MANSEL, Thomas I (1667-1723), of Penrice Castle, Gower, Glam.; Margam Abbey, Glam.; and Soho Square, Westminster

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



1689 - 1698
Dec. 1701 - 1 Jan. 1712

Family and Education

b. 9 Nov. 1667, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Edward Mansel, 4th Bt.†, of Margam Abbey and Soho Square by Martha, da. and coh. of Edward Carne of Ewenny, Glam.  educ. privately; Jesus, Oxf. 1685, BA 1686; New Inn Hall, MA 1699.  m. 18 May 1686 (with £10,000), Martha (d. 1718), da. and h. of Francis Millington, merchant, of London and Newick Place, Suss., 5s. (3 d.v.p.) 5da. (2 d.v.p.); 1s. 2da. illegit.  suc. 2nd cos. Thomas Mansel II* at Briton Ferry, Glam. (life interest) Jan. 1706; fa. as 5th Bt. 17 Nov. 1706; cr. Baron Mansell of Margam 1 Jan. 1712.1

Offices Held

Sheriff, Glam. 1700–1; constable, Cardiff Castle 1706–d.; chamberlain of S. Wales c.1714–d.; v.-adm. S. Wales and gov. of Milford Haven 1714–15.2

Comptroller of the Household 1704–Feb. 1708, June 1711–July 1712; PC 27 Apr. 1704–May 1708, 14 June 1711–Sept. 1714; ld. of Treasury Aug. 1710–June 1711; teller of the Exchequer 1712–Oct. 1714.3


Early education at the hands of a local Presbyterian minister, and prolonged supervision by an overbearing father, did not mould Mansel into a solid Whig in the paternal image. Instead, the apparent effect on an individual of a somewhat volatile temperament was to produce a recoil. Thus, while he shared Sir Edward’s opposition in 1688 to the policies of King James (opining that, as far as he could see, the court ‘had not a friend in England, without they were [sic] Catholics and those very considerable in their numbers’), he showed, once he had succeeded to his father’s place in Parliament in 1689, that this antipathy had been aroused by Tory prejudices rather than Whig, voting against the transfer of the crown. The influence of Francis Gwyn* has also been propounded as an explanation for this departure, but whatever the cause Mansel was viewed as a staunch Tory when returned again on the family interest in March 1690 and was listed as such by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†). In December Carmarthen further included him on a list of Court supporters, probably in connexion with the projected Commons’ attack on his ministerial position.4

A man of considerable charm and of a facile but shallow intellect, Mansel ‘always made an agreeable figure in the Commons’ without ever establishing a reputation as a powerful speaker. His ‘great deal of wit’ sparkled more brightly in fashionable society (where his amorous exploits were to belie his upbringing). In the 1690 Parliament he may have been overshadowed by his cousin Bussy*, an unreconstructed Whig whose ‘Country’ sympathies permitted the kinsmen to be listed together by Robert Harley* in 1691 as opponents of the Court. It was, however, Thomas who was included during the 1694–5 session on a list of friends compiled by the Treasury secretary, Henry Guy*, in connexion with the Commons’ investigations into Guy’s conduct. After the 1695 election, in which both Mansels were pre-selected at a county meeting, Bussy as knight and Thomas once more for the Boroughs, the older man seems to have become markedly less active, and one can discern with greater confidence Thomas’ tracks in the Commons’ record. Moreover, these reveal him to have been a busier, and more extreme, Tory than hitherto. Forecast as likely to oppose the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade, he refused point blank to sign the Association, declaring that he ‘scorned and abhorred to be concerned in . . . and would not do such a thing for all the kings in Christendom’. He was also listed as voting against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. The fact that Lord Rochester (Laurence Hyde†) projected a visit to Margam during the summer recess is an indication of the extent of Mansel’s involvement in High Tory coteries. When the Commons reconvened, ‘Mr Mansel’ acted as an opposition teller on 26 Oct. 1696, to forestall a session of the committee of supply, and on 16 Nov. in a division relating to the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†, to prevent the transcript of Cook’s trial from being read. Mansel duly voted against the bill of attainder on 25 Nov. He was probably the Member of that name appointed to the committee of 14 Jan. 1697 to draft legislative clauses to explain the Recoinage Acts and provide against abuses by receivers, and who was teller on 5 Feb., on the opposition side, for an instruction to the committee on the paper duties bill to omit the provision imposing a duty on plate not brought into the Mint. The following session saw another likely tellership: on 10 Mar. 1698, in favour of an amendment to the statement of fact to be laid before the Lords in support of the bill of pains and penalties against Charles Duncombe*, an amendment which would have modified Duncombe’s confession to make its evidence less incriminating. In a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments compiled in September 1698, Mansel was classed with the Country party.5

