WHARTON, Hon. Thomas (1648-1715), of Winchendon, nr. Aylesbury and Wooburn, nr. Chipping Wycombe, Bucks.
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Family and Education
bap. 23 Oct. 1648, 3rd but 1st surv. s. of Philip, 4th Baron Wharton; bro. of Hon. Goodwin* and Hon. Henry Wharton†. educ. privately at home; Protestant academy at Caen 1662–4; travelled abroad (France, Italy, German States, Netherlands) 1664–6. m. (1) 16 Sept. 1673 (with £2,500 p.a. and £10,000), Anne (d. 1685), da. and coh. of Sir Henry Lee, 3rd Bt., of Quarrendon, Bucks. and Ditchley, Oxon., s.p.; (2) July 1692, Lucy (d. 1717), da. of Adam Loftus, Visct. Lisburne [I], 1s. 2da. suc. fa. as 5th Baron Wharton 4 Feb. 1696; cr. Earl of Wharton 23 Dec. 1706, Mq. of Wharton 15 Feb. 1715, Mq. of Catherlough [I] 12 Apr. 1715.1
Commr. recusants Bucks. 1675; custos rot. Bucks. 1689–1702, Westmld. 1700–2, 1706–14, Oxon. 1697–1702, 1714–d.; high steward, Malmesbury 1689–98, 1704–11, Chipping Wycombe 1694–d., Tewkesbury 1710–d.; freeman, Chipping Wycombe 1691, Woodstock 1697, Appleby 1700, Dublin 1709; ld. lt. Oxon. 1697–1702, Bucks. Jan.–June 1702; alderman, Appleby 1700, mayor 1708–9.2
PC 19 Feb. 1689; comptroller of Household 21 Feb. 1689–Apr. 1702; commr. to reform abuses in army 1689; appeals for prizes 1695; for union with Scotland 1706; c.j. in eyre, south of Trent Apr. 1697–June 1702, Aug. 1706–Dec. 1710; ld. lt. [I] Dec. 1708–Oct. 1710; col. Drag. [I] Apr.–Oct. 1710; ld. privy seal 23 Sept. 1714–d.
Asst. Mines Adventurers 1693; commr. Greenwich Hosp. (ex officio) 1695; Q. Anne’s Bounty 1704.3
Wharton was one of the most important figures in the politics of Augustan England. He was a crucial figure in the Whig leadership after the Revolution and played a key role in reorientating the party away from its traditional Country stance towards one at ease with the exercise of executive power. He was thus fundamental in the development of the Whigs into the party of government after 1715. Ironically, Wharton had been born into a tradition of opposition to the executive, being the heir of a Presbyterian peer active in Restoration politics. He was brought up a strict Calvinist by his father, but early in childhood he developed the powers of dissimulation which were to serve him so well as a politician. A favourable first marriage brought him financial independence, when his father settled £3,000 p.a. on him, and he became one of the greatest rakes in England. Though he called himself ‘a Churchman by choice’, his conformity was of the most occasional kind, and contemporaries regarded him as an atheist, or, in the words of Swift, ‘an atheist grafted upon a Dissenter’. In politics he proved adept at capturing the Nonconformist vote and in general took delight in taunting the Church party on every possible occasion, one of its members writing that Wharton ‘had the most provoking, insolent manner of speaking that I ever observed in any man, without any regard to civility or truth’.4
Wharton’s wealth, dashing figure and social skills were all put to good political use. The most famous duellist of his time, he was never worsted, having, according to Richard Steele*, a dextrous way of disarming opponents. He had a passion for the turf, owning a horse (‘Careless’) which was only once beaten in a race. ‘He took particular delight’, wrote Steele, ‘to beat the Tories whenever they gave plates, and sent horses to all their races, which he generally won of[f] them.’ He built a house for his current mistress overlooking the racecourse at Quainton, thus combining his two greatest pleasures. All this made him the idol of the younger Members of Parliament, and as an astute party manager he made the fullest use of it. His very shamelessness he turned to good use: according to Swift, one of his tactics was to
tell you that the faction are driving at something in the House; that you must be sure to attend, and to speak to all your friends to be there, although he knoweth at the same time that you and your friends are against him in the very point he mentioneth; and however absurd, ridiculous and gross this may appear, he hath often found it successful, some men having such an awkward bashfulness, they know not how to refuse on a sudden, and every man having something to hope or fear which often hinders them from driving things to extreme with persons of power.
