CLIFTON, Sir William, 3rd Bt. (1663-86), of Clifton-on-Trent, Notts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1685 - May 1686

Family and Education

bap. 7 Apr. 1663, 3rd but o. surv. s. of (Sir) Clifford Clifton. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1677. unm. suc. fa. in Clifton estates 1670, uncle Sir Gervase Clifton, 2nd Bt., 14 Jan. 1675.

Offices Held

Dep. lt. Notts. 1683-d., j.p. 1685-d.

Col. (later 15 Ft.) 1685-d.1


Clifton, a clever, precocious and self-willed youth, was placed under the joint guardianship of his mother, the family steward, and his kinsman William Sacheverell, who arranged a brilliant marriage with one of the daughters of the Duke of Newcastle (Henry Cavendish). The lady was not to his taste, however, and he extricated himself from the match by making difficulties over the settlement and writing anonymous letters to Newcastle accusing himself of terrible debauchery. At the same time he assisted the elopement of his sister with a penniless Anglo-Irish baronet. His uncle, the lord chancellor (Heneage Finch I), could only wring his hands over ‘so wilful and so uncounsellable a young man ... very skilful in dissembling’. But worse was to follow; on his mother’s death, Clifton, whose conduct had so outraged the local gentry that they threatened to cudgel him, made his way to Court, where he rapidly became ‘very familiar and conversant’. Still only 17, he arranged a match for himself with the daughter of William Chiffinch, blithely undertaking to convert her to Protestantism, a task for which the lord chancellor considered him totally unequipped. Sacheverell commented that by a marriage with a Papist or reputed Papist ‘he will infallibly lose both his interest and friends in these parts’, and nothing came of it.2

With the same impetuous energy Clifton turned to politics. He was described to Lord Halifax (Sir George Savile) as ‘a young gentleman of almost incomparable natural parts, and very good acquired, accompanied with an excellent resolution, and takes all the pains imaginable to make himself popular’. Newcastle was apparently prepared to overlook Clifton’s treatment of his daughter, and expressed his delight at the manner in which he confuted the elderly Whig lawyer, Edward Bigland, in a discussion at Welbeck. A few months after the King had ordered Clifton to be added to the lieutenancy, he was urging on Secretary Jenkins the necessity of electoral preparations; but on 3 Nov. 1683 Jenkins replied that ‘His Majesty thinks it not seasonable at this time for his friends to move of themselves or to join with others in order to the election of Parliament men’. Undeterred, Clifton built up such a formidable interest at Nottingham that at the next general election he was considered certain to be chosen with little or no expense. Instead, on the sudden refusal of Lord Eland he consented, at the importunity of Newcastle and Secretary Sunderland, to contest the county. Sir Scrope Howe at once withdrew, and the other opposition candidate Richard Slater stood down before the poll, so that in ‘the most factious county in the kingdom’ both seats went to the Court.3

Clifton was moderately active in James II’s Parliament, serving on the committee of elections and privileges and on four others. Characteristically, he seconded the over-enthusiastic motion for supply on the first day of the session. On the outbreak of Monmouth’s Rebellion he raised a regiment of foot, but returned to Westminster in November. He made two speeches in this session, often wrongly attributed to (Sir) Winston Churchill. In the first he pointed out that England already had a standing army in the shape of the beefeaters—a slang expression for which the youthful colonel was gravely reproved by Thomas Howard II. In the supply debate of 16 Nov. 1685 Clifton objected: ‘£200,000 is much too little. Soldiers move not without pay. No penny, no paternoster’. His regiment had been ordered to Holland in September, but on 3 Dec. Clifton was granted extended leave, which he used to court an unidentified ‘great lady’ in France. ‘They say he had lost his nose’, wrote the Puritan Roger Morrice, ‘which was the occasion of his going beyond the seas’. On 10 May 1686 Whitehall was shocked by the news of his death at the early age of 23. His cousin and heir was a Roman Catholic, but the 5th baronet sat for East Retford from 1727 to 1741.4

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: E. R. Edwards


  • 1. CSP Dom. Jan.-June 1683, p. 65.
  • 2. HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 149; HMC Finch, ii. 81, 83-85.
  • 3. Spencer mss, Millington to Halifax, 27 Aug. 1681; Clifton to Halifax, 21 Mar. 1685; Notts. RO, DDSR 219/1/14, Newcastle to Halifax, 18 Oct. 1682; CSP Dom. 1683-4, p. 73; 1685, pp. 104, 105.
  • 4. Bramston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxxii), 198; Lowther diary, ff. 26, 40; HMC 7th Rep. 499; CSP Dom. 1685, p. 400; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 1, p. 534; HMC Downshire, i. 165.