CAESAR, Charles (1673-1741), of Bennington, Herts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

Jan. 1701 - 1708
1710 - 24 May 1715
1722 - 22 Jan. 1723
1727 - 1734
29 Apr. 1736 - 2 Apr. 1741

Family and Education

b. 21 Nov. 1673, 1st. s. of Sir Charles Caesar† of Bennington by Susanna, da. and coh. of Sir Thomas Bonfoy, merchant of London.  educ. St. Catharine’s, Camb. 1689, MA 1690; M. Temple 1690.  m. 24 Nov. 1702 (with £5,000), Mary, da. of Ralph Freman I*, 2s. 2da.  suc. fa. 1694.

Offices Held

Freeman, Hertford 1698, St. Albans 1704.1

Treasurer of the navy 1711–14.

Biography

The family’s historian claimed that Charles Caesar of Great Hadham, Hertfordshire, and of Great Gransden, Huntingdonshire, represented Hertford until 1723 (d. 1726), and that Charles Caesar of Bennington sat for the county after 1727. In fact, the former seems never to have entered Parliament. The confusion may have arisen because both men shared similar political and religious allegiances, both had financial difficulties, and a commonplace book belonging to Caesar of Great Hadham noted a number of proceedings in the Commons relating to Caesar of Bennington. Moreover, Charles of Great Hadham was, like his kinsman, educated at Cambridge and the Middle Temple.2

Charles Caesar of Bennington was the son of Sir Charles Caesar, who had first been elected at Hertford in 1679, and who was chosen on a double return for the county in 1690, although the House decided against seating him. Sir Charles died in 1694, leaving his young son an estate worth £3,500, but Caesar inherited very few of his father’s moderate characteristics. Whereas Sir Charles, like his Country Whig brother-in-law Sir Thomas Pope Blount, 1st Bt.*, ‘would not willingly quarrel with his neighbours’, his son, at least until after the Hanoverian succession, indulged in an intemperate feud at Hertford with William Cowper*; and while Sir Charles was ‘very regular in his life and orderly in his family’, his son was allegedly only a ‘pretending zealot for High Church’ who was at the same time notorious ‘for lying with other men’s wives’. Nevertheless, both Caesars were prepared to make use of the local Quaker interest to ensure electoral victory – indeed in 1727 Charles was advised to suppress a rumour that he wished Dissenters of all sorts to be rooted out – and both shared a belief in not sparing ‘any cost or charge to obtain’ their point, a resolution that ultimately ruined the family’s fortunes. Charles ‘espoused with great warmth the party called the Country party: in support of which he lavished away great sums of money, which brought on pecuniary embarrassment’.3

Caesar allied himself with the Hertford Tories who struggled against the Cowper interest in the borough. Though he was defeated when he stood for Hertford in 1698, Caesar was successful at the first election of 1701, the Cowper interest having been weakened by the loss of Quaker support after the trial in 1699 of Spencer Cowper* for the murder of Sarah Stout, a female Quaker ‘friend’. At first his career was that of an undistinguished back-bencher: in February 1701 he was listed as likely to support the Court in agreeing with the committee of supply’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’; and on 10 May acted as teller on the disputed franchise at Lichfield, following the lead of other Country Tories, including Ralph Freman II*, who was soon to become his brother-in-law. He was later blacklisted as having opposed during the 1701 session the preparations for war with France, but this did not prevent his re-election in the autumn. Caesar’s activity in the new Parliament fully justified Robert Harley’s* ranking of him as a Tory. On 20 Jan. 1702 he told against making the abjuration oath voluntary, a move designed to salve the conscience of those Tories who would only submit to a mandatory oath. Caesar also showed a concern to ensure the return of Tories in disputed election cases, telling with his friend Richard Goulston on 29 Jan. against the adjournment of the Malmesbury election case, and on 17 Mar. against the Whig Thomas White II*. Listed as having favoured the motion of 26 Feb. vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in impeaching the King’s Whig ministers, Caesar told the following day on another partisan issue, against the second reading of the bill authorizing the appointment of commissioners to negotiate a union with Scotland.4