He was second to none in the art of nursing constituencies, and was on terms of easy familiarity with voters and their friends. His interest in Buckinghamshire was paramount, and he was active in elections in Cumberland, Oxfordshire, Westmorland, Wiltshire and Yorkshire, where his father had great estates.5
Wharton used his wealth to further his political objectives, and despite his great estates took various opportunities to increase his income. In 1690 he obtained a contract to supply horses for the army in Ireland, and sold £15,000-worth. In partnership with the Earl of Shrewsbury, he promoted a bill to set up a pawnbroking monopoly on the French model, and they received £5,000 each as a reward for their services when the bill passed. His family’s estates contained valuable lead mines, and he was a leading spirit in the company formed under Lord Chandos in 1693 for exploiting metal mines. By his second marriage, he acquired another £5,000 p.a. and an estate at Rathfarnham, near Dublin, worth £2–3,000 p.a., which was sold after his death for £62,000.6
In the 1690 Parliament, Wharton was associated with a group of young Whig Members, the forerunner of the Whig Junto, which included Sir John Somers, Admiral Edward Russell, Charles Montagu, Hon. Thomas Tollemache and Sir John Trenchard. The aim of these party men in 1690 was to drive Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†), Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), and all other Tories from office. Wharton’s role in the administration had been secured by his prominence in the Revolution, even though William III did not appreciate his comptroller’s outspokenness: on one occasion even laying his hand on his sword while saying that ‘the crown shall not be the worse for my wearing it’, and on another telling Wharton that ‘though he was his servant he found he [Wharton] was a commonwealthman and was much displeased with him’. Fortunately, Wharton had the advantage of counting the Earl (later Duke) of Shrewsbury, the King’s greatest English favourite, among his closest political associates, so much so that in February 1690 William considered naming Wharton to the council of nine to advise Queen Mary when he was absent on campaign if Shrewsbury were to continue as secretary. Shrewsbury’s resignation in early June meant that Wharton was left out from the final list. Having been returned unopposed for Buckinghamshire in 1690, Wharton was listed by Carmarthen as a Whig. He seconded the motion for a supply of £1,500,000 ‘to carry on the war’ on 1 Apr. 1690. Eight days later, he strongly supported the recognition bill, saying ‘if we sit to hear all the objections that lawyers will make, we may sit till King James comes in again’, and pointing out that if the Acts of the previous Parliament were invalid, then the present Parliament had no right to sit. On the 24th he was first-named to the committee charged with drawing up an abjuration oath, reporting it the following day along with the resultant bill. On the 26th in the debate over its committal, he explained that ‘this oath is occasioned by the vote for an address for altering the lieutenancy of London, which we are to thank for the placing of King James’s officers in the government; this I designed for all persons that are aiding to King James, either with money or affection’. However, when the Court turned against the bill it was defeated by 14 votes.7
After the end of the session, Wharton and Shrewsbury, ‘both somewhat disgusted’, went to the latter’s house near Newmarket and there were rumours that Wharton would resign along with his patron. Indeed, Queen Mary complained in July 1690 of Wharton’s failure to attend Council meetings when the King was abroad. Before the beginning of the 1690–1 session he was listed by Carmarthen as a Privy Councillor ‘that ought to’ assist in the management of the Commons, and his name also appears on a list of those expected to support the Marquess should he come under attack in December 1690. Little is known about Wharton’s activities in this session, but he did attend the committee of elections in November to support Robert Harley’s* cause at New Radnor (the friendship of their respective fathers being based on a common religious bond). In November Wharton’s name was touted as a possible secretary of state, but that honour went to Lord Sydney (Henry Sidney†). By March 1691 he was rumoured to be out of favour with the King ‘for drinking a reflecting health’ to the Elector of Brandenburg, but the following month Harley classed him as a Court supporter.8
