TREVOR, Sir Thomas (1658-1730), of Peckham, Surr. and the Inner Temple

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

Constituency

Dates

9 Nov. 1692 - 1698
Feb. 1701 - 28 June 1701

Family and Education

bap. 8 Mar. 1658, 2nd s. of Sir John Trevor† of Plas Teg, Flints., Trevalyn, Denb., and Channel Row, Westminster, secretary of state 1668–72 (d.v.p. Sir John Trevor† of Plas Teg and Trevalyn), by Ruth, da. of John Hampden† of Great Hampden, Bucks.  educ. Shilton, Oxon. (Samuel Birch); I. Temple, 1672, called 1680, bencher 1689; Christ Church, Oxf. 1673.  m. (1) 5 June 1690, Elizabeth (d. 1702), da. and coh. of John Searle of Finchley, Mdx. 2s.; (2) 25 Sept. 1704, cos. Anne (d. 1746), da. of Robert Weldon, of St Lawrence Jewry, London, wid. of Sir Robert Bernard, 3rd Bt. 2s. 2da.  Kntd. 21 Oct. 1692; cr. Baron Trevor, 1 Jan. 1712.1

Offices Held

KC Duchy of Lancaster, 1683, 1685–89; Queen’s Attorney and KC 1689; solicitor-gen. 1692–95; attorney-gen. 1695–1701; serjeant-at-law 1701; l.c.j.c.p. 1701–14; PC 18 June 1702–Sept.1714, 11 Mar. 1726–d.; commr. union with Scotland 1702–3; first commr. great seal 26 Sept.–19 Oct. 1710; ld. privy seal 1726–30; ld. justice (regency) 1727; ld. pres. of Council 1730.2

Commr. rebuilding St. Paul’s, 1692; Greenwich Hosp. 1695.3

FRS 1707.

Freeman, Bedford 1714.4

Biography

Described by Lord Ailesbury (Thomas Bruce†) as ‘the most of a gentleman that ever came to the bar’, Trevor quickly rose to the top of the legal profession, his career as an MP being relatively short and closely related to his tenure of the senior law offices. Having been appointed solicitor-general in May 1692, he came into Parliament at a by-election in November that year at Plympton on the interest of the Court Whig and a fellow lawyer Sir George Treby*. Trevor began his parliamentary career by supporting the Whigs. Only nine days after his election, he spoke on the Court side in the debate on 18 Nov. 1692 against the treason trials bill, declaring that it would give encouragement to offenders without protecting the innocent. He spoke again for the Court on 26 Nov., moving that the implementation of the treason trials bill be delayed until the end of the war. On 7 Dec. during the debate on the failure of the summer’s naval expedition, Trevor seconded John Smith I’s motion in support of Admiral Edward Russell*. As one of the government’s senior legal officials throughout the 1690s Trevor was named to numerous drafting committees, and often assisted in the management of supply bills. He presented his first bill, for the preservation of the government, on 10 Dec. 1692. In March 1693 Trevor was at the centre of a battle for the attorney-general’s place. His supporters included Lord Somers (Sir John*) and Archbishop Tillotson, but the friends of Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), against whom Trevor had apparently made ‘some very bitter and unreasonable’ speeches in the last session, preferred Edward Ward, and the latter was appointed. As solicitor-general, he was named as a placeman and Court supporter on several lists including those compiled by Samuel Grascome.5

In the next session, the loss of the Smyrna convoy in the summer of 1693 brought recriminations in Parliament, and Trevor joined the Whig attack on the Tory admirals. On 27 Nov. 1693 he appeared impatient with the admirals’ plea that the fleet had been insufficiently provisioned, saying, ‘the excuse of the admirals is [that] they wanted victuals. Consider what the admirals have for their justification! The want of victuals.’ On 7 Dec. he joined other Court Whigs in defending the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Falkland (Anthony Carey*), from charges by the commission of accounts concerning unaccounted monies.6