Maintaining his hostility to the Cowpers – it was said in January 1702 that he would present the Quakers’ appeal against the verdict of acquittal of Spencer Cowper – Caesar was re-elected in July 1702. On 10 Dec. 1702 he told against the introduction of a petition from the London Merchant Taylors’ Company, an antipathy to trade not unusual in a country gentleman but also evidence of a particular hostility to that company, since he had earlier opposed the right of its members to vote at Lichfield. On 19 Jan. 1703 he joined with another Member who had been concerned in the Lichfield decision, Sir Willoughby Hickman, 3rd Bt., in telling on the right of election at Tavistock, against the Russell interest. On 13 Feb. he voted against agreeing with the Lords’ amendment to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the abjuration oath, and four days later gave the first indication of an interest in naval affairs when he joined with his borough partner Goulston in telling against a motion to introduce (into the bill to revive the commission to investigate military and naval debts) a clause relating to the marines.5

At the start of the next session Caesar made clear his High Church allegiance, despite his local understanding with the Quakers, when he told on 25 Nov. 1703 in favour of introducing the second occasional conformity bill. His concern about the dangers threatening the Church may also explain his tellership on 18 Jan. 1704 in favour of the committal of the bill to restrain the licentiousness of the press. The remainder of his significant activity concerned the management of the war. On 7 Mar. he acted as teller in favour of recommitting the bill for recruiting forces, and three days later told against its passage, though his opposition to it may have been related to the fact that the bill dispensed with part of the Act for encouraging the increase of shipping. On 24 Mar. he was sent to the Lords to desire a conference on the amendments made by the peers to the bill for stating the public accounts, an indication of his growing stature within the House, though he had not been appointed to the committee to manage the conference itself. During March he was also listed by Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) as a likely supporter in the proceedings on the Scotch Plot.

Caesar’s rising status was again recognized at the beginning of the next session by appointment on 24 Oct. to prepare the Address. During this session he assisted in the management of two private bills through the Commons, but the most notable aspect of his significant activity was his growing disillusionment with the conciliatory tone of the ministry. On 14 Nov. he spoke and told in favour of the introduction of the third occasional conformity bill, and a month later was granted leave to make a motion after one o’clock, presumably to allow the bill a third reading, which took place later that day. Forecast as a supporter of the Tack, he duly voted for it on 28 Nov. He also supported his tacking brother-in-law, Ralph Freman II, in his attempt to pass a place bill, a measure largely promoted in reaction to the loss of the occasional conformity bill but which nevertheless brought Caesar into an unlikely partnership with his local rival, William Cowper*, whom in mid-November he and other Tories had attacked in the House. Both Cowper and Caesar were named on 13 Jan. 1705 to the bill’s drafting committee, and two weeks later Caesar told for the passage of this measure. The following month, on the 14th, he told in favour of one of the Lords’ amendments to Peter King’s* moderate place bill, which would have excluded commissioners and officials of the Prize Office, yet another matter connected with Caesar’s hobby-horse of naval administration. He told on 16 Jan. 1705 against the committal of the bill to appoint commissioners to treat for a union with Scotland, and further opposed Whig projects on 26 Feb. by telling with (Sir) Thomas Hanmer II* (2nd Bt.) on a motion to resume the debate on the Aylesbury election case later that day. On the 28th he was nominated to the committee to manage the ensuing conference with the Lords on the writs of error.6

