YONGE, Sir Walter, 3rd Bt. (1653-1731), of Colyton and Escott, Devon, and Bedford Row, Westminster, Mdx.

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



Mar. 1679 - Mar. 1681
1689 - 1690
1690 - 1710

Family and Education

bap. 8 Sept. 1653, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Walter Yonge, 2nd Bt.†, of Colyton by Isabella, da. of Sir John Davie, 1st Bt.†, of Sandford, Devon.  educ. Exeter, Oxf. 1670.  m. (1) lic. 19 Apr. 1677, Gertrude (d. 1679), da. of Sir William Morice† of Werrington, Devon, 1da. d.v.p.; (2) lic. 18 June 1691, Gwen, da. and coh. of Sir Robert Williams, 2nd Bt.†, of Penrhyn, Caern., 1s. 3da.  suc. fa. as 3rd Bt. 21 Nov. 1670.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Lyme Regis 1680, Plymouth 1696.2

Commr., inquiry into recusancy fines 1688, customs 1694–1701, 1714–d., Greenwich Hosp. 1695, taking subscriptions to land bank 1696; trustee, subscription for circulating Exchequer bills 1697.3


Yonge inherited his father’s baronetcy and estates near Honiton at the age of 17. By the end of the 1670s he was a prominent Whig activist in the south-west and was particularly well regarded by Presbyterians of his own locale. An Exclusionist MP, he was an intimate of many of the leading radical Whigs of the day, but his youthful fanaticism later stopped short of supporting Monmouth. His Whiggish outlook matured under the influence of the philosopher John Locke, whose acquaintance Yonge had made while travelling in Holland in 1686, and his political and parliamentary aspirations were fostered by friends such as Sir John Somers* who became Yonge’s patron. A Whig collaborator under James II, he found himself rejected in 1689 by his would-be constituents at Honiton and was forced to take an alternative seat at Ashburton provided by his brother-in-law and business partner Richard Duke*. Essentially, Yonge stands out as a particular cast of Whig who, through his own activities in the legislative domain in the 1690s, helped to promote constructive attitudes towards parliamentary government and the view that economic wellbeing and improvement were best obtainable through its mechanisms. Such notions contributed to the forging of a common bond among John Locke’s west-country circle of Whig friends known as ‘the College’, in which Yonge and other like-minded MPs were prominent.4

In 1690 Yonge was able to resume his former seat at Honiton where he had a considerable interest, and was classed by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) as a Whig. If the Journals are any indication, his activity during the 1690 session amounted to very little and he spoke in none of the key debates extensively reported by Grey. He did, however, serve just once as a teller on 24 Apr. in favour of adjourning discussion on the bill for reversing the quo warranto against the corporation of London, and the same day was placed on the committee to draft legislation imposing an abjuration oath. The following session saw a return to his familiar guise as an assiduous participant in proceedings. He of course continued his steady support for the Court which had been the keynote of his behaviour even before the Revolution. Throughout the 1690s he featured regularly as a teller in divisions on widely ranging issues and as a drafter of bills relating to government business and the cloth manufacturing concerns of his west-country constituents. His high profile in routine proceedings also resulted in his nomination to a wide array of investigative and other committees. Narcissus Luttrell’s* diaries suggest that his interventions in debate were frequent, though confined almost invariably to points of detail; but he clearly did not stand in the orator class of parliamentarian. On 10 Oct., at the beginning of the 1690–1 session, he was included among those ordered to draft a bill for regulating the militia, and on 29 Nov. reported the bill from committee. Other bills in which he was involved concerned the regulation of the King’s Bench and Fleet prisons, and the prevention of the export of wool. He was also responsible for a clause reserving a proportion of forfeited estates to the crown in the bill for attainting English and Irish rebels. He was the sole initiator on 10 Nov. of a bill to prohibit the import of lace, his own constituency of Honiton being a noted lace manufacturing centre. He was six times a teller, twice concerning the rebels’ attainder bill (18, 19 Dec.), on the latter occasion opposing a proviso favouring the Jacobite Lord Dover; and on 16 Dec. in support of the Whig Thomas Trenchard* in the disputed Dorchester election. A list among Robert Harley’s* papers dating from around April 1691 identified him as a Court supporter.