In the new session, on 3 Nov. 1691, Wharton moved for a motion that the Commons consider in a committee of the whole the miscarriages of the fleet. This continuation of the feud between Russell and Nottingham was avoided when the King patched up the quarrel between them, leading to a rather desultory debate when the matter was considered on the 7th. When, on 16 Nov., Wharton moved for the orders given to Russell and the list of ships lost or damaged since 1688 to be referred to the committee on the state of the nation, his suggestion was not taken up. On 28 Nov. in the debate over the army estimates, he was for excluding officers from the number of men already voted on the grounds that with Europe watching the debate, the greater number of troops was the more appropriate. On the 30th he supported Hon. John Granville’s motion to refer the army estimates to a private committee, ‘the rather that it is most methodical’. When the Commons considered the observations of the public accounts commission on 3 Dec. it was proposed that Members who had received pensions from secret service funds should be voted betrayers of their country, but Wharton succeeded in getting the matter dropped by declaring that William Jephson*, the late secretary to the Treasury, had personally vouched for the propriety of the transactions and the necessity for secrecy. December also saw the first hints of the impending marriage of Wharton to Lord Lisburne’s daughter. The combative side of his nature was revealed on 22 Jan. 1692 when the House considered the Chippenham election: Harley reported ‘hot words’ passed between Wharton and Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., which ‘occasioned them to meet in St. James’s Square but did not fight’. Twice in February Wharton offered saving clauses to the English forfeited estates bill: on the 4th on behalf of the Earl of Torrington (Arthur Herbert†) and on the 12th for Beuno Talbot, a relative of Shrewsbury.9
Carmarthen’s working list of Court supporters drawn up between March and December 1692 included Lord Wharton ‘and his two sons’, and Wharton’s name occurs on all the lists of placemen and government officials during this Parliament, including Grascome’s which also named him as a Court supporter. When the Commons reconvened in November 1692 Wharton was much involved in the debates over the failure of the navy to follow up the victory at La Hogue and in the debates which followed the request in the King’s Speech for the advice of the House. Thus, when the preponderance of foreign officers in the army was the subject of debate on 23 Nov., he declared:
I will not trouble you in a thing I so little understand, as an army. I am sorry for the comparison between Solms and Tollemache: I think only that Tollemache has served very well; and the longer you use him, the better you will like him. I wish you would lay the question aside; but I would vindicate your countrymen, and from the question something of this kind ‘that, for the time to come, the King would be pleased to fill up the offices of the army as they shall become vacant, with his own subjects’.
On the 28th, although ‘I am one of those that have always been for such a bill’, he supported a motion that the bill to regulate treason trials should come into force only after the end of the war, saying it should be ‘as easy to hang a great man as it was to hang Lord Russell [William†]’. Significantly for the future, he offered the observation later in the debate that ‘I have an ill opinion of some [Privy Councillors], but no proof against them’. In the debate on the state of the nation on 30 Nov. he attacked the King’s Tory ministers:
your chief men that manage matters are such as submit to this King upon wrong principles – because he has the governing power – but will be as ready to join another when he prevails. They are such as come not into your government till it was late, and I think it no policy to take men into a government because they are violent against it. I will not at present name these persons, but I would address to his Majesty against them in general (for he knows them best) and that he would be pleased to receive such men only under him who are of known integrity and will come up both to the principles and his Majesty’s right to this government.
