JENNENS, William (c.1666-1709), of Long Wittenham, Berks.
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Family and Education
b. c.1666, 3rd but 1st surv. s. of Richard Jennens of Long Wittenham by his w. Elizabeth. educ. G. Inn 1683. m. lic. 15 June 1696, aged 30, Mary, da. and coh. of Richard Spencer, Vintner and Turkey merchant, of Berry Street, Aldgate, London and Newington, Surr., wid. of Edward Wiseman of East Locking, Berks., 2s. 1da. suc. fa. 1696.1
Freeman, Wallingford Sept. 1688, Woodstock 1703.2
The Jennens family could certainly be described as rising members of the gentry during the second half of the 17th century. In his will of 1666, Jennens’ grandfather doled out legacies for modest amounts, none exceeding £10, bequeathed only leaseholds and preferred the ascription ‘gentleman’ to the grander title ‘esquire’. In contrast, his father served as sheriff in 1678, entered his two eldest sons at Gray’s Inn (1682–3), and bequeathed legacies of £1,200 each to five of his younger children. Moreover, the family estates now appear as freehold. Jennens inherited his father’s freehold property in Berkshire and Oxfordshire in 1696. Almost immediately he made an advantageous marriage to a widow. She had been bequeathed a life interest in some Berkshire property, plus one-fifth of her husband’s money in the chamber of London. Furthermore, she was the coheiress of a London merchant worth nearly £20,000 in 1669. The marriage also had political advantages as she was the sister-in-law of Jennens’ political associate Simon Harcourt I*. These contacts could only strengthen his political interest, while an injection of capital was doubtless invaluable to a man who had already been forced to mortgage some of his Oxfordshire property for £1,000 in 1693.3
First elected in 1689, Jennens was classed as a Tory on a list of March 1690 marked by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†). He was also included on another list indicating his support for Carmarthen in December 1690 in the event of an attack upon him in the Commons. After October 1691 Jennens’ career is difficult to distinguish from that of Jonathan Jennings*, until November 1701, since it cannot be assumed that the clerks of the House differentiated between them when recording their names in the Commons’ Journals. Jennens was re-elected unopposed in 1695, and some indication of his political views is provided by several parliamentary lists. He was forecast as likely to oppose the Court on 31 Jan. 1696 over the council of trade. He refused the Association in the House on 25 Feb. 1696, and had the distinction on this occasion of being the first Member to express his dissent, the Members’ names being called in constituency order. In this he was followed by his friend Harcourt, who sat for Abingdon, Berkshire’s single-Member seat. The 7th Earl of Huntingdon confirmed this in a letter, describing him as ‘a gentleman of £3,000 per annum’. Jennens also voted in March 1696 against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. His name only appears on one of the lists of those voting on 25 Nov. 1696 against Sir John Fenwick’s† attainder, although opposition to the bill would be consistent with his political views. Defeated at the 1698 election, he was classed as a Country supporter in a list compiled about September 1698 comparing the old Parliament with that recently elected. While out of Parliament he secured 112 votes in a ballot on 28 Mar. 1700 to choose 13 trustees of the Irish forfeitures, coming in 16th place. This respectable showing indicates that he was probably included on a Tory slate of candidates, a fact which may have owed something to Harcourt’s influence.4
Returned in January 1701, Jennens’ political position does not appear to have been altered by his absence from the Commons. He was listed as one of those Members likely to support the Court over the ‘Great Mortgage’. Two other events make his political position clearer. On 12 May 1701 he was probably the ‘Mr Jennings’ who acted as a teller in favour of proceeding on the adjourned Lichfield election report, a motion lost in favour of going into a committee of ways and means. Since the sitting incumbent for Lichfield was a Whig in danger of being unseated, the presumption must be that Jennens was voting along party lines. Furthermore, in a pamphlet reviewing this session, he was blacklisted for opposing preparations for war with France. Notwithstanding