During the earlier stages of the 1691–2 session Yonge was involved in framing bills for the general improvement of highways, securing the rights and privileges of corporations, regulating abuses in parliamentary elections (serving as a teller for passing the bill on 12 Dec.), and a new attempt to vest the forfeited estates in the crown. His chief legislative preoccupation, however, was with a bill ‘for ascertaining the commissions and salaries of judges’ which he presented on 12 Dec. and then oversaw through the House during the next two months. However, to the surprise of MPs, and no doubt particularly of Yonge himself, it was vetoed by the King on 24 Feb. 1692, the first time William had used his prerogative of veto. Strongly Whiggish in tone, Yonge’s bill sought to enact a clause in the Declaration of Rights by ensuring the appointment of judges during ‘good behaviour’ rather than ‘at pleasure’ as had long been the custom. The judges themselves had apparently advised the veto, though their reasons for doing so are unclear. One possibility is that the King did not wish to infringe his prerogative in a way that would bind his successors. It is thought, however, that the immediate objection was that the judges’ salaries would necessarily become charged upon the hereditary excise, and that Yonge had omitted to ensure royal acquiescence in this provision. In relation to other matters two of his six tellerships (8 Dec., 22 Feb.) indicate his opposition to the privileged status of the universities, while on 1 Dec. he told against a question declaring the Tory Sir Basil Firebrace duly elected for Chippenham. He was also involved in conferences with the Upper House to reconcile disagreements on three separate bills, most notably the treason trials bill. On 12 Jan. during discussions on provision for the £1,350,000 shortfall in the supply, he put forward a proposal for ‘a public bank . . . for taking up of money’ along the lines of a scheme by the Scots projector William Paterson which foreshadowed the Bank of England. Despite support from Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II, of the Treasury, the House finally opted for a poll tax. On 19 and 20 Jan. he contributed to the debate to establish an equitable form for the tax with a proposal ‘to tax every person so much a quarter for every horse and every foot of arms to the militia’, but found himself opposed by Charles Montagu who felt that Yonge’s solution moved away from the principle of a poll and approximated more to a rate on land.5