When Sir Henry Goodricke, 2nd Bt., called to his attention the diligence of ministers, Wharton responded that ‘the mischiefs to you do not proceed from some gentlemen’s not attending but from some men who ought not to be there at all’. The advice he wanted to offer the King was ‘to employ such men as are for his interest and true to the principles on which this government is founded’. On 2 Dec. it was Wharton who proposed that the previous question be put, thereby solving a procedural problem and allowing the House to proceed upon a consideration of supply and the defects of the poll bill in committee the next day. On the following day the Court’s procedural problem of having to vote on whether 20,000 men should be allocated to home defence before the full total of 54,000 was agreed for the year was solved by Wharton who foresaw the tactical dangers in tacking a larger figure to a smaller. He opted instead for putting the question for 20,000, doubting not ‘but gentlemen will see the necessity of coming up to the remainder of the forces’, which indeed they did. When the committee of the whole considered the descent on 5 Dec., many Members supported a resolution aimed at the mismanagement of the project and Wharton was reported to be ‘much against’ Nottingham. On this session’s abjuration bill, which received its second reading on 14 Dec., Wharton favoured committal despite some unsatisfactory aspects because it could be amended in committee whereas ‘if you shall throw it out it would look very ill abroad’. Six days later, he made a speech defending Admiral Russell from ‘the displeasure of a great lord’, criticizing the dependence of affairs on one man, ‘who is not of an opinion for the title of this king and queen’. The papers on the descent sent to the Commons from the Lords he thought a design to secure Russell’s removal, so he countered with a motion ‘to address the King to remove [Nottingham]’, but the Commons merely reiterated its thanks to Russell, possibly because they felt that Wharton was motivated by a desire to succeed Nottingham. On 2 Jan. 1693 Wharton was added to a conference committee on the papers relating to the previous summer’s descent, but in the wake of Russell’s resignation, Wharton left town and did not return for some months.10
In preparation for what, in the wake of the Smyrna disaster, was expected to be a difficult session, the Earl of Sunderland advised the King to drop Nottingham, reinstate Russell and thereby ensure the unequivocal support of Wharton and Charles Montagu in the management of the Commons. Wharton took part in a large conclave of Whigs at Althorp in August and this may have resulted in an understanding that Wharton should offer more support for the King’s measures in the Commons. Certainly, with Russell’s reinstatement and Nottingham’s dismissal on the eve of the 1693–4 session, Wharton was more inclined to come to the government’s aid when the House discussed the loss of the Smyrna convoy. However, while his friends were accommodated, Wharton was disappointed in his aim of replacing Nottingham as secretary of state, and yet he was expected by Sunderland to play a leading ministerial role in the Commons. Thus, he left much of the outrage over the conduct of Nottingham and the three admirals in command of the fleet to his brother, Goodwin, and spoke on the 27th to ask whether the fleet had sufficient victuals on board to convey the merchantmen out of danger, and more generally whether the admirals had obeyed their orders ‘like wise men and honest men’. At the start of December he was used by the King to try to convince Shrewsbury to take up the secretaryship again, but without success. Just as importantly, Wharton was the man empowered by the King to agree with an estimate augmenting the army by 20,000 men on 14 Dec., thereby avoiding a division in the House. Wharton was not named on 26 Jan. 1694 to the committee to draw up the address complaining of the King’s rejection of the place bill, probably owing to a speech that day in which he defended the monarch’s foreign advisers, but he was named on the following day to prepare a fresh conclusion for the address, the original including a final paragraph calling for an expedient (a prorogation) allowing the bill’s reintroduction, which was seen as too strong. He was again called into action on 1 Feb. to defend the King’s answer to the representation: after expressing his sorrow at the exception taken to it, he continued, ‘I take the answer to be a promise that, for the future, his Majesty will pass our public bills’, and reminded MPs that kings did have the right to reject bills, although he conceded that ministers may have proffered ill advice.11