The appointment in October of his rival, Cowper, to high office, which confirmed the ministry’s shift towards the Whigs, may have been enough to push Caesar into more open hostility towards the Court. Certainly his actions in the new Parliament were dramatic. Marked as one of the ‘True Church’, he had already given a warning of his future conduct by voting on 25 Oct. against the Court’s candidate for Speaker. His tellerships on 24 Nov. 1705 on the franchise at St. Albans, in favour of John Gape*, and twice on 6 Dec. (both times with Freman) in favour of Richard Goulston’s election at his own borough, indicated that at first Caesar was concerned with securing the seats of Tories within his own county. National issues, however, soon predominated. On 8 Dec. he declared that the Church was ‘now in more danger’ than ever, an assertion ‘confirmed by the last Parliament’ and reinforced with reference to the occasional conformity bills. On 13 Dec. he and Freman were appointed to draft a new place bill, and on 19 Dec. he told, again with Freman, against the second reading of the regency bill. During a debate full of ‘the foulest Billingsgate language’, Caesar also made a highly charged but in Harley’s opinion ‘a long and tedious speech of railing’ against the regency bill, which Harley thought did ‘not answer the end’ intended, since it vested ‘power in men that may be bad’. In the heat of his argument he had claimed that ‘there is a noble lord [meaning Sidney Godolphin†], without whose advice the Queen does nothing who, in the late reign, was known to keep a constant correspondence with the Court at St. Germain’. Although he quickly endeavoured to excuse himself, the House ordered him to withdraw, and on concluding that his comments had been ‘highly dishonourable to her Majesty’s person and government’, committed him to the Tower. Grey Neville’s* diary nevertheless suggests that while still provocative, Caesar’s words had been conditional rather than positive, rhetorically suggesting that if there was such a traitor in the regency the matter should be set ‘all aside’. The speech immediately provoked hostility from both sides of the House, with (Sir) Simon Harcourt I* calling it ‘insufferable’, but Caesar insisted that the words officially recorded were not accurate, and it was on this basis that his friends tried to clear him. As a result of a battery of Tories claiming ‘that the word if was put in’, even Foley (either Thomas I or II), who had been the first to call for the words to be written down, thought a reprimand the most suitable punishment; but the Whigs refused to give way and Caesar was taken into custody, the Tories apparently feeling it wiser to allow this than protest further and risk Caesar’s permanent expulsion. The unrepentant Caesar spent the rest of the session kicking his heels in the Tower ‘rather than submit to the House’, but his confinement was hardly isolation, for he ‘was visited by the Tories of both Houses, the Earl of Rochester (Laurence Hyde†) excepted, who sent Mr [Francis] Gwyn* to make his compliment and to tell him the nearness of his relation to the Queen made him not think it was decent to come in person’. The implication was that Caesar, described by Bonet as a young man ‘qui a plus de vivacité que de prudence’, had voiced what many others secretly thought but dared not express in public. Indeed, in the short term Caesar emerged from the incident with greater local popularity, being ‘met by the country’ on his return home, though the Cowpers privately rejoiced ‘at the discomfiture of their enemy’.7

Caesar was only to feel the full consequences of his rash words the following summer. Despite having refused to sign a county address congratulating the Queen on the recent military victories ‘because, he said, it applauded the administration’, he carried up an address from Hertford, and waited at the Council chamber seeking admission, ‘to the great surprise of all there, who wondered what could put him on doing so assured a thing, which could not be easy to the most confident’. According to Lady Cowper, Caesar had hoped that the address ‘would make him welcome and chose that time to show his courage, but the Queen refused to see him, and sent word she would receive an address from Hertford but not from his hands’. She even told him that she did not ‘desire his presence in her court’. William Cowper, now lord keeper, may have been responsible for the snub, since the Queen had at first expressed her willingness to receive the address on her way to church, but sent a countermanding message a quarter of an hour later, prompting Francis Annesley* to remark sarcastically that this showed how ‘moderation steers the helm’. Caesar nevertheless ‘pressed it on Secretary Hedges [Sir Charles*]’ and tried to seek the intercession of Lord Rochester, who ‘told him nothing could be done while the Queen continued in those hands’. To make the rebuff even more publicly humiliating, Caesar was removed from the Hertfordshire lieutenancy and the commission of the peace but, perhaps on Lord Keeper Cowper’s initiative, the Queen ‘let it not be known till the very time of the sessions, which made him depart there in great confusion’. Caesar was not the only one to suffer, for a Cambridge don was dismissed after he had implied that Anne was more prepared to listen to Presbyterians than to Churchmen.8