Luttrell’s diary lends considerable insight into the overall pattern of Yonge’s Commons activity, documenting in particular detail his interventions during the 1692–3 session. On 21 Nov. 1692 he presented a bill for clarifying fees levied in the courts of justice. Two days later in a heated debate on the employment of foreign commanders in the army, he advised moderation, urging that the wording of an address to the King take account of arguments for maintaining continuity in the high command structure. On the 29th, in a debate in committee on the naval estimates, he found reason for disagreeing with the ministry’s proposal to finance eight new ships of the line costing £68,400 and was teller for the minority. The following day, in the debate on ministerial conduct over the abortive summer descent on the French coast, Yonge took part in the full-scale attack on Secretary of State Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), speaking in support of the proposal to address the King to remove erring Tory ministers. ‘At first,’ he told the House, ‘all matters went on very successfully, but since some men have come into employ all things have gone backwards, matters have been very dilatory, and your intelligence has done little service.’ Pressing home his attack, he declared that the address should specifically state that ‘the King will be pleased to employ only such men as are for his interest, against that of the late King and such as think this government to be de jure as well as de facto’. When on 5 Dec. the committee of the whole resolved that there had been ‘an apparent miscarriage in the management of the affairs relating to the descent’, Yonge stressed the importance of deciding next ‘where to fix this fault’, and his suggestion that it appeared ‘in not giving timely orders necessary about the same’ was adopted as a second resolution. His attention was again given to the ministerial miscarriages after the Christmas recess, and on 2 Jan. 1693, he was involved in a conference on the subject with the Lords. In the meantime, on 14 Dec., he had spoken in favour of a bill ‘for the preservation of their Majesties’ government’, and was teller with his friend Edward Clarke I for its committal. In proceedings on supply he tended to support measures which, though redolent of ‘Country’ principles, were also aimed to assist the war effort; on 10 Jan., for instance, he tendered a clause for taxing the personal estate of any person newly appointed to office, and supported a similar proposal to suspend all pensions for the duration of the war, which was dropped. Matters of more parochial concern had intermittently absorbed his attention as well. On 28 Nov. 1692 he presented a petition from west-country clothiers requesting a bill to continue the free export of woollen manufactures, chaired and reported the committee, and on 2 Dec. presented the resultant bill which he closely managed through the House and supported as a teller in several divisions until its third reading on 17 Feb. 1693, when it was defeated on a motion to pass. His creed on the bill was quite unequivocal: speaking on the 17th he declared ‘it seemed highly reasonable to encourage the free exportation of any manufacture, for the more hands our cloth is carried out by, the better; it raises your wool and is for the benefit of the country’. His protective instincts towards trade in his own region led him to oppose on 4 Jan. a bill to prevent the import of foreign buttons; on 2 Feb. he supported, and was subsequently teller for, the bill against hawkers and pedlars; and on the 20th was teller in support of an unsuccessful motion to make Plymouth free of the import of Irish wool. Other matters to which he directed attention included the disputed Essex election on 14 Feb., in which he was teller in favour of the Whig candidate. There was also the ‘general discontent’ in Ireland, in which on the 22nd he supported the view, again critical of the government, that the situation was chiefly due to the ‘unseasonable prorogation of the parliament there’. Despite his general alignment with the Country opposition to the ministry, he nevertheless opposed a proposal by Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., on the 23rd to increase the £400,000 yield from customs revenue, on the grounds that it was procedurally impracticable for the time of session. On 1 Mar. he likewise opposed as ‘dangerous’ the bill ‘indemnifying’ persons who had acted in defence of the kingdom, and on the same day he acted as a teller against the London orphans’ bill.6

Despite the absence of a source as detailed as the Luttrell diary after the end of the 1692–3 session, the pattern of Yonge’s continuing close involvement in proceedings is apparent from the Commons Journals. Of particular note was his frequent service as a teller on a wide variety of issues throughout the rest of the King’s reign. As he became ever-increasingly active as a Whig spokesman, however, his earlier interest in the framing of legislation ceased. Soon after the commencement of the 1693–4 session, Yonge joined Hon. Thomas Wharton in the Whig attack on the government over the failure of the naval assault on Brest during the summer; and on 29 Nov. he was teller for his party in a question reflecting severely upon the government in this respect. A month later, 22 Dec. 1693, he was again seen in association with the ‘Country’ element in the House as teller in favour of passing the bill for ‘frequent’ or triennial parliaments. In January 1694 he supported the initiative to legislate a new East India company into being; and in the debate on the King’s veto of the place bill on the 26th, he asked the House to consider ‘whether this is the only bill rejected for our good’, an allusion to the supposed frequent veto of parliamentary bills. However, in the debate on 1 Feb. on the King’s answer to the Commons’ representation on the matter, he took a distinctly pro-government line (unless irony was intended) in his remark that the King ‘owns your constitution, and will pass your bills without taking advice of any to the contrary’. By the earlier months of 1694, however, following the installation of several Junto Whigs in ministerial office, Yonge was noted as one of their ‘Rose Club’ supporters who regularly foregathered at the Rose Tavern in order to concert tactics and support for the King’s measures.7