Much to his father’s displeasure, Mansel refused to be put up for re-election in 1698, resisting paternal blandishments. Sir Edward feared a loss of control over the Cardiff Boroughs seat. ‘Besides’, he reminded his son, ‘being out, you will not have so much for your power to oblige. Creditors will be sharp. Neither would I have you give so clear a demonstration of being an enemy to the present government, which is Protestant.’ Not only did Mansel stand firm on this point, he also ignored his father’s injunction against foreign travel, accompanying the Earl of Manchester (to whom he was distantly related) on an embassy to Paris in 1699, and visiting King William’s palace at Loo, where it was said he was ‘very civilly entertained’. On returning in 1700 he at first disclaimed parliamentary ambitions but, almost at the last minute as the January 1701 election approached, changed his mind and let it be known to his kinsman Thomas Mansel II of Briton Ferry, the outgoing knight of the shire, that he felt himself entitled to be county representative, a volte-face which embarrassed Thomas II and threatened briefly to upset the Mansels’ applecart. Probably dissuaded by his father from pressing this ambition, he wrote in April 1701 to his friend Thomas Pitt I* that he expected soon to re-enter Parliament, adding:

Our ministry is changed much from what you left it, and I am in hopes to see more of my friends daily come into play; it had been better those you left in employment had never been in, for they came in beggars, and have done all they could to make all of us so, while they have got both titles and estates. The House of Commons have already impeached my Lord Portland, and perhaps [Lord] Somers [Sir John*] etc. may be found worthy of one apiece also.

By the time of the December general election the Mansels’ family alliance had been repaired, and he came in as shire knight, Thomas II withdrawing to the Boroughs. Classed with the Tories by Robert Harley in a list of December 1701, he is recorded as voting in favour of the motion on 26 Feb. vindicating the Commons in their proceedings over the impeachments of the King’s ministers.6

