HARPUR, John (d. 1713), of Twyford, Derbys.
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Family and Education
s. and h. of William Harpur of Bilston, Derbys. by Alice, da. and h. of William Coke of Trusley, Derbys. m. c.Sept. 1684, Dorothy (d. 1715), da. of Sir John Harpur, 2nd Bt., of Calke Abbey, Derbys., 1s. d.v.p. 7da. (4 d.v.p.). suc. fa. c.1696.1
Sheriff, Derbys. 1709–10.
Harpur came from a minor branch of a family that had been established in the county by Richard Harpur, an Elizabethan judge of common pleas. Through marriage to the eventual heiress of the Finderns, Richard Harpur acquired a large estate in the fertile land of the Trent valley in south Derbyshire. Included in her inheritance was Twyford, ‘a village on the banks of the Trent four miles south of Derby’, a convenient base from which to take part in borough politics. Little is known of Harpur’s life before his entry into Parliament, a problem exacerbated by the common use of John as a family name. However, he was involved in some way in the financial management of the estates of the head of the family, Sir John Harpur, 4th Bt., during Sir John’s 20-year minority (although he had not been named as an overseer in the 3rd baronet’s will). John Harpur seems to have been buying land in Twyford during the 1690s, and in 1701 consolidated these estates by exchanging his wife’s inheritance in Ticknall for some of the Harpur estates in Twyford. Sir John, coming of age in March 1701, rewarded his cousin (who was also his uncle by marriage) with a present of £3,000 for his trouble in keeping the accounts of the estate. It was this close relationship with the young and extremely wealthy baronet which was to obtain for Harpur a seat in Parliament.2
The approaching majority of Sir John Harpur coincided with a fiercely contested election for knight of the shire in January 1701. As Tories, both John Harpur and the baronet firmly backed the candidature of their neighbour Thomas Coke* against Lords Hartington (William Cavendish*) and Roos (John Manners*). In the election of November 1701 Harpur stood for Derby himself, in partnership with Thomas Stanhope* against Lord James Cavendish and Sir Charles Pye, 2nd Bt., the sitting Members. This was the first election since Sir John Harpur had gained full control of his estate and it is perhaps significant that sufficient split-voting occurred to return Harpur and Cavendish. Contemporaries had little doubt about Harpur’s views on national affairs. On a list of returns for the 1701–2 Parliament, annotated by Lord Spencer (Charles*), Harpur’s election was reckoned a ‘loss’, and on another list he was classed as a Tory by Robert Harley*. He was named to two drafting committees on 6 Jan. 1702, including that establishing a commission of accounts, and on 17 Mar. he was named to count the ballot for the commissioners. His Tory sympathies were revealed when he voted on 26 Feb. 1702 for the resolution vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of the previous session.3
Harpur was returned unopposed in July 1702 despite concern that the electoral advantages conferred by the distribution of liveries among the freemen during the shrievalty of Sir John Harpur had been so badly managed as to damage his interest. The major task confronting him in the new Parliament was the promotion of a bill to make the Derwent navigable. Before the beginning of the session he was called to a meeting by the mayor of Derby, presumably to concert measures to forward a bill the provisions of which had failed to pass the Commons on several previous occasions. On 17 Nov. 1702, Harpur was one of three Members ordered to prepare a bill. This he presented on 24 Nov. and managed through the House, carrying it to the Lords on 9 Jan. 1703. However, the Lords then rejected it. He acted as a teller on one occasion, on 19 Dec. 1702, in favour of a rider to the land tax bill, and showed his party allegiance by voting on the Tory side in the division of 13 Feb. 1703, against agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill enlarging the time for taking the Abjuration.4
In the following session, Harpur may not have arrived in London until after the Christmas recess but then embarked upon the busiest session of his career. On 5 Jan. 1704 he was ordered to bring in an estate bill on behalf of Robert Holden. Harpur presented it on the 8th and managed it through the House. On 22 Jan. he was ordered to prepare another private bill, this time on behalf of Bernard Cotton. Again he presented the bill and piloted it through the House. In both cases the Journals suggest, through the addition of general categories of Members to the committees, that the legislation involved estates in Derbyshire, Staffordshire or Leicestershire. Significantly, Harpur’s family had considerable interests in all three counties and he was probably performing the duties expected of any MP on behalf of friends and local families. Certainly, there can be no doubt that this was the reason for his managerial role in the estate bill of his relation, Robert Coke of Trusley, which he reported from committee on 8 Feb. 1704. He also acted as a teller on 7 Feb. 1704 for a motion that the Speaker leave the chair to allow the committee of the whole to consider the bill for resuming grants made by James II and William III.