As part of the reconstruction of the ministry on Whig lines the customs and excise commissions were purged during the summer recess. Since late May Yonge had been tipped as a likely appointee, but disagreements among the ministerial team governing in William’s absence, and Lord Godolphin’s (Sidney†) objections that what was proposed was merely ‘to gratify party’, delayed the final decision until August. Somers briefed the King in June of the present need for the two commissions to comprise individuals ‘who might upon all occasions give a satisfactory account in the House of Commons of what related to their proper business’, believing that Yonge ‘will be very well qualified to do’. Lord Sunderland, too, was keen that Yonge should be one of the new commissioners on account of his having ‘served very well last session and whose service is necessary for the next’. His commercial background and connexions were probably also thought to stand him in good stead. When Yonge’s appointment was finalized early in August, Francis Gwyn* was prompted to comment that Yonge and the other appointees were new men who ‘have at last had their bargain made good to them’. During the 1694–5 session a series of tellerships on specific supply questions indicates Yonge’s steady service to the government; and in April 1695, having served as a member of the joint parliamentary committee to examine Sir Thomas Cooke* regarding his misuse of East India Company funds, Yonge was involved in the preparatory committee work for the impeachments of both Cooke and the Duke of Leeds (the former Lord Carmarthen). He did not, however, feature among the ‘friends’ listed by the Treasury secretary Henry Guy who at this time was also anticipating proceedings for corruption.8

Yonge’s official responsibilities in the House also involved acting as teller for the government when the House was convened as a committee. Notes by Robert Harley show him serving in this capacity several times in late December 1695 and early 1696. On 12 Dec. he was ministerial teller in committee in favour of adjourning discussion on the establishment of a parliamentary council of trade; and likewise, next day, for the ministry’s required numbers for the army. In the deliberations on the coinage crisis early in the new year Yonge stood firmly behind Charles Montagu’s proposals for a recoinage on the old standard, and, along with his close associate John Elwill*, was very much against a new set of resolutions on 9 Jan. 1696 which substantially overwrote Montagu’s thinking and increased the government’s financial liability. During the course of January he was forecast as likely to support the government in the continuing debates on the council of trade; and at the end of February he signed the Association. On 20 Mar. he was teller against fixing the price of guineas at 25s., but either then or on the 26th voted in favour of fixing them at 22s., a rate favoured by the King.9

In the following session, on 25 Nov. 1696, Yonge spoke and voted for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. In addition to his government activity, he continued to promote the interests of his locality. On 24 Feb. 1697 he was teller with Elwill in favour of a proposal from the merchants of Exeter for opening the port to imports of Irish wool; and on 9 Mar. was among the nominees to draft a measure to tighten existing laws against the export of wool. On 3 Apr., however, he antagonized his ministerial colleagues by joining the opposition that defeated the wine duties bill. Many west-country MPs were currently concerned that extra levies would damage the expanding trade in textiles between the south-west and Portugal. The reaction was swift. The Duke of Shrewsbury reported to Somers on 14 Apr. that the King had lately indicated the need for changes in the customs and excise commissions, ‘that several had so behaved themselves this session that if no punishment were made, no government could be expected for the future, and said, this must not be extended partially to one kind of men, but some should be displaced of different denominations’. Shrewsbury agreed ‘in general’, but submitted

that a distinction was reasonable to be made, between persons who had done wrong only once, through ignorance, and those who, in the whole course of business, had continually opposed. This argument met with so cold a reception, that I think it is not hard to guess what was meant by that speech, though I think if it be intended against Sir Walter Yonge and [Edward] Clarke, we are obliged (I am sure I think myself so) to stand by them.