It is unclear whether Mansel had by this time been drawn into the close association with Robert Harley which was to be the hallmark of his later political career, and which had been established by at least July 1703, the date of their earliest surviving correspondence. Nor can the means by which the connexion was cemented be settled with certainty: Francis Gwyn has once more been suggested as an intermediary; or there may have been contact through the Briton Ferry branch of the Mansels. Equally, Harley and Mansel could have been brought together by their common bent towards antiquarianism, Mansel being the chief patron and the dedicatee of Edward Lhuyd’s Archaeologia; or merely by political and social compatibility, Harley recognizing in Mansel a man of promise, and Mansel hitching his fortune to a rising star. Aside from his personal abilities, Mansel was useful to Harley as a regional political manager or ‘whip’, having influence over other Members from south Wales, though perhaps not so much as some historians have imputed to him. In the first session of the new Parliament he still followed a ‘violently’ Tory path. He was listed as voting on 13 Feb. 1703 against agreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time for taking the oath of abjuration. In March 1704 Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) included Mansel in a list of likely supporters during the proceedings on the Scotch Plot. His association with extreme Tory measures ceased with his appointment (presumably on Harley’s recommendation) in April 1704 as comptroller of the Household and as a Privy Councillor, albeit without a seat in the Cabinet. Like the other Harleyites, he was accused of ‘deserting the Church’ and was now ‘looked on as a Whig’ by his erstwhile party colleagues. As comptroller, he was included on 24 Oct. 1704 in the committee to prepare the Address. In regard to the Tack, he figured in a forecast drawn up on 30 Oct., on the Court side; voted on 15 Nov. against the motion to bring in the third occasional conformity bill; and, despite deviating from the moderate line three days later in a division involving Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*), participated in Harley’s lobbying and opposed the measure (or was absent) in the key division on 28 Nov. On 14 Dec. he was nominated to give the thanks of the Commons to the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†), reporting from this committee the following day. There was a rumour the following March that he was being canvassed for a peerage. In lists of the 1705 Parliament he was marked down as a placeman and as Low Church. The division on the Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705 found him supporting the Court candidate, John Smith I*, but he ‘turned and voted for Sir [Samuel] Garrard [4th Bt.*]’, the Tory candidate in the Amersham election on 15 Dec., and his name is missing from the list of Court voters against the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill in February 1706. He seems to have been unhappy at the prospect of any further concessions to the Whigs, and there were rumours that he himself was to have to make way for a Whig comptroller. But none of this was sufficient to regain the respect of the High Tories while he kept his office. Sir Thomas Meres* compared him unfavourably with his predecessor, Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*: Mansel sat in the same corner of the House as Seymour had done, ‘yet now – the staff is there, but the man is not’. Possibly on account of the upheaval in his family caused by the deaths of his cousin Thomas Mansel II and his own father, Mansel appears to have been largely inactive during the 1706–7 session. In April 1707 rumours again circulated that he would be elevated to the Lords and replaced as comptroller by (Sir) Thomas Hanmer II* (2nd Bt.), but they came to nothing. He was close to the centre of the events which precipitated Harley’s fall, and, though little is known of his conduct in Parliament as the crisis approached, on the issue of the Scottish privy council he shared the Court’s position against that of the Junto and Squadrone. When Harley took his leave of office in February 1708, Mansel accompanied him and tendered his own resignation.7

In 1706 Mansel had not only succeeded his father at Margam but had inherited a life interest in the Briton Ferry estate. This gave him a disposable landed income of around £3,000 a year, less than the £10,000 rent-roll with which he was popularly credited but enough to make him potentially a dominant figure in his locality. Unfortunately, he also inherited large debts, mortgages of at least £11,500 which his father had taken out, on top of which in due course his own disregard for domestic economy would pile a further £5,000. Furthermore, he was already embroiled in a major power struggle in Glamorgan with Sir Humphrey Mackworth* (see GLAMORGAN; CARDIFF BOROUGHS). By 1706 Mackworth had constructed a powerful anti-Mansel coalition, headed by the Duke of Beaufort and Lord Windsor (Thomas*). Exploiting Mansel’s high-handedness, his dealings with some local Whigs and his desertion of the High Church cause in Parliament, this faction had stirred a current of opinion against the hegemony of the Margam interest. Thus, although not a ‘covetous’ individual, Mansel needed the resources of office, especially the ‘power to oblige’ and until 1708 local patronage was deployed to reward his friends and harass his enemies.8

The ministerial revolution of 1708 restored Mansel to the good graces of the Tories. When he and other Harleyites voted against the ministry on 24 Feb. 1708, on the issue of Spanish troops, they were ‘received . . . with both arms as strayed sheep come into the true fold’. Two lists from early 1708 described him as a Tory. There seem to have been repercussions too in local politics: either as a consequence of Mansel’s return to the Tory fold, or for reasons of his own, Beaufort concluded a rapprochement, and in a combined letter to the Glamorgan gentry prior to the 1708 election the two magnates urged an accommodation of disputes. Mansel’s prospective opponent in the county complied with this injunction and withdrew from the contest; the challenge to his candidate in the Boroughs also fizzled out. Safely re-elected, Mansel hosted a pre-sessional gathering of Tories to discuss the Speakership. He was a teller on four occasions in the ensuing session: for Thomas Medlycott* in the Westminster election (18 Dec.); on a procedural motion arising from the Newcastle-under-Lyme election case (1 Feb. 1709); for Robert Orme* in the Midhurst election (8 Mar.); and against giving a second reading to the bill for improving the union (29 Mar.). During the summer he worked hard on Harley’s behalf in helping to reorganize and revivify the opposition. His letters demonstrate a deepening disillusionment with the course of the war. Malplaquet filled him with regret and cynicism: ‘Peace is what I long to see, and so [sic] we have it ’tis no matter what they have done; but I’ll never believe we shall have one, till the war can be no longer carried on.’ He would agree to the continuation of the land tax, but not to giving the malt tax for more than one year, and was strongly opposed to ‘any extraordinary methods of raising men’. Late in coming up for the next session, he showed himself to be Harley’s closest lieutenant when he was the only other Tory present in the House not to divide in January 1710 for the place bill, but he subsequently voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, telling on 11 Jan. in favour of recommitting the report of the committee ordered to prepare the articles of impeachment. Another tellership, his last, occurred on 16 Feb., when he dissented from the draft address to the Queen to hasten the Duke of Marlborough’s departure for Holland.9