Trevor’s activity in the 1694–5 session included the usual supply bills, six of which he himself presented to the House, and he was also added on 28 Apr. 1695 to the committee for impeaching the Duke of Leeds (Sir Thomas Osborne†). Following his promotion to the post of attorney-general in June 1695, one of Trevor’s first tasks was to deal with the arrest of Sir John Fenwick† for his part in a Jacobite riot some weeks previously. Trevor wrote on 17 June, ‘I do not find that there is any evidence . . . that will amount to high treason or to any more than a great misdemeanour, for which by law he is bailable’. In October Trevor was re-elected for Plympton. In December and January 1696 he participated in proceedings against the Scottish East India Company. His consistent support for the Court is indicated in the forecast of January 1696 concerning the proposed council of trade, his prompt signature of the Association in February, and his vote in March in favour of fixing the price of guineas at 22s. Among the bills which Trevor helped to prepare was that for establishing a land bank. He was first-named to the committee on 6 Mar., and also to committees for bills to regulate the Africa trade (7 Mar.) and to secure the King and government (2 Apr.). As attorney-general, Trevor gave his opinion in late May against the land bank commissioners’ proposals for accepting clipped money, thus contributing to the failure of the project.7

In the 1696–7 session, Trevor was obliged to take a role in the prosecution of Fenwick for involvement in the Assassination Plot of February 1696. James Vernon I* reported that Trevor had done his part during the debate on 6 Nov. 1696 when he was first-named to the drafting committee for the bill of attainder against Fenwick, and he gave procedural advice several times in the debates which followed on 13, 16 and 17 Nov. However, his reservations about the attainder were revealed on the 17th when Vernon reported that Trevor had voted for committing the bill but had not spoken in favour of it, and during the third reading of the bill on 25 Nov. he apparently absented himself from the House, and was not listed as voting for the bill on this occasion. Trevor was also named to the committee for a bill of attainder against the assassination plotters (31 Dec.). In May 1697 Vernon reported that a proposed change in the lieutenancy of Devonshire was opposed by local Whigs and Lord Chancellor Somers, and Trevor, ‘knowing how much some of his friends are concerned to put by this new commission, is prepared to be more difficult than before as to the preparing the bill upon the present warrant’.8

During the 1697–8 session Trevor found himself at odds with the Junto on several issues and it is from this period that he appears as a moderate Tory. In December and January he assisted in the management of a bill to prevent correspondence with King James, and as attorney-general was involved in the punishment of Charles Duncombe*, being named to the committee for the bill of punishment (1 Feb. 1698), and delivering a message to the House on the preparation of evidence against Duncombe (10 Feb.). However, in contrast to government Whigs, including the solicitor-general, Sir John Hawles*, Trevor’s sympathies were with Duncombe and on 26 Feb. he made a lengthy speech against the bill, declaring his concern on several issues of principle. Duncombe’s punishment, Trevor claimed, was not in proportion to the crime, and he offered several arguments in Duncombe’s mitigation. Moreover, his greatest opposition, he said, was to the method the House had chosen, which created a precedent that threatened the English constitution: ‘once . . . the legislative power shall . . . make laws ex post facto to punish men for offences against which there is no law, and inflict what penalties they please, I desire you to consider what becomes of the notion we have had of English liberty and property’. He was also, he declared, concerned about the use of confessions made in the House: although called ‘voluntary’, they were evidently obtained under pressure and such a confession could not be a sound basis on which to proceed with a bill of pains and penalties. His sympathies no doubt informed his appointment to the committee for a conference with the Lords on the punishment (7 Mar.), and the committee of inquiry to search for precedents (18 Mar.). During the course of this session, quite apart from the proceedings on Duncombe, Trevor was first-named to no fewer than 16 drafting committees, 11 of these being for supply bills, the other five also for bills of a financial nature, including that for setting up a New East India Company in return for a £2 million loan to the government (26 May) which Trevor had in fact spoken against on that day, when the Old Company ‘mustered up all their strength’ to oppose it, and Trevor had ‘moved all the strings of compassion towards widows and orphans’ who had invested heavily in the Old Company. He later argued that a clause in the Old Company’s charter, which gave it the right to three years’ notice of termination, also continued its exclusive right to the East Indies trade during that period, an opinion unacceptable to those Whig ministers who favoured the New Company. In June Trevor sought to distance himself from the warrant to determine the East India Company. Vernon believed Trevor ‘doth not intend to have a hand in it, and will therefore absent himself from the Council tomorrow and leave it to Mr Solicitor [Hawles], who hath no scruple in the matter’. Vernon speculated that if Trevor was forced to resign ‘with making this point of conscience, it looks as if it was intended to lay a load somewhere’. Trevor did not resign but continued to obstruct the New Company. On 14 July Vernon reported that Trevor had not signed the warrant for appointing commissioners for subscriptions to the New Company, instead leaving it locked in his office and retreating to his home in Peckham. With great difficulty, Trevor’s clerk was persuaded to hand over the warrant, which was then signed by Hawles as solicitor-general. At the end of July Vernon reported that Trevor would not be standing in the approaching general election: ‘he says the fatigue of it is more than he can bear’. A comparative analysis of the old and new House of Commons in September listed Trevor as a Court placeman.9