his presence on this list, was returned at the election of November 1701, albeit after a fierce contest. In an analysis of the Parliament which met in December 1701, Robert Harley* listed him with the Tories. This assessment is consistent with other evidence, namely his tellership on 29 Jan. 1702, against the adjournment of a debate on the motion that Charles Mordaunt, Earl of Peterborough, was guilty of indirect practices in endeavouring to secure the election of Daniel Parke for Malmesbury, and the appearance of his name on a ‘white list’ of those who supported a motion on 26 Feb. 1702 vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of William III’s ministers. Jennens acted as a teller twice more during this session, on 31 Mar. and 30 Apr. 1702, on both occasions successfully opposing leave for bills to be brought in for the relief of specified individuals who had petitioned the Commons on matters relating to their Irish forfeited estates. He was also named to draft an estate bill. Re-elected again in 1702, he took the standard Tory position on 13 Feb. 1703, voting against agreeing with a Lords’ amendment enlarging the time for taking the abjuration oath. Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) reckoned him as a supporter over the government’s handling of the Scotch Plot; however, in the following session he was described as ‘doubtful’ on a forecast of the Tack compiled on 30 Oct. 1704, and he did not vote for it on 28 Nov. Although his name does not appear on Harley’s list of those to canvass against the measure, it was probably the influence of Harcourt which explains his attitude on this occasion. It almost certainly accounts for the ascription ‘Low Church’ against his name in an analysis of the Parliament elected in 1705. However, despite his failure to vote for the Tack, Jennens retained his seat at Wallingford in 1705, although his Tory partner, Thomas Renda*, was unseated by a Whig. The first session of the new Parliament confirmed that Jennens had not changed his political allegiance. On 25 Oct. 1705 he voted against the Court candidate for Speaker, and on 17 Jan. 1706 he acted as a teller against a successful motion that the Tory, Thomas Powell*, was not duly elected for Ludgershall. Two further lists, one compiled early in 1708, the other after the 1708 election, both class him as a Tory. Returned again in 1708, Jennens was probably ill and inactive by this time. He died on 6 Feb. 1709.
There is considerable evidence that Jennens was facing serious financial difficulties by the time of his death. Indeed, despite his long tenure of a parliamentary seat and associated marks of status such as a place on the Berkshire bench and lieutenancy, he had continued to sell property after his marriage, including the rectory mortgaged in 1693 which was sold in 1699. His will of December 1708 listed debts to relatives of £3,385, as well as legacies which remained unpaid (of £1,200 apiece) to four of his siblings. To pay off these debts he placed his estates in the hands of trustees (one of whom was Thomas Rowney*), to be sold. In March 1709 Long Wittenham was purchased by his siblings for £4,000. However, his affairs also required a private Act of Parliament in the 1709–10 session owing to the minority of his children. His wife’s petition to the Lords related how her jointure, which ought to have produced £300 p.a., was in fact able to provide only £60 because the remainder had to be used to service mortgages of £2,500 and £700. This Act provided for the sale of estates in order to pay off the encumbrances, the rest of the money to be laid out in new lands for the purposes explained in her marriage settlement.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Berks. Arch. Jnl. xxxv. 142; PCC 23 Foot, 49 Bond, 259 Box; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 760; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London (London and Mdx. Arch. Soc.), 154; HMC Lords, n.s. viii. 338.
- 2. Berks. RO, Wallingford bor. statute bk. 1648–1766, f. 150; Woodstock council acts, 27 Sept. 1703.
- 3. PCC 169 Carr, 49 Bond, 23 Foot, 259 Box; G. Inn Adm. i. 332, 334; Baker, Northants. 720; Woodhead, 154; VCH Oxon. v. 53.
- 4. HMC Hastings, ii. 259; Bodl. Rawl. D.918, f. 150; Add. 70036, f. 98.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1703–4, p. 277; VCH Oxon. 53; PCC 77 Lane; Berks. RO, D/EB/E4, inventory of William Jennens; HMC Lords, n.s. viii. 358.