Undaunted by his recent ordeals, Caesar returned to the attack in the second session of Parliament, where his continuing credit was indicated by his nomination on 3 Dec. 1706 to the Address committee, though he was now prepared to talk more ‘modestly’. He made his only reported speech of the 1706–7 session on 7 Jan. 1707, opposing a settlement upon the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) and his heirs to ‘accompany the title and house of Woodstock’. He was a teller on two motions concerned with the Church, the first on 7 Feb. 1707 in favour of a committee of the whole to discuss measures for its security, and the second, three days later, against adding words to the ensuing bill implying that the corporations were well provided for in the draft. The threat to the Church posed by integration with Presbyterianism in Scotland also explains his two tellerships on the bill of union, first on 22 Feb. against a motion for a committee of the whole to discuss the matter, and again six days later against the passage of the bill itself. He further harried the government on 19 Feb. by telling against the recommendation of the committee of ways and means about a further issue of Exchequer bills. His dislike of the union with Scotland was again immediately apparent. On 4 Dec. 1707 he opened a debate by raising ‘some scruples against the union’, and a week later told in favour of a clause in the supply bill which prevented the East India Company from any trading privilege until it had repaid the capital stock of the Scottish Company. He was again teller on 23 Jan. 1708 (with Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt.) in favour of agreeing to a date for the dissolution of the Scottish Privy Council, a move designed by both Country Tories and Whigs to squeeze the ministry. On 12 Feb. he told against the committal of the Tone navigation bill, perhaps motivated by nothing more than a desire to frustrate the Whig Edward Clarke*, whose bill it was. Caesar’s name appears for three more tellerships: on 16 Feb. against an amendment to allow the Earl of Ranelagh (Richard Jones*) to pay Col. John Savery for services in Ireland, further indication of his hostility to both the Whigs; on 19 Feb. against referring a petition from Sir Thomas Cookes Winford, 2nd Bt.*, to resolve the impasse about the foundation of Worcester College, Oxford, partly on party grounds but perhaps also because his own family was saddled with difficulties about endowing a university college; and on 9 Mar. in favour of a clause to clarify Church statutes concerning the jurisdiction of episcopal visitations. All this activity confirmed his categorization as a Tory on lists compiled that year.9

Indeed, despite his clamorous local welcome only two years before, Caesar found that his support at Hertford had withered to such an extent that he no longer felt able to contest the seat. Although this made him even more bitter against his ‘professed enemy’ Cowper, now lord chancellor, Caesar was reluctant to remain out of Parliament, and contested the by-election at Weobley in December, on the interest of Hon. Henry Thynne*, who had decided to sit for Weymouth and who preferred to nominate Caesar to the vacancy rather than Henry St. John II*. The Herefordshire Whigs believed that Caesar’s candidacy was ‘as great an affront as could be offered to our county’, and despite arriving before other candidates to canvass support, he was unable to mobilize enough voters. He remained out of the political limelight until swept back into Parliament with the Tory landslide at the 1710 general election.

And now Mr Harley coming into power, Mr Caesar applied to him to reinstate him in the Queen’s favour. He did it so effectively that on 9 June 1710 he was able to write to Mr Caesar that the Duke of Shrewsbury . . . had laid before her Majesty in the manner he wished, namely an instance of his duty and regard to the Queen. It had the desired effect and there now remained no objection to his bringing an address. This was done and he was received very graciously.