Mansel owed his inclusion on the new Treasury commission in August 1710 to his being Harley’s ‘dearest friend’. A pamphlet written to buttress the new ministry recalled his earlier ‘moderation’ in recommending him as ‘truly zealous for the Established Church, without any bitterness towards the Dissenters’, and he held to this course, trimming a little to the prevailing political winds. Although his personal ascendancy in Glamorgan had been restored in 1708 and reinforced thereafter by the public disgrace of Mackworth, he now deemed it prudent to be more emphatically partisan in his dispensation of patronage there, and to maintain his effective alliance with Beaufort. At Westminster he was classed in the ‘Hanover list’ as a Tory, and was listed among the ‘worthy patriots’ who in 1710–11 exposed the mismanagements of the old ministry, and among the ‘Tory patriots’ who voted for peace. He steered clear of political clubs, however, and remained near to Harley’s inner circle, being a frequent dinner host and guest of men such as Swift. The South Sea Company attracted his initial interest, as did the Royal African Company. Given his lack of political weight, it was no surprise that he received only the comptrollership, on Harley’s assumption of the office of lord treasurer in June 1711, or that he should be one of the ‘dozen’ new peers in the block creation at the turn of the year: as early as April 1711 there had been talk that he would be made ‘cofferer and a lord’. He celebrated the peerage by commissioning a new portrait (by Dahl) and new Mansel genealogies, while considering major renovations of the Margam mansion. The next year he exchanged posts for the highly lucrative tellership of the Exchequer. A Harley loyalist to the end, he was present with Members of the lord treasurer’s immediate family at an important meeting with the Hanoverian resident Kreienberg in 1714, and displayed an uncharacteristic degree of sympathy with the Dissenting cause over the schism bill later that year, backing a Presbyterian petition to be heard by counsel against the bill, a move which tallied closely with Harleyite tactics, and for which his own early history furnished a plausible pretext.10

Dismissed as teller on the Hanoverian succession, and from two of his major local offices the following year, Mansel all but retired from active politics. He did not attend the Lords regularly, informing Oxford in October 1718 that his proxy, rather than his presence, would be at his service. The Mansel interest in Glamorgan came to be managed chiefly by his eldest son, Robert, whose name was sent to the Pretender in 1721 as ‘chief of one party’ in the county. Mansel himself was not mentioned. He died on 10 Dec. 1723, ‘of a broken heart’ according to gossip, as a result of Robert’s death and the unsuitable marriage of a daughter. In alluding to his public life, his epitaph dwelt on the high offices to which he had been preferred, and whose responsibilities he had discharged ‘with honour’. Informal tributes from fellow Harleyites were unenthusiastic. ‘Lord Mansel’s life or death do not much concern me’, was Swift’s reaction. Canon Stratford, writing to the 2nd Earl of Oxford (Edward, Lord Harley*), found room for faint praise: ‘one part of his character was very commendable, his honourable behaviour to your father’.11