For all Sunderland’s griping about Whig indiscipline, and the actions of Wharton and Montagu in particular, the management of the 1693–4 session had been a success and it set the scene for the return of Shrewsbury as secretary in March 1694. Wharton’s own appointment as secretary was again rumoured in May and in August he attended another consultation at Althorp. On the opening day of the session on 12 Nov. 1694 Wharton agreed to a week’s adjournment provided that the King’s Speech would be considered on that day. He was again to the fore in forcing through supply when the House reconvened on the 19th, and on the 24th Harley reported that although there had been ‘hot words’ between Wharton, Montagu and Sir John Thompson, supply had been subject to only one division. Indeed, after some slight paring of the army estimates Wharton agreed to Paul Foley I’s suggestion of £2,500,000 on 1 Dec. On 10 Dec. Wharton broke with most ministerialists in the committee considering the triennial bill concerning the date for the dissolution of Parliament: ever alert for party advantage, he favoured retaining the last possible date for a dissolution as 1 Nov. 1695. It was Wharton who, on 28 Dec., informed the Commons of the Queen’s death, and who was first-named to draft the address of condolence to the King, which he reported the following day. When the Commons resumed a debate on the report of the place bill on 26 Jan. 1695, over an amendment to omit the word ‘heirs’, Wharton informed the House that although the King was willing to have ‘heirs’ omitted, Princess Anne thought it unnecessary. Even so, the matter went to a division, with Wharton’s brother acting as a teller. On 11 Feb., in committee of ways and means, Wharton told for the losing side when the first of a series of resolutions favouring a leather duty was voted upon. In February Goodwin confided to his diary that his brother ‘at this time is the greatest manager in the House’ as was to be apparent in his pursuit of Tory enemies. It was Wharton who on 14 Mar. informed the Commons that the King had given leave for Speaker Trevor to retire and then proceeded to nominate Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt., as his replacement. This was rebuffed by the House as coming from the Court, and seen by some commentators as paving the way for the election of Foley. In April Wharton was instrumental in pursuing Sir Thomas Cooke* for bribery, and in the ballot for the committee to interrogate Cooke he duly won a place. This committee then represented the House at a conference with the Lords on the case, from which Wharton reported on the 24th. On the 27th he reported the committee’s examination of Cooke and was named in consequence to the committee to draw up articles of impeachment against the Duke of Leeds (Carmarthen), which he reported the same day. Wharton continued to be the Commons’ mouthpiece on this issue until the end of the session. Indeed, Seymour was later to write to Leeds that the attack upon him was ‘a formed design begun and carried on by Mr Montagu and Mr Wharton’.12
The 1694–5 session had seen Montagu and Wharton working together to dominate the Commons. However, the King was not happy at their pursuit of his Tory servants and thought that they had gone too far. Rumours abounded about the future moves that Wharton, in alliance with Montagu, might make, such as their belief that Sunderland had outlived his usefulness as an intermediary with the King and could be dispensed with. The Harley–Foley group affected to see an opportunity to detach traditional Country Whig supporters from the more Court-orientated stance of the emerging Junto. Harley himself had been perturbed in June by intelligence that Wharton had a list of 80 Members he could bring into Parliament who ‘shall entirely serve the Court’. In fact Wharton was preoccupied with the Irish elections and in late May was reported to be making plans to travel to Ireland. Having arrived on 4 July 1695, he proceeded to play a full part in Irish politics, much to the chagrin of Lord Deputy Capell (Hon. Sir Henry Capel*). Furthermore, in July he was reported to be opposed to the dissolution of the English Parliament, ‘thinking they [the Whigs] shall have less power in the new’. This fresh disagreement with the other Whig leaders led Sunderland to doubt whether Montagu or Wharton ‘will be governed by friends or reason, but must be forced to it’. However, by mid-August Wharton had given Shrewsbury an assurance that he was not trying to undermine Sunderland and that he was optimistic about the King’s business. When the 1695 election in England took place, Wharton was active in many constituencies, not least in Buckinghamshire where he was returned unopposed. For the remainder of 1695 rumours abounded that he was seeking to undermine Capell so as to replace him, but when Capell died at the end of May, William would not consider Wharton’s promotion, no doubt swayed by the Earl of Portland’s advice that although ‘a man of wit, and truly in your interest, but being strongly wedded to a party (a great fault in a chief governor) his heat and forwardness would I fear render him very obnoxious to those of other sentiments’, and the fact that his character in Ireland was already that of ‘a hot, loose, lewd man’.13