Thus shielded, Yonge was retained in the new customs commission issued at the end of the month.10

On 23 Dec. 1697, in the next session, Yonge and his fellow Member for Honiton Sir William Drake, 4th Bt., initiated a bill to prohibit the import of bone lace, despite opposition from the city of London. Though the bill found its way to the statute book, and helped to remove foreign competition from the borough’s major industry, MPs from other textile-producing areas were understandably resentful about the narrow-mindedness behind the new Act and its damaging effects in other areas of cloth production. The Gloucestershire knight Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt., declared during a debate in April 1699:

for the woollen manufacture you shall find a private bill to serve some little inconsiderable member of the craft and the subtlety of a Member to create himself a private interest by the inadvertence of the majority steal into an Act. By this means Sir Walter Yonge procured the passing of an Act to prohibit the importation of Flanders lace into the kingdom which never exceeded £50,000 which made them prohibit the importation of our English woollen and other manufactures into Flanders where there was imported from us goods manufactured to the value of £500,000 per annum.

The Act was shortlived, however, and was repealed in 1700. On 23 Jan. 1698 Yonge was teller in support of the bill to restrain the wearing of Indian silks. He was afterwards much preoccupied with the passage of a bill for the better recovery of wages due to servants, miners and seamen, though it failed in a division on 3 May in which Yonge served as a teller. On 12 May he was granted leave to introduce a bill to improve management of the customs and prevent smuggling, but after presenting it on 9 June this bill, too, progressed no further. In a comparison of the old and new Parliaments compiled after the 1698 election, Yonge was predictably classed as a Court supporter. His service to the government is observable across a number of issues during the 1698–9 session: on 18 Jan. 1699 when he spoke for the government against the disbanding bill and served as a teller against it in the ensuing division; on 18 Feb. when he told against an opposition amendment to a supply resolution reducing the navy from 15,000 to 12,000 men; and on 23 Mar. as teller in favour of the government’s resolution for a further issue of Exchequer bills to which he himself later subscribed £1,000. His continuing ill-will towards the Old East India Company was highlighted on 27 Feb. when he acted as teller against receipt of a petition from the company.11

Yonge was noted as a follower of Charles Montagu in an analysis of ‘interests’ in the House drawn up during the first half of 1700. On 7 Feb. 1700 he was teller in favour of considering the controversial question of crown grants to ministers in the committee of the whole rather than by a select committee; and on 18 Mar. was teller against a place clause in the forfeited estates bill that specifically excluded excise commissioners from Parliament. In the attack on his friend and patron Lord Somers on 10 Apr. in connexion with royal grants, Yonge defended him from an accusation by Charles Godolphin* that £20,000 had been lost in customs revenue through the incompetence and negligence of individuals whom Somers had recommended, declaring that the places concerned ‘were inconsiderable’. At the conclusion of the debate Yonge was a teller against the proposed address that Somers be removed from the King’s counsels. On 10 Feb. 1701, at the beginning of the next Parliament, he was teller against the choice of Harley as Speaker. In the debate on the proposed impeachment of Somers on 14 Apr. it was noted that Yonge was one of the small handful of Whig placemen who stood by the former lord chancellor. At the dissolution in November, however, he chose to resign his commissionership in conformity with the new place clause so that he could retain his parliamentary seat. Following his re-election in December 1701, Yonge was classed by Harley as a Whig. Though no longer in office he continued as an active Member of the House. In addition to his involvement in much committee work, he was teller eight times during the 1701–2 session. These included two occasions, 24 Jan. and 10 Feb. 1702, when he served as teller in favour of a new, if modified, abjuration oath prompted by the recent death of the exiled James II. He was also teller on 19 Mar. for a bill appointing commissioners to negotiate a union with Scotland.12