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Arch. Camb. ser. 3, x. 121; Haverfordwest and Its Story, 163; G. T. Clark, Limbus Patrum, 495; E. P. Statham, Fam. of Mansell, ii. 19, 44, 688; Cat. Penrice and Margam Mss, ser. 2, pp. 107–9; ser. 3, p. 73; P. Jenkins, Making of a Ruling Class, 121.
  • 2. Egerton 1626, f. 59; Cardiff Recs. ed. Matthews v. 496–7; Boyer, Pol. State, i–ii. 389; W. R. Williams, Gt. Sess. in Wales, 189; Cat. Penrice and Margam Mss, ser. 3, p. 6; Ind. 24557.
  • 3. R. O. Bucholz, Augustan Court, 263; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxi. 287; xxiv. 34; xxv. 66; xxvi. 372; xxix. 140; Add. 70248, memo. n.d.
  • 4. Jenkins, 121, 132, 139–40; Welsh Hist. Rev. xi. 297; NLW, Kemeys Tynte mss, Lady Kemys to Sir Charles Kemys, 3rd Bt.*, 11 Mar. 1690.
  • 5. Macky Mems. (1733), 114; Wentworth Pprs. 133; Boyer, Anne Annals, ix. App. p. 60; Swift Corresp. ed. Williams, i. 215; Swift Works ed. Davis, v. 260; Swift Stella ed. Davis, ii. 601; Poems on Affairs of State ed. Ellis, vii. 32; Glam. Co. Hist. iv. 398; Jenkins, 141–2.
  • 6. Glam. Co. Hist. 398–9; Jenkins, 261; Arch. Camb. 122; HMC Cowper, ii. 391; Macky Mems. 114; HMC Bath, iii. 384; Add. 22851, f. 190.
  • 7. G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 261–2, 301, 310, 504; Add. 70248, Mansel to Robert Harley, 7 July 1703; Jenkins, 139–40, 142, 152–3, 235; Welsh Hist. Rev. 299; Arch. Camb. 122; Speck thesis, 113; Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 93, 95; xli. 179–80; xlv. 47; G. V. Bennett, Tory Crisis 1688–1730, p. 75; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 13 Mar. 1705; HMC Portland, iv. 312; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C9/31, Sir John Cropley, 2nd Bt.*, to James Stanhope*, 26 Mar. 1706; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 379, 445; Add. 7058, f. 83; Addison Letters, 91; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 266–7.
  • 8. NLW Jnl. xxi. 161; Luttrell, vi. 110; Swift Stella, ii. 601; Cat. Penrice and Margam Mss, ser. 3, pp. 126, 162; ser. 4(1), pp. 317, 360, 362–71; ser. 4(2), pp. 219, 276; ser. 4(3), pp. 51–52, 63; Glam. Co. Hist. 399–401; Jenkins, 69, 147–9; The Case of Sir Humphrey Mackworth . . . (1707); HMC Portland, iv. 329.
  • 9. Northants RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/193, James Vernon I* to Duke of Shrewsbury, 24 Feb. 1707–8; Addison Letters, 94; Speck thesis, 40, 215; Glam. Co. Hist. 401–3; Jenkins, 149; K. Feiling, Tory Party, 416; HMC Portland, iv. 527–8; Add. 70248, Mansel to Robert Harley, 24 Nov. 1709; Wentworth Pprs. 106.
  • 10. Holmes, 264; Boyer, Anne Annals, ix. App. p. 60; Jenkins, 69, 150–4, 201; Beaufort mss at Badminton House, Beaufort to James Gunter*, 10 Jan. 1712; Swift Stella, i. 201, 228–9, 245, 247; ii. 464, 524; Hervey Letter Bks. i. 289; J. Steegman, Portraits in Welsh Houses, ii. 113–14; Orig. Pprs. ed. Macpherson, ii. 631; Feiling, 470.
  • 11. HMC Portland, vii. 205, 371; Jenkins, 154; Add. 70248, Mansel to Oxford, 23 Oct. 1718; P. S. Fritz, Ministers and Jacobitism 1715–45, p. 153; Statham, ii. 44, 687–8; Swift Corresp. iii. 3.