In January 1696, a new parliamentary council of trade was planned with the backing of the Tories and the Country party, a move regarded by the King as injurious to his prerogative. The King proposed his own council, and the Court set out to undermine the rival idea by proposing that those chosen by Parliament should not be Members and that they should take an oath of abjuration. On 20 Jan. Robert Yard* reported it was ‘Mr Comptroller Wharton that first moved this new oath and did it very dextrously’. Consequently, Wharton was forecast as likely to support the government over the expected division on the council on 31 Jan., although he spoke little in the debate on that day, being ‘indisposed so that he was carried to the House in a chair’. Another explanation for his silence was the imminent demise of his father, which occurred a few days later. Thus, although his name also appears on a division list in late March of those voting for fixing the price of guineas at 22s., he was no longer a Member. Upon succeeding to the peerage, Wharton inherited Wooburn and an income of £8,000 p.a. Wharton’s career in the Lords in many ways merely continued that begun in the Lower House, and he continued to play a role in electoral politics. He died on 12 Apr. 1715.14
Contemporary views of Wharton depended very much on the political outlook of the observer. To his party, ‘Honest Tom’ was a ‘tutelary God whom our Whigs invoke and adore as the sole preserver of their country’. Boyer concurred: he was ‘the most active, most strenuous, and most indefatigable asserter of liberty; and the warmest and most inveterate enemy to popery and arbitrary power and French counsels’. To a Tory, like Swift, he was ‘the most universal villain I ever knew’, and to Hearne, ‘another great atheistical, knavish, republican Whiggish villain’. Arthur Maynwaring’s* judgment on his viceroyalty of Ireland might serve for his whole career: ‘a very good miner in an army, to work underground at a siege, but . . . not fit to be a general’. The most ingenious assessment occurred in a poem circulated at the 1713 election:
Whig, the first letter of his name
Hypocrisy the second of the same
Anarchy, his darling and his aim,
Rebellion, discord, mutiny and faction
Tom Captain of the mob in soul and action.
O’er grown in sin, corrupted, old, in debt,
Nob’s soul and Ireton’s live within him yet.15
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Stuart Handley
- 1. J. Carswell, Old Cause, 30–36; Wharton Mems. 13; PCC 204 Fagg.
- 2. Coll. Top. et Gen. i. 297–8; Wycombe Ledger Bk. ed. Ashford, 38; J. Bennett, Hist. Tewkesbury, 415; First Ledger Bk. of Wycombe ed. Greaves (Bucks. Rec. Soc. xi), 233; Woodstock council acts, 1679–99; Cumbria RO (Kendal), Appleby bor. recs. WSMB/A min. bk. 3, 6 Aug. 1700; Cal. Ancient Recs. Dublin ed. Gilbert, vi. 397; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 51.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1693, p. 207; J. Cooke and J. Maule, Hist. Acct. Greenwich Hosp. 8–30; A. Savidge, Q. Anne’s Bounty, 124.
- 4. Carswell, 35; Burnet, v. 234.
- 5. Wharton Mems. 27, 33, 98; Lipscomb, Bucks. i. 550; Burnet, v. 118; Swift Works ed. Davis, iii. 179–80.
- 6. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 772–3; Carswell, 76; CSP Dom. 1693, p. 207; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 176; Wharton Mems. 27, 57.
- 7. J. P. Kenyon, Sunderland, 247; K. Feiling, Tory Party, 82; Burnet, iv. 25–26; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 56–57, 59, 96; Cunningham, Hist. GB, i. 115; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/44, Cary Gardiner to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 19 Feb. 1689[–90]; Grey, x. 32, 49, 87; Bodl. Rawl. A.79, ff. 78–78v.; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/053/1, James Vernon I* to Alexander Stanhope, 29 Apr. 1690; HMC Portland, iii. 447.
- 8. Luttrell, ii. 38, 193; HMC Finch, ii. 278; Dalrymple, Mems. iii(2), 87; HMC Portland, iii. 451; Add. 70014, f. 369; Horwitz, 66.
- 9. PRO NI, De Ros mss D638/13/61, John Pulteney* to Thomas Coningsby*, 3 Nov. 1691; Horwitz, 70–71, 73; Luttre