Caesar was duly restored to the commission of the peace in December 1710. But it was not until the following June that Harley ‘carried Mr Caesar into the Queen’s closet at Kensington, where after many marks of his friendship and her favour, he kissed her hand to be treasurer of the navy’. This account, from the pen of Caesar’s wife, glosses over some of the details of his appointment. First, Harley’s derogatory remarks about Caesar in 1706 suggest that he was forced to accommodate him out of political pressure, despite his protestations of friendship. Certainly, Caesar was noted in 1714 as waiting to see Harley’s rival, Bolingbroke, and Freman later recalled that his brother-in-law ‘had gone all my Lord Bolingbroke’s length in Queen Anne’s reign’. It was only after the Hanoverian succession that Harley and Caesar became intimates. Second, although destined for some office, Caesar benefited from Freman’s squeamishness about accepting a place. On 16 Sept. 1710 Caesar, in response to Harley’s inquiry about what ‘would be most agreeable’, had only asked for ‘Sir John Holland’s* staff [as comptroller of the Household] or a teller’s place in the Exchequer, if either can be obtained for me’. By 28 Sept. Harley had still not resolved what place he should offer, and Caesar wrote again, pleading for a decision before his election, though he felt confident about ‘being put into some place’. Caesar was in fact left waiting until June 1711, perhaps so that in the meantime he could prove his effectiveness in the House, but also because it was unclear whether Freman would join the Court. In January 1711 it was reported that Freman would be made treasurer of the navy and Caesar comptroller of the Household, but the compromise worked out in the following months centred on the idea of a joint commission as treasurer ‘to be taken out in Mr Caesar’s name, and Mr Freman to have half pay without having his very clear estate subjected for security of great sums which that place requires’. Caesar thus gained status and high office, even though he was in some senses a front-man for his brother-in-law, a politician closer to Harley’s taste. This is not to say that Caesar took his new responsibilities lightly. His interest in matters naval and financial had already been made clear, and there seems to have been no complaint about his competence to undertake the job.10

Labelled, not surprisingly, as a Tory on the ‘Hanover list’ of 1710, Caesar became a leading member of the October Club. Yet despite, and indeed partly because of, this allegiance to the Country wing of the party, Caesar set out to advertise himself for the navy office by forcing Harley to take notice of its mismanagement. He was noted in early January as joining with Freman in making daily harangues against the previous ministry. On one occasion, probably in connexion with the disputed Carlisle election, he even ‘decoyed’ (Sir) James Montagu I* into the House. On 5 Jan. 1711 he was first-named to the committee of inquiry into the abuses in victualling, and, as its chairman, reported on 12 Jan. about a prevaricating witness. The full report was made on 7 Feb., and included accusations against Thomas Ridge*, one of the contractors supplying the navy with beer, but the investigation was so detailed that consideration of it was deferred for a week. On 15 Feb., however, the designs of the October Club were broken when, after

Caesar (as the Whigs term it) had put forth his commentaries, Mr Harley in a short speech asked the opinion of the House, at that time very full, whether they would be pleased to proceed immediately into a further inquiry into abuses? or first take care of the business of the public? . . .it was resolved nemine contradicente to go on with the supply, so that it is thought things will go quietly enough this session.

The naval contractors were nevertheless censured, and Ridge expelled from the House. All this was sufficient for him to be later listed as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who had detected the mismanagement of the last administration. Yet after the failure of the attack on victualling abuses, Caesar seems to have changed tack, and did little to alienate the Court and jeopardize his chances of office. After the attempted assassination of Harley, he secured leave on 14 Mar. to introduce a bill making it a felony to attempt the lives of privy councillors. He told twice during May: on the 10th, against a clause in the supply bill reducing the duty on hops, and on the 30th in favour of deferring the consideration of the Lords’ amendments to the bill for encouraging the transport of naval stores from Scotland.11

Appointment to office meant that Caesar was, ironically, a victim of the place legislation which he had himself supported, though the expense of his by-election victory in June 1711 must have been reduced by the fact that no candidate stood in opposition to him. He told against a Whig amendment relating to the need for the continuation of the war in Spain and the West Indies. When on 1 May the order was read for a call of the House, Caesar proposed to defer the review for a fortnight on the grounds that ‘les affaires de la paix n’étant pas encore assez avancées, elle pourra l’être vers ce temps là et qu’alors le projet de paix pouvait être communiqué’. However, his speech apparently annoyed the House, and though the motion for an immediate call, which Caesar told against, was defeated, only a week’s deferral was granted. Still with the war in mind, on 24 Jan. Caesar attacked Marlborough, telling with William Shippen* in favour of a motion censuring the Duke’s alleged corruption. The rest of his activity that session consisted of informing the House about the navy and its finances, though the burdens of office did not prevent him entertaining at his house in the city. The guests included Jonathan Swift, who praised the classical Brutus in Caesar’s presence, a ‘blunder’ that caused much merriment.12