From the beginning of Queen Anne’s reign Yonge’s involvement in proceedings lapsed considerably, and saw no obvious revival until near the end of the decade. Although his service as teller once or twice each session may have distinguished him from his inert colleagues among the west-country Whig MPs, the energy he had displayed in the 1690s had largely disappeared. During the 1702 Parliament he featured mainly as a Country Whig opponent of the Tory ministry: he was teller on 23 Dec. 1702 in favour of a bill to exclude all placemen from the House, and on 28 Jan. 1703, in the disputed Plympton Erle election, was teller on the Whig side against the disfranchisement of newly created freemen. In matters of party conflict Yonge remained faithful to the Whigs: he opposed the Tory campaign to outlaw occasional conformity, acting as a teller against the second bill on 30 Nov. 1703, and voted against the Tack on 28 Nov. 1704. Following the 1705 election he was classed as ‘Low Church’, and on 25 Oct. he voted for the Court candidate as Speaker, thus marking the beginning of a return to his former Court Whig position. On 13 Feb. 1706 he was teller for the government side on a bill to improve effectiveness in recruitment to the army and the marines, and on the 18th supported the Court in the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ in the regency bill. His continued monitoring of local concerns was in evidence on 27 Feb. 1707 when he acted as teller on a minor detail in a measure repealing previous import restrictions on lace, and again on 25 Feb. 1708 in favour of recommitting a supply resolution for an additional duty on woollen yarn. Two lists of the Commons produced early in 1708 duly recorded his Whig party colours. There was some increase in his activity during the 1708 Parliament. In the first session he was involved in the passage of four private bills, and was a teller in three divisions, one of them occurring on the disputed Westminster election of 18 Dec. 1708 when he told against the Tory candidate Thomas Medlycott*. The following session he took sole responsibility for a private bill begun in the Commons concerning the debts of the recently deceased Devonian Sir John Rolle†. He acted as teller twice on 25 Jan. 1710, first against a bill for regulating the manufacture of buttons, and then, in an open volte-face, against another bill for limiting the numbers of placemen in the Commons. He voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell.

During the 1710 election, Yonge’s long-established and hitherto unassailable position at Honiton came under threat from James Sheppard, a local Tory lawyer who succeeded in raising a dispute over the franchise which led to a double return. Yonge’s case was heard in the elections committee and reported on 17 Feb. 1711. Inevitably, the Tory-dominated Commons upheld Sheppard’s argument for a restricted franchise, thereby depriving Yonge of his seat. He took no steps thereafter to re-enter Parliament, but his son, William†, who was eventually to become one of Walpole’s (Robert II) steadfast lieutenants, was returned for Honiton in 1715. Yonge himself accepted an invitation to return to the customs board in November 1714 where he remained until his death. He died on 18 July 1731 and was buried at Colyton.13

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Vivian, Vis. Devon, 840–1; Portledge Pprs. 262.
  • 2. Dorset RO, Lyme Regis mss B6/11, f. 32; CSP Dom. 1696, p. 424.
  • 3. [Bull. I] HR, lxvi. 88; Add. 10120, ff. 232–6; CJ, xii. 508; Univ. of London MS 65, item 3, subscribers, Exchequer bills, 1697.
  • 4. W. L. Sachse, Ld. Somers, 116; M. Cranston, John Locke, 252, 257–8, 311, 393.
  • 5. Ralph, Hist. Eng. ii. 328; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm III, 73, 75–76; Luttrell Diary, 142–3.
  • 6. Luttrell Diary, 257, 264, 270, 275, 294, 319, 359–60, 397, 428, 440, 445, 450, 455.
  • 7. Grey, x. 379, 385–6.
  • 8. Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/059/3, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 22 May 1694; CSP Dom. 1694–5, pp. 180, 272; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1238b, Sunderland to Ld. Portland, 13 July 1694; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 739; Horwitz, 212; Debates and Procs. 1694–5, p. 23.
  • 9. Harl. 1274, ff. 14–15, 83; Procs. . . . in relation to the recoining of the clipped money (1696), 7.
  • 10. J. Oldmixon, Hist. Eng. (1735), 152–60; Horwitz, 189; G. Holmes and W. A. Speck, Divided Soc. 139; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, p. 34.
  • 11. Cocks Diary, 22–23; Cam. Soc. xxix. 386; Univ. of London ms 65.
  • 12. Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters ii. 22; Cocks Diary, 95; Add. 7078, f. 55.
  • 13. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxix. 145; Vivian, Vis. Devon. 840–1.