grand juries of minor importance in December 1680 and August 1681. At his second marriage in November 1681 his profession was given as ‘salter’. His commitment to the Whig cause was probably based upon his religious connexions, for he was allowing conventicles to be held in his house in 1683 and acted as a surety for a Baptist in 1684–5. The government obviously suspected his loyalty, for he was arrested following Monmouth’s rebellion in 1685. As a Whig Nonconformist he appears to have been seen by James II’s advisers as a possible ‘collaborator’ in the policy reversal of 1687 which saw the government cultivating support among Dissenters. Thus, when the Butchers’ Company was purged in 1687 Buckingham was restored to the livery (having been left out when a new charter was granted in 1685), but he refused to serve as an assistant, paying a fine of £10 instead. Buckingham’s attitude to the Revolution was presumably favourable as he was able to catch the political tide to secure election to the common council in the Whig landslide of 1689, although he lost his seat temporarily in 1690. By 1692 he was lending money to the government. The same year he transferred to the Salters’ Company. In February 1694 he was included in the new Whiggish lieutenancy commission for London. A year later he was described as a ‘flaxman’ following his election as sheriff, a victory which ended a dispute between the Whig aldermen, who wished to fine sheriffs-elect to raise revenue, and the liverymen who objected to such interference with the popular will. In his new office he went with other corporation officials in October to welcome back the King from abroad and received a knighthood in return. Then in 1696 he was elected to replace Sir Jonathan Raymond* as alderman for Bishopsgate, a wealthy inner-London ward. Since the qualification for such office was £10,000, he must now have been an extremely wealthy man.4
The basis of Buckingham’s interest at Reading was his involvement in a large-scale venture for manufacturing sailcloth. The Flying Post recorded in January 1699 that ‘Sir Owen Buckingham and some others have made proposals for employing a great number of poor in the linen manufacture and in making sailcloth, for which his Majesty has been at great charges for some years past’. Since this was after the 1698 election, which saw Buckingham returned for Reading, one must assume that the proposal was his fulfilment of a pledge made before the election. Reading received a massive injection of investment, and correspondingly reduced poor rates in return for electing Buckingham. He in turn found an outlet for his expertise as a hemp merchant, supplemented by research into Dutch and French production methods, and a seat in the Commons. The navy was also afforded a source of supply for sailcloth. By 1708 Buckingham was complaining of being out of pocket as the Navy Board did not take enough of his cloth, while he continued his manufactory at levels of full employment as a matter of ‘honour’, but the scheme gained him a seat at every election for ten years, bar that of November 1701. Buckingham had other interests in commerce, including the Russia Company’s plan to sell tobacco to the Tsar’s dominions in return for naval stores, and also trading ventures to the Canaries and Barbados. By 1706 he had also taken over much of the Fettiplace estates near Reading, as well as owning part of the old abbey.5
At the outset of his parliamentary career Buckingham was classed as a Court supporter on a comparative analysis of the old and new Houses of Commons compiled in about September 1698. This assessment was subsequently queried, but it seems accurate, since on the important division of 18 Jan. 1699 he was listed as voting against the disbanding bill. Possibly his propensity to support moral reform legislation, shared with others from Nonconformist backgrounds, caused some to associate him with Country Whiggery, but he does not seem to have connected such activities to more general party political concerns. Indeed, he even gave money to the non-juror, Jeremy Collier, in recognition of his work attacking the stage. Buckingham survived a contested election in January 1701 and again showed his zeal for the Whig cause by acting as a teller on 10 May against a resolution prejudicial to the Whig candidates’ case in the Lichfield election. In October 1701, as the only Whig alderman yet to serve, he was set up as his party’s candidate for lord mayor of London but came third in the popular vote. He also lost his parliamentary election at Reading in November 1701.6
If Buckingham had wished to play down his Whiggish and Nonconformist credentials his marriage in February 1702 would have had the opposite effect. His fifth bride was the daughter of the Whig ‘martyr’, Alderman Henry Cornish, and widow of a prominent City Whig, Joseph Ashurst, the brother of Sir Henry Ashurst, 1st Bt.*, and Sir William Ashurst*, both highly visible Presbyterians. In July Buckingham regained his seat at Reading and continued to toe the Whig line in the Commons. On 13 Feb. 1703 he voted for agreeing to the Lords’ amendments to the bill enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration. He was named in January 1704 to draft a bill relating to the employment of London’s poor. By now his reputation for marrying widows and heiresses made for good newspaper copy, so that in October 1704, eight months after the death of his fifth wife, he was reported to have married ‘an apothecary’s widow in King Street, Cheapside, with whom he had £180,000 fortune’. If this was indeed the case it did not detract from his efforts to be elected lord mayor, backed this time by his claims of seniority, which also finally succeeded in October 1704. Given his religious affiliations he was, not surprisingly, forecast