The following session was much quieter from Harpur’s point of view. His involvement in legislation was limited to the management of the estate bill through the Commons in February 1705. His name also appeared on several lists concerning the most important issue of the session, the Tack. As early as 30 Oct. 1704 he had been forecast as a probable opponent of the Tack and, not surprisingly, he featured on Harley’s lobbying list, possibly to be spoken to personally. He did not vote for the Tack on 28 Nov. 1704. From this evidence one might argue that he was a moderate Tory, much influenced by men such as Harley and his neighbour, Thomas Coke. But despite this moderation Harpur, again in partnership with Stanhope, was defeated in the election of 1705 by Thomas Parker* and Lord James Cavendish.5
Harpur did not stand in 1708, having ‘lost very much of his interest’, but in the propitious circumstances of 1710 was returned with Sir Richard Levinge ‘by a very great majority’. As sheriff of Derbyshire in 1710 he was recognized as possessing an influential role in the county election, which saw Coke ousted by the Tory gentry. However, it is uncertain on which side, if any, he bestowed his interest. In June 1710 he urged Coke’s sister to ensure the MP’s return from London to secure his position and in August was reported to be very angry at the proceedings of a meeting at Swarkeston which set up Godfrey Clarke* to partner John Curzon*. Nevertheless, Sir John Harpur, over whom he was considered to possess some influence, endorsed the joint candidature at the meeting and a few days later Harpur himself was reported to be ‘furiously bent in making all the interest hereabouts’ against Coke. Given all the confusion, Elizabeth Coke could only inform her brother that ‘where to find Mr Sheriff with his politics is past me’. Upon his own return to the Commons he was classed as a Tory on the ‘Hanover list’. He attended the 1710–11 session, but confined his interest to local measures. In the following session it is probable that ill-health restricted his attendance in the Commons. In October 1712 he wrote to an acquaintance, ‘I am very ill at this time’. He died on 9 Apr. 1713, the opening day of the new session. In the absence of a male heir, he left his estates to his wife, in trust to pay off his debts and to provide for his three unmarried daughters. The main branch of the Harpur family was represented in the Commons later in the century by the 5th and 6th baronets.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Nichols, Leics. iii. 885*; Derbys. RO, Harpur–Crewe mss 41/70, 103/99/2; H. Colvin, Calke Abbey, 36.
- 2. Lysons, Derbys. p. lxiii; Colvin, 21, 24, 36; W. Woolley, Hist. Derbys. (Derbys. Rec. Soc. vi.), 101; Harpur–Crewe mss 56/37, 63/52, 103/99/2.
- 3. BL, Lothian mss, Robert Harding to Coke, 21, 29 Oct. 1700, 26 Mar. 1701, Thomas Stanhope* to Mr Francis, 11 Nov. , C. Byrch to Coke, 19 Nov. .
- 4. HMC Cowper, ii. 452, 455–7; iii. 1, 17; Lothian mss, William Franceys to Coke, 18 Mar. 1701[–2]; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 188.
- 5. Lothian mss, John Beresford to [Coke], 2 Dec. 1704, Harpur to same, 11 Apr. 1704[–5].
- 6. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Mellish mss Me 144–83/57, Edmund to Sir Thomas Parker, 3 Apr. 1708; HMC Portland, iv. 612; HMC Cowper, iii. 84, 89–92; Add. 6672, f. 34; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/28, Thomas Gisborne to [James Stanhope*], 11 Apr. 1713; Harpur– Crewe mss 145/8; PCC 250 Leeds.