With the Tories in full control of the House, the 1713 session proved to be one of the easiest for the new treasurer of the navy. On 10 Apr. 1713 Caesar told in favour of retaining a wording in the Address which allowed some flexibility to the Privy Council in negotiating the terms of the peace. The main concern of the session was to pass the French commerce bill, for which two tellerships reveal Caesar to have been an enthusiastic supporter: on 30 May he told in favour of an immediate reading of the bill, and on 4 June to commit it. On 18 June he both spoke and voted for this measure, though one report linked him to Freman and other Tories who opposed the bill. On the 23rd he told against putting a spoiling question to instruct the address committee to insist on liberty of trade to all parts of the French empire. During the course of the session Caesar had once again set before the House a number of naval estimates and accounts, and in May he defended Whig attacks on the pensions paid out of naval funds to Lord Strafford and Sir Francis Masham, 3rd Bt.*, planning to wrong-foot opponents by laying before the House the details of Lord Orford’s (Edward Russell*) similar warrant.13

Having been re-elected for Hertford in August 1713, Caesar twice served as teller in the first session in connexion with the determination of disputed elections, the first occasion on 6 Apr. in favour of dropping consideration of Lord Barrymore’s (James Barry*) petition concerning the Wigan election, and the second on 27 Apr. to secure the return of his local colleague John Gape at St. Albans. He made two recorded speeches that session, the first on 18 Mar. in favour of the expulsion of Richard Steele, and the second on 15 Apr. against the motion that the succession was in danger. On 7 May his animus against the union with Scotland was again apparent with his appointment to the committee to examine the debts of the Equivalent, though the committee may also have valued his financial expertise and his link with the ministry. His reconciliation with the Queen now seems to have been complete, for shortly before her death Anne ‘gave him her picture by Sir Godfrey Kneller, and was pleased with its being to hang by Queen Elizabeth given to Sir Julius Caesar’. Caesar was too closely associated with the Tory administration to retain office for long after the Hanoverian succession. He nevertheless hung on to his post much longer than most people expected, largely because of a dispute about who should replace him. Thus the termination of his official career as well as its beginning was determined by internal Court politics, and as late as December 1714 Caesar was left in the commission of the peace.14

Although re-elected in 1715, and ranked as a Tory on all comparative lists with the 1713 Parliament, Caesar was unseated on petition. He subsequently became involved in Jacobite plots, but recovered his seat at Hertford and subsequently sat for the county, which he represented until his death at his house in New Bond Street on 2 Apr. 1741. He had enjoyed a very affectionate marriage to a woman admired by Pope and Swift, and her illness and recuperation in 1730 had prompted letters which not only show Caesar’s rustication but also some of his charm and wit. When he was not in his fields, he told her, he ‘went about all day long with my spade and don’t suffer a weed to peep his head up without immediately cutting it off’, and he likened himself to

Adam before Eve was created, spending my time with the beasts in the field, the fowls of the air and the fish in the waters, tho’ he had this advantage over me, that not having experienced how happy a loving and beloved wife makes her husband, he could not be so sensible of his want as I am who have for so many years been blessed with one, but I trust in God you will come from the Bath hither in perfect health, and then Bennington will be a paradise to me.

Yet his Eden was not to remain unspoilt, for he left large debts, part of which must have been the result of his ill-fated rebuilding of his seat as ‘a palace of modern fashion, which was burnt to ashes immediately after it was completed and before it had been inhabited’. An obituary described him as

a gentleman whose memory must be ever dear to all who have the love of their country at heart. He was a gentleman of unshaken loyalty to his prince, unmoved at the frowns of ministers, and one who dared in the worst of times, with a greatness of soul worthy of himself, assert and maintain the rights of his fellow subjects and liberties of his country. His generosity and humanity of temper were equal to the steadiness of his principles, and the sentiments he ever expressed, both in public and private life, were such as could only flow from a heart dedicated to virtue, and incapable of corruption.

He signed his will as ‘Charles Adelmare otherwise Caesar’, a reference to his family’s Italian origins, but the faded grandeur of his name was virtually all he had to bequeath his son, for the estate was burdened with heavy debts.15

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Mark Knights