on 30 Oct. 1704 as an opponent of the Tack and did not vote for it on 28 Nov. His importance to the Whigs was emphasized at the end of October when he was sworn into office. At the celebratory dinner held afterwards at Drapers’ Hall very few aldermen attended. This Tory snub ‘was sufficiently made up by the honour the Duke of Somerset, Lords Somers [Sir John*] and Halifax [Charles Montagu*], and some others did his lordship in dining with him’. During his mayoralty he hosted a dinner on 6 Jan. 1705 for the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†). On 30 Jan. he requested the Queen’s leave to go into the country to get rid of a ‘very great cough’, a request which must have meant an absence from Parliament. Finally, he was involved in a controversy in September 1705 over the election for a president of Bridewell Hospital, which he wished to refer to the court of aldermen even though the popular election had yielded a clear majority for the Tory candidate, Sir Thomas Rawlinson.7
In the midst of his mayoralty Buckingham had to seek re-election in 1705 at Reading. Having accomplished this he was classed as ‘no Church’ on a list analysing the new Parliament. He voted for the Court candidate for Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705, and on 18 Feb. 1706 supported the Court during the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill. During the 1705–6 session he was involved in promoting a private bill on behalf of the widow of Tanfield Vachell*. He received leave of absence on 21 Feb. 1706 for eight days, possibly in connexion with his marriage the previous month. Evidence of his involvement in the Commons on mercantile questions is scarce, but he clearly kept a keen eye on commercial matters, as is testified by his response on 26 Feb. 1707 to reports of fraud by wine and tobacco merchants exploiting a loophole in the Act of Union. According to (Sir) Thomas Johnson*, ‘Buckingham yesterday morning would need move the House to come to some resolution to prevent it, but I heard Lord Coningsby [Thomas*] tell him, “What, are you mad? You will destroy the Union.”’ Whether disillusionment over the Union prompted a political rethink is uncertain, but Thomas Hearne wrote in April 1707 that Mr Francis Fox (Buckingham’s chaplain when lord mayor) ‘is turned from his Whiggish principles, and that he has prevailed in some measure with Sir Owen Buckingham to do the same’. Buckingham was also becoming dissatisfied with the arrangement whereby he employed the Reading poor on work commissioned by the Navy Board and gained a seat in the Commons as a consequence. Since 1706 his contract had been reduced from a half to a third of the navy’s needs, causing over-production. In March 1708 he wrote to Lord Coningsby asking for a larger share in the next contract or else ‘he must throw up the work, and take the disgrace of not being able to provide for the poor’. The response to his request is unknown. His last important committee nomination was in February 1708 to draft the repeal of a Spices Act. Buckingham retired from Reading in favour of his son at the 1708 election. Two lists from early 1708, however, confirm that he was still regarded as a Whig.8
In his retirement Buckingham continued to be a stalwart of the Whig cause in London, particularly as an alderman. Thus it was he, together with Sir John Houblon* and Sir Richard Levett, who reported to Secretary Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) on 8 Apr. 1710, in the wake of the Sacheverell riots. Later, he was criticized in the press in 1711 after Dr Sacheverell had been rudely treated at the annual elections for directors at the Bank of England. Buckingham died on 20 Mar. 1713, being succeeded by his son.9
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Genealogists’ Mag. xiv. 146–56; St. Mildred, Bread Street (Harl. Soc. Reg. xlii), 65, 68–69, 71; Lipscomb, Bucks. iv. 491–2; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 12 Jan. 1706.
- 2. Guildhall Lib. mss 6441/6–9; J. S. Watson, Hist. Salters’ Co. 100; Beaven, Aldermen, ii. 119; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London (London and Mdx. Arch. Soc.), 40; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 193; vi. 186; Berks. RO, Reading corp. diary, 24 June 1698.
- 3. CJ, xii. 508; Trans. Amer. Phil. Soc. n.s. li. 34–35; Boyer, Anne Annals, iv. 126.
- 4. PCC 520 Ruthen; Guildhall Lib. mss 6441/6–9; info. from Dr M. J. Knights; Genealogists’ Mag. 154; P. E. Jones, Butchers of London, 37; Beaven, 119; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1653; Watson, 100; CSP Dom. 1694–5, p. 21; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 128; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/48, John Verney* (Ld. Fermanagh) to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 21 Sept. 1695; G. S. De Krey, Fractured Soc. 183, 199, 10; Luttrell, iii. 537.
- 5. Flying Post, 26–28 Jan. 1699; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1708–14, pp. 14–15; 1697–1702, p. 439; Trans. Amer. Phil. Soc. 29, 36, 84; Cal. Treas. Bks. xix. 531; VCH Berks. iii. 216; E. W. Dormer, Erleigh Court, 37.
- 6. Past and Present, cxxviii. 75, 90; J. Oldmixon, Hist. Eng. 192; De Krey, 200; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn coll. Blathwayt mss, Robert Yard* to William Blathwayt*, 2 Oct. 1701; Luttrell, v. 95.
- 7. Newdigate newsletter 19 Oct. 1704; De Krey, 204; HMC Portland, iv. 146, 158; R. Sharpe, London and the Kingdom, ii. 617; HMC Ormonde, n.s. viii. 132; Bodl. Rawl. D.863, ff. 89–90.
- 8. Liverpool RO, Norris mss 920NOR 2/453, Johnson to [Richard Norris*], 27 Feb. 1706[–7]; Hearne Colls. ii. 6; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1708–14, pp. 14–15.
- 9. Add. 61610, f. 21; Post Boy, 19–21 Apr. 1711; Genealogists’ Mag. 151.