In April 1700, while out of Parliament, Trevor was approached by Robert Harley* with an offer of the post of lord chancellor in place of Somers, but he refused to accept it. In May it was strongly rumoured that he would be offered the office of lord keeper, which according to one report would delight the Commons as the office would keep him out of the House. A contemporary reported that he had refused this office also, but it may have been that the King was opposed to Trevor’s appointment: some years later Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) had occasion to speak to Queen Anne of ‘the train of unhappy consequences which attended King William and lasted so long from the prejudices he had against Sir Thomas Trevor in the disposal of the great seal’.10

In the elections for the first 1701 Parliament Trevor was returned for Lewes, a borough close to the estate of his nephew John Morley Trevor* at Glynde. Trevor was forecast in February 1701 as likely to support the Court on the continuation of the ‘Great Mortgage’. During this session, he supported Tory calls to impeach the Whig Samuel Shepheard I* on 15 Apr. 1701, and Speaker Harley’s attempt to disallow a Whig motion concerning the Old East India Company on 17 May. In the debate on the trial of the impeached Whig lords on 3 June, Trevor agreed that ‘necessary delay was unjust but that we ought to proceed regularly in every step’. In other parliamentary business, Trevor was named to eight drafting committees, including four for supply bills. There was also a committee of impeachment to draw up articles against the Earl of Portland, and later the other Junto leaders (1 Apr.). At the end of the session Trevor was promoted to lord chief justice of the common pleas, thus bringing his career in the Commons to an end.11

That summer, Trevor was approached at the Buckinghamshire assizes by Sir Richard Temple, 4th Bt.*, who attempted to give him a Whig address for the King, but he refused it and ‘was very angry, saying they meddled with matters that did not belong to them’. In 1705, Trevor was apparently Harley’s preferred candidate for lord chancellor but he again refused the position. In September 1710, he was pressured by Harley for the third time to accept the lord chancellorship following the resignation of Lord Cowper (William*), but he refused the office, pleading ill-health. He nevertheless remained on good terms with Harley and had the distinction of becoming one of the 12 Tory peers created at the end of 1711 in order to strengthen the Tory majority in the Lords. In the Upper House, Trevor acted as a manager for the Tories. After the accession of George I, Trevor was dismissed from office but in 1717 returned to the Whigs and became a government supporter, eventually attaining high office. He died on 19 June 1730 and was succeeded by his son Thomas; one of his younger sons, Hon. John, later sat for New Woodstock.12

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Sonya Wynne

Notes

  • 1. PCC 225 Auber.
  • 2. APS, xi. app., 145.
  • 3. CSP. Dom. 1691–2, pp. 266–7; J. Cooke and J. Maule, Hist. Acct. Royal Hosp. for Seamen at Greenwich, 8–30.
  • 4. N. Beds. Bor. Council, Bedford bor. recs. B2/3, corp. act bk. 1688–1718, f. 128.
  • 5. Ailesbury Memoirs, 411; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 713, 737, 744; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/2, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 28 Mar. 1692[–3]; Bodl. Tanner 25, f. 27; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Mellish mss Me 150–89/4, Henry Saunderson to Edward Mellish, 1 Apr. 1693.
  • 6. Cobbett, 786, 804.
  • 7. BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 30, Trevor to Sir William Trumbull*, 16 June 1695; Add. 34355, f. 1; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 180.
  • 8. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 50, 57, 17, 83; Cobbett, 1002, 1009–10, 1036, 1046, 1053; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/104, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 20 May 1697.
  • 9. Huntington Lib. Ellesmere mss EL 9929, ‘Mr Attorney-General’s speech against Mr Duncomb’s bill’; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 88, 96, 125; Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/43, 63, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 12 June, 30 July 1698.
  • 10. Bodl. Ballard 10, f. 40; 11, f. 155; PRO 31/3/185, ff. 101, 107; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 42–43; Leics. RO, Finch mss box 4950, bdle. 22, Edward Southwell* to Ld. Nottingham, 11 May 1700; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 201.
  • 11. Cocks Diary, 95, 133, 159–60.
  • 12. Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn Coll. Blathwayt mss, box 20, Yard to William Blathwayt*, 8 Aug. 1701; Add. 17677 XX, f. 271; Holmes, 204, 436; HMC Portland, iv. 598, 610; PRO 31/3/201, ff. 28, 55, 59; HMC Stuart, v. 246.

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