OGLETHORPE, Theophilus (1684-c.1737), of Westbrook Place, Godalming, Surr.
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Family and Education
bap. 11 Mar. 1684, 2nd s. of Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe*, and bro. of Lewis* and James Edward†. educ. Eton 1698. unm. suc. bro. Lewis at Westbrook 1704. cr. Baron Oglethorpe in Jacobite peerage 20 Dec. 1717.1
A.d.c. to D. of Ormond 1713–14.
As the younger son of a known Jacobite sympathizer, Oglethorpe, at the outset of his career, faced a future of some uncertainty. However, his father managed to secure him a position in the Old East India Company, and Oglethorpe’s progress from the time of his arrival at Fort St. George in late 1701 was monitored with interest by prominent figures within the company, including Sir Basil Firebrace*, Thomas Coulson*, Sir Thomas Cooke* and Sir Henry Johnson*. His father’s ‘old acquaintance’ Thomas Pitt I*, the governor of Fort St. George, was entrusted with the task of overseeing Oglethorpe’s mercantile education, but even though Pitt treated him as ‘my own child’, he soon confounded early hopes of advancement. He returned from his first trip to China with considerable debts, possibly incurred through ‘gaming’, and headed back to England early in 1705 in disgrace. Governor Pitt was discreet enough to keep quiet about Oglethorpe’s ‘evil ways’, although he only did so because he was disinclined to ‘throw water on a drowned rat’.2
In the wake of the death of his elder brother Lewis* in October 1704, Oglethorpe returned to England as lord of the family’s Westbrook estate, the interest of which secured him a seat at Haslemere at the general election of May 1708. However, his real ambitions lay with the military, for the following September Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) reported to the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) that Oglethorpe had offered him one of the seats at Haslemere in return for ‘some employment in the army’. Oglethorpe’s mother was stubbornly opposed to his following a military career, having already lost one son in battle, and Theophilus’ immediate hopes went unfulfilled. In his first Parliament Oglethorpe acted as teller on 1 Feb. 1709 in favour of bringing in candles, in order to continue the examination of an election petition from Newcastle-under-Lyme. He acted as a teller again on 16 Apr., to block an amendment to the Middlesex registry bill. He naturally supported Dr Sacheverell in the great party issue of that session, having reportedly been one of only five Tory Members present in the House on 14 Dec. 1709 when the resolution to impeach Sacheverell was taken.
In the run-up to the election of October 1710. Oglethorpe’s mother grossly exaggerated her son’s local political influence in the hope of gaining him an office, boasting to Robert Harley* that Theophilus’ interest at Haslemere was ‘very strong’ and that he could command the votes of some 600 freeholders at the county poll. Even though some consternation was caused in local Tory ranks by a report that he had actually been engaged to support the pre-eminent Surrey Whig Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt.*, Oglethorpe dutifully voted for both the Tory candidates at the Surrey election. Moreover, at Haslemere Oglethorpe clearly stood as a Tory alongside Sir John Clerke, 5th Bt.*, and took great pride in informing Robert Harley that he had secured his own return ‘notwithstanding bribery and all other indirect means used’ by his rivals.3
Oglethorpe was of course identified as a Tory in the ‘Hanover list’ and proved a most active Member in the first session, featuring as a teller in no less than six divisions, several of which gave him ample opportunity to display his obvious party loyalties: on 4 Dec., to block the referral of two petitions from Cockermouth to the elections committee; on 9 Dec., against a motion to determine all election cases by ballot if demanded by any Member; on 19 Dec., in support of the motion that the Bewdley charter of 1708 was ‘void, illegal and destructive to the constitution of Parliament’; on 20 Feb. 1711, in favour of appointing a time to consider allegations against (Sir) James Montagu I* over the Carlisle election; on 10 May, to support a clause lessening the duty on damaged hops; and, finally, on 9 June, to back the reading of the Lords’ amendments to the bill to regulate Scottish linen manufacture. He also reported from committee on 12 Apr. and 14 May on a petition of Scottish merchants against the seizure of a vessel by the East India Company, reflecting his prior involvement in trade. In addition, on 14 May he found time to report from two committees reviewing petitions relating to the Equivalent. His politics were amply confirmed in the course of the session, for he was cited as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who had discovered the mismanagements of the previous ministry, and as one of the ‘Tory patriots’ who opposed the continuation of the war. He was identified by Boyer as a member of the October Club, and in January 1712 was also included on a canvassing list