LEWIS, Erasmus (1671-1754), of Abercothi, Carm. and St. James’s, Westminster
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Family and Education
bap. 29 Apr. 1671, 1st s. of Rev. George Lewis, vicar of Abergwili, Carm. by Margaret, da. of Sir Thomas Stepney. educ. Westminster 1683, KS 1686; Trinity, Camb. 1690, BA 1694. m. 1 Oct. 1724, Anne Jennings (d. 1736), wid. of Thomas Bateman of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. suc. fa. ?1709.1
?Sec. at Paris embassy by 1700; chief clerk, secretary of state’s office January–May 1702, under-sec. May 1704–Feb. 1708, June 1710–September 1714.2
Prothonotary and clerk of the crown, Carn., Anglesey, Merion. 1707–?3
Provost Marshal, Barbados 1712–13.4
Lewis’ father was the vicar of a village close to Carmarthen. Like two of his brothers, his long sojourn at Cambridge may have presaged a career in the Church. However, Lewis followed the path of another notable public servant with Welsh antecedents, his cousin, George Stepney (who left Lewis his library after the Earl of Halifax [Charles Montagu*] had chosen 100 volumes). Both men attended Westminster and Cambridge, and it seems certain that after obtaining his BA, Lewis travelled to Germany under Stepney’s wing in order to enhance his prospects of a post in the public service. As Lewis informed John Ellis* in March 1699 from Hamburg, he intended to stay in Paris for a year or two unless ‘called away to some employment, which after seven years spent at Westminster, eight at Cambridge and 15 months in Germany, I would gladly obtain’. Although Lewis preferred an Irish post, ‘for private reasons’, Stepney certainly approached the Duke of Manchester (ambassador to France) on Lewis’ behalf in September 1699, and by October 1700 Lewis was in Paris, in the Duke’s employ.5
Manchester presumably carried Lewis over from his personal staff when appointed secretary of state in January 1702. After Manchester’s dismissal Lewis stayed in London, writing letters of political news to Welsh acquaintances. In July he obtained an ‘audience’ with the Speaker, Robert Harley, and in August was hoping to obtain appointment, probably as secretary to the embassy in Vienna. In May 1704 he was promoted to under-secretary by Harley, informing Alexander Stanhope (whom he had met in Paris) of his good fortune. By September 1704 he was contemplating the purchase of part of the estate of Sir Rice Rudd, 2nd Bt.*, in Carmarthenshire. He left the secretary’s office when Harley resigned in 1708 and was then tipped to succeed Stepney in Brussels. Not surprisingly, he was reappointed to office under Secretary Dartmouth in 1710 and remained in the secretary’s office until the Hanoverian succession ended his public career.6
Lewis’ reputation for discretion arose naturally from his many years’ service in several sensitive posts, and as an under-secretary he was able to benefit from a close working relationship with Harley. In August 1710 he was reported to be ‘very cautious how he discovers his opinion concerning a P[arliament]’. A certain pessimism pervaded his outlook, prompting Harley in the wake of the Lords’ vote for ‘No Peace without Spain’, to note that Lewis had ‘not the soul of a chicken nor the heart of a mite’. Nevertheless, his qualities were much sought after, Lord Raby wanting Lewis to serve as his secretary at The Hague, a post Lewis coveted so long as he could also retain his office in London. However, Henry St. John II* scotched the idea: ‘Mr Lewis could not be spared without maiming Lord Dartmouth’s office.’ January 1712 saw Lewis at the centre of a rumpus which arose when he was mistaken for Henry Lewis and complimented from Lord Melfort and the Pretender. An exchange of advertisements ensued in which Lewis was cleared of any taint of Jacobitism. Swift defended him as a man ‘who hath conducted himself with so much prudence, that, before this incident, neither the most virulent pens nor tongues have been so bold to attack him’, and discounted the whole episode as ‘a monstrous story’.7
Among the extant letters written by Lewis are some containing his political opinions. He was obviously well-informed and Tory in outlook. Above all he was loyal to the ministry. Thus, on the French commercial treaty he wrote that after 25 years without ‘open’ trade with that country the ‘generality of the people’ did not comprehend it. He expected Whig opposition because the treaty had been made by a Tory ministry, but perceptively he identified the government’s main political problem: ‘the misfortune is [that] our friends are much divided in their sentiments. Your excellency [Lord Lexington] knows the cry of popery or woollen manufactory will raise this nation into a ferment at any time.’ His usefulness to Harley probably explains his entry into Parliament for Lostwithiel at the 1713 election.8
Little is known about Lewis’ activities in the Commons. He was a devoted Harley man, except, it would seem, for one event in May when he joined with Secretary William Bromley II in voting in committee of supply against paying the arrears due on the Hanoverian subsidy. Not surprisingly, he was classed as a Tory on the Worsley list. He was ‘enraged’ at the manner in which the Earl of Oxford (Harley) was dismissed in 1714, and he was determined to remain in the secretary’s office only if ‘I may be countenanced and at full liberty to pay my duty to all the Harleian family, in the same manner I used to’. Further, on the change of dynasty, he was opposed to Tory unity at any price
since they [the Bolingbroke faction] would admit of no terms of accommodation when he [Oxford] offered to serve them in their own way, I had rather see his dead carcass than that he should now tamely submit to those who have loaded him with all the obloquy malice could suggest and tongues utter.
Inevitably, Lewis was dismissed from his post, being described in September 1714 as ‘quite out’. In May 1715 he was reported as having ‘come to town, much provoked and full of spleen’. Although Arbuthnot thought that ‘the shaver . . . has a good deal a do to smother his Welsh fire which you know he has in a greater degree than some would imagine’, Lewis seems to have adapted well to political exile, becoming a ladies’ man and making a good marriage.9
Lewis died on 10 Jan. 1754. His will bears testament to his wealth. Bequests came to over £7,800, excluding annuities of £260. His nephew, John Griffies, received his estate at Lan y Pinsant and the remainder went to James Morgan of Lincoln’s Inn and his heirs.10
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Trans. Carm. Antiq. Soc. ix. 64; xi. 79; Add. 28903, f. 52.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 129.
- 3. Trans. Carm. Antiq. Soc. xxix. 75.
- 4. CSP Col. 1712–14, pp. 69, 220.
- 5. PCC 301 Poley; Add. 28902, ff. 291–2; 28903, f. 52; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 2 (1881), 71; NRA, Rep. 3000 (Penrice and Margam mss), pp. 66, 71, 74; CSP Dom. 1700–2, p. 129.
- 6. NRA, Rep. 3000, pp. 78–79, 83; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/O24, Lewis to Alexander Stanhope, 23 May 1704; HMC 8th Rep. pt.1 (1881), 35.
- 7. K. Feiling, Tory Party, 445; Wentworth Pprs. 136, 187, 316; HMC Portland, ix. 290; Bolingbroke Corresp. i. 146; Boyer, Pol. State, v. 25–33; Swift Works ed. Davis, vi. 173.
- 8. Add. 46546, f. 22.
- 9. Add. 40621, f. 191; PRO 31/3/202, f. 87 (Baschet trans. 27 May 1714 N.S.); Swift Corresp. ed. Williams, i. 86–87, 116, 168, 470; iii. 42; Wentworth Pprs. 422.
- 10. PCC 18 Pinfold.