drawn up in preparation for the attack on the Duke of Marlborough. He became closely involved in Tory moves to discover previous wartime corruption, gaining appointment on 18 Feb. 1712 to the committee to investigate abuses in the clothing and mustering of the army, and reporting seven days later from the committee considering how Colonel John Rice had disposed of £11,420 of army debentures. He subsequently acted as a teller on 20 Mar. against declaring Hon. Philip Bertie* duly elected for Boston. In the third session his support for the Church was suggested on 28 May 1713 by his activity as a teller to block the renewal of the Quakers’ Affirmation Act, and he gave further demonstration of his party credentials on 18 June by voting in favour of the French commerce bill. He continued to feature prominently on military matters, reporting on 11 June from the committee investigating a major-general’s claim for arrears, and acting as a teller twice more: on 10 July, in favour of going into a committee of the whole on a bill to regulate the land forces; and three days later, to read the committee’s amendments to that bill.4
Although an active Member, Oglethorpe was prepared to abandon his political career at the end of the 1710 Parliament to take up the post of aide-de-camp to the Duke of Ormond. On 3 Mar. 1714 a petition in Oglethorpe’s name was presented to the House to protest against the return of Thomas Onslow* at the preceding Haslemere election, but the House rejected it the next day after ascertaining that it had been issued by Oglethorpe’s scheming mother and not her absent son. Oglethorpe had, in fact, travelled to Flanders in the summer of 1713 to deliver money to the troops, and by January 1714 he was in Paris, from whence he thanked Robert Harley (now Earl of Oxford) for sending him a letter of credit, interpreting the favour as ‘a proof that I may depend on your care of me and my interest during my absence’. Financial considerations led Oglethorpe to ask Harley for leave to bring forward his return to England, but he subsequently decided to accompany Lord Peterborough to the court of Sicily in the hope of obtaining a diplomatic post. However, on the death of Queen Anne he was still in Italy without office, an uncertain position which no doubt influenced his momentous decision to seek the employ of the Old Pretender.5
Although his attachment to the Stuart cause after 1714 was never doubted by his fellow Jacobites, Oglethorpe’s personal shortcomings effectively excluded him from any important position at the exiled court. The Old Pretender himself reflected in February 1717 that Oglethorpe was ‘neither much loved nor believed’, and even an ally such as the Duke of Mar confessed that Oglethorpe had a ‘natural failing not to be very close’ with secrets. After a fruitless quest to become an official envoy to the court of Sicily at Turin, Oglethorpe actually managed to gain a Jacobite peerage in December 1717, but such recognition was designed as a reward for his family’s, rather than his personal, contribution to the Stuart cause. Uncured of his spendthrift ways, and frustrated in his political ambition after expulsion from Turin, Oglethorpe moved to Paris in 1720 where his sisters had established themselves as successful financiers. However, he lacked their business acumen, and after incurring losses in the Mississippi Bubble, was forced to sell Westbrook in July 1720 to his brother-in-law, the Marquis de Mezières. A year later, following an ill-advised return to England, he was briefly back in custody on charges of high treason, but was released after two months in prison. He returned to France, and, unbowed by recent experience, was still seeking an entrée to the Old Pretender’s court in September 1721. His subsequent career remains obscure, a predictable fate given his financial and political abilities, though he is said to have resided in France until his death in around 1737. His younger brother, James Edward†, who had succeeded Theophilus as resident at Westbrook, did immeasurably more to raise the profile of the Oglethorpe name in the 18th century as the philanthropic founder of the American colony of Georgia.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Perry Gauci
- 1. IGI, London; Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 300.
- 2. Add. 22844, ff. 20, 45; 22845, f. 24; 22849, f. 3; 22852, ff. 6, 61.
- 3. Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1092–3; Hearne Colls. ii. 329; HMC Portland, iv. 590–1, 610; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, Finch-Halifax pprs. box 5, bdle. 13, Henry Weston to Ld. Guernsey (Hon. Heneage Finch I*), 29 July 1710; Surr. Poll of 1710.
- 4. Add. 70331, canvassing list, c.Jan. 1712.
- 5. Add. 17677 GGG, f. 285; 70249, Ld. Peterborough to Ld. Oxford, 5 Mar. 1714; 70250, Oglethorpe to same, 22 Jan. 1714; HMC Portland, v. 482.
- 6. HMC Stuart, iii. 536; v. 282; vi. 264; vii. 44–45; Boyer, Pol. State, xix. 447; H. Luthy, Banque Protestante en France, i. 294; P. K. Hill, Oglethorpe Ladies, 65; RA, Stuart mss 51/167; 52/73, 146; Add. 20310, ff. 296, 299–300; Royalist, ix. 41.